Monday, April 27th, 2009

Stop acting like a sissy and market your company

Stop acting like a sissy and market your company
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From 12 to 30 I utilized the same general approach when it came to trying to get a date. I’d meet someone great, get awfully excited, and then make a bumbling request to get together. It rarely worked out very well, and upon being rejected I would retreat, deciding that it was easier to sit on the sidelines than hear a “no”.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that dating is largely a numbers game. Of the many people out there, some were in relationships, others were busy, a few were nuns, and those remaining were somehow able to resist my magnetic sexual appeal. (Hard as that may be to believe.) So, I’d head back to the studio and work in isolation, thinking that somehow women would magically show up at my front door. The simple notion of asking more people to grab a casual coffee didn’t seem to crack my thick skull until I reached my early 30s.

Shelter from the storm

I’ll admit that smashLAB was clearly shaken up last fall. Our steady stream of work slowed, and significant contracts that looked like a “lock” went the other way. At the time we didn’t do much to combat the change, but by December we had to rework a number of things in order to ensure that we remained healthy. We hacked, slashed, and chopped until we believed that we were well equipped to handle whatever this “economy” threw at us.

By this past February, we were solidly on our feet, in a way more so than ever before. We breathed a collective sigh of relief, and got back to work. The news reports no longer seemed quite as terrifying, and we had largely manged to assuage any fears we had been harboring. In fact, on a day like today, I’m relatively stress free, tapping away on this keyboard with no sense of the tightness in my back that was ever-present last winter.

What surprises me now, however, are the number of people I meet who have a panicked expression on their faces that seems reminiscent of what we were feeling at the time. I don’t know if we just reacted more quickly than others, or if we dodged a bullet. I must say though, I’m a little surprised by how many are seemingly paralyzed with fear.

No one’s “asking for a date”

What baffles me about all of this is how people are choosing to cut their spending. I can appreciate reducing office space or negotiating a lower lease rate. I similarly understand reducing staff members or entertaining job sharing options. What I can’t quite grasp, however, is this tendency to narrow the pipe for incoming sales. When you aren’t getting dates, you don’t go home and watch re-runs of Matlock; you get out of the house and meet people.

It seems that most companies are in fact doing the opposite of this though. I talk to numerous people in key roles who look a little like they’re a moment from crapping themselves. When I ask what they are doing in terms of marketing they typically respond in the same fashion, telling me something to the effect of, “We know it’s something we should be doing, but we have to cut right now.”

A nice office space doesn’t directly drive sales. Office perks may heighten morale but they don’t necessarily bring in new clients. In times like these, all of us have to look at what keeps the machine running. As such, there’s one simple truth that I want you to embrace: your company has to accelerate its marketing and sales efforts.

People do stupid things when they panic

Last summer my business partner, Eric Shelkie, and I were in our building’s elevator when eight others crammed in. I noted that we were probably “pushing it” given how rickety the old beast is, but no one seemed concerned. We did get stuck and what happened then seemed curious to me. Instead of stopping for a moment and thinking about what to do, one person immediately tried to pry the doors open (Darwin Awards anyone?) while another hit every button on the panel and others giggled or shouted for help. Shelkie calmly asked everyone to stop, and took control of the situation. Out of ten people, only one seemed capable of pausing in order to assess the situation, instead of nervously reacting.

I’m certainly no economist, but perhaps I’ll label myself a “rationalist” for the sake of my little rant here. As this “rationalist”, I’d like to propose that the problem-of-the-day has less to do with numbers, indexes and the sub-prime fiasco. Although these are clearly huge issues, I believe that our true adversaries are fear, panic and our own knee-jerk reactions. I propose that for the sake of your company, you stop for a moment, clearly assess your situation, and coldly ask what needs to be done to get past it.

People still like stuff

Here I am, back to my “dating” story. When you’re single and desperate, it starts to feel as though no one could possibly be interested in a simple coffee and movie, when in fact; the world is populated with millions of other lonely people. Similarly, regardless of the “global economy”, people still need and want stuff. As such, it’s important to remind them that you have said “stuff”, and that you’re open for business. Sure, you may have to sweeten the deal a little for them, but people are still buying.

