The Challenges of Marketing an Intangible

30 03 2012

Marketing a product that customers can see, touch, and try before they buy is challenging enough. So how can you market something customers can’t see or feel? How do you turn an intangible idea into something that will connect with people in a hands-on, real-world way? That is often the challenge involved with marketing a service. Here are five tips to help you get started:

  • Focus on answering the question, “What’s in it for me?” Feature lists are all well and good, but for most people the bottom line (THEIR bottom line) is what really matters. If you can show a prospect how your service will benefit them (by saving time, reducing costs, providing security, or eliminating frustration, worry, or doubt), that will go far in convincing them to give you a try.
  • Make it real. Just telling someone how much your service will benefit them isn’t always enough. Back up your claims with tangible, real-world proof. Use testimonials, case studies, and verified statistics whenever you can to help bolster your case. Few things sell confidence better than a success story from a satisfied customer. A testimonial or case study outlining the positive results your service has provided will go a long way toward putting a prospect’s mind at ease about doing business with your firm.
  • Create a strong, positive identity. While your service may be intangible, the words and imagery you use to represent your brand can help you make a positive impression in prospective buyers’ minds. Consider Prudential’s Rock of Gibraltar logo or Allstate’s “good hands.” Each conveys a message of security and dependability — traits important when you’re talking about insurance and investing. Try to create a similar feel with the images and words you use to promote your company.
  • Avoid the temptation to under-price your services. Under-pricing undermines profitability and sends the message that you don’t value your own services as highly as your competitors value theirs. Customers will see this as a sign that your service is inferior in quality or that you lack the experience necessary to help them. If you’re uncomfortable pricing your service competitively, consider a tiered approach, where customers can pay higher premiums for added benefits.
  • Treat yourself — and your company — as the product. In many ways, you are. When customers buy a service, they’re really buying into a company and its people. They’re trusting your knowledge, your skill, your experience, and your integrity to do right by them. Keep that in mind. Use every interaction as an opportunity to reinforce, renew, and reward that trust…and encourage your staff to do the same.

10 Simple Ways Make it Easier for Customers to Contact You

27 03 2012

A toll-free number is no longer the standard way for customers to contact you. Customers are bombarded with choices in today’s technology-focused world. If your business doesn’t offer a method of communication that suits your customers’ preferences, they may find another company that does.

Here are 10 tips to make it easy for ALL of your customers to get (and stay) in touch with you:

  • Consider offering a live chat support service option on your website that provides real-time, text-based conversation with someone who can quickly answer questions.
  • Use social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate with customers. Post helpful information in your stream, and encourage customers to ask questions and provide product feedback.
  • Provide interactive maps that allow people to customize directions to your location, as well as a photo of your building to make your business easier to find.
  • Include any helpful information that may save customers frustration when they try visiting you. For example: “XYZ Road is currently under construction — please use ABC Street instead.”
  • Create a Google+ page to share updates, promotions, links, and photos. This will make it easy for people to recommend your business, products, or services to friends and contacts, while at the same time helping you measure your followers’ interactions.
  • When posting blogs, be sure to offer an area for comments and feedback, as well as contact information, in case the reader has questions.
  • Build trust with online customers by providing your company’s physical address in addition to email, phone, fax, Skype, and support line info on your website’s contact page. Add links to customer forums, your Facebook page, and your Twitter feed, as well, and consider offering a contact form as a convenience for customers.
  • Include, at minimum, your website info, company email, and toll-free phone number on every marketing piece you create, including letterhead, notepads, brochures, flyers, quotes, surveys, etc. Customers who desire additional information will often seek out your website’s contact page.
  • Consider a mobile website designed for smart phones that makes it easy for users to find information about you, regardless of what device they are using.
  • Provide a clear call to action in direct mail, email messages, and other marketing pieces so readers know how to get in touch with you.

We encourage you to contact us anytime if you have questions or comments. We look forward to hearing from you!

Lessons from a Cracked Pot

23 03 2012

I’d like to share a story with you that I heard recently. It may be familiar to you, but I think it bears repeating…

Each morning, a servant would carry water to his master’s house from a nearby stream using two large clay pots, hung on opposite ends of a long pole. One of the pots was in perfect condition, but the other had a crack along its side that caused it to leak water. As a result, the cracked pot was only half full by the time the servant reached the house.

This went on for two years before the cracked pot finally gathered the courage to say something to the servant. Feeling embarrassed by what it perceived to be its shortcomings, the pot said, “I want to apologize to you.”

“Why?” asked the servant, confused by the pot’s sorrow.

“For two years, I’ve watched as my partner delivered a full pot of water to your servant’s home each day. Meanwhile, I’ve struggled to deliver just half my load because of this crack in my side. My flaws have caused you to deliver less water than you would have been able to otherwise, and I’m sorry for that.”

At this, the servant smiled. “As we’re walking back to the house today,” he said, “I want you to take a close look around you, particularly at the road.” So the pot did as the servant instructed and was astonished to see a plethora of flowers lining the path below him as they walked.

When they reached the house, the servant asked, “Did you see those flowers?”

