Make Being Local Work for You

market 1

market 1 (Photo credit: tim caynes)

Today’s guest blog is written by Mindy Jeffries of Stealth Marketing. She will be writing a series of blogs that will appear here occasionally. If you want to contact Mindy you can call her at (314) 880-5570. Tell her you saw her here!

I look at small telephone companies and as a marketer I see tremendous marketing potential due to their advantage of being local. I would have a blast with marketing in these markets. Here are the questions I would ask myself and my team:

  • What is going on local in my community?
  • Can I create something that would be a resource to my community?
  • What could I do to bring my community together in the new virtual world? What could you do that is useful from the customer’s perspective?

I would find something the community needs, such as listing of local events and get it on the web. Then, using social media you have to advertise news of the local application that you have created and the content within.  This will start bringing people to your site to check out the latest news on what to do around town or the weather or whatever you choose.

Once you get your current and potential customers coming to your website or social media site for useful information, then the next step is to ask them for their email addresses. At this point, you don’t care if these people are customers or not, just provide each person with useful information. As you create value, your prospects and potential prospects will give you their information including email addresses because they want to interact with you.

Then you start housing this information in a database application that can automate, score and deliver very customer-specific news and offers to your prospects and current customers.  Your prospects get offers for new services, and your current customers get retention offers, or news on programing or movies or VOD coupons.

Start simple, but there are lots of ways to take a program like this to the next level.  You can incorporate your advertising clients and distribute their offers as well. This could be your retention program!  Some examples might be coupons for the pizza provider in town or coupons for the local theater.

Your imagination can run wild, but today digital environment exists to help you organize and filter messages and marketing.  Social media have changed the world.  Instead of always talking about you and your services, you need to look at the world through a customer/potential customer lens and asking the question from their perspective – what can I do through the resources I have, to make myself useful to them?

It’s an exciting times to be a marketer!

 

A New Model for B2B Sales

Earlier this year the team of Google and CEB published a report that shows that over the last decade that business customers have drastically changed the way they work with vendors. Historically there was a very classic sales model that defined how vendors sold things to businesses, but with the Internet the entire sales process has changed.

Historically sales have been done by the book, and there literally shelves full of books about sales that laid forth the classic sales process. These books preached that the sales process involved the following steps:

  • Identifying the sales opportunity
  • Qualifying the opportunity
  • Making a proposal
  • Closing the sale
  • Post sale implementation and follow-up

But the Google and CEB report says that businesses, on average, are already 57% through the historic sales cycle before they first talk to a vendor today. And this is all due to the Internet. A customer is able to do now fully research the products and solutions they are interested in. They can read reviews from other similar companies who have already bought what they are looking for. They can compare prices and service from alternate vendors without talking to any salespeople. And by the time they contact a vendor they are mentally much of the way through the sales process and generally are ready to make a choice.

So how does this change the way that companies sell telecom services? I would suggest it means some of the following.

  • Listen to Your Customers. First, it means that your salespeople need to become adept at listening, something that is not always a salesperson strength. If a potential customer has already done their research then they want to discuss the nuances of the products they are interested in and they want to ask questions. They do not want to start at the beginning of the above sales process. So ask your customers how much they already know about what you are selling to save you both time.
  • It’s Harder to Sell on Price Alone. Customers who have done their research are already going to have a price in mind, and this makes it hard to sell on price. So instead you need to be able to define the value proposition of why a customer should buy from you and not one of your competitors. Telecom companies are famous on selling by price alone since we inherited a world with many services greatly overpriced by the incumbents. But web research is beginning to kill price as a differentiator and so you better have other reasons why a customer should pick you.
  • Be Knowledgeable. If customers are doing their homework then your salespeople need to really understand the products. Again, this is another reason you can’t just send out salespeople who are just going to offer a discount from the current monthly telecom bill. It means sending out somebody who really understands the nuances of what you are selling.
  • Master Consultative Selling. The most effective sales technique to use with a knowledgeable customer is consultative sales. This means that you are not there to sell them a product, but instead there to find them the solution that best fits their telecom needs. This is the one advantage that a good salesperson can have with a customer who has done their homework. Such a customer will understand only so much about telecom products and is usually going to be willing to listen to creative solutions that might be different from what they thought they needed.

