Redskins Shatter Implied Promises, But What About Your Business?

Not all promises are explicit.   Sure, if a small business says they’ll provide a service for $100 and either doesn’t provide the service or charges more, trust takes a hit.

Prize winning reporter James Grimaldi broke story on Washington Redskins

Reporter James Grimaldi broke story on Washington Redskins

But there are implied promises every business makes every day.  At Silver Beacon, we promise each client that we are going to stay on top of online marketing trends, notify them when their business could be impacted and maximize the return on their advertising dollar.   If I visit a client tomorrow who asks about Bing and I think he’s talking about Bing Crosby, we would have broken our implied promise.

Implied promises are getting a workout here in Washington where the city’s beloved Redskins claim to have a season ticket waiting list that stretches tens of thousands of names to along with decades of sold out games, including in what is now the NFL’s largest stadium.  Great reporting by The Washington Post‘s James Grimaldi, a reporter with a passel of awards including a shared Pultizer Prize, uncovered a broken implied promise.

The Redskins — who are still the number one topic of sports conversation in this town when they’re not playing — sold tickets to ticket broker StubHub instead of whittling down the list of fans willing to shell out thousands for tickets and endure hours of snarled traffic.   The Redskins made no promises.  But they’ve broken an implied promise.   Just like we vow to keep the best interests of our clients in the forefront, the Redskins’ implied promise was to take care of its most ardent fans who were willing to prove their loyalty with money.

Unpopular owner Daniel M. Snyder now faces a public relations crisis as his team takes the field tonight in its final preseason game.   The blowback on larger than life figures like sports team owners is huge.  Snyder needed no fake scarcity to drive his team’s popularity.  The Redskins were locked and loaded for decades of financial growth.

And once **a promise like this is broken, everyone can opine, even in a small business blog.

For his part, Grimaldi’s followup was a knockout PR blow in today’s paper where he reports that during the recession, the same business that broke implied promises to its fans have filed 137 lawsuits against multiyear ticket holders who could no longer make payments.  Sure, there was a promise to pay and people get sued when they don’t honor those promises.  The Post’s reporting has uncovered that those seats were then sold to ticket brokers as well.

Today, not tomorrow, but today:   take 15 minutes while you gobble your lunch at your desk like the hectic small businessperson you are and start scribbling on a notepad.   You’re answering this question:

What implied promises have I made to my customers, my employees and to my equity holders? Include yourself as an equity holder because like any small business leader, you’ve been making promises to yourself for a long time.

Then come back here and post your findings.  You don’t have to share what you’ve learned only how well the exercise worked for you and any changes you’ll be making.

Be Careful What You Ask For

Meetings are often held in conference rooms

Don't let this room be empty. TALK about ideas with your team before they're implemented. Image via Wikipedia

Marketing plans sometimes go awry despite the best of intentions.

I worked years ago with a rookie manager who made a number of blunders, but none topped The Great Retention Caper.  This manager had two duties:  one of which was keeping customers on board once they passed an anniversary date.   Since we all know (and I had already modeled for our purposes) the much larger cost of acquisition versus retention, this was pretty big stuff.

Flying out of my office one day, I went to her desk and asked her why the number of cancels had spiked yesterday.   That’s when I learned that in a huddle with her staff, this manager had instructed them to use a talking point pretty close to this:

I’m calling because you haven’t been using your membership, and as you know, that’s something you pay for every month.  Did you have any questions about using it or is there some way I can help you?

Members were quite happy to tell the caller that the help they preferred was in canceling the membership they no longer needed.

I was reminded of this debacle when I saw a note from another person sharing news about a fundraising contest that starts… tomorrow.

Sales contests and promotions are a tried and true way to make the cash register ring.   Announcing the contest days before the start is a tried and true way to ensure that everyone saves their efforts for the contest.

I did.

Both managers involved in these promotions were new and maybe given a bit too much latitude in implementing processes.   That’s a fine line marketing leaders and small businesses owners have to walk.   Avoid being restrictive, but invite your less experienced managers to share their plans in an open environment.  If you have multiple team members at the same level, facilitate the session and shut your yap, pausing only to make sure the peers are playing nice and not posturing or playing politics.

