Selling To Small Business

Selling To Small Business - Strategies to help you sell to small business entrepreneurs

Monday, March 10, 2008

Social Media: Your Ticket to Small Businesses

Guest Contributor: Lewis Green
Lewis' Posts - Lewis' Blog


Entrepreneurs and small businesses are learning that using social media tools is an inexpensive way to build their brands and market their wares. Since reaching people where they live and work is critical to marketing success, if you aren't executing on a social media strategy, you are missing an opportunity to sell to small businesses.

When I first began the blog in 2005, he had a formidable goal of attracting customers for his fledgling business, but no plan to back it up. Not surprisingly, I generated little traffic and few business leads.

Instead of giving up, however, I took the time to study social media, then implemented a detailed strategy for attracting and maintaining a solid readership base. As a result, I turned my inexpensive blog into a major source of lead generation, triggering a 40% increase in my client base, which is made up mostly of small to mid-sized businesses.

The Campaign:
BizSolutionsPlus, my company's re-engineered blog, launched in July 2006. Its new strategy focused on building relationships of trust, credibility, and respect instead of promoting products and services or building a direct mail database.

I pinpointed the readers with whom I wanted to exchange ideas: current and potential clients, entrepreneurs, other marketers, and bloggers. I set out to cement relationships with those groups by...

1. Writing about shared interests, such as best practices, and ideas for creating good business through a strong display of values

2. Soliciting reader feedback in as many ways as possible, often ending posts with questions phrased to provoke thought and conversation

3. Responding to every reader comment directly by email or telephone, and adding remarks to the blog's comment record

4. Following web traffic patterns in order to identify the most popular topics, then tailoring future posts to readers' interests, as determined through tracking, blog comments, and other feedback

To generate readership and drive traffic to the BizSolutionsPlus blog, I used the following:
• Blog directories: Green engages the power of social networking by listing or otherwise promoting the blog on Facebook, PlaxoPulse, MySpace, LinkedIn, Digg, and BlogCatalog, among others.

• Amazon.com: As an author with a book for sale on Amazon.com, Green is allowed to include his blog on the page promoting his book.

• Linking to other blogs: By sharing links and comments, Green aligns himself with other blogs he deems interesting. Dubbed "link love," such a strategy can improve a blog's Google rankings, which are in part based on how many links a blog has. Nonetheless, Green is careful to select only frequently published, well-written blogs.

• Commenting on other blogs: Green also posts comments on other blogs, which allows him to gain visibility with those blogs' authors as well as their readers.

• Guest blogging: Green has been invited to write guest posts for a variety of blogs, including Dell's ReGeneration blog and MarketingProfs' Daily Fix. With the same respect given his own readers, Green tries to respond to every comment received. He also shares the links to these posts on his own blog.

• Offline marketing: The blog's Web address is listed on all L&G Business Solutions marketing materials, and Green often provides that address to potential clients instead of his company Web site's. Furthermore, he mentions the blog every time he is interviewed about his book.
Lessons Learned:

• Think of your fellow bloggers as partners, not competition. Share ideas, swap links, contribute to each other's blogs, post comments-whatever you can do to build a positive presence and make yourself heard. By doing so, you might establish some great contacts—and possible referrals-in addition to increasing your readership.

• Encourage feedback and listen to the resulting comments. To ensure that you are consistently meeting your customers' needs, it is important to listen, learn and evolve. In listening to my readers, my subject matter becomes more focused, and the services we offer improved. I constantly solicit customer opinion by asking specific questions in my posts, prompting conversations among my readers.

Getting Started:
Typepad and WordPress offer inexpensive services to get you started. Although you might have the capability to host and build your own Blog, I recommend these services because of their cost-savings, ease of use, and their content and promotional value-added functions. However you build your blog, they key to success lies in your strategy and its execution.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

E-mail Sabotage: Killing the Brand Softly

Guest Contributor: Lewis Green
Lewis' Posts - Lewis' Blog


Stop and think before you delete! If you don't, you risk killing your brand and ultimately your business. In today's marketplace, ignoring the e-mail inbox could shorten your business lifespan by killing your brand image.

Think about it: Would you intentionally ignore your clients and send messages saying you don't care about them or their business? That is exactly what you do when you ignore e-mail or respond slowly or inaccurately.

Brand image is built from the inside out. Every communication that takes place between a company and a client, potential client, vender, consultant and even competitor results in a positive or a negative brand impression. And when those impressions are added together, they make up brand image.

As consultants, our brand images are our lifeblood. They must reflect near perfection, if we expect businesses to trust our expertise and to want our advice and recommendations. Furthermore, we need to ensure that our clients' understand the dangers of messy e-mail communications, both inbound and outbound.

A recent survey of the retail industry tells the tale of what looks like an approaching trend in the business world.

Current numbers from this survey indicate that most businesses are in a lot of trouble when it comes to their "customer e-service." Twenty-six percent of retailers surveyed failed to respond to e-mail inquiries from customers seeking to make a purchase.

