Dear Diary, I Lost Another Customer Today

It is easy to tell when my car needs gas. There is a gauge on the dashboard. If I am not paying attention, a light comes on when the fuel level gets too low. Finally, the car will simply stop when the tank is completely empty.

However, my car (unlike more sophisticated models) gives no warning when I need an oil change. Even if your car displays remaining oil life, you must first remember to scroll through the display periodically to check it. Jiffy Lube, Kwik Kar and other oil change franchises solve that problem by putting a small transparent sticker on my windshield to remind me at what mileage I need to change oil.

Doctors, dentists and veterinary clinics have long sent reminders when annual checkups are due. Same principle!

Most consumer products that require periodic maintenance or replacement give no obvious warning. Filters on furnaces and air conditioners, and batteries in smoke detectors and watches all come to mind. Many things around the home and office including HVAC equipment, computers, alarms systems, pool equipment and so on all need periodic service for optimum efficiency.

If you sell replacement parts or service on products that fall into this category, create a diary system, a sticker or something to remind customers to schedule a service call.

Here are some additional thoughts to keep customers coming back to you for maintenance and service work.

  • Have the customer indicate how they want to be contacted for a reminder when they initially purchase the item or sign up for service. Provide several options such as email and phone calls. Both are cheaper and more likely to solicit a favorable response than mailing a card. Whatever diary system you choose, it is sure to improve customer retention.
  • Create a sense of urgency by including a limited-time special offer with the reminder. A 15% discount, a free month of service or other incentive will discourage customers from procrastinating or purchasing services elsewhere.
  • Everyone who subscribes to magazines has received next year’s renewal notice within a few months of renewing the current year. In some cases, the marketing strategy may be to hope the subscriber forgot they still have 10 months remaining on the current subscription. However, the publisher usually offers substantial discounts to renew early, especially if pre-authorized to charge your credit card at renewal.

The same idea applies to remind clients to renew annual contracts, maintenance agreements and so forth. Do not wait for the customer to contact you, and do not risk losing a sale simply because you forgot. Again, offer customers a discount or an extra month on the contract if they renew by a specified date.

Enjoy the long weekend as we celebrate the unofficial end to summer and our 118thannual Labor Day. Thank you to our Canadian neighbors who came up with the idea ten years before Grover Cleveland copied it!

© 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

 

Energizing Your Work Force

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics once said, “Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, make me feel important. Never forget this message when working with people.”

Her quote applies to both customers and employees. Today, I want to apply it to your employees. Make sure every employee fully understands how important the accomplishment of his or her individual goals is to achieving overall company success. Publicly praise them when they accomplish a major milestone toward achieving those goals.

Do not assume every employee knows all they need to know about your products, services, company policies or even the basics of sales and customer service. Make the effort to ensure they are adequately trained on all critical aspects of your business. Simply teaching them to up sell by always asking the equivalent of the fast food industry’s standard question, “Do you want fries with that order?” will go a long way toward increasing average customer purchases.

Why is this important? Alan J. Zell, author and retail marketing expert says, “Every business needs more business. That is an accepted fact. The unaccepted fact is that most businesses don’t use all the opportunities available that will bring them additional business. When one looks for additional business, the primary goal should center around getting second sales. What are second sales and why are they important? Second sales are add-on sales, repeat sales and sale by referral. They are important because they are much less expensive to get than first sales.”

If you would like to see Mr. Zell’s advice in practice, try leaving a shoe store without being asked if you need extra laces, polish and a few extra pairs of socks to go with your new shoes. It cannot be done!

I talked earlier about the importance of networking. Here are two simple suggestions that will make your employees feel appreciated, and give you the opportunity to grow your business through their network contacts.