To sell in a consultative way rather than on price alone means you are going to need a well-trained sales staff, and probably are going to have to pay them more than the traditional salesperson. But the upside is that customers become very loyal to a vendor who helps them solve problems. For many telecom firms, that kind of loyalty is going to be a refreshing change.

Branding your Company and Products

Just FYI, no blogs last week due to flu bug. Funny how you can’t write when you can’t sit up.

Today’s guest blog is written by Mindy Jeffries of Stealth Marketing. She will be writing a series of blogs that will appear here occasionally. If you want to contact Mindy you can call her at 314 880-5570. Tell her you saw her here!

In my last blog, I talked about branding things – things with which your customers interact! “Things” is a little vague, so let’s clarify – your branded assets include things like: your office, trucks, people (uniforms), website.  What about branding your product?  What are the stepping-stones of branding your service that you’ll be delivering to your customers?  This gets complicated really quickly, so how can we simplify it?

Let’s begin with the strategic analysis of the brand.

The first step is a customer analysis.

Here are questions you have to ask yourself:  what are the current trends in the telecommunications industry? What is affecting your business?  We all know some of those major trends; landline disconnections, and streaming TV, for example. But now let’s add motivation questions.  Which customers are motivated to use cell phones in which parts your geographic footprint?  What are the unmet needs of your customers?   Brainstorm these questions with your team and figure out answers relevant to your brand. In the end you’re shooting for stellar customer service, making each customer happy beyond expectations.

The second step: Competitor analysis.

What are your strengths compared to all competitors including these new Internet competitors?  What are your answers to the “cell phone problem”?  What are the strategies to attack the segments we have previously identified? And last but not least, what are your vulnerabilities?  Examining your vulnerabilities is hard, you have to strip away your bias, take a step back and look at the big picture. Be honest with yourself. Analyze yourself like you would your competitors. Which leads nicely into…

The third step: Self-analysis. 

Ask yourselves and your customers: what is the current image of the brand?  What is the brand’s heritage?  What does your product provide? What are its strengths?

The last step: Determine your organizational values.  

What are the positive attributes of your leader or leadership team? It might be something as simple as: “we always go the extra mile!” or “We’ll make sure the customer is always satisfied.”

Still not sure what organizational values look like?

Here are the Stealth values to give you an idea!  We exist to help others, we are passionate about what we believe in, we are perpetual students, we love challenge, we like to stretch boundaries and evolve to the next level of everything.  We are driven by relationships because relationships drive communication and good communication drives success.  We work to achieve success.

How Good Should Your Customer Service Be?

This is the hardest question I have asked as a blog title, because there just is no easy answer. Before I try to answer the question at all, let me set some parameters. I am talking about smaller companies and not those that operate large call centers. There are dozens of consultants who specialize in software and metrics for large call centers. But most of my clients do not operate call centers and they have a more intimate relationship with customers. So let’s look at this question in terms of smaller companies.

One glib answer I could offer is that your customer service has to be at least good enough to make your customers happy. And there is certainly some truth in that, but that sounds a bit like consultant speak. So let me dig a little deeper and ask: what ought to be the goals for a smaller customer service group? Here are some of the traits a small customer service group needs to have to produce the best results. I have learned these over the years by having worked with literally hundreds of small customer service groups:

