Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Win More Customers with These Body Language Adjustments

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????Small business owners get out of practice. They spend so much time in their offices and online that they sometimes forget how to act when they come face to face with a prospect or customer. While many professionals spend time practicing what they will say in a meeting, few focus on what their body language looks like. This is unfortunate since studies show over half how we communicate comes from our facial expression and body positions.

Here is what you can do to win over more customers:

  1. Smile. The first thing a person sees when meeting is your facial expression. This begins on your approach and will set the tone for the entire meeting. Prepare for this by remembering positive things that make you smile about a minute before beginning that meeting. This will make smiling more unconscious and authentic. In the meeting, looking someone straight in the eye and smiling will instantly make them more comfortable. It will also make you more likable which increases the chance of a sale.
  2. Sit up straight. Customers get more confidence from people that hold themselves up straight then those that slouch. Most small business owners have poor posture from being at computers all day or talking on a smart phone. Before the meeting, stand with feet shoulder width apart and get a grounded footing. Then stand straight as if someone had a string attached to the top of your head. This will help you stand, walk and sit straighter. Customers will buy more from people that show confidence in themselves with this type of posture.
  3. Lean in. The physical orientation of two people together says a lot about their relationship. Slouching back in a chair or sitting straight on the end doesn’t make the other person comfortable. Instead, leaning forward will engage people in any conversation. This also enables you to talk more softly so people need to tune in to what you are saying. Leaning in can also show a greater intent to listen which the customer will appreciate. However, be careful not to invade their personal space. Also, try to sit side by side with someone you are trying to win over rather than two opposing chairs or across a desk or a table. This will help them feel you are both on the “same side”.
  4. Matching body language. When you “mirror” similar body language to the customer, it builds feelings of trust because it generates unconscious positive feelings of affirmation. It will make them think you agree with what they are saying which increases the likability factor.  This does not mean that every time the customer crosses their leg, you need to do the same. Instead, look for body language cues to copy over the course of your meeting.

Remember that business body language differs by culture. All of this takes practice so always make it a standard part of your pre-meeting preparation.


5 Tips To Building a Successful Team for Your Small Business

??????????????????????As a solopreneur, you can only do so much. But as your business grows, you’ll need to expand your staff. Finding and hiring the right people will help your company become more successful faster. Here we look at five tips that will not only help you find quality talent but also nurture them so they feel vested in your company and want to help it thrive.

1. Know What You Need

Pinpoint exactly the skillsets you need to fill to round out your team.  Each person should have a slightly different background and experience so that they complement one another. But really drill down into your needs. Do you need to hire someone who has skills in social media? What specific social sites do you need help with? The more you know about your needs, the better fit your hire will be.

Also consider what types of employees you need. Not every addition to your team needs to be a full-time staff member. You can hire part-time, intern, or freelancer if your needs in one area are less than full-time.

2. Look to Your Network

Before you hit the job boards to find your next employees, ask your network for referrals. They’re cheaper to hire, faster to get on board, and have a retention rate of 46% after being at a company a year. Ask your colleagues, friends, employees, family, and business contacts if they know of talent that would be a good fit for your company.

3. Set Up Your Onboarding Process

The more training materials and processes you have set up, the faster a new hire will feel acclimated to your company and start being a productive member of your team. Have general training materials for your company, as well as those specific to the role you’re hiring for.

If you plan to work with a freelancer or agency, give them access to all the documents, login info, and details they need to be successful at helping you.

4. Foster Team Activities

Hiring one person is a small success. Integrating them into your team is another. Make sure your team is apprised throughout the hiring process so they feel vested and connected to this new addition. Encourage communication among team members, and consider setting up a team-building activity, like attending an event together or even having dinner after work.

Even if you as the business owner aren’t involved in the day-to-day with your team, you want to leave them to be able to build and foster their own relationships with one another.

5. Check Back In Often

A month after you’ve hired a new team member, check back to see how she’s doing. Get open feedback from her, and do your best to remove any obstacles she might be experiencing that keep her from being 100% productive.

