If you’ve been in your business for any length of time, you’ve probably fallen into a routine set of habits that take up parts of every day.
The dictionary defines a habit as “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.” Sound familiar?
You probably arrive at your office a certain time every day, maybe turn off the alarm, turn on the lights, make coffee, power up the computer, check emails, and so on. Some of these habits are positive, and some are negatives you’re trying to overcome.
These habits are often random and don’t require much thought or deliberate action. They blend into the day-to-day fabric of life.
A ritual is something quite different than a habit. A ritual is deliberate (not random) and carries with it a deeper meaning. A ritual is an act carried out on purpose with full consciousness that has a real reason behind it.
A parent reading to a child every night is a deliberate ritual that has meaning. The child will always remember it, and the act will help develop a love for books that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
In our business world, we fall into habits. Some of the habits are unavoidable. To make a positive impact and institute real change, we need to add some rituals to our daily lives.
In the business world, there are two places where rituals can have a major impact: customers and employee relationships. Developing positive rituals for addressing both camps is crucial to success.
Harvey MacKay, the author of <em>Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive</em>, owned an envelope printing company. Mr. MacKay grew a bankrupt company into a $100 million enterprise by developing a ritual of learning more about his prospects, customers, and employees than any of his competitors did.
He eventually developed a ritual that was the key to his success. This ritual involved compiling highly detailed customer profiles consisting of 66 questions covering every aspect of their lives — from business to personal, family to social, and everything in-between. He made it a mission to learn as much as he could about the people who did business with his company.
“Knowing something about your customer is just as important as knowing everything about your product.” ~ Harvey MacKay
One of the common characteristics of successful people in many walks of life is their keen observational skills. They study the people around them, noticing qualities and human nature. Some of us, unfortunately, walk around with our eyes half closed while performing mindless habits.
Three Elements of a Ritual
When – What time are you going to act?
Where – Where will this happen?
How – In what manner will this occur?
Meaningful rituals can have a real and positive effect in our lives. The kind of ritual you need will depend on the type of impact and change you hope to make. Success depends on action. Select one meaningful ritual you will institute now. That one ritual could be the difference between dreading another day of mindless habits versus looking forward to a day of making a difference in the world.
Many businesses thrive on the expertise of their owners, operators, or managers. This is particularly true of small businesses, especially service businesses. A great way to increase your business volume and increase the perceived value of your products and services is to communicate your expertise within your community.
What Is Content Marketing?
A lot of people think content marketing is a new, revolutionary theory. Really, though, it’s based on the age-old principles of customer service. As you know, your customers lack your expertise. Traditionally, customers would come to you for advice, just like you would go to your printer for advice. You would then give them the information they needed to buy the right products and services to solve their problems. As the provider of that information, you would also get the sale.
The Internet changed that. Fewer people are willing to go into a store to get the information they need. They’re more likely to go online and seek out the answers to their questions. The information they want is available in the form of content. Content may be written or presented in an audiovisual form. That content is branded with the business identity of whoever created the content.
This is content marketing. If you’re providing the content in your business area, then you’ll be the person customers come to when they’re ready to act on the information you provide. The key is branding your content and distributing it to your local audience.
How Does Content Marketing Help Your Business?
Your customers probably take your expertise for granted. Whether you style their hair or repair their appliances, the quality you provide to your customers is dependent on your expertise. Yet customers don’t tend to notice unless the job is done poorly.
Imagine for a moment what could happen if these same customers understood the level of expertise you provide and actually valued your input. Imagine if you used your expertise to reveal product and service options your customers didn’t realize were possible. Imagine who they’d come to in order to get what they wanted.
That’s how content marketing helps your business. You not only have the opportunity to establish your expertise in the minds of your customers, but you also have the opportunity to establish new needs and wants in their minds. It’s better than advertising or sales, because your customers don’t feel pressured. Yet, from your perspective, the effect is the same, because you’re the one they’ll want to come to in order to get the expert service only you can provide.
How Do You Provide Content?
