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Their complaints may have varying degrees of merit, but your customers are more likely to remain your customers if they can air their grievances.
With everything that’s going on in our world these days, I’m trying to go out of my way to just plain be nice to people, especially when they don’t expect it. Letting cars merge in even when I’m in a hurry. Holding a door open a few seconds longer to accommodate someone coming behind me. Being especially courteous to service workers – even when their own demeanor is less than pleasant.
These things don’t cost me a dime, and they don’t cut into my day in any significant way. But, like someone wise once told me, you never know what impact you’ve had on someone’s life. You might be brightening a stranger’s bad day with a little unexpected kindness.
This isn’t being a pushover or a Pollyanna. It’s common courtesy, something that isn’t practiced as much as it used to be. And depending on how my own day is going, it’s harder some days than others.
I try to maintain this attitude with my customers, too, whether I’m responding to an email or a phone call or a post on social media. Here, too, it’s easier some days than others. But I know that the way I respond to negativity has direct bearing on the issue’s outcome. So here are seven things I try to keep in mind when a red flag goes up.
I read each communication carefully. Then I go over it again. If it’s something that triggers a negative reaction in me, I put it aside – but not for long. With all that we have to read these days, it’s possible to skim over something and not completely grasp what’s being said. So I make sure I understand the email or tweet or whatever.
I reply as quickly as is possible. That doesn’t always mean immediately. If I hope to manage my time wisely, I can’t keep stopping and starting when I’m in the middle of a larger task. So I don’t look at emails or Facebook frequently during those periods because I know I’ll get sucked in. Your customers can’t expect you to be monitoring your communications channels constantly, and will understand if they don’t hear from you right away.
I admit when I’m wrong. It’s amazing how the phrases, “I’m sorry about…” and “We apologize for…” can diffuse an otherwise unpleasant situation that could escalate without those simple combinations of words. Sometimes, that’s all my customer wants to hear. Even if there’s some kind of action I have to take, that initial admission of fault on my part starts that process off on the right foot and can soften my customer’s reaction.
I listen carefully if it’s a phone or face-to-face conversation. I can tell when someone’s not really listening to me. Instead, they’re formulating their response before I’ve even finished my comments. I try very hard not to do this to my customers, though it’s natural to start thinking about how I’m going to reply. But it’s important to get the whole message, since sometimes the main point is wrapped up in the last sentence. A few seconds of dead air aren’t going to hurt, and your customers will appreciate that you actually heard them.
I take whatever action I can. Good listening skills go a long way toward keeping customers happy. Sometimes, all they want is to be heard. But I try to follow up and fix what I can fix as quickly as possible.
I know when to fold ‘em. Unfortunately, there are folks out there who just want to stir up trouble. It’s not too hard to identify them. If you’ve been involved in social media for a while, you’ll be especially good at recognizing them. If someone wants to start a flame war online, tell them politely when you’re withdrawing and why. If you have a hot customer who may have a valid gripe, try to take it offline or to some kind of direct message.
I use my CRM application to document many kinds of customer interactions. This is one of the 10 best benefits of using a Customer Relationship Management solution. Besides the fact that I can check in on social media streams without leaving the software or website, I can keep good notes on especially good and bad communications right in the customer’s profile. That way, I can quickly see what’s happened with a given customer in the past – as can anyone else who has permission to view parts of my content.
Do I always succeed in my attempts to diffuse negative situations? No. I’m human. But of all the skills we as salespeople need to have, this one can go a long way toward retaining customers.
Don’t let leads slip away without being introduced to you. Make it easy for them to register.
We’ve all been there. You come across a website that sells products or services that you think you might be interested in someday. Or maybe you see a white paper or ebook that looks intriguing. You decide to give up personal information about yourself so you’ll be placed on a subscriber list and receive information about new offerings, special sales, etc.
But the process of registering is so onerous that you bail halfway through. The company just lost a prospect simply because it didn’t follow a few common-sense rules about soliciting information from visitors.