  • If there are too many networking opportunities for one person, have a key employee join a group or two. It will be a growth experience for them and it demonstrates your trust and appreciation.
  • I can still remember my excitement over 35 years ago when, having just graduated college, I brought my first business card home and presented it to my father. I do not know who was prouder, my dad or me. I also gave copies to everyone I knew, and probably strangers I passed on the street. However, what I attributed to pride, my employer probably chalked up to that cheap advertising I talked about in Chapter 3. Order business cards for all your permanent employees. They are sure to hand them out generously.

Let’s meet again on Wednesday. And remember, you have just one week to submit your entry for CFO America’s contest and a chance to win a $100 gift card. Please visit http://bit.ly/iImrPd for details.

Dues Free Networking

The goal of the Chamber of Commerce is to act as a business network to promote local businesses. The Chambers of Commerce in my area all do a very effective job of carrying out that mission. They frequently hold ribbon cutting ceremonies and similar events to promote new or expanded businesses. These events often appear on the front page of local newspapers. They also conduct formal and informal networking events. However, since my book is subtitled 115 Low-cost Ways to Avoid Market Obscurity, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the annual cost for an individual membership would likely be between $150 and $250. Corporate memberships generally start around $250 and can escalate quickly as you grow depending on annual sales, number of employees or other variable factors determined by individual chapters. Furthermore, not all of the cost is tax deductible.

Here are two networking strategies you can implement without incurring dues.

Why not form your own personal networking group? You will eventually deal with many vendors, bankers, insurance agents, accountants, lawyers, suppliers and so on. Evaluate potential vendor’s customer base, and try to select those most similar to your market. Then trade referrals. Make sure they fully understand your business and its marketing objectives. They will also need a generous supply of your business cards and
other appropriate marketing materials.

  • Vendors who serve other customers and clients in your markets can be a great source of general market intelligence. However, do not ask them to compromise their business ethics by revealing confidential competitor information, and be leery of those who do so voluntarily.

A variation of the personal networking group idea is the “Buddy Marketing” strategy. Look for partners with products or services that are complementary to yours, or whose customers use your product or service. An example would be a sporting goods store joining forces with a health club. The store can offer club members special discounts and promotions on sporting goods products. They can also share mailing lists and even include club promotions in their mailings, electronic distributions and on their website. Perhaps the health club would allow the retailer to demonstrate their products in the club’s lobby on occasion.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend, as we remember all those who gave their lives so that we can enjoy the rights and privileges of living in a free society. May God bless all of those who voluntarily wear a uniform, including my son, Eric.

Networking 101

American “Rags-to-riches” motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, “If someone is going down the wrong road, he doesn’t need motivation to speed him up. What he needs is education to turn him around.”

The following short points will help you network with those unfortunate, misguided people in your market who are going down the wrong road, namely the one leading to your competitors. Your goal is educate them on your value proposition and thereby direct them to the road that leads to your front door.

  • Search the Internet for local business networks. Start with www.meetup.com, a free service that provides information on 250,000 monthly meetings in 45,000 cities. Meetup has several other features you will find useful including meeting agendas and guest speakers, reminders and member pictures and profiles.
  • It has been said that a person’s name is their favorite word. Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang stated an obvious corollary to this point, “It helps a ton when you learn people’s names and don’t butcher them when trying to pronounce them.” With a name like Schmeltzle, I know where he is coming from! If necessary, spell their name phonetically on the back of their business card to help remember its proper pronunciation. It is very true that you only get one chance to make a good first impression. Mess up a name and the opportunity may be lost!
  • Public speaking, essential to successful networking, is a skill that is difficult to teach. However, it can be learned over time. As the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” Start with a small, friendly audience and work your way up to more challenging venues.
  • Focus on the quality of your network contacts, not the quantity. For that reason, I suggest you consider the size of groups and avoid those that are simply too large to establish meaningful relationships with substantially all members.
  • Meeting all of the regular attendees and familiarizing yourself with their businesses may be best accomplished in one-on-one or individual meetings outside of a group setting. I often meet with members over a cup of coffee.
  • You may find new vendor connections that are as valuable as new marketing opportunities, especially when first launching your business.
  • If you are considering offering compensation for successful referrals, remember that compensation does not have to mean an actual commission, or even a lot of cash out of your pocket. It can include a gift certificate from your business or a local restaurant, tickets to a cultural event or a charitable donation in the name of the person who provided the referral. However, be aware that the practice of compensating referrals may be setting a precedent for those in your networks who would otherwise provide free referrals. Find out what the common practice is for the group, and do not stray too far from the norm.
  • Finally, you might occasionally offer tickets to a sporting event or a charity function as a door prize. However, give a minimum of two adjoining seats and try not to hand them out on short notice. That will depreciate the value of your gift in the eyes of the recipient.

