More Sales – Less Cold Calling

More Sales – Less Cold Calling

At TranStrategy Partners, we have worked with hundreds of transportation and logistics companies over the years. Sales, or more precisely, a lack of sales, is why many of these companies come to us for assistance.

Sales for 3PLs and freight brokerage companies don’t come easily. The market is crowded; the competition is intense and most companies haven’t differentiated themselves in their prospect’s eyes.

Many 3PLs use cold calling as their main prospecting tool. Smiling and dialing is not efficient or fun, but it is a necessary evil. The equation is simple, grow your sales by hiring more salespeople and pushing them to make lots of phone calls.

There really isn’t any viable alternative – or is there?

“93% of B2B buyers begin their buying process using Internet search.” According to research conducted by Marketo

There is a better way!

Yep, this crazy internet thing might really be here to stay.

93% seems like a huge number, but it passes the sniff test. Think about your last big purchase (home, car, vacation, college, etc.). I bet you began your research online, well before reaching out to an actual person.

Apparently, your potential customer is doing the same thing. They are conducting online research, getting the expert take and then reaching out to the person or company who can best solve their problem.

What a great way to sell, unless of course you aren’t online.

Selling Online Requires a Different Mindset

Once, you have decided to go after the online sales, you quickly realize that it requires a completely different mindset and different skills.

To be successful online, do the following:

  1. Specialize. You must decide on a niche or specialization. Getting some love from Google and Bing is even harder than cold calling. To be found by the search engines, companies must specialize – be known for something. Being found for your specialty will be much easier than being found for something generic like “freight broker” or “truckload.”
  2. Get a great website. Your 10-year old website designed by your niece isn’t going to cut it anymore. To get web traffic, your company is going to need a professional website with good original content. If you are starting from scratch, shoot for at least 30 pages with 300 plus words per page. From there, continue to add pages every month. Size does matter in this case. Google and Bing reward great (big) websites and ignore the rest.
  3. Content marketing. Content marketing like webinars, email marketing, articles, blog posts, white papers, and case studies puts your expertise on display and drives traffic to your website. Remember, people are searching online for experts – not salespeople. Share great content and develop an online following.

The internet offers a great new way to connect with prospective customers and showcase your company’s expertise – embrace it.

Let Us Help You Build the Company You Want

At TranStrategy Partners, we help business owners build the companies they want. Our proven approach helps freight brokerage and 3PL business owners develop their competitive advantage, hone their message and grow their sales.

Building a case for WHY

Building a case for WHY

Throughout our industry we place significant focus on the execution of process. This focus is directed at the granular activities that drive revenue. The HOW and the WHAT that we do is fairly straightforward and is easily grasped by the majority of people within the organization. However, it is often very transactional and allows for only marginal, incremental growth. By harnessing the power of the WHY within your organization, you can experience a more systemic and explosive growth.

The WHY provides the context and motivation for decisions related to change and opportunity. Building internal belief around the WHY excites and accelerates the individuals and teams within your company to both imagine and produce great things. Creating a WHY story provides a tangible and clear expectation for people to rally around. Tools like Cameron Herold’s Painted Picture/Vivid Vision provide a framework for the organizational leader(s) to distill the vision into clear images and steps along the pathway to success.

As entrepreneurs and business leaders, many of you understand the drivers that move you forward – from the inception of the business plan to the plans for future success. Sharing those motivations (financial goals, growth metrics, community support and people development) becomes a key component in establishing the context for the entire team. Each individual that rallies around the vision increases the velocity through collaboration to reach the defined goals. Clarity of purpose removes obstacles by centering the teams on a shared goal set. Ideas and decisions can be made through the lens of WHY by simply asking if they align to the vision of success. If they do – proceed; if they don’t – rethink and reframe.

The Purpose of your company, whether focused on carrier relationships, premier service offerings, specialized cargo or any combinations thereof, acts to focus your uniqueness and to define your brand. Marketing around the story and the unique qualities of your business helps you foster authenticity and stand apart from your competition. Know who you are, what you stand for and the WHY that drives you. Build these answers into the content and communication strategies that connect with your prospective customers, vendors and workforce.

The WHY inspires the people in your organization. It energizes them to step outside of their comforts to achieve the realization of the WHY vision. WHY narrows possible outcomes to align with the vision and simplifies once difficult decisions towards the goal.

