Monday, October 31, 2016
If running for president were like starting a business (and make no mistake - it basically is), both candidates are providing us with an excellent lesson in customer relations and marketing as we speak.
Know Your Audience
Regardless of what you happen to think about the candidates themselves, one thing is for certain: both candidates know the power of speaking the same language as their target audience. Even though the candidates appear opposed on nearly every issue, it's hard to deny that they're each having a tremendous amount of success within their own bases and supporters precisely because they each know what to say and how to say it within their audience. Each candidate regularly draws crowds in the tens of thousands from their most fervent supporters.
However, both candidates are relatively controversial outside of their base supporters, to the point where if they hadn't made an effort to master and hone these unique voices, they would likely be having trouble establishing momentum at this point. Both of them are still very much "in the game" (against all odds) almost entirely because they've taken the time to learn exactly what they need to say and do to build momentum among their own core group of followers.
You Have to Move Past Your Audience at Some Point
Perhaps the biggest lesson that we can learn from the 2016 Presidential Election, however, has to do with growth. While keeping a loyal, enthusiastic customer base is always important, this is only a means to an end - it isn't the end itself. If you want to continue to grow and evolve as a business, you need to be looking for ways to bring new people into that base and to allow that base to grow. A failure to do so will result in the type of stagnation that will find you spinning your proverbial wheels.
This lesson can be seen throughout the election process as well. Often you'll see one candidate making a concerted effort to bring as many new voters into their camp as possible, while another seems to be focused on maintaining their existing voters - which can be a problem when you're running the "business" of a political career.
The raw potential of a single customer for a presidential candidate is inherently limited. Regardless of how passionate someone is, or how much they like you, or how much they're willing to show their support for you, they can still only vote a single time. Zeroing in on your original, core group of customers with a laser-sharp focus may be an excellent way to make sure they stick around long enough to make that sale (or vote in November), but it doesn't help you at all regarding expansion.
If you're so focused on maintaining this core group of followers that you're willing to alienate everyone who exists outside of your bubble, ultimately you might achieve massive short-term gains, but it'll be at the expense of your long-term goals. Never be so focused on one group of customers that you're willing to push another (possibly larger) one away. Understand that ALL businesses require a steady stream of NEW customers to guarantee the growth they need to survive for years to come.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Knowing more about your surroundings is important, and it can apply well in a work situation.
An excellent resource for identifying trees will take you on a journey of discovery: from the color and shape of the leaf to how many points it has, all to learn more about the tree it came from. It might go on to identify the type of bark, the size of the tree, and more to help you determine which tree you are looking at.
There are many ways you can apply this strategy of discovery with your customers, especially if they are repeat customers. If you think about each customer as if they were an onion with many layers to uncover, you can view each contact with them as an opportunity to peel away one more layer.
Your customers are individuals with unique personalities, family issues, work challenges, and styles of doing business. You can work on strategies to uncover more information about your customers to help cement a relationship with them. Customers who like you and enjoy your relationship are more willing to continue to do business with you and become loyal repeat customers.
Depending on how you maintain your customer records, there are different methods of collecting and retaining information about your clients. In an article, "7 Ways to (Really) Know Your Customers" (http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/4890-customer-engagement-tips.html), it offers several suggestions for small businesses to get to know their customers better including gleaning social data from sites such as Facebook.
By getting to know your customers better, you can anticipate when they will be spending, what triggers a purchase, and how you can be proactive in contacting them for their triggers. As you learn more about your customer, you can apply your knowledge to help them better manage their relationship with you, potentially saving them money in the long run. For instance, if they are buying their products when needed, but you see a pattern, you can sell them a larger bulk amount on a periodic basis saving them money and securing the purchase for your account.
Knowing your customers will allow you to separate the A and B level of customers from the one-time business customers. As you develop your relationships with your clients, you can grow your business in depth. Then, using similar methods, seek out new business and begin the process again.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
If you want to get better at nurturing your existing sales leads to get them ready for that ever-important purchase, you'll want to keep a few key things in mind.
