SBA Pilots Trade and Export Promotion Program

The US Small Business Administration announces its State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) pilot grant initiative, a multi-year, $90 million program to assist qualifying small business expand through exports.

Here’s a chance for US businesses who see potential growth overseas, but may lack short-term operating funds to reach the next level of their company’s growth strategy.

Companies can work through their local offices for SBA, Department of Commerce, or other administrative contacts. (In California, the grant is administered via the statewide network of Centers for International Trade, hosted by area community colleges)

Check the program out at at SBA’s website here.

Selling Services on the Cloud: Elements of Success

Although sales of  intangibles — services, Cloud-based software — carry healthy margins, sales close rates are typically well-below the ideal.  Examining the reasons why this occurs is key to solving this issue. A panel of veteran salesmen shed light on the challenge at TechAmerica San Diego Marketing & Sales’ July Roundtable.

The event was especially productive due to the variety of attendee profiles, all of whom brought unique perspectives to the discussion. I spoke with a software technologist who’s starting up a new venture, an account manager for a Cloud-based data management solutions provider, and a project manager at an IP-based telephony systems provider.

As soon as moderator Craig Arnoff, co-chair of the roundtable asked panelists how selling intangibles differs from selling products, it was clear that successful sales people share universal traits, regardless of what’s in their bag of tricks. Trust, training, drive, optimism, better customer service. Some are born, some are made.

Ken Reilich made an interesting point: some salespeople come to rely upon products as crutches, vs. their selling skills. Products become the sole reason for success, or the whipping boy for failure (“pricey, lousy, old…” ) Take the product away, and replace it with intangibles, and success is slightly more determined by superior selling skills.

David Alemian reminded us that a successful salesperson can sell anything: he began his career selling swimming pools in New England, in the winter (quick, what’s the pain point there?!); and now promotes a novel, Cloud-based management tool sold to healthcare IT leaders. He also touched on Neuro-Linguistic Programming as a key element in human interaction.

Bruce Cole sells Internet marketing and SEO tools and services at a local and community level. He emphasized testimonials and proven success stories, which I also advocate is the most valuable sales tool, whether selling in one zip code or in several continents. I think that’s why Yelp and Angie’s List have earned such a following.

At this point, I wondered how each panelist would extend these formulas for success into a channel-driven, multi-tier sales organization… wherein face-to-face visits with end decision makers are rare or impossible.  A successful global channel leader possesses all of the above traits and skills, then marries them with excellent organizational skills, time management, and a healthy respect for the value of channel partners. Topic for another panel!

Craig brought up the core element of success: a fruitful, face-to-face experience with customers begins with a  make-or-break, 15-second pitch. For successful salespeople, it’s like breathing. But for less outgoing, more self-conscious people it’s a mystery.  Craig also shared a couple of items from his Sales Alliance toolkit: how pre-screening and benchmarking can increase a good match between sales candidate and employer.

Reminds me of a lesson I learned long ago on career development: teamwork lets others benefit from your talents, as you do what you do best; while you draw the same from them. Don’t waste time trying to perfect your less-than-ideal skills.

More about the moderator and panelists here.

NAFTA-born Trucking Dispute Resolved

We welcome the news of resolution that will eliminate tariffs on US goods that are in high demand by shoppers throughout Mexico, while opening up a new market for US transport providers. I first covered the US-Mexico NAFTA Trucking and Tariffs issue for Hanson Marketing’s blog two years ago, and as recently as this March.

It’s a tangled issue. The US teamsters’ union’s dissenting view brings up valid points about concerns over safety, security and loss of jobs. The accord allows Mexican transport companies to serve only from Mexican origin to single US destination (no point-to-point within the US). The producers of agricultural and manufactured goods hail the decision because onerous tariffs will be lifted within the next quarter, which resulting international sales revenue will strengthen employment numbers and add to the US’ goal to double exports between 2010-2015.

The most pragmatic, level-headed info I’ve read on the topic comes from The Christian Science Monitor, whose report raises a moot-point scenario that lowers the tension in the room.

