Posts Tagged ‘Products’


Three Ways to Improve Your Business Messaging

All businesses need to communicate a consistent story that describes who they are, what they do and why customers need their products or services.  But even relatively small businesses count on a number of employees to deliver the story in everything from advertising to bids.  Add social media to the mix and your business can become victim to issues ranging from sales errors to serious legal concerns.  To avoid potential financial losses or hits to your company’s reputation, you need to take control over every aspect of your business messaging to keep it correct and consistent.

Here are three methods for ensuring that the public hears the message that you intend to send.

Provide a Single Source of Key Company Information

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When a newspaper ad shows a 20 percent discount until July while your website shows a 10 percent discount until May, you have to honor the better offer.  You also have to honor bids offered to customers by sales reps who quoted lower prices shortly after you increased prices across your entire product line.  These can be costly errors that you can control by developing a better communication system with your employees.

Everyone in your company needs to turn to a single source where they can find the up-to-date information that they need to do their jobs effectively and accurately.  Here are two of the most typical examples of systems that can be worth the initial effort:

  • Marketing information can be maintained in word processing documents on your company’s network.  With an easy-to-follow organization and identification system, your employees can copy and paste this content into their advertising or other business documents to deliver a consistent message to the public.  But to be effective, the content needs to be up-to-the minute, so make sure that timely updates are a number one priority for the individuals who are responsible for them.
  • Product pricing information can be easy to find if your sales staff members can use their smart phones to gain instant access to a secure online database.  If your company’s growth requires you to find a high-tech solution to help your sales reps, this type of system might be a good investment to consider.  But even if your young company is operating on a shoe string budget, your reps should make a quick phone call to confirm prices before handing a quote over to a customer.

Channel All Important Communications Through One Person for Review

No matter how many safeguards that you use to ensure consistency, the most current information may not always be available.  In fact, your employees may not even be aware of your plans to target new types of customers or change prices within the next few weeks.

This is why you need to select a very small group of inner-circle staff members to have signing authority for the release of important messaging,- even if that “small group” consists of just you! 

Reserve Social Media Messaging for Employees That You Trust

Even in the hands of experts, social media campaigns can unexpectedly go wrong, as was the case in 2012, when McDonald’s launched a Twitter campaign and customers decided to use it to post complaints.  But social media has become an important part of company marketing tools, especially for small businesses looking to get maximum return on their limited advertising dollars.

Twitter quickly becomes a double-edged sword in the hands of your employees, even if their intentions are honorable.  What would happen if a loyal employee decides to respond in kind when a customer tweets a rudely-worded complaint?  The original complaint will likely fade out in a short time.  But a snarky response issued under your company’s name can catch the attention of the news media, causing serious damage to your brand.

Rule of thumb:  Grant permission to only a few individuals to broadcast messages on social media accounts that bear the company name.  And, while you may not have control over their private activities, strongly encourage all employees to keep your company name out of their personal Tweets, as well.  Also, consider putting together a style and communications guide to minimize the potential for off-message posts.

Never Underestimate the Power of Your Words

Clearly, the words that you broadcast to the world can make a tremendous difference to your company’s reputation and bottom line.  Taking control over your company’s message takes some effort, but it is a task that you should make a priority.


What Is the Ice Bucket Challenge for Small Business Owners?

Doing_the_ALS_Ice_Bucket_Challenge_(14927191426)Have you taken the “Ice Bucket Challenge”? It challenges friends to put a bucket of ice over their head or donate $100 to the ALS Association. The rules state that within 24 hours of being challenged, participants need to video record themselves by accepting the challenge followed by pouring a bucket of ice over their head. The participant then challenges others on that video. As a result of this viral phenomenon, the ALS Association has received $31.5 million in donations during the past month. 

What would the small business version of the Ice Bucket Challenge? Consider these for yourself:

“The Cash Flow” Challenge: You only have $1000 in the bank on Monday to keep running your business until Friday. Help to beat this challenge: Learn how to read a cash flow statement every month so there are no surprises.  If cash is low, isolate the expenses that need to absolutely be paid or it will drive you out of business. Be direct to vendors and employees about when they can expect to be paid.

“The Customer Satisfaction” Challenge: Your top customer is dissatisfied and is threatening to leave your business. Help to beat this challenge: Listen fully to what the customer has to say. Ask them what the best solution to the problem is. Follow through to a resolution and report back to them on the results.

“The Key Employee Left” Challenge: A key employee just quit and now you have to replace them in 24 hours. Where do you look to replace them? Help to beat this challenge: Always ensure that your employees are cross trained so if one leaves, another can do that job for at least a short time.

“The New Version of Your Product Doesn’t Work” Challenge: You announced a new product, but the latest test show it does not work. You have thousands on backorder. Help to beat this challenge: Isolate what is wrong with the product and what can it be fixed in a reasonable amount of time. Take any other functionality out and notify backorder customers when a product can be shipped.

