Tag Archive: customer_service

Google’s New Algorithm Search: How it can affect your business.

Hold on to your hats, small business owners. Everything you thought you knew about SEO and making sure your customers could find your business online may not be true anymore. That’s thanks to Google’s recent adoption of Hummingbird, its new, more dynamic method for improving search results.

“The Hummingbird algorithm is significant as it changes Google from being a search engine to an information engine,” says Mert Sahinoglu, a partner in Chicago’s Falcon Living Real Estate. He has been a digital marketing consultant for over a decade and says that for the small business owner, “This means that they will have to provide more information and multimedia content to their Google+ profile.”

“It’s important to state that Hummingbird is not just an algorithm update,” adds George Zlatin, director of operations at Digital Third Coast Internet Marketing, a Chicago-based SEO consulting and marketing firm. “It is a structural update to the algorithm that affects 90 percent of search queries. To put that in perspective, when Google releases a normal algorithm update, that usually affects anywhere from one to three percent of queries. So this is much, much larger.”

Widespread smartphone and tablet use led to Hummingbird

“In mobile search, thanks to technologies such as the iPhone’s Siri, customers are asking more questions rather than typing keywords,” Sahinoglu explains. Keyword-based searching is still practiced by the majority of desktop users, but Sahinoglu expects this to change. “As Google improves Hummingbird, questions will replace keywords as customer confidence in getting the right answer for the question increases.”
Hummingbird may already be helping your small business

“If you create a lot of good content on your website that is relevant to your business you are more likely to get more traffic from that than pre-Hummingbird,” says Zlatin. “Hummingbird does not mean that Google doesn’t use traditional ranking factors anymore, such as keywords, backlinks to your site, or content. It is just a new framework put on top of it.”

Best practices for small businesses

It’s very important to understand that Hummingbird places a high value on information from Google+ profiles and social media platforms. This means your business may have some more work to do besides the creation and sharing of keyword-rich, unique content on your website and social media platforms.

“You should provide as much detail as possible in your Google+ Local profile, including opening/closing hours,” Sahinoglu says. Images are also becoming increasingly important. Sahinoglu recommends that profile photos should always be selected with marketing in mind. “Photos are definitely becoming the first impression a new customer sees about a business in the new Google.”

Hummingbird will also push small businesses to network with their geographic area customers or with their niche group of customers more on Google+, according to Sahinoglu. Another key factor to consider is your Google + Authorship authority. Google + Authorship is a verification that links online content to the person who wrote it. The more published content you have out there, the more important you become in Hummingbird’s eyes. You will get a bigger boost from content that appears on sites you don’t actually control.
Content is still king

“The best advice I can give small business owners is to really focus on adding unique content to their websites.” Zlantin says. “Talk about what you know. Talk about what customers are asking you. This type of content is going to bring more traffic from Hummingbird.” He adds, “There is no way you can predict all of the search terms people will write, so it’s better to just focus on writing content that is important to them.”

“Start building an extensive Q&A library about your products or services,” Sahinoglu recommends. “This could be a brand-related Q&A or a non-brand product/service Q&A. Optimize a unique page for each Q&A.”

Going forward: Be prepared for change

Google is continually refining and adjusting all of the algorithms they use to determine search results. This upgrade to Hummingbird is sure to be followed by others in the future. As a small business owner, maintaining awareness of these changes and implementing recommended best practices is the best way to ensure favorable search engine rankings.

Getting Positive Reviews on Yelp

How can you get honest, positive feedback to appear on Yelp or review portions of Google, Facebook, or TripAdvisor? It may sound daunting, but some say all small businesses need to do is ask.

“If you don’t ask, the likelihood of it happening is almost zero,” says Adi Bittan, chief executive and cofounder of Palo Alto, California-based OwnerListens.com, a company with an online tool that gives customers a direct line to a business’s owners via an app or text messages. “People are actually much nicer than many people give them credit for.”

Where to start? Listen up the next time a customer pays a compliment for great service or expresses satisfaction about a mistake that was quickly fixed. Translating pleasant, in-person encounters into positive social media capital is a matter of reading the signals your customers are giving and being direct about a request for help, Bittan says. If clients praise an employee, service, or product, that’s a cue that they’re likely open to doing more.

Bittan points to a series of Stanford University studies that show people underestimate how likely others are to agree to requests for assistance. In one, researchers concluded those who are approached for a favor are under social pressure to be benevolent, because saying no might them look bad—to themselves or others. (After all, everyone is sensitive to reviews.)

It’s that perception of altruism that motivates some reviewers, and that’s some of the surprisingly good news that might make your own foray a bit easier than expected. Jon Hall, chief executive and founder of Bloomfield, New Jersey-based Grade.us, has written extensively on the topic of customer reviews and says the vast majority are positive, regardless of the product, service, industry or online community. “There is no need to ask for a ‘good’ or ‘positive’ review. Just ask for a review, ask for feedback,” he says.
Hall’s company, as well as Bittan’s, tries to steer customer reviews toward a company’s preferred online destination. Grade.us uses a platform that directs customers to a landing page, where a business owner can “funnel” their feedback to a review site they care about most, be it Foursquare, TripAdvisor, Google+, Yelp, or a dozen more. Bittan’s service provides a direct channel to the business owner, where compliments or complaints are acknowledged in real time. Both aim to take the steam out of the fieriest of missives from angry clients: first, by making the process of filing good reviews easier for happy customers and swelling those numbers; second, by giving unhappy clients the attention they need from those who can actually help them.

