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Take Your Business To The Next Level

In the beginning, entrepreneurs tend to focus deeply on just launching the business. But what happens when the launch and the subsequent water-treading and breath-holding period starts to subside? In the article “Ready to Scale Your Small Business? Do These 5 Things” written by Emily Richett, here’s what she suggests:

Build A Vision Your Team Shares

While scaling a business of any size takes strategic planning and focus, going from solopreneur status to a true team is a serious leap. Andrew Dymski co-founded the digital agency GuavaBox in his college dorm room. Fast forward to today, and he’s got a powerhouse global team making things happen around the world. His advice? “Spend time building out the vision for what you’re trying to build.” And that’s easier said than done–entrepreneurs notoriously, “keep their noses to the grindstone and never look up,” he adds.

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It’s an essential exercise especially during the all-important shift from one to more than one. “When you start scaling your team, you need to have a clear mission that others can get excited about.” And, as Andrew reiterates, that impacts you, too–not just your team. “Taking the time to focus on your vision can help you build the company of your dreams,” he says, “not just build out another job. You don’t want to finally lift your head up in 10 years and wonder why you wasted your time and energy hustling to build a business you don’t even like.”

Be Endlessly Data-Driven

When you’re scaling your small business, it’s essential to measure and analyze everything.

“When our digital agency went through its first growth phase in 2014, our client base grew 200% in less than three months,” says Lauren Davenport, CEO of the Symphony Agency. Like Andrew, Lauren launched her company in college. Now, she leads a team of 20. “We needed help–and we needed it now.” Their solution? They immediately wrote up job descriptions and brought in seven new team members, seemingly overnight. The only problem? They did it without any sort of hiring framework in place. And that was a problem.

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“We didn’t dig into the nitty gritty of capacity planning and profit margins,” she recalls. “Hiring more people solves all problems, right? Wrong.” In this case, bringing on new hires had the opposite impact–the quality of their product suffered big time. “I had the pleasure of learning the age old lesson of ‘be slow to hire and quick to fire,” says Lauren. “It wasn’t fun.”

The good news? “You can easily avoid this mistake,” she says. For starters, figure out your company’s key performance indicators that, specifically, drive growth and cash flow. And once you do, “measure them like crazy, and you’ll avoid the pitfalls that we learned the hard way.”

Get to Really Know Your Audience

Scaling periods are critical times to focus on who’s buying your products or services. By gaining clarity of who your audience is and where your business is going, “your employees will make decisions based on what is better for the business rather than themselves,” explains Jason Swenk, an agency growth coach and mentor.

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During his career, Jason successfully built and sold a digital agency and now he coaches other agency owners. “You need to drill down into a niche a couple levels where you completely understand your clients’ biggest challenge and what they want,” Jason says.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say No

When you first launch your business, it’s easy to fall into a ‘yes’ pattern, that is, saying yes to every client, every consumer and every opportunity that comes your way. It makes sense, beggars can’t be choosers, right? While no one’s advocating taking on clients who are going to endlessly drain your time and talent, entrepreneurs tend to be a little more lenient in selecting clients in those early days.

But, as your business begins to scale, that approach might actually hold you back. “At the end of the day,” says Andrew, “the clients that pay you the most money will bring the least headaches. The clients that pay you the least amount of money will bring the most headaches.” His advice? “When in doubt, charge more.”

Be Accountable

Most entrepreneurs, especially freelancers and consultants, “aren’t accustomed to being their own boss,” Lauren says. “It sounds like it should be fun, but holding yourself accountable can be difficult.” While accountability is always important, it’s particularly critical as you’re scaling. Lauren experienced this one first-hand. “When I hired my first business coach,” she recalls, “I couldn’t afford it, but I scraped up pennies and did it anyway.” And guess what? “It was worth it.”

About The Author

Michael Hammond
Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

Talking To Prospects

According to Jill Konrath, in today’s crazy-busy world, the ONLY way to capture and keep your prospects’ attention is to talk with them about what matters to them. Pure and simple. That’s all they care about.

Your prospects have zero tolerance for salespeople who think their job is to share their unique methodologies, great technology or extraordinary service. All that info is available online. If it’s of interest, they’ll find it—on their own time.

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Jill Konrath is a globally recognized sales strategist. She’s an in-demand speaker at sales kick-off meetings and conferences where she shares fresh strategies to help salespeople deal with emerging challenges.

Forrester Research also found executives state that 86% of the salespeople who called on them were NOT prepared to have an intelligent conversation on their initial meetings. Most didn’t get a second chance.

Yet your prospects are thirsty for ideas that can help them do their job better, faster, or more productively. They crave information on how to increase revenue, reduce costs or expand their market presence. They search for insights on how to deal with changes in the business environment. A salesperson that delivers these ideas, insights and information is pure gold.

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Additionally, Forrester Research shows that the first vendor to create a viable vision of the future has a 74% chance of closing the sale. That’s an amazing statistic, but entirely achievable IF you target the right prospects, research their business and talk with them about what matters most. In short, you need to use catalysts and context to lead an intelligent conversation.

