The Industry and Technology are Killing the Industry, not Millennials

Millennials are killingThere is a fundamental shift in consumer-driven businesses that has been emerging over the past few years, and it’s shaking up industries and businesses that once stood as giants for decades. Almost daily, an industry giant is either declaring bankruptcy, layoffs, closing locations, or reporting yet another quarter of subpar numbers. The writing is on the wall…. Yet, most industry leaders are refusing to accept reality. Instead, they choose to blame millennials for their demise… Along with these bankruptcies, layoffs, and store closings, we also see newly published articles regarding how “millennials” are completely decimating industries, businesses, and traditions that have stood the test of time. Here’s the thing: are millennials really to blame? We think not… We are believers that the industry and businesses themselves are the cause of their ow demise—not millennials, or any age group, for that matter.

Let’s elaborate on what we mean by that… The reality is that a majority of businesses are failing to recognize the changing time and focusing on “business as usual”. Looking back on twenty years ago during downtimes, “business as usual” typically meant finding areas of cutting cost to increase margins or creating a few more marketing promotions with the hopes of increasing sales just enough to ride out the lulls in the economy. Those strategies typically worked for most businesses because, looking back at those times, there were only so many places to shop, eat, or consume entertainment. Each industry essentially had a handful of businesses that monopolized their respective industries, which lead to their economic ebbs and flows with the economy. At those times, there were only so many places consumers could spend their money… Great for businesses in those days, right? Here lies the problem—most executive leaders within long-established consumer-oriented businesses are continuing to run their businesses as if it was the 1980s or 90s. However, the market has drastically changed since then. First, in the age of technology and consumer preferences, the 80s & 90s were essentially a 100 years ago. A very millennial statement, but here’s the reality: the market is truly changing at the speed of light, and even looking five years back has shown drastic changes in both technology and consumers preferences. Technology has enabled consumers to essentially have the knowledge of the internet at their fingertips, and forward-thinking businesses have capitalized on this fact enabling an “On-Demand Economy”. Technology has also enabled almost anyone to start up their own online business with the same technological capabilities of a multimillion-dollar business. Never mind the fact that a small startup with a little knowledge of how Search Engine Marketing works can easily outrank a multimillion-dollar organization in a matter of weeks by using the right Google industry keywords. Technology and increased competition are the real reasons these consumer-facing industries are struggling, not millennials… Businesses just can’t cut cost and rely on a few promotions to ride out the lulls anymore, as competition is all too eager to steal that business away. 

While corporations are looking at their calculators, small businesses & startups are focusing on

  • Creating a digital marketing strategy to essentially make the big brands completely irrelevant online.
  • Providing consumers with exactly what they need in the easiest way possible.
  • Creating flexible pricing and packages that match what consumers really want, not finding ways to charge more for the same (or lesser) service
  • Providing value for free when others want to charge for it.
  • Increasing quality, not cutting it.
  • Working on loyalty reward programs that actually provide real value and rewards

When you begin to peel back the layers of the onion, millennials almost have nothing to do with the demise of these industries and businesses at all… Failure lies solely on their shoulders. Let’s take for example Sears… Sears was once an industry giant that had stood for more than 100 years, and for a majority of the time in business, they were the gold standard in retail. In their early days, when obtaining certain items for the general population was almost impossible, they created a first-of-its-kind catalogue of thousands of items that could be delivered to your front door. Then in the 1960s when consumer need for faster access to consumable goods became more prevalent, it led to the blossoming business of malls and Sears was quick to capitalize. Looking back to the 1980s, there probably wasn’t a mall in the country without a Sears taking up some major real-estate. As Sears grew, they made investments in Craftsman tools, DieHard batteries, Kenmore appliances, and others. All of this led to Sears being a formidable industry giant, and they enjoyed that success for decades… However, in the early 90s, Sears decided to focus more on cost-cutting metrics instead of innovation. We called attention to this in another article. As an example, in January 1993, Sears announced the closing of the catalogue, eliminating 50,000 jobs as they didn’t see a market in delivering items directly to consumers’ front doors, and keeping that business running was “too expensive”. Interestingly enough, in July of 1994, Amazon was born, which ended up being a company that could deliver items directly to consumers’ front doors. Yes, really, had Sears thought about where technology was going like Amazon did, they literally could have been the Amazon of today. However, Sears’s cost-cutting didn’t stop there, and for thirty years now Sears has been focusing on cost-saving metrics across the board… Anyone that has been at a Sears in the past few years has come across stores in disrepair, sub-par inventory levels, long lines, and employees that generally don’t seem to care. It’s no surprise that Sears is now closing stores almost daily and in bankruptcy litigation.

However, on the flip slide, you have Target, Best Buy, Walmart and others all seeing great success in today’s tough economy. The reason why is simple: they have all been focusing on innovation, bringing choices and convenience to the consumer. Best Buy, from the beginning, has strived to have a strong ecommerce presence, becoming one of the first big-box retail organizations to have a true website with online purchasing availability. They were also one of the primary innovators of ecommerce purchasing with in-store pickups. Target has focused on innovative payment methods, allowing consumers to skip the line and pay for items in the aisle instead. Target also recently launched a new program to use local stores as virtual ecommerce warehouses decreasing overhead while speeding up the entire delivery process to consumers. Walmart recently announced strong revenues directly related to curbside pickup… These are just a few areas of innovation that has allowed other big-box retailers to stay on top. In contrast, Sears has attempted nothing even remotely close to these innovative methods to save their business.

However, big companies are also not the only businesses thriving. In fact, only 53 companies have been on the Fortune 500 since 1955, including 17 newcomers to the list in 2018. Companies such as Uber, Yelp, Spotify, DoorDash, Zapos, Salesforce.com, Amazon, Facebook, Google were all startups less than twenty years ago. They are not alone; almost daily, a new startup comes from almost nowhere to be a new industry-leading giant… The reality of the whole situation is that millennials are not killing industries… The big-business thinking of yesteryear is.  We’re in a climate where most of the consumer industries that are in the midst of major shake-ups, such as Retail, Cable, General Medical Care, Transportation, Food, and Entertainment, are all struggling… Each are struggling with their own issues of conducting business as if it was still the 1980s or 90s while pointing fingers at millennials for their changing buying habits and lack of brand loyalty. Here is the reality—they are doing it to themselves for all the reasons listed earlier in this article, and it is up to them to recognize the writing on the wall. However, we are in favor of the small businesses and startups! 

CRM The Equivalent Of A Paperweight In Small Businesses

How to Improve CRM Usage

A few months back, we wrote on the importance of a CRM in a small business, but still, we frequently come across executive leadership that is frustrated with their staff’s inability to properly use the tool (or use it at all in some cases), making CRM the software equivalent of a paperweight in many organizations. We understand the frustration, as with most software purchases, CRM comes with significant time and financial investments along with the best intentions in mind for helping a business become more efficient. Yet, regardless of how hard management pushes, usage is essentially zero for many organizations. But, why? In this article, we’ll review some of the reasons why one of the most important tools in any business goes unused and ways to increase overall adoption.

Let’s first start with a few reasons your team might not be using the system:

Lack of Management Use – That’s right: they learned it from watching you. At times, we do see various teams making an honest effort to use the CRM tools in the way they are meant to be used. However, over time, the team has begun to notice the management team’s lack of use. The question of, “Why bother?” then comes into play. As an example, a core use of CRM is around sales pipeline management, but what is the point of keeping a CRM updated when sales leadership continues to run around asking reps for pipeline updates via email, scratch sheets, or Excel spreadsheets instead of running reports with the exact same information from the CRM? Over time, they start to realize there is no value to keeping their CRMs updated because management certainly isn’t using it. Why take the time to update a system when you’re only going to be asked to provide the exact same information via Excel or some other method?

Other Departments’ Lack of Use – We’ve previously talked about the benefits of interdepartmental use of a CRM. When a CRM is not at the core of a team’s daily job function, it becomes less important, and as a result, the usage drops. We recommend that all departments integrate capabilities for their job functions inside the CRM… This means Sales, Marketing, Support, and Finance all need to have critical job functions built into the CRM. Without this integrated functionality, your team will be relying on direct interdepartmental communication for simple client information… The end result is having, for example, customer support or finance continuously pinging the sales department for simple client information… information that should already be in a CRM. Over time, teams start to realize there is almost no point to having that information in the CRM because no one is actually using it, and again, what is the point of all that extra time and effort keeping information updated?

Lack of Proper Functionality – Great CRMs that are properly set up can allow sales and any other department to complete their daily tasks effectively and efficiently. However, out-of-the-box CRMs are inherently generic, and they take some time and effort to customize to make them useful for your business. However, increasingly, we find that when organizations deploy their CRM, they are deployed with zero customization. This results in a generic setup of the tool that doesn’t match the functions of the various teams or business which makes the tool difficult to use… On the flipside, we’ve also seen when management has over-engineered their CRM instance, creating an over-complicated beast of a software solution. This typically results in what management may think of as a “work of art” but is really an extremely complex, inefficient, and painful system to use.

Lack of Usage Visibility ¬ – This kind of goes in line with some of the above, but it needs to be called out… When you have people putting time and effort into properly managing their CRM worlds, yet it goes completely unnoticed, then why bother?

