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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