Communication is King

Nearly a century ago, fans of the American comedy duo Abbott and Costello were made familiar with the popular “Who’s on First?” comedy routine they performed regularly. The premise of the sketch was that Abbott was trying to identify players on a baseball team for Costello, but their names and nicknames were interpreted as non-responsive answers to Costello’s questions. What’s interesting about this comedic back-and-forth exchange is that it was both right (both parties were correct in what they were saying) and absurd at the same time. That’s probably what makes it so funny, even to this day. And what it underscores now more than ever, is that communication is key in life – and in business. In fact, a recent study conducted by LinkedIn shows that the number one skill hiring managers are looking for is the ability to communicate effectively.

So what happens to your business when there’s a communication breakdown?

  • Basic tasks fall to the wayside
  • Schedules become disorganized
  • Roles and functions are not assigned
  • Salespeople and staff get frustrated and restless
  • Customers can feel neglected and lose interest

Why is communication important in business?

Every aspect of your company depends on effective communication. From internal communications to scouting for new business, interaction with someone else is a part of daily culture. Excellent business communication is crucial to maintain healthy workplace relations between the employer and employees. It is also just as necessary to create and maintain lasting relationships between company and clientele. 

Business communication skills include:

  • Verbal communication over the phone or in-person
  • Written communication via e-mail, chat, or text
  • Collaborating and working with a team for a common goal
  • Active listening and problem solving
  • Networking and negotiating

Regardless of the size of your business, you will benefit from assessing how your business communicates internally and externally. Here are a few steps you can take to improve your business communication for success.

Set Clear Goals and Expectations

If you have a clear vision of your goals, you are off to a great start. But it’s important to must communicate these goals in the best way so that all parties involved are on the same page and can carry out what is necessary to complete objectives. That way, everyone knows what’s expected from them and what challenges they may face along the way. Everyone will also understand what they are working towards which will improve overall work performance.

Build a More Dedicated Team

Open communication in the workplace will help create a more cohesive team that can flow from one project or challenge to the next. When employees feel like they are valued and that their opinion matters, they will contribute more and have a better attitude doing it. Increased efficiency and productivity will result. Also, if the team unit is secure, employees will become loyal not only to each other but to the company itself. They are less likely to jump ship when problems arise. If there is an issue, you already have the lines of communications open to put out the fires as the spark. 

Earn the Trust and Loyalty of Your Customers

The same goes for how you communicate with potential and existing clients. If you use effective communication strategies, you will earn their trust and loyalty over time. That means you must anticipate their needs and keep reaching out to them after the initial handshake or sale. Follow up to make sure they are still happy, and if not, find solutions to the various hiccups that can happen after an initial business transaction or decision. Companies who show clients that they understand them, know their needs, and want to help, are more successful every time. 

Improve Customer Service

There is nothing worse than getting negative feedback about your customer service. It only takes one of these unhappy experiences to turn a loyal client against a brand forever.  Be sure your team understands the importance of business communication in customer care. How they react and attempt to solve customer issues will directly impact the company positively, and just as easily affect it negatively. The truth is, so many companies fall short in this department due to poor communication on the company’s end. The best brands are those known to take care of their customers well after purchase.  

Ensure Transparency

Transparency and effective communication will help you manage customer expectations and reduce negative reviews by teaching you how to deal with angry customers and solve problems. The same goes for dealing with your employees. If you’re upfront and open, your staff and salespeople will be more likely to voice their unhappiness or concerns in certain situations that could otherwise bring down the entire team. In turn, they will be more inclined to trust upper management’s decisions in the future.

Sales strategy and effective marketing techniques may rule your business, but communication will always be king when it comes to success inside and outside your organization.

Nothing is Normal

Well, here we are. It has been six months since Covid-19 shook our world, and I am getting tired. I have finally realized that the term “new normal” means nothing is normal anymore. This is a huge admission for me and probably for many others as well.

Anyone who has any familiarity with what a 12-step program is (I am a member) knows that accepting where you are is critical in learning how to survive. Don’t worry as I am not going to get preachy, but I think this is important for all of us to understand.

