For the April 2015 Strategy Session (Alberta Venture), I sat down with Eman Safadi and Evie Eshpeter, co-founders and partners-in-crime at Poste Strategies, and a plate full of macarons from Yann’s Haute Patisserie, to discuss my recurring nightmare: the “button-down-the-hatches-and-do-nothing” attitude even the most seasoned business people in yyc and Alberta adopt when oil prices plummet.
We know exactly WHAT you should do. But we don’t think you’ll do it. Sob.
Full text at Alberta Venture: Old school marketing in Twitterworld: An economic slowdown is the perfect time to overtake your competitors
Unedited text below:
Strategy Session: Back to the basics: Old school marketing in the Twitter world
Featuring: Eman Safadi and Evie Eshpeter of Eposte Strategies
I have a dream.
It’s a very silly dream, because it’s utterly unachievable, and for a dream to be either Martin-King-Lutheresque (Jr) or Field-of-Dreams-“Build it and they will come-able,” there’s got to be at least a chance—a tiny sliver of a chance, odds mounted against you, but still, there it is, a crack, a possibility—that it will come true.
And mine won’t.
Because—yeah, of course I’m going to tell you what it is, I wouldn’t tease you like that—my dream is that you, when the going gets tough and the local-global economy throws slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at your balance sheet—when things look bad and red—I wish you wouldn’t stop spending money.
Yeah, I really just said that. Because that’s the time to—evaluate, sure, spend smarter not more, think twice about whether that initiative is really worthwhile—but that’s also the time to really do. Because, nobody else is, and if your competitors are standing still and you’re not… But you know all this. And still. You’re going to stop. You’re going to spend just enough to keep going. And I know that the first thing you’re going to slash is your marketing and business development budget.
So you know what? I’m not even going to try to convince you to do otherwise. Instead, I’m going to get Eman Safadi and Evie Eshpeter, co-founders and partners-in-crime at Poste Strategies to tell you how to keep on marketing, building your brand, and engaging in stellar business development strategies—without spending a dime.
What? Sorry. Eshpeter’s just told me I’m lying. Why don’t I just give her the floor for a moment…
“It’s interesting to me that when things are tough, marketing activities are often the first thing to be cut,” Eshpeter says. “But marketing is how you communicate your brand. And if you’re not communicating your brand, you have no business. If anything, now is the time to put yourself out there and get ahead of those of your competitors who are entrenching and hiding.”
Absolutely—in fact, I think I just said that? But, see, I wanted to talk about how they could do this without spending money, and… What? Ok. She’s getting there.
“You already have a marketing plan and budget, and you have a history—you’ve engaged in marketing, historically spend money on marketing, ” she says. (You have a plan, budget? You market, right? Phew, good.) “Look at all that, hard. What has been your most effective endeavor? What’s the thing you spend money on that works, that brings you business? Keep on doing that.” Maybe—do more of it. That thing that you do because it looks good, because you ought to, because your father-in-law told you to do, but that hasn’t really resulted in anything? Can it.
(There, she’s saving you money already.)
“If you’re feeling financially strapped and you have a sense that your customers are going to be cautious—maybe now’s not the time to experiment with things in which the return on investment isn’t certain,” Eshpeter concedes. “But don’t pull back on the stuff that you know works.”
Here’s what works, here’s what sells—here’s what’s always sold. Ready? Awesome customer service and being connected with your customers.
Yeah, that’s it. And it’s so obvious you probably don’t think about it as you ponder your social media strategy and your advertising budget and also, what-do-you-get-out-of-those-hockey tickets-theatre-tickets-for-clients and how-much-will-the-catering-for-this-client-reception-cost?
“Customer service is not a cost—or at least, it shouldn’t be a cost if you’re investing in your people,” says Safadi. “But it’s the differentiator for small business. The odds are that the product you’re selling is not that unique. Your customer can get it from a dozen, more, other places.” Or a cheaper supplier in India via the Internet. “Customer service and the customer experience is what sets you apart.”
You know this, right? Business 101.
