What about the prospect list that isn’t a list?

Last time, we talked about your prospect list (or lack thereof). What about the prospects that aren’t on a list: the folks who have decided to get their info about you via one or more social media platforms. You may feel that the list discussion doesn’t apply to you because your prospects get their product info without signing up for anything. They follow you on Twitter, Instagram and/or Snapchat, they’ve liked your business page on Facebook, or connected on LinkedIn. In most of those cases, you don’t have their contact info other than perhaps the ability to direct message them (don’t, except to reply to their questions).

Like your prospect list members, social media oriented prospects also fit the profile of “a friend who needs the information and advice they’d ask of the friend and expert (you) prior to making a decision about a possible purchase”.

Tracking is different

On a list, you can monitor responses and segment the list into sub-lists so that the people who are clearly showing more interest will be the ones who get the next piece of info you’d typically provide. On social media, there are tools that can make that easier, but you will often find yourself having multiple public-facing conversations at once. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you need to be prepared for it. Without being a robot, you need to have “canned” responses to the most frequently asked questions and comments about the products and services you sell. You’ll want to post this sequence of thoughts, advice and questions via your social channels.

You might be thinking that you don’t have a list of questions like that, but I suspect you do. It’s in your head, perhaps taken for granted because your responses are so ingrained in your mind that you can answer them as easy as you can turn a doorknob. It’s like muscle memory. We all have those questions that we can answer well, even if someone wakes us up at two am. I suggest transcribing those responses from your head onto paper or perhaps better, into a centrally available document that your team can use even if you and your expertise have gone fishing for the day.

As an example, what are the common sales objections that you have to address? Those things go on the list. Objections aren’t always reasons why people don’t want your stuff, they’re more likely to be an entry point into a discussion that addresses why your product or service fits their needs better than the other options they’re looking at – or why yours don’t.

On a social channel, you’ll attract prospects and buyers. Encourage the formative signs of a helpful community. Be the cheerleader, recruiter and mentor. Your presence when the community is small will be critical to its growth.

Think about the buying process

In order to prepare a series of postcards or emails for your list (or a series of social posts), you need to think deeply about the evaluation and purchase process. If you were to write a guide to buying whatever you sell, and that guide was the only resource you could provide to someone looking to buy – what would it say? What would it talk about first? What process of evaluation and selection would it take the prospective buyer through? What questions would it ask to help them choose the standard item in the warehouse vs. the special order or custom-built item? What installation and delivery questions should someone ask? How do your processes for delivery, installation and service after the sale vary? How do they compare to the “industry norm”?

What happens after the sale?

After the sale, the buyer still has questions. The questions change to care and feeding, update, maintenance, cleaning, re-use, deployment, training, replacement, refills, etc. These same questions are ideal topics for both your prospect list and your social channels. Many times, they’ll help a prospect learn of an important facet of the purchase and ownership process that they hadn’t considered. This is an ideal use for video, even though all of the stages from prospect to seasoned user benefit from help that’s best suited to a specific media type. Video is great for how-to info, for example.

Whether the message gets to your prospects and clients via old school media, new school media, or both – the important thing is that it matters to them.

Photo by p_a_h

This year, customer follow up will be different.

For many businesses, two things happen this time of year. One: You get a bunch of new customers. Two: Many of the new customers you acquired during this time last year “forget” to come back. The customers on the first list cost time and money to acquire. A fair amount of the people who “forget” to come back were never asked to. In other words, the business didnt invest the time / money for new customer follow up.

There is a problem with this concept. Being able to follow up requires having some contact info for your clients. These days, people are all too used to being nagged incessantly, mostly by mail and email. They’re also concerned about privacy and identity theft, which increases their reluctance to provide you with their contact info.

Why they think you’re a spammer

While it keeps the FCC and others “happy” to publish boilerplate privacy and security policies, most people either won’t read them or won’t care that you have them. Until given a reason to think otherwise, they will group your request with all the ones they’ve received before. This means that you will be thrown into the bucket with the companies who used their contact info inappropriately.

Inappropriate doesn’t necessarily mean illegal but the net impact on the business is roughly the same.