There is one other strong suggestion that is communicated to people looking for a better life, and it states that we should not spend a lot of time comparing things today with the past. Doing this is a huge waste of time and extremely counterproductive. It can lead to one feeling down and depressed or feeling like things are okay and that there’s no need to change anything.

The reality for all of us is things have changed. We need to accept where we are now, and we need to react accordingly. The cards have been dealt, so now we have to “play the hand” or fold!

Below are some steps that each of us can take to survive, not in the new normal, but to survive in business today and into the future.

  1. Business owners need to get their financial house in order. Bring expenses in line with your current sales NOW! Don’t budget based on 2019 sales! Enough said.
  2. Salespeople should review all customers to examine their viability for the future. This is your pipeline for income. Will your current pipeline provide you with what you need for income? The answer today for most people is NO. Oh-oh… I need to act to change this!
  3. Salespeople MUST acquire new accounts. Look towards companies or industries that are coping or adapting well to today’s world as they will provide the best opportunities for future income.
  4. Owners and salespeople should have all their suppliers vetted. Consolidate your sales with those that provide the best support and services and those that have a strong financial foundation. Many companies are very unstable (both suppliers and distributors). Partner with those that are here for the long term!
  5. Learn how to source and provide Personal Protective Equipment to your current customers and to NEW customers. These sales will help offset unexpected losses in other areas like event planning.
  6. Hone your communication methods and skills to meet today’s new marketplace. Reach out and talk to customers where they are. Also, find prospects where they are. The quality of your communications and presentations say a lot about who you are and what you bring to the table.
  7. Surround yourself with positive people. This might be easier said than done today but doing this or not doing this will have a great impact on your results.
  8. Do not be afraid to ask for help! You can ask industry peers who you know in your local associations. You can call some of the larger industry distributors to see what assistance they might be able to offer. Remember it does not hurt to talk and it just might help!

The ultimate goal is to stay in business and to be successful going forward. To do that, you’ve got to take the time to look at your situation today and to make a solid plan for the future. Once you’ve done this, you can begin taking the steps needed to grow and thrive.

What teens can teach us about brand loyalty.

There are so many things I’m learning from raising boys. When they were younger, it was the usual – and obvious – things. Mine, in particular, were very rowdy. I remember saying, “No, Mom is not your jungle gym,” on more than a handful of occasions. Mine were also louder than others, or so it seemed in our tiny house. And if I remember correctly, they were also very inquisitive and both could negotiate their way out of nearly any situation when challenged. What’s interesting, is that with each step and misstep, I continue to learn from them. I am surprised how often I expect to be the teacher, yet, I constantly am reminded that I can also be their student.

Lately, their strongest influences seem to be their peers insofar as what’s cool, what’s “lit” and what’s a “cap” (which apparently means a lie). Of course, as has been the case for decades, that extends to what they wear and how they wear it. In today’s culture, the fascination and dependence on social media and by extension social media influencers permeates so much of their personalities. It’s not unusual to see teenagers randomly doing dances they’ve seen – and memorized – on TicTok or proudly wearing some “merch” featuring a saying or logo from a YouTuber they follow. It’s literally everywhere. Which to me is a little crazy, given that when I owned a pair of “cool Jordache” jeans when I was a kid, that was a huge deal. Brands were not as savvy then as they are now.

But when I think about the fact that in fewer than 10 years, both of my boys will (hopefully) be well out of college and could possibly making buying decisions within their workplaces, it makes me want to know and understand the importance of creating brand loyalty early and consistently. If anything, we can all learn something from hugely successful brands like Apple and Google. These are the companies that clearly know the value of having brand loyalists who can, in turn, advocate on your behalf. On a small scale, it happens in my own household with one son finding a new, cool influencer and sharing them with his brother and his friends.

So the question is, how hard are you working to build these types of relationships with and for your promo buyers? Are you showing them that you know what’s happening in the promo industry, offering solutions to their marketing problems and assisting them with marketing their brand? For your buyers, YOU are the cool promo expert who knows what can help them create brand loyalists and advocates. The result of cultivating these types of relationships for them, is that they’ll appreciate that you’ve gone the extra mile. They’ll understand that you made a difference in their business. Best of all, they’ll come back to you the next time they have a marketing or branding challenge.

