I remember a story from early in my selling career. It went something like this:
Two shoe salespeople are sent to an undeveloped country to expand a company’s shoe business. One calls back to the home office and says, “I’ve got some bad news. There’s no market here – no one wears shoes.” The other calls back and says, “I’ve got some great news. There’s unlimited possibility here, no one is wearing shoes.”
I thought of this story as I reviewed a recent study reported by Emarketer.com. A study conucted by Webtrends revealed that only 5% of UK companies reported they were using blogs.
This supports Socialtext’s study that “Less than 6% of the Fortune 500 and 2% of the Forbes 200 Best Small Companies blogged in April and June 2006, respectively.”
These reports don’t surprise me, as they match the response I get from clients to my recommendation that they begin blogging. Clients typically respond by questioning the commitment that is required to make a blog effective, or they complain about the cost of keeping it up. Then, they ask the cynic’s favorite question, “How do I know it will work.”
My response is pretty standard.
- Yes, it is a commitment.
- Yes, it will take resources.
- What do you mean by “work”?
According to Webtrends, “Many companies aren’t blogging because they are not convinced it works.” While I am not a proponent of the idea that marketing should not be directly tied to results and ROI, it’s important that companies don’t take an overly micro-view of their marketing efforts. I also find it interesting that these same companies that are not convinced that ‘blogging works,’ mindlessly drop millions of dollars on advertising. Recently, I had a $3 million technology services company tell me “blogging won’t work in my industry”, all while spending a significant amount of time, money and energy having their salespeople cold call – when the cold calling effort was clearly not working. The president of the company was actually very disappointed with my recommendations, “Frankly,” he said, “I was hoping you’d just create better cold call scripts for us.”
I used to be a financial advisor. I learned that the key to successful, sustainable investing was not to follow the crowd. “Buy when everyone else is selling, sell when everyone is buying,” went the call of the successful investor. When you followed that advice, you had to understand that you would not necessarily benefit immediately – you’d have to give your efforts time.
The same goes for blogging, or for creating any advantage. There was a time that businesses said they weren’t sure if “having a website worked.” Now, if you don’t have a website, you might as well not exist. While I openly admit that I am a blogging enthusiast, I am not a blogging fundamentalist. I believe in blogging because it works – when you do blogging right.
I think one of the biggest barriers to businesspeople/companies blogging is the perception of the words “blog, blogging and blogger.” Fast growth executives don’t think of themselves as “bloggers.” “That’s for young kids,” they think. My bet is that if it were called something like, ‘Dynamic Market Communication Effort’ instead of ‘blogging’, there would be less resistance to it. Additionally, as I’ve written before, I also think there is an issue of effort that prevents people from blogging. It’s a lot easier to pay someone to prepare a newsletter (e-mail or otherwise), to buy some ads, or to redo a logo than it is to commit to communicate with your market on a regular, open and authentic basis. Frankly, I think many companies are afraid to commit to blogging because they don’t have enough confidence that people would really care about what they have to say.
Blogging creates several compelling benefits for a company:
- It forces them to join the conversation and to be relevant.
- It creates tangibility for their thoughts.
- There is a networking effect – the more you post, the more valuable each post becomes.
- You allow people to get a clear picture of what you company is really about.
- You gain a ‘prove-ability’ to your claims. I’ve been blogging for two years now. When I propose an idea to a client or prospect, I have two years of posts to demonstrate consistency.
Remember, advantages are created when someone does something others don’t do. You can blog to gain an advantage, or, ultimately, you can blog to catch up. The choice is yours.
As readers of this blog know, I recently went on vacation in St. John in the US Virgin Islands. I had a great time, and caught up on my relaxation. My vacation, however, is not the purpose of this blog.
You may recall, that while booking my trip I wrote about the missed opportunities on the part of my travel agent. Unfortunately, my travel agent didn’t appear to learn anything from that experience. Though I really enjoyed the conversation I had with him, and (at the time) thought that he was doing an excellent job looking out for my interests, from the moment I agreed to book the trip, it felt as though I might as well have booked it using an impersonal, online option. Actually, that’s not true – online options are actually more proactive.
