Criterion # 1: Sufficient Experience . . .
As Evidenced by LinkedIn (or other professional online network)

Background: I get asked sometimes (often by those who have made hiring mistakes in the past) about how to “screen” an independent contractor or small marketing agency based on its leadership and what to look for. This is the first in a series of posts providing an answer to the small business owner’s questions: “How can I evaluate a marketing person (independent consultant or contractor) to help achieve my small business goals?” and “How can I be assured that I am engaging a qualified professional?”

About the Criterion: Look at past and current titles as well as dates of employment listed and duties performed to see if the individual has held positions in marketing that are aligned with the services they are offering and you are requesting. Consider the collective marketing experience and level of responsibility for results as well as accomplishments.

Serious Red Flags:
• No previous work experience within one or more marketing departments or agencies
• Only one prior position in a marketing department and/or agency, especially if for a limited period of time, before going independent
• No recommendations directly related to marketing work or positions

More Causes for Concern:
• Recommendations not related to the type of marketing services you are seeking
• The website links provided are broken or point to parked or expired domains
• A summary lists evidence of leadership and experience but no former positions (with dates) are provided as support
• No prior companies listed except the current marketing business
• A summary that provides ambiguous company goals
• All prior experience in an industry other than marketing
• Profile cites age and/or founding a company as an indicator of marketing expertise
• No actual marketing results/outcomes provided in recommendations or work detail

If you have had experience with evaluating expertise using LinkedIn or another professional network profile, please share your stories. (Future posts to address other criteria and evaluation methods; stay tuned!)


While I strongly believe in investing in professional relationships, I realize I cannot have coffee or lunch with everyone who suggests it.  While I understand the importance of networking, there’s no way I can attend all of the networking events where my target market (small businesses) hangs out.   I guess I’m not too different from any other small business owner or entrepreneur, right?

The question is “How can we get fierce about how we spend our time to ensure we’re putting energy toward the right stuff?”  I won’t pretend I have all the answers; certainly, there have been many books written on the subject by experts.  What I will suggest is that I believe in trying new techniques to solve the issue of time management with respect to meeting and events.  So far, here are two techniques I’m trying (and I welcome your suggestions!):

1. Office hours.  This idea was recommended to me by the amazing @KammieK. Instead of scheduling numerous appointments on different days, I’m holding office hours in a coffee shop once a month (or more frequently as needed).  Anyone who’s interested in stopping by and discussing their marketing issues is welcome.  And, if we draw a crowd at a given time, we can leverage the collective brainpower.  I like this approach because in the best places I have worked, we had an understanding that we didn’t have meetings just to meet.  There was an agenda and a purpose for everything.  Rather than (awkwardly) demand an agenda, I’m offering this opportunity for “get to know you” type meet-ups.

2. Shout-out on Twitter.   While I am a member of local organizations and I do enjoy the meet-ups, I really want to leave any event with some prequalified business prospects.  I’ll admit I’m not much of a salesperson.  And really the best evidence I can provide of the value of my marketing services is via a conversation about a small business owner’s particular challenges and opportunities.  Hard to do in a social setting and oftentimes people want a separate meeting for that (see #1 above).  So, I tried putting the feelers out on Twitter by asking: “Anyone going to @the_asba mixer tonight & want to talk #smallbiz marketing opportunities? DM me & I’ll make it there! #phoenix

I guess I can’t be any more fierce about my time, huh?  I’ll show up IF it is going to make sense for my business.  I need a commitment (and permission!) to conduct that type of “deeper dive” with someone about their marketing issues in such a forum. I don’t want to be too intrusive, after all, and I’d rather have a “mini-appointment” –much easier to break the ice that way.

I’ll be sure to let you know how these trial runs work out.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear your feedback and learn what you’ve found helps you tame your precious time. You can also find me on Twitter and use this link to share the post: http://tinyurl.com/tdatimemgmt1


Just a quick post announcing there’s a short presentation* available now for any small or micro business owners/executives asking:

  1. Why should my company be concerned with process?
  2. How should we develop processes for our business?

screenshot-process-dev-preso

*A version of this can also be presented to your organization’s leadership upon request.

Comments, questions, and feedback welcomed here!


(NOTE: This is a series of occasional posts clarifying the things I don’t do, business-wise, marketing-wise, or social-media-wise.  Same format each time.)

What: After approving a recommendation from someone, LinkedIn prompts you to “return the favor” by recommending the sender.  I don’t make it standard practice to automatically recommend everyone back—especially clients—but am happy to do so if asked. 

