Posts Tagged ‘business tips’

Mondays with Mike: Empower Your Employees With These 3 Questions

We’re entrepreneurs at least partly because we want to be in charge.  We have the vision, the plan, and the drive to achieve success.  That’s why it’s hard to loosen our grip on the reins sometimes.  Hard, but absolutely critical.

If you insist on making every decision in your company, you’ll never, ever grow much beyond where you are right now.  Why?  Because no one person can do it all.  I don’t care how smart you are or how many hours you’re willing to put in.  Growth requires that you relinquish some control and trust the good people you’ve hired.

But you can’t just send new hires off and let them start making critical decisions.  There’s a process – three steps that you can use to help your staff (and yourself) make the very best decisions possible.  Use this list of questions to guide your employees’ decision making process.  Until they can answer “yes” to question one, there’s no moving on.  When all three questions get affirmative answers, then they can proceed.

  1. Does this decision further our company’s uniqueness?  Seriously, this question matters more than you realize.  Your points of difference are all that distinguish you from the hordes of competitors dying to steal your clients.  If a decision doesn’t contribute to the unique offerings you provide to the marketplace, then you run the risk of becoming invisible – and that’s fatal.  Push your employees to understand the ways in which your uniqueness is critically important, and if they can’t answer “yes” to this question, they have to stop.  They can’t move on until they’ve reworked an opportunity to reflect what sets you apart.
  2. Does this decision further serve our best clients?  One of the great challenges of running a business over the course of time is being able to reinvent yourself while still preserving what brought customers to you in the first place.  You must train your staff to keep in mind that without customers, there is no revenue.  Unless an opportunity can improve your service, then you shouldn’t proceed further.
  3. Does this decision maintain or enhance profitability?  Once your employees have an idea that preserves your company’s uniqueness and better serves your clients, then the last hurdle is the bottom line.  Companies can’t run on ideas alone.  If a decision doesn’t pass the fiscal test, it’s dead in the water.

Now, it’s important to note that each of these questions can be a dead end, but perhaps only temporarily.  Just because you answer “no” doesn’t mean you can’t rework an idea or an opportunity so that it turns into a “yes.”  Teaching your staff not to be easily frustrated is another big part of empowerment.  Working through options to refine and polish your decisions will inevitably teach your staff valuable skills that will serve them throughout their entire career.

Good decisions are often what separate success from failure.  Training yourself and your staff to make better decisions not only helps you become more efficient (by empowering your staff.)  It also sets your company up for growth and success. 

5 Underrated VoIP Features That Will Improve Your Productivity

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is becoming the new business norm. Companies are steadily transitioning away from their old analog phone services in favor of the newer, more adaptable and feature-rich communications technology that VoIP has to offer.

VoIP’s surge in popularity can be attributed to its numerous value-added features. VoIP makes it easy for companies to choose and implement the features that would benefit their business. New features are being created on a regular basis to enhance VoIP’s capabilities and enhance the user experience.

The problem now is that with so many new and easily-accessible features, it can be easy for businesses to overlook some of the features that can potentially increase their operational efficiency. A few examples are listed below, but it is important to remember that there are numerous other useful features to consider adopting.  

Call Me Now

From a sales standpoint, Call Me Now might be one of the most useful features available with VoIP. This feature allows people to call your company by clicking on a web-based icon. Call Me Now offers sales-oriented professionals the opportunity to immediately respond to any objections from the customer.

Call Me Now is also a useful feature to improve customer service. You can use Call Me Now to quickly get customers connected with a service professional so that their issues can be resolved in a more timely manner.

Custom Ring Back

Looking for ways to generate interest without increasing talk time? When a customer calls your company, you can have custom music or verbal recordings play in place of the typical ringing sound. 

This feature is a great way to provide information, generate questions from customers, and provide future talking points during the phone call.

Push to Talk

Think of this feature as a more advanced walkie-talkie. Push to Talk allows you to call a phone within your network and activate the other line’s speaker. The other line then becomes an intercom; however, the receiver of the call can also talk back by pressing a button.

Call Pick-Up

Call Pick-Up allows you to enter a star code to answer any phone that is ringing in your network. This prevents your company from missing phone calls that ring to someone who is not currently available at their desk.