According to Wikipedia, a catalyst “speeds up a reaction by lowering the activation energy required for the reaction to proceed.” In sales, a catalyst does the same thing. Suddenly the organization is receptive to new options. The grip of the status quo has been loosened. Money even appears out of thin air. Here’s how to find and leverage these trigger events for maximum impact at your company.

Identify The Catalysts

To get started, analyze your existing clients. Ask yourself:

(1)…What internal factors (inside the company) made your clients finally decide to take action?

(2)…What external factors (outside the company) changed their business environment sufficiently so that the status quo was no longer sufficient?

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Often salespeople discover distinct changes or issues that are behind virtually all decisions. Invariably, these are the most common:

New Leadership: Often, within 3-6 months, new executives are implementing fresh initiatives to drive revenue, reduce costs or increase efficiencies.

Financial Announcements: If business is up, expansion projects take priority. If business is stagnant or down, productivity or cost-saving initiatives jump to the forefront.

Mergers/Acquisitions: Any change in this area causes organizations to re-evaluate all their supplier relationships.

New Strategic Initiatives: When new corporate directives are announced, the entire organization shifts to ensure they’re in alignment.

Legal/Compliance: Changes in government regulations (e.g. Affordable Care Act) cause organizations to take immediate action.

These are only some of the many catalyzing events that can create opportunities for savvy sellers. Others include reorganizations, new product/service announcements, relocations, market expansions, new business deals, or new funding.

If you’re new to this type of thinking, review local or national business publications and ask yourself: “If this happens, how does this impact an organization’s need for what I sell?”

Knowing your catalysts frees you to pursue those companies where you have a higher likelihood of closing an accelerated deal. Plus, you’ll know what to talk to these prospects about since you are deeply immersed in their issues and challenges. It’s the fodder you need to have an intelligent conversation.

Get A Jump Start On Competitors

Here’s the good news. Many of these catalytic events are newsworthy announcements, shared publicly by the company. Or they’re part of required financial reporting.

The easiest way to get your hands on this info is to leverage sales intelligence tools – ones that automatically search for your specific catalysts and deliver them to you on a timely basis. If you sell to a small number of companies or track a finite set of catalyzing events, you can get by with Google Alerts.

But things get pretty complicated when you need a steady stream of new prospects. Or when you’re selling to multiple market segments. Or when a variety of these catalysts can signify a loosening of the status quo.

Sales intelligence apps like InsideView, Lead 411 or DiscoverOrg can totally automate this process for you. They sort through all the junk that’s out there, giving you daily alerts about what’s happening in your territory – on just those catalyzing agents that you want to follow.

Intelligent conversations depend on sale intelligence. Today, it’s imperative to be the first one in the door with fresh insights on how to deal with the emerging priorities and issues.

Planning an intelligent conversation involves combining what you know about the catalyst’s impact with your understanding of the context of prospect’s situation.

From this, you develop a game plan to pique your prospect’s curiosity, showcase your depth of knowledge and build trust that you’re an invaluable resource.

You’ll know you’ve succeeded, if, at the end of your conversation, your prospect says, “Very interesting. We clearly need to look at this in greater depth.”

Let’s go back to where we started. According to Forrester Research, the first vendor to create a viable vision of the future has a 74% chance of closing the sale. That means you need to identify a gap between your prospect’s business goals and their current situation.

When companies are disrupted by catalytic events, a gap naturally emerges. Suddenly the status quo is no longer sufficient. Change is needed.

Salespeople who use sales intelligence apps to notify them when these trigger events occur consistently outperform their peers. They get in early, which gives them the ability to shape the discussion.

When these same salespeople leverage context, they integrate their knowledge of the company, individual people and their digital behavior into the conversation. They know more—which enables them to come up with better ways to help their prospects achieve their specific goals.

Combined, catalysts and context yield intelligent conversations – ones that are focused on helping prospects create a viable vision of what’s possible in their organization. In this article, we’ve just talked about the initial conversation. You’ll need more to close the deal. But you’ll get there faster and with minimal competition. It’s definitely the way to sell today.

About The Author

Michael Hammond
Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

Capitalize On Your Content

In an article that I just read from Marissa Lyman of Marketo, she talks about “Four Things Smart Marketers Do With Press Coverage”. The same can be said about great marketing content.

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“A member of your public relations team just secured a killer placement for your company. Congratulations! This is big news—pun intended! This article has it all—corporate messaging pull-through, a nice quote from your executive, complimentary language about your organization—it’s a win all the way around. You’ve passed it around internally and everyone has replied all with comments like “very cool” and “great hit.”

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You’re done, right? That’s the extent of the value that this coverage will bring to your org.

WRONG!