Once you’ve done this successfully, make it your road map for future additions to your team.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Who Are the Online Influencers, and How Can You Reach Them?

Stocksy_txp89ac3847maA000_Small_295975Is your business taking advantage of online influencers to build your reputation, build relationships and make sales? Online influencers—or people whose opinions are shared online and disproportionately influence others—come in several varieties, including:

  • Bloggers with lots of followers among your target market (check out Klout or Alltop to help you identify these),
  • Journalists who report about your industry (you’ll know these by reading industry publications, major newspapers and business publications), and
  • Decision-makers (and those connected with them) at companies you want to sell to (LinkedIn is a useful tool for identifying these).

To successfully reach and influence online influencers, follow these steps:

  • Know what your goals are. Do you want a key influencer to write about your company in a newspaper, review your product on her blog, or introduce you to someone who can help your business grow? By determining specific goals, you’ll be better able to identify which influencers will be most useful in achieving them.
  • Be active on the social channels your influencers frequent. That includes social media as well as the influencers’ own blog and/or website. Spend some time “lurking” to get a sense of what the person cares about and thinks before you reach out to him or her.
  • Start small. Retweeting or sharing an influencer’s post is a good start to getting yourself on their radar. Then move on to commenting on posts. Don’t just say “Great post!” but offer a brief, thoughtful insight—ideally, you want to engage the person in an online conversation or get a conversation going among other followers.
  • Acknowledge any interaction. If an online influencer responds to your comment, retweets something you tweeted or even just thanks you for a comment, be sure to respond!
  • Move it on up. Once you feel that the influencer is aware of you as an individual and you’ve built up some goodwill on social media, you can reach out via email. To avoid being perceived as spam or a “cold call,” refer to your social media relationship and any mutual connections you may have. You don’t want to seem like a stalker or salesperson, so if email doesn’t get a response after two or three tries, go back to social media.
  • Once you’ve made a connection, be straightforward. Politely ask for what you want from the person, be it an introduction, an article or a review: “I’d love it if you’d review our new product X. May I send you a sample?”
  • Maintain the relationship. Don’t go dark once you get what you want. Keep the relationship going by interacting with your influencer just as you would any friend or colleague. 

Mondays with Mike: The 8 Female Values Every Male Leader Needs

Stocksy_txpc96af066We9000_Small_285956I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some spectacularly smart and strong women throughout my career, and I’m frequently reminded of the values that these women have displayed – things I’m working hard to implement in my own business.  Whether you believe that gender differences are the result of nature or of nurture, don’t miss out on the lessons you can learn from successful women.

  1. Self-worth derives from community service.  Some men tend to be trophy hunters – racking up accomplishments and money in an attempt to demonstrate their value to the world.  Women tend to see their relationship to their community – and the vital ways in which they are connected to their community – as the hallmark of success.  Keeping in mind that we are part of our community and that it is our interconnectedness that makes and keeps us relevant and necessary can help us focus on strengthening ties rather than creating distance.
  2. Presentation matters.  Women have been judged by their appearances to a much greater degree than men have, and it’s worth remembering that we only get one chance to make a first impression.  Make sure that you present yourself as organized, neat, and capable … every time.  And hey – stylish doesn’t hurt either!
  3. Balance work and home.  While no one gets it perfect every day, women tend to make the effort to flourish in their careers, while still making time to spend time with their families.  It’s important to maintain the vital support of our home lives – the support that will actually help us succeed in business.  Don’t devote all of your time to your career at the expense of your partner and your family.
  4. Tolerate pain.  Running a successful business is hard work – much like the labor that precedes a delivery.  Women are masters as gritting their teeth, settling in for the long haul, and getting the job done.  Growing a business is a struggle, and it’s never painless.  Entrepreneurs can’t afford to be wimps!
  5. Multitask.  Women tend to be much more adept than men at juggling multiple tasks efficiently.  While there is something to be said for a single-minded focus, sometimes concentrating on just one task is a luxury we don’t have.  When you’re faced with many things all competing for your attention, observe some women working on multiple tasks and see if you can improve your multitasking abilities.
  6. Ask for help.  We joke about the man who will drive around forever and never stop to ask for directions, but the joke hits close to home for some men.  Realizing that you’re not an expert in everything and that asking for help is actually a sign of strength lets you avail yourself of the expertise that’s all around you.  You don’t have to be the best at every task that keeps your business running, and asking employees or mentors for advice or assistance shows your confidence in them.
  7. Use social skills.  Women are master networkers.  They use their ties to the community as a powerful asset, and nurturing those connections will put you in contact with more clients and more collaborators.
  8. Collaborate.  As fields become increasingly specialized, we’re going to find more tasks that require us to collaborate with other experts.  If you’re focused on producing the very best products and services, that goal will nearly always be more easily achieved by collaboration.  Look around you for folks who can make you better.

