Category Archives: Marketing

Do a Value Proposition Reality Check

“How aligned are your marketing and sales efforts with your customers and prospects? Have each member of your teams jot down what they think your company’s value proposition is. Why do customers do business with you? Do you all have the same answer? A poorly tuned value proposition is indicative of misalignment between the marketing and sales plans of your company. But just fixing the value proposition isn’t enough. Figuring out where the disconnects are and aligning them into a consistent communication and delivery system is key to gaining marketing share.”

– Lisa Dennis, excerpted from 360 Degrees of the Customer

All Together Now

All businesses know that is imperative to have marketing and sales familiar with all of the features, benefits, uses, and details of their products and services.  Certainly, before these departments can sell to customers outside the company, the products and services need to be “sold” internally.    This is part of marketing and sales training.

But it does not not end there.  For a business to successfully sell its wares to customers and prospects, it needs to sell it internally to other departments, as well.  Because customer contact does not begin and end with marketing and sales.  All departments need to be singing from the same page.

First of all, it is not typically marketing or sales that answers the phone or the email when customers have questions.  So customer service needs to have a firm grasp of the details of each product and service in order to sufficiently answer those questions, and even upsell or cross-sell an appropriate product.

If there are technical or workability issues with a product, the customer support staff not only has to understand how the product works, but how the customer wants it to work.

And how about finance?  The folks who handle the money need to understand the value of the company’s products or services to the customer, and how they use them.

And it looks really bad if the executives don’t have a firm grasp of the finer points of the business’ offerings.  They are the ones out there, being the face of the company, getting interviewed or representing the company in public forums and events.

Bottom line, someone in your organization has to be part choir director and part diplomat to get everyone singing the same tune.  It isn’t easy, but it is necessary.  Now, a-one and a-two…

— Lisa Dennis

Explore this idea further here.

Take a 360 Degree View of Your Customer

Do all the external-facing departments in your company see the world through your customer’s eyes?  All customer touch points, including marketing, sales, customer  service, technical support and accounts receivables, should be integrated with each other.

No matter who your customers connect with in your company, their experience must be consistent, clear and coordinated, an integrated “360-degree” view of your customer,  ensuring that promise and delivery are in sync.

Three elements of a company propel its business: marketing, sales and customer service.  Most companies know, theoretically, that these three elements need to work  together effectively to produce steady sales, revenue growth and happy customers.

Frequently, however, there are aspects of human nature that get in the way of each of these elements, preventing them from performing at peak opportunity. Ego, compensation models, bonus programs often take precident over customer concerns.  The ability to identify, address and resolve these issues goes a long way towards building a loyal customer base that keeps coming back.

— Lisa Dennis

The Chicken or the Egg? Sales or Marketing Focus

At the risk of being a little controversial – I have to say I’ve never understood why so many companies talk about “Sales & Marketing” as a discipline, rather than “Marketing & Sales.” Often, conversationally and organizationally, the focus is on Sales first – with marketing placed in an enablement role. The truth is that the process of finding a prospect and converting them to a customer starts with Demand Creation – and the majority of that activity begins with Marketing. Marketing is setting the stage, targeting the most likely segments, honing the right message, and hopefully creating the right set of sales materials, in addition to customer collateral, to give Sales everything they need to take that prospect through the sales process. Without this crucial orientation, it’s too easy to cut marketing when times get tough. Sales people are pushed out the door to “sell harder,” but not given the marketing support to make that happen. Put the activities in their proper order. Think about them in terms of an extended and repeatable progression and you will have gone a long way into aligning and integrating the efforts of both organizations. They are mutually interdependent – so alignment has nothing to do with having one department report to the other.

— Lisa Dennis

Dear Everybody – Sales & Marketing Letters

Marketing and sales writing needs to be written for the masses but sound like it’s written for the individual.

We want to be sure it’s not too long, but not too short.  Does it cover all the key points, and include a call-to-action?

While we too often focus on correctness – we need to spend more time on what actually generates response.  Personal, prospect-focused, informational content will get letters read. Understanding what your specific target is motivated by personally will increase readability as well.  Include proof of what you say – third party, objective proof that your offer has real utility that is true and documented.

In other words, write a letter to me, not to everyone you know.

— Lisa Dennis

PS – Peter Shankman coincidentally addressed this very issue in his blog recently – as usual, he hits the nail on the head.

Customer Retention Outside the Box

I read an interesting piece today by Australian business consultant Peter Shallard, called Repeat Business and Customer Retention Formula Revealed.

He talks about a coffee shop in Sydney that, in addition to serving good coffee in a timely manner (a baseline for any coffee shop), had Polaroid snapshots all over the walls.  The photos are all of dogs, all taken in the cafe, with each pup's name written on the bottom.  Mr. Shallard then looked around at the other patrons, and estimated that 80% of them had dogs with them!  This is when the light bulb went on for him.

