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7 Keys to Being a More Bankable Entrepreneur

Some business owners and startup entrepreneurs just seem irresistible.  They’re the ones catching investors’ eyes, earning the highest fees and who rarely must search for clients and customers because clients come to them. How does this happen?

It’s not an isolated phenomenon. These kinds of “bankable” businesses and entrepreneurs exist in almost every industry, says Andrew Sobel, co-author along with Jerold Panas of “Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business and Influence Others” (Wiley, 2012).  But bankable business superstars aren’t born, they’re usually self-made.

Here are seven keys that can unlock the hidden superstar in any entrepreneur:

1. Deliver something great, over and over.

Not easy, sure. But you can’t expect superstardom to occur overnight. You have to build your reputation for delivering results consistently year after year. Entrepreneurs who keep on delivering gain trust and become more “bankable.”

2. Have a high-powered value proposition.

It’s vital that you clearly articulate why customers should come to you above everyone else. What unique value do you and your business offer?  Your public value proposition doesn’t have to define everything you do with clients or customers, but it should make clear what you’re best known for. Businesses that don’t have a unique value proposition are just a commodity.

3. Be the one asking the questions.

Here’s a good test of where you stand: When you talk to potential investors or clients, are they the ones asking questions; grilling you on your credentials?  Or do you also tactfully test them for suitability as one of your clients or backers?  Good news here is that you don’t have to wait until you’re famous to put yourself in this position.  You can do it at any point in the life of your business. When you’re the one asking the thought-provoking, idea-inducing questions in the conversation, people take notice. You quickly move up a notch and take control of the discussion.

4. Be an industry thought leader.

These days, you don’t have to write a bestselling book to be seen as a thought leader. It starts by having deep focus and an abiding curiosity to learn everything there is to know about your industry. Then start passing along that knowledge, by blogging, speaking, consulting, writing articles for industry publications and participating in social media. It’s not a one-and-done proposition. You need to be out their daily.

5. Create a powerful name or brand.

In short, you need to become well known. That doesn’t mean worldwide. It might just be in your community or other limited sphere of influence – in your particular niche, marketplace or geographic area. When you are a known name in your specialty, people think of you when they need something. Name recognition works like a magnet. It’s never too late to start. Heed this advice: No matter how known or unknown you are now, plan one activity monthly that will increase your name recognition in some way.

6. Evaluate your scale and select clients carefully.

Superstars are scarce and should command the higher fees or prices. Think about how your business model scales.  Can you afford to work for or sell to everyone? Sometimes trying to sell at larger scale only ends up diluting your personal or business brand and your ability to deliver quality goods or services. Business superstars know they can’t – and shouldn’t – spread themselves too thin.

7. Price like a superstar.

While you have to achieve at least a semblance of star status before you can charge premium rates, there’s actually more to it. “Research has demonstrated that high prices lead to high perceived value,” says Sobel. “Most people think it’s the other way around – that if you deliver high value, only then can you get high fees.”  Look at it this way. As you become more and more bankable, you enter a virtuous circle of ever-higher perceived value. Investors and customers know that backing or hiring you in particular lowers their risk, and that’s worth paying for.

© 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

7 Ways to Embrace a New Normal for 2013

For business owners, there’s a “new normal” out there, and it doesn’t look a whole lot like the old normal.  If your business seems to be on a treadmill, maybe it’s time for a makeover.

Put everything up for grabs, including your mission statement, business and marketing plans, budget, sales and expense expectations and more, says business makeover specialist Patricia Sigmon, president of LPS Consulting, which creates profit-focused tech solutions for small businesses.  Make 2013 about regrouping and renewing your business for the new normal. Here are seven of Sigmon’s suggestions for giving your business a profit makeover:

1. “Fire” unprofitable customers.

Sometimes, the highest-maintenance, most time-consuming customers you have are the ones who pay you the least. Analyze the profit margin or lack of profit margin that each customer or perhaps customer segment produces. Stop pursuing customers who are not helping you be profitable – period.

