Is it time to put your customer experience to the test?

There are very few businesses who don’t have competitors; and so many businesses charge similar prices for similar products and services. So why would a customer choose you over a rival? It’s the experience that buying from ‘you’ brings.

The more positive that experience; the more likely they will be, to buy from you again. And in a world where social proof and reviews are featuring more in purchasing decisions, delivering a good customer experience (as reported by your customers) can help influence others to come your way.

But what exactly are the pieces that make up your customer experience?

A journey of interactions

Think of the experience as the journey your customer goes on with you. The starting point may be noticing your products or services, having you recommended to them, checking you out on the web and reading through the reviews about you.

They may then enter into dialogue with you as they decide whether to buy. All the time they are subtly forming opinions about your business and evaluating whether their experience of it feels positive or not. These feelings will strengthen further as they progress along the purchasing process and also afterwards on receipt of your product/service. They’ll also evolve beyond the purchase with whatever post-sale communications or activities you undertake.

Each step or interaction of the journey builds to an overall experience – one which, at the end, they’ll be either happy to repeat … or not.

Expectations

And at each step the values and quality of your business approach are put through their paces. People will be looking to experience the benefits and strengths you promise. They will have expectations about what value you deliver for the price you charge and will be disappointed if those expectations aren’t met.

The challenge of consistency

Customer experience is also at the mercy of the people in your business. Irrespective of whether your product is excellent, the service you wrap round it and the way you market, sell and provide after sales care, will no doubt involve human interaction – and humans aren’t always well known for being repeatedly consistent in their delivery.

Which is why it’s important to periodically test your customer experience to make sure it’s what you think and hope it is. As teams grow and expand, core values and key strengths risk being diluted as different approaches are adopted across the business.

In recognition of this, some businesses are very clear about their values, and regularly re-affirm them to their people to ensure they continue to demonstrate them in all they do.

Sometimes little changes can make a big difference

Another way to assess if your customer experience still delivers what it should, is to take the journey yourself – or get a mystery shopper in to test it for you. Go through all the different journey stages your customers do and question if the experience is as you’d want it to be.

Recently a client of mine did just that. They were a firm of financial advisers and offered a range of high value services to high net worth individuals. One thing that became evident from evaluating their customer experience, was that a small number of components didn’t reflect that high value/high quality ethos.

For example, the meeting rooms were in need of decoration, the team served instant coffee to customers when they came in, and their customer documentation had a look and feel of being produced relatively cheaply. These may sound like irrelevant issues but they jarred with the overall strengths and qualities the firm was well known for.

The team soon set about making small changes – the meeting areas were redecorated and customer areas were made more welcoming, customers were served fresh coffee and biscuits in meetings. The firm added little personal touches like sending cards to customers on their birthday and generally became more visible and active in their local community where target customers resided. On top of this their branded materials were redesigned to have a higher quality look and feel.

Fairly quickly it became apparent that their customers really enjoyed all the subtle changes. Over time these small fine- touches have in turn led to greater customer referrals, lots of positive comments and new business enquiries.

Put your customer experience to the test

It’s getting harder and harder to motivate customers to give their feedback, as we’re all continually bombarded with requests to do customer surveys. If you are able to get your customers to tell you what they think about your experience, then you are doing very well and should ensure you act on the feedback they give, so they feel their time has been well spent.

But do also take a proactive stance and put simple measures in place to check your customer experience is delivering what it should be. Periodically take stock and evaluate (as objectively as you can) that as a business you are:

  • Communicating clearly and effectively with customers
  • Being responsive and timely to their enquiries, requests and questions
  • Offering good quality for the price you charge
  • Meeting, if not exceeding, their expectations

With the competitive landscape for most businesses only set to intensify, differentiating on product quality and price will become harder. It will be the experience people gain when they buy from us, that will help us to influence whether they return. To be successful we need to really grasp the expectations customers have when buying our products and services and deliver on these. We need to be clear what challenges or aspirations they’re looking to resolve.

The more we can create an experience which is positive, ticks all the elements on their list and gives them a good sense of well-being by the end; the more we’ll foster customer loyalty and encourage customers to send others our way.

Summary

Find ways to look at the different pieces which make up your customer experience jigsaw and see if you can strengthen them in any way. Draw on the ideas of your team so everyone can buy-in to the concept of creating an experience that gets your business offering noticed for all the right reasons.

For more customer retention and experience tips contact me at Extended Thinking. And don’t forget to let me know what you think in the comments below!

photo credit: deathtothestockphoto

Customer avatars: Do you know who you’re talking to?

Do you know the things in life they’re hoping for? If not, why not? Having a complete picture of a specific ‘ideal customer’, or persona, can help you to develop the right products and services just for them. If you know exactly who it is that you are dealing with, your business can be much more strategic in its approach to catering for their needs. Understanding their values, and what drives them, will make it easier to present them with solutions that fit their daily lives.

Basically, you want to have a clear picture of each of your ideal customers – what’s important to them, and how you should communicate with them.

