Sales Incentives: How Real Business Owners Motivate Their Teams

We asked small business owners to share their strategies for motivating their sales teams. What sales incentives do they offer? How do they keep team members engaged and enthused? How do they help those who are struggling?

The biggest surprise? Money isn’t always the best motivational method. Sure, at the end of the day, we all need to pay the mortgage. But that doesn’t mean the almighty dollar is the only way to motivate your sales team.

Here are some other ideas to consider.
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11 Strategies for Rocking Small Business Conferences

Are you heading to a small business conference this upcoming fall or winter? Here are 11 strategies for making sure you get the most out of it.

1. Study the conference agenda. Almost all business conferences publish the agenda ahead of time. Download the agenda from the conference website and get familiar with the workshops, panels, and speakers scheduled for each day.

If you’ve attended the conference before, you’ll probably already have a good sense of which activities are a “must” and/or will be quickly sold out or filled to capacity. If you haven’t attended before, reach out to people you know to see if they’ve attended and what workshops and panels that they recommend. Turn to industry contacts, employees, vendors, and connections on LinkedIn.

2. Create a plan of attack. Once you’ve identified the events you want to attend, create a plan of attack. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to attend everything—there will be scheduling conflicts and certain events will fill up faster. So as you make your plan, include your first choices and second choices so that you always have a backup.

Once you have a schedule, add the details to your phone’s calendar. Include the details on any calendars your employees have access to as well so that they’ll know when you’re reachable while you’re away.

3. Get a feel for the location. Conferences, especially big ones, will also publish a map. Once you have your agenda, highlight the places you’ll need to be on the map. Be mindful of “walking time” in case you have back-to-back events that are on opposite ends of the building. Note where the different restrooms are as well.

If you live locally and you plan to drive in each day, consider making a dry run so that you know exactly where you’re going, where the parking garage is, etc.

4. If you’re going to have a booth, be prepared. Make sure everyone involved has a schedule and that your booth always has someone covering it during high-traffic times. Make sure you’re stocked up on product literature. And don’t forget about promotional swag to give away.

5. Be realistic with your time. Business conferences can be equal parts exhilarating and exhausting. It’s important to have some downtime in your schedule, even if it’s just a half hour so you can go back to your hotel room and put your feet up for a few minutes. Be sure you carve out blocks for eating, too. And you’ll want to leave time for one-to-one meetings with people you meet. Remember, it’s all about networking.

6. Dress for success…and comfort. Business casual is the accepted “uniform” for most business conferences. If you’re unsure about the dress code, however, check out the conference website and look at photos from previous years to get a sense of what most people wear.

Dressing in layers is always smart, since different rooms might have different temperature gauges. Always consult the weather for the city the conference is in to get a sense of outerwear you might need (e.g. snow boots).

Comfortable shoes always make sense. Now is not the time to try those never-been-worn high heels or new dress shoes that pinch your toes. You’ll be on your feet a lot, and depending on how big the conference center is and where your hotel is located, you’ll be doing a lot of walking.

Of course, wearing promotional apparel that advertises your company name—such as jackets, polo shirts, and dress shirts—is always smart and helps people recognize and remember you.

7. Consider the equipment you’ll need. Laptop, tablet, or legal pad? Do you have your phone charger? Don’t forget a reusable water bottle! And make sure you have a custom bag that helps you carry everything.

8. Practice your story. If you’re a regular networker, you probably have perfected your elevator pitch, but if you haven’t attended any events in a while, you might be a little rusty. Practice your pitch, and not just in front of the mirror. Practice in front of people you trust at work and at home.

Brevity is key. People can’t take in a ton of information, especially in noisy environments. Keep your pitch focused to one thing and explain it simply and clearly:

  • My name is Bob and my company helps small business owners with their marketing.
  • My name is Jane. I’m a freelance writer who specializes in b2b content marketing.
  • My name is Ed, and I build people’s dream homes.
  • My name is Wendy, and I help people with challenging credit get mortgages.