Lack of Accountability – You have two reps: one has their CRM in tip-top shape and constantly up-to-date, and another one that barely uses it and management never seems to care. What do you think is going to happen over time?

Mentioned here are just a few but critical examples of why we see a lack of CRM usage in small businesses. Again, most are truly aligned around the lack of visibility and usage from the management level down to the various departments within a business, leading to the “why bother?” mentality… However, all is not lost as there are tactics that can easily be deployed in any business to increase overall usage. Here are a few:

Complete Management Usage – It starts from the top down. Management needs to start using CRM immediately and continue to use it without exception. You’ll quickly find that once management begins pulling reports and pipeline updates straight out of their CRMs during meetings, within the first few meetings, everyone’s CRMs will be up-to-date as no one wants to be the one with missing or out-of-date information when reports are being reviewed in front of management or their peers. Furthermore, it is important to continuously use it… CRM usage needs to become a habit, and there is a bit of a routine adjustment to using it regularly. All too often, we see executive leadership get on a “CRM kick” for a month or so, only to have them go back to their Excel spreadsheets shortly after. Again, going back to the points we made above, nothing will demotivate a team more than putting in effort for nothing.

Corporate-wide Usage – CRM is not just for sales anymore as it can be integrated across every department within a small business. Make your CRM a central point of departmental information and the only way team members can complete their daily job functions. Once you have complete business-wide integration, there will be zero reason not to use it at that point.

Make it Seamless ¬ Again, a tool that is painful to use will not be used in any business… Take the time to properly customize your setup. Most CRMs are fairly easy to customize, but if you are uncomfortable with customizing yourself, there are plenty of consultants on the market that can do it for you. It is also important to ensure you are taking in feedback from your end-users and constantly working to refine the system. As mentioned previously, all too often, management believes they “know” what is best for their teams, but in reality, they are so far-removed from the process, they couldn’t be more wrong. A painful-to-use tool will not be used—period.

Increase Visibility ¬ Develop and use the reporting system built into the CRM… Most CRMs have fairly comprehensive reporting capabilities out of the box and, with slight customization, can be a very powerful tool for the business and something to ensure that your team is keeping their CRMs up-to-date. Some businesses go as far to have automated reports sent out at preset times (hourly, daily, or monthly). Regardless of the frequency, it is important to remember “what gets measured, gets done”. Furthermore, we highly suggest using your reporting in meetings as well. Have a sales pipeline meeting? Pull up the pipeline in real-time during the meeting. Again, no sales rep wants to be in a pipeline meeting where their pipeline is either out-of-date or missing information… This can be done for essentially every department.

Tie in Compensation – Fairly simple… Sales, do you want to get your commission? No deal gets paid commission unless it is properly tracked within the CRM… This can be done for other departments as well. Things such as lead counts, collections, customer service calls stats and other metrics can all be tracked and tied together with compensation. Quite honestly, this is one of the easiest ways to getting a team to use a CRM as no one wants to miss out on their commission or bonus. However, let’s not forget that you want to ensure you’ve made the proper steps to making the CRM a useful tool in the first place. Let’s remember the old saying “junk in, junk out”, as you do not want your employees wasting time inputting information into the CRM just for the sake of compensation and nothing else.

CRMs are incredibly powerful tools for any small business. When properly implemented and used across all departments, they can drastically increase the efficiency of any team or organization. Efficiency can lead to increased cost savings and revenue while keeping your organization running like a well-oil machine.

The Small Business Sales Quota Dilemma

Same Old QuotasEarlier today, I read “Why are Half of All Sales Reps Still Missing Quota in a Booming US Economy?” and found the article itself, and the comments within LinkedIn around the article, a little disturbing. Almost all the points were towards the reps themselves and not the businesses… Let’s face it: if any business is having more than 50% of their reps miss their sales quota, something is very wrong! No business should ever have 50% or more of their reps missing numbers, and if they are, that is a failure on the business’s part—period.

As many businesses gear up for their yearly planning sessions, now is the time to really look in the mirror before developing new quotas and truly understand the business itself. Again, if 50% or more of your sales team missed their quotas last year and are going to miss this year, you truly need to ask “why?” Is it talent, training, something else within their business, or were their quotas improperly set to begin with? As leadership, it is critical to look beyond your own thoughts of what a revenue target “should be” and bring into consideration other items such as the industry, economy, and job market. Setting the stage, it is safe to say that most leadership believe that the reason reps miss their number comes down to the rep’s ability to hit their personal quotas and not that targets were improperly set to begin with. This is a scenario we play out year over year… As a result, leadership’s plan for hitting the next year’s revenue target simply comes down to either cutting staff and bringing in new talent or increasing headcount. Regardless of the strategy, is it really viable? Well, like we said earlier, it’s a strategy that plays out year over year in small businesses, with the same unfortunate results. This is almost the definition of insanity, yet the cycle always continues.

A majority of reps missing their quotas is not a talent issue. Plain and simple: there is a fault in the business that leads to the miss. Again, starting backwards, most business leadership create a revenue target number based on what they think is a viable revenue target. Some literally make up a revenue number based on what “they believe” is a proper revenue target for the business to hit, and others slap a percentage increase over last year’s numbers and then essentially break up quotas based on a number they created… Very few truly take a look in the mirror to reflect on last year’s performance, industry, economy, and other items before coming up with a realistic revenue target. Regardless of the method, here are a few things that should be considered before coming up with a revenue target.

Current Situation – It starts with understanding the current team and the “why?” around performance. Again, we believe that if 50% or more of your reps are not hitting there number, there is something fundamentally broken within the business. Now is the time to reflect and try to understand the reason. You should ask yourself: Is it truly a talent thing? Did your sales management hire the right quality reps? Is the proper training in place? Is there a brand perception problem? Is there a broken process? The key is to identify areas of improvement for the year ahead, but to also recognize that changes do not happen overnight… Meaning, when creating a revenue target, the ramp up time for these changes need to be taken into consideration.

Talent Acquisition – Talent is a big one. Going back to some of the comments we saw around this article shared on LinkedIn, most pointed to talent or lack of talent for the reason reps are missing their numbers. Honestly, this could be the case, but that means that changes must be made around the way your organization does talent acquisition moving forward. However, you also have to recognize the current job market as well… We are in a time where there are more open positions than unemployed looking for jobs. This essentially translates into the hard fact that finding good talent is difficult to do. This means that if part of your plan going into the New Year is to either trim current reps and replace them with newer “A” talent, or simply increase head count, it is going to take time… Again, something that needs to be taken into consideration.

Current Economy – It is astounding that even the biggest companies out there do not really take the economy into consideration. As an example, in the economic downturn of 2009, most businesses quite frankly ignored the signs of a down economy and stuck to their guns for revenue targets. As a result, they missed—and some missed by large margins. This was a disaster for the stock market, as investors were quick to pull their investments from these organizations. And the rest is history. Not that something like 2009 could have been completely avoided, but the companies that truly looked at the economy and made proper adjustments did do much better from a numbers standpoint at the end of the day.

Current Industry ­– Again, it truly amazes us when businesses refuse to look at their current industry’s performance. A perfect example is the cable industry… Consumers are cutting the cord at alarming rates, and businesses such as Comcast are all but completely ignoring the fact and continuing to raise rates year over year. Time will tell the true fate of the cable industry, but it’s not a good outlook. Sometimes there are external pressures that come into play with specific industries, and unfortunately, too many businesses ignore the signs which, at times, can devastate them completely. Could this be the root cause of a decline in numbers? If so, simply increasing quotas or finding new talent is not going to fix the issue.

Pricing – We cringe at this strategy. Some businesses believe that in order to make up the gap in revenue loss, they should simply increase the price for their products and services. There is a right way and a wrong way to do price increases… We do believe that, at times, you do need to increase prices; if Coke was still going for a nickel, they would have gone out of business a long time ago… but there needs to be a strategy to the increase. Also, you need to understand how your market will respond. Going back to the example of Comcast, their market simply is not responding well to their annual price increases, and they are losing customers in record numbers.

At the end of the day, every business wants to see increasing numbers year over year, and no business wants to set a target lower than the year before. However, the way your business sets its yearly revenue targets has more of an effect on the business than you may think. First is the overall attitude of a business, as a business that is winning acts much different vs. when they are losing; a winning attitude is just as contagious as a losing one. This brings us back to the fact that if you are having a majority of your team missing their numbers, you can guarantee the morale of the team is low—negativity breeds negativity. Then there are the financial repercussions, as when you have a losing team, you have employee turnover. Well, those lost reps need replacing, training, and ramp up time…all things that cost money and take attention away from things that could be moving the business in a forward direction. So again, if more than 50% of your reps are missing their numbers, take a deep look in the mirror and find out why. Then, put the ego aside and set proper expectations for the business… A winning team will outperform a losing team 100% of the time and will put less strain on the business as a whole.

