Archive for July, 2014


Does Business Etiquette Still Matter?

?????????????In recent years, business has become very casual. Gone are the work days of suits, stationary, big titles, corner offices, secretaries, and power lunches. Small business is now done through email, video chats, texting, meet ups, social media and casual attire.

However, etiquette still matters in business and can be a competitive advantage for you. Here is how:

Attire: How you look still matters. While John T. Molloy’s classic “Dress for Success” maybe outdated, someone who is dressed too sloppy or casual will still not be trusted as a person that is dressed as well as their customer. Appropriate attire choices also must made for video chats unless you want to show your customer your workout outfit.

Writing: Since so much of communication is done in short informal manner, there is greater chance of miscommunication. Being able to write effective email communications is still an important skill and requires increased practice. This can be done by sending an email to a customer and then following up immediately by phone to make sure that they understood exactly what you wrote.

Dining: A lot can be learned by having a meal with a business associate. People can win or lose a deal, promotion or job based on their table manners. This doesn’t necessarily mean using the right fork, but still includes RSVPs, keeping your napkin on your lap, elbows off the table, and chewing with your mouth closed. Not sure of your habits? Have a friend take note at your next lunch.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): More companies are not issuing smart phones, but instead are having employees bring their own smart phones.  As a result, personal and business data are mixing on the same device. It is critical to set the rules in advance as to what type of access the employer has for inspection of that device and whether it can be wiped cleaned when that employee leaves.

Travel: More small companies are doing business in different countries.  They need to be aware of various business and dining customs, business hierarchies, displays of affection and alcohol use. Important customs vary by country and culture.

Social Networking: Many small business owners and employees have separate social media sites for business and personal use. However, their brand image on both sites need to be consistent since customers will do a web search that will cover all of them. Personal and professional lives can no longer be practically separated.

Also remember that different generations will prefer different etiquette so this will add to its overall complexity. A great guide for the small business owner is the 2014 version of Emily Post’s “The Etiquette Business Advantage

What business etiquette is most important to you?


Should salespeople be doing customer service?

Prosser BlogThis is a question of great importance to companies with 20 to 50 employees. While there are exceptions, companies with only a few employees don’t have the resources to allocate separate people to sales and customer service. Larger companies tend to divide up these roles, providing different training and compensation plans for employees that do sales and customer service. But, there is not necessarily a clear path for companies in the 20 to 50 employee range. Here is why my former company decided not to separate these functions at first, and then went with a hybrid solution in which certain types of support were done by specialists.

My former company was in an industry with a really bad reputation (ten years ago). The industry was known for high-pressure sales tactics and shady practices. Our company was different.  We wanted to create a reputation for outstanding customer service, instead of pushy sales people.

We believed that having the sales professionals handle responsibilities for both closing the sale and dealing with any communications that occurred afterwards would dramatically change the way they approached selling. It would encourage them to do a good job setting expectations and educating customers prior to closing the sale. If they didn’t, the salespeople might have to deal with unhappy customers later on.

This approach was “mostly” successful, however, it did create some problems:

  1. Great salespeople tended to dislike this system and felt they were undercompensated. Some left the company, because they could make more in a “pure” sales job where they wouldn’t have to devote time to customer service.
  2. Many of our customer service oriented salespeople did not make any effort to close sales.
  3. Resolving certain types of customer service issues like a hard technical support question, sometimes took a while.

Before I discuss how we dealt with these challenges, I would like to emphasize that combining these functions did achieve the intended goal. Our company received very high marks for customer service, and established a reputation as having more integrity than our competitors.

Great salespeople want to both be recognized and rewarded for their skills. The key to both is tracking their performance. We heavily relied on our CRM system to see how different salespeople were performing.  We measured both their performance on the sales side (new leads that opened accounts) and customer service side (how many interactions they had with existing customers, and how frequently they were able to resolve the customer’s issue).  This information was used both for performance reviews and in making decisions regarding bonuses. While salespeople may not have been able to devote all their time to closing, they received praise and financial compensation for bringing new business.

It should be stated that we did not pay salespeople a commission, but a base salary and a quarterly bonus based on both the company’s and their personal performance. We believed that providing commission based compensation would lead to poor customer service.

We did lose some good salespeople, but many good salespeople liked the customer friendly environment.

The bigger problem was getting customer service focused employees to close sales. Surprisingly, the solution to this problem turned out to be “social” pressure. While these employees earned 0 or smaller bonuses, this did not seem to motivate them.  After a few warnings about putting more effort into sales, the company had to let a few of them go. However, there was a better solution that we found only years later. When we put the sales numbers of each employee on public whiteboards, there was a dramatic cultural change, and we saw an improvement in their performance. Because bonuses were based on personal and group performance, the weaker salespeople and their colleagues were suddenly aware of how these people were hurting their own compensation.