Call Parking

Call Parking allows you to “park” a call and put it in an extension. Once the call is parked, the line that the call originally rang to is freed for future calls.

There are many practical applications for parking a call. For example, let’s say you need to run downstairs to look for an item. You can park the call, go downstairs, and then pick up the call from a phone downstairs. You can also park a call if the caller is trying to reach a certain employee who is on a different call. Once that employee is done with their call, they can dial an extension to pick up the call that you parked.

VoIP’s growing feature set provides numerous opportunities to increase the efficiency of your communications system. Visit Nextiva’s website to learn more about the many features of VoIP.

How to Close the Gap from Prospect to Happy Customer

Sales is a scary thing for many small business owners, but if you can figure out how to turn your sales fear into sales courage, you will change the game in your business. The key lesson I have learned about sales, in my almost 17 years in business, is that the gap between getting a prospect and turning that prospect into a customer can become shorter and shorter with only a few steps. Here are ways you can shorten that gap:

  • Speed up your sales cycle
  • Weed out unqualified prospects
  • Convert with confidence
  • Remove the fear from sales for good

Step 1: Know who your target audience is with 100% certainty. Nothing else in removing the gap between prospecting and completed sales will work without this foundational step. You want to know:

  • Who they listen to
  • Where they hang out both online and offline
  • What their sense of humor is (this is very important believe it or not!), and
  • What the one problem or challenge is that keeps them up at night.

Step 2: Tighten up your business brand. Design your signature content and your business around your ideal customer. Use the lingo of your ideal customer. Mimic the style of the experts they pay attention to. Create Facebook posts based on what they like to see from businesses similar to yours. Create a brand image with attractive logos, tag lines, and clear messaging about who you are as a business, where you are going, and who you’d like to come with you. Note: A blog is a great place to make this step a reality; you can create, nurture, and control well into the future.

Step 3: Review your previous sales cycle. Ask yourself how long it took to go from prospect to sale with all of your products – even if it was one sale of one product or service. You need this as research for how to cut down on time – and extra steps – in the sales process.

Step 4: Beef up your brand awareness: Use what you’ve learned about the length of time and the steps necessary to close a sale. Did your ideal customers in those past sales convert faster than customers who were not in your ideal target audience? Most likely the answer is yes. Solution: Beef up your brand awareness. Consider using one social media platform more to draw your target customer to your website.

Step 5: Make them testify to your greatness. When you have strong brand awareness around your business, sales that normally take one year shrink to six months or less. Sometimes you can close up in ten minutes with one phone call. The key is to get your ideal clients to say amazing things about you – and record them! Video testimonials are the Holy Grail, and they’re just as tough to get, too. Start out with written testimonials on trusted platforms such as LinkedIn or Yelp. The more of these you have, the shorter the steps in your sales conversion cycle and the more your sales funnel is filled with highly qualified prospects.

Put these steps to work and let me know how you are succeeding with this. I am confident this will shorten the gap between meeting a prospect and closing the sale and ending up with a happy customer.

Mondays with Mike: Preparing To Pitch: Getting To The Decision Maker

There is almost nothing more frustrating than delivering a passionate, compelling sales pitch, only to discover at the end that you’ve wasted your time and spent all your energy making your case to a person who isn’t empowered to pull the trigger.  It doesn’t matter how good a salesperson you are if you’re not sitting down with the decision maker.

But it ain’t always easy to get to the decision maker. 

Let’s face it.  Folks in charge have a million things and people competing for their attention, and if they didn’t figure out a way to make themselves unavailable, they’d spend all day with reps trying to sell alarm systems, better phone service, or advertising.  Decision makers have to say “no,” and they have to get pretty good at it if they want to get anything productive accomplished.  And that makes it hard for you – the one person with something of value to sell – to work your way into an opportunity to pitch the decision maker. 

Until now.

I’ve developed a strategy to get around the defenses and make it into the inner circle.  First, I realized that nearly every decision maker has a sizeable ego.  The ego comes from the hordes of salespeople clamoring for approval, time, and attention, and while ego can be an obstacle to doing business, it can also be a point of entry.