In the same study, conducted by Benchmark Portal and sponsored by eGain Communications Corp., the cross-industry response rate (all verticals) of 41 percent shows that businesses in general have a pretty abysmal record. Forty-seven percent of retailers, for example, fail to respond to customer e-mails within 24 hours, against a cross-industry rate of only 61 percent.

Conducted in July 2005, this study also benchmarked the quality of company responses to client e-mail inquiries. Among companies that do respond to client or customer e-mails, 35 percent of retailers sent e-mails rated by Benchmark Portal as "good" at answering customers' questions while the cross-industry rate is a sad 17 percent. Twenty-eight percent of retailers sent e-mails rated "fair," compared to a cross-industry rate of 26 percent; and nine percent of retailers sent "poor" e-mails, compared to the cross-industry rate of 14 percent.

Another study provides even worse news for e-centric client and customers, and ultimately for overall business success. This one, reported by Internet Retail, shows that 51 percent of small- to mid-size companies and 41 percent of large businesses do not respond to customer or client e-mail at all. And of those who do respond, 70 percent of small- to mid-size companies and 61 percent of large businesses do not respond within 24 hours.

Since brand image depends on every single representative of a company, no matter their functional area, it doesn't matter who inside a business deletes or responds badly to e-mail communications. Doing so creates a destructively negative impression to the person who sent the e-mail. Since every external and internal communication creates an impression that impacts the brand, those communications also impact marketing and sales results, and consequently the bottom line.

eMarketer's Senior Analyst David Hallerman also recently surveyed the state of business e-mail marketing and reports that more than two trillion e-mail messages will be sent out this year. Businesses cannot afford to ignore those numbers, even if only a tiny percentage of these e-mails fall into the commercial category. Alienating even one client hurts brand image and eventually sales. Alienating hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of e-mailers over the life of a business can therefore be deadly.

Brand image is all about client perception. When businesses delete e-mails or respond poorly, the brand suffers. Before long, current and future sales take a direct hit on the negative side. Furthermore, responding badly to e-mail opens the door to competitors who treat every communication channel with the constant attention it needs. This includes e-mail.

Acknowledging that businesses are managed by busy people who may not understand the damage done by not responding or by badly responding to e-mail, business leaders must recognize before it is too late that such numbers point to a serious crises on the horizon for those who ignore the e-side of their businesses. In our pervasively online technological age, shoppers, customers, clients, vendors and competitors are choosing e-mail more and more as their preferred communications tool. Furthermore, study results suggest that businesses may miss up to two-thirds their potential audience by not adding e-mail to their marketing tool kit.

When businesses treat e-mailers badly, they risk such responses as anger, rejection, hurt, frustration and revenge. In addition, ignoring e-mailers generates harmful word of mouth. When done right, word of mouth grows businesses, increases sales and expands margins. When done badly, the opposite occurs, and a brand begins to die a slow and painful death.

As consultants we must take an active role in solving communications problems that my batter either our brand or our clients' brands. Here are a few tips for turning e-mail into a business "growth tool" rather than a weapon for business suicide:

  1. Respond accurately to all e-mails with 24 hours.
  2. Embrace e-mail as a marketing tool.
  3. Use SPAM filters, if necessary (but only if necessary), to block e-mails originating from Spammers, but do so cautiously. Blocking e-mails from legitimate clients and others will hurt your business in the long run.
  4. For best results and greatest returns on investment, customize outgoing e-mail messages by employing some kind of consolidated client and prospect database that allows you to specifically identify client groups' needs, wants and desires.
  5. Communicate customized messages that meet the needs, wants and desires of those client groups.

When utilized correctly, businesses bask in results-oriented e-mail marketing and brand building. Home Depot, for example, has grown its client e-mail database from 500,000 to five million contacts in just the last two years. Each one of these five million e-mails represents solid future sales.

In conclusion, by embracing e-mail, a consulting firm can grow sales by melding ingredients gleaned from its client data points and managing them so as to:

  • Collect the right data
  • Craft the right message
  • From the right sender
  • Through the right channel
  • At the right times

First and foremost, customers and clients count. They measure your value and develop a perception around that value. By ignoring e-mail or practicing it poorly, opportunities for positive perceptions may be missed, dismissed or destroyed, shortening your business's lifespan. Treating e-mail like the winning tool it can be, however, holds the potential of extending your business's lifespan (and profits) indefinitely.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Know Your Customers

Guest Contributor: Lewis Green
Lewis' Posts - Lewis' Blog


We have discussed this topic before but I believe it is so important and so ignored that it is worth bringing up once again.

Most of us know that we need to focus our marketing and sales attention on our best customers. Unfortunately, too many of us have not taken the time to identify what those customers look like. Therefore, we plug away daily at tossing out trial balloons to see where they land. And that is no way to run a business.

Instead, we should take the time to first understand ourselves, who we are, who wants to work with us, who wants to buy from us, and why. Usually, those most interested in us will be our best customers. But they shouldn't have to stumble upon us. We should identify them and then communicate messages that let them know we exist and that we are a great solution provider for them. Whether we sell products, services or both, we need to determine what it is we sell and who wants it.

