For a small business their customer & lead database is the heart of their sales process. Without an organized system for tracking who you sell to, how you sold them and what they bought a sales team will find themselves engaged in a wild goose chase on inefficiency and low profits.
Large corporations often have entire departments dedicated to standardizing the sales process and training their sales reps on their highly customized CRM process. Small businesses, however, don’t have the luxury of cost or time to establish extensive procedures or elaborate systems. None the less, small businesses have a very real need for a streamlined system to track their customer relationships. Luckily in the past few years some excellent services have appeared that can help your small business maintain an improved system of customer engagement.
While a spread sheet and a tidy Outlook contacts file are a good start you might want to consider one of the CRM service options if you’ve found yourself suffering from any of these common sales process road blocks:
- Remembering you talked to somebody at Acme Client but you’re not quite sure who it was or what asked for.
- Sent out a whole bunch of sample kits but lost track of where they went and how long ago.
- Passed a client off to the next in the sales chain but you’re not sure if they ever followed up with them.
- Find yourself sending out the same single email to people throughout the day/week/promotion.
- Continually realize there are ways your current system fails or creates gaps in your efficiency.
This post isn’t intended to endorse one service over another -we will leave you to do your own investigating- it is intended to help you recognize the need for having a CRM system in place and some factors to consider when looking in to your options. So, here is a list of things to keep in mind before you sign up for a CRM system:
A good system will allow you to easily:
- Track contact w/ each customer (Phone, email, face-to-face)
- Take notes about client interaction
- Integrate with your other systems
- Track the sales process with each lead and customer
- Manage your timeline of interactions, emails, appointments, etc and alert you if a deadline is approaching.
- Most importantly, look at your existing process and identify the weaknesses you should hopefully be able to find a solution that resolves most, if not all, of those issues.
Before you approve the payment ask:
- Do they have a service level that fits your budget? CRM services can help make you more profitable but don’t put all your money into the system and not the clients.
- Can you easily navigate the user interface? Most services will allow you a trial period, if you find actually using the service to be cumbersome or confusing from the start you’ll most likely end up abandoning it eventually.
- Is there room to customize? Your sales process is distinct to your business you should be able to tailor the service you use to maintain that process.
- What kind of customer support do they provide? Do they offer webinars or training so ensure you understand how to properly use all the service’s bells and whistles? If something goes wrong will you be able to rely on them to help you find a solution?
Now that you have a starting point go forth and find the solution that best suits your company’s needs. With a standardized CRM process in place you’ll be able to focus more efficiently –and hopefully, profitably- on your customers.
Some Options To Consider:
When was the last time you wrote? I don’t mean a quick email reply to your officemate or 140 character tweet. I mean really took some time to sit down and write out your thoughts. It is a practice I often find myself doing when I am trying to develop an idea or clarify my opinion on a matter. It helps to solidify my positions and makes me much more articulate when I need to talk about the topic or my position later.
Of course, the fact the I have to write a lot for work, gives me motive to write regularly but, now that I have realized the benefits of putting my thoughts on paper I find myself doing it a lot more for reasons other than blogging or proposal writing. Usually while in the middle of putting my thoughts into words I will see my thoughts take a natural order, one I might not have come up with if I had tried to find key point before fleshing out the full argument. I even sometimes find myself questions my initial opinion or finding a whole new side of the argument. I vary my approach depending on my mood or topic and I always feel better –not to mention, more prepared - after I’ve put my mind through a bit of a workout.
If you think starting your own writing workout would help you make better at forming arguments and sort through your thoughts here are the two main approached I use.
When I have a nugget of an idea or even something as vague as a general direction I will often let my natural synapses take control. To keep the thoughts flowing freely I’ll pick up a pen and go at it; sometimes when I type I find the process can interrupt the stream of ideas. So, with nothing between my mind and the paper in front of me I begin writing everything that comes to mind, doing my best to make the thoughts string together somehow but ultimately not fussing with semantics. I’ll do this until I hit a block or until I feel the ideas have really played themselves out. Then, I step away and let it sit for a while.
After at least an hour but sometimes as much as a week I will return to the work and start to give the piece shape. I’m not looking to necessarily make it publishable, just to extract the strong points and find the most concise relationship between them. I work with the brain dump until I feel like I’ve absorbed enough to either help me in future articles and/or presentations or in conveying opinions.
