Growing and Measuring Growth

or, “Fast” and “Easy” Startup Planning To Keep Your Business From Failing

Why is it that with all the information available today on how to be successful in small business, so few people really are?
—Michael Gerber

If it were so simple, we’d all do it.

Let’s distill it as if it could be simple. We could call today’s post “How To Create a Business That Makes Money.” As always, I hope you’ll do just that with these steps. But instead, let’s call it The Money-Making Business Manifesto.

Like all good manifestos, this one gives only the top-level view. (Take a tour through MCE’s archives for in-depth articles on many of the points in this manifesto.)

Warning: Like in all good manifestos, the steps below are just as simple as they look—and just as difficult, too.

Start here:

Find something that is being done, and is being paid for* by a large enough market to sustain your business (break even/ make a small profit) if you can capture 5% of it.

Never start a business that nobody wants or uses even in some peripheral way (peripheral? Henry Ford made cars when most folks still had horses, but there was a large and verifiable, paying market, for reliable transportation).

Never start a business on the assumption that you can capture a majority of it (new businesses work their butts off to grab 5%… established businesses aim for 20-25%… more than that can happen, but if you want to stay in business you can’t aim at the miracle-success-story, you have to aim with realism).

Never start a business where the market seems huge (no one wants anything that’s aimed at everyone).

If the idea is too small, expand the definition/ realign/ change.

If it’s too big, pinpoint-focus.

This market must be full of early adopters (low resistance to change) with their ears to the ground (on the lookout for change) who have spare $$—and who are also talkative sharers. Can’t create traction if you have to spend all your energy convincing your customer. Can’t get word-of-mouth going if your Ideal Customer is a hermit, a social nincompoop, or too busy/ too fancy-pants to share.

Do it better than it is being done by anyone else (“better” meaning “far more valuable”), either through novelty/disruption or vast improvements (not vast in your mind, vast in the consumer’s mind—unmistakable and worthwhile).

Talk it up anywhere you can, from the minute you get the idea to the day you open your doors. Create buzz. Listen. Refine.

Never be afraid someone’s going to steal your idea, it’s not that unique. You are the secret sauce that will make it unique, and they can’t steal you.

Run it past real potential buyers when you know the date you will officially be able to deliver (your product or service).

Get commitments to buy from at least 5% of the people you run it past (if you can’t get this now, what makes you think you can after you’ve poured tons of good money and sweat into it?).

Bonus: Get real advance money put down.

Do not skimp on planning. Cheaping out now will doom your company—and you’re reading this because you want to succeed, right?

Finally:

Seek outside help at the planning stage. Why? Because you WILL delude yourself on at least one of these points, if not many.

Look at it this way: you’ll put thousands of hours, tens of thousands of dollars of your savings, and your family’s and friends’ goodwill on the line to make this happen. You’ll spend 1-3 years making it a success or you’ll spend 1-3 years struggling while it dies. Which would you and your support network prefer? It’s worth paying a professional to poke holes in your plan (and to advise you on ways to fix the holes) at the outset.

If it were so simple, we’d all be Bill Gates or Sam Walton.

But if you’ve got the entrepreneurial spark and you’re willing to examine your plan as critically as an investor or a bank would (both of which have no interest in 99.9% of new/small businesses, sorry), you can plan to be one of the ones in the “Success” column, with a sustainable business that makes money.

Now all you’ve got to do is check your course frequently, realign/ revisit these steps right away when you sense turbulence, and work your plan like hell.

Never stop.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

*Silicon Valley seems to be of the opinion that vast adoption rates with no revenue in sight is okay. Maybe in the Valley. Maybe, for a hobby. In the ROW (Rest of the World), we gotta eat. Make sure there is money exchanging hands in your desired niche if you hope to call it a business.

 

If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll print it out and tape it to your fridge! You may also want to subscribe by email or by RSS, and help this post to help other folks by using the “Share” button below. And if you’d like more information on creating Maximum Customer Experience for your business online, check out our Web Audit and Web Experience Solution. I’d be glad to help you move from start to sales!

The Dark Side of WOM: Beginning Word-of-Mouth, Part 6

Word-of-mouth is a beautiful thing. Here at Maximum Customer Experience, we’ve spent the last few posts talking about how you can blast your sales into a new orbit with word-of-mouth referrals, online and offline.