 

The Importance of A First and Last Impression in Today’s Economy

apple-store-watch-renderWhether you sell million-dollar software implementations or you’re a local restaurant making your debut, first and last impressions matter! Let’s face it: in today’s market, competition is fierce, brand loyalty is down, and consumer attention spans are short, making it harder to win and retain business—even if you execute flawlessly… This is a primary reason why giants of yesterday are crumbling around us daily, as they have all but forgotten the fundamentals of sales and customer excellence. There used to be a time where a brand could and would hold its own, even if the sales and marketing teams “didn’t give it their all”. As an example, there was an old popular saying that “No one ever gets fired for buying IBM”. Pretty bold statement there, right? Well, there was a time when IBM was pretty much the only game in town if you wanted top notch commercial grade IT equipment. They had put together a world-class team, delivering world-class service and systems, and no one even came close to the delivery of IBM. This was how they developed the reputation of “No one ever gets fired for buying IBM,” and it held up for decades. Until slowly, but surely, they began to make changes; prices gradually increased, product quality dropped, teams became more complex, and they became a more expensive, lower quality, harder to work with organization. Had they still been the only game in town, their numbers would have held up, but they weren’t. Other world-class organizations entered into the market, and the tech world became the Wild West for startups, creating more competitive pressure for IBM…. However, IBM ignored the changing marketing dynamics and became the company that was too expensive and complicated to deal with, and they started to lose business in droves. Recent estimates put IBM down 21 straight quarters in a row, and have even gone as far as to recall all remote employees to physical local hubs to realign themselves. IBM is just one example of how the economic environment is putting a squeeze on just about every industry for retaining and winning new business. This gets us back to our point earlier: first and last impressions matter. The reason being when a customer has a bad experience with your organization in today’s market, your competition is all too eager to swoop in and take that business for their own. So, it becomes extremely important to never give a prospect or customer a reason to look for another solution, and always give them the best customer experience you possibly can.

Whether you are a B2C or a B2B business, if you want to stay in business for the foreseeable future, you need to ensure you are delivering a world class customer experience, and at the surface, it all starts with the impression your business leaves with them. Impressions mean everything, and the latest research shows that customers make a decision to purchase within seconds of walking into a business… This essentially says, regardless of how great your product or service is, they’ve already made up their mind before you even had a chance! This isn’t just a business thing, as it falls within human nature. In this article, we’ll cover some basic strategies for creating a first and lasting impression that will make customers want to buy and get them to keep coming back.

Digital and online collateral ­– Anything from your website, social media profiles, and other digital collateral needs to have a smooth look and feel, along with a design that fits in with the times, as 81 percent of all purchase decisions start with an online search…. Meaning, if your website looks like it was designed in 1999 in someone’s basement, you can essentially guarantee that potential customers are just skipping over your business and moving on to the next. Going back to an earlier statement: regardless of how good your product or service is, you never even had a chance.

Store fronts and dining rooms – Small businesses have a bit of a disadvantage here as the big businesses have millions of dollars to invest into research around what drives customer interest and design, but that’s not an excuse. When you really boil down all that expensive research and design know how, it comes down to having a clean front of house, and the same goes for dining rooms… Your store front is literally the face of the business, and you must make sure you do whatever you can to make it clean and welcoming. Anything beyond clean and welcoming is just causing paying customers to walk right past your business.

First point of contact – Beyond the digital look of your business or the look of the store front, what is the first possible human interaction with your business? Whether it is a hostess, receptionist, or a business development rep, ensure that they are always properly trained on edict and the business. Chick-Fli-A built a billion-dollar business, growing leaps and bounds over their competition, and one the key factors they contribute it to is their front of house and their ability to say please and thank you! Really, a billion-dollar business is contributing its success to simple human interaction. This is confirmed by looking at reviews on sites such as Yelp and Facebook, where you’ll find that most good or bad reviews mention their first interaction with the team.

Timeliness matters ­– In such a competitive environment, I still cannot comprehend why small businesses take forever to respond to voicemails, emails, or even at all. Quite honestly, this is a huge personal pet peeve, but also for the general consumer market as a whole… Taking it into context, if a business takes a long time to respond to an inquiry of a prospect, how do they treat their customers? There is an old-time adage that says if the shoes hurt in the store, they are still going to hurt when you take them home.

Furthermore, when most consumers are looking to make a purchase, they typically have a list of vendors they have cobbled together. This usually means that when they are reaching out to you, they are calling down a list. The vendor that actually picks up the phone and makes the first contact, has an exponentially higher chance of winning that business. Sometimes, increasing your odds of winning business simply comes down to picking up the phone or answering that inquiry email as fast as humanly possible.

Service excellence ­­– Just because someone decided to do business with your company or walk into your restaurant, it doesn’t mean you’ve won their business for the long term. The success of any business is reliant on not just winning the business once, but the amount of times you can keep them coming back. So, when you win someone’s business, service the heck out of them, and do everything you can to make them a happy customer.

Also, let’s not forget that people love to talk about their experiences. Serve up a bad experience, and you can all but guarantee they will tell their friends and co-workers

Priority #1 – This goes in line with service delivery, but it is important enough to call out on its own. We are all busy these days, but no one wants to hear about how busy you are or your problems! It is a turn-off, and depending on your business, prospects may begin to worry how much of a priority they will be when it comes to servicing them.  Instead, treat each and every customer as if they were your one and only client. It does take a bit of a fine art, but if done properly, it will ensure that customers come back time and time again!

Second chances – Ok, so first impressions matter, but not everyone can bat 1,000; mistakes can, and will, happen. Yes, there are going to be times when a mistake is so bad that you cannot recover, and the business is lost for good. However, that is not true for all situations. How you react when mistakes happen can, and will, have an impact on your business. Some might actually give you a second chance. When a mistake happens, ensure you do what you can to rectify the issue and go above and beyond to ensure they leave happy.

Review Feedback – This is a big one as your business reviews can easily make or break your business, and the same can be said for how you respond. These reviews are online and do truly give a lasting impression about your business. Positive reviews should be acknowledged, however negative reviews need to be treated with the highest amount of professionalism as possible… As an example, and from a personal experience, a few weeks back, I took my family to a restaurant that had opened up a few weeks prior but was owned by a local couple that has a series of other restaurants in the area (so not new to the game). We ended up having a very bad experience that we chalked up to “they’re still working the kinks out of the system”. With that said, I pulled up the internet and noticed that there’s a slew of reviews making very similar comments to the experience we had. Furthermore, I noticed the owners commenting on the feedback apologizing, but also combating reviews with the typical “that’s not how we typically do things”. Again, we had noticed that multiple people were having the exact same issue, so what does that have to say for the business? Additionally, in almost all the comments they made, they asked for contact information for a “gift card” to be issued in hopes of winning business back. Great, right? Well, again, we learned that these comments were really made in vain and they in fact were not reaching back out to these unhappy customers… In this situation, it would have been better for them to not respond at all, as they are doing more harm to their business than good. We see this happen all too often as small businesses are typically owner-operated and they take things personally, but how you react in these situations has an impact on your business. Again, 81% of people make decisions by starting with online searches (in 2014).

Always be thankful – This should go without saying, but there is—believe it or not—a large amount of arrogance in businesses today. Some businesses walk around as if “you,” the customer, should feel privileged to do business with them… That’s right, the “customer” should feel privileged to do business with a company because they are the best at what they do. Sound familiar? Almost everyone has dealt with a business like this. Sure, business is good for them right now, and they might even have the luxury of turning away business today, but that does not hold true for the long term. Almost every business with this type of strategy eventually starts to struggle or fail over time. Why? Because eventually all these jaded prospects and customers will find another organization for their needs that treats them properly. Eventually, they are left with a struggling business, trying to find out why they are not closing business like the used too.

Again, when it comes to first impressions, they mean everything in today’s business. Whether you’re a multi-million dollar software firm, mom-and-pop general store, or a restaurant opening its doors for the first time, always put your best foot forward… Competition is fierce in today’s market, and your competition is all too eager to scoop up your missed opportunities. So, do whatever you can to ensure customers have a happy, welcoming, and warm experience with your business… We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: when it comes to having a truly successful business, it is the little things that matter!

 

The Importance of Interdepartmental Communication in Small Businesses

interdepartmental communication for small businessesIn today’s environment, businesses move faster than ever. This makes aspects such as simple interdepartmental communication within any organization extremely important—but increasingly overlooked. Things that get missed can be simple items such as an interdepartmental understanding of how new customers are interacting with your various teams and solutions. But why does this matter, you ask? Let’s say Sales brings on a new “unique” client. This client has been following your organization for quite some time and realized they can use your solution to solve a “very unique” problem they have. Fast forward a few months, and this client with a “unique” use-case of your solution is producing results that are off the charts, along with seeing exponential gains in revenue. This is great, right? Well, not so much… Here’s the problem: when Sales brought on this new client, no one communicated to the greater organization how they found out about your solutions. This means Marketing has no idea which activities are bringing new successful clients to the table. Furthermore, what if this client’s “unique” use of your solution isn’t so unique? What if their problem is a wide-spread problem for their industry as a whole, and your solution now has a proven record for solving that problem? Well again, because no one communicated or tracked information about your new client, no one would know to keep tabs on their performance, and furthermore, no one would know that that your solution is a silver bullet for an entire industry. This would be a huge missed opportunity for any business, and unfortunately, it happens all too often. Businesses move at the speed of light these days, and as a result, things like customer tracking and internal communication are directly affected. In this article, we’ll cover some tips and tricks for improving customer tracking and internal communication, along with how to take advantage of that information to help almost every department within your business today.