Just the two of you?   Create a safe and open atmosphere for discussion.  Had the second manager mentioned anything to me,  I would have praised the contest because it’s a good one.  I might have suggested a teaser or even a pre-contest prize with today being the big announcement.  Or I might have done something else.

What I wouldn’t have done would be to kill the team’s month-end efforts.  Sometimes we forget that perspective is a byproduct of experience.  Make sure you’re sharing your perspective with teammates and staff and create a learning, nurturing, prosperous environment.

Choosing Domain Names

Digitage Web 2.0

Image by ocean.flynn via Flickr

Working with small businesses, we often have the awesome opportunity to help create branding from the very beginning.   What we’ve learned over time, and what is borne out by SEOmoz’s biannual survey of SEO experts, is that the domain name is important.

How important?

The panel of 100 experts, most of whom I would hire without hesitation if I needed assistance on a large scaling project, ranked having a keyword in the domain name as the 3rd most important of 24 keyword variables in optimizing a site for search engine prominence.  Yes, 24 keyword variables.   And there are probably more.  SEO isn’t black magic and it certainly isn’t some mechanical endeavor.   Optimization properly done is a blend of art and science that never ends because mores, vocabulary and searching habits constantly change.

But back up to that whole domain and keyword issue.

Your domain name doesn’t need to be your company’s name.  You should, however, have your corporate name as a name you point to a brandable name that has a keyword present in its root (the words between the www and the dot whatever).  Once you add a slash, the importance goes down.  Having the keyword there is always important, but having the keyword as the main part of your domain is important.

I was reminded of this when talking with Ben Simon, the founder of development shop Ideas2Exectuables today.   Ben also gets to create many online presences from scratch and sees much of what I see:   non-brandable names, lots of extraneous information, too many names-separated-by-dashes-because-the-cool-name-is-gone and even worse.

We’re a great example of the concept.   Our name is Silver Beacon Marketing.  We own the domain silverbeaconmarketing.com.  Boy, that’s a lot to key in.   So when Sara and I were brainstorming our brand, one theme that consistently registered was the idea of team.  Out of that was born sbmteam.com, which violates the keyword rule, but definitely is brandable and a whole lot shorter than the company name.

You don’t have to use your company name.  Sometimes you shouldn’t.  And sometimes you can use a name absolutely unrelated to your company name like we did since we wanted to create a brand.  But if you don’t have a brand strategy and you are not constantly practicing SEO on each page of your site, work with your marketer to determine your domain name’s strategy.

One of our probono clients, the International Children’s Festival at Wolf Trap, hit a home run when they got the name “internationalchildrensfestival.org”.    Others aren’t quite so lucky, but this is an awesome show with a huge brand throughout the Mid-Atlantic so violating the number of letters issue worked out fine for them.

Don’t base your plans on availability — base your plan on what makes sense for your marketing efforts.  And buy your own name already, will ya?

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Today’s Search Word = Attribution

Marty McFly
Go back to the future with this guy and see if the conversation is different.   Image via Wikipedia

Much conversation today at the big Search Engine Strategies show in San Jose about attribution.

What’s that?

It’s a concept, discussion, argument as old as marketing.

Where did the business come from?

And here is where small businesses have to keep their eye on the magician, not the diversion.   The real answer is that we can target and identify more than at  any other time in marketing history.  But we’re not there yet.

Panelists during an analytics session today sized the number at up to 40% of sales coming from “we’re not really sure”.   And that 40% is high based on many businesses we work with.  Because if we’re doing your digital advertising, and you have a Facebook fan page and a brand name and some repeat customers with word of mouth, well… was it showing up first in a search today that turned the trick?  Maybe an ad? Some combination of all?

Attribution.  Strive to attribute as many sales as you can so you can continue that activity and even project similar future activities.

Hopping into a DeLorean time machine with Marty McFly and jumping back forty years would simply give you ad agency people who had never heard of business casual, click through rates or Starbucks.   They would, however, be arguing about how many sales came from Joe’s outdoor campaign versus Mary’s direct mail when people called on the phone.

We just moved the needle.  The question still exists.  Keep asking.