Now take a look at your own website. Are you guilty of some of these infractions? Do you:
Some of these things may seem minor enough that they wouldn’t deter a determined prospect. But they can. Why take a chance on losing what could be a sure sale? Make your website registration process as seamless, polished, and trouble-free as you possibly can.
Stock images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
You’ve invested time and energy in a blog for your business. But are you making some of the most common mistakes with it?
I don’t like to use the word “mistake” when it comes to creating an online presence. What doesn’t work for one company may serve another well. There are no real rules for success, no magic formulas.
But I’ll share with you five of many unwritten “rules” (again, I hesitate to make it sounds so cut-and-dried) of good blogging. Only I’ll do it in reverse. Here are some of the things bloggers do that can work against them.
Disclaimer: I don’t use this blog space to advance my own business goals. I write these posts simply to pass along sales, social media, and CRM management advice that I’ve picked up over the years. I’m not providing a good model in terms of visual layout and frequency, but I do give it my all when it comes to my words here.
So here, in no particular order, are some of the things that keep bloggers—even those who work hard on their content and presentation—from getting the results that they could if they made some simple changes.
#1: They hype their companies’ products too much.
Selling is for your website, though you should be selling one thing on your blog: yourself. Blogs are great outlets for establishing yourself as an expert in your field, which reflects well on your brand. They’re not showcases for your products and services, though you should certainly provide links to your main website on every page.
There are times when your company’s offerings may be brought into a discussion. It’s certainly all right to do a brief announcement when your company has a major product release. If a reader asks you directly about something you produce and/or sell, of course you should respond. But always direct the audience to your website for all of the details.
#2: They post text block after text block, with no variety of content types.
Your blog is the one place in your world of online engagement where you have absolute control over what appears there. So use this opportunity to get something on that page 3-4 times a week. You don’t have to create a lengthy discourse every time. In fact, you shouldn’t. Break up those paragraphs of content—a format that is perfectly appropriate for some topics—with other presentation types.
Can you say the same thing in a Q&A or FAQ? Do so sometimes. This short attention span world loves those. Is there a cartoon or photo that says something you want to express, an idea or concept that’s related to your industry? Is there breaking news about your type of products and work? How about audio and video – can you use those well?
#3: They don’t spend enough time polishing titles.
You have about 10 seconds—max—to grab your audience’s attention. You’ve probably heard this before, but I’ll reinforce it: Your title is critical. It doesn’t have to be particularly clever (though that doesn’t hurt), but your potential readers need to know how they’re going to benefit from reading the actual post.
#4: They don’t mind their Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Getting found is the name of the game. And for that to happen, you do need to do your research and learn about keywords and their placement if you don’t already have a good understanding of SEO. If you have a link to your blog from your website, which you should, some people will find you that way. But you also want to attract people who don’t know enough about you to visit your website.
#5: They give up too easily.
When I first started studying up on content marketing, I remember reading that it could take six months to start seeing results. Six months?!, I remember thinking. I know now that that may be a conservative estimate. Know that it’s likely you’ll be plugging away for a period of months without seeing much return.
But keep at it. Make your content creation fit into your week, knowing that it’s not a moneymaker – yet. Your persistence may well pay off.
Nope. It lives on in CRM solutions. Is yours doing the job?
“Contact management” used to be a thing. It was the basis for numerous desktop software products. Salespeople (primarily) used them to maintain databases of contact records, track meetings and other scheduled events, and store notes about interaction with customers.
Those databases of contact records consisted primarily of, well, contact details. Addresses and phone numbers and any other pertinent information gleaned through relationships with customers. They required constant updating. Even then, their “knowledge” was limited to what the user entered, and no more.
You know what I’m going to say next because I’ve written about this before. Today’s Customer Relationship Managers (CRM) are the old contact managers on steroids. They’re either entirely cloud-based or a hybrid of desktop and web. And like the name says, they’re designed to help you define, track, and improve your relationships with your customers. And to be a more successful salesperson.