In case you missed any of the series:

Start where we began, with A Line Out the Door.

Read Craig Newmark’s secret to learn about the early growth of Craigslist.

What makes someone talk about you? (Read this one and make sure you’re worth talking about.)

In these busy days, your growing business needs to master the essentials. 3 Ways To Make Talking About You Easy gives you tips you can put to use starting today.

Last time, we packed computer- vs. sandwich-buying advice into a lunchbox-sized-post. Whether what you sell is simple or complex, you’ll find something there to chew on.

 

It’s been great discussing word-of-mouth with you, dear reader. After all, WOM really is a beautiful thing—that is, except when it turns ugly.

Exhibit A: MySpace.

MySpace, known as “a place for friends” when they launched, and morphing quickly into a place for friends of music, was once the darling of every young hipster and wannabe hipster on the www. From their founding in 2003, they were almost a case study in viral word-of-mouth referrals.

People flocked to the site to socialize and to discover new ways to be hip. MySpace helped them achieve their own aims, like Craigslist helped buyers and sellers in its fast-growth phase. MySpace helped their users to look like heroes, not only when recommending that a friend join (which they did in droves, in old-fashioned face-to-face conversations and online), but also when recommending new areas of the vast site to be explored.

What did MySpace have that made them grow so fast?

In their first years MySpace had a dreamy online cocktail of novelty, ease of use (or, better said, ease of customization…), speeding tangled webs of communication (it’s hard to recall now, but from 2003–2005 MySpace really did de-clutter some users’ online worlds), and helping their users to increase their authority with friends.

The site was originally popular with early adopters fleeing dying online stars like Friendster, and with teens and college students—for a site that always wanted music to be part of the social mix, these heavy music listeners and buyers were a great target market. With teens’ intense desire to demonstrate their social relevance with peers—and with the inside word on so many bands—word of the site grew like wildfire.

Word-of-mouth mushroomed. More and more folks who didn’t want to be left out continued to join—parents of the early adopters, Gen X and Y who wanted to know what all the fuss was about, the technologically semi-savvy, and new music seekers in slightly older age groups, as well.

In December 2006, they were for a shining moment, the biggest site on the web, with an estimated 60 million unique visitors per month.

(The irony is that this number—combined with their total pageviews per month—was hailed as a watershed at the time; as I write this, in April 2011, their “uniques” are in about the same place, once again, but it’s considered their death knell. Why? Because the web has become a much more trafficked world, and because the mighty folks at MySpace have gone for such a hard spin. Oh, and then there’s these other guys on the scene… but we’ll get to them in a second.)

It’s been said that with their ease of “getting under the hood,” they made everyone into a bit of a designer. (As a designer, I might beg to differ, but that’s for another post.) MySpace truly was everyone’s very personal space.

The good: I get to show you what my bedroom or locker walls might look like.

The bad: Everyone gets to show you what their bedroom or locker might look like, and you wander endlessly from one bedroom/locker to the next.

The bigger they got, the more confusing the Experience. MySpace was losing brand identity almost from Day 1, but this malady was overlooked because they kept posting those incredible growing numbers. Had I written this post in late 2006, after a year in which they saw 200% growth even with already-staggering stats, I would have been laughed out of existence.

Soon, spammers found it just as easy to use and made it a worse mess than millions of design-happy users could. Huge financing burdens made the company succumb to just about every advertiser’s whim, to drum up more eyeballs and generate more clicks. Bad Experience began, very slowly, to kill the enjoyment of the site, while growth in new countries hid the truth.

Was it suicide or something more sinister?

Finally—those other guys.

Whispers were that a clean, simple, not-very-customizable, newer, lesser-known place called Facebook had become the cutting edge.

Early adopters were easily picked off.

MySpace watchers on the outside wouldn’t even have noticed how sick the sleeping giant looked, until the whispers suddenly erupted. Facebook began to reach critical mass, and the whole world seemingly left in droves.

Seemingly?

Word-of-mouth is much more than the key driver in all this. WOM plays an almost cruel part in the last two years of MySpace’s history. At the time when techies and the media first began to write that MySpace was another casualty of the fickle Internet—mid-2009—those critical “uniques” were at (depending on whose stats you like) between 80 and 125 million per month. In other words, the site had grown since the days when it was hailed as king—but at only half the size of Facebook, it was considered finished, or on its way.

