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Small Business Success Index 4

Index Score*   Grade
73 marginal
Capital Access 67
Marketing & Innovation 65
Workforce 76
Customer Service 88
Computer Technology 73
Compliance 92
*Index score is calculated on a 1-100 scale.

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Coaches Corner Articles

Avoiding Critical Business Mistakes That Lead to Failure

June 24th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

FAILURE is the word that every entrepreneur must face head on if they are to succeed. There are two sayings that always stick with me when I speak about failure to fellow entrepreneurs:

  1. If you haven’t failed at all, then you really aren’t trying hard enough
  2. Failure is part of the process, just learn from it and don’t do it again

Now there are two types of failure – small mistakes that you learn from, move on and don’t make anymore; and critical mistakes that can be catastrophic leading to going out of business.

Recently, I came across this great article on “Eight Mistakes that Devastate Business Owners” and it really resonated with me. In the article they list eight mistakes:

  1. Keep your retirement savings intact.
  2. Avoid the lure of sole proprietorship.
  3. Read the fine print.
  4. Get insured.
  5. Get an employment contract.
  6. Protect your innovations.
  7. Don’t promise what you can’t promise.
  8. Check the books.

I know this list might seem obvious but if you are new to starting a business, think about this list for a minute. When you are in the middle of something you forget about these things or think “it will never happen to me”. All I can say is that from this list, over the 10 years I have been in business I have had three things come to bite me in the butt and while they were recoverable, if they were any bigger it would have destroyed my business and in some cases left me personally bankrupt.

They are all equally important and you should read the full article to get some great examples of when people don’t do these things. I guarantee you will be bringing these issues up at your next partner/board meeting.

Does great CRM software exist for an independent professional?

February 17th, 2010 :: Carlos Diggs

One of the greatest frustrations for many independent professionals is the lack of a really good, flexible, economical contact relationship management system.

Does such a thing exist for a solo business person?

Everyone’s needs are unique. Your knowledge and experience may make the selection and implementation easy or difficult. You may have to compromise on a few features and functionality and settle for at least 80% of your requirements. I have spoken with many colleagues and clients who are all dissatisfied with what they are using. So, a fundamental question is this: Is there a resource for doing a fair assessment of all options? Well, it depends.

All successful systems and software selection projects begin with a list of requirements or wish list (Must have vs. Would like to have). You may ask, “Where should one start? Are there knowledgeable people who can guide a person or team toward an intelligent selection of a contact management system?” The answer is YES.  They exist at 360SF will hold your hand through the entire selection process or provide just-in-time coaching on an as needed basis. For individuals who want to do it themselves, below are some initial considerations.

Regardless of the nature of your practice as an independent professional or the size of a company, its sales value and volume, business development for simple or complex opportunities, I always suggest to clients to first clearly define their processes before evaluating and selecting a technology or automation tool for anything.

For example: What does a typical sales cycle look like for you? How do you process new leads/contacts? How soon do you follow up?  What method do you prefer (email, letter, greeting card, phone call, etc.)? What’s the message? Do you have a sales/biz dev process? What are the steps, decisions, possible outcomes, etc.?

Processes enable people and technology enables processes

Technology without a correctly defined process will speed up poor results. It’s the old garbage in, garbage out concept…but faster.

MY PREFERED METHOD when I was an independent consultant: Even though I’ve implemented, used, optimized, and managed several CRM projects for clients (including and ACT!), for 20 plus years as a solo consultant or, as the only business development person, my preferred CRM & Sales Force Automation (SFA) has consisted mostly of Microsoft Outlook for basic contact profile descriptions & management. I first had to learn effective relationship management without technology to make this work, thanks to Stephen Covey’s 7-Habits of Effective People. Outlook has all the basics such as detail contact info, calendar, and task, space for tons of notes, attachments, and links on every item. I think this may be true for most PC & Mac office-like contact/calendar/email applications.