Detailed, Thorough Overviews
Are you using a CRM solution? If so, you know what I’m talking about when I refer to the customer profile. Other types of software/websites might refer to this as a customer record. It’s similar to the contact detail section in the old contact managers, but address/phone/email is a minor element of the content.
See if your current CRM system does all of this. If not, or if you’re not yet using one of these essential sales tools, look for these profile features once you start shopping around.
A central dashboard. You might call this a home page. It’s simply the first thing you see when you log in to your CRM software. The specifics vary depending on what you’re using, but the best systems are highly visual and easy-to-digest, containing information like:
Comprehensive contact management. If you have email addresses for individuals or URLs for companies, you should be able to enter them and have your CRM system automatically search the web for any contact—and other—details it can find. The best software even pulls in activity streams from your contacts’ social networks.
Once you’ve created a profile, you should be able to see everything related to the individual or company within that one view — tasks, opportunities, notes, email, etc. Adding new entries should be a simple operation.
Integration with popular email clients like Gmail. It doesn’t make any sense to have to leave your profiles to send and receive email, since so much of your customer-facing work involves online messaging.
An audit trail. That’s what accountants call it, anyway. This is simply a continual log of changes made to the system, and by whom. And when.
Document management. You know that you have mountains of documents to manage in your job, so it goes without saying that they should be easily incorporated from wherever they reside (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.) into your CRM solution.
A customizable framework. Businesspeople demand customizability in any kind of productivity application, and CRM systems are no exception. The best solutions let you make numerous kinds of modifications to your working screens.
So, no, contact management isn’t dead. It’s just more dynamic, visual, and comprehensive than ever before.
Stock image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
You don’t have to create a lengthy tome to spell out your marketing plan. These days, briefer is better.
Your company, large or small, probably created a business plan when it launched. If it didn’t, it’s not too late to develop one. You can read a book or use a template to understand what should be included. One of the best resources comes from Palo Alto Software, which started selling business plan software a couple of decades ago, and now hosts a website whose information can get you started.
If you were employed by your company when its plan was formulated, you probably had a hand in the section on market definition and analysis, and marketing strategy. Whether or not you were, now would be a good time to dust off your business plan and focus on that section.
Why? To condense it. Edit it. Update it and hack away at it until it’s been boiled down to one page.
Why? Because today, the average attention span of human beings has dropped below that of a goldfish.
Why? I think you all know the answer to that: the internet and social media. We’re used to getting our information in small, quickly-digested bites now. By condensing your marketing plan to one page, you’re increasing the likelihood that it will be read in its entirety by your potential audience, which probably consists of:
If you don’t have a marketing plan or just want to start fresh, here’s what I would recommend including. Provide answers to these questions. And for the sake of brevity, follow Twitter’s character-limit guidelines.
Once you’ve answered all of these questions (and learned more about condensing your own writing than you ever thought you’d want to), go back to the top of the document and write an overall summary of the rest of the document (you can go over the Twitter limit for this, but not any more than you have to).
Wanna know a shortcut/practice tool? Look back over the last year and write a marketing plan for what was already done. You may be able to tweak that and use it for the next 12 months. And keep tweaking. Like a business plan, a marketing plan is a living, evolving document.
Not yet using a CRM solution, or having trouble interesting the boss or your team? Here’s some ammunition.
Finding the right software or web-based solution for the office can be a challenge – especially when it’s going to require an ongoing financial commitment or a significant outlay of cash at the start.
If you’re working on your own or you’re on a sales staff that is not using a CRM application (or is using the wrong one), you may be losing business because you don’t know:
Yes, it’s that important.
I’ve been using Customer Relationship Management applications (CRM) for over two decades now. And I can’t imagine being able to function without one as a salesperson any more than a writer can do his or her job without a word processor.
