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Today’s Direct Mail Offers Great Opportunities

Tina Stevens

Tina Stevens

I often write about digital marketing technologies, but it is a great time for your business to take a fresh look at the direct-mail marketing channel.

I often hear people dismiss mail as ‘old school,’ and many seem to consider it ineffective. Two points on that. First, have you noticed how little mail you now receive in your mailbox? You may interpret that to mean ‘everyone knows mail doesn’t work.’ But research shows that mail does work when used intelligently as a component of your marketing plan. And that uncluttered mailbox means there is a bigger chance that your mail piece will be noticed.

Second, data shows that direct mail generates a higher response rate than e-mail. Consider how many promotional e-mails you receive versus direct mail in a given day. That large volume of e-mail makes it difficult for e-mail to penetrate your attention and grab your interest. Once that e-mail scrolls by, it is pretty much gone forever in terms of the recipient. The response rate for direct mail is 4.4% compared to 0.12% for e-mail, according to data from the DMO Council.


Direct Mail Is Effective

Direct mail is the original big data channel. Direct mail is where marketers began to segment, customize, target, and measure the results of their actions when sending catalogs, magazines, postcards, etc.

We have been refining, improving, and utilizing these processes for a long time. Today’s software programs have added even more power to data management and manipulation. The amount of data that is available for direct mail is extensive, and it is very accurate, especially when compared with some of the consumer data gathered online.

Your house list of customers, prospects, and contacts is your big data. You should be carefully growing and managing your house lists; they are a valuable component of your marketing efforts. When using direct mail, you can analyze and segment your internal lists based on the data you have collected about customer preferences and purchases. You can use your software to clean up your lists by removing duplications and identifying addresses that need to be completed.

You can also have your list run through a National Change of Address update for further accuracy. For small and local businesses that have a very targeted audience, direct mail can be highly effective when used with your house list.

Purchased mailing lists are also a viable option when using direct mail for prospecting. They let you reach out to potential customers that are located in the vicinity of your retail location and share similar characteristics with your customer base. Working with a mail house or list company, you can use a data-profiling program to review your customers and then create a model for your best prospects. Most consumers have many e-mail addresses while they have just one mailing address, which helps make direct mail more efficient for prospecting.

People Like Direct Mail

We continue to hear that we need to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. Just as important, we need to deliver that message in the recipients’ preferred media.

A study by Epsilon noted that consumers trust some marketing channels more than others. You may be surprised that it also found that 50% of U.S. consumers prefer direct mail to e-mail. This preference also includes 18-24 year olds, so you should not assume that a younger audience will ignore your direct mail.

Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Postal Service, 98% of people retrieve their mail daily, and 77% of people sort it immediately. That means there is an excellent chance that your recipient will at least touch and see your mailing. It is up to you to ensure that your mailing is timely and relevant to the recipient so that you capitalize on this valuable opportunity.

Integrating Direct Mail into the Mix

Using direct mail alone can be successful for your retail business when utilizing your house lists and quality prospecting lists. It can be more effective when combined with other marketing activities to enhance and strengthen the results of your marketing efforts.

Direct mail can be used in conjunction with e-mail to improve performance, heighten engagement, and provide new creative opportunities. When well-combined, they can provide a 10% to 30% uplift in conversion, according to Epsilon. You can also link print with other online actions to increase response. Your direct mail can include a PURL (personalized URL) or a QR (quick response) code to easily send the mail recipient to an online message that reinforces the print message.

In addition, you can also utilize variable data technology to provide customized messages and unique PURLs or QR codes for a totally customized experience. These PURLs and QR codes are very trackable so you can measure and test the response to your mailing. Consider creating a first impression with direct mail, reinforcing it with e-mail, and using your website to expand on it and encourage response.

Tina Stevens is president of Stevens 470, a full-service marketing, advertising, and design firm in Westfield; (413) 568-2660; [email protected]

Sales and Marketing Sections
Partners at chikmedia Say Marketing Shouldn’t Be Stressful

Meghan Rothschild, left, and Emily Gaylord

Meghan Rothschild, left, and Emily Gaylord, partners at chikmedia.

Meghan Rothschild was taken aback by how Bob Lowry, owner of Bueno y Sano, described her new marketing firm’s work: “zany things that make lasting impressions on people.”

“I said, ‘wow … that’s the best endorsement I’ve ever heard of our company since we started,’” said Rothschild, who partnered with Emily Gaylord to launch their business, chikmedia, about six months ago.

Perhaps some agencies would recoil from a word like ‘zany,’ but Rothschild and Gaylord embrace it.

“When we started, we made this silly video dancing in a frozen-yogurt shop, and we posted the thing on Facebook,” Gaylord said. “We figured, if we’re going to do this, if we’re going to be successful, we’re going to be ourselves from day one. Our clients know, from the first meeting, that this is who Meghan and Emily are — and that it’s going to be fun. That’s a huge part of our business. Being effective is the other part.”

Rothschild has been in marketing for eight years, first as marketing and promotions manager at Six Flags, then development and marketing manager at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and, later, as director of marketing and communications at Wilbraham and Monson Academy (WMA). She and Gaylord worked together at those last two stops and found they hit it off in more ways than one.

Meghan Rothschild

Meghan Rothschild says chikmedia caters to women-run businesses, but serves plenty of male clients as well.

“We were constantly doing outside favors for folks — writing press releases, designing logos,” Rothschild said. “One day, I said, kiddingly, ‘we should start a company and start charging for this.’ She said, ‘OK, I’ll start today.’ She got a website up and running, we launched a Facebook page, and the rest is history.”

Said Gaylord, “we were both doing freelance work on the side. She was doing freelance marketing, and I was doing freelance design, and we thought, why not go into business together? It would be more productive, more lucrative, and, frankly, more fun, because we get a kick out of working together. About 48 hours later, chikmedia was born. I made a logo that day.”

With about two dozen clients, including Bueno y Sano, UMass Dining, Papa John’s, ArchitectureEL, Energia Fitness, SkinCatering, and Lioness magazine, to name just a few, “we got really busy very quickly, and we didn’t anticipate how successful it would be in such a short period of time,” Rothschild said. “We were just overwhelmed with how many people started reaching out to us and wanted our services.”

Gaylord said their strong relationship has contributed to their quick start. “I think a lot of businesses fail when friends start a business together. We’re different; we became friends because we work so well together. We’ve always had the same kind of vision, the same tastes. Honestly, it’s just been a very good, very positive relationship.”

By the end of 2013, Rothschild added, “we decided we either have to pull back and stop accepting new clients, or make this thing bigger. We decided there’s so much potential with the company, we had to pursue it.”

Girl Power

Rothschild said the company’s name reflects that vision. “We decided on chikmedia because we wanted to focus on women-run businesses and organizations, although we cater to both men and women.”