You Are an Authority. Don't Forget This
When people think about nurturing leads, one of the qualities required for a solid relationship is one of trust. Never forget that you're not just selling a product or service - you're also selling yourself. People are a lot more willing to spend money with your company if they trust that you know what you're talking about.
Don't JUST hit your prospects with sales materials over and over again; this isn't lead nurturing, this is badgering. Instead, try sending helpful, well-researched content in their direction as well. You need to be focused on establishing that you know what you're talking about. People aren't just going to take your word for it. When you spend time positioning yourself as an authority and focusing on the other qualities of lead nurturing as well, people will begin to see you as the solution to their problem when they do feel comfortable enough to buy.
Don't Just Make Contact When You Have Something to Sell
One of the biggest mistakes that a businessperson can make involves only remembering that a lead exists when you need to increase your sales numbers for a particular quarter. Nurturing leads requires you to keep in mind that you're talking about more than just line items on a balance sheet - prospects are living, breathing people who don't like to feel used.
As a result, make an effort to reach out to a few of your potentially higher quality leads even if you're not pushing a new product or service. Thanks to the power of social media, this is easier than ever. Even a quick Facebook message on a birthday or at Christmas will go a long way towards strengthening (and increasing the ultimate value of) your relationship.
These are just a few of the many reasons why it is so important to nurture your existing sales leads. None of this is to say that you should stop focusing on bringing in new leads and turn 100% of your attention on existing ones. As always, success requires you to strike a delicate balance between the two. But if you let the majority of your existing leads lay dormant for too long, you're burning a lot more than just potentially important relationships. You're leaving a lot of money on the table at the same time.
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
What are some of the lessons that life teaches us?
1. Life isn't fair, but it is still good.
How many times have you heard your child or teenager say to you, "but that isn't fair!" The truth is that life isn't fair. Life happens as it happens, and you need to learn to roll with the ups and downs and continue on your journey. If you can take each moment as it comes, then you can appreciate the good, survive the bad, and continue on your way.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
Many of the big decisions in life can be broken down into small steps that are easy to accomplish. Each time you have a big project or decision in front of you, you can make it easier to understand by chopping it up into small tasks. Then, do each task one at a time until you complete the whole.
3. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
Humor makes life more tolerable both in good and bad times. If you can learn to live life with humor, including your own foibles, you will relax more and stay healthier. Laughter is a stress-reducer and can help keep your craziest days sane.
4. Overprepare, then go with the flow.
Since nothing ever goes exactly as we plan, it is important to prepare for contingencies. If you are ready for the worst, then you will be able to move in various directions when reality hits. You can plan to the Nth degree, but once your event or project is in motion, you cannot stop it. Going with the flow and learning to be flexible will keep you on top of the situation (as much as that is possible).
Applying Life's Lessons to Business
Running a small business is fraught with surprises, changes, and learning curves. Many of the lessons that apply to life, in general, can be applied to running a business. Small business owners are responsible for everything that occurs in the whole of their business, and it is nearly impossible to predict what each day as a small business owner will bring.
If you can enjoy each part of your business, sharing what you know with your customers and employees, and reaching out to your community to connect with people through your business, you will enjoy life's journey. Business isn't always fair, but if you put your heart into it, it will be good. Your customers and employees will see how you run your business, and they will respond. When in doubt, just take the first small step, and you will be able to accomplish whatever goals you set for your business. Don't take your business so seriously. No one else does. Run your business with a good sense of humor and your customers and staff will join in laughing with you. Overprepare, and then let your business take you where it will. You will discover new dimensions to your niche that you may never have known before and you will have an exciting, fulfilling journey.
Monday, October 17, 2016
Don't Make the Internet Angry: Important Considerations About Using Social Media as a Marketing Platform
However, social media also presents some challenges, too - particularly if you insist on taking the "tried but true" marketing techniques of yesteryear and trying to cram them into a social media-shaped box. If you want to unlock the real potential that only social media can provide, you'll need to keep a few key things in mind.
Different Users Are Looking for Different Things
One of the most important things to understand about social media networks is that they aren't all created equally. Someone who uses Facebook isn't looking for the same TYPE of message that someone who uses Twitter is. The same goes for LinkedIn, Pinterest and more. While they're all "social networks" in the strictest sense of the definition, they all have their unique strengths.
