crayons & marketers

Warren Buffet once said that it takes twenty years to build a reputation and about five minutes to ruin it. And never has that been more true than now. online reputation management

In recent years, the popularity of social media and online review sites has skyrocketed. Consumers are looking to one another online to determine the quality and credibility of a business, and relying less on your website as their primary source of information.

And it works in your favor if the feedback is positive, because nothing sells a product like a satisfied customer. But, with the good, comes the bad – the possibility of negative feedback.  And nothing can ruin you faster than a string on unanswered customer woes.

For that reason, managing your online reputation needs to become one of your top priorities.

What is an online reputation?

Your online reputation is your digital footprint. It’s what people perceive about your business, true or false, from the information made available to them online.  Some factors you can control, like your website and social media posts, but others you can’t – like customer reviews.

And if you haven’t been on the receiving end of an angry rant by a dissatisfied customer, that day may still come, and the last thing you want to do is be caught unprepared.

Ignore it and it won’t go away

If you’re like me, you were taught to ignore the kid making silly faces in class, or to pretend that the cool kids weren’t shooting spit balls at your head.

But in business, ignorance is not bliss, and failing to be proactive in managing what is said about your business, or you for that matter, online could have big consequences, and erode the reputation that you’ve worked so hard to create.

What should you do?

Again, make developing a good online reputation a priority. While there are some factors you cannot control, there are many you can.

  • Be intentional about getting good information about your business out there. Use a well optimized website, social media, and other online marketing channels to deliver a clear and consistent stream of valuable information, proving that you’re competent and qualified to do what you do, and are worthy of consideration.
  • Monitor your social media sites. Acknowledge tweets, posts, and reviews from customers. Make every effort to respond accordingly and quickly, even to the negative feedback (within reason).
  • And because it’s impossible to know every time your business is mentioned online, consider using social media listening tools to keep track of what people are saying about you, and where, so that you can get involved in the conversation before too much damage is done.

Final thought

Remember, we function in a search society where we’re all Googled before anyone attempts to interact with us.  Do what you can to increase the chances that the information displayed in search results will speak well of your business.

Side note:  Finding no information about you can be just as harmful as finding negative press, so make every digital impression count.  Don’t just join the conversation, start it.

8020 content marketing rule

Think back to the last time you spoke with a really aggressive sales person. For twenty minutes, they went on and on about their products, services, and just how much better they were than the competition.  You never got a word in.

And when it was finally over, how did you feel? Did you feel as if you’d gained valuable insight into how to solve your problem?  Or did you feel like you’d been run over by a Mack truck?

Mack truck, huh? Well, remember that feeling and tuck it away for later use.  Because what the sales person failed to realize is that often times, less is more.  And that principle not only applies to sales, but many facets of business, including your content marketing strategy.

Content marketing isn’t sales.

Or is it?

Truly, it is. It just isn’t direct sales.

You see, each piece of content that you create (e.g. blogs, videos, infographics, social media posts, etc.) will do one of two things: attract your target audience or drive them away.

And if your goal is to make your content marketing pay, the secret is in giving your audience an abundance of good content most of the time, and asking them to buy less often.

It may sound counterintuitive, but it can work.

Inform first.

The fact of the matter is, people want good stories. They want to laugh, cry, and be empowered. They want to feel as if you’ve created something just for them that speaks to what’s important to them.

Pushy sales messages devoid of value are clearly self-promotional and break the connection with your audience, forcing them to look elsewhere.

But giving away free information, e.g. tips and best practices, with no commitment to buy, may leave you feeling vulnerable. And content marketing asks you to do that 80% of the time.

You see, one of the many variations of the 80/20 rule suggests that 80% of the content you create and share be about your audience, not about you or what you do.

This content should answer their questions, solve their problems, entertain them with witty but relevant stories, and share insights and innovations.

Some examples:

  • A personal injury attorney posting a blog series on how to navigate the claims process
  • A realtor creating an infographic on the statistics of the housing market in a particular area
  • A hair stylist filming a “how to” video series on re-creating celebrity hairstyles
  • A marketer creating an online newspaper curating articles on best practices
  • A business owner creating FAQs to post on the company website

It’s possible that your audience could take this information and run. Or, they could consume this information, digest it, and come back for more.

Sell last.

The balance of the content equation, the 20%, is dedicated to your sales efforts. Talk about your products and services in detail, entice your audience with great offers and, on occasion, give discounts. Cash in on all that goodwill you’ve stored up and ask for the business.

Those in your audience who are ready to buy will remember you, not as that pain in the neck sales guy, but as a valuable reservoir of useful information who obviously knows what they’re doing.