Again, the example shared above is not uncommon, as once a product is officially sent to market and Sales starts selling, there is little to no tracking or communication shared between departments. Typically, if a business conducts any tracking, it is extremely siloed to individual departments. In some cases, Marketing might track how many campaigns are running and the number of leads generated, Sales might track opportunities and closed deals, and Support might track the number of support calls taken. This information is extremely valuable for each department, but when siloed, it hinders an organization from having a true end-to-end visibility of a business. The result is missing critical information that can reveal vital information to the real performance of marketing campaigns, success of sales tactics, deeper understanding of what truly makes a successful customer, or an awareness of new business possibilities. This can all hinder the growth and performance of any business… Below, we’ve shared a few tactics for closing the interdepartmental communication gap and taking advantage of insight gained to help any business grow.

Prospect to customer lifecycle tracking – Again, we see elements such as Marketing tracking campaign efficiency or Sales tracking opportunities to closed deals, and other departmental metrics. All of these elements are a start, but typically limited to their respective departments, however, equally important to find ways to integrate these tracking methods for a full custom lifecycle view. Why is this important? Because no customer is equal. Meaning, there are some customers that will become exceptional role models, utilizing your solution to its greatest potential. As a result, they have a higher likelihood to upgrade, renew, and recommend new customers. On the other hand, you have customers that have the greatest intensions for purchasing your solution, but after buying, have little to no actual use, and as result, are less likely to upgrade, renew, or recommend new customers…. These situations and everything in between play out within every business. However, without proper customer lifecycle tracking, it makes it almost impossible to find out what truly makes exceptional customers and all of the elements that got them to the point they are at today.

Reporting – Along with actual tracking, it is important to build out reports that can begin to quantify specific metrics across the board. Creating a reporting structure with a complete lifecycle view can reveal information that one could not glean from a siloed reporting structure. Say for example, your marketing team is reviewing their campaign metrics and find one campaign that is driving 4x the leads of any other campaign, and those leads convert to sales at a rate of 50%, which is at least double the performance of any other marketing campaign. This is all great, right? Now, let’s say those customers typically spend 25% less than any other customer and churn within 60 days at a rate 75% faster than any other customer. Then, the reality is that campaign may be bringing in customers at a faster clip than any other marketing campaign, but they spend less and leave exponentially faster than any other campaign, and really is a loss leader. At the surface, the campaign is a winner, but pealing back the layers shares a completely different tale.

 

Another element of reporting that we find equally important is how these reports are distributed… Some companies may be tempted to only share with executive leadership or departmental heads. We recommend against this and suggest sharing with the greater team. Not only does it give the greater team an idea of the performance of the organization, but if you hired right, you have smart people on your team. Distributing the report to the greater team gets more eyeballs reviewing the data and the ability to provide more educated insight.

Assumptions and testing – As reporting data comes in, you’ll begin to see trends in the data revealing interesting information. Going back to one of the examples above, what really makes a good customer successful? Well, analyzing the data should reveal some interesting things… Customers might be successful because of the way they were onboarded to your solution, or maybe they are utilizing a tool within your solution that is helping them become successful. Whatever the data shows, it is important to start to make assumptions on what the data is telling you. Example: After reviewing the data, there is an assumption that customers that go through a specific onboarding training process and use a specific element of your solution tend to be 20% more productive… That’s one assumption that can be gleaned from the data, making the next step testing that assumption by developing a plan to send more customers through that specific onboarding process and find ways to get them to leverage that part of the tool… At the end of the day, sometimes bad customers are not really bad customers, they just need proper guidance.

Interdepartmental meetings – Not sure about you, but we are not the biggest fans of sitting through weekly pipeline or operational review meetings. Let’s face it, no one really is. However, people do love to talk about their experiences and successes… This is why we recommend setting up recurring interdepartmental meetings to review the happenings in each department: good, bad, or indifferent. The goal of these meetings is to truly help break down the siloed departmental walls that live in most companies and get information shared. Believe it or not, Marketing does want to know about the success that Sales is having and why. Also, Sales is really interested in finding out how customers have been performing and learning about new product development. Again, the goal of these meetings is to share important information around how each department is functioning so that they know how to adjust their own plans accordingly.

Announcement emails – Sure, no one wants more email to clutter up their inboxes. However, when Sales is announcing a new customer win, people want to know. Not only do people want to know about a win, they want to know the who, what, when, where, and how of the new customer win. This gives different departments a deeper understanding of their function within an organization and the successes they are contributing to. This is also the opportunity to flag things such as unique use-cases or tactics that brought in these new customers… Again, going back to the example at the start of the article, identifying this information via announcement emails gives other departments a heads up that they need to pay special attention to this customer. Then, via tracking and reporting, you can identify how this customer is performing… If interesting data begins to emerge, this can be the opportunity to share it in the interdepartmental meetings for others to be aware.

Battle cards – Finally, as the various teams start connecting the dots, there will be some clear indications to tactics and use-case examples for successful clients. This is great, but let’s not forget that people are bombarded by information on a daily basis and no matter how important the information, it can be forgotten. This is where we recommend creating battle cards…. A battle card is essentially an overview of successful tactics or use-cases that can be referred to on the fly by reps within the various departments. These battle cards are a key element to help various departments not forget what makes customers successful and find ways of replicating that success in their daily activities.

We all move at the speed of light these days, and by simply not finding ways to share information between the various departments, it is leaving significant amounts of opportunity for organization growth on the table! Developing a strategy of any type around these elements is going to take time as you are working towards a fundamental change of how we do business today.

 

 

 

 

Social Media and Online Forums, Hidden Gems of Customer Insight

Social media and online forumsThere are little  that essentially go unnoticed… Consumers spend significantly more time online today than they did 10 years ago, and that amount of time is projected to keep rising in the foreseeable future. When online, consumers are spending their time across multiple activities ranging from social media to shopping, and conversing about experiences and issues regarding business and brand interaction. One way they share their experiences is via online reviews, which 3SixtySMB covered in a previous article (Landmark Case with TripAdvisor, Makes Businesses Think Twice About Reviews), but there are more ways in the form of Social Media and other online groups and forums. In this article, we’ll cover the various online communities where consumers share their insights and how businesses can create a way to adopt them as a strategy.

Consumers fill these groups and forums with critical and valuable product & organization insight in almost cult-like fashions… They use these groups to share best practices, tips, tricks, issues, or look for recommendations. However, what we find amazing is that they generally go overlooked by businesses. We’ve even seen some of the larger organizations (typically larger F500) create their own online customer forums, but then essentially ignore them as well. Generally, we find a few different reasons these groups go ignored, but there are mostly two core reasons: lack of understanding or a lack of budget…. Lack of understanding usually stems from management not recognizing the value of these groups, and the lack of budget is focused around the thinking that actively monitoring these groups as more of a cost vs profit center activity. We’ll get into the reasons behind why we find these groups so valuable and how to develop a strategy later in this article, but first, I wanted to focus on the various groups:

Facebook Groups – Facebook has put in a considerable amount of effort into enhancing these groups, and as a result, Facebook groups are becoming more prevalent and influential as of late. Typically, you’ll find these groups founded, ran, and moderated by users themselves… We also find that there could be multiple different user groups focused on similar businesses or industries which can make them difficult to find. Also, due to the nature of these groups, their structures can vary from highly moderated to almost no moderation at all. You’ll find that a majority of groups tend to be consumer-focused and can range from local businesses to nationally known brands.

LinkedIn Groups – LinkedIn groups have been around for a while in comparison to Facebook Groups. Typically, they are founded, ran, and moderated by the actual businesses themselves… However, there are several end-user generated LinkedIn Groups as well. Similar to Facebook groups, we find that their structures can vary from highly moderated to almost no moderation. We also find that due to the age of these groups, some can be significantly more active than others. These types of groups tend to be business-to-business focused, but you can and will find some consumer brands sprinkled in there as well.

Community forums – An example of this would be something similar to Nextdoor.com where the site is corporately ran, but it is independent of the content on the site with a goal to find revenue via advertising opportunities. All content is typically generated from users themselves and can be extremely active… Businesses that are local and focus on the consumer should spend a great deal of time getting to know these sites. Discussions in these sites typically revolve around individuals asking for recommendations or sharing their experiences with local businesses. Local businesses are seriously missing out if not participating in these groups.

Online forums – When thinking about online forums, naturally most think about online forums or user groups as these are some of the oldest types of forums out there. These types of organizations are usually formed by users themselves, but do have more structure than a Facebook or LinkedIn group. We’ll find that there might even be some type of advisory board with executive officers and can be highly moderated. Content within these groups is typically user generated, and in some cases, these forums have almost more of a cult-like following than any other group. They are typically funded via membership dues or advertising budget, but generally zero content would be vendor generated. These forums can focus on anything from specific products, brands, or industries.

Vendor Sponsored Forums/User Groups – These types of forums are almost 100% founded, ran, and moderated from the vendors themselves and it is mostly the larger companies that run these types of forums. There is a mixed bag of vendor interaction within these groups, as some vendors participate heavily in these groups and even go as far as having user group events. However, we also find some vendors that are almost nonexistent as well. The same can be said about the content… often most is generated via users, but you can find vendor content as well. Content can range from use cases, tips and tricks, and recommendations. However, due to the nature being focused on vendors, we do see a lot more issue related content. Again, because some vendors are better than others, some vendors groups can be extremely valuable where others not so much.