2. Reward your best customers.

Look at which customers are giving you the most profit, and coddle them, woo them, don’t lose them! Offer them frequent buyer rewards. Send them a small gift at their one-year anniversary. Give them a random call every few months to “check in,” thank them, and ask what else they might need. Treat them like gold.

3. Start relationships.

This coming year, it’s time to overhaul your sales behavior. Turn all one-time sales efforts into relationship sales. Start monthly maintenance plans, suggest auxiliary services, sell complementary products, or offer retainer plans covering 50-100 labor hours, for example.

4. Erase those expense lines.

Reduce your operating expense budget to the lowest possible number. If that means selling your car or closing an office, so be it. You can’t build a new profit base when you are still using yesterday’s expense model. Go through your expenses line by line and get rid of everything you can live without.

5. Outsource more.

Whatever type of skill or service you need, think hard before hiring a new employee or keeping an old employee. Look at each department or each person when you are trying to manage costs. Can you eliminate positions (perhaps through attrition), combine jobs, delete processes, and outsource tasks? Outsource exactly what you need for the right amount of time and the right amount of money.

6. Update your networking.

From blogs to Twitter to LinkedIn to Facebook, invest big-time in building the online and social media presence you need to compete in the new digital world. Businesses that don’t leverage social networking will be left behind. Jump-start new relationships in 2013 with a burst of social media activity. Update all your social sites and accounts. Keep your online relationships fresh and dynamic with news, blogs, newsletters, tips, and surveys. Find an online forum in your industry and become an active contributor.

7. Take your office with you.

With cloud technology, you are no longer bound to a desk. Log onto some new interactive cloud-based systems that can help you do your business anywhere. Make sure to you have Internet connections on all of your devices. Everything you once needed to do in your own office can now be done remotely. Best of all, when your employees are sharing files in the cloud, it makes for a much more cohesive, connected team. j2 Global offers several low-cost cloud-based services that can help.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Biz Cheat Sheet on Owned, Earned and Paid Media

As digital marketing continues to soar, here’s a question I’m getting more often from business owners and start-up entrepreneurs:  What’s the difference between paid, owned and earned media for promoting or advertising my business, and how do I make them work for me?

The whole “owned-earned-paid” thing is familiar to advertising and PR pros, but totally mysterious for millions of small business owners who’ve never really thought in those terms. Yet understanding the digital-world differences — and more importantly, how to deploy owned, earned and paid media simultaneously to grow sales — is critical today.  Here’s my BizBest “cheat sheet” for business owners on owned, earned and paid media:

Owned Media Basics

Perhaps the simplest examples of “owned” pieces of online media real estate are your business website and Facebook page. You built ’em. You operate ’em. You own ’em. Done well, they’ll be nicely designed, easy to navigate and chock full of helpful information, articles, photos, videos and other compelling content that customers and prospects will find interesting. Other “owned” media would include any blogs, newsletters or additional social media accounts your business has.

The basic idea with owned media is to fill them with useful and engaging content that helps potential customers discover your business when they search for something online, or use their own social media channels.  This is the realm of what’s called “content marketing,” which uses helpful, high-value information to draw people into your products and services.

Paid Media Basics

No surprise here.  Paid media are the online ads and promotions you pay for with hard, out-of-pocket marketing dollars. This includes search and other pay-per-click type ads, banners and paid promotions on social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and others.

Using paid media is the more traditional approach that most businesses are familiar with.  You set a budget, pick your channels and spend as you see fit, while tracking results as best you can.

Earned Media Basics

Public relations fits here.  Issuing a press release that gets mentioned somewhere (either online or offline) “earns” you exposure that you didn’t have to pay for (at least not directly). But it gets trickier. The “earned media” piece is  huge, and difficult to execute — yet it’s a critical leg of the marketing/media triumvirate.

