I Won! Now what?

Standard

Over the past 10 years, AnswerNet Network has been fortunate enough to win the prestigious Inc. 500 award multiple times. It is an awesome feeling to be the CEO or a senior executive of an Inc. 500 company, and the satisfaction that comes from leading an Inc. 500 company is enormous. But it isn’t all about ego. It’s about leveraging the win to help sustain your business’ growth.

There are many ways to get benefits from your Inc. 500 win, but you have to make them happen. Ideally, you should start planning how you’ll leverage your win when you apply, so you can execute your plan as soon as the announcement is made. If you haven’t thought that far yet, don’t worry, because this article will share some of the things we did when we found out that our company, the AnswerNet Network, was number 21 on the 2003 list. Hopefully some of these suggestions will help you get the most out of your Inc. 500 win, or any win, award or other public recognition your company might garner as it grows.

Thanking Your Team
Most successful CEOs (and even some unsuccessful CEOs) will tell you that they could not have the success they have enjoyed without the hard work and support of their employees, friends, family and close advisors. Your win is generally a result of the group of people you have put together to build your company. It certainly was in my case.

That’s why the first thing we did when we found out we won was to send an e-mail (it was a lot more personal than it sounds) to all of our employees, friends, family and close advisers across North America telling them of our induction into the Inc. 500 and thanking them for their part in helping us achieve the honor. While I expected this to have a positive impact on morale, I was amazed to see how proud so many people were to be associated with a “winner” (and I don’t mean me).

Other ways you can thank your team is buying promotional items associated with the event or by having an internal celebration after the announcement. No matter what you do, have fun and be proud of what you accomplished together.

Thanking Your Customers
According to many of today’s business writers, customers like to know that their supplier is having success and that their vendor has many customers. People, by their nature, like to be part of successful groups and your customers are no different.

In order to take advantage of this philosophy, we sent letters to our 35,000 customers thanking them for their help in achieving our Inc. 500 status. The letters not only thanked them for our success, but also told them about some of the newer and different services we were offering. Thus, we were able to build goodwill while marketing our new services to our existing customer base.

Press Releases
When we made the Inc. 500 list, we drafted two press releases to announce our success. One release was written for industry publications to highlight the success we had achieved in acquiring companies within our industry and in servicing the clients that came with those acquisitions and from new sales. We also provide services to many companies within our industry, and we wanted to generate additional goodwill with those companies via the publications. In other words, we used this event to increase our name recognition within the industry and increase sales from our competitors.

The other release was written to get stories placed in the local and regional publications where we have operating centers. One of the great things about the Inc. 500 is that almost every newspaper in the country highlights those listed companies that are headquartered within its circulation area. Our goal was to make sure as many editors as possible knew that we had a local presence in their region, so that when they wrote their annual Inc. 500 article, they would add us to the story.

These are just a few of the ways we leveraged our induction into the Inc. 500. Anyone can use these strategies to promote a company’s recognition for reaching a milestone. Just remember to create a plan that best fits your company’s needs and culture, execute your plan, and enjoy the ride.

The Business Owner Q&A

Standard

By Carolyn West-Price Touhey, Contributing Blogger

In a recent meeting with the owner of a new business, he asked questions that I’ve answered thousands of times over the years. Given that these are on the minds of many new and existing businesses, I thought this column would be a perfect venue to answer them for those who may not have the opportunity to ask in person.

Q: How do you identify and cost-effectively reach prospective customers?
A: Of course, each business will have a different definition of the ideal prospect, depending upon whether the business is business-to-business, retail, mail order, web-based, non-profit or something else. The exercise in identifying what a prospect looks like in terms of demographics, psychographics, and buying habits is the same. Once these characteristics are identified, the next task is to evaluate your options for getting a list of the prospects. You’ll need to decide: Do you buy a mailing list by giving the criteria to a list company? Do you go through the phone book or a directory and make your own list? Do you buy a database from another company? Also, you’ll want to consider other “categories” of people who need to hear about your business. Call these influencers—people who can refer business to you by virtue of the relationship they have with their clients. The media, employees, friends and family, and the general community (to create awareness and goodwill) should be included in your communications plans.

Q: How much contact do you make with prospects? Existing customers?
A: Again, this answer depends upon several variables: How competitive is your market? How much do you need to educate the market about your concept before you can even worry about educating them about your specific organization? And, what do you offer that others do not? Once you answer these questions, knowing that consumer-oriented marketing will take a lot more money than business-to-business marketing, you need to devise a plan to reach your markets cost-effectively, but most importantly—consistently. Remember, it takes between seven and 13 “touches” before a customer is called to action. And, for those with whom you have an existing relationship, stay in their faces or your competition will. And, make them feel appreciated.

Q: When you’re calling on commercial accounts, how do you handle the “we already have someone” rejection?
A: First, consider every “no” as putting you that much closer to a “yes” statistically. Second, you can ask if you can leave cards and periodically call on them, encouraging them to try you in the event that their current vendor can’t make it or is poor on follow-up (happens a lot!). Remember, in this day of job-hopping, the decision maker at that account may be here today and gone tomorrow, too, so don’t hesitate to stop back periodically to express your professionalism and enthusiasm or meet the new decision maker. Also, consider other ways to stay in touch with these prospects so you earn and retain name awareness. Consider sending postcards, “FYI” copies of articles you may get published, and even inviting the contact to a mutually beneficial networking event so you can get to know him or her better. Also, attend a sales training seminar; they’re the experts in sales techniques for handling objections; I just know what works for me and some of my clients.

Q: What can you expect during your first year?
A: This is nearly impossible to answer on a global level, but it is fair to say that there is a direct relationship between the effort and resources you put into a company (not necessarily only dollars) and what you get out of it. If you are truly committed, even with a small budget (enough to do professional collateral materials, including uniforms, if appropriate, as it was in the case of this owner who asked the question), and if you state clear objectives with a plan of action to reach them, and stick to it, you will get where you want to go. Or at least you’ll be in an educated position to revise those objectives (assuming you were overly optimistic or something in the market changed over the year).

Carolyn West-Price Touhey is an award-winning marketing consultant specializing in small businesses, who taught marketing for years at Johns Hopkins University and Loyola College. She is the founder of IMPACT Marketing & Public Relations & SmartBiz Strategy. She can be reached at 410-461-9399 (from US) or 250-335-2342 (from Canada). Her website is www.SmartBizStrategy.com.