While many marketing people and business owners think otherwise, they don’t get to decide what is spam and what isn’t. The recipient does. The legal definition is irrelevant. No matter how good you think the message is, the recipient decides whether your messages are out of context, incessant, annoying or of no use. If your new customer follow up message matches any of those criteria, they will unsubscribe, opt out and might even stop doing business with you.

Even worse, they will group you with all the other spammers and be super hesitant to provide you with information in the future – even if you need it in order to serve them as they wish.

Poorly conceived customer follow up has a hard cost

Spammers are of the mind that they can send millions of emails for free. They have the luxury of not caring if they retain a “customer”. You do not. They have the luxury of not caring about the cost of a lead, much less the lifetime value of a customer. You do not.

When you send a message that feels to your customer like spam and it causes them to unsubscribe, there’s a hard cost associated with that. Think about what it cost to get that person to visit your store or website. We’re talking about labor, materials, time, consultants, employee salaries, service costs, etc. Every lead source has a cost and a ROI. The latter comes from the lifetime of that client relationship with your company.

When your message causes the client to unsubscribe, your lead cost rises and your ROI is likely to drop because the lifetime customer value of that person or business will probably stagnate.

Great, so how does my customer follow up avoid this?

Expectation management.

When they provide contact info these days, people have questions about the use of their contact info:

  • How it will be used.
  • How it will be shared (short answer: DON’T)
  • How it will be secured.

You have to be crystal clear (and succinct) when answering those questions. You have to adhere to what you said. Stepping outside the bounds of what you said you’d do, even once, breaks what little trust was granted when their contact info was shared.

Whether you feel it’s justified or not, people are hyper-sensitive to this. If you want to build a lifetime customer relationship with them, your behavior has to show it.

A suggestion

Everyone likes getting stuff on their birthday. It doesn’t have to be a (heaven forbid) 50% discount. You don’t need their birth date – which they will be protective of due to identity theft. You only need the month. During their birthday month, a simple offer or add-on that is special to them is all you need. Do you have any low cost, high perceived value services that could be given away with purchase during their birthday month? Make sure it’s clear to them that you will use this info to send them something of value during their birthday month – and stick to that.

The alternative is to keep paying more for leads. There are only so many people in your market. Nurture your clientele and show them you’re always thinking about how to help them. Win the long term game.

Are you publishing stale content?

A question hit me a few years ago after the Flathead Beacon​ brought home yet another armload of Montana journalism awards. The question was “Is the column I publish there of (at least) equivalent quality?” In other words, I’m on the pages of this modern, very successful digital (and weekly print) newspaper with multi-award winning journalists and photographers. Am I bringing down the average?

Only the readers (and perhaps the editor) can answer that, but it stuck in my head as something to consider every time I hovered over the “Post” button for a column.

A better question

I believe a better question to ask yourself these days is this: “Is the content I’m publishing worth consuming right now?

What if they aren’t viewing / reading it right now? Am I producing lame content? Stale content? Both?

You might have metrics saying that your audience is pushing your content to Buffer, Flipboard, Reading List, Pocket, etc – but that doesn’t mean they’re actually reading it. My suspicion is that the majority of URLs pushed to deferred reading platforms never get read and another pile of them aren’t read for days, weeks or months. This GigaOm story about the overall Pocket saved-to-stored ratio for all Pocket users backs that up.

Pocket is like your Getting Things Done method’s inbox of reading material. Once a URL is off an active browser tab and resting comfortably in Pocket, it’s off the “I MUST READ THIS BEFORE DOING ANYTHING ELSE!” list. Every time you click that Pocket button, your mind screams with freedom like a Dave Ramsey debt-free caller because you’ve temporarily deferred the guilt of not reading everything. Because, you know, only the very best and most successful business people read everything and everyone else is a failure, right? (Yes, that was sarcasm)

Think about what you write. If it goes into someone’s Pocket for a month, does it lose its effectiveness and impact? Does it matter a month from now if they do happen to read it later? Do they read it later? The GigaOm link says Pocket confirmed that the average Pocketed-to-actually-read for all Pocket users is about 50%. I’ll bet my percentage is lower than the Pocket average because I use it as a keyword-oriented search tool as well as a read-it-later tool. I file something there with tags and later use those tags to find things I need on those topics.

What provoked this thought process? This “content shock” piece from Christopher Penn, which sat in Pocket for a few days before I actually read it. It escaped becoming stale content for me.