Develop your competence in the HOW and the WHAT through training and process improvement, but drive growth and engagement through clear communication and expression of your organizational WHY.

Shippers Don’t Want Your Old Marketing & Sales Tactics

Shippers Don’t Want Your Old Marketing & Sales Tactics

Read the top pet peeves and tips from the shippers’ panel discussion at TMSA’s conference

The Transportation Marketing & Sales Association (TMSA) recently held their annual conference covering a variety of key topics for logistics professionals. One of the leading sessions was a panel of transportation and supply chain decision-makers discussing Shipper Perspectives: “Aligning Your Value with the Needs of Your Customer.” This session was packed full of helpful insights for those of us trying to position our services to this audience and their peers.

 

SHIPPERS SESSION HIGHLIGHTS:

Top Pet Peeves

  1. Not doing your research ahead of time.
    Make sure you know the specifics of our network and be clear on how you would be able to better our supply chain. This way you will be able to speak to topics such as speed of deployment or sustainable solutions if these are a priority for the shipper.
  2. Old school sales pitches.
    Before you dive into your 20-minute sales pitch, share key data about your company. What are your capacity limitations, safety standards, and analytics? A real-world case study is the best way to show how you have grown with your current customers. Show us what the problems were, how you solved their challenges, and include enough detail for it to be meaningful. Many shippers will not even look at your information if a detailed case study isn’t included.
  3. Emails without substance.
    If you are going to send an email, make sure it includes the information listed above about what should be included in a sales pitch. A current customer list of references is also appreciated so we can verify your services and ask about your culture
  4. Being notified of a problem last minute.
    If there is an issue, notify us right away so we have time to consider our options. Do not wait until the last minute because you thought you would be able to fix it before we know about the problem. Honest communication is key to being a good transportation partner.

 

Top Tips

  1. Be transparent. Think long term.
    If you want us to be transparent with information, we expect the same from you. Reliability is important but so is collaboration and creative problem solving. Give us data visibility and specifics on how you can meet our unique needs. We are looking for someone with a long-term strategy and need to verify our partners are profitable and stable.
  2. Be easy to work with.
    Being easy to work with means being available and reliable. If you can take care of our curveballs, are honest, and proactively working for us, you are on your way to becoming a preferred partner.
  3. Be an information partner.
    A high-level overview of trends, manufacturing news, logistics technologies, etc. can be a helpful way to position yourself. Include an update on how the shipper can prepare for any changes coming and how it could impact their upcoming budget.

 

Hopefully our recap gave you some ideas on how to improve your communications to potential and current customers. Reimagining your communication strategy and how you position yourself could give your sales and marketing teams a higher success rate with their outreach. So, pack up those old tactics and let us know how your new approach performs.

 

__________________________________________________________________

 

ABOUT US

TranStrategy Partners is the premier partner for freight brokerage firms looking to maximize their business and accelerate their performance.

Erika DeBlasi is TranStrategy’s Marketing Coach and has worked as a marketing executive in freight brokerage and financial services industries. She drives the marketing, branding, advertising and communication activities for a variety of companies in addition to providing a broad spectrum of marketing and communication training. We are the marketing partner for logistics companies who need a dependable and consistent way to increase market share and enhance customer experience.

>> Learn more about our Logistics Marketing Service

 Schedule a Complimentary Marketing Review!

Customercialism

Customercialism

At the recent annual TMSA Conference, Align4Growth, the idea of consistent messaging across all dimensions of customer contact reigned supreme. The purpose of that contact is to build trust with existing and prospective customers. The credibility of an organization, particularly in the early stages of the relationship, is developed through the crystalline focus on the customer: what they need, how they engage and what they are trying to accomplish.

The First 50 – The Story Projects

Research across industries (B2B and B2C) shows that somewhere between 50% and 75% of the customer journey is made prior to the first true engagement with the business. Potential buyers are exploring, learning and comparing possible solutions. Digital presence and past performance are key indicators for these buyers to take next steps in the decision process.

Clear product definition, particularly in a service industry, is instrumental in providing useful information to those buyers. Explanation of the features, benefits and success outline how solutions are positioned and create a more holistic approach to your communication model.

First Contact – Building Credibility by Placing the Customer First

Sales rarely happen during the first contact – or second or fifth. Too often, the sales team disregards the process and message that brought the prospect to the table in the first place. They are focused on the close, getting a lane to quote or other misaligned metrics that drive compensation instead of driving the relationship.