This cafe, one of many within the area, had built a loyal clientele by providing a good product with good service, and then combined that with another, unrelated, aspect that many customers were drawn to. 

To Mr. Shallard, and to me, this is brilliant in it simplicity.  For almost any product or service being sold, there are no doubt dozens, if not hundreds of other competitors selling the same thing.  Quality, price, service, and locale may not be enough to win a customer's loyalty.  But combining a business' primary product with another unrelated (but interesting) concept may seal the deal for certain customers to whom that unrelated concept appeals.

I imagine this was the thinking behind the first sports bar.  People get thirsty and hungry, so let's open an establishment to provide them beverages and food.  But wait, many people like sports, too, so lets decorate the place with sports memorabilia, and put a bunch of strategically-placed TVs throughout, showing sporting events or sports-related programming! Genius!

So, let's look at our own businesses.  We all work hard to provide a quality product and great service.  But what else can we add to that, that will appeal to a significant segment of our buying audience?  It doesn't have to be big, expensive, or complicated.  Polaroid snapshots of dogs on the wall – hello?

This is a great way to increase customer loyalty and retention, and have fun while doing it!  What a concept!  What can you add to your business to lock in loyalty from a significant segment of your prospects?  Please comment and share your ideas, and feel free to link to your site!

The Tweet is Mightier than the Sword

I’ve been reading a lot about how Twitter_logo_header is really a great tool for business.  It makes it easy for businesses to engage in dialogue with their customers.  It provides real-time market research and competitive intelligence information.  It opens up opportunities for on-the-spot marketing, sales, and service activity.  Monitor the Twittersphere, and respond to every mention of your business or product.  What better time to engage your customer than when he or she is already talking about you?

But on the other hand, if a business has some flaws, made some mistakes, employed some questionable people, provided shoddy product or service, or otherwise failed to live up to a customer’s expectation, it should not be a surprise to find angry, pointed, and downright nasty tweets on the subject speeding around the globe.

This scenario, coupled with the fact that 76% of all consumers do not believe that companies tell the truth in their advertising, but that 78% do trust the recommendations of other people (source: Yankelovich, Inc.), does not paint a rosy picture for businesses that are struggling to provide positive customer experiences.  The offended party tweets, and 22 million monthly Twitter visitors have the opportunity to see how poorly the business has performed.  You get enough of those kinds of tweets, and people are going to stay away in droves!

Thus far, I’ve been speaking about tweets containing legitimate complaints about a company or their policies / procedures / execution.  But what about the lunatic fringe?  This is the Internet we’re talking about here.  What of the fabricated smear campaigns, vengefully created by some scorned employee or rejected suitor?  In the Twittersphere, everything looks like a fact!  Businesses must be vigilant in protecting their reputations, but given the public’s propensity for believing their peers over businesses, this is a tough battle to fight.

In my view, the best defense is a strong offense.  Businesses need to establish themselves on Twitter, and take the initiative to share useful information and address customer concerns – in other words, become an active and positive member of the community.  Once you’ve established a good reputation on Twitter, you will have built some protection against the occasional tweets of anger.

— Chuck Dennis  (follow me on Twitter @AngryCustomer)

Are Generic Testimonials Any Good?

As a "valued customer," I was recently asked by VistaPrint if I would be willing to provide a testimonial.  I'm a big believer in the power of testimonials.  Because I have used the service many times in the past, I said yes.  I think there is a bit of an art to getting and giving a good strong testimonial.  So, I took the time to write a meaty one with some specific points that I thought would make it more powerful.  Here is what I submitted:

Quick turnaround, great quality, and low cost is always a winner. But service is the glue that makes things stick.  VistaPrint has been a terrific resource for both my company and my clients.  I’ve used the service to produce materials for my own business – but being in the marketing services arena, I’ve also had needs for my clients that need to be addressed.  Everything I’ve done for them using VistaPrint has turned out perfectly.  Tracking and service have been great. And the ability to go to production when I want to, at any time of the day or night, has been key. I’m submitting another customer order next week! The website is well designed and very easy to use.  I’ve been using VistaPrint for several years and will continue to turn to you to help me deliver high quality work.

Now, I'm both a marketer and seller, and think I do understand the need for getting to the point.  But I also know that many testimonials could be said by anyone – and often don't have specifics that sound like they came from an actual customer.  The last think you want is someone asking "did the customer really write this, or did the marketing department do it?" 

VistaPrint later got back to me and said they, "wanted to thank you for your reply and interest in becoming a VistaPrint customer testimonial! We’re thrilled with the overwhelming number of replies and are enjoying reading all the comments.  I’m interested in using your quote and will be in touch with you again soon, as we work out the details."

