The Chicken, The Egg, and The Marketing Plan

You’ve heard the saying, “Which came first — the chicken or the egg?”

Applied to business planning, it becomes, “Which comes first, the strategy or the tactic?”

Most would say “strategy.” After all, this is the way we’ve been taught to think (remember Marketing 101?) and it’s an approach that has been popularized in sayings like: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there,” or “Failure to plan is planning to fail.”

There’s no question, planning is vital to the success of a business. But it’s the approach to planning that needs scrutiny. So, we’re back to the question: “In drafting my marketing plan, which comes first — the strategy or the tactics?”

Focus on tactics first, then the strategy, a contrarian view expressed by noted business authors Al Ries and Jack Trout. Ries and Trout are responsible for a number of “must read” business classics, including “Positioning” (in which they introduced the revolutionary concept that “companies don’t position products, people do”), and “22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.”

In their book “Bottom-Up Marketing,” Ries and Trout argue that tactics should dictate strategies in marketing planning, citing interesting historical examples of success, and failure:

  • Christopher Columbus failed in his strategy to discover a shortcut to India. In the process (and historical references confirm that he did consider himself a failure), he discovered America — no insignificant feat! Had Columbus used a “tactic first” approach… “I’ll sail west instead of east and see what I discover,”  instead of a “strategy first” approach… “By hook or crook, I’m going to discover a shorcut to India,” he’d have died a fulfilled man.
  • Years ago, the research team at Vicks discovered a new liquid cold remedy that successfully cleared up scratchy throats and runny eyes, with one “negative” side effect — it put people to sleep. Rather than abandoning the project as a failure, Vicks adapted their strategy and created a new “nighttime cold remedy” category, launching NyQuil, “The Nighttime, Sniffling, Sneezing, Coughing, Aching, Stuffyhead, Fever, So-You-Can-Rest Medicine.”  The rest is history (and millions of dollars in revenue for Vicks).

According to Ries and Trout, a tactic must have a competitive mental angle to be successful — first, smaller, bigger, faster, cheaper, more colorful, etc. NyQuil was the first over-the-counter medicine that helps cold and flu sufferers get relief and rest.  A tactic must be competitive in the marketplace in general, not just a segment. It also must have a mental angle, meaning it has “stickiness” in a customer’s mind.

A strategy, according to Ries and Trout,  is a coherent marketing direction which must be focused on the tactic selected. After discovering the beneficial nighttime effects of Nyquil, Vicks may have developed a strategy such as “Provide nighttime relief to cold and flu sufferers cost-effectively, and without a prescription.” A strategy must also work within the realities of the marketplace dynamics — pricing, competition, advertising, etc. And, finally, a strategy is a coherent marketing direction that shouldn’t be changed once it’s established.

So, the next time you’re scratching your head while trying to figure out how to change the world with your new product or service, take a look at the competitive marketplace (what’s everyone else doing?), determine what you can do to be different from your competitors (ie. sail west instead of east), get your resources in place (tools, people), set sail, and create your strategy around what you discover on the way.

5 Benefits of Tablets for Mortgage Brokers

The following five tips for mobile professionals appear in the November Scotsman’s Guide Residential Edition, a leading publication for mortgage brokers.

The article focuses on the increased functionality offered by apps installed on tablets.

An example? Using a VoIP (Voice over IP) app, such as the eVoice app for iPad, a mortgage broker can make or receive calls on an iPad, wherever a wi-fi connection exists.

The tips appear in an op-ed article by j2 Global’s V.P. Marketing, Mike Pugh.

Click here to read the entire article.

Here is a list of five benefits, including references to particular apps.

  1. Take your office with you: Apps designed specifically for the mortgage industry give you access to the tools of your brick-and-mortar office. Many brokerages have their own apps, letting their employees access important tools while on the road. For independent brokers and those whose companies don’t have their own apps, there are a multitude of general apps that can be downloaded, the best of which will keep you updated with market rates while providing access to applications, lender contacts and product portfolios.
  2. Tackle paperwork: Mortgage professionals can give their briefcases a break by storing, accessing and editing paperwork via cloud-based applications. Dropbox and iBooks, for instance, can give you access to boilerplates, broker-information kits and other lender documents right from your tablet computer. Related, electronic-faxing apps can allow you to sign paperwork and share it with clients and lenders. Imagine meeting with a client, making changes to a loan application, signing it and shipping it off to a lender — all without leaving the lunch table.
  3. Go paperless: Electronic business-card apps like WorldCard Mobile capture and catalogue contact information with your tablet computer’s camera, making your contact lists easily searchable and sortable. In the same vein, Evernote allows you to take notes on your tablet and store them in a central, secure place.
  4. Use a mobile-friendly phone system: Quality voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) apps provide all the functionality of business-class phone systems, and can be tailored to your mobile work life. With certain VoIP applications, you can set up call screening, call forwarding, voice-to-text and conference calls among other advanced phone features. Some VoIP applications can even consolidate multiple phone numbers and route calls directly to your tablet computer.
  5. Address back-office tasks: Tablet computers also offer access to apps that can streamline many back- office tasks. Expensify, an app that tracks and organizes expenses, can be synchronized with a credit card or bank account and allow you to export expense reports to your manager or accountant. Other apps let users manage timesheets and book travel from the road.

