Thursday, September 24, 2009

Social Media's Growing Reach

It seems to me that right now, everyone is riding the back of a "social media" source of one type or another, be it Facebook, Twitter, or any number of various sources out there. But let's face it - if you have a presence there and don't regard it as important, you're wasting your time.

Every single part of your company is its public image. Like it or not, your Facebook page may be the only way part of your clientele knows you, relates to you, and interacts with you. If you do a bad job of keeping it up, they make assumptions about your business in a negative way all because of your lack of maintenance. It would be the same if you let your web site go to pot as well.

Face it, assumptions, right or wrong, are made every day about every single thing we interact with. We as humans don't have enough time to connect all the dots or do all the research. So you have to constantly put your best foot forward. Your first impression may be your only impression. So make sure you keep things as timely as you can and update everything you're involved with!

On the other hand, I'm going to advocate something very few people would dare suggest: If you don't have time for social media - DON'T DO IT. It is better to be absent from it entirely than to present a bad image or product. Yes, you must have a web site in today's market. But do you need a page on every other site? Probably not. Would I recommend having one and maintaining it? Yes. But if you can't do it properly, and keep it up to date, it's harming you far more than it helps.

Quite possibly my only exception to the lack of updating rule would be if your sole goal is to have yet another portal for your pricing structures and pertinent information. But at that point you're basically doubling your web page. Social media is not static, and if you don't change your content your page will get ignored. Again, if you can't maintain, I'd skip it.

Because of the growing reach of social media, we're going to hit a time where these things seem compulsory, if they don't already. But keep in mind that MySpace was THE place to be just a year or two ago, and then Facebook exploded. What's next? You can guess, but the best advice is to follow trends quickly and to the best of your ability. You can be ahead of the curve, but in this case, sometimes keeping up with it can be pretty tough. Make sure you can dedicate the time, care, and patience to this that you would any aspect of your business - after all, this is customer interaction in a one-on-one situation. Remember that, even if it's not eye-to-eye.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The best leads you're not getting

So you've just closed the sale - congrats! Nice job, pip pip, cheerio and all that. Now what?

If you're like a lot of sales people out there, you go "press hard, three copies, here's yours, I'm done".

That's exactly what you shouldn't do.

Think about this for a moment: You've just hit the culmination of a lot of work, and to be honest, both buyer and seller (especially in the case of first-time clients) are usually excited to buy whatever you've sold. So while they're excited, and you've convinced them to get on board with you, now comes part two - putting them to work for you.

Do this immediately, while the iron is hot. No one wants to buy a new car and then tell his friends "well, I didn't really like it but got it anyway". In fact, isn't it always "this is the best car ever!" Same thing with you and your business. Make sure you use the power of a new client as advocate, let them spread the good word and the enthusiasm of the new purchase for you. It works wonders to get people selling for you.

And now, the best leads you're not getting. You've just sold someone, and they are excited. You have an advocate. How many people do you think this person knows who are either in related businesses or are friends and colleagues who may have the same influence in their own jobs? Odds are pretty good. So go for the rolodex! Get them to provide you with leads. Ask them point-blank: "John, I know you're excited to be on board with us - do you know anyone else who might be interested in a similar opportunity/product/situation? And may I use your name as an introduction?"

Some people will give you leads but won't say to use their name. That's fine, you've just uncovered a warm lead, now go to work. Some people will have no problem saying "tell them Hal sent you!" And yet the rarer few may actually call for you (how cool is that?). But no matter the offer, you should take advantage of it. And don't be gun shy about asking. Right now, they bought from you - which means they like and trust you. People just don't fire their friends phone numbers out to anyone. But if they think the person can help, well... odds are they may offer up someone for you to call. Ask for the leads, because nothing beats a referral!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sales Thoughts

People don't love to be sold. Do you? Don't we all cringe just a bit when salespeople are even just being friendly? We're conditioned to think something negative about sales people. Except for those of us in sales, probably. I rather look forward to chatting with floor sales people and figuring out if they know what they're selling. That's fun to me.

Warped, I know.

Think about this: People love to buy! It's a basic tenet of spending in life: we love to acquire and buy and spend our money on things we want. We just want to do it free of being bothered. If we have questions, we want answers, right? So... how well do you know your product? Hopefully well enough to have answers on hand and keep the customer interested, but not drive them away with banal figures (unless they ask). You have to find a way to get customers and potential customers in a buying mode. On top of your product, which may or may not sell itself, you can lean on two big things: testimonials, and benefits of product application in everyday life.