“The 16 Hours of Work Needs to Get Done in 24 Hours” Challenge: You have a huge pile of work to get done today that will take a lot longer than you have. Help to beat this challenge: First decide what not to do. How will it really affect the business if the work was done tomorrow instead of today? What two things must get done today that are critical to the company?

What would your small business challenge be?


Think Like a Doctor to Cure Your Customers’ Problems

????????????????????????????????????????????Greg House, M.D. was a brilliant (if fictitious) diagnostician who based his success on the premise that “everybody lies.”  I can imagine a number of reasons why patients may lie outright to their doctors — even if those lies send them to the brink of death until the last few minutes of the episode.  But your business customers seldom try to misdirect you.  They just don’t know how to accurately tell you about the issues that they want to resolve with your goods or services. 

If you find yourself constantly tweaking and re-tweaking your business solutions, or if customers seem to return your products too frequently, you may be a victim of the dreaded customer-service disease known as problem solving by deduction.  However, by playing doctor and recognizing certain symptoms, you can find effective cures your customers’ needs.

Symptom 1: Requesting a Cure without Describing the Ailment

How many patients stroll into their doctors’ offices just to ask for an antibiotic?  Did they conduct their own testing before the visit to verify that they have a bacterial infection that antibiotics actually cure?  Unless your clients have your level of expertise, their requested solutions may not guarantee a cure for their ills, and it can even create a new disease.

When a first-time customer came to my friend’s flower shop looking for a bouquet of lilies to bring as a hostess gift, my friend initiated a conversation about the gift-giving occasion.  Once she learned that the flowers were intended for a dinner party being held by a first-generation German family, she quickly suggested alternative flowers because in Germany, lilies are used at funerals.  A few minutes of conversation saved the customer from embarrassment — and it earned my friend many future flower orders for the customer’s frequent business events.

Symptom 2: Providing Vague Explanations of the Ailment

You probably wouldn’t spend money on a doctor visit to report that you just don’t feel right.  Just as you might bring a list of specific complaints like loss of appetite or exhaustion, your clients need to describe their issues as specifically as possible. 

Think of the months of wasted effort you would put in if you were to build a Model A Ford from original parts, only to learn later than the customer wanted a ’65 Mustang when he asked you to “build a classic car.”  Business people can fall into this trap, often because they don’t want to appear ignorant.  But, if you don’t ask questions to get to the specifics, you will not find the right solutions to your customers’ business needs.

Symptom 3: Defining Issues by Elimination

When your doctor asks you where it hurts, you wouldn’t respond with, “I’ll tell you where it doesn’t hurt.”  Yet, some consulting customers expect you to come up with solutions based solely on what they do not want.  This is an extreme example of customer service by deduction, and you have to carefully nip it in the bud.

One report designer quickly learned this lesson when she was called in to modify a series of reports used to analyze product sales within a company.  The client provided her with a printout of each report and then, proceeded to point out what was wrong with each one.

Recognizing that this type of information would lead to a trial-and-error approach that would never solve the problem, the designer refused to end the meeting.  She kept digging until she got the client to clearly explain the intended use for each report and identify the missing information that prevented the report from meeting its goals.  With clear answers, she could solve the real issues.  Her clients were delighted when she returned with new reports that met or exceeded their expectations.

Recognize the Symptoms to Heal Your Customers’ Ailments

Your customers come to you because you have knowledge that they do not have.  But just as patients do not clearly express their medical concerns, your clients can easily lead you down the wrong path.  Of course, you probably want to act more like Marcus Welby than Greg House, but you need to keep asking questions until you can hone in on the issues and apply the healing touch that they really need.


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.


How to Survive the Business Triangle of Fast, Good & Cheap

Posted on by Carol Roth

Stocksy_txpdb49d990KT5000_Small_125569When was the last time a customer told you that money is no object as long as you produce a good-enough product or service whenever it is convenient?  OK, you have a right to laugh because these situations only happen in the dream world.  In the real world, customers make unreasonable demands every day.  It is your job to find realistic ways to make your customers’ dreams come true.

A Quick Lesson on Project Management

Any certified project manager (or even someone who plays one on TV) can tell you about the triple constraint that affects every project without exception.  Also known as the “business triangle”, this rule says that projects involve three basic components: time, quality and cost.  You can skimp on any two of these components, but not all three.  This triangle is indisputable, but unlike the Bermuda Triangle, you can in fact get around it.

So, what do you do when a prospective customer wants to pay standard costs for you to create custom order tracking software for their business in two weeks?  Sure, you can turn down the job, recognizing that you’ll have to throw profits out the window to bring a high-quality project in on time.  But, I often advise companies to figure out ways to deliver everything that the customer needs on time and within budget — and sell it to the customer.

