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.
January 19, 2014 Today's Businessadvertising, brand_building, customer_service, customers, entrepreneur, Google’s New Algorithm Search: How it can affect your business., marketing_message, PR, promotions, sales, small_business Read more >
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.”
January 19, 2014 Today's Businessadvertising, brand_building, customer_service, customers, entrepreneur, Getting Positive Reviews on Yelp, marketing_message, PR, promotions, sales, small_business Read more >
Why customer surveys are a smart strategy
by Robert Lerose.
Why customer surveys are a smart strategy. It’s the one thing every business owner wants to know—”What are my customers thinking?” Yet few ever consider going straight to customers to ask specific questions related to their experience, even though it can yield valuable and sometimes surprising insights. A well-designed survey can reveal what your customers like about your product or service and, perhaps more importantly, what they don’t. It can give you a firmer idea of how your business is perceived in the community. And it can strengthen the loyalty of customers to your brand because the survey actively seeks their feedback on critical issues.
As with other things that look simple on the surface, surveys require careful thought and preparation in order to deliver meaningful results in an efficient way. We checked in with three experts to get their best advice for gathering intelligence from your most prized asset—your customers. Why customer surveys are a smart strategy
Ask relevant questions
Before launching a survey, you should be clear about the kind of information you’re looking for. “It’s important to identify the specific focus, so that once you get to the point of creating the survey, you’re on track,” says Linda Pophal, owner and CEO of Strategic Communications, a Wisconsin-based company that helps organizations sharpen their internal and external communications programs.
Instead of wasting a customer’s valuable time with questions that your business already has the data on—such as when they made their last purchase—Pophal suggests drilling down for information you might not have easy access to. “The questions might relate to how [your business] is perceived compared to other competitors in the area,” she explains. “Or possibly [asking for] their input on other kinds of products or services that might be valued by your customers—any questions that can help you make good business decisions on a wide range of issues.” Why customer surveys are a smart strategy
For example, one of Pophal’s healthcare clients wanted to find out what its audience thought about various attributes of its brand, in anticipation of a new competitor coming into the area. Pophal put together a survey with 10 to 15 attributes and asked audience members to rate them on a scale of 0 to 10. After analyzing the results, Pophal was able to identify two things that were especially relevant to her client: “Areas where they scored lower that they would need to work on, and areas where they were favorably perceived that they might be able to more aggressively promote or communicate in their communications material,” she says. “It was a pretty basic, simple survey, but we got a sense of where my client and the competition might be positioned in the minds of their potential audience.”
Pophal favors close-ended questions—such as multiple-choice questions that offer a limited number of responses—over open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no, because of the ease and efficiency in analyzing the responses. “Once you develop the survey, you should sit down with a handful of people and pre-test it,” she adds. “Have them go through it with you and indicate if there is anything they don’t understand very well, then make the changes and send it out.” Why customer surveys are a smart strategy
ConsumerSurvey_PQ.jpgMake them easy
Even “simple” surveys need to be carefully thought out in order to generate a meaningful response. “You’ve got to make sure it’s not too onerous for people to complete,” says Jon Picoult, founder and principal of Watermark Consulting, a customer experience consultancy, based in Connecticut. “In the body of your invitation, give people a sense of how long it’s going to take to complete, so they don’t wonder when it’s going to end.”
Picoult often uses surveys with only five questions and meticulously crafts them to get information that the business can actually do something with. “A common weakness in surveys is when people ask what are called double-barreled questions,” Picoult explains, such as: “How do you feel about the price and convenience of our service?” Why customer surveys are a smart strategy
“Imagine if people respond by saying that they think it’s awful,” Picoult continues. “What are you going to do with that? You don’t know if they’re talking about the price or the convenience, and then you’ve wasted the whole survey because you have no actionable information.”
The subject line of an email survey can also affect the willingness of a participant to open and complete it. A generic line such as “Customer Survey” sounds bland and tedious, whereas “Your Opinion Counts” is more personal and engaging.