The process needs to be focused on trust building which can be accomplished through the continuation of the messaging aligned to the digital experiences already experienced by the prospect. Sales should ask questions designed to elicit information and needs.

There is power in establishing both what the company can do for the customer and what it cannot do. By establishing such parameters, it shows the prospect the recognition of your own capabilities and intentional limitations and, ultimately, honesty and respect.

At The Close – Aligning Solutions to Needs

Once Trust is achieved, the relationship accelerates. In developing trust with customers and prospects, they become more attracted to the company and the people within it. This attraction builds a desire to spend more time – through a business relationship that endures.

In many cases, once trust is established, the business relationship becomes a foregone conclusion. The focus becomes imagining of how the solutions will be executed to meet the customer needs and help them accomplish their goals.

Industry Associations are Good for your Business

Industry Associations are Good for your Business

You can always come up with reasons to not bother being involved with industry associations. However, we have found that companies are generally better because of such involvement; and time spent bettering your company is time well spent.

Whether your company is a small mom and pop shop or a large enterprise, industry associations offer benefits for everyone.

The key to successful association membership is networking with your peers. Not only does it provide the opportunity to meet individuals who share a common interest, it can also spark the beginning of new friendships and solid business relationships. After all, you can never have too many contacts in this industry.

Most associations provide a newsletter or publication, whether it is weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Contained in these publications is priceless information touching on all the topics that affect the industry–driver shortages, freight trends, and government, environmental, legal and financial issues.

You can find breaking news on legislative decisions; upcoming seminars, conventions or meetings; new industry standards and best practices; employment opportunities; and industry trends. Plus newsletters keep you abreast of the latest developments among your fellow association members.

Being listed in an association directory is also beneficial to your firm, in more ways than one. Not only does an association directory promote the services of fellow members, in many cases it is distributed widely outside of the membership, increasing chances for work both inside and outside of the association.

Many associations have frequent meetings and webinars to discuss topics of concern to members. Meetings are but one of the many events held. Most have annual conventions, award ceremonies, workshops, management seminars and dinners, and even golf outings. A massive amount of information, company promotion and networking takes place in each of these outlets.

Don’t get me wrong, membership in an industry association will not guarantee your organization’s success, but active membership could be a step in the right direction. Plus, many of your competitors are already reaping the benefits.

Don’t be left out of the loop. Join us, along with hundreds of others in getting involved in this industry through the many associations that serve the transportation marketplace.

Beyond Carrots and Sticks

Beyond Carrots and Sticks

Motivation is not simply about carrots (compliance) and sticks (non-compliance). It is about context and relevance to goals. It is about the flow from here to there and the achievement of success. It is about communication of expectations and the appreciation for reaching the goals. It is about removing obstacles and creating pathways to success. Motivation of the people on your team and of yourself is critical to growth and leading through change (both expected and unexpected).

Recognizing what drives you (and others) is vitally important to the overall success of your endeavor. Your energy reserves are depleted by activity that doesn’t align to your drive, while it amplifies when you are focused on activity that matches your passion. Activities that sap your energy are often done poorly – either rushed or mistake-laden due to inattention. Activities that energize you are given full attention and commitment to produce strong results. Assess your drivers and the tasks you perform to map out what you do well and what may suffer.

By reviewing the activity and responsibilities within your organization, you can assign the tasks that best utilize the energy of the team. List out each activity that occurs within your daily workflow and the people who are available to complete each. Delegating tasks based on drive/energy versus simply role/responsibility can provide a greater level of productivity and velocity in completing each task.

Historical structures and roles provide accountability, but they do not always provide the necessary flexibility to handle changes within the market or industry stressors. Mapping out your activities provides you with a framework of action, but also helps to identify gaps (both in role/responsibility and in energy/drive). This map can provide a blueprint for personnel needs – for both hiring and re-organization – to best serve company objectives.

Too Busy Running Your Business to Build it?

Too Busy Running Your Business to Build it?

At TranStrategy Partners we’ve successfully worked with hundreds of business owners to help them focus their energy, and the energy of their staff, to plan for and grow their business.

Later we often hear clients say, “I wish I’d have done this sooner.”

Why didn’t they?

Most often, they were too busy. Yes, too busy running their business to build it.

