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!

 

How To Make CRM Play A More Important Role In Your Small Business

How To Make CRM Play A More Important Role In Your Small BusinessMost CRM systems these days such as: Salesfore.com, Zoho, SugarCRM, Infusionsoft, and HubSpot are highly customizable, yet, even at their bases, they have enough capability to have significant impact on your business and efficiencies within it. In spite of this, you wouldn’t believe how many small businesses still run their firms with a piece of paper or Excel spreadsheet! What is even more unbelievable is that most small businesses have some type of CRM within their organization, but it sits to the side like some leftover desktop computer from the 90’s collecting dust. When used properly, CRMs can be one of the most useful and time saving tools within your business. In this article, we will cover how a CRM can be used to optimize your small business, and we’ll cover one of the most challenging topics when it comes to CRM in any organization—usage.

While CRM implies a tool for the sales team, when properly implemented, a CRM can be used as a single point of reference throughout the organization. However, at its base, a CRM is only as effective as how it’s being used and the data quality inputted. When it comes to CRMs, the expression that I like to refer to the most is “garbage in, garbage out,” and a CRM is pretty much useless without the various teams using it properly. Before we get into the mechanics and usefulness of a CRM, we need to first talk about usage.

When it comes to CRM implementation, especially when first being implemented into an organization, usage is typically the biggest hurdle. Most people see it as an additional step to their already busy and packed daily schedules as they are not aware of the downstream effects of a system like a CRM. The first step to usage is to implement a system that measures the team utilizing the reporting capabilities of the system and keeping the mindset of “what gets measured, gets done”. This means that essentially every team connected to the CRM needs to have some type of measurement: sales – pipeline and connections, marketing – lead counts, customer service – call resolution count, etc.

However, it doesn’t stop there; management needs to adapt a policy of then tracking these metrics on a consistent basis and using them for corporate reporting & meetings (not Excel Spreadsheets). Too many times, we see leadership defaulting to Excel spreadsheets, emails, or a piece of paper for tracking details, and this will frustrate employees. The question of why take the time to input information into a system that is not even being used by management always gets asked. Furthermore, another fix to ensure usage of a CRM is to directly tie compensation to stats and usage. As an example, no sales rep should ever receive commission if an opportunity is not in the system and doesn’t have proper documentation. Similarly, if your Customer Service team has a call resolution quota attached to their bonus, this information should be pulled via the CRM and not by other methods like Excel. At the end of the day, to ensure proper CRM usage throughout the organization, it truly does need a top down approach reflecting on the actions of management in what gets measured, gets done. As a tip, we have a habit of pulling up our CRM reporting in meetings and forcing the team to talk to their stats based on the reporting in the system.

As mentioned earlier, CRM is not just for sales. A properly implemented CRM can be incorporated throughout an organization making it a single point of reference for the organizations and improving efficiencies across the board. Remember, at its base, CRM is not meant for “oversight”, it’s just a byproduct of proper usage. Below we’ll review some of the departments and use cases for proper CRM implementation.

Sales

The sales department is clearly the best use case for a CRM; however, to ensure you are getting the most out of the system, do not limit usage to just sales opportunities or contacts. Sales should be using their CRM as the sole system of record and ensuring that they are transcribing all conversations, connections, and actions in the system. This will allow sales to ensure that they have a working knowledge of all their activities within each account—and most important of all, a proper pipeline. With so many conversations happening within a sales person’s day, it is fairly easy to forget conversations that happen earlier in the morning or throughout the week. With proper usage, they can use a CRM as that system of record, which allows them to keep tabs on past conversations and actions needed. Furthermore, as other departments interact with these same accounts, the sales notes become equally important to understanding the history of an account.

Marketing

Marketing has changed over the years from being completely independent from sales, tending now to being fully integrated with sales, and in some cases, having the same leadership teams. Years ago, Sales had their CRM, and Marketing had their Marketing Automation Platform where they were two completely separate systems. However, as an example with Salesforce’s purchase of Pardot, marketing capabilities are now being built directly into CRMs. Especially with small businesses, this means that there is no need to purchase expensive marketing automation software anymore. This integration also allows sales to have a complete view of prospect and account activities leading to more efficient sales cycles.

Customer Service / Tech Support

Most organizations look to deploy separate systems for these departments, which might work for larger enterprise type organizations, but in small businesses, it is a key mistake. Small Businesses should look to take advantage of their existing CRM which may already have these capabilities out of the box. As an example, Saleforce.com has “Cases”, a complete section built out of the box for Customer Service or Tech Support. A few key advantages of using your CRM for these teams starts at simplicity, where there is no need to duplicate information across multiple systems. Not having to purchase a separate system keeps software and software management costs down as well. However, another advantage is that these teams now have access to critical sales notes to understand more about the history of an account. This leads to faster and higher quality closed calls ratios, as well as an overall better customer experience. Also, as sales is interacting with these notes, it gives them the ability to see call history which also leads to better customer experience from a sales perspective.

Product Development

Most likely, one of the most overlooked departments from a CRM perspective is Product Development. However, companies like HubSpot have fully integrated their product teams into their CRM. Why? It’s simple: within their CRM, they actively track each and every customer’s usage and apply a score to that usage. This score can then measure how active or inactive each client is; this allows for sales and support teams to take actionable steps within each account to improve customer experience as it relates to their software. The overall effect is more customer usage and happier customers. There is also another byproduct; this view gives HubSpot’s entire product team access to usage data allowing them to pivot and make changes within the software. Although this information can be pulled from the software itself, the benefit of having it tied to the CRM is that they can have visibility into the specific accounts and history, giving them a more holistic view.

Finance

Finance is another overlooked department for CRM usage. Typically, like Customer Services and Support, organizations will deploy additional financial software. However, within a Small Business, it is not necessary. Although most out-of-the-box CRMs are not built for the financial department, small customization or plugins can offer solutions. For example, FinancialForce will give most financial teams the full capabilities needed in order to do their jobs. Again, this leads to a single system of record and decreased software cost.

Executive & Leadership

Executives are hit and miss when it comes to CRM usage, however, most are unfortunately a miss. Typically, you’ll find CEOs and Leadership running around at the end of the quarter with a piece of paper or some type of Excel spreadsheet looking for “real time” updates from their teams on opportunities to close or other stats. However, with a properly motivated team, a CRM can be updated in real time along with reporting functionality displaying real time updates directly to the CRM. Some areas included, but not limited to, are total pipeline, pipeline age, average close time, average deal size, average collections outstanding, call resolution times, etc. Many executives believe there is a need for an expensive EPM system in order to obtain cross-organizational insight, however with a properly set up CRM, a Small Business can get all this information and more in one spot.

Again, it is staggering the amount of businesses that do not have a CRM, and the ones that do barely scratch the surface of functionality. With a small amount of customization, a CRM can become an extremely powerful tool to optimize the performance of a business and get everyone on the same page. Most importantly, remember that “what gets measured, gets done”; your CRM should not be a set-and-forget system. Finally, management, once your system is set up, drop the Excel spreadsheets!