What did FB have?

MySpace’s teens had aged, so they were the people FB was aiming at.

Facebook was created by and engineered for a slightly older demographic, college students and recent grads. WOM funneled kids and kids-at-heart to FB.

There’s an allure—for younger teens and for older folks, edging out into their 30s—in hanging out with the 20-somethings, that “let’s go hang out with a bunch of teenagers at MySpace” can’t quite match. And MySpace had allowed themselves to be seen that way.

The place was all that MySpace never was—clean, to-the-point, smooth-running… efficient. No slow-loading locker-walls. No crashes. No confused navigation. You could use it at work and probably get away with it.

And then the ball started rolling downhill. The viral WOM that gained MySpace their huge following in the first place turned against them. Friends told friends it was time to move on. Not necessarily because a lot had changed with MySpace—in fact, change isn’t something MySpace has ever been very good at, so whether it was to your liking or not, little had changed—but when the media announced the death of the old king and the crowning of a new one, good WOM for Facebook ended up being bad WOM for MySpace.

Even if no one was specifically dissing MySpace (which they were…), word-of-mouth in favor of someplace new had completely—and probably irreversibly—changed the game.

But perhaps the very darkest Dark Side to WOM is the illness that began before the negatives of MySpace or the positives of Facebook began to be clear to this group of dedicated referrers:

The Backstreet Boys Effect: The Dark Side of Word-of-Mouth

Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.
—Yogi Berra

Any of these leave you with a touch of exhilaration and a twinge of regret? (Definitely not in date order):

  • Backstreet Boys
  • slap bracelets
  • fanny packs
  • Cabbage Patch Kids
  • Jordache jeans
  • Tamagotchi
  • the Macarena
  • henna everything
  • jelly shoes
  • mullets
  • Silly Bandz (is this over yet? I don’t want to break it to The Kid, but I hope it is)

Oh, they started as the “in” things, each of them.

“I remember when I was the only person on the planet who had/loved… [insert your own thrill here]… then all of a sudden, everyone had/loved it.” That statement is the essence of The Dark Side.

—It’s cool when they’re your own little secret and you’re the super-hip one, sharing the secret with those you deem worthy. “I know someone I’ve just got to tell about this…”
(MySpace, 2003–early 04)

—It’s cool when enough people know what you’re talking about, so you don’t have to start at the beginning and explain everything every. single. time. Some people even start to view you as an authority, which is also… cool.
(MySpace, 2004)

—For a little while, you feel validated when the world catches on to how wonderful your early find really is. You still know more about it than anyone else, there’s still some room to be the hero to new people…
(MySpace, 2005)

—But it is getting kinda crowded, isn’t it? I mean, when everybody loves the Backstreet Boys, what’s the point in knowing each guy’s middle name and favorite food by heart? And why have they abandoned their early fans and gone so commercial? It feels like I’m being sold out. Not cool.
(MySpace, 2006)

—I’m looking for someplace where I can be a cowboy again. A pioneer, discovering the new “in” thing, telling only those who are worthy.
(MySpace, late 2006–07)

—That old thing? That is so lame. Who wants to do what everyone else is doing? This new thing, though, I’ve just got to tell someone about this…
(MySpace, 2007-08)

And by 2009, they’re the Backstreet Boys. By early 2010, anyone who’s not in a band and will admit to having signed on to MySpace in months must be completely clueless. Throughout 2010, realizing that all they’re left with is completely clueless people, bands are shifting to other scenes, too.

In 2011? Without divine intervention, MySpace looks like it’s about to be MyGhostTown.

We started today with a tricky premise:

WOM is a beautiful thing, except when it turns ugly.

Sure, there were other factors in taking down one of the creators of “Web 2.0” as we know it. Dozens of ‘em. Lots of businesses struggle, even big businesses, but rarely at such epic speed. The Dark Side of Word-of-Mouth is the only factor that caused MySpace to spin out of control this fast.

Nobody goes there anymore, because it’s too crowded.

Combine the Backstreet Boys Effect with the negative press, negative WOM, and positive WOM for FB, and you have the makings of a true disaster, from which the formerly-sleeping giant may well not recover.