“The goal was to be a female-focused business,” Gaylord added. “We have plenty of male clients, but female entrepreneurs are becoming a force to be reckoned with, and we believe in that; we want to see more women in charge, and the only way that will happen is if women start taking leadership roles. But we have a wide variety of clients.”

That women-focused niche, Rothschild said, is attractive to both men and women. “Men feel a little special when we’re taking them on, and women know we get it; we get who they’re trying to market to. They know that women hold the purse strings in households. They’re the ones dictating the weekend plans, managing the books, dealing with finances — they’re making the decisions.”

Rothschild handles the PR and marketing end of the business, while Gaylord is the creative force, handling design work. “She’s a genius — it’s amazing what she comes up with,” Rothschild said.

Emily Gaylord

Emily Gaylord says chikmedia’s wide umbrella of services, including marketing, PR, and design, appeals to its clients.

“We worked together for years,” she added. “She was my intern at the Food Bank, and I recruited her at WMA. We work so well together — similar in some ways, but polar opposites in the way we do work. I’m more nuts and bolts — ‘here’s the deadline; let’s meet it.’ She’s more creative — ‘here’s what I envision for the client.’ We work incredibly well together because we complement each other.”

Part of chikmedia’s appeal, Gaylord said, is the broad umbrella of its services. “Some companies just do marketing, or just PR, or just design. We do it all. That way, everything is cohesive; everything matches. The message is the same.”

And if a client has design or marketing elements in place that are working, she added, chikmedia won’t try to toss those aside. “If the client likes red and black, we’re not going to introduce teal. But we look at the message and make sure the message is consistent. We’re not trying to change who you are; we’re trying to show you off — and it’s something we do very well.”

The firm offers flexibility for clients who hire it for only one element, Rothschild said. “A lot of our clients want us for public relations; they want us to be their publicist — that’s one of the most popular options.”

She particularly enjoys this side of the business, noting that she has built a large network of media contacts from her time at Six Flags and, more recently, as a spokesperson for the Melanoma Foundation; she’s a 10-year survivor of skin cancer and a passionate advocate for sun safety and against tanning beds.

“My favorite part is pitching people in a way that works for the source you’re pitching to. That’s the most fun — finding ways to both help the media source, which needs content, and help the client. To find synergy, you need to make this easy for the media; they’re being pulled in 15 different directions.”

“You’re paying for our reputation in this field,” Rothschild continued. “If a reporter gets 80 to 100 press releases a day, Joe Shmoe is going to get lost in the mix. But we send you something, you at least look at it. We genuinely care about our partners, both the media and the client, and we want everyone to be happy. That’s important to us. No one ever looks at us and goes, ‘oh, not these people again.’ They know it’s going to be something fun, something cool, that will get their attention.”

To reach the media and the buying public, she added, “there isn’t just one template. We have to determine, who’s talking about this product? Who are the decision makers buying this product? Who’s got a stake in this game? That’s how we develop campaigns for women. It’s acknowledging they’re the power in their households and finding fun ways to get them interested in our clients’ products.”

Not Laying an Egg

Gaylord is still somewhat surprised by chikmedia’s first six months of growth. “I’ve studied entrepreneurship in college, and there are so many failed businesses,” she said. “Not only are we not losing a ton of money, but we’re making money, and that’s kind of shocking.

“Part of that, I think, is that people were waiting for it,” she added. “Meghan and I both grew up in this community, so we have some very strong roots here. As soon as we started the business, a lot of people seemed to be waiting for us to take that step — ‘of course, if I’m going to hire somebody, it’s gonna be you guys!’ We owe everything to the clients who took a chance on us right off the bat.

“So far, we’ve had very positive results,” Gaylord continued. “At first, it was a lot of networking, people introducing us to other people. Lately, we’ve been getting more calls out of the blue. It’s really exciting.”

The partners have expanded chikmedia’s reach beyond Western Mass., with clients in the Boston and Hartford areas, and plan to break into the Providence market, too. That sounds ambitious, Rothschild said, but much of it is based simply on treating people right.

“I always try to leave a lasting impression on people, try to be cordial and accommodating. A lot of customer service is being pleasant and responsive and quick to get back to clients. These are people who only want their business to succeed, and need you to help them.

“We’re definitely taking it slowly,” she added. “But you reach this point of critical mass where you have to bring someone on board. We just hired an intern, and we have a new business-development individual. But we’re getting at least one new client a week, and there’s no way we’ll be able to sustain that without bringing more people on board.”

Gaylord said she tries not to think too far ahead, but it’s hard not to be excited.

“I don’t have kids right now; this is my baby, what I spend my time and resources on. I’m like any new parent who wants to see their child thrive and succeed. OK, maybe I’m taking that metaphor too far,” she said with a laugh.

“We see a real future in it,” she added, “but we’re thinking practically. We’re not thinking that, in 30 years, we’ll be the hippest company on the planet — which will probably be true — but just making sure our clients right now are cared for. That’s why we’ve been so successful in six months. We’re thinking from a practical place first.”

Well, practical and fun.

“One of the things that sets us apart is that we want you to have fun,” Gaylord said. “Working with us is a positive experience, and when people take that step and say, ‘I’m not a marketer; I want to invest in some marketing,’ we want them to have a good time with it. We’re silly, but in the most amazing way possible.”

Rothschild agreed. “We’re extremely passionate about what we do,” she said. “We have a lot of fun doing it and make sure our clients have a lot of fun doing it. If we’re just another stressor in their day, we’re not doing it right.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sales and Marketing Sections
Springfield-based TSM Design Opens Second Office in Hartford

Deb Walsh, Nancy Urbschat, and Janet Bennett of TSM Design

Deb Walsh, Nancy Urbschat, and Janet Bennett of TSM Design will now have a marketing and design presence in two anchor cities.

Nancy Urbschat recalls the moment she and her team at TSM Design saw the small yet attractive office space in the historic former G. Fox & Co. department store building in downtown Hartford, and knew they’d found a home.

Or, to be more specific, a second home.

Indeed, the cozy, 475-square-foot space at 960 Main St. officially became the second location for Springfield-based TSM on Jan. 8. The office provides the company with opportunities to better serve clients based in Northern Conn. or who do business there, said Urbschat, principal of the firm since 2005, and also greater capacity to expand a client list that already includes a number of businesses across several sectors.

“To have a presence in two anchor cities felt great,” she told BusinessWest as she talked about the decision to expand. “I’ve long believed that Hartford-Springfield is a very robust market.”

And it’s a market that can better be served with a visible presence in each municipality, said Janet Bennett, the firm’s director of marketing since 2005.

“We were going down for meetings all the time, and the more we discussed it, we felt that if we were really going to do this, we needed to put ourselves in Hartford for real and have a real presence here,” she said.

With that presence, the marketing and design firm expects to take full advantage of the robust business climate in Connecticut’s capital, and also seize momentum from what those at TSM describe as an improving economy on both sides of the border.

Urbschat said marketing and advertising budgets are among the first things to be cut during a downturn like the recent recession, and they’re also some of the last things to be restored. But she’s seeing definite signs of progress.

