crayons & marketers

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.

Nearly 97% of consumers use online media to research products and services in their local area according to a study conducted by BIA/Kelsey.  That same study goes on to point out that of those surveyed, 90% use search engines like Google and 48% use Internet Yellow Pages.

With that said, it’s fair to assume that customers are looking for your business, or something similar to it, online.

So, in addition to building a well-optimized website, explore Google My Business. It may help your business get better found within Google.

What is Google My Business?

Google My Business, formerly known as Google Places for Business, is a free service offered by Google that makes it easier for your business to be found on Google Search, Google Maps, and Google+.

With a verified Google My Business listing, upon search, your business listing will display a map pin pointing your location, contact information, store hours, pictures, customer ratings and reviews.

You also get access to details – facts and figures – about how customers interact with your listing and the information you post.  You’ll have access to analytics like the number of times customers find your business on Google, the number of clicks on your listing, driving direction requests, and website visits.  All of this information works together to create a solid profile of who’s interested in your business.  Check it out below:

But is it right for my business?

How your business appears in search has a significant impact on its appearance in search engine results. And on Google, having an updated Google local listing helps clear the clutter and give you an opportunity to share real-time information, like special offers and discounts, with customers when they’re looking for it.

In turn, they can publicly declare how great their experience has been with your business through the Google reviews and ratings system.

Talk about free press!

What’s the catch?

Well, if you’ve got a Google account and a few minutes to set this up, you’re ready to get started.  However, your business and website do have to meet certain quality guidelines in order to appear.  Google uses a verification process to validate your business prior to posting your listing.  Take the time to familiarize yourself with the criteria and make corrections where necessary.

If your business passes all of Google’s checkpoints, the onus is now on you to keep your listing and Google+ page updated regularly.  The same social etiquette rules apply here.  Little activity, little result.

What if I work from home?

Good question.  That is tricky and will take a thorough reading of the guidelines to sort out.  During the set up phase, you’ll have an option to inform Google of that.  In lieu of a showing your address, your listing will reference that you serve the general area you select.

Is it really worth the trouble?

If your business sails through the checkpoints and is listed, it’s totally worth it. The visibility alone makes it worth it. And getting a Google+ page, yet another place to show your worth and start a dialogue with customers, is a plus, no pun intended!

And it’s free.  For a small business marketing budget, that’s good news.

But, Google My Business isn’t going to solve all your local search marketing issues.  Other platforms like Foursquare for Business, Yelp, and Yext are worth strong consideration as well.

Remember, regardless of which one or combination of the lot you choose, they should all be viewed as a portion of a larger plan, one that includes cross channel activity, that funnels into a well-thought out marketing strategy for your business.

If you’re a small business owner or run a non-profit organization, running short on time and resources isn’t an exception, but a hard and fast rule!

In between setting appointments, preparing bids, keeping up with emails, and returning phone calls, you’re expected to provide exceptional products and services, raise much-needed funds, and manage to maintain a fraction of sanity.

You could use a little help; someone to handle the tasks that need to be done, but keep getting pushed to the bottom of the pile.

Sure, you could bring on a college intern or you could consider hiring a Virtual Assistant.

What is a Virtual Assistant? Business Background Use of Virtual Assistant

A virtual assistant is a person who provides administrative, technical, or creative services for a business or organization. Instead of sitting in your office, however, he or she works from a remote location, typically a home office.

They do everything from monitoring and responding to email, transcribing notes from meetings, managing calendars and booking travel arrangements, and preparing presentations to the more heavy tasks like managing your social media presence and conducting market research.

And from a cost perspective, there’s no fixed schedule, so you only pay for the hours you use.

Too Good To Be True?

Well, it’s no secret that technology has and will continue to change the way we work and connect. And unless all of your suppliers or vendors are located in-house, you’re already outsourcing a portion of your business that you manage virtually through tools like Skype or Google Hangouts, or by good old-fashioned weekly conference calls.