The media loves fear-mongering, as they ultimately sell more of their “stuff” by fueling the recession hype. In the meanwhile though, most of us still get our morning espresso, buy iPods and People Magazine, go out for lunch, and rent a few videos a week. Some are clearly hit harder than others, but it’s not as though all spending has stopped. We all know this, and it’s not the only reason that we need to market our businesses more aggressively.

Why you’re going to buck the trend

So, let’s just say you’ve taken a few moments to skim this article, and you think that I’m perhaps making a small amount of sense here. Well this then is the spot where I need to sell you on the notion that this whole “marketing” thing could actually work for you. Let me take the next few moments to push you off that cliff. ;-)

When you’re half-way through a grueling run, feeling like you want to “puke your lungs out”, you tend to forget that you’re not the only one. Everyone else around you is likely feeling just about the same way, and it’s the one who can suck it up and push harder who wins the race. Although there are a few lucky ones who have managed to escape the pinch, I feel I can safely say that your competitors are hurting badly. So while they are retreating and licking their wounds, I want you to press the gas pedal and haul some ass. They’re vulnerable; isn’t this the perfect time to strike?

In fact, they’re running so scared that there’s less “noise” out there. When times are good, everyone’s clamoring to have their voice heard. Today, however, your marketing dollar has more bang, largely because fewer people are advertising, selling, and getting the word out. It’s ripe for you to get out there, bang your drum, and perhaps even grab a couple of your competitors’ clients in the meanwhile.

Considering layoffs? How about this for an option: Turn every staff member into a sales person. Get some pizza, give a pep-talk, and get every one of your phones working. Heck, perhaps you could even associate some small bonuses with sales made. Some won’t be terribly keen about hustling like this, but in this market, anyone who isn’t ready to roll up their sleeves doesn’t belong in your company.

If you have someone who simply can’t get past their fear of making such calls, just ask them to do some outreach. It’s the perfect time to get in touch with clients and colleagues and ask how they are doing. (There has never been a better time to show your customers you’re here and that you love them.)

I don’t doubt that it’s hard for you, or anyone else right now, but you have two options. The first is to dye your hair black, turn up the Depeche Mode, and lament your poor fortune. The other is to kick some ass. I think you’re going to choose number two.

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Comments & Trackbacks

  1. Goddammit, man. Spot on!

  2. Satish says:

    Well said dude, well said. Tweeted twice for 2x the awesomesauce.

  3. Shawn Petriw says:

    Great post. EVERYONE is in sales, always.

  4. floydy says:

    very well put.

  5. Chris Arnold says:

    Well said, and surely a needed pep talk for many. Thanks for the post!

  6. faris says:

    nice mate.

  7. Sam Feuer says:

    Sapience my brothah :)

  8. Lisa says:

    Excellent post Eric!! Well said and written. This is EXACTLY the time to get moving and market... not just small design studios and freelancers, but all businesses.

    Take advantage of "slow" times and beef up the business, the website, the business collateral, the customer service, and sales. Use the time to think "how can we reinvent, reestablish and remarket." YEAH BABY!

  9. Windy May says:

    Couldn't have said it better myself. Excellent article with some very thoughtful insight. Thanks for the great read. I Stumbled this for sure and sent it to some colleagues.


  10. Hi all!

    Thanks for the kind words. It's been a while since posting anything here--feels kind of nice to write something for a change. :-)

    @Windy May--thanks so much for the Stumble. I really appreciate every time you folks click on those Digg, Stumble, and Reddit links!


  11. darren says:

    I read your article and agree that, above all else, remain calm in this environment. Your point of trying to gain more business, before cutting staff was a unique way to deal with the "supply/demand" issue facing design principles today. But I must admit that I was skeptical about your motives - was this just a marketing scheme to get "smashlab" more promotion. Then I saw your company was located in Vancouver and not LA - so I will give you the benefit of the doubt.

    It's always nice to read an optimistic view of things-

    Thanks, -d

  12. @ darren - Actually, we cut staff before starting to market more. We needed to get our "burn" down and that, alongside cutting excess office space, were the first ways we chose to do so. My point was more that once the costs are down, you have to get back in the game--perhaps more aggressively than ever.

