Monday, October 29, 2012

How Social Media Engagement Enhances the Overall Customer Experience

We can look at social media first by focusing on traditional methods of communication. Traditional media including radio, television and magazines implemented one-way, static messages ideal for viewing and not responding. Traditional advertising methods required the business to get space in newspapers, magazines or create a television commercial. These were expensive and their impact could not be easily measured.

Web and mobile technology has made it easy for anyone to create online content and distribute it to audiences online for free. This reduces the cost of advertisement as you, as a company, do not have to part with large sums of money to have your ads published. What's more, distribution is almost instant.

Social media comes in many forms: reference sites (Wikipedia), blogs, micro blogs (twitter), social networks (Facebook), discussion forums, social bookmarking and voting sites (Digg), virtual worlds (Second life) and media sharing sites (YouTube), which are vital in enhancing the customer experience. These are visited by millions of people around the world every day and your business is sure to reach many people in a short time. As we speak, it is very probable that your customers and competitors are already using social media.

The first strategy to focus on is monitoring. Customers and competitors are out there on the web talking about your business or products. Giving a response or taking part in the conversation will build a sense of trust and confidence they have in you. Before you respond to any questions or provide information, you need to know what they are talking about, where it is being said, and who is talking about it. Tools abound on the web which search for your name, business name or product. Set up an account on your RSS feeder reader and monitor the feeds daily. Such tools include Technorati search, Google news search and Social Mention just to mention a few. Through this, you will be able to get complaints about your products, get suggestions on how to improve and what they love about your products. You can also find out what people say about your competitor products. This will put you ahead of competition, while providing customers with what they want.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Simple Mobile Customer Relationship Management Strategies

Gone are the days of simply informing your clients of a new product or service, waiting a few days, and having the phone ring with an overflow of orders. Consumers today expect a great deal more from the businesses they interact with, and like to be engaged throughout every level of the marketing process. With that being said, the value and quality of products while still very important, are not the only factors driving consumers to make purchasing decisions. Consumers love to feel as if they are involved in the decision making of a company, have an interactive relationship, or feel like they are the only client of a business. Twenty years ago, engaging a client may have been somewhat of a difficult task, but with current technology, and the strength of the mobile and social infrastructure, client engagement is an absolute necessity in building a successful brand.

Customer Relationship Management encompasses the processing and understanding of customer information, in an effort to effectively engage customers. This form of high communications is essential in a social and media driven world, as consumers now have more information at their fingertips than ever before. The payoffs for creating a CRM model can be huge, considering that heightened brand loyalty will improve revenues and also decrease marketing costs, as campaigns become more targeted. As it relates to mobile marketing, CRM can be implemented cost effectively and simply. Below are a few outlined strategies that will help with Customer Relationship Management, and can help improve overall satisfaction, loyalty, and client advocacy.

Targeted Distribution Lists
The creation and maintenance of an SMS distribution list is essential to any Client Relationship Management campaign. Since SMS distribution lists are highly targeted, and have high response rates (sometimes up to 30%), this is a perfect means of creating personalized offers that fit a client's needs.

The main goal of CRM is to make marketing to prospective and existing clients easier; building targeted SMS lists can effectively accomplish this. Let's say for example your company ran a mobile campaign, in which it placed QR codes in its existing print material, which reads, "Scan here in order to download our free ebook on personal success". Clients that downloaded the ebook are now opted into your SMS list, and can be sent marketing information on purchasing your "success" seminar (for example). While many of these clients may not have initially purchased your service from this first form of contact, your now have a list of individuals, who you know are at least interested in your product, thus future follow up with this population can be very targeted and much more effective in terms of sales conversions. Creating targeted SMS lists for each product niche can be a highly effective way of segmenting potential buyers, which can then each be marketed to using tailored strategies.

Loyalty Programs
Creating brand loyalty is a very powerful means of improving overall profitability. Loyalty programs not only create additional value for clients, but also create overall satisfaction, as clients feel they are part of a family, and share in the success of an organization. These programs reward clients for their repeat business and encourage loyal behavior. Also, loyal customers tend to spend more money on average, be higher promoters of a business, and are less elastic in terms of changes in price.

