Archive for May, 2014


Selling Your Customers What They Need — Not What They Want

Posted on by Carol Roth

Stocksy_txp0272139ak36000_Small_169040The Rolling Stones said it best, “You can't always get what you want.  But if you try…you might find you get what you need.”  Regardless of what kind of business you own, you may find yourself in the unwelcome disconnect between providing what your customer needs to be successful versus what they think that they want.  So, how do you guide them toward the right path without losing the sale?

Outright Refusal is Not an Option

Even though you may want to do it (and sometimes, I really want to do it), the quickest way to walk away without the sale is to flatly tell prospective customers that their visions are two levels short of insanity and then, proceed to explain what they really need.  Even if you’re a rocket scientist in your field, you need to recognize and respect that they not only believe that they know what they need, they also have some important information about their objectives.  Their vision on how to accomplish their goals may take them in the wrong direction, but there may be significant value in what they have to say.  Your job is to guide them in the right direction without rolling over their dreams (or at least doing so without their clear knowledge).

Unless you decide that you do not want the customer, your first response should affirm that you understand their objectives.  Then, tell them how you can meet or exceed expectations while saving time, money or effort, even if it’s with a different product, service or strategy.

Identify Specific Issues

Once you understand the customer’s desired outcome, you can begin pointing out the issues that may prevent clients from meeting their goals.  In many cases, they may be asking for more than they need.  For example, if they want three manuals for a new software system, you can explain how a single well-designed manual can meet or exceed the requirements at a fraction of the cost.  How many people do you know who will insist on paying too much for a project?

There will also be times when customer visions simply will not meet their expressed goals.  In other cases, the entire goal may be unrealistic or even severely misdirected.  A customer who comes to your candy store in August asking you to ship a gift of chocolate-covered cherries to a close friend in Arizona might better maintain that friendship if you suggest a less perishable confection.  But logic alone might not be enough to sway that customer.  If you can tell a story about how people react when they open the box, smell the heavenly aroma and then, realize that the melted chocolaty mess is not safe to eat, you can really drive the point home.

When Offering Alternatives, Focus on the Benefits

As early as the beginning of the 20th century, “The customer is always right” has been the motto that great businesses live by, but that doesn’t mean that you should take it literally.  Customers need to feel that you respect their goals and visions.  But a great way to open their minds to change is to focus on what’s in it for them.  In other words, when you propose changes, lead with the benefits. 

You can’t always convince customers to buy your goods or services just because you know best.  Customers want to hear, “You can double sales and long-term brand loyalty with just a ten percent increase in the quality of the base materials that you use to build your product.”  When you present the advantages up-front, they will listen more closely to solutions that they may have never considered.  With the right incentive, they may choose to pay slightly more to improve their product quality, rather than just modernize the packaging, as they originally requested.

By Remaining True to Your Principles, You Instill Customer Confidence and Boost the Success of Your Business

Here’s a story that illustrates how sticking with your convictions can make a major difference to your customers — and to your own business.  Five years ago, a new customer came to a full service print shop seeking a new supply of the black and white leaflets that he periodically distributed in neighborhoods to sell his lawn services.  The printer advised that people are less likely to toss well-designed color brochures, which convey a more professional image.  The customer recognized the value of this advice and even used the printer’s in-house designer to upgrade the look of his advertising.  He spent more on his new brochures, but that increase was more than offset by the significant increase of new business those brochures generated over the response rate generated by his leaflets during the same period in the prior year. From that point on, he became a loyal customer, turning to the printer for all of his marketing material needs.  And to this day, he continues to send many new customers to the printer. 

Your customers may need convincing, but they rely on your knowledge and experience to get the greatest value from your goods and services, even if you sell them something vastly different from what they initially wanted.  The printer addressed his customer’s wants by focusing on what he really needed.  When you take this approach with your customers, you will not have to rely on a hard sell approach to develop a loyal customer base.


Work Your Biz Wednesday: How to Hire a Manufacturer

If you have invented a product, how do you go about finding a manufacturing partner? Here are some tips from the Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 3 Types of Loyalty Programs and How to Make Them Work

Does your small business use a loyalty program to keep customers engaged and spur them to buy? The Boston Consulting Group recently published a report on loyalty programs and what it takes to make them profitable and effective for businesses.

