Posts Tagged ‘Growth’


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.


Tuesday Tip: Lessons From the Number-One Customer Service Retailer

What can your small business learn from the best of the best? StellaService’s list of the online retailers with the best customer service is out, and for the second quarter in a row, L.L. Bean is the top-rated company. L.L. Bean ranked in the top 10 for four out of five customer service areas that StellaService ranks: phone, email, chat and returns.

Apparently, speed is of the essence when it comes to customer service. When calling by phone, StellaService analysts were able to connect to a live L.L. Bean customer service representative in less than 30 seconds. When emailing, analysts received responses from Bean reps in slightly over an hour on average.

That's a huge advantage, considering that just 10 percent of companies in L.L. Bean’s industry connect callers to reps in the same timeframe; at three out of 10 companies, it takes more than two minutes to reach a live person by phone. And when it comes to email, four out of 10 companies took more than 12 hours to respond.

How to ensure your company responds quickly to customer service contacts:

  • Staff adequately. Reviewing historical sales trends will help you identify periods when you're likely to need more customer service reps due to higher than average sales.
  • Watch weather. If delivery of your company’s product or service is likely to be affected by severe weather, keep an eye on forecasts 10 days out so you can staff and prepare accordingly. It is also smart to have a backup plan for what you'll do if your own location is affected. Can your customer service reps work remotely? That way, you won't face the double whammy of angry customers and a short-staffed customer service department. Using cloud-based communications makes it easy to handle customer service calls, no matter where your reps are.
  • Take advantage of technology. Features like auto-attendants, greetings, and announcements guide callers to the correct department. Routing and queue delivery systems can also be used to ensure that callers don't wait too long on hold. With the right technology, you can even prioritize calls on hold to make sure they get answered quickly.
  • Set goals and track results. If your call hold times are currently unacceptable, set realistic goals for improvement. Reward customer service reps for attaining these benchmarks, then continue to challenge them with higher standards while still enabling them to deliver great service.
  • Consider implementing live chat. StellaService reports that in 2015, 16 major retailers added live chat to their websites, while four major retailers stopped offering customer service support via email. Live chat offers faster response times than email, which keeps customers happy. In addition, chat enables you to provide proactive customer service by answering customer questions before the sale is ever made.

Take these steps, and you just might find your customer service topping your customers’ personal “best” lists.

 


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.


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.


4 Ways to Decide if You Should Re-hire Former Employees

There was a time when few individuals would consider taking a new job with a former employee and few companies would consider re-hiring former employees. Things have changed. When the economic downturn forced employers to cut back on headcount, they had to reluctantly let go of many valued workers. Even in today's somewhat tepid recovery, those same businesses now need to ramp up to meet increasing customer demand. It's natural to consider re-hiring individuals who worked for you in the past (known as "boomerang" employees).

Regardless of whether employees originally resigned or if you made the decision to let them go, re-hiring someone who knows your company culture can have merit in many situations. To some degree, you can trust your gut when making this decision. Still, taking a consistent, analytical approach can help improve the outcome. Here are four things to consider when you try to assess if a boomerang will come back to save you — or smack you in the head.

1. Assess the Reasons Behind the Original Separation

At some point in their lives, most people make mistakes. But, as Winston Churchill said, "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often." In other words, the people you laid off two years ago because they displayed poor judgment in their work may have learned from their mistakes. They may, in fact, have become exactly the employees you need now. And, the same holds true in reverse; if they initially left voluntarily with complaints about the company, changes to themselves or to your company can make conditions ideal for a second try.

So, regardless of who initiated the original exit, don't say "no” without considering the underlying reasons. Give boomerang applicants the opportunity to explain what they learned — and how you can benefit from their return to your company

2. Understand that Previous Company Experience May or May Not Help

Re-hiring former employees has some natural advantages. They're easy to find for recruitment purposes, they already know many associates and they understand the company culture. For many boomerang employees, onboarding is not required; they hit the ground running on the first day of re-employment.

On the other hand, things may have changed in your business since they last worked for you. Of course, those things may actually make your company more attractive when they take a second look. And, don't forget that boomerang employees also go through changes after their initial exit. Did experience from prior jobs make them even more valuable than they were originally? Or, did they witness a miraculous world of employment in the outside world that your small business can never hope to match? Only open and honest interview discussions can help you and the applicant predict the likelihood of future success.

3. Consider the Effects on Co-Worker Morale

Unless your business is small enough to employ just a handful of people, it can be difficult to predict whether or not your existing workforce will greet a boomerang employee with a hearty welcome, a mistrustful shun, or something in between.