One very simple, yet effective way to build a mobile loyalty program is through the use of mobile coupons. These coupons are easily redeemable at a point of sale, or online, and can be implemented by simply sending a coupon code to an already existing distribution list. An easy mobile campaign can be set up, which drives clients to opt into an SMS list. Once opted in, the client will receive monthly coupons around the product or service of their choice. These recipients would typically be motivated consumers, as they are shopping for value around the products your company provides. Also, once your list has been established, you now have the ability to cost effectively cross sell to this target population. Another good practice would be to send periodic coupons to your other distribution lists, even if they did not initially opt in knowing they would be receiving this additional value. A coupon could read "Thank you for being a client for 6 months, please show this coupon on your next visit for 50% off!" This will show clients that their business is very meaningful, and will help establish a long-term loyal interaction.

Mobile Polling
One effective means of gathering client feedback is through the use of mobile polling. Client insight is key to building long-term relationships and creates a competitive advantage for companies that are able to process the comments that they receive on their front lines. One example of a simple polling strategy would be a Name That Product contest. A polling text could be sent out to existing clients, which reads, "Help us name our new Product, please respond to this text with the option you choose". Engaging the client in such a decision not only gives them a feeling of self-satisfaction and fulfillment, but also subsequently promotes the product at hand. Additionally, a reward can be given to the participants, in order to encourage them to become purchasers the day the new product launches.

What Soap Can Teach You to Do in Your Business

A couple of weeks ago I trav­eled to Washington, DC, to do some consulting for a group I'm working with to help them focus their marketing efforts. Lorie and I decided to go up a few days early and spend the weekend visiting museums and seeing the sights, which are amazing in our capital.

Sunday morning we decided to go to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. On the way from the Bed and Breakfast ac­commodations we were staying at we walked through Dupont Circle, which was holding its weekend Farmer's Market. We weren't going there to buy fruits and vegetables as we wouldn't be making dinner, but we thought we might be able to get some food there for lunch and we weren't disappointed.

There were vendors selling the usual vegetables, but there were also people there selling crisp fall apples and the most amazing Asian Pears. There were vendors selling all sorts of cheeses, breads and pastries.

In addition, there was a vendor selling soap, not your ordinary deodorant soap, but about 50 dif­ferent scents of soaps. There was French Lavender, Cherry Choco­late Truffle, Honeysuckle, Lem­ongrass and a multitude of other samples lined up in a row that you could sniff and decide which one was your favorite. Once you made your choice of which one you liked, they would cut off a 1-inch wide bar of your selection from a large chunk of soap.

There were a few things that this vendor did exceptionally well that you may want to consider in your own business, even if you don't sell soap.

Help your prospect to inter­act with your product. All of the vendor's soap samples were promi­nently displayed so you could pick them up and hold them in your hand while you breathed in their scent. There were quite a few people in front of the booth, all smelling the soaps and deciding which ones they liked the best.

When I asked the vendor the price, she said the soaps were $6.25 each, but you could get 3 for $17. For some reason 3 for $17 sounded like a really good deal, but when I figured it out later, I only saved 58 cents per bar. Why do you think that is? The answer is that when you add.25 to the $6, it seems more than when you leave it off. You notice they left it off of the $17 so it seemed cheaper.

Now I bet you that even though I didn't ask, I'm sure they had tested various price points. Remember the only way to make more money is to charge more, get your customers to buy more, or get more custom­ers. Take a look at your own pricing structure and see what one works best in your business.

In addition you could join their frequent buying club and get a free bar after you bought 10 bars. Can you do this in your business?

Another nice touch was that they added a few small samples of other scented soap in your bag with your purchase so you could try out some different soaps later.

So what can you learn from them that you can incorporate in our own business? First, people like to interact with a product. They like to look at it, feel it, taste it, or even smell it, as with the soap.

People have five senses: hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste. And different people are more prone to respond with one sense over an­other. That's why it's vitally impor­tant when selling your product or service that you incorporate the five senses into the sales process.

