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

25 (or 6) to 54: Is that demographic important to you?

25 (or 6) to 54 is not a song from Chicago (that’s 25 or 6 to 4, video above).

It’s people.

People aged 25 (or 26) to 54 make up…

  • SIXTY-TWO percent of all social media use.
  • FIFTY THREE percent of Facebook users (687 million as of June 2011)
  • SEVENTY-FOUR percent of Twitter users.

We’re talking about a ton of people who have jobs, families, purchasing power, retirement plans, homes, cars and P&L responsibilities.

In other words – they might not be who you assumed they were. Many of them are potential customers who need and/or want what you create.

Typical

The typical social network user is 37 years old. Not a 13-15 year old who hasn’t yet gotten their license.

59% of people from ages 16 to 32 get their news online (is *that* demographic important to you?)

Are you taking social media interaction seriously from a strategic point of view? Are your competitors?

 

Social media use age profile (click to see full-size)

Graphic source: http://news.community102.com/how-different-age-groups-interact-online For the sources of these numbers, see the links at the bottom of the graphic. They’re readable when the graphic is viewed full-size (click the image).

Crabs in the House, Yo!

Crabs In The House Yo!
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sister72

We’ve been talking about little things you can do to bump your business’ revenue and today’s applies to businesses who have a “brick and mortar” location.

Look at the photo. If you drove by this business and remembered that you wanted them to cater a business lunch, what would you do next?

You’d probably call them. Or you might call Jott and leave yourself a reminder to call them.

Except…there’s no number on the sign.

I can’t tell you how many businesses I drive by these days where there is no phone number on their sign, but I can say this: It’s a LOT of them.

Like the corners of my mind

I’m not 29 anymore . It’s not unusual to drive by a business and have that act remind me that I need to do some business with them (personal business, not client work). Naturally this happens when I don’t have time to stop right that minute.

15 or 20 years ago, this might not have been as big a deal since most people didn’t have cell phones.

Nowadays the percentage of people who have mobile phones is huge. When people drive by your place, they remember that they need to do something. If they don’t have time to stop right then, they will often call to see if something is in stock, to make an appointment or some such.

If your number isn’t on the sign, they can’t call or write it down, which means your business gets driven by one more time without someone taking action.

It seems like such a little thing – but I see it SO frequently that I can’t help but wonder if it hurts your business.

Choose Carefully, Be Amazing.

White Breach
Creative Commons License photo credit: erikogan

I was speaking with a wanna be business owner the other day who I *know* has the skills to help people in the market where he works.

When I say “wanna be”, I don’t mean they can’t do it, or won’t do it, just that they haven’t done it.

For the wanna be, something is missing: That first really important client.

That client has to be framed right.

  • It is FIRST really important CLIENT?
  • Or…is it first REALLY IMPORTANT client

I think it’s both – and they aren’t often the same person or business.

That FIRST really important CLIENT

As in first client, and really important because you finally got one. A paying one.

Not your brother in law, your mom’s boss, your church or that community organization that can’t afford anyone else – but someone who actually paid.

They’ll teach you how it feels to have a level of trust granted to you by someone who maybe shouldn’t have done so. Not because you didn’t deserve it, but because you didn’t yet have a reputation that told them you were the *only* logical choice for what they needed.

They give you much more confidence that you can actually do this thing and get paid for it.

And…that’s the one that will likely make you realize all the things you have left to do, learn and organize.

Those of you who have been there know what I mean. Sometime in the past, someone took a chance and bought what you do when maybe, just maybe they should have gone a different direction.

A safe direction. But they chose you instead, and that made all the difference.

That first REALLY IMPORTANT client

What does ‘really important’ mean in a client?

The first one is important because they exist. They prime the pump.

The really important one is the one that solves a fundamental problem you have when you go to sell your stuff to the next person.

They ask “Why should I buy from you instead of anyone/everyone else?” You’re ready for that one. And then it comes, the one that you hate to hear – until you have an amazing response: “Who else do you do this for?”

That’s when you want to say “the United States Senate” (I still remember what that check looked like).

You might even manage to be able to say a name like Donald Trump, The Bellagio, the Dallas Cowboys, The Diaper Bank of Tucson, Wachovia (well, back in the day anyhow), The American Red Cross, IBM, Microsoft, the New York Yankees, Apple or Pixar.

