Humans are Hardwired to Connect

An email came through my inbox today from a colleague whose company is hiring. It said <Company> is looking for a passionate online marketer who has experience in web content creation, website development and social media. This person will help create and deliver a total marketing solution – combining web, social media, and SEO strategies – in a personalized client experience. (The bold is my addition.)

See, now this is the issue. An online-only marketing plan is NOT a total marketing solution and the companies and business people who believe it is may make some money in the short run, but they’re not going to build the relationships necessary to be around for the long term. You must connect with your target market and customers on a more human level. There’s no way around this requirement. It’s why companies such as Zappos, with missions of “providing the best customer service possible” have human customer service reps you can call instead of only allowing you to order online. It’s why they have such rabid fans.

Humans are wired to connect kinesthetically and interpersonally. That hasn’t changed in the past 20, 300 or 5,000 years. Yes, you can and should have online and electronic components to your marketing and sales plans. And for maximum success, you must incorporate traditional offline strategies as well. Pick up the phone. Send a note through snail mail. Have a package delivered.
Why do offline strategies seem so challenging? Is it because actually speaking to someone on the phone creates the opportunity to say something stupid or awkward or wrong? Is it because you are vulnerable to rejection? Sure, having someone say no to you directly might be harder to hear than not getting an email response back, but the upside is so much greater. You could engage in a dialogue – you know, where you ask questions, listen to the answers and offer relevant information based on those responses in real time!

Some offer the excuse that offline strategies are more expensive, given that sending something in physical form means you have to pay postage or shipping fees. Perhaps. What’s the value of the relationship to you? Is it a cost or an investment? Would you rather enjoy a delicious meal prepared by an incredible chef or just see a picture online? When you are tired of using electronic marketing as a shield, when you are ready (and hungry), you realize the importance of making a tangible connection to your clients.

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Getting Referral Business from Clients

create a referral based businessPretty much everyone claims his or her business comes primarily from referrals. It’s true that clients who come to you at the recommendation of someone else are the best kind. After all, they’re proactively contacting you because they need what you offer and they’re biased because their friend or colleague already likes and trusts you.

If you want your business to continue growing, it only makes sense then to have a program in place to encourage and collect referrals. Don’t have a referral program already? Here’s what you need to do. Shortly after delivering your product or service, ask for a testimonial along with three referrals. The testimonial can be written or it can be an audio or video recording. Now is presumably the time when your client is most happy with you and therefore most willing to recommend you to others.

Put these testimonials on your website and share them on social media. They provide social proof for your services and they give your clients nice exposure as well.

Reach out to existing clients by sending a special letter asking for that testimonial if you don’t already have one, as well as the referrals. It’s a good idea to include an actual script that your clients can share with someone they think could benefit from your services. Make it super easy, take away the need for your clients to put a lot of effort into giving referrals, and it’s far more likely they will deliver.

Once those referrals start coming in, you absolutely must acknowledge them, whether you think it will be a “good” referral or not. It’s common courtesy to let the person referring know you’ve connected with their acquaintance. Then keep him posted on the outcome.

Sharing the outcome is important for two reasons. First, it’s good manners of course. Second, regardless of whether or not the referral works out, your feedback allows the referral source to get better at sending you future connections. For example, “Thanks so much for the referral of Sally Smith. We had a great conversation. Unfortunately we weren’t able to work together because she’s in the xyz industry and my services are better suited for the abc industry.” Now your referrer can be on the lookout for contacts in the abc industry.

When the referral does turn into a client, it makes good sense to not just let the referrer know, but to share your appreciation with a thank you note or gift. (See why cash isn’t as good a gift in this free special report.) Rewarding people for their kindness encourages them to continue that kind of behavior. Make this reward part of your appreciation program system and you’ll never have to stop and spend time figuring out what to do or give. You’ve already decided when you created the program and now it’s really easy.

You want a referral-based business? Set up the proper systems to support you.

Can clients find you? And what image do you portray once they do?

My friend Jennifer is moving her home from one state to another in the next several weeks. She visualized her way to the quick sale of her current house and now she and her husband need to find a new house right away. HouseSearchImageSince she doesn’t know any real estate agents in her new area, and she’s belonged to a BNI (Business Network International) chapter in her current town, she figured she’d start out asking for referrals from the regional BNI leader there. Her contact was reluctant to recommend anyone in particular, for fear of playing favorites. Okay, but if you had to choose one over another, which one would that be, she pushed.

Finally the person gave her an answer. Like most of you reading this article, Jen then Googled the person to find out more about him. Nothing came up. In fact, none of the local BNI Realtors had an online presence. Okay, wait, some did have something, but then the links to their sites weren’t good or the information on their sites hadn’t been updated in years. Seriously, she told me one woman’s last blog post was in 2007.

With an impending trip to the new state coming up next weekend, she was under pressure to find someone who could show her houses in the town she wants to live in – someone great, a real expert, because when you’re making such a huge, life altering decision, who’s okay with just mediocre representation?!