Twitter users are looking for shorter, bite-sized bits of information while Facebook users prefer longer, more thoughtful posts. A piece of marketing collateral that you designed for Facebook won't necessarily play well to Twitter's audience, and vice versa. You have to understand the channel you're using, play to its strengths, and adapt across the board. Even if you're presenting the same message on each network, you have to make sure that the delivery mechanism is optimized for the platform you're working with at the time.
One of the most mission critical things to understand as you move forward with social media is the fact that 90% of young adults today (defined as people between the ages of 18 and 29) are social media users. Not only that, but a third of them say that social media is one of their preferred methods for communicating with businesses in general.
In essence, this means that if you want to create the type of loyal following that will carry your business far NOW, you have to start playing to their habits on social media today. These younger users will continue to age, and if you can hook them young via social media, you've likely hooked them forever.
Social Media Demands Honesty
Finally, one of the most important considerations about using social media as a marketing platform has to do with what happens if things go wrong. Because of the intimate, constant connection that social media generates, anything less than honesty is not welcome. If customers have a concern, address it. If a legitimate problem arises, do what you can to make it right. If something bad happens with your company - be it a negative run-in with a customer to a full-fledged PR disaster - don't just try to sweep it under the rug and pretend like it never happened.
Gabe Newell, a former Microsoft employee and founder of Valve Corporation, said it best when he said "One of the things we learned pretty early on is 'Don't ever, ever try to lie to the internet - because they will catch you. They will deconstruct your spin. They will remember everything you ever say for eternity."
In essence, this means that while social media can bring a lot of positive attributes to your company regarding the sheer marketing power it offers, it is also a slippery slope. If you want to use social media to develop meaningful, lasting relationships with your target audience, you can't assume this is a given. You have to earn it, and you can never take it for granted.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
What Can We Learn from Goals in Sports?
The easiest way to demonstrate goal setting is to look at sports. Every sport has a goal to reach to win the game. Goals can be achieved through hitting a ball out of the park, into a net, throwing it into a basket, or even by racing to a finish line. Most of these goals are made from years of preparation, training, and study of the game they represent. No athlete achieves success without that training, no matter how easy the achievement looks to the spectator. Athletes work through injuries, bad days, failures, and practice. Achievements are the culmination of hours and hours of work.
The point of a goal is to help you achieve success even with the stumbling blocks and barriers that stand before you. A goal is a guiding light to keep you on your journey or path. Henry Ford said that "Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal." The obstacles will always be there to keep you from making the goal. You may not have the experience, the education, or the opportunities that your peers or competitors do, however, you can still achieve your goals if you are willing to keep working towards them.
Applying Goals to Business
Like sports, business goals can be short-term or long-term. For instance, you can have a goal of getting ten items completed by the end of your work day. That is a short-term goal. A long-term goal is establishing 100 new customer accounts by the end of the year. An even longer-term goal is becoming the top business in your category in the city by 2020. The key is establishing goals that are reachable, measurable, and trackable so that you can follow your progress as you work towards the goal.
While wanting to be the best business in the city by 2020 is possible, a more reasonable goal is to triple your income from your business by 2020. With this goal, you can create the steps that will lead to the goal, and measure your progress as you continue your journey. You will know when you hit your goal by the numbers you achieve without any arbitrary or ambiguous measurements.
How to Keep Your Goals in the Forefront of Your Mind
Weekly meetings to keep everyone on your team on track may be boring, but their function is to make sure the team members are still striving towards group goals. You can do the same with your personal business goals. Remind yourself daily what goals you are working towards and what you need to accomplish that day to move in the right direction. Remember that keeping your eyes on the goal will help to remove the obstacles.
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
And then things have a habit of sometimes not going necessarily how you'd planned them.
Maybe people are using your product, but they're not using it in the exact way that you intended. Certainly not in the way you built your strategy around. Maybe your product or service isn't popular at all, but the underlying idea is still a solid one. In these situations, you have two options: you can pack up your ball and go home, or you could do what some of the most successful companies in the history of planet Earth have done: you pivot.