Does your prospect need to see what your product does? Does your prospect need to touch the product to get a feeling of how it works? Does your prospect need to have the benefits and features of the product explained to her? Does the prospect need to smell or taste the product before he buys it?

While at the Farmer's Market, other vendors were doing just that... providing samples of the food that people could try before they bought it. A cheese vendor was giv­ing out samples of different types of cheeses. There was a fruit vendor offering a taste of different types of apples and Asian pears.

Now you may not have a product that can be eaten, but you can offer your prospect a free trial of your product so they can start consum­ing it to see if it's right for them. We sometimes call that a Try Before You Buy offer.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Business Growth Requires Extraordinary Executives - Trust and Respect

In most companies, employees have some degree of mistrust for executives. After all, executive meetings are confidential. Although many executives do their best to treat people fairly, their job is to make the tough decisions that can unfortunately include layoffs and other unpleasant surprises. Full trust of executives may be lacking, but as long as employees show them respect, the relationship usually works. Over the decades, such an environment has become rather "ordinary".

Executives who want their company to be more than ordinary, however, should consider the following truth:

Maximum Employee Performance Can Only Be Achieved When There Is Mutual Trust and Respect.

The Rationale:

1. When employees feel trusted and respected, they return it. Trust and respect are not earned with a title, nor do they just exist. Instead, they are verbs. If executives want trust and respect, they must "give before they receive".

2. Trust brings inner security, which allows people to reach for lofty goals without fear. In ordinary companies, people who don't feel trusted are insecure, and so they do the minimum to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, the cumulative effect of a workforce doing the minimum will cause a company's performance to be mediocre, at best.

3. When trust is given, people are much more likely to live up to it. It is human nature for people to show those who trust them that they have made the right decision. As a result, trusted people have the best chance at becoming star performers.

4. Mutual respect helps attach people to the company with their hearts. When employees do not respect the company's management team, their concern for organizational success leaves something to be desired. Indications of a lack of respect are "fudged" expense reports, long break times, absenteeism, high turnover and a slow work pace.

But when employees truly feel respected and respect management in return, they form a bond with the company. Instead of working hard because they are being paid, they care about the company's results and do the maximum possible. With a company full of people doing the maximum, customers and competitors will wonder how such performance is possible!

Convincing people that you trust and respect them is not an overnight process. But the rewards are much more than worth it! The following are some important steps toward progress:

- Trust and respect employees first, even if you don't feel it is mutual.

- Don't mistake the show of respect with the presence of it.

- While titles gain "displayed" respect, actions earn actual respect.

- Ask for the opinions of others and value them.

- Believe in people, and show them that you do.

- Treat the lowest level people like royalty.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Small Business Management

Running a small, start-up business has it share of ups and downs. When I launched my company nearly nine years ago, running my own small business has been both rewarding and challenging. It has enabled me to establish greater balance in my life as I have reduced the administrative burden that corporate America places on each of its employees and replaced it with more time spent on developing content for my clients.

Given the choice, running my own small business is the best option for me at this stage of my life. I can work out of my house, see my kid on a regular basis, focus my work effort on content, rather than administration, and yes golf a tad. That being said, I am asked continually by others "what is it like to be in business for yourself?" as they contemplate the leap from corporate to sole proprietorship.

While it is not for everyone, here are some of the points of consideration that one should mull over before making the jump to starting your own small business:

One Stop Shop: One of the benefits of being a small business owner is the autonomy of "calling the shots". You are the boss and clearly can steer your company as you see fit. Many think they relish this set-up but in reality, when it comes to being the self-motivator that is required to be successful - the "guy" to go to - lots fall short. Before you read any further, ask yourself if you are cut out to be the "go to guy". If not, you can save yourself a lot of time and frustration. Simply stay in the corporate world.

Develop A Business Plan: So, why is business planning so crucial? In a word, it provides "clarity". Investing time to develop a plan provides precise clarification of the company vision. In addition, it provides a mechanism to gauge the results of the business and provides the foundation for future growth plans. In the long haul, it enhances the company valuation through fiscal responsibility, which provides the story of opportunity to any future investor or employee. Business planning is one-part strategy and one-part tactics - but where the sausage actually gets made is in the execution. Execution comes in the hard work necessary to carry out a plan and the accountability for your activities by tracking them.

