Today, a client and I received a group text message from a marketing services vendor:
“Need to get your credit card today if possible. Got your bill together.”
I understand this vendor’s perspective. It’s nearing the end of the year, and they want to maximize revenue. From the message’s urgency, it’s likely they have outstanding accounts payable coming due.
But here’s our perspective. Asking for a credit card by text message without even sending the invoice for us to review appears desperate and unprofessional. We don’t have the same sense of urgency regarding this payment.
Recently, I was discussing the end-of-year sales pipeline with another client. We started our conversation with the question, “What will our customers need between now and the end of the year?” By focusing on the needs of the customer, we’ll ultimately enjoy stronger results through customer loyalty and referrals.
To build great customer relationships, all communication needs to prioritize the customer’s perspective.
Asking for referrals makes many small business owners and salespeople uncomfortable. However, if you do a great job for customers and they are happy with you, customers are usually pleased to help you succeed and give you a referral. But customers often won’t think of referring your small business without prompting. You have to ask.
The most effective way to overcome reluctance is to build asking for referrals into your regular habits. Here are five ideas you can consider as “triggers” to asking for a referral:
When a customer submits a glowing customer service review
In the middle of a project, when the customer is most involved in your work together
After delivery of a product, when the customer is most delighted
At your anniversary date with a customer, as part of a broader “It’s been an outstanding year” message
During any conversation with your customer when they are particularly pleased with your small business
As a bonus, these are also perfect times to ask for a testimonial. Why not do both?
In Small Business Marketing, Receptionists Are on the Front Line
Receptionist positions are often considered entry-level with high turnover. Small businesses don’t spend much time training the receptionist, sometimes just giving her an admonition to be friendly and punctual.
But from your customer’s perspective, your receptionist just might be your small business’s most important employee! An effective receptionist:
Is a customer’s first impression of your company
Develops meaningful customer relationships
Keeps customers happy
Is a key source of business intelligence
Everytime the phone rings or someone walks through the door, your receptionist is the spokesperson for your business. Customers will evaluate your business based on their interactions with the receptionist. More often than anyone else, she is in a position to execute your marketing strategies.
Receptionists are also in a position to uncover important business intelligence that should inform your small business marketing strategies. They talk to customers all day long. Through skillful conversation, they can identify how customers learned about you, what competitors they evaluated and problem areas in your products or services.
Does your receptionist know how important she is to your small business? Help her understand her professional role, and you’ll welcome a new, valuable member to your marketing team.
We have all seen cringe-inducing social media marketing posts that make us say, “WHY would they share THAT?” I think these mistakes are particularly embarrassing on LinkedIn, because it is a professional network. Businesses, brands and individuals should showcase themselves at their professional best. Here are a few things to avoid:
DON’T use an overly personal photo. Your profile picture needs to be friendly and professional.
DON’T share updates that are trivial or don’t promote your brand. Save the captioned cat pictures for your personal friends on Facebook, not your customers.
DON’T get political. Left or Right? Either way, you’re sure to offend half of your customers.
DON’T ask for recommendations from people you don’t know.
DON’T post content with typos or misspellings. Proofread and post well-designed content.
Here’s a good rule of thumb for LinkedIn marketing: if you wouldn’t say it in-person to a customer, don’t post it.
Share this list with your employees and colleagues to make sure everyone in your organization avoids embarrassing your brand– and themselves!
Employees play an important role in small business marketing– even when they aren’t in the marketing department. Customers’ impressions and beliefs about your business are largely built around interactions they have with your employees.
So, it’s important that employees believe in your marketing and support your brand. All too often, I have seen employees undercut a brand. Fortunately, it’s not very difficult or time consuming to help employees “be the brand.”
How to Gain Employee Support for Your Small Business Marketing
Involve employees in marketing meetings. Employees will believe in your brand if they’ve helped create it. In early stage marketing development, involve employees in some of the brainstorming meetings. They will feel ownership of the end result and take pride in that.
Ask for marketing ideas from your employees. Because employees are on the front lines with customers, they often have great ideas for improving marketing efforts. They’re just waiting for someone to ask! Consider a physical or online Suggestion Box or quarterly brainstorming sessions. Again, employees will feel ownership of marketing efforts they have helped to create.