But to source out such personal tasks as email correspondence to a third-party is a different story. How do you know that your virtual assistant won’t abuse the access you give them to proprietary information?

That’s a valid concern and there are steps you can take to lessen the risk of having a bad experience.

But first, let’s determine if you even need a virtual assistant.

Understand Your Needs

List the tasks that you’d feel comfortable delegating. Are there enough to share or could you invest a little time over the next couple weekends and get things caught up yourself?

Also, look at your budget.  Can you afford to spend the extra money right now?  While bringing on a virtual assistant may free you up to go out and generate more business, that logic only works when you actually use that time doing just that.

Needs Assessed – Virtual Assistant Neededhow to pick a virtual assistant for a small business

Without question, you must select a reputable firmSo, do your homework. In addition to searching online, ask your peers and colleagues who they use and what their experiences have been.  You’d be surprised to find that the use of virtual assistants isn’t as uncommon as you think.

Compile a list of your top 5-10 firms and start making phone calls.  This isn’t something you want to handle over email – at least not during the early stages of negotiations.

To get you started, Sara Angeles, with Business News Daily, compiled a list early this year of 10 virtual assistant services you could use for your business.  While oDesk and eLance didn’t make the list, they are well-known names in the industry.

In your research, keep in mind that some virtual assistants reside overseas. If you have a preference, make sure you work that into you conversations.

And lastly, when you pick your firm, remember that not all virtual assistants are created equal. Select a good fit. You don’t want to hire someone who will be difficult and combative, nor do you want an assistant with no critical thinking skills.

Make a list of what you need and want in an assistant, including personality traits, and have it at the ready during the interview process.

Important to Remember

If you decide that hiring a virtual assistant is the way to go, either for the long haul or on a per project basis, be sure to do a complete fact check. The firm should have a great reputation and be highly recommended.  Inquire about their screening process and make sure they have iron clad policies in place to protect your information.

Continue to monitor the relationship over time, making changes, when needed.

With more than 70 million users to date, Pinterest is now one of the top online social networks, rubbing social elbows with Facebook and Twitter. Despite this, many traditional business owners are unsure about how to incorporate Pinterest into their online marketing strategy.

69% of Pinterest users have found at least one item they've bought or wanted to buy on the site

69% of Pinterest users have found at least one item they’ve bought or wanted to buy

Pinterest is a powerful digital marketing tool, especially for product-based businesses targeting women. Sixty-nine percent of Pinterest users have found at least one item that they’ve bought or wanted to buy and 80% of users are women. Here’s a great Infographic illustrating the buying power of this Pinning demographic from Social Fresh.

Although Pinterest is ideal for marketing product-based businesses, such as those in the retail industry, fashion, food, furniture, jewelry, etc., it also works well for the services industry. Service businesses can highlight free content and downloads, case studies, or blog content; the list of possibilities goes on and on.

As Pinterest grows, more and more businesses are getting savvy about how to creatively incorporate it into their marketing strategy. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of Pinterest:

1. Set up a Pinterest Business account

Consider opening up a business account on Pinterest or converting your personal account to a business one. While on the surface your account won’t look any different, I’d recommend switching to a business account, especially if you are selling a product. Otherwise, a personal Pinterest account (especially if YOU are your brand) is fine. You’ll also be able to view the built-in analytics a Pinterest business account provides (more on that below).

2. Analyze Pinterest analytics

Pinterest offers its own analytics, which allow you to track how many people have been pinning content from your website and how many people have viewed your pins, as well as number of unique users, impressions, and visits to your site. In addition, Tailwind is a great free analytics dashboard I just discovered that works on both personal or business Pinterest accounts.