So You Want to Be a Start-Up CEO?

Eric_Everard,_CEO_Artexis_Group

In a recent Inc. magazine article, Tara Hunt, CEO & co-founder of Buyosphere and author of best seller “The Power of Social Networking,” brings a dose of reality to entrepreneurs aiming to launch the next billion-dollar startup.

The bottom line, according to Hunt? Forget the private jet, Porsche and twice-a-year vacation in Bora Bora. Instead, roll up your sleeves and stock up on frozen dinners and Red Bull.

“So, what does a start-up CEO do?”, says Hunt in the article. “Everything except for what you’d imagine a CEO of a company doing. Sure, when you start to grow a company, you can delegate, which is very much more Chief-Executive-ish, but before that happens? You want something done, you need to do it.”

This includes everything from acting as IT expert to janitor (don’t forget to stock up on paper towels and trash bags!). It also means managing business calls effectively, which can be a challenge the next time you receive an important client call and you miss it (possibly because you’re in line at Costco stocking up on trash bags!)

This is where a virtual phone number can come in handy. A virtual phone number helps you maintain a professional business image, no matter where you are. With a feature like call forwarding, calls to your business line can be set to ring at a number of phones, including your cell, home office, remote office, etc. So, you never miss a call.

With a virtual phone number, calls are answered professionally by an auto attendant, and routed efficiently to the number you designate. If the caller leaves a voicemail message, it’s transcribed and sent to you via text or email.

While answering the phone might be one more thing a startup CEO does do, it sure beats some of the things he/she doesn’t do, according to Hunt:

“We don’t collect a big paycheck, we don’t leave at 5 p.m., we don’t get weekends or holidays or vacation days. We don’t get bonuses, we rarely get kudos, and we certainly don’t get a big, gorgeous corner office and a secretary. We don’t get power, prestige, or any level of stability or certainty.”

Still interested in being a startup CEO?

More power to you! Now get to work!

How a Business Call Forwarding Service Streamlines a Company

businessBusiness call forwarding is the process of redirecting incoming calls to another point of termination in a company. Usually, this termination point may be a cell phone, an office extension line, a personal landline, or any other phone device that the user is making use of. Those in a company, who use call forwarding can perk up their business and streamline several functions. Additionally, with the collection of call forwarding companies on today’s market, you are required to find the one that uses the latest technology and that will best suit your company requirements at a fair and spirited price so that you get the most from your service.

Why a business should use a call forwarding service?

Business call forwarding is a feature that allows an incoming phone call to a called party be diverted to a third party in the company. It lets the called party divert calls from one phone number to forward to another gadget where the preferred called party is located. This service can be used with both the time of day routing and geographic routing, directing phone calls derived from set requirements. This service is used regularly to increase one’s accessibility to a caller.

Habitually, employees use call forwarding to get work-related phone calls that are diverted to their desk on their mobile phone after working hours. A company that desires to be reachable throughout the day may use the business call forwarding service by setting up the time of day routing while forwarding its calls, meaning that phone calls will be directed to diverse locations and, or devices derived from the time of day conditions. Business call forwarding is particularly useful to global businesses that would like to use their workforce accessibility continuously. Some of the benefits of the business call forwarding service include:

  • Superior mobility.
  • Less missed calls.
  • Better company image.
  • Better geographic existence.

Features of the business call forwarding service

A company may use the business call forwarding service by choosing to redirect their toll free phone number or their local Direct Inward Dialing number to a mobile phone, a landline or a PBX. Most service providers also enable their customers to spot their incoming phone calls to a Session Initiation Protocol address and forward the Caller ID to the receiving gadget. Some of the features of the business call forwarding service include:

  • Interactive voice response or automatic attendant.
  • Call recording.
  • Time of day routing.
  • Skill to upload specialized greetings.
  • Voicemail.
  • Calls can be forwarded to a maximum of 10 extensions.

How the service benefits a business?