She sSearch_Imagetarted Googling for general information about Realtors in the town she was targeting. One woman kept coming up. This person had a great website, lots of testimonials from different people, a professionally done head shot, and up-to-date information and resources. Jennifer found this woman mentioned favorably in several places. Plus, she has lived in this same town for years, she has kids around the same ages as Jen’s, and clearly she knows how to present herself as an authority in her area and industry.

They’ve spoken, set up their search schedule and the woman’s follow through has been impressively consistent with the expectations she set in her online presence. Here’s to the intention that Jen finds the perfect house for her family.

What’s the lesson for you in regards to generating new business and building strong relationships with clients? If you want customers who take you seriously, who are willing to pay you what you’re worth and work with you the way you like, you absolutely must present a professional image everywhere you go! From the design of your website (and yes, in this day and age, you must have one!) to the pictures you post there and in your professional materials, to your business cards, to your blog, to your social media presence, to what you look like and how you act at networking events and in public. Whether you think it’s fair or not, potential clients are watching and judging your professionalism and competency.

Make no mistake though, professional does not mean boring or plain. Somewhere long ago, in a far away place, a rumor started that in order to present as a professional, you must wear dark formal dress and scrub all distinguishing characteristics from your business world.

Not true! There is plenty of room for your personality and it’s actually imperative you add that component so you really connect with your market. People want to know they are dealing with another Highlightersperson, making a human connection. Somewhere in the information Jennifer saw about this real estate woman was something about her family and because she and Jen have kids around the same ages, Jen realized a common connection. On top of the professionalism, this commonality helps build trust.

And it’s okay if who you are doesn’t resonate with everyone. You’re not looking to serve everyone; you’re looking to connect and build relationships with only the right people for you.

Customer Perceptions & Going Off-Brand

Over the holidays, I bought a few things for myself, (shocking, right?!) some of which were from The Body Shop. The company was founded by activist Anita Roddick and based on “the pursuit of social and environmental change.” The Body Shop was about being ethical and green, using natural, sustainable ingredients and “reducing dependency on inappropriate and expensive modern pharmaceuticals.”

body-butter-sheaSo imagine my surprise when several days after using them I happened to read the full ingredient list and find Methylparaben and Propylparabenin in there. Parabens are used as preservatives in lots of cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. The thing is, they are somewhat controversial because they may play a role in breast cancer development so many people are making concerted efforts to avoid products that contain them.

The Body Shop carrying products that contain parabens seems way off-brand. You just don’t expect a company that is all about natural and healthy to include such ingredients. It’s like finding partially-hydrogenated oil listed on any food sold at Whole Foods or being asked to bus your own table at Spago Beverly Hills.

It’s troubling from a consumer standpoint because such a finding calls into question everything the company supposedly stands for and has spent almost 40 years building. Sure, they didn’t outright lie by advertising they don’t use parabens, but the brand and reputation they’ve created implies that they wouldn’t.

Pay attention to the brand are you consciously creating as well as the extraneous attachments your customers may logically apply to it on their own. Of course you can’t control what other people think, but you do need a level of awareness around what clients expect from your brand. For best success, you need to deliver on those expectations.

Want more examples of companies going off-brand? How about when Harley Davidson created a cake decorating kit, Hooters started a commercial airline, or Barbie-themed clothing and accessories in adult sizes. Yes, all these were attempted.

By the way, I returned the paraben-containing items to The Body Shop. They quickly shared an already prepared list of their products that don’t use parabens (so clearly they’re aware people have issues with these ingredients) and then they kindly allowed me to exchange.

Most People Don’t Matter

It’s a funny thing about people. They say they want x, y or z, but are completely unwilling to commit to getting it. You’ve heard the phrase “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Most people pay that lip service. They “believe” it, but when it comes down to brass tacks, it’s easier for them give up than to figure out the way, and so they do.

Seth Godin’s blog post today is titled “Most People.” Read it. Has this been your experience? Maybe it describes people you know. The part I take out of it and find relevant to what we’re doing here in regards to increasing customer retention and loyalty is that “most people aren’t going to buy what you’re selling” but that’s okay because your best customers are not “most people.”

Look around. Most people either do not care about customer service or don’t know how to deliver it – that much is quite evident in many customer experiences you’ll have this week. But the ones who do are the ones whose businesses are thriving, regardless of what’s happening in the economy.* They are not deterred by the idea that most people aren’t their customers. They are driven to find the ones who are and start conversations with them. Realize that it may take some persistence until those best customers recognize how you are not most people. Don’t be discouraged, like most people would be. YOU are okay with staying on track and weeding through most people to get to your best customers.

You are not doing what you’re doing for most people. Whatever your industry or profession, YOU are offering something very special and it’s only for your best customers. Understand your best customers are different from someone else’s best customers. This is why the idea of competition as a market force is on its way out.

