The joys and peril of business travel

Most of us in the business world have had to pack our bags at one time or another and set sail on a company mission. There are so many benefits to be reaped with business travel, and at the same time so many disadvantages. Mostly people either love it or hate it, but some simply don’t mind it that much.

Sure everyone hates leaving families behind, rushing to airports, staying in stark impersonal hotels, and a whole list of other complaints travel-weary employees will tell you. But, if you’re the type that loves to hop on a plane to experience the adventure of a new destination, enjoy the sights and sounds, taste local cuisines, and break the monotony of your desk job, then business travel can be a great bonus! And you can do all this while collecting airline miles to use for more personal adventures!

Beyond the normal joys and hassles of modern day business travel, we must also consider a few perils. Anytime we undertake travel and step outside the limits of our familiar home and hearth, we take some risks. But here is something we rarely think about – traveling to unfamiliar cities can place us at risk of being robbed.

Sometimes, we end up in an unfamiliar city and might have to travel through neighborhoods that aren’t exactly rated high for personal safety. I recently read an article that caught my eye. The author suggested that travelers carry a decoy wallet with gift cards and a small amount of cash that they don’t mind losing. I guess the author’s standpoint was that rather than risk getting hurt; it is better to part with a decoy wallet while keeping your real wallet in a safer place. This piece of advice may work well for men, but ladies that generally carry purses may have more difficulty carrying a decoy purse and keeping a real one safe in their hotel room or on their person.

Do you have any such tips, experiences, or business-trip anecdotes to share with us?

Business cards and mailing lists

With so much online chatter and buzz generated through social media, I found myself reading an interesting discussion: Do you automatically add business cards you exchange at networking events to your online mailing list? The answers were varied and the discussion heated.  As a marketing professional myself, I am well aware that we walk a fine line between spamming our contacts and building relationships. I would like to think good marketers have a knack for these things and know how to walk the tight rope.

So, what do you do with all the business cards you receive at networking events, conferences, and seminars?  Well for one, spam laws are pretty solid these days and it’s considered good business to ensure your contacts on the list have first opted-in to be on your online mailing list. Look at it from the prospective customer’s point of view. There is enough spam online and junk mail offline for people to deal with. Almost every medium of communication that could be used for personal contact has been taken over by marketers trying to peddle their wares. While harnessing communication channels for business and creating customer touch-points is important, qualifying and nurturing leads is even more so.

Adding your contacts to a database is a great idea; just don’t add them to your mailing list as yet. And since you have exchanged cards and have been introduced, it is OK to contact them. But before you do so – make sure the contacts are potential customers that have a need for your product or service. If you think they qualify, send them a personal email reintroducing yourself. Tell them about the benefits of subscribing to your company’s newsletter and ask them if they would like to subscribe.  One argument in favor of randomly adding business cards to a mailing list was that the contact could always unsubscribe if they wanted too. But most people at networking events exchange business cards so they can be contacted for business opportunities, not to be added to a list of what they might consider spam. If they feel their contact information was inappropriately used, they could get annoyed and blacklist you (add you to a spam list). Why lose valuable contacts upfront?

There are other ways to get them to subscribe. In your online communications with them, add a link to your address to direct them to the newsletter subscription page. Add the subscription link on your website and social media as well. Once you build a relationship with a contact and they develop a genuine interest in your product, they will be in a better position to subscribe to your e-newsletters and follow your company on social media. Some people on the discussion board indicated that they would not mind receiving a newsletter from a company if they are potential buyers. For one, an e-newsletter is much less intrusive than a phone-call. Two, a newsletter often contains valuable information for someone looking to buy (discounts, promotions, and events among other things). So, by all means do add your business card contact to your list – but first ask them to opt-in. If you’re interested in hearing from Bluff Manufacturing, do subscribe to our newsletter. Log on to our website, www.bluffmanufacturing.com. The “Sign Up” box is located in the left hand column, half way down the home page.  Simply enter your email address and you will be subscribed!