In listing these values that I’ve seen in so many successful women, I’m not guy-bashing.  I work hard to keep an open mind about techniques for improving my abilities to run my businesses, and I’ve learned that success had no gender.  It’s available to us all.


How David Can Win Against Goliath Competition

Many communities argue against big companies like Wal-Mart moving into their areas because they believe that these big corporations will eradicate local mom and pop stores. Granted, big, burly businesses can intimidate their smaller counterparts. But David brought a slingshot and a bag of stones to the battle. Then, he found a hole in Goliath’s armor and brought him down with a single stone. The “David’s” in the small business world are small but limber. By recognizing the holes in large competitors’ armor, you can turn your business into an effective slingshot that earns its own piece of the pie.

Smaller Can Be Better

????????????????????????????By necessity, most large companies require vast amounts of red tape to do anything out of the norm (and often, things within the norm too). They may have more employees, but each one performs a specific task, following the company rules every step of the way. In other words, procedures, overhead and red tape all mark major holes in the big business armor.

Your small business is nimble. It can turn on a dime to respond to unique customer needs. You can shuffle your priority list to place a last-minute rush consulting project at the top of your list. You can even personally drive an emergency widget order after receiving a call to your cell phone from a frantic customer on Sunday. You are in complete control of the level of service that you provide. Your hands are not bound by red tape and that allows you to provide superior service.

Offer Value Over Low Prices

Small businesses can recognize and embrace the difference between low price and value in your customers’ eyes. Behemoth competitors like the big box stores and large banks may offer better prices, but low cost is not the best way to compete, especially for attracting loyal customers who aren’t swayed to switch companies based on the latest and greatest discount.

Customers will pay more for superior service and products. For example, you can provide additional value by offering products made in the US, beautifully packaged products, services with enhanced customer service support and more.  You, as a small business owner, are uniquely able to compete on value.

Own Your Special Niche

Why would anyone want to open a coffee shop that competes with Starbucks, a company that clearly does no wrong anywhere in the world? Not so fast: in 2000, Starbucks closed 61 of the 84 stores they opened in Australia because they failed to compete with the small independent shops! They could not adjust to local market demand.

Starbucks may offer everything related to coffee, but their in-store drinks and atmosphere currently do not match the experience of the smaller shops. Like the Italian model (a country that boasts no Starbuck stores, by the way), the Australian independents offer quality over quantity — a niche that local customers want.

As a small business owner, you have the luxury of getting to know what your customers really want. Whether you provide green products or services, custom-fit the clothes sold in your store or even drive customers home on a rainy day, you can craft a differentiated selling point. Make sure that potential customers know the qualities that make your business unique and that existing customers love those points of differentiation so that they can spread the word.

Form Alliances with Other Small Businesses

Goliath competitors may have the resources to offer a full range of goods or services that you find hard to match, but you don’t have to go it alone. Networking is a powerful tool that can address the convenient, cost-effective solutions that busy customers need.

Your print shop may offer high-quality, reasonably-priced services, but perhaps it does not sport the excess real estate that allows big bruiser shops to warehouse customer brochures — often for a hefty price. But you can negotiate storage discounts with a local facility so that you can handle your customer’s printing and storage needs at a lower combined price than the competition offers.

