Start a conversation with your customer?

start a conversation with your customerStart a conversation with your customer?  I know, it’s crazy talk.  Why in the world would you want to talk to the very people who choose to do business with you?

I trust you can see my tongue poking through my cheek, but the truth is, most businesses give lip service to the idea of starting a conversation with their customers, but few actually do.

Let’s agree on a few points right up front:

  • It’s cheaper to keep a customer than get a new one
  • It’s cheaper to sell more to a current customer than make the first sale to a new customer
  • There’s no better marketing than word of mouth – which usually comes from your current customers

Those truths would suggest that our current clients are pretty important to our business’ long-term success. Despite that fact, most businesses:

  • Don’t invest enough of their marketing budget/efforts on their current customers
  • Don’t routinely thank (other than the pre-printed thank you at the bottom of your invoice) their current clients
  • Don’t listen enough to their current customers.

Why in the world do we, in essence, ignore our best bet at success?

In this post, I’m going to focus on the listening issue. No one knows what it’s like to buy products or services from us like the very people who buy our products and services. And yet, the vast majority of businesses never bother to ask for feedback. Or they ask for feedback in a way that makes it so off-putting or difficult to provide the feedback that the customer ops not to. In most cases, the first chance the customer has to provide real, honest feedback is when they walk away and give their money to your competitor.

I think there are a few reasons why organizations don’t seek customer feedback.

  • Fear: “I just don’t want to know because then I’m going to have to deal with it.”
  • Bad time management: “I know it’s important and I’ve been meaning to launch a survey but then things got crazy.”
  • Ignorance: “I don’t know how to make it happen and I think it has to be some big, elaborate thing.”

If you’re not actively and regularly seeking your clients’ input and insights, it’s one of the biggest marketing mistakes you can make. The only mistake worse than not asking for their input is actually asking for it and then not doing anything to fix the issues you uncover. Now you’ve asked for their opinion and then told them how little you care by ignoring their concerns.

Let’s assume you have found the courage and the time to listen. Are you ready to start a conversation with your customer?How do you go about it? Depending on your size and budget, you can make it as simple or regimented as you need.

Start a conversation: Take your client to lunch and ask “how are we doing and what could we do better?” Walk up to a customer in your store and say “we just re-arranged the shelves, did we make it easier for you to find what you need?” It can be that simple.

Observe: Sometimes the best way to listen is to just watch. How do people move through your store or website? What do they pick up or mouse over? What do they walk right by? Which Facebook posts do they share?

Ask on a schedule: Once a quarter or once a year – reach out to your customers with a survey that asks open-ended questions like “what’s your favorite thing about our service?” Or “what do you wish we’d stop doing?” Then (and this is vital) – report back to them what you learned and what you’re going to do about it.

Do true market research: If you’re big enough and have the budget, do more than antidotal research. Hire a pro and crunch the numbers. Build a benchmark that you can measure against, time and time again.

Just dip your toe into listening if you’re not ready to jump in head-first. But don’t wait too long – or your customers will be swimming in your competitor’s pool!

 

Is your website sales funnel-shaped?

Website Sales FunnelThere’s always a lot of buzz about SEO (search engine optimization), SEM (search engine marketing) and of course, Google rankings.

Rightly so – each of those plays a role in how effectively your website can serve you from a marketing and sales perspective. Your website should be sales funnel shaped.

But I think most companies approach the web a little like the fable about the five blind men who were asked to describe the elephant that stood before them. The man who was near the elephant’s leg reached out, touched the elephant and announced that an elephant was like a huge tree trunk. The man who was by the tail, after feeling it, described an elephant like a bullwhip and so on.

While none of them were wrong – none of them were right either. That’s exactly where many companies are when they think about how to leverage their website. They’re not wrong but they haven’t got it quite right either.

Lets step back and take a more holistic view of the website’s purpose for being. You might have a website because it:

  • Gives you credibility – it proves that you’re real
  • Tells the visitor what your company is all about and why you exist
  • Lists/show what you sell/do
  • Educates your prospect on how you are different from your competitors and help them make an more informed buying decision
  • Helps your customers and prospects by making them smarter/better in some way
  • Is an information repository so your customers can access things like users manuals, support forums, case studies, testimonials or other forms of thought leadership
  • Provides ways to start a conversation, ask a question or give you feedback
  • May serve as a shopping portal and people can buy right there

But if we step back even a little further and take a look from the 30,000 foot level, we can see through all those functionalities, your website is the entry point to your sales funnel. For most organizations today — your website is the initial point of entry that could lead to a sale today or five years from today.

