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

 

Too Foolish To Fail – Part 2

On Friday, I began a two-part post on Mark Zuckerberg’s three mistakes in starting Facebook. Mistake # 1 was not coming up with an original idea, but merely improving on other people’s ideas. It turns out that was not a mistake after all.

Today, I will analyze his other mistakes, namely:

2. He waited too long to “cash out.” He should have jumped at the first opportunity to raise some serious “beer money” like a normal college kid. If only he had, he would be a millionaire today!

3. He failed to exercise basic common sense! Anyone smart enough to get into Harvard should know that a dream of launching a worldwide business to redefine a major facet of society is destined to break your heart. Homer Simpson said it best, “Trying is the first step toward failure!”

Let’s analyze these missteps.

I am frequently surprised at the short-term vision baby boomers adopt in their business planning. I often encounter entrepreneurs who hope to build a successful business and “cash out” in five years or less.

This view is a distraction from your value proposition, the very reason you went into business in the first place. Think about it. Customers are at best indifferent to your retirement plans. Would you pick a new dentist if you knew she planned to sell her practice in two years?

It also introduces a bias that will slant business decisions in favor of maximizing short-term cash flows at the expense of building long-term value. For example, owners will forego investments in customer service and product design if payoffs extend beyond their timeline. This situation is analogous to watching a runner round the bases as you chase a fly ball. There are already plenty of opportunities to falter in business without unnecessary distractions. Do not take your eye off the ball!

It seems counterintuitive that a college student, given the opportunity to finance what would have been a carefree life style, would follow a business plan that extended beyond the next frat party. To his credit, now 27-year-old Mark Zuckerberg has resisted the temptation to monetize his 24% stake in Facebook for 7 years. Instead, he has continued to lead the company according to his vision.

It is hard to argue with his success. Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs valued the private company at $50 billion. Mark kept his eye on the ball, even when faced with what would have been an irresistible temptation for us mere mortals. Cashing out four or five years ago would have cost him billions.

You were right, Zuck. My partner and I were….we were….well any way, you were right. Gloating is so not cool, Mark!

That brings me to his third mistake. Mark should have listened to the voices in his head that are quick to point out all the reasons why his grand plans would surely fail.

Abraham Lincoln once described a general who was unwilling to make decisions under pressure as “acting like a duck that had been hit on the head.” Fear of failure is a powerful motivator. It causes some of us to avoid decision making altogether.

Decision making is a cognitive process involving logic, reasoning and problem solving skills. Unfortunately, each of us enters that process with certain preconceived biases. We are often quick to listen to any voice that supports them. It is normal to exhibit a reluctance to move off those biases, even if faced with new facts, circumstances or opportunities. Therefore, the safe decision (i.e., to spend our career as a corporate wage slave rather than launch a new venture) is often the default decision.

Samuel Clemmons once said, “It’s not what you don’t know that will get you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

To his credit, Mark Zuckerberg did not let what he did not know about launching a business get in the way of his success. His vision was inspiring; his execution was courageous.

In the final analysis, my partner and I could take a lesson from him. So can you!

 © 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

It’s Nice to be Lucky

Someone recently asked why I prefer consulting to corporate positions. The truth is I am not sure I do. However, the question got me thinking. That got me writing, so here I go.

A number of years ago, family circumstances forced me to leave the corporate arena, where I had established a 25-year record of success. Consulting offered the only viable opportunity to feed my family.

Back then, the World Wide Web as we called it was still in its infancy. Only large companies had websites. E-commerce was virtually nonexistent. Facebook would not be introduced for another four years. My personal computer provided email access. However, many people still lacked an email address, especially at home. I cannot recall whether I could attach documents. I suspect not. Cell phones typically cost hundreds of dollars per month, largely due to a now antiquated practice of assessing “roaming charges” for long distance calls. Blogging? That sounded more like something my Rottweiler does after she eats grass than a mass communications tool.

I did not have a marketing clue, let alone a marketing plan!

What I did have was a telephone. It attached to the wall with a long wire. You may remember the device, having seen one in your grandmother’s house or perhaps a museum. It could serve as a fax, but only if the recipient also had one. Although it sometimes seemed to weigh 500 pounds, I was occasionally able to muster the strength to use it.

The third phone call I made landed a million dollar client. It also launched what became a 15-person consulting firm. You can choose to characterize the call as pure dumb luck, divine intervention or anything in between. I will find no fault with whatever label you assign. The bottom line is consulting supported a comfortable life style for several years, while allowing me to address challenging family issues.