Have a great weekend. I look forward to reconnecting with you on Monday!

Internet Marketing for Small Business-Part 5

On Monday, I introduced the topic of email as a low-cost marketing tool. Here are a few final points that apply to your evaluation and implementation of both email marketing and survey campaigns:

You will be surprised how few people open your email. ConstantContact tracks “open rates” by about 30 industry categories. Marketing and PR firms (who should be able to achieve stellar results) are 13%. The highest category is only 27%. It is a numbers game, so do not get discouraged. Above all, do not confuse activity with results in your accountability evaluation. A 100% open rate is worthless unless it generates sales, develops new leads or gathers useful marketing data.

Two other valuable statistics are your bounce rate (percentage of undeliverable emails) and your clickthrough rate (percentage of recipients who visit your website from the email link). The first shows how current and accurate your email lists are. The second provides a measure of the effectiveness of your online campaign. Compare both rates to industry averages as published by ConstantContact or one of the other vendors.

Consider the typical schedule and workload of your intended audience. Emails and surveys sent to accountants on April 14 or to retailers the week before Christmas are not going to achieve acceptable response rates.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” Apply his philosophy by scheduling mailings on different days of the week and different times of the day. Never schedule a mailing immediately before or after a holiday. It will be deleted in the rush to leave early or buried in an avalanche of emails that piled up over the long weekend.

Also, experiment with the frequency of distributions. Depending on how you use email, you may decide to do weekly or monthly mailings. Get into a regular routine. Victoria’s Secret sends daily emails. My wife finds this excessive, presumptuous and annoying. I might be forced to unsubscribe if they do not slow down. Then again, maybe not. It is all about content.

Many recipients make snap decisions whether to open or delete an email based solely on its subject line. Choose something inviting that suggests a reason to read it. Titles in the form of questions, “how to” advice or lists (for example, Five Ways to Increase Your Sales) are usually effective.

Finally, always have someone proofread every communication before issuing it.

Have a great Easter weekend, I will be right here on Monday with a new topic to help you achieve Highly Visible Marketing. Best wishes until then.

Internet Marketing for Small Business-Part 4

On Monday, I introduced email-based survey programs as a low-cost marketing tool. Surveys can offer feedback from current and former customers, or an entire market. They can also provide market intelligence on your competition and industry.

While a complete outline of a survey program is well beyond the intended scope of this book, here are a few quick points you should keep in mind:

  • Begin your survey with a clearly defined plan. What do you hope to learn, what questions will help you gather the information necessary to achieve your goals, and what actions will you take because of the information gathered?
  • Make questions clear, precise and short. Each should address only one area or piece of information. For example, responses may be ambiguous if participants are asked about price and service in the same question.
  • Close-ended questions (where the respondent selects from a limited number of specified answers) are easier to analyze. Open-ended questions provide more qualitative information. Consider a combination of both types of questions.
  • Being constantly patted on the back accomplishes little, other than eventually wearing out the fabric on your shoulder. In business, it is far more valuable to receive an honest assessment of what you are doing wrong. Therefore, be willing to accept and act on the results of your survey, warts and all. Nevertheless, a press release may be in order if a favorable outcome justifies it.
  • Ask how likely the respondent is to do business with you again and how likely they are to recommend you to someone else. If either answer is no, determine why.
  • Construct surveys so they take no more than 10 minutes to complete.
  • Offer an incentive (like a 20% coupon) for those who give you the 10 minutes.
  • If you decide to incorporate the U.S. Postal Service to survey customers without Internet access, include a postage-paid return envelope. Your response percentage will be abysmal without one.