Mention a few of those – or the equivalent in your market – and suddenly, you’re the one being pursued.

Credibility. That big product champion. The quote from Bill Gates or Steve Jobs about the work you did.

The testimonial that makes them raise their eyebrows and say “Come on in”.

The Whale

That’s what the wanna be is missing: the “whale”.

In Las Vegas, a whale is a gambler who comes to town to drop big money at the tables. Six figures.

In the business world, a whale might be a Bill Gates, a Trump, the US Senate, or it might just be an influential local client. Someone that the rest of the community respects.

They’re an influencer in their market, or better, in *every* market…and that person likes what you do.

Every business needs a whale, whether they’re a local or a national one. They need a product champion, a killer testimonial. Someone that you can mention and say “See what I did for *them*? I can do that for you too.”

Maybe Gates or Jobs are a stretch, but maybe not. They have to buy from *someone*. Why not you?

Bill Gates has a plumber. What, you aren’t good enough? Whales come in all sizes. They’re people too.

Landing the Whale

For the wanna be, that first client might seem like a whale. If you’re going to work hard as you can to get that first client, why not make it one that would be an ideal match?

Focus on a client that’s an absolutely great match for what you do. Go after them with everything you have. I don’t mean be obnoxious and cold call them at 10pm. Instead, position yourself to answer that important question…

“Why should I buy from you instead of anyone/everyone else?”

Once they’ve taken that chance, transform them into a great champion of your work…by doing your best work.

Start with one. Be amazing. And then…Wash, rinse, repeat.

What’s most valuable to a business?

Today’s guest post is from Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape (yes, that old browser).

It had to be chased down on a web archive site, but it’s clearly worth its weight in gold.

The comment about what’s most valuable you hear from me on and off – but go ahead and hear it in context of a multi-millionaire and maybe it’ll be a little more sticky: Marc Andreessen on what’s most valuable to a business.

Overheard in the frozen food section: What’s all that crap you post on Facebook?

Last night in the grocery store, 2 moms stopped me in the frozen food section. I thought I was safe since their kids swim with mine on the Columbia Falls Swim Team.

As I stood embarrassingly close to the frozen sausage and egg biscuits and pre-fab hamburger patties, they did it…

They asked me a question about Facebook.

If I remember accurately, it went something like this:

“Mark, What’s with the gibberish-filled crap you post on Facebook?”

Specifically, they asked about posts like “RT @idealfool Lakecam now!!!: http://bit.ly/pfsn0“, specifically wondering if I was speaking Klingon or some other language that few people speak here in Northwest Montana.

They asked because most of the stuff I post on Twitter (anything that isn’t a reply or a direct message) is automatically reposted to Facebook. And then they called me a geek. Ouch.

There’s a business lesson here, so keep up, will ya?

Twitter lingo

Twitter has its own lingo that you pick up pretty quickly if you use it. For example, RT means “retweet”.

When you “Retweet” someone else’s post, you are saying “Someone else posted this and I think its important / funny / stupid /sad / amazingly cool / etc enough to repeat to the folks who read what I post”.

The @ sign is also Twitter-speak (mostly). @WSJ, for example means “The Twitter user named “WSJ”, whose posts you can find at http://www.twitter.com/WSJ

I don’t think I need to explain HTTP://, but the rest of the URL looks weird and it’s easy to either think it is a typo or a link that no one in their right mind would click on.

Normally you’d expect a .com, but a lot of these URLs coming from Twitter posts end in .ly, .me, .gd and other really short abbreviations rather than .com.

No way am I clicking on those“, you’re thinking.

These sites are URL shorteners – though it does pay to be careful…

URL shorteners take a really long URL like this: http://ittybiz.com/customers-cant-afford-it/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Ittybiz+%28IttyBiz%29&utm_content=Google+Reader and turn it onto something rather compact like this: http://is.gd/4WLix

The reason URL shorteners are used so much is that Twitter only allows 140 characters in posts placed there. That URL above is longer than Twitter’s message size limit, so my Twitter program automatically shortens it using free services like http://bit.ly, http://is.gd or http://tinyurl.com.

Yeah, but what did you REALLY say?