A decade later, circumstances beyond my control again forced me into consulting. Since then, I have defined my value proposition (I had no idea what that was 12 years ago) by offering cost effect advice to small and medium sized businesses. My advice is usually very specific, lengthy and often somewhat technical.

Today I will depart from my recent path. Instead, I will present two brief and decidedly nontechnical suggestions. I share both from very personal experience.

1. Mr. Tom Lewis, an online marketing consultant from “across the pond” put the whole concept of small business marketing in a rather interesting and concise perspective. He said, “All these new media buzzwords like social networking and technology like LinkedIn are just new ways of complementing (some would say avoiding) personal contact. Get out there and get your face known! Pick up the phone and call some potential clients. Speak at some networking events. Knock on some doors.”

As Mr. Lewis’ quote insinuates, there is a significant difference between merely communicating and actually connecting with customers and prospects. I can instantly communicate with thousands of people with the click of a few buttons. Yet even with the myriad of now common “high tech” options, the only better way of really connecting with someone other than the lowly telephone is in person. Unfortunately, that option is often unavailable.

My first suggestion is therefore quite simple. Include some “low-tech” tactics in your marketing plan. Pick up the phone and start dialing. Your next large client may be waiting at the other end! Mine was.

2. As of July 2011, 13.9 million Americans (9.1% of the civilian workforce) were unemployed. Over 6 million people are deemed long-term unemployed, Washington-speak for out of a job over six months and desperate. Motivated by a lack of alternative employment opportunities, large numbers eventually migrate into their own business or consulting, as I did. Unfortunately, many are fundamentally unprepared for the operational and emotional challenges that line the road to successful self-employed. Nevertheless, they are more in need of a simple word of encouragement than business advice.

I end with a quote by Thomas Edison. He said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” That is as true in today’s difficult economy as it was in 1879 when Edison perfected the light bulb after experimenting with over 10,000 different filaments.

That leads me to the shortest and most basic suggestion I have ever dared offer. Hang in there!

Until next time, I wish you good fortune in all your business endeavors. Let me know if I can be of assistance.

 

© 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

SLIDESHARE, HOW DO I LOVE THEE? (PART 3)

Earlier this week, I began a three-part series on SlideShare, a free online slide hosting service. Part 1 discussed the first three of ten important things you should know about SlideShare, its demographics and norms. Part 2 explained how to embed YouTube videos and how to access SlideShare remotely. As promised, I have saved the best for last.

Here are today’s suggestions.

9. SlideShare provides truly excellent support through LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. I have promoted several files through my LinkedIn groups. I have twice received emails saying, “XYZ file is being talked about on LinkedIn more than anything else on SlideShare right now. So we’ve put it on the homepage of SlideShare.net (in the “Hot on LinkedIn” section).” In both cases, view counts increased dramatically, if briefly.

Another benefit of tweeting SlideShare files is the potential of promoting your brand on a worldwide basis through Paper.li. It takes Twitter streams and extracts links to news stories and videos. It then determines which stories are relevant based on criteria the user establishes. It creates themed pages based on specific topics using hashtags. Paper.li subscribers distribute their daily or weekly publication as a unique newspaper, written from a perspective of what is of interest on the Web that day. Every Twitter user is therefore a potential editor. Their followers (including CFO America on several occasions) serve as unpaid journalists. To view a sample of Paper.li, read The CFO America Daily at http://paper.li/CFOAmerica/1300800014.

10. Finally, the number one reason for my love affair with SlideShare is what I call the “60 minute Twitter boost” phenomena. To experience it for yourself, open your file on the “My Uploads” tab and click on the Twitter icon. The following tweet will appear, “Check out this SlideShare document: The Title of Your SlideShare Document” along with a shortened URL. Modify the tweet with a few appropriate hash tags. Without fail, the file experiences a marked increase in views and downloads for about an hour. In my experience, views have jumped up to 35 times their daily average. I have tweeted friends’ documents with identical results. The boost trails off quickly, and totally evaporates within 24 hours. However, it can be extended with multiple tweets over the course of a day. Use different hash tags for each tweet.

In closing, I offer my apologies to Victorian era poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning for the shameless exploitation of her classic poem. Imagine how quickly it would have gone “viral” if only Ms. Browning had the same access to SlideShare.net that you and I now enjoy.

Go forth and share!

You are Invited to my Party

Small business coach and author Robert Gerrish said, “For many, one of the greatest moments in business is the joy of attracting a new customer or client. In such circumstances, it is easy to get so caught up in the excitement that we forget to spend time on realizing the value of one of our business’s best assets, our existing client base.” For example, you may have heard banks criticized for offering free checking to new customers while charging existing customers for the same service.