Much like a brainstorming session this no rules approach often shakes loose some ideas that wouldn’t have been revealed by a more formal process. It also helps improve my understanding of the way I write. Becoming familiar with my patterns and voice makes writing on assignment easier and more efficient.
On the occasion when I’ve been gnawing on some ideas but can really wrap my head around how to connect them or what angle to use to dig a little deeper I give myself an assignment. I take a basic editorial approach. First, by making an outline. In fact, I often push the outline step to it’s fullest trying to organize the various thoughts I’ve already come up with. Then, I begin to build prose around that outline. Challenging myself to make my writing as concise and relatable as possible.
This approach requires me to be more structured but it usually provides the connections I need to make the best argument succinctly. I generally us this when I need to understand my thoughts but, more importantly, I want to be able to share them with others. I will edit the prose until I‘ve reached a point that I feel it stands on its own then I put it aside. The mere exercise of working through my thoughts and refining them primes my mind for future conversations. Instead of worrying I may not be explaining myself effectively or trying to justify a position I haven’t fully thought through I am more confident in presenting my thoughts and opinions.
While this may seem like a lot of work it saves me a ton of time because my head is clear and my positions solidified. At least try it once and see if it doesn’t help you with your formal work.
A lot of changes in workforce management have occurred in the past decade as the economy, communication methods and technology have all done a fair amount of shifting. People no longer feel obligated to stay at the same company for decades; in fact, many workers change entire careers as their interests dictate. Yet the need for dedicated and skilled workers is as great as ever. So what are employers doing to build effective workforces? They're thinking out of the box and embracing progressive employee policies. If you're looking for new ways to improve the results you're getting from your employees consider some of the following ways other companies are shaking things up in their work places.
- Give them room to roam; it is a well recognized fact that everyone learns in their own way. Some are visual learners, others do better if they hear a lesson and there are also those who thrive in a tactile learning environment where they can work through problems with their own two hands. The same can be said for the way people work; everyone has a particular method to be most productive. If you're interested in getting the best results from your workforce's individual skill sets then give them some freedom to find their comfort zone. If they are morning people then encourage them to come in as early as they'd like, if they work better standing up then allow them to change their desk situation. Working within the parameters of your expectations of them do your best to enable them to achieve those expectations in their own way.
- Encourage creative thinking and allow employees to pursue their own ideas. Companies like Google and Azavea are getting a lot of recognition for allowing their employees to use 10% of their "work hours" to pursue individual projects. Their theory is that the more their employees work to build their own skill sets and interests the more they will benefit from the diversity of perspective and a staff capable of demonstrating initiative. Allowing workers to broaden their horizons can bring new ideas and opportunities to your company simply by extension of your employee's interests. This is particularly effective if you've hired people who are passionate about the work they do for your company as well as the company's overall ethos, then it is even more likely that their outside interests will dovetail with their internal projects.
- Embrace the untraditional; identify elements of your business that are unique and build them into your employee policy. If you're an eco-friendly company encourage and enable a green work environment (provide a bike helmet for everyone who bikes to work, allow composting in the cafeteria) if you're an arts centric company set aside three or four days for cultural events like going to a concert or festival. Incorporating the company's brand identity in your employee policy is a way to not only practice what you preach but also encourage your workforce to partake of the ethos themselves.
- Ask what you can do to make your employees' day easier. Offering small fringe benefits like dry cleaning pick up from the office, a monthly visit from a masseuse, arranging for a grocery shopping service to take orders and make a single delivery at the office are all small ways you can help reduce non-work related stress. The less they have to worry about all the things they have to get done after work the more they will focus on the tasks at hand while they're still at work.
- Make learning accessible. The practice of reimbursing employees for going back to school while working for you has been around for a while but usually relegated to larger companies. More recently small businesses have been taking their own approach to providing educational opportunities to their workers by hiring consultants to teach their workforce about the strategy and lager business theories that drive businesses. These courses go beyond specific job training and reenforcing company policies to encompass more general business theories. Providing the opportunity for employees to learn more about their industry or business in general -trends, strategies and best practices - can improve their ability to work within your company and to understand the larger context within which that company operates. If you can't afford to hire an outside firm to provide courses (webinars, lunch and learns and face to face training are all common approaches) consider giving each employee some money to purchase business books or building an in office library.