We’re getting there.

The bit.ly URL in that “RT @idealfool Lakecam now!!!: http://bit.ly/pfsn0” post goes to http://www.nps.gov/ns/featurecontent/glac/webcams/popup-lakemcdonald.html, which is a glorious view of the mountains of Glacier Park as viewed from the south shore of Lake McDonald (cloud cover and darkness notwithstanding) – which is obviously what the original poster means by “Lakecam now!!!“.

@idealfool is the alter ego of Barry Conger, the volunteer Executive Director of the First Best Place Task Force, a seriously cool community organization here in Columbia Falls. Yes folks, Barry is one of those community organizer folks – and he’s read Hildy’s book, so now he’s really becoming dangerous.

Anytime you see an @ followed by a reasonably short name, it’s usually someone’s Twitter name. If you were around during the heyday of CB (citizens’ band) radio, the @idealfool part is pretty much the same as a person’s “handle” on the CB.

And the lesson?

Don’t assume that your wicked cool lingo from one context, group, environment, industry, peer group, media (or whatever) will be crystal clear to and perfectly understood by people in another.

Communication is critical. Don’t assume.

No, I’m not sure how to resolve that in this case without turning off the automatic repost of Twitter messages to Facebook. Yes, I’m thinking about doing exactly that.

Update: Today’s Freakonomics post in the NY Times is another fine example of a message that means one thing in one group and something vastly different to another – the term “Shovel ready”.

I rescued a human today

Jack
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sugar Pond

Several times – including in the recent direct mail posts – we’ve talked about having the right conversation with your client or prospect.

About Robert Collier’s comment “Enter the conversation already taking place in the prospect’s mind”.

About looking at your business from the other side of the counter, thinking of the issues that your prospects and customers are concerned with.

I found a great example of doing that very thing today. Amazingly, it was in one of those forwarded sometimes funny, sometimes sappy, sometimes heartwarming emails that all of us get from our friends and colleagues.

I’m not sure if the author realizes the power of her writing, but I urge you to take this in and think about the role reversal and the thought process that was necessary to write something this well done.

Her eyes met mine as she walked down the corridor peering apprehensively into the kennels. I felt her need instantly and knew I had to help her.

I wagged my tail, not too exuberantly, so she wouldnâ??t be afraid. As she stopped at my kennel I blocked her view from a little accident I had in the back of my cage. I didnâ??t want her to know that I hadnâ??t been walked today. Sometimes the overworked shelter keepers get too busy and I didnâ??t want her to think poorly of them.

As she read my kennel card I hoped that she wouldnâ??t feel sad about my past. I only have the future to look forward to and want to make a difference in someoneâ??s life.

She got down on her knees and made little kissy sounds at me. I shoved my shoulder and side of my head up against the bars to comfort her. Gentle fingertips caressed my neck; she was desperate for companionship. A tear fell down her cheek and I raised my paw to assure her that all would be well.

Soon my kennel door opened and her smile was so bright that I instantly jumped into her arms.

I would promise to keep her safe.
I would promise to always be by her side.
I would promise to do everything I could to see that radiant smile and sparkle in her eyes.

I was so fortunate that she came down my corridor. So many more are out there who havenâ??t walked the corridors. So many more to be saved. At least I could save one.

I rescued a human today.

Can you create the same level of empathy with your clients and prospects?

I have another example of this for tomorrow;s post: Thanksgiving in the U.S. Enjoy the turkey, but watch out for those crooked pies.

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/IRescuedAHumanToday.mp3]

“I rescued a human today” Used with permission.
http://rescuemedog.org/dog-blog/i-rescued-a-human-today-by-janine-allen/

Written by Janine Allen CPDT, Rescue Me Dog’s professional dog trainer. Janine’s passion is working with people and their dogs. She provides demonstrations for those who have adopted shelter dogs, lends email support to adopted dog owners that need information beyond our Training Support Pages, and aids shelter staff and volunteers in understanding dog behavior to increase their adoptability.
Copyright 2008 Rescue Me Dog; www.rescuemedog.org

Small Business and “The Oprah Factor”

When marketing a product to women, there’s one thing you simply have to try to do if you want to hit a grand slam home run: Get yourself or your product on Oprah.