As Mr. Gerrish suggests, all too often promotions only target new prospects. Show your appreciation of existing customers by holding promotions and events designed exclusively for them.

  • A special after-hours personal shopping event or trunk show, complete with entertainment, refreshments and “invitation only” discounts is an example. If your products typically require sizing or fitting (such as clothes), allowing a two day presale can create additional excitement. Customers select their purchases in advance, which you hold until the actual sale. This procedure also requires customers to visit your facility at least twice.
  • The luxury day spa I spoke of earlier invited my wife and I (did I mention she is one of their most loyal customers) to an art exhibit by a nationally recognized concert pianist. The event also included a wine tasting.

Another way to demonstrate your appreciation for existing customers, suppliers and employees is to hold an open house or reception. This is a great way to display your operations. It will also strengthen relationships between customers and staff that have not met. If your facilities do not include a suitable physical location, host it at your home, a nearby restaurant or under a tent on the front lawn. Moreover, while your open house or reception must be memorable, it does not have to be expensive. Class is not measured in dollars.

  • You may find network contacts are willing to help cater the event, print programs and menus, provide entertainment or other useful services at substantial discounts in order to promote their products and services to your customer base. Always take full advantage of your network and be ready to reciprocate by supporting and promoting their events.
  • Avoid scheduling functions on weekends or when likely to conflict with numerous holiday events. Use all of the communications tools and options previously discussed to ensure good attendance. There is nothing more discouraging than hosting a party when no one shows up.

A final caution about special event promotions is that in order to be truly special, you cannot hold them too often. Any promotional tool that is used too frequently runs the risk of creating customer expectations that will cause them to avoid full price purchases in anticipation of a sale or event that may never happen.

Next week, I will present an exciting 3-part series on my ongoing love affair with SlideShare.net. It picks up where a June series on this topic left off. I think you will enjoy it. Until then, stay safe and enjoy your weekend. You earned it!

 © 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

Can You Offer Free Lunches?

There is an old adage that there is no such thing as a free lunch. The same is true of free shipping. It is a variable cost of doing business. It ultimately must be passed on to customers, directly or through increased prices.

So why did Wal-Mart, America’s largest retailer, announce in early November 2010 that it was offering free shipping through December 20? Furthermore, why did competitors like Target and JCPenney quickly announce similar plans?

The answer is they all read the same market research. Consumers love “free” shipping. It is as close to a guaranteed way of increasing customer satisfaction as you will find. Conversely, an online shopper survey by Compete.com reported that high shipping costs were the number-one reason online shoppers were not satisfied with their orders. It is also why 65% of respondents indicated they prefer the “in store pick up” option, when available.

This tendency to avoid explicit shipping costs can present marketing opportunities to a creative businessperson. For example, a few years ago, one of the national pizza chains decided to offer a home delivered pizza that was larger than the in-store version. Customers willingly paid extra for the super-sized pizza, especially since it came with free delivery. Customers did not know (or did not care) that there was no incremental cost for the larger product. The extra price was in reality a hidden delivery charge.

The moral of this example is simply that customer perceptions and opinions define value in every transaction. If they are reluctant or unwilling to pay for one service, perhaps they will perceive value in some other feature that can fund the cost of the first service.

Finally, if you decide to offer free shipping, test the bottom line impact by initially setting a minimum threshold (for example, only available on orders over $50) on sales.

Accountability is a key to every successful marketing campaign, and this is no exception.

 

© 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

 

Do You Like Me?

Sally Field’s acceptance of the 1984 Oscar for Places in the Heart is a classic among awards ceremony speeches. It included the emotional proclamation, “You like me, right now, you like me!” In a nutshell, all-grownup Gidget was bemoaning that she “didn’t feel the love” when she won her previous Oscar in 1979. Had Ms. Field given that speech today, at least 750 million of us would immediately assume she was somehow referring to her Facebook Fan page.

A Facebook “like” immediately reflects on that person’s page and exposes your product or service to their contacts. Your Facebook fans are essentially providing free advertising and their personal endorsement.

The  simple act of clicking a button also allows fans to post comments on your site unless blocked by your security settings.

Social media experts pay a lot of attention to Facebook likes and the characteristics of typical Facebook fans. For example, studies show that while the average Facebook user has about 130 friends, “likers” average closer to 300. They are 5 times more likely to click on external links. A study by media consultant Syncapse found that Facebook fans spend $71.84 more per year on brands than non-fans. Additionally, they are 28% more likely to continue using that brand.