For forecasting and tracking sales/business development opportunities, a spreadsheet does it all on one sheet, one line per opportunity (forecast of qualified opportunities…date, company, contact, offer, value, priority, close date, win-probability percentage, next Step (notes/remarks). If you want to see a good example, contact for a free Microsoft Excel forecasting spreadsheet that we use often and that you may use and modify for your unique purposes.

One of my requirements is mobility. Both Outlook and the spreadsheet interface well and are mobile (works on my smart phone).  I use Card Scan to scan business cards that I receive from meetings and networking events. I import ../../../css/and_synchronize_contacts_with_Outlook._It_s_also_great_for_mail_merges__letters_and_emails.css). I’ve also incorporated David Allen’s Getting Things Done method for processing all my action items.

Once you get your process defined, then you can go shopping. Effective contact relationship management is at the core of what I do and coach my clients to do. Technology can bog you down if you are not careful. Let’s face it; nothing gets done unless you do it…whether on paper or on-screen. A discipline to keep records up to date, follow-up and follow-through still requires the consistent human touch.

One other consideration might be a marketing campaign management system for managing high volumes (> 500 contacts per campaign) of outbound/inbound lead generation efforts of large and frequent marketing campaigns (direct mail, events, website leads, etc.). This is ideal for processing and managing hundreds of leads that you will try to convert to clients. You still need a process first.

Unless you are trying to track contacts for a multiple people, I would keep it simple and use your desktop office apps for contact profiles, scheduling events/meetings and tasks, date all detail notes, and use every reminder and alert possible.

If you need help implementing a program like this, consider contacting a sales consultant.

Share your experience by leaving a comment.

At we have an entire integrated sales and marketing company at your disposal. How can we help you generate more business? Let’s talk about making something happen for your company.

Carlos Diggs is Managing Partner at 360 Sales Focus, a full service sales and marketing consultancy. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at Reach Carlos at [email protected] or 410.782.0360 or follow him on Twitter at

How to Follow Up with Prospects and Clients: Be Diligent, Not Desperate.

February 10th, 2010 :: Carlos Diggs

Sales Coaching Tip

I am often asked how much is enough or too much:

  • How soon should I follow up with a prospect?
  • How many phone call attempts?
  • How many voice mail messages?
  • How many emails?
  • How many pigeons?
  • How many telegraphs?
  • How many smoke signals?

Well, it depends on many variables, so let’s address one of the common scenarios.

Common Scenario: You just had a meeting or presentation with a prospective client. Your client requests a proposal. Assuming you’ve qualified this opportunity and client based on need, budget, time frame and solution fit (Free B2B Qualifier). Before you leave the meeting agree to a proposal delivery due date (stick to it), and agree to a decision date. Get your clients preferred method of communication (i.e. email, phone, texting). If your client agreed to tell you NO, chances are, you won’t have to call or email them too often. We all know that things happen. People get sick, holidays, vacations, etc. So, you have to trust your instinct, be diligent, but don’t always assume the worst if you are unsuccessful in reaching them after a couple attempts. Now is the time to practice DILIGENCE and PROFESSIONAL PATIENCE.

In a situation like the one outlined above, the first and most important point to keep in mind is not trying to trick the client into saying yes. Hearing “No” is more productive than spending three months chasing the opportunity only to learn that you did not win. Top sales professionals have learned how to win fast and lose fast. They spend less time forcing unproductive opportunities and more time advancing relationships, opportunities, and sales.

How to develop an open and upfront channel of communication?

One method for developing an open and upfront communication channel with a prospect or client is to let them know that it’s okay for them to tell you NO. Saying something like, “I know you have many options, so if for some reason you don’t think we are a good fit or you just don’t like our offering, are you okay with telling me NO”? With a smile and humor say, “I don’t want to be annoying, leaving you  hundreds of voice mail messages and thousands of emails, because you are trying to be polite and don’t want to hurt my feelings. I would be most grateful if you would say NO as early as possible so we are not wasting each others time.”

How to Follow Up?

Don’t call or email everyday. Once per week is enough (no more than twice if you just feel compelled). Develop a mind set that you have too many new prospects in line waiting to meet with you and too many clients to care for. You really don’t time to call more than once per week…maybe only once every other week.