  • Friendliness. One of the advantages that small companies have over large ones is that your employees can get to know your customers and form bonds with many of them. This should be encouraged because when somebody knows the person they are talking to on the phone the whole transaction is more likely to go well. So encourage your customer service reps to get to know your customers.
  • Accuracy. Accuracy means just what it says. It means making sure every order you take is accurate so that the customer gets what they asked for. It means giving customers the right answer when they ask a question. It means perfect directory listings. And to be accurate requires training, but more importantly it requires that your reps are graded for paying attention to details.
  • Prompt Responses. Customers love it when a customer service rep has the information they are looking for right at their fingertips. If they call with a billing question they don’t want to be put on hold for five minutes while your rep tries to find the answer to their question. The way to make this happen is to have a good OSS/BSS system. If you want your reps to do a great job you must have great tools. Companies often get very comfortable with a software system and never consider changing. I visit many clients and see them using outdated systems that make it hard for their employees to do a great job. There is no excuse for that these days. There are a number of quality vendors and you should not be afraid to change if your current software is not doing what you need. I always ask the question – who is more important to you, your customers or your vendor? Do not get wedded to a vendor just because you have used them for many years. If they can’t and won’t keep their software current to fit your needs, look for somebody that will.
  • Knowledge. Your customer service reps ought to be able to answer most questions about your products and prices without having to look up basic facts each time. Make knowledge a priority in how you grade their performance each year. They ought to know how your most common features work and should be able to walk a customer through using them. They ought to know the basic troubleshooting steps needed to fix basic problems when they get a trouble call. If they can take care of a problem without having to refer it to a technician, then you will have saved money and have a happier customer.
  • Empowerment. Your customer service reps should be empowered to fix customer’s problems on the spot. Some companies have policies like always requiring higher approval before giving a credit to a customer. Empower your employees to make decisions and take care of customer problems on the spot. You can always review credits that are given out and if you don’t like the way they were done you have a teaching opportunity to do it better the next time. But don’t be afraid to empower your employees to take care of customers so that the customer can get a problem resolved on one phone call, talking to one person.
  • Not Scripted. I don’t know of a person who doesn’t feel marginalized and unimportant when a customer service rep is clearly reading something to them off of a screen instead of talking to them person-to-person. This is something that many large call centers foster, and sometimes calling customer service feels like talking to a robot. I don’t think this works well for large companies and is one of the reasons that people hate large telco and cable company customer service. So don’t fall into this trap and try to put pre-packaged words into your reps mouths. Make sure they know what they need to know and then just let them talk to customers like a person.
  • The Right Policies. Your reps need to be working with policies that are customer friendly, and this is all up to you. I often find policies that make me shake my head. For example, I have one client who required a money order or cash for a customer to reconnect service for non-pay. Of course, this leads to customers just deciding to not come back. The policies you have in place in dealing with customers need to all have the same underlying premise – they must be customer-friendly and they must make it easy for customers to use you as their vendor.

Branding and How a Customer Views Your Company

Etsy engineers and customer service at work

Etsy engineers and customer service at work (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s guest blog is written by Mindy Jeffries of Stealth Marketing. She will be writing a series of blogs that will appear here occasionally. If you want to contact Mindy you can call her at 314 880-5570. Tell her you saw her here!

I watch a lot of old movies and sometimes I find myself thinking back to the 1940’s and 1950’s. The world was not only pretty straight forward; it was also black and white. Have you ever thought that?  Be honest!  Think of where we are now. How different our marketing world has become in the past few years.

Marketing has become so multi-dimensional!

This marketing evolution is good for everyone.  Good for businesses, good for marketers and very, very good for customers.

So my question is: how is your business looking in this multi-dimensional world? Let’s start by listing a few of the places you are seen and then I will explain the importance of each one:

  1. Your office or headquarters
  2. Online
    1. Website
    2. Social media outlets
  3. Your customer service efforts
  4. Your employees – on and off the job
  5. Public Relations

These are the questions I ask myself as I walk into an office for the first time:

  1. How would this office look to a customer? Is it exciting or cluttered?
  2. How does it match or build on my advertising?  Is it an extension?  It should be. Are we saying we are a high-tech company?  The office should reflect that.
  3. Is the office clean?
  4. Is there adequate parking?
  5. Is it efficient at handling lines?
  6. Are the marketing/promotional materials current?

Does/Is the Website:

  1. Reflect the brand well?
  2. Organized?
  3. Optimized?
  4. User-friendly, with obvious access to information?
  5. Allow a user to find the pricing for the services offered?
  6. Modern? An archaic web presence is a poor reflection on your business.

On Social Media, are you:

  1. Transparent? Are you answering critical posts quickly and resolving the problem publicly? Do people trust the information you’re providing? Are you resolving problems publicly and respectfully?
  2. Using it for customer service? If yes: are you answering customers’ questions and concerns quickly?
  3. Creating a useful environment for the entertainment industry?

Customer Service, do you:

  1. Train and empower customer service representatives?
  2. Offer transparency in customer service?
  3. Be sure the customer service reps have all information about offers and promotions before the customer does?
  4. Remember customer service employees are an extension of your company?

