Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Things you can learn from the army.

Investigation - Preparation - Planning.
Perhaps, as it happens to many people, it has also happened to you that when you refer to your business you have ended up using phrases like "price war", "closing of death", you may have sometime called your competitors, "enemies" or something like that, and it all indicates that you feel the fight to succeed in business is a "tough battle" and must "be fought to the end", to the very last minute.

And considering that sometimes we refer to the market as a battle or war, I started thinking about the many things we can really learn from the army.

If you take a look at the daily life of every battalion, squadron or military unit, there are two things that are happening continuously:
  1. They’re always gathering relevant information about potential enemies and even their own allies, the weapons they buy, the investigations carried out, and also about their social and political environments, their economies. In brief, they keep track of any information that could eventually mean a potential conflict is on the making. This is what we refer to as "intelligence work", right?
  2. They ‘re continually training their minds and bodies getting ready for that one day in which something could go wrong and a real conflict happens. That is, even if the conflict has not exploded yet, they are always prepared as if it could happen the day after. 
If you take these two ideas to your business, what do they mean to you? Don’t they tell you something about how you should analyze your market and therefore your competition? What do they say about the ongoing preparation and professional development, both of yours and that of your employees?

Perhaps it’s not your case, hopefully, but for many business owners and independent professionals the last time they took the books was while obtaining their college degrees or graduated from high school, and then they set out to work and make money without having any additional opportunities to update their knowledge base or, as some people say today, "to recycle themselves". Is this your situation? Is this the situation of your employees?

Returning to the army example, if a conflict breaks out what happens?
  1. An extensive planning process begins and analysis of different scenarios is done, based on all information gathered during the intelligence work. 
  2. Setting of goals and perfectly clear objectives (well… almost always) is done before taking any action. 
  3. Having defined their objectives and actions’ plan, then they do proceed to its implementation, making use of all available resources and that human factor which has been steadily preparing for this moment. 
  4. During the conflict itself, they continuously monitor if established goals are being achieved, and if things don’t go as expected, they then make decisions to change course, revisit their actions’ plan and continue the monitoring process.
Let’s get back to your business. Where does it all fit? Doesn’t it look to you like a day on your product’s life and its ongoing struggle to achieve success, increase sales, and gain your customer’s preference and loyalty? This is the "war" you have referred to sometimes, but maybe without completely and truly realizing or understanding why you called it that way either, and even though you were referring to a “war” you didn’t pay enough attention to it or you didn’t work hard enough to really get prepared and “win that war”, as soldiers do every single day of their lives.

Maybe you've just been sailing along with the tide, without having real control of your path or not even taking that much care on all the things you were doing. And you can continue to do it the same way without taking it so seriously, until you come to think that, maybe, some of your competitors are doing it as they have to, and are planning to win the battle, take your product down and bring theirs to the top position, while at the same time winning the loyalty and confidence of those customers you also wanted to approach to.

Where is this all leading you to? I bring these ideas to your attention just for you to consider once you have decided to join the market with your product or brand, or if you're already competing with other products, companies or brands. Maybe some of them don’t take this way of action into consideration; maybe some other do and decide to confront their product against yours.

This is the war that you were referring to when innocently make those remarks with your friends, maybe be while having some beers or sipping coffee. Remember when you said that "the fight was tough" or that there was a "tremendous price war" and so forth? Well, this is it.

Take into consideration how things are done in the army, and above all, keep in mind the discipline and seriousness with which soldiers get prepared every single day for that struggle, which in their case, might never happen, but that in your case maybe the environment in which your products spends every day. Don’t let competitors take you by surprise and carefully plan and understand the next things you will do so that your product becomes the leader, the big winner on its segment.

Don’t you think it will be a good idea?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's not called "social media" for nothing.

It's not called "social media" for nothing.
No matter the social platform you use, there is that one thing you can do (and usually you do) that will quickly make you disappear from the radar screen, so fast that you would never know what happened. And, unfortunately, yes: You probably are already doing. If you want to summarize it in just one thing: being-ego-driven!