The Art of the Pivot in Action
A few years ago, an online role-playing game was founded called "Game Neverending" - you're forgiven if you've never heard of it. The premise was simple - users would travel around a digital map and find other people to buy, sell, and build items with. Included inside the game was a photo-sharing tool, which quickly became one of the most popular parts of the experience. Though the developers loved their idea, users weren't quite so kind. People were spending less and less time on the "buying, selling, and building items" part and more on the "photo-sharing" part, causing significant problems for the company's long-term goals.
While you've probably never heard of "Game Neverending," you ARE no doubt aware of a service called Flickr - one of the most popular and widely used photo-sharing tools of the digital age. The developers behind "Game Neverending" realized that they were never going to get people to love their RPG the way they did, so they did what any entrepreneurs would do: they pivoted. They threw out everything except the proven-successful photo-sharing technology and started from scratch. One acquisition by Yahoo! later, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Let the Market Be Your Guide
The key takeaway from this is that you need to be willing to listen to the market and allow it to guide you through execution, even if that execution is at odds with your original intent. Remember that the market is telling you "We like this, but it would be better if it had X, Y, and Z features" is different from pivoting. If users enjoyed the RPG experience of "Game Neverending" and the developers just kept adding game-related features, we might not have Flickr today.
Instead, the market communicated loud and clear: "We don't like this game, but we do enjoy this one thing that the game lets us do." These are the types of moments you have to be not only willing to listen to, but also to allow them to change your idea of what your product or service could become.
Listening to the market and being willing to pivot, even if that was the furthest thing from your mind at the time, is not a bad thing. Indeed, history has proven that great things have been born out of it time and again. Because if you release a product or service and are unwilling to change based on the ideals of your users, you'll wind up hemorrhaging users pretty quickly.
And without those users, what are you left with? Little more than a good idea in search of a purpose, which isn't anything at all.
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Failure Helps You Combat Momentum
One of the most common reasons why failure sometimes rears its ugly head has to do with something that can often be your biggest strength - momentum. As the machine that is your business grinds along, day after day, you begin to get into a "groove" thanks to our old friend momentum. Productivity is on the rise; you're producing adequate results, and you're well on your way to meeting your deadlines and satisfying clients. Then, disaster strikes. Maybe a finished product isn't nearly where you need it to be, or a mission-critical process has broken down. This is where momentum works against you sometimes - because you were riding the wave of that groove, you likely overlooked small problems earlier on before they had the chance to become much bigger ones in the present day.
This is where failure becomes your best friend - it forces you to stop and think about everything that led to this moment. What along the way caused the failure that you're experiencing right now? It likely wasn't anything that happened this morning, or last night, or even earlier in the week. It was probably a series of small decisions made weeks or even months ago that snowballed into your present situation. With failure, you have an opportunity to look back and see things in a much clearer way. You can make a note of certain decisions you made that didn't quite pay off in the way you thought they would and, as a result, are ones that you're not going to make again in the future (or at least you shouldn't).
The Benefit of Hindsight
An old saying tells us that hindsight is 20/20. Many people think this is an ironic statement - because you can't go back in time and change the past. You're forced to live with the knowledge that the failure you're experiencing is one you created yourself. Instead, look at this saying as a positive thing. Hindsight may not allow you to change the past, but it IS a powerful tool that you can use to positively impact the future. This is the core of what learning from failure is all about.
Think about it this way: your mistake may have cost your business X number of dollars today, but it also helped you save a much larger amount of money on an ongoing basis because you had a rare chance to learn and improve in a way that wouldn't have presented itself otherwise. Learning from failure, therefore, becomes incredibly positive, as you're investing in the future of both your company and your career with the lessons you've learned today.
These are just a few of the reasons why failure is only a negative thing if you allow it to be. Sure, you had expectations that you've set for yourself and others that you didn't meet - feeling disappointed or even upset in these moments is natural. But failure is nothing if not a great opportunity to stop, reassess, and bounce back even stronger. Failure is natural throughout all points in life. In biology, every time you exercise your muscles begin to break down. However, they then rebuild themselves stronger than they were before - this is how we get more fit. There is absolutely no reason why the same shouldn't be true in the world of business.