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.

 

The Fundamental Change In Today’s Buying Process

Buying CommitteeThe way people buy and sell in today’s B2B market segment is significantly different than the way things were done 10+ years ago. Even though it has been that long, both buyers and sellers continue to struggle with the change… If you’ve been part of the process for longer than 10 years, then you remember the times when someone would commit to a signature, and later that day, a signature would show up on the fax machine. Setting the stage, ten years ago, budgets were assigned to business units and there really was no scrutinization on the way those funds were spent. Meaning, if a CIO wanted to authorize a purchase for new software or hardware, they had the authorization to make that purchase as long as it fit within the budget. Department heads also had their own budget that would fit within their own signature authority, typically requiring little to no oversight for their budget spend. This all translated to one-on-one relationships that could seamlessly conduct purchasing transactions in lightning fast timing… Buying and selling was literally easier back then.

Fast forward to today—the process is drastically different and slower… and the larger the business, the more complex and painful the process has become. No longer do business unit or department heads have the ability to sign off on their own budgets; there are now several new processes and approvals that have been put into place in order to execute a purchase. As an example, budget approval has now shifted from the head of a business unit or department, to the office of the CFO. This means that every purchase not only has to be approved by a business unit or department head, but someone within the office of the CFO must also approve that budget spend. However, the changes haven’t stopped there… Remembering back to times of yesteryear, when a business unit or department head wanted to sign a contract for a purchase, they were usually the ones reviewing agreements for possible legal ramifications. Not surprisingly, receiving redline edits was fairly rare, and in some cases, almost nonexistent back then. Again, fast forwarding to today, essentially 100% of all agreements must now be reviewed and approved by someone within the legal team before execution… Finally, executives that were never part of a decision-making process unless it was of significant size, are also now part of the overview review and decision-making process.

Adding to the new challenge of having multiple people as part of the decision-making process, there are two major issues that come into play: knowledge and timing… Typically, most people within the approval process know little to nothing about what is being purchased. Take for an example a purchase for new marketing software by a CMO within an organization. Now, the CMO knows exactly why they are buying this software and the impact to their business unit, but the reviewers with the CFO, legal, and executive oversight committees most likely no nothing about the software or impact to the business. In a way, they really do not care. The financial reviewer is trying to find out how this purchase fits within the overall budgeting plan for the organization, what the overall ROI /& TCO is, and whether they got the best competitive bid for the solution. Legal wants to understand what type of corporate liabilities live within the use of the software and agreement, and executive oversight is working to juggle this decision with the dozens of others that fall on their plate at any given time… and each one of these oversight committees needs their own time within the process review that can typically take “weeks” per reviewer…

Here is what a typical purchase process looks like today:

  • Manager / Director level initiates buy process
    • Timing: within a few days
  • Head of Line of Business, conditionally approves purchase
    • Timing: few days to a week
  • Finance department reviews and approves purchase
    • Timing: a week to two weeks
  • Legal then reviews / redlines agreement and eventually approves
    • Timing: a few weeks
  • Executive sponsors reviews and approves purchase
    • Timing: a few weeks
  • Signatures
    • Timing: few days to weeks

It is easy to see how a process that once took hours, now has translated into weeks or months… Fundamentally, this is still not fully understood on both the buyer and seller side of the process, creating significant frustration in the buying process for both. Furthermore, each of the individual approvers can and will stop a buying process if they feel like there is a need. As an example, we had been working with an HCM organization that was selling a solution to a major grocer and a verbal agreement for $350,000+ had been made by the head of HR within this grocer. As the agreement made its way through the process, it finally made its way to the CFO… The CFO had no true understanding of this HCM Software, its capabilities and impact to the business, and all they truly wanted to understand was whether they received any competitive bids. In short, the answer was no, and the CFO demanded for additional vendors to be brought in on the process. They had no cares on the prior processes, relationships, and why the organization needed this solution and stopped the approval process dead in its tracks.

This new approval process is the number one reason why a majority of contracts never receive final signature and die… How does one combat this new elongated process and get a purchase approved? First, there needs to be acceptance that the process has changed, and one must do their homework prior to submitting a purchase. Again, it is important to remember that each reviewer in the process has their own criteria they are looking to review. With this is in mind, it is essential to understand what the approval process is, who is part of it, and what criteria they will be reviewing to build a business case addressing each approver. A business case is essentially a collection of information that directly addresses specific criteria each department will be reviewing as part of their approval process. For example, a financial reviewer is going to want to understand things like whether there was a competitive bid, if the price is the lowest available, and what the ROI / TCO is. In short, there needs to be a clear business case that addresses questions such as:

  • Why is this solution needed?
  • What departments are affected by the purchase?
  • How much more efficient will these departments be?
  • What other vendors were considered?
  • What are the legal ramifications? (data ownership, insurance, etc)
  • Was is the total TCO / ROI?
  • With regards to ROI, is there an investment payback period?