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Doing Things Yourself May Be The Only Way – Guest Blog

A Plus Home Tutoring

A+ Home Tutors grew admin too fast, founder says

As my business started growing, I decided the time was right to hire someone to take over what I was doing so I could replicate my business in another area. This sounded great in theory and may have worked for other small business owners. It didn’t quite work for me. I made a few mistakes that made this idea unworkable — yes, I can admit to making a few mistakes in my business life.

First, I underestimated the collection of skills necessary to do what I did. As a tutoring coordinator, I talk with parents, students, tutors, references, teachers, and even myself on occasion. I thought I could just find someone who was good with people and that would be enough. I will think again next time. I found that tasks piled up or were forgotten because of a lack of focus and other inefficiencies. I would like to blame the person I hired, but it was 100% my fault.

Which brings me to the second mistake: I didn’t clearly scope out the job’s details. The person wasn’t sure what was her responsibility and what was mine. I ended up giving her way too much responsibility and way too much leeway in how to get it done. The result? Things didn’t get done, I got frustrated, and sales lagged.

Finally, I just wasn’t ready. I was ready to offload the work and focus on growth, but I wasn’t ready to do the tedious work of scoping out the details and training rigorously. So after 10 months of trying to make the business work with a manager in place, I am back to doing it all myself.

And I love it!

I once again feel the surge of growth, untainted by the drag of pulling a manager through the motions against her will. Work feels good again, and now I have a much better sense of what it will take to grow beyond a one-man operation.

Author Note Brian Cheek is the founder of A Plus Home Tutors, a Bay Area in-home tutoring service for grades K-12.  A Plus tutors operate between San Jose and San Francisco and have helped hundreds of students in the company’s five years.

Small Companies Floating on Troubled Waters – Guest Post

View of Wall Street, Manhattan.
Main Street small businesses may make this view of Wall Street irrelevant.    Image via Wikipedia

It does not matter if you are a big company, a medium sized company or a small company – the faltering economy is impacting every business in some manner. However, recent articles and a few conversations with small business owners have pointed out that the economy is also creating great opportunities for small businesses.

Consider this story. In the midst of this economy, Passlogix, a privately owned software development company, just received over a million dollars in prepaid commitments for the next three to five years of service. In the process they beat out several much larger more established companies, like CA (14,000 employees) and IBM (400,000 employees), to win those customers.

Even more interesting than the story is the fact that it was told by Peter Bregman in his blog Why Small Companies Will Win in This Economy,  written for Harvard Business.

One of the common concerns over doing business with a small business is “will this tiny business be my partner in the long haul?”   What Mr. Bregman and other business leaders are seeing is t hat in this economy it is more
likely that the small or mid-sized business will be around for the long haul than it is with the big impersonal business. The tradition of relying on the “security” of big companies is fading as AIG, Lehman, Citibank, GM, Chrysler and many more big companies fade.

With a small business, a customer can call up and speak to the president. That was a key selling point for Passlogix in the business that they won.

When dealing with a small company, the customer can have a personal relationship and gain trust in everybody all the way from the President on down to the line staff. And those staff are likely to be there! A little over a decade ago I purchased a CRM package from Oncontact, a mid-sizedfirm.  In my near decade long experience as a customer of Oncontact, I worked with 2 sales representatives and 2 account managers. That’s it – that’s how stable the company was. During that same period of time I was constantly contacted by sales reps from the big CRM firms and each time I got a call it was from the “new” representative just assigned to our account.

Now compare that to Passlogix, whose clients know they can pick up the phone and speak with CEO Marc Boroditsky. He tells clients about his commitment to the company and to them, and they know exactly who to call if the work isn’t done to their expectations. That personal relationship, that trust, is important to them.

People are losing trust in big business and renewing trust with the bastion of the American economy – the small
business.

I keep hearing this line from Bregman’s blog over and over – “Small is the new big. Sustainable is the new growth. Trust is the new competitive advantage.”

This is the time for you, as a small business to reach for the stars and take advantage of this opportune time. In 2007 you might not have even bothered to make a proposal for that project that you “knew” would go to one of the “big firms.” However, in 2009 it is time to step up and present your small, trustworthy and stable business to the world as you grab new and well-deserved business opportunities.

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