On Friday, I will discuss a few final points that apply to your evaluation and implementation of both email marketing and survey campaigns. Best wishes until then.

Just Ask!

Today’s small business marketing advice is very simple. It can be summed up in just two words: Just Ask!

As simple as it may sound, and whatever your reward policy is, you will get far more referrals if you ask for them than if you just wait for them to come to you. The same thing goes for customer referrals. The key of course is to be tactful and polite, and not to appear overly assertive.

Adding a brief description of your ideal referral to the end of your “10-second speech” will help others provide the type of referrals you are looking for. For example, a benefits consultant might add, “The ideal referral for me is a small business with 10 or more employees.”

Thoughts on Building Better Mousetraps

The word “network” means to meet and interact with people for the purpose of making contacts, building relationships and exchanging ideas and information. That sounds simple enough.

Unfortunately, this simple word is a major obstacle for many would-be entrepreneurs. Whether you are comfortable in front of large groups and talking with strangers or not, it is imperative that you communicate your story to as many people as possible. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” I doubt Emerson’s statement was true of any product without an adequate marketing plan to promote it. In all fairness, he died 109 years before the introduction of the Internet. I am quite certain it is a guaranteed formula for failure in today’s fast-paced market place.

In other words, customers will not “beat a path to your door” unless you give them a reason to go there. You must first tell them why your mousetrap is better or cheaper than other available products. If you fail to provide an adequate level of education, you leave to chance whether potential customers will trade with you or a competitor across town or even across the globe.

Robert G. Allen, author of several New York Times bestselling personal finance books said this, “No matter what your product is, you are ultimately in the education business. Your customers need to be constantly educated about the many advantages of doing business with you, trained to use your products more effectively, and taught how to make never-ending improvement in their lives.”

Here are six quick tips to help build personal relationships through networking:

  • If the networking event includes a meal or appetizers, avoid eating while meeting people. If it includes adult beverages, keep your alcohol consumption to a minimum.
  • Greet each new person you meet with a firm handshake. Maintain eye contact. Ask questions and learn about their business, especially how you can help them. Let them do most of the talking while you practice your active listening skills.
  • Do not trust your memory. Take notes on their business card. Review those notes before every meeting until you can remember the background of people you have already met.
  • Be sure to greet contacts by name in subsequent meetings. It has been said that a person’s name is their favorite word. Moreover, someone who remembers names is often considered someone who pays attention to details, a highly desirable trait in most business settings.
  • Attitude is everything! Remember that networking is based on the concept that you first help others in order to be helped. Become recognized as the “go to” problem solver in the group and members will begin to seek you out.
  • Finally, always have plenty of business cards in your pocket, purse or briefcase.

More “Free Stuff” on the Internet

Participating in message board discussions is another free way to raise your profile within your community of current and potential customers and in your area of expertise. A message board is nothing more than an online discussion forum where people with common interests and knowledge exchange information by posting questions and answers, along with other relevant comments. Messages usually require approval from a moderator before being visible. They can be archived indefinitely.

Answering questions on message boards gets you recognized as an expert. Asking questions gathers valuable information. Both help grow followers for your social media sites as discussed in the following chapter.

  • Message boards are available for virtually every industry, profession and product. For example, Intuit hosts an “Accountants Community for QuickBooks Practitioners and Accounting Professionals” where experienced users of their hugely popular QuickBooks software ask and answer questions. In essence, Intuit supplements their customer support function with participants’ expertise. Search the Internet or ask your network contacts for message boards relevant to your business and expertise. Then contribute your knowledge frequently.
  • LinkedIn Answers and Yahoo Answers message boards, like many others, rate responders by how many participants “Like” their answers and how often their response is selected as the best answer. This is a highly desirable feature and a real feather in your professional cap.
  • Include a link to your website in your message board signature.