Here are some of the objections you might be getting, and the reality behind them:
We already use Outlook for mail and scheduling and contact management. What more do we need?
Outlook is great. Many professionals live in it. But it is not designed to build and track customer relationships.
They’re too complicated. We don’t have time to choose the right one and learn to use it.
Simply not true. Web-based sales solutions have come so far in 20 years. It is true that users will have a learning curve of sorts, but if you’ve never seen one of these applications in action, you can’t understand how intuitive they are. You’ll want to spend some time together—as a team—learning how and when to use it. If you’re working alone, these applications have lots of online support to get you started.
Our team will spend too much time monkeying with updating the application and lose valuable selling time.
You may be thinking of the old desktop-based contact managers. That objection had some validity where they were concerned. The software wasn’t smart enough or connected enough to know anything that you didn’t tell it. You had to type in all of the information that made up contact profiles. Take copious notes every time you “touched” a customer. And depending on the reliability of your office network and the networking capabilities of the software, sharing information with everyone in the company who needed it may have been problematic.
Many salespeople got data entry fatigue, finding that they were spending more time updating their records than cultivating customers.
Today’s CRM solutions have excellent flexibility, connectivity, and smarts. Thanks to the internet, a lot of the details you have to track can be found and pulled in automatically. You will still have to document your interaction with customers, but there are tools built in to help you do so. A good CRM application will help you create comprehensive profiles and share select subsets of those profiles with departments or individuals who need them.
We don’t like the sharing aspect of CRM applications. Customer service doesn’t need to see our meeting notes and personal information about customers. Production doesn’t need to see a customer’s purchase history or their credit limit. And the boss doesn’t want to risk having any of his or her input seen by practically anybody.
Security has always been—and will always be—an issue with networks. And the internet is the biggest one of all. What I can say is that the developers of CRM solutions are more concerned than even you are about the safety of their sites. They follow state-of-the-art security protocols and they build in tools to help the administrator assign strict access rights to all users.
Can’t we just spend more time learning about our customers by following them and interacting with them on social media?
That’s one of the biggest selling points of CRM solutions. The best ones actually provide ways to see customers’ social streams from within the application itself, isolating the posts and tweets and updates that are pertinent, the ones that tell you something about who the customers are, what their problems are, what interests them, what annoys them, etc.
Don’t give up on the whole idea of Customer Relationship Management websites because of the objections you may hear from individuals who probably don’t know as much as you do about the benefits — or who have had a bad experience with a particular site. See for yourself. Look around. Take advantage of free trials and/or get demos. And let me know what you find.
One is silver and the other’s gold.
If you’ve ever had a daughter in Brownies or Girl Scouts, you probably remember that song. That sentiment—reach out to new people, but cherish your long-time friends—could apply to your relationships with your customers. Besides the fact that it’s much more expensive to cultivate a prospect than it is to keep a customer, it’s just good business practice and good human relations. Be good to your existing customers.
How do you do that? Here are some things I’ve tried that had varying amounts of success.
Treat the honeymoon period with care. Start off on the right foot with new customers. You don’t have to send flowers, but do send a handwritten note thanking them for their business. Make sure that the order is correct and packed carefully and smartly. Consider a one-time shipping upgrade. If you have hundreds of customers, not all of this may be realistic, but try to at least do the handwritten note part, or have a standard little packet that can be slipped in with that first shipment addressed specifically to new customers.
Keep educating customers throughout your relationship. Your products certainly come with easy-to-understand instructions (if required). Don’t let your education efforts end there. If you don’t already, create and post content like:
Be sociable and helpful on social networks. I’ve talked about “social selling,” before, about how it may be good in theory, but I believe it’s unrealistic and often not fruitful in practice. But do find the experts in your field and follow them on Twitter and LinkedIn. If there are forums that deal with your industry, evaluate them and participate if they look good.
