Do you visit your customers?

Do you visit your customers?
Do you visit your customers?
When we start working with a new client, we always aim to sit down with them and set a plan of activity so everyone knows who is doing what and when. An important element that we always include is scheduling regular meetings where we can review progress, discuss outcomes and plan forward. We normally aim to meet 3-4 times a year, though it can be more often if appropriate. I have been struck recently in several discussions with clients where they tell me they don’t have regular review meetings with their long term customers, many of whom form the backbone of their revenues! At the same time they express the importance of maintaining the business relationships and ensuring that their position as supplier isn’t compromised by the competition.

Regular client meetings are key to relationship development

People buy from People

Unless you are supplying a pure commodity product where price and availability are the predominant buying criteria, you shouldn’t forget the adage that ‘people buy from people’. This is particularly important where your business benefits from building long-term relationships with your customers. Simply supplying a great product or service at a good price just isn’t enough.  Competitors often have the products or services and can compete on price but they don’t have your relationship with your customers. It can be this that keeps the competition at bay. Relationships need to be nurtured.   

Importance of a joined-up contact process

We drive email newsletters as a valuable communications tool, and it really is, but it is just one tool in your marketing toolbox. Good marketing should be based around a joined-up process. Where e-newsletters are a great way of keeping in touch with your database of contacts, letting them know what you are up to, and helping to make sure they don’t forget you, it would be wrong to think that email marketing is all you need. It can create a great platform from which to build engagement with your market but, for most B2B business, it is unlikely to deliver sufficient results by itself. Some ‘sharp-end’ contact can be the activity that takes the relationships established and maintained by e-newsletters and other marketing and turns them into live business opportunities. Let’s face it, business meeting can take up a lot of time and need to have value for everyone. I mentioned at the start of this article that we typically aim to meet up with clients at least every 3-4 months. We find this frequency works well as an opportunity to review what we are doing together, resolve any issues and identify development opportunities. On top of these business reasons, and in some ways more important, a face to face discussion will reinforce the personal touch of your business relationship and, as I said above, this can be the essence of success. 3 or 4 months can be quite a gap and this where a joined-up process combining e-newsletters with meetings can work well. Even if you only send an e-newsletter every 2-3 months, it means you are contacting your customers almost monthly in one way or another, and this is on top of any deliveries etc that you might be doing. If you don’t visit your customers, maybe you should….

Unsubscribes – An opportunity not a problem

keepcalmWhen I first talk to people about the opportunities and benefits from email marketing and email newsletters, there is one question that comes up more than any other….

 Will I annoy people? I don't want to alienate my contacts

You may be surprised that the short answer is an emphatic – No! Unsubscribes are OK. Unsubscribes are a fact of life in email marketing and not something to be afraid of. They are another point of engagement between you and your markets. the feedback you get through unsubscribes can help you improve and refine your offer and make your business better.

Don’t forget the basics

People read newspapers and magazines because they are interested in the content. Not necessarily every article but they do have an interest. E-newsletters should be exactly the same. Content should be relevant to the target audience. We receive many more positive comments about our Marketing Matters e-newsletter than we do unsubscribes. Over the past year, we have seen an unsubscribe rate of less than 4%. Realistically there will always be one person who simply objects to everything but when you look at the statistics, the power and benefit of well targeted, relevant email far outweighs any negative impact. Naturally, every e-newsletter we send includes an option to unsubscribe and if someone takes that option, we respect it, because unsubscribes are good…..

Unsubscribes are good

The essence of marketing is to communicate a relevant message to an audience that will recognise the relevance of  the message (and consequently a ‘fit’ with the company that sent it) Email marketing is no different, and if someone chooses to unsubscribe that is normally because the don’t see the relevance of the message so it makes sense they don’t receive it. As a consequence of unsubscribes, the target list becomes ever better qualified!

Use your common sense

As with most things, common sense is a valuable tool and should be used in your marketing. It’s true that some unsubscribes can be a good thing, but you do want your list to grow as you add new (well qualified!) contacts. Adding qualified contacts tends to be a steady, rather than fast, process so getting too many unsubscribes can make your list go backwards – and if you do see a lot of unsubscribes, just how well qualified are your contacts in the first place?

Watch the stats

As a general rule, you may well see a few more unsubscribes the first time you run a list (maybe 3-5%) and this can be OK on the first ‘send’ but after this, unsubscribes should be much lower – typically well under 1% Do as you would be done by

Make sure you are adding contacts too

Unsubscribes are part of email marketing so if you aren’t adding contacts to your target list, it will shrink. Having a sign-up form on your website can be a way of growing your list and it can work well if you operate in a B2C or wide B2B market with a lot of traffic to your site. For B2B businesses working in niche sectors (i.e. most of BSA’s clients!), a more proactive approach to list development is normally required but don’t forget:

Contact quality is more important the contact quantity

Remember, you should be communicating good quality, relevant content to well qualified contacts. If you do this, unsubscribes will be minimal and maintaining/growing your list should not be a problem.