As the company grew, we did start separating certain customer support functions. The first area was technical support. Instead of having a general salesperson be the client’s point of contact in handling difficult tech issues, the company created technical support specialists which only dealt with technology related issues. This enabled tech support issues to be resolved more quickly.

Bottom Line: Keeping sales and customer support together sends a message to employees that customer support is not a second class job, but integral to the company’s success. On the other hand, it makes it harder to keep sales stars happy, and can create motivational issues for less sales driven employees. Combining sales and customer services puts more pressure on management and in the short-run can hurt sales.

Marc Prosser is the publisher of Fit Small Business.


How to Lower Your Bounce Rate on Your Small Business Website

???????You have a beautifully designed website. Check. Targeted keywords on the website. Check. You have a way to capture email addresses on your website. Check. So why aren’t you getting more customers from your small business website? You might have a decent flow of people visiting your site, but if they’re not converting to sales, it’s time to look at the reasons why. Start by examining your bounce rate.

What the Heck is a Bounce Rate?

Just like a shiny rubber ball, your bounce rate happens when people land on your site and then quickly bounce away. You can find your bounce rate by looking at your Google Analytics once e month. The technical definition for bounce rate: the percent of people who leave your site after visiting just one page. The higher the bounce rate, the more people are leaving rather than looking around. The average bounce rate is 50%. Here’s an illustration:

  1. Someone searches for something they’re looking for online.
  2. Your site shows up in those search results. They click your link.
  3. They land on your home page, don’t see what they expected, then leave.

So the question is: why are they not finding what they want? Why do they leave before even exploring your site? Typically there are a few reasons for this.

1. Your Design is Unappealing

While you wouldn’t expect a visitor to your site to hold bad design against you, first impressions really do matter. And if your website hasn’t been updated for 5 years, or is cluttered with ads or popups, there’s not much you can do to convince people to stay, even if your products are amazing.

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for this: get a new design! Website design has come way down in pricing, and there are even templates and platforms you can customize and manage yourself.

2. Poor Keywords

Let’s say the name of your company is Red Ball Marketing. You don’t actually sell red balls, but people still land on your site looking to buy red balls. You’re probably not willing to change your company name, but you can put more effort into appearing in search results for better keywords. You should know your top 6 keywords. If you haven’t really put much thought into your keywords, you’ll get a mix of traffic of people looking for lots of things, but not really what you sell.

Figure out the top keywords your audience is searching for and make sure you use them throughout your site, especially in your blog titles and static pages. For your marketing company, that would be terms like:

  • Content marketing
  • Marketing firm
  • Marketing for small business

If you continue to work to build your presence online with those keywords, as well as blogging, you should start to move up those search results and attract people who are looking for what you’re selling.

3. You Lack Calls to Action

Now that search engines have led leads to your website, it’s your job to make them drink the koolaid. If your home page lacks any call to action, how will visitors know what you want them to do? Consider your call to action your instructions for visitors to your site. Do you want them to:

  • Buy from you?
  • Get a free quote?
  • Subscribe to your newsletter?
  • Download a free ebook?

Then let them know! Make your call to action bold, colored differently from surrounding text, and simple to follow.

Your website holds the potential to convert visitors into customers. But you’ve got to ensure you’re targeting the right people with your content and keywords, and that your site is an inviting place to shop. Then you can lower that bounce rate and increase sales!


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Steps to Managing Employees’ Internet Use

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Has the World Cup had your employees on the edge of their seats watching every game—at work? Today, it’s common for just about every employee of a small business to have Internet access on the job. While that generally enables your team to do their jobs more efficiently, other times it can really slow things down—or even put your business at risk from hackers, viruses and more. How can you protect your business and ensure productivity without becoming “Big Brother” when it comes to Internet use? Here are some tips.