Entrepreneurs have their hands full. In the freight brokerage business there is no end to the things a leader could be doing. You have to hire and fire. Deal with problem shipments and carriers. Manage billing, accounts receivable and carrier settlements.

Most leaders barely have time to service existing customers, much less sell new ones.

In the hustle and bustle of a typical day, taking time to consider what you want the business to become takes a back seat. When the action breaks, you want a break too.

We understand. We’re entrepreneurs too.

So how do you find time to plan and grow your business?

First, force yourself to set aside some time-maybe an hour or so. Put it on your calendar, and keep the appointment. Close the door. Turn off your phone. Eliminate all distractions, including thoughts about what else needs to get done or how you should have dealt with the most recent crisis.

Then answer just one question:

When my time here is done, what do I want my business to look like?

With this one step, you’ll learn two things:

1. How to make the time needed to work on your business
2. The desired state of your business-what you want it to be

There’s a lot more to do of course. Seeking some outside assistance comes in handy. Find someone who can take an impartial look at your company, assess its current state, and collaborate with you (and keep you accountable) in planning and implementing a strategy to move you toward that desired state.

Maximizing Marketing Productivity

Maximizing Marketing Productivity

Marketing on a (Time) Budget

Maximize Marketing Productivity without Disrupting Your Business

 

You’re busy. You get 800 emails and calls a day, have a constant tidal wave of paperwork flowing in and out… I get it. You don’t have time to spare to make sure you are driving traffic to your website or to check your emails’ open rates, or for that matter,  even have emails going out to your customers.

The primary deterrent from marketing is a lack of time. My customers consistently share they would like to put more effort into their website, customer emails and content but lack the time. I know what it’s like as a business owner to wear many hats and to place marketing last on the list of priorities. Many people think of marketing as a disruption to your business, but it doesn’t have to be. There is a way to market your business on a time budget. You can market your company without disrupting your business by following some simple suggestions to improve your reach and keep in better contact with your customers.

 

 

SET GOALS, AVOID THESE MISTAKES

First you want to lay a foundation to help you create a plan that will help save you time.

 

Step 1. Prioritize your goals

You HAVE to identify what your business goal is in order to avoid frivolous dollars and time in areas that don’t align with your end goal. For example, I work with some businesses who their goal is to grow their company by a dollar amount or by an increase in customer numbers. They would focus on different platforms and venues in order to reach more prospects than another company who is primarily concerned with customer retention and re-engagement. This step will help you focus on where you should spend your time and money and keep you from going down a road that will waste your time.

Step 2. What’s it worth to you?

Determine the value of each new customer and retaining customers. This helps you quantify how much you would be willing to spend in time or money to achieve your goal. If a new customer is worth $5,000 in revenue annually, spending $10 per new lead doesn’t seem out of proportion. It is helpful to compare your market budget in relation to your business goals so that you also have an idea of how to measure your results.

Step 3. Take a look back.

Which marketing tactics have been working? Sometimes you just need to take time to evaluate where your business is coming from currently or how you have found retention to work best in your current business. You will be able to identify the most successful pipelines for your business. This doesn’t mean you are going to abandon the other venues because you still need to nurture leads through social media advertising or email campaigns. It gives you insight on what is working and where you could maximize the results by putting more time and effort into those areas. This can save you time by doubling up your efforts in areas that have proven successful in the past.

Step 4. Identify resources.

This could be tools, a person, or a company to help you maximize your marketing efforts to reach your business goals quicker and more efficiently. Is there an employee who would be great at coming up with social media content? Or, maybe there is a better email marketing tool you could use to make it easier to generate campaigns and will give you better insight into how your emails are doing. You may decide an outside marketing service is necessary. I work primarily with companies who need part-time marketing support and don’t have the bandwidth in-house to tackle all their marketing needs. Or they have someone in-house but they are new to marketing and need some coaching and guidance to get them going.

Step 5. A plan of action and accountability.

You will need to have a game plan but then the discipline to follow through. It can be extremely helpful to have others help you stay accountable. This could be a monthly meeting with a co-worker to discuss marketing projects and progress or an outside marketing coach or professional you hire to assist you. Establish deadlines for each project to create some urgency.

Some people like worksheets so I have put together one you can use. This can be a good starting point to at least help you organize and prioritize where you want to start.