So far so good.  When something nice is said about you, mom always says to say thank-you quickly and enthusiastically. Two weeks later, they got back to me with an edited version of my quote for approval.  Due to space limitations, they wanted to use some pieces of the original quote.  So the new quote looked like this:

Quick turnaround, great quality, and low cost is always a winner.  But service is the glue that makes things stick.  VistaPrint has been a terrific resource for both my company and clients.  I've been using VistaPrint for several years and will continue to turn to you to help deliver high quality work.

We marketers love to edit, it's true. But sometimes we go too far.  Take a quick quiz with me.  If you remove the name "VistaPrint" can you actually tell what the company does?  Hmmm. How many other companies do you think could use the exact same quote? 

So instead of approving it as is, I commented on the heavy editing, and the issue of boiling it down so it sounded generic, and invited them to take the same quiz.  I also asked them to correct the misspelling of my company name after the quote.  (a DEFINITE testimonial No-No!)  I approved it as is if generic was their goal, but suggested they reconsider.  They responded diligently and said they were sorry and wished they could use the full quote, but had a 300 character limit (which they never informed me of in the original request).   They might have another spot for it, but would have to talk to their developers about it.  (Marketing & IT – that's a whole other post!)  They invited me to re-edit or or submit a new quote.  All of that sounds reasonable, but as a customer who took the time to actually write a testimonial, it was a bit of a turn-off.  A testimonial should speak to what the customer experience was like – specifically.  The important part of the quote was the description of my experience: 

Everything I’ve done for them (my customers) using VistaPrint has turned out perfectly.  Tracking and service have been great. And the ability to go to production when I want to, at any time of the day or night, has been key. I’m submitting another customer order next week! The website is well designed and very easy to use.

Instead they latched onto the basics:  Quick turnaround, great quality, and low cost. Is that enough?  Maybe for some – but as a customer myself, it's not the whole enchilada.  So, as you think about your own customers, and how they might read and write a testimonial for you – what's important?  The experience of being a customer, or the standard and generic descriptors that anyone could say about any company?  I know what gets my vote!  So, I dare you:  take your company name out of your testimonials.  Would they apply to Joe's Pizza just as well as to your company? 

  –Lisa Dennis

The Future of Customer Care has Arrived

I continue to be fascinated by the possibilities of Web 2.0 applications.  Things that were initially developed as amusement and entertainment are now being mined for business applications.  This explains the proliferation of geezers such as myself on Facebook (wanna be my friend?), YouTube, MySpace, etc.

Now, YouTube, the Internet’s favorite video site, is being used by some progressive businesses to enhance their total customer experience.  T-Mobile has created a YouTube channel where customers can get video answers to their specific questions, demos for various products, tips and hints for users to get the most out of their new phones.  This, good people, is where customer service must be headed.

Businesses need to keep up with the applications most favored by their customers.  And ultimately, they all will.  It’s just that some are doing it now, and that is pretty cool.

– Chuck Dennis

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Customer Scorned

It used to be, if your business angered a customer, you could lose the customer’s business, and count on him telling anywhere from 5 to 25 people about the negative experience.  Depending on the nature of the the experience and the credibility of the angry customer, you might take a business hit from some existing and prospective customers.  Not to mention, your loss is your competitor’s gain.

Nowadays, through the wonders of technology, specifically the interactivity of Web 2.0, disgruntled customers have a much larger stage for their soapbox.  Hundreds, thousands, even millions of people can now read about a single customer complaint!  An article in yesterday’s New York Times, titled "Dealing With the Damage From Online Critics," discusses this topic. 

Now, no business is immune to the occasional dissatisfied customer.  However, as the article explains, it’s often how the business deals with the dissatisfaction that makes or breaks them.  Depending on the magnitude of the customer’s anger, bitter online posts with embellished details and ominous threats can give pause to potential customers and even disinterested third parties.  Critical and derogatory web sites can be created, or simply steaming posts on blogs or online forums can wreak havoc on a business’ goodwill.

Businesses can fight back by jumping into the fray with denials, counter-claims, or simply by posting authentic or contrived positive news about themselves or their products.  However, my belief is that nobody wins in this kind of online street fight.  Everyone comes out with at least some scrapes and bruises.  A better approach would be for the business to attempt to reach out to the offended customer, and try to learn the exact nature of the problem, why it happened, why it disturbed the customer, and how it can be avoided in the future. 

The business that acknowledges its problems, and resolves them to the customers’ satisfaction, is going to win a lot more loyalty and admiration than one who simply tries to sweep the dirt under the carpet.

  — Chuck Dennis

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