  1. Protect. It’s easy for busy employees in a rush to accidentally click on a link or open an attachment that unleashes a computer virus. Take the basic step of ensuring your network and each computer has security software and that it’s updated regularly.
  2. Mind their own devices. More and more employees are going “BYOD,” or “bring your own devices,” to work these days. While this can seem like the answer to a budget-minded entrepreneur’s dreams, if employees use their own personal tablets and smartphones for work, it can open up a whole can of worms. In the long run, it may actually be more cost-effective to provide company-issued devices that you can control, update and monitor.
  3. Educate. No matter how much security software you install or how many automatic updates you run, most data loss occurs due to human error. Create a policy for what employees can and can’t do on their work computers, tablets and smartphones, and make sure everyone understands and signs it. Regularly remind employees of the importance of changing passwords frequently, keeping them secure, not installing software without permission and avoiding questionable emails or links.
  4. Check it out. Being on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube can be part of an employee’s job—or it could just be distracting them from their jobs. If things are out of hand, you might consider installing monitoring software on stafffers’ computers, which can tell you what websites they visit, what emails they get and what they do online. This seems like a drastic step, so a more comfortable solution may be simply for you to get out and walk around your business and interact with your employees. You’ll be able to tell who’s goofing off.
  5. Be real. Don’t pretend no one ever goofs off online. Instead, acknowledge the reality and work around it. For example, does your staff want to watch a sports event? Talk about ways people can get their work done early so they can enjoy some bonding time watching the game together. That can be just as good for your business as working can. 

Mondays with Mike: Make Micro Employment Work For You

Gone are the days of offices packed wall-to-wall with full-time employees pretending to be busy when the boss walks by.  It’s too expensive to keep a staff waiting around for your busy times, and savvy entrepreneurs are increasingly turning to micro employment to handle their fluctuating needs for staff.

Micro employment is employing contractors on an as-needed basis, and it works best for companies who have varying needs, based either on fluctuations in work load or based on shifting expertise requirements.  IT services is the perfect example:  from time to time, every single company is going to have technical difficulties and need the services of an IT professional.  But think about it … do you need one every day?  Every week?  If your needs are occasional, then you may be better off outsourcing your tech support.

Your first step is assessing your needs.  Do you need occasional articles written for your blog (and spend three days dreading the writing and another half day slogging through it?)  Find yourself a freelance writer.  If you’re an accountant and need additional help during tax time, you can find freelance help to help you get through the busy time.  Is your customer service department overwhelmed at the end of every month?  Find a temp to help ease that crunch. 

One important tip:  always, always try out your new contractor with a small sample job.  Hire your writer for a single article before you commit to a larger project, or bring your temp in during your slow time so that you can assess their abilities.  The point is to line up your freelancers before you need them so that you know you can count on them in a pinch.

It’s a big old world, and you may find that the contractor who best suits your needs lives on the other side of the planet.  While you can find good folks without having to meet them in person, I strongly advocate a virtual face-to-face via Skype.  There’s no substitute for spending a few minutes getting a feel for your micro employee.  You create a connection that’s impossible to forge via email.

Stocksy_txp28c9325ayB7000_Small_210944The key to finding – and keeping – good contractors at the ready is to pay them well.  The rule of thumb is that you’ll always pay more per hour for a good contractor than you would for a full-time staff person, but in the long run, it’ll almost always save you money.  How?  You only pay for the hours that your contractor is actually working, and you save on the benefits package as well.  I’m not advocating that you strip benefits from deserving staff, but I am suggesting that you have a responsibility to your company to staff it according to your needs.  In the long run, if you’re paying a highly hourly wage to a skilled contractor, they end up with the flexibility to work when they choose, and you end up with high quality work at a relative value.  Another tip:  always, always pay your contractors promptly.  You want them eagerly anticipating your next call, rather than looking for excuses not to work with you again.

At the end of the day, micro employment provides both you and your contractor with flexibility; you have the option to scale your staff up rapidly, as needed, and your contractors earn a higher hourly wage than they would if they were full-time, and they can schedule their work to suit themselves.  Micro employment works for everyone.


Experience Your Business the Way Your Customers Experience It

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

Every day you’re in business, take some time to make sure you’re experiencing what doing business feels like, looks like, sounds like, tastes like, smells like as a customer.

Even great companies fail at this, more often than they realize.

A simple example

Here’s a simple example of what can go wrong, and why.  Do you ever wonder why it’s so often chilly in your favorite restaurant?  Even the great Charlie Trotter’s restaurant was notoriously frigid, for all the warm service you received as a guest there. 

The reason is this:  Restaurant work is hard, active work.  Restaurants are staffed by employees who are on their feet, hustling, working their rear ends off.  Good employees. Helpful employees. But employees who most likely don’t realize that sitting down, expending zero calories as you wait for your caloric infusion (dinner), is going to cause a guest to have a different sensibility relating to comfort and temperature.