Reprints of press releases, blog posts, articles written by or about you and even your “best answers” are excellent testimonials to your expertise and prominence in your industry. Toot your own horn by periodically distributing copies to customers and prospects. Include them in customer mailings, mail orders, newsletters, marketing packets and similar material. Always keep a supply in your lobby.

  • Including a professional photograph with published material puts a human face on your business.
  • While distributing marketing materials as email attachments is easy and cost efficient, it also increases the risk that recipients will not open the email due to security concerns over computer viruses often transmitted in attachments. For that reason, including critical points in the actual body of your email may be preferable.

More marketing tips from Avoiding Market Obscurity on Monday. Have a great weekend!

Publish or Perish – Part 2

On Monday, I began a discussion of how publishing paradigms have been redefined by the Internet, making it much easier and cheaper to publish original works. I began Part 2 of that discussion by posing a question you may never have thought of. What would it do for your professional credibility and for promotional efforts if you could hold up your own book every time you spoke in public? Even if you never sold a single copy, but just displayed the books and handed them out as door prizes, I suspect it would provide a tremendous marketing advantage over your less prolific and linguistically talented competitors.

Let me be clear. I am not talking about creating the great American novel or something that knocks John Grisham and Dan Brown off the New York Times Best Seller List. I should also caution that if your intention is to generate enough royalties to quit your day job, following this idea is not likely to accomplish that goal.

I am talking about authoring a paperback book that demonstrates and shares your considerable body of knowledge and skills, and that is written and packaged in such a way that you can be proud to hold it up in front of any audience. Its primary purpose is that of a marketing tool to promote the sale of your products and services by establishing you as a recognized expert in your field. Think of it as a marketing cost rather than a potential profit center.

There are numerous print-on-demand companies available online to authors. Most offer publishing packages ranging from free (and therefore very basic) Do-It-Yourself to a variety of optional services such as cover design, professional editing, eReader formats and distribution assistance. Each option adds a layer of fees, and can very quickly disqualify this idea from my “free or low cost” criteria. I suggest you avoid companies that charge significant fixed setup fees, impose minimum orders or do not provide online marketing assistance. Other variables include pricing strategies for paperbacks and eReaders, and royalty options.

CreateSpace is one of the best-known print-on-demand companies. Its website was designed to walk novice authors through a self-publishing process. It allows you to easily design and publish professional looking paperback or hard cover books with no minimum orders and at single copy prices that can literally be less than a Venti cappuccino. It also offers several free online marketing portals, allowing different pricing strategies in each.

Here is how Amazon explains their subsidiary. “CreateSpace provides one of the easiest, fastest, and most economical ways to distribute your content to millions of potential customers on Amazon.com and other channels. Media formats supported through CreateSpace include books, DVDs, CDs, video downloads, and Amazon MP3s. With the CreateSpace manufacturing-on-demand model, your products will be produced as customers order, so you don’t have to make an up-front investment in inventory. Plus, CreateSpace takes care of the customer service and order fulfillment on your online retail orders, so you can focus on promoting your titles.”

Here is a final thought on this idea. Unless you are fortunate enough to find a solution for world hunger, there is probably nothing you will do in your career that deserves to be promoted more than publishing your first book. Use every tool at your disposal to promote it!

  • Issue a press release
  • Publicize it on your blog, social media network and website.
  • Promote the book within your network groups and to your customers by throwing a launch party. If you have contacts with newspapers or other local media outlets, invite them as well. Consider donating a portion of the event’s book sale proceeds to a local charity. The charity will in turn promote the launch party to their network of volunteers and supporters.
  • Finally, distribute your book as holiday presents to your key clients and prospects.

I look forward to speaking with you again on Friday.

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