Convenience

The business call forwarding service increases the convenience at your workplace setting. Many office workers and higher management staff have to leave the workplace. Instead of waiting around for a vital call or missing the occasion to speak to a customer, the office personnel and administration can just demand calls to be directed to their company or personal phone, meaning that incoming calls can be answered from any place at any time. Furthermore, other business activities can be managed outside the workplace without any problems.

Call monitoring

Another benefit of the business call forwarding service is that the company can monitor its incoming calls that assist to keep track of some of the vital calls. Rather than constantly concerning about missing a specific phone call from a client or business partner, a company can have the specific phone number redirected to the managing phone of an employee so that the worker will be capable of communicating with the business partner or client in a well-timed manner. Maintaining this sort of quality client service can have huge benefits for a company in the long term.

A Stronger company ATTENDANCE

Handling customers and developing your company by expanding your customer base is not at all easy. Nowadays, many people expect that companies should have a constant existence in the market. With that, a business call forwarding service will enable you to achieve that existence by continuously making you accessible through phone calls. Clients will be capable of contacting you from any place and at any time, so you have no necessity to worry about wasting your time regaining lost customers or improving your customer relationships.

Conclusion

Overall, a business call forwarding service is one among the prime ways to rationalize your company. You can concentrate more on company functions and vital deadlines, rather than worrying regarding missed phone calls or dissatisfied customers. Furthermore, you have no necessity to wait around in the workplace for a vital call, rather than attending an important company meeting. Through this, the business call forwarding service is one among the most efficient options for a more successful business.

9 Benefits of Having 1 800 Toll Free Numbers for Businesses

cellphone2-804x603Today’s business market has lots of competition. So if you run a business, it’s important you work at making it look like the number one business available. So no matter if you have a small business with about five employees, with 1 800 toll free numbers, you will be able to look and sound as professional as the large businesses.

Read on to learn more about the benefits and importance of having business toll free numbers.

  1. First and foremost, it gives your business positive branding to mark a good impression with customers. In fact, some companies also go to the extent of building entire brands using toll numbers like 1-800-BAKERS. Owning an easy to remember vanity number is indeed similar to owning prime real estate.
  1. Toll free numbers make your company or business more accessible to a national and not only local customer base. This technology lets small business serve customers beyond their local boundaries, which is why these businesses prefer buying a toll free number as an efficient marketing tool.
  1. If you have a memorable toll free number, you can offer optimal customer service to your customers as they can easily reach you when they have questions to ask. Customers who memorize your number can call you up anytime, anywhere even when they are not near computers to look up your number. This in turn increases the chances of generating more sales for your business.

Though technology has advanced so much that most problems can be resolved on websites or through email, many customers still prefer using the phone to call you. They feel really happy just being able to contact you by phone, and by providing them with the necessary customer service.

  1. With a toll free number, customers can reach and call you without being charged for the call. So in a way, these numbers work as a great marketing tool for engaging customers, and making it easier for them to connect. This in tune helps increase your sales and ROI.
  1. Flexibility is another reason or benefit of toll free numbers as you can forward these numbers to any cell phone, landline or IP phone. Moreover, these toll free numbers are portable and without contracts, which means you can conveniently transfer the number to any carrier required anytime.

As forwarding calls is a free feature most toll free service providers provide, you can easily take your national business anywhere from your office and even when on the move.

  1. Use toll free numbers to grow or at least plan out your national presence. You find new mobile apps getting released on an everyday basis which helps consumers buy more things online. In fact, it is because of these toll free numbers that small businesses today find it much easier to sell their products to both national and international customers.
  1. 1 800 toll free numbers for businesses are reasonably priced and affordable to even startups and small businesses. It’s better to look out for phone services which offer cloud-based VoIP phone systems for small businesses.

There are also many major providers which provide convenient monthly plans with all-inclusive rates and pay-as-you-go options which don’t need any contracts or deposits to use.

Moreover, as these toll free numbers are free, there is an increased chance of customers calling the number to gain more information about your business and perhaps strike a deal!

  1. With the help of an 800 toll free number, you can now centralize your business where employees located in seven different states function on only one number. Moreover, once you get a toll free number, you own it.

No matter how or where you change your business or location, the number remains the same and yours. This makes the number easily transferable if you need a bigger phone system for your growing business, but don’t want to change your number.

  1. Last, but not least, these toll free numbers can help you keep track of your marketing efforts. If you have a website, billboard or print ad, it’s difficult finding out where a caller calls from. However with a toll free number, you can create extensions associated with a particular campaign.

In other words, you are allotted one number for print, one for website and one for your mobile phone. This helps you keep track of the effects of your marketing campaign and increase your call volume, sales and ROI.