For businesses now, the stakes are particularly high on Yelp, in more ways than one. The site has more than 100-million unique visitors a month worldwide, via its website and apps, and a recent Nielsen survey reported four out of five of its users consult the site before they spend money. A 2011 Harvard Business School survey found that restaurants that boosted their rating by one full star on Yelp saw their annual revenue increase five to nine percent.

But there’s also a very delicate balance small businesses must maintain when soliciting glowing reports.

For its part, Yelp discourages businesses from asking customers for positive feedback on the site. In its FAQ, it says “These self-selected reviews tell only part of the story, and we don’t think that’s fair to consumers. We would much rather hear from members of the Yelp community who are inspired to talk about their experiences without a business owner’s encouragement.”

Any savvy Internet user can spot the obvious inside jobs. But along with filters that try to weed out phony reviews, Yelp has been active in pursuing those attempting to game the system. In late 2012, the site launched what it termed a sting operation, and exposed dozens of businesses that solicited positive reports from undercover “elite” Yelp users with offers of cash payments. In September, the New York state attorney general fined 19 reputation management companies for fake online reviews on several major sites, including Yelp, Google Local, and CitySearch.

All of which makes a genuine rave more meaningful. So what’s the right way to ask for a review?

Bittar says do it “in the moment,” when the goodwill is fresh and top-of-mind. Here is some advice from her and Hall on how to approach a customer:
1. Explain why you’re asking. Put it at the bottom of receipts or in signage in your shop, and say something like “Please let the rest of the world know that we did a good job. Online reviews are one of the most important drivers of our business.”

2. Link it to a customer’s identity as a local shopper, or just a good person. Use messages like “We’ve been serving the [town name] for more than two decades” or “Please show your kindness and support by letting your social media followers know.”

3. Have a tangible reminder, and try to stay unbiased. Hall’s clients hand their customers a postcard asking them to write a review. It reads: “Help us. Help others. You’re invited to review X.”

Social media has given everyone a voice, for better or worse, but for small businesses, it’s how you deal with it that matters, Bittar says. “It still all comes down to giving great service,” she says. “And the way the world is going, the bar has been raised for everyone. You have to wow them. And it’s that much harder.”

Turning Down a Customer: When Is It Smart!

Turning Down a Customer When Is It Smart!Turning Down a Customer: When Is It Smart!

by Erin McDermott.

 

Yoga is supposed to be an escape to mindfulness and physical rejuvenation.

 

But running a yoga studio is like any business, and Patrice Simon has had to refuse some customers. Once, she even had to summon police to her busy Costa Mesa, California, spot, Bikram Yoga Studio, when a student became alarmingly verbally abusive.

 

“It’s been a lesson in psychology for me. There are individuals who intentionally raise their voice at the desk or become insulting—and they do it so an audience can hear them,” explains Simon “I don’t let it get that far. I say, ‘You need to leave, and now.’ I get a vibe from dealing with people at this point. This individual went far over the line.” Turning Down a Customer: When Is It Smart!

 

It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes it’s best to turn down a customer. Many business owners say it’s rarely as straightforward as encountering an unruly person at the other side of the counter. It could be that the limits of your own enterprise are overstretched, or their deadline is impossible to meet. Mostly, it’s just one of those things that only your gut can tell you. Turning Down a Customer: When Is It Smart!

 

Everyone’s in business to make money, but when are those dollars just not worth it? Here are four situations that small business owners say they’ve encountered on the road to saying “no thanks” to new customers. Turning Down a Customer: When Is It Smart!

 

1)  It’s never going to be profitable

 

Some projects require an investment to keep relationships with big potential growing. And there are times when you have to hold your nose and say yes in order to keep your doors open. But those numbers need to add up somewhere on the horizon.

 

Michael Bremmer is founder and CEO of TelecomQuotes.com, a Marino Valley, California telecommunications-solutions provider for small and midsize businesses. He says 20 years of trial and error have led him to ask three questions of himself for any new customer: 1) What’s his gut feeling about the individual or business? (“Every time I’ve ignored my gut, I’ve paid the price,” he says.) 2) How reasonable are their requests? and 3) Is the amount of profit worth the time and effort?  “Even if you’re struggling to start your business, you have to choose so wisely because your time is your most valuable asset,” Bremmer says. Turning Down a Customer: When Is It Smart!

 

For example, Bremmer has had to send some customers to competitors or outright “fire” others. He says he recently had to cut off a longtime family friend who became unreasonable about pricing. He struggled with the decision because he could see how stress had made her irrational, but “the client who keeps you awake at 3 a.m.—that’s the one you’ve got to fire.” Turning Down a Customer: When Is It Smart!

 

2)  Haggling over price

 

John Olson calls them “the price hunters” and he’s learned to turn them away over his 20 years in business. They’re the people who call or email GrayStone Industries, his pond and fountain-supply company in Cleveland, Georgia,, with eyes only on the price tag. He says his staff gets calls from people who say they’ve contacted them and their competitors, and will buy from whoever has the lowest price.

 

In those cases, Olson says “we will not even provide a quote, which would force some other poor seller into beating it by sacrificing their own profit. That’s not the way we want to do business.”  His products and these projects, he says, require a “modicum of intelligence” from customers, and his staff is constantly trained to assist anyone with questions before or after a sale. So forget about a retail race to the bottom, he explains. “Anyone who cares more about the price than the company selling these type of products is setting themselves up for failure—it will come back to haunt any company who caters to this type of customer.”