- Put yourself in their shoes. PortionPac, a cleaning chemical manufacturer in Chicago, sets aside one day every year to play a little musical chairs with the employees. The administrative workers go into the production center and spend the day in the shoes of the employees who actually produce their cleaning products. Shifting everyone's perspective of the company's workflow provides the opportunity to reconsider their methods. Doing someone else's work always changes the way you do your own, making this practice part of your company policy can help everyone get a better sense of their place in full workflow.
If your company is already using some innovative employee policies let us know. We're always interested in how businesses are evolving.
When I was in college I was the student who took color coded class notes, always had questions and made good use of professor’s office hours. What can I say, I have always loved learning (i.e. been a geek) and because of a childhood ADD diagnosis I had a well structured set of coping mechanisms to ensure I was absorbing everything I could from my education. In the years since leaving the world of formal education and entering the professional training & education industry I have slowly adjusted my set of learning tricks to adapt to the less formal learning opportunities I encounter. I have recently been observing people who attend conferences, webinars, training and presentations and thought perhaps sharing a few of my basic rules of thumb for making the most of an educational opportunity.
- Before the event (conference, keynote address, webinar) identify three things you’d like to take away from the experience. Whether you have a particular question about the event’s focus or simply want to expand your horizons putting some forethought into the topics at hand will prime your brain for learning. You don’t need to be too specific; unless you have so many goals you want to make sure you hit them all, in which plan away! Some examples of pre-event goals I’ve had recently:
- Listen for/ask about social media case studies
- Try to meet session leader, at the very least introduce myself
- Gather trend information
- Find this new product and get the “pitch” (trade show goal)
- Take notes. You don’t need to go the color coded route but you should jot down a few observances or ideas that are inspired by the content being presented. Being an active note taker will make you a much more engaged listener and therefore more likely to acquire new knowledge. If a handout is provided then highlight facts/ideas that resonated with you in the moment but, it’s a good idea to always bring a pen and paper just in case.
- During the event ask questions and provide input, if it is solicited. Speakers put a lot of time and thought into the content and structure of their presentations. When they ask for questions or input it is because they sincerely want to integrate your thoughts into their message. Plus, it is a chance to make sure the goals you set going into the event are satisfied.
- While the issues, ideas and news is still fresh in your head try to find at least two ways it relates to your current work. Sometimes these opportunities are informational oasis in an otherwise static routine. If you’re able to tie the information acquired during these events to your everyday work you’ll be more likely to retain the new perspective.
- Once the event is over follow up; either by filling out a comment card or sending a note to the organizer/presenter. Be sure to identify what you took away from the event and, if necessary what additional information would have been useful. This gives you the opportunity to summarize the event succinctly and help the organizer/speaker continue to improve their content.
A lot of money and planning go into creating events and learning opportunities; using these tips will make sure you make the most of that investment.
Everyday a new report on social media is published; many seeking to provide the definitive, albeit elusive, answer in the search for best practices in social media. Using survey responses, case studies and analytics to support their claims they attempt to shine light on the strategies and tactics that lead to greater brand recognition, more web traffic or more business opportunities. What few reports or observers fail to emphasize is the fact that there is no one way to successfully navigate the social media waters. The technology and user familiarity are moving too fast; methods and tactics used today may be entirely obsolete in two weeks. Additionally, depending on company size and vertical focus the strategy is – and should be- very different. While patterns may be deciphered from this early research the best way for you to start building your social media is to be here now.
While it is wise to do a little research into how companies have previously used social media streams the best investment of time and brainpower is in staying in tune with your daily social media activity and returns. At the very outset of your quest for social media relevance identify three or four attainable goals; for example, increase web traffic 10% or acquire two new actionable sales leads per week. Then use these goals to dictate your daily use of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or whatever your preferred service may be. Each day be mindful of how your social media actions may influence your goals. Note any response or feedback you get in a spreadsheet. You will find yourself adopting a social media rhythm based on the behaviors with the best results and over time you’re notes and hyper awareness will build an organic sense of your company’s social media niche and potential.