So… why aren’t you doing it? Because you’re not. No, really—you’re not. You may think you value the customer experience, and you may think you personally deliver superb service—and perhaps you, personally, do—but what about your frontline people?
“Most businesses don’t invest enough in their staff,” says Safadi. “And I don’t mean in terms of salaries. Staff, employees: they’re your brand ambassadors. And most businesses don’t communicate their strategy, their vision to their employees.” As an entrepreneur you’re usually incredibly passionate about what you do—that’s what fires you, drives you. Infect your employees with that passion. “When you really invest in your people, when you channel their passion, when you really leverage their expertise, when you’re aware what they bring to the table, and you actually make use of it—your business benefits. Period.””
I know you don’t do this, and I know why. You’re too busy. Or, rather—you were too busy. Surprise! Here’s the silver lining of any slow down. You know all that time you wish you had? You’ve got it. So here’s what you’re going to do with it: you’re going to become people-focused. You’re going to start with your staff. Are they properly trained? No? Fix that. Are they properly supported? No? Talk with them about how you can change that. Do they understand what you’re doing, what you want to do? No? Tell them.
And then, together, you’re going to cherish your customers. (What? Oh. You sell widgets. And you’re not passionate about selling widgets. It’s a living. Although… you’re not even sure anyone needs a widget. Maybe, their lives would be perfectly fine without them. Your life, certainly, would be better without customers always wanting this and that… Hmmm. I think, maybe you need to hire a VP Sales who LOVES widgets and who loves people. And yourself, you should come into the office as little as possible. Now, excuse me, while I return to talking to the people who care…)
Cherishing your customers—(what? The word makes you uncomfortable. I see. You don’t have to say cherish. You can say… Valuing. Better?) —valuing your customers does not mean spending mega-bucks on them. It is, after all, supposed to work the other way, right? You provide a service or product—they pay you. Valuing your customers means—well, delivering great customer service. Valuing their time by having smooth processes. Valuing their money by being competitive and making them feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth. All that basic, basic stuff.
“Showing them you value the relationship,” Eshpeter adds. “It’s not hard, it’s not costly.” Again, pretty basic, right? Bonus (and another old marketing truism): your existing customers are the easiest segment to grow.
“Some of the most dramatic results in the campaigns we’ve done for clients have been focused on reconnecting with an existing client base, and reigniting their interest in the product or service,” says Safadi. “And it’s not a hard sell—it’s just, reaching out, being passionate, starting a conversation, maintaining a connection.”
You look a bit… I think, disappointed. You wanted, what? A magic bullet, right? A list of no-cost, no-effort things that will magically build your brand and business? Yeah. No such thing. Although Eshpeter and Safadi do offer a compact list of no-cost—but hell-yeah-effort, what do you think this is, an all-inclusive beach vacation or a business?—old-school brand-building, long-term marketing activities. They’re all about getting involved and connected with people in places where you can make a difference: join a board, get involved in your industry association, offer to teach a class at the library, find speaking opportunities, become a mentor, take your passion to a charitable or community organization…
We’re going so old school here, I have to quote Zig Ziglar: “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”
As true in the age of Twitter and social media as in 1975…
Final point. “Collaborate!” Safadi and Eshpeter almost shout. Collaborate with other business people on marketing initiatives and client outreach. Collaborate with entrepreneurs in other niches—trade skills, exchange referrals, share ideas. Collaborate with your competitors. Yup, with your competitors: be alive to opportunities in which marketing something together might make way more sense than killing yourself financially to do it solo.
I have a dream. And I know you’re going to break my heart. And you’re going to do all the wrong things. And you’re not going to Carpe diem—you’re just going to hunker down and wait it out. But, maybe, perhaps… could you? Just do one of these things? Invest in your staff. Spark up your customer service.
Read an old Zig Ziglar book. Yes, they’re all on Kindle. (He’s also on Twitter. Despite being dead. Wonder what he’d think of that?)
Marzena Czarnecka is a Calgary-based business and legal affairs writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, stalked at @paddleink on Twitter, and visited at CalgaryBusinessWriter.com.
P.S. Yann’s macarons? To die for.