Customer relationships – Do yours mature and adapt?

One of the things that separates people from most machines and systems is their ability to adapt their interactions as the relationship matures.

A tough-as-nails 61 year old grandfather who supervises workers on an oil rig in North Dakota’s Bakken adapts his communication to the recipient when training a new guy to stay alive on the rig, and does so again when chatting with his three year old granddaughter about her Hello Kitty outfit via a Skype video call.

He doesn’t coo at a young buck and he doesn’t growl at his granddaughter. He adapts. It’s common sense.

Our systems, processes and communications don’t do enough of this.

Adapt to the relationship state

Why do our companies, software, processes, communications and systems so infrequently adapt to the state of our customer relationships?

An example I’ve used a number of times: You get mail from a company offering you a great deal “for new subscribers only” – despite being a subscriber for decades. It’s annoying, not so much because someone else gets a better price for a short time, but (to me at least) because they don’t appear to care enough about their existing customers to remove them from a lead generation mailing.

It’s a trivial exercise to check a list of recipients for a new marketing piece against a current subscriber / client list. Why don’t “we” do it?

For mailed items, it would reduce postage and printing costs. It would cut down on the annoyance factor in clients who inappropriately get special lead generation offers – regardless of the media used.

Adapting your marketing (for example) to the state of the relationship you have with the recipient is marketing 101. It’s a no-lose investment.

Adapt to the maturity state

Like the grandfather, most of us alter our face-to-face speaking to the state of the relationship and maturity of the other person.

Sometimes we don’t, but that’s usually because we haven’t had the opportunity to determine the maturity of the other person in the conversation.

I’m speaking of the maturity of the customer relationship as well as where the client is with your products and services. There’s far more to this than simply adapting to a client’s intellectual and age-related maturity.

Remember that “tip of the day” feature that was popular in software not so many years ago? The half life of that feature was incredibly small and the value it delivered was tiny when compared to its potential.

Why? Because few software development companies took the feature seriously once it had been coded and tested.

How can I say that? Easy. Did you turn that feature off once you realize the tips were of little value after an hour’s use of that software? Did you turn it off earlier than that because the tips were of no use at all?

My guess is that one or both of those are true. The tips weren’t there for users throughout their lifetime of use with the software. In fact, most of them weren’t very useful beyond the first hour of use. Every time we move the software to a new machine, it’s likely we have to turn it off again. ROI for that feature? Not so high.

The content of these tips was everything (in fact, the only thing) to the user of that software, yet the content in most tip-of-the-day systems appeared to be rushed out as an afterthought.

What does a software’s tip of the day feature have to do with your business? Everything.

Take your time, implement well.

That the tips rarely were of use to new users beyond the first hour or so of use shows a lack of investment in their content.

Imagine if these tips were sensitive to the maturity of the user’s knowledge and use of the software.

Some cars do this. They automatically adjust the seat and mirror locations when Jerome unlocks the car and use different seat/mirror positions when Carmen unlocks it. Adaptation.

What if your systems, products, services, marketing, processes and other client interactions recognized and adapted like this?

Adaptive interaction isn’t an all-or-nothing thing. It can mature over time, as other things do. Take your time, do it right. You tend to get only one chance to break a relationship with a client, but you can strengthen it with every interaction.

Adaptive behavior is all about making your business personal.

Prevent lost customers with these five words

Small businesses are always interested in getting more new customers, but sometimes forget that keeping existing customers is less expensive than the cost of replacing them.

While products, services and customer support are critical to the health of your business, it’s critical to maintain a strong connection with your customers through properly timed communications.

Tending to this connection and nurturing into a relationship is critical to the health of your business.

Think about the businesses you frequent most often. Do they communicate in a way that encourages trust, doesn’t waste your time or take you for granted?

These things build a good business relationship just as they do a personal one.

Five words can help you stay focused on helping your small business prevent lost customers and improve the quality and effectiveness of your communication with clients.

Collect

Despite the obvious need to stay in touch or be forgotten, most businesses fail to setup a consistent, cost-effective system to collect contact information from their customers. 

10 years ago, most people would give up their contact info much more readily than they will today – and for good reason. Combine spammers, data breaches by hackers (or data shared by them) and the all too often inappropriate use of customer data, your clients have plenty of reasons to have second thoughts about passing along their contact info – even if it’s nothing more than their email address. 