Obtaining a sense of purpose and direction within your social media activities provides a solid foundation on which you can build a more complex strategy. Being present in the ebb and flow of your brand’s social media relevance may reveal opportunities unique to your company and audience. It is that dynamic conversation that makes social media such an exciting new territory for business development. Immediately investing a great deal of time and money into a more advanced social media campaign may overlook the more nuanced relationship your company has – or could have- with a wider audience.
Keep in mind, this is just a starting point. Eventually, if your social media efforts prove successful, you will want to expand your strategy; incorporating the basic information you have gathered with higher-level tactics. But, when you’re just starting to explore the social media waters keep it simple and stay tuned in to where you started and how you’re progressing. It will make it easier for you to determine the directions you want to pursue. There aren’t any secrets to social media that you can’t figure out if you dedicate yourself to a mindful daily practice.
We are excited to announce a new monthly series Webinar Wednesdays, a joint venture focusing on progressive event planning strategy. The art of event planning – conferences, webinars, annual meetings, out of the field training – has experienced some major changes as a result of the unstable economic climate.
In the context of this radically altered economic environment, Bizucate and Webinar Resources have come together to crack open the traditional event planning processes and find a way to create engaging and successful events while maintaining a budget and reaching the largest possible audience. It is possible to facilitate educational and profitable events by employing a multi-channel campaign over a phased process of engagement.
In an effort to share this sensible approach to event planning, Webinar Resources will be hosting Webinar Wednesdays, a monthly webinar held on the second Wednesday of the month. Peter will be hosting each session which will cover a particular aspect of this progressive event planning strategy. To kick off the series, the first four sessions outline the basic framework of a successful multi-channel event then move on to focus on more specific elements of implementation.
We hope this new series will challenge you to move beyond traditional event planning strategy and consider the numerous new ways professionals network and communicate. In the future the potential for effective and memorable events lies in combining these channels to suit your audience’s needs.
In addition to the monthly webinar we will also be contributing to The Multi-Channel Mix a weekly blog dedicated to issues, trends and discussions that are associated with multi-channel event planning. We invite you to submit your comments and questions to keep the dialogue relevant and evolving.
How often do you talk trends? With your coworkers? With your clients?
A trends discussion is one of the best conversations you can have both in terms of personal and business development. Every morning I read at least five articles or blog posts about new trends and what I learn serves to inform my work but the real potential of all of this new information isn’t realized until I share it with others.
When I get the chance to discuss, and sometimes debate, new developments in my industry with coworkers and colleagues I learn more about their understanding of and experiences with new technology, strategies and services. I usually walk away with a much more informed understanding of the issues and, more often than not, I find out about more new industry developments.
Sharing trend knowledge with customers serves to improve my relationship with them because it transcends the usual “what do you need from me” conversation to one based on an exchange of ideas and information centered on improving their strategy and business. When I become a resource for new processes, strategies and technology my clients are more likely to rely on my advice and services to help them navigate new opportunities. If you bring this kind of conversation to your customers, detached from any sales motive, they will recognize your dedication the betterment of their company. When there is trust in a relationship there is the tendency for return business. Trends discussion can help you build that trust.
New trend information is readily available via the internet, print publications, etc. Go seek it out, make it part of your routine and then pass the knowledge forward.
Before any project can be attempted you must assemble the materials. If you’re cooking you need ingredients, if you’re crafting you need materials and if you’re playing with stats you’re going to need numbers.
The group of numbers you use in stat analysis is called a data set. Data sets can be compiled from a variety of sources in the name of an endless assortment of informational pursuits. On one end of the spectrum there are small sets quantifying, for example, a small business’s marketing expenses while on the other you have extremely large collections like the US Census. The numbers contained within these sets are the colors with which you will use to paint your greater picture.
If you’re attempting to get a better sense of your business’s operations – past, present, and future – then your data set will be mostly made up of information derived from your own records. If you’re attempting to determine where your company fits within a larger context or simply conducting wider ranging research [industry, market, location, etc] you will need to find bigger data sets.
Finding the numbers can be a bit tricky if you don’t know what you’re looking for. So, I have broken the search for numbers down into small, medium and large-scale resources.
These are resources that you can refer to if you’re numerical pursuits are mostly centered on your company:
Quickbooks Report Library: This is just an example of one financial tracking program but whichever you use to maintain your company’s finances should have a number of reports through which they can run the numbers you enter. From marketing expenses spent in the first two months of 2003 compared to those spent in the first two months of every subsequent year to a full analysis of your company’s financial status these reports can prove invaluable when trying to get a grip on what is working and what needs attention.