Find us on Facebook!

Let’s face it – we are in the age of Facebook. Time as we know it will be measured as life-before-Facebook and life-after-Facebook. Facebook has become the Internet revolution unlike any other social media in that it is by far the most successful with over 500 million active users out of whom 50% login everyday. These users spend about 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook. According to Facebook’s website, these users interact with 900 million objects on Facebook (pages, groups, events and community pages). The average user is connected to 80 community pages, groups and events and is attributed to creating 90 pieces of content each month. More than 30 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc.) are shared each month by Facebook users.

44% of marketers can confirm that the use of social media had spiked their search marketing efforts. According to business.com, 77% of B2B companies surveyed had a presence on Facebook among other social media engagements.

However you look at it, it is hard to ignore this fact – Facebook’s reach is tremendous and the opportunities for networking are incredible. With so many people spending so much time on Facebook, it’s hard not to harness that window of opportunity. But as I noted in my previous blog, Facebook, like other social media must be used solely for the purpose of networking and community building if you choose to add it to your social media marketing list. If you sign-up with the sole purpose of doing business, you may find yourself without any “friends” at least on Facebook. Facebook should be utilized for social networking, and to some extent, promoting your business page rather than your product. And your business page should be an online community that engages, interacts, and informs, rather than focus on heavy selling or promoting.

So get yourself a Facebook account if you haven’t already got one. Besides the obvious advantage of being able to snoop on your son’s friend’s list, you can also connect with hundreds of people from your past and present. You can work and play on the same social media sites. As long as you know how to create lists, use privacy settings, know how much information to disseminate and how much time to spend on your social media sites (these things can get pretty addictive), you can stay engaged with a wide network of people – both business and personal.

And while you are browsing Facebook to check out your cousin’s vacation pictures or update your status, visit the Bluff Manufacturing page. You will find interesting news topics and exciting updates about the material handling, manufacturing and supply chain industries as well as insightful tips on marketing and sales.  You will also get hot-off the-press information about our company, its products, promotions and events before everyone else does. So come visit us on Facebook. Leave us a note, join our discussions, browse our wall, view our pictures and videos, and hopefully “like our page” before you leave.

Selling up and across your product portfolio

Bluff Manufacturing and its distributors work tirelessly and in tandem to achieve common goals to increase sales performance, profitability and customer satisfaction. To attain this goal, our partnership with our distributors must be strong and our selling techniques must be in sync. So distributors, let Bluff Manufacturing train your sales representatives for you. By training your reps, we have a higher chance of achieving greater conversion rates and greater opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell across the product portfolio.

As manufacturers, we work hard to make sure that the products we produce exceed customer satisfaction and in so doing mutually benefit everyone involved – end users, distributors and manufacturers.  While distributors are the key players in dealing with our end users and ensuring their needs are met, manufacturers are responsible for creating products that meet the customer requirements. For Bluff Manufacturing, its strongest tool is its market research and the data we receive from the field on customer requirements. Using this information, we manufacture products that complement and supplement other products. It is very vital that distributors and manufacturers train their representatives to up sell and cross sell.

This is where Bluff Manufacturing can contribute greatly. Our training programs will provide your representatives with thorough knowledge of the Bluff products you carry as distributors. Important techniques in selling across or up involve understanding the customer’s real pains and not just pushing a product in hopes of creating a bigger invoice. When a customer opts to purchase a product, a knowledgeable sales representative with presence of mind and a clear understanding of buyer behavior can anticipate other products or additional products that the customer may also want to purchase. For instance, if you were managing a paint shop, and a customer walked in to buy a couple of gallons of paint, a helpful sales person would ask the customer if they also needed paintbrushes, masking tape, a roller handle, etc. These are supplementary products a customer needs (if they don’t already have them) to finish the task of painting. It not only shows a genuine concern on the sales rep’s part but also helps cross-sell.