Trade or Industry Organizations – In each industry, you’ll find very specific groups dedicated to help educate their respective industries. Commonly, these groups are founded and ran by the organizations themselves but will allow vendors to participate as well… We find that these groups are geared towards industry knowledge, and as a result, you’ll have a mixed bag of users and vendors participating in them.

Again, we find these types of online/social groups and forums to be extremely valuable for any business, as topics discussed can be instrumental to understand customer usage, issues, or new strategic directions for a business, along with possible new prospects. These groups can truly help organizations strengthen their connections with customers, but also strengthen their products while bringing in new customers. This is why the thinking of these groups as a cost center is completely wrong; if done right, they can become a very valuable profit center for any business. Now that we’ve discussed the types of forums and why we find them so valuable, here are a few tips for developing a strategy of your own:

Dedicate resources – At a minimum, dedicate at least one resource to following and reviewing the various groups and forums… The bigger your company, the more resources should be dedicated. We believe most businesses think of this area as a cost vs a profit center, which is why they do not feel the need to invest into this area. Again, we find this to be a huge mistake as the insights gained from forums can be invaluable from a strategic perspective. Since prospects use groups as a sounding board for references, these forums can generate sales along with reducing support cost.

Generate reports – Topics covered in the various forums and groups are extremely valuable for any organization. It should be made a priority to set up regular reporting around various topics brought up in these groups. These reports should be directed towards executive management, product and customer service managers, along with sales leadership, as each group can benefit from these items… This is also where most companies fail because, frequently, no action items are ever taken based on knowledge gained. It should also be made a priority to select a handful of issues covered in these groups and devise a strategy for resolution weekly or monthly.

Monitor constantly – There is a reason we recommend dedicated sourcesin order to get the most out of these groups, they do require active attention. People routinely gravitate to these types of forums and groups because they know they can get fast answers. Therefore, if you want to show that you are adding value to customers and prospects that participate in these groups, ensure a fast and accurate response.

Keep experts on call – We recommend dedicated staff to actively monitor and participate in these groups, but they do not need to be experts. Experts can be very expensive for this type of activity and can be better valued elsewhere in the organization. With that said, experts should be on call to answer any questions that require knowledge that is beyond the knowledge of the team member maintaining these groups.

Keep on-call executives – The same can be said for executive support. There should always be an executive sponsor on call to address issues as they arise in these groups. Again, coming to a quick and accurate resolution can truly show your customers and prospects that you value them.

Communicate properly – There are a lot of items that fall under proper communication, from timely and accurate responses, to knowing when to pull in experts or executives into discussions. However, this also means this is not an opportunity for the hard sell or to continuously blast your marketing message to the various groups… The reason why these various groups and forums are so highly leveraged is that they are great sources for knowledge without tainted marketing messages from vendors themselves. When users are looking for recommendations, it is okay to recommend specific products or share marketing collateral, but that should be the limit of sales and marketing activity.

Take action – This goes along the lines of proper communication, however, you must ensure that your team does everything humanly possible to address all issues that come up in these various groups. Not only does this directly help a customer, unattended messages stay in these forums and are indexable via Google. So as prospective customers and active customers search their issues on Google, there is a chance they will find these forum posts… Unanswered posts show there could be a problem with your product and/or service. However, if your team properly addresses the issue, it could save needless support calls and reduce support cost.

Prioritize customer requests – This goes in line with taking action. We find that the reason a majority of customer requests go unanswered is because the vendor themselves has other priorities from a product feature and functionality perspective. This means that vendors are too involved in developing solutions to their own specifications, and what the customers actually want gets pushed aside! It’s a theme that comes up a lot in our writings–most businesses brush aside the wants and needs of their customers, as they have a belief they know what is best for their customers. Customer requests and issues, should always have a top priority in your business model.

If executed properly, social media and online forums can become essential mediums for collecting valuable customer and product intelligence, adding to the education when developing changes in products and/or corporate strategies. However, these groups can also become great sources of income, attracting net new customers or helping customers upgrade services as the need arises, all while reducing customer service support cost. Developing a strategy for the various online communities that consumers engage in is a critical area that each and every business should be focusing on as part of their business plans.

 

What is Omni-Channel Marketing And Tips For Developing An Omni-Channel Strategy

Omni-channel-MarketingOmni-Channel Marketing is a new term that has been thrown around increasingly more over the past few years, and it is a strategy that most organizations regardless of industry should develop, as it makes a heck of lot of sense. However, we find that there are still many organizations that are not exactly sure what Omni-Channel Marketing is or how to properly deploy an Omni-Channel strategy. 3SixtySMB believes that not deploying an Omni-Channel strategy is a huge mistake, and it is inadvertently hurting thousands of businesses today and leading to the fall of the many consumer-based retail giants of today. In this article, we’ll cover exactly what Omni-Channel Marketing is and some tips for developing and deploying a strategy of your own.

Setting the stage a bit, back before the internet or smartphones, things were literally simpler times for marketers. TV, radio, print, and in-store advertising were typically the only marketing mediums that needed constant attention from marketers, and the pace and frequency of marketing campaigns were drastically slower. Also, something like a remote worker was never part of the picture, which meant that all the various teams were under the same roof and most likely reported to the same department head. Finally, product designs did not change as much, and in some cases, you’d be lucky to see one design change in a year (sometimes in years). All of these factors allowed for teams that worked closer together and for campaigns that were much more cohesive from a consumer standpoint than what was being produced in today’s market.

This was the case for decades, until the late 90’s when something interesting happened and changed the marketing landscape forever… Technology began to be developed enough were things like the personal computer and the internet became convenient enough to make their way into a majority of homes. Almost overnight, a significant percentage of the population had access to the internet, and in short order, corporations began to follow with development of their own websites. At first, these websites were digital billboards for their businesses and overtime transitioned to the eCommerce hubs they are today. When businesses began to develop these new websites, they needed to bring in new people that would be familiar with the development and technology of websites, bringing the first drastic change to how teams functioned inside of businesses. Essentially, this is where IT began to play a marketing role, but without direct ties to the marketing department. As the developers themselves were technology people, they typically reported to the head of IT, and the same can be said for the backend supporting technology. At first, because there were typically only a few team members supporting a website, it was easy for teams to develop a strategy with the marketing teams, keeping some of the cohesiveness that was once in place, but it wasn’t without its issues… One challenge that typically came up was that marketing would develop new campaigns, but would have to wait for IT to update the website to match the campaigns. With some organizations, this took an extremely long time, leading to marketing campaigns being deployed without a website reflecting these campaigns. This led to a fragmented view from a consumer standpoint, resulting in frustration and lost revenue.

Overtime, departments began to address the issue of this fragmented view, but on June 29, 2007, something happened that would change the way consumers interacted with businesses forever: the launch of the iPhone. Almost overnight, with the launch of the first smartphone, consumers now had ready access to the internet and business websites anywhere and in the palm of their hands. At first, websites were not developed to be viewed on such small screens and were extremely difficult to navigate. Making things worse, most smartphone manufacturers had their own mobile browsers and application frameworks, giving their end-users slightly different views than the others. As a result, businesses needed to quickly pivot to create a new strategy for addressing these consumer devices, various browsers and application frameworks. This in itself created more fragmentation within businesses because it wasn’t one big team that addressed smartphone platforms, but several (typically, one per platform)–all of which reported to IT and not marketing. As a result, end-users would receive different user experiences depending on the platform, and some completely independent from the primary website… This became a nightmare for marketers; they not only had to coordinate with the primary website teams, but now with the various mobile platform teams, all of which did not report to marketing, which was a huge challenge for coordination of campaigns.. Then in 2009, something else happened that would put a whole new strain on marketing: the economic downturn of 2009. Suddenly, budgets and teams were cut almost overnight with an increase of demand for faster and more nimble marketing campaigns on the rise. This is frankly where team cohesiveness and technology of the times were put to the test, and where most failed… Organizations, big and small, began to have major customer experience issues leading to huge lost revenue gaps, and organizations began to crumble. Essentially, businesses were not up to the challenge due to how highly fragmented these organizations had become. As a result, they had difficulty being nimble enough to address the demands of the economy of the time. Many of the major consumer business downfalls happening today are almost directly due to their inability to change with the times, and instead, opting to focus on cost cutting vs innovation (The Fall of Big Box Retail in Calculator-Driven Economy). However, there were some that began to innovate and change with the times…

This is where Omni-Channel Marketing comes into play. Essentially at its basic level, Omni-channel Marketing is giving a consumer the same experience, whether they are sitting on a desktop, smartphone, in-store, or anywhere for that matter. This means that if they see a commercial on TV, the deal reflected in that commercial will be the same across all formats and in-store. Again, the concept of the Omni-Channel Marketing is to give customers a single user experience regardless of their interaction with your brand. This makes interacting with a brand as seamless and user-friendly as possible, removing all barriers and taking advantage of the convenience of today’s technology. Thus, if someone watching a commercial from the convenience of their couch sees something of interest, they can simply pick up their smartphones and place an order within minutes, having it shipped directly to their house within days or having the ability to pick up that item in store the same day. As a contrast, you still have the likes of Sears that haven’t fully adopted any of today’s technology, and the primary way of customer interaction is their in-store experience. Anyone that has been to a Sears over the past few years can attest that Sears hasn’t done the best with keeping up in-store appearances and closing hundreds of locations yearly as a result.