If you think the press coverage is a one-and-done type of deal, think again! There are lots of things that you can do with a press hit to make it go the extra mile for your brand. You can (and should) take all that free publicity and make it work for you. Here’s how:

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Socialize It

Post that article to your social followers! Sharing stories like this over company accounts is a nice break from traditional corporate announcements and shows validation for your brand by third-party sources. Even though press coverage isn’t an endorsement, sharing articles where your company is reported on externally adds legitimacy to your narrative. That’s because studies show that earned media is considered the most trustworthy form of marketing.

And of course, if you have an executive quoted in the piece or maybe a partner or customer featured in the article, make sure all of them are tagged to give them some extra love, like greater exposure and even more follows.

Incentivize It

There are lots of tools available now to incentivize employees and brand advocates to share news like this via their social channels. Doing so allows them to spread the word to their social networks for additional reach. The benefits of using platforms like GaggleAMP or Influitive is the element of gamification, which entices employees more than an email that just says, “please share.” It’s easy to set up a rewards program (Swag! Giftcards! Money! Oh my!) through these tools, further incentivizing your coworkers for their efforts.

Put Some Paid On It

I said that to the tune of “I got five on it,” by Luniz (if you don’t know that reference, please look it up). Just because you got the hit for free doesn’t mean that you can’t give it an extra “boost.” Putting paid promotion behind the post on any social network or via a content distributor ensures that more eyeballs— especially more of the right eyeballs—will reach the article.

Much is given to a company’s website—pricing pages, product specs, customer testimonials, C-suite bios!—but I urge you to consider the page where I spend most my time: the press room. Your press room should not only include staples like your company’s most recent boilerplate and announcements (maybe even a link to your corporate blog, if you’re feeling fancy), but it should also include recent mentions of your organization in the news. It’s one thing for people to see what you’re saying about yourself when they look at this page. It’s an entirely other thing for them to see the nice things other people are saying about you”.

At the end of the day getting press coverage or creating awesome marketing content alone doesn’t ensure the results your looking for. It is critical to share the content through as many channels as possible. Looking to attract more borrowers? Maybe it is time to share more.

About The Author

Michael Hammond
Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

Get Noticed

It’s tough out there. If you want to get a lender’s attention you have to be on your game. What does that mean? It means that when you write a blog or any content, you need to make sure that it gets read. That seems easy enough, but it isn’t. Everything starts with a good headline.

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In the article entitled “How to Write Catchy Headlines and Blog Titles Your Readers Can’t Resist” by Corey Wainwright, he says, It’s one thing to write great content, but it’s another thing to get it read and ranked, which is where nailing the title comes in.”

Titles are what sell the content. They represent it in search engines, in email, and on social media. It’s no surprise, then, that some of the most common questions we get concern crafting titles.

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How long should my headline be? What words should I use? What words should I avoid? Should I optimize it for search, or for social? Or both?

Luckily, we’ve come up with a simple formula for writing catchy headlines and blog titles that you can reference from here on out. So let’s just dive right in, shall we?

1.) Start with a working title.

Before you get into the nitty-gritty of coming up with a perfect title, start with a rough draft: your working title. What is that, exactly? A lot of people confuse working titles with topics. Let’s clear that up:

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Topics are very general and could yield several different blog posts. Think “raising healthy kids,” or “kitchen storage.” A writer might look at either of those topics and choose to take them in very, very different directions.

A working title, on the other hand, is very specific and guides the creation of a single blog post. For example, from the topic “raising healthy kids,” you could derive the following working titles:

>>”How the Right Nutrition Can Strengthen Your Kids’ Bones”

>>”A Parent’s Guide to Promoting Your Child’s Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Well-Being”

>>”X Recipes for Quick & Healthy Dinners Your Teenagers Will Gobble Up”

See how different and specific each of those is? That’s what makes them working titles, instead of overarching topics. It’s also worth noting that none of those titles are perfect, they should just be specific enough to guide your blog post. (We’ll worry about making it clickable and search-friendly later.)

2.) Stay accurate.

Accuracy is critical when trying to finesse a title, because it sets clear expectations for your readers. While I’m sure lots of people would love to click into a post that said “10 B2B Companies Killing Facebook So Freaking Hard They Don’t Need Any Other Marketing Channel” … it’s a little bombastic, no?

Unless, of course, you truly did find 10 B2B companies rocking Facebook that hard, and you could confirm that all 10 of them had stopped using other marketing channels. First and foremost, your title needs to accurately reflect the content that follows.

One way to ensure accuracy? Add bracketed clarification to your headline.

So if you remember nothing else from this blog post, let it be this: The most important rule of titles is to respect the reader experience. If you set high expectations in your title that you can’t fulfill in the content, you’ll lose readers’ trust.

Accuracy encompasses more than just hyperbole, though. With the example working title above, you’d also want to confirm all of the examples are, indeed, B2B. Or even that they’re all companies, instead of, say, individual bloggers that target B2B audiences. See what I mean?

3.) Make it sexy.

Just because you have to be accurate doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to make your title pop. There are a lot of ways to make a title sexier.

Of course, all of this hinges on understanding your core buyer persona. You need to find language that resonates with them, and know what they find valuable.