“That’s the natural order of economic downturns and recovery, and I feel we’re in recovery,” said Urbschat, who speaks from the experience gained from living through several recessions. “That’s the beauty of being a small business — we’re lean; we can make adjustments as needed and respond. We took appropriate measures, and now we’re off to a fantastic start in 2014.”

For this issue and its focus on sales and marketing, BusinessWest talked with the team at TSM about their move into Hartford and what it means for the firm moving forward.

Capital Idea

Urbschat has long noted — and taken great pride from — the fact that her firm is not merely based in Springfield, specifically the historic Stearns Building on Bridge Street.

Instead, it has long been quite involved in efforts to help market the city and tell its story — both to those who live within it and those who would need a map to find it — while also promoting it as a great place to live, work, and do business.

TSM Design

A second office at 960 Main St. in Hartford will allow TSM Design to take full advantage of the robust business climate in Connecticut’s capital.

For example, Urbschat and her team launched Pro Springfield Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the conversation about the City of Homes, asking residents and officials to “say something nice.” She also chaired the Art & Soles project a few years ago, an initiative that saw the downtown decorated with colorful, five-foot-high sneakers in a nod to its history with the sport of basketball.

But while Springfield has been, and will remain, both the firm’s base and its passion, there was a clear need to expand to the city 20 miles to the south.

“We’re Springfield believers, and this is our anchor,” she noted. “Our footprint is solidly in Springfield, but we were ready for a new challenge, and there’s opportunity in Hartford.”

And as the TSM team looked for a base from which to pursue those opportunities, one of the first stops was the former G. Fox building, the art-deco landmark that has become home to Capital Community College and dozens of other tenants large and small.

Bringing the TSM name there ushers in a new chapter in the colorful history of the firm created by Leslie Lawrence and first called The Super Market.

Urbschat joined the venture a few months after it was launched and became a partner in 1990. The firm’s name was rebranded to the acronym TSM in the late ’90s to reflect the development of a wider range of work, especially design and branding. When Lawrence retired in 2004, Urbschat bought the business.

Using subcontractors — or partners, as Urbschat calls them — for specific needs in video production and web development, the current four employees have specific strengths in marketing, design, and creative thought and application. Urbschat is keeping the operation lean by having one team operate both locations.

Bennett, who is now spending much of her time at the Hartford facility — which Urbschat calls a ‘mini-me’ office, due to its similar contemporary, TSM-style decor — explained that growth is certainly attainable, and the vibe in the capital city is palpable.

“It feels like it’s hopping,” she told BusinessWest. “Even the sense on the street when you’re walking around, there’s a lot of buzz, and it’s exciting.”

Urbschat agreed, noting that some 80,000 people work in downtown Hartford, maybe 10 times the number that work in Springfield’s central business district. Some of those 80,000 work in marketing and advertising, she acknowledged, but while there is plenty of competition, there is also ample opportunity for growth for TSM.

With 15 active clients, the firm’s team is selective about whom they work with, and will keep that same philosophy in Hartford. While the company handles many types of businesses, it targets second-stage, ‘best-in-class’ companies with 150 or more employees and that share TSM’s core values. And there many of these in the Greater Hartford area.

One example is the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield. That landmark, which includes a number of buildings and facilities, has seen its identity superseded by the 17-day fair that takes place there every fall — the Big E. TSM has been contracted to help rebrand the operation and tell what Urbschat calls the “amazing story of the history of the Eastern States Exposition.”

Over the years, it has done similar work for businesses and organizations ranging from Springfield Technical Community College to the Springfield Falcons, and currently boasts clients such as Barr & Barr Construction, Westfield Bank, and Baystate Health.

Right Place, Right Time

While some might view the Hartford office as a fresh, new start for the TSM team, Urbschat is quick to say that there’s nothing new about what TSM will offer businesses in Connecticut.

“This is an extension of what we already do, and we have a well-honed process; we’re just doing it in a new city,” she said, adding that she still enjoys coming into work every day. “When it stops being fun, we’ll probably just say, ‘OK, it was a great ride.’”

But for now, talk about the ride is restricted to the present and future tenses, and, with this expansion into Hartford, it is getting much more exciting.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story Sales and Marketing Sections
Hiring Top Sales Performers Is Certainly No Accident

By Jim Mumm
BW0613bCOVDetermining the right person to hire isn’t easy, and when it comes to hiring a top-performing sales superstar, it’s even more difficult.
Let’s face it: there is a sea of apparently strong candidates looking for a job. And don’t kid yourself; any sales person worth their salt is going to be able to talk a good game.
But making a poor hiring decision will cost you dearly. Depending on which expert you listen to, the cost of making a poor hiring decision is anywhere between one and two and a half times the candidate’s annual fully loaded salary.
What should strong leaders do to mitigate the risks and maximize the return on investment pertaining to hiring top-performing sales professionals?  What can an organization do to not only greatly reduce hiring mistakes, but also build a highly effective sales organization? We need to paint a very clear picture of the perfect fit before we start looking for the candidate.  Then, we can objectively determine if the candidate truly fits in our picture. Here’s how.
Managers must follow a systematic, step-by-step recruiting, hiring, and on-boarding process. This system begins with identifying the primary function indicators (PFIs) of the sales role you are attempting to fill. PFIs are the basic tasks that a salesperson must be able to accomplish, such as prospecting, negotiating, and closing. Next, a professional manager must identify and determine the winning attributes of the best-fit candidate. Finally, the manager must ascertain whether or not the candidate is a proper fit for the team by building a team matrix.
To accomplish this, the manager utilizes these three core components (PFIs, winner attributes, and team matrix) to develop a series of questions designed to uncover the information needed to make a good hiring decision.  The questions are constructed so that the answers reveal how well the candidate fits the desired job profile. Scores to all answers are summed, and the best-fit candidate is revealed.