Although Picoult is a strong proponent of using surveys, he emphasizes that they are just one tool for collecting customer information. A second way is to ask your front-line employees about what delights and frustrates your customers. “Another way to complement surveys is to actually observe your customers while they research, buy, and use your product,” Picoult says. “Watching your customers in their natural habitat is a powerful way to get at those ideas that they would never think to share on a survey.”
Reach out often
At VerticalResponse, an award-winning company in San Francisco that provides self-service marketing solutions for small businesses, they practice what they preach to their clients and survey their own customers quarterly. If the survey identifies a problem or an area where customer satisfaction isn’t high, VerticalResponse addresses the problem immediately—and then turns it into a positive self-promotion opportunity. Why customer surveys are a smart strategy
“I think the most important thing about a survey is the outreach after the survey,” says Janine Popick, CEO and founder of VerticalResponse. “We tell all of those customers who had a problem with us that we heard them and fixed it. We actually do call campaigns and email outreach, and get a really good response from it.”
Like Picoult, Popick also believes in focused, logical surveys that respect the survey taker’s time. A survey sent by email with a subject line that says “Take This Quick Survey” but which turns out to be 20 questions long isn’t likely to receive a warm welcome. However, exceptions exist.
“If you’re going to give away an iPad for a 40-question survey, that’s fine,” Popick says. “We’ve done surveys where we’ve given away the opportunity to win something substantial. Other times we’ve given a survey and just said, ‘Hey—please take a couple of minutes of your time to help us better our product.’ It depends on the survey. You just want to make them feel good about using their time to take it.” Why customer surveys are a smart strategy
Small business owners should survey their customer at least two to four times a year about something specific, Popick says. “If it’s a [brick-and-mortar] store, then you could ask about ways to improve your service or about how your employees are treating them or even whether they like the colors of your walls,” she adds. “You should want to know something about how your customers are feeling about your business on a regular basis.” Why customer surveys are a smart strategy
It’s hard to estimate the cost of having an outside company conduct a survey for you. There are multiple variables involved, and a market research firm might conclude that another methodology is better suited to meet your objectives. In addition to the survey services offered by our experts, the following customer survey resources are also worth checking out:
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.
And 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 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!
June 4, 2013 Today's Businessadvertising, brand_building, customer_service, customers, Engage Clients on Houzz, entrepreneur, How to Engage Clients on Houzz, internet_advertising, Marketing, marketing_message, small_business 1 Read more >
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 Relationships. Google Business Networking Tips for Building Your Small Business
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
April 8, 2013 Today's Businesscustomer_relationship_management, customer_service, customers, entrepreneur, Google Business Networking Tips for Building Your Small Business, marketing_message, networking, PR, public_relations, small_business, small_business_owner_report, social_media 0 Read more >
Cold Calling In A Digital Word. Cold calling can provoke a range of negative connotations, from puzzlement that anyone in business still practices it today to disdain from salespeople who can find any number of creative excuses to avoid punching in a number. In an age when texting, tweeting, and posting updates on Facebook have eroded the frequency of actual conversations, making overtures to prospects by phone seems hopelessly outmoded. When executed properly, however, cold calling can generate a better response than more contemporary marketing channels. In one study by Vorsight, cold calling resulted in meetings with high-ranking executives 78 percent of the time, compared to a paltry nine-percent success rate using email queries only.