Most users of social networks are acting like, with all due respect, "content factories". Since most people say the idea is to develop content, many are simply devoted just to doing that. They are dedicated to writing articles, posts, tweets, uploading photos and videos, sharing links, updates, all the content you can imagine, and the do it with no limits, publishing it almost immediately, to everyone they know, and those they don’t know too, in groups, forums, to fans and friends.

If this is the way you’re doing, then stop. Stop right now. If you continue on this path, your followers, friends, acquaintances, fans and all of those who follow you somehow, will soon simply ignore you because you’ve forgotten the most important rule for social media behavior: Being social!

Even when it seems it’s a very simple and trivial thing, maybe you're one of those users who have not yet realized this "little-tiny-detail". Are you wondering why your followers don’t respond to your posts? Why do they ignore what you write or share? Have you come to think about this?

There is a fundamental element: interactivity. And it’s the motor behind all social networks. If in real life you’ve a friend who’s only dedicated to talking to you about him, nothing more than him and him alone, without even giving you the opportunity to say a word about anything, for sure next time you see him coming, you’ll hide away. No doubt about it. Or even not picking up the phone when he calls you, because you’re just trying to ignore the guy. Has it ever happened to you before?

The same is true for social networks. Don’t get confused thinking that your online communication goes only on one direction, because it’s not like that. However it takes a strong effort to get to have a very strong interaction that resembles a face to face encounter, but you might be able to get to approach your customers this way. It’s not only that it would be good; it’s that you’ve to try to get this close to them. The idea is simple: if you want people to pay attention to you, you should pay attention to them first. If you only push for your content, you’ll end up boring them and eroding the relationship. Maybe you’ll end up talking to a wall. Don’t let this happen!

People are not going to care whether your content is original or not, and neither about who you are unless you show you care about them and the things they like the same way. It’s a fact. But then you come to a cross joint: How do we get to develop such an interaction?

The answer again is very simple: Treat them the way you want them to treat you. If you're not getting enough comments, "like" or visits to your site, blog or website, or if you don’t have enough followers on your Twitter account, it's probably because you're not commenting much, or following other people, and not being involved with others and you just want it all for yourself.

You don’t have to spend 24 hours a day commenting and following what other people do, but providing them with content of their interest, sharing your opinions, comments, thoughts, your "likes", “retweet” what others "tweet", and so on. You already have the idea.

Keep in mind it’s about interacting, relating with others, and definitely it’s not about having a space in which you only talk about yourself, your products or brand. Try to listen and contribute first. The rest will come by itself.

Treat others the way you would have them do unto you. Have you tried it before? Were you able to notice the difference?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What do we really mean by "follow up"?

It's all about the following.
The "follow" or its derivative, the "follower" is a very popular term today and refers to the person who follows another one in Twitter or it can also refer to the action of keeping your attention or focus on someone else’s comments about a particular topic.

I think it’s precisely for this reason that the term "Follow up" is losing some of the wonderful power it has always had on business development. What do I mean by saying this? Today I want to talk to you as if I were your customer, who I could probably be because, as you do too, I also buy products and services.

In recent days I made an exercise with my Twitter account as well as on some of the Facebook pages I follow and some of the promotional emails I receive regularly. You're probably telling yourself: "This guy definitely went out of his mind!"

Well, I haven’t gone crazy just yet. By doing this exercise, I had the opportunity to confirm one thing: My messages were not replied to. No response at all. Zero-zero. Not even with those automated messages telling me something like "We have received your request for information. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible."

What does this mean for me? It's really simple: Companies are cultivating "followers" but aren’t properly executing the "following up" that is recommended to be done as part of any relationship management process, whether it’s a personal or business relationship.

Let’s see an example: When you go to a hospital because you're not feeling good, the doctor takes you to the emergency room and "puts you under observation", doesn’t he? Then he continues to "follow up" on all the symptoms that might indicate what your condition is and, perhaps, to get to know if they need to perform further testing. This "monitoring all the symptoms” allows them to determine what treatment is necessary to bring you back to a normal condition. It allows them to make a decision.

The same applies for business. When you send a business proposal, whether it’s an offer, discount, newsletter, notification of an event, or any other commercially oriented communication, it’s not your audience who needs to be on top of it or to follow up with it. No way.

