Small Business Customer Relationship Management

"small-business-customer-relationship-management"When I worked up in Town, I remember that one of my secretarial duties was to file away all the business cards that my employer had collected when he attended different industry events/corporate parties/business lunches.

Our small business customer relationship management existed in the form of about four leather-bound books containing several hundred cards, most from different individuals representing the same major players in our niche, but there were an awful lot of bits of thick paper. Very occasionally, I would be despatched to look through the plastic pages to see if I could help my boss to remember the name of the person he had been chatting to about a particular deal a few months before so that he could invite him out to lunch.

In what my kids would term ‘the olden days’, networking was done over lunch or in the pub across the road from the ‘market’ but this was the City and it was not a process that really affected local businesses. Such establishments would get their custom from passing trade, many of whom would be regulars because that shop/firm would be the only emporium of that particular type locally. They might give out a few ‘gifts’ at Christmas to those clients who had supported them the most but, more often than not, they had a pretty captive market because no one was going to travel all the way to the next town on the off-chance that things might be a bit cheaper.

These days, every High Street has two or three representatives for any one type of store – butchers, greengrocers, hairdressers, accountants, solicitors, restaurants, cafes, wine bars, pizza, fish and chip, and other fast food outlets, banks, building societies, chemists, off licenses – and these are all in competition with the giant supermarkets, who seem to have a toe in a vast number of markets that never used to come under their remit. Times have changed and people are no longer confined to shopping locally. Suddenly, the competition is not only right on your doorstep, it’s in every other local shopping centre, as well as on the internet.

This is why it is vital for small bricks and mortar businesses to hold on to their regular clientele, but so many of them have absolutely no idea who these are and no way of contacting them.

I was listening to a webinar recently and the speaker reminded us of the ‘goldfish bowl’ that used to stand at the check out of most businesses in days gone by – well, in small town America anyway. This bowl was a repository for the business cards of the regulars – just in case anyone needed their services. That was what you did. You made opportunities for yourself by leaving your card in places that other people might see it. Nowadays, most shops no longer have such a thing… or if they do, they just dispose of the contents after a week or so, with barely a second glance.

But, said the speaker, if you turn the original purpose on its head, isn’t that a great way to find out who your regular customers are?

In today’s hugely competitive market place, we should be using every method at our disposal to discover and retain the identities and contact details of our customers so, if they don’t return for some reason, we can offer an incentive to make them check us out again. Often, they haven’t come back because they’ve just forgotten the great service that was given. In today’s busy world, there are so many distractions and, if someone else is shouting louder/offering a cheaper service, it is easy to forget the original provider. Loyalty is not really a reliable commodity any more.

By offering your customers an incentive to leave their email address or name and phone number, a business can acquire a list of clients and have the ability to contact them from time to time with the offer of a money-off coupon or just to keep them advised of new business activities/changes of menu.

It’s a far more cost-effective way of advertising because you are preaching to people who have already tried and, hopefully, enjoyed the company’s service. Think about what happens if you put an advertisement in the Yellow Pages or local newspaper. These tend to be grouped together according to service/niche and so your ad is surrounded by all your competitors. If one of them is offering the service more cheaply than you, then you’ve wasted your money on that advert. They also tend to be aimed at a very large geographical area so you can also lose out if you’re too far away from the customer’s locale.

"small-business-customer-relationship-management"If you can email your customer base with a coupon, that’s a great deal cheaper than putting the same discount promotion in a newspaper ad and also a lot more focussed.

However, small business customer relationship management is still a tricky thing. There are rules and etiquette and codes of behaviour. Certainly in America, there are even federal laws covering ’email solicitation’. And you can’t just keep trying to sell people stuff or they will unsubscribe.

As with all social media, the goal is to provide information and offer good service. To build trust in your brand so that when people do need your product, it is you that they remember.

It’s not a quick process, it takes time. But it is an extremely worthwhile endeavour.

So, where is your goldfish bowl?

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WordPress Multi User

"wordpress-multi-user"I’m afraid I had to give up on WordPress Multi User. In theory, it’s a brilliant idea. Access to all your sites from one dashboard.

However, in practice, it’s a bit of a bodge. There is confusion over site mapping and, certainly, the Google XML Sitemap is not compatible. There are some special MU plug-ins but then there was conflicting advice over use of those too. Was I using a special Multi User plug in or just a function of regular WordPress? I know I had to change the coding in two files to make it happen but the suggestion was that with the new 3.0 version of WordPress, it contained a built-in multi-site facility that was different to the previous multi user format.