Back when I owned a computer forensics firm, I had my sights set on one particular company – the category leader – who I’d wanted to land as a customer practically forever.  I knew they needed my services, but the challenge was getting to the head honcho and convincing him.  He was impossible to reach.  I called, emailed, tried to leverage mutual friends … no joy.  I swear at one point, I figured he was enjoying my pursuit, and that’s when it occurred to me.

I wrote a letter (yes, a real paper-and-pen letter) and asked him to be my mentor.  I promised not to make a sales pitch, but I asked for fifteen minutes of his valuable time so I could get some advice.  I was shocked when he agreed, and I kept my end of the bargain.  I told him I wanted his perspective on what I could do to make my company better.  He told me.  I took notes, asked a few questions, thanked him for his time, and I left.

When I got back to the office, I went to work.  I looked at his recommendations, and I make a plan to improve on every area he’d mentioned.  My staff and I worked hard to deliver better service and really improve the company from the ground up.  When I’d accomplished the goals I’d set, I called my new mentor and asked for a second meeting, again making the promise not to make it a sales call.  We met, I showed him the progress I’d made, and I asked for another set of suggestions.  Rinse and repeat.

When I showed up for my third meeting, it was clear that the decision maker – my ideal client – took great pride in the changes he’d helped me make, and then the magic happened.  He looked at me and said, “I want to be your customer.”

I’d kept my word.  I hadn’t tried to sell him a thing, but simply having access to the decision maker gave me the opening I needed to convey the dedication I had to being the single best computer forensics guy on the planet.  If I hadn’t asked for his advice, he never would have had the opportunity to get to know me, and he never would have understood how much he needed me.

Now, you’re not going to get to every decision maker simply by asking for some advice.  Some are too busy; some aren’t interested.  But what I’ve found is that when I can get that first meeting, I know somewhere down the road, I’ll convert my new mentor to become my client.  Build your relationship with decision makers, and you’re opening up those choice opportunities.

How your business can make a great last impression

1-21 lasting impression smallAll of us, at one time or another, have had the importance of a first impression drilled into us.  But what about last impressions? Both the beginning and the end of a customer's experience with your business are disproportionately important parts of the customer experience, because of the way a customer's memory works.

Yet while we often do manage to focus on and refine our “hellos,” customer goodbyes are often rushed—or skipped altogether. After all, you as a service provider are frequently so relieved to have gotten one job wrapped up successfully and to be able to move on to the next one. The result is that a transaction often ends with nothing more personal than an invoice.

What a wasted opportunity! If your customers are happy, the goodbye is your last, and one of your most notable, chances to bond with them, to add an important final chapter to the service story.

Try to close each interaction with your customer in a way that is memorable and sincere. Make sure an otherwise-fine service experiences doesn't come to a miserable close that consists solely of handing back a credit card or ‘‘OK’’ or ‘‘NEXT.’’ How much hard-earned good will can be lost that way? A lot.

So, try to never close an interaction without providing a personalized farewell and an invitation to return. If handled properly, this farewell will be personal, resonant, and long lasting (see below)—but before you move to the closing, make sure you ask a final question, slowly and sincerely. This question should be some form of (but doesn’t have to be these precise, scripted words), ‘‘Is there anything else I can do for you?’’

If the answer is ‘‘No, thank you,’’ then move to the closing, as follows:

1. Personalize your goodbye: Use the customer’s name. Offer your business card, if appropriate for your type of business. Beyond these obvious things, customize your language to fit this customer’s history with you. For example, if this is the last day of a convention or holiday, add your sincere wishes for safe travel. If you are a retailer, express your hope for satisfaction with the item purchased.

2. Make your goodbye resonant: If appropriate, give a parting gift. It can be a lollipop for the customer’s child, a vintage postcard, or a book. An ideal gift is something that is emotionally resonant with your brand as well as appropriate to the customer. Invite your customer to come back again as she leaves.

3. Extend the goodbye in a memorable way: If appropriate for the type of purchase and your relationship with the customer, send a follow-up note. Personal and handwritten is better than preprinted—this is the best $1 investment you may ever make.

Selecting a Merchant Service Account Provider

Whether you run a brick-and-mortar retail store or an ecommerce store online, you need to be able to accept credit cards easily. After all, most people pay with them, and you want to make it as painless as possible for people to buy from you. To that end, partnering with a merchant service account provider can provide a simple way for you to process credit card payments.