The first step is to understand that seldom do we operate in a vacuum. It is unlikely that our products and services are so unique, that we represent a buyer's sole choice. Therefore, we have to reach out to our ideal customer and become the buyer's first choice. To do that, we first define our solutions, dissect their value for the customer, and then identify the customer most likely to buy those solutions. What do they look like and how do we reach them?

For today, let's focus on what they look like? Here are the questions needing answered:

1. Where do they do business?
2. Why do they do business in those places?
3. What is their annual revenue?
4. How many employees to they have?
5. What kind of solutions do they need?
6. How do they choose those solutions?
7. Why would they want to do business with us?
8. What drives and motivates them?
9. Who are their customers? What do they look like?
10. What professional organizations do they belong to?
11. How do they reach their customers?
12. What single thing about them makes them different from their competitors?
13. How can my business solutions make them better?

These are the starter questions. The deeper the understanding that you gain about your customers, the better chance you have of developing a relationship with them. Everyday small businesses receive marketing messages. The only chance you have of getting your best customers to read and respond to your messages is if you know what makes your customers who they are, and you write messages that show you understand their challenges and that you are about their needs, not yours.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Getting to Know Your Customers

Guest Contributor: Lewis Green
Lewis' Posts - Lewis' Blog


It's always about them not us. They don't care what we think about ourselves; they care about what we can do for them. So we first have to figure that out.

To a great extent this should have been discovered when you wrote your business plan, assuming you wrote one. And then it is adjusted based on your annual strategic plans, assuming you write them. The results of that work define your target markets as narrowly as possible. Think of it as painting a picture of your customers that shows you what they look like, how they think and why they might be interested in buying from you. What motivates and inspires them?

We're talking about research that, unless we have deep pockets, we will need to conduct ourselves. If you sell to other businesses, much of the work today can be done online using data bases such as Dun & Bradstreet or Hoovers. They provide the raw data that tells us the shape and direction of business. We should also research our market's advertising, which tells us something about the business culture and may tell us who that business is targeting. If we don't know that, why would that business hire us? An innovative approach is to find and talk with folks who know the people and the product side of the business we want to sell to. We find them in professional and trade organizations and in Chambers.

But if you sell to consumers, you need to get to know them face-to-face, or use surveys, or use focus groups or watch their behavior when they shop at your competitor's place of business. The bottom line is talk to them.

Once we have narrowly defined our target markets and know as much about what they look like as we know ourselves we then can create messages that stick with our potential clients because they discuss our potentials clients' wants, needs and desires and they resonate with them.

We try to reach out to these clients by sharing stories or narratives. We may do so by sharing our own stories of struggle and success, stories of other businesses, or stories about how our clients were helped by our efforts. The tools we use are:

. Websites
. Blogs
. Podcasts
. Sales Letters
. Sell Sheets
. White Papers
. Post Cards
. Networking
. Advertising
. Signage
. Public Relations

All the time that we are creating these messages, we remember that small and large businesses have the same objective: to grow customers and their bottom lines. Your bottom line: Know who your customers are, what they look like, and what they want and need from you, then sell a solution to meet that want or need, not a product or service.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Networking to Sell to Small Business

Guest Contributor: Lewis Green
Lewis' Posts - Lewis' Blog


If you want to sell to small businesses, you must be willing to invest your time building relationships. The most important lesson to learn about small business owners is that, although they may have years of corporate experience, they make decisions differently now that they are investing their own money. They take longer to buy a product or service and they understand that they can buy that product or service from a variety of vendors. At the end of the day, their decision to buy is not based on functionality, but on value, and that means that they buy the "who" not the "what".

In other words, they are buying you. And at the top of the list of qualities that they look for before they buy from you are trust and credibility. Since telling someone to trust us doesn't work, we have to show them. And that takes time. To be successful, we need to build relationships with those small businesses that represent our best customers. The most effective way to build a relationship is not cold calling or selling; it is networking.

Through networking we meet small business owners and executives on safe ground, where we can begin the process of getting to know each other. This may begin at a Chamber of Commerce After Hours Event, a Tradeshow, a Rotary meeting or any number of places. But no matter where it begins, we must recognize that sincerity is the key to success and that we need to be ourselves, we need to be authentic. And we need to recognize that we are building relationships, which may take a year or more, not selling products and services.

Following are the goals we should set in relationship building:

1. Establish Trust

2. Establish that the interaction is important

3. Establish that we can help each other via this social interaction

4. Recognize that because we trust each other, have shared something mutually important and both have benefited from it, we can establish mutual acceptance and say to each other, "I'm a good person and so are you!"

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Name: Evan Carmichael
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

EvanCarmichael.com is the world's #1 website for small business motivation and strategies. Evan also runs a series of successful Mastermind Groups in Toronto for entrepreneurs.


Would you like be a contributor? Email Evan to learn more.

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Selling To Small Business