Earned media can produce really good stuff; the attention and engagement you “earn” from customers but that can’t be (legitimately) bought. For example, great comments, recommendations, reviews, mentions, likes and shares are all valuable types of customer-generated media coverage that you must earn, and can’t (directly) pay for.  This includes word-of-mouth, but amplified through the digital megaphone.

Making Owned, Earned and Paid Play Well Together

Owned, earned and paid media don’t exist in isolation. They overlap. In fact, your goal is to make them overlap and work together.  For example, paid ads might attract people to your website or Facebook page where they see some interesting content they want to “like” or share.  In turn, that engagement earns you more notice among the media.  Thanks to the nature of social sharing, the interaction possibilities are almost endless as information passes from one person’s network to others.  This is sometimes called “converged media” — the place where owned, earned and paid intersect.

To have an inkling of what’s going on here, business owners must first recognize that the way buyers research purchases and find businesses has changed radically, and rapidly. These things once occurred via isolated channels. But no more. It now happens through thousands of highly fragmented media channels on a 24/7 basis, often simultaneously as people occupy several digital platforms at once.

Big companies recognize this and now engage is what’s called “Brand Streaming” where they attempt to be absolutely everywhere, 24/7, monitoring what’s being done and said, and reacting quickly to any engagement by a customer or prospect (which is called “agile engagement”).

What to do now

First, don’t despair.  It should already be abundantly clear that since consumer behavior has changed, marketing a product or service will never be the same. You will need to embrace new digital tools and tactics (including some from all of the above categories), and deploy them in as many places as possible.

Start with a firm foundation. Look for small wins that you can reasonably achieve in each category (owned, earned, paid) and build from there.  Take it one step at a time. Don’t try to concoct some huge strategy that takes months to deploy.  Test small things to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s easier, less stressful and more effective.

Copyright 2000-2012, BizBest Media Corp. (@140Main) All Rights Reserved.

9 Ways to Make your Contacts Really Count

Small business owners and start–up entrepreneurs are often advised to relentlessly network in order to build connections that can help grow the business. But while networking is indeed a valuable endeavor, many business owners connect with the wrong people – or the right people in the wrong way.

According to Vickie Milazzo, a bestselling author and successful entrepreneur, it pays to carefully plan your networking, be selective about the people you network with, and build meaningful relationships once you do connect with the right people.  Here are some of Milazzo’s top tips for transforming traditional networking into something that works harder for you and your business:

1)    Build connections selectively

Don’t confuse networking with simply being friendly or socializing. They are very different. For example, you shouldn’t expect a neighborhood block party to change your business. Instead, research the people you need to connect with and identify the sources and methods that will help you reach them.

2)    Make sure your groups make sense

Even within your own industry or profession, it pays to be selective in how you spend your networking time. Create your own customized network of colleagues, clients, consultants, vendors and acquaintances on whom you can depend to give you everything from information to referrals. Don’t join groups randomly. Get an idea of who the members are and whether or not they can help you or your business.

3)    Go outside your immediate comfort zone

We all tend to gravitate toward people with similar interests. But this doesn’t help expand your connections. Make an effort to connect with people in higher level positions, larger businesses or who simply seem more successful than you.

4)    Organize and track your efforts

This is a tough one for most business owners but can produce a big payoff. Just think back on the number of times you’ve attended a tradeshow or conference, met a bunch of people and then went back to work without cultivating any of those relationships further. Put the information you gather to work. Take notes on what you learned, names you were given or other details and refer back to them so you can make a stronger impression the next time you connect.

5)    Create value for the other person

Following up is great, but how you follow-up is also critical to success.  Too many people simply “check in” with their contacts.  That’s not likely to generate much response or enthusiasm. Instead, find ways to create or add value to the relationship.  For example, you might send a link to an interesting article, or suggest a contact that can help the other person. Ask what you can do for them.

6)    Build relationships before you actually need them

This is a lot like getting a line of credit from the bank.  You need to establish it ahead of time so that it’s in place when your business really needs it. Avoid constantly reaching out to people asking for this or that.