    My motives are generally related to spreading the word about smashLAB. That's sort of “par for the course”, isn't it? Still, that shouldn't compromise the nature of the post. Keep in mind that most of the readers here are other designers, not design buyers. As such, I'm really writing to our peers than to potential clients. ;-)

    Glad you liked the post!

  13. Jim says:

    Indeed a fair piece of advises to ... our clients.



  14. linda says:

    Oh how I needed to read what you just wrote. You are preaching to the converted but I find that I succumb to the doom and gloom naysayers around me [mostly it's the media] and I lose my momentum.

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful and oh so timely post.

  15. Zinni says:

    I totally agree with you Eric, while it is unfortunate that people may need to go, bring in new business still must happen.

    I have a friend who is working at a company as an HR director and has been forced to bring the company from 50 employees down to 5 in the last 6 months. They never refocused on obtaining new business when they lowered their costs, and now they don't have enough people to do it if something did break. It is sad but there is only one inevitable outcome for such a problem...

  16. Dani says:

    Love this!

  17. Saleem Jumabhoy says:

    Thanks for this. If any this is the time when the entire company has to come together - all looking to improve the product, the sales process and the customer experience..otherwise any customer will look at other options.


  18. Geof Harries says:

    Killer post as usual. Have you considered a part-time job in motivational speaking? Could be a way to bring in some extra cash...I can see the billboard already: "Eric Karjaluoto: How to kick (your own) ass!"

  19. @Geof - Tony Robbins and I are tight man... Tight.

  20. Virginia says:

    Thanks for the voice of reason in the panicking elevator. "The media loves fear-mongering", boy is that ever true! It's very hard to stay calm when being bombarded by negative media hype. I've changed to getting my news from the BBC World News website filtered through Google Reader, which turns the negativity way down.

  21. Rod Gillies says:

    Nice post. Totally agree about the "people who don't roll up their sleeves". I'm currently in the middle of a redundancy process at my work and I am staggered by the number of colleagues who seem to have downed tools until everything shakes out. Makes no sense to me at all. Surely the best way to ensure you keep a job is to knuckle down and get on with things? Seems to me tough times are an opportunity to make an impression - either with external customers, or internal management.

  22. Ryan Moede says:

    Great post - it's time to hustle!

  23. Jany says:

    Great post!

  24. Craig Hooper says:

    What a load of garbage—I can't believe all of you fell for this poo. It's...

    I'm certain that 1st sentence will make you read the rest. I'm just kidding—this is actually brilliantly written, and couldn't be any closer to the "truth". Well chosen words. It makes perfect sense—this IS the time to be jumping in the ring. Do it.

  25. Steve says:

    I agree with most of what you are saying until the end. You can't have "everyone in the organization" selling. Some people are not equiped to talk to customers and you could do far more harm than good this way. I agree that everyone needs to roll up their sleeves when times get tough but people also need to spend their time where it will make the most difference.

    Downturns are most definitely the time for the cream to rise to the top.

  26. Annabel says:

    Word Up! Exactly what I needed to read over my breakfast. Thanks Eric!

  27. Mike says:
  28. Mark says:

    Can I still listen to Depeche Mode tho? I like them.

  29. Most definitely; enjoy the silence.

  30. Very well said, Eric. The New Yorker had a similar tack last week: (Also, another fine, fine illustration by Christoph Niemann.)

  31. Matt says:

    Hey Eric, You've cleared my head.
    Funny how inspiration comes from the most unusual places.

  32. DSarathy says:

    the one I liked the most - "People do stupid things when they panic".

  33. You're 100% right. Most people are in a state of panic and reacting using their reptilian brain only.

    If only they could pause and think a bit more.

  34. mitja says:

    Gah. I can't stand sales and am not good at it. Expecting everyone to sell is a bit much. Give me a few books and I will obtain skills in more areas any day but sales.. I think that doesn't necessarily have to do with skills as it does with personality.

  35. @ mitja - Lots of people use "not being good at sales" as an excuse to not do it. Make no mistake though, it's just an excuse.

    Plus, we're all in sales. Whether you're trying to get a date, ace a job interview, or persuade your kid to eat their vegetables, you're in sales.