If you call first and choose to leave a voice message, immediately send an email, “I’m sorry I missed you today. I just left you a voice message regarding…I would appreciate a reply by___”.

If you send an email first, call and say, “I just sent you an email regarding… I want to make sure it didn’t end up in your junk/spam folder. I would appreciate a reply by ____”.

Always smile when on the phone…especially when leaving a voice message (they will hear your smile or lack thereof). Never sound impatient, rude, arrogant, annoyed, or timid, shy, soft spoken or weak. Leave an optimistic and friendly message like you would for a close friend or your grandmother. Regarding emails carefully check your writing tone. Try to choose words and phrases that evoke images and emotions of professional gentleness and kindness, yet with a mild since of urgency to meet upfront expectations.

I have a lot of success with getting timely replies from prospects and clients by using email subject lines to send very short “text-like” messages to ask a question or make a request. I don’t use cute texting shorthand or abbreviations. I may just insert a brief question that can easily be reviewed in their email inbox. If you need to write more, continue in the body of the email. Use clear key words such as: “Do you have time to meet next week” “Request for Information:” “Proposal Attached:” “Action Required:” “Please Review:” “Call me 400.555.1234,” etc…use your imagination.

If you need help implementing a program like this, consider contacting a sales consultant.

Share your experience by leaving a comment.

At we have an entire integrated sales and marketing company at your disposal. How can we help you generate more business? Let’s talk about making something happen for your company.

Carlos Diggs is Managing Partner at 360 Sales Focus, a full service sales and marketing consultancy. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at Reach Carlos at [email protected] or 410.782.0360 or follow him on Twitter at

A Unique Proposition – Messages that chase buyers away

February 9th, 2010 :: Tobias Bray

First let me kill something. Unique cannot be modified. Something is or is not unique – there is no such thing as more unique.

Anthropologists and Behavior Scientists know something. They know that only a very small part of the population likes something that is unique. The question is “Why”? Because we are a) creatures of habit and b) we learn by attaching new experiences to something we already understand. On any adoption curve the best customers are majority buyers. The myth of early adopters is a myth unless you are selling a pure tech play in which case your chances of courting the early majority hitch on building a product that the masses can comprehend and put to use solving a problem with little or no difficulty (see b), yet it appeals to the tech crowd. Now that we have a framework lets move on to messages.

What makes a message work – It connects to something the buyer understands and includes a call to action that can be acted on when read. Let’s say two very capable people open bike shops. Both of these people have solid business skills, understand their product and know how to handle customers. Let’s see which one gets your business…

You are walking down a street on a sunny afternoon. You are not on your cell phone and there are no distractions. Life is good and you are contemplating the purchase of a new bike. A moment later two vans drive by only a few seconds apart. Each has a name a logo and a tag line. The first van is from Marathon Cycle Store – Get out and ride 1-800-pedal now. The side of the van shows a couple riding mountain bikes. The second van is from Wheelmen – We Give You Wings 717-215-2572. The side of the second van has a logo that looks like it might be a modern stick figure on something the resembles a bike.

If you are like most of the buying public, you were drawn to the first van because it connected to something you already knew and didn’t make you think. The message was right there. For all the creative energy companies put into names, tag lines and logos, the mistake they make most often is go for the curious concept first (Curiosity is a tool of creation, desire and need are the tools of a sale). They strive to be unique in everything they do. Good for them. Are they unique to the point that a prospect ignores them – most likely. The problem is two fold – creative agencies don’t think like consumers or talk to prospects like sales people do. Companies often spend so much time concerned about a unique image that they forget why the prospect wants to buy in the first place.

Connect your name, tag line, logo, product name or pitch to your prospect’s burning desire and you will do better than your competitor. Why? Because while you are introducing the prospect to a great shopping experience, your competitor is still trying to explain what it is his company does.

To the point – At 360 Sales Focus we have an entire integrated sales and marketing company at your disposal. How can we help you generate more business? Let’s talk about making something happen for your company.