7)    Move beyond social media

Sure, networking through social media such as LinkedIn is a great way to stay in touch in the digital world. But don’t leave it at that. You will need to leverage your social media connections offline as well in order to build those relationships.  You might even try picking up the phone once in a while.

8)    Balance the ledger

This is another way of saying that you should count on giving at least as much as you get from your contacts. Avoid the urge to only ask for advice and help. “No matter how successful you become, do whatever you can to help those who have helped you,” says Milazzo. “If you are there for someone in your network, they will probably be there for you in the future.”

9)    Know when to move on

Avoid giving any group or individual all of your time if you aren’t seeing results or getting good advice. Networking is about business, not pleasure, so move on if it’s not working.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Beyond Groupon: New Deals Sites Take Hold

When Groupon first hit the scene it put the spotlight on a massive new market and inspired countless copycats. But many local businesses lost money with the Groupon deals model which often requires losing money on the initial offer in hopes of making it up on additional sales and return visits.

Sadly, however, that often doesn’t happen. Now a new deals model is emerging based more on the concept of “yield management.”  Yield management (YM) is a fancy term that basically means using tactics and strategies to maximize profit in a given circumstance. The idea here is to improve the deals model so local businesses can realize a profit immediately – not at some distant point in the future.

Services Using the New Model

The deals delivery app LeLoca ( and popular online travel community Air B&B ( are two examples of services that use the YM approach. Both help merchants realize more profit from their goods and services by connecting consumers to them via mobile devices and other technology.

In the Groupon “loss leader” model, the merchant offers a large discount, has no control over how many people will use it or when, and then must pay Groupon half of the proceeds. One criticism of Groupon is that merchant deals are not highly-enough targeted (beyond city or geography) and that most buyers only want a quick discount and never return.

The airline industry is a perfect example of how yield management works. Owning and flying planes is expensive. Once a flight is scheduled, the airline incurs the costs no matter what. This is partly why airlines charge so many different prices for the same seat. They gauge (through sophisticated YM tactics) the maximum that customers are willing to pay at any given time, and try to charge exactly that.

The new generation of deals services tries to do the same thing for local businesses by using technology to connect people with goods and services that are already available (like empty airline seats) and might otherwise be wasted. For example, LeLoca, a free smartphone app, uses the Internet to connect consumers with nearby businesses that are offering real-time, geo-targeted deals when they have open space to fill.

Reaching Customers When you Need Them Most

“LeLoca gives the merchant the opportunity to bring in additional customers right when they need them via a discounted offer,” says LeLoca CEO Douglas Krone. “They have complete control over what they offer, the area that the deal will be offered in and when it will start and stop. Merchants get the customers right when they need them, thus maximizing profit and minimizing waste.”

Other deals companies operating on this concept include Savored, ScoutMob and kgb Deals. The following services are also finding success:

Uber (

An app that allows users to hire a car at the touch of a button – connects professional, licensed drivers with people who need transportation.  Uber does not provide cars itself, but rather works with existing car-for-hire businesses that make use of its technology.  The app can pinpoint an exact location and then send a ride, utilizing the cars and drivers that would otherwise be idle or driving empty vehicles.

Air B&B (

A fast-growing business that connects travelers seeking accommodations with places that have an open room, apartment or home.  Airbnb provides hosts with the opportunity to earn money on an otherwise open space and provides travelers a chance to stay in unique places for less money than a hotel.

ScoreBig Daily (

Uses a Priceline-style model – lets users view same-day tickets for various events and pick the price they want to pay.  Once a ticket is sold and a purchase is shared on social media, ScoreBig Daily reserves seats nearby so friends who purchase tickets can sit together.  The average ScoreBig Daily user saves 42%.