Research, then call
“Cold calling works when it is done in conjunction with finding the right information first,” says Mark Hunter, a sales consultant since 1998 who goes by the name The Sales Hunter. “It’s really kind of informed calling.” Cold Calling In A Digital Word
The first step for cold calling success is to know the purpose or reason for the call before you pick up the phone. One approach for starting the conversation is to focus on something personal, such as mentioning a local sports team in the prospect’s area. But Hunter prefers either referring to a bigger business issue—such as the legal or economic angle of a topic relevant to the prospect—or something having to do with the product or service you’re selling. Cold Calling In A Digital Word
“The majority of your calls will go into voicemail, but don’t get concerned about it,” Hunter advises. “The objective of a voicemail message is to create awareness.” Creating that awareness begins with a three-part communication that consists of an introduction, the benefit or core message, and a recap of who you are and your phone number—in less than 15 seconds. A core message might be: “Hey, I’ve got some new information regarding the trends that could be occurring next year. Love to share that with you. Give me a buzz at [phone number].” Cold Calling In A Digital Word
“I’m just giving a very quick piece of information. I’m not telling them exactly what I’ve got because I don’t want to give them enough reason not to call back,” Hunter explains. While it would be inappropriate to call a CEO every other day, Hunter does recommend reaching out to mid-level managers at least six times over the course of a month through a combination of phone calls and emails, on different days of the week and at different times. Cold Calling In A Digital Word
“A great time to catch people live is right at the top of the hour,” Hunter confides. “Most meetings are scheduled for an hour or a half hour. A busy busy person will dash back in their office a couple of minutes before the hour. Suddenly the phone rings, and they pick it up before they realize it’s an outside call. I’ve used this technique for years and it works. I’ve even reached CEOs with it.” Cold Calling In A Digital Word
Secrets for getting your call returned
“Cold calling is actually the only opportunity-finding or appointment-generating process that is directly under the control of the small business owner,” says Wendy Weiss, whose business handle is The Queen of Cold Calling, and who is the author of the free downloadable ebook, The Cold Calling Survival Guide. “You target the company you’re interested in introducing yourself to and you do it. It’s very direct.” Cold Calling In A Digital Word
Identifying the characteristics of a qualified prospect in concrete terms is the first step, she says, such as prospecting at companies with at least 100 employees. Second, have a compelling message—for example, the problems that you or your product or service can solve—with some type of script prepared beforehand. “I don’t mean something the sales rep is going to read word for word no matter what the other person says,” she notes. Instead, be ready to handle logical questions or objections that might come up in the conversation. But always focus on getting the result you want from the call, whether it’s setting up a meeting or sending information—whatever your desired outcome is. Cold Calling In A Digital Word
Weiss’s clients have had a lot of success following her carefully structured four-part voicemail campaigns, leaving different messages about one week apart, and supplementing with emails if the address is available. If a client hasn’t gotten through to the prospect by the last call, Weiss urges them to leave a final message like this: “I’ve been trying to reach you to discuss X. I haven’t heard back from you and I know you’re really busy, so I’m assuming this isn’t a good time for us to have this conversation. I don’t want to make a pest of myself, so I won’t be calling you again [for a certain timeframe]. If you’re meaning to get back to me, I’ll welcome the opportunity to discuss X.” Cold Calling In A Digital Word
“This is actually the most returned message,” Weiss admits. “Most salespeople call for awhile and then they stop calling, but they never tell the prospect they’re not going to call again, and the prospect expects the salesperson to keep calling. We’ve found that a good percentage of clients have been able to use this very successfully to get prospects to return calls.” Cold Calling In A Digital Word
Practice makes perfect
In the world of real estate, brokers typically represent either a seller or a landlord. Since 1982, NYSPACE has carved out a unique space for itself. The real estate consultancy represents only tenants looking for commercial space in Manhattan. Cold Calling In A Digital Word
“The only way to develop new business is to cold call,” says Vince Sheehan, NYSPACE’s president. “We need to go out and sell our concept, which is alien to some degree, because everyone thinks of a broker as representing a landlord.”