Sometimes an unsubscribe may be worth a follow-up

If you only see small numbers of unsubscribes (and you should!) it is worth keeping any eye on who is unsubscribing. If it is someone you know personally, it might be worth giving them a call to find out why they have unsubscribed. This shows (at least) that you are on the ball and take a joined-up approach and the conversation may give you valuable feedback which you can use to improve your marketing. I have even had the experience of finding that someone had unsubscribed inadvertently and my call not only resurrected the contact but resulted in a business enquiry! Be positive, use your common sense, but remember:

Unsubscribes are an opportunity, not a problem

Your Business Development Platform 1 – Define your sales process

business developmet processI have said it before, but I do spend a great deal of time talking with people about their businesses and their approaches to marketing and sales. What strikes me time and again is how businesses often have no formal business development platform or strategy. I have seen this both in businesses that are struggling to keep their head above water, (they simply need more – or at least more profitable – business so why no clear focus on marketing and sales?),  and in businesses that are very successful – typically these companies have strong and profitable relationships with a modest number of significant customers. Fine for now but potentially a case of too many eggs in one basket? Having a clear business development platform doesn’t need to be complicated, in fact there can be just 4 core elements:

  1. Define your sales process
  2. Define your key business message
  3. Get your message out there
  4. Monitor and refine in the light of market response

Over the next few weeks, we will look at 2, 3 and 4 in greater detail but to kick things off, let’s take a look at 1

Define Your Sales Process

Selling has (IMHO) two distinct phases First you need to….

1. Look for people to sell to

When you have found and qualified these people only then should you…

2. Sell to them

These two phases often get confused or simply rolled up into one when the sales rep is instructed to ‘go forth and sell!‘ Yet they are very different

Looking for people to sell to

There are really only two places where you can look for contacts to sell to, amongst people you know and amongst people you don’t know! People you know are normally the best starting point as they know who you are and may know something about your business and the products/services you offer. What is more if you get used to ‘making the most of people you know’, then as you make more contacts you will hopefully make the most of them too! People you don’t know, i.e. everybody else! Here is about focusing more traditional criteria:

  • Business Activity/Sector
  • Business Location
  • Business Size

A good approach is to profile existing customers. If you can find more people who are similar to companies where you are already doing business it can be easier to find a ‘fit’ between your business and theirs. The first job is to properly qualify your prospective customers by answering 2 core questions:

  1. Am I interested in them as a potential customer?
  2. Are they interested in me as a potential supplier?

If the answer to both is YES, then you should be well on the way to doing business. If the answer to 2 is NO, then that needn’t be the end of the story. So long as the answer to 1 is (realistically!) YES, then you have a qualified prospect to work on….

Selling to people you find & qualify

You should only (again IMHO) sell to qualified prospects. Once you have a qualified prospect you need to build contact and relationships, making sure that they get an ever better understanding of what you offer and how it can benefit them while, at the same time, you learn more about their needs so you can make sure that your sales and marketing messages as as relevant to your prospect as possible. If you have a strong proposition that really delivers value and benefit to your target contacts and they understand that fact, they will do business with you. Not all of them, and not all the time but the business is there. It really is that simple!

Maintaining, reselling and upselling to customers

 Making the most of people you know

I talked earlier about  ‘making the most of people you know’. This is just as important when you want to grow your business. Your customers know you and (hopefully!) like you and what you deliver for them. If your business can generate resales, make sure you don’t just take the first order then move on to the next customer. It is normally easier (and more profitable!) to make a second and third sale to the same customer. Even if you don’t have a business with a lot of repeat sales, you can introduce new products and services as new options for existing customers, or use customers as advocates to refer you to others. From beginning to end, the key to an effective sales process is making the most of what you have and who you know!

.UK TLD released

uktldThe UK is unique! Until recently this was even true when it come to internet domain names. If you have ever had dealings with foreign websites you will have noticed the most countries have a simple Top Level Domain (The TLD is the letters after the final dot (.) in a domain name): .fr from France, .de for Germany, .it for Italy etc. There was even a .gb for Great Britain but it is now deprecated and can’t be used. So how come not .uk for UK?  Why do we have to be different? In fact, the .uk TLD has been around for several years but not available for use in domains by itself.  To register a .uk domain name we have had to use Second Level Domains (.??.uk) headed by the ubiquitous .co.uk. You may have noticed that over the past year, Nominet (one of the world’s leading internet registry companies) has announced the release of a swathe of new TLDs focussed on activities rather than countries. .builders, .camera, .social and .travel are just a sample of the new TLDs you can use These may be suitable for your business but some people suggest they are just a fad! Anyway, back to .uk On the 10th June 2014, Nominet announced it was, for the first time,  taking registrations using the .UK top level domain (TLD). Their rational is to bring the UK in line with the rest of the World (.fr, .de, .it etc), and allows UK companies to use shorter, snappier .uk addresses. (It will also make a lot of money, but I am sure that did not feature in their thinking!). As with the release of previous TLDs, I am sure this current news will lead to a rash of emails and phone calls from companies suggesting that you protect your brand by buying these .uk domains from them – often at highly inflated prices. Rest assured that this is not necessary – at least for the next 5 years. There are 2 things it is important to know about the new .uk domains:

  1. If you own the registration of the .co.uk domain (or .org.uk, .me.uk, .net.uk, .ltd.uk or .plc.uk), you have a five year reservation period with the exclusive option to buy the equivalent .uk domain. This is set to be in force until 10 June 2019 so in teh meantime,  people can’t use .uk to poach your brand.
  2. Currently, .uk domains are typically priced at less than £10 per year. You shouldn’t need to pay more than this to register your own .uk domain

No doubt some people will find themselves paying over the odds for their new .uk domain but now hopefully you won’t be one of them. If you have any questions or need more info, do get in touch You will see that We have already taken the plunge with www.bsamarketing.uk  

Are you too busy? We were….

stopandfocusA year ago we took a decision to take a more strategic look at what we do, and how to move forward. We worked with a coach through the Growth Accelerator programme to redefine our processes and build a growth plan for the company. I expected our main focus would be to identify new things that we could do to get more business and drive growth. Whilst it did this, the really interesting outcome was identifying things that we were doing that were actually holding us back.  

It was the decision to stop doing peripheral things and focus on our core that really made the positive impact on our business.

As with many SME businesses, we never wanted to miss an opportunity. When a client or prospect came to us and asked “Can you do….” our answer was usually “Yes”. We would then  bend over backwards, to deliver for the client (something we are quite good at!), but at what cost to BSA? The next requirement would regularly be something different, so the process would repeat. We were sustaining a level of turnover, and we were very busy, but we had no capacity to grow. It was at that point we stood back and said “What do we do well?”. Let’s stop doing other stuff and focus on that.

"Our core deliverable is helping clients get their message out to qualified target markets and actually 'knock on doors' to secure real business opportunities".

Where other things are needed to support this activity, we work with expert partners. Our focus is to deliver real benefit for our clients. The result is that 12 months down the line we are delivering more effectively and we have had the time to strategically build capabilities which means that our service is even more joined-up and beneficial!

The moral of the story:

"The key to success is understanding what adds value to your business, stop doing everything else to focus on this"

For interest, the inspiration for this post came from an article on LinkedIn “12 Myths that Lead to a Busy, Unfulfilling Life“. Although I don’t agree with all of them, the principal is sound and well worth a read!

Why do marketing? To find orders or find customers?

successIf you are in business, you do marketing. You may not admit it, or even realise it but trust me, you do! Every interaction with customers and potential customers leaves an impression about your business – and that is marketing! The danger is that if you don’t realise it is marketing or just make it up as you go along depending on the circumstances, you may be spending (wasting?) valuable time leaving impressions with the wrong people or worse, leaving the wrong impression with the right people! Planned marketing is about being focused on trying to leave the right impression on the right people so that you increase the potential to do business with them and so grow your business. As a marketing services provider I will suggest that having an external specialist help you with your marketing is a good thing, but that does beg the question of exactly what do you want help with?

Are you looking to find Orders or to find Customers?

For many SME businesses, there is an issue with external marketing services – they cost money! To make matters worse, marketing is speculative, there is no absolute guarantee that your marketing effort will deliver the desired result. Not great! As a consequence, external marketing services are often focused in one of 2 ways: 1. I need to do this but it’s a stretch to afford it so I’m hoping that spending the money now will give me the opportunity to get some quick wins to balance the books. This is normally the situation with creative development; websites, brochures etc. 2. I am happy to spend some money on marketing, but not too much so I need to see some quick results This is normally the situation with direct marketing; telemarketing, email, Pay per Click and search optimisation In both cases, the focus is on short term orders which, if it works, is great but your are still focused on short term orders – it never goes away! If it doesn’t deliver the orders you are expecting (and all too often it doesn’t – at least not in the way you hope) you are likely to stop. Your marketing becomes disjointed as you move from one approach to another without a joined-up plan. This focus on orders also means, I suggest, that many opportunities to build good customers get missed. If you are going to secure an order, you need a positive answer to 2 questions: Q1. Is my prospect interested in my business and what I am offering? Q2. Am I interested in doing business with this company?  But what about the people who buy (or have potential to buy) what you are selling but it just happens that now is not the right time for them? In this case the answer to Q1 will be No, so you aren’t going to secure an order just now. But aren’t they still good potential for future business, when the time is better for them? Taking this view, Q2 is the key. If you can qualify , and then engage with someone who has (meaningful) potential to do business with you, that is good for your business. If you are focused primarily on gaining orders there is a risk this future opportunity will be missed. If your focus is to find customers there is more chance that you planned marketing will include a process to work on the future opportunities too. In practice, if you are focused on gaining customers, you are likely to pick up the short term orders anyway! But what about the cost? Does a focus on customers cost more than a focus on orders? I believe it doesn’t need to. It’s about your marketing being more planned, more joined-up and making better use of what you are doing anyway! And it really does work!