Author Archives: Jennifer Kirkey
I have writer’s block, and I’ve had it for a few months now. I spend at least an hour a day staring at the keyboard, waiting for words to flow. Instead, they’re stuck behind a stress-induced wall in my brain and they can’t make their way onto the page. It usually takes a while, but I eventually come up with enough words to string together to make a coherent though. Caffeine helps this process.
For most people, feeling creatively barren isn’t a big deal in their job. Even I have to admit that while this debilitating condition has affected my blogging, for the most part I’m able to continue on with my 9-5 life as per normal. But then again, my job also tends to be about data and numbers and it doesn’t require a lot of imagination or artistry. If I was in a sales position, I’d have a much bigger problem.
Most people don’t pair creativity with salesmanship, but the two really do go hand-in-hand. Being a salesperson is more than selling a product. You have to be better, smarter, and faster about selling that product than the guy in the store next door that is selling the same product. What is going to make me pick your pitch over his? It’s not because of your tie or because I like your smile. It’s because you’ve said or done something to draw my attention to you. You’ve made yourself stand out in such a way that I can see you and nothing else.
For a lot of salespeople, creativity can be a problem. They didn’t sign up for their jobs because they had great ideas and needed an outlet for them. Most salespeople are involved in an industry that they have some sort of knowledge in and therefore they can speak intelligently about a product. And don’t misunderstand – that is a very valuable tool. But unless your company is the only one on the planet that sells that product, chances are high that you’re going to have some competition in the marketplace. Knowledge of the product won’t be enough to sell it – you’re going to have to come up with an unique approach to the sale.
So if you’re not a naturally creative person, what can you do to spark that side of your brain into waking up? There are tons of great suggestions to be found online for getting you and your sales force into an inspired state of mind. Beyond that, though, you need to have the creative mentality in place in your organization. Encourage your sales reps get together to brainstorm and communicate and think outside-the-box. The one of the biggest mistakes that most companies make is that they pit their sales reps against each other in a competition to see who can get the most sales/commission. And that will usually work….to a point. If you want to build a long-lasting relationship with a customer, the foundation needs to be stronger than a load of nonsense that was served up out of desperation because your sales agent had a power bill coming due. It needs to be about being memorable. I have to see something in you and your product that makes me keep coming back. I’ve got my own power bill to pay, so scamming me and making me regret the transaction probably isn’t going to accomplish much over the long run. But if you can put some thought and imagination and resourcefulness into an approach that is going to make me want to come back to you over and over again, then everyone will benefit from that burst of originality.
Do you see a need for creativity in sales? As a salesperson, what creative methods do you use?
Our very first blog post “Get it in their hands: the power of demonstration” was written by Meagan, detailing her experience of buying a new camera. She told us all how it wasn’t until she had the camera in her hands that she knew it would be the one for her. Ever since that post, I’ve actually put thought into why I buy the things that I buy. If Meagan shops based on the feeling of holding that item in her hand and trying it out, what is it that drives me to the cash register?
It wasn’t until two months ago that I knew the answer. I went to a yearly sale at a well-known Nova Scotia yarn store, and as I was wandering through the rows of yarn and wool and books and people, I realized that for me, it’s all about appearances. I would pick up the yarn and get a sense of the weight, the texture, the comfort-level. But it wasn’t that overall need to touch that drove me to a particular aisle. It was the appearance. The décor. The display. It was only when I was attracted by the look of the aisle that I would actually walk down it and pay any attention to the wares that it held.
I’m well aware that I’m a very visual person, but I never really stopped before to think about how that particular trait has influenced my life outside of school and work. Now that I’ve put two-and-two together, I can see how my shopping habits are influenced by the visual cues that I get from the stores that I walk into.
All of my favourite stores – from clothing boutiques, to book stores and craft nooks – have very distinct similarities. They’re all laid out in a way that is very organized and easy to navigate; nothing crowded or hard to walk through. They’re all bright and well-light, and I get a feeling of comfort as soon as I walk through the door, like it’s a safe environment to spend time in. There are a lot of clean lines and displays are put together with a lot of care and thought. And there’s colour. So much colour. No matter which direction I’m facing, there’s something for me to look that invites me to take a closer look. I have a hard time walking out of these stores without buying something, even when there’s nothing that I went in to buy, just because I felt like I should make a purchase.