Google Analytics: This tool will allow you to track and measure the traffic on your website or blog. Any analytical tool will work but ones that provide you understandable and clear reports are best for beginners.
Survey Monkey: If you need to get more specific feed back you can organize your own survey to send to customers, employees, vendors, etc to get targeted feedback on your company.
These can be used if you want to take a few steps back and examine your/your company’s work in a wider context. If you’re looking to expand, change your product/service mix or simply get inspired a greater perspective can be useful.
Industry Analysis Each industry has at least a few institutions –often associations- dedicated to gathering information and providing analysis. These can give you vital information on the state of your industry and where it is projected to go. These reports are pricey endeavors so be prepared to spend some money. But, if you do your research on the quality and reputation of the reporters it can be an excellent investment.
The Data Market Place: This is a great repository to solicit others to do research for you. Or, if they already have the research this is a great way to see what sets are already out there. Again, it costs some money and it is in your best interest to do some research but it is a great option for more obscure data searches.
These are humongous data sets often amassed over long periods of time and intended to support trend and historical analysis on, in some cases, a global scale.
US Census Results: Every ten years the US gathers information on residents – regardless of legal status- to get a benchmark for myriad statistical points within our country. If you have the time to sort through the massive amounts of information you can find some great data sets to use for your business.
Pew Research: There are many large institutions that conduct unbiased wide ranging researches. They can be a good resource for information you may not even know you needed. Abstracts may be free/cheap but the full reports will cost you. If you want targeted information it would be wise to research PAC’s or other issue focused institutions.
These options should provide you a good jumping off point. But, if you are simply interested in exploring some data sets and playing around with numbers I would suggest James Davenport’s Assortment of interesting data sets. They are user friendly and rather interesting.
Now go get computing.
In the classical trades like carpentry, cooking, tailoring, even plumbing there is a long tradition of mentoring. Individuals more established and experienced in a particular industry foster relationships with the newer generations by becoming mentors to members of the fledgling ranks. They pass along skills, trade secrets and lessons learned in an effort to educate and support their mentees. Through mentoring companies and even entire industries experience the benefit of continuity; continuity of tradition, practices and standards. On the receiving end mentees are given the chance to share newer trends and technology with their elders in an effort to evolve their chosen field.
Mentorships are far less common in the world of businesses. The competitive culture in a lot of large companies makes the teacher/student dynamic an unsteady one. And in small businesses there is rarely the time to maintain genuine mentorships. These realities however, do not reduce the need for mentors; in fact, I would say they increase the need for a supportive professional relationship.
I have been lucky to be both a mentee and mentor and firmly believe both experiences have contributed enormously to my ability to push myself personally and build professional relationships that go beyond the usual boss/employee or seller/customer dynamic. While my experiences unconventional – in that they weren’t focused on a single trade – they were none the less influential. When I was a mentee I had a person to go to with my questions (regardless of their triviality) as well as someone whose own experiences were able to guide mine. Once I moved into the role of mentor I recalled the advice and mannerisms my mentor had shared with me. I worked hard to listen before commenting and to openly consider feedback. The exchanges I had with my mentee were genuinely educational for us both and we remain each other’s champion even as our relationship has become much more collegial.
Many progressive companies have instituted internal mentoring systems or engaged a company like Bizucate to coach and support their employees. However, it is well worth the effort to seek out a mentor relationship. Whether you are just entering into a new industry and need help translating the nuances or if you’ve been at it for a while and want to pass along your lessons and experiences while learning more about what’s fresh here are a few tips on starting down the mentor path:
Where to find a mentor/mentee
I usually suggest looking outside of your immediate work environment. It removes some of the inevitable influences of office politics and allows questions and comments to flow freely without having to worry about looking uninformed or stepping on someone’s toes.
• Check with your alma mater’s alumni office.
• If you’re a member of an association or professional networking group look around your next meeting.
• Colleagues in other offices may have some referrals.
What to look for
There are benefits to finding someone with whom you share a similar viewpoint or background; it may be easier to find yourself at ease with them or directly relate to their experiences. However, you can learn a lot and really expand your professional perspective by seeking out a relationship with someone who may hold different ideals, position or even gender.