It’s you who must "follow up" on what your audience responds to your posts, offers, newsletters, and so forth, whatever your intention or motive could be. It’s you, as the company, who must continuously monitor the actions that your audience takes upon your marketing efforts. This will allow you, as the doctors do, to make important decisions.

The "following" process should never be focused on you. Remember we recently talked about that on my post "Who follows who in Social Media?" Well it looks like it’s worth to bring the subject back one more time.

The "follow up" or "monitoring" process defines a continuous relationship you establish with your customers. It’s a commitment on your side to properly take care of them, and it’s not unilateral, but two-ways. You must be willing to respond to what your customer asks or comments, because this is the seed from which a true business relationship develops.

That what you want to do is to boost your sales? We all know that, but how do you know when I, your potential customer, I'm ready to buy? That's why there must be monitoring, active and effective listening, following up. I know it sounds like a child's play, but ultimately it's about your business, sales, profitability, return on investment we are talking about. Now it sounds more appealing to you, doesn’t it?

You have to get used to the idea that your business is on your client’s side and becomes alive only when your clients purchase your product or services. Only at that moment neither sooner or later. Just then. If the purchase doesn’t happen, the business doesn’t exist just yet. Or could you keep your business running without customers? Of course you can’t.

Monitoring or "following up" should be a commercial habit, and involves paying attention to each and everyone of the things that happen in your business environment, and even more important those that happen when you send any message to your audience, especially in the digital environment.

If you send out an email newsletter or offer, even if it’s automated, keep an eye on the statistics not only to see the opening rate, but to know what really happens, who opens them, who doesn't. If on facebook or twitter, not only respond to your follower’s comments but try and encourage conversations, develop interesting themes, enjoy the great opportunity social networks offers to truly interact with your customers.

Never forget to show the keen interest you have for your customers, properly following up on all your marketing efforts. Don’t let the "follow up" and the "follower" be mixed up. Can you find an opportunity to grow your business by properly following up with your customers?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

“I want to be in social networks but don’t know where to start with.”

Social Networks: Where can I start with?
This is a question that for sure dominated your mind for months before you finally dove into the exciting world of social media marketing.

“Where to begin with?”, “Which should be my first few steps?” “How to start finding those new customers everybody is saying I’m going to get if I go social?”

Often the goal is to generate new customers, contacts, relationships and a bunch of new things. All of them brand new. That’s for sure! Besides, aren’t all of those social networks specially recognized by its novelty and the excitement they are bringing alone?

If your business has already been underway for some time, and before you get started on the quest for new clients, I’d like to ask you something: What about your actual customers? Those who already have bought your product, experienced your services, and have an opinion about you, your company, and product? What are you planning to do with them?

As it generally happens, if your business has already been up and running then your customers come and buy when they need your product or service, right? And that’s cool. Some may come once every two months, others once a month, others more often, but they all usually come to you when they need you. The decision is always on their side, right?

Is there something you can do to make that different? That is, do you think you can get more benefits and advantages from your current customer base, those people who already know you?

I’m bringing it to you because the NCAC (New Customer Acquisition Cost... remember last time we’re on acronyms) or how much money you have to put down to make a new customer is usually high. You have many things to investigate and analyze, to develop strategies and set up actions to put it all together, as it was with this issue of starting to promote your business on social networks.

So, what can you do?

What about creating your first community around those people who already know you? What if you look for ways to get to know them better, asking about the things they like, how they use your product, what do they think about your customer service people, your prices, and many other things you might be willing to ask or get to know? How about that?

What if based on all the information you gather, you were to develop content which could be interesting for them? Not necessarily talking about your product (since they are already familiar with it) but showing a keen interest on your side to learn more about and relate with them. Don’t you think it could represent a valuable opportunity for your company?