Not so long ago, mobile company Orange came up with a series of packages for phone-users, that they named after cuddly things like Dolphin and Raccoon. In order to come up with those, they probably drew a complete picture of the customers who were a fit for each package – down to the papers they read and the coffee they drank. That may be going too far for many small businesses, but for most, taking some time out to develop customer personas can be a useful investment – and might even be fun!

Get others involved. Try to paint as detailed a picture as possible – and if at the end of it, you want to have life-sized cardboard cut-outs of each one in the office, factory or staff room, then go for it!

Whether yours is a business dealing with other businesses or consumers, you are still dealing with people at the end of the day. There will probably be a few distinct personas for your products and services. The general recommendation is to aim for around 3 to 5 distinct personas but you could start with one key persona and see how you do.

Building personas

Personas are based on real customer demographics and online behaviour, with a healthy dose of educated guesswork on their personalities, fears and motivations. The key elements of building a persona are:

1 Demographics

What do they look like? Age, style, gender, relationship status – give them a name to make them more real (and a photo if it helps). Where do they live – are they rural or urban? What’s their job? Where do they work? How do they get there? How much do they earn?

If it’s relevant, you might also want to consider what they do with their leisure time, or their plans for the future, career, retirement. Once you have a feel for who you’re dealing with, you can get to know them better.

2 Their goals and challenges

What is it that they hope to achieve; how can your product help them achieve their goals? What challenges might be getting in the way and how can you help them deal with those challenges?

3 Their buying habits

What are they looking for in the buying relationship? Why/how/where are they likely to be buying products like yours? How are they finding out about them? Do they do research online, ask friends/colleagues, and/or read reviews? Who helps or hinders them in making the final decision to buy? What might put them off a purchase? What will help make the process easier for them?

By considering this as part of the buyer persona, you can think about how to counteract any objections in the selling process, and also help to inform your marketing messages.

4 Finding the right message

How do they communicate with friends and colleagues, and are you speaking to them in the same way, or in a way that they would expect, given the product? What are the stories that get their attention and where do they go to read or hear them?

Admittedly, it looks a bit daunting at the start, with so many questions to consider before you can build the perfect customer, but you probably have many of the answers already. For example, Google Analytics can give you a fair idea of where your online target audience is based, and customer surveys, audience interviews, and research on social media can all add to the picture.

Have fun with the process and get other people involved. If you have a sales or customer services team, they will have valuable insights and their own perspectives on what makes your customers tick.

This is not a cynical exercise to enable you to manipulate your customers… this is an opportunity to really think about who it is you are catering for and to make sure that they get what they need, at a price and a place they want it – in a way that suits them and you. At the end of the day, that is essentially what marketing is all about.

Have you built a persona for your ideal client? Let me know in the comments…I’d love to hear about it.

photo credit: deathtothestockphoto

How to get your ideas to spread: Seth Godin

In this video, a TED Talk for entrepreneurs, Seth Godin reminds us that in order to stand out we need to be ‘remarkable’

Be remarkable. Safe is risky. Being very good is one of the worst things you can do. Everyone has heard the expression “The best thing since sliced bread” but did you know that for 15 years after sliced bread was invented it wasn’t popular? The success of sliced bread, like the success of anything, was less about the product and more about whether or not you could get your idea to spread or not.

Getting your marketing right – the first time!

In our digital age of engagement and two-way conversation, many small and micro-business owners recognise the need for marketing to create a strong brand presence and promote their business. Maybe you are currently at this stage yourself, where the referrals – which have provided you with the vast majority of your business to date – have started to dry up? Maybe you’ve reached the tough decision to leave your local networking group as you’re not meeting as many new customers as you’d like? Or maybe you are doing a roaring trade but are starting to become aware of how much you could scale your business and reach a wider audience?

So, you know you need to create a marketing strategy to bring in new leads, but how do you start and where do you go for help and support? Should you start with social media or your website? Or should you look at more traditional options such as the printed press or direct mail? More importantly, how do you avoid becoming that annoying spammer selling your wares in every group on every social media platform in existence (yep we all have had our fair share of them, haven’t we!)

For the majority of you, I’m guessing that marketing isn’t where your strengths or passions lie. If it was, you very probably, would have set up your own marketing consultancy rather than a coaching, accountancy, or any other fab business that you have poured your blood, sweat and tears into. So, outside of managing all of your marketing yourself – and running the risk of

  1. Complete overwhelm
  2. Being unable to deliver on your actual business offering and
  3. Throwing good money after bad on the next big marketing tactic – my recommendation would be to outsource to a company that can provide you with the advice and support you need

I appreciate that it can feel like a step into the unknown, and sometimes a case of trial and error. There are many clients that come to me who have given something a go, either themselves, or with a marketing agency that has approached them, and it may not have worked first time. There may be a number of reasons for this, such as the agency not fully understanding the brief, or the business owner not really knowing what they want out of it, just that they feel ‘it should work’.

So what do I advise these clients, and also those who are looking to dip their toe into the marketing waters for the first time?

