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I recently gave a training course to small business owners, and as part of my preparation I visited all the delegates’ websites to better understand their particular sales challenges. For at least half of them, the problem was self-evident: there were no human beings featured on their sites at all.
In a very few instances, this is the correct approach. If you already have a good brand and people want to buy a commodity, then you do not need a personal welcome from Jeff Bezos when you arrive at Amazon.
But if you run a service business similar to many others, such as a law firm, accounting practice or design consultancy, only two things differentiate you from your competition: the people who choose to work for you and the people who choose to buy from you.
It is very important that any potential customers see the profiles and expertise of the people you will be proposing to undertake the work, as well as detailed case studies from happy customers whose problems you solved.
On the workshop I heard two classic excuses for not having details of any people on their websites. The first was a concern that if they build up the personal brand of a specific consultant, they would take this as an incentive to leave the firm and start up their own company, in competition.
While this is an understandable concern, the solution is simple. If someone wants to leave your firm it is because they do not feel valued or are managed poorly. If you suspect this might be the case, then a swift salary and bonus review is probably in order, and perhaps even the offer of a partnership or equity might be considered if they are that important to your company.
If they are brilliant but disruptive and hence not a team player, then this is the perfect opportunity to raise their profile externally and wish them well as they ruin their own or someone else’s company.
The other and more mundane excuse I hear for not putting people’s pictures and biographies on the website is that they are essentially shy and hate having their photograph taken or beating their own drum in public.
This is completely understandable; most people hate photographic sessions, even professional extroverts such as salespeople or professional speakers. What makes the process easier and more effective is to not just hire a professional and likeable photographer, but also to employ the services of a stylist.
A good stylist is someone who can gain a shy person’s confidence quickly, and then find the right clothes to make them feel like a million dollars without actually spending that amount. Their clients can then approach the photographic session with much more confidence.
My final tip is not to choose the photographs for the website yourself. Most of us only remember the image of ourselves as we looked in the bathroom mirror in the morning. In real life we look different, which is why your spouse or life partner as well as work colleagues, rather than yourself, should choose the photograph.
If you feel really bold, you might even include this picture on your business card. Everyone find it much easier to remember someone’s face than a name.
If you are happy with your web image, featuring a good picture next to a summary of your expertise, then the final step is to include yourself in the customer case study. If you are indeed shy but effective, there is nobody more appropriate to sing your praises than a happy customer.
Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.
For more information, read Bryony Thomas’ guide to what to include in a personal profile.
I am one of the most disorganised jokers you'll ever meet but a book by one of the world's best organised people influenced me hugely ... even if it didn't do much good.
It was "My years with General Motors" by Alfred P. Sloan.
Sloan led General Motors to become the world's largest motor manufacturer. It was so important to the US economy that they used to say "What's good for General Motors is good for the USA."
But General Motors — and Ford and Chrysler — got into terrible trouble and had to be bailed out, barely surviving.
There were many reasons why, but one was their marketing. Besides the fact that their ads all tended to be boastful and dull, they fell into a habit I see as the marketing equivalent of crack addiction: heavy discounting.
This gives an immediate boost to sales, but you become addicted to it. And you get nasty after-effects — as with crack.
To explain more why this is so dangerous, I must take you back 25 years.
Ogilvy and Mather had a unit called the Ogilvy Centre for Research in San Francisco. The Director, Alex Biehl, worked on a project called PIMS - which stood (I think) for Profit Impact of Marketing Strategies.
The aim: to discover how different marketing weapons affect profits.
Over 200 firms took part. One thing the project revealed was very simple, very important — yet is news to almost all marketers.
Firms that spend more money on discounting than advertising are far less profitable than those that spend more on advertising than discounting.
The project divided firms into four quartiles. Those in the top quartile spent most on advertising and least on discounting. Those in the bottom quartile did it the other way round.
The ones in the top quartile were on average twice as profitable as those in the bottom one.
Think about it. When you spend more on offering deals than explaining why people should want to buy your stuff, you are perilously close to saying, "Our stuff is not good enough to sell on its merits at full price."
To go back to where I started, today General Motors is no longer the world's biggest automotive firm. Toyota is.
Another brand once led its market but no longer does. It is Dell.