Other (company branded vehicles, employees, community efforts or in the customer’s home):

  1. What happens when an employee is at the grocery store and a question comes up? Do they respond in a positive manner? What do they do when no one is looking?
  2. How do the trucks look? Banged up?  Well branded and identified? The cable companies whom you compete against never seem to get this right. The trucks have stickers on the side or are branded from the last acquisition.  This is an opportunity to look clean, neat and high-tech.
  3. What is the process as employees enter customer’s homes? Do they track mud or wear clean booties over their work boots? Do they leave each area a little bit better than they found it?

For Public Relations, you should:

  1. Find places to speak and then get out on the circuit!  Tell your story.  What is new in your business? Your story is anything from hiring a new person to launching a new platform.
  2. Join business clubs such as: Rotary or Kiwanis and tell your story and meet other business people, figure out if they need your service.
  3. Send the stories of significance to the local paper.  Many papers love the extra content.
  4. Identify key employees to help you in community ambassador roles.

The items discussed above go to branding. Branding helps your company build loyalty and confidence with customers and potential customers. Remember, each time a customer comes in contact with your company it is either a positive contact or a negative one. Therefore, examine each touch point carefully.

Sometimes You Need Sales

Customers

Customers (Photo credit: Vinqui)

Most clients I talk to have a marketing plan of some type. Some of them have a really great one and others just do the same thing year after year. But often when they talk to me about the issues they are having, it turns out that what they really need is a sales plan.

Sales is when you go out, look the customer in the eye, and explain to them why they should buy from you. There certainly can be some marketing aspect of sales, such as having door hangers to let people know you are coming, but there are some times in the life of a company when you don’t need marketing and you need sales.

So when is it appropriate to do direct selling and when should you use marketing? Here are some of the times when direct selling is going to give you better results:

  • When you extend your network into a new neighborhood. This might be new houses built in your existing service area or somewhere you have extended your network. In these circumstances you need to knock on the doors and make your pitch.
  • When you introduce a major new product and you want to get a lot of customers. If you are launching cable TV for the first time or getting into the cellular business, then knocking on every door in your service area is going to get you the most new customers the fastest.
  • When you haven’t talked face-to-face with your customers in a long time. I talk to clients all of the time who have never knocked on a door and talked to a customer in a cold calling situation. A company who doesn’t know what their customers won’t be selling the right thing. So if you have never had a door-knocking campaign or haven’t done one for a long time, then get out and talk to your customers. You will get some up-sales, but you will also get a lot of feedback on what customers would like to buy from you.
  • Any time you sell to a business. You should never use passive marketing campaigns to sell to business customers. It just doesn’t work. Every business thinks they are unique and the way to make them a loyal customers is to learn about their business and their communications needs and to then find them a solution.

So who in your company should sell? If this is something that is going to be needed only periodically, then you and your existing staff should be the salespeople. Nobody knows your company better than the people who work there. Remember that it doesn’t take a slick sales person or polished sales presentation to sell something that people want. It takes knowledge. And when I say you, I am talking directly to the owners and general managers of smaller companies. Get out and go door-to-door. There is no faster way to find out what the public expects from you and to find out what you are doing wrong and doing right.

If you are always expanding your network, or are always selling to business customers, then you need a full-time salesperson. There is a long list of issues to consider when setting up a full-time sales position and I won’t try to cover them in this blog. But there is definitely a right and a wrong way to operate a sales staff.

And finally, here are a few sales tips.

  • Be organized. If you are going to knock on every door in an area, make sure you talk to somebody at every house. This means keeping notes on who was not at home and making multiple visits. It may mean calling to set up appointments with people who are hard to catch at home. Don’t make one sweep through a neighborhood on a weekday afternoon and think that you have done a good job.
  • Take good notes. These will come in valuable later. It’s just as important to make notes about why somebody is not buying your service as it is to note the ones who do. If you are going to sell a lot there are good sales tools on the market that make it easy to organize notes. But if this is an occasional effort, then takes notes in whatever way works best for you but then transcribe them into a spreadsheet or database for future reference.

Planning your Marketing Budget

market 1

market 1 (Photo credit: tim caynes)

Today’s guest blog is written by Mindy Jeffries of Stealth Marketing. She will be writing a series of blogs that will appear here occasionally for a while. If you want to contact Mindy you can call her at 314 880-5570. Tell her you saw her here!

It was much easier in the past to plan the marketing budget. But today there are many more choices of how and where to spend your budget.

From a bird’s eye view, let me show you how we do it at Stealth.