Prepare a plan

First and foremost, take some time to think about what it is you want to achieve. Any good marketing consultant should go through this with you and help you to devise a marketing strategy, but it helps if you have had a think about this beforehand. Consider what you believe to be a success, and this should form part of the objectives that are set between you and the agency/consultant.

Prepare a brief

It’s important for the person that is helping you with your marketing to become an extension of your team; the more they understand your business, the better the job they can do for you. Who are your target market(s), what do your existing and future customers look like, and what motivates them? The more thinking you can do around this, the better. It’ll help you further down the line, and ensure your marketing strategy is in line with your business objectives.

Know your budget

You may not know what the going rate for a marketing agency or consultant may be, but it’s important to try to do some research beforehand. Then set your budget based on what can you realistically afford to spend, and what you might expect to achieve with that amount. You may find that it helps to ask other business owners who have used a marketing consultant in the past or drop a request in an active Facebook or LinkedIn group that you may be a member of. You’ll find that a lot of people are more than happy to advise and recommend. This may also save you a lot of time (and money!) in research.

Rely on your gut instinct

This can count for a lot. This person/team will be working on your behalf, so you have to be comfortable with how they represent you. Are they including you in the creative process, getting your input on how you want to be represented as a brand? What similar clients have they worked on in the past? What outcomes or benefits did they achieve?

Regular reviews

Sitting down regularly with your consultant will not only increase the close working relationship, but also help to tweak/amend the marketing strategy where necessary, and allow you to check progress against the objectives set out at the beginning.

It may seem like a daunting move, but if you follow the steps above it will help you on the way to getting it right the first time rather than having to invest time and money down the line on correcting potential costly errors.

So, let me know what you think in the comments and feel free to get in touch if I can be of further assistance…

Photo credit: deathtothestockphoto.com

You want to win more business – so what are you so afraid of?

Unless you are a time-served, battle-hardened sales person, there is a good chance you will have struggled at various points in time, to overcome your fear of rejection when it comes to sales meetings.

It might be difficult to admit, but there are plenty of times when ‘us small business professionals’ allow sales opportunities to slip away, because we’d rather move past any potential awkwardness and get ready to tackle a new challenge somewhere else.

Tough at the top

And this isn’t just a problem for small business operators or entrepreneurs.

In fact, I know from my own experience working with the people who pioneered executive coaching in the UK, that top executives often have a profound lack of confidence and terrible fear of rejection when it comes to the sale process.

In some cases, even top executives at FTSE 100 companies have been completely unwilling to pick up the phone to pursue a prospect, because they’ve been fearful that their suggestions will be rebuffed.

Blame your brain

Although it might often prove to be unhelpful in a variety of business-related situations, the fear of rejection is actually a perfectly natural reaction to certain circumstances. Indeed, it all comes down to the way our brains work and our tendency to lose confidence and become a little overwhelmed if we’re too focussed on potentially negative outcomes.

There are essentially two networks working away in the pre-frontal cortex of our brains. The first helps us figure out what value a potential outcome might have i.e. risk vs reward, and the second keeps us in check and helps us focus on trying to secure the outcome we’re after.

In certain situations, like a business meeting for example, we find ourselves relying more on the second network. This can lead to a frame of mind where we end up more compelled by the fear of rejection or embarrassment, than by the chance to seize the moment and earn ourselves a sale.

No pain, no gain

Fearing rejection feels like a weakness and from a purely business perspective it can be.

But we should also give ourselves a break, because research has shown that experiencing rejection, functions in the brain in much the same way as experiencing physical pain.

And we don’t blame people for wanting to avoid physical pain, in fact, it’s generally regarded as being a perfectly sensible approach (unless you’re a regular gym-goer – in which case pain and gain can be looked at rather differently).

So fearing rejection isn’t anything to give ourselves a hard time about, but it is something which we should be aiming to overcome if we want to maximise the potential business opportunities that cross our path.

Sensitivity

Generally speaking, some of us are more sensitive to the anxieties associated with fear of rejection than others. Experienced sales professionals will generally have managed to set those feelings to one side and they’ll usually be prepared to ask the tough questions and lay their cards on the table in no uncertain terms.

For the rest of us, who are often obliged to engage in sales activity by virtue of being the leader of our own business operations, our natural instincts to avoid awkward sales pitches and potential rejection can kick in at crucial moments. All of which is perfectly normal and natural but can also be counterproductive.

Asking the right questions

In practical terms, as a representative of your own business, you should be aiming to ask the right questions, at the right moments, in order to secure a sale when the opportunity is there for you to take.

However, this doesn’t need to be an awfully awkward process and you can use the following phrases to guide conversations with potential clients in the right direction:

  • How do you feel about this?
  • What do you think?
  • What are your thoughts at this point?

You’ll know by asking these kinds of questions whether you are close to a sale or you’re still some way off.

If you’re hearing clear objections or issues at this point, then you should look to resolve and overcome them as best you can and then return to asking the same sorts of questions as listed above.