 Why I Don’t Do It: When I see profiles with too many reciprocal recommendations, it makes me question the intent of both parties and the validity of their statements.  Did one person proactively recommend another for the purpose of receiving a rec in return?  Regardless of how the recommendation came to be, is there a sense of required reciprocity at work?  If so, how does this affect the content, veracity, or quality of the recommendation?  (In other words, does this “return the favor” message prompt a generic-sounding quid pro quo response, devoid of any real specific value?)  I don’t automatically recommend someone right back because I’d rather know that the other party values a recommendation from me (i.e., will ask for one directly). The reverse is true: I don’t want someone to recommend me back automatically.  I’d prefer for my profile (and those of my networked professionals!) to reflect authentic recommendations from various sources. 

 Stuff I Do Instead: I enjoy recommending people without expecting or requiring a recommendation back.  If I’m asked to provide a recommendation, I will do so if I have significant direct and positive work experience with the requester.  Luckily, I’ve had positive experiences with and I really like everyone in my network who has asked for a rec from me, but I shy away from writing one if I know others have had more significant and direct  interactions with them and have more meaningful, specific evidence of success to report.  If I wrote a generic recommendation saying something nice about them but without the aforementioned evidence, I wouldn’t be adding value to their profile, IMHO. And as a marketer I am all about adding value and providing meaningful messages!  Instead, if I am in a conversation (such as networking or social) where it’s appropriate to put in a good word about someone, I try to do so.  The advantage to this kind of word-of-mouth promotion is that it’s contextual (and arguably more powerful due to nonverbals, etc.) than the written recommendation. 

 Additional Comments: There are so many different approaches to social networking with tools such as LinkedIn and I’ve noticed we all have varying “rules” and criteria for using them.  It’s interesting to have open dialogue and really understand the boundaries and expectations we have of our networked colleagues.  I invite you to explore and/or share your thoughts on the subject here. 


(NOTE: This is a series of occasional posts clarifying the things I don’t do, business-wise, marketing-wise, or social-media-wise.  Same format each time.)

What: Follow Friday or #FF on Twitter (or other microblogging platform).  Essentially, someone tweets a list of Twitter handles/names (I’m @tracydiziere for example) as a blanket recommendation of people to follow. 

Why I Don’t Do It: Recommending people to follow, while a nice gesture, makes the assumption that all of your followers will value the tweets (consisting of news, opinions, personal updates, etc.) of these people.  It’s just too generic.  There’s no way in marketing I would recommend every product or every service to everyone.  There are market segments, ideal clients, target markets, etc.  I apply the same logic to microblogging.  Unless I can ensure that I’m delivering a meaningful message to a specific, interested group, it’s not worth it.  However, if I could segment my updates and/or customize recommendations for following based on an industry or interest, FF would be appealing to me.  Without this ability, I’m not providing value to followers with respect to their specific variety of shared interests with me—from jewelry/retail sales, to marketing/PR, food/wine, small business, instigating (you know who you are), and all things Arizona.  I never want to treat these  followers (or clients!) as an indistinct mass of an audience.  For tweeps with a lot of influence, however, I realize it makes sense.  It’s like they are referring people they trust, which is cool.  I just prefer to do that on a smaller more personal scale. 

What I Do Instead:

(1) Re-Tweet. When someone I follow has a tweet that is relevant (Relevance is key!) or that I believe will be interesting to a segment of followers, I will re-tweet (RT) it.  I don’t limit the number of RTs from any one person—it’s a matter of relevance and those who are more relevant are RT’ed more.  I typically don’t RT quotes (nor do I tweet quotes from famous people often).  This is because I do value information that is specifically directed at and appropriate to my followers. 

(2) Reply. Another way I indicate someone is worth following (and why they are—the component missing from the generic list and hashtag) is by Replying to them, or starting a conversation.  Replying using @ lets me tell that person (and my followers) that I’m interested in what they have to say with respect to a certain topic or communication instance.  Followers who see that we’re communicating about wine, for example, and like wine themselves (or sell it, make it, write about it, teach others about it, etc.) can follow that person.  It’s a slower process, but for me, it’s more genuine and thoughtful than the  “This-is-who-I-think-is-important-for-everyone-to-listen-to-regardless-of-who-you-are” message I get from #FF.  Maybe that works if you’re already a social media guru with thousands of followers.  That’s not who I am or  aspire to be.  I also will reply using a bunch of people if I think they have something in common.  That way I’m recommending (or referring) people within a certain context, subject, or niche.  And I’ve pre-selected that group to ensure they have interests in common. 

 

Additional Comments: I noticed recently #FF isn’t as big as deal as it used to be (thankfully!).  Is this your sense as well?  Is this because others feel as I do or something else?   I’d like to think Twitter users on the whole are getting smarter and more considerate of audiences/markets and really wanting to tailor communications (e.g., tweets) to them.  Also, if you think I’m really missing out by not participating or want to share your reasons for doing it, chime in!  If you’d like to connect, follow me: @tracydiziere.