Alliances definitely help you give customers the full services that they need. But they can also expand your customer base through referrals from your small business network. One call to your local Chamber of Commerce is a great way to set out on the road to valuable alliances.

There’s Room for Everyone

As a small business owner, you don’t need to fear major competitors. There’s plenty of room in the marketplace to provide business opportunities for businesses of all sizes. By identifying the holes in their armor and taking advantage of your unique strengths, you can carve out your own business success, even if Goliath & Associates is right across the street.


The Customer Experience Can Always Be Improved

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.

Customers place a certain value on consistency and familiarity when it comes to painlessly ordering or experiencing goods and services. For example (as a customer myself):

  • When I order something online from a company I’ve visited before, I expect the menu screen to be essentially the same as I’ve become accustomed to—I don’t want to bother with relearning the ordering protocol.
  • When I phone my heating oil company to place an order, I expect the usual protocol: to be told the current price per gallon, to be given a reasonable time frame for the delivery, and to have the delivery driver already know exactly where my fill spout is and how to get to it, without requiring me to be home at the time.

However, while customers value a feeling of consistency, a masterful company knows it always needs to improve, even to maintain that semblance of consistency, because customer expectations are continually getting more intense.

In the early twentieth century, just about thirty years after the telephone was invented and greeted with awe, the great writer and observer Marcel Proust made note of how unappreciated the phone had already become. Within a single generation, the telephone had gone from a miracle to an ordinary nuisance, spending more time complaining when hum or static broke up the line than on recognizing the essential wonder of this still quite new technology.

What was true of the telephone then is true today of all aspects of the customer experience.  And today, of course, the timetable in which perceptions change is much shorter than thirty years. What was a groundbreaking improvement in customer convenience last year is ho-hum today; what was timely last week feels as slow now as a dial-up modem.

Nordstrom (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Nordstrom (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

A masterful company understands this and adapts and retools continually. For instance, a retail chain could have a simply stated goal as follows for each new location: “Make this store better than the last one we opened.” This simple approach is an optimal way to improve with every store opening and also avoid endless second-guessing and regrets about past shortfalls.

“Better,” sadly, is always going to be subjective.  And “better” very likely does not mean “change up everything.”  To do so will unnerve your existing customers who have gotten used to things the way they are.  And it may also deter not-yet customers, who are surprised by something so outside the norms of your industry.  A subtle, deft hand is necessary.

And, sometimes, the success or failure of your intended improvement won’t be clear for some time.  This stuff isn’t easy.  But standing still doesn’t work either.  Because it will feel to your customers, and your prospective customers, as if you’re moving backward.

*****

Sooner or later as you continue to improve the customer experience you provide, you’re going to run into another issue:  “Is this [our customer experience, our customer service] better than it needs to be?

Think this through carefully.  Features (even very subtle features and nearly invisible touches) that your customers value need to be shielded from willy-nilly cost cutting. At the same time, there are undoubtedly excesses built into some customer encounters and services. A specific sort of excess you should tune your antennae for is called lily-gilding. (The term comes from an approximation of Shakespeare:’‘To gild refined gold, to paint the lily’’—to overdo the already perfect, in other words.)

Lily-gilding is the brilliantly hand polished finish on an end table—when the end table is always hidden by a tablecloth. It’s an air conditioning compressor too powerful for the space it cools.

In customer interactions, lily-gilding takes the form of fancying up your offering beyond what your customers are interested in (or interested in paying for). This has both obvious and hidden costs. The hidden costs include excess features that can make your offering less attractive by complicating it for customers or implying to customers that they’re paying for something they don’t need.

This is rarely a central problem in customer service.  But it is absolutely one to keep half an eye on as you strive, always, to improve. 


How to Develop an Email Lead Nurturing Program

??????????????????????????????????????One of the biggest obstacles I’ve seen for small business owners is closing the sale. Now, I understand that we’re not all born salespeople, but even if you despise sales, you can’t get away from them if you run your own business. It’s just a matter of sorting through the leads you take in and nurturing them until they’re ready to buy. Email is a wonderful tool to help you do just that.