Once you’re armed with knowledge of your buyer persona’s preferred style, try testing out some of these tips for making your headlines a little sexier:

Have some fun with alliteration. The title and header in this blog post, for instance, play with alliteration: “Foolproof Formula.” It’s a device that makes something a little lovelier to read, and that can have a subtle but strong impact on your reader.

Use strong language. Strong phrases (and, frankly, often negative ones) like “Things People Hate,” or “Brilliant” pack quite a punch. However, these must be used in moderation. As one of my coworkers likes to say, “If everything is bold, nothing is bold.”

Make the value clear. As we mentioned above, presenting the format and/or contents to a reader helps make your content a little sexier.

Make it visual. Is there an opportunity to include visuals within your post? Make that clear in the title.

Focus on the “who’s,” not the “whys”. Want to intrigue your audience? Focus on the “who”: Headlines including the word “who” generated a 22% higher CTR.

4.) Keep it short.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how long or short your title should be. It depends what your goals are, and where your headline will appear.

Do you want this post to rank really well in search? Focus on keeping the title under 70 characters so it doesn’t get cut off in search engine results.

Are you trying to optimize your title for social sharing? According to our own analysis, headlines between 8–12 words in length got the most Twitter shares on average. As for Facebook, headlines with either 12 or 14 words received the most Likes.

5.) Try to optimize for search and social.

I say “try” because, sometimes, trying too hard to optimize for these things can make your title sound strange. Remember: You want to optimize your title for your audience above all else, but if you can optimize for both search and social, that’s great.

The secret to thinking about all three at once? Focus on keywords that you know your audience is already searching for, then look into the search volume for those keywords.

Once you have a keyword in mind, you’ll want to be sure to place it as closely as possible to the beginning of your headline to catch your reader’s attention. (Again, you should keep your headline under 70 characters so it doesn’t get cut off in search engine results.)

6.) Brainstorm with someone else.

Once you’ve refined your title using the tips above, it’s time to come up for air and connect with another human. Title brainstorming is an essential part of the process.

The final step before scheduling a blog post is pulling another member of the team into a back-and-forth title brainstorm in a chat room. One member of the duo will post the title they recommend into the chat pane window. The other person will then refine that title even further, or suggest other angles. After several back-and-fourths, the duo will agree on the title that’s accurate, sexy, concise, and SEO-friendly.

It’s essential to put your best foot forward with each post that you publish.

About The Author

Michael Hammond
Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

Effective Email Marketing Tips

E-mail may seem a bit old school, but e-mail should be a part of every mortgage technology vendor’s strategy. The big question is: How do you do your e-mail marketing right so you get real results? In the article entitled “3 Ways to Trigger a Sense of Urgency in Your Sales Emails” by Heather R. Morgan, she shares that the average adult has to make about 35,000 decisions each day. Which include things like, what to wear, which route to take to work, where to buy coffee—these are just the start, and usually the easiest.

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How does this relate to e-mail? So, you can imagine the last thing someone wants to face when they open a cold e-mail from you is a complex choice. As a salesperson, your job is to make their decision to respond as easy as possible.

The simplest and most effective way to do this is to appeal to your potential customer’s most basic human instincts: desire, curiosity, and fear. Of all the emotional triggers out there, these three can create a strong sense of urgency and increase the chances of someone responding to your e-mail.

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Of course, this is easier said than done. In the span of a single cold e-mail, you have to trigger those instincts and, at the same time, communicate that you understand the customer’s wants, needs, and worries, and can deliver the solution: you.

Here are three tips to help you do the same:

DESIRE

Every business wants to grow and succeed. Your e-mail can appeal to this by offering the promise of serious and direct business value. Your messaging should address, quickly and believably, exactly how your prospective customer will benefit from your product or service, and it should do so in a manner that inspires them to respond. There are two approaches you can take:

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The first is to demonstrate value by providing clear and tangible examples, or social proof, of how your service or product delivers results. This is especially effective if you can use actual numbers to demonstrate success with a competitor.

Alternatively, you can reframe your product features as customer benefits. This is a good approach if you are new to the scene or unable to reference your clients by name.

CURIOSITY

Intrigue is a powerful tool that can also be a lot of fun to use. If your e-mail hints at a solution to a potential customer’s pain point or particular need, their desire to know the full story should override any hesitation to respond to your e-mail.

For example, you might inform the buyer you have an idea or strategy that will make a significant difference to an aspect of their business. Remember, you are trying to keep their curiosity peaked, so this should just be a teaser, something that will induce them to follow up.

FEAR

Fear is probably the most powerful way to introduce urgency and inspire a potential customer to action. However, it’s important to apply subtlety over aggression. You don’t want to terrify your potential clients; you just want to address their concerns. Research specific issues at play within their industry, introduce anxiety, and then end on a positive note by offering a solution.

Instead of writing, “Data hacking will destroy your business if you don’t do something now,” try an approach with less fire and brimstone: “Data hacks have increased tenfold in the past two years, making it more important than ever to protect your data.”

