5 Genius Questions for Your Customer Survey

Every business owner or leader must study his/her customers (or potential customers for those in start-up or new product launch mode) and gather as much potentially useful information about them as possible. The first and greatest commandment of business is “know thy customer” and the research must continue for the life of the business. We can never stop learning.

The important matter of measuring customer satisfaction and customer loyalty became the life’s work of Frederick F. Reichheld, now an Emeritus Director of the Boston, MA consulting firm Bain and Company, also the founder of its Loyalty practice and author of The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth (2006). Reichheld reported that it took two years of studying customer satisfaction and customer loyalty survey responses and correlating those responses to actual customer behavior—i.e., purchases and referrals made and then linking customer behavior to growth—to discover that a single survey question can reliably predict sales revenue growth.

The big reveal question does not directly address either customer satisfaction or customer loyalty. Rather, it simply inquires about customers’ willingness to recommend a product or service to someone else. While other factors besides customer loyalty play a role in driving a company’s growth—economic or industry expansion, a product or service line that reflects the needs and tastes of current and prospective customers, good financial management and so on—repeat business and good word of mouth are indisputably two of the most important drivers of sales revenue growth and in general, no company can be profitable without them.

Loyal customers talk up a company to friends, family and colleagues. Their recommendations are among the truest demonstrations of loyalty because the customer puts his/her own reputation on the line when making them. Customers will risk their reputations only if they feel intense loyalty.

The customer experience is, I am certain, another significant factor in a customer’s willingness to recommend a business and many actions contribute to that experience. Marketing Departments point survey questions toward metrics they control, such as brand image, pricing and product features and benefits. But a customer’s willingness to recommend a business is also connected to how well the customer is treated by the front line employees—are they friendly (but not intrusive)? Are they helpful?

According to Reichheld’s findings, customer loyalty differs subtly but substantively from customer satisfaction. Gauging loyalty by way of the usual customer-satisfaction survey questions is not helpful. His research indicates that customer satisfaction lacks a consistently demonstrable connection to customer behavior and growth. Reichheld says it is difficult to identify a sufficiently strong correlation between high customer satisfaction scores and outstanding sales growth. “The question ‘How satisfied are you with (company X’s) overall performance?’ is a relatively weak predictor of growth,” he says.

One of the main takeaways from Reichheld’s research is that companies can keep customer surveys simple. The most basic surveys, providing that the right questions are asked, can allow companies to obtain timely data that is actionable. Reichheld goes so far to assert that a customer feedback program should be viewed not as “market research” but as an operating management tool. Below are five of Reichheld’s survey questions.

  • How likely is it that you would recommend (company X) to a friend or colleague?
  • How likely is it that you will continue to purchase products/services from (company X)?
  • How strongly do you agree that (company X) makes it easy for you to do business with it?
  • If you were selecting a similar provider for the first time, how likely is it that you would you choose (company X)?
  • How satisfied are you with (company X) overall performance?

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: (l-r) Phyllis Povah, Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford in The Women (1939). Sales girl Crawford is showing her customers the fictitious fragrance “Summer Rain.”

Prediction: Emerging Social Media Platforms 2019 – 2020

Which new social media platforms are lining up to become The Next Big Thing for B2B marketers? Take a look at these four up-and-comers and figure out which might appeal to your customers and be a good forum for your products or services. Jumping in early can provide big benefits for your business, keeping you a step ahead of the competition. As they say, fortune favors the bold.

Lasso

Here is yet another video-based social media site, but it could be worth your time, especially when you consider how popular this form of content has become. Plus, Lasso is owned by Facebook and as such cannot be ignored. It’s being pitched as an alternative to TikTok (see below). Videos have a 15 second limit and users can add their favorite songs to play in the background. You can create and share videos with fun filters and effects. Users can also log in with a Facebook or Instagram account and cross-post videos to Facebook Stories. Posting Lasso videos to Instagram Stories is soon to come.

Why You Should Consider Using It: While Lasso isn’t as popular as TikTok now, it could rival its top competitor soon. If your target audience is using TikTok, Lasso is a platform you’ll want to keep an eye on. 