First, What Does Your Email Marketing Strategy Look Like?

If your answer to this question is “it’s nonexistent,” go back to square one and get started. You’d be amazed how quickly you can grow your email contact list simply by offering something of value, like a free report, whitepaper, or discount in exchange for web visitors’ email addresses.

But if you do have a way for people to join your list, what do you do with them once they’re there? Do you regularly send out email newsletters or promotions? If not, that’s where we’ll start.

Next, Segment Your Contacts

Understand that not everyone that signs up for your email list is in the same place in the buying cycle. Some people may simply be doing research to see what options are out there to solve their problems. Others may be specifically seeing what your brand offers and considering it against the competition. Still others may be ready to pull the trigger.

The more you can divide your email list into a few categories, the better you can target the content you deliver each group. And people who receive targeted content rather than across-the-board generic drivel are more likely to buy from you!

Once you’ve created a few “buckets” to separate your subscribers, write out a description of each person. It might look like this:

Problem Pete is looking for a solution to his problem: he needs a way to organize his photos online. He’s signed up for our free “10 Ways to Use Your Images Online” whitepaper, and now he’s more educated on the online photo storage space. Our emails to Pete need to address the benefits of using our service over the competition, as well as deliver additional educational content.

Having a buyer persona like this can help you build a strategy in the kinds of emails you send each segment. Knowing that Problem Pete is probably at the beginning of his solution-seeking journey means you can ply him with informative content that will not only educate him on your industry but also nudge him toward choosing your services.

Then, Build Out Your Content Strategy

Using the info you learned in building the buyer personas, you’ll now want to create an email marketing strategy for each segment and then build a content calendar around that strategy. Here’s an example:

  • Initial signup: automatically send the free report
  • Follow-up a week later: send our Top 10 blog post
  • Three days later: offer 20% off
  • If contact doesn’t use that offer, one week later, send personalized note from CEO

Each email, as you can see, delivers a different value, and there are enough of them coming at a steady cadence that your new subscribers can’t help but remember who your brand is.

You can schedule each of these as an autoresponder to automatically go out on the schedule you determine. Most email marketing software programs will do this for you (though if you use a free plan, you may have to upgrade).

Pay Attention to Results

Once you’ve got these autoresponders set up, don’t forget about them. Check in to measure your clickthrough rate (that’s what percent of your subscribers clicked links in the email to get to your site), your bounce rate (how many email addresses were incorrect or otherwise failed to get your emails), and your conversion rate (how many subscribers actually bought from you as a result of each email). Make changes as necessary to ensure your email lead efforts are fruitful.


Mondays with Mike: 5 Tips For Finding Prospects On Twitter

Twitter

I’ll admit it.  I thought Twitter was a silly little fad when I first learned about it.  Seriously – how much effect can 140 characters have?  It turns out that it’s a massively powerful medium, and I wish I’d started using it earlier.  It can be a goldmine in terms of establishing relationships with existing and prospective customers.  Here’s how you do it:

  1. Search for your company name.  This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s so essential!  This first key step lets you know who’s talking about you … and what they’re saying.  You’ll know right away if there’s a problem you hadn’t heard about, and you’ll get a read on the public’s impression of your company.  The folks who are already tweeting about you are the first ones you should make contact with.  In addition to alerting you to problems folks may be having, Twitter gives you a real-time means of responding to criticism in professional and productive ways, establishing your business as a stand-up organization that cares about its clients.
  2. Search for your competitors.  Not only is it just good business practice to know what the other guy is up to, but monitoring the chatter about your competition can also give you priceless inside information into problems or challenges your competitor is facing.  If you learn that customers are upset that the pizza shop down the road discontinued a particular entrée, you may want to advertise that you’re adding a new menu item (which, coincidentally, is what consumers are begging for!)  Unscripted, candid feedback on the other guy’s business may give you ideas about new products or tip you off about mistakes you should avoid making. 
  3. Search for relevant keywords.  Information is power, and knowing what terms people are using to search for services and products like yours is so important.  You can use the information to load your messages up with the right keywords, and you’ll discover links to articles and discussions in your industry that you might never have seen.  Everything you uncover can help you tweak your message and be more sure of reaching the right people.
  4. Use an autoresponder.  Twitter works because it’s instantaneously interactive, and if your Twitter followers don’t get that play from you, they’ll lose interest.  You should thank new followers (automatically,) and using an autoresponder even lets you create and send messages even if you’re taking the day off to go fishing with your kids. 
  5. Produce relevant content.  If your tweets are boring, repetitive, or irrelevant, then you’re going to lose followers as soon as you get them.  Armed with the competitor’s information and the relevant keywords, you’re prepped to start creating useful articles that your followers will actually read and use.  Even though each tweet has a maximum of 140 characters, you can send the link to your content.  Giving your customers useful tips and suggestions that relate to your industry can win you loyal customers for life.