Three Steps
Let’s break down each of the three components and reveal how questions are developed from each area and give some sample questions that could be used.
Step one of building a hiring template includes identifying the actual functions the sales professional will be expected to perform. We call these functions primary function indicators because they reveal the actual functions the candidate must be able to accomplish and the behaviors at which the candidates must be proficient to perform these functions. Finally, we must determine the questions we should ask that will help us determine whether or not the candidate can perform these behaviors to the desired level of proficiency.
For example, if you are attempting to hire a sales professional capable of bringing in new business, he would have to effectively prospect. A question might be, “if we hired you to build this new territory to $2 million in one year, how would you do it?” The answer to this question will speak volumes. And you should be able to differentiate a made-up answer from one given by a sales professional who has actually lived it.
To make this step easier, we incorporate the SEARCH model.  SEARCH is an acronym that stands for skills, experiences, attitudes, results, cognitive skills, and habits. If we can create questions that reveal the candidate’s relative strengths and weaknesses in these six areas, we are well on our way to determining if they can actually perform the tasks. Once you’ve determined the questions needed to determine a candidate’s PFIs, you are ready to proceed to step two.
Step two is to identify whether or not the candidate has what it takes to be a top performer (winner) in your specific organization. We call these ‘winner attributes.’ To figure out whether or not the candidate has the winner attributes you require, it is helpful to use the BAT method. BAT stands for behavior, attitude, and technique. Behavior is all about what they do, technique concerns how well they do it, and attitude is how they feel about doing it. Let’s take a look at each.
Behavior involves understanding the planning, goals, and actions necessary to be successful in that role in your organization. For example, how well does the candidate set long-term, short-term, and daily goals, and how does this compare to how well your top performers set goals? You might ask, “tell me about your experience building and executing a plan to hit your sales objectives,” followed by “tell me what you did when you found yourself behind your target goals.”
Again, the answers will reveal how the candidate thinks and should give you a good idea of whether or not they have actually successfully built plans. If you ask the same question pertaining to goals to 20 different candidates, you’ll get 20 different answers. It is our job as managers to understand the required behaviors our top salespeople have and to identify the candidates whose behaviors are the closest match.
Next is technique, which consists of personal presence, tactics, and strategy. These are all measures of how well they are able to perform the behaviors that are necessary for success. Finally, attitude involves what’s between your ears. For example, some people don’t mind attending networking events and actually enjoy meeting and talking to new people. However, others dread networking events and would sit in the corner, check their e-mails, and talk only to people they know. The difference is their attitude toward, or how they feel about, networking. You might ask, “what are your favorite and least favorite prospecting activities, and why?”
Some examples of winner attributes for top-performing salespeople are the desire to win, strong internal motivation, superior discipline, and the ability to build and nurture relationships. Again, the key is to develop written questions that will help you determine whether or not the candidate has these desired attributes.
The final step in developing the hiring template is to determine how well the candidate will fit within your team. When filling a position in an existing department, it is important to find a candidate who fits best with your specific team. Often, managers try to hire the best producers, only to end up with a group of ‘fighter pilots,’ when what they really needed was a group of strong team players who can work and play well together for the good of the organization.
The key questions to ask are, do they supply skills needed by our team, or do they have skills that everyone else has? Are they a match for the current team or for the future team that we’re trying to build? For example, if you need to land new business and you have a stable of account managers, you need to ask questions that reveal the candidate’s ability to bring in new business because it complements the skills of your existing sales staff.
Once you develop four or five questions from this area that will help you uncover the facts, add them to your previous questions from PFIs and winner attributes. By now, you should have a good 30 core questions to use for each and every interview. Score each candidate on a scale from one to 10 for each question and determine, before you start interviewing, a lowest acceptable summed score from all questions. Create a list of ‘must haves’ and ‘nice to haves.’ If any candidate doesn’t achieve the minimum score or have all the ‘must haves,’ they are eliminated from the process.

Moving Forward
Once you’ve developed this approach to recruiting and interviewing candidates, you’ll be able to choose the best fit objectively based on relative, objective scores. Once you’ve chosen the best-fit candidate and informed the others that they are no longer in consideration, it is now time to implement your 90-day on-boarding plan.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, who’s got time to do all this?  Before you decide this is too much work, ask yourself how much time you spent talking to poor performers last year. Think of how many hours were spent writing up politically and legally correct ‘fix-it-or-hit-the-road’ letters last year. How many hours did you spend trying to coach or motivate poor performers who weren’t hitting their sales objectives? How many hours did you agonize over a weaksales person that you wish you would have never hired in the first place, but now that you have, you are hoping they’ll finally provide an acceptable ROI?
Consider having to fire them and start back at the beginning of the hiring process all over again. Think about the recruiter fees, the advertising costs you spend to place the ad, all the time your real performers wasted trying to bring them up to speed.
Perhaps it’s less expensive to invest time now finding the right salesperson for the role and properly on-boarding them, instead of spending all the time on the back end when you are stuck with a bad hire. We’ve all heard the saying, ‘pay me now, or pay me later.’

Jim Mumm is CEO of Sandler Training, serving Western Mass. He is an award-winning trainer, author, speaker, and successful entrepreneur; (646) 330-5217; [email protected]; www.jimmumm.sandler.com