These days, it has to be worth it to let you into their email box, even though it is (usually) easier than ever to leave their email list.

Think about the last time you gave someone your email address. Did they treat it well, thus appreciating that you allowed them to email you? Did they abuse the privilege?  Did they send info that clearly had nothing to do with you, your needs, wants and desires – or did they nail it?

Imagine how much trust it takes for them to give you their full contact info. Are you honoring that trust? Given the data breaches in the news these days, this is a taller order than it used to be.

Talk

Most small businesses don’t communicate enough with
their present customers in multiple, cost-effective
ways.

I say multiple because what works for one doesn’t always work for another. If you have a great Android smartphone app to communicate with your customers, where does that leave customers who own iPhones? What about customers who don’t have smartphones?

Different people favor different communication media because they retain info better in their media of choice, be it direct mail, a blog, a smartphone app or a podcast. If you don’t make it easy and convenient to consume, you’ll automatically prevent some people from receiving your message – no matter how urgent or important.

Remind

Most small business owners don’t know when they’ve lost a customer, and even when they do, most don’t communicate often enough with these “lost” customers via cost-effective methods.

Without up-to-date contact info and valuing your former customers’ time, your message either fails to reach the person or is of so little value, they ignore, unsubscribe or worse.

What could be worse? They forget you ever existed.

Clean

Do you keep your customer list clean?

Clean means you deal with bounced emails, returned mail and bad phone numbers so that your contact attempts get to the right place. For communications that require an investment, this helps make sure the money you spend actually gets the message delivered.

Segment

Do you communicate to different customer groups with a message fine tuned for their needs, wants and desires – or do you sent the same message to everyone?

Many small business owners waste a tremendous amount of time, goodwill and/or money contacting their entire client list rather than using finely tuned advertising and marketing, which keeps costs low and skyrockets results.

Even if you don’t use direct mail, there’s a lot to lose if you don’t make sure the right message reaches the right people.

How many times have you received a great “new customer promotion” deal even though you are a customer of that company? What messages does that send?

Proper communication is essential – and it’s far more than broadcasting your message to anyone with a heartbeat.

Sarcasm, humor and a great dog: Do they sell anything?

While I have and will continue to remind you about the need for ads that don’t actually help move a prospect (or existing customer) closer to buying (or buying again), this one is hits home on many levels with Guinness’ customers.

It makes fun of typical male weaknesses, while making us love the working dog.

Does it sell more Guinness? Tough to say.

It could be tracked by doing something like asking customers to refer to the ad in some way when they visit their favorite pub or beer store, perhaps in exchange for who-knows-what.

Does it matter? Or is the entertainment and “brand-on-your-mind one more time” enough?

As a small business owner, you need to know before you spend the money.

Google India knows that Business is Personal

Brilliant.

What stories are you telling about your customers that can illustrate the power of the value you deliver?

No matter what you do, I’ll bet you have stories to tell. When will you start sharing them?

How to segment your customer list

Have you heard that you should “segment” your customers before marketing to them?

Ever wondered what that means, much less how you’d do that?

We’re going to talk about that today in simple terms, but before we do that, you might be wondering …

Why should I segment my customers?

Good question.

You want to segment your marketing is to achieve something called “Message-to-market match“.

Let me explain with an example. Let’s say your company sells women’s underwear.

Would you advertise the same underwear in the same way with the same photos and the same messaging to each of these groups?

  • Single women
  • Pregnant women
  • Newlyweds
  • Moms of girls approaching puberty
  • Dads of girls approaching puberty
  • 50-plus women
  • 80-plus women
  • Women under 5′ 6″ tall
  • “Plus sized” women
  • “Tiny” women
  • Very curvy women
  • Not-so-curvy women
  • Women who have survived breast cancer
  • Significant others

I’ll assume you answered “No”.

Message-to-market match” means your message is refined for a specific group of recipients so that it’s welcome and in-context, rather than annoying and out of left field.

A lack of message-to-market match is why people tune out ads and pitch so much mail – the message isn’t truly for them. If it happens enough times, everything you send them is ignored. Ouch.

Like the recycling bin

When recycling different materials, the processes required to break down cardboard (shredding, pulping, etc) will differ from the process that prepares glass, plastic or animal manure for reuse.

