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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
Your company’s reputation is a part of its brand. Yes, you have your consistent color/text/logo scheme on your website and blog, your sales and marketing materials and documents. Your values and your corporate culture are known to your customers. You provide useful products and/or services to your customers. You have a strong online presence and word-of-mouth referrals.
But the internet is a big place, and it never keeps its mouth shut. You can’t hope to know everything that’s being said about you, good and bad.
But you need to try. Preserving your company’s reputation is critical.
Going It Alone
There are companies that do nothing but reputation management. They exist to help maintain the perceived integrity of companies and salvage broken images. Some charge a lot and succeed sometimes. Others are inexpensive, but may be ineffective.
Your sales team is your company’s front line. You’re often the first and primary contact for prospects and customers, so if there’s a complaint to be made, you’re going to hear it.
But what about the negative comments you’re not hearing? Reputation preservation should be a company-wide effort. If there’s no employee whose job responsibilities include regular searches for unflattering content on the web (true or not), consider doing some sleuthing yourself and encouraging other team members to be on the lookout.
There are any number of reasons why some individuals take it upon themselves to make their negative thoughts and opinions public. Some may have legitimate criticisms of the product or service you sold them. Or maybe they were treated less-than-cordially by another employee. You already know how to handle these.
But some people may have it in for you for some unknown reason. Maybe they’re a competitor posting under another name. Or they just like to stir up trouble and have zeroed in on you for some reason.
If customers come directly to you with a complaint, thank them for handling the problem that way and giving you a chance to fix it (you don’t have to add, “…instead of trashing us online”) and help them solve it, or direct them to someone who can.
It’s the vitriol floating around on the web that you don’t know about it that can slowly tarnish your reputation. I’d suggest taking the initiative on your company’s reputation management as you poke around the web throughout the day.
One of the best ways to keep your online reputation intact is to make sure that you’re posting a lot of positive content, solving peoples’ problems and interacting with your audience and pointing out the benefits of your products or services. Encourage feedback on your own sites. Create some lighthearted posts and make visitors feel welcome with a friendly user interface and navigation tools. The best defense truly can be a good, proactive offense.
If the conversion rate for your sales and marketing emails doesn’t match your expectations, odds are that your recipients aren’t getting the real message. For you, the goal is to drive addressees to your website or generate leads. Potential customers, though, are driven only by value and their current needs.
Communicating the value of your products or services clearly, quickly and effectively should be the top priority for every email you send. You know where the benefits are. If you can broadcast them to your impatient, rushed audience, you’ll see your response rate climb.
Here are some of the most effective ways to communicate your value proposition:
The first challenge for every sales email is keeping viewers away from the Delete button. Use dynamic, action-oriented words in your subject line to catch attention and invite recipients to open the mail. Immediately show how your message will benefit your audience. Old school words like New, Save, Discount, Profit, and Bargain still work to grab viewers and motivate them to read on.
Once you convince potential clients or customers to open your email, don’t waste words. Lead off with specific information about how you can help them achieve their goals and take advantage of the value you offer. Your opening has to convince them to continue reading. Nothing succeeds better than laying out your proposition immediately. Make your leading paragraph your elevator pitch.
The more concise your message is, the more effective it will be in encouraging action. Telegraph the value you offer with punchy, brief content. Your recipient should never have to scroll down to get the message. Show how your products or services will help solve a problem and help the reader. Use numbers, percentages and bullet points to demonstrate the real benefits you offer.
Once you’ve convinced your addressees that you have what they need, lead them strongly to the next step. Use time limitations, rewards, or other enticements to get them to click through to your landing page or make contact. Always make it obvious how to take action. If readers make it to the end of your email, you’ve already succeeded. Help them pull the trigger and watch your response rate soar.
Email marketing and sales is a matter of small percentages. If your current marketing efforts are just getting an average percentage of responses, focus on increasing your conversion rate. If you’re seeing only a 2 percent response, more effective, value-oriented strategies could boost that to 4 percent. That small increase doubles your leads or sales.
Monitor responses carefully and keep fine-tuning your email campaigns based on actual results. Once you find a winning strategy, stay on that track.
That’s a question you should be asking yourself numerous times every day.
As sales professionals, we have a lot of sensitive data on our computers and mobile devices that needs to remain private, like:
That last one may surprise you. We usually think about taking security measures to protect ourselves against external intruders. While it’s unlikely that other members of your sales team would try to sniff out secrets in your digital files, it happens.
What are you doing to ensure that you are the only one who can get at all of the data on all of your computing devices?
Sometimes, it’s what you’re not doing. The easiest way to avoid being hacked is to refuse to click on links or attachments in emails. Even if the email comes from a well-known friend, you need to verify that he or she sent it in case that individual was infected and is unknowingly passing the virus or malware on.
If you knew that the file or link was coming, that’s one thing, but any email that shows up out of the blue that just doesn’t sound right should be verified.