Waze (

Started as an app for real-time traffic updates but also offers real-time gas prices and discounts in the driver’s immediate area. Users can search for fuel in the area and compare prices, as well as get access to real-time deals being offering by gas companies who have partnered with the app. Waze also lets users post gas prices that they find so others can take advantage of them.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

14 Ways to Market a New Product or Service

Marketing a new small business product or service in a highly fragmented media world has become trickier than ever. Relying only on slow-moving, old-school methods such as direct mail and print ads is a thing of the past. Today, success belongs to those who compile the most effective media mixture.

The media mix you choose could be the difference between cheers and yawns, says Dan Adams, whose firm Advanced Industrial Marketing conducts training workshops worldwide.  The first step for any business owner is simply to understand the different online (digital) and offline (traditional) options.

Compared to traditional media, online marketing makes it easier for you to track results and generate low-cost leads, notes Adams. But most importantly, digital marketing makes you “findable” on the Internet.  In most transactions today – and especially business-to-business – the prospect finds the supplier, not the other way around.  And that’s usually through an online search.

14-Course Marketing Menu for Small Business

Here are today’s top 14 most effective marketing methods, including seven digital and seven traditional:

1. Online Ads

You can run pay per click (PPC) ads with search engines or contextual ads displayed next to related articles.

2. News Release

Done well, this is incredibly powerful for directing Google searchers to your website. Send out news releases full of content that will appeal to readers (and editors) of online magazines, journals, and blogs. Include both a link to your website and the keywords your prospects will likely use in their Google searches.

3. E-mail Marketing

This is especially useful when you have hundreds or thousands of prospects in your target market. There’s stiff competition for attention, so consider getting help from a specialist here. It’s definitely a science.

4. Online Presentation

Delivering slideshow and video content through your website is a great way to attract attention and persuade prospects that your solution is simply wonderful. Done well, this is also one of the most powerful ways for you to build credibility.

5. Social Media

This is still emerging as an effective medium, but it’s already proving helpful when local businesses take the time to build long-term, meaningful conversations with prospects.

6. Webinar

This is great way to connect with hard-to-reach prospects, especially professionals and business executives. As with e-mail marketing, there’s a science to this, so consider working with a firm that specializes in setting up and hosting webinars.

7. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

This is everything you do to rank high in Google searches, and it should also be the glue that holds your online product launch campaign together. It all starts with understanding the keywords your prospects will use… which should start during customer interviews in the front end of product development.

Seven Traditional Media Tools

1. Print Ads

This method is becoming less popular relative to online media but is still helpful for keeping your business or brand familiar and for popularizing product launch keywords for online searches.

2. Press Kit

This collection of pre-packaged materials—sent to members of the media—builds credibility with editors and journal writers. It helps them tell interesting stories about you and your product.

3. Print Article

Articles and trade or technical papers in journals now end up online as well, so fill your article full of well-planned keywords and web links to draw prospects to your website.

4. Direct Mail

This can still be an effective product launch tool, especially as your competitors switch their focus to digital inboxes. Studies show many Internet users have a printed publication in their hands while they are searching online.

5. Trade Speech

A well-delivered presentation conveys lots of complex information to a captive audience. Consider professional help to avoid “death by PowerPoint,” rehearse hard, and try using tag-team delivery.

6. Trade Show

These remain highly influential, but they are also time consuming and costly. Make sure your staff is trained and your lead follow-up is strong, or you’ll waste time and money faster here than anywhere else.

7. Sales Visit

If you sell B2B, this is still the most effective—and expensive—product launch approach. Use a disciplined lead nurturing program to make each sales call count. And spend the time and money on great sales tools and sales training to make your sales force look good.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Six Lead Ranking Tactics that Really Pay Off

Ranking your leads – also called “lead scoring” – is an exercise most small business owners don’t bother with. At least not in a formal sense. But that may be passing up an opportunity to make follow-up efforts more effective by targeting and nurturing them in different ways based on their score.

Lead scoring is basically a way of objectively ranking your sales leads according to a variety of factors such as expected time to purchase, level of interest, “fit” and others. It’s about trying to determine the quality of your leads and allocate your immediate efforts toward the ones that have the best chance of converting, while others go into the nurture track.

