Tag Archives: public relations

You Lost Me at “How Are You?”

Leveraging Preparation, Practice, and Patience for Better Business-to-Business Calls

Kate ZabriskieBy Kate Zabriskie

“Hi, this is Ahmad calling from Acme Industries. How are you today?”

“Well, Ahmad, I was a lot happier before you called and interrupted me. I’m behind with my project, and I’m too busy to leave my desk. Don’t call me again.”

The truth hurts, but it’s honest. Ahmad blew it. He had an opportunity to win the ear of the person on the other end of the line, but he squandered it by asking a silly question.

Clueless Ahmad probably won’t get another chance to engage that target. Anyone in the business-to-business sales industry will tell you, stepping off on the right foot can mean the difference between clicking and a terminal “click.”

Is there hope for Ahmad and the legions of desperate dialers just like him? Of course there is.  By paying careful attention to three basic things—preparation, practice, and patience—almost anyone can improve their business-to-business calls.

Preparation: Are you cold-calling people and hoping for the best, or do you invest an adequate amount of time and effort in homework?

First, do you know what you offer, and can you use under twenty words of conversational English to explain that product or service? If not, don’t make the call.

Second, have you researched the people you plan to call? This doesn’t mean full-throttle cyber stalking, but at a minimum you need to look for them in the usual places:  LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Search for people by name and company, by name only, and by email address. Together, those three inquiries will yield more complete results than any single query. Searching that way can also reveal personal information you otherwise might have missed that could be useful later.

For example, maybe the email address search leads to a PDF of a little-league baseball team roster. Now you know something about your prospect you might be able to weave into a conversation at some point in the future. A quick word of caution:  if you discover information beyond what you see on LinkedIn, whatever you do, don’t admit to the depth of your research unless you want to sound creepy. “I saw on Facebook you and your family had a great time at the Outer Banks last summer.” This comes off as extremely invasive. When making sales calls, remember 3 keys: preparation, practice, and patience. Click To Tweet

In addition to research about the people you are calling, you should also know something about the company they work for.  At least look at the organization’s website, its LinkedIn profile, and its stock price if the company is public. You should also run a quick search for news mentions.

If you fail to tend to those basics, don’t be surprised if you get caught and have your lack of knowledge held against you. Given the ubiquity of information in the age of the internet, there is no excuse for not knowing the fundamentals about the organizations you call and the people who work there. Period.

The third step in the preparation process is choosing a reason to call. The more specific it is, the more likely you are to get a thoughtful response.

Imagine for a minute that you sell office supplies, something every business uses. Your ideal customer is a business with 500-1,000 employees. In a perfect world, your customer does not use a purchasing department to procure these products. You prefer to work with office managers. You’ve searched for businesses that meet those criteria, and you’ve done the basic research on the organizations and the relevant staff. Now you’re considering a few openings.

Good morning. This is Jane Jones with Office Pro Supplies. I’m calling because I’m verifying a mailing list for a promotion we’re running next month.  Could you tell me if you’re the most appropriate person to receive information about our copier paper special and if you prefer email notification or hard copy?

Good morning. This is Jane Jones with Office Pro Supplies. I’m calling because we sell office supplies to businesses. A lot of them have 1000 or fewer employees. I came across your information on LinkedIn while I was working on something else, and you looked like you might be a good fit for what we do. I wanted to call to see if we could serve as a resource to you. Could you tell me how you are currently purchasing your workplace supplies?

Either of those is sure better than, “Good morning. This is Jane Jones with Office Pro Supplies. How are you today?”

Practice: Just as a skilled skater makes jumping, twirling, and other acrobatics look as effortless as breathing, smooth phone selling requires athlete-level discipline. What you say should roll off your tongue and sound natural. A perfect conversation starter will often sound stilted if it’s not practiced. Be prepared to work hard to sound unrehearsed.