The reason is simple and I hope, obvious: Oprah’s viewers trust her.

They gain weight with her, they lose weight with her. They struggle with her as she tries to get that darned man of hers to commit. They cry when she tells a sad story about an audience member or a guest on the show. If they see her on the street, they act like they know her personally.

Why? That too is simple. She’s real.

She has built her show and many of the things she does in a way that makes you feel like she’s talking just to you. Everything about the show is carefully orchestrated to make sure you feel that way.

It isn’t “cheating”, it’s simply a choice in deciding how to communicate with your viewers. The same choice that Leno or Letterman make, but they make it differently. In her case, the conversation is personal. It’s as if she is sharing her story with each individual viewer. rather than standing on a podium speaking to a crowd.

That’s the kind of relationship you should have with your clients. It’s the kind of conversation you should be having with your clients and prospects.

Oprah would likely never send USPS Bulk Mail with an indicia. An envelope from her would be pretty, and have a flower stamp on it (or at least feminine) and would be hand addressed, even if it meant that grandmothers all over Chicago had been hired to hand address them (and yes, there are services that do that very thing).

Why? Because a friend would never send you a bulk mail piece with an indicia.

Likewise, Oprah would likely never send bulk email with “Dear special friend” in it. An email from her would probably be HTML (kinda hard to make text emails ladylike, don’t you think?) and would certainly be addressed directly to you by name. Without your first name, she might not send one at all.

Same reason: A friend would never send you bulk email addressed to “Dear Special Friend”.

That’s the same kind of consideration you should have for your prospects and clients. If you have to address a piece of mail – email or otherwise – as “Dear Special Friend”, should you even be sending it?

When Oprah recommends a sponsor’s product, they assume that she is using it at home (and she may tell them so). They trust her not to sell them an empty promise. When she points at a product on the shelf, it disappears from shelves all over the country. Do you generate that same level of trust with your clients?

Even if you sell custom truck bumpers or .50 caliber elephant rifles, you can learn from the way Oprah grooms her relationship with viewers.

How can you use the Oprah Factor to improve your relationship with your clients?

If a lifelong friend was your customer, how would you treat them when they came to your business? I don’t mean reminiscing about the college or high school years, I mean how would you speak to them? How would you care for them? How would you position your advice to them?

Firing a client

I had dinner with a client night before last and that topic was one of the things we very much agree on – when to send a client along to another vendor.

His story was not unusual. You’ve all probably had it happen to you in one form or another.

A new client left voice mail and email asking about a new purchase before the new purchase was completed, and both messages were laced with F bombs and similar colorful language.

Result: That new client was advised to go elsewhere, which was a good choice in my mind. Clearly that client’s behavior was not likely to get nicer.

Back in my photo software days, we had a fairly standard license agreement that we asked people to sign.

One of the reasons we did this was to make sure they actually read it. The best surprise is no surprise, as Holiday Inn used to say.

The other reason was that we included another page with the legalese license agreement. That page set the expectations for their use of the software and for their relationship as a client with us.

It also set our expectations of their behavior.

For example, we required that they use a battery backup on their server. We also expected them to backup their data daily (and provided a free tool for that purpose). Both of these things were for their own good, so that they would have the best possible experience with software that ran their entire business.

We wanted to make this point up front, before bad things happened to their data because of lightning, theft etc – hopefully so those things would never be a business killer.

More importantly, we defined exactly what would happen if they called us, faxed us or emailed us. We defined what an emergency was from our perspective and told them exactly how to report one so that it would get treated like an emergency (and of course, not to treat everything that way).

One guy called up and refused to sign the agreements. He insisted that we ship him the software, which he had just paid for, and said that signing the agreements was a waste of his time.

During this process, he felt the need to scream at one of my staff members over the phone – about 2 signatures. As you might imagine, he had spent more time arguing about the signatures than it would take to simply read and sign the agreements and have someone fax them to us.

I got on the phone and told him that we would be refunding his payment immediately and that no software would be shipped. I then told him why this was happening. End of discussion. It didn’t matter if he told 100 people. Those people would already know he was a jerk, or they’d agree. Either way, it wasn’t going to cost us a dime.

More importantly, I wasn’t going to allow people to talk to my staff like that and I wanted my staff to know that there was a flip side to my extremely high expectations for their service and support work: That they’d only have to deal with an abusive jerk once.