Twitter is so much more than selfies.  It’s a more powerful medium than I ever though it could be, and harnessing that power gives you far-reaching access to millions of potential customers.    


Building A Customer Experience that is (and isn’t) “Just Like Home”

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.

A secret to creating a great customer experience is to get in the homebuilding business.  As in: You’re creating an environment/product/process/service that “feels like home” to your customer.

Now, if you think about it, customers don’t actually want the place they do business with to “be like home”– dirty dishes in the sink, deferred maintenance up the yin yang.  So I use this “home” term advisedly and with some apprehension.  What I mean by “like home” is an experience that is like being a kid in the home of a caring parent: your preferences are attended to (there’s food in the fridge that is to your taste), you’re missed when you leave and sincerely welcomed back when you return, the maintenance is done without you even noticing.  This is what “just like home” means to a customer and what can turn a customer into a loyalist and ambassador for your brand.

There’s a lot involved in creating a true loyalty-building, “homelike” situation for your customers. But I hope the homebuilding metaphor, which is supported by research done at the Ritz-Carlton, will give you a place to start. When you conclude an interaction with your customer, let her know that it matters to you that she come back soon (I’m assuming here that you’re not a surgeon or an undertaker). And when that customer returns to your business after an extended absence, let her know that she’s been missed. And, work on fulfilling, in that great phrase of The Ritz-Carlton, “even the unexpressed wishes” of your customers, as if you know them like they live here.  Customers shouldn’t have to draw you a diagram to get across what they want from you. Figure it out yourself by really getting to know them.  It’ll be worth it.

Technology can make homebuilding easier

Child's house drawing (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Child’s house drawing (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Technology can make homebuilding and homekeeping simpler and better. For example, custom-tailored, automated anticipatory messaging helps you respond in advance (‘‘pre-spond,’’ I suppose) to customer needs and would have been impossible before the digital communications revolution. Anticipatory design, used so well by companies like Apple and Google, can help simplify your customer’s life. Well-designed ‘‘My 

Account’’ and other self-service technology has made it so that many customers are willing, even eager, to do much of the work for you to keep track of their preferences and other details—information that, in turn, makes anticipatory customer service easier to pull off. Customers will let you know how to improve more directly than before if you keep your ear to today’s available electronic listening channels, thus facilitating a much quicker feedback loop for future anticipatory service.

And, once you delight your customers with anticipatory customer service, they can spread the word much more quickly via social media than was ever possible in the past.

People who help people

But technology is almost never the entire story.  A kid raised by a kiosk would hardly get the warm home feeling I’m aiming for here.  The fact that an actual human cares (mom, or dad, or both) makes all the difference.  In the world of commerce, it’s more or less the same: Automated, fake friendliness will never have the same emotional power for a customer as knowing that she’s coming back to the place where the people themselves care about her and remember her.  Absolutely, those people should be using technology to keep track of credit card numbers so the customer doesn’t have to dig out the card and recite that number a second time.  Absolutely, a business should offer technology that lets the customer update her home address correctly, rather than forcing the customer to laboriously dictate it to a clerk who most likely will mis-enter it.  But the human service provider still needs to care, sincerely and visibly, for the magic to truly work. 




 
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