So what can you do to avoid The Dark Side?

Use the force—of Maximum Customer Experience, of course!!

>Control growth—A good part of MySpace’s problem was their meteoric rise.

Their skyrocketing numbers eventually led to not being perceived as even remotely exclusive (hip), contributed to their identity crisis (impossible to be all things to all people), and degraded the Experience for hardcore and casual users alike (ugly, navigation insanity, spammers crowding out real communication…).

If you should be so lucky, you will discover as they did that it’s hard to appreciate the negatives of such a rise (or to want to control it—greed, and the fear it won’t continue or return, are powerful motivators) when you’re watching your revenues soar, but controlling/managing growth is exactly what will help you stay around for the long haul.

>Ear to the ground—Monitor what’s being said about you.

Hear (and heed) the rumblings of the early adopters, who are happy to be your champions. As you grow, stay nimble enough (as an organization) to capitalize on what you learn, instead of resting on your laurels.

>Make friends. Stay friends—MySpace didn’t have the one-man-at-the-helm that Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook have, but they did have devoted and caring founders—who too soon lost their grip on the company.

Within a couple of years of their start, a company that wasn’t ever very well known for their personal touch (or even for their personalities) become faceless.

It’s far easier to leave a faceless company (and to bash them, trash them, bad-mouth them, even on their own site…) than to desert/ trash your friends. If MySpace had (as a company or as individuals within the company) kept closer relationships with early adopters who had the biggest megaphones, and maintained some more diffuse connection to the rest of their users, this could have translated into a lot more help when they were down. Maybe, it could have stopped them from getting so far down that they are easy to kick, too.

I’ll go out on an MCE-limb and hazard a risky guess—from the research I’ve done, MySpace’s top people (and people at NewsCorp, their parent company since 2005, as well) may have actually had some disdain for these “kids,” their best and most fanatic users, leading them not to try for strong customer relationships. If so, the kids showed them what-for. Don’t let that happen to you!

Final thoughts on The Dark Side:

Be careful what you wish for. Like MySpace, you just might get it. (But since you’ve read our word-of-mouth series over the last couple of weeks here at MCE, you’re a lot more prepared than they were. May it bring you a line out the door of your own!)

No one wants to be the last guy left in the building when it burns down. So don’t wait until other folks can see the smoke before calling out the fire brigade, or your business will be an empty shell when you finally get The Dark Side of Word-of-Mouth under control.

 

Grow (virally!) and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

P.S. I hope you’ve enjoyed all the posts in this series. If you’re ready to make your website WOM-worthy, check out our Web Audit and Web Experience Solution, and we’ll get busy crafting a winning solution just for you!

—————

For more on MySpace’s Customer Experience, and their epic, word-of-mouth fueled-rise and fall:

2006:

TechCrunch: It’s Official(ish) – MySpace Is the Biggest Site on the Internet

2009:

The Guardian.co.uk: MySpace Shrinks as Facebook, Twitter, and Bebo Grab its Users

Los Angeles Times: How MySpace Fell Off the Pace

Harvard Business Review Blogs: Will the Real MySpace Users Please Speak Up?

Fast Company: MySpace – A Place for Friends No More

2010:

Daily Finance: MySpace’s Dwindling Traffic Looks Even Worse From the Inside

2011:

New York Times online: Hot Social Networking Site Cools as Facebook Grows

Tech Crunch: Amazingly, MySpace’s Decline Is Accelerating

Reuters: Special Report – How NewsCorp Got Lost in MySpace

Two names I won’t name, and one I rather wish I couldn’t

#1

He wrote a book. Someone I respect recently said it was good. I ran out and grabbed a copy, hot of the press. So hot, the cover was still glowing orange. I liked it a lot (still do).

He gave me a call after I said I liked it, here on this blog. Left me a voicemail, kind of intriguing, maybe a tad pushy. Right on-message for the book, though. Very eager to connect, etc. I left him an email. Two, actually. He never contacted me again.

What up wi’ that, as folks say here in Philly?

Very eager to make the appearance of trying to connect. Very poor with follow-up.

#2

He also wrote a book. Also with a glowing orange cover. (Is it something about orange-covered books?) A book I’ve adored and recommended for years (still do). In addition, he writes a blog I love.