According to BCG, there are three main types of loyalty programs:

  1. Earn-and-Burn. The classic punch-card program (Buy 10, get one free) is an example of earn-and-burn, in which customers benefit from their purchases by earning rewards at specific thresholds. Other types of earn-and-burn loyalty programs include points programs (in which customers earn points they can redeem for free products) and discount programs (in which members get discounts).
  2. Recognition. In a recognition program, repeat customers get special perks or services only for them, based on the total amount they spend or the total number of points they accumulate. Airline rewards points are an example of a recognition program; customers who accumulate a certain number of points earn special perks and upgrades. 
  3. Customer Relationship Management. CRM programs are the most sophisticated type of loyalty program. They typically use loyalty software to capture purchase data, then use that data to develop targeted special offers for loyalty members. Examples include members-only promotions or targeted communications such as newsletters, emails or even website content.

According to BCG, each type of program has its pros and cons. The cost of an earn-and-burn program can eliminate any gains, while recognition programs by their nature limit the number of members, and CRM programs can have both of these flaws.

Ideally, you’ll want to find a loyalty program that enables you to prompt more spending from customers, increasing your margins rather than cutting into them. BCG uses the example of a company with a 35 percent gross profit margin. In this case, a customer who spends $100 annually generates $35 in profit. If the customer joins the loyalty program and increases spending by 10 percent, to $110 annually, the company makes an additional $3.50 in profit. However, the cost of the loyalty program ($3.30) eats up most of that; essentially, the business is breaking even. But if the customer spends 20 percent more, the company makes $7 in profit, or $3.70 minus the cost of the loyalty program. At this point, profit begins to grow rapidly.

According to the study, the most profitable loyalty programs invest more in the customers who spend the most. Typically they do so by using a tiered rewards system: As customers meet increasingly higher thresholds of spending, they qualify for bigger and better rewards.

Ideally, you’ll also want to use rewards that are inexpensive for your business to give, but have high value to the customer. For example, a hotel that has an expensive room sitting unused can score points by upgrading a loyalty customer to that room. It doesn’t cost the hotel anything, but it earns greater loyalty from the customer.

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Mondays with Mike: Do This BEFORE You Hire An Employee

Most entrepreneurs start out as the sole employee of their company.  There are benefits to this setup – you know exactly who forgot to clean out the coffee maker, and you’ll never forget a staff birthday.  But eventually, if you want to grow your business, you know that you’ll have to hire someone to work for you.  You want to accomplish more, and you need additional staff to make that happen.

Don’t underestimate the importance of this decision.  It’s estimated that the cost of acquiring, hiring, and training a new employee is around 15% of their annual salary.  That’s a hefty chunk of change, which means that you need to invest it wisely.  One thing that I’ve discovered is that you can dramatically improve the odds of your first hire being a successful one if you prepare properly.  Here’s how you do it:

  1. Evaluate the work you do.  Now you may think that you already know what position you want to hire for, but humor me here.  When you’re finished with this step, you’ll thank me.  You need to take a step back from the work you do every day and look at all of the roles you’re filling – sales, customer service, accounting, technical support, collections, etc.  The list may be longer than you realize!  Then you create an organizational chart, give each position a title, and arrange it on the chart based on who reports to whom.  Post this chart on the wall, and as you go through the next week, jot down the tasks that you perform under each of the positions.
  2. Define the position you’re hiring for.  Take a look at your chart after the week has elapsed and decide which of the roles is the best one to delegate to another person.  You’re not quite ready to hire yet, but you are already prepared with a list of the tasks that your future employee will be charged with.
  3. ???????????Make it concrete.  So if you’ve decided that you’re going to hire someone to handle your accounting and billing, you need to get their physical workspace set up.  You get a desk, computer, chair, adding machine … basically everything that they’ll need to do the job, and you start performing all of the new position’s tasks in the new workspace.  By physically moving to the new desk, you’ll ensure that everything the position requires is handy.  By the time you’re finally ready to hire, you’ll be ready to train your new employee (because you’ve listed all of the tasks) and you’ll already have had the chance to troubleshoot the new workspace.

Systematization is the key to efficiency, and by taking the time to analyze and systematize the new position that you want to fill, you’re setting yourself and your new employee up for success.  Employees who feel like their bosses are competent and organized will be more likely to emulate those qualities and stick around for the long haul.

  


7 Content Marketing Rules to Break

Content marketing is the way to stay in front of small business prospects to showcase expertise. There is a lot of advice on how to do this that is just plain wrong.