DOWNLOAD YOUR WORKSHEET

 

 

“The more you eliminate the inefficient use of information, the better it is for productivity.” – Mitch Kapor

 

 

NOW, HOW DO I FIND THE TIME?

You have a clear goal and plan. How are you going to execute it? What does that look like on a daily/weekly basis?

Now, the biggest barrier is overcoming our misconception that there isn’t any time to execute the plan you just put together.

 

BREAK UP YOUR GOAL into smaller tasks

Identify your top goal(s) and then decide how you can break that into projects or tasks that can scheduled out. For example, if you are looking to re-engage with customers who haven’t given you much business lately, this could be broken up into calling 5 customers a week or into sending them a monthly email. These individual tasks are more manageable and can be assigned out to others to help you achieve these steps.

CONNECT EACH DAY with your goal & tasks

We all need a system of connecting with our goals or else they won’t stay a priority. So, each week, and each day if possible, we can reconnect to our goals. By writing my goals daily on my agenda, it forces me to ask myself, “How are my priorities and actions today going to move me closer to my goals?” This literally only takes a minute or two each day and ensures I’m staying on track. Make a quick note in your agenda about what your overreaching goal is and it will give you the extra fire to tackle your day’s tasks.

(TIP – I don’t recommend putting them on the wall unless you are going to re-write it or update it each week. How many of us have a picture of artwork up in our office? And when is the last time you can remember looking at it? I certainly can’t remember the last time I looked at mine. That’s because once it is there for a while, your brain will ignore it. This is why putting your goals on the wall isn’t as effective in my opinion.)

TIME MANAGEMENT to prioritize your agenda

Time management is what you do when you prioritize your agenda for the day. The way you schedule your day is key to maximizing your productivity. If you aren’t scheduling your day, you are probably being pushed along by urgent matters that pop up rather than intentionally working on certain goals. My productivity increased dramatically by doing a daily agenda. The key is to just START and then continue doing a schedule each day until it becomes habit. Be realistic about how you structure your time and your day. The time of day that you schedule tasks can also make or break your plan. The wee hours of the morning are my prime time for doing creative work where you may find a later time more suited to you.

ATTENTION MANAGEMENT to minimize distractions

This is an essential skill for maximizing the few minutes you have allocated to marketing your company. Minimize distractions. According to University of Irvine study, it takes people and average of 23 minutes to get back on task after getting distracted. So, what we think will be a quick reply to an email can snowball into more and before we know it, we have spent all our allocated time. Obviously, things pop up that are unavoidable in your business. However, we can also let ourselves be distracted by tasks that are not urgent.

EAT THE FROG FIRST, preferably in the morning

What is the main marketing task you have been avoiding and know you need to do? Starting an article can be the hardest part for me. Once I get going, the creative juices start flowing and I have a great time. Scheduling this task early in the day and just starting by writing down a rough title and bullets gets me over the initial hump and the frog is eaten! Tackling a task you’ve been avoiding helps your overall mood and productivity and sets the tone for the day.

PUT YOUR PLAN into action!

Do it today!

– Establish a marketing meeting with your team
– Or, ask me how to maximize your marketing productivity!

Erika DeBlasi is the TranStrategy Partners’ Marketing Coach and has worked as a marketing executive in freight brokerage and financial services industries. She drives the marketing, branding, advertising and communication activities for a variety of companies in addition to providing a broad spectrum of marketing and communication training.
>> Schedule Your Complimentary Marketing Review with her

At the Cusp of Greatness

At the Cusp of Greatness

“Borders are always tricky, intriguing things.” -Daniel Quinn The Story of B

For many entrepreneurs, there are steps along the path to success that are more difficult than others. Whether the move from $3M to $10M, or from $20M to $50M or even the steps beyond $100M in revenue, the methodologies of each requires new thinking and a change in behavior.

The steps across these thresholds are either simple strides of confidence or great leaps of faith – often revealed in the truths of perspective. Approaching a fundamental shift in mindset is both uncomfortable and difficult to achieve and much is predicated on the power of one’s belief in the goal. Defining what $50M in revenue looks like (with personnel, technology and leadership) helps to define the actions necessary to reach $50M. The clearer the vision, the clearer the steps necessary to achieve it.

However, if the goal is ambiguous, like ‘more’ revenue and ‘better’ processes, the threshold becomes stickier, causing the leaders to get mired in contradictory priorities with a lack of both clarity and focus on the actions necessary to achieve it or even to know whether it is actually achieved.