Understand Tax Burdens: Regardless of the political rhetoric surrounding the tax code and its impact on small business, the fact of the matter is that these entities are levied with a myriad of taxes. I am shocked by how many budding entrepreneurs fail to understand the taxes that small businesses pay. My company has essentially one of the easiest business operating models that a small business can have. I invoice a few clients per month; receive a few checks a month; pay a few bills a month; and have very little inventory and/or depreciation of capital assets. Despite that, my tax return was 84 pages last year. Filing as an S-Corp, my outlay on taxes is between 25% and 39% of federal taxes; North Carolina state income taxes ranging from 6.0% to 7.5%, social security and medicare (twice as a matter of fact for employer and employee) of 15.3%, so nearly 50% of all income goes to taxes and fees.

Replicate Yourself: Given the fact that you are a one stop shop, a small business owner needs to replicate themselves wherever possible. Tools such as social media and the acceptance of telecommuting through online collaboration have enabled small business owners to be in many places at one time. In order to be successful, small business owners need to tap these tools to maximize their exposure to potential clients as well as reaching customers outside of their immediate trade area. Prior to these tools being readily available, my business was limited to the state of Illinois (where my company was originally based). Since I have utilized these tools to replicate myself, I have had clients in thirteen different states.

Navigate Third-Party Challenges: A small business owner wears many hats and relies on third-party entities for key alliances. When Go Daddy had their website and email server outage in September, roughly 5.3 million small business websites and emails were knocked out. Small business owners rely on these support companies and at times, are held captive when issues arise. While my company does not conduct a lot of commerce via my website, many small operators lost online revenue due to the outage.

Be Wary Of Scams: Lastly, where there is a small business owner, there is a criminal waiting to prey on the unsuspecting operator. In fact, this past week, I received a letter from a group claiming to represent the State of Illinois. Having been in business nearly nine years, I am keenly aware of all of the annual expenditures that my company pays. As an Illinois corporation (operating in North Carolina), I received a letter stating that I needed to send in a $125 fee for my "Annual Minutes Records Form". I didn't recall ever doing this, and when I contacted my CPA, he shared the following press release with me:

The Top Components of Strategic Planning

If you already know what is strategic planning, then the next thing you'd have to be familiar with before learning the process of strategic planning is its key components.

Number one on the list is vision. This summarizes what the organization desires to be, or how it wants the world in which it operates to be. It is a long-term view and focuses on the future. It should be one that should inspire and motivate the members of the organization.

Second is the mission statement. The mission statement is an predominant, endless statement of your purpose and goal. It also tells what your organization wants to accomplish and in what ways you plan to accomplish them. It's a pronouncement of the reason for your company's existence.

Next values are then specified. Values are the organization's basic beliefs about the way you would run the company or organization. It provides an idea to the management and staff on what behaviours is acceptable and what are not. Most of the time values is connected with the culture of the organization.

What follows is the setting of the goals, objectives and tasks. Goals are defined as a list of wide-range strategies and tactics that have to be done so that the company can reach its mission. Objectives on the other hand, are SMART (specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic and time bound) strategies or activities that are need to reach the company's goals and vision. Then, tasks are precise activities and actions members, employees have to carry out day by day. They, too, should be specific, measurable and time bound.

Then, there's the strategy. It is a blend of the results the company or organization want to achieve and the ways by which it is seeking to get there. Another name for strategy is roadmap because it tells the company what path to take so that the goal or vision can be achieved.

It is at this point that strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are pointed out. These four are simply represented by four letters - SWOT.

Also, there are the action items or plans. These are definite statements that point out the ways in which a goal will be accomplished. An example of which is stating that the company would have to use quality management software to evaluate quality of products or performance.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Company Profile: Bringing Jobs Back to the US

As a consumer, I personally enjoy purchasing products that are made in the USA. It's a great feeling knowing that I'm buying a product which is part of providing work for Americans. In a perfect world, I'd love it if more people would try to "buy American"-of course, that's kind of difficult these days since so many products are made in other countries. However, if we would be more patient and take the time to look for and shop around, we'd be able to purchase more products that were made in the USA.