Keep it 100.

Content marketing, while often considered a “pre-purchasing “activity, can not only positively influence your audience before they purchase, but after they buy as well. It keeps the dialogue open and could possibly extend the life of the relationship, post-sale.

Sharing good content consistently supplies your audience with the information they need to make informed decisions, which builds their trust in your ability to solve their problems.  And when you can solve their problems, you can win their business.

Several studies suggest that well over 40% of marketing budgets next year will be spent on online (digital) efforts.  And at the core of those campaigns will be an emphasis on content marketing.

Content marketing.  

Sure, to marketers like me, that term is as recognized and revered as search is with Google. But for some businesses and non-profits, to have a conversation about “content marketing” is too heavy and may get you a few blank stares or even a “here we go” eye roll.

But, could there be some value in it?  Is content marketing more than just another buzzword that marketers use to sell you more services?

The truth.

In the perfect world, content marketing would be this fresh new idea that would turn every business into an overnight success and fill the donation baskets of every non-profit in the world for the foreseeable future.

old cave drawings content marketing But the reality is, the idea of content isn’t new. As long as there have been words, there have been stories.  More specifically, as long as there’s been a way to tell stories, be it prehistoric cave drawings by Neanderthals on a rock in Spain, or ornate hieroglyphics on the side of an ancient pyramid in Egypt, there’s been content. And those stories are passed down and still impact us today.

In a contemporary sense, content for organizations, either for profit or not, is generated by taking your stories – the inspiration behind your founding, the subtleties that make you unique, the quirkiness of your organizational culture, and testimonials from those whose life you’ve touched – and delivering that value to a group of people, in a way that’s meaningful to them, and encourages them to take a specific action.

That is content marketing.

More than words.

Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about content is that it’s just words on a page.  Ebooks, blog posts, white papers, and case studies are clearly forms of content, right?  But what about videos, social media posts, infographics, podcasts, emails, customer reviews, and even memes?

Yes, that’s all content and it gives you an opportunity to provide a glimpse into who you are as an organization, a chance to tell a good story, and leave a primitive hand print upon the hearts of those you want to fall in love with your organization.

Point taken.

Many organizations fail in their pursuit of content marketing for two reasons:

  1. They confuse providing valuable, useful information with pushing obvious sales pitches – so people tune them out, delete them, or mark them as SPAM.
  2. They create content, but have no strategy to deliver that content to the right people at the right time and place, so it becomes orphaned content.

Remember, content marketing gives organizations an opportunity to inform, educate, inspire, and challenge without the pressure of buying.  And when it’s delivered in a meaningful, consistent manner, over time – yes, it will take time – you will establish trust and be rewarded with a loyal customer or supporter.

Finally, because of the length of time it can take to produce your desired result, it is vital that your content marketing not stand alone, but be a part of a comprehensive marketing plan that generates opportunities for both short and long-term success. 

small business case studies customer storiesWhen you’re ready to make a big purchase, do you…?

A) go on a gut feeling

B) see what people are saying about it online

C) trust the salesperson

The Answer

Chances are, most of you picked “B.”  Studies have shown that 90% of consumers say online reviews impact their buying decisions.  And this doesn’t just relate to appliance purchases.

Prospects are online, right now, reading up on your business. The bigger the sale, the more information they need to make a decision. What they find or do not find, in their mind, speak volumes about your credibility.

Consider Case Studies

Like online reviews, case studies are a great way to establish trust.  They give potential customers or prospects an opportunity to see what you’re capable of.  They may sound intimidating, but case studies are simply stories about real people in real scenarios. And unlike promotional pieces, case studies are solution-oriented, illustrating, through your customer’s eyes, how you solved their problem.

Four Key Parts to the Story

Case studies vary in format, length, and style.  Some look like those long narratives we dreaded being assigned in college, and others are brief and straight to the point.

But, the bones of a case study are consistent, and usually have at least the following four parts:

  • Customer Identification
  • Description of the Problem
  • Proposed Solutions
  • End Results

How to Get the Story

Now that you know the key parts of a case study, let’s gather the information to start building it…

  1. Review your current customer list. Customers that you’ve established a great relationship with – those with whom you’ve experienced the biggest wins – will yield the best stories. Make a list of those you want to approach.
  2. Develop a list of questions. To adequately convey your customer’s journey, you’ll need a little more backstory than you may already know. You need to know how your customer knew they had a problem, how they first tried to fix it, and how that worked out. Just as important, if not more so, is how your solutions impacted the problem, the end result of your efforts, and your customer’s reaction to these results.
  3. Reach out to your customers. You know which communication style your customers respond to best. So meet them there. If it’s email, do email. If it’s a phone call, then go that route. In all scenarios, first ask their permission to tell their story. If they say no, thank them for listening, and move on to the next customer. If you get approval, start working through the questions on your list.