The net result of all this is that an entire cottage industry has sprung up around helping small businesses increase their Facebook likes. As an internationally recognized champion of low-cost marketing alternatives (a slight exaggeration, but I sure hate spending money unnecessarily), regular readers know how I feel about that!

Therefore, I thought I would share a simple way of generating likes and page views without spending scarce marketing resources. Here it is:

Using your Facebook business account, like popular national or local Fan pages. Then post supportive comments about their product or service. A little light humor will probably attract additional attention. However, avoid posting a blatant advertisement for your Facebook page.

Let me give you a specific example of this tactic in action. This morning I posted, “We’ll be opening our first Diet Cokes long before Dallas thermometers top 100 for the 26th straight day today!” on Coke-Cola’s Fan page.

For a brief period (until pushed off-screen by newer comments), any of Coke’s 32.9 million fans who visited their site saw my innocuous comment, along with CFO America’s logo. Curious viewers could then click the logo to go to http://www.facebook.com/CFOAmerica, exactly where I want them!

You can find a list of the top Facebook Fan pages at http://statistics.allfacebook.com/pages. There are currently 27 sites with over 25 million fans each. There are almost 2,900 pages with 1 million or more fans. Most will allow you to comment on their posts. Some will allow you to post your own comment. Those Fan pages are marketing gold mines!

Over the past month, I have posted similar comments on Fan pages of local amusement parks, restaurants, hotels and so on. Since I began this tactic, new likes have increased 420% and active users (defined as the number of people who have viewed or interacted with my page) 43%. The following graph shows user activity over a two-week period. Notice the activity on July 19, a day when I was especially active in my posting efforts.

As the 17th century proverb said, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

Have a great weekend, and we’ll meet again on Monday.

Bull Horns in Cyberspace, Part 2

On Wednesday, I began a discussion of things we can do to attract attention to our blogs, and some of the mistakes I have made over the past six months as a blogger. Today I will conclude this topic with Part 2 of Bull Horns in Cyberspace.

Here are my thoughts and suggestions for today:

Find your style. A little trick I have learned that seems to work well is to study a new marketing tool, process, etc., and then write about what I learned. For example, I recently wrote a three-part article called Twelve Things I Learned about SlideShare. I write from the point of view of reporting what I know at the end of the process that I wish I had known at the start. I offer advice to those considering using the same tool, and discuss how to be more effective in communicating their message to an ever-widening audience.

Use other social media to promote your blog. I always post summaries of blog posts on Facebook, Twitter and occasionally LinkedIn. Facebook allows a 420 character article summary, LinkedIn 700. Always leave room for a hyperlink to your blog. Consider using a URL shortener like https://bitly.com/ if you are pressed for space. This is even more important to accommodate Twitter’s 140-character limit. Abbreviated versions of three or four articles are also featured in my monthly newsletter, which is distributed free through MailChimp to over 700 people. Finally, I am having some encouraging preliminary results by posting entire articles on SlideShare.net.

Do not overlook the value of paper in promoting your blog. Add your web address to business cards, print media ads, Yellow Page listings (you remember those, right?), letterheads, email signatures and so on. If you really want to go high tech, add a Quick Response Code to allow smartphone users to find your blog easily. For more information on QR Codes, see our March 25 blog post “More Thoughts on Business Cards” at http://bit.ly/i5ikHc.

Encourage reader feedback and sharing. When readers post comments (positive or otherwise), thank them for their effort. I only delete spam, an inevitable byproduct of blogging. I have recently become more active in soliciting feedback. I now periodically end posts by asking readers for their comments, suggestions and criticisms. I also invite suggestions for future articles. Finally, make sure your blog has plug-ins or widgets to promote article sharing through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and any other social media vehicle you believe is likely to help capture your target markets. Allow readers to bookmark your URL to their list of favorite sites with the click of a button.

So let me end there, by inviting you to post your thoughts on CFO America’s blog. What do you like? What do you dislike? Keep it clean and I promise to approve it. Most importantly, what can I do to make the information presented more useful to you in growing a prosperous business?

12 Things I Learned About SlideShare, Part 3

Last week I began a discussion of things I learned about SlideShare.net, a free online slide hosting service. Since that time, my files have had more than 4,100 combined views, 3,200 for one file alone. On Monday, I discussed how to make SlideShare an integral part of your marketing efforts.