Steemit

Steemit is a blockchain-based blogging and social media site that rewards content creators and curators with the cryptocurrency named STEEM. Creators whose content gets up-voted are paid with STEEM, as are those who write useful comments on others’ content. Recipients of STEEM currency can take their digital tokens and exchange them for real money.

This Reddit alternative is about more than cryptocurrency and technology topics, however. Users are invited to create content on a wide range of subjects, including travel, photography, food, music and sports. Besides the Steemit platform, the service aims to compete with other social media platforms as well. To challenge Instagram, Steem created Photosteem and SteemQ is a video sharing platform built on the Steem blockchain that will chase Youtube’s market.

SteemQ and PhotoSteem will employ the same model as Steemit. Since Steem is open source and they have announced that they will support new applications, we’re likely to see more Steem platforms pop up in the future. As of March 15, 2019, the service had 1.2 million registered users.

Why You Should Consider Using It: While Steemit has a relatively small user-base so far, smart marketers can use the platform as an additional channel to share content, grow their audience and pick up some cryptocurrency along the way.

TikTok

In 2017, the lip-synching app Musical.ly merged with a similar, newer app called TikTok. The newly configured company has enjoyed explosive growth: as of 2019, TikTok has 500 million+ active monthly users worldwide and 800 million + downloads. TikTok is now more popular in app stores than Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The service is a huge hit with younger audiences. According to the research firm Sensor Tower, TikTok was the fourth-most downloaded app in 2018.

TikTok’s short-form videos play on a loop, similar to the now-defunct Vine. Users can easily create and share content, but what sets TikTok apart from other video-creation platforms is the simplicity of adding musical overlays, fun effects, AR filters and more. Once you make a video, you can optimize by adding hashtags that can make it easier to find via search.

Why You Should Consider Using It: If your target audience is age 16-24 years, then TikTok is a great place to promote your business. I predict its popularity is poised to expand into the 25 – 39 year old cohort, based on a TikTok video of a service designed for parents of infants that was shown to me as I taught a business plan writing course yesterday evening. That TikTok is also potentially effective for fashion and e-commerce purveyors who want to work with influencers reinforces my confidence in the prediction.

The Cambridge, MA marketing firm Hubspot recently reported that The Washington Post is on TikTok and has already marked 54,000+ followers. Heads up, the Post’s TikTok content typically features relaxed and personal behind-the-scenes looks into its newsroom.

Vero

Vero is an Instagram alternative that boasts about having no ads, no data mining and no algorithms. Vero labels itself “more social, less media” and focused on providing a natural and ad-free experience. Users share photos, music, TV shows, movies, books, links and more. You can decide who can see each post by choosing between four categories: Close Friend, Friend, Acquaintance, or Follower.

Vero does not accept advertisements, a real plus for many users, but brands are able to work with influencers on the platform and pay to add a “Buy Now” button for their posts. Brands can create a Vero account and those brands whom Vero determines are capable of selling and fulfilling orders may share posts directly with their followers, i.e., those who opt-in to view posts that contain items for sale and a “buy” button to facilitate purchases.

Vero calls itself a subscription service but so far, the service is free. Registration for Vero can only be done on the app. There is no option to sign up on the website. Mashable reports that 50% of users are 21 – 40 years old and 68% male. As of March 1, 2019, there were 5 million subscribers.

Why you should consider using it: Without ads and algorithms, Vero is touted as the more “authentic” social media platform. It’s perfect for companies that want to build stronger, more meaningful relationships with their audience. Plus, because users can share such a wide range of content, it’s great for learning more about your target audience.