 

3) Negative or abusive comments

 

The customer is always right? Let’s hope not, judging by the unprecedented abuse that business owners say they’re experiencing via the Internet. Melinda West, founder and CEO of SwagsGalore.com, a curtain and window-treatment ecommerce site based in Lakeville, Pennsylvania., says she has a greatest-hits collection of the crude, angry, or wacky messages she’s seen from the site’s order-comments box since she opened in 1999.

 

“People seem to have no problem leaving messages, but in person they likely wouldn’t be that crass,” West says. “The comments are so rude or bizarre that you don’t know whether to take them seriously.” So she’s had to block some users’ IP numbers from the site, canceled orders with a brief note, or told the pushiest ones that their goods were out of stock—just to make them go away. Though West says the overwhelming majority of the company’s orders are pleasant or at least uneventful, cutting off negative new customers no longer keeps her up at night. “Sometimes people are nasty and they don’t even order anything—how can they be so irate over curtains?” Turning Down a Customer: When Is It Smart!

 

4) A bad fit

 

Maybe the work is too outside your specialty, the budget is a tough stretch, or ethical or personal lines are crossed. Don’t ignore the red flags. Frank Ebysen, a founder of Santa Monica, California-based OnClick Marketing, an SEO and social media services company, says he’s adopted a “serious person” test, a concept his business partner learned from co-workers at a company overseas. For example, there are clients who have good ideas, but the lack of a sound game plan makes them problematic, he says. Now when they discuss whether to take on a client or turn them away, it comes down to whether the person is genuine and worth their expertise, or if they come off as “not a serious person.”

 

Or you could turn the tables. One PR agency executive says her small agency has started asking potential clients for a list of their references before they agree to do business. “They’ll get the feeling that you are selective and not just looking to make a buck. You’ll appear to be the leader in the situation—but mostly it helps to ward off the ones who will be a headache,” she says.

Perhaps turning away someone’s business could possibly help make that customer look within, to see that they were —gasp!—wrong. Simon says that yoga client who sparked the police call came back to her studio a year later, seeking forgiveness and promising to behave. He’s been a regular on the mats there for years now.

 

She says it’s added to the meaning of her business. “You never know what’s going on in someone’s life. There are students I see that are in such despair and in a heightened state of anxiety. They are coming to me to take care of that,” Simon says. “When you can understand that, then you’re doing your job.”

Engage Clients on Houzz

Engage Clients on Houzz

by Erin McDermott.

 

Engage Clients on Houzz Amanda Bertele has a much simpler office these days.

 

As a designer, she spent years thumbing through stacks of magazines, brochures, and portfolios to get ideas for kitchens, bathrooms, and other home-interior projects to show customers. She asked clients to do the same, by keeping photos or ripped pages or color strips in scrapbooks so they could share their ideas. Engage Clients on Houzz

 

Now she’s got Houzz, and so do many of the customers at Superior Woodcraft in Doylestown, Pa. Bertele says she asks clients to add photos and comments to their online “ideabooks,” which both of them can see instantly. She shares projects that she finds inspiring, letting others in on her design sensibility and opening new conversations. Engage Clients on Houzz

 

“It’s completely changed the vocabulary of design,” Bertele says. “It used to be so time-consuming, a ton of work, and expensive to go out and buy all of those design books. Now, it’s ‘Go on Houzz. Save what you like and make comments.’ The images take away the barrier to what everyone’s trying to convey in words.” Engage Clients on Houzz

 

If you’ve yet to tune in, Houzz is a beautiful and highly addictive website that brings a social-media element to residential remodeling, design, decor, and landscaping. For users, it’s a resource book, inspiration point, and fantasy island for those looking to improve the look and feel of their homes. As of early 2013, more than 150 million photos have been uploaded that 14 million Houzzers comment on, ask questions about, or save to their ideabooks, which are personal stashes of images any member can hold for later reference. Engage Clients on Houzz

 

Houzz’s images come from nearly 250,000 businesses in the U.S. and Canada, showcasing their work, creativity, and goods—and serve as an entry point to interacting with clients and future clients. The site lets professionals ask and answer questions about products and projects and lets them chime in on lively discussions that include tradesmen, contractors, designers, as well as homeowners with an itch to upgrade. Engage Clients on Houzz

 

The site was launched in late 2009 by a husband and wife team who’d struggled to renovate their Bay Area home. Many Houzz pros interviewed for this article say they first learned of it by looking at their Google Analytics data—after Houzzers shared photos of their work and cited them as the designer, driving traffic to their website. It’s all proving to be a disruptor in the $300 billion a year home-remodeling market.

 

Houzz_PQ.jpgAnd that’s why it’s quickly become a must-have for anyone in a host of businesses, from architects and landscape artists to swimming pool installers, electrical contractors or anyone tied to just about every room in a house or apartment. Or even a dog house. (And the best news: it’s largely free. The site’s now accepting ads and there’s a paid tool, Houzz Pro+, that breaks down traffic statistics to individual pictures, for example.)  Engage Clients on Houzz

 

Engage Clients on Houzz How can you get your Houzz in order? Here are a few tips from other Houzz pros on using the site to engage customers:

 

Think of it as a communication tool.

Bertele says photos communicate in ways that words never can when it comes to a look or a feel that a homeowner is trying to achieve. She says Houzz bridges a gap between a designer’s technical knowledge and vocabulary and what a client is trying to express. While insiders may throw around words like mullion, Palladian window, or waterfall island, such terms can fly over the heads of customers. “Or someone can say ‘French Country‘ style, but that has so many different meanings,” she says, noting that’s something that can be easily cleared up with an image that establishes a common language. “If you don’t have good communication, you don’t have a happy client.” Engage Clients on Houzz

 

It’s also a much more nimble tool when compared with the steps required to update a business’s homepage. On Houzz, all you have to do is point, click to add to an ideabook, and voilà: your showcase is freshened up with a half-dozen new pictures of a completed job.