I follow the blog regularly, comment only occasionally, because, as Yogi Berra knew well, once it gets too crowded, nobody goes there any more. (In other words, he was always a master connector, but since that glowing orange book… whoo-hoo. He’s become a very, very popular dude.) One blog post last week was so pitch-perfect that I began putting its main concept to use the same day… even recommended The Kid put a version of the idea to use. Then, oddly, in his sometimes-newsletter, he mentioned that the very same post had become controversial.

That seemed impossible, so I thought I’d write him a quick letter of support and gratitude, let him know that some people took the meaning as intended and ran with it. I hit the reply button and dashed off a short email. In the first sentence, told him I loved it, love how it works, that I’d shared the idea around, that even The Kid was using it. Then very briefly gave him a thumbs-up for support.

I know he’s busy and really didn’t need or expect a response. Days later, I did get one… from his assistant. Saying they feel an email from an assistant lets you know the big guy personally cares.

Uh-huh…

Then the assistant asks if I thought much about the post. Did I recommend it to anyone? Have I thought about trying it out? Will I be trying it out?

Oh, no.

Very eager to make the appearance of personally caring. Not very eager to read even the first sentence of a four-sentence email.

#3

She’s everywhere, she’s everywhere!

Minutes after reading about 13-year-old Rebecca Black on Steve Sammartino’s Start Up Blog, where he was talking about how the insane viral madness surrounding Black’s song, Friday, is only possible because technologies have come along to change or destroy the gatekeeper game (she’s even got her own Wikipedia entry, scary)…

… then deciding along with 30 million others to find out what all the fuss is about (please don’t ask my opinion)…

… minutes after saying out loud, “Seth Godin would love her—she’s nothing if not remark-able”

… minutes later, there’s Rebecca Black mentioned on Seth’s blog, because she didn’t wait to get asked to the dance.*

I know, Steve and Seth don’t amount to a heck of a lot for a 13-y-o wannabe pop princess, but this girl is not only mentioned on exquisitely written business blogs. She’s on CNN. And in Rolling Stone. And in a lot of other places you and I would kill to be.

And what I’m interested in is this—folks who’ve gotten to speak with her are calling her sweet and unspoiled (I hope so, this has only been going on for a bit over a week) and genuine.

I’ll call her very eager to make a name for herself.

How long can she stay sincere, now that her very-startup business, “personal brand Rebecca Black,” has exploded?

How about you? How do you maintain your sincerity, when business pressures you from all sides? Is it fair (of me, of your customers and other contacts) to expect that you should?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

*Seth’s absolutely right, it’s a lesson for us all. Seize the day, the spotlight, the mic if you want it, because nobody’s gonna hand it to you.

So you wanna see me repeat the same fifteen words, without no sense of irony about how derivative of the gentle goth geniuses The Cure my lyrics are, for three minutes and forty seconds with way too much makeup on and my voice distorted past all humanity?

Oops, I think I may have hinted at my opinion there.

Give and Take? Or Give and Give?

In a troubled marriage, each partner may think that they do all the giving and none of the receiving.

Rarely, of course, is either one entirely right.

In a troubled business, you may think you do all of the giving (of expertise, of service, of excellent quality goods as I’m sure yours are) and not enough of the receiving (of money, of loyalty).

In a troubled economy, your customer may think they do all of the giving (of time driving to your shop or cruising your website, of patience with service that misses the mark, of money) and not enough of the receiving (of goods and services that go beyond satisfaction to Deliver Delight—in whatever way the customer means that, which they believe, for their money, you should intuit).

Rarely, of course, is either view entirely right.

Seems like there are a lot of “resentful” businesses out there, acting like they have done as much as they’re darn-well gonna to earn the affections of the public. If you ever find yourself resenting having to go the extra mile for customers, just remember….

Only one of you has to hold the “marriage” of business and customer together to survive.

The customer is free to go out and get a new partner the very next time they have a dollar to spare. So if you want to stop their leaving, you’re going to have to see it their way.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Based on a true story or two…

“We don’t want to put up a website beyond the free-local-listings kind of things.”

“I know the photo’s not of our current location, but we like it.”

“We chose the new employee because she asked for the least in salary.”

“A sign that matches our current name and logo would cost us money we’re not willing to spend. The one we have says enough.”