Now once you connect with those best customers, it behooves you to continue treating them as valuable. Taking the actions necessary to make sure they know you appreciation their business is imperative. Consistently saying thank you to your loyal clients is an investment of resources most people won’t make. Good thing we’ve already established that you’re not most people.

*If you deliver fantastic customer service and your business is not thriving, it’s simply because not enough people in your target market know about you. That’s easily fixed through better marketing. Need help coming up with creative ideas for getting the attention of your ideal clients? Let’s set up a short, complimentary call to see if you can benefit from a full-out 2-hour strategy session.

Doing Nothing Is Not An Option

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been meeting a lot of new contacts and in many of my conversations, I’ve heard them admitting they’re not doing a great job of marketing. “I know I need to do more, but I just don’t have time.” Or “I’m not sure what to do. I mean, I know direct mail doesn’t work and advertising is so expensive…”

Hold on there, friend. Your reasons for not marketing is you don’t know what to do and don’t have time?! You know you’re essentially saying “I don’t have time to get new clients or keep the ones I have and it’s really not important enough to figure out.” I hope you’re not planning to be in business for a long time and you like working at fast food joints.

Two things need to happen quickly if your business is to survive. One, you need to make consistent and effective marketing a priority, stat. And two, you may need to hire some help.

That help can take on several forms, depending on you and your business. Outsourcing has become a politically charged word lately, but it really just means to “obtain goods or services from an outside supplier in place of an internal source.”

Marketing is an opportunity to have fun and get creative! (It took me a while to figure out not everyone thinks that statement is true.) If you don’t agree because that’s not how your brain works, you need to engage the services of a marketing expert who can help you create a plan of action. We’re not talking about putting a Madison Avenue agency on retainer. You need someone who lives, loves and breathes marketing, knows what works well, and is excited about drawing up a simple strategy for you to implement easily. And that might be all you need – get some great ideas, knowledge about how and a schedule for when to execute them.

Ideas and plans are FAN-tastic! But if you don’t get around to using them, they don’t do anything for you. If that’s where you fall down, then recognize that and find someone with a done-for-you program. Hand over the reins and let someone with more time and a better system go to work on your behalf. That way the marketing is getting done, relationships are being cultivated and nurtured, and you’re free to go on attending to providing the service your clients expect.

Interested in learning more about how easy it can be to keep more clients for longer? Schedule a free 15-minute strategy consultation with me during August and let’s figure out the best way to build super-strong relationships with your clients. Check http://tungle.me/zenrabbit for available time-slots.

The Hard Part is Getting Started

The hardest part of any project is probably not what you think. In fact, what you are thinking is part of the problem. You’re thinking about all the steps, and time, and effort it’s going to take to do it. And then you’re not doing it. I’ll start it tomorrow, you say. What’s that saying – tomorrow never comes? Because it’s always today. Ha ha.

Humans are amazing in terms of how many excuses or reasons we can create to keep ourselves stationary. So it appears that the most difficult piece of your project is the start. Once you start, you may run into barriers along the way, but the momentum is already there and you just keep going. Building the momentum to push off the blocks is the real challenge.

Start Button

Start Me Up

How do you start? You just start. How do you roll a ball down a hill? You push it and it goes. You start by writing up as specific and detailed a plan as you can of what you will do – make this phone call, send that email, write the first paragraph, etc. And then schedule the time in your calendar to do it. Easy enough to say, perhaps harder to make yourself do.

Are you super excited about getting the results that undertaking this project and implementing this action will deliver? If that answer is a flat out no, then you might want to reevaluate why you’re doing it. More likely it’s YES, but it’s unfamiliar and uncomfortable terrain. Or YES, but I don’t know all the steps. That’s okay and it’s not good enough reason to not start. Make a list of all the potential roadblocks. What are the typical things that have tripped you up in the past? You know there will be some, so prepare a plan to face and overcome them now.

I’m reading a book called “The Power of Habit, Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.” It’s fascinating to learn how the brain works in regards to creating habits. A lot of studies have been done on how to change habits and many have found that habits are linked to will power. In fact, will power itself is a habit. Beyond that, the ability to change habits is linked to identifying the distractions, and creating a plan to overcome those distractions.

Here’s an example. You know you should create a customer appreciation program because you believe it will help you strengthen your client relationships and increase customer retention. You have ideas in your head of what you want to do. And yet you keep putting on the back burner. Come up with all the reasons you haven’t done it yet – too busy to manage, not sure how to segment, don’t have the money, etc. Recognize that these are excuses that may not even be real obstacles. (What if you don’t have to personally manage the program. Or it ends up helping you keep a client who otherwise would have left, so now you’ve saved more than it cost you to implement.) Now quickly jot down how you’re going to overcome those blocks – get more information or simply set aside 10 minutes a month on your calendar, for example. Don’t spend a lot of time and over planning on this.

Now get started. The people who are most successful in starting have figured out how to combine throwing caution to the wind and going for it with having a carefully designed strategy for managing the obstacles.