Introduce marketing campaigns to employees before launching them to customers. Employees are understandably frustrated when customers mention a marketing campaign they’ve never heard of. Give employees advance notice of campaigns and opportunity to understand and ask questions.
Employees are busy, with plenty to do. But investing a small amount of time in building your brand with employees will go a long way towards making your marketing more effective and customers more satisfied.
Most small businesses feature pictures of their team on their websites, social media platforms or even in their physical location. When customers see pictures of the business owner or your team, they will associate the quality of the picture with the quality of your business. Everything is marketing!
With the popularity of selfies and casual smartphone photography, it can be difficult to get professional headshot photos of your team. Here are some simple tips for taking great headshots:
Don’t take a selfie. Even if you can’t hire a professional photographer, ask someone else to take the photo for you.
Plan the background. The background of a headshot photograph shouldn’t be distracting. Avoid backgrounds that contain other people or traffic. Easy background choices include brick walls, an interior wall painted a simple color, trees, or other non-distracting natural elements.
Think about lighting. For most headshots, it’s fine to use a smartphone or consumer-grade camera, as long as you have good lighting. Ambient daylight will make for the best results, so have fun taking your photo shoot outside.
Take the photo straight on. Unless you have an artistic vision that uses unique angles, take the simple approach of having your photograph taken at eye-level, while looking at the camera.
Stay focused. Make sure the camera is focused on you and that the picture is clear and sharp.
Look the part. Plan your wardrobe, do your hair and smile!
It’s great to be quirky, but have a purpose for the composition. Think of settings that are relevant to your brand personality. If you don’t have a lot of time, classic portrait approaches are always great for professional headshot photography.
Ideally, the photos of your entire team will complement each other. Using similar angles and backgrounds will reinforce customers’ impressions that you all collaborate.
A picture is worth a thousand words, so take a look at some examples.
Find the Differences that Matter to Beat the Competition
Customers will always compare your small business to your competitors. Their frame of reference for evaluating you is often if you are better or worse than what they’ve experienced in the past. If you learn what irks customers about competitors and excel in those areas, you will have a significant competitive advantage.
Not every difference matters. Customers probably don’t care if you’ve been in business 15 years, while your competitor has only been around for three. They might not even care that your certifications are more thorough. You must find the meaningful differences that can set you apart from the competition in the customer’s mind.
Let’s take my experience with construction contractors as an example. What really matters to me in a contractor is that he answers my call or calls me back the same day. I want a schedule that actually means something. When there’s a problem, I want him to tell me about it right away. That seems like basic customer service, doesn’t it? But compared to most contractors, a firm that meets those criteria will win my loyalty and business.
For some industries, being better than competitors is pretty simple. You just have to be aware of the differences that matter. How will you learn what matters? That’s also pretty simple. Ask your customers. They will tell you.
As a small business, if you have an automated phone system, it’s killing your marketing. From your customer’s perspective, everything you do is marketing. And the upbeat, chipper voice on your phone system drowns out all other marketing attempts.
When customers hear this:
“Please listen carefully, as our menu options have changed.”
They already know you don’t care about them, and the feeling becomes mutual.
Maybe they are calling after receiving a flyer in the mail about your latest special offer. Or maybe a friend recommended they try you out. It doesn’t really matter why they are calling. It just matters that now they want to hang up instead of dealing with a phone system maze.
When you spend marketing money to get phone calls, make sure a real person picks up the phone. A customer’s impression of your business extends beyond the marketing campaign. As Steve Yastrow writes about his book Brand Harmony:
“When each experience you create for your customers blends with every other experience they have with your organization to tell one compelling, integrated story: that’s brand harmony.”
Consider the story you are telling your customer– does every interaction blend together to tell the best story of your brand?
At lunch yesterday, one of my favorite diners, The Echo, proclaimed some pretty extreme excitement over its new brunch cocktails. As you can see, there are exclamation points galore (Except for the Irish Coffee. Apparently, it doesn’t deserve any enthusiasm).
As a rule of thumb, seven exclamation points in about 50 words of marketing copy are too many. Your marketing copy should be interesting enough to customers that you don’t need to create artificial excitement with exclamation points. Understated use of punctuation will appear more confident, classy and trustworthy. Often, hype only serves to make your brand sound desperate.
Imagine this placard with no exclamation points. It would be a well-designed, appealing piece. The exclamation points don’t ruin it, but the effect would certainly be more powerful without them.