Up sell is enabling a customer to buy an upgraded version of a product. Without being pushy, a perceptive sales representative can gauge whether a customer might enjoy an upgraded product with more features or if he/she is satisfied with the lower-end model. It never hurts to politely enquire if the customer wants a higher end model that has more features. If the customer doesn’t want it, then they will indicate that, but if they are interested in a higher-end product, then as a sales representative, you have just sold up. Customers that have already purchased from you are already in a buying mood and may not be averse to buying up or across depending on their needs. But you will not know until you ask.

In our industry, training from Bluff Manufacturing will help point out all the opportunities for selling up and across. We will help you gain thorough product knowledge and help you anticipate customers’ needs even before the customers are aware of their own needs. For example, every forklift dealer knows that a customer probably requires a dock board to bridge the gap to transport the forklift from the truck to the warehouse and vice versa.  It’s a perfect opportunity for a cross-sell. Training with Bluff will point out such critical opportunities than can be harnessed to increase sales and build the sales pipeline.

This sort of combined effort in selling helps increase conversion rates and profitability for both the manufacturer and distributor. Because of the personalized effort they receive from sales representatives in helping them identify their shopping needs, customers are loyal and this helps in retention and repeat purchases.

Join Bluff Manufacturing’s Forum on LinkedIn Groups!

Here’s a fun and productive thing to do this hot August week – Come join our Bluff Manufacturing Forum on LinkedIn Groups! We have created our brand new user group on LinkedIn.com to provide all those interested in all things Material Handling with a platform for interactive communication. We just got started, but it’s been great so far! It’s a great place to go to share something new you learned about the industry or to simply reiterate and remind other users about an important best practice in the material handling, manufacturing, and supply chain industry. But we don’t just talk about industry updates and best practices, we will also keep you informed on selling tactics, social media, marketing, recruitment, training and retention, events happening in the great metroplex of DFW and a whole host of interesting topics to keep you entertained and informed. Click on the LinkedIn logo below to join the Bluff Manufacturing Forum on LinkedIn.

It has been both fun and exciting to be able to give Bluff Manufacturing fans more avenues to reach us and share their thoughts, views, and opinions in an informal setting. Groups on networking sites are like a virtual boardroom where several brains are working in tandem to provide answers, solutions and ideas to everyday questions, queries and problems. When group members share relevant and interesting updates, it adds value to the group and the members in general. And that is what we are hoping to accomplish with our user group on LinkedIn – provide value to our network of information-hungry members.

Among all its many benefits, the actual significance in joining networking sites and industry groups on these networking sites is the ability to network! Imagine how a decade ago, the only way to really work a room in a tradeshow, conference, seminar, or any event was to hand out business cards and hope that these contacts would provide some value someday. Now imagine achieving the same benefits without ever having to leave your office. The savings on plane tickets, accommodations, and other miscellaneous costs associated with attending an out-of-town industry event are substantial. You are reducing your carbon footprint, saving much time, and energy, and yet enjoying the benefits of professional networking. This is not to say that networking sites will replace face-to-face interactions and physical events. But they will complement each other and mutually benefit everyone.

Joining an industry group on a networking site truly helps expand your network. By adding even a few contacts, you create second and third degree networks that can lead to an ever-expanding, virtual network of important associates in the industry. A group allows you to meet important industry contacts.

Word-of-mouth marketing has always enjoyed superior status as one of the most effective sales tools. Social Media such as LinkedIn helps you market yourself through endorsements you receive that can help you when you’re looking for a job or trying to bid on a project. Finding and communicating with the right contacts makes all the difference.

So instead of going home with hundreds of business cards from every event, network on LinkedIn or any other such site and get all the contact information you want virtually. It’s important to remember the ‘networking’ part in social networking. So use it to your best advantage! Be active and ‘follow’ activities of your business acquaintances. The next big business opportunity may just come from that! So come join our group on LinkedIn, click on the image below to get started and you will go directly to our group’s sign in page!