9. Allow yourself to skip something if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Don’t be afraid to take a break if you’re feeling overly stressed. There will always be another business conference, another workshop, another panel. It’s not the end of the world if you go back to your room and take a nap.

That said, don’t give in to laziness, either. If you simply don’t “feel” like attending another panel or workshop, this is the time to push yourself.

10. If possible, work in a day or two of downtime after the conference. Attending a three- or four-day business conference and diving right back into work can wreak havoc on you physically and mentally. You need time to digest everything you learned, to unwind, and to recharge. If possible, work in a couple days off after the conference and before you head back to the office.

11. Create a post-mortem plan of attack. Once you return to work, you need to sit down and review everything you learned, all the connections you made, and next steps. Your conference experience shouldn’t live in a vacuum. The best conferences should inspire you to take action:

  • Maybe you learned about some interesting marketing strategies. Get together with your marketing team, share the info, and make a plan for implementing those strategies.
  • Maybe you met someone who would be a great addition to your local networking group. Call the person and set up a lunch date to discuss.
  • Maybe you met someone who was interested in doing business with you. Strike while the iron is hot and follow up.

How do you rock small business conferences? Share your tips and strategies in the comments below.

Live Chat Pros and Cons: Real Business Owners Weigh In

3.4.13_Customer Service over Social
Should you install a live chat feature on your small business website? What are some live chat pros and cons? And what about best practices that you should be aware of before diving in? We’ve rounded up responses from real business owners who were willing to share their experiences.

Say Hello to Instant Customer Gratification
One of the biggest reasons companies install a live chat feature is so that site visitors receive instant responses to their questions. No need to get lost in back-and-forth emails. No need to even pick up the phone. With a few clicks, customers can get the answers they’re looking for.

Mike Doyle is the CEO of Rent Like a Champion, a company that allows college football fans to rent homes near campuses nationwide during game weekends.

His company has been using Zopim, a popular live chat feature, for almost three years. Doyle says, “The response from our customers has been outstanding. We’ve found that our peak traffic time is during work hours, meaning people are likely surfing our site while they should be working. Being at work, it’s not always easy for people to pick up the phone and dial our toll-free number. The live chat feature is a great way for us to have a personal, high-touch interaction with a customer when it may not be convenient for them to call us.”

Steve Belk is the owner of Cut Cable Today. He recently added a live chat feature. Belk explains, “I decided to add Live Chat to my website when I noticed just how many email questions I was getting every single day from my visitors. I knew if that many visitors were emailing me with questions, many others had to be leaving the site without asking important questions that were keeping them from converting.”

Bring Personalization to a New Level
In addition to eliminating the need for endless email threads or a phone ringing off the hook with the same old questions, live chat also allows your business to add a more personal, human touch. This is especially important for companies that only have a virtual storefront.

Belk says, “I believe it creates a more valuable connection with the customer. When you’re talking to them live, there’s a human connection there that you might not get with email support necessarily.”

William Lau of echoes Belk’s sentiments. “In my opinion, live chat is essential. It is affordable and really easy to implement. If you find yourself with customers that have many questions, live chat is a great way to improve sales. One thing to note, if you are a small business owner and do not have someone monitoring it 24/7, the live chat modules usually have a Leave a Message option, which offers another way to get in touch with a customer and a customer to you. Also, many of these live chat platforms have iOS/Android apps, where you can get in touch with them on the go. You do not always have to be in front of a computer!”

Lau’s company has been using live chat for the last four years. “We originally started using Live Chat Inc, but after transitioning away from our original CMS, we started using Screets on WordPress.”

Enjoy Increased Conversions (Maybe).
When a small business owner needs to make a decision, the question that always bubbles to the top is this: how will this decision affect the bottom line? In other words, if a live chat application only makes customers happy, but doesn’t increase sales, would it be the best decision for your business?