For example, here are seven content marketing rules to break:

Rule 1: Send a monthly newsletter to tell customers and prospects about multiple topics they may be interested in. How to break the rule: Send one subject emails to highlight one relevant piece of advice. In this way, the customer will read it quickly and the company will get the brand reinforcement they want. It now takes 21 brand reminders for a prospect to remember the brand.

Rule 2: Don't mix education messages with selling ones. Content marketers advise the company to split out theses two types of messages. How to break the rule: Always be up selling. Condition the audience to always be expecting offers from the company while they are being educated. This will result in more sales annually.

Stocksy_txp47ea4fcagK5000_Small_192861Rule 3: Always be part of the online social media conversation in the company's area of expertise. How to break the rule: Only participate when the company has something useful to say and can contribute value to the conversation. While this should be consistent, a company does not need to be part of every conversation on every platform and website. This will result in being productive, not just busy.

Rule 4: Pre-program posts in advance so they systematically appear throughout the day.  How to break the rule: This can be dangerous because a company could have pre-programmed posts about getting rust off a car and the news of the day is that one of the big car companies filed for bankruptcy! Be part of what is relevant.

Rule 5: Don't measure the outcome because this type of marketing takes a long time. How to break the rule: All marketing needs to be measured for results. If there are no results, do not invest in it. Think of what success looks like before starting a content marketing strategy.

Rule 6: Leave the review process to customers to post. How to break the rule: Some customer sets will naturally post comments on social media sites. Other customers need to be solicited by the company to encourage reviews and references. Don't be afraid to just ask.

Rule 7:  One size fits all. One piece of content can be shared in its same firm across multiple sites and platforms.  How to break the rule: Customize the content to fit the site. Emphasize quick advice or wit on Twitter. Use pictures or video on Facebook. Highlight the post 's educational nature on LinkedIn. Show it in a series of pictures on Pinterest.

What content marketing rules do you break?


Work Your Biz Wednesday: Turning Negative Reviews

Manage the online reputation of your small business with these tips from Melinda Emerson, the Small Biz Lady.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Keys to Success in a Family Business

Stocksy_txp9b4a083fTr5000_Small_64619Did you know that 70 percent of family businesses never make it to the second generation? How can you avoid your family business becoming that kind of sad statistic? The key to keeping a family business surviving—and thriving—is communication. Here are five keys to good communication in your family-owned business.

  1. Pay attention. Is someone making a lot of bitter comments, showing up to work late (or not at all), or otherwise acting out? Keeping your eyes and ears open to what’s going on around you can nip communication problems in the bud.
  2. Address issues openly. Rightly or wrongly, many families “communicate” (or don’t) by sweeping things under the rug or denying that problems exist. When this kind of miscommunication infects the workplace, it can destroy your business. No matter how tough it is, make it a point to bring up problems before they fester.
  3. Keep it all in the family. Family business conflicts should be addressed openly, but that doesn’t mean they should be discussed in front of non-family employees. Call a family meeting or hold a one-on-one with the individual involved to hash out the problem before you involve non-family workers.
  4. Never assume. Because people are family, you may assume they will respond to things in certain ways or assign certain behaviors to them. (“Susan always gets offended by little things.”) Try to get beyond the “roles” that siblings, parents or other family members play in the family (the smart one, the peacemaker) and focus on the roles they play in the business. Give your family employees the same respect you’d give non-family employees and don’t attribute feelings to them without actually asking them how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking.
  5. Air the grievances. Let each family member get their feelings out in the open, even if you feel that one person is obviously right and the other wrong. An outside advisor, such as a family business consultant, your board of advisors or even a family therapist, can be helpful in mediating family business issues impartially. (It’s important, though, to make sure all family business members agree on who the outside advisor/s should be—ideally, before any problems arise.)

Mondays with Mike: Why You Should Ignore Your Business Plan

Several years ago, I attended a seminar at MIT.  It was geared toward entrepreneurs, and I was in illustrious company – I was in the audience along with the founders of Burt’s Bees, TicketCity, and 1-800-GOT-JUNK, among others.  The speaker – a venture capitalist – asked everyone to stand up.  Then he asked those of us who’d used outside financing to start our business to sit down.  Not a single person did!  Finally, he asked us to sit down if we’d actually followed our business plan to guide our decisions.  Again, not a soul sat down.

Now don’t get me wrong, many of us had developed and written specific business plans, which isn’t necessarily a bad idea, especially if you’re trying to get financing from a bank.  But what’s so telling is that once these plans were written, they were largely useless to us – the entrepreneurs.  Why is that?