Sheehan has a team of 15 agents, each expected to make 100 calls a day, though that goal is often elusive. Their message follows a structure advocated by Hunter and Weiss: explain who they are, why they’re different, and how they can help the prospect. Sheehan himself leads the company’s in-house training process of new hires, then has them sit with an experienced caller, then consult with him again, before letting them make their hundreds of phone calls on their own. Cold Calling In A Digital Word
While they do follow a script—developed, in part, with Weiss’s help—Sheehan admits that it’s more a loose guideline than a rigid template. Most of the new hires lately have been middle management people who typically know how to talk with people already. Still, in-house seminars that Weiss has conducted keep the sales team fresh. Cold Calling In A Digital Word
Other than a few holidays, Sheehan’s approach has few off-limits times for making calls. The effort is obviously paying off, as the most productive workers generate six-figure incomes, he reports. “This is a hands-on business,” Sheehan concludes. “You want to be talking to someone you trust. You’re not going to get that from Facebook or Twitter.” Cold Calling In A Digital Word
There’s no doubt that cold calling is still a viable method for contacting qualified prospects and building loyal relationships in ways that surpass other marketing channels, such as social media platforms and email. When done properly, it can be a valuable workhorse for getting through to key contacts and helping to keep the sales pipeline filled. That’s a conversation every business enjoys having. Cold Calling In A Digital Word.
Cold Calling In A Digital Word. Cold calling still is an effective way of obtaining new customers. Something old fashioned things still works, some practices never go out of style. Cold calling is a number games, the more you call the more opportunities you have to grow professional and you will repeat the rewards. Cold Calling In A Digital Word not is dead is just expanded to another level.
by Iris Dorbian.
Is Your Ad Spending Too High or Too Low? How to figure out an appropriate ad/marketing budget based on your small business’s revenue and industry. It’s a dilemma that many small businesses will confront: To grow and attract or increase customers, you have to spend money on marketing; but if you’re still scrambling to find customers, then you likely don’t have much cash available for a marketing budget. So how do you go about it? Should you hope that the value of your business will be so apparent that word of mouth will go viral, allowing you to invest next to nothing for promotion? More realistically, what metrics should you use to determine how much of your company’s coffers should be dedicated to marketing based on your revenue and industry sector?
Ignore marketing myths
If you want to get an accurate estimate of how much you should spend on marketing, then the best first step is to disregard the standard rule of thumb that says the figure should be seven to 10 percent of your sales revenue. This bit of conventional wisdom might have been true in the past when corporations like Proctor & Gamble sowed the seeds of their dominance by sticking closely to that ratio. But that thinking will likely not apply to your small business, particularly if it’s an e-commerce site or a b2b (business-to-business) equipment manufacturer/supplier.
“Marketing is an investment that is leveraged against future revenue potential,” explains Jayme Pretzloff, online marketing director for Wixon Jewelers, a Minneapolis-based high-end luxury retailer that has 30 employees. “This is key. When marketing is done correctly, it shouldn’t cost you money, it should make you money.”
Bob Shirilla, owner of two 11-year-old e-commerce sites, Simply Bags, which sells custom tote bags, and Keepsakes, Etc, which retails throw blankets and wall tapestries, subscribes wholeheartedly to this maxim. Using inexpensive tools like Google Analytics to monitor performance metrics such as sales conversion rates and Google Adwords for advertising, Shirilla, who maintains a staff of eight to 12 employees depending on the season, likes to keep his ad spend to a minimum until data analysis indicates otherwise.
“We will start a campaign with a very low hourly maximum spend limit ($25),” he explains. “Each morning we look at our analytics and it will show our exact conversion rate and ROI per campaign. If the ROI is good, we’ll increase the ad spend in that space.” Is Your Ad Spending Too High or Too Low?
Evaluate your sector and its marketing needs
Different industry sectors have different marketing and advertising needs. If you run a small b2c (business to consumer) business that sells a image-based product like perfume, you might be required to undertake a considerable outlay for advertising and point-of-sale displays, says Katherine Cleland, a marketing consultant who works with small business clients as president of her own firm Cleland Marketing. For this kind of small business, “marketing costs may be the largest part of a company’s budget.”
“I generally advise my clients that marketing, excluding sales, should amount to two to 25 percent of their revenues, on an ongoing basis with greater investment as they ‘start up’ or during testing or expansion phases,” explains Cleland. “However, I also counsel them that is only a rule of thumb, and all marketing spending planning should be done from a bottoms up basis, looking by category at expense and measuring ROI.”