• Find someone whose work and reputation you respect.
• Make sure it is someone who communicates openly and clearly.
• Ideally it should be someone who has time to commit at least a year to the mentorship.
How to ask
Keep it simple, keep it courteous. Begin by acknowledging the commitment of time and involvement you’re asking of them and then outline what you hope to gain from and contribute to the mentor experience. Be prepared to present the pros and cons but in most situations I think you’ll find the conversation is an easy one.
How to maintain the relationship
This should be determined according to the availability and need of both people involved. Try to figure out a schedule of regular check-ins to keep you both connected. Other than that let the relationship organically develop; ask questions, seek guidance, share experiences, teach, discuss. The potential is limitless as long and the channels of communication remain open.
So, go forth and find your mentor/mentee. It is one of the best investments you can make in your professional development.
I received an email this week calling my attention to musician Dave Carroll’s fight with United Airlines. It seems, while on a flight from Canada to the US Carroll watched, helplessly, as baggage carriers tossed around his precious guitar before loading it into the plane. When he got to his destination and retrieved his guitar from the baggage claim he wasn’t terribly surprised to find that the neck of the $3,500 Taylor had been broken. When he attempted to seek compensation from United through their customer service channels he was continually passed from person to person, each claiming they had no power before passing him along to the next person. Finally he reached someone willing to give him a concrete response: No. United Airlines would not compensate him for his damaged guitar.
So, Carroll took things into his own hands and did what he does best; wrote a song, made a video and posted in on YouTube.
United Breaks Guitars quickly became an internet hit. As of today it has been viewed 7,682,624 times, spawned two more videos and been made available on iTunes. Carroll also made a slew of appearances on news programs as the video made the social networking rounds. After four days of a rapidly growing negative PR storm United’s stock dropped 10% costing investors (in an already weakened industry) $180 billion. United could no longer ignore the claims of this angry customer and, after Carroll refused any money – he felt it was too little too late – they made a $3,000 donation to Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. What is the moral of this story? Social networking has made consistent high quality customer service essential to controlling your brand image.
YouTube, Yelp!, Four Square, Facebook, Twitter they have all given customers a forum to voice their praise and, all too often, complaints. The ripple effect of a singular bad experience is no longer limited to a person’s immediate social circle. Now, after notably bad table service you can hop on any number of sites/aps and voice your disdain therefore broadcasting your ills to, potentially, millions – as uneducated or unchecked as they may be – and immediately influencing that restaurant’s image.
This new customer service dynamic poses a number of challenges for businesses; how to get a bad review removed, how to politely respond to a negative tweet, what to do about an unwarranted attack. All of these questions now haunt small and large businesses alike. However, the answers aren’t as high tech and complex as you may believe. The answers can all be found in establishing and maintaining exemplary service from the very first moment of customer engagement. Spend the extra money to train your servers properly, take the time to revisit customer service values, enforce high standards of worker responsibility and review and promote easy to use customer friendly channels of communication. If United had spent the time to consistently train and review the work of their baggage handlers, stewardesses, and CSRs they would have avoided the drastic market response and costly image saving campaign. If you invest in high quality service, anticipate problems and determine solution methods you not only prepare yourself properly for when they occur but, most likely, you will find you don’t have many problems to fix.
This past year many of our clients faced cut backs that frequently resulted in either reduced or, in some cases, lost business for us. We, like so many other small businesses, are accustomed to quickly adapting our services and business development approach to our customer’s needs and the larger economic climate. Whenever a project was cut loose we would usually reassess the customer’s initial needs to see if we could propose a modified solution that fit in to their new budgets. If the interest was still there we often revised the project scope and deliverables – shortening the length of a course or restructuring ancillary materials to be more multifunctional- so that a slower economy didn’t also mean suspended business development for our clients.
Why, you may ask, did we not simply turn around and pursue our client’s competition? They would surely be interested in services and content which would help strengthen their market position. Well, the answer boils down to loyalty. We have always tried to work with companies and individuals whose ethics and goals are complimentary to our own. We like to dig in and really understand their business in order to determine how we might best serve them. This is much easier to do if the people are just as curious and hard working as we are. It is also a much more sound investment of time and effort to develop quality relationships with our clients if we know that by providing them effective and loyal service they will continue to bring their work to us.