The anticipated reaction of other employees is certainly no reason to avoid re-hiring a former worker, but it is most definitely a reason to avoid blindsiding your current staff. It's up to you whether you want to involve them in this hiring decision, but you definitely need to make them aware of the situation — and what you expect them to do (and not do) once the employee begins work.

4. Examine if the Re-hire Really is the Best Candidate

"Better the devil you know" should not be a reason to re-hire a former employee any more than making the choice simply to save time and effort. Granted, there will be occasions when a boomerang candidate offers advantages that you know you cannot duplicate if you hire anyone else. But, under normal circumstances, you should seriously consider talking to talented outside candidates, as well. Even if you have to spend more time onboarding an outsider, that individual might have a better skill set — without potentially higher salary expectations.

The second time might be the charm.

Some argue that a skills gap is preventing U.S. companies from finding suitable new employees. If this is true, it can be tempting to turn to people you know when jobs become available in your company. Whether the employee left out of economic considerations or if either of you was not satisfied the first time around, a re-hire can be a boom or bust. By carefully looking at both sides of all of the issues, you can help ensure that boomerangs meet or exceed expectations, rather than hitting you in the head —for a second time.


Making A Scene With Your Business

What impression are you trying to create–what feelings and thoughts are you trying to invoke–with your business? This is an important question.  The work you do here is what I call "setting a scene," a scene that supports the storyline, the plotline, of your business.

Every significant touchpoint of the customer experience can be conceived of as a scene.

For example: What scene do you want to set at the register in your clothing store: “Fast?” Undoubtedly, but that’s not enough. Yet “fast” is about all you’re going to measure with your KPI’s: fast, and maybe accurate.  But there’s so much more.  The register (or, at more forward looking merchants, the non-register) is one of the last moments in the customer’s retail journey.  Think about how much more than just “fast” it can be. Nordstrom thinks it should also be “warm,” reassuring, and streamlined, so they ensure that the counter is uncluttered, they make a point of coming around from behind the register to hand you the bag, making it more of a collegial, collaborative process than handing the bag over the barrier of the counter, and they accompany you to your car if you need or want an extra hand with your new loot.

All of which fits into the overall Nordstrom storyline, which is, I would say, “You can trust us beyond a doubt.”

Even a car repair shop can transform impressions through scene-setting. Jiffy Lube, not a name that probably springs immediately to mind when it comes to exceptional service with a human touch, has improved its service model by setting a different scene from what they did in the past.  By offloading transactional details that had previously preoccupied its employees and customers, rolling out an intricate nationwide database to store each customer’s vehicle history and manufacturer-prescribed service requirements. This information is now a couple of clicks away for every customer-facing Jiffy Lube employee, freeing them from onerous paperwork and allowing them to assist customers more easily and knowledgeably.

This fits as part of the overall storyline of Jiffy Lube, which I would describe, in a rhyming couplet of my own making, as “with a minimum of fuss, you can count on us.”

Or think about the experience of walking into an Apple Store.  Here, right smack dab in the center of the technology industry, we have a brand that has relentlessly worked to downplay all of the transactional items and processes that would bring you down to earth as a customer, that would make you feel that you’re doing something other than embarking on a great adventure into the future.  In an Apple Store, there are no cash registers or checkout lines, and no receipts or owner’s manuals in sight; the stores are uncluttered and the employees are empowered to provide a peerless retail experience. Apple has invested in training a large team of salespeople and customer service representatives to help customers on the floor and at the Genius Bar, where the diagnostic specialists are famously called “Geniuses.”

The storyline here? I’d say it’s along the lines of “We are about your experience, not about technology, processes, specs and minutae.” (Sorry, I couldn’t make that one rhyme; if you succeed in doing so, email me and I’ll update this article.)

What’s your business’s storyline? And do the scenes that customers encounter at your business support it? Think it through and get it right. It’s worth it.  Because customers don’t think of the little details they encounter at your business in isolation.  In their heads, they wrap their whole experience up with a bow and decide if they liked it or not, if they want to return or not.  Make sure they get the right impression, so they’ll make a business-friendly decision.


Watch for These Business Communications Trends in 2016

In 2015 we saw a surge of devices and technologies hit the market that have dynamically altered the way we work. It is becoming more apparent that it will be necessary for companies to adopt new technologies in order to maintain a competitive advantage. Technology continues to leave its footprint on innovative business growth ventures, and it looks like it’s going to stay that way. Here’s a look at some communications trends to watch for in 2016:

Web & Cloud-Based Communications

As more companies migrate towards a tech-friendly work routine, they continue to implement more web and cloud-based communications platforms and tools. VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) continues to see an upswing, largely due to the reduced cost of use, ease of implementation and feature-rich offerings. VoIP provides features that, previously only afforded by large corporations, are now fundamentally changing the game for small and medium-sized businesses.