“Well, the hours aren’t convenient for everyone, but our old customers like it.”

“We never ask the customer how they enjoyed it. Who wants to hear a bunch of complaining?”

“We don’t do email. It’s too hard to pay attention to.”

“Can you help us?”

Hm. I don’t know if I can.

What’s it all boil down to?

“People will figure us out, if they want to do business with us.”

And yes, I have actually heard that exact phrase when pointing out the sometimes-enormous barriers to sales that folks are putting in front of their customers. People will figure us out, if they want to do business with us.

How often do you put that kind of effort into buying something? Not bloody often, unless it’s darned rare and even harder to find any other way. So…

unless what you’re selling is darned rare and even harder to buy from anyone but you…

and maybe, even if that’s the case, if you’d like to increase your sales…

it’s time to think about which barriers to success you’re willing to tear down…

and which ones you simply WILL NOT give up.

(Not as simple as it looks. Some barriers to success may seem quite legitimate to you, unless you’re willing to stare long and hard at how you’re doing business, and how you want your company to grow in the future. And even then—it’s completely fair to decide that there are some parts of the sales process that are barriers, yet you aren’t willing to give those up. To do it consciously is a lot better than to wonder what’s going wrong!)

An exercise in company-wide introspection: How many steps are there in the process of finding out about you and buying from you? How many barriers are you putting in your customer’s way?

Ready to give some of them up?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

The Best Tools for the Job

After a hiatus of many months (or even years within some companies), there are rumblings that you are ready to begin hiring again. Yes, we’ve talked about staffing decisions before, and the huge impact your staff has on your Customer Experience. I’d like to propose a guideline if you’re about to put out the Now Hiring sign:

Look at each new hire as a tool for your growth.

It seems sort-of-obvious when I say it like that, right? But so often employees are hired to fill an empty desk, or because we like their style, or because they’re coming from someplace interesting (a former employer, former hometown, etc., that might be interesting to talk to them about). Sure, compatibility is important, but…

When you buy a new piece of equipment for the office, it’s not because there’s space in the store room, because you like pink, or because it was built in Israel, is it?

It’s because the new piece of equipment will directly or indirectly (and we all prefer directly) make the company more money. It will increase your income directly, or increase speed or efficiency, or decrease effort or difficulty or errors or costs.

As you make your wish list for the perfect hires in 2010–2011, put this sort-of-obvious wish at the top:

We want to hire new staff who will directly or indirectly help the company to make more money.

Don’t hire just to fill the space that’s been empty since the recession began to sink its teeth into your payroll. If you’ve taken this long to get back into expansion mode, take a bit more time to make sure the new staffer is more than a personality fit—make your choice is a fit for your long-term (expansion!) goals.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Make It Work for You

Fewer people who used to do it, are doing your thing.

Fewer people go away on luxury vacations.

Fewer people eat at four-star restaurants.

Fewer people eat at midpriced restaurants.

Fewer people cook like Julia Child at home.

Fewer people buy brand-names at the grocery store.

Where are all these people? You might guess…

The folks who used to go on luxury vacations splurge with a dinner at a four-star restaurant now and then.

The folks who used to eat at four-star restaurants discover mid-priced restaurants are a fine trade-off.

The people who used to eat at midpriced restaurants buy a couple of new kitchen gadgets and start cooking restaurant(ish) food at home, just like they’d always planned to learn.

Those who used to buy the brand-names are fueling a boom in private label (“no-name” or store brand) sales.

Okay, we all feel bad for the luxury vacation folks (until you consider that some of the people who used to have a summer house now just take a glorious week on the Rhine instead…) and everyone else who’s at the top of the food chain. But if you’re someplace a bit lower on that food chain, there’s a trade-off being made right now that could help your business.

Sure, fewer people who used to do it, are doing your thing. I hear that all the time.

Except that fewer people who used to do something else, are doing that. Why not embrace and encourage that trade-off, and find a way to speak to a market you might never have gotten near when we were living high?

If it’s time for you to go against the grain and embrace trade-offs, this might be a great day to try:

Selling to bigger businesses than you used to (they’re thinking they can’t afford their old high-priced, full-service provider of XYZs anymore)

Breaking into a wealthier market that’s not usually interested in small fry (show ‘em your Customer Experience kicks a** compared to the fat lazy company they used to deal with, of course!)