Hopefully these tips will help you enhance your e-mail marketing strategy.

About The Author

Michael Hammond
Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

Get Your Ideas Across

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For mortgage technology vendors, oftentimes they are selling ideas. They are trying to convince mortgage lenders to automate a process that is traditionally paper. That can be a hard sell because it requires the lender to embrace change. So, it’s a balancing act for vendors in that they have to both honor the existing mortgage process and make the case about how it can be improved. If you’re going to be successful, you have to be a good presenter.

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In the article entitled “How The Most Successful Presenters Pitch Their Ideas” by Ian Altman, he points out that it’s not enough to simply deliver a message. I’m flattered when I get glowing feedback from the audience after a talk. When I deliver a keynote address, I know I need to inspire, entertain, educate and also to engage the audience. My keynote address is only successful if the audience gets new ideas, can internalize those ideas, and then apply them to their world while having fun in the process.

My fellow speaker and brilliant master of ceremonies, Mark Jeffries has a great formula he shared with me during a recent discussion

After more than a decade of speaking and hosting conferences and events that include top celebrities like Serena Williams, Richard Branson and Will Smith, he’s developed a simple four-part framework that is guaranteed to wow an audience. Make no mistake, as a guy who spent years as a television personality, Mark Jeffries is a world-class master of ceremonies.

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But first, he starts by asking clients an intriguing question:

“When you’re at home in the evening, and you slump onto your couch with a nice, big martini – that’s my MO, at least – and you turn the TV on and you’re flipping through the channels and suddenly you find a channel featuring a man in a grey suit standing very still talking in a monotonous fashion with a slide deck full of words behind him, do you stay on that channel?”

Of course not, Mark gasps. “That’s the last thing we want to watch, and yet this is what we give people at conferences and events all over the world.”

Instead, he asks, why not give people what they want? Why not give them an experience they can walk away from feeling inspired and educated and entertained?

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When he works with executives on how best to present their ideas on stage, he reminds them of the word TIME.

What is TIME?

I have the good fortune to speak on many stages. I also get to experience the good, the bad, and the ugly of other speakers. Some might be brilliant, just not the style content that appeals to me. Some, however, really stand out as fan favorites for almost every audience. After years of speaking at and hosting events, Mark noticed that all the best presenters shared similar qualities. Aside from being well versed on their topics, he saw that they had what seemed like a natural charisma and command of the audience. Was that something these speakers were born with, he wondered? Or did they develop their skills?

Turns out, anyone can develop the skills needed to be a better presenter. The pros, it appeared, had TIME on their side. TIME is the acronym Mark developed to describe the key ingredients of a good presentation.

What Does It Mean?

T stands for Teach.

“We all love to be informed of something we’ve not heard before or something that perhaps changes the way we think,” Mark says. “If you can get somebody’s mind activated with a new idea, they are much more likely to listen to you. Tell them something interesting.”

I means to Inspire.

“When you inspire people, you’re not boring them with the whole process. You’re actually saying: Hold on. At the end of this, this is how different your life, your world, your customers, and your business processes are going to be. That is an inspiring picture and people respond well to that when you’re presenting,” Mark says.

M stands for Motivate.

“What you really want to do in any presentation is motivate (the audience) to some form of action,” Mark advises. “So in any presentation, whether you’re across the table (from someone) at a Starbucks or you’re standing on a stage in front of 5,000 people, you have to at least know that you’re giving them one thing they’re going to go away with.”

E means to Entertain.

As speaking coach extraordinaire, Michael Port, notes, “You want the audience to agree with your points — not with you. It’s the difference between ‘That’s right’ and ‘You’re right.”

Mark suggests, “Be real, be a real person. People buy people right? And if you don’t have that personality that is charismatic and warm and very likeable, no one is going to buy your ideas. No is going to buy what it is you’re selling.” He adds, “You have to be the likeable person. And I so often see somebody who is in front of me who is just not likeable and they must as well just give everyone a handout and sit down.

“If you develop that connection (with an audience) in your short pitch, you’ve got them. You can basically have them come around to your way of thinking in a far easier fashion than if you were brusque and arrogant.”

It’s Not About You

It’s tempting to think a presentation is all about the speaker when all eyes are on him. But the truth is, the greatest presenters know that it’s not about them. It about the audience — and their needs, desires, challenges and problems.

A pitch should never revolve around you.

“When I’m hosting events, I get to introduce business leaders and business thinkers and they get up there and they pitch, and half the time it is just not appropriate for that audience,” Mark says. “They haven’t even bothered to think about their audience or to understand the world in which their audience lives. And it fails. It falls down.”

“When you’re pitching your idea you have to be smart enough to stop and say wait a minute: what is this person actually looking to buy before I even try and sell them anything?”

About The Author

Michael Hammond
Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

You Can Do Better

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What’s in a brand? A brand is the idea or image of a specific product or service that consumers connect with, by identifying the name, logo, slogan, or design of the company who owns the idea or image. Branding is when that idea or image is marketed so that it is recognizable by more and more people, and identified with a certain service or product when there are many other companies offering the same service or product.