Despite the fact that there were several experts giving advice online, none of them seemed totally confident that they had everything up and running. Whilst it wasn’t too difficult to adapt the site to get the multi-user facility, everything seemed to fall down after that, especially if you’re not a fully-fledged geek.

The problem was that, if I wanted to host more than one site on the vcluster hosting at Fubra, I had to do it using WordPress Multi User and I wasn’t totally confident that it was working properly. I had a duty to my various clients to ensure that their site was being properly crawled by the Google spiders and I could not guarantee that. There were also issues over using different versions of the same template on the various sites. The only way to provide a proper hosting package was to have separate vclusters for each client at a cost of nearly £6 per month, almost double what was available at standard UK hosting sites.

So, despite the fact that the customer service at Fubra and the quality of the hosting itself was exceptional, I was left with no option but to bite the bullet and get a different UK web host account that would allow me separate cpanels for each individual client.

Unfortunately, it then took me two hours of faffing about to remove the code from the wp-config file that would change the site from Multi User back to single use again.

It doesn’t help that my laptop just doesn’t seem to like the new multiple user hosting account – it takes ages to load any of the pages. I’ve switched off my firewall and that makes no difference. But it’s only the sites hosted on the new account that are affected and only on my networked laptop. It seems to work fine on the wired PC.

Very frustrating.

On the plus side, I have a new project that will see me getting up close and personal with both WordPress and Drupal.

I’m very excited and totally trepidatious all at the same time.

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Affordable Small Business Website Design

For the second time in less than a week I have had a very frustrated client on the telephone asking me to help with their professionally built website.

I don’t know quite what’s going on in the world of website design, but I repeatedly hear about two problems.

The first is that the designer is too busy to accommodate the ongoing needs of their client. This means that said client has a number of small changes to make to their website that will keep it current but, despite repeated phone calls, nothing happens. Frustrating and limiting.

The second is that the designer charges a lot of money to make any changes. I came across one recently who wanted the equivalent of what I would charge for an entire website just to upload some new photos and change a few headings.

My goal is to provide affordable small business website design that the client can alter for him/herself without continually having to bring me in. Things like changes in members of staff or products for sale online – this sort of small alteration shouldn’t require the services of a skilled coder and the requisite high charges. This is what makes the internet frightening for small businesses – unforeseen costs that escalate beyond all reason and where the owner is completely in the hands of the professional.

I now realise that I’m going to have to become familiar with platforms other than WordPress.

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A Nation of Shopkeepers

So many local businesses just don’t seem to understand the concept of the Marketing Funnel. It is no longer enough just to have a presence on the High Street or an advert in the Yellow Pages. With so much competition from other businesses offering the same service only a mile or two away, you have to offer more, be more personal, make the customer feel like you are the best choice for them and will have thier best interests at the forefront of your mind.

This involves making contact personally and quickly, but there is a fine line to tread so as not to appear too desperate for the business. Following up is not to be confused with being pushy.

You want the customer to buy your product and tell their friends all about it in a positive way. This involves being personable and providing an invaluable service. Too often the British business owner is laissez faire in a take-it-or-leave-it way. The attitude is all wrong because we don’t like to sell ourselves but, by standing back, we can appear unenthusiastic, even rude.

Sometimes a shift of ethos can be required

Selling using the Marketing Funnel is quite a difficult concept for a lot of British businesses. It is almost alien to our mentality as ‘nation of shopkeepers’ to try to ‘persuade’ people to buy but, worse, it interferes with our attitude to ‘privacy’ to demand the name and address of every customer before we will do business with them.

This is what I meant about a shift of ethos. Persuasion is not necessarily the object here, it’s making the customer feel that, if only he had your product/service, his immediate ‘need’ would be satisfied. It’s appealling to an innate human emotion and building it up so that it overrides the natural reticence to spend money. And, with their email address, if they don’t buy the first time, you can ‘tempt’ them with other related products that might tickle their fancy in the future. You are still helping them to satisfy that need.

In these days where competition for many target markets is so extraordinarily fierce, combined with an economic climate that is making people more frugal in their spending, every available tool should be used to bolster your selling arsenal.

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Marketing Funnel

So many local businesses just don’t seem to understand the concept of the Funnel. It is no longer enough just to have a presence on the High Street or an advert in the Yellow Pages. With so much competition from other businesses offering the same service only a mile or two away, you have to offer more, be more personal, make the customer feel like you are the best choice for them and will have thier best interests at the forefront of your mind.