Using Psychological Science to Hire People Who Can Sell

By Michael A. Klein
“Do you know what you can learn about someone from an interview?” I like to ask potential clients. My answer: “Plenty, and it begins with how well someone performs during an interview.”
Now, some think that in sales, if the candidate sitting across from you can sell themselves to you, then they can sell. But can they really? You know that they can sell you on them. And for some products and services, potential customers need to be sold on the salesperson. But other components loom large: can they sell to others? And will they sell to others? And can they sell what you are hiring them to sell?
Résumés and interviews (behavioral interviews, specifically) can provide valuable information, and, of course, no job offer  — even for commission-based positions — should be made without a careful review of prior experiences, reference checks, and probably more than one interview. But that information is still amazingly limited, and tells us little about whether this person can and willsell your product or service to others. This is where small or mid-sized businesses can benefit from the millions of dollars that large companies have spent on selection testing and assessment.
While using psychological testing to predict performance has a controversial, and some would say problematic, history, work being done over the past 15 years has led to a clear conclusion: we can predict work-related behaviors with great accuracy legally, quickly, and easily through the use of reputable assessment tools.
It’s important to note that there are currently no regulations for claiming accuracy in the sale of pre-employment tests. Therefore, unless taken to court, test publishers and distributers roam freely about the commercial countryside, making outlandish claims regarding the ‘science’ and usefulness of their hiring tests.
Fortunately, there is a silver lining here.  industrial/organization (I/O) psychologists and other psychometricians have been setting guidelines for the design, construction, validation, and reliability of these tests for more than 25 years. As a result, reputable test publishers adhere to these guidelines and can easily back up their claims with detailed (and frequently updated) technical manuals, validity and reliability studies, and published peer reviews. In the case of selection tests, it can’t be said often enough: let the buyer beware.
If you know where to look, and can assess the assessment, you will save time, effort, and great expense in the hiring process. As much as human beings are complex creatures, no two people are the same, and measuring something as complex as personality can feel insulting to our egos, the selection-testing industry has learned which traits, values, and emotional and social skills are far more likely to lead to those behaviors that result in actual sales. Although seemingly complicated, if there is a magic bullet, it’s this: the more psychometric data you have on someone, the more likely you are to hire the right person and avoid a hiring disaster.
There are an amazing variety of pre-employment assessments available, and they generally fall into one or more of these categories: personality, values and motivators, interests, emotional intelligence (maturity and polish), cognitive ability (intelligence tests), skills, and knowledge.
Even once this data is gathered, there needs to be a clear differentiation between what can be scientifically justified for the specific position and what is simply a personally desirable characteristic. For example, while a hiring manager may believe that successful salespeople have a strong desire to be acknowledged for their achievements (this particular motivator is known as ‘recognition’), that may be true of all salespeople, not just successful ones. One of the most basic mistakes managers make is assuming that a high level of a specific attribute, trait, or skill is responsible for success when, in fact, it has little to no actual impact on performance.
A client of mine told me that he didn’t need to study his salespeople (i.e. determine what traits, motivators, etc. differentiate high performers from low) because he knew that his top people all had two particular behavioral styles (from a test known as the DISC): dominance and influence. I explained to him that almost all of his salespeople probably have those styles regardless of potential because he only hires people with those styles, not to mention the fact that the impact of these two styles on sales has no basis in science whatsoever.
His desire to simplify and find a single score, result, or number is very common and, unfortunately, very misguided.
To answer the question of whether they can do the job, we must look first at personality traits. Based on studies using the most accepted model of personality in business (the five-factor model, or FFM), the following are a few of the traits that predict this ability:
• Self-confidence — demonstrating a belief in oneself;
• Experience seeking — enjoyment of new opportunities and adventures;
• Openness to others — concern for others’ experiences and feelings; and
• Drive — ambition and eagerness to advance and succeed.
However, that only answers the question of whether they can do the job. Whether they will do the job is answered by looking at the key motivators and values of the candidate. From other studies, we know that these values and preferences are key:
• Connection — the desire to build social networks and collaborate; and
• Business — the desire for financial success and wealth.
Unfortunately, a great salesperson can have these traits and motivators, but can still cause major problems internally. For example, ego can get in the way of working with others in the office, impulsivity can result in frequent mistakes, and a lack of common sense can turn into unrealistic expectations of themselves and others. Here is where one’s EQ (emotional intelligence) comes into play.
In short, EQ tells us how well someone understands and manages themselves, others, and the world generally. While EQ increases with age and can also overlap with personality traits, it can also be developed. Therefore, personality is more about hardwiring, while EQ looks at skills. The following are a few EQ scales that are important to sales, but can also be problematic if they are too high:
• Assertiveness – expressing oneself appropriately and not aggressively;
• Optimism — Staying positive despite setbacks, seeing opportunity; and
• Self-regard — Knowing and accepting oneself and one’s strengths and weaknesses
Lastly, many clients ask about the accuracy of self-assessment testing. “What good is this if the job candidate is not answering the questions honestly?”  “Can’t they just answer how they think we want them to?” The good news here is that many tests now utilize questions that are difficult to game. For example: “would you like to be a race-car driver?” To a test taker, answering this affirmatively might mean that they interested in exciting experiences, or, alternatively, it could mean they are someone who is an adrenaline junkie or someone who takes too many risks.
The tests are constructed in such a way that we know how successful salespeople answer (or, rather, their patterns of answers) as opposed to focusing on any one question. When good science is involved, it becomes far less obvious to the test taker, as well as the fact that it’s the combination of responses that tell us something.
In addition, psychological self-assessments have developed ways of identifying faked results — again, because of developers doing their homework during test construction. So, for many tests, we receive a report that tells us the likelihood that someone has attempted to present himself or herself less honestly than hoped.
Finally, no test can determine on its own if a person is a good job candidate. Psychological assessments or pre-employment testing must be only one part of a larger selection process that includes many other sources of information, including thorough background checking. To reiterate, if there is a magic bullet in the process of hiring effective salespeople, it is this: the more information we have on someone before they start, the better-positioned we are to make a good decision.

Michael A. Klein is president of Northampton-based MK Insights2. He has more than 16 years of experience as an assessment specialist, consultant, speaker, and facilitator. He focuses on the application of psychological data for the selection and development of individuals in organizations, including executives, leaders, salespeople, and highly trained professionals, with a specialty in family-owned firms. He has worked both internally and externally in human capital, including positions in organizational development and human resources. He has experience in healthcare, financial services, publishing, entertainment, pharmaceuticals, construction, and private equity, and is a full member of the American Psychological Assoc. and Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology; (413) 320-4664.

Sales and Marketing Sections
To Remain Competitive, You Must Adjust Accordingly

Research shows that more than 50% of all cell phones are now smartphones. Add to that the growing number of people who own tablets, and it is estimated that mobile Internet users will exceed the number of desktop internet users by 2014.
The rapid rise in mobile technologies has dramatically changed the way that we communicate at work, at home, and while out and about, and business owners must adjust to this phenomenon.

We Love Our Smartphones
The majority of cell-phone purchases are now smartphones because they quickly become the preferred technology. Smartphones let you make phone calls, but what makes them so smart is that they have an operating system and can run software. This enables them to have features similar to those found on your computer, including web browsing, sending and receiving e-mail, and the abilities to open and read documents, take photos, listen to music, and watch videos.
Smartphones are getting faster at accessing the Internet and letting us view websites, engage in social media, download apps, and access driving directions via GPS. No wonder we love them.
Because mobile devices have become so convenient to use, they are now an integral part of our on-the-go lifestyle. That means many of your customers are trying to access your website on a mobile device. Most mobile devices will display your website correctly, but it will be incredibly tiny, and users will have to enlarge it and scroll from side to side to read the content. If you do not currently have a mobile-friendly website, now is the time to begin putting one in place.

Two Key Options

Options for having a mobile-friendly website include a mobile redirect or responsive web design. A mobile redirect can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Essentially, it redirects mobile users accessing your website to a separate website optimized just for mobile devices. In this case, you have two separate websites that need to be updated and maintained.
Another option is to make your website mobile-friendly by using responsive web design. Responsive web design uses fluid grids, CSS (the coding language for formatting and styling web content), and media queries to control how your website is displayed based on a device’s screen size. Responsive web design provides the advantage of just one website to update and manage versus having a separate mobile site to maintain.
Whatever method you choose, you should minimize the amount of information displayed on your mobile site by tailoring it to the needs of a mobile viewer. Consider what information your website visitors need when accessing your site while on the go. Some basics include business address, directions, an interactive map, hours of operation, and contact information. If you have a retail operation, then sales, special offers, and events should be easily visible to entice mobile web visitors to stop by.

Mobile Search
According to Google, there has been a fivefold increase in mobile search over the last two years. Research also shows that more than half of all consumers use their smartphones to search for products even when they are at home and could use a desktop or laptop computer. This data emphasizes the need for a mobile-friendly website.
If someone searches for your business and finds you, they should be taken to a website designed for a mobile device. If you are investing money in paid search, and those searches are on mobile devices, you are wasting your money if those ads don’t lead to a mobile-friendly website.