More Important Now than Ever

Lead scoring is becoming increasingly important today for small businesses that are strapped for resources and need to do more, with less. In that environment, it’s a perfect fit. Different types of leads call for different types of follow-up. For example, some may fall into the long-term bucket, while others are just plain hot.

According to a study by Aberdeen Group, a major business research firm, companies that do lead scoring right are able to qualify leads at a 192 percent higher rate than other companies. Not only does lead scoring help you hone in on the most promising prospects, it also gives you an objective way to calculate and schedule the right types of follow-up for each ranking level.

Online Behavior is Key

The old “BANT” approach to lead scoring (does the lead have: Budget, Authority, Need and Timeline) doesn’t work well anymore. Today’s buyers – both consumers and businesses – start their information gathering process much earlier than in the past and rely on the web – and social media in particular – more than ever before. While most businesses have little visibility into this web-based behavior, and customer relationship management (CRM) systems are still trying to figure this out, new “Social CRM” services such as Nimble ( are revolutionizing how this is done, especially for smaller businesses and work groups.

Here are six lead-ranking tactics that can really pay off for any size business:

1)    Start by clearly defining what constitutes a “priority lead” for your business. Once you communicate this to your sales people it gives you a handy way to measure how good they are at engaging these prospects and closing sales.

2)    Create a system to capture information on leads, score it and measure it. Key information you will want to understand is whether the lead is the right person to purchase your product or service, and whether they have the right level of interest.

3)    Consider information from the digital and social “graph.”  While you still want traditional demographic or business information on prospects such as age, income level and job title, the real key to discerning true purchasing intent is found in “behavioral” type information. In other words, it’s not who they are that defines them, it’s what they actually do. And since this can be found online, today’s term for this is “digital body language.” Tracking what prospects do online, in social media, to consume information about your business and interact with you in some way is far more powerful ammunition than information you might get, say, by telephone.

4)    Pick your proof points. There’s no single way to define a lead score, as it differs business to business. But generally you’ll want to assign a number (1-5 for example) and/or weighting (such as 10-30%) for each factor. In a B2B setting, for example, factors might include the level of pain (that is, how badly they need a solution to a problem), the prospect’s job role, business or industry and the source of the lead.

5)    Map your prospects’ variations. Spell out the type of lead that each score represents, and the follow-up action that’s called for. For example, the right person at the right time with the right amount of interest is top priority and gets immediate attention. Likewise, the right prospect at the wrong time is flagged with nurturing and follow-up. A lead that’s ranked as a wrong fit with no interest can be eliminated.

6)    Keep it simple to start. Don’t try to use too many scoring criteria or create complex follow-up plans. Start with a simple approach and carefully measure your results. You can always expand from there.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

6 Customer Feedback Essentials for Small Business

Small business owners hear it all the time: To find out how your business is doing, including what people like or don’t like and what you need to adjust, ask customers for feedback. But your quest for feedback can either produce a magic elixir or simply be an annoyance to customers and prospects, depending on how you do it.

Here are six essentials for collecting, analyzing and using customer feedback in a way that both engages customers and benefits your business:

1)    Make customers feel important. This is critical for getting people to respond to your feedback requests, and for generating helpful information that you can use to make improvements or launch new products and services. In most cases, it’s not necessary to offer “incentives” (also called bribes) for customers to provide honest feedback. Most are willing to do so if approached properly. The key is to make customers feel that you genuinely want to hear what they have to say, value they opinions and will use the information to make improvements that will benefit them as well as others.

2)    Make providing feedback easy, on the customer’s terms. Provide multiple ways for customers to offer their opinions. Don’t limit your efforts to surveys and emails, or old-fashioned feedback forms at checkout. Include a feedback form on your website, and ask for feedback on Facebook and any other social media sites you use. In all cases, keep it simple. At all costs, you must avoid frustrating customers with lengthy forms or confusing questions. And try not to query customers every time you see or connect with them. This leads to feedback fatigue and can cause customers to tune you out permanently.