In the weeks and days leading up to the trip, there was no contact whatsoever from my agent. No e-mail saying, “have a great time, call us if you have any questions.” No phone calls to make sure we had everything under control. Nothing. While we were there, we got an automated fax from the vacation package company we actually booked the stay with, using the travel agents name and that was it. Upon my return – you guessed it – nothing. No how was your stay? What could we do better? Nothing.
This is not a rant about my travel agent – it’s a rant about service-based businesses in general. When you are promising value-added and personalized service, make sure you do things that reinforce that proposition. Look, I spent a lot of money on my vacation and didn’t haggle with my agent in the process. As a matter of fact, every time my agent suggested something that cost more money, I said yes. Maybe I’m a sucker, but the reason I spent the money I did was:
a) I didn’t want to deal with any hassles, and
b) I was buying the experience of being important. I wanted to be (and wanted my family to be) pampered. My wife and I work very hard and I wanted an experience that made us feel important – and I was willing to pay for it.
Here’s the thing: nothing I wanted would have had to cost any money. Sure I would have loved a bottle of champagne when I arrived at my destination (and, yes, I know that lots of travel agents would have done this – that’s not my point), but all I needed was some recognition. A personalized e-mail and call before we left reminding me of the travel documents I did or did not need. That would have been nice. A phone call when I returned so I could have shared some of my satisfactions and dissatisfactions. Additionally, on that call, the agent could have easily begun talking about my next vacation – and who knows, maybe I would have put down another deposit.
Instead, I was left feeling as though I was on my own. It made me question the effort my agent actually put into my interests before booking. Maybe they paid as little attention to me before my purchase as they did afterward. Has my agent lost my business for good? No, they can recover from this. But, I’ll never trust them the way I did before. On my next trip, I’ll do more of my own research; I’ll check prices and options.
Remember, the sale is not over when the client says ‘yes’, actually, it’s only just begun. Also, remember that your job is to read your clients mind – for it’s your clients who decide whether it’s a good experience or not – and the word of mouth follows.
Today we launched a new blog, dedicated to transforming the way companies and salespeople sell. It’s called The Third Wave Selling Blog. I encourage you to check it out and let me know what you think. This new blog is geared more directly to salespeople, so you’ll find it a nice complement to thefastgrowthblog.com.
Don’t worry, we’re as dedicated to this blog as ever. The reason we’ve launched a new blog is to create a medium to communicate more directly with the salespeople of the world. From time-to-time, I’ll refer to posts on The Third Wave Selling Blog on this blog, so even if you don’t subscribe to the new blog, you’ll be made aware of posts that are relevant to fast growth.
I’ve written a number of times about creating a great client experience and the need to respect your customers (for a sample click here, here, here, here or here). Seth Godin has a post well worth reading about a recent visit he made to Home Depot.
Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking by Andy Sernovitz promises to give you, the busy executive, an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand methodology that will help you reduce customer acquisition costs, gain an incalculable amount of free advertising, provide you a better return than traditional advertising and it will make your salespeople more productive. Better yet, it delivers on most of the promise.
Servovitz says there are four key rules to effective word of mouth:
- Be interesting,
- Make people happy,
- Earn trust and respect, and
- Make it easy.
One of Sernovitz’s most interesting lists is his ‘Word of Mouth Manifesto’:
- Happy customers are you best advertising
- Marketing is easy. Earn the respect and recommendation of your customers. They will do your marketing for you, for free.
- Ethics and good service come first.
- Negative word of mouth is an opportunity. Listen and learn.
- People are already talking. Your only option is to join the conversation.
- Be interesting or be invisible.
- If it’s not worth talking about, it’s not worth doing.
- Make the story of your company a good one.
- It is more fun to work at a company that people want to talk about.
- Use the power of WOM to make business treat people better.
- Honest marketing makes more money
This book is not written for ‘marketers’, but for ‘doers.’ Regardless of the experience of the reader, Word of Mouth Marketing is chock full of ideas that will get you to think and act differently. As a word of mouth proponent for years, and a consultant that enables companies to stimulate positive word of mouth, I have to admit that I was slightly embarrassed as I was reading the book, underlining ideas that my own company had not yet implemented. Needless to say, my marketing department has a much longer to-do list than it had previously.