Only you can decide that, of course. That said, most of the business owners we heard from were able to point to increased conversions, thanks to live chat features.

Deborah Sweeney, CEO of, says about 30% of her company’s live chat customers convert to a sale. She adds, “It’s hard to assess how many of those we would have lost as opposed to whether they would have called in or just proceeded to place the order without help. However, that’s a pretty strong correlation between people who reach out via live chat and convert.”

Laurie Olsen is the owner of A Stars and Stripes Flag Corporation. Her company installed Live Chat over six months ago to give customers another way to reach her. About 2% of the visitors to her site engage in Live Chat.

As for ROI? Olsen says, “I have received a few orders from customers requiring rush services for custom products via Live Chat. The customers felt that having an instant response on the website was more than likely going to mean that we would be able to provide the quick turnaround they required. The ROI since I have installed Live Chat has been approximately 14%.”

Belk says, “I have seen Live Chat provide a little bump with my sales, although it’s hard to quantify exactly how much at this point. The visitors I chat with tend to be ready to get rid of their cable and take immediate action, and the chat helps push them toward conversion.”

Manage the Pros & Cons
Live chat can have its downsides, and it’s not right for every business. Jeff Kear is the founder of an online startup called Planning Pod, which provides web-based event management software to event professionals.

Kear acknowledges that live chat can be the right tool for many businesses, but it wasn’t for his.

Over a year and a half ago, his company tried a live chat application. Kear says, “When we first launched it, we did get quite a few site visitors who engaged with the product, but we noticed that our free trial signups and our paid subscriptions actually went down upon launching the live chat tool.”

After digging deeper, Kear and his team discovered something interesting. “We found that many people who we chatted with got answers to specific questions about our software that made them think our tools weren’t right for them. However, once people were in the free trial, they realized all the other things our software did, which made it more likely for them to become a paying customer. So the chat tool actually deflected people who would have instead signed up for a free trial and had a more immersive experience with our software.”

Kear ended up discontinuing live chat and instead opted for a toll-free number. He says that he and his team have had much better success in converting people over the phone than they did via live chat.

Sweeney says that her business also sees higher conversion rates when people phone in, but she still uses a live chat feature because it’s better to have some instant online help available than none at all. Sweeney says, “Now, more than ever, customers are looking for online-only experiences—they don’t want to pick up the phone, so this is a great solution for that.”

In addition to not being the right fit, live chat features can also be a time sink, if you let it. And since time is money, well—you can do the math.

Belk offers this smart advice on how to analyze live chat’s efficiency and ROI: “If the average chat ends up taking 20 minutes to close a $10 sale and you’re paying an employee by the hour to provide live support, is Live Chat really making you money or is it actually costing you money?”

He also recommends creating answers to FAQs ahead of time and having them at the ready so that you and your live chat staff can easily refer to them.

Finding the right live chat application for your business is also important. Lau recommends shopping around. He cautions that you’re going to encounter some sophisticated platforms that have many bells and whistles. Be aware that you might not need all of those extras.

Lau adds, “If you do not have someone technical, stick with a subscription-based or well supported platform that provides technical support. A lot of the live chat programs are easy to install but can be a headache if something goes wrong, because you would want someone there to help you.”

Do you use a live chat application on your business website? What’s your experience been like? Share in the comments below.

Fore! It’s Time to Stock up on Promotional Golf Products

Long Putt
Spring has sprung, which means everyone will be hitting the links soon, if they haven’t already. Whether you need to network with colleagues, host a charity event, or woo a VIP prospect, the golf course is the perfect locale for all of the above (and more), which means you can never have too many golf-related promotional products on hand. Here are some of our favorites.
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9 Tips for Getting More Retail Foot Traffic (Think Beyond Sales)

Marketing Takeaways from Techie Press Conferences
Thanks to the Internet, it’s getting harder and harder for retail stores to compete for that all-important foot traffic. Here are some ideas that could inspire more people to walk through your doors.

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