When evaluating which platforms are worth watching or experimenting with, here are four questions you should ask :

1. How many active users? Big numbers could mean that the platform is gaining momentum and your brand will have more opportunities to get in front of a large pool of users.
2. Are publications or thought leaders talking about it? If a platform doesn’t specify exact numbers, but marketing industry thought leaders or even news publications are discussing it, then it might be promising.
3. Will audiences be interested in the platform? While a tech novice might not enjoy TikTok, a teenager might get bored on Facebook. Younger people prefer visual apps like TikTok and Instagram. While you want to pay attention to the level of adaptability, you also pay attention to how your audience wants to interact with social media.
4. What type of content should we use to promote our brand on the platform? Always draft an action plan when introducing your brand on a new platform. If you can’t come up with any interesting ways to market your specific product on a really niche platform, you might want to postpone engaging. On the other hand, experimenting with different posting strategies could allow your brand to look creative and cool to your audience.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Hipparchus (c.190 – c.120 BC), Ancient Greek astronomer, at the Alexandria Observatory in Egypt. At left is the armillary sphere he invented. Hipparchus is considered one of the greatest astronomers of antiquity, who calculated the length of the year. It is thought that the later work of Ptolemy was based on the work done by Hipparchus. Engraving from Vies des Savants Illustres (1877).

Pricing B2B Services

According to Dorie Clark (no relation), Adjunct Professor of Business Administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and author of Entrepreneurial You (2017), there are four pricing strategies that Freelance consultants might use, depending on the project at hand and the relationship you have, or would like to have, with the client. It is crucial to follow a pricing strategy that will support your objective to persuade the client that your prices are fair, your solution will be effective and you are the right person to hire.

Hourly billing. The most straightforward pricing strategy is to bill clients by the hour. When you are unsure of the number of hours it will take to complete a project, perhaps because your responsibilities will vary from week to week or month to month, then an hourly rate pricing strategy is reasonable. On the other hand, if you do have a good idea of the number of hours that should be necessary to complete the job, an hourly billing strategy is also reasonable, particularly for one-off assignments or sporadic work with the client.

You can then provide a reliable project estimate, based on your hourly rate for the work proposed and the anticipated number of hours, and that information will be reassuring to the client. But if you underestimate the time needed to complete the assignment the downside of this strategy will emerge, because your final price will overshoot your estimate and your client may not be thrilled.

Another potential downside to hourly billing is the level of scrutiny that it invites. Some clients may challenge the number of hours you record for the tasks involved and that is uncomfortable.

Set fee for services. This pricing strategy requires the Freelance consultant to develop a standard suite of services, where all related tasks are included and there is one price for the whole package. “Productized services” is the term pricing experts use for this strategy. If certain of your services are frequently requested, make life easier for yourself and your clients and create a standard rate sheet for services you perform most often.

For example, if you often conduct half or full-day workshops, billing a flat fee for all tasks involved is a more favorable strategy than billing separately and hourly for the associated tasks. Clients are comfortable accepting a flat fee because the project price is all-inclusive, predictable and transparent. Furthermore, the project specs describe your duties and discourage “scope creep,” those extra unpaid tasks that some clients like to sneak in. If the client would like an extra service or two, then you’ll price those separately and not be tricked or coerced into giving away free labor.

Value-based pricing. Evangelized by Alan Weiss, elite management consultant to multinational companies such as Merck Pharmaceuticals and author of dozens of books, including (Million Dollar Consulting [1992]), this strategy hinges on what Weiss calls “a value-based project fee structure.”

You begin by having a detailed conversation with the prospect so that you will understand the project requirements and the project’s relevance, urgency and impact on the organization. In other words, you and your prospect will achieve mutual agreement on the value of the project to the business. Weiss says that it’s useful to ask questions such as, “What would be the value to the company if this weren’t a problem?” or “What impact would it have if you could do XYZ better?”

Dorie Clark recommends the value-based pricing strategy for Freelancers who work with Fortune 500 companies, because value-based pricing is a way to help the prospect envision and appreciate the value of the right outcomes delivered at the right time. Clark feels it is appropriate to charge a higher project fee when working with big-budget clients because the stakes are so much higher.

Your work for a Fortune 500 company might, for example, create $10 million in new value, whereas even a dramatic improvement for a small not-for-profit organization may only enhance the bottom line by $10,000. Once the prospective client understands the full value that your work will bring to the organization, your fee — a tiny percentage of the overall gain — will in theory seem trivial in comparison.