“No Mexican company will invest money to join the cross-border program if their truck drivers can be denied permits after an 18-month trial period, as the accord indicates”, says Refugio Munoz Lopez, director general of Mexico’s shipping chamber. “I see no future with this program,” Mr. Munoz says of Mexico’s decision Wednesday to remove punitive tariffs on $2.4 billion of US exports in exchange for allowing Mexican trucks to cross the border. “The only thing this accord does is give Mexico an excuse to remove tariffs.”

Munoz informs the Monitor that “the tough new security requirements for truckers wishing to cross into the United States make it prohibitive for all but 115 out of 400,000 Mexican trucks“. Meanwhile, I see no reciprocal requirements will be imposed on US transport companies, who wish to offer transnational service.

I view this as export growth prospect for one of the US’ powerful and efficient transport sector, which enjoys many competitive advantages over their Mexican counterparts; and will study the views of trade associations within the next 18 months.

Nitty Gritty Marketing entries on this issue:

https://tomhanson.wordpress.com/2009/08/26/nafta-wink-and-nudge-stalls-mexican-trucking-rights/

https://tomhanson.wordpress.com/2010/09/06/tariffs-among-nafta-nations-not-dead-yet/

https://tomhanson.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/us-mexico-trucking-deal-agreement-nearing/

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-14059115

Building Retail Channels: A Milestone

I’m pleased to share news from VQ ActionCare about our retail expansion strategy. Signing up nationwide, top-brand retailers is such an important milestone to reach, and is worthy of a big shout-out.

Here’s my favorite part: “We are excited to make this strategic move to partner with five top national retailers …,” said Tom Hanson, Director of Sales, VQ ActionCare. “… these retail partners… share in our commitment to expanding solutions for active seniors in innovative ways.”

Read the whole press release here.  Learn more about VQ ActionCare’s senior fitness solutions here.

Selling Services and Software: Margin Reality Check

Although these and other intangible solutions carry healthy margins, close rates are well-below the ideal in the real world.  Be the hero who helps your company reverse this trend, improve your bottom line, and boost commissions and bonuses.

TechAmerica San Diego Marketing & Sales Roundtable is presenting a panel of experts who will help you build a sales management toolkit for such key issues as:

• Understand why product-oriented salespeople often fail when selling intangibles and services
• Discover innovative strategies and programs for selling services and software
• Explore ways to make conceptual sales approaches more tangible and concrete
• Differentiate your offerings to motivate buyer action and to thwart competition
• Develop methods for cross-selling and up-selling services during product-oriented sales cycles
• Learn several sales skills required to be effective in selling software and services

It’s live in San Diego, on Thursday morning, July 21. Registration: REGISTER NOW

Activewear Taps California Brand Cachet

Was Levi Strauss the founder of the California Look? For generations, clothiers who design with durable work, sports and leisure in mind have called California home. Ocean waves and mountain trails run through the California lifestyle, and local designers have formed a powerhouse brand cachet, for clothing and cars, too. Did you know that Nissan’s research and design beachhead in La Jolla designed the Altima, Maxima, Xterra, and Frontier, among others?

Some California-based activewear manufacturers are reviewing costs, time-to-market pressures and the need for skilled craftsmanship and deciding to “in-source” operations back to greater southern California. Rising wages and a strong yuan make China a less attractive production center, while infrastructure and quality issues make emerging Asian centers such as Vietnam less reliable in a quick-turn, trend-driven industry. Reuters recently reported on this trend, and noted a 6.5% increase in sector employment in the Los Angeles area alone. A sign that a home-grown industry’s manufacturing sector that long ago went East to lower costs, will head back home.  Despite California’s draconian tax and employment policies, the California Cachet and the state’s proven expertise in efficient and timely manufacturing are key competitive advantages.

At a family wedding last weekend, my old friend — a tireless entrepreneur — shared her plans to design, make and ship a new line of activewear from San Diego.  She knows that her affordable, stylish and durable products’ hang tags reading “Designed and Made in California, USA” will draw the attention of retail partners and savvy shoppers.  She’s channeling the guts and foresight of Levi Strauss.

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