In order to use content marketing to establish your expertise, you need to create and brand content that will add value for your customers. Consider what you think your customers should know and then create the content that provides them with that information in an attractive and engaging way.
You don’t even have to create the content yourself! There are businesses that specialize in creating content. You can find them pretty easily using the Internet. The key isn’t who creates the content, but how it is branded and how it reflects your expertise.
Once your content is created, you have to distribute it to your customers. You can create a blog or a YouTube account and post your content online. You can use social media and e-mail to draw attention to your content. You could also create your own newsletter and mail or e-mail it directly to your customers. If you’d prefer to stick to print, you can use your content to create brochures, flyers, and booklets. Then, simply include your content when you mail invoices or other items.
The important thing is to get your content in the hands of your customers.
If you’re a small business, you have a noise problem. There are so many ads out there that your potential customers just block them all out. This means that most marketing campaigns are just a visual form of white noise that people instinctively ignore. So your have to find a way to stand out and seize the attention of a jaded audience. Unconventional marketing is not a choice; you have to be different if you want to beat your competitors.
Larger corporations have massive advertising budgets that allow them to flood the media and Internet. You don’t have that luxury, but you do have another advantage. You may have a smaller target customer base, but you also have a closer connection to them. You know what your customers want and what is important to them. That knowledge is something larger corporation spend thousands of dollars trying to get.
Your familiarity with your community must be the basis of any marketing push you do. The purpose of an unconventional marketing strategy is to seize the attention of your potential customers through surprise. But if your campaign annoys instead of pleasantly surprises, it will drive potential customers away. That’s why using your knowledge of your community is so vital when building your campaign.
Another thing you should avoid is letting the ad overwhelm your brand. It’s really easy to come up with a memorable ad, execute it well, and then have customers remember the ad but not the company that created it. Advertising works best when there’s a clear connection between the content of the ad and the product you’re trying to sell. This way, the content of the ad increases your brand’s value.
With those warnings in mind, you should know that there are no standard unconventional marketing strategies; if something is standard, it’s not unconventional. But there are some strategies that are a good starting point toward building an unconventional marketing plan.
For example, take advantage of local landmarks. Local landmarks are a great place to advertise because people see them every day. One way to really stand out is to use these natural focal points to get your brand’s message out. A great example of this is Alteco Super Glue. On a large bridge that had 155,000 cars pass over it daily, Alteco attached a large replica of one of its super glue tubes to one of the steel cable supports. This emphasized the strength of the glue, and the display received a lot of positive attention from the local media. The key to doing this right is to ensure that the ad doesn’t offend your potential customers. As a result, it may be wise to avoid landmarks that have significant cultural or local meaning.
Going against convention is good. But it’s not enough to be unique; you must always remember to build a relationship with potential customers with every ad you create.
Tom Watson, Sr., the legendary leader of IBM, reportedly said that in order for a company to become truly great, it needs religion.
The kind of religion Watson was referring to is the idea that a great company needs to have core beliefs. It needs to have a unifying message that all employees adhere to. Some refer to this as a vision and mission statement for the company.
Why is this important?
When you clearly state what you and your company are all about, you’re announcing to the marketplace what you consider important and what people should expect from you.
This can have a powerful effect. When you clearly stand for something, you often stand apart in a competitive marketplace. When you make your core belief something unique, your company will be seen as extraordinary in a world of copycat dullness.
Credo is Latin for “I believe.” A strong credo not only unifies everyone in the company but also helps attract like-minded customers who want to be a part of an extraordinary company experience.
A credo should be more than flowery statements, which are only meant to go on the company plaque and the back of your business cards. A true credo should state your most strongly held beliefs and core values. It should be the North Star that guides your company’s focus and direction.
If you don’t have a credo or vision statement for your company, it’s time to create one. If you have an old one that no one in the company can recall, it’s time to revisit it and create a memorable one.
Don’t be afraid to share with the world — with clarity and boldness — exactly what you believe in and what you focus on. Much like the original IBM, which went from 1,300 employees and $4.5 million in sales to over 72,500 employees and $897 million in sales at the time of Watson’s death, having a company religion and sharing it openly with the world can help skyrocket your business, too.