Think of your messages in the same way. If the message a customer receives doesn’t make any sense because it’s out of context, it’s like recycling something with the wrong process. The money, time and energy invested in creating and delivering the wrong message will be wasted. Worse yet, the wrong message can alienate your customer and/or make your business look clueless.

Ever received an offer “for new customers only” from a business that you’ve worked with for months or years? How does that make you feel?

You might think a generic piece of news is received the same way by everyone – when in fact that news might excite some customers and annoy the rest. The time spent considering this and segmenting your announcement can save a lot of pain.

Your First Oil Change

Look at the groups listed for the underwear business. That’s customer segmentation.

If you sent “The Single Dad’s guide to helping your daughter pick out her first bra” to the entire customer list, how many would think “This is exactly what I need”? Only the single dads group. Most others would hit delete, unsubscribe, click the “Spam” button or just think you’re not too swift.

The smart folks sending the “first bra” piece would break it down further by sending a different guide to the moms than they send to the dads.

Need a simpler version? Chevy vs. Ford vs. Dodge. Harley vs. every other bike. You shouldn’t have the same conversation with these groups, even if you sell something common to all of them, like motor oil.

Think that list is broken down too much? Don’t. I just scratched the surface.

Why people think they can’t segment

– They don’t have or “get” technology.

Whether you use a yellow pad or a fancy customer relationship management (CRM) system, you can make this work. If not, consider a better way to keep track of things.

Long before computers, savvy business people would sort customers into the “blue pile, red pile, yellow pile” before putting together a marketing piece. No technology is no excuse.

– Their media doesn’t offer segmenting.

What if your chosen media doesn’t provide a way to target a specific segment? They don’t deliver special Yellow Page books to single people, retired people, CPAs or car dealers – so how do you segment your message?

You can segment those media buys by message since many vendors are unable to deliver a different book, newspaper, magazine or radio/TV ad to different types of customer – which should also improve ad ROI.

You might be getting pressure from internet-savvy staff (or vendors) to drop old-school media. If it works now (do you know?), dropping them makes no sense.

– They don’t have a customer list

Start creating one today, even if it’s on a yellow pad. Figure out what differences are important to you and record them.

Wanted: Smoking hot hotel room in Kansas City Kansas

Google-Fiber-Rabbit

Of course, I mean a “smokin’ hot internet connection”.

Late last week, I was heading north through western Missouri, I planned to make an overnight stay in the Kansas City area.

Knowing full well (though with a little jealousy) that Kansas City, Kansas was the first winner of the Google Fiber lotto, I thought it would be nice to stay at a hotel in KC hotel that offered Google Fiber.

So I searched for “hotel kansas city kansas google fiber

While there are plenty of search hits about Google Fiber, most were stories about Google Fiber’s choice of KCK and deployment in the area. The only thing that even comes close to a hotel room in the search responses is a story about a “Home4Hackers“, an AirBnB property that offers Google Fiber.

Either there are no hotels in the Kansas City Kansas area that have Google Fiber (a distinct possibility), or the ones that do offer it need to work on their search engine positioning. A simple Google Local entry would have been first in my search, if it existed. Simple. Five minutes work.

What are people searching for when they look for you and don’t find you? Have you asked them when you meet or speak with them?

Finally – be sure you’ve taken care of your local listing on Google and Bing.

Six simple questions about your website

I received these questions in an email from Tony Robbins last year.

The premise was to ask if you could answer these questions without doing a bunch of research, much less if you could answer them at all.

  1. How many visitors come to your website per month?
  2. How many of those turn into sales?
  3. How many emails are you collecting per month through your website?
  4. How long has the site been up?
  5. How many emails are in your database that have been collected through your website?
  6. What are you doing to follow up with visitors and close sales?

Seems to me they’re as important now as they were in 1995, much less last year.

A lot of businesses pay attention to #1. Many pay attention to #2.

Number 3 and 5 get plenty of attention from some, not so much from others.

The Big One

Number 6 is the one that I see the least effort on across the board.

Are you assuming they’ll come back? Are you doing something to get them to come back? Are you doing something to keep them as a customer over the long term?

So many questions…

Rather than being overwhelmed by it all, deal with the lack of an answer one at a time – particularly if it requires work.

Having one answer is much better than having none.