That doesn’t happen by accident. Getting them to your site isn’t the end of the game; it’s just the beginning. Now your goal is to move them into and through your sales funnel. You have to build your site and everything that happens on it with that intention.

Whenever I think of a sales funnel, I picture one of those plastic funnels people use when they do an oil change. The top of it is really wide and the bottom is a very skinny hole. The funnel coincides with the know • like • trust equation.

The top of the sales funnel – know

The top of the funnel is for catching all those people who have no idea you exist or that you sell anything they might need or want. This is where you are hoping they’ll get to know you.

The middle of the funnel is filled with all the ways you either keep them on your site or get them to come back. With repeated exposure, you’re hoping they’ll come to like you.

The smallest section of the funnel is where you’re hoping they come to trust you through repeated interactions, you continuing to be helpful and demonstrating a consistency in how you talk, behave and perform.

Once they’ve willingly squeezed themselves through that tiny little section of the funnel, they’ll be ready to buy. But not before.

Let’s look at the first stage of the funnel (know) and what you can do to catch the interest of your web visitors and encourage them to get to know you a little.

At the top of the funnel we have people who’ve never heard of you and may have no idea they need or want what you sell. They might discover you by clicking on a link in a blog post or after reading about you in the newspaper. They might have a problem and be Googling to find a solution and your site is listed in their search results. They may see a Facebook ad or type in your URL off your business card that they picked up at a trade show. But at this point, you’re a stranger. They don’t know, like or trust you. And we know we have to earn their trust before we can earn their money.

At that moment, your website has to be helpful or relevant enough in some way that they spend a little time on it so they begin to get a sense of you and how you might matter to them.

This is a do or die moment. If the visitor pokes around the site and then leaves, they might never return and you’ll never know who they were or if you could have served them. That’s how it works on most websites. If I asked you to show me a list of people who were on your website in the last six months, could you do it?

One of the appealing aspects of using the web to pre-shop is the anonymity of it. To get someone to introduce themselves to you — you have to either give them a compelling reason to keep coming back or better yet, you have to create the opportunity for an information exchange. You have to offer them something that is valuable enough that they’ll give you their email address in return. While it sounds simple – think of how many websites you visit and how few capture your contact information.

What does that look like? You want to offer something that’s a low barrier to entry. It doesn’t feel too intrusive. It could be any of these:

  • Sign up for our Enewsletter or regular tips
  • Get a copy of a how-to report, whitepaper or cheat sheet
  • Take an online course via email
  • Get access to unique content behind a firewall
  • Join a discussion group/closed forum
  • Be notified when new content/information is available
  • Download an eBook or watch a short video series
  • Sign up for a webinar or phone conference

Once you’ve done made that initial connection and you have a way to stay in touch – you can continue to be helpful which will keep the conversation going. At that point, one of two things is going to happen. As they get to know you/your company – they’re either going to decide they like you or they don’t. Both are great outcomes.

If they like you, they’ll stay in the conversation and get to know you even better. If they don’t like you, they’ll go away. Now you don’t have to waste any energy on someone who was going to be a bad fit.

The middle section of the sales funnel – like

To move someone from the start of the process into this section requires a mix of bravery and generosity on your part.

Keep in mind that most prospects are pretty skittish. Whether it’s in a retail store or online, they’re used to being chased around by over eager salespeople that pester the poor potential buyer until they flee. That’s one of the reasons many people do a significant amount of their shopping online. The anonymity allows them to browse without pressure.

That’s why you want to load up your website with lots of content that has no barrier to consumption like blog posts, testimonials and FAQs. Those elements will generate traffic to your site. The strategies we talked about last week – where there is an exchange of information (their email address for some downloadable tool or content) begins to thin the herd. The tire kickers will avoid the opt-in level, preferring to stick with your free content. And that’s fine. Until they move to the next level, they’re not ready to buy. Once they trade you their email address for some content, they’ve indicated that they are open to hearing from you.

I find it hard to believe I have to actually say this but I’ve seen time and time again that I do. There is absolutely no reason to collect email addresses if you aren’t going to actually send them something.

And that something cannot be a sales pitch. I’ve seen so many businesses stumble here. They didn’t give you their email address so you could hard sell them or immediately try to get an appointment or schedule a sales call. They gave it to you so you would keep sending them information that’s valuable to them.

That is your litmus test. Each and every time, before you hit send, ask yourself “is this going to be valuable to my audience?” Time for a re-write if your honest answer is no.

Assuming you keep producing helpful content and you actually send it out consistently – the prospects will let you stay in their in box. Week (or month or quarter) after week, you’re there. You’re teaching, helping and they are getting a little smarter and a little more comfortable with you each time they hear from you.

