You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
No, I’m not suggesting you give your readers money. You have other things of value to share.
‘Tis the season, right? Generosity abounds this time of year. You’re probably in the process of sending cards and gifts to friends and business associates. Maybe you’ve given your customers an end-of-year bonus in the form of a special sales or discount.
You’re giving money to the newspaper carrier. Tipping a little more at restaurants. Remembering all the people who were good to you throughout the year.
Being Good Through Your Blog
When you think about ways you can be good to customers, your blog probably doesn’t jump to mind first. But there are ways you can use your blog as a vehicle for giving. And anything you do to help people through your online content generally doesn’t go unnoticed. It becomes a part of your brand, your corporate culture, your social media persona. Some people will remember you for it – maybe when they’re looking to buy what you’re selling.
Being aware of the opportunities for generosity does something else for you: It can help you flesh out your blog’s editorial calendar so you don’t feel so rushed to come up with an idea for a post at the last minute. If you find you like one or more of these ideas, you can schedule that kind of content regularly.
So here are some ways you can share the wealth in your blog (without literally sharing your wealth).
Include Curated Content
You’ve undoubtedly heard of the concept. The phrase, “curated content” simply refers to collections of links to pages that the reader might find interesting. Come up with a theme every month. If you sell real estate, for example, you might give your readers six links to articles about getting a home ready to sell. Be sure to provide attribution. That is, give written credit to the source of the information. You can be assembling such collections as you do your own web-browsing. Set up theme-based folders, so that your work is half done by the time you start the post.
Suggest Influencers to Follow
The word “influencer” gets thrown around a lot, but it’s apt in some cases. Who do you follow on Twitter? On Facebook? Your readers may not know as much as you do about who your industry leaders are. So share that insight with them. Again, you’re establishing yourself as someone in the know and enhancing your own reputation while you hold others up.
If you do a lot of writing, you may get tired of the sound of your own voice sometimes. I’m not suggesting that your readers do, too, but it’s always good to mix things up a bit. Try to score brief phone interviews with industry leaders, as far up on the food chain as you can. If you have trouble rounding up subjects for your interviews, you could even call on people in your own company to talk about their particular area of expertise. We’re always being told to “humanize” in our corporate communications online. Here’s one way to do that.
This is the greatest gift you can give your readers. It’s what so many of us spend a lot of our time doing online — even if it’s just browsing Facebook because we need something to lighten our problematic mood. Your company makes products or provides services that at their core are solutions to common problems. I know I’ve harped on this before, but help your readers find their solutions — even if it doesn’t necessarily mean a sale for you. Like I said before, people remember people who helped them. And you do want to be remembered — especially at buying time.
Macy’s or Gimbels?
Remember the scene in “Miracle on 34th Street” when the Santa character sends a Macy’s customer to Gimbels for a purchase? Did the customer go to Gimbels to get what Macy’s didn’t have? Probably. But did the customer think of Macy’s first in the future? Most likely.
That’s the kind of thing that can happen when you’re generous with customers, when you’re genuinely thinking about their needs. So find your balance here. I certainly don’t advocate chasing customers away. But the more you can find ways to give–even through something as simple as your blog–the more you’ll give prospects another reason to buy from you.
Stock images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Unless your seasonal business picks up this time of year, you may be looking to fill your time about now.
It’s been an eventful couple of weeks. The long-suffering Chicago Cubs won the World Series. The United States elected a new President. After a warmer-than-usual early November, fall has finally made an appearance in those parts of the country where snow falls and temperatures drop drastically.
And the holiday season is about to shift into full gear. Unless you’re one of the companies that takes in a good percentage of its revenue in the fourth quarter, you may be finding that prospects and customers simple don’t have time to see you, or that they’re not in a buying mood. Still, there’s plenty you can do to stay occupied. Here are some suggestions.
Take inventory of your customers. If you’re using a CRM application, this will be easier, but it can still be a time-consuming task if your customer list numbers in the dozens or hundreds. Look at each individual or company’s profile and determine which of them should be:
Take inventory of your biggest successes and failures during the last year. “Failure” is kind of a strong word, but you know what I mean. Analyze those sales that didn’t go so well and try to determine why. What would you do differently next time? If you’re a sales manager and a team member let you down, this might be a good time to ask him or her to do the same exercise. Or maybe ask the whole team and schedule a session to share ideas.