First we ask, what is the plan for next 12 months?  We chart or ‘brown paper’ the desired customer gain and then define the tactics needed to achieve that goal.

There are many levers to pull in order to achieve the desired customer acquisition goals. The first one is usually marketing spend.  As you spend more money, more people will hear your story and more will sign up (assuming the story is a good one).

But we marketers are always trying to be efficient.  So our next set of questions look something like:

  • “What kind of offer can I afford?”
  • “What is the best offer available to me?”
  • “How can I package that offer to look better than the competition and to get noticed?”
  • “Where can the offer be seen?”

This is a process that we go through freshly each year.

Next we build tracking methodologies behind each and every tactic.

Planning for Direct Mail

Many marketing tactics are extremely quantifiable, for example – direct mail is extremely easy to track.

While industry standards tell us to expect only a .5% to 1% response from direct mailings– we think an achievable goal is 2%.  This is achievable today, but takes focus, control groups and testing.  We call this, “Deploy, Measure, Adjust, Redeploy.”  It is a constant cycle that works hard to achieve success over time. If you pay attention to what works and doesn’t work your direct mail gradually elevates to good levels of pull.

Planning for Digital

Digital marketing is a great tactic to use in selling telecom products. It’s very targeted. You can deploy different messages to different customers and it’s cost-effective. And just like direct mail it gets more cost effective over time as you “Deploy, Measure, Adjust and Redeploy.”  Fortuitously, you can decide how much you want to spend and then you adjust the plan to fit.  As your efforts prove successful, you can add more money to a campaign. The challenge of digital marketing is finding a trusted advisor who really understands a complicated space that is changing daily.

Also, think of planning and executing tactics within social media. This still takes planning and dollars, but can change your marketing and even your customer service. Customers and potential customers can learn about you before they jump on board with your company.

Planning for Media

Media buying in telecom is another good tactic when and where it is available. But done poorly it can be a waste of budget. I once worked in Salt Lake City and there was a smaller operator in the suburbs. They couldn’t justify the media spend to buy the Salt Lake market, but our two firms together had a substantial piece of the market. They ended joining us as a partner to be able to afford the media buy. Ask yourself if there is a creative solution that makes sense in the media world.

At Stealth, we have algorithms to determine efficiency in the television medium. Don’t overlook your own channels for cross promotion.  How efficient can you tell your story with cross-channel advertising? There are still many ways to produce very good quality spots today.

Planning for Print

Small town papers can be a good medium to tell your story. They generally have loyal and devoted readership and you can creatively tell your story.

Have you ever thought of using movie posters? That’s a way you can put your information into the space in a creative manner. There are traditional and non-traditional places to buy or place movie posters. Also, in your local paper, buy a panel and tell your prospects what is on your service in a unique creative way.

Finally, we look at the budget last year. 

It’s always tempting to jut budget this year on what was spent last year. But you should always look to see if there are reasons to increase or decrease spending? More digital marketing might expand your spend for a few years, but start becoming more efficient over time. What is the competition doing? Are you expanding to new areas?

As you ask the right questions you can begin to plan your marketing spend and can design a marketing plan that fit your budget. But as you achieve success with  marketing you can have more confidence each year to spend more.

Competitive Telecom Marketing

Today’s guest blog is written by Mindy Jeffries of Stealth Marketing. She will be writing a series of blogs that will appear here on Fridays for a while. If you want to contact Mindy you can call her at 314 880-5570. Tell her you saw her here!

Welcome to the new world of competitive targeted marketing; a world where you put each of your current customers and potential new customers into a bucket that best describes them. This may sound complicated, but competitive targeted marketing fits easily into budgets because you just manipulate the buckets one by one. What this means is that if you can afford to market to only one bucket of customers this month, you do that.  If you can afford several buckets, then you can market to more. In order to market to all of your buckets over time you have to generate a viable telecom marketing plan.

The first step in this process is to get your customers into the various buckets. To do that you need to put yourself in your customers’ place and examine the choices every customer has sitting at home at the end of your lines. What are they evaluating each month? Since you don’t know what your customers are thinking this becomes a series of riddles as you try to get into the customer’s mindset. And you should have a solution for every riddle. If you can’t answer the riddles posed by some of your products you should be using that product yourself to see it from a customer perspective.