This involves making contact personally and quickly, but there is a fine line to tread so as not to appear too desperate for the business. Following up is not to be confused with being pushy.

You want the customer to buy your product and tell their friends all about it in a positive way. This involves being personable and providing an invaluable service. Too often the British business owner is laissez faire in a take-it-or-leave-it way. The attitude is all wrong because we don’t like to sell ourselves but, by standing back, we can appear unenthusiastic, even rude.

Sometimes a shift of ethos can be required.

I got a great deal of invaluable advice for the small business owner on how to create a funnel from a piece by Scot Smith on FaceBook.

"Marketing Funnel"Basically, Scot was expressing his surprise that so many small and seemingly relatively successful businesses seemed so reluctant to respond to his email enquiries about their services.

Whilst trying to arrange his upcoming wedding, none of the businesses he contacted collected his ‘lead’ information – email, address, phone number; one refused to quote him via email or telephone and insisted on sending a written quote by mail, risking the likelihood of losing out to a quicker response. And then compounded the error by not following up to check on the competitiveness of his quote with the one means of communication that he did have.

Another, more enterprising, individual had set up a direct mail marketing campaign for prospects identified within the target demographic. He had the ability to partner up with other companies offering complementary services, possibly even charging them to advertise, but this was all for nothing if he didn’t collect the lead information that allowed him to start the process.

Scot says: “Client data is your most valuable asset, and thus should be the focus of your interactions during the prospect-to-customer conversion process. With the internet, your competitor is only one page away. If you don’t have the burning desire to get an agreement with your prospect, and aren’t able to efficiently explain the benefits and advantages of your service; you will not close the sale. Easy!”

However good your service/product is, it will still sell better to a local customer through a conversation with your prospect and the sooner that conversation happens during the conversion process, the better.

The most efficient way to close a sale with an interested buyer who has contacted you by email direct is to reply to the email with a phone call, and only mail information if expressly requested. If you can call your contact within hours of the original query, the more likely it is that you’ll get them during their “want-to-buy” state of mind. This is the point where you can invoke buying emotions most easily with little, if any resistance. Not every consumer works this way but it is your job to make the purchase exciting and build your prospect’s want for your service during your conversation by explaining the benefits and value in your product, offering an incentive to make an initial deposit and then emailing a copy of the contract immediately but allowing a cancellation period. This could secure your client before they go to your competitors and is far more likely to produce a positive result than exchanging emails for days without properly ascertaining the client’s requirements.

Scot suggests that all business urls should be linked to an autoresponder that directs prospects to a landing page before they get to see the website. The landing page would collect e-mail, telephone, name, address, and something silly and nonsensical like a favorite color. Attempt to make it fun whilst keeping the buying emotions at fever pitch.

It’s a good idea to offer an incentive to complete the lead form as well. These ‘carrots’ are designed to persuade your viewer to go ahead and fill in the information box. If you use AWeber, Mailchimp or another auto-responder to collect the lead information, these services will automatically send a second email containing the incentive you offered for your lead generation.

Scot gives this example: “I was looking for wedding services so I might make my incentive an e-book with local venues, photographers, caterers and other wedding services with short reviews and comparisons. Maybe have an option to opt-in to offers from my partners who I would also charge to be listed in my free incentive offer for opting-ing. If nothing else, I would simply include a line in my Terms & Conditions that allows me to share information with other recommended and reputable Wedding Service companies that might also he of interest, and simply sell leads to my partners once I have a contract negotiated for my services. The opportunities here are endless if you keep an open mind that’s conversion oriented but also helpful to your prospect.”

Selling in this way is quite a difficult concept for a lot of British businesses. It is almost alien to our ‘nation of shopkeepers’ mentality to try to ‘persuade’ people to buy but, worse, it interferes with our attitude to ‘privacy’ to demand the name and address of every customer before we will do business with them.

This is what I meant about a shift of ethos. Persuasion is not necessarily the object here, it’s making the customer feel that, if only he had your product/service, his immediate ‘need’ would be satisfied. It’s appealling to an innate human emotion and building it up so that it overrides the natural reticence to spend money. And, with their email address, if they don’t buy the first time, you can ‘tempt’ them with other related products that might tickle their fancy in the future. You are still helping them to satisfy that need.

In these days where competition for many target markets is so extraordinarily fierce, combined with an economic climate that is making people more frugal in their spending, every available tool should be used to bolster your selling arsenal.

Scot is looking to connect with other like-minded thinkers and doers via Facebook.

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