Take stock of your target market. Are you hitting it? Are there avenues you haven’t explored that might be worth looking at? Should you be doing more upselling and cross-selling?
Take your very best customers out to lunch at a nice restaurant. Again, this depends entirely on the nature of your business, the size of your customer base, and your geographical proximity to them. Some salespeople use meals as sales tools, managing to steer the conversation to a pitch eventually. Don’t do that at a year-end thank-you meal. Your customers may be pleasantly surprised.
Take some time off. If you truly can’t find things to occupy your time, take a day off here and there to recharge and tick some items off your holiday to-do list.
Stock images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
We’re barely into November. Why worry about end-of-year customer relationship tasks?
If you’re like me, the end of December comes awfully fast after the last trick-or-treater has left the door. Actually, a good time to start planning for your annual customer appreciation duties is when the kids go back to school. But if you haven’t begun, now’s the time.
The end of each year provides a natural break. One year is ending and another will soon begin. Time to take stock of what’s transpired in 2016, thank those customers who’ve been good to you this year, and remind the others that you’re still here – and you’re hoping to see them in 2017.
Here’s what you might try to do before the calendar flips over to December.
For your best customers:
This probably isn’t realistic if you have thousands of customers, but send a brief handwritten note (on a Thank You card, not a holiday card) and thank them for their business. How many times have you gotten something like this from a company you patronize? Not very often, I’d imagine. Try to send these in November, before they get lost in a blizzard of other holiday mail.
Everyone loves free stuff. If you can swing the cost of the items and the postage, send an inexpensive promotional item.
For the rest of your customers:
If it’s realistic time-wise, try, try, try to personalize your greeting a bit, even if you’re only signing your name to a pre-printed card
For hot prospects:
At least send a holiday card. If you have a lot of leads, even a pre-printed postcard will suffice. Remind them that you remember them, and that you hope they’ve had a successful year.
Consider sending a discount coupon to be used before the end of the year. If you have unsold inventory that you’d like to unload, you might have a private sale in late November or early December – especially if you sell items that people could use as last-minute gifts.
If you absolutely, positively don’t have time for holiday interaction, wait until January, when the holidays are over and everyone is a little blue about the weather and the lack of parties, gifts, joyful greetings, etc.
Come to think of it, this might even be a better idea than competing with all of the other noise around the holidays. Consider doing all of the things I mentioned above, only with a “Happy New Year” theme. Your card/gift/greeting will be more likely to be noticed, and your customers will have resumed a more normal work schedule. So if you’re hoping that your thoughtfulness might trigger a few more sales, January could be a better time.
Because we live in a country where many different holidays are celebrated about this time of year, you might be uncomfortable deciding how your greeting should read. I still think it’s a good idea to acknowledge that it’s a special time of year for most people, and to show your appreciation for your customers’ business. You don’t have to mention any holiday if you prefer. Your seasonal good wishes will be appreciated by many, so I think it’s worth the effort.
Unless you can go all in, don’t. Here’s why I think a Twitter presence is so important.
Written communication used to be so, well, wordy. Before email and social media, we wrote letters. Or at the very least, memos. We penned multiple paragraphs because we were usually expounding on multiple topics or really fleshing out one core theme.
Postcards were the exception. They were the closest thing we had to tweets and posts back in the days when we used pens and typewriters instead or keyboards and styluses to express thoughts and ideas.
I’ve shared the common wisdom about how to use Twitter in past blogs posts. You know. The standard advice like:
But let’s think about our reasons for crafting those 140-character messages. Why are you on Twitter (besides the fact that it’s there)? Here’s why I am.
It’s one of the ways I establish an online persona. Self-publishing—and that’s really what Twitter is—has made it possible for everyone to present themselves to the world without being interviewed for a newspaper article or taking out an ad. Anyone with an internet connection can be seen and heard (which is not always such a good thing, we’ve all discovered). Twitter has many rules and boundaries, but I like that about it. We all have the same opportunity to carve out an identity, to broadcast news and views that were previously limited to friends and business associates in meetings, on phone calls, at lunch, etc.
I learn things. Twitter is one of my daily news sources. I can read through my feed and absorb information about local, national, and world events in a way that’s different from reading a newspaper (which I still do, by the way). I can see what other people think is important, and how followers are reacting to that.