With the advent of web and cloud-based communications, employees are able to access information from anywhere and provide better customer service.

Remote Employees

It is becoming more accepted that not all employees are office-bound anymore. A growing trend shows that more companies are open to hiring remote employees, or allowing employees to occasionally work from home. This opens up a need to have access to files, CRM software, and business data remotely, which will put more pressure on businesses to amp up the cloud-based technology they use.

Mobility

It should be no surprise that mobility is valued by businesses large and small. The importance of being able to work on the go, from anywhere, will be a continuing trend in 2016. This is one big reason why web and cloud-based platforms and apps are relied upon by both in-office and remote employees. Apps will continue to boost mobile capabilities and productivity.

Heightened Security

Security will be top of mind this year in the wake of newsworthy security breaches over the past few years. More devices offer more opportunities for hacks, which is why caution is more important now than ever before; security breaches and hacks could come through any device. Companies may invest more energy in encryption and other security measures during 2016 in order to ensure their systems meet their needs. Industry guidelines also come into play as some companies need specific types of encryption for regulations.

GenZ Goes to Work

Generation Z will be graduating college and entering the workforce this year. They will have high expectations for more devices, as they are the most computer savvy generation yet. Companies will need to shift towards more advanced consumer-grade technologies in order to attract this new work force.

Internet of Things (IoT)

As the Internet of Things advances, more and more devices will be connected. This will lead to advanced data and information sharing between devices, as well as a flood of new data and information for companies to use for their advantage.

Unified Communications

With all of these factors at work, companies may be searching for unified communications solutions in order to streamline their workflow and processes. Unified communications allows for the integration of voice, video, mobile and web collaboration in one complete solution.


Top Apps for Small Business Owners

top apps for businessOwning a small business is a tough job, and purchasing the appropriate systems for organization, communications, finance, and more can be stressful.  In today’s mobile world, it is essential that you can access tools while on the go.  Thankfully, there are many applications that are inexpensive, easy to use, and extremely helpful!  I’ve rounded up the top mobile apps that will help you streamline your business and stay connected from anywhere:  

Evernote

Evernote is a multi-purpose organizational app that is amazing for assisting small businesses in keeping track of tasks, discussions with employees, and more.  It seamlessly syncs with your computer, so your information and notes can be accessed from any of your devices.  You can also use it for personal documents and keep that information completely separate from your work files.  Pricing varies from free for basic components, to $12 per user per month if you’d like to take advantage of more advanced features.  Easily share content, coordinate projects, and keep remote coworkers up-to-date in one app!

Tripit

If your business involves any travel, Tripit is a must-have app to keep you on track.  You simply send your email confirmations for any flights, hotels, etc. to Tripit, and they are automatically converted into a custom itinerary.  You can manually or automatically update the plans, add them to your calendar, and share plans with others.  If you purchase the Pro version for a small fee per month, you can access even more features, including receiving real-time flight alerts, tracking rewards points, and getting seat upgrade notifications.

Nextiva

The Nextiva App is an all-in-one communications tool for your business, and can be especially helpful if you have employees frequently on the road or working remotely.  It provides a complete VoIP softphone, allowing you to use any functions available on a desk phone right from your desktop or mobile device.  Additionally, it includes instant messaging, video collaboration, cloud sync, and call controls, serving as a complete communications package.  The app is available with our Nextiva Office plans.

Expensify

Expense reports may never be an activity you look forward to, but with the help of Expensify, your company’s reporting process can be modernized and easy to manage.  Employees can quickly add expenses and automatically import credit card charges within specific dates.  Mileage can be captured via your phone’s GPS, receipts are scanned and input into the system, and approvals are made via rule-based workflows.  You can also connect bank accounts to the app to make reimbursements even simpler! 

Square

If you’ve made a purchase from a food truck, farmer’s market, or other independent vendor in the past couple years, you have likely seen Square at work.  It is a great app for any small business with a need for accepting in-person payments via credit card.  After purchasing a chip or magstripe reader that is compatible with both Apple and Android, basically any mobile device can be transformed into a point of sale system.  It can also integrate with other applications such as Weebly and QuickBooks, making account syncing a simple process. 

These apps, along with many others, can be extremely helpful in mobilizing and organizing your business tasks.  Take advantage of the user-friendly applications available to business owners today, and keep your company tech-savvy, flexible, and secure.




 
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