Here are some of those riddles, meaning the questions that your customers are probably asking:

  • How much will this cost?
  • Can I rely on their customer service?
  • What’s best for me – a local provider versus not so local?
  • Programming choices?
  • Who has the channels I love?
  • Are telephone services limited to cell only?
  • How critical is 911?
  • How is reception on the various carriers in your area?
  • What Internet speeds do I need?

As you answer these riddles from a customer perspective you have your matrix!  Now, how do you shape the marketing messaging to compete against your competitors? In order to figure out how to shape your marketing messaging, you must ask yourselves questions about your products.

For example, let’s evaluate your Internet product. How competitive are the speeds? Usually, speed is where telecom companies can be very competitive. What service has greater reliability during a storm? Which service in your area is back in service quicker after a storm? Reliability is an area that is hard to beat in telecom companies. Ask yourself the hard questions and evaluate your product honestly compared to the competition.

Telecoms own the information channels, but most of us don’t think that way. We derive messaging from the fact that we open the information channels back up quicker when you need it. Still haven’t found your marketing edge? Examine some other aspects.

  • Are there unique ideas for pricing that fit local niche markets?
  • Can you undercut the competition by bundling?
  • Packaging? Buy the fastest Internet and get phone for free?
  • Are there areas you can serve that can’t get Internet any other way, but can get video and phone other places?
  • There are lists available of phone or Internet customers by competitor as well as satellite lists. You can buy those lists and then you can mail just those specific customers with a compelling offer. Show them how you can compete!

Once you form your matrix you can put each of your customers and potential customers into a bucket. You then decide what product you are going to offer them at which compelling price and how are you going to tell them what you have to offer by which medium.

Why Aren’t You in the Security Business?

Security camera

Security camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The security business is booming. Both residents and businesses want security cameras and other monitoring devices to keep an eye on their property when they aren’t there. Everybody with a wireline network should be considering offering security services of some type. There are a number of different ways to approach the security business, as follows:

Security Cameras. Your customers are interested in security cameras. They may want them for the traditional purpose of watching their business. But they now want them for a whole lot of other reasons. Farmers want them to keep an eye on livestock and on expensive farm machinery. Residents want to keep an eye on the babysitter, the pets or the kids when they aren’t at home. People want to be able to see who is at the front door before they answer it.

Your customer can go to Walmart or Radio Shack and pick up a run-of-the-mill camera. But given a choice, your customers probably want a quality HD camera, professionally installed. There is a huge difference in the picture quality between an older analog security camera and the new HD cameras. It’s the difference between being able to see that there is somebody in your home and the ability to read the name tag on the pocket of their shirt.

Most of your customers are not going to be comfortable with or have the knowledge needed to install an HD camera properly. Ideally cameras ought to be installed on coaxial cable rather than using WiFi so that it will work if the WiFi gets knocked out. To be effective a camera also ought to be on some kind of backup power if the customer wants to be able to see what is happening if the power to the premise is cut. You will want to choose cameras that come with the ability to let the customer see what the camera sees using their cell phone.

Why is this a business opportunity? I have been advocating in this blog that telecom businesses need to decide if you are going to be a full-service provider or a dumb-pipe provider going into the future. If you are going to be a full-service provider then you should look for opportunities to go into customer’s homes and businesses. Services like installing security cameras are not going to drive a lot of revenue. Instead, it will pay for a few hours of your installer’s time, but it will give you a chance to get to know your customers better, to upsell them on other services and to create loyalty since you are the provider who will take the time to visit and listen to them.

Recording. While there isn’t a lot of money to be made in installing cameras, you can sell a monthly service to record what the cameras see. This requires you to establish a high-speed connection to the camera and to have recording devices capable of storing and retrieving video. Ideally you will only record a camera when there is something to record. This can be done by including a motion detector that will trigger the recording. Any recordings you save should also record a time stamp so that you know when the recording was made.

There are off-the-shelf systems for recording video in this manner and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. But investing in this kind of product line means that you will need to do the math and figure how many customers you will need to justify getting into the business. The normal pricing for this service would consist of a monthly fee to record the images plus a fee when customers want to retrieve recordings over some set limit of times.

Monitoring. The next level of security involves monitoring and this gets into the area of more traditional burglar alarms. There are a number of well-known nationwide brands of security monitoring like Frontpoint, ADT, Vivint, Pinnacle and Life Shield.

