Friday, December 16, 2011

On Dreams

One thing this era of real-time information and instant feedback has done (thank you Twitter, Facebook, forums, etc.) is to make magazines - and print publications in general - become very good at what they do and, lest they perish, better all the time.  

Two great examples of very good publications are Inc. Magazine (you're waiting a whole month for a new edition – 30 days!) and The Week (you guessed it...published every seven days).

Both are anxiously awaited and consumed at first sight.  The Week not only provides exhaustive articles about the past week in politics, business, arts, etc., but various other writers and editors view on the same story providing a well-rounded, sort of non-partisan, look at a particular current topic.

Inc. Magazine, The Magazine for Growing Companies, is one I have lived with for many years.  Each edition provides profiles of small- to medium-size businesses who, at some point, had the dream of creating and building a company.  Grant it, Inc. considers small companies as those with millions in revenue, but I can dream, can’t I? Overall Inc. is very motivating and essential reading for this business owner. I admit I become a little giddy when the annual Inc. 500 edition featuring the fastest growing privately held companies arrives in my mailbox.

One of the articles in this month's Inc., which is both motivating and instructional, is “Dear Future Entrepreneur.” This article gives us advice from the founders of companies who are living the dream they dared to have.  Here is some advice they have to share with us, the “next generation” of entrepreneurs:  

Tomorrow Can’t Wait – “I look back and think, ‘Why didn’t I get started sooner?’”  - Cloud Ettinger, Founder and president, Red Cloud

Focus – Don’t diversify, always “go back to your original premise.”  - Kimberly Kovacs, Co-founder and CEO, OptionEase

Remember Where You Came From – His employees are trained to do at least one good deed a day.  - JJ Frazier, Founder and CEO, New Horizon Security Services

Start Now – “You’ll never be fully prepared to start a business."  - Michael Simmons, Co-founder and CEO, Extreme Entrepreneurship Education

Learn by Doing – With your business, “You’re in the best university in the world.”  - Steve Vicinanza, CEO, BlueWave Computing

Start Early  – “When you start younger, you have the guidance you need.”  - Taliay Herbert, Founder, Baggie Swagg

Open Pandora’s Box – “Business is about testing your boundaries.”  - Stephen Mills, Founder and CEO, Aqiwo 

Dare to Dream – This entrepreneur was laughed his the face by executives at Rite-Aid, his employer, for his idea to improve services.  So he left and started his own company to provide those services.  - Reddy Annappareddy, Founder and president, Pharmacare

The entire article, including great photos of the founders (think body-writing!) can be viewed here. 

Best wishes to all for a Merry Christmas and Peaceful New Year!

- Steve Curtsinger

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Remembering Steve Jobs

Knowing that Steve Jobs was dying did nothing to help the shock and sadness I felt when I read of his death from pancreatic cancer last night on Google News.

"Steve Jobs died," I thought aloud.  My daughter, 11 years old, asked without looking up from her laptop "Who's Steve Jobs?"  She's smart so I knew I had to provide an above average answer and said: "He was the co-founder of Apple, responsible for this computer (I pointed to my desk top Mac) and all the other things that begin with an 'i' ipad, ipod, iphone, iMac...things like that."  A wholly inadequate response to a question about a visionary like Steve Jobs.

Perhaps someday I will sit with her and let Steve Jobs himself answer that question (and discuss his thoughts on death and dying) in his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address -

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Need a Showroom in Detroit? That's No Problem!

If there is ever an industry where the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts," it is the exhibit industry.  One project may have many people collaborating toward the completion of an ultimate goal.  Even exhibit companies who do everything "in-house" have to rely on other companies to supply various aspects of an exhibit project, be it manufactured components, shipping services or exhibit installers to name a few.  It's true, especially in the exhibit business, that no one is an island, and anyone ever involved in the industry - from exhibitors to exhibit suppliers - knows this.

At Integra Display we collaborate with many different companies and individuals on several levels giving us vast capabilities to meet many diverse marketing needs. And at times we supply display materials and graphics to others who are not the end users.