There’s an extremely powerful strategy to grow your business called the foot-in-the-door (FITD) strategy. FITD plays on psychology to get to the sale. This strategy works well because it gets past the prospect’s natural resistance to being sold.
The process starts with getting a person to agree to a small request that doesn’t take them outside their comfort zone. From there, you build up to larger requests and bigger yeses.
Savvy business owners, marketers, and salespeople have used FITD in one form or another for years, whether they have knowingly defined it that way or not. Some may refer to this strategy as a “loss leader.” The difference is that a loss leader typically involves selling something, often at a very low price or below cost. Retail businesses have used loss leaders successfully for many years. FITD works best when the first offer is for something free.
Examples of FITD
If you’ve ever been to the mall food court around lunch or dinnertime, you’ll often see savvy restaurant owners assign an employee to offer a small sample tasting of some of the food items on their menu. When passersby accept the sample and taste it, they’ve taken the first tiny step toward a possible yes.
One interesting side note with this example: Notice that the employees handing out the samples aren’t going all around the mall or outside in the parking lot at various hours of the day. They pass out the samples to people walking through the food court at lunch or dinnertime. The marketing takeaway: offer your services to people who are most likely to need what you sell when they need it the most.
FITD has been used for many years by door-to-door salespeople in many industries, from the person offering to clean a dirty spot on the carpet to the days of the encyclopedia salesperson (remember those?) who would offer a free three book starter set.
Perhaps the most notorious example is from the timeshare industry. In exchange for 90 minutes of your time, the FITD offer is a free resort stay or perhaps Disney World tickets. Does it work? Billions of dollars in timeshares sold would seem to indicate a big yes. These techniques are meant to persuade and work extremely well. The danger comes from unscrupulous sellers who abuse the power.
FITD has been used in the pharmaceutical industry with enormous success. Pharmaceutical sales representatives leave samples of the drugs their companies sell with the appropriate doctors. The physicians in turn give their patients a free sample along with a prescription that will lead them to become a customer of the pharmaceutical industry.
What kind of FITD should you offer?
Your best FITD strategy should probably be not to “sell” anything at all. Only 2% of prospects are ready to buy at any time and less than 1% will typically buy anything on the first contact. Put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer and ask yourself: What would I need (if I were a customer) to choose this company over the competition? What service or product can you use to let prospects ‘test’ you out that will put your best foot forward and help you make the best first impression?
The FITD strategy is an extremely powerful technique. If you’re not currently using it or have used it in the past and forgotten about it, it’s time to visit it again. Put together a plan to utilize FITD in your favor.
Selling successfully for the long term requires building trust with your prospects and even existing customers. The FITD strategy allows you to begin building that trust. But be careful. If it’s done incorrectly or not done at all, then you may experience the door-in-the-face result which is what you want to avoid.
It’s no secret that one of the best ways to grow a business is through strong referrals. Whether these referrals come to you through a system you have in place or because of the solid reputation your business has built over the years, each referral is a precious gift. You have one chance to turn this opportunity into a client who will in turn refer others to your business.
If you drop the ball in some way, not only will you lose this chance for new business, but you could also discourage others from referring business to you. Therefore, you must handle these warm leads with extreme care. Here are six key steps to consider as you guide a referral into becoming a real customer.
1. Respond quickly. Nothing will stop a referral process faster than slow response and showing a lack of urgency in communication. Lead360 conducted a study of 25 million data points which showed that successful conversion rates are 391% higher when a lead is called back within a minute, 120% within two minutes, 98% within three minutes, 62% in under thirty minutes, and 36% in under an hour. Clearly calling back and following up with referrals quickly is the first and most important part of the process.
2. Gather information and qualify. Once contact has been made, it’s time to gather any necessary information to make sure there’s a good fit between what the referral is looking for and what you can provide. Having relevant, open-ended questions to ask will help you find what you’re looking for while at the same time establishing your expertise in helping solve client problems. This is the time to develop insight into the scope of the opportunity and key factors.