For instance, if your business is in the b2b sector—for example, a technology company providing equipment or materials to other businesses—then marketing costs can be as small as “maintaining a website and creating a product brochure, amounting to fractions of one percent of the revenue,” adds Cleland.
Track marketing ROI to see what works and what doesn’t
If you want to determine how much money in your budget should be earmarked for advertising and marketing, then you will need to see which of your marketing initiatives (i.e. print, TV, radio, digital, etc.) generate positive ROI.
“For small businesses that don’t have money to play with, it is better to minimize risk and focus first on measurable marketing activities like online advertising, SEO, and email marketing,” advises Ricky Shockley, an independent marketing consultant who works with small businesses and launched his own agency, Shockley Marketing this past October. “These things are all very easy to measure in terms of ROI.”
To illustrate his point, Shockley offers this example: “One of my clients, a cosmetic dermatology practice, was previously spending a couple of thousand dollars per month for a local marketer to handle their paid Google Ads. This is an activity that makes it very easy to measure ROI, but they weren’t doing so. After we did some investigating, we realized that the total revenue they were generating each month was about half of what they were spending. We then switched over to organic SEO as a marketing tactic. This reduced costs from $2,000 per month to $700 per month. We also added a prominent call-to-action to the company website in order for us to capture valuable lead information. The practice now sees about a 250-percent ROI every month.”
Tyler Sickmeyer, owner and CEO of the five-year-old 5Stone Marketing, an agency that has a variety of small business clients, agrees with Shockley about the importance of tracking ROI rates in calculating one’s advertising and marketing budgets. At the same time, businesses should go that extra granular mile by focusing on “the true cost and profit of a customer” when setting a needed ROI rate of a marketing campaign versus an expected ROI.
Sickmeyer recounts how a b2b small business client of his purchased $48,000 of airtime on a radio station for 2013. “[That figure] seems like a lot, but when you figure that the average client is worth $12,000 annually to the client, they only need to gain five new clients for a 20-percent profit margin on the campaign over the course of the year.”
Not all clients’ marketing needs are created equal. “Another client of ours, a restaurant, was approached to place a $150 ad in a mass coupon mailer,” recalls Sickmeyer who oversees a staff of seven. “Knowing that the restaurant’s profit margin is about 30 percent, the restaurant would have to do around $500 in new business from the mailer to break even, which breaks down to about 25 new customers per month. [This was] a figure we deemed unrealistic given the mailer’s past performance with coupon redemption in which only 10 or 12 coupons came in.” Is Your Ad Spending Too High or Too Low?
Sickmeyer’s experience dealing with these disparate small business clients leads him to offer two key takeaways for companies in a quandary when it comes to figuring out what part of their budget is appropriate for marketing and advertising. Is Your Ad Spending Too High or Too Low?
Coming Soon To Your Website: Online videos are revolutionizing how business communicates
Online video is fast becoming the preferred advertising channel for business. According to a recent study by Break Media, U.S. advertisers are predicted to spend $5.4 billion on video ads in 2016, up from $2.0 billion in 2011.
In yet a different study from Invodo and the e-tailing group, product videos on websites were watched 60 percent of the time by consumers, and almost two-thirds of respondents said they would spend at least two minutes watching videos before deciding on a purchase. Videos take full advantage of the web’s capabilities, allowing you to tell your story with sound, action, and immediacy to convey messages with an emotional appeal that text-based formats simply can’t match.
Film it yourself?
“Almost anyone can make a video today to communicate either an aspect of their business or to demonstrate how something is done,” says Lou Amico, president of L.A. Management Company, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based strategic marketing firm.