Marketing professionals work on branding not only to build brand recognition, but also to build good reputations and a set of standards to which the company should strive to maintain or surpass. Branding is an important part of Internet commerce, as branding allows companies to build their reputations as well as expand beyond the original product and service, and adds to the revenue generated by the original brand.

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When working on branding, or building a brand, companies that are using web pages and search engine optimization have a few details to work out before being able to build a successful brand. Coordinating domain names and brand names are an important part of finding and keeping visitors and clients, as well as branding a new company. Coordination of a domain name and brand names lends identification to the idea or image of a specific product or service, which in turn lets visitors easily discovery the new brand.

Branding is also a way to build an important company asset, which is a good reputation. Whether a company has no reputation, or a less than stellar reputation, branding can help change that. Branding can build an expectation about the company services or products, and can encourage the company to maintain that expectation, or exceed them, bringing better products and services to the market place.

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Thanks to the Internet, your potential customers are being flooded with dozens — if not hundreds — of different buying opportunities every hour.

For your company’s branding to really work, it will need to be more than just a name.

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In the article entitled “6 Tips to Building a Stronger Brand Using New Media,” written by Margaret Garvin, she emphasizes that branding has always been important, but it’s never been as essential as it is now. Thanks to the Internet, your potential customers are being flooded with dozens — if not hundreds — of different buying opportunities every hour.

While quality, cost and execution will all play a role in a customer’s decision, trust remains the key way to win the sale. Branding is one of the most important things you can do to win trust, so it’s important you do it right.

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Here are simple tips for marketing your brand with new media.

Spend Moments On Execution, But Months In Prep.

For your company’s branding to really work, it will need to be more than just a name. A logo, tag line, tone of approach and color scheme can be important.

Consistency in these choices is just as important as the choices themselves. A decision to change any element of your business brand can undermine a lot of hard work, so be willing to take your time — months, if needed — to decide exactly how you want to present your brand.

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If you’re not consistent from site to site, customers won’t recognize your brand, won’t build trust, and your efforts will end up fairly impotent.

Branding is a constant effort that gets reinforced with every move you make, and doing so carefully is just one more aspect of “smart business.”

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Actionable tip: Consider creating a comprehensive brand uniformity guide where your branding elements will be standardized.

Monitor Your Brand-Related Queries.

Whatever people are searching about your brand on Google indicates what they think about it and, importantly, what problems they have. Moreover, if too many people are searching [your-brand-name scam], this phrase will show up in Google Auto-suggest results as others.

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Monitoring what people are searching and where your own site ranks for different search phrases is crucial. You can use various keyword research tools in combination with keyword position monitoring software.

Kiss Still Applies.

The famous battle cry of “keep it simple stupid” is thoroughly embedded in the jargon of every salesman. This lesson doesn’t start and end on the sales call, though. Simplicity has been shown to be more effective in branding efforts as well, especially since it makes your company more memorable.

Get Into Social Media and Interactive Content.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Ello . . . I could go on for hours. There are tons of social media sites, and people age 18 to 34 actually spend more time on these sites than they do watching TV.

Obviously, you need to get your company onto these sites; however, your work won’t end there. You need to post regularly, add valuable content and use as much interactivity as you can by putting out videos, interactive presentations, editable infographics, and so forth. Rich interactive designs have been the hottest trend for a few years now.

For instance, Target successfully reached out to college students with their “Made for U College Styler” and ServiceNow captured the attention of their target audience with an interactive quiz.

Interactivity doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. Smartketer claims that something as simple as animating your banners can significantly improve your campaign performance.

Be Consistent With Your Branding.

Whatever the details of your company, you need to repeat yourself for your brand to stick. Did you catch that? You need to repeat yourself for your brand to stick.

If you’re not consistent from site to site, customers won’t recognize your brand, won’t build trust, and your efforts will end up fairly impotent. So, keep in mind: You need to repeat yourself for your brand to stick.

Brand consistency requires scalable team collaboration. Make sure you have tools in place for your whole company to be aware of your branding efforts.

When In Doubt, Hire Out.

How much is a good-looking logo worth to your company? What about the creation of the right tag line or company motto?

If you’re not sure you can come up with something really solid on your own, then employing a copywriter, graphic designer and brand strategist is a very wise move.

Branding is a constant effort that gets reinforced with every move you make, and doing so carefully is just one more aspect of “smart business.”

By being consistent, memorable, and just a little bit omnipresent, you can build a brand that separates you from your many, many competitors.

About The Author

Michael Hammond
Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

Getting The Deal

Have you ever thought: Why did I lose that deal? What did I do wrong? What could I have done better? We all have these thoughts. In the article titled “The 3 Sales Questions I Should Have Asked” by Jill Konrath, she reflects on her experiences.

She remembers: “In retrospect, I mistakenly let my own eagerness to do business with this marquis customer outweigh my common sense. I should have known better, but I was seduced by the opportunity.