Retainer agreements. These are an excellent arrangement because predictability is a wonderful thing for both you and the client. Once it is established that you’ll work a more-or-less fixed number of hours per week or month on a certain assignment or category of assignments and a comfortable relationship develops, by all means suggest that you create a monthly retainer agreement. Bring evidence of 6 – 12 invoices to bolster your case.

In the retainer pricing strategy, the client pays the Freelancer a flat fee every month for on-demand access to your services (and that could be anywhere from $500/month to a four or even five figure sum). This allows you to depend on a certain amount of money each month, no matter what. The downside is that unless you’re careful, your client may take advantage of the “all you can eat” pricing by monopolizing your time.

To prevent abuse, be very clear upfront about who can contact you and for which types of services. It is also advisable to specify the hours that you’ll be available ( 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM or longer?), the protocol for weekends and holidays and the methods of contact—email, phone and/or text. You’ll also want to specify whether they only have access to your advice, or if there are specific deliverables you may be asked to produce (for example, you might also agree to generate content for social media or the company newsletter). As you gain more experience and develop long-term relationships with clients, you will be able to propose retainer agreements and institute more control over your monthly income.

Freelancers who succeed are those who are appreciated for the value they bring to their clients’ organizations. An important building block that supports how you communicate your value to the client is your pricing strategy. Study the pricing options discussed above and choose the most advantageous for you and your client.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Courtesy of the Everett Collection. Dink (Margaret Nolan) gives James Bond (Sean Connery) a massage in Goldfinger (1964).

Bragging Rites

In our hyperbolic business environment, all working people—Freelance consultants, entrepreneurs, corporate executives and everyone else who must earn a living—are expected to promote their successes and ambitions in face-to-face conversations and social media platforms. Everybody has to be “on,” i.e., camera-ready and prepared to roll out an elevator pitch to prospective clients, an investor pitch to potential backers, or a sales pitch to browsing would-be customers.

Job-seekers sell their skills and work experience to search committees. Apartment-hunters sell their credit rating and rental history to landlords. The marriage-minded package and promote what they hope are desirable traits that will persuade Mr. or Ms. Right to swipe right. Everyone is pressured to sell themselves, but sounding like you’re selling is a turn-off. No one one likes an obvious self-promoter and heaven help you if people think you’re bragging.

While we’re busy telling possibly interested parties how talented, resourceful, creative and dependable we are, we risk violating a powerful social norm in American culture that prefers modesty, cautions Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences at University of MA /Amherst. Bragging is not popular. Do an internet search on bragging, and you get 55, 900,000 results, including How to brag without making people hate you.

Communications consultant Peggy Klaus says the fear of being perceived as pushy and vulgar can lead professionals to hide behind modest self-effacement, even when speaking up about their accomplishments would be perfectly acceptable. Klaus, the author of Brag: How to Toot Your Own Horn Without Blowing It  (2003), says that the very thought of self-promotion is difficult for many to embrace, including those who are fully aware that they must create business in order to survive. “So ingrained are the myths about self-promotion, so repelled are we by obnoxious braggers, that many people simply avoid talking about themselves,” writes Klaus.

Valerie DiMaria, Principal at the 10company, a New York City firm that helps high potential executives at companies such as Verizon, L’Oreal, Raytheon and BNY Mellon reach the next level in their careers, offers encouragement to the introverted and shy. She points out that if the goal is to make a strong, positive impression at work, you must be willing to tell your story and bragging doesn’t necessarily mean boasting.

Di Maria suggests taking a calm, confident, matter-of-fact approach to sharing what’s special about you. Her firm offers leadership and communication coaching and she recommends these five tactics:

  1. Define your brand One of the best professional investments you can make is to learn to articulate your own value proposition, also called your personal brand. DiMaria explains, “A brand describes who you are, what sets you apart from others, what you contribute and what you want to accomplish. In this information-overdosed world, a brand helps you cut through the clutter and make a memorable impression.” So it’s important that you spend time thinking about how you can convincingly describe your secret sauce.
  2. Give your pitch at every (appropriate) opportunity DiMaria recommends that you “master the art of speaking up.” Create scripts that you can use in different business and personal encounters: an elevator pitch that is also a self-introduction, to use at networking events; a “small talk” version of your elevator pitch to use at social or quasi-business gatherings; and stories you can use whenever, to illustrate how your hard work and ingenuity produced results for an important project.
  3.  Give credit to everyone, including yourself   Always thank others for their contributions and don’t shy away from acknowledging your own contributions as well. Do not relegate yourself to the background. DiMaria wants you to remember to find a way to weave in your own role when recognizing achievement. “If your team accomplished something significant, you likely did something wonderful as well,” she says. “You’re not stealing the spotlight by describing how everyone contributed; you’re sharing it.”
  4. Amplify your reach with social media Complete as many sections of your LinkedIn profile as possible, so that visitors will find solid evidence of the depth and breadth of your professional and volunteer experiences. If you have only one or two recommendations, ask a colleague to write one for you that highlights a strength you’d like to highlight (and offer to write a recommendation in return). If practical, upload examples of your work to the Portfolio section, so that browsers of your profile can understand what you do and gauge the quality of your work. Search for groups associated with your profession and join one or two. Be sure to select the option to receive updates, so that you can join conversations every once in a while. If you don’t have a flattering photo that complements your professional aspirations, have one taken. If you’re feeling brave and ambitious, open a Twitter account that you’ll confine to business purposes and announce conferences that you’ll attend or courses that you’ll teach, if those are things you do regularly. If you get a promotion or receive special recognition at work for a job well done, share the announcement. You can do the same on Facebook. Always respond to replies and inquiries, since generating conversations is an important objective.
  5. Avoid the humble brag It’s impossible to ignore that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts are filled with humble bragging posts that try to disguise boasting with a nasally whine (“Now that I’ve reached 500,000 followers, I never have time to cook or do laundry….I barely have time to sleep….”). Everyone sees through the humble brag and it does nothing for your integrity. If you have a success to share, own it because you earned it.

Finally, choosing to remain silent about your accomplishments can diminish your earnings. “It’s those who visibly take credit for accomplishments who are rewarded with promotions and gem assignments,” writes Klaus. As our economy has resulted in less job stability, self-promotion has become more important. Even if you aren’t a Freelancer or entrepreneur, advises Klaus, you need to think like one and start talking up your most valuable product: you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Narcissus (1597-1599) by Caravaggio (1571 – 1610 Milan, Italy) courtesy of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome

Free Media Exposure

Media exposure can be difficult to come by for Freelancers and small business owners. In particular, “earned” media mentions,” i.e., publicity obtained through promotional efforts rather than publicity obtained by way of paid advertising, is usually the most effective form of media exposure and can go a long way toward enhancing a Freelancer’s brand.  A well-expressed quote in a respected publication can make a Freelance consultant or business owner look like an expert that smart people want to do business with.  Earned media exposure can be instrumental in helping a business to establish name recognition and respect among its target customers.

The best tactic to use when looking to attract the interest of reporters and editors is to position oneself as an expert. The good news for Freelancers is that everyone who provides professional services to paying clients is considered to be an expert in his/her field. The public welcomes and trusts tax tips recommended by an accountant and legal advice offered by an attorney. In addition, those who’ve authored a (nonfiction) book, whether traditionally published or self-published, that addresses a topic that editors feel would interest their readers can also be chosen to receive valuable earned media.

When you’ve made the decision to pursue earned media exposure for your organization, Step One is to decide where you’d like your story or quotes of your expert advice to appear. Research local online or print publications and assess the stories that are featured. You might start with your neighborhood newspaper or a publication that specializes in business topics. If you belong to a business or professional association, by all means look into contributing an article to the newsletter, getting your book reviewed or mentioned, or getting yourself quoted. Hint: active members always get publicity.

Step Two is to learn the identity of the reporter or editor who covers your topic. The easiest thing to do is call the publication and inquire. While you’re on the phone, find out when the publication is on deadline and avoid calling the reporter or editor at that time.