Where do you find the time? How about the shower, during your commute (assuming you don’t take public transportation), or as part of scheduled role play? Role playing can be painful and unpleasant, but as the saying goes, no pain, no gain. As uncomfortable as they may be, these exercises are one of the fastest ways to learn.

Patience: You follow the preparation and practice instructions to the letter, and your first two calls are a bust. What happened? Maybe you’ve just been unlucky. Not everyone is going to want to talk to you, and that’s their loss. If you have a good reason to call and you offer a product or service that might solve a prospect’s business problem, hold your head up and press on.

Keep dialing, improving, and learning from what works and what doesn’t, and do it with a smile and a good attitude.

Lack of patience will get you no place you want to be. Regularly practice and critique your performance and you will get better. If improvement is not happening fast enough for you, enlist someone you trust to listen in on your calls. His or her comments may sting. Too bad. In the long run, you’ll be glad you got the help.

There’s no secret sauce in the recipe for better business-to-business calls, just elbow grease.  With better preparation, practice, and patience everyone can improve their results one call at a time.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.


Your Staff is Your Best Publicity Asset

By Russell TrahanRussell Trahan

Throughout the business landscape, countless days and hours are spent on the hiring process—rifling through resumes, conducting phone and in-person interviews and vetting potential hires—and for good reason. Company payroll budgets only contain so much flexibility for new employees, and selecting the correct individual to fill an open position involves much more than just ensuring their competence in the role; your new employee is also joining the best weapon in your companywide publicity arsenal: your staff.

Your selection of staff should go beyond just the tangible skills they bring to the office and their ability to complete projects and achieve goals during the workday—it should also include their talent for recruiting and driving business when the day is done, as well. Your salaried or commission-based employees—present and future—should recognize the value of out-of-office networking skills and practices, as even simple interactions after-hours or on the weekends could potentially engage new customers or clients.

It is for that reason that you, as a manager or business owner, should consider the people you employ an essential component to any of your publicity efforts, as they are often your establishment’s first-impression and top recruiting asset once the lights go out for the evening.

There are multiple ‘best practices’ for instilling a sense of off-the-clock commitment in your present and future employees, and utilizing them to foster a sense of organizational pride will work wonders in your efforts to bolster your company image. Online, in-person and over-the-phone, your staff should recognize their value away from the office.

The Social Ovation: Incalculable business relationships are now created and nurtured in The Social Media Stratosphere, and acuity in this area can be an accurate barometer for real-world success. Along with your business’ online-presence and activity, your employees can boost your impact in the social media arena by broadcasting companywide or individual accomplishments from their personal profiles. This can be as simple as a sharing a blog-post that a staff-member is particularly proud of or that garnered an extensive degree of attention, or actively promoting any sponsored events or appearances.

Client or customer-bases can be developed through your employees’ relationships, especially if they are pleased with their individual contributions and the level of work coming out of your offices enough to show it off. Regularly recognize and applaud their performance in-office, and they may be compelled to share it out of the office—chiefly on their social media platforms. A fulfilled employee is an employee that enthusiastically wants to share your achievements.

Word-of-mouth is often the most powerful form of promotion or advertising, and your staff can be the premier vehicle for this type of reputation advancement.

The Business Card is Timeless: There is no action in the business world more common than the time-honored tradition of exchanging business cards. Even with a shift toward Internet-centricity and networking, every executive will always have a business card on-hand—which should also contain their array of online links and contact information.

Employers should encourage their staff to keep a few cards on the ready. Any chance interaction outside of the workplace can quickly shift into a professional conversation, and a casual swap of business cards Saturday night may result in a new product order or contract Monday morning. Many things will change in the business environment, but the business card is a timeless object that will remain a fundamental networking component.

Maintaining a Convention Game Face: Regardless of primary field or industry, chances are you will send out staff representatives to attend a conference or convention on your company’s behalf at some point. Effectively working a booth is an imperative skill that your employees need to possess to ensure that you receive a tangible return on your sponsorship investment.