Recently we got together with Image-Tek in Novi, MI, to take care of client, Shiroki North America from Smithville, TN, that needed a showroom and lobby in their new Detroit facility. The collaboration resulted in the fabrication of a showroom displaying the company's products and featuring high impact large-format graphics.  Photos of the final installation can be viewed here:

Another great match-up is a display manufacturer who produces Made-In-The-USA displays and exhibit materials for Integra Display and other display designers all over the world.  They have recently introduced and eco-friendly line of displays called Magnetix and it is getting alot of attention.  We have Magnetix featured on our website this month:

Project size and scope, no doubt, does matter and does impact the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" mathematics.  I have often told my clients that I have a "cast of 1000's" working with me and, honestly, with some projects that number seems low.  The bottom line is our clients just want a great product, delivered on time, within budget and that will achieve their goals.  And with all of our available resources, I can confidently say, "That's no problem!"

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tradeshow Selling: 4 Key Questions You Must Know

The tradeshow floor is a selling environment.  Given you've chosen the correct show, there is a high percentage of people walking the show with whom you would like to speak.  This is why tradeshows are such a good marketing vehicle:  large numbers prospects in one place at one time.  There are also people there for reasons other than buying what you are selling, hearing your presentation or viewing your demonstration.  Both numbers are big and both walk right past your booth.  But how do you find the good ones, the prospects - your future customers?  How do you know if you should spend time with this person?  All good salespeople - and booth staffers - know they must get the answers to these 4 basic qualifying questions:

1. Do you have a need?

A good qualifying question which is also a nice icebreaker: "Hi! What brings you to the show today?"  This will let you know if you have something they need or want or if instead they are looking for another company, another unrelated product or the nearest bathroom.  If you do have a product or service they are interested in, you will want to spend more time with them and drill down to their more specific needs, finding out their time-frame, their budget and who has the authority to buy.

2. What is your timeframe?

Everyone with a need does not necessarily have a current need.  Others may need it yesterday.  You need to know this in order to know if this is someone you want to spend time with now, or to followup with in 3, 6 or 12 months.  It will also tell you if you want to deal with them at all; some time-frames do not fit your production schedule or are otherwise too demanding.  Time-frame qualifiers are straightforward "when" questions, like:

When were you planning to implement the new program?
When do you need these new widgets installed?

3. Do you have a budget?

What good is it to find someone with a stated need and timeframe, but no budget?  One of the best ways to approach this question is to give a range: "Based on the information you have provided me, your project should cost between X and Y.  Is this in your budget?" or "Similar projects we have done for other companies are in the X to Y range.  Will this work for you?"  No budget today does not mean no budget ever and may become a time frame issue. But how do you know if you don't ask?

4. Who is the final decision maker?

It is good to find this out as soon as possible lest you'll be spending alot of time with the wrong person.  Ultimately, you'll need to sell to someone who has the final buying authority or at least buying influence. The final decision maker may not be in attendance, but they are the first person you'll want to followup with if the need, budget and time frame questions have been met. A good question to ask, "Besides yourself, who will be involved in the decision to purchase?"  

The answers to all four questions must  be known before a sale - any sale - can be made.  Good salespeople simply have conversations with people and let the answers reveal themselves in a natural way.  Some call this active listening.  But because time is at a premium, especially at well-attended shows, keep the small talk to a minimum on the show floor.  Capture all the information on a lead sheet or electronic device and follow-up.

A good strategy is to have staffers in the booth who "meet and qualify" (these are not the quiet, reserved types) and others with your company who can take care of "hot prospects" with a definite near-term need, purchasing authority and budgeted monies. This may be someone with technical expertise who can give a demonstration or an executive in the organization with deal-making authority.  If you are working the show alone, these qualifying questions can help you talk with greater numbers of attendees.  Wherever part of a larger booth staff or alone, the post-show followup is key to your selling success.

CEIR, Center for Exhibtion Industry Research, offers exhibiting research and reports on this topic (

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Beyond The Things We See

As do many of you, I spend large amounts of time in front of the computer screens on my desk positioned in the center of my desk in about the middle of my office.  You may think they are the center of my life and sometimes I guess they are.  Admittedly, they get most if not all of my attention throughout the day. 

But sometimes I stop and think, daydream or look around the room beyond the computers.  This is where I am reminded of the truly important centers of my life:

On the wall in front: a picture of my wife, three daughters and son given to me on Fathers Day.

Down beside the printer, a homemade sign with simple reminders: 
  • Present choices determine future consequences
  • Today is the only day you can affect
  • You learn from the past, you plan for the future, but you deal with who you are today
  • Today is the best day there is
Beside the sign: A crucifix

Above my calendar: A Junior Achievement poster signed by all the 7th grade students I taught as a JA volunteer at Head Middle Magnet School in Nashville. (I learned quite a bit from them.)