Tell the Story

Now that the interviews are done, it’s time to pull your case study together and tell the story.  Use the four key parts (customer, problem, solution, result) to walk readers through your customer’s journey.  When done right, prospects reading your case study will see themselves, and the problems they’re experiencing, within the story and be convinced that you can help them, too.

Happy Ending

Case studies are customer stories. And customers rely on each other for direction.  Make sure your case studies find a visible home on your website. They should be easy to find – posted on a separate page or used as blog posts – and be easy to share.

If you remember nothing else, remember this … Customers are looking for a happy ever after, and a good case study can give them just that.

Let’s face it.  We need repeat sales to make this thing called business work. Even our best efforts fall short if we fail to get customers to buy the right products, at the right price, at the right time, not just once, but over and over again.thankyoucrayon

But many of us settle for becoming a one hit wonder.  We do just enough to make the sale, but not enough to keep the sales coming.

While making that initial sale is an important first step, it only gets you halfway to your goal. Post-sale activity goes a long way to winning customers over, and convincing them to not only purchase again, but to influence others to follow their lead.

So, how do you make the connection?  The secret is in the service.

Ask for comments

Most people are naturally wired to spill the beans when they’ve had a tremendous experience.  When customers find value in not only the product or service they’ve received, but also in the manner in which they’ve received it, you capture lightning in a bottle.

So, don’t be afraid to ask customers to share those experiences.  And make it easy for them to do so.  Just as you’d add a call to action button to incite them to buy, do the same to get them to share.  By publicly asking for feedback, customers can see that their experiences are important to you.

What if they share a less than positive review? Consider posting it anyway, along with the way you resolved the issue. Surprised? Don’t be.  Think of the last magazine you flipped through.  In the reader comments section, not all reviews were positive, but editors have printed them anyway, along with a response.

Send surveys

customer satisfaction leads to increased salesCustomers can’t seem to make it out of the checkout lines these days without being asked for their email address.  And quite frankly, they’re not always pleased to have to give it.

But, if you can get it, don’t use this opportunity to SPAM them – that’s what they’re expecting.  Do the opposite. Impress them, instead, but asking them how you can improve.

In exchange for their honest feedback, offer them a coupon, an eBook, or whatever makes sense for your business and is of value to them.

Once you’ve gathered enough responses, consider sharing those satisfaction scores with your customers. If they’re positive, keep it up. If they show that improvements are needed, tell customers how you plan to do it.

Transparency is risky, but the payoff could be great.

Ask for referrals

If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.  And in the case of referrals, this couldn’t be more true.

Have you ever gotten a coupon in the mail that specifically stated that one coupon was for you and the other for a friend? What retailers are hoping for is a referral.  The act of you sharing that coupon with a friend is the equivalent of saying, “I shop here and think you should, too.”

But coupons aside, getting referrals can be hard because it’s been done the wrong way for so long.  Customers don’t want to put their friends in a position to be hassled by some over eager salesperson, even if it does reward them in some way.

Redefine what referrals mean in their mind. Do away with the “give me names” approach and focus on earning the referral first.  How do you earn it?  Good service.  And then when you ask, customers are happy to help.

The long and short of it

Good service – before, during, and after the sale – will always be the secret to powering up your sales and positioning your business for long-term success.

Customers expect to interact with and shape their experiences with the businesses they engage with, so don’t disappoint them. Give them something to talk about.

Ever have a customer basically close a deal for you?  Please share your experience in the comment section below…

Customers have high expectations. Gone are the days of transactional sales with faceless individuals who breeze in and out of your stores and on and off your websites. Today’s new normal is all about relationship.

And one of the best ways to establish that relationship is through routine follow-up.Excellence in managing the customer experience while in the sales funnel for small business

What is follow-up?

Follow-up is not the act of “bugging” people. That’s our excuse for not doing it. Follow-up is being intentional about staying in front of decision makers with a good message.

And it can produce results. For some, it leads to opportunities to upsell.  For others, it may help close a deal.