#1 problem salespeople need to overcome?

February 3rd, 2010 :: Carlos Diggs

Sales Coaching Tip 

After all is said and done (listening, planning, practicing, preparing, attitude adjustments, etc)…IF YOU ARE NOT OUT SELLING, YOU ARE BEING OUT SOLD. 

TOP PERFORMING sales professionals too often get bogged down with too many unnecessary and labor intensive administrative chores imposed on them by a poorly defined sales management process. (e.g. legacy/manual forecasting systems, CRM systems that are not used correctly). Therefore, impeding their quantity & quality face time with clients and prospects. Release (free up) your top performers by giving them administrative support and streamlining/optimizing systems, processes, and reporting requirements.

 UNDER PERFORMING sales professionals too often welcome all administrative tasks and sales/reporting fire drills as an escape and sanctioned excuse for not achieving goals. Even more importantly, this group must be released (freed up) by giving them administrative support and streamlining/optimizing systems, processes, and reporting requirements. To help get them back on track, some initial performance coaching focused on easy wins (appointment setting, proposal submitted, etc) will be required to build confidence, momentum, sales endurance.

Take Action

Nothing, absolutely nothing happens without ACTION. The law of physics says…for every ACTION, there is an equal and opposite reaction (RESULTS). So, as the recording artist Sting sings in one of his songs, “If You Love Someone, Set Them Free.” You do love your sales people? Sales people need love too (smile).

If you need help implementing a program like this, consider contacting a sales consultant.

Share your experience by leaving a comment.

At  we have an entire integrated sales and marketing company at your disposal. How can we help you generate more business? Let’s talk about making something happen for your company.

Carlos Diggs is Managing Partner at 360 Sales Focus, a full service sales and marketing consultancy. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at Reach Carlos at [email protected] or 410.782.0360 or follow him on Twitter at

How Your Hosting Company Can Impact Revenue

February 2nd, 2010 :: Tobias Bray

For years hosting many hosting companies have offered to host websites for as little as $3.95 a month. A small number of our clients used such hosts as a cheap way of creating communities of interest that point back to their corporate website. This worked well because mote search engines were somewhat forgiving about page load speed or the time it takes for an entire page to appear on the screen. That is about to change. Google’s next technology update “Caffeine” designed to make searching faster adds a new wrinkle page rank – slow loading sites will now hurt your ranking and therefore your organic position in search results. Drop in position and revenue may drop as well.

Below are the questions to ask your web guy or prospective hosting company before you buy inexpensive hosting (less than $10 per month):

  • How many other sites are hosted on the box where my site will be hosted?
  • Do you have a cap on the number of sites you will allow on a single box?
  • Do you actively monitor the load on your servers?
  • When was the last time and under what conditions did you move a site off o of your production boxes? What lead you to the need to move them?
  • What is my committed band-width rate? This is important because some hosts will sell you on the idea that there is no ceiling – that is not true, bandwidth is limited by the number of sites hosted and the total capacity coming into the hosting facility.
  • Shared databases – The best question to ask here is “Am I getting my own Virtual Private Server”? a VPS gives your business a great deal of flexibility when it comes to managing the hosting space.
  • There are other architecture questions you might ask, but as a business person it is best to leave those up to a tech person.

Full disclosure – Our clients use a number of hosting companies including Network Solutions, the sponsor of Grow Smart Business.

We have an entire organization at your disposal, let 360 Sales Focus help you achieve better sales results with inbound lead generation. Drop by the site today. We are here to help.

Sales are Down. Now What?

January 12th, 2010 :: Tobias Bray

I hear this question from non-tech companies more these days. They start by telling me about high turnover in sales and continue on to tell me about how the product is a perfect fit and people love it. The company worked hard to develop the product and it brings value to buyer’s life – So why are sales stalled? So far, this problem is framed as a sales issue and the answer as to why sales are down has yet to emerge. It is time to ask “What changed in the market?”. Consumers faced with huge changes in their income and buying power are rethinking what is important at all levels. This is not the first time we have seen this happen but this time the drop occurred to a crucial group of buyers – People with kids – the engine that drives a large part of the economy (and perhaps your sales). This group has seen their retirement evaporate and have kids to put through college. According to recent study teens pulled back on spending less than a year after there parents did. Coupled with the media pedaling fear, your customers are rethinking everything. Tomorrow is no longer a thing of certainty (in their minds) and a change of this magnitude in world view is something we in sales can’t alter or control.