Visions must be simple to express and impactful to receive. Often, the numbers themselves ($10M or $100M) serve only as a measurement. The true motivation behind the numbers can act as the catalyst and collaborative force in achievement:

  1. $10M in total revenue allows us to provide quality health care benefits and 401k options for our staff;
  2. $3M in gross margin allows us the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of 100 people served by the homeless shelter in our community;
  3. $50M in revenue guides us to support our business’ Feeding America and Blue Star Mothers initiatives;
  4. Our 30 employees place us as one of the top employers and ‘business of choice’ in our county

How do these numbers make a noticeable impact on actual lives? Answering that question brings realism to an otherwise economic discussion. Whatever the impact that you want to make, clear growth goals, guided by purpose, can meet both the extrinsic and intrinsic motivations in your people (and yourself).

Naming the Good that is expressed by the goal attainment becomes the driving force behind ‘why’ your business exists and the purpose it is poised to achieve. The ‘what’ you choose to do and the ‘how’ you choose to do it follow directly from the ‘why’. The ‘why’ provides the context that allows a common focus from everyone that accelerates the actions to bring about the reality of the vision.

Be clear on your vision, share that vision, show how the vision positively affects others and you will be able to move more confidently across challenging thresholds of growth towards a more impactful future.

The Value of Professional Development

The Value of Professional Development

Knowledge and skills development are vital to the health of any organization. We live in an information age. Therefore, an organization’s ability to manage and process information plays a key role in its overall success. The people within the organizations must have the skills to organize, disseminate and retain information.

Training is one of the chief methods of properly utilizing this intellectual capital. Every employee should have the opportunity to increase their knowledge and skill level in order to become more efficient, more effective, and more productive in their job. This produces many benefits for them personally as well as for the overall organization.

It is common for organizations to think of training strictly in terms of an on-boarding process for new employees. Although this is a valuable and necessary function of training, it should not stop there. Often times, employees are left to continue learning on their own – by watching other employees, asking questions, or through trial and error. The most effective organizations however, will provide some type of ongoing training, continuing education, or professional development program in order to maximize the employee’s potential.

Here are some typical benefits of a Professional Development (PD) program:
1. PD ensures that your employees maintain and enhance the knowledge and skills they need to deliver professional services to your customers, clients, and the community.

2. PD helps your employees stay relevant and up to date. The pace of change is faster today than it’s ever been. If you stand still, you get left behind. Therefore, it is mandatory that employees keep pace with the current trends, directions and standards in their industry.

3. PD allows employees to increase their knowledge base. As this happens, they become more effective. This, in turn, will help them advance in their careers by moving into new positions where they can lead, manage, and influence others in a positive way.

4. PD opens employees up to new ways of thinking. Experience is a great teacher but it often means continuing to do the same things in the same way. PD will help them discover new ideas and methodologies that may prove to be faster, more efficient, and even more cost effective.

5. PD will enhance a sense of team in your work environment. As people begin learning the same content, they begin thinking more cohesively, speaking the same language, and augmenting each other rather than miscommunicating and running over each other all the time.

6. PD will boost employee satisfaction. When employees can do their jobs more effectively, they grow more confident. This new level of confidence leads to an overall increased level of satisfaction with their job, which leads to an increased level of retention within your company.

7. When you offer PD opportunities, you are enhancing your overall reputation as an employer that cares about and invests in its workforce. Remember, your employees are your brand ambassadors. When they receive PD, they will reflect all that’s good about your organization.

8. Having a well-developed PD program will attract quality candidates. If applicants know there is the potential to raise their skill level and compensation at your company, you are more likely to attract top level candidates.

9. PD programs will help enhance your company’s culture. Along with creating a greater sense of team, continuing education exposes employees to new experiences and keeps them engaged in their work. This building of enthusiasm among staff will engender a sense of loyalty that greatly affects the work environment in a positive way.

10. PD programs can help the development of future leaders in your organization. If you are interested in the possibility of promoting within, helping people to grow through a professional development program can be a good way to see who rises to the top.

If you are unsure of how to develop a professional development program in your organization, here are a few ideas:

Coaching
Coaching involves a more experienced or skilled individual providing an employee with advice and guidance intended to help him or her gain new skills, improve performance and enhance the quality of his or her career. The hallmarks of coaching are that it is personalized and customized, that it has a specific business objective, and that it is usually accomplished one-on-one over a period of time.