A small business can either do an entire production in-house—using their own crew, equipment, and software—or rely on a professional outside agency to coordinate the myriad production details. While cameras and editing software make it relatively easy for a do-it-yourself shoot, Amico points out that technical considerations can hamper a production helmed by an inexperienced team. In particular, the lighting and audio can pose unforeseen problems. For example, filming a person in front of a light source puts their face in shadow, and a mike that is too far away makes the person sound like they’re in a tunnel.
You also need someone in your marketing department who understands how to construct a narrative that holds customers’ attention. “Anyone with a camera is a videographer. The question is, are they storytellers?” Amico says. “Do they appreciate and understand what needs to be included to make a compelling video?”
Many businesses waste too much time with bland or self-indulgent openings in their videos. “You’ve got to cut to the chase,” Amico explains. “We do a lot of work in the elective medicine field. Nobody wants to hear a minute-and-a-half intros about doctors and their background before they get into the procedure.”
In a video for ProSpec building products, Amico turned a simple shower installation into an engrossing how-to demonstration that was viewed over 75,000 times with almost no drop off in viewership.
Now that Google is reporting more videos in its results, putting keywords in the title of your video can give you a higher ranking. Be sure to include your company website as the first thing in the video description. “If you put the link in at the end, oftentimes [customers] won’t see it,” Amico explains. “But if you put it at the beginning, the link will easily bring people to your website.”
Tell them a story
Telling compelling stories has helped fuel the growth of PrintingForLess.com, an online commercial printer specializing in small business accounts across the country. Starting as a local print shop in 1996 before launching as a nationwide e-commerce company in 1999, the Livingston, Montana-based business racked up $21 million in sales in 2011 and has a 150-person workforce in a town with 7,000 residents.
Beginning around 2005, PrintingForLess.com started using videos in their marketing mix to assure customers that they were a “real” company, to explain the services they offered, and to put a human face on the different teams that worked on particular orders. To dramatize their story in an engaging way, they produced a video titled “The Life of An Order” that walks the customer through the entire process, from placing an order to actual production and quality control to the time it arrives in the hands of the customer. In one version or another, the video has been seen over 4,000 times.
“We always hear from people that they watched that video and that’s why they chose us over a competitor,” says Daniel Gaugler, vice president of marketing at PrintingForLess.com. “People pick out different reasons why that video converted them. That’s why it’s on our homepage.”
When Gaugler’s team first experimented with videos, they polished them and tried to make them perfect, making employees recite a script from memory and read it on camera—but no one was happy with the results. But when they spoke naturally about the work they did, the videos clicked.
“Nobody wants to see a marketing message,” Gaugler notes. “They’re already on your website. What they want is answers to their questions, and they want to be partially entertained.”
Another phase in their video marketing involved asking their customers over the phone if they would consider sending in a video testimonial. To speed things up, PrintingForLess.com sent out Flip cameras with simple step-by-step instructions for recording. More than 75 video testimonials are now on the company’s website. “A video comes across as extremely authentic,” Gaugler says. “We couldn’t come up with [the kind of] videos that our customers do.”
Throw them a curve ball
For businesses that don’t need to be convinced of the power of online video, the next questions to be addressed are: Where will the video fit into the marketing mix? How might it be used best?
“Video, just like text, could be used in a manner of ways,” says Dane Frederiksen, owner and principal of Digital Accomplice, a Northern California-based brand content developer. “It could be used for sales, branding, education, internal training videos, recruitment, even a holiday video.”
To promote his own business, Frederiksen took his own advice—conceiving, shooting, and editing a clever brand content video called “Just A Kid.” The 80-second video features a kid of about ten telling marketers that the age of video marketing is here and they need to be part of it—delivered in a charming but effective style.
“I did get the message across in a way that engaged people,” Frederiksen admits. “It kind of came as a curveball. You see this kid and you’re curious. It’s fun. There’s fun music. You’ve got a wide variety of interesting shots, but there’s also a respect for the audience. I know they’re busy and I have a high bar reach to impress them.”