Throughout history things outside of our control have caused upheaval and change. Today, the consumer is asking “What can I live without”? In other words, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is at play. A force larger than anything they have faced and one that is outside their control has been thrust upon them. Forced to look hard at their way of life and take into consideration the situations of others like themselves, consumers are cutting back on buying, but the subtext is that they are changing the way they live. Top sales performers know something about a person’s mindset that businesses need to hear – You cannot force a person or market to change their/it’s  mind. The harder you try, the more their current belief is reinforced. So what is a company to do? The best thing to do is take a good look the Ideal Client Profile and then look at the sales approach. Sales occur when a motivated buyer hears a message that they can act on. That message needs to offer a product or service the buyer values and one they can afford. Your business needs to look at the market and ask, what can we build, supply and deliver that our market can act on? That may seem like a huge task right now, but the market has changed and your business needs to change with it.

It is time to think outside the box – here are just a couple of suggestions…

Create a list of the characteristics that influence your buyer’s decisions both in your market and in adjacent markets where you might launch a product or service. Can you modify your product or service to meet any of the criteria? Can you create a new offering that does?

Contact your most loyal customers who have stopped buying and ask them what you can do for them – really, I have an entire business at your disposal – what can we do to help you? Call this a form of crowd sourcing but on a controlled level. You might just get your next great idea. Make sure you give the person on the other end of the call permission to be honest and tell you anything. Assure them what they say will not change the way you perceive them. Tell them you value their opinion. Most importantly – Ask for their help!

Ask your repeat customers why they are buying. Are their insights here that might be used to modify the current sales message? Open new markets? Ask that powerful question again – I have an entire company at your disposal right now, is there a problem I can help you solve?

For more help and insight, drop by our site. We are here to help – We have an entire organization at your disposal. How can we help you today?

Is Your Business Sales Ready?

January 4th, 2010 :: Tobias Bray

There is a parallel between top performing sales people and top performing businesses and has less to do with taking orders and ringing bells than you might think. But first a metaphor. Outside of a good defense, you can win a football game in the air or on the ground. Statistically, the more you go for the long pass, the more it will get picked off. The best teams have a well-balanced playbook. The outstanding teams can win a game by moving the chains ten yards at a time. The best sales people like the best businesses have a strategy and a playbook.

The best sales people understand that it is all about the customer or prospect, their needs/pains and helping them solve problems. The best sales people listen, take notes and sometimes provide assistance that will not directly result in a sale. They are always thinking about the next thing they can do to advance the sale. They have a strategy for each opportunity. What does this have to do with your business? Well, if you are listening to your customers and adjusting your game plan, you already know.  If not, or if you think your business can improve, take the quiz below.

Score your business on a scale of one (1) to ten (10) where one means that your business does not know how to perform the task and ten means that your business could demonstrate the results and teach another business how to perform the task.

Our business:

  • has clearly defined the markets we serve and we have an intimate understanding of each
  • has a clear definition of each person who buys or influences (Targets) a purchase within each market
  • has created a buyer’s journey for each Target
  • has a sales playbook that includes ways to address objections
  • understands what communication channel each market or Target uses to gather information before buying
  • has developed tools or provides information to Targets that help them solve business problems that don’t involve selling them something
  • actively works with those who influence a sale giving them the tools that need to look better in front of others
  • spends time looking at why it lost sales on a monthly basis
  • has an incubation plan to warm lost opportunities that did not go to a competitor
  • uses materials that promote problem solving and focus on the prospect
  • has collateral that does not us Us, We, or the company name more than a few times
  • has an online presence that includes a blog
  • uses social media where it makes sense
  • reviews all inbound lead generation systems on a monthly basis


70 or fewer points – Reassess the business as soon as possible.