Beside the JA poster: My two daughters in costume for last years mini-Nutcracker performance.

Below that: A framed quote (anonymous) given to me many years ago by my wife that reads "It doesn't matter where you go in life, what you do, or how much you have...It's who you have beside you."

Taped to the left monitor: GOD ALONE (as seen at the Abby of Gethsemani).

These are the the things that matter at the end of the day.  It's the good stuff, but often overlooked... like Mary's "yes" to God and the birthday of the Child Jesus we soon celebrate.

Merry Christmas to all of you!

Monday, October 18, 2010

QR Tags: New Ways to Market Your Tradeshow

If you have not already seen these square barcodes, known as QR Tags, on products,  print ads, billboards and elsewhere, you will soon.  And smart tradeshow marketers and exhibit managers will begin using them in large numbers in graphics and other marketing materials to meet their tradeshow goals.

What they are:

Invented in Japan, where they are everywhere, QR tags (short for Quick Response) are two dimensional codes place on - or integrated into -print ads, outdoor signs, store windows and even business cards.  For the trade show exhibitor, they might be printed into your display graphics, integrated into pre-show mailings and even post-show follow-ups.

A smart phone, such as an Android or iphone, scans the codes and delivers to the mobile screen any number of data rich information: web sites, product demo videos, coupons and landing pages to collect additional information.  The Hacker Group, a direct/digital marketing agency in Seattle, has rightly called this technology “a seamless link between the physical world and the online world.” Wow!

How they work:

QR tags can be generated and printed by anyone using readily available software.  Your printer or tradeshow graphics designer can generate a tag as part of your display graphics.  The can be produced and added to existing graphics or incorporated into new graphic designs. These tags are coded with the data and information information directed to your prospects. Tags are then scanned by smart phones or camera phones and in a matter of seconds, your banked information is transferred to the mobile smart phone. Tons of information can be transferred in seconds.

Benefits for the tradeshow exhibitor and exhibit manager:

Smart phones are everywhere, especially at trade shows.  With QR Tags, you can become an early adopter, differentiate yourself from the competition and connect with your target audience. This new technology tool allows for great creativity in putting together your marketing campaigns.  Here are just a few ideas to get you started.

Pre-Show Mailers - the QR tag might contain this data:

-  Company web site, or better yet, a show specific page.  Scanning a tag is much easier and faster than typing a long URL address.
- Map of your booth location, with hours for any special presentations, seminars, demos or in-booth promotions.  Make it easy to find you, especially a large shows.
-  Special invitation to an after-show party or hospitality suite.  Many times, its where the real business gets done.
-  Offer for a special giveaway

Trade show graphics - the QR tag might contain this data:

-  Product demonstration video
-  Landing page to request more information (including need, budget and time frame pre-qualification)
-  Video of customer testimonials
-  Coupon or show special pricing
-  Special giveaway - such as the i-pad promotion shown above

Post-show followup - the QR tag might contain this data:

-  Business card information on the thank you note
-  Video demonstration of product prospect was interested in
-  Customer testimonials

NOTE: For hot prospects, you may want to use those old reliable technologies: the telephone, paper and pen.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dealing with the Prez

Recently my wife rolled up to the check-out counter at Kroger with $196.00 worth of groceries.  She knows she had $196 worth of groceries because she had self-scanned all of her groceries, bagged them and loaded the into the cart to take out to the car.

Then some unfortunate things happened: First, she wanted to pay with a check; second, Kroger only accept checks up to $150 in self-checkout; third, and most unfortunate, she had only one check.

The clerk made an exception this one time and my wife went merrily on her way, right?  No, the clerk would not let her write the one check for $196 and she left without the groceries.

Seth Godin, in his start-up manifesto, The Bootstrapping Bible, discusses many advantages that small businesses have over the big boys.  One is Presidential Input and, in this case, its what you might have gotten from a small independent grocery store.  But not at Kroger.

If the president of Kroger had been standing where the clerk was, do you believe he would have made the same decision?  Risked losing even one customer? Risked all the bad word-of-mouth advertising? Let $196 walk out the door?  Probably not.

Company presidents don't do that.  Policy-ridden bureaucratic companies do.  And that's one of the benefits of working with small businesses: You can always deal directly with the President of the Company who is willing to cut through the crap, who sets policy and "will never lose someone over a stupid rule."