If there aren’t any objections or problems being raised by your prospective client in a meeting, whatever the situation, then you should be ready to take the plunge and actually ask the questions that will enable you to close a sale.

Again, this doesn’t have to be a huge moment on which the whole process stands or falls. You can just phrase you enquiry as follows to give yourself a good chance of success, without staking too much in the process:

How would you like to proceed?

Following up

It isn’t often that sales or business meetings will quickly and seamlessly lead to significant sales.

These things generally take some persistence and people like to consider all their options carefully before making a commitment.

This doesn’t necessarily reflect in any way on your sales technique or your services. However, it is vital to do all and any follow-up work that helps maximise your prospects of winning the sale that you want.

Asking for referrals

Similarly, asking for referrals should become an automatic part of the way you do business and liaise with clients. Of course, you don’t want to test your existing relationships too much or expect anyone else to do your sales work for you. But you should certainly be looking to get out of the habit of leaving money on the table by failing to ask for referrals when there are easy introductions to be had.

The truth is, that we all (in most situations) would prefer to work or do business with people who have been recommended to us through personal relationships. So gaining a referral from the right person can be priceless in terms of opening up doors to important new opportunities.

Getting the job done

Very often, the more you care about your services and your products, the more you will fear rejection in the context of a sales meeting. But the bare facts are that you will always need to secure sales for your business to really thrive and achieve your potential.

So it’s time to start setting your sales inhibitions to one side and to be ready to ask the right questions whenever good sales or referral opportunities present themselves.

What do you think? Do you struggle with the fear of rejection? Let me know in the comments below!

photo credit: bigstockphoto.com

Want to market effectively? Here’s the one person you must meet

There is a seemingly endless list of action steps you can take to market your business. From adding content to your website, to growing your email list, from posting on LinkedIn, to following more people on Twitter, from designing flyers, to attending networking events and from blogging to uploading videos, there are never going to be enough hours in the day to get everything done that could be done.

But rather than adding even more to your marketing To Do list, there’s a smarter way to focus your marketing efforts.

There’s one person you need to meet. This one person will enable you to delete items from your list. They will declutter your plans and ensure that even if you did just one thing per week, that action would have high impact.

Can you guess who that one person is?

Your ideal client

If you’re not clear who your business serves, it’s easy to spread yourself thin. Many business owners spend hours travelling up and down the country to attend event after event, or spend hours staring at a screen wondering which Facebook group to join next.

All this effort is wasted if you’re not getting in front of the very person who everything depends on. Your ideal client!

Here’s how to meet them

If you’re already in a public place reading this article, you can do this immediately; otherwise, action this as soon as you get to a café or train or busy shopping centre. (And if you can’t get to a public space for a while, you can play the at-home version via Google images, magazines or TV shows.)

From where you’re sitting, choose someone who could represent your ideal client. This exercise in itself is clarifying; who do you pass over and why? I call this the Tribe Spotting game; you’re asking yourself: Who here could be my ideal client, and why? What are the characteristics that my ideal clients share? What are the common challenges and desires that my business helps with?

I most recently did this exercise in a café in Brighton. From my sofa, I saw out of the window a blonde woman in her 20’s walking past with her boyfriend. I named her Juliet and created a whole life for her. She was a photographer struggling to find enough clients. I decided where she lives and whether she likes her flat. I decided her birthday and where she stands on the whether-to-have-babies dilemma. I decided which university she went to, which breakfast cereal she eats, and where she gets her hair dyed.

Most importantly, I could connect with who Juliet is and why it matters to her to get her business off the ground – which is what I help people like Juliet with. I know why marketing feels so challenging to Juliet and what she wishes someone would just “get” without her having to explain.

Every blog I write is for Juliet. Every course I develop is for Juliet. Every sales email, every Facebook status, every video – I’m speaking directly, heart-to-heart, to Juliet.

As I walk to the loo in that Brighton café, I see the community noticeboard. I ask myself: what would catch Juliet’s attention on this board? It gives me ideas for how to design flyers and business cards. When on Pinterest later that day, I ask myself: which boards would Juliet follow? What is she on this site for?

I notice what Juliet wouldn’t be interested in, which events she wouldn’t attend, which social networking sites she wouldn’t be active on, which words and phrases would turn her off.

But how do I know these things? How can I make all this up from looking at one person walking past my café window?

It’s because I’ve done research. In the early days of growing my business, I chatted with 100 people who I thought I could work with. They helped me clarify my ideal client profile. They told me their deepest yearnings and greatest fears. They told me about their lifestyle, their financial situation and their background.

Juliet is a composite of what I discovered from them. Her fictional life sums up the reality of hundreds, if not thousands, of my ideal clients.

Time and time again, I receive feedback from my blog readers and those I’m connected with on my Facebook Page, saying, “It’s like you read my mind. How did you know I’m struggling with this today? How did you know that’s exactly how the challenge feels in my head?” I’m not psychic; it’s because I’ve asked and I’ve then built up this ideal client profile that all my marketing speaks to.