In the "good old days," you could rely on reliable, quality products and know that what you bought, would last. These days, when you buy something, you cannot rely on the quality of the product. It is true that things are not made the way they used to be. Clothes don't last as long. Shoes wear out more quickly. As a business owner, the hope is that the business climate here in the US will become more business-friendly.

In the meantime, that means business owners will try to be more frugal and trim the fat and do what's necessary to keep their businesses going. With the advent of the Presidential election coming up next month, the tide will turn one way or the other. Time will tell, but we all hope that more businesses will be able to expand and hire more employees and that the job market will turn around.

In these current hard economic times, what one thing does this Country need right now? We need jobs, here for the American people... not jobs sent overseas to other countries so businesses can save money on paying low wages. One American company that has been profitable is able to make the claim that they started to bring jobs back from China.

What have they been doing? They've tried to cut costs and manage their production in a more productive way-they recently bought an abandoned factory in Ohio and have simplified the design of their Eden Pure heaters. [Disclaimer: I have one of these heaters and absolutely love the product... it works great.] By making a simpler design, which works just as well and even better than the older models, the product requires less parts (rivets and screws). They have now been able to compete better with their competitors who have taken their plants overseas to benefit from paying lower wages. For more details on Eden Pure's story, visit: "Purely Profitable" from the Costco Online magazine.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Build a Strategic Plan For Business Growth - Connecting the Plan

Once your company's strategic plan has been completed and a "growth map" is in place, it is time to execute it. But unfortunately, the reality of business, with all its pressing concerns, can quickly cause plan execution to falter. The answer is not to try harder or make the plan an urgent priority. Instead, the solution is to integrate the plan into the company's ongoing activities so that execution takes place as part of the normal course of business.

The most common and deadliest enemy to strategic plan execution begins the moment that a company's long and involved planning process comes to an end. When executives finally turn their full attention back to running the company, there is often a pent-up demand for their time. Customers have issues, suppliers bring challenges and shareholders want immediate results. And that doesn't include regulatory demands, legal considerations, human resource needs, etc. The list goes on, and unfortunately the "dust gathering" process for the strategic plan often begins before the ink is dry.

Even when executives make time to execute their plan, initiatives can falter as part of the company's "project list". The problem is that when projects are prioritized, strategic plan initiatives are nearly always labeled "important" rather than "urgent". And urgent projects, like the ones that customers are waiting for and those that will increase cash flow, tend to be implemented first. So as the year progresses, strategic initiatives often fall behind and executives must be content to report the reasons. At year-end, it can become embarrassing for a company's executive team to realize how little of their strategic plan has actually been implemented.

Instead of attempting to keep the plan in better focus or placing its execution ahead of urgent matters facing the company, the permanent solution is to integrate the plan into the company's normal operations. This way, plan initiatives will not be seen merely as additional projects.

The first step to effective plan integration is to separate each plan initiative into "action plans". For example, let's assume that there is an initiative called "Build A Marketing Program That Targets Small Businesses". This initiative can be split into 5 separate action plans, as follows:

1. Identify the products and solutions that will be required.

2. Develop tailored presentation materials

3. Prepare advertising and promotion plans

4. Initiate relationships with appropriate trade organizations

5. Create a sales target list, with contact information

Once action plans have been established, the next step is to assign responsibility for each of them. Although the company's marketing executive would likely be responsible for the overall initiative in the above example, each of the 5 action plans should be assigned to an appropriate employee team. For instance, the Customer Service team can be responsible for action plan 1, the Promotion team can handle action plans 2 and 3, the Sales team can initiate the relationships with trade organizations in action plan 4 and the Sales Support team can create the target list in action plan 5.