Part of making an appearance at a corporate convention a fruitful one is the overall demeanor from inside the booth. Your employees should understand the value of simple, conversational engagement with those who stop by—not everyone will want to secure your services, but they should all be treated as such. A smile and a simple acknowledgement greeting to passersby can be the easiest route to increased booth-traffic and solid sales leads at the events’ conclusion.

Email Etiquette Has No Day Off: With the culture of connectedness that was ushered in by the widespread adoption of laptops, tablets and smartphones, your salaried employees are now within reach at all hours of the day, and every day of the week.

When receiving work-related emails or text-correspondence while away from the office, your staff should be remain acutely aware that in-house etiquette still applies, and not allow themselves to slip into casual text-speak or tone they may utilize on their day off. Improper email decorum is an immediate strike against company credibility, so make sure you instill in your workforce the importance of proper electronic communication.

Your product or service is only as good as the people you have onboard. When your employees and associates realize and appreciate their value to your operation and the role they play in actively promoting your business, the more cognizant they become of their actions when they leave the workplace. When you impress upon your staff their importance to the company and their influence on overall accomplishments, you create a workplace culture of collective input and shared success.

When your employees realize their fundamental position in your business, they ardently become an extension of your publicity undertakings, and make a point to contribute even when they are away from the workplace.

Russell Trahan is President of PR/PR, a boutique public relations agency specializing in positioning clients in front of their target audience in print and online. PR/PR represents experts of all kinds who are seeking national exposure for their business or organization. Russell and PR/PR will raise your business’ awareness in the eyes of your clients and customers. For more information, please visit www.prpr.net or email mail@prpr.net for a free consultation.

Why Your Last PR Campaign Failed: And How to Ensure Success in the Future

By Russell TrahanRussell Trahan

Every turn of the calendar, new quarter or product launch, countless companies and individuals jot down a resolution to launch a public relations campaign for numerous reasons: enhanced corporate visibility, increased bookings and fees and audience expansion, among others. From time to time their PR endeavors fall short of anticipated expectations, and leave many executives and experts alike wondering, “What went wrong?”

There are a few common mistakes that beleaguer the efforts of public relations newcomers and impede the achievement of their goals, but by employing certain strategies, these stumbling blocks can be avoided altogether.

Problem – The Inch/Mile Mindset: At the outset of every public relations campaign is an establishment of aims and objectives, and a roadmap of how to achieve them. The path to increased name-recognition and brand-awareness is best achieved on an upward gradient, with a steady stream of media placements and informed quotes in news stories, both in print and online. By reinforcing this initial roadmap, goals remain practical and concentrated, with an individual or organization working to ascend this gradual incline.

Issues arise when expectations suddenly shift, which can sometimes follow interviews in large-circulation publications, and cause a refocusing of efforts solely on features in outlets of the same caliber, abandoning the preliminary plan altogether. This inch/mile mindset, where one massive placement sends all realistic expectations askew in pursuit of only similar opportunities, can be the death knell for a successful public relations campaign.

Solution: Stick to your chosen strategy, and don’t lose sight of the goals you set from the beginning. Set feasible benchmarks on a timeline, and work to achieve them. The best public relations operations involve repetition and media attention that you build on progressively, not some meteoric rise from a solitary placement in a major publication. The more your name is seen, the more it is remembered.

Problem – Anti-Social Media: Social media platforms have redefined the way people connect and communicate, and have become an integral component to running a business. With check-ins, online reviews and posts serving as public comment cards, if your social media cache is a virtual ghost-town, it will reflect as a stagnant or dwindling customer-base.

PR blueprints today incorporate a social media element, but building your presence online is only the first step. Without engaging potential clients or customers, editors and reporters, your Facebook or Twitter account is the equivalent to an empty suit. The advantages of social media sites are they allow you to cultivate relationships and consolidate customer-service efforts. If you’re not engaging with other users, you’re practicing Anti-Social Media, where your presence does not include participation.