    Sales (and survival for that matter) are more about attitude than personality. I'm “not any good” at farming, but if there's no food, I'll start pulling weeds and watering.

  36. Pingback: Marketing is Dating- Don’t Be a Sissy | VOLTAGEblog

  37. Sean Stiller says:

    Nicely put, this is a bit of a transition we've been going through as well. Personally I had been spending so much time focusing on "thought leadership" efforts, i.e. blog posts, sending white papers to clients, improving our messaging, and so forth, that I forgot about actually building leads and generating sales.

  38. John Chapman says:

    You're preaching to the converted here! As for the negativity it's true that the media really over-hypes the negative significantly and that makes what is now a largely psychological problem much worse. But people want "stuff" and have short attention spans - both of which work in our favor. Folks are already getting bored with the doom and gloom messages - pretty soon they will be inured to the hype etc. and they'll start tuning it out... then the wallets will start opening pretty fast. The people and companies who have taken advantage of this "breather" before that happens will be the ones who reap the benefits.

    Look at where gold has gone the last month or so - the panic is over. Not much happens in the markets over summer but cheap vacations tend to be ones where lots of gas gets used up so those surpluses holding down the price of oil will shrink. The fall could be a great time !!!

    @Zinni - the company with 5 people left might want to consider that 4 is a more appropriate number - or a different 5 - they don't need that HR director any more.

    @Darren - we're all selfless honest individuals here in Vancouver - it's the weather :) Come buy a home here while prices are down!!! :D

    p.s. the elevator and dating analogies were spot on

  39. Raffy Banks says:


    It's hard to realize that things really have not changed, people still want stuff. Especially when it is doom and gloom everywhere you turn; It does feel like a 'cliff' as you say.

    I think the people who really take a chance now will be able to look back years from now and be very happy that they did.

  40. Vivek Bhatia says:

    That really pumped me up! You've always written with a style of charming bluntness and practicality that I've admired, so thanks for that.

    I particularly liked the part about how "there’s less “noise” out there". Rejection definitely saps your motivation to keep bangin' the drum, but you've got to go Energizer bunny on that damn drum.

  41. Jason Lewin says:

    Great insight...strangely it articulates what I (what we all) already know we have to do. You are just calling us out on it!

    It is exactly the right time to show current and potential clients why you are the best at what you do...they are looking for extraordinary value and will listen when the find it.

    Thanks Eric!

  42. Maribel says:

    Well said, and a much needed blog post for many in these times. You're right when you say that fear has the ability to paralyze a lot of people. Problem = Solution, I say.

  43. Jason Rushin says:

    Great post! Really rings true, especially about marketing louder now that everyone else is cutting back. Plus, lots of great marketing bargains out there these days. Every channel is willing to discount to get some business.

  44. For those that don't want to do sales or are not good at it, this might be a perfect time for them to update the company websites content, design, etc. People that have been wanting time to work on an idea they have had, but never had time, this would be a great time for that. Or that new software package (insert Adobe product here) or new programming language.

    While your slow you could learn something, along with get experience doing something else that the company can now say they have expertize in or at least know of, to be able to bid on new and different work.

    Great post by the way. Thanks, for getting me to think of things a bit different.

  45. David says:

    Nicely written Eric. Interesting analogy between dating and marketing. It's always encouraging to hear it from other people and their experiences. Thanks for sharing.

  46. bg says:

    Well-said Eric. You have to keep promoting/selling. Even when times are good.

  47. Lisa says:

    Your post reminds me of a time 8 years ago when I was working at a small design firm. Poor leadership and management had resulted in work dwindling, people were being laid off, and with time on my hands I picked up the phone book and decided to make some calls. Over 2 weeks I called about 100 companies asking them if I could send their marketing department a brochure about our firm. about 80 were not the least bit interested, 18 were slightly interested, and 2 were very interested. Nothing ever came of this, I left shortly after, but it was enlightening as to what you can do with a little perseverence. A 2% positive response is actually not bad.

  48. Great article--straight to the point. This is the time to roll up our sleeves and work on getting new clients, more than ever.