I “meet” people I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to otherwise. What more can you say? We’ve become so accustomed to having access to words and images from people around the globe that it’s hard to remember when we couldn’t. No one is choosing that content and placing it in a publication. We’re hearing it from the horse’s mouth.
I like its brevity. Twitter forces me to distill what I’m trying to convey in far fewer words than I would normally use. Many people use the freedom of the internet to bloviate at such length that you can hardly even follow their train of thought. Twitter makes us work at choosing words carefully.
I feel like I’m part of a community. Many years ago, a co-worker dropped a magazine clipping on my desk. It was written by a man who was listening to a symphony on the radio. He had his own recording of it and had heard it before, but it felt different this time because he knew that other people were enjoying it at the same time.
That’s a good analogy for the difference between keeping a journal and tweeting. We might look back at a particular insight we expressed or an article we saved in our own private journal. But like the man listening to the radio, it just feels different because you know other people can read it and respond to it.
It helps me further establish my business brand. No one has to read my profile to know something about what I do and what interests me. They can tell a lot from reading the tweets I post. I don’t try to sell on my Twitter feed, but I could. Some people have a knack for crafting a social stream that skillfully blends the professional and the personal. I would encourage you to work toward that kind of combination if you do use Twitter for sales and promotion. Your customers and prospects are looking for that. If they simply want product information, they can go to your website.
You probably share my interest, too, in getting feedback. Twitter provides that. I may not always like it or agree with it, but I don’t post online just to “hear” the sound of my own voice. Comments, retweets, and all of the opportunities for learning and interaction that Twitter provides enhance my ability to do my job well. And that’s a good reason to be active on it right there.
In a word, yes. If you’re using your social networks wisely.
Every business gets complaints, through a variety of channels. If you’re a big enough company, you probably have a dedicated customer service phone number. Maybe you can only staff an email address. Depending on the nature of your products, you may deal with individual customers face-to-face. And there are still people who take the time to sit down, write a letter, and dispatch it through the U.S. Mail.
But are you using your social media channels effectively to support your customers? Some small businesses don’t want to open the floodgates, so they forego taking this route. Your customers, though, will take note of this. If you make it difficult for people to register complaints, the problems don’t go away. You’ve just given your buying public one more ax to grind.
So consider finding ways to make yourself as accessible as possible. These days, it’s practically a given that you’re available online, primarily through Twitter, but you may be able to set up a suitable customer service presence on Facebook. Customers who have a bad experience with one of your products or services won’t necessarily write you off – if they feel their concerns were heard and addressed. And that can translate into repeat purchases.
Here are some suggestions.
Make the most private venues the most accessible. Do you prefer that people call or email? Then make that information and those links stand out on the Contact Us and Customer Service pages of your website. Do acknowledge that customers can also reach you through social media, but don’t make those addresses as visible.
Create separate accounts for customer service. Your primary accounts will likely consist of your company’s name. Your customer service account names should contain your company name and words like, “help,” “support,” or, “customer service. This is an absolute must. You want to keep one access point available simply for your own marketing purposes and for general comments from the public. Don’t mix the two. If you put your actual account names/handles on your websites, business cards, etc., make sure to indicate which should be contacted for support (even if it’s ridiculously obvious).
Divert conversations to private areas whenever possible. Both Twitter and Facebook have private messaging capabilities. You could, in fact, ask that individuals with complaints use those first. But not everyone will. So when someone leaves a public message that you’d like to take private, write a tweet or post acknowledging that you received their tweet or post, and ask if there’s a way to communicate off the main site. You don’t want the audience to think you’ve ignored that tweet or post
Note: If someone posts a common question, it makes sense to answer it publicly where appropriate. You may save others from having to ask a question that’s been answered.
Make sure that all of your staff involved in social customer service understand their duties and responsibilities precisely. You don’t want some messages to get answered twice and others not at all.
Be as timely and as personal as you can. This goes without saying. If you’re understaffed and/or overtweeted, you’ll have to decide for yourself which approach is better: a quick, canned acknowledgement with the promise of an eventual personalized response, or a delayed answer.
I can’t tell you how you can quantify the ROI you get from assigning resources to social customer service. I’m not sure anyone really can. But if you commit to this, give it your absolute best effort. Or stick to email.
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.