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“Over and over again, I see other sellers make similar mistakes when they have a ready-to-buy-now prospect on the line. Like me, they expound on their capabilities and benefits. They willingly provide detailed information and do tons of extra work to create proposals or presentations—anything the prospects want.”

While this strategy puts you into the “nice” seller category, it doesn’t help your prospects make the best decision for their organization. Nor does it enable you to separate yourself from your competitors. You just come across as an overeager beaver. And usually you don’t get the business.

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That’s why, when these prospects contact you, it’s imperative to not let your common sense fly out the window. Here’s what you can do instead: ask questions

It’s good for both you and your prospect to dig in and ask the hard questions. At first, they often feel inappropriate; especially when you feel like you should be “selling.” But in reality, they are exactly what you should be doing—helping potential clients make the best possible decision for their business.

Here are three questions you must ask about—even if they’re uncomfortable:

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1.) Are they 100% sure they’re going to change—or are they trying to determine if it makes sense?

This is crucial in determining your next step. If they’re still trying to decide, your focus needs to be on the business case. If they’re committed to taking action, then the focus becomes differentiation.

2.) What other options are they considering—and have they ever done business with any of these companies before?

If your prospect has an existing business relationship, make sure to explore why they’d consider changing. It’s a lot more work than staying with the status quo and if they don’t have a good reason, they’re likely not going with you.

3.) What are their decision criteria – and why is each factor important?

When you find out what criteria they plan to base their decision on, it ultimately helps you:

>> Figure out which aspects of your own product/service you should stress;

>> Determine how you stand against your competitors; and

>> Uncover any possible misconceptions about the best solution for them.

Plan these questions now. Do it before you talk to a real, live, ready-to-buy-now prospect. You’ll also want to practice asking these questions aloud too. Ultimately, asking the tough questions will make you more likely to identify the opportunities with potential and thus close more deals.

NexLevel Advisors helps its clients bring strategic focus to the art of selling. We understand the need for your sales organization to deliver results today in a competitive and ever changing marketplace. Our dynamic and specifically tailored approach, repeatable process and insight into complicated selling propositions elevate your team to the next level.

About The Author

Michael Hammond
Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

Describe Your Product Better

In the mortgage space buzzwords flow like water. Someone coins a term that catches on, and everybody looks to copy it. You have to remember though, that when you describe your product you have to tell a story that is compelling.

In the article titled “How to Make 5 Boring Product Descriptions Sound Irresistible” written by Heather R. Morgan, she gives five examples of once boring features flipped into fun, compelling benefits to help get you started with your own sales copy. Here they are:

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“MOBILE FRIENDLY”

Almost every major piece of software available on the market today offers access from mobile devices. In order to twist this common feature into a benefit, try coming up with situations where your buyer may need to use your product remotely. Are they trying to stay productive on the road, or keep up with work while they’re working from another office? Focus on the different situations where mobile access is a help instead of the generic availability of mobile access.

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“VERSION CONTROL”

Version control, which helps manage changes to documents automatically, is another feature that’s too vague to be useful without additional context. Instead of touting your product’s ability to keep everyone on the same page, try presenting it as making sure your team isn’t working over each other, or ensuring that the client always receives the final version instead of accidentally sending a draft.

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“SCALABILITY”

Scalability is a useful feature, but it’s too vague without any context. Instead, think about the impact it might have on your buyer’s life. For example, if you’re a Director of Human Resources, you may need an applicant tracking system that works as well with 5 job openings as it does with 50, or even 500. You can tie it all together with a relatable sentence about the pain that can come with growth and you’ve got yourself a stellar benefit.

“USER PERMISSIONS”

Setting user permissions so only certain employees have access to certain documents is another generic feature most people have little interest in. By reframing this as a benefit, perhaps one related to preventing employees from seeing important planning or strategy documents, you give prospective customers a really strong reason to buy.

“AUTOMATIC BACKUP”

Everyone wants automatic backup, but it’s also one of those things you often don’t think about until it’s too late. By focusing on the pain of lost data, you can make this simple feature into a compelling benefit for a variety of personas.

Once you’re finished writing your value propositions, you can utilize them in any communication that’s important for generating leads and driving conversions. Just make sure that your value proposition is clear throughout the copy.

Some of these common descriptions may apply to you, some may not. The point is that you need to be creative when describing your product.

Michael Hammond
Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

The Trick To Selling

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The sales cycle has changed, and you have to change with it. In the article titled “The New B2B Sales Imperative” written by Nicholas Toman, Brent Adamson, and Cristina Gome, they conclude that “most B2B sellers think their customers are in the driver’s seat—empowered, armed to the teeth with information, and so clear about their needs that they don’t bother to engage with suppliers until late in the process, when their purchase decision is all but complete.”