Now at this point in the post, you’re wondering what this has to do with you. So I like to judge stores by their cover. What does this matter to everyone reading this?
Most people probably don’t care why I buy the things that I buy. But a retail store owner trying to get my business is going to have to put a lot of thought into what she or he can do to get my attention. And now, all of a sudden, I’m starting to feel bad for that store owner. Now they not only need to appeal to me and my visual signals, but also to Meagan, the kinaesthetic shopper. And what about people who take in information through auditory cues? Now your store needs to be visually appealing, people need to want to pick up your wares, and you need good tunes to listen to. What happened to the good old days when you put an item on a shelf and if someone wanted to buy it they did, and if they didn’t they moved along? Now, with so many other stores in the mall, you need to put a lot of extra effort to get my sale, and Meagan’s sale, and everyone else’s. Retail has always had an element of competition. Now it’s just a competition for attention.
How do you appeal to different types of shoppers? What influences you to make a purchase?
When I was ten years old, I opened my first savings account. Well, my mother opened it for me, but I got to go to the bank with her and the teller told me what to do if I wanted to put money in my account on my own. She gave me a little book that was filled with blank pages, and she explained that every time I put money in my account someone would write the information down so I would have a running tally of deposits, and I would be able to use that information to find out how much money I had in my bank account. I’m pretty sure I still have that passbook somewhere. I might keep it to show my grandchildren how I used to do my banking back in the old days. Can you believe that we actually wrote it all down? On paper!
In the last twenty years, we’ve gone from manual entry on a passbook to computer updates on the passbook to the ATM card that gives you twenty-four/seven access to any bank from any store. I can’t even remember the last time I used an ATM to get money, now that I can go to the grocery store and get a litre of milk and take cash from my account at the same time. But did you really think that technology would stop there?
Say hello to the EnStream Mobile Wallet Project.
EnStream is a joint mobile commerce venture between some of the biggest cellular carriers in Canada. For the last couple of years, EnStream has been looking at different ways to make banking more convenient for cellphone users, primarily through apps and online banking. Now EnStream is in talks with Canada’s big banks to take the next step and make your ATM card completely obsolete. The Mobile Wallet would allow the telecom companies to embed credit and debit card information on your SIM Card – that ridiculously small piece of plastic that locks into your phone and works as the key to your personal life. Currently, where your SIM card goes, your phone information follows. Soon, your banking info will tie in as well. There are signs that the project could even be taken a step further. Think of how thin your wallet will become when your driver’s license, ATM card, and credit cards have all been replaced by your Smartphone.
Of course, as with everything in life, there is a catch. And this catch could prove to be quite inconvenient. If I go to a restaurant tonight and misplace my Blackberry, it’s a major pain in the you-know-where and I have to go looking for the phone and then call the cellular carrier and get a new phone number and buy a new phone. If I go to a restaurant five years from now and misplace my Blackberry, my entire life is now up for grabs to whoever picks up the phone. And we’re not talking about them being able to read my emails to my mum. We’re talking about identity theft made quick and convenient.
Security and technology have been advancing side-by-side with each other for years. All those years ago, when I got that first bank account, anti-virus meant taking vitamins to avoid getting the flu and firewalls were found only in cars and buildings. It will be interesting to see what comes first – the creation of a SIM Card that will allow for banking and personal information to be stored on a phone, or the construction of security systems that will need to be put into place within a Smartphones’ operating system to safeguard that information. Should we allow for the former without the latter, or can we trust that security will catch up with technology before things go wrong?
Would you use the mobile wallet service if it was available? Would you be worried about the security of that information?
Raise your hand if you aim for failure in all of your endeavours.
Somehow, I thought that would be the reaction I got. Who stands up and declares that they love nothing more than to crash and burn when they try something new? No one enjoys putting their best foot forward only to be pushed back five steps because they weren’t prepared or didn’t have what they needed to get the job done. It’s all about doing a job and doing it well and succeeding at everything, right?
But here’s the problem: that’s actually not possible. The Law of Averages says that some people are going to fail and some are going to succeed. Nature is all about balance. So that means that some people, regardless of how equipped and knowledgeable and skilled they are, will fail at their attempts to start a small business. It has to happen. It’s awful and no one likes to see it, but can you envision a world where every business that started stayed open? Talk about supply outweighing demand!