 

Show you’re a problem-solver

Jeffrey Veffer, a Toronto-based architect and co-owner of Incite Design, says the best ideabooks give clear explanations for how a project was commissioned and the clients’ expectations, which he says has elevated the dialogues he’s had with some Houzz-using customers. “Clients are coming to us with a bit more literacy in terms of style, which we find is helpful,” he says. “We’re advising people to use these sites to help clarify their ideas before they engage designers. And it enhances the value of what designers really do.”

 

By contributing to the site’s conversations and articles with his own expertise, Veffer says he hopes it shows potential clients his willingness to be involved and solve any inevitable issues that arise in a project, qualities that are highly sought after and can help to build an initial relationship.  Engage Clients on Houzz

 

Gloria Franklin, the Cleveland-based owner of Colom & Brit Interiors, agrees with that approach. In Houzz’s discussion section regarding design dilemmas, she often weighs in with possible solutions, sometimes including items from her own home accessories and furniture business, but more often with links to other room shots, to illustrate her point. “I’ve found that giving free and valuable content builds trust and a loyal following,” she says. Engage Clients on Houzz

 

Remember, it’s the Web

When you create your professional profile, fill out all available fields with the most up-to-date information, including your name and company, location, website, and personal Houzz page, if you wish. When a consumer does a search on the site, the Houzz algorithm puts a high value on the number and quality of the photos posted, the number of reviews from clients and colleagues, how many questions you’ve responded to, and if you have a Houzz badge—the widget to let clients link back—on your company’s site. Those with the most interactions become the top of the search results. Engage Clients on HouzzEngage Clients on Houzz

 

The rules of search-engine optimization apply here, too. When you post a photo, think about your keywords you’re using to describe what’s in it. More important, think about how a consumer would be searching. (Fun fact: The words “white kitchen” are among the most searched on the Internet.) If the standout element of a living room you’re highlighting is the red wallpaper, add “red living room” to the list. And consider the emotions that certain rooms might conjure for users and the words they’d use to describe it. Bertele says she was trying to come across a bedroom that she considered “rustic,” but had trouble locating the snapshot. She thought again and typed in “sexy bedrooms” and it popped right up.

 

Build up a community

All of this sharing—isn’t this just giving away your tricks of the trade? Not at all, says Robin Baron, an interior designer in New York whose page was voted Best of Houzz for 2013 by the site’s users. An industry veteran, she says roughly 80 percent of her clients are now Houzzing, and she finds it to be a huge improvement when hunting for just the right piece for a project and collecting the results in one place.

 

She answers all questions posed to her on the site and reports what materials she used in all of her photos, from furniture makers and chandeliers down to her color choices for the walls. “There’s no harm in giving them a paint number. I’ll give them the price category, and if it’s something they can afford or not is their decision,” Baron says. “It’s about building on the engagement.”

 

And that’s one of the keys to succeeding in social media, in Baron’s industry and elsewhere. On Twitter, Facebook, and Houzz, she often promotes other designers‘ projects, just as she refers out small jobs to fledgling colleagues whose work she appreciates. “Supporting each other is critical. The more that do well, then we all will do well,” she says. “It’s an important way to live your life—on Houzz and beyond!

Google Business Networking Tips for Building Your Small Business

3 Ways To Grow Your BusinessGoogle Business Networking Tips for Building Your Small Business

Google Business Networking Tips for Building Your Small Business Google “business networking” and you’ll see links to articles on how to increase your Facebook Likes and Twitter followers. Connecting with potential customers and business partners via social networking is, by now, an essential part of any company’s growth. Despite the skyrocketing impact of social media over the past decade, however, the importance of old-fashioned, face-to-face networking has not faded. Shaking hands at conferences and making chit chat at cocktail parties is still one of the best ways to expand your brand’s reach, build your business, and create vital partnerships. So, just how good are your networking skills? To turn that annual conference small talk into a critical company connection, look over this list of networking Dos and Don’ts.

 

DO research who is coming

If possible, look over the guest list for any conference or party and make a mental list of those folks you want to meet. Shawna Tregunna, founder and owner of ReSoMe.com, a social media company, explores who is coming online and uses social media to reach out to fellow attendees before the event. “I watch for mentions of [the event] on social media by hashtag or name. I also check out the guest list if it is public. If I see someone I want to connect with, I look for them on Twitter or LinkedIn and [send them a Tweet or message such as] ‘I see we are both headed to XYZ event! I would love to get a chance to say hi. Looking forward to connecting!’ Then, at the event, I have a list of people I know I will connect with,” says Tregunna. Google Business Networking Tips for Building Your Small Business

 

DON’T be afraid to approach someone

“Take every advantage possible to meet new people,” says Lori Cheek, founder and CEO of Cheekd.com, a sort of reverse-engineered dating site that provides its members icebreakers they can use to introduce themselves to new people. “When attending networking events, I find that it’s most advantageous to go alone so that you’re forced to talk to new people,” suggests Cheek. “Understand everyone is there for a similar reason and, for the most part, want to make new connections, so don’t be shy—just walk up and introduce yourself. The only thing you have to lose is an opportunity.” Cheek also offers a reminder not to make quick judgments. “Efficiently communicate and never dismiss a single soul—you never know who you’re talking to, who they might know, or how they’d be able to contribute [to your company].” Google Business Networking Tips for Building Your Small Business