You should also use those regular emails (or however you decide to connect with them) to drive them back to new content/offerings on the website. Maybe you produced a demo video series or you’re hosting an educational event that you’d like them to register for.

While we are focusing on your website, it certainly shouldn’t be the only tool in your toolbox. Your sales funnel should be armed with both digital and traditional tactics. They work together hand in glove, each strengthening the other.

The days of your website just being an online brochure are long gone. Be sure your web presence is the sales workhorse it should be by building a sales funnel around the know • like • trust = sales equation.

The last section of the sales funnel – trust

Having the right timing matters. You don’t get to this part of the funnel after the first couple interactions. If I see one consistent mistake, it’s that people shift into these sorts of strategy way too early. It’s like meeting someone in a bar and proposing the same night. Odds are you aren’t going to get too many yeses.

I totally get it from a business’ point of view and have often felt that frustration myself. You’ve shared your expertise. You’ve answered their questions. Surely they should be ready to buy by now. They obviously like what you do enough to keep coming back. So why aren’t they buying?

In my thirty years of being in business, I’ve rarely met a buyer who is as anxious to make the sale as the seller. Sure, there are those customers who come to us in crisis, and we scramble to put out their fire but they’re not the norm. So what do we do? We hang in there, and we keep being helpful and we work to stay top of mind until they’re ready to move forward.

The other factor to remember is that while we are the ones who build the sales funnel, it’s the prospect that moves through it and they control the pace and direction. So while one prospect may linger in the getting to know you (remember our know • like • trust = sales model) or growing to like you section for years, another may whip through both of those and be willing to trust you enough for a trial purchase in a matter of a couple visits.

For your website to truly be an effective sales funnel, you need to offer different levels of engagement, so the prospects can move themselves through at their own speed. As we talked about in the last couple columns, that means free content (text and video if possible) and content that you’ll give them for an email trade. But what kinds of things should you have available for those who are ready to consider a purchase?

Believe it or not – one that many companies miss is having contact information on the site. Don’t make me look for your phone number or email address. If you have the capacity, live chat is great. But make sure I can contact you and give me more than one method. If you have a brick and mortar presence, be sure you list your street addresses as well, with a link to one of the mapping sites.

You can also offer the ability to schedule a call, demo or take an assessment that will require you contact them (usually by email) with the results.

Remember that most buyers want to be pretty sure they’re going to buy before they speak to a salesperson or company representative. When they do reach out, they may have some final questions but they’re very close to making a buying decision. Which means you need to be ready to respond quickly once they do trigger that next level of readiness. Test your site and all your internal systems to verify that nothing is going to get in the way of you finally connecting with this potential buyer.

Today’s consumers want to be able to shop us on the web. How well that works for you is completely in your control. Is your site ready?

P.S. I found the great graphic on a SocialFresh blog post.

 

Is creativity bad for marketing?

funny eggs with facial expression: scared screaming and being terrified.As a writer just typing the question – is creativity bad for marketing – hurts a little.

Advertising and marketing people pride themselves on their creativity. After all, it’s one of the lures of the profession for most of us.

But does it serve our businesses and our business goals?

On the surface, it’s easy to argue that creativity is essential to good advertising and marketing. Whether it’s strategic nuances and insights, being innovative in your brand and how you express it, or marketing materials that capture the audience’s attention and imagination – all of those are built on a foundation of creative thinking.

But I’ve been in some situations recently where it was evident that the long-term objectives were not being well served by an infusion of creativity. Then, sadly the answer is yes…. creativity can be bad for marketing.

So let’s look at how the very thing we work so hard to capture can also be a detriment.

Too many ideas: This can be a killer. When a team is on fire with great ideas and falls in love with them all, the end result can be a mess. Sometimes the team tries to pack in all the ideas so rather than building a message hierarchy where you lead with your key message and then support that message — you get five pounds of ideas shoved into a one pound bag. That results in a lot of superficial messaging rather than a well-developed story with depth and relevance.

The other possible outcome of too many ideas is that the team decides to use them all sequentially. That typically means that no one idea is left in place long enough to really take root. Remember, about the time that we as the creators are getting sick of the ad/brochure/tagline etc. is about the same time the intended audience is just noticing the communication. If you pull the plug too soon, you lose all momentum and have to start all over.

Unbridled creativity: As the brainstorming pendulum swings, it often goes to an extreme that’s beyond the audience’s sensibilities. Sometimes a team can get so enamored with being provocative or wildly creative that they forget who their audience is. We’ve all seen ads that were very outlandish and got a lot of attention but in the end, were too far over the top and the company ended up issuing an apology or retracting the ad.