It’s not always simple

Striving to see things from your customer’s perspectives has some inherent traps. If yours is an unusually innovative company or trying an unusually innovative approach, sometimes you will throw intentional or unavoidable obstacles (a steep learning curve, for example) in the way of your customer.  This means sacrificing immediate sales or immediate ease of use in the interest of ultimate success.  For example:

  • Maybe you have the wrong customers. This is a reasonable theory, for those of us who are truly brave and truly trying something new.  If you’re opening a restaurant with cutting-edge cuisine (sorry about the cascading foodservice examples today—I must be hungry) in a primarily tourist-trappy “Tour Buses Welcome” part of town, it may take time before you are discovered by the discerning diners you’ll truly need for your business to ultimately thrive.
  • Maybe your customers won't immediately get what you're about, and maybe that's ok. If you can see into the future (like Steve Jobs) there’s a chance you can bring your customers with you, not instantly but over time.  Just because a system seems alien on day one doesn’t mean it always will.  Remember how weird having a mouse and no keyboard commands was in the ‘80s until we adapted.  Think about what it was like when ATMs were introduced.

Don’t kid yourself.  Usually you’re being oblivious, not innovative.

Most of the time, this innovating-ahead-of-the-customer isn’t what’s causing your blind spots. What’s going on is more likely that you’re simply unaware of how your business comes across to your customer, how you’re abusing your customer’s patience and aesthetic sense while the poor customer is trying to do business with you. 

You need to become aware of, and then eliminate:

  • Elements you intend to be simple that are actually confusing

For example: Does your website violate usability rules and expectations?

  • Elements you intend to be easy that are arduous

For example: A customer can be in a heck of a bad mood by the time they even get into your store if they find it hard to find parking, if your address is unclear, if your hours are incorrectly reported by Google or Yelp. 

  • Elements you intend to seem trustworthy and straightforward, that don’t come across that way to your customers

For example: Pricing that a customer assumes to be all inclusive but that requires extra charges to be complete. (Charging for wifi may seem reasonable to a hotelier, since she knows what it cost her to install the system, but it won’t seem that way to a hotel guest.)

How do you get there?

Well, there’s no "we are there now—we’re done“ in customer service. But it’s a process you have to start, and continue, forever.  Including:

  • Park where where your customers park
  • Come in the same entrance your customers come in
  • Read what your customers read (for example online reviews of your company — and of your competitors); don’t assume their journey with your company begins on your website or at your front door
  • Use the public website for your company, logging in as customers log in (no insider override here, please).

Amazon box as delivered by UPS/ copyright Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

(c) micah@micahsolomon.com

Wonder why amazon.com is such a powerhouse?  Well, there are a lot of reasons.  but here’s one you probably only think about if you live in the Seattle area:  Amazon has 80,000 built in customers.  Literally everyone who works there orders from them, the same way the rest of us do.  And these 80,000 users catch issues fast, suggest improvements minute to minute and day to day (which are then often acted on right away).

There’s one more element to it.

There’s value in getting to know your customers outside of their interactions with your company.  In other words, finding out what the rest of their lives look like.  This isn't easy either, but it’s important. Otherwise you can only create an environment that is comfortable for people who are more or less similar to you. To give you a simple example of this: I worked with some car dealers recently who had the most male-defined waiting rooms you can imagine.  Although more than 50 percent of their purchases (and, I’ll bet, even more of the decisionmakers on purchases) are women, the overwhelmingly male managers were who had picked out the furniture and even the magazines for the weighting areas.  They would have done better to have someone (most likely female) who understood the norms and expectations of their customers a bit better.

Seeing your business from the viewpoint of your customers isn’t easy, and won’t always come naturally.  But it’s worth it. 

 

© 2014 Micah Solomon


Using Internet Monitoring Software to Increase Employee Productivity

Stocksy_txpe4825224HV7000_Small_184198Small business owners used to be able to walk around their offices to see the work that their employees where doing. But as organizations are have become increasingly virtual, it is now impossible for a manager to accomplish this since work is now done at client sites, coffee shops, and homes. As a result, many small business owners are up at night wondering if employees are working or just playing video games during the day.

Productivity is being impacted. A 2013 salary.com survey showed that 58% of employees waste up to 60 minutes per day on non-business related websites during the work day, not including lunch or break times.

One solution to this problem is to use an internet monitoring software service for employees. Web monitoring and filtering is traditionally installed to block adult content, phishing sites, or to reduce time wasted on shopping and social media sites. One company, Rawstream is a cloud-based web monitoring and filtering product that helps employees spend their time online productively, profitably and safely.