So how do entrepreneurs do it? How do you make that commitment and put effort into bringing your dreams into reality, while knowing the whole time that there is a rather large chance that your reality will come crashing down around you? I know what you’re thinking – that some people are just lucky and that is what makes them successful. They hit the market at the right place at the right time and were triumphant where others had found defeat. Here’s my proof that this is not the case: five names. Biz Stone, Jawed Karim, Akio Morita, Harland David Sanders, and Bill Gates. All five are entrepreneurs who suffered major setbacks in their first attempts to start an enterprise. But now, because they refused to give up and instead started over with more experience and more determination, we have Twitter, YouTube, Sony, KFC, and the biggest software company in the world.
This may sound clichéd, but the key to being a successful entrepreneur comes down to personality and values. The most successful entrepreneurs in the world will all tell you the same thing: they weren’t afraid to fail. They went into every venture determined to make a go of it, with the attitude that failure was not an option. And then when it all went to pieces and the doors closed behind them, they would learn from it and pick up those pieces and try again. But they were all so determined to find success that they pushed through what would keep most of us from even trying. And believe it or not, this is a trait that you can learn for yourself. Sure, it feels awful to be pushed back and there may be some tears and venting and depression and sadness. But after your pity party ends, you’ll have a drink and take a shower and get back out on the field. Because that’s the way that the game is played in the world of start-up businesses.
Do you recover from failure easily, or do you find yourself defeated when things don’t go the way you had hoped?
I feel as though I should start this post with a confession: My name is Jennifer, and I am addicted to my Blackberry.
Remember the old days when cell phones did nothing but make phone calls? Heck, remember the even older days when there were no cell phones? Back then, people went to work at the start of the day, and then they went home at the end of the day. That was it. If something happened during the evening or overnight, it was dealt with in the morning. I know it’s hard to believe, but this is a true story – I read about it once in a book.
The time when workers left work at work really wasn’t that long ago, and yet here we all are, a world full of people now have their work cells strapped to them at all times, ready to respond instantly to any email or phone call that comes through. After all, we live in a global world that operates 24/7, and the business that lets problems slide without dealing with them ASAP could be the business that doesn’t exist for much longer. It’s a sound business practice to ensure that everyone responds to their customers at any given moment. Here’s the problem: we now have a large segment of the population that can’t put their work away because it’s with them all the time. What started out as a convenience has turned into an addiction. There are a multitude of symptoms to this type of compulsion. See if any of these sound familiar to you:
- You are not able to sit at a stop light for more than one minute without checking the phone.
- When grocery shopping you check your messages at least once before you head to the cashier.
- If you leave the Smartphone at home/work/wherever you currently are not, you feel as though you cannot function until you retrieve the device.
- You have been known to check your work email during a meal while on a first date or during your anniversary part or midway through the birth of your child.
- When you leave work at the end of the day, you then spend the rest of the evening answering every “urgent” email that comes through on the phone, even if it’s just to thank someone for their email.
- You lunge across the table to grab the phone every time it makes a noise, because someone has sent you an e-mail or a BBM or a Tweet or a text and what if you don’t answer back right away? What if you don’t get to it in time? What if you sleep through the Zombie Apocalypse because your Smartphone was not within a one-metre radius of your bed?!
Okay, maybe that last one isn’t so common. But you can’t tell me that I’m the only person who thinks this way.
Here’s one symptom of Smartphone Addiction that I find particularly fascinating: you have checked your phone because you thought that you heard the phone ring or vibrate, only to discover that you didn’t have a message after all. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve gone running for my work Blackberry because I thought I heard the email alert, only to discover that I don’t have a message. But…I know I heard it. Didn’t I?
According to a study that was conducted at the University of Worcester in the UK, the phenomenon of “phantom vibrations” is becoming more and more common. More than 100 volunteers were tested from a variety of professions and the results showed that while the majority of the participants began using Smartphones as a way to make their jobs easier, being constantly plugged in to work drastically increased stress and pressure levels in the workers. The more the stress increased, the greater the compulsion to check the phone even when there was no reason to do so. Of course, the more that the phone was checked, the more work was being done, which greater increases stress levels, and so on. It’s like the song that doesn’t end. This really does go on and on, my friend.