Continuing with the major grocer example from above, neither the buyer nor seller had created a business case for the purchase, which ended up not giving the CFO the confidence to move forward and causing a stop of purchase… However, there was a clear business case for the solution, but it just had not been properly communicated up the approval chain. In this case, the buyer brought us into the opportunity as an independent nonbiased 3rd party to speak with the CFO… During our discussions, we were able to properly articulate the business case for the solution along with the overall organizational and financial impact to the business (relating directly to the CFO’s concerns)… Because we spoke the language of the CFO and gave a clear-cut understanding of the value in a language they knew, it allowed them to fully approve the purchase without a need for a competitive bid…

Organizations can continue to struggle through these new organizational approval processes, or they can accept these changes. A strong business case is now required in order for a purchase to move more swiftly through the process and to ensure someone in the approval process cannot kill it… Again, this important for both the buy and sell side, as both parties have something to gain by a smoother approval process.

On a side note, it is also important for sales leadership and executives to understand that the days of pushing for a signature are long gone. Still to this day, we see sales leadership pushing customers needlessly hard for approvals and signatures thinking it will move the ball forward, when in fact, they’re only pissing off both the employees and buyers. Instead, sales leadership should be focused more on helping their team understand this new purchasing process and how to build a proper business case ensuring there is a bulletproof plan in place… Doing this will not only show the professionalism of your organizations, but ensure your agreements move faster through the system and become more likely to get approved. For better for worse, there is a new buying process, and the more understanding of the process there is, the more likely you are to get approval.

 

Take A Sales Loss Gracefully

Take a loss with graceYou’ve worked tirelessly for weeks or months on end regarding an opportunity—an opportunity that could make or break your bookings number for the month, quarter, or year. Then, when everything is all said and done, they decide to hold off, or worse, to go with another vendor. Unfortunately, if you are in anyway connected to sales, it is something you’ll hear all too often. Even when you put your best foot forward and execute the proposal absolutely flawlessly, there are going to be times when you get a no, no matter the situation.  However, all is not lost… how you react during this time will have direct ramifications for future business down the road.

When it comes to a deciding factor for whether someone moves forward with you or not, we find that there are many elements that play into the decision, and it may be impossible to understand the true meaning behind a decision. With that said, all too often when one has invested so much time and effort into an opportunity, they take things personally.  As a result, they tend to lash out towards the prospect for taking up so much time and for being the bearer of bad news. We’ve witnessed anything from the simple and sarcastic good-luck-with-that-statement to things that we wished to never witness again. Small Businesses seem to take the noes the hardest. And unlike larger enterprises, small businesses tend to have more on the line when opportunities decide not to move forward.

Whatever the reason, when you get the bad news from a prospect, take the loss gracefully. Not only does it show that you have some class, but there is a strong potential that the same prospect will come back in the future. Again, when a prospect comes to a decision, we may never know why. However, when they have a good experience with you, regardless of the outcome, they may end up coming back. More times than none, we find prospects who have told us no, overtime, end up doing business with us. The reasons range from various causes like their selected firm for the project dropping the ball, them changing their minds, or a new project surfacing that they feel is a better fit. Again, it’s not always a guarantee a prospect will come back, but leaving a negative will guarantee they never will!

Ensure that you take every loss with grace, and you’ll be surprised how many come back..

 

Following The “Sales Taught” Process Isn’t Always A Good Thing

Sales processes are fantastic guidelines to ensure that you are doing the proper things to be successful in your sales career. However, it is important to pay attention to the customer and make on-the-fly modifications to your process as the situation changes. As an example, the other day we had a consultation for some work to be completed around our house, and it was a very uncomfortable process. The sales rep was a 30-year industry professional that at some point in time made the switch to sales… It was clear during this consultation that this rep was using the Sandler Sales Process, taking me down the Sandler Pain Funnel. He was following the process to a tee, which wasn’t the problem. The problem was that he was so focused on the process and the questions within the process, he forgot the most critical item in sales or any customer-facing role: listening. While he was asking questions, he would look to his notebook and scribble notes as I was answering them. But, it became apparent that although he was taking notes, he wasn’t really listening. Instead, he was focusing on the next question in the process. As a result, we found ourselves giving him the exact same information multiple times—information that was shared as part of an answer to a previous question. This grew frustrating overtime because it didn’t just happen once or twice; it got to a point where we were repeating ourselves after every other question.