And guess what? Every single email Dell sends me offers a deal.
They have been overtaken by Hewlett Packard and Acer.
I am not saying never discount. I offer discounts all the time.
Nor am I saying traditional advertising is the answer to your problems.
What I am saying is that messages that give people reasons, emotional or rational, for buying are the key to building your business and brand.
By the way, never forget: one person can be a brand, as I reflected last night when I passed Jamie's Italian in Bristol — which was, as always, packed out.
It has done so well so fast that I believe it's going to be floated on the stock market.
For more information, read our guide to how to price your service.
For a long time we adhered to the policy of hosting a website in the country that you want to rank for. This indeed seemed to work best, but what happens when your website needs to target several different countries. The old tedious way would have been to host a subdomain in each relevant country. A huge amount of work and maintenance involved, but a necessary evil if you wanted to do well in those individual countries.
I know there must be many of you right now shouting "Webmaster tools allows you to do that!", and indeed it does. It allows you to host a site targeting multiple countries and indicate to Google which sub folder is relevant to which territory (This is presuming you have your information architecture set up with individual folders for countries for example /de/ for the German site and so forth.). There was always the worry though that if I set a folder to target Spain then what about all the traffic from South America? Am I now excluding those visitors because I have directly indicated that my website is for Spain?
The good news is we have run some trials and some sizeable customer implementations (96 sub domains!) where we have proven to ourselves that regionally targeting a site in webmaster tools does not exclude that site from featuring in other countries! A prime example of this is that we have targeted a client site of ours to America, and even though it is hosted in America, a search for "Shoe hangers" in the UK in Google.co.uk brings them up top. This is on strength of SEO alone. What does play a major role in this ranking is the geo location of the linkgraph. This company happens to have a UK base and as such has a lot of UK links to the .com site.
We have won another implementation recently that will be somewhat tricky. The problem here is we have a website that spans 3 countries, The UK, France and Italy and will be listing properties in all countries. Where this gets tricky is that the inventory is most often captured in the local language. So how then do I list a property in Rome, written up in Italian on the English version of the website? The bottom line is that I cannot. If I do I will run the risk of duplicate content and poor SEO. The answer is simple. Google is all about user experience. If you are English speaking and on an English website, even though you are searching for property in Rome, you don't want to be presented with Italian results, and Google's standpoint from a User experience point is the same. They want quality results so your only real option is to translate the listing :)
Have you experienced problems with Multinational SEO? Do you face a dilemma as to site architecture and what will work best in the search engines? We are happy to chat and let you know our thoughts.
What is this obsession with chasing after new customers all the time? Driving the children to school the other day I was incensed by a Direct Line advert, bragging about introductory discounts, presumably for new customers.
Remember the Nationwide advert for “Brand New Customers Only”? That ad worked because we’ve all experienced the injustice of special deals being offered to new customers and not us loyal ones.
And is it just me or do you also go through the same rigmarole every year of needing to take out a new car insurance policy (often with the same provider) because it’s cheaper to sign up again online than it is to renew?
Seriously? It doesn’t make sense and financial service providers are some of the worst culprits. But I wonder if small businesses aren’t just as bad? Do you spend your time and energy on looking after the clients you have, encouraging them to do repeat business with you? Or is your marketing strategy all about the new business?
New customers cost up to seven times more to win than leveraging business from your existing customers. And your existing customers, who presumably know you, like you and trust you, are likely to spend up to three times more than new clients. So if the financials don’t add up, why do we do it? Why do we spend so much time and energy chasing new business rather than nurturing our valuable client base? And if we should be nurturing our client base, then how do we do it?
I’ve recently run a Customer Retention conference with customer management expert, Liz Machtynger, so this is a subject that’s very close to my heart.
Here are seven ways you can nurture your valuable client base:
Has this got you thinking?
I have been thinking about the brands we love and how to improve customer retention. Let me tell you a couple of stories.
Three years ago, I took delivery of a car and on the way home it literally died. I did not see the car again for four months. However, the gentleman who looked after my “case” was exceptional. He updated me regularly, kept me totally informed on progress and made a bad situation OK. The car firm also sent me a range of well thought-out sorry gifts that were actually appropriate and of suitable value. I am now very loyal to this brand and I have a good opinion of them.