1800 Call Forwarding is a Great Solution for Handling Customer Service Calls

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The Customer is Always Right (at your door)

Just how frustrated are Americans with the state of customer service today? According to a new Consumer Reports’ survey, 65 percent are “tremendously annoyed” by rude sales people and 64 percent of respondents said they they had left a store in the previous 12 months because of poor service.

1 800 Call Forwarding is the Lifeblood to Customer Service

If good customer service is the lifeblood of a successful business, and, if in most small businesses the Customer Service “Department” and the sole proprietor are one in the same, doesn’t it make sense that a small business needs to have a good solution for handling customer service calls?

If you answered “yes,” please keep reading. (If you answered “no,” just go ahead and hang up your “Out of Business” sign now.)

Two great solutions for handling customer service calls are a virtual phone number and 1800 Call Forwarding.

Here’s why:

  • A virtual phone number gives a small business owner a professionally-styled way for customers to reach a company representative who can help with a problem or complaint. When a customer calls your virtual phone number, they hear a professionally recorded greeting with instructions, such as: “Press 1 to speak with Sales, 2 to speak with Accounting, 3 to speak with Customer Service, etc.
  • Since it’s likely you are the representative for all three “departments,” Pressing “3” routes that caller to the phone (or phones) you’ve set up to receive calls. This could be routing a call to your cell, or to a home, or home office phone for example. Incoming calls can be set to ring at all phones at once, or simultaneously.
  • The professional image that an auto attendant setup like this conveys reinforces that you are not only an established company, but one that is actually interested in helping customers (and if you think there are companies that don’t consider that a #1 priority, read — or re-read — the Consumer Reports results).
  • A 1 800 Call Forwarding phone service not only reinforces a professional image, but it also gives customers (or potential customers) the sense that you are making it easy for them to reach you. And, particularly if customer service calls are coming from outside your area code, a 1 800 number service takes the sting out of a caller having to pay for a call to discuss an issue they’re having with your company.

Before closing out this post on the benefits of a virtual phone number and a 1 800 call forwarding service, particularly as it relates to energizing your customer service agenda, here are a few more stats from the Consumer Reports survey, and reasons why a virtual phone number is perfect for your small business:

Most Annoying Phone-Related Gripes
8.9% — Can’t get a human on the phone
8.5 — Many phone steps needed (to reach a human)

Getting set up with a virtual phone number is easier than you think. Setup can be done all online, and generally takes minutes. To see how easy it is to set up a virtual phone number or 1 800 number, and to get a free trial, click here.

How to Call India from the United States

india

Yes, we can make that happen Larry, but right now, I’ve got to call India, right. Bye bye.

Hi everyone, my name is Russ Scott and did you know that when you dial internationally out of the United States to another country, there’s actually a series of four numbers that you have to dial. Let’s say, for instance, you want to dial an India phone numbers.

Well, pretty simple.

  1. India, first you dial 011, that gets you out of our country.
  2. Then, you dial what’s known as the country code. For India, it’s 91.
  3. Then, there’s some select city codes which will vary and then, of course, the number.

So, let’s dial India. Let’s say we want to dial Calcutta, 011 gets us out of the country, 91 is the country code for India, and Calcutta, the city code is 33, then you’ve got to first dial the number. So let’s say 555-96321. It’s that simple.

Now, keep in mind, India’s infrastructure as far as telecommunications is not up to par with some of the big western countries so you could experience some downtime in the middle of your call or you could experience some busy signals. In the meantime, call and having a great time everyone.

My name’s Russ Scott. That’s how you dial India and if you don’t mind, I’m going to go call Calcutta right now.

Dog Days of Summer

The dog days of summer have officially arrived, and you have yet to throw caution to the wind, pack up the family wagon, and set off unfettered, to points unknown.
summer-photographer-pier-adventure

But why? Work … of course. There’s too much to do. You’re trying to balance home and family commitments, and are finding that you have too many hats, and too little time.

Additionally, you’ve been up to your eyeballs in new business, and you’ve been waiting for weeks for that BIG call from that company that would make your entire year with just one deal. Your business partner is off in Hawaii, attending his sister’s wedding, and your spouse and kids won’t let you postpone your summer vacation again.

Your spouse has patiently modified the start and end dates of your vacation as customer expectations continually force you to delay your departure. Frankly, you’re moderately surprised that you have not been banished to the basement on a permanent basis for your serial workaholic nature.