Marketing has a very simple purpose – to sell something. It might be selling a product, or an ideal or a candidate or a charity’s cause. But it does not exist to entertain, provoke a reaction or win awards. If it sells AND entertains, all the better. But it needs to do its job. Which means the audience’s perspective must always be front and center.

Cart before the horse creativity: Believe it or not, good creativity is actually the outcome of a very disciplined process, at least in marketing. To truly be creative in a way that nets the desired results, you have to do your homework before you release the creative juices. Until you define the goals, identify and get to know your audience and understand your unique position in the marketplace – you hold your creativity in place.

When you unleash it too soon, you may come up with the most compelling marketing tools that drive the audience to action, but they might be the wrong audience, might be taking the wrong action or might play to one of your competitor’s strengths.

Like most things, creativity isn’t good or bad, at least not in the world of marketing. It’s how we use it that makes it either a huge asset or a hindrance to us achieving our ultimate marketing goals.

 

Danger! Distraction ahead!

Dangersign1_optThere’s a lot of discussion around the notion that our attention spans are shortening. Forbes recently blamed it on social media and the nonstop 24/7 media barrage.

While I think our uber plugged in lives certainly contributes, there’s more to the story. Yes, we are being bombarded with more information than ever before but we also distract ourselves when we don’t keep things in perspective.

For example, one of the greatest dangers to our focus is actually all the attention we afford our competition. Should we keep an eye on them? Sure. But we shouldn’t let them pull us off course.

Have you ever had the experience of driving along, paying attention to something off in the horizon and next thing you know, you’ve driven to that spot?  And it wasn’t where you meant to go?

The same phenomenon can happen in your business.  Most business owners I meet pay a lot of attention to what their competition is doing.  In the good old days, you might watch for a competitor’s ad in the newspaper. But today, you can track tweets, Facebook page updates, their Pinterest boards, blog comments and a whole host of other streams of information. You could literally be monitoring your competition like it was a full-time job. While we definitely need to keep an eye on the competitive landscape, there’s a very fine line.

The danger in keeping track of the other guys is that you lose track of your own path.  We tend to move towards what we pay attention to. (Re-read that last sentence…it really is that important.) You don’t want to let your competitors determine your marketing strategy and that’s exactly what’s going to happen if you spend too much time and energy keeping an eye on their activities.  When you feel it happening your brain needs to broadcast – Danger! Distraction ahead!

Or else, you’re at risk of:

Deplete your resources: You have only so many hours and so many dollars. If you let your competition re-direct your attention and your marketing messages – pretty soon, you’ll run out of opportunities to tell your own story.

Look like you’re playing the “us too” game: No one is impressed with a copycat. Even the coolest idea or product benefit falls flat when someone else has already claimed them as their point of difference. No one’s going to see you as an industry leader if you’re always a follower.

We know that it takes a fair amount of repetition to seed your message. The last thing in the world you want to do is invest time, money and your audience’s attention just to divert it with a completely different message that is in reaction to your competition. It’s like getting to the final mile marker of a marathon and then swerving off course, only to have to go back to the starting blocks when you want to resume your own race.

You want to be the leader in your industry, not follow someone else.  The best way to beat your competition isn’t watching what they do.  It’s doing what you should be doing.

If you have and follow a marketing plan — you can enjoy the best of both worlds.  The marketing plan keeps you on your course and heading in the direction you have determined.  When you know where you’re headed and keep checking the map to see that you’re on course, you can afford to peek at what the competitors are doing.

You should keep an eye on your competitor…but you shouldn’t let them change your game plan. It’s much easier to stay on track if you have a well-defined track to begin with.

Odds are, if you set and follow your own course, your competitors will be the ones following you.

 

Who determines absolute value?

AbsoluteValueMany people, myself included, believe in the power of a strong brand. Brand positioning has influenced buying decisions for years and a company with a strong sense of their own brand and a commitment to authentically walking out that brand is at an advantage over their competitors.

In the past, a great brand could significantly influence if not determine the absolute value of a product or service.

But, is that marketing truth evolving?

I’ve just finished reading the book Absolute Value, What Really Influences Customers in the Age of Nearly Perfect Information* by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen and it digs into this issue. The book offers many examples of how consumers have viewed and evaluated brands in the past and how they are coming to interact and judge them today. When you see the trends spelled out, in example after example, it’s pretty eye opening.

To kick things off — the authors list 5 widely held beliefs and suggest that they are all becoming less true today.