Local on Mobile
Your customers are searching while they are out and about, looking for places, products, and special offers. Roughly 70% of searchers are looking for a local product or service, and more than 80% of people searching for local information will take action within a day. Mobile searchers have a need, and most often it is an immediate one.
I encourage you to register your website for local search. This will let you control the quality of your local search results, ensure the accuracy of the information, and help increase your search ranking. Here are several major search engines you can register with; some have a verification process by phone or mail.
www.google.com/places
www.bing.com/businessportal
listings.local.yahoo.com
listings.mapquest.com/apps/listing

Social on Mobile
Social media seems to be made for mobile, as it’s all about what we are doing right now and sharing that with our friends. About half of the people using social media do so on a mobile device. Mobile users log in more often and spend more time on social-media sites. Mobile devices nicely integrate social-media apps that make it easier to post on a mobile device than from your desktop.
For example, you can snap a photo with your phone and post it right to Facebook. Knowing how your customers use their mobile devices is important when developing social-media campaigns. Businesses need to start their planning with a mobile perspective and tailor their ideas accordingly.

Mobile Commerce
Mobile commerce (m-commerce) is defined as consumers shopping and conducting other financial and promotional activities on their wireless, handheld devices. Browsing, shopping, and purchasing are increasingly done on mobile devices, and that trend continues to grow.
As the technology for online mobile shopping is improved and simplified, the shopping experience becomes easier and more convenient. Millions of American smartphone owners use apps for shopping, and even more use a retailer’s mobile website. It is clear that mobile shopping will continue to grow and your customers will be looking for this purchasing option.

Geolocation for
Customer Tracking
Mobile devices also provide GPS and wi-fi technology that can determine where a user is located. This allows you to leverage that information and send real-time mobile offers that can drive people to your business and generate a purchase. As we continue to gather data on our customers, we can move toward using demographic, psychographic, and past-purchasing behavior combined with current event data to deliver highly customized messaging.
Not everyone likes the idea that their smartphone knows where they are, so you will need to communicate the value consumers can expect to receive from your geolocation programs and give them options on participation.

Develop Your Mobile
Marketing Plans
Reviewing the trends and technologies that are making your customers mobile reinforces the need to provide a mobile experience to your customers. The combination of a mobile-friendly website, local search, m-commerce, geolocation, and social media provides you with powerful ways to reach your customers and prospects while they are on the go.

Tina Stevens is principal and creative director at Stevens 470, a full-service, multi-channel marketing firm providing strategic marketing, print communication, and web development; stevens470.com

Sales and Marketing Sections
How to Avoid These Nine Common Marketing Mistakes

Christine Pilch Mancini

Christine Pilch Mancini

Business generally doesn’t just find you. You have to work hard to educate and attract the people who want and need your product or service. That’s marketing.
But the game has changed dramatically over the last five years or so, as the economy forced businesses to tighten up their expenses. In addition, social media has leveled the playing field and enabled small companies with tiny budgets to compete with much larger companies that have deep pockets. It has become very tempting for businesses to consolidate staff or try a do-it-yourself approach to their marketing.
Be it unfamiliarity, lack of education, or square pegs in round holes, there are a lot of marketing mistakes costing companies precious dollars these days. Are you making any of the following mistakes?

1. Me, Me, Me Messages
Nobody cares about how great you are, how long you’ve been in business, and that you’ve got good service. They only care about what they get. The old adage, ‘what’s in it for me?’ is truer now than ever before in people’s over-scheduled lives. They care about things that make their lives easier, save them time, help them, and solve a problem, so don’t bother with marketing messages that don’t point out how you can benefit them.
Benefits are much more effective in piquing interest than features. Take care to minimize and remove language that emphasizes the words, I, me, we, us, my, and our and turn your message around to what ‘you’ get.
Hint: Read the first page of your website. If your message isn’t primarily about ‘you,’ meaning ‘your customer,’ you might be wise to hire a good copywriter for a tuneup.

2. Not Tracking Results or Return on Investment

If you aren’t tracking results, how can you be sure which marketing efforts are paying off? This should be true of every marketing tactic that you use, be it something traditional — such as a TV ad, membership in an organization, or a print ad — or new-media initiatives, like a Facebook page, Google AdWords, or a Pinterest contest.
Tracking results can help you react quickly when something isn’t working quite right. If you watch carefully, you will be able to switch gears when messages get stale or don’t hit their mark. Pinpointing lead sources is certainly more difficult, as people tend to jump all around the web en route to you, but there are ways to track your results, and it’s to your advantage to know where you’re getting the best bang for your buck.
Hint: If you want to drive traffic to your website, Google Analytics is a terrific tool for gauging the success of your efforts. You can see exactly where your traffic is coming from. You can also build unique landing pages on your website that are fed from different lead sources. Or you could obtain a special phone number or embed a special offer to track a particular advertisement. The more specific you can be, the better.

3. Neglecting to Set Goals
If you haven’t set goals, how will you determine when something is successful? Every business has its own measurement of success, and, likewise, each marketing tactic and/or campaign should also have its own objectives. Be specific. For example, a Facebook page could have many different objectives over its lifetime: growing its fan base (‘likes’), building interaction, or driving traffic to your website. Set your goals before you implement something new, and set new ones for subsequent campaigns.
Hint: If you want to increase sales of a particular product, check how your numbers have been in the past, decide on a reasonable expectation for the promotion you plan to put forth, and establish a number that you want to hit within a certain timeframe. This will allow you to react during the process, adjusting your marketing or augmenting if necessary, so you can achieve your goal.

4. Not Testing
The ability to cost-effectively test something new varies by media, but it is usually very easy to do on new-media channels. Use them to see who is attracted to particular messages, what time they see them, etc., and then use this information in other venues to help better target your ads.
Hint: Many companies test-market videos on YouTube, which gives them the ability to see how many people watch their videos within a particular timeframe, the demographics of those viewers, and how much of the video they watched, without having to buy expensive TV time. Post your own test videos and use this information to customize future videos and marketing messages that better appeal to your target audience.

5. Refusing to Try Something New (Especially When the Old Stuff Stops Working)
Familiarity is comforting, but an old advertising tactic that used to work, but is barely producing new leads, is wasting your money. Suppose you used to get lots of business whenever you ran a particular TV ad, and you haven’t seen those results for a long time, but you keep running the same old ad because you like having your friends and family see you on TV. Wouldn’t it make more sense to shift that money into something new? This could be a fresh, new TV spot, direct mail, radio, or new media. The possibilities are endless.
Hint: Don’t let your ego get in the way of bringing business through the door. Business owners, their kids, and their pets are usually not the best TV personalities, and they often actually turn off potential customers.

6. Misusing QR codes

A QR code is a two-dimensional bar code that can be scanned with a smartphone and takes a user to a webpage. They are best utilized for a user to get more information about whatever you are promoting in print, which could be on something such as a mailer or print ad. The single greatest misuse of a barcode is using it to link to a webpage that is not optimized for mobile. This just wastes the user’s time and causes frustration because non-mobile-optimized pages are very difficult to read and navigate on a small screen.
Other mistakes include neglecting to provide the ‘more information’ that you promised, and using QR codes on the web or within e-mail.
Hint: You can stop printing product information through the simple use of a QR code applied to your product, which brings your customer to the right page on your website for all the information he needs for the use and service of your product.