Solution: Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn are not static websites that you can simply construct and put on autopilot – they are the extension of your business or persona online. Would you attend a convention or banquet and remain secluded and silent? Of course not – you’re there to network. The same principles apply to social media.

Make a point daily to monitor your various accounts and their activity. Initiate a dialogue with other users through thought-provoking content, and respond to any questions, compliments or complaints. Update your status at least three times a week and partake in the conversation that unfolds – you’ll be surprised at how simple (and enjoyable) it can be, and the boon it provides to your business.

Problem – Unavailability: When it comes to providing an analysis or informed comment on a circulating news story, the most imperative rule is to remain available. Too often, when a reporter is attempting to reach out to a business or individual, they are greeted by voicemail messages or inordinate lag-times between email correspondences. The result? They move down to the next name on their list, and potentially exclude you from any further story contributions due to perceived unreliability.

Solution: If an aspect of your public relations campaign includes interviews, you must ensure that you’re available at the drop of a hat. Editors and reporters are on strict deadlines, and failure to provide your expertise in a timely manner will cause this facet of your strategy to collapse.

The prevailing issue with many who embark on PR campaigns is that their efforts are complementary to their professional endeavors. Increased business and growing profit-margins are the aim of any public relations enterprise, so a packed schedule is a positive – but the news media is indifferent toward the reason of the delay in reaching you. In this scenario, nominate a point-person who can speak on you or your company’s behalf if you are unavailable. Inform them of your company’s position on certain topics and ensure that they are well-versed in these areas in the event of your absence.

Problem – Topic Rigidity:  Stretching expertise is essential for expanding name-recognition and growing an audience, but a problem can arise when a company or individual cannot see the application of their expertise to other areas. This narrowing of the professional scope can limit public relations opportunities and prevent development in many previously untapped markets.

Solution: Say you are in the insurance industry, formulating strategies for corporations and individuals to mitigate risk and keep costs at a minimum. While your initial instinct is to only comment on stories relating to insurance or articles that specifically cater to this professional sect, by doing so you are limiting the eyes that can view – and learn from – your expertise. A wider PR net can be cast on this focus, such as financial planning tips or shifting trends in healthcare policy, for example, which will amplify your reach and promote maximum exposure to your prospects.

There is a learning-curve with every new undertaking, but it does not have to include initial failure. By utilizing the above solutions to typical public relations problems you can allay risk and foster a strategy for success.

Russell Trahan is President of PR/PR, a boutique public relations agency specializing in positioning clients in front of their target audience in print and online. PR/PR represents experts of all kinds who are seeking national exposure for their business or organization. Russell and PR/PR will raise your business’ awareness in the eyes of your clients and customers. For more information, please visit www.prpr.net or email mail@prpr.net for a free consultation.

PR and Small Business: Four Practical Parallels

By Russell TrahanRussell Trahan

There are numerous preconceived notions about the field of public relations and the everyday life of a PR professional. Many Americans may envision a Hollywood landscape of exclusive events, material excess and prestige, while others visualize an individual furiously hammering phones and email, determined to lock down an interview with an elusive editor. While the idealized pomp and circumstance of the publicity field may have found its way into some people’s schemas, the fact of the matter is that it’s closer to the latter, and shares many of the cornerstones that define any customer-centric small business.

Your company may be seeking ways to employ public relations principles in your business model, but are unclear on how to properly implement them, or fail to see how the application of PR tactics can prove beneficial. The truth is the fundamental pillars of running an effective and efficient publicity campaign are mutually inclusive with the methods that carve out a lucrative niche in your community with your small business.

The president of a publicity agency and the manager of a local brick and mortar boutique have the same overriding goal in mind: client retention. On paper, the operational ways and means may appear vastly different – connecting with reporters and editors vs. connecting with the community – but the similarities that these brands of businesses share far outweigh the differences. You can adhere to a variety of principles when aiming to build and maintain a rich customer base, but there are four that are absolutely essential to ensuring long-term success and profitability.