What is Social Selling Really, Six Tips to Social Selling

What is Social SellingEvery time we read a new article on increasing sales from sales coaches, consultants, or the media, we see them hyping up social selling. This is a great suggestion, as we couldn’t agree more. Why? Because social selling does lead to an increase in sales. Here is the problem: a majority of sales reps and leadership have no clue what social selling really is or how to properly employ social selling tactics. Furthermore, most organizations as a whole have no clue how to sell socially or provide any real training around the topic. So, while everyone is hyping social selling, there is little about how to actually socially sell. In this article, we plan on reviewing Social Selling 101 techniques.

The first thing to understand when it comes to social selling or social media is that this stuff does not happen overnight. Social media is a process that takes time in order to develop a true online presence and impact revenue. We point this out because even at the executive level, we find that social media at its core is not properly understood. This leads to people being quickly discouraged when they do not see immediate results. Social media is an intangible marketing channel as it takes time to build up an online presence, and those results are not as directly trackable as traditional lead generation campaigns. Like TV or magazine advertising for example, it is understood that the ad is making an impression, and that those impressions lead to sales. Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to track which specific ad led to which specific sale. There are tools that can be used for social media that will make tracking of social campaigns easier, but that’s for another article.

How does social selling work? Traditionally, the only way to educate prospects or clients is to be in direct communication with them via phone, email, or face-to-face meetings. Social media breaks into a new dimension of indirect selling. When social media is done properly, it becomes a new channel to educate your prospects about you, your company, products, success stories, and the industry at their own pace. Essentially, it is a new channel for brand education and impressions, which eventually leads to more educated and confident buyers. Another aspect is that people buy from people. Again, you only traditionally interact with your prospects and clients in a very limited window of time, which does not give them time to really get to know you. Social media gives them more exposure to you as a person, and overtime, it helps them become more comfortable with who you really are and builds up a trusted advisor status. It’s all about breaking down the traditional selling barriers.

With all of that said, here are a few tips to get you started:

Choose Social Channels – The first thing to figure out is which channels should be included in your strategy. LinkedIn and Twitter are pretty much a given for most professionals, but then there is Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest. In reality, if your business is heavy B2B, it is best to stick with LinkedIn and avoid the others. If your business is heavily consumer-focused, I’d put more emphasis on channels like Facebook, Instagram, and others. The key is to put yourself into the seat of your consumer to figure out what channels they may be using.

Set Up Social Accounts – This should sound basic, but as a next step, set up social accounts across the different channels you picked. Ensure that usernames are either your real name, a similar variation of your name, or something related to the industry. They need to be professional and convey exactly who you are. Also, this is the time to pick a profile picture that is actually you and a bio that makes sense. Again, people buy from people, so you want your community to know who you are professionally.

Start Following – Avoid following random people that have nothing to do with your industry. Start by focusing on people that are key influencers in the space, competitors, industry news outlets, your account base, and people within your accounts. People buy from people, and the more connected you can be with your industry, prospects, and accounts, the more familiar they become with “you” as a person. The key thing to remember is that this is not a onetime activity. Personally, every time I meet someone new, they get a LinkedIn and Twitter follow request. This is where the time aspect comes into play; you will start out with zero followers, and it will take a while to build up more followers.

Start Sharing – The second step to becoming social is to actually share content… This is also where the rubber meets the road when it comes to “social selling”. The first thing to note when it comes to sharing content is that under no circumstances should you directly message prospect sales pitches, or really anything; this tactic does not work (it pisses people off more than anything). Sharing content on social media should be educational; typically, we recommend sharing content, such as case studies, press releases, marketing content, trade articles, industry news, and other material such as that. The shelf life of a social post is usually minutes within certain channels—once you share content, after some time has passed, the likelihood someone will see it drops significantly. With that in mind, you want to continuously share content. We typically recommend sharing a minimum of 3 – 6 pieces of information a day.

Start Communicating – The third step to social selling is interacting with your connections. This does not mean sending a LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter sales message (as mentioned earlier, this does not work). Instead, read the various feeds to see what your community is sharing. If you see something interesting, Like, Share, or Comment on it. Another option is if you see some news on one of your accounts and/or contacts, you can mention them when you post content. Again, people buy from people, and this just helps bring in the human element back into the picture. There are tools available, such as HooteSuite or TweetDeck, that are free and can help with the monitoring aspect.