I invite you to enjoy this Tribe Spotting exercise – and to commit to doing the research, if you realise you need to hear more from real people about what life is like for them, in relation to what you’re offering. From this, you can build up your all-important ideal client profile, and then all your marketing efforts will be focused on the one person you need to meet.

So tell me, have you met your ideal client? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Photo credit: deathtothestockphoto.com

Is branding really essential for a business as small as mine?

In my business, I always get asked…What is branding and is it really essential for a business as small as mine?

When small business owners approach me after hearing that I’m a Branding Consultant, they will often ask me to design a logo for them or re-design their website. ‘But they are just visual representations of your brand you understand?’ I say ‘What’s your strategy, what’s your brand all about?’ To which I’m often met with blank faces.

Coming from a corporate background myself, having worked for some of London’s biggest advertising agencies and with some of the world’s most renowned brands (from Coca-Cola and BMW to Nike and VISA), it’s always frustrated me how many ‘experts’ within my industry can overly complicate branding (and marketing for that matter), mystifying the very clients that they are trying to win. If we can’t express clarity at the very highest level, what hope is there for small business owners with no previous experience in the field?

So let’s get back to basics.

Firstly, what is branding?

Your brand IS your business.

It’s the persona you portray to the world. It’s what your customers buy into.

It’s also important to add here what your brand is not: a company name, a logo or the way your company communicates these to the world. It’s all of these and much, much more. It’s what you can ‘stand up and be counted for’ as a company, and how you want to be perceived in the hearts and minds of your customers.

I always feel that my clients come on a journey with me. They often approach me to get their logo created or clarity on their social media strategy. But they leave with so much more – a real understanding of who they are, who they want to target and how best to communicate with potential clients on their level. In essence, the CLARITY that they have been searching for (for so long); having previously spent a considerable amount of time, money and energy jumping from one tactic to the next, whether that be social media, SEO, networking or printed flyers.

Brand strategy…

So brand strategy then – in its simplest of terms, is a set of principles that guide you as an organisation. These should act as a guideline for communicating your company’s reason for being. Without this, how can you expect your customers to buy into you or your business? You’ll always be following the next bright shiny object or cutting prices as a way to lure customers in.

But how do you create a strategy? Personally, I’d advise that you start with your goals and vision, because if you don’t know where you want to be, then how can you possibly know how to get there? This visualisation process is invaluable; not only will you and any others in your organisation be clearer on what you want to achieve, but it helps to work out how you can get there.

The power of your brand comes from the ability to adapt it to reflect your audience’s point of view, rather than your own. This is why defining your target market is so essential in ensuring your brand’s effectiveness.

It’s important to drill down beyond the demographic and geographic characteristics of your target market(s) and look at what really drives them, and what motivates them to do business with you. How do they typically feel about competitors in your industry? What problems do they have that you could resolve?

You should also analyse what your competitors are up to, so that you have a clear understanding of the whole marketplace and how you slot into that, together with the key points of differentiation between your company and others.

There’s no point just being a ‘little bit different’; think about how you can set your brand apart from the rest, now you know where you sit.

Productising and packaging

Productising and packaging-up your offerings, enables you to become more accessible to your target market(s). This in turn, allows you to reach a wider customer base, so you should consider how this option could work for you. It also makes it easier for your customer to opt-in, as you have created the tangible from the (very often) intangible – so they’ll know right from the outset what they’re getting for their money.

At this stage, I would highly recommend you get an expert on board to help you with your brand essence (the emotional heart of your brand), and how that should be communicated to customers (visual identity, tone of voice, channels etc). This is where the magic happens and you really start to create your own ‘tribe’ (as our very own Julie Hall would refer to those loyal customers).

From a business perspective, a cherished brand adored by its customers, not only helps you stand out against your competitors, but also win more loyal customers much more easily.

It also helps you grow without losing consumer trust, as once you have your community of raving fans, they will follow you whichever direction you decide to take next (you only need to look at the Apple brand to see this in practice). Even if you experience a one-off problem or decide to increase prices, your customers are more likely to understand and continue buying your products.

To sum up, establishing your brand and getting your strategy in place, is one of the most important elements of running a business. Without a proper strategy in place the likelihood is that your business will fail.

Fact.

So what are you waiting for? Get cracking on creating that brand strategy today!

What do you think… do you have a brand strategy in place? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Photo credit: deathtothestockphoto.com

How to create the right route-map for your 2015 marketing journey

As we say goodbye to the delights of Christmas and look ahead to the fresh and exciting possibilities of the New Year, many minds turn to planning.

The festive break has hopefully recharged and refreshed us, and for some, there’s now an eagerness to create a better outcome in the year ahead. In terms of our businesses, that may mean winning more customers, generating better quality or more profitable sales, or simply protecting the customers we have.

And in selecting that overarching goal for our 2015 horizon, we’ll also have to consider the steps which will get us there. This may require a marketing plan to be sketched out. But how do you avoid creating a plan which once written is soon forgotten, as the hubbub of daily business gets underway?

