Monthly Archives: July 2017

Create an Effective Marketing Plan

Most small business owners know the importance of a business plan, which outlines your company’s course for success. One crucial element of that plan is your marketing strategy.

Because this strategy is buried in the larger business plan, many small business owners may not give marketing the time, research and attention it deserves, assuming that they know their customer base and how to reach them. But an in-depth and detailed approach to laying out your marketing strategy can reveal opportunities from a new audience or potential product line, pitfalls in pricing, competition reaction, and potential reach.

At its most basic, a marketing plan describes who your customers are, where they get information and how you are going to reach them. Robert J. Thomas, a marketing professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, said the development of a marketing plan requires that you complete four specific tasks:

2. Identify your target customers. There are numerous potential customers in most markets, but to succeed faster and better, a small business must study the market and determine the characteristics of its best target customers. The target customer should be described in detail. Create an avatar, or fictional person, who has all of your target-customer attributes, and examine what that person would say, do, feel and think in the course of a day.

3. Identify competitors that would also want your target customers. No matter how original your product or service may be, there is always competition for your target customer’s dollar. Small businesses seldom take the time to study their competitors in depth, or determine competition that may be outside their industry but just as capable of luring the customer away. Preparing to know who that is, what their core competitive advantage is and how they will respond to your offering (price cuts, increased communication, etc.) will help you figure out strategies to combat such losses.

4. Write down your brand-positioning statement for your target customers. Ultimately, your brand and what it symbolizes for customers will be your strongest competitive advantage. You should be able to write down a simple declarative sentence of how you will meet customer needs and beat the competition. The best positioning statements are those that are single-minded and focus on solving a problem for the customer in a way that promotes the best value.

Now that you know the elements of the plan, you need to figure out how you are going to reach that target customer. Aside from traditional print and broadcast media, here are three tech-driven marketing channels that many of today’s business owners utilize.

Social media has become an essential part of businesses’ marketing plans because every type of customer is on some type of platform, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and other networks. Small business owners can feel overwhelmed at the possibilities but should focus on the ones that can benefit them the most.

Brett Farmiloe, founder of internet marketing company Markitors, advised companies that are just getting started in social media to get to know their customers and what platforms they are using.

“Figure out where your customers are spending their time, and set up shop on those platforms,” Farmiloe told Business News Daily. “Develop a content strategy that can be executed internally, [and then] execute your strategy by posting branded content on your selected platforms. While all three steps are key, the biggest one is really determining if your customers are on these platforms.”

Though email marketing may not be a new concept like social media marketing, it is an effective and popular choice for many small business owners. Companies can implement email-marketing techniques in a number of ways, including using newsletters, promotional campaigns and transactional emails. Companies such as MailChimp and Constant Contact make it easy for companies to manage their email campaigns.

Farmiloe noted that companies can set their email marketing efforts apart by segmenting their markets.

“Not all subscribers want to receive the same blast,” Farmiloe said. “Smart email marketers take the time to segment subscribers at the outset, and then continue to segment based on subscriber activity. Through segmentation, companies reduce the amount of unsubscribes, increase open rates and, most importantly, increase the amount of actions taken from an email send.”

Best Key Customer Service Mistakes You Need to Avoid

Customer service is the backbone of a successful business. It could be the difference between good reviews and repeat customers, and word getting around about negative customer experiences and people avoiding your business altogether.

Given that customer service is so important, it is valuable to know some of the most common customer service mistakes. Customer service experts lent their expertise to Business News Daily and shared how to avoid them.

Just because it can be automated does not meant it should be, and it also does not mean the automation will automatically translate into cost savings.

Don’t automate just because you can. Avoid erasing all personalization and direct contact with the customer. When possible, provide a variety of different communication modes, as some customers prefer online chat while others want to talk to a person over the phone.

“Give them that option. Don’t force customers to use frustrating phone trees,” said Dana Brownlee, founder of consulting firm Professionalism Matters.

Assuming you know what the customer wants, instead of listening to the customer, is a big mistake.

“Teach listening skills throughout the organization, especially to (customer service representatives),” said Brownlee. “Develop processes that ‘force’ CSRs to really listen to customers – get rid of CSR scripts.”

Instead of thinking about how to delight customers on the front end and avoid getting the calls, many companies fall into the reactive approach of being satisfied with somewhat mediocre products or service and thinking of customer service as something that happens on the back end when there are complaints or problems. Take time to conduct process analysis, continuous process improvement and root cause analysis to truly improve your product service.

“Require every employee to take (five) customer service calls a month to maintain connection to the customer. Incorporate customer service goals into every employee’s compensation/bonus structure,” Brownlee said.

It’s a shame that very often the staff members who interact with customers the most are paid and valued the least. To avoid this mistake, Brownlee said, “Hire better staff, pay them more, and reward them for providing great service.”

According to Robert C. Johnson, CEO of TeamSupport, customers want accurate answers or quick, efficient and respectful solutions, and getting that to the customer is the most important thing, even if the answer or solution is not ideal.

“Make sure the employees (who interact) with customers have access to the right information and are listening to their concerns,” Johnson said. “Ensure communication is realistic – it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver on that promise than the other way around.”

Customer service is proving to be a vital part of a successful business. But where does it start? Employees may not know where to turn for advice on customer service, or how to get the right information.

“A culture of exceptional customer service must start at the top. It can’t be just a slide in a presentation or a cliche saying that employees are expected to follow,” Johnson said. The CEO needs to set the tone, invest in the right team members and technology, and lead by actions as well as words.

A survey conducted by Professionalism Matters also found that scripts are not the way to deal with customer service complaints. Customer service representatives need to be trained to work to resolve a customer’s specific situation, as opposed to the “if they say this, you say that” approach.