Be especially security-conscious with your mobile devices. We tend to take serious precautions with our desktop computers, the ones that never go anywhere, and are less careful with our smartphones and tablets and laptops. Really, it’s more important to protect your mobile devices against hackers, since this equipment can be easily stolen. So:
Where you use your mobile devices matters, too. So don’t use public Wi-Fi networks. Period. They have all kinds of potential security problems, and a smart hacker can grab your passwords and other sensitive data. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your trusted doctor’s office or a busy coffee shop. Use your cellular connection.
You may have heard all of this before, but are you practicing safe computing? We’ve been told so many times to create strong passwords and change them frequently that the directive has almost become meaningless. But it’s your first line of defense, and it should be taken very seriously. Find a safe place to store your passwords (and not an app that resides on the same device).
One of the latest hacks that’s getting a lot of press these days is “ransomware,” which is just what it sounds like. An intruder locks down your computer so you’re unable to use it unless you pay money to get your access back. Don’t think that you’re too small to be targeted: Even one-person shops have been hit.
In reality, I think we all know what we can do to keep our digital data safe. We hear that little voice telling us to actually read privacy policies. Run scans using malware and antivirus apps if they don’t run automatically. Watch what we post on social media. Close browser windows after we use financial sites. That kind of thing. The trick is to stay vigilant. If you don’t, you surely will if you’re ever hit.
No, not that kind of fresh. You have an effective way to keep them visiting you online: your blog, and its immediate relevance.
How do you get prospects and customers to go to your website? You probably do some email marketing announcing sales. Maybe you provide links on Facebook and Twitter for new product announcements, unadvertised discounts, etc. Or you’ve been doing a stellar job with your SEO efforts and they’re finding you in Google searches.
There’s another way, one I haven’t discussed for awhile: a regularly-updated, engaging blog that offers education, news, and sometimes even lighthearted fun.
It’s Not Rocket Science
Have you created a blog yet? They’re really quite easy to launch and update – certainly much easier than building a website but a little more challenging than status updates and tweets. Blogger (free!) and WordPress are two of the oldest, simplest and best-known, but there are many others.
If you’ve started a blog but have lost your enthusiasm about keeping it updated, I suggest you either do so or take it down. The internet is full of ghost blogs, pages that were started with good intentions but then forgotten. Anyone landing on such a site may wonder if you’re still in business, and if so, why you’ve neglected the space. It will reflect on your brand.
Know what I like most about having a blog? It’s the only area of my online presence where I can quickly add or edit content. Yes, tweets and Facebook posts don’t take more than a minute or so—if that—but I can’t really expand on a topic there; rather, I have to get visitors to click on links. And if you run your own website, you know what a pain it can be to make a simple change – depending on what tools you use.
Your blog can be whatever you want it to be without putting too much time into the production end. I don’t think it’s necessarily the best venue for content like:
The first two are best placed where your customers and prospects would typically go for the latest news, Twitter (if you have an active, well-attended feed), Facebook (ditto) or email. That’s where your gotta-tell-it-now stuff should go. All of those communications tools, too, should be directing people to your website, where they can learn all they need to know about your offerings (and, hopefully, place orders).
But there’s room for fresh information on your blog, too, content that can drive people to your website. You could write about, for example:
You can write snippets when ideas strike you or news breaks, and drop in “fluff” occasionally (funny or heartwarming content you want to share), but your best blog content will showcase your own expertise and your products’ real-life applications as you help customers improve their personal or professional lives.
Stock images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an absolute must, especially for small businesses. Are you using it?
I’ve written before about the importance of using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in your online content. If you keep the principles of SEO in mind as you’re writing, your chances of appearing high in the list of search results are increased.
This is really, really important for small businesses. Big businesses have advertising budgets and professional staff writers and name recognition (but they, too, have to practice effective SEO). Smaller companies have to fight harder to climb the massive Google ladder.
(If you’re unfamiliar with the principles of SEO, check out this Google tutorial.)
Clutch, a B2B research firm, today released the results of a study that surveyed 352 U.S. small business owners and managers. The majority of those who responded had 1-10 employees and brought in less than $1 million in annual revenue. The study was conducted to answer this question:
In what ways does search engine optimization (SEO) and paid online advertising factor into a small business’ digital marketing strategy?
Think about your own online marketing strategy for a minute. Do you have one? If you’re constantly in a quandary about what content to produce, where to post it and when, you probably don’t. So take a step back and do some soul-searching. What do you hope to accomplish through your presence on your own website and on social media sites? Know why you’re there and what you’re trying to do, and your editorial calendar will be easier to put together.
But back to the study. Here are some of the results that I find interesting:
From what the study uncovered, though, it looks like things may be changing over the next year or so. 60 percent of small businesses are planning to implement an SEO strategy by 2017 or later.
If you’re not in that 60 percent, your competition is about to get a lot tougher.