How do you, in contrast, create a practical and highly implementable route-map that focuses your energies and resources on the right areas; and takes you on a relatively quick and painless journey to your ultimate goal or objective?

From our many years’ experience helping business people create practical and effective plans, here are some tips to help you achieve your 2015 marketing goals.

1. Make the destination identifiable and easy to reach

When setting goals or objectives, it’s sometimes tempting to give a broad brush ambition such as – grow sales by £X, increase the customer base by Y%, or raise awareness of our Z product range. These generalised goals make it harder to build a marketing plan which has a realistic chance of being achieved. They also prevent focusing what resources you have to the best possible effect.

So scale your objectives and goals down to be very specific – say increasing the sales revenue from X customer segment of our Y product by z% in 12 months. Focusing the goal on specific customer groups and particular service or product lines, will help you channel your marketing efforts more resourcefully and effectively.

In setting these goals, be objective and make sure you’re laying down ones which are realistic and can be achieved, given your business model, state of your target markets and available resources (that includes time, as well as the people and financial budgets of your business). Finally, when setting a destination that’s identifiable and easy to reach, make sure it’s a journey where you can easily measure the outcome at the end.

This measurement should be more than a simple “Did we achieve it or didn’t we?” Ultimately you want to be reassured that the journey was a smooth one, it brought you the results you wanted and didn’t adversely affect your profitability, staff motivation and other areas of the business in doing so.

2. Make the most of what you have – before focusing on a distant shore

Quite often there is a tendency to ignore the value in what we have, and instead focus on acquiring something new – be it new customers, new contacts, new products etc. And yet often buried in your customer base are potential opportunities to add greater value, build greater loyalty, sell additional products/services or harness goodwill to procure recommendations and referrals that bring in more business.

So when planning your marketing for 2015, ensure a healthy chunk of the journey is devoted to your existing customers and supporters. Plan activities which strengthen their relationship with your business.

Consider initiatives which will make them feel special and valued by your business, and which subtly educate them on different aspects of your product/service offering, which they may not currently realise you provide.

Other useful approaches here include loyalty scheme activities, preferential offers, acknowledging and rewarding recommendations and creating a community around your product/service offering through events, social media, blogs, newsletters etc.

3. Create a route map of little steps

If you can ensure your marketing plan has steps or activities which are quick and easy to accomplish, you’ll find overall, the plan has a greater chance of being implemented than if each presented a metaphorical mountain to climb. Establish small steps you need to take to get to your destination or goal.

Put these into a spreadsheet or table that identifies when each will be actioned and any budget or other necessary resources involved. Take an objective view as to how easy these will be to achieve with the time and resources you have.

If necessary break a step down into smaller components so you are always moving forward and never hit a major hurdle. The more activities which are accomplished and ‘ticked-off’, the more motivated you and your team will be to accomplish the remainder.

4. Establish milestones

With any long-journey it’s always good to have points of achievement along the way and review progress. Establish stage goals that will lead to your over-arching objectives, which when achieved, help you gain some sense of progress. These will reassure you and your team that you’re moving in the right direction and give you assurance that your plan’s implementation is on track.

These stage goals are also a good time to review how things are going and if the next in this series of mini goals are still the right ones to get you to your destination (and in the state you want to arrive in). That means evaluating, not only if the route-map is still the best one for that long-term objective, but taking stock of the effect the journey is having on your business and if anything needs to be fine-tuned or altered in any way.

All manner of obstacles, challenges and opportunities could present themselves in 2015, and it’s good to build in some degree of flexibility, review and reflection, so you can respond well to them in your plan.

5. Avoid your marketing getting stuck in heavy traffic

It’s getting harder to get marketing noticed now, as information overload and 24/7 communications are commonplace in everyday life. The ‘push’ marketing strategies of old do not work in this noisy, busy landscape and customers have developed careful screening capabilities and significantly shorter attention spans.

This leads to a need to be visible in your marketing but not in a way that your efforts are diluted by everything else around them, jostling for attention. Your marketing should get you on people’s radars and reassure them, so when they do have a need, they come immediately to you.

This means ensuring your website is easy to find and navigate for the types of enquiries your customers will have, and that it is optimized well for the typical search phrases that point to your expertise. It also means, that whether you do social media, face-to-face networking, produce content such as blogs, newsletters etc; you talk about how you help not what you sell.

The more examples you can share of how people who buy from you have benefited, for example through case studies, stories, facts, statistics etc, the stronger and more convincing a magnet you’ll be for others in that situation. Wherever possible harness the goodwill of those who have bought from you and like you – encouraging them to give testimonials, rate/rank you and act as a referee if a potential customer wants a reference.

Being visible isn’t about trying to be everywhere and stretching you and your resources very thinly. Instead it should be about being very focused and concentrating on those channels which work best for the market you want to reach out to. The smaller and more specific that market; the more opportunities you’ll have to use your resources to create maximum impact.