At this point, the initiative has been pushed deep within the company. But an even further step towards integration is to make timely action plan completion a part of employee compensation. For example, when teams meet their goals for the quarter, which should include completion of assigned action plans, the members of those teams would receive performance pay in addition to their regular pay. Similarly, completion of the overall initiative can be one of the components of the executive team's compensation.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Five Hot Trends In Getting Hot Prospects For Your Business Today

Who do you want to help or serve with your business? What issue or problem does your product or service solve? What is the composite of the profile of the members of your target audience? What do these questions have to do with business planning?

In Starting to Plan

All of the above questions need to be answered directly or indirectly in some part of the plan that identifies your business strategy. At some point, the plan needs to be as detailed as possible and written even if it is not written initially. A record needs to be made of ideas that are attempted that were unsuccessful because of market timing or lack of resources.

Start a checklist that is expanded from the executive summary draft. On the checklist, make sure that you include information that is needed for funding sources. Information needed for making decisions for starting, developing and growing the business should also be included. "As texts that represent a given organization's strat­egy, strategic plans are of course specific to that organization, and yet the notion has a generic quality that draws on shared institutional understandings of what such a text should include (its substance), how it should be structured (its form) and what it is intended to achieve (its communicative purposes)" (Cornut, Giroux & Langley, 2012, 22). Keep in mind that time spent in business planning could make the difference between a successful business venture and one the struggles and eventually fails. Be prepared to do research to find needed information. Remember if all you do is copy what everyone else is doing you may risk ending up with only the level of success of everyone else.

Identify the personal brand of the CEO in order to insure that it is in line with the business brand. The vision and mission should show its relationship to the target market in the marketing message that is cohesive on the web and in printed materials like mailing pieces, letterhead and business cards.

Plan Inclusions

The master copy of the business plan will include information and sections that may not be contain in other versions for some audiences. The purpose of having a plan that includes everything is to create a resource to be shared with specific audiences for specific purposes at the appropriate time. There may be a risk in sharing the entire plan to the wrong audience. Therefore, it will be necessary to cut some of the information out of the plan according to the audience for which it is intended.

Work in process

The business plan of a thriving business is expected to be forever changing to reflect the current operating activities of the business based on what ideas have been tried and adjusted to best serve the stakeholders of the firm. When the business plan stops being a changeable document, the business is endanger of stopping its growth and development processes.

Five Hot Trends In Getting Hot Prospects For Your Business Today

Is your business in touch with current consumer behaviour? Are you well informed about your market segment and how your target consumers are living their lives, what their most into these days, and if their online activities have drastically changed over the last couple of years? It's important for any business to obtain current market data, not just to survive, but to actually thrive and to make a better transition into the future. Information, as you already know by now, is power so here are five hot trends on how your company can get the hot prospects it needs.

Get your business on mobile phones. People have changed the way they get on the Internet as handheld devices like tablets and smartphones turn into mobile computers. No longer will you find your consumer waiting to get home to log onto his or her computer to check out a website, purchase products, or read their email. ComScore predicts that the number of mobile users will topple desktop users by 2014 as multi-device ownership (people who have mobile phones also have tablets) skyrockets to 308 percent since 2011. You can even send coupons to your valued customers as Prosper Mobile Insights finds that 82 percent are open to getting coupons on their smartphones and tablets; 51 percent prefer getting coupons through email, 31.9 percent said they'd prefer getting a QR code and scanning it in the store, and 31 percent want to get it through text messages.

Distribute your content through social media like Facebook or Twitter to drive traffic to your website and to promote your business. If your business goals do not include social media marketing customised for one of these highly popular sites, you may be losing out on valuable prospects. Just consider how a mass merchant gets an average of 2.1 million fans and retailers of toys and hobbies have an average of 1.6 million fans on Facebook.

Use forums. Forums, whether they're on social media pages or blogs, will allow you to provide a valuable solution to prospects who may be asking questions that relate to your products or services. When you offer an answer and you do enough of these forums to build credibility for your brand or company, it's only a matter of time when prospects come to you to buy a product or obtain a service.

Show it, don't tell it. Use image-driven campaigns and not just written content. People want to watch a quick, engaging video about your new service or product rather than read a 500-word article about it. So produce videos for your website, your social media page, and your YouTube channel. Consider doing a web TV show. Present stunning images related to your business on Pinterest.