3)    Pay attention to timing. What you ask is important, sure. But so is WHEN you ask it. Don’t be in a hurry to solicit feedback if your business isn’t really ready to hear or deal with it. It’s helpful to first examine your motivation. If all you are really seeking is approval or a pat on the back, feedback will never help you improve. At times, for some types of businesses, asking for feedback immediately is ideal. But in other cases, it’s best to step back for a bit and do a little self-examination first. Identify what you want to assess and where you would be willing to make changes. And be prepared for opinions that you might not like.

4)    Be both specific and open-ended. Avoid vague questions such as “What do you think?”  Break it down. Ask specifically about customer service, for example, or certain product features. You don’t have to cover everything at once. If you have forms and surveys, design different ones to cover specific topic areas. The time to be “open-ended” is when you are digging for information about what customers really want. In order to find out what customers really want and how they feel, you have to avoid telling them what you want them to tell you.

5)    Leverage your online options. Today there are many low-cost and even free web-based tools and services designed to help small businesses seek customer feedback. These include online surveys (Survey Monkey is a popular choice), web-based feedback forums such as UserVoice ( and social media such as Facebook, Google Plus and others. On Facebook, one approach is to simply post a question about some aspect of your product or service and ask for feedback. It’s quick, easy and cheap.

6)    Analyze, respond and act on your feedback.  Always keep in mind that the ultimate goal of your effort to seek feedback is to improve customer satisfaction and grow your business. Take all feedback seriously. Look for trends and common themes in what you hear. By formalizing the process of analyzing and responding to feedback, you elevate its importance as part of your business DNA of listening to customers. Thank customers for the effort they’ve made to provide you with helpful information, and assure them it is both valued and appreciated. When you make changes based on customer feedback, call attention to that fact. This will make it more likely that others will provide feedback in the future.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

How Rock Star Customers can Help You Grow

In an age of digital discovery and social media, here’s something that more and more local business are learning:  Existing customers can be one of the most powerful growth engines ever.  One way to put this engine to work is to identify and harness the hidden marketing potential in your “Rock Star” customers.

But watch out: they might not be the ones you think. For example, they aren’t necessarily the biggest spenders or most loyal. Loyal customers don’t always promote you (in fact, it’s likely they’re not), while big spending customers may not be profitable or have a good story to tell.

So who are your Rock Stars?

Bill Lee, CEO of an educational organization called the Customer Reference Forum, says your Rock Stars are simply the ones with the biggest potential to promote your business and influence others. “First, they’re loyal—that’s the price of admission,” says Lee. “They have a good story to tell about how your product or service helps them. Second, they’re eager to tell it. Third, they have access—and want to gain more access—to influential networks that contain more buyers like them. And fourth, they want to build their reputation and influence in such networks.”

But as much as they might love you, these Rock Star customers won’t help grow your business on their own. Even customers who identify themselves as “promoters” in customer surveys—saying they’d be highly likely to refer you to a colleague or friend—aren’t actually doing so. Studies have shown that only about 10 percent of self-described promoters actually refer profitable new customers. The key is this: You have to take the initiative and make it easy for them to do so.

Make it About Them

To make it work, it has to be all about them – not about you, says Lee, who is also author of a book called “The Hidden Wealth of Customers” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012).

One tactic that works with Rock Stars is community marketing that recognizes how people buy things locally, from a refrigerator or flat screen TV, to a new roof or a doctor’s services. In that context, most people aren’t likely to seek out a salesperson or collect brochures. Instead, they’ll talk to friends, neighbors, colleagues or other peers to find out what or whom they’re using.

Some big companies have caught on to this. For example, Microsoft has brilliantly deployed “customer advocates” to leverage this natural approach to buying, particularly overseas. Microsoft will find local “MVP” customers who are well-connected in their local communities and want to increase their status, and help them do so by providing access to early releases and “insider knowledge.”