“Yes,” the pot replied, “they’re beautiful.”

“Did you notice that they only appeared on your side of the road?” the servant continued. “That’s not a coincidence. You see, I’ve known about your crack all along. Two years ago, I planted seeds along your side of the path. Each day, as we make our way back from the stream, you water those flowers for me. As a result, I’ve been able to create beautiful centerpieces that bring joy to my master’s home. So, you see, what you consider a failure, I consider a great service to my master and his family.”

Like the pot in this story, many of us feel inadequate at times because of our own cracks and flaws. But finding ways to make the most of those imperfections (in ourselves and in those around us) can make our lives far richer and more rewarding.

So where can you plant seeds in your own life to bear flowers? And what can you do to encourage others around you who may be feeling less than adequate today?

Disconnect to Connect

20 03 2012

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by various forms of electronic communication, you’re not alone. There’s something to be said for traditional forms of contact, whether the warmth of a handshake or the crunch of a newspaper.

In our attempt to feed our information-hungry prospects and customers, we run the risk of creating a system overload. If your business is looking for a way to break through the electronic communication overload, try marketing in print.

People are so used to being bombarded with emails, texts, Facebook notifications, tweets, and pop-up ads that attractive, quality postcards, self-mailers, and other marketing pieces offer a refreshing change of pace.

Sometimes you just need to disconnect to connect.

Perfect Pitch

16 03 2012

Perfect pitch is a musical term for the ability to recognize any note on the scale just by hearing it — or to sing any note on the scale without a point of reference. Experts say only one in 10,000 people have this ability, though others may possess elements of the skill.

In sales, we often refer to our own sort of “perfect pitch” — a presentation so persuasive it overcomes objections and leaves no doubt in a prospect’s mind that our product or service is exactly what they need.

Like perfect pitch in music, a perfect pitch in sales can seem equally elusive. And while there is no fail-safe way to close every sale, there are things you can do to make your presentations resonate with prospects and strike a better chord.

Do your homework. Get to know as much as you can about your audience before you meet. Discover their needs, their wants…and their motivations. Tailor your pitch and approach to address those triggers, and focus on how your product can benefit the customer, rather than just the features it possesses.

Start with an analogy. Stories have a way of breaking the ice and making your product more relatable. Telling a prospect your high-speed Internet service is faster than the competitors’ might impress them momentarily, but comparing your service to running on smooth pavement with the wind at your back versus running through a pool full of molasses, against the current, might make a stronger and more meaningful (long-term) impression.

Answer the whys. Wise salespeople prepare ahead of time to deal with the whys: Why do I need your product? Why should I choose you over the competition? Why should I care about all those bells and whistles? All of these are valid questions you’ll need to answer. And, no, “because I said so” is not an acceptable response. If you can’t make a concise, compelling case for your product, you’ll have trouble making many sales.

Practice, practice, practice. Alexander Graham Bell once said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” Just as a musician or singer needs to practice their craft, successful salespeople must prepare themselves for every presentation. Outline your presentation ahead of time, and practice your delivery so you know what you need to say in various situations.

Keep honing. No salesperson hits the right note on every sales call. Learn from your mistakes and miscues. Use all of your experiences — both positive and negative — to sharpen your skills, so you’re always prepared to perform at your best.

Would You Like Fries With That?

13 03 2012

If you’ve ever eaten at a fast-food restaurant, surely you’ve been asked, “Would you like fries with that?” or “Would you like to supersize your meal?” Cross-selling involves presenting customers with complementary products or services to consider above and beyond their initial purchase. Here are a few tips on how to successfully cross-sell (or up-sell) your products to increase revenue:

  • Use cross-selling as a way to help customers try to solve a problem, rather than just to sell more stuff. Educate them on products or services you have to offer that may meet their needs or new items that weren’t available before.
  • Suggest relevant items that complement and make the initial purchase more valuable (such as selling a memory card, camera case, and batteries with a new camera). Also consider offering items that vary in price, such as an $8 case, a $15 case, and a $25 case. The least-expensive items will most commonly be added as impulse buys.
  • Position products in lucrative places on your website to cross-sell complementary items, or direct customers to other items they may be interested in. For example, offers suggestions of items that are frequently bought together, as well as “Customers who bought this item also bought XYZ.”
  • Promote bundled packages that provide a price break to purchase extra items together. For example, “Save $15 when you purchase our XYZ camera, case, and memory card value bundle.”
  • Reinforce cross-selling efforts with customer testimonials or expert recommendations. Popularity sells, and people are more likely to follow suit when they see what others are doing.
  • Timing is key when up-selling products. Don’t try to promote an extended warranty until after the decision has been made to purchase an item.

Done properly, cross-selling is an effective way to boost revenues, while at the same time helping customers get more value from their purchases.

Are You a Winning Teammate?

9 03 2012

Baseball legend Babe Ruth once said, “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”

Ruth may have been talking about baseball, but the same is true in business. While we often celebrate visionary leaders and pioneering individuals who set themselves apart from the crowd, most successful companies are built and sustained on the effectiveness of their teams.