If you can get someone to vouch for your company and what it or your product has done for them, that's tremendous. Don't be afraid to ask for those testimonials from your favorite clients (and referrals, too)! Offer to do something in return for them if you use a product of theirs as well. In fact, offer around to do some testimonials and watch people jump on board to give you one back. One warning: mean what you say. There's nothing worse than endorsing a bad product just to get some positive spin in return. That backfires more often than not.

Also, make sure you can pinpoint the impact of your product or service in the customer's everyday life. How does this give me more time? Save money? Impact my family? If you can show a person that they will have more time, it's almost always a no brainer. We all wish we had more time. Money is another good failsafe. In addition, ferret out whether someone places a priority on personal comfort and ease of use. If it can do something easier than they currently do it, that's another winning strategy.

To qualify your lead, make sure you ask those questions that get them talking. Stay away from yes and no answers! Those will kill your pitch pretty fast. Example: "Do you like this widget?" Answer: "Yes" BOOOOOOO! That stunk. Try this: "What do you like about this widget? How do you see yourself using it?" If they can't imagine how they would use it, you can either offer a suggestion if you have solid knowledge of their business model, or ask them questions based on your product strengths. Just the customer telling you what they like about your product leads you down a golden road, because you know your product well enough to play up any potential bright spots... right?

Once you have them opening up, get them thinking placement of the product/service in their own little world. If you can see that new car in your driveway, you're going to want it there. If you know how nice that leather recliner would be in your living room, it's halfway home already. You get the idea... you've got the customer wanting to buy, but not being sold! Now it's their idea, and that's the most powerful thing you can get them thinking.

But of course, there's bound to be objections. We'll cover those soon, and ways to overcome them.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Google Wave!

Google Wave! Yes, I've put an exclamation point there myself because I think this has the ability to be a game-changer in the future. It could easily be the re-invention of email and collaborative efforts.

Or it could go largely ignored as people get confused. This thing is massive.

I am tending to think we'll see more of the former out of it, and for a few reasons. One is that the Google development team went a long way to keep basic elements of that which we are familiar with already: email, chat windows, blogs, photo and video viewing options. But beyond that, they are building in some serious real world functionality for the business side of life: real-time collaboration and editing of projects and/or documents; historical backup data embedded in the document (ACCOUNTABILITY!); a joyously simple interface with a short initial learning curve; open source code for developers to add on; unlimited possibility.

Now before I go into much ado about "what the hell is he talking about", I'll provide you with a few things. The first is the hour and 20 minute developers launch video. If you have time to watch this and see the demos, I recommend it. BUT - it's developers talking developese at points, and sometimes it drags a bit. Be prepared, bring your crossword.

For those who do not have the time or gumption to sit through that, I'll condense as best I can. Keep in mind, I've seen the examples of this stuff already. So if you have trouble following along at points, I apologize. I'll try to keep it simple.

First off is the Wave itself (also called a Waveform). The Wave lives in your browser, not in your email server. Google is moving us all towards the cloud, slowly but surely. With HTML 5 on the horizon primed to possibly replace add-on brower items like Microsoft Silverlight, Sun's Java and other web-based applications on your computer, Google is anticipating that most life on the PC or MAC will be lived on the web.

The Wave starts much the way any email might start, with one person sending a message to another person. This is your basic Wave. You can leave it at back-and-forth, but that's just email. Waves allow you to add more users, chat and edit the discussion real time, insert comments or relevant documents immediately the text to which they refer with a simple click, and much more. Multiple users can be added quickly to conversations. There are privacy options to block certain content from certain users such as a private conversation or document. There is so much you can add to the basic wave, and keep it all within the window that houses it, right on your browser.

At this point, I would go more into the details, but that's just a lot of wasted reading that's been covered elsewhere. I want to talk applications!

Our broadcast group was sitting around the other day during a meeting trying to figure out how we're going to schedule between our three edit bays for video, audio production needs, and other projects that need to be done such as scheduling photographers for shoots and commercials. It hit me that Google Wave, which could be edited and maintained on the fly, could work for each project as it happened. On top of that, it could also serve as a clearinghouse for the workloads, showing which bays are full, what is being worked on at what time, and what times were still free or unbooked. All of this can easily be made public and shared with users who can be allowed to edit the wave (such as our photogs, editors, etc) and kept in real time.

Other applications include marketing projects (where are certain people on certain aspects, and the group doesn't have to all be encumbered with the gory details based on private reply) and stages can be recorded and isolated to keep projects moving forward and ease delegation. What about sales campaigns? Need a script to be updated? Easy stuff with Google Wave. On top of that you can have live question/answer sessions between bosses and reps which might actually keep people from being put on hold, too. There's a lot going on in this technology, and I'm just skimming the surface of possibilities based on what we see in the video.