  1. A company’s brand is more important today than it has ever been
  2. Nurturing loyalty should be the marketer’s primary, day-to-day concern
  3. All customers are irrational
  4. An overload of opinions may actually paralyze people
  5. Positioning is the most important part of the marketing game

The authors assert that most brands are losing their role as a definer of quality and that a consumer’s past satisfaction is not as anchoring as it used to be. They also contend that because of the abundance of rational information that is so readily available to all of us, our methods of evaluating products and services has changed dramatically.

We really don’t shop/buy the way we used to. Let’s say you need to buy a car. Back in the day, you either went to a dealer based on your brand preference or you might have reacted to a TV spot or your neighbor’s experience.

But today, what would you do? You would look online and read the reviews. You’d look at safety reports. You’d then go to a site and could review exactly what the dealer paid for any car you were interested in. Finally, armed with print outs and a price you knew was 3% over dealer invoice, you’d head to the dealership.

Suddenly, you have access to all kinds of data that wasn’t readily available a decade ago and much of that data is ranking, grading and critiquing the item in question.

Given those two choices – a fuzzy brand preference or hundreds/thousands of reviews from other people – which do you think will influence you more today?

If you’re like most other people, you’ll trust the masses more than your own perception or previous experiences, unless you’re already a brand zealot.

That’s where the problem comes in for marketers. In this new marketplace, there’s a voice that is overshadowing theirs. And it’s not just word of mouth. It’s word of mouth, amplified. Many voices and they’re so much easier to find/listen to. And it turns out, their collective wisdom and experience is quite compelling.

This book is a thought provoking read. (Buy a copy of the book**) It will make the marketer in you tilt your head and really wonder about the effectiveness of your efforts. It will make the consumer in you examine your own purchasing patterns and identify some of your biggest influencers.

But whichever hat you’re wearing — it will force you to look at our world and your work in marketing a little differently. Just like your consumers are doing.

 

 

 

*I received a copy of this book from Emanuel Rosen but I really did read it and I really liked it and found it thought provoking.  You’d be amazed at the number of books I receive that I don’t really like… and therefore, don’t mention to you.

**Amazon affiliate link

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Should you be a content marketer?

Content marketing.  It seems like everyone’s talking about it. But what exactly is it and what can it do for your business? Odds are, if you’re doing any marketing at all — you’re at least accidentally dabbling in content marketing.

But, should you be a content marketer?  Let’s look.

First — it goes by many names.  Some people call it custom publishing or branded content.  Other people slap the label of social or digital marketing on.  And all of those names are accurate.

Content marketing is a broad term for any marketing technique that creates and distributes valuable, helpful and relevant information that demonstrates that you know your stuff.  These tactics draw the attention of people who are already your customers or could be your customers and they consume, share, and value the content.

The ultimate goal of content marketing is to create a sense of trust and comfort that will lead to someone making an initial purchase, making an additional purchase or referring you to someone who’s ready to make a purchase.

The way you build that trust can differ, however. Let’s look at four of the main goals of content marketing and the types of content marketing tactics you can employ to accomplish each.

If you want to entertain your audience, you might:

Make a branded video

  • Create a game
  • Give them a quiz
  • Start a competitions/contests
  • Invent a playful widget or app

If you’d like to inspire your audience, you might:

If you would like to educate your audience, you could:

  • Write an ebook
  • Publish some articles
  • Create an infographic
  • Generate media releases
  • Create guides or how to documents
  • Produce trend reports
  • Record a podcast
  • Send out an enewsletter

In you need to convince your audience, you could:

  • Host an event
  • Create some interactive demos
  • Put on a webinar
  • Create useful calculators or checklists
  • Share some case studies

This list is neither exhaustive nor is it exclusive. A speech can do more than inspire, it can also educate or entertain. A webinar can do more than convince – it can educate or inspire. The subject matter, the delivery style and the intent will dictate the outcome of your efforts. And hopefully, if you produce quality content – it will accomplish more than one of the goals.

But this isn’t something you should just jump into. Like any marketing strategy – content marketing requires forethought and planning, especially because producing a blog or podcast or even putting on a contest requires a significant amount of time and effort. You don’t want to exert that level of effort and not maximize your gain.

The effort and planning are well worth it. Content marketing allows a business to connect with a prospect long before they’re ready to buy. It gives them a sense of your product, service and expertise. It also lets them “sample” you and see if you’re a good fit. Good content marketing tools communicate not only your expertise but it also gives them a very good sense of your brand’s personality. It will attract the best customers for you and, as odd as it sounds, repel those customers who wouldn’t be a good fit long term.

There are a lot of benefits packed into this marketing strategy. Every business can find a content marketing tactic that is the perfect fit for your industry. It takes some time and effort – but the up sides are hard to ignore.

 

 

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