7. Buying Lists and Fans
You’ve likely seen offers of thousands of e-mail addresses or Facebook fans for your page, but what is the worth of someone who doesn’t want or need what you have to sell? Doesn’t it make more sense to talk to someone who has interest in your product or service and may actually purchase from you? Lists that you can purchase are usually not targeted, and the e-mail addresses are usually not connected to people who opted in to receive your messages, so they will consider you a spammer. That can lead to big problems.
Purchased Facebook fans are no more valuable, as it’s easy enough to hide a page feed from one’s newsfeed, so your messages aren’t being seen. Yes, your number of fans may seem impressive, but those fans are worthless if they never receive your messages and have no interest in what you’re selling.
Hint: Even when creating your own e-mail list, make sure it is comprised only of people who opt in to receive your messages. Sending to the e-mail addresses of your social-media connections and those from business cards that you collect is impolite and unprofessional. These people will likely consider your messages spam.

8. Letting a Non-marketer Coordinate Your Social Media
Social media for business is a marketing function. Yes, any kid fresh out of college can set up a Facebook page and Twitter account for you, but what do they know about marketing your business? What messages will they send? How will they handle angry or disappointed customers? Will they plan and track?
Hint: There is a reason that it’s called social-media marketing. When looking for someone to handle your social media, make sure that they understand how to market your business. If you wouldn’t put them in a traditional marketing job, they are not qualified to handle your social media either, unless working under the direction of someone who is a marketer.

9. Separating Digital Marketing from Traditional Marketing

Social media and traditional marketing are so closely intertwined within companies these days that separating them makes as much sense as having your sales and marketing departments operate exclusive of each other. Campaigns should be synched so that you’re not sending competing or non-complementary messages. This also prevents the danger of one department not knowing what the other is doing and possibly undercutting each other.
Hint: Create a system whereby information freely flows between traditional- and new-media people within your business. This could be accomplished via daily or weekly meetings, a spreadsheet that team members update, or perhaps even through a private Facebook group, where departmental activity and plans are logged. Facebook displays to the group leader who reads what content on its groups, so it is apparent when something has or has not been read. Regardless of the method, communication is critical.

Bottom Line
Everybody wants a good return on their marketing investments, so if you’re making any of the above mistakes, changing course just might not only save you money, but also bring in more business to boot.
If you’re in over your head or many of the techniques mentioned above are Greek to you, perhaps it’s time to call in a qualified marketer to bring fresh ideas to the table.

Christine Pilch Mancini owns Grow My Company and is a marketing strategist. She trains businesses to utilize LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, blogging, and other social-media tools to grow, and she collaborates with professional service firms to get results through innovative positioning and branding strategies; (413) 537-2474; growmyco.com; linkedin.com/in/christinepilch;
facebook.com/growmycompany

Sales and Marketing Sections
It’s the Latter, and It Comes Down to Attitude, Behavior, Technique

By JIM MUMM

Jim Mumm

Jim Mumm

We’ve all heard the question; are great salespeople born or made?
It’s a great question because every business relies on sales; no sales means no company.
The only possible answer is that great salespeople are made. There are only three overarching determinates of success in any endeavor: attitude, behavior, and technique. And all three can be taught. Therefore, great salespeople must be made. Let me explain.
Let’s take the simple things first. Behavior consists of goals, plans, and actions. You probably remember that Yogi Berra said “you’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” Without goals, how can you tell if a salesperson got there? The best salespeople are those who set goals, and people can be taught to make goals.
Once goals are set, they can be achieved only by first developing a plan. There are thousands of books, classes, and software that can help us learn how to make plans.  Therefore, people can be taught to make plans. Finally, goals and a plan are great, but they must be followed up with actions. Except for our autonomic activities such as breathing, people simply cannot be born knowing what actions to take and how to take them.
People are born knowing very little about how to take any actions. We all learned what to do and how to act. Therefore, once again, people can be taught what actions to take and how to take them. Consequently, people can be taught how to set goals, make a plan, and take the actions to execute the plan. Nearly everything that can be taught can be studied, practiced, and improved upon. Therefore, people can be taught the behaviors necessary to make them great salespeople.
Next, let’s look at technique. Technique refers to the strategies, tactics, and personal presence used to implement behavior. The first two are easy. Strategies and tactics can and are routinely taught. Again, there are countless books, courses, and software designed to teach strategies and tactics. If we can’t teach these, we should close all the business and military schools.
Personal presence is a little harder to debunk. However, some descriptions include the first thing you notice about other people, the physical features: body, eyes, smile, voice, handshake, personality, mannerisms, attitude. Can’t each of these be learned? Of course they can be learned. Therefore, because strategies, tactics, and personal presence can all be taught, it just follows that technique too can be taught.
Finally we come to attitude. According to Wikipedia, attitude means “a person’s perspective toward a specified target and way of saying and doing things.” Webster’s defines attitude as “a mental position toward a fact or state.” In sales, I would argue that attitude consists of how you view the market you are in, how you view your company, and how you view yourself. Again, let’s take the easy stuff first: market and company. If a salesperson believes he or she is in a tough market, couldn’t a senior executive teach them how to leverage or exploit the company’s position in the market?
Every senior-level executive or business owner worth his salt can perform a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats), or pay to have one performed, to demonstrate to the salesperson how their company is uniquely positioned to capture sales. A lot of executives don’t do this. But if they did, the salesperson could certainly be taught how to approach the market and articulate their company’s unique position within it to capture sales.
So that leaves us with the salesperson’s view of himself or herself. Isn’t this is the true essence of attitude? As difficult as it sounds to determine if one can be taught to have a better attitude or not, this is simple, too.
You merely need to remember the last time you went to the gym or worked out at home. You might have been tired or unenthusiastic, but once you put on your shoes and hit the treadmill, didn’t you instantly feel better? Didn’t your attitude instantly improve? Of course it did. If one can so easily manipulate one’s own attitude, wouldn’t it be simple to teach someone how to do this? Again, this is an easy answer — a resounding yes!
The bottom line is that there truly is one must-have characteristic of a salesperson: he or she must have a desire to continuously learn and grow. Anyone who has this desire can be an extremely effective and successful salesperson. Anyone with a desire to learn can be taught a sales system, and those who use a superior sales system will consistently outperform other salespeople.