3. Be the expert. Once you’ve established that the referral is a good fit for your business, it’s time to do your homework. You must spend a little time to learn about the referral’s business. The more you learn about what your prospect is looking to solve, the better you can prepare a solution. This in turn will position you as the expert who took the time to present a customized solution when your competitors offered a generic, cookie-cutter bid.
4. Make your offer stand out. The best way to make your offer stand out is by adding value. People like to buy, but they don’t like to be sold to. You can add value and help your offer stand apart by helping a referral evaluate your capability and see their problem clearer. Relevant, simple, and insightful information that helps your prospect will lead them to buy much more readily than if they feel they are being sold to.
5. Create a powerful experience. Turning a referral into a client can be as simple as contacting them quickly with information they’re seeking. However, the real secret to make them truly want to do business with you on a consistent basis is to create a “wow” experience. Your “wow” experience doesn’t have to be complex. Building it can be as simple as:
- Responding to inquiries within 30 minutes
- Offering a small gift or thank you note for contacting you
- Sending a small gift or thank you to the person who made the referral
- Delivering a professionally prepared, customized solution with clear information
- Following up after the sale to answer any questions
- Being persistent without being a pest
6. Use technology. As great as your memory may be, relying on the old pen-and-paper system is just asking for trouble. The way to truly systematize the referral process is by using a CRM system that can help you track your referrals. Determine if the software will help you give the prospects the experience you set in your action plan. But remember that technology can only go so far. Sure, it can help you manage the referrals, but converting those leads into customers takes the human touch that only you can provide.
Turning referrals into customers is not an act of magic or accomplished through luck. It’s done by developing an action plan and by implementing the plan. Keep track, stay organized, and monitor the process. Referral marketing can be a gift that keeps on giving, but only if it’s treated with the care and respect it deserves.
Your target audience is being bombarded by sales and marketing messages every day. Some estimates state that a person is exposed to more than 3,500 messages on average every single day! No wonder we develop strategies to filter out the hype and all the noise so we can get our work done. Otherwise our days would be consumed with sales presentations and various pitches to buy something.
This constant barrage of marketing has taken a toll on salespeople, too. Traditional sales methods that once worked well have been losing traction and are not effective anymore. But you still need to sell — and you need to get your message across to your prospects. How can you do that without alienating them at the same time? One way to do that is to educate and help your prospects instead of simply selling them.
Educating your audience with relevant and useful information that will help them make a more informed buying decision allows you to establish yourself and your company as an expert who provides value before ever asking for a sale.
Establishing trust in this manner brings respect. Trust and respect open the way for your prospects to listen. Listening gives you access to valuable time your prospects reserve for those they believe will not waste it with hype and useless pitches.
To decide what kind of information your prospects find useful, you need to put yourself in their shoes. Developing a buyer persona on your most ideal prospects lets you get insight into the information, ideas, and advice that could make a positive difference in their lives and actually help in their decision-making process.
Selling is not a bad thing. Short-term thinking while selling, however, is not sustainable selling. Long-term selling is about nurturing, gaining trust, and establishing rapport. Doing this will lead not only to a first sale but also to a relationship that will garner repeat sales and referrals.
Establishing a strategic sales funnel allows you to introduce your products and services as a solution to a prospect’s problem at the appropriate time. Nurturing relationships will lead to sales more naturally and organically, instead of taking a straight, forced path with a low chance of making a quick close.
One great example of this can be seen by walking into any Apple retail store. From the moment you walk in, the Apple employees are trained to educate you about the products in the store. No pushy salespeople. They actually want you to touch and test all the products on display.
In the back of the store, the “Genius Bar” provides technical help and in-depth training to encourage users to use Apple products. This in turn leads to more sales. Over 50,000 people visit the “Genius Bar” every day, and the majority who have used the services state that they are more likely to buy another Apple product as a result.
Educating your prospects and your customers is a long-term business sales strategy. It requires some time and resources. But if it is done well, the results will far outweigh the costs.