October 5, 2012 Today's Businessadvertising, brand_building, Coming Soon To Your Website: Online videos are revolutionizing how business communicates, entrepreneur, Marketing, marketing_message, small_business 25 Read more >
Every Customer Read This!: Using invoices and bills as marketing tools
by Robert Lerose.
Invoices occupy a sweet spot for business: they are one of the few types of mail that are promptly opened and read. A surprising amount of invoices, however, are devoid of any kind of marketing message. Since you have the complete and immediate attention of your customers—the first step in any sales cycle—putting a message on your bill or invoice is an opportunity that shouldn’t be ignored.
“The biggest advantage is that it’s something the client is already receiving from you, so it’s not overly invasive,” says Melanie Wright, the marketing director for Abstrakt Marketing Group, a full service marketing company in St. Louis, Missouri.
Besides this stealth superiority, you can insert a wide range of messages on the invoice. For example: announcing a new product, upselling a service package, asking for customer feedback, sharing a testimonial, offering a free white paper, or acknowledging the customer’s loyalty. It’s not so much what you put on the invoice as it is capitalizing on a new touchpoint and reconnecting with your customers.
Just say thank you
Abstrakt’s Wright notes that they’ve used invoice marketing to give updates on products and services. They also nurture relationships by reminding their customers to use them for upcoming projects, discreetly asking for referrals, and requesting testimonials. “Those little details and touches and customizations play into [business-building],” she says.
Putting a simple thank you or other sincere note of appreciation on the invoice can pave the way to future sales, too.
“Instead of using your traditional carrier envelope, put [the invoice] in a nice envelope,” recommends Daniel Glickman of FirmFlair, a marketing consultancy in Sherborn, Massachusetts. “Change the perception that [the invoice] is a penalty of doing business with you. It’s not a downside, it’s one of the benefits.” For added impact, send the thank you in its own envelope inside the main invoice envelope.
Glickman emphasizes that any invoice message must complement—not contradict—your overall messaging. For example, a business that markets itself as giving personal customer service would send the wrong tone with a message on an invoice that sounded cold or bureaucratic. Still another mistake would be to come across as pushy or hard selling if you usually cultivate a warm, low-key tone in your other advertising.
“You’re sending an invoice to get paid for the work you’re doing. The question is, why did they hire you in the first place? You don’t want to contradict that,” Glickman says.
Working together is key
Which department owns invoice marketing, accounts payable or marketing?
“It’s definitely a joint effort,” says Abstrakt’s Wright. “I could have a million ideas for what I think would be great for invoice marketing and then I would run that by our accounting department [to have them] review the functionality of it as well as the professionalism and legal aspect.”
Abstrakt relies on both internal and external collaborations to enhance the power of their invoice marketing. For example, Abstrakt partners with a web design firm to handle services that they don’t cover themselves. But instead of sending them just a regular invoice, Abstrakt takes its own advice: they include customer feedback on projects that the design firm executed and even gives them leads for new business.
It is generally agreed that messages on invoices should be short, direct, and few in number—one, or sometimes two at most. As with a renewal series, variety is key.
“If your customers see the same thing on every invoice, they’re going to quit looking at it,” says Jerry Ellis, vice president of sales and marketing for Lanvera, an outsourcing company in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that delivers documents to customers through print and electronic means. “If [the message] changes all the time, now your customer is going to be trained that you’re doing promotions or marketing in the invoice, so they’re going to look at it.”
Ellis recommends putting the marketing message upfront on the invoice so the recipient sees it right away before they get involved in the financial transaction of paying the bill. Since the bill is primarily text, using graphics is a keen way to draw the customer’s eye.
“The entire back of the carrier envelope and even certain portions of the front can be used to put a marketing message on it, too,” he says. “The message on the outside could be the full message or ‘Look Inside For’ something more.”
Marketing messages also work well on bills sent electronically, and even offer a distinct advantage over snail mail. Not only can the bill be paid immediately, but it can also be embedded with a link that takes the customer to a new landing page with a fresh marketing message. Response can be tracked to identify what language or offer was most appealing.