So, how do we put an end to this vicious circle of stress and addiction? According to researchers who led the study, the solution lies in the hands of employers who hand out the phones in the first place. Companies are being encouraged by mental health organizations and researchers to tell their employees to turn off the phone and to spend more of their non-work time doing non-work activities. When employees go on vacation or take extended leave, make sure they understand that their phone can stay turned off or even left at the office. In some countries, laws have even been passed to allow a worker to claim paid overtime for checking their work phones after hours. Of course, there are some calls or emails that really are emergencies, and having a Smartphone at hand can help businesses assist their clients and customers better. But do all after-hours emails and phone calls need to be answered with the same level of urgency that is currently occurring? Probably not. Will industry collapse and the economy tank as a result of people putting down the phone long enough to enjoy their meal and tuck their kids into bed? Highly doubtful.
Does your company encourage workers to put down the phone when they’re away from the office? Or are you in a job where there is no such thing as “after hours”? If you’re a manager, how do you feel about your employees being disconnected?
When I was attending university, I took a marketing class in which the professor was convinced that brand recognition was the only requirement of a successful business. Sure, you needed capital to get started, and you would need a good sense of the product that you were selling, and sales skills and some knowledge of your market were a bonus. But he truly believed that the only thing a company needed to do to ensure their long-term success was to make their name synonymous with their product. He pointed out examples like Kleenex, Aspirin, Band-Aid and Jeep. He made sure that we all walked out of that course with the belief that our businesses would succeed so long as our brand names were part of the public lexicon. Make your product known and you will stay in business forever.
It’s well known that Kodak has had a lot of problems in the last ten years, and the majority of those troubles are being blamed on the growth in the digital camera market. And yet for a brief period of time in 2005, Kodak was actually ranked first in the U.S. in digital cameras sales. But here we are, seven years later, with a different company in the first place slot and Kodak struggling frantically to keep afloat.
But this is Kodak! They invented the Brownie camera, which was the first camera available to amateur photographers at the start of the last century. They were the first company to produce and sell color 35mm film. Would we be able to go the movies or even watch DVDs if Kodak hadn’t been there in the early 1900s to help develop the film stock that was originally used to shoot motion pictures? Who amongst us has not had a “Kodak moment”? And here’s a little piece of irony for you: the man credited with inventing the digital camera, Steve Sasson, worked as an engineer for Kodak at the time that he developed the equipment. Kodak engineers also invented the megapixel sensor, which is a key component to making your digital pictures look so great. That’s right – the company that is currently being brought down because of increased competition in the digital photography market can actually lay claim to being part of the invention of the digital photography market.
So how does this happen to a company that has dominated the landscape for over 100 years and can lay claim to being one of the most recognizable brands in the world? It’s actually quite simple. It’s because they were dominant and had brand-recognition. Sure, they tried to expand a little and open their doors to different products and ideas. But in the mid-1990s, Kodak executives were sceptical that this whole “digital” thing would even become a thing. They were confident in their brand, and while they were willing to branch out a little into new areas they firmly believed that staying the course of their original marketing and production paths was what would keep them at the top of the heap. When others within the organization tried to say differently, they were shut down in favour of management’s plans. To say that management failed to take into account the speed with which the consumer market changes is an understatement.
Now, of course, the management at Eastman Kodak is singing a different song. And with new people and new voices being heard within the organization, there is hope that Kodak will be able to reorganize while under bankruptcy protection and come out even stronger on the other side. But this path is going to be long and painful, and what makes it worse is that it could have been avoided if the company had spent more time ensuring that their brand stayed at the top of the market rather than just assuming that it would because they were a Brand.
If I could take this information and go back ten and a few years to my university professor, I would tell him the following:
- The key to brand recognition is making sure that your brand continues to be seen by the consumer. People have short memories. If your brand disappears from the market, consumers won’t stop buying that product in protest. They’ll move on.
- Price can trump brand, but only in those cases where the brand doesn’t have legitimate strength and clear competitive advantage. If you’re going to rely on product quality as your value proposition, then you need to be sure the quality of your product allows for it.
- All the brand recognition and all the excellent product development in the world will not help your company if management fails to plan ahead and think about the future. Listen to the market, listen to your employees, and remember that what goes up must come down and nowhere does that analogy ring more true than in a capitalist marketplace.
Do you think your customers are buying your goods/services because of the product itself or the brand behind it? Which do you tend to promote more when you’re making a sale?