3. Think visually

Blog posts with engaging photos, infographics, or text graphics say, “Pin Me.” Plus, you can pin your own favorite content and highlight it on a “best of” board. This also works with older content as you can update it to make it Pinnable. Not sure what type of graphic should illustrate a post? Create an engaging quote graphic. Mixing text with visually appealing graphics is a great combo. If your blog post article is a “top 10″ type list, then create a colorful, but clean, graphic that can be pinned. You don’t have to be a graphic designer to create simple graphics with free online tools such as Picmonkey.

4. Create a group board

Did you know you can invite special guest posters to a specific board? This is a great way to highlight key influencers you’ve partnered with or to promote a special event or marketing campaign. Tuesday Morning recently partnered with me and a few other bloggers for a Take Your Kids Shopping Day. They invited us to pin photos from posts we’d written as part of the event. This helped drive traffic to our blogs, highlighted Tuesday Morning products, and pushed content across multiple platforms as we all shared the board on our various social media outlets. Take a look at Pinterest’s top group boards for ideas. You could even create a group board highlighting employee pins on a certain topic.

5. Make your content easily Pinnable

Add a Pin It Button to your blog or website’s images, making it incredibly easy for visitors to your site to pin content when their mouse hovers over an image and help drive referral traffic. Here’s a helpful article that tells you how: http://www.digitalkonline.com/blog/how-to-add-a-pinterest-hover-button-to-your-blogger-images/

6. Optimize for SEO

Write a well-crafted “About” section that includes a link to your website and language that speaks to your target audience. The text accompanying your pins should also be optimized by using relevant titles, keywords, and hashtags designed to appeal to the demographic you wish to reach and to attract potential customers.

7. Engage with followers

Be a good Pinterest neighbor. Spend a few minutes every day liking, commenting on, and pinning content that’s relevant to your brand and your community. This Search Engine Journal article reveals that activity on Pinterest tends to peak at 9 p.m., with Saturday mornings being an optimum time to pin.

8. Create a board to promote a special event

Use a special Pinterest board to help promote a special event, conference, or other significant milestone. I love this #ThankATeacher boardcreated by Solution Tree in of honor of Teacher Appreciation Week.

9. Use secret boards for research

Create secret boards to keep up with the competition or save ideas for future boards/pins. I also use a secret board for saving relevant infographics in marketing and social media for future reference.

10. Think outside the board

It’s a given that most companies will post photos of their product or services, but think outside the box. For example, if your company makes wine glass charms, consider creating fun boards such as wine pairings, quotes about wine, or photos of vineyards. Not only is this a fun way to extend your brand, but it also shows that your company has personality beyond its product.

How do you incorporate Pinterest into your marketing plan?

 

Jamie Reeves is a long-time Nashville mom blogger who has been pontificating about poop and pinot noir since 2005 at BlondeMomBlog.com She is a social media strategist for digital technology agency The A Group in Brentwood, Tennessee, which helps nonprofits, churches, and Christian resource organizations tell their stories and build influence.

business brand reimagineBrand.  That’s a term we, as marketers, love to use but sometimes aren’t so good at explaining.

And to small business owners, great at what they do, but struggling to reach and retain customers, how they think of their brand and its impact on their business can make a big difference.

But first things first – let’s clear the air.  Your brand is not your logo.

 

Seriously? 

Really, it’s not.  According to Small Business Strategist Barbara Findlay Schenck, a brand is a set of beliefs, a promise, that consistently communicates a set of positive characteristics that consumers can relate to your business.

Simply put, it’s what people think about your business when they encounter it in the marketplace.  It’s the impressions that you make, good or bad, that will spring to mind when triggered by the experiences you create through tools like your website and promo items, that have your logo on them.

But it doesn’t stop there.  What consumers see in search results, read on your social media posts and emails, and experience when personally interacting with you and your staff also give consumers some insight into what your business is about, what it stands for, and most important to consumers – what it can do for them. This is your brand.

So it’s fair to say, as suggested by Schenck, that your brand lives in the consumer’s mind.

Still not convinced?  Think of it this way.  The word brand is derived from the Old Norse word “brandr” which means to burn or make your mark – which is exactly what you’re trying to do.