So what sets great teams apart, and what traits should you aspire to as part of a team? Here are five keys to get you started.

Define your role. Every show needs a supporting cast, and every team needs role players who bring their own unique skills and experiences to the table. Figure out what role you play (or should play) on the team. If you are the team leader, then lead. Otherwise, carve out a niche for yourself that allows you to bring your best qualities forward for the betterment of the group.

But be flexible. Remain open to the needs of your team and willing to adapt to fill a role outside your comfort zone. Doing this will not only help the team meet its goals but will also help you personally grow and expand your own skills and abilities. In the process, you might have fun discovering new areas of interest you enjoy tackling on the job.

Assists are important, too. In basketball and hockey, players are given assists for helping set up a scoring shot. In baseball, relief pitchers must often get their team out of a tough situation, and closers are called upon to “save” another pitcher’s win. Look for ways you can contribute to victories at work, without the need for personal glory or praise. Use your strengths to complement those around you, be quick with a helping hand, and remember that when the team wins, you do, too.

Communicate effectively. Open communication is vital to any team’s success. Strive to be clear, concise, honest, and direct with your team, always mindful and respectful of the other members, too. Work on creating an atmosphere where people feel encouraged to share their ideas and to discuss them freely, with the goal of bringing the best ideas forward, regardless of egos.

Play nice. In discussing solutions, listen intently to contrary views. Tackle each project with a spirit of cooperation. Keep discussions civil, and look for ways to compromise when possible without sacrificing the team’s goals or integrity. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, and offer support for others who may be struggling. Above all, remember that you’re all part of the same team and are working toward the same common goal.

9 Ways to Increase Customer Retention

6 03 2012

Experts say it costs five times more to attract a new customer than to retain an existing one. Consequently, customer retention is critical to the success of your business. Here are a few tips to help you stay in front of your customers and increase your customer retention rates:

  • Develop a customer loyalty program that offers special promotions and incentives for return customers, such as birthday discounts, a reward punch card, free shipping, monthly discounts, free upgrades, and the like.
  • Offer surveys that ask customers what they think of your business and how you can improve.
  • Encourage open communication with your customers. Request feedback and suggestions. Offer options such as email forms, surveys, a toll-free number, chat forums, and social media links.
  • Consider creating a focus group with a couple loyal customers to provide their insight from a customer’s perspective. Be sure to reward them for their input.
  • Utilize customer complaints and suggestions to improve your products or services.
  • Create a referral program that encourages and rewards loyal customers to do the selling for you.
  • Differentiate yourself from the competition. Offer value add-ons, educate your customers about industry trends, provide helpful tips, and have a live person answer your phones instead of a confusing automated system.
  • Socialize with your customers. Attend trade shows, offer open houses, encourage customers to respond to blog posts, and communicate with your customers on social media sites.
  • Mail personalized thank you cards showing your appreciation for recent purchases or for interest in your products and services.

If you have other ideas for keeping customers satisfied, please feel free to share them in the comments below.

Cicero’s Six Mistakes of Man

2 03 2012

Some truths are timeless. Here are six from the Roman statesman Cicero. He called these “The Six Mistakes of Man,” and though written more than 2000 years ago, each is still applicable today.

1. The delusion that personal gain is made by crushing others
While this may be true of Hollywood villains and reality show contestants, most of us realize that true success comes from working together toward a common goal. Profits are certainly a vital component of success in business, but making them at the expense of those around you is not. Partnerships, collaboration, and teamwork are far more effective ways to build the kind of long-term, sustainable success most of us are after.

2. The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected
Far too much energy is spent on idle worrying. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t concern ourselves with improvement. By all means we should. But worrying never accomplished anything. Try not to get overly concerned with things that are beyond your control. Do your best, accomplish what you can, and keep plugging away.

3. Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it
Many of the things we take for granted today were once deemed impossible. Sure, a task may not seem possible right now, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t accomplish it someday or that you couldn’t team up with somebody (or several somebodies) to accomplish it in the not-too-distant future.

4. Refusing to set aside trivial preference
It’s easy to fall into the thinking of “my way or the highway.” There’s a reason we do things the way we do: because our way works. In many cases, a lot of time, effort, trial, and error have gone into refining our methodology. But sometimes, we just do things a certain way because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” Opening our minds to other possibilities helps us grow personally — and as an organization or team.

5. Neglecting development and refinement of the mind and not acquiring the habit of reading and study
Most business leaders are also lifelong learners — always reading, refining their skills, and studying others to stay ahead and continually improve their companies. Many also embrace a culture of learning throughout their organizations — cultivating knowledge, encouraging growth, and rewarding employees for ideas that translate to the company’s bottom line.

6. Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do
In some ways, this relates to #4 above, but on a grander scale. Instead of issues related to company policy and procedure, this mistake goes into personal beliefs and attitudes. Sure, life would be easier if everyone believed the same things and lived their lives the same way, but it would also be a lot duller. Different opinions, beliefs, and life experiences can infuse a team with energy and lead to fresher ideas and bigger innovations.

So, what do you think of Cicero’s mistakes? Can you think of any that he might have missed? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.