Different Levels of Quality

Obviously, every product or service must work properly and deliver the results that your customer needs.  But in the project management world, a major part of quality is scope, so now is the time to figure out what that customer truly needs to track orders easily and accurately.  This can involve eliminating unnecessary bells and whistles or even finding reasonable ways to develop most features that your customers want, even if they don’t absolutely need them.

For example, you have to customize the data entry screens to suit the customer’s requirements.  But, rather than developing the mountains of reports that they requested, plug in a third party report generator.  You’ll probably want to create the most important reports for them, but they might be thrilled when you sell them on the idea that they can easily create any report that they want on a whim.

At a minimum, if your client is hyper focused on speed and/or cost, then you need to sell them on the idea that version 1.0 with less features is appropriate for now and, if applicable, that they can upgrade in the future.

The Need for Speed

If your clients are like Veruca Salt from the Willy Wonka movies, once they decide that they want something, they want it now.  Your customers may understand that developing that order tracking system to spec takes time.  Unfortunately, they still want it faster than you can produce a custom software system from scratch.

It’s an entrepreneurs job to channel McGyver when necessary, so think about ways to get around “recreating the wheel” from scratch.  You have many opportunities to build efficiencies into your process and your options increase with every project.  Maybe you can save time by starting with an earlier program that tracked widgets for another customer.  Or, if you need to create custom widgets, can you customize an existing mold that you have created earlier?  By looking at your company’s big picture, you can shave time off of many projects.

Of course, you can also throw more workers at the project to get more done in less time, but this solution adds more expenses to your bottom line.

Think Not Cheap, but Value-Oriented….

By now, you’re probably recognizing that you can often tweak one element of the business triangle to get more mileage out of the others.  Project costs are no exception. 

If you cannot escape the need to bring in more programmers for that order tracking system, you might consider bringing in a talented intern from the local technical college.  Interns can handle the more repetitious tasks under the direction of your own trusted staff while adding valuable experience to their resumes.  Or, rather than bringing in more quality assurance testers, your customer may welcome the opportunity to get a sneak peek at an early version of their system while doing their own testing.  In addition to notifying you of any inaccuracies, they may even be delighted to get a jump start on data entry.

Naturally, you want to look at the cost of materials as well.  Any place that you can save is a win. While it’s nice to provide user documentation on 22-pound bright white paper, less bright 20-pound stock serves the purpose just as well.  In fact, you can avoid paper costs entirely with online documentation, just like the major players in the software industry.

There’s always a way around at least one constraint. View each customer demand as a fun puzzle that you need to solve.  Take a step back and let your natural dedication and creativity put the puzzle together, so that it fits customer needs while advancing your business.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 3 Ways to Conduct Focus Groups for Your Business

Have you ever conducted a focus group for your small business? Focus groups are a great way to find out what customers—and potential customers—think about your business, your customer service, new products or services you’re considering launching. The list of questions you can ask is pretty much endless.

Technology has greatly expanded your options for doing focus groups. Here are three alternatives:

  1. Hold an in-person focus group. In this method, you bring a small group of people who fit your customer profile together to discuss questions about your business. Because this option requires someone to record the conversation, someone to lead it, and getting people physically to your location, it can be costly and inefficient.
  2. Hold a virtual focus group. You can use conference calling or video conferencing technology to hold a virtual focus group. Videoconferencing can make it a bit easier to identify who’s talking and for people to feel comfortable with each other. The benefits of the virtual alternative are many: It’s cheaper and faster than bringing people to your location, and enables you to bring in potential customers from around the country or even around the globe. Typically, videoconferencing or conference call technology is set up to record your interaction, so you don’t need someone to tape or take notes.
  3. Hold a focus group on social media. Go beyond the basics—like just asking poll questions on your Facebook Page—to dig a little deeper. Technology is available to help you create more in-depth surveys on social media. For instance, you can use SurveyMonkey to create a free survey you can embed into your business’s Facebook Page. Or you can use Napkin Labs’ Brainstorm app with Facebook to make it easier to engage with your focus group. When doing a social media focus group, choose the social network where your customers interact with you the most. And keep in mind that people probably don’t want to spend a ton of time on a social media focus group—so consider breaking it down into small parts. For example, you could ask your focus group five questions a day for a week, or one question a day for a month.

Whichever venue you choose for your focus group:

  • Narrow your focus. Have a detailed list of questions drilling down into a specific topic, such as your online customer service, your in-store customer service or your product mix. Don’t try to cover every possible subject.
  • Reward participants. Whether focus group members give up five hours of their day to come to an in-person session or five minutes a day to answer social media questions, they deserve some reward for participating. This could range from money to coupons, discounts or free products. If you’re on a really tight budget and can’t reward everyone, draw one person’s name to win a prize.
  • Act on what you learn. Let participants—and all your customers—know what changes you’re making as a result of their input. It will make them feel that your business truly listens and cares about their opinions. 

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