 

How can you do it?

Glad you asked. So many factors pour into defining your business brand, which is separate from your personal brand  – that’s another post.

Use these insights as a guide and you’ll be well on your way to etching your business into the minds of your target consumers…

Figure out the personality of your business and embrace it. 

If you think of some of your favorite brands, there’s something more important than price that draws you in. There’s a personal connection that transcends facts and figures and makes you feel the way you want to feel when you experience it.

Remember, your brand is an emotional set of experiences in the mind of the consumer.  Your ability to humanize your business by clearly defining and embracing its ‘personality’ gives you a chance to make it likeable.

People do business with people they like, right?

 

Consistently be where consumers are with a good message. 

And they’re online.  Are you?  Building an online presence is a minimum requirement these days and it can be as simple as starting a WordPress blog or building a free website.

In fact, Google offers free resources for small businesses to get online through their Get Your Business Online with Google program.

But as cool as all that is, don’t neglect offline activities. Printed marketing materials, promotional items, in-person interactions, store/office atmosphere, and yes (finally) your logo, should all point back to your business personality.

Being consistent in the messages you send through these channels will help you earn credibility and trust, thus enabling your brand to build positive sentiment and awareness in the marketplace, making it easier for consumers to recall your brand during the buying process.

 

Overwhelmed?

Don’t be.  Keep in mind that building a strong business brand takes time.

But if you commit to sending messages that demonstrate your brand’s personality, value, and why people should care on a consistent basis, it’s only a matter of time before consumers take notice.

 

 

When sitting down with decision makers, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on us, the business owner, to sell – to close the deal. So, we take out our gadgets and flip through our brochures, determined to convince them to end their search and sign on with us.

And after all that time and presentation, they’re still not buying.

Why Not?

There could be so many reasons. But in general, it comes down to just three:overcoming sales objections

 

1.  No Money . For some of your prospects, they really may not have the budget to spend on what you’re offering. Others may have the budget, but consider your pricing too expensive.

These are two totally difference scenarios. For those who really don’t have the money, this isn’t a time to push, but to thank them for their honesty and ask them if you can stay in touch. If they agree, nurture that relationship over time and when funds do become available, you‘ll be top of mind.

For those who consider your pricing too high, take a step back and ask yourself, “Am I being fair in my pricing?” Then figure out what they’re comparing your price to – a competitor or what they think the price should be? Be careful here. Don’t let the fear of losing the sale, cause you to overreact and drop your prices. Consider offering volume discounts or lower annual fees in exchange for an extended contract period.

Take the focus off the numbers and put it on the value you offer.

 

2.  No Need. It’s possible that there’s really no need – and that’s OK. Thank them for their time and stay in touch, like once a year, because one day, a need may arise.

But, sometimes there is an apparent need and the prospect my not see it – but you do. This is when it becomes helpful to shift the conversation away from what you’re selling to the problem you’re solving – redefining exactly what it is you’re attempting to do.

When a prospect says, “I don’t think I need it,” replace “it” with the problem.   For example, when you hear, “I don’t think I need retirement planning,” you repeat, “So, you don’t need a way to not run out of money during retirement?”   

It may sound sneaky, but it’s not. Sometimes, as the professional, we have to help our prospects help themselves. That’s our job.

 

3.  No Trust. This one is perhaps the hardest to overcome and could be the underlying culprit of all your sales objections.  For some reason, your prospect has little or no confidence in you or your abilities. It could be simply because you’re new in business or that the prospect has had a bad experience in the past.

But, trust takes time to earn and can’t be purchased with volume discounts and freebies.  Be honest, consistent, and intentional about keeping high levels of service. Share testimonials, provide references, give them a tour of your office so they can see how you work – reassure them that you’ve got their best interest at heart.

 

What should I remember?

In business, the reality is, you won’t get every sale. But you can get good at figuring out why you didn’t and fix it for next time.

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