Recruit New Departments ­– Social selling is not limited to just the sales team—get other teams involved too. The companies that do it right have executive leadership, marketing, product, and other teams involved as well.

The key with social selling is to actually be social and educational without being a typical sales person. Also, it’s important to note again that social media takes time, and results are not seen overnight. Furthermore, social media is not a one-and-done event. The main mistake we see all too often is someone setting up their various profiles and walking away thinking people will magically come to them. Instead, dedicate a few minutes a day to social media; it truly doesn’t take much more effort than that. There are a few organizational examples to check out, such as @Drift and @HubSpot. They have some of the most socially-minded employees out there, and much can be learned from their use of social media.

One additional note: there is a byproduct of becoming social. It is that you begin to build your own personal brand in the market. The more information you share, the more people will take note. Future employers may take note on how influential you’ve become. Your community also becomes an additional asset that can come into play regarding how valuable a company may believe you are. Plus, social media is not easy, so it shows that you know how to put in effort.

Good luck and message us with any questions and/or tips!

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!

 

The Marketing Magic of Beats by Dre

Dr. Dre and Jimmy IovineBeats by Dre is arguably one of the most successful marketing stories in recent history. Sure, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine are very successful businessmen and music producers, but what really made the sale to Apple was their success in how they marketed the headphone company to the consumer market.

At the end of the day, Beats by Dre are nothing more than an estimated $16.89 pair of weighted headphones that Apple paid an estimated $3 Billion to acquire. How Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine made it to this point was nothing more than marketing genius. Founded in 2006, Beats became a household brand in a matter of months as a result of a marketing plan pushed by the duo. As Beats were just hitting the market, both Dre and Iovine worked closely with well-known music artists to ensure they were seen with the headphones by public eyes as detailed in their latest biography, The Defiant Ones. In short order, Beats made their way into music videos, artist social media accounts, and photo shoots, amongst other places. The pair then set their targets on professional athletes within the NFL, NBA, and other professional sports; this made Beats visible to a whole new market with major sports athletes now wearing Beats daily on national TV for tens of millions to see. The widespread use of Beats within the music and sports industries quickly skyrocketed the little-known venture into the national spotlight, and in 2012 Beats made their way into the global spotlight with Olympic athletes. The visibility with music artists and athletes alike made Beats a household name and at the top of every teenager’s wish list.

However, the marketing genius of Beats didn’t stop with celebrity endorsements. The design of the headphones themselves were straight out of a “how to” marketing playbook, starting with the iconic “b” logo on the side of each headphone. This simple but unique logo made Beats stand out, not only when celebrities would wear them, but when your everyday consumer would wear them as well. When someone was wearing Beats, there was no missing it. With brand recognition as a major influencer in today’s consumer market, the simple little “b” was integral to getting the brand the visibly it has today.

Beyond the logo, the headphones themselves were all about the design as opposed to one of their main competitors, Bose. When sitting a pair of Beats headphones next to a pair of Bose headphones, the differences were clear. Bose’s simple matte black finish with a chrome logo contrasted with Beats’ multitudinous array of glossy colors that not only stuck out in a crowd, but allowed individuals to personalize by picking their favorite color. As Steve Jobs did with the induction of the iMac, the duo did the same with Beats; personalization was a game changer for the high-end headphone market and everyone wanted it.

Finally, the pair didn’t stop at celebrity endorsements, a simple yet clever logo, and a look that everyone wanted, they also made a product that “felt” like quality. Part of the design included heavy metal components (that some say equates to about one-third of the total weight) giving the product a heavier and more expensive look and feel. With most consumer products, lighter tends to have a cheaper feel, whereas something heavier tends to lead to thoughts of higher quality. As an example, car companies spend millions of dollars to get the feel and sound of a closing door right because consumers want a product that feels quality.

Overall, the quality of the sound has been considered “decent,” not great, when compared to other competitors, but that’s not why Apple paid $3 Billion for the brand. The partnership between Dre and Iovine led to a brand that quickly became a household name with a significant fan base and sales numbers to back it up showing no signs of slowing down. The key to the story of Beats by Dre is that marketing should play a significant role in product design and everyday product strategy. In the social day and age that we live in today, having a great product is just not enough anymore—it needs to look and feel the part.