 

DO listen…and listen and listen

“Listen more than you talk. People invariably like someone who listens to them and makes them feel interesting and appreciated,” says Lisa Thompson, L.P.C., director of professional services for Pearson Partners International, Inc., a full-service retained executive search firm. Thompson suggests keeping your own story to a minimum. “Avoid immediately going into too much detail about what you offer. Unless they indicate a real interest by asking direct questions, you will bore them and they will want to escape,” suggests Thompson. “Practice describing what you do in just a couple of sentences.” Google Business Networking Tips for Building Your Small Business

 

DON’T stay in just your industry

Getting beyond the folks within your industry can benefit your company in surprising ways. New ideas for marketing partnerships, insight on fresh ways to approach sales, and more solid business opportunities may arise from chatting with someone in another field or specialty. “It pays dividends to diversify your connections. Raise your awareness of the circles you spend your time in and if the circles have become too narrow—one type of industry, one type of profession—make it a point to widen the circle from time-to-time,“ writes founder and CEO of Impact Instruction Group Amy Franko in her e-book 35 Tips to Build Lasting Strategic RelationshipsGoogle Business Networking Tips for Building Your Small Business

 

SmallTalk_PQ.jpgDO take notes

Katie Shea, director of marketing at OrderGroove.com, a company that launches and manages subscription programs for major retailers, suggests taking a brief moment to take notes on people you meet. “If you are at a large networking event like a cocktail party
or fundraiser, it’s easy to collect dozens of cards, yet difficult to keep
track of all of the different two- to three-minute conversations,” says Shea. “After a few
conversations, take a break to write personal notes on the back of each
card you’ve received—[things like] ‘NYU alum, born in South Africa, avid traveler.’ Not only will this jog your memory of the conversation, but your new
contact is likely to be impressed that you remembered such a personal
detail about him or her during later conversations.”

 

DON’T get stuck in conversations

Having a few ideas on how to exit a conversation is just as important as having opening lines to start one. Being “trapped” with one person for too long means missed opportunities to connect with others. “Learn to handle networking vultures and elegantly get out of a conversation with someone who wants to stick with you,” suggests Thompson. “You might say there is someone across the room you just have to speak to, or introduce that person to another and move along, or have other possible strategies up your sleeve.”

 

DO follow up in person

Keep that brief conversation going after the event with another face-to-face meeting—even if you don’t see an immediate use for the relationship. “You’ve heard the saying that if you need a relationship, it’s usually too late to build it. It’s often why people end up feeling as though they’re being insincere, because continual relationship building isn’t a habit built into their everyday life,” notes Franko. “A quick conversation with a new contact is rarely a bad
thing, but where the deals happen is later down the road. Be sure to follow
up—offer to buy coffee, lunch, a drink—with those individuals that you
believe offer synergies to your business,” offers Shea. Google Business Networking Tips for Building Your Small Business

Google Business Networking Tips for Building Your Small Business

DON’T have an out-of-date online presence

To cultivate and grow relationships, many go beyond “just touching base” periodic emails. They build on that face-to-face networking with social media, which means it is vital your LinkedIn account is always up-to-date, and you are active on at least one social media channel. “I will connect with everyone within 48 hours [of an event] on LinkedIn with a unique greeting and ask for their other social channels so we can stay in touch,” notes Tregunna. “I then try to do mentions of them on social media if they are active – ‘Great meeting at on ! If you haven’t connected with them here you should try!’” That virtual connection keeps the lines of communication open and ready for future business opportunities that happen in person. Google Business Networking Tips for Building Your Small Business

B2B Marketing: Tips for communicating with, and selling to, more companies

B2B Marketing: Tips for communicating with, and selling to, more companies

Posted by SBOC Team in Advertising, Sales and Marketingon Oct 31, 2012 8:04:36 AM

B2BMarketing_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

One of the most important questions in business-to-business—or B2B—marketing concerns tone. Should your marketing communications be purely fact-based and devoid of the emotional appeals typically found in consumer advertising? Or, should they recognize that people are people, even in a business setting, and acknowledge their personal concerns? This conflict underscores one of the many ways that selling to companies differs from selling to consumers. The answer, experts say, is to address both their personal and business concerns about buying your product or service. The first step is knowing as much as you can about your prospect.

 

While a fair amount of business-to-consumer advertising involves brand building, B2B marketing is more concerned with generating leads, nurturing relationships, and educating the buyer until the sale is made. Building rapport begins with understanding how your target audience communicates with itself.

 

“You need to speak their language, to make sure you come across as someone who understands their industry,” says Bob McCarthy, president of McCarthy & King Marketing, a Milford, Massachusetts-based marketing services firm. “But don’t go overboard and make [your communications] incomprehensible.”

 

B2BMarketing_PQ.jpgB2B marketing communications that make some kind of an offer—such as a white paper or webinar invitation—and then measure response are crucial for both online and direct mail efforts. The trick, McCarthy notes, is to come up with an incentive that moves them along the sales process. “It’s always a tradeoff: I will give you my white paper if you give me your email address. Then I’ll give you something else if you give me the best time I can call you,” he says.