Getting known through established locals is faster—as well as more affordable—than trying to get locals to know a business through advertising, PR, big splash events, and other traditional marketing. Small businesses can use this same approach.

Make Yourself an Influencer

But instead of relying on your Rock Stars to carry the ball completely, the trick is to enlist their help in making you more of a “thought leader” in your own industry or community. Many business owners fall into the rut of seeking influencers—such as bloggers with large followings, or prominent personalities in their markets or communities.  But it’s usually better to be the influencer yourself – enlisting your Rock Stars to help you do it.

A good local business providing exceptional solutions to a community or market has two things that no outside influencer can match, says Lee. You have actual customers who are happy, plus you have your own “subject matter experts” (you and your employees) who work with these customers all the time. That alone gives you far more valuable knowledge than the usual outside influencer.

Perhaps the best thing about Rock Star customers is that they already exist, quietly thriving under the radar, waiting for you to discover them and put them to work. Failing to do so is a little like being a homeowner who knows a stash of gold is hidden in the wall but never uses a metal detector to find it.

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8 Essentials of Email Marketing Success

Despite the onslaught of social media, pay-per-click and other digital marketing methods, email marketing is still one of the most popular – and effective – for small business.  Here are eight essentials that can help make your email marketing campaign a success:

1)    Avoid Email Isolation

Email marketing works best for businesses that carefully integrate it with a broader marketing strategy.  Trying to use email marketing in isolation – or as a one-shot experience – generally comes up short of expectations.

2)    Focus on Your List First

The quality of your list is everything, so that’s where you need to pay a great deal of attention up front. If you already have a list, it must be constantly honed, refreshed and optimized. If you are building one from scratch, populate it only with people who are true prospects for your business, and who’ve opted in to receive your messages and offers.  Opt-in lists generally have far higher response rates than purchased lists, so time devoted to developing an in-house list is well spent.

3)    Be In Tune to Avoid Opt-Outs

The two main reasons email recipients will ask to be removed from your list are: a) the information you are sending is not relevant or helpful to them; and b) they are getting too many emails from you.  If possible, ask your email recipients how often they’d like to hear from you. Or test out different frequencies and see what happens to find the one with the lowest opt-out rate. And never send an email unless the contents have a clear value for the recipients.

4)    Sync your Emails with Search and Social

Use an outside email distribution service (such as Constant Contact, Mail Chimp or Vertical Response) that allows you to also create a version of each email that exists as a web page that can show up in search. This way, every one of your emails will continue to exist as an online archive that can bring SEO traffic to your site. And be sure to include social media sharing, follow buttons and links in your emails. This is a great way to extend the reach of your list.

5)    Track and Measure Your Results Religiously

It is critical that you use some kind of marketing analytics to measure the results of your email marketing. The services listed above will all provide some basic metrics reporting, but you will also want to take it further to calculate how many of the people who clicked or otherwise responded actually made a purchase. Compare your email results to conversions from other marketing campaigns.

6)    Remember Mobile

It might surprise you that some 20 percent (and growing!) of all emails are now opened on a mobile device.  And depending on the type of business you operate, the number could be even higher for your particular audience. So if your message doesn’t take mobile users into account, you could be losing a fifth or more of your audience before you even start. Test all email templates for how they appear on mobile. And send both plain text and HTML versions.

7)    Learn Segmentation Secrets

Segmenting your list is a great way to target your messages more precisely and improve your results. For example, you might segment geographically (by state, region, etc.); by recipients’ special interests that you have gathered information on; or by how often they’ve purchased from you in the past.  If you sell business-to-business, you could segment by industry or recipient’s title. Gather intelligence each time you send an email to help inform you about how to segment the list the next time.

8)    Nurture your Leads

The leads you generate via email won’t benefit your business unless they convert to sales. Prepare a lead nurturing plan that begins the moment you get a lead and details each step you will take to shepherd your prospects down the path to conversion in a consistent, logical fashion.  Remember that speed is important. Most lead conversions go to the business that responds fastest.

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