1. No Matter What, You’re Always Marketing: Public relations executives recognize that their brand and its associated image are the lifeblood of their professional identity, and any blemishes incurred can derail the potential for lucrative returns. In the same vein that a PR firm would continually promote their services as results-driven and effectual, small businesses must utilize ‘round-the-clock marketing to promote their goods and services through a scope of success and viability, and safeguard against any possible harm to their reputations. Whether you’re a clerk at the point of sale or the owner representing the company at the local chamber of commerce meeting, your actions or inaction can throw a monkey wrench into the gears of your vision and goals. There is never a moment, on or off the clock, that you are not representing your company: maintain marketing vigilance.

2. Timeliness is Next to Godliness, So Take to the Internet: Nowhere is the phrase ‘strike while the iron is hot’ more pertinent than in the public relations industry, where reporters are on tight deadlines and the window of opportunity to have your client featured may be as minute as the time between your pitch hitting their inbox and the next. Where print publications and broadcast agencies can be viewed as a PR agent’s ‘customers’ as they require information in a concise, time-sensitive manner, your physical customers demand and expect the same level of timely service.

With the explosion of social media platforms and the newfound ability of ‘point-and-click’ problem solving, the area of customer service has become acutely streamlined. Small businesses should unquestionably appoint an online CSR to meet many of their clientele where they are – on laptops in living rooms, classrooms and offices – to address their issues and expedite their resolution. Long lines, brain-jarring jingles while on hold and service-delays are ill-fated means of the past and rapid roads to business-closure; accelerate your customer-service practices by logging on and establishing a strictly monitored social media presence.

3. Flexibility Creates Longevity: Obstinance has no place in the realm of small business. More often than not, start-ups in their infancy transform into thriving companies on the backs of minor ‘freebies’ or ‘throw-ins,’ as these are the kinds of actions that are appreciated and remembered by customers. With a daily influx of new businesses developing creative ways to entice your business, maintaining a first-rate level of flexibility is priority one to building brand loyalty in your community. The extra steps you take will not go unnoticed by your clientele, and will do worlds to preserving your long-term bottom line.

4. Begin with the End in Mind: Goal-setting is intrinsic to any functional publicity campaign, and while every client would relish a weekly feature in a major news publication, the actuality is that achieving that outcome is a distant outlier to the likely results. Tempering expectations and working with each individual client to zero-in on realistic, attainable goals should be conducted at the outset of a PR endeavor, and it directly corresponds to the process that should occur when setting your annual business benchmarks.

Beginning with the end in mind means exactly that: go into any new undertaking with an understanding of an array of possible outcomes, and focus in on the most plausible. Your small business will not evolve into a global conglomerate overnight, and you may endure a few unsteady quarters before you finally perfect your formula for profitability. There is a growth-curve with any small business, and you should let your goals reflect that reality when you jot down your targets for the year.

Contrary to some unsubstantiated belief, public relations professionals do not reside in some corporate Ivory Tower, conducting the bulk of their business in swanky lounges and on the greens of golf courses. The majority of publicity work is based on the same foundations of the small business – a stout presence in the community, timely and flexible customer service and a goal-setting strategy designed for realistic achievement. By employing these four PR-to-small business parallels and making them a hallmark of your operation, you establish a customer-centric game plan that will build lifetime loyalty and success.

Russell Trahan is President of PR/PR, a boutique public relations agency specializing in positioning clients in front of their target audience in print and online. PR/PR represents experts of all kinds who are seeking national exposure for their business or organization. Russell and PR/PR will raise your business’ awareness in the eyes of your clients and customers. For more information, please visit www.prpr.net or email mail@prpr.net for a free consultation.