Again, all of this was to set the stage for how most organizations used to be compared to where they are today. When looking into creating an Omni-Channel strategy, the first thing to understand is that it is much easier for a small business to do so than it is for a larger organization such as Sears. The larger and older the organization, the more investments they have made in legacy technology, policies, and teams, along with more internal politics to deal with. These reasons alone make shifting to an Omni-Channel strategy like turning a cruise ship taking on water in a hurricane; it is no surprise that they haven’t, and that they continue to fail as a result. With all of that said, it is important to emphasize that the sooner one starts to develop their Omni-Channel strategy, the better.

As an organization begins to develop an Omni-Channel strategy, here are a few tips to consider:

Centralize your teams – Mentioned earlier, the traditional way has been fragmented teams reporting to both IT and Marketing executive leadership. As an example, websites, mobile applications, and inventory control may be managed by the CIO while Marketing campaigns and advertisements may be managed by the CMO. Instead, we recommend that any function that is related to the Omni-Channel strategy should be managed in one area, and all teams to be reporting up one executive leader.

Take an inventory – In order to change anything, it is extremely important to understand everything that would fall under the Omni-Channel Strategy. It is crucial to understand and map out everything from the website and in-store experiences to everything in between, along with supporting systems… Getting a current state of affairs is important to understand where things stand to properly put a plan in place.

Take the customer journey – Task different teams and executive leaders to take the customer journey… Have them use the website, mobile applications, and make trips to different locations to take note of inconsistencies and pain points.

Pay attention to your competition – It is important to understand what the competition is doing… There is no need to recreate the wheel when developing a strategy, and similar to the customer journey, take note of both positive and negative experiences.

Ask for customer input – Find ways of speaking to customers to understand their experiences. Try to understand areas they felt comfortable with and areas where they experienced pain or difficulty, and truly listen to your customer! Too many organizations ask for customer input, but then ignore it because there is a belief that the customer does not know what is best for the organization! Trust us when we say this: your customer is everything… If they say something is a problem, it is a problem!

Start with what will impact the end-customer the most – Too many organizations start their strategies by overhauling backend technologies and systems… The problem with this strategy is that it’s typically extremely expensive, takes the longest to develop, and when finally completed, has no real effect on the end-customer at all. Many of the greats of our generation have gone out of business with this strategy… Instead, find areas that will have the most impact to the end-customer and start from there, working on the bigger backend changes in the background.

Adopt design standardization – As your organization develops their approach, a design standardization should be the highest priority. On the surface, all customer-facing mediums (desktop and mobile websites, mobile applications, and social media profiles) should all have the exact same look and feel. Behind the scenes, supporting technology and programming languages need to be standardized as well…

Standardize technology – This goes in line with design standardization, but aligned more to the backend supporting technology. Again, a key challenge to the larger organizations is no technology standardization. We’ve seen organizations that will have 100s of applications from 100s of vendors, databases from Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, and others–all with multiple program languages. Although there are different types of middleware technologies allowing for integration of these different solutions, we recommend against this completely… Instead, standardize on application, database technologies, and programming languages. Part of the reason for such fragmented systems is that, traditionally, each of the different teams had their own purchasing power to acquire whatever technology or software they felt fit for the team’s needs. Having centralized teams should help eliminate this issue, however, we also recommend a change in purchasing power… No team should be allowed to purchase rogue technology or software. Instead, teams should be finding ways to bring on solutions that fit the greater good of the organization. Yes, this may mean that some sacrifices will be made, but the good of a smart purchase will outweigh the negative of sacrifices made.

Hold meetings – Part of bringing these teams together means that meetings and decisions should not be made in vacuums. We recommend weekly, monthly, and quarterly meetings meant to bring the individual teams together reviewing changes and progress made against primary goals… This will ensure that all departments know what everyone is working on or towards.

Test, test, and test again – Developing an Omni-Channel strategy is no small undertaking, and there will be significant changes made to people, process, technology, and other enablers across the organization as a whole. Regardless of how much planning and testing is completed before items are rolled out, things will break… Ensure that your team is always testing, retesting, and then testing things over and over. The last thing you want is for your customers to find something broken in the system. Sometimes it only takes one bad customer experience to lose a customer!

Strive for constant improvement – Once a go-forward plan is in place and the various teams begin to make progress, it doesn’t stop there…. There should always be a strategy in place to find out ways of improving the overall customer experience across people, process, technology, or other enablers. We always highly encourage testing… again, this should not be done in a vacuum, the whole team should be aware of innovation items being tested and worked on.

Fail fast – Designing an Omni-Channel strategy is a process and a huge undertaking for any organization… Unfortunately, no matter how much planning and testing is in place, there are going to be things that just do not work! Too many may try to force the issue and continuously try to force a round peg in a square hole… It’s better to recognize where something just isn’t meant to be and declare failure! No one likes to fail, but no one wants to spend untold amounts of money and time on something that will never succeed in the first place.

Analyze everything – Metrics should be put around every aspect of the Omni-Channel Experience, from front end customer facing aspects to backend supporting technology… Every aspect of the system should have Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) attached to them and should be continuously monitored for areas of improvement or trouble. Depending on how big the organization, it might be worth the investment of putting together some type of war room monitoring system were specific teams are responsible for monitoring these KPI’s in real-time.

Again, creating an Omni-Channel Experience within a business is no small task… However, the more effort put into ensuring your customers have a seamless experience from anything such as your website or mobile application, to their in-store experience, the more likely you are to have happier (and returning) customers. Industry giants of all shapes and sizes have been struggling as of late due to their lack of customer experience and competition pressure. Remember, it only takes one bad customer experience to lose a customer to a competitor, and let’s not forget word of mouth as well. In today’s market, customer experience is everything, and if you’re not putting your best foot forward across all of your different customer experience touchpoints, you are risking business.

 

Landmark Case with TripAdvisor, Makes Businesses Think Twice About Reviews

It was announced on Wednesday, September 13th of 2018 that an Italian man would be jailed for nine months for running a business tied to fake TripAdvisor reviews.

Reviews, especially for consumer-based businesses, mean everything… and unfortunately there are too many businesses that are more than willing to circumvent systems to provide fake reviews for products and services. We always highly recommended against using these services, as at the end of the day, it will negatively affect your business. Not only do real customers eventually catch on, but organizations such as TripAdvisor, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Yelp are all working on solutions to combat such practices. This means that those reviews will eventually fall off, and there could be other ramifications such as fines or banning from platforms completely.

Reviews are increasingly becoming a primary tool for consumers to make daily decisions on what to buy and eat, naturally leading to increased business for businesses with a plethora of positive reviews. Instead of risking long-term gains for short-term with providers offing fake reviews, 3SixtySMB recommends developing a strategy to interact with your customers and work towards getting real, credible customer reviews for the various platforms out there. Strategies can be anything from simply asking customers to post reviews, or offering incentives such as discounts for their honest take on your business.

Real reviews are also an insight into the soul of your business. We find that many disregard reviews with the belief that the customer doesn’t know what they are talking about, or that they as a “business owner” know what is best for the business. However, real reviews are the consumer’s perception of your business (good or bad), and insights like reviews can truly help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of the business in the eyes of your customers. Making adjustments to your business model as you learn about them through your reviews will help increase your overall customer experience and lead to increased revenue over time. We wrote a related article about this not too long ago (There’s A Problem, Stop What You Are Doing).

Finally, ensuring that you are monitoring these reviews in real time also gives a clear line of communication directly to your consumers. As an example, if a consumer had an issue with your business and you did not respond, you could lose a customer for life. Furthermore, they will tell their friends, and their review is now visible for the world to see. This means that one bad review left unaddressed can lead to multiple lost customers down the road. If you have a few bad reviews, you are now taking a significant hit to your business. Addressing issues in a professional and courteous manner can not only change the perception of a customer with a bad experience, but it also shows the world that you take your customer experiences seriously. Furthermore, positive reviews are not to be ignored. Take the time to thank someone that posted a positive review for their business, possibly even offer them a discount on their next trip in. Actions like this create loyal customers, and again, show the workers what type of business you run.

Reviews are truly an inside view to the soul of your business, both for your customers and your organization. Treat customers horribly, and everyone will know! Treat customers well, and everyone will know! Which do you think is better for your business? And when it comes to “paid reviews”, steer clear of them; they could be a path to short-term gains, however they will catch up to you in the long run… Finally, there are many platforms out there (TripAdvisor, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Yelp), so do not make the mistake of only focusing on one. Where your customers are, you should be there as well!

 

Sales Is A Numbers Game, How To Increase Sales Without Increasing Pipeline

Sales Is A Numbers Game, How To Increase Sales Without Increasing PipelineSales is a numbers game, right? In sales, this is something you are constantly told, typically followed by the need to get more opportunities into the pipeline. This roughly translates to the more opportunities that are in the pipeline, the more business that is likely to close. We do not disagree–sales is a numbers game, but there is another way that game can be played, and that is increasing the close ratio. Here’s the thing, we disagree that the numbers game should always be pushing for bigger pipelines, as it eventually leads to employee burnout and puts unnecessary stresses on your account base. Working to increase the overall close ratio actually creates a more efficient sales team and leads to happier sales reps in the long term. It also has an interesting side effect. It gives organizations the ability to grow their teams in order to grow the pipeline, and it lowers the stresses due to employee turnover as a result of burning out. In this article we’ll share some simple tips that can easily increase your sales close ratio.