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  50. If businesses are cutting back on marketing costs like any other costs, that is stupid. If they are being innovative about cutting marketing costs to meet the same level of delivery it makes sense.
    If other companies are slashing spends and reducing market presence, yes, it is a brilliant time to get more sun for yourself.
    Whatever it is, I agree, it is time to do something about it.

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  53. Just catching up on Twitter, even tho' my blog reading is still way off, and I found the link to your article. The title doesn't do it justice.

    I think you've hit the nail on the head about marketing now. Maybe more so at this moment then when you wrote the article. I'm sensing a feeling that we may be seeing the first stirrings that will take the economy out of this dark time. So it's the ideal point at which to remind people your biz is here.

    I'm waiting for new promo postcards to come back from the printer this week for just that reason: to strike up new conversations with potential publishing and self-publishing clients. And ultimately, of course, to net some new paying book projects.

  54. Lisa Scott says:

    Great article.

    I especially agree with "I believe that our true adversaries are fear, panic and our own knee-jerk reactions. I propose that for the sake of your company, you stop for a moment, clearly assess your situation, and coldly ask what needs to be done to get past it."

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  55. This is a very encouraging article. I am leaving a full-time teaching job and diving back into freelance work. It just makes sense that if others are pulling back on their marketing efforts, mine is more likely to be heard. Thanks!

  56. adrian oh says:

    yes, kick some big ass shall we?

  57. marc thom says:

    i like this... esp. 3rd to last paragraph - roll ur selves up bitch! this works on so many levels - practical advice!

  58. thomas Romer says:

    word. its pretty much what we have been doing and its made all the difference. as a matter of fact, one person has brought in more new clients in the last 3 months than our previous new biz person did in 2 years.

    so if you hesitate to ask non-newbiz peeps to try newbiz… think again.

  59. Jon Heller says:

    I'm searching...still vain? Searching for a way to email this amazing a "doom and gloomer" at that...


  60. Sorry Jon, I suppose that's one of the sharing options we just hadn't thought about adding. (We'll address this in a future update.)

    In the meanwhile, could you perhaps just copy the url and send it to your friend?

  61. Jon Heller says:

    I...(ahem) did just that. The cutting had begun a few weeks ago. And they did what I worried they would do; cut/slashed/control burned down to the core. It was a perfect opportunity to go after more than a few non-committed big accounts. Instead, a lot of good, creative, energetic and once very loyal people will be looking for work starting Tuesday...

  62. marketing is always the toughest part. I suggest hire someone experianced to do it

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  65. Fantastic information, this is a time when businesses need realize how wide open the plain is. This is a time to get back to the roots of marketing and exploit different segments of the market. You may have to cutback on certain things, but you must be more strategic about how you market.
    I've noticed that by doing trade shows I meet many potential clients who came to the trade show for a specific reason and are open to listening about your product or service. Many companies succeed in these times because they are innovative and not afraid to take a calculated risk.

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  67. Ryan says:

    Perfect. Exactly how I see it these days. Rather than getting scared and cutting back on all forms of their business people need to push harder and get through this speedbump that is our current economy.

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  69. ash says:

    Great article. I'd love to hear what you did personally to overcome the problems. Did you do any of your own suggestions and if so what was the result.

  70. Hi Ash,

    Getting our burn-rate down freed us up a little, and this has been really useful. :-)

    The bulk of my time over the past few months has gone into my upcoming book. Meanwhile, we've been connecting with a lot of groups and taking on some new projects.

    It's not as though we're making heaps of cash, but I feel as though we're stronger than ever. Pressing the pause button allowed us to take greater control of what we're doing, and also refine our offering.

    Curiously, I think we're going to have one of the busiest winters in ages.



  71. Am I too late to join this dance? I have a couple of spare dates. ;-)

    I really don't understand why marketing budgets are always cut to bare bones when times get rough. If anything, and as you've pointed out, you should "not only try to get back in the game, but be even more aggressive than ever."

    There's only one thing that will win new clients, and that's pounding the pavement.

    I'd be curious to see how you've done the reverse -- gearing up staff/marketing/etc. as the economy begins picking up steam.


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  73. floydy says:

    had to revisit this today.

    cheers eric.

  74. Thanks—glad you liked it!

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  77. Couldn't agree more. If you don't put effort into your marketing you aren't going anywhere.

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