They knew to transfer the call to me, or ask to continue the call later when they had calmed down. If that happened, I would call them back and discuss their inappropriate behavior with them.

Either they would call and apologize to my staff member (and every one of them did), or I would terminate the relationship and refund their $, no matter how long they had been a client. Never had to do that. Came close once and the guy chilled out when he figured out I was dead serious.

My staff was the bread and butter of the business. Without them, I’d be the bald, insane guy drooling on my keyboard at the end of a 75 phone call customer support day.

Life is too short to do business with abusive jerks. Those are great people to send to your competitors.

How have fuel prices changed your customers’ behavior?

Since I work out of a home office, I don’t spend all that much time on the road. Good thing.

As a result, I don’t have to fill up the Suburban too often. It’s great for hauling around a big pile of Scouts and their camping gear, but lousy at efficient travel for me and the Dog (my Mom the English teacher cringes, thinking “it should be the ‘dog and I’ “).

Driving into the future
photo credit: kevindooley

So last Friday, I fill it up for the first time in a little over a week. Gas has risen about 15 cents per gallon since the last time I filled up (8 days ago), and a total of at least 27 cents since the time before that. Result: We’re at $3.43 here as of 10pm Friday night.

Anyhow, I’m on fumes after picking up my son after an all day (and much of the night) District band competition (he plays sax), so I stop and fill ‘er up.

$143.80 – a new record for the blue beast, who has a 40 gallon belly.

On the way home, I’m thinking to myself “Thank goodness I don’t have a long commute like I did 20 years ago.”

Then I start thinking about what changes in customer behavior this is causing – and more importantly, what actions businesses should take in order to deal with possible changes in behavior.

  • Do pizza delivery services get busier?
  • Do delivery charges rise?
  • Fedex fuel charges go up.
  • Food climbs 40% in the last 6 months.

With all this stuff going on, what are you doing to compensate for the changes in your customers’ behavior?

Remember the posts over the last week or so about automation? Twitter? Your website? All of these things will be more valuable as people decide not to drive all over town to shop, but instead, decide to pick up the phone or open up their browser.

Today, I picked up the phone and asked if 2 print jobs were done. The print shop is a 45 minute roundtrip drive on a good day. I drive in to pick up the work – and only 1 job is done. When I got there – as is usual – they have to search all over the shop to find the printed output (I’ve watched this for 2-3 years and still haven’t figured out why they insist on doing it that way).

So I will have to go into town again on Monday and get the other job – all because someone made a mistake. While it was an honest mistake, it cost me 45 minutes and about 3 gallons of gas.

Look at what happened to me and examine your business to see how you can streamline processes, delivery and so on – all in the interest of saving you and your client some time, money and energy. The more efficient you make the process of doing business with you, the more value you provide to your clients and the better off your business will be.

Ask yourself these questions, as examples:

  • How can I save my customer a trip to the store/office?
  • How can I save my customer some time?
  • What can I automate that we do manually now (taking up time)?
  • What can I automate that isn’t being done at all, but would provide more value to my clients?

For example, it would be simple to setup an automated notification system that would email, fax, SMS/text message or Twitter me when the print jobs are really done. I would expect a notification for each one.

Likewise, delivery would save me time and money. Do you offer it? I’m far more concerned about the extra 45 minutes than the $10. Clearly, I can justify at least a $10 delivery fee, since it’ll cost me that much in fuel alone. With the capabilities of route generation software, you can deliver 20-30-40 packages each day and not spend all your time on the road. You can use local courier services as well.

When will $143.80 change the behavior of your customer – and will you be prepared to provide them with business as usual, only better?

PS: Don’t confuse efficient with cheap.

Related posts elsewhere on the net:

Improving Operational Efficiency and Business Performance in …
Social Media for Efficiency and Productivity in Business
Screwing Over Customers is Not a Good Business Strategy

On Monday, the Albany Business Journal joined the bandwagon saying that a Federal fuel tax “vacation” would help. I say it’s a pile of horse biscuits. An 18.4 cent discount doesn’t mean much when fuel has gone up 30+ cents in 10 days. And it doesnt fix the problem, it just panders to the voters.