To create a more effective team, the first action many companies take is to go directly to organized sales training processes such as Sandler, Miller Heiman, Dale Carnegie, and others. Not a bad route to go, however they all have their special focuses along with their own strengths and weaknesses, and in some cases create an almost robotic workforce (which no one wants, Following The “Sales Taught” Process Isn’t Always A Good Thing). We’ve actually learned, over time, that a combination of the different sales methods works best and gives a team the ability to be more agile and think on their own. Also, these types of structured training tend to be one-time events, and we always encourage continuous learning and development, regardless of how senior the rep (or manager).

Sales is a game of numbers, and at times it truly is the small details that matter, as there are several opposing forces working against each and every deal. Anything from competition, budget, busy schedules, and competing priorities can sideline a deal at any moment, and they do (all the time). When it comes to increasing a close ratio, it is important to focus on the details, as it is the details that truly matter and will get those few extra deals to close. With all of the said, here are a few tips for a more effective sales process:

92% of sales is done via the phone, so it is important to have proper phone etiquette as there is nothing that can turn off a prospective customer more than a call that was painful to have.

  • Avoid speakerphone – Unless you are hosting a call with multiple people on the line, do not use the speakerphone. We find a few issues with use of speakerphones. Typically, speakerphones create an echo or can make voices too loud (or too quite), ultimately leading to difficult-to-hear discussions. Also, speaker phones are usually structured where you can either talk or hear, and not both at the same time. This leads to constantly talking over your prospect or missing important cues that they want to ask a question.
  • Do not talk over people – Unless absolutely necessary, do not talk over anyone on a phone call. It is not only considered rude, but you can miss critical information that your prospect might be trying to share. If done enough times, it will ultimately turn off your prospect.
  • Always use the 70/30 rule – This means your prospect should be doing 70% of the talking, and you should be doing 30% (yes, even in demos). If you find that you are doing most of the talking, stop immediately.

Almost all sales are a result of at least one meeting (and in some cases, several). This essentially means that the way you and your team represent yourselves during those meetings will directly impact your ability to close more business:

  • Send a proper meeting invite – One of the most overlooked items of any meeting is the actual invite itself. Think about how people typically view their calendars and you’ll realize the subject line is the only thing they see. Believe it or not, there are still people that will set up meeting invites with a one-word subject line that means nothing to the prospect. Instead, we recommend a subject line that looks like this: 3SixtySMB | Client Name Review and Feedback of Proposal – Friday 9/8 @ 3pm Eastern… This clearly shows the prospect who they are speaking with, why they are speaking to them, and when. Also, if sharing with internal team members, it serves the same purpose. The invite body is just as important, as you want to clearly state the agenda for the meeting along with dial-in or WebEx information and copy any relevant documentation. This all makes it super simple for your prospects to organize themselves as they hop from meeting to meeting.
  • Do your homework – Never go into a meeting blind… Take time before a meeting to review relevant information such as website, social media pages, individual LinkedIn pages, financial reports, presses, notes, and any other applicable information.
  • Join the meeting 3-5 minutes early  – Always dial in early. Not only does it show you have respect for your client’s time, but it also allows you to address any issues with a dial-in or WebEx which always happens to pop up at the most inconvenient times.
  • Do not book back-to-back meetings – Meetings always run over, and you are just asking for trouble when booking back-to-back meetings. Always allow for at least a 15-minute buffer if possible. If a back-to-back meeting is unavoidable, use a different dial-in for the second call. That way if a call goes late, you don’t have people popping in as you are trying to end your call.
  • Use group chat   When possible, use a group chat with your internal team members. It allows for back-end strategization on the fly during discussions, keeping everyone on the same page.
  • Start with a proper agenda – Take care of roll call, introductions, meeting summary, and open questions before getting started.
    • The most important part of the meeting is how you set the stage, ensuring that everyone is on the same page on the reasoning of the meeting. Too many times people skip this part, only to find out 30 minutes into a meeting that the reasoning behind the meeting changed on the client side or they had a piece of critical information missing that changes everything.
    • Also, if it’s a smaller meeting, try building a bit of a rapport before hopping right into things. A little bonding goes a long way!
  • Actively listen – There is a difference between listening and actively listening because there is a big difference between “what people say” and “how they say it”. Sometimes the nuances are in the way something is said, and those small nuances can be the difference between a won or lost deal.
  • Be present/listen – Seriously, too many people forget the simple concept of being present and listening. Some believe they are listening, but they’re too involved in jotting down notes, or thinking of their next question and are really not present. As a result, they miss things… and nothing will annoy a prospect more than someone that isn’t paying attention to what is being said and they end up asking questions that were answered previously in the conversation.
  • Take detailed notes – Part of listening is taking notes, lots of them… Many believe they can simply remember the fine details. However, after a few hours, those details can be forgotten. These are the details that can make the difference between winning and losing a deal. And of course, don’t be afraid to share these notes with co-workers. This goes back to doing your homework; note-taking and sharing are extremely important to ensure everyone has the most relevant information and is on the same page.
  • Never make assumptions – Too many make assumptions, and those assumptions lead to lost deals. These are assumptions such as believing you know what the client wants, the right people are on the call, budget, and decision-making process… the list goes on. Never make assumptions, and always ask questions to understand unanswered details. Your prospect will respect that you are trying to understand their process, and if they are dodging questions, be wary as that is a sign something is not quite right.
  • Clear next steps – This is a big one… Never, ever end a call without clear next steps and a scheduled call! Nothing kills the momentum of an opportunity more than not having a scheduled next step. People are busy, and your sales opportunity, unfortunately, is not their top priority–almost anything can happen once a call ends. Without a scheduled next step, there is no guarantee you’ll get them on the phone again.  
  • Summarize – Do not forget to summarize what was discussed in the meeting and ask for confirmation. We all hear different things at times, and it is critical to make sure everyone is on the same page before leaving.

Proposal and Contracts:

  • Timing is everything – Don’t sit on the paperwork; get it out the door as soon as humanly possible. During the call, if they give you a deadline of Friday, you get it to them by Tuesday morning. Getting the paperwork out the door early shows that you are on top of your game, but it also combats other outside sources such as buyer’s remorse, competition, or just shifting priorities. Many deals have been lost by one day, just because someone changed their minds due to budget cuts, someone quitting, or a change that was made in corporate priorities.
  • Get their information right – Ensure the company name, logo, address, and their name are all written correctly.
  • Proofread – Typos or mistakes happen, however, ensure you do everything possible to send out paperwork that is clear, consistent, and typo free.
  • File name – Do not just use the file name “proposal” or “contract”–believe me, people do it! Instead, similar to the meeting invite, make the file name something that is self-explanatory. As an example: 3SixtySMB-ClientName-ProjectNameProposal-9-8-2018v2…. This example is very coherent, searchable, and gives a clear understanding of the version.
  • Email subject lines – Again, we have seen people send along agreements and proposals with one-word subject lines. Be clear and concise. Example: 3SixtySMB | Client Name – Proposal for review and signature. With a subject line like this, there is no mistake to what this email is for and it also makes it searchable within an inbox. (searchability is important as, in some cases, people get 100’s of emails and files in a week, so you want your information found easily).
  • Email body – Keep it simple, but do not make it a one-liner… Now is not the time to write a novel, but do spend time explaining the content of the attached paperwork in a summarized fashion, always thanking them for their time, and detailing next steps. We also highly suggest asking for a confirmation of receipt… If they confirm, there is no question that they received it, but if they do not confirm, it gives you another non-salesy follow-up item with them.

Follow-ups:

  • Timeliness – Whether you are following up on a simple request or something from a meeting, it is extremely important that items are sent in a timely manner. Again, similar to what we mentioned around paperwork, timeliness of follow-up items shows that you are on top of your business. No one wants to work with someone that takes days to get out simple items in the opportunity phase. If this is how you treat your prospects, how are you going to treat your customers?
  • Be respectful of their time – When you’re selling, you are on the client’s time, period. As much as we would all like to think that clients need “us”, at the end of the day, they don’t! There are countless other ways of solving their problems such as competition or DIY. This is a serious infraction most management make as they push their sales teams. We’ve seen, in some cases, management pushing their reps for daily or hourly updates on contract signature, and as a result, you have a rep reaching out to their prospects almost hourly. Nothing will piss off a client more! Instead, during your meetings with the prospect, work to get a clear understanding of their approval process, as they typically will share timing and other details with you. Again, if they do not, there could be something up!  
  • Do not follow a dead deal – Too many reps get stuck on that one deal that should have closed, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t. Always do your best to get a yes or a no answer. Too much time can be wasted on a deal that will never close… A great trick if you haven’t heard from a prospect in a while is a “Break up email”–8 out of 10 times, you’ll get some type of response.
  • 4 of 5 touches should be non-sales related – Pretty much no one likes to be sold to; they find sales people too pushy and typically tune them out. A way to break the cycle is to ensure you are finding other ways to add value to your prospects. We typically suggest sending something educational on the space, updates on the industry, or a congrats on a recent award. Anything to help make a stronger connection and add value.
  • Social connections – This goes along the lines of the 4 of 5 touches rule: ensure that you are connecting with your prospects on all social channels. It gives you another level to connect with your prospects and can help get more education and brand awareness to them in a non-direct way. We recently published an article on this: What is Social Selling Really, Six Tips to Social Selling.