No one is perfect. Whether due to a lack of focus, understanding, guidance or diligence, mistakes will happen.

“Sometimes we move too fast, and sometimes things just happen. At the end of the day, it’s how you recover from these mistakes that’s important,” Johnson said. “Good companies own both the good and the bad things that happen.”

The key is knowing how to rectify the situation once it has happened and making sure that the customer still receives the best customer service, despite some bumps along the way to a resolution.

Johnson suggested reaching out to the customer and owning up to the problem with empathetic and sincere communication. Formulate a response strategy, such as a timeline for communication, and execute it quickly.

It’s also critical for customer service representatives to apologize on behalf of the company immediately if the company dropped the ball in any way, Brownlee said in the Professionalism Matters survey.

“There’s nothing wrong with simply expressing regret that the customer is experiencing anguish, even if they haven’t determined yet if the company was at fault,” Brownlee said.

Once the situation has been rectified, take your own internal action independent of the customer, said Johnson.

“Sit down with your team to understand all the details, including what specifically happened, why it happened, and the actions that can be taken to avoid similar problems in the future,” he said.

Tips To Take Your Business to the Next Level

Marketing your small business, whether online or off, is a time intensive process. As your business grows, managing lead capture, nurturing, converting and relationship management become too big to handle manually, which is why small business owners turn to marketing automation software to manage the load.

In general, automation brings many benefits to your small business including:

  • Speed;
  • Lower costs; and
  • Time savings.

However, because the promotion, selling, and relationship management processes involve so many steps, many of which are repeated for each customer, marketing is particularly suited to automation. And that’s where marketing automation software comes in.

Marketing Automation Software

Happily, there are many marketing automation software options for small businesses. These solutions can handle a few, or all types, of automated marketing techniques. In other words, they include various automation features such as:

  • Forms and landing pages,
  • Automated email campaigns,
  • Trigger emails based on set or custom rules,
  • Built-in eCommerce functionality or integration with eCommerce platforms;
  • Lead scoring,
  • Built-in CRM or CRM integration,
  • Smarter segmentation and
  • Website behavior tracking.

Note: Not all solutions offer every feature.

While you may be hesitant to try one because of either cost or learning curve, you should be aware that many marketing automation software vendors:

  • Charge based on use (number of customers, features used, etc.) so the cost scales, and is manageable, as you grow; and
  • Offer solid help as you learn to use their tool including free training, customer support representatives, comprehensive documentation and a supportive user community forum.

Are you considering marketing automation for your small business? If so, here’s a list of marketing automation software solutions to consider.

GetResponse

GetResponse calls itself the “all-in-one online marketing platform to grow your business” and a look down the features on their home page shows just how complete the software is.

While it’s one of the most affordable solutions on this list, GetResponse brings the same, if not more, of the features and functionality offered by the  more expensive solutions on this list. That said, the price does increase with use, but a small business should be able to handle the increase as it grows.

ActiveCampaign

Another affordable solution, ActiveCampaign, offers everything a small business needs to automate its marketing efforts including a robust, built-in CRM system.

GreenRope

Calling itself a “small business CRM”, GreenRope is almost a small business management suite. Starting with marketing automation, you’ll find website tracking, landing pages and more in this affordably-priced solution.

Infusionsoft

One of the more well-known marketing automation software options, Infusionsoft offers everything your small business needs at a reasonable price. One feature that shows off the power of this solution is the flexibility of the campaign builder. This tool enables you to create elaborate workflows one time and then implement them again and again. These workflows can include many types of steps including eCommerce, appointments, behaviors and actions, webinar attendance and many more.

HubSpot

The only tool on the list to offer a website builder, HubSpot aims to integrate your entire marketing effort in one place. One of the more powerful features of the tool is the ability to personalize your website with “smart content” based on a number of factors:

Act-On

Act-On offers a robust marketing automation platform. The software offers automation workflows and triggers as well as website behavior tracking, integration with many popular CRM platforms, and more.

One of the more interesting, and useful, features of Act-On is it’s funnel reporting. By setting up a sales funnel, you can track the effectiveness of your overall marketing efforts. Here’s a sample:

Marketo

Marketo offers a powerful solution with many features. One thing that stood out however was their customized product bundling, an approach that may make the tool attractive for small businesses that want to dip their toe in the water.

Autopilot

One of the most interesting aspects of Autopilot is the number of integrations it enables you to use as part of your marketing automation workflows. For example, below you can see that the bottom right step sends an automated Slack message:

 

In addition, the vendor offers multi-channel marketing via emails, headsups (little pop-up notifications) SMS messages, and even postcards. Finally, the pricing for this solution is low and scales as your business grows.

Salesfusion

Salesfusion is a heavily-loaded marketing automation tool that can help you take your small business to a new level. One standout feature? It’s SEO audit feature that helps improve your search engine rankings.

SharpSpring

In addition to it’s marketing automation features, SharpSpring offers additional features including a blog builder and VisitorID tool which attempts to identify anonymous visitors to your website.

Also, the vendor enables you to use your buyer personas to automatically offer unique, targeted content by segmenting your customers based on how closely their profiles match.

 

Additional Resources

  • SharpSpring Gives Small Businesses More Access to Images Through Shutterstock

SALESmanago

While a look at SALESmanago‘s home page may make you run, don’t let the complexity of the vendor’s offerings chase you away. This solution literally has it all and, if that’s what you need, then it’s certainly worth a look.

Wrapping Up

No matter which marketing automation software solution you select, make sure you’re getting the most out of the tool. And remember, you can automate processes beyond marketing, too, so be sure to consider how leveraging other tools can help streamline your small business.