I'm going to share with you some ideas you could implement in your business to "spice up" (or improve the performance of) your relationship with those customers who already have and buy your products:
  • Make a survey to collect information about your customers, their contact information, hobbies, likes, preferences, and opinions about your product, in short, anything that can help you offer them a better customer service. 
  • With this information, then build a database, keeping in mind to always comply with current legislation on your country and making sure you have asked for your customer’s permission to use personal information and later communicate with them. Since they already are your customers, you shouldn’t have that much trouble. 
  • Make use of traditional marketing tools to communicate with them such as direct mail advertising, including product catalogs with special offers. 
  • Try always to be available for your customers and not let them think of your competitors, or at least do your best for this not to happen. 
  • If you want to save money though, think of using digital tools, such as email marketing to prepare newsletters with special offers and talking about these issues you found were relevant to your customers. (Remember you did a survey at the beginning, right?)
  • Take advantage of your social media presence, whether it's facebook twitter, or the venue of your choice, concentrate on reaching out for those customers your company already has.  

And create your community around your actual customers! Interact with them, approach them, and invite them to buy from you products that could be interesting for them or even simply recommended by others, send them offers that may result in an “out-of-schedule” buy or make promotions asking them to recommend your company to their friends and acquaintances.

But make sure you stay there, by their side, to service them, take care and share with them topics of their interest. That way, they themselves may help you get new customers and then, both you and they will be very happy and there will be benefits for everybody.

You don’t have to rush and go out to find new customers. Make the most out of those you already have and build your first community around them. It will be much easier to develop your presence in social media, starting from this point. Don’t you think?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

It’s not a new but “over-hauled” marketing.

It's an "over-hauled" marketing.
I like to make things simple, without unnecessary complications. I have recently read many posts and comments talking about a "new marketing", and also the existence of a “new consumer”. And I do agree. Thinks have significantly changed, but have they changed so much as to have a “brand new marketing”? I don’t think so. Sometimes I wonder if we don’t make our own lives more difficult with so many labels and new words we like to use to identify every new trend.

Isn’t it that way with acronyms? You know those groups of letters that are generally used to abbreviate long names? Are you familiar with reading, for example, SM instead of "Social Media" or GPS instead of "Global Positioning System "? It can also get confusing many times simply because the same acronym can mean two completely different things depending on the industry you are referring to.

But hey, without drifting off topic, I want to review with you what marketing is really about, and take off some of the labels we've posted on his back lately.

Is this a "brand new marketing"? Out of the box? I think it’s not, and here’s why: In the end, the goal remains the same. Companies develop the necessary actions for the product or services they offer to bring them to the hands of the person who might need them. There will be many other things to be considered but all of them will be closely related to this process.

You, as the company manufacturing a product or offering a service and, through a series of coordinated actions make them available to your customers. Some processes are more complex than others, requiring large retail chains, pricing and promotion policies, incentives, etc. Others are, by contrast, very simple: decide how much your charge per hour of work will be and offer your services to the person who contacted you by email.

In both cases, it’s "marketing" even though the products are completely different. So what's the big difference that we must consider between the marketing we do today and the one we did 10 years ago? I think we can all say it with one word: tools!

Yeap! It’s about tools. The difference is the vast amount of available tools, some of them for free, some of them for a fee. The real change is on the way we play the game: the rules, but only the rules. The game remains the same.

Think of an airplane pilot 25 years ago. All they had to calculate their flight path was a compass, a stopwatch, a set of charts, some basic electronic navigation instrumentation and little else. Compare to an airplane pilot today who at least has a GPS (to return to acronyms) or at best, an FMS (for Flight Management System), and autopilot and so forth. Has the old one stopped being a pilot? Sure not. What is the difference between this one and the other one? Must definitely the tools.

And the same thing has happened in every area of ​​our lives. There is no professional segment, or activity that hasn’t been incredibly developed due to new technologies. In fact, let’s look at ourselves. I’m now writing this post from my laptop, lying in bed, on Saturday morning. Could I have being doing the same if, instead of having a laptop, I had one of those heavy old typewriters? Could I be doing the same if I didn’t even have the typewriter?

On my opinion, the difference is based on the tools we have available today. The scenario remains the same: I want to share photos with someone in another country; I want to buy something that I don’t find on the local store and need it right away; I want to learn more about a book I'm reading, and so on. What is the difference? It’s the available tools.

Marketing remains the same, only now it has acquired some new toys, which have "overhauled" it and had made it closer to us, more powerful, flexible and effective. Don’t you think?

Related post: ¿Who is consumer 2.0?