Jim Mumm is CEO of Sandler Training in Chicopee and the author of Why Sales People Fail and What to do About It; www.jimmumm.sandler.com

Sales and Marketing Sections
Seven Steps to Using LinkedIn to Promote Yourself Effectively

Christine Pilch

Christine Pilch

Have you Googled your name lately? When you do, you’ll likely find that your LinkedIn profile is near the top of the results. That’s how powerful this social network is. So why would you fail to take it seriously and neglect its potential as a mighty self-promotional tool?
Statistics published by Quantcast Corp. in October show that nearly 17 million U.S. LinkedIn users visit the site at least once weekly, 70% of them are age 35 or older, 75% of them have undergraduate or graduate degrees, and 68% have incomes exceeding $60,000. This proves that LinkedIn users are generally affluent and well-educated.
So what are all these people doing on LinkedIn? Another study by Lab42 in August said that top-level executives use it primarily for industry networking and promoting their own businesses, while mid-level executives use it for keeping in touch and industry networking. Entry-level people use it primarily for job search and co-worker networking.
Unfortunately, some people join LinkedIn simply because they were invited by a colleague and felt obligated to do so. They entered the minimally required information, and bam, their profile was created. From that point on, their account remains neglected, and they demonstrate that they’re not serious about this social network and perhaps convey the message that they’re a luddite who isn’t up to speed on contemporary networking techniques.
How can you use LinkedIn to your best advantage?

Determine Your Goals
Perhaps your goal is to find a new job. You may feel stagnant, undervalued, or bored in your current situation. If you want to find a new job, LinkedIn can be your golden ticket. Recruiters and human resources personnel have become adept at utilizing LinkedIn to search for and find qualified candidates, and they are reaching out directly to people who indicate that they are open to job inquiries. Two key components to successfully leveraging LinkedIn to land a new job are having a complete and impressive profile and making sure that your profile is open to accepting messages from everyone, not just your connections.
Perhaps you want to promote your services or company. LinkedIn is the professional standard for online networking these days, so it is the perfect venue to promote yourself. But a word of caution: beware promoting your company at the exclusion of yourself within your profile. Your profile is the place to show what you personally bring to the table. Even if you’re a consultant and you are the company, make sure that viewers know what you can do for them with action words that speak in terms of ‘you’ instead of ‘I.’ The tenants of basic marketing messaging apply here, so if you don’t understand how to craft a proper marketing message, find someone who is good at it to help you.
Perhaps you are unemployed. LinkedIn is a no-brainer if you’re in this situation. It’s usually the first place most recruiters and hiring managers go to check someone out, so it is imperative to have a 100% complete profile. Take the time to create a summary that sells you on your merits, draft descriptive narratives for all your past experience, and list your complete educational history, so people from your past can find you. Remember that, when people search, their results come from their expanded LinkedIn network only, not all of LinkedIn, so it is also especially important for you to expand your network, because everyone is a potential job-referral source for you.

Enhance Your Profile
LinkedIn is not the place to be humble. Provide concrete proof of the value you can bring to a new organization by listing past key accomplishments. For example, don’t just say that you can save an organization money; demonstrate it by listing specific actions you took, the positive results they generated, and the timeframe in which all this occurred.
Use a current photo that shows you dressed the way that people see you in your employment environment. Bankers and accountants should be in suit and tie if that’s how people see them. A chef should be in her coat. If in doubt, dress for the position you aspire to rather than the position you currently have. Remember that this is a professional network, so unless you’re a baseball player, don’t display a photo of you in a cap.
Use the line under your name to highlight the benefit you can bring to an organization. Surely, “experienced leader with 15 years developing top-notch sales teams and growing businesses an average of 30% per year” will gain more attention than “sales manager.” Use this prime real estate to tell a prospective employer or client what you can do for them rather than simply listing a boring job title.
Your status is another easy way to remind people about your core competencies and remain top of mind. Whatever you put in that box lands in your connections’ newsfeed and in their e-mail digest, so make sure that it demonstrates your professional capabilities. “Cleaning my desk” is an irrelevant and improper message here, while “drafting an updated will for a newly divorced mother” lets people know specifically what you do.

Use Add-ons
LinkedIn has sections that you can add to highlight awards, additional languages, patents, projects, certifications, and test scores, in addition to other things. There is now a section where you can list your charitable and volunteer experience. You can add videos, presentations, reading lists, and articles. You also have the ability to customize your LinkedIn profile by rearranging the sections so that your most important credentials appear at the top. This can be helpful, for example, for a recent grad with little work experience to highlight relevant courses.

Get Recommendations
Few professionals are hired these days without a reference check, so consider the upfront benefit to a prospective employer when your peers or employers sing your praises on LinkedIn. You can talk until you’re blue in the face about how wonderful you are, but when someone else says it, there is extra credibility. Recommendations are also a point of distinction, as many LinkedIn users don’t bother to solicit them.

Engage
LinkedIn is, after all, a social network, and being social means engaging with others, not just lurking or broadcasting. LinkedIn provides plenty of opportunities to communicate with other members, so read your news feed, and comment on and like connections’ statuses. Reach out with a congratulatory note when someone gets promoted or changes jobs. Join and participate in Groups. This means reading the discussion items, posting relevant topics, and participating, not just collecting logos to decorate your profile.
You should also check out the Answers component. You can find it under ‘More’ in the site’s primary navigation. Once there, you can ask and answer questions posed by your network. This is a great way to demonstrate expertise and solicit advice, and it helps to raise awareness of you within the LinkedIn community.

Fact Check and Update
Spelling errors and improper punctuation and grammar on LinkedIn make you look bad, so carefully proofread everything before posting it, and correct any errors promptly. If writing isn’t your strong suit, make sure you have an editor review your profile for problems. LinkedIn allows you about 15 minutes to change your discussion entries, too, so use this time wisely. Also, be sure that all referenced dates, accomplishments, and facts are accurate. Toot your own horn, but don’t lie.
Keep your profile updated, and remain an active participant within the network. The value of LinkedIn lies in its innate ability to connect people, so if you don’t participate, you’re not adding value to your network. In addition, keep your profile updated. Review it regularly, compare it against competitors or people who have the job you want, and continue to refine it.

LinkedIn Don’ts
Along with all the good suggestions above, it is also easy to damage your reputation on LinkedIn. Here are a few things to avoid:
Don’t spam your network. Unsolicited communication is considered spam by most recipients. Don’t be the guy who interrupts his network with unwanted promotional messages. Everybody is on LinkedIn to sell something, but overt sales are generally not welcome. It’s better to demonstrate your expertise and generate desire for your skills via engagement.
Don’t use a logo or graphic for your photo. This is prohibited in LinkedIn’s terms of service. LinkedIn wants real faces of actual people connected to its membership.
Don’t argue, abuse, attack, or use foul language anywhere on LinkedIn. Such activity is not tolerated, and you can be reported and kicked out of the network. Can you afford to be ostracized from the largest and most influential professional network online today?
LinkedIn is too powerful for professionals at any level to ignore these days. There is a general expectation that you are there, and if someone is looking to fact-check or gauge your credibility and ability to perform in a particular capacity, you’d better have a strong presence there, or LinkedIn makes it really easy for them to find your competitors and move on down the line.

Christine Pilch is a partner with Grow My Company and a social-media marketing strategist. She trains businesses to utilize LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogging, and other social-media tools to grow, and she collaborates with professional-service firms to get results through innovative positioning and branding strategies; (413) 537.2474; linkedin.com/in/christinepilch; growmyco.com