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Customers don’t see it that way. They may be better informed than ever, but CEB research shows that they’re deeply uncertain and stressed. Buying complex solutions, such as enterprise software or manufacturing equipment, has never been easy. But with a wealth of data on any solution, a raft of stakeholders involved in each purchase, and an ever-expanding array of options, more and more deals bog down or even halt altogether. Customers are increasingly overwhelmed and often more paralyzed than empowered.

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More information begets more questions, with the result that customers take longer and longer to make a purchase decision—if they ever do. At the same time, the number of people involved in B2B solutions purchases has climbed from an average of 5.4 two years ago to 6.8 today, and these stakeholders come from a lengthening roster of roles, functions, and geographies. The resulting divergence in personal and organizational priorities makes it difficult for buying groups to agree to anything more than “move cautiously,” “avoid risk,” and “save money.” One CMO has memorably referred to this as “lowest common denominator purchasing.”

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Finally, the expanding range of options that B2B customers face requires increasing amounts of time for evaluation as stakeholders deliberate over the trade-offs. Research shows that for individual consumers, greater choice isn’t necessarily a good thing; the same principle applies to big B2B purchases. No matter the choice, some stakeholders will always find aspects of an alternative more appealing. In addition to slowing the purchase process, an excess of options leads to post-purchase anxiety: “Did we do the right thing? Would another choice have been better?” Research shows that such second-guessing occurs in more than 40% of completed B2B purchases.

That customers struggle to buy comes as a surprise to many suppliers. Senior executives at companies around the world describe the complex-solutions purchase process in one word, “hard,” “awful,” “painful,” “frustrating,” and “minefield.” A typical solutions purchase takes twice as long as customers expect it will. Clearly, much of what makes the process so hard has nothing at all to do with suppliers and everything to do with customers themselves.

The solution? Make buying easier.

Suppliers have of course been working on simplifying sales since the dawn of selling. Unfortunately, the very tactics they think will increase ease of purchase often do the opposite. Research finds that the vast majority of sales professionals believe that giving customers more information helps them make better decisions; that they must flexibly respond to a customer’s direction (even when they disagree with it); and that it’s “extremely important” to help customers consider all possible alternatives. Sellers are striving to be more responsive than ever—taking the customer’s lead and providing whatever support is requested. They ensure that customers have all the data, cases, and testimonials they might need to guide their decision-making, and they lay out a suite of options, continually adjusting the offering as customer demand evolves. This approach seems like the right one, and it’s in keeping with suppliers’ desire to be more customer-centric. Yet it drives an 18% decrease in purchase ease, according to a survey of more than 600 B2B buyers. Piling on more information and options just makes things harder.

Whereas the responsive approach typically depressed purchase ease, a proactive, prescriptive approach increased purchase ease by 86%. Prescriptive suppliers give a clear recommendation for action backed by a specific rationale; they present a concise offering and a stable view of their capabilities; and they explain complex aspects of the purchase process clearly. A simple prescription might sound like this: “One of the things we’ve learned from working with customers like you is that purchasing folks are going to get involved, and probably late in the process. And when they come in late, things tend to blow up. So you’ll want to bring them in earlier. When you do that, they will have two main questions: X and Y. Here’s how to answer them.”

Not surprisingly, customers perceive prescriptive salespeople as being one step ahead, anticipating and eliminating obstacles. That translates directly into business results: Suppliers that make buying easy are 62% likelier than other suppliers to win a high-quality sale (one in which the customer buys a premium offering). In fact, purchase ease is by far the biggest driver of deal quality found across three large studies. What’s more, customers who complete a prescriptive, easy sales process are dramatically less likely to regret their purchase or to speak negatively of the supplier, and are more likely to repurchase, than customers in conventional sales interactions.

Although every deal is different, all deals are typically more similar than not—especially within a particular industry, across a specific customer segment, or for a given offering. The most effective prescriptive sellers learn from the purchase processes and challenges of a handful of customers to effectively prescribe to a wide range of similar customers, scaling their capability. Selling prescriptively is less an individual rep skill than an organizational aptitude that can be deployed across channels, from sales conversations to marketing content to customer diagnostic exercises.

Prescription may take many forms, but the companies that have mastered it employ the same practices: They work to deeply understand the customer’s purchase journey; identify the most significant customer challenge at each buying stage; arm their salespeople with tools to help overcome each challenge; and trace the customer’s progress so that they can intervene at any moment to keep the process on track.

Today’s best suppliers help customers consider not just what to buy but how. They use: mapping the journey, identifying barriers, designing prescriptions, and tracking progress tactics to win the deal. But they also share two overarching organizational characteristics: First, they avoid focusing on getting customers to buy from them and instead concentrate on how customers make purchase decisions. This may seem like a minor distinction, but in fact it’s a profound one, and fundamental to the best practitioners’ success. Second, they tightly align their sales and marketing teams to support the customer journey from start to finish—breaking down the historical barriers between those functions in the process. As a result, these companies create consistent and relevant tools, messaging, and guidance to shape and simplify the purchase journey, drive sales, and ultimately increase customer loyalty.

About The Author

Michael Hammond
Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.