  1. Irrelevant Financials.  Let’s face it, if I could accurately predict exactly where my business will be in the future, I’d probably be sitting in the Cayman Islands, trading stock and making millions.  The fact of the matter is that our company’s revenue and expenses can vary because of significant factors we have no way of predicting.  Now that’s not to say that you shouldn’t make an attempt to follow a budget (a completely different animal,) but I am saying that you can’t necessarily rely on the figures that fill out your business plan.
  2. Your Dream Team.  A portion of your business plan is devoted to the people who plan to help you along your way to brilliant success.  Here’s the trouble:  not a single member of your dream team matters as much as you do.  You’re all in; they’re not.  I’m not discounting the importance of having a great management team or looking for sage advisors.  What I’m saying is that relying too heavily on your supporters can be your downfall.
  3. Defining Your Niche.   Finding your niche is key to the success of your business, but the problem is that truly finding that niche – your ideal customer – often relies on real-world selling, rather than trying to predict the future.  If you pigeon-hole yourself too early, you can waste a lot of resources trying to appeal to a market that might not be best for you.  You’re much better off letting that organic niche create itself, rather than chasing an idea just because it’s what your business plan predicts.

The exercise of creating a business plan can be extraordinarily useful in terms of helping you crystallize and articulate your vision, but it’s a mistake to let a document meant to start a business turn into a manual that you continue to use even after it’s outdated.  Entrepreneurship relies on innovation and a willingness to capitalize on opportunity, even if – or especially if – that opportunity didn’t exist when you started the business.  Don’t let yourself or the growth of your company be limited by your business plan. 

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Business VoIP ‘s Time Has Come

Posted on by Leo Welder

In the early to mid 1990’s, the Internet was a cool thing. Unfortunately, extremely slow and unreliable Internet Service Providers made it little more than a gimmick for most people. Not too long ago, smartphones with web browsers gave us a glimpse at portable computing, but it took the iPhone and high-speed wireless data plans to integrate them into the mainstream. VoIP is another technology that has taken many years to mature, but its time has finally come. Smartphones and VoIP are rapidly pushing traditional phone lines out of our homes, and all the signs point to the same happening in the business world.

I’ve been reviewing business technology products for the past seven years, and I started paying attention to VoIP services targeting business in 2009. At the time, my office was using a traditional Nortel phone system with AT&T phone lines, and I absolutely hated all of it. The phones were stupidly expensive and the functions were counter-intuitive. We also had to pay an IT guy to setup a new phone every time we made a new hire. When I read that business VoIP phones were less expensive, more flexible, easier to use and required no special IT skills to configure, I was excited to try them out. Unfortunately, when we started testing the products, the reliability and call quality was so poor that we couldn’t justify making the switch in our own office, let alone recommend other business owners purchase the products.

Over the next two years, the business VoIP companies invested heavily in their data infrastructures as well as the VoIP technology itself. The data compression technology that the companies developed dramatically decreased the amount of bandwidth that the phones needed to provide clear reception. Some companies also started creating redundancies with their servers and data, so if systems failed in one location, a backup would automatically take its place. These and other technological and process improvements dramatically improved VoIP’s call quality and reliability.

Stocksy_txp0e3537cfRr5000_Small_177711Our company finally made the switch to business VoIP in 2011. Everything worked as advertised and the features and cost savings were substantial. However, as we grew, we found that the lower equipment costs and monthly per line costs were eventually offset by the fact that every phone had to have it’s own dedicated line. Rather than paying for 4 rollover lines with AT&T, we were paying for 20 lines with our business VoIP carrier (one line for each employee and 2 conference rooms), but most of our employees only needed the phone a few times per week.

Over the last six to nine months, VoIP companies like Nextiva have started to offer customized plans based on each individual company’s needs. You can get dedicated lines, shared minute plans (VoIP’s equivalent to rollover lines), virtual extensions for mobile employees, and any combination of these in order to pay only for what you need.

Like high-speed wireless and smartphones, VoIP technology isn’t perfect. VoIP phone service still isn’t as reliable as a traditional landline, but its dramatically improved reliability combined with flexible pricing plans, incredible features and flexibility have leveled the playing field. The telecom industry recognizes that VoIP is where businesses are heading and the quality is only going to get better. For many businesses, it’s already a much better option than old school landlines.

 

Leo Welder is the Founder of Zilker Ventures, which owns and operates a family of websites focused on business technology. The company’s latest website is FindAFax.com, which is dedicated to online fax and Internet based communications.




 
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