General Tips:

  • Constantly keep in contact – Always work to keep in contact with your prospects… it goes along the lines of the 4 of 5 touch rule. As at the end of the day, if you are not top of mind and educating your prospects, someone else is! And when they are ready to pull the trigger, guess who they are going to move forward with?
  • Create a follow-up process – Many deals are lost simply because the rep didn’t follow up after sending the paperwork. Ensure you are respecting their time, but ensure you are staying on top of the prospect and process… Also, if a prospect “tables” a project for a few months, don’t forget about it. Keep in constant contact with them (4 of 5 touch rule applies), and in the timeframe they recommended, ask about the project.
  • Respect the prospect – There have been many times, after finishing up a call, where I’ve heard someone disrespecting a prospect… What is even crazier (I’ve personally seen it happen), is when they start disrespecting a prospect while forgetting to mute their line or hang up properly. Regardless of whether they can hear you or not, your emotions come through in your communications. Treat every prospect as if they are an absolute must win!
  • Fire your prospect – Yes, we did just say treat every prospect as if they are an absolute must win. However, there are occasions where a prospect can and will waste your time. You’ve tried almost every angle and you’re still getting nowhere with a prospect, but they continuously demand more of you. Eventually, it is time to cut bait and move on as some people will always waste time and never buy.
  • Lose gracefully – Just because you lost a deal, it doesn’t mean you’ve lost them forever. Amazingly enough, they can and will come back at some point down the road. We recently published on this: Take A Sales Loss Gracefully
  • Multi-task – No, we do not mean sitting on a conference call while sending emails. We mean ensuring you are working multiple opportunities at once, always following up with prospects, and always staying in contact with your prospects. Too many reps get lost in that one big deal, or sending out as many proposals as possible, and as a result, something falls to the side. You truly need to be working all fronts, all the time.
  • Always treat clients like prospects – There are some fantastic closers out there, and they can close anyone, anywhere. But, unfortunately, they absolutely suck at dealing with clients, and as result, the client leaves shortly after the sale. This cannot only result in a loss of revenue, but it can also damage an opportunity to further upsell or get new clients down the road. The average time someone stays in a role these days is just about three years. Impress your client, and when they move to a new role, you could have another new logo on your hands. Also, people talk… If they have a bad experience with you, you bet they are talking about it with others!

There is a true art/science to the sales process. You are never guaranteed to win a deal, but you can always guarantee that you put your best foot forward, ensuring “you” are not the reason they say no. Every little detail matters! As an exercise, take a look at last year’s closed opportunities and total them up–it typically turns out to be a fairly large number. Now imagine if you could have brought in 10 or 20% of those and what it could have done to your number for the year! In some cases, it is the difference of hitting vs missing a number! To increase sales, you don’t always have to increase pipeline, you only have to do a better job with the deals you have already.

 

Digital Document Management for Small Businesses

Digital Document Management for Small BusinessesYou would not believe how many small businesses still have no true way of managing their documents besides folders, file cabinets, or saving files directly to their computers. If you are reading this and that is how you currently manage your documents, we are truly sorry…. Reasons vary, but still, all too often we come across organizations that have file cabinets full of old sales agreements, invoices, and legal documents. Now, there was a time where paper documents were the most efficient means of storage, but those times are long gone. The cost of digital storage has dropped significantly over the years, and technology has caught up to a point where the ease of use makes the user experience straightforward and easy. Typically, when we run across organizations that are stuck in the world of paper document management, we find there is no real fundamental reason to why they have not shifted to digital, and it more or less just hasn’t been top of mind. In this article we’ll cover some basic strategies for document management in small businesses.

In case you need a justification for moving to a digital document management solution, here are a few points of consideration:

  • Increased file redundancy – Unfortunately when dealing with paper documentation or electronic files, they can get lost or damaged; natural disasters can strike out of nowhere and when this happens, these files are gone forever… We also find in today’s market that there are more remote employees than ever before, and with a paper document management solution in play, these remote employees have essentially zero access to critical documentation. Whether it is a need for file protection or access, almost all digital document management solutions have sophisticated disaster protection and recovery solutions in play, along with robust file access solutions as well. This essentially makes it impossible for files to get lost or destroyed while giving remote employees the access to critical documents.
  • Increased security – When it comes to file storage, your security is only as strong as the file cabinets your documents are stored in, and that’s if you even lock them. Most small businesses take employee trust a little too far and at times leave cabinets to some of the most sensitive corporate information unlocked. With fraud and lawsuits at an all-time high, quite honestly, this is just a vulnerability that should not be overlooked. Today’s solution providers have some of the most strict physical and digital security protocols known to man, ensuring that no one has access to your files unless they are allowed to have access.
  • Document editing – If you manage your company reports via Excel, raise your hand. If you have more than one person working on an Excel, Word Document or PowerPoint, raise your other hand… Almost every company has Excels, Word Documents, and PowerPoints being worked on by multiple people at any given time. Inherently, the way those products are designed, only one person can modify a document at any given time… However, most Content Management Solutions today have created solutions that allow for multiple editors to work on the same document at the same time with full visibility to who is doing what.   
  • Version controls – Similarly, when multiple people are working on the same document, whether printed or in digital format, it is almost impossible to know who made what changes and went or if the document is even the latest version. Again, most solution providers have built in version controls within their solutions to know who made changes and when.
  • Process control – A majority of documents created have a process they must follow. As an example, sales agreements must be created, edited, approved, sent for signature and so on… Typically this is a completely manual process. Typically, sales creates the agreement, forwards to their management for review and approval, management sends the contract back to sales, and sales sends the agreement to their contact. These processes and others are extremely manual, time consuming, and prone to errors… Errors such as someone opening an email, but forgetting to process the document. There are some Content Management solutions that have process controls built directly into them allowing for a more automated and error-free process.

The above are just a few reasons why a digital document management system makes sense, and again, the cost of storage and technology offerings now make a solution more cost effective and easier than ever. As an example, companies such as Microsoft, Google, Dropbox, and others give away storage for free, and most free solutions fit the needs of Small Businesses perfectly. There is also the real risk of documents getting lost or damaged, which when these events happen, means those documents are lost forever! Furthermore, with remote workers becoming more predominant in the industry, there is a real need to give them access to critical documentation at anytime and anywhere.

Setting up a digital content management solution is not rocket science, as again, most solution providers have made solutions extremely user friendly. However, when looking into a digital document solution for a small business, there are a few things an organization needs to consider:

  • Existing paper document digitization – Digitizing file cabinets stuffed with documents going back decades, in some cases, is no small task for any organization. With that in mind, the first thing to consider when going digital is which documents will be digitized and how far back those documents should go, as not all documents need to be digitized. Once a decision has been made, you can either look into a company that provides digitization (which can get costly), or look into another option like hiring a few interns or temp employees to take on the task for you.
  • Folder and file name structure – At the surface, file structure doesn’t seem that important. However, folder and file name structure are most likely two of the most important items to consider up front; a lack of consistency across both can lead to a cumbersome folder and file structure, making it impossible to find documents. This means every department should have a clearly defined folder name and subfolder structure. File names need to be straight forward as well… As an example, a sale contract should be named something such as ClientName-Product-agreement-date.pdf. A folder and file structure should be set up in a way that is completely self-explanatory, leaving nothing to question.
  • Document access controls – This simply means who should have access to what folders and files. Free solutions typically do not have access controls built in, however others do… If going this route, there should be a lot of thought around which departments or employees have access to what documents upfront.
  • Process definition – There needs to be a defined process around who has responsibility for what action, and this process should clearly be communicated with the team. As without a clear process, people will assume someone else is responsible for the process of uploading documents and nothing will get done. As an example, when sales gets in a new signed agreement, who is going to be responsible for uploading the agreement? Sales, Finance, Sales Ops?
  • Signatures – Are they still inked or digital? This is not something organizations think of when first looking into content management, however increasingly, digital signatures are becoming a more efficient way of executing agreements and authorizing paperwork. Digital signature solutions are now extremely cost effective, and if you are moving to a digital content solution, this should be a natural solution to implement at the same time.  

Again, setting up a digital content management solution is not rocket science. However, if proper thought is not put into the planning around the structure and access, things can get out of control quickly, and it is hard to fix once in place. It is also important to keep things as simple as possible and resist the urge to over-complicate the folder and file structure; over-complicating can lead to confusion and difficulty of finding documents when needed and reduce the value of efficiency of a digital content management solution. Some organizations, to save cost, may opt not to use a prepackaged solution and go with a DIY central server and mapped drive solution . This is something we highly recommend against. Although the upfront cost may be lower than a paid solution, the long term risk should outweigh the cost. For instance, there are costs to maintaining the server, the VPN for secured connections, and data backup. But, there are also other risks, such as loss of power or natural disasters that wipe out access to these servers.

Going digital should be a top priority for organizations, as the longer you wait to implement the solution, the more risk you are putting your business in….