 

For example, McCarthy recalls a B2B lead generation campaign that he put together for an engineering manufacturer. He created a short survey that was mailed to approximately 20,000 prospects in order to identify the key decision makers, their upcoming needs for the manufacturer’s products, and the best time to follow up. McCarthy tested two different premiums that were offered as incentives for completing the survey, and tracked the results. The campaign generated a 4.1 percent response—higher than the average rate for a typical direct mail campaign. The client was also able to use the survey results to customize future contacts with the prospects who responded.

http://smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/community/growing-your-business/salesandmarketing/blog/2012/10/31/b2b-marketing-tips-for-communicating-with-and-selling-to-more-companies

Defending Your Business’s Reputation: Tips for addressing and resolving public customer complaints

Defending Your Business’s Reputation: Tips for addressing and resolving public customer complaints  

Posted by SBOC Team in Advertising, Sales and Marketingon Oct 15, 2012 8:03:56 AM

DefendingRep_Body.jpgBy Iris Dorbian.

 

Having a solid and sterling reputation can be a small business’ greatest currency. A good word-of-mouth can invest a company with credibility and cachet. Who needs a retinue of expensive PR flacks when you have glowing reviews on Yelp?

 

And yet, as quickly as a reputation can be built, it can be destroyed. The ubiquity of social media has upped the ante so much that even a single online negative review or rant on a site such as Twitter or Facebook can do immeasurable harm to a brand, be it a Fortune 500 company or a small mom-and-pop shop. But while the former might have a platoon of spin-doctors at its disposal to clean up the smears, a small business with limited resources may not be so lucky. How then can a small business perform damage control when it’s being slammed on the Internet?

 

Be proactive when dealing with complaints

Don’t be passive or silent. The sage advice that your grandmother once told you, to ignore attacks, is not applicable to Internet protocol, which in many ways, is reminiscent of the Wild, Wild West, except that back then, at least, you knew who your gun-toting antagonists were. That’s not an advantage afforded in the sometimes anarchic wilderness of cyberspace, where consumers can cloak their identities in anonymity while freely slinging mud about your company on myriad sites.

 

Andrew Dale, CEO of The Pin People, a 12-year-old lapel pin manufacturer based in New York City, knows all too well the devastating effect a negative Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating can have on a small business, particularly if you don’t respond to complaints within a certain timeframe. Recently, Dale’s company lost a lucrative order after the client performed some due diligence and discovered that The Pin People had an F rating, according to the BBB.

 

DefendingRep_PQ.jpgEmbarrassed, Dale, a retired cop and former Marine, went into damage control mode. He contacted the BBB and found out that his company received the F rating because it had never responded to two outstanding customer complaints, which surprised Dale as he was unaware of them. Turns out that out his company never received the complaints because the BBB sent them to an old mailing address it had on file.

 

“Since we never responded, they accepted both complaints and also penalized us for not responding!” recalls Dale, incredulously.

 

But fortunately, all was not lost. “The BBB explained that they could reopen the complaints and as long as my company responded to the two customers making the complaints and showed good faith, the complaints would be resolved,” he explains.

 

Dale offered the two customers in question an option to either redo the order or a complete refund. Following Dale’s response to the parties, The Pin People’s BBB F rating was removed and changed to no rating, which Dale admits was a much better scenario than a flunking grade.

 

“One party contacted me and we redid their order, and the other party never contacted us—as that complaint was over two years old,” relates Dale. “The BBB has since given us an A+ rating and we were just approved to be accredited by the BBB.”

 

Practice transparency and admit wrongdoing

Transparency, which in contemporary public relations parlance means telling the truth, has become synonymous with “authenticity,” another term frequently cited by top-tier PR professionals as a necessary tactic for companies to use when engaging with customers. The pros are obvious: By reaching out to consumers with transparent messaging, you will be able to win their confidence more easily as opposed to countering complaints with insincere sound bites and recrimination. The cons of leveraging this tactic is that you, as a small business owner, may learn some hard truths about your company directly from consumers who may not use polite language to express their dissatisfaction.

 

“The only way to resolve issues in today’s social economy and protect the brand as well as sustain growth is to be authentic,” contends Mark Zhang, marketing director of Slip Stopper, a startup manufacturer of protective cases for smartphones. “That means admitting the problem, acting quickly to fix it, and apologizing for screwing up.”

 

Zhang learned this lesson firsthand recently after his company’s initial product launch encountered some “quality issues” when customers received their orders—apparently the adhesive on the back of the skin case was faulty, causing it to fall off the user’s phone. “After we noticed our screw-up, we immediately reached out to customers and sent them replacement units,” he relates. “In some cases, we even doubled the order for free.”

 

But what if customer complaints are posted on popular review sites like Yelp? What then is the proper way for a small business to interface with disgruntled consumers?

 

“When your business is attacked through social media, get involved in the conversation,” advises Steve Wyer, managing director of the Franklin, Tennessee-based The Reputation Advocate, a crisis PR firm that works with small businesses to restore their online reputation. “Do not get into a war of words, be respectful, and present your perspective. Unreasonable claims, statements, and comments will be exposed for what they are if you present a rational dialogue.”

 

For more info, please go to http://smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/community/growing-your-business/salesandmarketing/blog/2012/10/15/defending-your-businesss-reputation-tips-for-addressing-and-resolving-public-customer-complaints

Defending Your Business’s Reputation: Tips for addressing and resolving public customer complaints

Defending Your Business’s Reputation: Tips for addressing and resolving public customer complaints
Posted by SBOC Team in Advertising, Sales and Marketing on Oct 15, 2012 8:03:56 AM
By Iris Dorbian.

Having a solid and sterling reputation can be a small business’ greatest currency. A good word-of-mouth can invest a company with credibility and cachet. Who needs a retinue of expensive PR flacks when you have glowing reviews on Yelp?