Speaking, writing, and teaching on your subject to reach larger audiences than individual products or services can (sort of like mass-production of your ideas)

As long as you’re not at the top of the food chain, recognize that you have a great chance right now to graze higher up than you ever could before. Take advantage of trade-offs—and you can help your new customers benefit from realizing that they’ve found a hidden gem in you.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

P.S. If you do think you’re at the top of the food chain, redefine the food chain. Someone is making a trade-off that your company should be in on, right now.

P.P.S. People make trade-offs in any economy. Worth noting.

How to zoom from “I’ll think about it” to “I’ll take it!”

Is customer apathy at epidemic proportions in your business?

Are customers waiting longer than ever before to decide about working with you? You’re not alone.

Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s “the economy”—or maybe it’s closer to home. You know your customers shouldn’t wait a minute longer, but they don’t seem to care. I’ve put together some real steps you can take right now for real results in great Customer Experience, and better leads and sales.

In order, from easiest to hardest… from best payoff to least… from DO It Now to maybe someday. Here’s how to take control of the situation and drive the buyer blahs away:

1. Make it pay off. Tell your customer—convincingly—that your product or service will pay for itself, or better yet, put money in their pocket, and the most uninterested customers suddenly want to know more. It’s no secret, but it is terribly underused. Take some time to think about this—lots of folks think they can’t possibly show how their product provides a return on investment (ROI), but with some creative brainstorming, you may find that you can.

2. Make it prettier. Ugly sells if folks need it bad enough, but pretty rides on Easy Street. Why put barriers in front of your sales? (And speaking of easy…)

3. Make it easier. Easier to understand, easier to buy, easier to install, easier to use, easier to tell their friends about? Easier than your company’s widget used to be, easier than living without it, or easier than the competition’s? There’s bound to be a way that your company can make what you offer easier. Almost everyone thinks their days are crazy enough without adding more hard stuff to them. Easy is one of today’s most powerful selling concepts.

4. Scare your customer. If I didn’t put it near the top of the list of ways to fight apathy, I’d be lying to you. Nothing gets a sale moving like fear of what happens if we do NOT buy. If there’s something urgently scary about not working with you, talk it up! (We also mentioned this and #1 last week as great tiny bars to step over.)

5. Get it to the right customer. If your customer takes forever to decide on the chocolate or the strawberry sundae and then always goes for the vanilla single-scoop (are you following my 95-degree-day metaphor?), maybe they’re apathetic because you’re talking to the wrong people. Find the people who are in the market for a sundae, and you won’t have to work nearly so hard. To get so little.

6. Find other people to talk about you. Crowing about yourself is fine, but third-person endorsements will always work better than the most convincing arguments of your own. Besides, other people have reasons to buy from you that you’d never think of on your own, and those reasons often speak right to the heart of your next customer. Try written (or video!) testimonials, mentions of your product or service in the press—even writing articles for magazines or newspapers yourself gives you their stamp of approval as an expert on your subject. Takes time to get this right, but today’s looking like a great day for you to start…

7. Make it cool. Get someone photographed with it; get Ashton Kutcher to Tweet about it; wear a black turtleneck when you talk about it. (One of my favorite interior designers in New York used to insist that everyone in his office wear only black suits with white dress shirts. “Easy on the budget is why I started it, but signature chic for my whole office is why I kept it up and made it a policy.”) Cool is hard to pin down, but if you can demonstrate your rockin’ awesomeness to the world, go for it.

8. Demonstrate long-term benefits. This is especially helpful if you’ve got lots of competition. If you can’t show #1, that your product or service pays for itself, then show how in the long run, your widget comes out cheaper, safer, or otherwise better than the competition’s. Does it last longer? Require less maintenance? Allow more flexibility?

9. Add extras. Yes, this also adds to your costs, but sometimes it’s the cool extras that move a “maybe” customer into the “yes please!” category. (Ever buy a Happy Meal for a whining nephew?)

10. Put it on sale. (With a caution, the reason why this is last on  the list from a Maximum Customer Experience point of view—It’s fine to make your products or services affordable to a wider group for a short while, but be careful with it. Don’t set yourself up as the place to get a bargain unless you’ve carefully thought out the real costs and the long-term effects of competing on price.)