How the Industry Has Changed

Just a few years ago, your only option to accept credit cards was to invest in one of those bulky credit card swiper machines. Sure, these are still used by lots of businesses, but some changes have opened up your options today.

If you run transactions online, there are online card processing services like Paypal, WePay and QuickBooks Payments. No machines needed (other than your computer). If you accept payments on the go, like at a farmer’s market or book signing, there are mobile payment processors like Square to consider. Many integrate with your existing accounting software, making it simple to reconcile your purchases.

What to Expect in Fees

Naturally, any merchant service provider will charge you to use its services. Some services offer a free plan with a slightly higher per-transaction charge, versus a plan with a monthly fee and a lower per-transaction fee.

You’ll typically pay between 1.75% and 2.9% of the transaction price per sale, plus a nominal flat fee per transaction, like $.50. Your service provider may charge more for transactions that require you to key in the credit card number versus swipe it (these are at higher risk for fraud, so they want to cover their bases).

How to Find the Right Provider

In looking for the right merchant service account provider, start with the accounting software you use, as they may have a credit card processing service, or may partner with companies that offer them.

Ask about fees. It’s definitely worth it to shop around for the best price and service. For example, if you know you’re going to have a high volume of sales, look for a company that will discount the percent they charge you if you hit a certain dollar amount in monthly revenue. Those savings add up fast!

Consider how often you’ll actually use the service. If you plan for sporadic use, it’s probably not worth signing up for a monthly fee package just to cut back on the percent per transaction. You want that monthly fee and savings in per transaction costs to be worth it for the number of transactions you’re processing. Essentially: how much are you willing to spend to be able to accept credit cards?

Ask how quickly funds will hit your account after a transaction. The sooner the better, but some companies take up to a week. Can you afford to wait that long to get paid?

Before you sign up, check with the Better Business Bureau to ensure that the company doesn’t have any complaints against it.

Look for a free trial and give a few different merchant service providers a spin. See which is most intuitive and easy to use, and stick with it.

Mondays with Mike: Don’t Let Storytelling Ruin Your Message

Storytelling is as old as time, and it’s one of the most compelling ways to get your message across in a memorable way.  Good public speakers understand the power of storytelling, and they also know how difficult it can be to effectively weave a story into a presentation.  Understanding some of the difficulties you may face when you’re telling a story can help you prevent public speaking disasters.  Let’s take a look at some of the common pitfalls.

  1. Putting yourself in the starring role.  No one likes a braggart, and while telling stories that prove your experience and your first-hand knowledge can establish you as an expert, make sure you don’t push your audience away by building yourself up to be larger (and better) than life.  If you must tell stories in which you’re the primary focus, make sure you do it in a self-deprecating, humble way, taking time to make it clear there’s more than just your ego on the stage.  Your audience – large or small – wants to hear more than “me” and “I.”  If you consider part of the goal of storytelling is to create a connection between you and your audience, you’ll be able to avoid this pitfall with ease.
  2. Making the story your sole focus.  Unless you’ve sold tickets, and your audience is simply there to be entertained by you, you’re speaking for a reason.  Don’t ever let your story get away from you to a degree that obscures your message.  Whether you’re trying to make a sale, convince prospective clients to give you a try, or get your employees fired up for a new project, always keep your primary goal clear in your mind so you can clearly articulate it to your audience.  Your story should always function in a supporting role.
  3. Failing to meaningfully link your story to your message.  There’s a reason even the best writers need good editors:  Things that are obvious to you – the expert – may not be clear to your audience.  Think about stand up comics – they use callbacks and repetition to drive home their primary points.  Likewise, you need to make the connection between your stories and your message absolutely, explicitly clear.  Don’t ramble on about a story and expect your audience to understand why you told it.  You have to connect all the dots and ensure your audience is with you all the way.
  4. Neglecting your call to action.  Whether you’re talking to one person or one thousand, every pitch, every speech, and every presentation must move your audience to do something.  Buy my product!  Champion my brand!  Do your very best!  Just like the connection between your story and your message, you must link your stories to the outcome you desire.  Business isn’t the place for subtle hints and innuendo.  Don’t expect your audience to read your mind.  Tell them what you want them to do!  Explain the benefits and be direct.  Don’t ever waste your time with a great presentation and fail simply because you didn’t ask for the sale. 