Summary

Creating a marketing plan for a business is both exciting and daunting. It’s exciting because it points to making a change and endeavouring to achieve something better. It’s daunting because we can never be certain what the journey will throw at us and what factors may get in the way to prevent us achieving our goals.

A good workable plan is one that gives us the best chance of success. That means setting a destination goal which is most certainly do-able. It means playing to strengths, building on what we already have and mapping out small easy to achieve steps that move us along smoothly and successfully. It also helps to take appropriate time-outs to review and if necessary refresh the plan. This helps a business to feel good about the progress made so far, so its people are motivated to carry on.

Whatever your business and marketing goals are for 2015. I wish you the very best. But take control of your journey and try not to leave things to luck and chance. Put yourself in the driving seat and create a route-map you’ve got every possibility of achieving.

For more great marketing strategy and planning tips you can read Michelle’s articles here!

Photo credit: deathtostockphotos

The secret sauce to selling on social media without selling

Imagine the scene. Thousands of people in one place, socialising, enjoying some light relief, looking to be educated, entertained and informed. There’s a real buzz. It’s an exciting sensory overload of people, noise, colour, music and creativity. Competing for attention. Jostling for position.

All wanting to be heard!

I’m talking about social media, right? Actually, it’s the Edinburgh Festival, where we enjoyed our annual fun-packed festival extravaganza back in August.

Selling might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you visit the Edinburgh Festival, but the similarity between the festival and social media really struck me. In both cases you’ve got A LOT of people trying to stand out and promote their ‘thing’ in a crowded market.

As with anything, there’s an easy way to achieve this…and a hard way.

The festival highlighted a wide range of different selling strategies

  1. On the one hand there’s old fashioned ‘interruption marketing’ where you tout your wares to all and sundry in the hope that someone will ‘bite’.
  2. On the other, there’s attraction or ‘inbound’ marketing where you understand your market and the value you offer, which draws your ideal clients to you.
  3. Add to this ‘relationship marketing’ where a loyal base of fans follow and support you, and rave about you to their friends.
  4. And then there’s the ‘taster session’ where you attract new followers by showcasing a little of your magic.

Almost two million tickets were sold at the Edinburgh Festival this year for every genre of music, theatre, comedy, drama and cabaret (there’s something for everyone). There’s a buzz in the air and the streets are full of performers in weird and wonderful costumes.

With over 3,000 shows a day in 300 different venues (yes, you read that right) there’s a huge variety to choose from, and huge competition. Like social media, it’s a level playing field in terms of opportunity. ANYONE can put on a show, from the big names to the newbie performer.

Let’s get to the point

So what lessons can the busy entrepreneur or business owner take from this?

First of all, decide on how you want to market yourself on social media. Do you want to use modern marketing which is based on ‘attraction’ marketing?

Or are you going to go the old-fashioned ‘interruption’ marketing route where you randomly post links all over social media in the hope of attracting some business? The equivalent at the Edinburgh festival is the chuggers who randomly thrust leaflets at you as you walk past.

Does this approach work? Well, sometimes. I remember being accosted by four pirates walking down the Royal Mile with my boys one year. A quick chat with said pirates, a bit of “ahoy me hearties” and two free tickets, and we were off to watch their performance of Treasure Island – it was very good actually!

But this random, scatter-gun approach is hard work. If you relied on this method for all your marketing you’d either get annoying or burn out with all the constant hustling. So why do people do this on social media?

How to use modern marketing to sell without selling

To use attraction marketing you need to be 100% clear on WHO you want to attract. And on the VALUE you’re offering. On social media you should be talking to your ideal clients, in their language, with a promise of the value that you bring to help them achieve their goals, or solve their problems.

The real secret here is to be completely clear on what you’re offering, and to whom, so your marketing is laser focussed. We’re talking 100% crystal clear. Talk to potential clients and build relationships with them, rather than blasting your sales message out to anyone and everyone.

3 success factors to ensure you stand out on social media

There are three main differences between the sell-out shows at the festival and those that struggle to fill seats:

Firstly, some shows are good, i.e. talented, clever, different, new, exciting, cutting-edge. And some are rubbish – ok, perhaps it’s a matter of taste but some shows are just bad. Don’t be one of those. Either give your audience 110% of your best, or don’t waste time on social media.

Secondly, many artists return to festival every year. They don’t appear once and hope it works. They show up year after year, and consistently build their audience. Building a loyal following is critical, because it’s easier to market new products and services to a warm community. And if you’re good they’ll rave about your to their friends!

One example that comes to mind is The Boy With Tape On His Face (a fantastic show if you ever get the chance to see it). The first year we saw him we got tickets at the last-minute and had a fantastic night. The next year we had to buy tickets in advance and queue up outside the venue (SO worth it). The following year when he’d performed in London and appeared on TV we couldn’t get tickets for love nor money. (Well done Boy With Tape. Remember though that his ‘overnight success’ probably took 5 or 10 years of hard slog).