On a recent trip to Atlanta, I was offered my choice of snack on the flight. I’m in the midst of losing some weight, getting in shape and eating healthier, so I chose what sounded like the healthiest choice – Oatmeal To Go. Before eating it, I decided to look at the nutritional information to see for myself just how smart I was in choosing this snack. As I’m sure you can figure out, Oatmeal to Go is anything but nutritious. For kicks, I kept the bar and stopped in the snack shop in the airport to compare it to a bag of cookies, and the cookies were healthier.
This got me thinking about the challenges of growing a successful business, whether it’s a new business or an established one. As I’ve written countless times, the rate of change in the world requires companies to move faster than ever before. This means that decisions must be made, confidently, before all of the relevant information is available or the path is clear.
Simply put, growth is messy. I’d like it to be cleaner and neater. I’d like it to be wrapped nicely in a set of actions, with clear causes and effects. Unfortunately, no matter how much I’d like it, it’s not going to happen.
There is no certainty in the future. The truth is that no matter how sure we are of what will happen; we have no idea. To be successful going forward, you must build your business on a platform of uncertainty. You must implement your sales and marketing initiatives with effective feedback systems so that you can adjust as quickly as possible without ruining your strategy. You must begin using your messaging before you are certain that it is the right message; knowing that it will have to be tweaked, and possibly revamped – realizing that the only learning that matters is the learning that takes place is a real, live market.
Too often companies choose paths of actions because they appear clearer, simpler and more comfortable. They don’t feel messy. The reality is if your go-to-market strategy doesn’t feel a little messy, you’re probably eating Oatmeal To Go.
Despite the fact that it is more difficult than ever to get and keep people’s attention – the opportunity is also greater. People are spending more time online and a recent study by Online Publishers Association indicates that they are spending more of their online time with content.
It has been said before – and I’ll say it again – “Content is king!”
Time and time again, I hear business executives (who, by the way, regularly use the web to find information) tell me that their market is different – that their customers don’t use blogs or the web as frequently as other industries. They say this in an effort to justify the lack of resources (time, money and effort) that they put into keeping their websites relevant, up-to-date and interesting. They complain that actively managing a website takes a lot of time (too much time, they say), and where’s the pay-off?
This study demonstrates that if the content is good, people will spend more time – NOT less with it. How’s your content? Is it worth reading? Is it worth spending time with? If you were a prospect of your company, how much time would you spend on your website?
Here’s the question that every fast growth executive should be asking themselves: “Whose content are my client’s and prospect’s spending time with?”
If it’s not yours, what are you doing about it?
Many of you may be familiar with the television show, Jericho. Jericho was canceled recently, only to have that decision reversed when viewers rallied and flooded CBS with demands that the show continue. While I was always intrigued by Jericho, and further intrigued since the rally, I’ve never watched the show.
The reason for this (and this may sound strange) is that there was too much risk in watching. The show was always on when I was doing (or watching) other things, and I wasn’t sure I’d like the show. Then, when preparing for a business trip, I went to iTunes to upload some video to watch on the flight. While shopping the iTunes Store, I came across Jericho’s pilot episode for free.
Suddenly, there wasn’t any risk in giving the show a try. I’d be on a plane, watching it on my iPhone. I wouldn’t be sacrificing anything for it – money, time or opportunity. So if I didn’t like Jericho, I could just delete it.
Those of you who frequent the iTunes Store know that pilot episodes for several shows are offered for free. I’m sure there was some finance person at CBS or Apple that screamed bloody murder about this. They probably ran the numbers and projected how much revenue they’d lose. In an effort to be ‘helpful’, they looked for alternatives and probably asked something like, “Why don’t we give away a preview of the show, or a series of highlights?” They, like many executives in highly competitive markets, are deathly afraid of ‘giving their intellectual capital away.’
They shouldn’t be. Because by reducing the risk of trying the show, Jericho gained a new fan. I’ve now downloaded all of Season One and will be watching it on the plane to St. Thomas where I am taking some time off next week. By ‘giving away’ $2, they made $26.
A final note: There may be those reading this who are asking, “What kind of risk is $2?” And that’s a legitimate question. But, if iTunes hadn’t given the show away, the cost would have been $2. I have to admit that in hindsight, $2 doesn’t seem like much risk. However, you and I both know this is not how decisions are made. I wrote about mental accounting before. Since Jericho wasn’t in my entertainment ‘account,’ there wasn’t much emotional difference between $2 and $200.
Here’s my challenge to you. What could you give away that would make it easier for a prospective buyer to try you?