Today I will conclude this topic with a discussion of ways to make PowerPoint slides more effective online, and how to take advantage of SlideShare to save printing cost. Here is the final part of the list:

9. I was pleased to see that PowerPoint speaker’s notes are visible for each slide. Even if you do not usually take advantage of this feature in your presentations, you should consider using it to replace whatever narrative you would ordinarily add in a live venue.

10.  One PowerPoint feature that will not translate through SlideShare is animation. I typically have numerous visuals enter and exit slides as appropriate to support my verbal narration. In reviewing my posted slide shows, I quickly noticed that all visuals are in screen. In my case, this made for some very busy slides. Consider tailoring your uploaded slides accordingly.

11.  If you decide one or more slides do not convey the full story after you view them online, you can simply adjust your PowerPoint or pdf document and replace the original file with a new upload. This will save
having to reenter descriptions and tags, something I learned was necessary after I deleted several files to make minor changes. It also maintains continuous viewing statistics.

12.  I am always surprised by the cost of printing projects. My frustration over this expense is magnified by the need to “bring a few extra copies” just in case more attendees show up than expected, while knowing most will be left behind or eventually tossed in the trash. SlideShare presents an opportunity to reduce or eliminate this outlay. I suggest presenting only a cryptic outline of your presentation at the event, probably no more than one or two pages. The purpose of this short handout is merely to facilitate note taking. It has the added advantage of directing attendees’ attention to you rather than flipping through a voluminous handout. Allow attendees to download their own slides, either before or after the seminar. Since they will only print those of interest, this is a legitimately green initiative.

As a last bit of advice, if you are one of the almost 15 million unemployed Americans, please consider creating and posting a visual resume on SlideShare.net. It will add another venue for prospective employers to find you, while demonstrating your communication skills and knowledge of current social media tools.

Well, that is my entire list. I hope you will find something of value, and more importantly that it will encourage you in your continuing pursuit of the low-cost marketing experimentation I talked so much about in my book, Highly Visible Marketing – 115 Low-cost Ways to Avoid Market Obscurity.

Finally, for the record the other two Chinese proverbs are “May you come to the attention of powerful people” and “May you find what you are looking for.” Again, both would seem to apply to my small business and
middle-market target audience, especially when you consider that the most powerful person of all is the customer whose attention you are looking for!

12 Things I Learned About SlideShare, Part 2

On Friday, I began a discussion of things I learned about SlideShare.net, a free online slide hosting service. Since that time, my seven files have had more than 3,400 combined views, 2,800 for one file alone.

I shared the first three items on my list. They discussed how to start your profile, upgrade options and social media connections. Part 2 will discuss suggestions for making SlideShare an integral part of your marketing efforts. Here is today’s list:

4. I preach a simple 12-word marketing strategy to clients and friends. It is this: Communicate one message, promoting one brand, to multiple audiences, at no cost. While Friday’s item #3 fully supports this strategy, do not stop there! I issued three free press releases (one of which can be viewed at http://bit.ly/ipIFnF), published this information using several free article marketing websites and periodically retweet links to the presentations.

5. The first slide of a PowerPoint presentation or the first page of a pdf document will appear as a small icon link on your profile page. It should be readable, attractive and descriptive to invite viewers. I display my logo and blog URL on every download. You will also be asked to provide a description, category and tags for each file. Making this information keyword rich makes it easier for interested views to locate you slide shows and videos. Making something keyword rich simply means using certain words and phrases that potential customers are likely to use in search engines when looking for your company, products or  services.

6. SlideShare gives users the option of allowing viewers to download files. Since you are posting files in a very public venue, I see no reason not to allow downloads. Additionally, presentations can be made available only to authorized viewers with any of the upgraded versions. It is then a viable option to share private files that are simply too large to email. An example might be a large contract or proposal in pdf format.

If you do not know how to create a pdf file, download CutePDF Writer at http://cutepdf.com/Products/CutePDF/writer.asp. It is a free version of commercial PDF creation software. CutePDF Writer installs itself as a printer subsystem. This enables virtually any Windows applications to create professional quality pdf documents.

7. SlideShare can be used to promote and support your event marketing efforts. For example, you can make advanced copies of upcoming seminars available online to help invitees decide whether to attend, or provide copies to interested parties who are unable to attend.

8. Users and their followers can post additional information on their wall, very similar to Facebook. I posted a notice of a free seminar based on one of my uploaded files, along with a link to EventBrite for event details. Viewers can also post comments on individual slide shows.

Please return Wednesday when we not only complete the list of 12 things I learned, but will reveal the final two Chinese proverbs.

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