Vernon Company Recognized as Top 40 Distributor

NEWTON, IA—The Vernon Company has been named one of the 2020 Top 40 Distributors in the promotional products industry by the Advertising Specialty Institute’s (ASI) Counselor magazine.  With a 5-year annual average growth rate of 4%, Vernon is 27th on the annual list of top-ranking industry organizations.

“We are very proud to be recognized again as one of the leading firms in our industry,” says Chris Vernon, MAS, Vernon Company CEO.  “We believe our success can be attributed to the hard work and dedication our Account Executives and support staff provide every day, helping clients find effective solutions to their marketing and branding needs.” 

The annual Top 40 Distributor ranking identifies the largest promotional product distributor companies in the nation, based on their previous year’s revenue, as reported to ASI. Vernon reported 2019 audited sales volume at $80.6 million.

Building Today to Create Future Success in Promo

As we’ve all seen, world events can take a huge toll on your business. Recently some of the biggest effects have been seen leading from COVID. It’s easy to say, “I’ll wait for all of this to blow over” or “My client will come back with their orders when they’re ready.” But the real question is, “How can I build today to set up for success down the road?” The following are a couple of different ways to help with that, including utilizing PPE and social media.

Have you suddenly been thrown into the new and sometimes complex world of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)? Many of us have had to learn to expand our perspectives and sometimes move beyond our comfort zone to offer clients an entirely new category of promo products. For some, who jumped on the bandwagon early or who already had experience selling to hospitals, clinics, and other medical professionals, this wasn’t a huge stretch. For the rest of us, however, we’ve had to rethink not only what we can sell right now, but who we are selling to. And the scary situation that we’re often faced with is, even if we get that order, is it a one-and-done?

One way to keep building your business is to look at those new PPE customers as a potential promo/apparel client with long term potential. After you have given them excellent service and competitive pricing, build on that. Similar to your current clients, you can send them a thank you as a way to show them appreciation for the business, but you can include a unique sample to show them the other side of the business you can help them with, making sure that they’re aware that the branding opportunities you can offer them are endless.

Now that so many businesses have been switching over to work from home and similar models, how do you plan on getting in front of new buyers? One suggestion is to start using social media to your advantage. Many local business groups and even municipalities have started hosting virtual town hall meetings. Joining in on these and then connecting with the attendees on social media (LinkedIn or similar) could be a new way to get in front of those businesses. After connecting with these new leads, you can easily message them and introduce yourself and share what you can do to help them. Beyond virtual meeting connections, use social media platforms as a resource for finding new leads that you think could be beneficial. Building these connections and then posting content to keep in front of the new potential clients can take time, but it is another tool to add to your arsenal to stay in front of clients in a world where emails are quickly overlooked.

Adding PPE clients to your regular business programs along with marketing yourself through social media are just a couple of ways you can continue to build for future success.

Puzzle sales are peaking during COVID-19 quarantine

Originally published at www.marketplace.org 4/10/20
Written by Kristin Schwab

Have you played a board game in the past couple of weeks? Maybe you’re putting together a jigsaw puzzle? You’re definitely not alone.

Puzzles are selling out fast. Demand for them is surging and many stores can’t keep stock on the shelves. At Ravensburger, the global market leader, sales are up 370%. “We’re pretty much experiencing Christmastime at Easter,” CEO Filip Francke said.

The first puzzles to sell out were cozy scenes in front of the fireplace. Next were ones of dreamy, far-away places. Another popular category is expert-level puzzles that are, for instance, of nothing but bright orange mac and cheese.

“Maybe it’s that satisfaction of completing something in an otherwise kind of messy world around you,” Francke said.

The other reasons they’re popular are not so puzzling. 

“It’s very therapeutic [for a lot of folks] because it’s a simplistic play pattern that’s tech free, it’s screen free,” said James Zahn, senior editor at The Toy Insider.

The sales boom isn’t just good for puzzle makers. As big retailers sell out, it’s also helping small toy shops grab a piece of the puzzle.

The Vernon Company is recognized as one of the largest and most successful promotional product firms in North America. Founded in 1902 by F.L. Vernon, we serve more than 40,000 customers from our Newton, Iowa corporate headquarters.

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