And yet, as quickly as a reputation can be built, it can be destroyed. The ubiquity of social media has upped the ante so much that even a single online negative review or rant on a site such as Twitter or Facebook can do immeasurable harm to a brand, be it a Fortune 500 company or a small mom-and-pop shop. But while the former might have a platoon of spin-doctors at its disposal to clean up the smears, a small business with limited resources may not be so lucky. How then can a small business perform damage control when it’s being slammed on the Internet?

Be proactive when dealing with complaints

Don’t be passive or silent. The sage advice that your grandmother once told you, to ignore attacks, is not applicable to Internet protocol, which in many ways, is reminiscent of the Wild, Wild West, except that back then, at least, you knew who your gun-toting antagonists were. That’s not an advantage afforded in the sometimes anarchic wilderness of cyberspace, where consumers can cloak their identities in anonymity while freely slinging mud about your company on myriad sites.

Andrew Dale, CEO of The Pin People, a 12-year-old lapel pin manufacturer based in New York City, knows all too well the devastating effect a negative Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating can have on a small business, particularly if you don’t respond to complaints within a certain timeframe. Recently, Dale’s company lost a lucrative order after the client performed some due diligence and discovered that The Pin People had an F rating, according to the BBB.

DefendingRep_PQ.jpgEmbarrassed, Dale, a retired cop and former Marine, went into damage control mode. He contacted the BBB and found out that his company received the F rating because it had never responded to two outstanding customer complaints, which surprised Dale as he was unaware of them. Turns out that out his company never received the complaints because the BBB sent them to an old mailing address it had on file.

“Since we never responded, they accepted both complaints and also penalized us for not responding!” recalls Dale, incredulously.

But fortunately, all was not lost. “The BBB explained that they could reopen the complaints and as long as my company responded to the two customers making the complaints and showed good faith, the complaints would be resolved,” he explains.

Dale offered the two customers in question an option to either redo the order or a complete refund. Following Dale’s response to the parties, The Pin People’s BBB F rating was removed and changed to no rating, which Dale admits was a much better scenario than a flunking grade.

“One party contacted me and we redid their order, and the other party never contacted us—as that complaint was over two years old,” relates Dale. “The BBB has since given us an A+ rating and we were just approved to be accredited by the BBB.”

For more info, go to http://smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/community/growing-your-business/salesandmarketing/blog/2012/10/15/defending-your-businesss-reputation-tips-for-addressing-and-resolving-public-customer-complaints

How to Identify and Target Your Top Customers Online

How to Identify and Target Your Top Customers Online. by Cindy Waxer.

Today’s business marketers are under extreme pressure to identify top customers and make smarter business decisions in record time. However, pinpointing a business’s most valuable customers is harder than it sounds.

For starters, there’s more than one way to determine a customer’s worth. According to Mac McIntosh, a B2B marketing consultant and speaker from North Kingstown, Rhode Island, there are three main measures of a top-notch customer:

The amount of revenue a customer generates for a company.
The profit derived from a particular customer.
The customer’s overall satisfaction.

PQ_IdentifyCust.jpgBut the work doesn’t end there. McIntosh warns that while businesses can gain invaluable insights from their best customers, they need to determine the most effective way to reach them or risk offending them.

“You have to be sensitive to when it’s appropriate and when it isn’t appropriate to respond to a customer,” warns McIntosh. “For example, rather than inserting yourself into an online conversation with a customer on Facebook or Twitter, it’s better to write, ‘I’d love to talk more about this offline. Here’s my phone number—please call me.’”

Fortunately, many companies are discovering new ways to identify and cater to the needs of top customers without breaking the bank or landing a restraining order.

Build relationships

Take, for example, Mike Schwarz. Founder of Ribbed Tee, an online provider of men’s quality undershirts, Schwarz points to one of the company’s celebrity clients, a high-profile NFL player. “He buys lots of stuff from us, he’s great, and we love it. But I don’t think he really advocates our company or talks about us,” says Schwarz. “We appreciate the business, of course, but ultimately I look at our top customers as advocates who actively endorse or recommend our product.”

In order to effectively target these customers, Schwarz says he conducts weekly Google searches and participates in online men’s fashion forums to find customers that mention or recommend Ribbed Tee’s products. Next, Schwarz says he tries “to establish a personal relationship with them, ask them for their feedback, and offer them a few sample products of new launches.” After all, he says, “When you create a personal relationship with a customer, it further enhances their support and they’ll continue to recommend your products to other people. Quite frankly, it just grows the business.”

Nevertheless, Schwarz says there’s a fine line between communicating with your target audience and stalking them online. “Participating in a forum is an art—not a science,” he cautions. “You have to be very thoughtful about how you participate. The one thing you definitely never want to do is promote your product. Answer any questions, but never be too marketing-driven when talking about your products.”

Connect via social media

For PetFlow.com, an online pet food store, Facebook is the perfect platform for identifying and targeting top customers. Recently, the popular online pet food company ran a promotion on Facebook that encouraged fans to pick any three items on PetFlow.com for free delivery. “This kind of contest sends a potential customer to our site to browse and find the products they like,” says Alex Zhardanovksy, co-founder of PetFlow.

By doing so, Zhardanovsky says it’s an opportunity to “walk a potential customer through the entire buying experience of an actual customer,” rendering that prospect far more likely to visit PetFlow the next time they require pet food.

But while online promotions can target everyone from upper-echelon clients to mere prospects, Zhardanovsky says, “The best kind of customer you can have is an evangelical customer—someone who’s an influencer in their community. It’s really important for us to keep that customer happy because one happy customer can bring you ten others.”