Four Vital Keys to a Successful Publicity Campaign

By Russell TrahanRussell Trahan

Every year, countless businesses from a variety of industries decide to take a crucial step in their corporate progression: a national publicity campaign. More often than not, there are a few critical missteps made at the outset that impede their momentum that have a direct impact on their PR return on investment. Public relations endeavors are an essential component to increased visibility and name-awareness, but without proper preparedness and implementation, visions of magazine covers and daily newspaper interviews can prove to be ill-fated pipe dreams.

Thankfully, there are a number of actions you can take to safeguard yourself from PR pitfalls and get the most out of your fledgling publicity campaign.

1. Start Sooner than Later: A common misconception held by newcomers to the public relations realm is that the appropriate start date is when the final touches have been put on a new product or location. This is typically the initial obstacle that has many professionals sputtering out of the gate: your PR campaign should begin at least four to six months in advance of your anticipated launch. Properly executed publicity involves creating a snowball-effect by ever-increasing mentions and features across a wealth of publications; by the time many businesses feel they are ready to proceed with PR, their window of opportunity has already begun to close.

2. Appoint a Company Spokesperson: The decision to finally pull the trigger on a company-wide public relations campaign is enough to create a palpable buzz around the office. The prospect of increased sales numbers and an expanded client base as the result of increased visibility will generate excitement amongst your employees and coworkers, but frequently lost amid the enthusiasm is the responsibility to delegate a media spokesperson.

Many CEOs tend to view their operations through a prism of team-oriented achievement, where each and every member of the company provides their expertise to work toward a common goal. While this is a terrific model for fostering corporate harmony, it does not work when a reporter is on the phone seeking a specific person for a quote in their next issue. Appointing a spokesperson to handle all media matters and requests is vital to maximizing the likelihood that your thoughts and ideas make it to print. Reporters and editors adhere to strict deadlines, and in many cases, the contact that provides the content they desire first will be the source quoted in the final copy. Publicity by committee leads to confusion, dragging feet and, ultimately, missed opportunities. Nominate a spokesperson to handle all public relations activity.

3. Don’t be Afraid to Stretch Your Message: There’s a tendency in the business arena to begin to adopt a form of corporate tunnel vision; you become so close to your skills and knowledge that it’s virtually impossible to view things from a third-party perspective. As a result of this myopic mindset, many potentially lucrative opportunities fall to the wayside or are ignored entirely; cast aside because they don’t fit into the specific schema you’ve formed about the nature of your business or expertise.

Stretching your topic to apply to what’s circulating in the news is a fundamental facet to a profitable campaign. For example: a company that manufactures widgets may only view their audience as potential suppliers, but directing their message to also include product-consumers expands their audience and extends their reach. Never decline a publicity opportunity because of a perceived lack of expertise on a topic; broaden your message to apply to avenues you may have previously overlooked.

4. Stir the Pot with Unique Perspectives and Controversy: Nothing whets the media’s appetite quite like a good, old-fashioned controversy. They dominate headlines, they are the fodder for early morning water cooler conversation and most importantly: they sell papers. This does not mean to delve into the gutters of Kardashian-inspired, tabloidian gossip, but providing a unique counterpoint to commonly held beliefs or opinions is a terrific way to produce attention and awareness.

A well-researched, informed argument that may fly in the face of societal norms is akin to a flashing, neon-sign to journalists seeking to provide both sides of an issue. Do not shy away from ruffling feathers, because nothing builds public notoriety like controversy.

Make no mistake about it, a carefully crafted and properly executed publicity strategy will enhance your company’s profile, and provide a boon to your organizational efforts. By embarking on a PR campaign with clearly defined goals and an action plan for when the media comes calling, you’re positioning yourself to enjoy profitable quarters and annual reports in the black.

Russell Trahan is President of PR/PR, a boutique public relations agency specializing in positioning clients in front of their target audience in print and online. PR/PR represents experts of all kinds who are seeking national exposure for their business or organization. Russell and PR/PR will raise your business’ awareness in the eyes of your clients and customers. For more information, please visit www.prpr.net or email mail@prpr.net for a free consultation.