Make sure that your own social streams and blog are kept up-to-date. You look shaky if they’re not. Comment on comments. As I’m sure I’ve said before, your social activity should do two things: Establish you as an expert and establish you as a human being. It’s possible to do both, but avoid being overly familiar with prospects.
Do unexpected follow-ups. Customers are accustomed to being contacted at regular intervals, like after a purchase, on their birthday, near seasonal discount time, etc. Surprise them once in a while and contact them out of the blue. Lay in a supply of inexpensive promotional items and drop one in the mail with your business card when you haven’t heard from them for awhile. You might include a link to an ebook or some other helpful resource. Don’t try to pitch them; just let them know you thought about them. You never know what might trigger a sale.
Create exclusive sales events. And make them truly exclusive. Nothing like inviting customers to a “special” sale, and then having them see the same prices on your website.
Bow out gracefully. If you have a customer that’s so screamingly dissatisfied with your products or services that they send an email or call and say they’ll never darken your virtual door again, acknowledge their exit. Thank them for their patronage, apologize (if something was indeed your fault), and tell them you’ll be glad to see them again should they return. Get them off of your frequent email list if they’re on it, and make sure the sales team is alerted. You can occasionally—gently—let them know you’re still there, but give them a chance to breathe.
Every business welcomes new customers, and you should certainly put forth a lot of effort in cultivating them, but take—at least—equal care of your faithful buyers.
It’s probably on your low-priority list, but maybe you should bump it up a bit.
I recently looked up the phone number for a family that lived across the street from mine when I was growing up. I was startled to learn that it was the same as it was…well…quite a few years ago. Their area code had changed because of population growth and shifts, but the main number was the same as it was in the…well, 20th century, at least.
We’ve all had to do a lot of editing in our paper or electronic address books because of cell phones, a mobile workforce, and ever-changing email addresses. And that’s just your personal mailing list. What about the one(s) you maintain for work? When was the last time you combed through them?
I saw a study recently that I can’t put my hands on right now, but it reported that more than 20 percent of the entries on the typical business mailing list become obsolete every year.
Old Mailing Lists=Bad Things
You probably learned about some of the changes through email bouncebacks and returned paper correspondence. But you undoubtedly still have many contacts on your lists that have changed jobs or email addresses that you don’t know about. This can cause several kinds of problems. For example, if your contact at a given company has moved on, his or her replacement may still be getting emails and paper correspondence addressed to someone else, which may be getting tossed or deleted.
That individual who moved on may have taken at a position at a company that would be happy to do business with you, but your missives aren’t getting through anymore.
Old mailing lists can just make you look bad. Careless. Out of touch. And they can rob you of potential sales opportunities. So follow up when you get a bounced email or returned mail. If a previously regular customer has gone silent, send a friendly handwritten note. Consider doing an opt-in campaign–offer something of value here, like a webinar recording–so you can start fresh.
Filling in the Gaps
Some of the individuals and/or companies that you remove from your list simply aren’t good prospects anymore. So at least once a year, you should be editing your mailing lists and adding on to them. Here are some ideas for doing that:
You get the idea. You could probably add five more of your own in the next five minutes. Attract the right prospects and customers with value, quality, and the possibility of solutions to their problems, and you’ll find yourself with a more fruitful mailing list. Until next year.
Take advantage of your down time this summer.
Unless you sell in an industry that’s really hopping in the summer, you’re probably looking at three months of slow sales. I don’t have a study to back this up, but I imagine this is a fairly common phenomenon for salespeople. At the very least, your prospects and customers are taking long weekends. They’re either getting ready for their vacations or recovering from them. Or they’re gazing out their windows at a glorious summer day and not answering your voicemail.
So what do you do? Keep at it? Send that email for a fourth time and try once again to come up with a phone message that will get their attention? Start dropping in on local customers? Announce a blowout sale on social media and hope to get some takers?