In my earlier post Firing Customers: Why and How,  I referenced Collapse of Distinction: Stand Out and Move Up While Your Competition Fails. This is a book by Scott McKain and although I haven’t read it yet, he has published an informative article on MarketingProfs.com: Why You Should Fire (Some of) Your Customers.  Herein, he recommends who to keep and who to discard by category (very helpful!) and  smartly states: “We spend more time than we really have to give pleasing a customer we never should have solicited in the first place.” (Emphasis mine.)

This last bit by Mr. McKain leads me to the crux of this post: Better screening.  I admit that I have fallen victim to a big name, a glowing referral from a colleague, and a market underdog with potential (if only they’d been open to change), but I am trying—and encouraging my marketing strategy clients to try—to do a better job of what I call “selective engagement.” 

With a little process development and strategic thinking, small businesses can establish criteria for selectively engaging clients who are well-suited to their business models and financial goals. This includes ideal client persona development as well as the means to attract them and the process of identifying them.  With this type of planning and supporting processes in place, you can prevent the firing mentality or  “culling phase” and instead be more exclusive with building your client base upfront.  Yes, this takes great effort, bravery, and budget, but given the alternative—having to gracefully back out of an engagement—it might just be worth it. 

Today I came across an excellent example from a marketing person I respect, Allan Starr. In his Marketing Monthly newsletter,  he states his criteria, including this specific requirement, “If a client doesn’t at least believe they are better than their competitors, we don’t take them on (we are opportunity agents, not turnaround artists).”  Starr makes a bold statement about what his company does and what they need from potential clients, which will allow prospects to identify or walk away.  (Bravo Marketing Partners, and feel free to refer those who need more confidence to Tracy Diziere & Associates.)

As many marketing colleagues acknowledge, it can be hard to walk away from prospective business, especially when you know you can help them and see how much they need help—and given this economy. But you will SPEND more money in terms of  time and energy trying to please them than you will MAKE. 

Not only should small businesses have a defined process in place (as well as the means to communicate that to the market), they should also seek to improve upon it.  I have a process for lead qualification, but it is constantly being refined based on experience.  Practicing continuous improvement is key, not only in manufacturing but also in your sales cycle.  I advise clients to create and refine their lead generation and client acquisition strategies (as well as client education efforts).   In my experience, it is easier to do this for others than to do it for one’s self—due to perspective-taking abilities, the need for thick skin, and the ever-illusive time for  working on the business as opposed to delivering client results. 

Here’s another supporting tidbit from the 1to1 Media Blog which asks the question “When Is It OK to Fire Your Customers?”  Ginger Conlon notes, “Others say: Don’t acquire potentially unprofitable customers in the first place.” That’s what TDA helps micro and small service businesses do—with the process and tools to support such a customer acquisition strategy. 


Those of us in professional services or B-to-B services have no doubt encountered less-than-desirable customers.  Many articles and books have been written about firing those clients. (I came up with 1,540,000 results for Google with the keywords “firing clients.”)  Here is just a sampling of results worth mentioning:

  1. 1. Inside CRM: Top 10 Ways to Fire the Client From Hell.  Despite the irreverent title, this article plainly describes the type of situations a B-to-B and/or services company might encounter, from “penny-pinchers” to “unreliable” to “abusive” clients.  Sad but true, they do exist.
  2. Duct Tape Marketing: What’s the Best Way to Fire a Client.  Although the article is more about tactical execution, and I’m not a fan of raising fees as a tactic, this post acknowledges that “sometimes the best thing you can do is let a client go.”
  3. U.S. News & World Reports: You Don’t Need the Aggravation: When to Fire a Client.  Many of the same points above made but backed  by national media and with a succinct summary of results: “bad clients may lead to all kinds of trouble, like low employee morale and the inability to adequately service good clients and find more profitable accounts.”
  4. Entrepreneur.com: Fire Your Bad Clients.  Again, national media backing the concept, this time invoking the 80/20 rule. 
  5. Collapse of Distinction: Stand Out and Move Up While Your Competition Fails. This is a book by Scott McKain and although I haven’t read it, he has published an informative article on MarketingProfs.com: Why You Should Fire (Some of) Your Customers.  Herein, he recommends who to keep and who to discard by category (very helpful!) and  smartly states: “We spend more time than we really have to give pleasing a customer we never should have solicited in the first place.”

My next post will highlight alternatives to firing clients for B-to-B service providers. Stay tuned or sign up to get feeds.

P.S. For independent PR people, I just found this excellent industry-specific post on SoloPR from guest blogger Heather Whaling of Geben Communication.




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