Mentoring
Mentoring matches less experienced employees with more experienced colleagues through formal or informal programs. Formal mentoring programs can reduce turnover, enhance recruitment, and improve performance and the work environment.

Effective mentoring programs do the following:
• Match mentors and mentees based on skills and development needs.
• Outline and track goals.
• Designate minimum time commitments.
• Monitor the mentoring relationship.
• Hold both parties accountable.
• Link mentoring to talent management strategy and goals.
• Link mentoring to business strategy and goals.

The 9-Box Grid
The 9-box grid is an individual employee assessment tool that evaluates the employee’s current and potential levels of contribution to the organization. The grid is most commonly used in succession planning as a method of evaluating an organization’s talent pool and identifying potential leaders. For performance appraisal purposes, the 9-box grid provides a visual reference that can include appraisal and assessment data to allow managers to view employees’ actual and potential performance.

Cross-Training
Cross-training refers to training employees to perform job duties other than those normally assigned. Cross-training can be a short-term or ad hoc fix, or it can be an ongoing, planned process. Cross-training usually does not result in immediate advancement, but it does indicate that an employee is interested in learning new skills. This skill diversity may help him or her meet qualifications for future career advancement.

“Stretch” Assignments
On-the-job training projects and “stretch assignments” give employees a chance to learn while doing real work. Developmental assignments allow employees to develop new skills, knowledge and competencies necessary for higher-level positions. Here’s some things to keep in mind when using stretch assignments:
1) Identify a developmental experience that will challenge your team member in a new way.
2) Make sure the challenge and the employee’s skill levels align, so that there’s good flow.
3) Provide a rich context for the employee to grow.
4) Make sure that goals are clear and understood by both parties.

Here are some examples of stretch assignments:
• Manage a volunteer or intern
• Execute a new or important company project
• Participate in the company’s strategic planning process
• Turn around a failing project, department or operation
• Organize and lead an important company event or meeting
• Lead a high-profile initiative
• Conduct a customer-needs analysis
• Write a policy statement
• Facilitate change in the way a business or a process is conducted
• Fix a preexisting problem
• Evaluate a training program
• Join a team dealing with conflict
• Create a customer satisfaction survey
• Negotiate a new customer contract
• Re-launch a product or service that previously failed
• Lead people from different cultures, gender, racial or ethnic backgrounds
• Influence and oversee people or processes for which one has no direct authority

Job Enlargement and Job Enrichment
Job enlargement involves expanding the employee’s job by adding more tasks and duties, typically at the same level of complexity. Job enrichment builds more depth to an employee’s job through more control, responsibility and discretion.

Job Shadowing
Job shadowing requires more than just having an employee follow a colleague around all day. Shadowers view the organization from a different perspective and learn firsthand about the challenges facing workers in other departments. This perspective helps employees realize the impact their decisions have on other groups.

Job Rotation
Job rotation is the systematic movement of employees from job to job within an organization. Rotation programs may vary in size and formality. Though larger employers are more likely to invest in a formalized job rotation program, organizations of all sizes might consider implementing a job rotation program. Typically, formal rotation programs offer customized assignments to promising employees to give them a view of the entire business. Assignments usually run for a year or more.

Succession Planning
Succession planning identifies long-range needs and cultivates internal talent to meet those needs. Succession plans typically focus on a one- to three-year process of preparing employees—not preselecting them—for new roles in the organization.

Assessment Centers
An assessment center is not necessarily a physical site, as the term might suggest, but a program of tools and exercises designed to assess an employee’s or job candidate’s suitability in relation to a particular role. Centers may be used for selection or development purposes.

Corporate Universities
Corporate universities focus primarily on on-the-job skills, company-specific proprietary knowledge and branding, and certification. At a corporate university, the focus is on learning that will benefit the organization, not just the individual. Benefits of the corporate university format include strategic alignment with company goals, consistent quality and uniform messages that reach all learners. A corporate university is also a tangible symbol of the organization’s commitment to learning and growth.

When employees become more efficient and productive, your entire company becomes more productive. This allows for new innovations, bringing new strength to strategies, products and your company’s capacity to adopt new technologies and methods. All these factors will contribute to increasing stability, sustainability and your bottom line.