If your customers are experiencing the blahs, kicking your tires for far too long, or *gasp* wandering off undecided, to drop their dollars elsewhere, give these techniques a try—and get them excited about buying from you right now.

What would you add to this list? What techniques have you used to cut through the “maybes” with your customers—or what’s always worked on you?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

The Straight Truth

Everybody wants to know how to “get” a customer to want what they’re selling. How to “make” them buy. I hear it all the time from clients, and I have a simple answer:

You can’t.

That’s right, you can’t get someone to want what you sell. Because you can’t change what the customer wants, and you sure can’t change what he or she needs—not with a marketing budget the size of China.

What can you do?

When I work with clients on increasing sales we focus on one or more of these three goals. Which one would move your sales needle fastest?

  • You can get your message to a customer who didn’t know that you sell it, and who’s been looking for a new provider. Market smarter.
  • You can get your message to a customer who had no idea the product or service existed, but has been looking to solve the problem that you solve. Market louder, and clearer.
  • You can tap into a need or a want (problem) that the customer already has, and alter your offering (solution) to meet that need. Give the people what they want!

It all boils down to: Get your message to the Ideal Customer, the person who already does want what you (plan to) sell, and who wants it right now.

Don’t waste your time trying to “get” people who don’t need or want what your company sells, to change their feelings suddenly. Do your research, and plan ahead rather than shouting in the wrong direction. Find the people who do need it or want it, and change their buying behavior instead.

If your sales are not where you’d like them to be, take a few minutes to think about this today: Are you trying to get people to buy what they want from you, or to want what you’re selling to them?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

What’s a buzz-worthy Customer Experience today?

Ah, buzz.

Viral you-name-it (video, blog post, product or service everyone’s got to have).

Good ol’ word-of-mouth referrals.

We all want buzz for our companies—and in spite of the huge growth of Internet buzz, the referrals we trust most are still those of friends, family, and colleagues. Maybe because word-of-mouth recommendations between friends are more rare than ever in our hectic lives. Who has time to stop and chat about the great new soap we just bought or the person who cleans our gutters? The less old-fashioned buzz there is, the more we trust it. It must be great if your buddy says, “Go check this out.”

 

So what kinds of companies are creating Customer Experience that’s worthy of word-of-mouth?

 

A company that puts you at ease when you’re trying/ buying something new or out of your usual realm (from attorneys to sushi bars to tattoo parlors, some manage this and some make customers feel like running away)

    ✔ Buzz-worthy

 

A company that makes you feel your kids are welcome—without making you feel that *you* have to be 8 to enjoy yourself

    ✔ Buzz-worthy

 

A company doing run-of-the-mill (think grocery stores, fast food restaurants, shoe shopping, dry cleaning, banking) impeccably well—yes, just putting the shine of perfectionism on a perfectly ordinary, expected product or service can amaze a jaded customer

    ✔ Buzz-worthy

 

A company that TRULY seems to have your best interests at heart (which as a wonderful, karmic byproduct, fulfills their own best interests)

    ✔ Buzz-worthy

 

A company that knows how to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive— “The heck with economic talk and gloom and doom! We’re going to seize the day! Are you with us?” Find a company that’s spreading authentic joy and you’ll tell anyone you know who needs a lift

    ✔ Buzz-worthy

 

Not-so-buzz-worthy:

The loud, the brash, the self-consciously hip, look-at-me businesses; the businesses that think you should find them, figure them out, and “get it” before you bother them; the businesses with a veneer of gorgeous (and usually expensive!) covering an inability to get the basics right.

 

Maximum Customer Experience take-away for you:

It doesn’t matter what product or service you sell—there is a way that you can be buzz-worthy. It’s the Experience, not what your company sells, that starts the buzz machine humming.

 

What was the last company you were bubbling over to recommend (in-person) to a friend or colleague? Why?

What makes a buzz-worthy Customer Experience to you these days?

 

Grow and buzz well,

Kelly Erickson

 

P.S. This video gets a bit (!) cheesy at the end, but I had a hankering to spread a little authentic joy today, so please enjoy Bing Crosby singing one of his signature songs:

Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive et al. Bing Crosby with the U.S. 11th Naval District Coast Guard Band, 1943.