71 to 95 points – The business is doing a lot of things right. Take the next steps and improve in the areas where the scores were lowest.

95 or more points – The business is doing almost everything right. Each month focus on solving three problems for your Target and three internal issues that are interfering with sales and marketing. Measure the results.

In our next post, we will address ways to improve scores for each of the bullet points listed above. In the meantime if you need help don’t hesitate to give us a call or drop by the site.


Are All Sales Teams Created Equal?

September 14th, 2009 :: Carlos Diggs

Can a single sales team sell direct, indirect, short and long lead sales opportunities? Are the skills required the same?

Is there undue stress on the team due to the different mind sets required for the different type of selling? Should the team be split to enable focus on the development of each channel and the skills required to work that channel?

Are you a Hunter or Farmer?

Considering that sales professionals fall into two primary categories based on personalities, hunters or farmers, you need to uncover each person’s preference zone and align them with the right channel assignment. Hunters are better at direct and short sales cycles then moving on. Farmers are better at relationship management, which is key for business development efforts via indirect channels, longer sales cycles, or account management assignments. The process, strategy and tactics might differ per channel and length. Document your best practices and all the things individuals do well or have done well in the past.

Do you have a Sales Process/Methodology?

If you don’t have a clearly defined and well document sales process for direct and indirect sales, now is the time to pull the team together and develop one. This is the only way to monitor and measure your team’s effectiveness. Winning sales organizations have document sales process (what to do) and methodology (how to do it).

Is it time to retool?

I had to learn this the hard way. I was very successful as an account manager for a major telecom provider. I protected and grew my $20M base of global accounts in a very competitive telecom market. I failed miserably as a hunter. I had to get retool and train to be a killer hunter. I do both well, but still excel as a farmer.

What has been your experience? Leave a comment.

Introducing the Grow Smart Business Small Business Expert Network

August 10th, 2009 :: Steven Fisher

Over the last month we have been reaching out to some very talented experts in small business many of them owners of their own small business. We began with leveraging our network on Facebook through the Grow Smart Business Club and asking some very smart people to contribute once a month and impart their expertise to you our Grow Smart Business blog.

We have about 20 contributors writing about topics such as capital access, small business marketing, technology and small business, marketing, pr, social media, customer service, accounting, taxes, business writing etiquette, health and wellness, generational marketing, business coaching and human resources to start. All of these contributors are experts have volunteered their time once a month to impart their wisdom and experience so you can build the best small business possible.

Starting today we will be publishing these guest contributors in addition to our staff writers and we would like to give you a preview of the upcoming week and future contributors.

Contributors for the Upcoming Week

Email Marketing and You: So Happy Together by Monika Jansen
Social Media: 10 Tips on Jumping In Feet-First Without Drowning by Michelle Riggen-Ransom
Evian babies in your face. Just like their GenX parents by Jessie Newburn
What to do if you are downsized by Lorne Epstein
The apple pie bakery that could teach you a thing or two about making a sale and loyal fans by Mayra Ruiz

Contributors Coming to the Blog in the Coming Weeks

Barry Moltz – Small Business Technology

Carla Briceno – Marketing to the Hispanic Markeplace

Carlos Diggs – Selling for Small Businesses

David McGillivray – Small Business Coach – “Coaches Corner”

Debbie Weil – Corporate Blogging

Toby Bray – Small Business Sales and Marketing

Jimmy Gardner – Small Business Technology

Erica Knoch – Small Business Marketing

Gary Honig – Raising Capital for Small Businesses

Harry Lalor – Small Business Strategy

Kristin King – Effective Business Communications

Liz Strauss – Social Media for Small Business

Pamela O’Hara – Small Business CRM

Would you like to be a contributor?

If you would like to be considered as a contributor, we would love to see if there is a fit so reach out to [email protected] and point us to your blog or send a few samples of your writing and your bio.