Technology as a tie that binds

For this reason, Zhardanovsky says PetFlow invests a lot of time and energy in optimizing its auto-replenishment system, which lets customers predetermine how often they wish to receive orders, from once a week to once every four months. Customers can also use the system to make one-time purchases for future deliveries or as gifts purchases for friends and loved ones who have pets.

“A PetFlow customer is someone who has spent money with us,” says Zhardanovsky. “But a top customer is someone who is really happy with his or her experience and would recommend us.”

And in today’s competitive online marketplace, small businesses can ill afford to mislabel or overlook their top customers.

Knowing When to Let Go: Identifying Customers That Aren’t Worth Saving

Knowing When to Let Go: Identifying Customers That Aren’t Worth Saving. by Jen Hickey.

Breaking up is hard to do. But, as in life, some business relationships aren’t meant to last. For a small business, especially a new one, each customer has a measurable impact on the bottom line. You try to make every customer happy by offering top quality products or services, but there’s always a few that never seem pleased. The more time and effort devoted to those “high-maintenance” customers, the less there is for the rest. You must decide early on whether such customers are worth the trouble. If not, then it may be time to part ways.

Before calling it quits, look at the ROI of a “problem” customer. Are they really worth keeping when considering intangibles like time and employee morale? Andrew Blickstein, chief visionary officer[JH1] of HomeRun Media, a media buying, research, strategy and planning company, calls this the ‘[garbage] metric.’ “It used to be if a client was paying us a lot of money, we’d deal with whatever [garbage] they threw at us,” says Blickstein. “Now, I measure by how much [garbage] I’m picking up.”

Blickstein recalls the first client he ‘fired.’ “Every conversation with this client was a struggle,” he says. The final straw came when the client ignored a memo from Blickstien that gave a detailed analysis of his campaign and the significant internal resources it took to provide. “I realized that this client did not respect the work we did and was never going to,” says Blickstein. “I thought, do I really want to do business with someone that doesn’t respect what we do?”

Blickstein called a few days later to sever the relationship. “The client was shocked because he was still paying me,” Blickstein recalls. “I wished him well and promised to continue servicing him until he could find replacement.”

Whether a customer is a drain on resources should also be calculated into the ROI. “The bottom line is the bottom line,” Blickstein notes, adding that his staff understands his preference to work with customers who don’t erode profitability due to high-maintenance demands.

For customers that may be worth saving, however, try to lay out parameters to help change their bad behavior. “In writing, present three ways to fix the problem. It’s important to offer them choices, but also limit those choices,” notes Beverly D. Flaxington, co-founder of Advisors Trust Advisors, and author of “Understanding Other People” and “Make Your Shift.”

PQ_CustWorthSaving.jpgIf that doesn’t work, it’s time to have the talk. “If you’re bending over backwards for a customer and there’s no strategic reason for keeping them, you need to offer them an alternative,” says Flaxington. “The client isn’t always right, but the worst thing you can do is to get defensive or try to show them the error of their ways.” It’s important to remove emotion from the conversation. Frame it as a business decision: Your company is moving in a different direction and can no longer meet their needs. Better yet, offer to refer them to a competitor and service them until they can find a replacement. “Give them the option to go,” says Flaxington. Often times, the customer will agree and maybe even be relieved.

Sometimes customer expectations are beyond the scope of your business. “We learned quickly the importance of knowing your target audience and what you can offer,” says Flaxington. “You start to get pulled away from other clients when all your energy and time is focused on pleasing the difficult ones.”

For a startup, saying no to any customer, even a difficult one, may seem risky. “Every client’s a percentage of our business at this stage,” notes Brett Brohl, who co-founded scrubadoo.com, a virtual one-stop shop for medical uniforms, in 2009. “If you lose one client, it hurts.” But Brohl has ceased business with two clients since going live just over two years ago. One was a large medical practice, with multiple locations and doctors that ordered lots of products. But the client continually sent requests to match or beat prices of lower cost vendors.

Brohl realized he was getting away from what differentiated his business from other medical uniform suppliers. “We are first a customer service company,” Brohl explains. “It was tough to turn away from a big client, but competing on price is not what we’re about.” When he stopped matching price, the client stopped placing orders. And it turned out to be the right decision. “Not only were we making a very slim gross margin, but this client consumed more time than any of the others,” notes Brohl. “It’s been positive in that it’s freed up time to do more selling and bring on new clients.”

If a high-maintenance customer is part of an overall strategy to expand into a new business segment, or a referral from a high value client, consider pricing the additional time and services into their bill. “If you’re a small shop with 100 clients and 10 of them are fairly low return and require a lot of time, we recommend that our clients use a price tier for services,” says Flaxington.

“The least satisfied customers, those in the bottom 20 percent, generate 16 times more complaints than customers in the other 80 percent,” notes Betsy Kruger, owner of Strategic Power and author of “Top Market Strategy: Applying the 80/20 Rule.” “Successful businesses are ones that specialize and focus on their loyal heavy users, those in the top 20 percent, and do not try to be all things to all people.”

Kruger recommends automating services for the bottom 20 percent of customers or moving them off the books by discontinuing that market segment or introducing them to a competitor. “Figure out how can you best serve those that delight in your business and bring in more customers just like them,” says Kruger. “Referrals from your top customers are really going to multiply your business. Focus on what you do best and who really appreciates that.”

In return, offer extras designed to keep those top customers loyal. “Reward high volume customers with loyalty programs, reduced fees, and customized products,” advises Kruger. “Give them personalized attention.”

In the end, if a customer’s calls inspire dread, it’s probably time to call it quits. “Deep down inside the client usually knows that, too,” says Blickstein.