I recently had what I considered to be a great idea. It was something that would help both me and my department and it was, in my opinion, the next best thing to sliced bread. I shared my brilliance with some of my co-workers and everyone agreed that I was on the right track, that what I was looking for not only could be accomplished but that it could be considered a benefit to our clients. I modestly pat myself on the back, and then tried to find someone with more experience in these matters to help me.
After a month nothing happened and no one could find time to help me. I assumed that my proposal was dead in the water.
It’s not that my idea wasn’t a good suggestion, and it’s not that no one else thought it was a good plan. But when your employees are constantly trying to help clients and improve current products and bring in new clients and put out today’s fires, who has time to think about tomorrow or the next day? It’s great to be creative and try to bring something innovative into the fold, but unless that new product is a time machine that lets you get more done in the course of a day, there’s a big chance that your next big thing is never going to leave the drawing board.
Innovation is what drives the economy. Without someone creating and implementing an idea for a product, businesses would never develop. Some of the most creative people that you will ever meet are highly successful entrepreneurs, because they can see something that the rest of the general public can’t and they can see how to make that idea happen. The problem is that this surge of inspiration can be hard to maintain over the long term, especially once your business starts to grow. Many business owners and managers are struggling to keep their operations above water, fighting recessions and downturns in economy and competition and market saturation. Bringing something new into play usually is not an option. But innovation is what can keep a business afloat even if it seems like too much time/effort/money at the start. The right idea at the right time can mean a whole new avenue of options for your business, including an increased market share, new clients, and new branding. Of course, all of these things usually result in more revenue, as well.
The best ideas and inspiration will come from two places: your employees and your clients. Who knows your product better than the people that you’ve hired to create it, and the people who pay you to use it? Keep the lines of communication open, both internally and externally. No idea is too small or insignificant to be looked at. Encourage your staff to work together and brainstorm and help each other come up with solutions to problems, rather than just managing the day’s to-do list and moving on. Not every suggestion is going to result in a reasonable product, but you’ll never know that if you don’t take the time to examine the risk/reward factors and determine the idea’s true potential.
If your organization doesn’t currently have something in place that allows employees to communicate ideas to their managers, you can always suggest that it should be. I’m fortunate enough to work at a place that is encouraging this type of openness (which is how I found out that my idea isn’t dead but rather it’s being considered and talked about), but not everyone has that creative channel available to them. Maybe that can be your first great innovation. You should never be afraid to talk to the people in charge and let them know that you have an idea that could make the company better.
Is innovation something that your business focuses a lot of time on, or do you find it hard to come up with new ideas while juggling current problems? What does your business do to encourage growth and improvement in your product?
I saw the first signs on November 1st. I was at the grocery store, hunting for discounted Halloween candy when I saw the glitter. And then sparkles. And a tube of shiny coloured paper. Disbelief took hold. There was no way….was it possible…..were the Christmas products on the shelves already?! I still had a jack o’lantern on my front porch. I hadn’t even bought my Remembrance Day poppy yet. How was I supposed to get into the holiday spirit?
There used to be a very clear start to the holiday shopping rush. The day after American Thanksgiving meant the unofficial countdown to Christmas was on. When the stores opened on Black Friday there would be fancy decorations everywhere the eye could see, and the holiday muzak would start playing through the mall on a 24/7 loop. Parking lots and stores would get crowded and chaotic, and the line-up to visit Santa would wind around fake reindeer and big red SALE signs. But the last few years have seen a definite shift in the retail market in regards to when the season starts. More and more, store owners are trying to speed up the clock and get their customers looking to the end of the year. Forget Black Friday – several big-name American retailers started their seasonal sales in July!
There is sound logic behind the push towards a longer shopping season. Consumers have less money to spend, and retailers are fighting each other for every last penny. Impulse shopping is at an all-time low, and more consumers are focused on budgeting and necessity spending than ever before. Retailers need to work hard to make shoppers open their wallets. Malls and big-box retailers are being hit especially hard in recent years, with increases in local and online shopping affecting the amount of people who walk through the mall to work through their Christmas list. Spreading the Christmas shopping season over several months will allow shoppers to spread their spending out, thus spending more cash in the process. Stores are then able to spread their costs out over a greater period of time, which allows for more steady revenue over an extended period. It’s just good business sense.