In the long run, keep your eyes peeled on this technology, it's going to take off once it hits. The only limit will be in how you apply it. But I do recommend giving it a shot, and trying out some off-the-wall applications. You may find that it makes your business life just that much easier.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Is what you're fixing broken? (and correct customer targeting)

I just read a line in an article talking about the current browser wars between Google and Microsoft, in which it basically said that while Google let the new Caffeine slip out quietly, Microsoft had unleashed Bing with a massive media blitz. The problem, the article stated, was that Microsoft is attempting to replace something (Google's current search engine) that people aren't all that unhappy with to start.

Hmmm... mental wheels start turning around that nugget. How does that apply to your business, and your competition? Are you fixing something that isn't broken?

If you're the market leader, and you already have the share, you clearly don't require the blitz behind Bing and can instead let it leak out like Google has in this case. Once the engine is out of public beta they are simply going to replace the current engine with it. I've used it a few times, and it is MUCH faster than the old engine, one that you and I didn't know was "slow" until it got faster! So Google, in my opinion, has taken the right attitude and deployment strategy here. They already have the share and do not need to spend money trumpeting they are #1. People will figure it out once the engine is replaced and gets faster for something they were going to do anyway. Under-promise, over-deliver.

Microsoft, on the other hand, didn't have a broken product. They were competing (although not too well) in the search category. With Bing coming out, I presume what they wanted to do was change the game enough to make people at least navigate that way, try it out, and see substantial differences in results and interface from Google. Honestly, Bing is not bad in any way, I've noticed it showing up in places such as Zillow to power real estate searches. It has the built-in ability much like Google to integrate maps, searches, "yellow page" features, etc. But what it doesn't do is innovate enough to convince people who have a set habit, bookmark, or toolbar to go search somewhere else.

So the Google paragraph applies to only one person in a given market segment. The leader. You have market share, and you're doing just fine. However, it's important to note what Google did here. They didn't fix what wasn't broken! There is going to be no major search engine tweak, there's no massive difference in the interface (or even really small ones). It's still familiar and comfy to people. They just dropped in a big-block V8 where there was a small four previously. Consumer feels at-ease with familiar interface, but now is moving even faster along the information superhighway. That is a successful product upgrade because it makes better what is already a quality product.

Not to say that Google shouldn't look to increase market share at all times. They should, until they have 100%, and then they can't rest either. But in an odd way this quiet release generated more buzz than the TV campaign around Microsoft. Heck, most of us live on line now at all hours. We tweet, post, pic, and text our little behinds off. And web news and opinions are instant and globally available. We don't have to wait for that commercial during our favorite show. All of us know someone who is our "computer guy/gal" (if you're not already him/her). Do you trust what he/she tells you to use? Of course you do! You think they know more than you do and would pick the right stuff. So Microsoft is trying to convert Ma and Pa Kettle with a commercial, one user at a time. Google has infected the "guy/gal-in-the-know" who will pass this information along to everyone they know, faster than TV, more widely available, and with a bit more credibility on a personal level. Brilliant!

If you're Microsoft, or any other competitor, you have a tall order - innovate. How do you go about putting something down on paper that can leapfrog the leader? You have to take cues from other parts of life. Think about anything you do, whether it's buying gas, grocery shopping, or commuting. What simple things make it easier for you to get there or accomplish your goals? What complex things help you? Going the other way, what makes it harder to complete those tasks? Take those ideas and apply them to your business. What are you doing to make it easier for people using your service/business to accomplish their goals? People are creatures of habit. If you can get people on board with a quality product or service that accomplished its goals with minimum hassle, I have news for you: people won't balk at price as long as you're competitive.

Yes, you can simply copy the leader. But I don't advocate that. They have a successful model. What you should do is learn from them. What works about what they have? And if you had the same underpinnings, could you apply that to your business to make it even better? Be unique, be driven to be the best, and always look at non-traditional angles. It will serve you well. Get to your core audience/consumer, and understand who they are! I think Google knows. Microsoft knows it wants everyone to use Bing, but they missed the boat on who to target first. Trust me, that previous sentence can be applied to domestic vs. foreign cars or any other number of situations we face daily in this country.

At the end of the day, you must know what you do, how you deliver, and what drives people to your business. Then you have to make it better! Ask hard questions, and make sure you infect the people who influence the people you want to target. But if you are having success, don't tear it down and build over again simply to do something. Remember: don't fix what isn't broken!