If you want to be successful on social media, it’s important to establish yourself as the expert in your niche. Be the ‘go to’ person for your specific area, someone who provides value and owns their expertise. The more specific you can be the better. When someone needs help in the area you specialise in, you’ll be front of mind and the first person they contact.

Thirdly, can you imagine if there were hundreds of shows at the Edinburgh festival billed as comedy? Or if there were thousands of marketing experts or business coaches promoting themselves on social media. Oh, there are!

It’s critical to differentiate yourself. Having something unique or different about what you offer gives you a competitive edge.

The secret sauce to selling without selling

This applies whether you’re promoting a show at the Edinburgh festival or using social media to build your business.

The BIG factor which will make the MOST difference to your success is …(drum roll)… SOCIAL PROOF.

When you have customers raving about the results you get them, or how you’ve helped them, others will come flocking. If you’re clear on who you want to attract and what you’re offering, and you have happy customers talking about you, you will have no end of business.

Make sure you provide amazing value to your clients, give them the results you’ve promised them in your marketing, and ask for testimonials and reviews. The sell-out Edinburgh shows are the ones with a loyal fan base and excellent reviews. You don’t see Jack Whitehall thrusting leaflets at passers-by.

It’s decision time…

Decide if you want your business to be like a much-loved Edinburgh show with rave reviews, and customers fighting for tickets? Or a street chugger randomly hustling anyone and everyone, hoping this will generate some business.

And maybe see you in Edinburgh next year?

You can read more great articles by Cassie here!

Photo credit: Deathtostockphotos.com

Why testimonials are business gold: and how they can do your marketing for you!

Want marketing to feel easier? Let’s get testimonials doing the work for you.

Testimonials are golden

Whether you’re still in the early days of business and have only worked with one practice client, or whether you’ve served hundreds of happy clients, testimonials are one of the most important pieces of marketing copy to get up on your site.

Do this as soon as possible, do it in the right way, and testimonials can be doing a lot of the marketing work for you.

A great testimonial can move a potential client from being vaguely interested to being actively interested and ready to pay. It provides social proof; it inspires your potential client to say, “Oh, others like me are doing this; it’s safe to take the leap.”

But there’s a massive difference between a run-of-the-mill testimonial and a glowing testimonial that moves your potential client to commitment.

Your testimonial-gathering strategy

You can implement this immediately, whether you’re ten days or ten years into running your business; follow these tips and give your potential client the confidence to say YES to working with you.

1. Prove the happy client is real

If I’m looking for a massage therapist locally and I find a website which includes this testimonial – “Wow, this is the best massage in Cambridge! Sarah B.” – I don’t know Sarah B is real. The massage therapist could have fabricated Sarah B. A testimonial without identifying details doesn’t carry value for me.

Action: Ask your happy client to share their full name and photo. (Even better: include location and profession too.) Feel nervous about this? Business owners often assume their happy clients won’t want to be visible in this way; you might be right, but you might be surprised. Ask – and let them make the decision.

2. Tell your happy client the real reason you would like their testimonial. Your happy client is likely to be a generous human being who’d love to help you build your business.

Moreover, they’ll want to help others like them.

Action: Make it clear that testimonials are for the benefit of future potential clients who have the same struggles or desires they had before working with you. Explain it like this: “I’d love to share your story with people who come to my site; it helps if they see people like themselves, who were once where they are now, and it’ll be inspiring for them to see your great results.” Explain that a testimonial is a way for your happy client to celebrate their success publicly, in a way that will help others. When you present it this way, be prepared for them to be delighted to say ‘yes’.

3. Ask for objections  – You might assume a testimonial is all about the positives

“I got this result! This was amazing! I’m in a far better place now!” Yes, certainly include these (more about this in a moment) but it’s just as powerful – if not more so – to highlight the resistance that the happy client initially had. It might sound counter-intuitive to display your happy client’s initial misgivings and hesitations, but it’s exactly what your potential client is looking for. They’re on the verge of becoming your client, but they’re currently experiencing some reluctance. Transformation is appealing but may seem out of reach; in this moment, they can relate more to the feeling of holding back. Imagine their relief to see that someone else (like them) was resistant too, but went ahead anyway and was so glad they did.

Action: Ask your happy client: “Did anything nearly stop you from going ahead with this?” Their response could relate to the cost, the timing, what their partner would say, or their uncertainty that the process or product would work for them. By including these objections in your testimonial, you’ll create a powerful sense of safety for your prospective client and reassure them that they too can take the leap.

4. Ask for specific results

A testimonial like this – “Sally was lovely, I loved her, she was fantastic, you should work with her” – doesn’t say anything. You want each testimonial to convey someone’s journey.

Action: Ask your happy client to share how they were feeling and what was happening for them before they worked with you or bought your product. Then, ask them to describe their life now.

Finally, ask them to join the dots and explain why your support was what enabled them to take the journey from A to B. The real-life specifics of the journey will speak powerfully to your prospective client and reassure them that they too can have this experience.

So, are you using testimonials to full effect in your business. Let us know in the comments below – we’d love to hear from you!