A great story is one of the most powerful tools a public speaker has, and once you master the skill of artfully embellishing and supporting your presentations with carefully chosen, effectively conveyed stories, you’ll find your audience enchanted and enthusiastic about your ideas.

Why Your Email Signature Matters

The single marketing message that any business person sends the most every day is in their email signature. This is why it is critical to use only the information that reflects the company’s brand and further builds a relationship with the recipient.

The essentials

Name, title, company, email address, web site URL, phone number and social media links where you are active. Include your email address since many times it is not included in the header of the reply.

Forget these closing salutations

I am not a fan of legal disclosures since it adds unnecessary length to the email especially since it  probably will be opened on a smart phone. I question the legal effectiveness even if these are used. I also do not believe in using motivational sayings unless it is part of your brand.

Stay away from silly closing salutations like “Blue skies” or “Cheers”. Now I am not an ogre, but these are not always appropriate. Consider that you just told someone in an email they did not get the job and then close with “Cheers”. This does not help your ongoing reputation or brand. I am also not sure what “Regards” means. Is this “Best regards” or “Kind Regards”? I also don’t like “Sincerely” because it always seems patronizing. Also forget “Reach for the Stars”, “Peace Out”, “Your Boy”, “Your Girl”, or “Your Compatriot”.

Use these closing salutations

Think of something that is more closely tied to your brand. I use “here’s to getting unstuck and moving…forward”. If a branded one does not work, use old standbys like “Hope this helps”, “Thank You”, “Much Appreciated”, “Let me know where I can help”

Other email signatures that work

  • The brand tag line with a link to more explanation like a video
  • Use a company logo or a very small photo
  • “Here is recent recognition we received! Thank you!” with a link
  • “Come see us at _______________ (upcoming event)” with a link
  • “We are growing! Know someone that would make a good ___________ for our company”
  • “We were recently honored to be featured in _______________” with a link

Remember, the email signature should be changed no more than every quarter so it can make multiple impressions on the recipients.

Overall, keep it short and in plain text with no animations (except for a photo or logo). Remember, most will be opened on a mobile device. Test out what looks good on various devices, but also on different web browsers and on Gmail and Yahoo mail.

What is in your email signature?

Should You be Using Online Video on Your Website?

Now, more than ever, companies are developing their websites with the visitor experience in mind. Competing for website traffic has become a battle of who can provide easily-digested, engaging content at the fastest speed.

This is where the unsung hero of the 21st century comes in—online video. Once a tedious and expensive process, video has become the preferred avenue to reach consumers. The reason for this is that videos are easily understood and less intimidating than a page full of text. Videos are capable of transmitting an incredible amount of information in a short time span. The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” should be updated to “a video is worth a thousand words” to align with today’s fast-paced world were consumers lose interest in a matter of seconds.

When is the right time to consider online video?  

Truthfully, now is the time to consider using online video on your website and social media channels. Present-day technological advancements have made posting videos a lot more convenient, not to mention affordable.

Why is now the perfect time?

Production Costs

From a production standpoint, video creation has never been so affordable and simple. If you have a smart phone, you most likely have a HD or even 4k UltraHD video camera right in the palm of your hand. Some sound equipment, editing software, and a few lights might have a small initial cost, but they will make a huge impact on the quality of videos you can produce. Countless additional tools are available if you’d like to take it up a notch. Professional-grade cameras can now be purchased for less than $2,000.

Distribution/Online Hosting

Now that you know how simple and inexpensive making videos can be, you may be wondering, “how do I actually get the videos on my website?” Todays online video hosts, such as YouTube and Vimeo, will host your videos for free.

Think of each hosting site as your own personal film theatre. You simply insert your embed code created from the hosting site, and put it in the code for the desired location on your website.

Trackability/Advanced Metrics

Online video puts even more power in your hands. You get access to advanced metrics that will show you how many of your website visitors clicked and watched a specific video. This provides tremendous insight in to the behavior of your online visitors, such as the type of videos they find engaging. You should use the analytics your videos provide to influence future video creation and improve the visitor experience.

If you consider how revolutionary email was, wait until you see the impact video will have on your business.

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