Friday, August 7, 2009

More on Twitter

I've seen and heard the following a lot lately:
"How can reading about so and so's life help my business?"
- It can't
"I'm wasting my time reading all those Tweets!"
- You probably are
"I don't see the value in it for my business."
- Now we have a problem...

The ultimate point of any social network, be it Twitter or anything else, is that you communicate what you want, when you want. Remember, communication is a two-way street. You can read all you want or nothing of what other people put out there, just as they can of what you put out there. But what you read has no bearing on your business at all - it's what other people read about your business.

Let me say that again: it's what other people read about your business.

If you and your business are on Twitter to say "I'm at the airport now" or "Tough board meeting!" you're wasting your time and actually inflicting potential damage on your brand. Outside of your mom, no one wants to know where you are and what you're doing every minute of the day. Leave emotion and ego out of this, and deliver straight product in 140 character bursts.

Use Twitter for the following in business:
  • New product launch
  • Old product improvement/update
  • Publicity Event (like a Tweetup)
  • Grand Opening or Re-Opening
  • Daily/Weekly reminder of specials and offers/coupons (re-direct to your web site whenever possible)
  • Photo opportunity (either famous person at your place, or have people post their own pics at your place - great pub either way and people love to see themselves)
  • Staff growth or expansion
  • Business growth or expansion
  • Interesting articles that are about or relate to your company (if people are following you and you're a bakery, they must like baked goods. Keep them posted on your bread and other similar areas of interest like cakes, desserts, bagels, coffee...)
Hopefully that's enough of a lead and examples for you to see what I'm talking about here. You can interract with customers who do so with you, and it helps humanize you if you do. But make sure you reply "at" them and keep on top of messages to you. For people who can't or don't interact with you or your storefront on a daily basis, this is key line of communication that can bring them back in, giving them a sense of ownership in store and product. That also makes them more likely advocates for you and advocates always bring friends!

Take away this - Twitter is a way to promote your business and keep it connected. If you want to spout personal opinion or inject your latest political rant, do it on your own acount, not that of your business. Read what other people in your industry post, follow the articles, and stay personal with the people who are your loyal customers. But you don't have to catch up on what every single one of them is saying, and you'll go crazy trying. Keep your focus on your business marketing.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Where are you missing out?

Likely, you're missing out on the web. You have a web site - and you may even have a wonderful web site - but can someone go one-click-done to a solution/answer? Probably not. Even though I preach streamlined, simplistic web site design (having done a number of them in my day) it's not always enough to get people direct answers in less than three clicks. So what do you do to augment this?

You should have your customer/client interraction contact points set up not only as phone numbers and emails, but as Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and perhaps even a Tumblr account. These social media portals allow you to instantly and personally answer questions while in a sense creating a legacy FAQ that people will see. Heck, you can even re-post your FAQ on Tumblr or Facebook accounts to help ease access to the information.

You don't have to make this a PR arm, and you shouldn't. Don't spam people with your Twitter, they'll stop reading. One of the great powers of social networking is that people can opt-out at any time, so you have to give them reason to read and stay put. In the case of a sports franchise, you can reach out to your season ticket holders with special offers, advice, and links to shortcuts that relate to them directly as STHs. If you're in an event venue, you can answer ticketing questions, procedural inquiries, and even things as simple as parking directions and locations. Don't be afraid to make it a multimedia presentation. Use a Google Map to help out, and make sure you pin some info on the place you're sending people. Link back to your own web site by all means. Use whatever tools are available to you.

What is even more important than your ability to respond is that you monitor this account and ACTUALLY RESPOND! You have to do this in a timely fashion, and keep tabs on things. This also means finding ways to monitor and organize. For Twitter, I use a program called TweetDeck, setting up search algorythms that tell me when someone talks at or about my account, and allows me to also search general comments about my business through use of hashtags. Once you have it sorted out so that you're able to make sense of the information flying around, you're well on your way to being able to monitor online noise regarding your company in a simple, easy manner.

Lastly, I completely and totally recommend that you keep it professional on your customer service outlines. As I mentioned above, no spam. But also refrain from personal commenting (that's what your own personal or business-persona account is for) on situations or events, even if they directly concern your team/enterprise. This isn't the place. Don't feel the need to follow everyone back on this account, in fact I'd recommend you don't. It will keep your one-page stream to just information you have posted and those who have publicly queried you. It will cut down on a lot of extra footwork and enable damage control if needed!

Hey, you're going to need a thick skin, people love their anonymous cloak on line. But by the same token, take your medicine, hear what's being said about your company and who the ringleaders are, and target them to be won over. If you direct your energy and efforts towards getting them on your side, that alone is worth its weight in gold - especially on line.