10 Ideas to get you started

  1. Send an email. Thank them for their time. Re-cap the conversation you had, highlighting key points and summarizing next steps. Note that you’ll reach out to them again on a specific date and be sure to do it.
  2. Send a handwritten note. Again, thank them for their time. Since space is limited, mention one takeaway from the conversation and when you’ll reach out to them again. Include your business card, even if you know they already have one.
  3. Make phone calls. Jot down 2-3 things you want to say when you get them on the line so you won’t stumble over your words. Be concise. Don’t ramble. Have solutions ready to combat objections.
  4. Reach out to them on social platforms. Send a personal invitation to connect on social networks like LinkedIn or whichever platform they’re on. Be involved in their world.
  5. Mix it up. Don’t limit yourself to just phone and email. Send free samples, articles and books that may seem of interest, invitations to upcoming events, and so on to stay relevant.
  6. Capture email addresses. If you aren’t doing consistent email marketing, you should be. Determine a frequency that’s manageable for you and stick to it. Include information that informs and educates, and is enjoyable to read. Offer exclusive deals and coupons. Track who’s clicking on what so that you can craft specific emails for them later.
  7. Continue phone calls, post-sale. Familiarize yourself with the customer’s buying history and call to ask how a specific item is working from them. While you want to mention new services, the intent of the call is to say “thanks.”
  8. Send mailers. A simple postcard on a birthday or an early invite to preview a new product or service is a pleasant surprise. Most people still get excited about receiving mail so take advantage of this low-cost option.
  9. Respond to problems right away. For most customers, the fact that there was an issue isn’t what drives them away; it’s how the issue was handled. Resolve issues correctly and swiftly. Check back a short while later to make sure the fire isn’t still smoldering.

And finally, number 10. Keep good records of each interaction. Knowing things like what was done and said at the last meeting or tracking how many calls have been made and on what days not only helps you stay on track, but helps you determine when it’s time to close the file on an individual – guilt free.

Remember this

Follow-up can make all the difference. It doesn’t guarantee the sale or that the customer won’t leave, but it does leave a lasting impression that could pay off down the road.

At first glance, the words cheap and affordable seem to have the same meaning – low cost.

And because of the competitive nature of today’s marketplace, customers have come to expect a good deal. They want to be courted and offered free or discounted items in exchange for their purchases.  It’s a buyer’s market and customers have more options now than ever.

So for small businesses, does that mean we should slash our prices and forget about profits?  Do we label ourselves as a cheap solution in hopes of standing out among a sea of many?

To answer that question, look at the words cheap and affordable again.  Now peel back the veil of price. You’re left with something far more insightful – positioning.  How you position your business – your brand – in the minds of customers can mean the difference between a one-time purchase and creating a customer for life.

What is brand positioning?

Think of it this way. Brand positioning is that mental real estate you own in a customer’s mind that they visit when they’re in search of something they need. How you position your business will determine what lot you get. positioning_small business_branding

Why is this important?  Consider the words cheap and affordable.

While your use of the term cheap may mean lower cost, some customers could perceive it to mean lower quality.

Because of the word’s negative connotation, customers may devalue your product or service or dismiss you totally.

Being cheap could also attract customers who aren’t brand loyal and will quickly switch to a competitor when their price drops below yours.

Being the cheapest solution is a tough position to defend and one that can put you out of business if you aren’t careful.

But, being affordable gives you some wiggle room because you can now move the conversation away from price to one of value.

While price is a strong consideration for most customers, getting the most ‘bang for their buck’ is, too. Being positioned as an affordable solution may yield more brand loyal customers overtime who are willing to pay a little extra for a brand that lives up to its promise and exceeds their expectations.

What steps can I take to position my business?

Placed side by side, the differences between cheap and affordable are miles apart. In your customer’s mind, it’s like living on the good or bad side of town. How customers perceive your brand will determine what side of town, on their mental map, you’ll reside and their willingness to pinpoint your location when they’re in search of solutions.

To get that prime mental real estate, consider these two positioning factors:

1. Take the time to honestly assess your businesses’ unique value proposition. If you’re the cheapest, ask yourself why. Did you develop a more efficient way of doing things and opt to pass the savings on to your customers? If you are affordable, but priced higher than some of your competitors, what additional value are you providing that enables you to command a higher price?

Understand what makes you different and stake your claim.  All other branding messages should support your position.

2. Focus on WIFM. “What’s in it for me?” Understand your customer’s needs and wants and communicate, in a clear and meaningful way, how your solutions solve their problems or help them reach their goals. People do business with those who identify with their core values so know what those are, connect with them, and stay true to them.

For example, if using products made with ‘fair trade’ ingredients is important to your target market, if should be important to you, and they should know it.

What should I remember about positioning?

Just this, as small business owners, we have the benefit of creating more personalized experiences for our customers then larger companies do.  The idea of cheap vs affordable only serves as one example of the various ways you can position your business in the mental landscape of your customers.

Be thoughtful about your brand’s positioning in the marketplace and be sure that it clearly communicates the reason customers should choose you over the competition.

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