Dog Days End with United World Telecom’s Business Call Forwarding

Fortunately, just before your partner left for his two week luau, you signed up for United World Telecom, the virtual phone service that follows you wherever you go. United World Telecom is a wonderfully simple, yet wickedly powerful service that will let you get away and relax, while not missing a single call.

Using United World Telecom’s business call forwarding services feature, you’ll suddenly know what it feels like to be back in the good graces of your wife and kids, as you’ll be able to head up to the lake and to have all of your calls routed to either your cell, the cottage landline, or if you’ve taken a long walk in the woods, have calls automatically sent off to your partner’s cell phone in Hawaii.

But what happens if neither you nor your partner are available to take a call? Not to worry, because the United World Telecom auto attendant will answer the phone professionally, take a voicemail message, then transcribe and send each and every voicemail to your email, ensuring that you’ll never miss that call you thought might never come.

United World Telecom truly gives you the best of both worlds, because you’ll look like you’ve never left the office, even though your tan lines tell the real story.

Want to Succeed in Small Business? It’s Your Call.


businessman-481113_960_720“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”

This popular adage, who many attribute to social commentator, actor and historian Will Rogers, is perhaps more relevant in today’s mobile workplace than it was back in Rogers’ day (Rogers lived from 1879 to 1935).

Why is this?

With new advances in technology — such as cloud services for business — coupled with the commercial nature of the social web, you can run a million-dollar business from a spare bedroom or garage (see how computer giant HP got started). And, with the boundary between you and your competitors often being a razor thin line, each step in the process of creating a professional image and getting customers requires careful planning.

Of course, if customers or clients knew you were bootstrapping your business out of a spare bedroom, they might have second thoughts about doing business with you. This is because — just like in Will Rogers’ day — first impressions count. And this is where utilizing a call forwarding number can make a word of difference.

So, what is a call forwarding number?

Basically, a call forwarding number is a common 10-digit phone number (local or toll free business numbers) that is not tied to any one phone or device. When called, a call forwarding number will ring wherever you designate — cell, home, remote office, etc. This means that when a customer calls your business number (aka your call forwarding number), they’re more likely to reach you (and do business with you) … even if the call comes to your personal cell phone while you’re in line at the grocery story or car wash (by the way, using a personal cell phone number as your business number is a great way to derail attempts to create a good first impression).

businessman-fashion-man-personNot only can a call forwarding number answer your calls in impressive style (i.e. with a professional greeting and a call screening option), callers have the option to select an extension, which, when pressed, can ring any phone you designate. So, when your virtual phone system’s auto attendant says “press 2 for customer service,” the call could be routed to your business partner, even if he/she is in another city or state. And, if for some reason you’re tied up or can’t take the call, your call forwarding number will record the message, transcribe it to text, and send it to you as an email or text message.

So, what’s the cost for this “impressive” technology? (After all — you are bootstrapping!) Some call forwarding services start as low as $9.95 per month, offering features such as call routing, conference calling, call recording, to name a few.

A call forwarding number allows you to set up call routing or forwarding options that enable those you designate to assist customers, even when you are away from your office.

Technology experts NetCelerate reported companies that use a virtual phone system could also expand their reach by appealing to more customers. This could be done by appearing as a larger firm than they are. The source said this technique could be used to appear as if the company has multiple locations nationwide.

So, before you find yourself needing a second chance to create a good impression, take a smart first step and look at getting a call forwarding number for your business.

Practice These Frugal Tips for Success

ReceptionistsWhen just starting out, a company’s capital is extremely important. Poor planning or careless spending could affect the business for years to come, potentially spelling disaster.

However, there are many resources available that burgeoning entrepreneurs can use to make sure they are going down the right financial path.

Entrepreneur Magazine interviewed many millionaires that began as startup founders, and uncovered a number of practices that were common to small business owners who experienced high levels of success.

  • Take advantage of credit card points for accessories or airline miles, as they can make for good company perks
  • Reuse supplies, such as printing on the back of discarded paper when reviewing draft documents
  • Cross-train employees in multiple positions so the company does not suffer if a staff member leaves

According to Entrepreneur, company owners should not purchase fancy furniture in the first few years, as it is a relatively empty investment. In fact, leaders can choose to perform most of their operations from home in the beginning to cut down on costs.

One way to maintain a professional image while bootstrapping is to leverage a virtual phone system, which allows customers to call a business number when they want to speak to a representative, remaining unaware their call is being routed to a cell phone, home phone, home office phone, etc. Start by getting cheap virtual phone number forwarding and forward it to your regular number.

A virtual phone number can also transcribe a voicemail into a text or email message, enabling a mobile startup to review and respond to voicemail message by replying to an email or text message.

To get started today with your first virtual phone system, just activate a free trial.