The other day, my wife and I were chatting about Clark Plc expenditure. We had decided to tighten the belt in a few areas and Sky TV was first on the list. With three kids of different ages, all of us have different viewing requirements ranging from football, Disney and South Park to Grey’s Anatomy. We currently have the full Sky package. It was going to be challenging to cut back.
In fact, my wife had a very, very good experience with Sky TV. The man on the phone listened and came up with a superb idea that was appropriate to the situation and our request. It was surprising and well delivered. To be frank I think we were expecting a bit of a challenge. It was the opposite. So now I have a great opinion of Sky, Clark Plc has the viewing requirements sorted and I will tell people about the positive experience.
So this got me thinking about two things: why we become loyal to certain brands and how businesses can improve customer retention.
In order to establish a loyalty scheme of any kind we need to establish who it is we actually want to reward and what it is we want to reward them for. If our most valuable customers are 100 per cent loyal to us then do we give them rewards just for being there, or do we concentrate on making the less valuable customers more valuable? We must ensure that we are adding value to our business and not simply creating a discount scheme.
Defining our objectives needs to be the first step – are we looking to reward behaviours that are good for our business, such as a customer spending more within a certain time frame, for instance?
We then need to understand our audience segments. Customers are all different and treating them as one entity means that we may be missing the main motivational factors for some of them.
After we have segmented the audience we need to look at who is the most valuable to us and why – is it the segment that makes up the highest proportion of our base? Those who spend the most? Those who are the least hassle? Or those who we feel we might be in danger of losing soon? How do these customers stack up against our objectives?
Having understood who our customers are, we need to understand their motivations – this allows us to be relevant. What do they value most?
We are a business, so we also need to understand our own motivations – what would we like our customers to do? Spend more? Stay with us long-term? Again, we need to look at this against our objectives.
Adding all this up we can see who we should be targeting, what we want to encourage them to do and what is going to motivate them. Our aim is to identify positive behaviours we want to reward and habits we can seek to change in order to make our business more profitable.
In an environment where winning new customers will get harder, it is more vital then ever before that we cherish our current customers. Some are happy, some are apathetic and some may be disappointed. As spring approaches it would be wise to look over your customer base and reward them, tackling any issues with empathy and understanding. We do long for loyalty from them; let’s give them some reasons to love us and importantly to tell their friends and associates about the great experience they have had with you.
QR codes are a relatively old technology but one which has really started gaining momentum in recent months, according the Search Engine Watch. So, with more and more social marketers taking an interest in QR codes, how can we make use of them?
The key has got to be in adding value for the target audience. QR codes shouldn’t be there “because they’re cool”, nor should they appear to help you “look innovative”. I believe the true innovation will come from the use of QR codes to enhance reality and create a better user experience both online and off.
Consider what a QR code actually is and what it does. A QR code is a quick and easy way to reach a URL destination or other piece of online content. What it does, is to make engagement easier by saving people the time and effort of writing down a URL or typing it into their mobile device.
Next, consider whether or not your end user would actually benefit from QR codes. There’s no point using a QR code if the majority of your audience doesn’t use a mobile phone, right? And if it would benefit them, where and how would it do that?
My prediction is that QR codes will become really important for retailers selling physical products to consumers by including them on barcodes and labelling. So, let’s say I find a pair of shoes I love but they don’t have them in my size; imagine if I could scan a QR code to find out when they will be in stock and also to browse other colours or suggested alternatives — my offline experience has been enhanced by online!
Social validation will also continue to grow in importance, so imagine I’ve gone into a mobile phone shop and I’m thinking of getting myself the new Samsung Galaxy. I hear everything I need to from the salesman, he gives me all the specifications and pricing and even lets me have a go. If I’m sensible, I’ll go home and find out more about the phone and read all the tech reviews.
But why wait? A QR code on the phone could lead me to a tech review plus some real, personal reviews from other people who actually own the phone. It could even tell me where I can get the phone at the best price.
There is a whole array of other potential uses for QR codes but essentially it really needs to focus on adding value for the end user.
Laura Hampton is a copywriter and online marketer at Zabisco, a digital agency in Nottingham.
For more information, read our guide to QR codes.