When the economic climate shifted dramatically and our clients’ budgets drastically reduced it was not as though that professional investment also took a dive. In fact, if anything the spirit of alliance was only strengthened. These were people and businesses that needed our help to keep their eye on the long term; needed to improve their workflows, continue their training and adapt their business development/marketing plans.
Yes, we could have probably made more money last year by abandoning this sense of loyalty. But, we chose as a company not to panic and begin taking business from anywhere. Instead we decided the greater potential for long-term profit was in continuing to invest our loyalty in long time customers.
This isn’t to say we didn’t pursue any new business. In the instances when a project could not be afforded and the lost revenue needed to be supplanted we took it as an opportunity to explore new verticals and expand our services. We found opportunities in new arenas, like marketing and higher ed, that were conducive to our existing services. We also mined Bizucate’s current employee skill sets and identified new services –social media consulting, for example -- which we could offer to our clients. Both of these exercises carried the unanticipated benefit of reinvigorating our company’s core passion for embracing chances to learn.
We know this level of flexibility is more often the luxury of small businesses –- especially those well versed in ways of bootstrapping -– and that, at the end of the day, practical needs (payroll, accounts payable etc) need to be met. However, the basic philosophy behind remaining loyal to your client base is one that can be exercised on a number of levels. Whether it is the decision to give a little of your time “off the clock” to provide advice or to serve as conduit for information or introductions that could help a struggling customer where you can’t companies large and small can benefit from the loyalty investment.
As we start a new year (with some cautiously optimistic forecasts) we have already seen a slight return on the loyalty investment from clients who have reinstated previously suspended projects and have expressed interest in the new services we added to our roster. By keeping our focus on the larger picture we will continue to grow our business ethically.
How do you define marketing? Go ahead, think about it? What is marketing and what does it mean to you? What does it mean to your customer and even more importantly…their customer?
Marketing has many definitions it all depends on who you ask. I found two I want to share with you. This one is from Diego Rodriguez is short, to the point, and gets the basics out there: “Identifying desirable experiences, then delivering them.” But this one from Harvard Business School’s Marketing Unit really made me think: “Marketers concern themselves with acquiring and retaining customers, who are the lifeblood of an organization. They attract customers by learning about potential needs, helping to develop products that customers want, creating awareness, and communicating benefits; they retain them by ensuring that they get good value, appropriate service, and a stream of future products. The marketing function not only communicates to the customer, but also communicates the needs of the customer to the company. In addition, it arranges and monitors the distribution of products and/or services from company to customer.” There’s a lot in this definition. How much of it do you do now for you business? Are you aware of how your customers are doing this for their business? Can you help your customers get new customers or keep the ones they have? How unique is your help?
Marketing isn’t like it used to be. In the old days money, at times BIG money, was spent to buy TV ads, radio ads and lots of print in magazines, bill boards, letters, flyers and so much more. Rarely did it get measured for effectiveness but that’s just how it was done.
Today the BIG money isn’t being spent like it used to be and marketing isn’t being done the way it used to be. Today the critical dollars that do get spent on marketing need more than an average to measure the investment. Real time information that proves the time and money spent was worth the effort is where success is being defined. It’s possible to do it with today’s technologies (direct marketing, variable information, PURLs and more), but it’s hard to get people to try it because it means they have to change. Change’s big roadblock is rarely not knowing “how”…it’s the fear to try something that’s unknown.
The usual marketing methods are still in play: Advertising, Direct Marketing, Guerilla Marketing, Positioning, Public Relations, Relationship Marketing and even Viral Marketing are still going on. But there are new ways to get the job done. It’s worth the investigation into seeing how your customer currently markets to their customers and see if you can’t research ways they could do it differently while enabled by the products and services you represent. You will surely set yourself apart from most of your competition that still believes as long as it’s faster, cheaper and quality capable then they should get the business.
Understand the different “whys” your customer may want to change then show them “how” to get it done. Products and services are tactical ways to get something done…but understanding the strategy of where someone is and where they want to go can bring you to a whole new level of a relationship with your customers and potential customers and get them to see the value in a relationship with you and your company. In and of it self, that is a different way to market you and your services. Take some time to answer the questions here and share them with your customers. The experiences in answering the questions is oftentimes more valuable than the answers.
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