That last one isn’t a bad idea, actually. We’re only halfway through the year, so businesspeople aren’t necessarily panicking about the budget yet. You could consider shedding some of those items that aren’t selling well, and at the same time, telling your audience that you’re trying to make room for fall’s new products.
If you sell and market technology, like I do, that’s a different story (unless you deal in hardware). Software can be discounted, but cloud-based applications generally have a fixed monthly subscription fee. Look at the offers you make at other times of the year when sales are slumping and see what you can do.
There are other ways to use your bonus time this summer that can have impact on your performance and productivity. For one thing, take a vacation yourself. Workers don’t do that as often as they used to. And when they do, they’re still plugged in to the office, so their relaxation is scattered. (There are studies to back this up.)
Are you as up to speed on your company’s products and services as you could be? Think about re-educating yourself if not. Learn what you can and write some blog posts, Q&As, tutorials, etc. Put things in your own words. Writing about something is one of the best ways to learn it. You might even want to put them online somewhere.
Clean up your CRM files
I’ve found that summer is a good time to focus on my CRM solution and its voluminous data. When you were working at top speed last spring to get as much done as you could before your customers took off for Bimini or Switzerland or wherever, you may have let your regular maintenance slide.Here are some suggestions: See if they might work for you.
While you’re completing specific cleanup tasks in your CRM solution, ask yourself these questions:
Is this the best application for my needs?
Am I using it as effectively as I could?
What additional information can I supply/retrieve?
Depending on the answers to these questions, you may want to invite your sales team to have an informal discussion about your choice of CRM systems. Making the transition to another is a royal pain, but limping along with an application that isn’t right for you and isn’t working as hard as you do isn’t a good option.
Enjoy the summer! I’ll still be here.
Stock images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Instagram isn’t for everyone, but if you haven’t at least explored it for business use, you should.
These days, visuals are a must. Your content marketing strategy undoubtedly includes the use of photos and videos. Maybe you embed how-to clips on your website or blog. You might regularly post topical pictures on your social media streams. Perhaps you even have a YouTube channel.
Why would you need Instagram?
You may not.
According to recent statistics, the site has over 400 million active monthly accounts. Its “per-follower engagement rate,” though, a number that reflects something about how active users are in interacting with brands, actually beat Facebook and Twitter in April 2016 quite handily.
Simplicity and Usability
Instagram is really quite a simple site. Designed for mobile access, it’s without the news feeds and ads and links to navigation controls and anything else that isn’t needed. There’s a horizontal toolbar displaying five icons at the bottom of the home page and a few other buttons found within.
Tap on one of the main icons, and your smartphone turns into a camera. After you’ve taken the shot or recorded a video, you can play with its settings (filters, brightness, etc.) and write a caption (add hashtags for visibility and categorization). You can tag people and places, and pinpoint their locations on a map.
Where Content Goes
Instagram content has two primary uses. You can post it on other sites and you can create a picture book for your audience to browse.
A while back, I created an Instagram account just to check it out. I posted a picture of my dog. That was it. In a few days, I had three followers (not canine-related). Why? Because for whatever reason, a few businesses had searched for my business. And they must have liked my dog.
If your company has a lot of visual content to share (and someone has enough extra time), it doesn’t hurt to have a presence on Instagram. Its no-frills approach may be appealing to people who just want to see who you are and what you do without a lot of extraneous noise.
Instagram can help you promote your brand. You might also be more likely to post casual or even humorous content here, more behind-the-scenes stuff. It’s not buttoned-down like LinkedIn, and it’s not the free-for-all that Facebook is.
Making a Plan
If you decide that you want to make Instagram a part of your marketing/social media strategy, be sure you know upfront:
So look around a bit on Instagram. Are your competitors there, and how are they using the space? Do you think your customers will notice if you’re not there? There are a lot of things to think about before committing, but you’ll make a better decision once you’ve immersed yourself in the culture for a time.
Stock images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net