This tool shows the exact amount of time a user spends looking at a particular website. It gives managers the visibility to see what employees are working on in real time no matter where they are via the application dashboard and report generation function. It also allows managers to see what files are being put into sharing apps like Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive, and Cubby. The software shows who is using the content sharing apps and lists any files shared that break company policy to protect against the sharing of files containing sensitive data such as credit card numbers. More importantly, employees have access to their own web usage reports, so they can examine their own habits and learn to use their time on the internet more effectively. Managers and employees can also set time limits to access to sites or block certain sites.

There are several benefits for small businesses to use web filtering solutions. Company production can increase when employees are not wasting time on websites that have no business value. Additionally, managers can have more confidence in allowing employees to work off site, giving employees the flexibility to work in an environment they can be most productive.

Too “Big Brother” for you? Remember that just letting employees know that the company is using an Internet monitoring tool will actually boost their productivity.


How to Find a Mentor for Your Small Business

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????Have you ever considered finding a mentor in your industry to ask for advice on running your small business? Having a mentor can help you avoid mistakes they’ve made and guide you to finding a faster path to profit and prosperity. And it’s also great to have someone to bounce ideas off of. Here are some suggestions for how to find the right mentor for your company.

First, Figure Out What You Need

Are you looking for a mentor who can advise you on running a business just like yours? Or someone who can help you in a particular area, like marketing, sales, or product development? Knowing what area you want to improve in can help you figure out where to start your hunt.

Look Around Your Industry

There are likely people who have worked in your field for years that are willing to help you along the same path. If you don’t know many people in your area, attend industry networking events to meet them. Ideally, you want to find someone who’s a little further down the path than you are so he can help guide you based on his experience.

Visit Local Small Business Resources

You’ve probably got a SCORE chapter or Small Business Development Center near you, so take advantage of the free access to business professionals. If they can’t help you, they may be able to connect you with willing folks to serve as mentors. The best thing about SCORE is that you can find a mentor online as well as in person. Also look for a Women’s Business Development Center, they offer great resources as well for men or women.

Check Your Online Network

Don’t overlook your online contacts in your search. While you might not be able to meet face-to-face, having a virtual mentor you can connect with on Twitter or LinkedIn can still provide the benefits you’re looking for. Pay attention to who you interact with on social media, or search for someone you think has the experience you need.

How to Approach a Potential Mentor

Finding a mentor is all about relationship-building, so be prepared for the long haul. Start by simply getting on this person’s radar so he or she knows who you are and what you do. Support him in any way you can, such as by sharing his blog articles or responding to his status updates online.

If the person you’re considering is local, invite him to coffee to get to know one another. If it feels right, mention that you’re looking for a mentor and see where the conversation goes. Be sure to highlight what the other person will get from the relationship. Many people might not even consider that you’d want them as a mentor, so don’t be afraid to ask flat out once you’ve built up the relationship. They’ll likely be flattered.

Lay out your expectations for the relationship:

  • How often you’d like to meet, and how (phone, email, in person)
  • What you’d like to learn from him
  • How you can reciprocate (offer business referrals, etc.)

Your potential mentor may have other ideas about how you can work together, so be open to hearing them.

As you build your mentor/mentee relationship, be grateful for the time he gives you, and find ways to show your appreciation. A heartfelt thank you note can go a long way, as can a thoughtful gift during the holidays.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Declare Your Employees’ Independence

???????????????????????????????The best thing the owner of a growing business can do is give his or her employees their independence. No, I’m not talking about firing your employees; I’m talking about giving them the freedom to make their own decisions about how to get their work done.

As you undoubtedly know by now, it’s pretty much impossible for a small business owner to single-handedly do everything that needs to be done. That’s why you hire employees, right? Then why do so many of us refuse to let employees do their jobs, instead micromanaging them until they (and we) are miserable?

Here are four steps to giving your employees their independence.

  1. Provide training. Of course, you don’t want employees to totally wing it. Provide training in how to do the job, and give them direction in terms of what you want the results to be and what the overall goal is.
  2. Step back. Once employees know what you want and how to get there, step back and let them get from Point A to Point Z without offering your help (unless, of course, they ask). Who knows? Your employees might figure out a better way of getting things done.
  3. Empower decision-making. Customers hate it when employees have to “ask a manager” about every little thing. Provide parameters within which employees can make their own decisions about customer service, such as offering $X amount of comped food in your restaurant or refunding a certain amount of money with no questions asked. When employees feel trusted, they feel valued.
  4. Plan for the future. Discuss with your employees where they want to go in your company and how they can get there. When employees feel you have a stake in their future, they’ll give the business their all.

By giving your employees their independence, you’ll also gain freedom—the freedom to focus on what really matters in your business instead of sweating the small stuff. 




 
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