How can you compete against the nationwide firms? The burglar alarm business has two components – selling / leasing the hardware and the monitoring function. You can buy the same security system hardware used by any of the nationwide firms. There is a wide array of different systems available. The nationwide companies make a lot of money on the hardware and the installation. They generally advertise a low price but then quickly try to upsell customers to get additional hardware. You should be able to compete and beat the pricing that these firms offer on hardware. And you can offer this without the somewhat sleazy sales tactics that many of them use. Tout yourself as the ‘honest’ firm and many people will be interested.

Second, you can now buy monitoring services on a wholesale basis. There are security monitoring centers that will act as your back office to monitor the alarms and dispatch fire and police as needed. You can easily mark-up their fees and still make a nice monthly margin for monitoring a customer.

Many customers have been through the mill with the nationwide firms since many of them deploy high-pressure sales tactics. Customers are going to prefer to go with somebody they know and trust and who gives them what they need for an affordable price without the high-pressure sales.

The Full Deal. There are also upper-end security systems available that come with the latest high-tech monitoring devices. There is a wide array of different sensors available today that let a business test for all kinds of events. The upper end systems typically are for businesses that want to do a better job of monitoring both security and safety at their premise.

Any carrier can obviously get into the high-end security businesses because anybody can buy the systems used. But my word of caution is that this business line requires a lot of research and the companies you will compete with know what they are doing.

Data Back-up

There is a tremendous amount of free on-line storage available today. Just last week Flickr began offering their customers a free terabyte of storage. There is also a thriving new industry of data centers that are offering deals for businesses to back up their data on-line for affordable prices. So you might suppose that there is not much of an opportunity to provide off-sight storage for your customers. As attractive as some of the on-line storage prices are they don’t shut you out of this business. I have a number of customers who are making money by providing storage for customers. So let’s look at how they are doing it.

First, you have to recognize that there is an ever-increasing need to back-up data, including from many businesses that would surprise you. There are a number of businesses that are now creating mountains of data. And with the impending creation of the Internet of Things the need for storage is going to continue to grow.

Storage is getting cheap and customers will certainly keep a copy of their data on site. But no storage device is foolproof and there is always the risk of storage device failure, fire, flood or other damage to local storage. So the smart business will also store their data somewhere off-site.

While there are many web-based companies that will store data, you will find that many customers would prefer to store their data with somebody they know and trust. When they send their data out into the cloud they really don’t know where it is going and what is being done with it. And there is always the chance that the company that stores their data will fold and the data will be lost someday.

So the number one sales pitch to make with data back-up is that your customer already knows and trusts you. You can show them your central office or headend if they want to see it. Data centers spend a lot of effort showing customer that their data is very secure, but the chances are that your existing central office is already secure enough for most customers. There is also less of a chance of data being hacked in your central office, simply because hackers aren’t looking at you as a target.

Another advantage of storing data locally is that the data is on-net between you and your customer. This means that you are going to be able to stream their data quickly to them in case of a recovery much faster than is going to happen over the open web. You have a direct connection to your customer, which is something nobody else can claim, and if large amounts of data are going to be exchanged this is a significant advantage. If the worst happens and they lose all of their local data, you can have them up and running again very quickly if you back up both their content and operating software.

There are a number of options on how to store data for your customers. First, you can just host a second version of the same servers they have at their business. This allows them to always have a mirror back-up of everything they are doing. Customers who want to do this are the best candidates for local storage because they are going to want to be able to occasionally visit the servers in your office. In this scenario it is typical for the customer to pay for the server.

But you can also get more efficient and put multiple customers into one large server or series of servers to save money on hardware and software at your end. In this case you can provide a mirror image of their own server, but to do so on a server that you share among multiple customers.

The last option is to store just their data and not their operating systems. Companies that generate a lot of data will often do this and will even store data at more than one location.

And you don’t necessarily have to do all of the sales for this business line, you can partner with local IT firms to jointly offer this product and let them do the sales for you.

One new way to sell local storage is to combine it with a security service. More and more homes and businesses are installing cameras. These cameras now can be reviewed remotely and a customer can check in back home on their cellphone. You can enhance this product by recording and storing the video images from the cameras which lets customers get a physical image of intruders or other anomalies at their home or business.