Step Three is to write a press release that makes editors and reporters want to follow-up on your story. Make your press release attention-getting with a good headline. Instead of trying to be witty, just give the facts. A good headline might be: “XYZ Biz wins Chamber of Commerce award.”

In the first paragraph, introduce one key newsworthy fact or piece of information in a single sentence, such as “XYZ Group today announced plans to open a solar-powered restaurant by late 2019.”

A common mistake in writing press releases is using it to tell the entire story.  “People write way too much. Tell them what the story is about and why it would be good for their audience,” advises Paul Krupin, former attorney and founder of iMediaFax.com, a media advisory service in Washington state. The press release should not be the first draft of a reporter’s article.  The purpose of your press release is to entice a reporter to contact you and write your story, or persuade an editor to assign your story to a staff reporter.

Furthermore, don’t make the mistake of trying to sell your product or service in the press release. “The media is adverse to anything that looks like advertising,” Krupin warns. “They want to educate, entertain, stimulate, or provoke their audience.”

BTW, there are subtle yet substantive differences between the journalistic needs of print, radio and TV media outlets that reflect audience expectations and preferences.

  • “Print media focus on facts and figures. They talk about strategies,” Krupin advises.
  • “Radio and television don’t lend themselves to detailed information. It’s about sound bites, tone and excitement. For radio and TV producers, you want to tell them why their audience is going to love what you’re going to say, or hate what you’re going to say. The focus is on the emotional reaction: Why am I going to be entertaining?”

Be advised that media outlets are not interested in helping to publicize the products and services that Freelancers and other business leaders are trying to sell. Krupin, who is also the author of Trash Proof News Releases (2001), works closely with his clients to tease out a story angle that could interest readers or viewers of the target media outlets. “What do you know that people don’t know, but they would like to know?” he asks.

For example, Krupin recommended that a photographer discuss how to hang pictures, rather than discuss the technical aspects of how to take pictures. The two created a press release that led to a number of print articles that featured his photographer client as the expert.

Finally, be patient as you wait for the ROI from your earned media. A customer may contact you months or even years after reading about you and your business. A reporter could contact you several months later to get insights on another aspect of your topic, which would result in still more earned media exposure.  Concentrate on developing an earned media strategy by identifying a story angle that would interest readers as you build relationships with reporters and editors who can give you the desired media exposure.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: By Andrew Laszlo. Entertainment columnist and host of television’s longest-running variety show (CBS-TV) Ed Sullivan (l) interviews Fidel Castro in Mantanzas, Cuba in January 1959.

Revitalize Your Networking Chops

Networking experts who write books on the subject and get invited to contribute articles to prestigious business magazines often claim that there are “secrets” to networking.  I take issue with that.  I don’t think anything about networking is a secret or mysterious.  Networking is a meet and greet and unless you have advance knowledge about who is expected to be in the room, who you meet and talk to is random.

However, there are certain behaviors that might improve your networking success rate.  In general, one must be approachable and outgoing and in the frame of mind to meet people (smile!).  This can be uncomfortable for some of us but if you are shy, or an introvert, remember that all at the networking event (which can be a conference or a cooking class, a business association meeting or a reading at the library) have your presence there in common and that in itself is the starting point of a conversation.

Another behavior to exhibit at your next networking event (and every gathering is a networking event, potentially) is listening.  Demonstrate that you are listening by maintaining eye contact and responding to the flow of conversation by nodding your head, smiling and replying when appropriate. Resist the temptation to look over the other person’s shoulder to search for someone who might be “better” to meet and talk to.

Now how do you get a conversation going? After the introductions, ask a question that starts with the phrase Tell me and then actively listen as your new acquaintance does what s/he likes best—talking about themselves! You will make a friend.

Tell me is the favorite opening line of Jacqueline Whitmore, a noted etiquette coach and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Florida.  Whitmore says, “To build trust with other people you have to let them know you’re interested in what they have to say.  One way to do that is to ask the right questions.” “Tell me what you thought of the last speaker.” “Tell me what you think of the workshop leader.” “Tell me how you like the trainers and instructors at this gym—I’m a new member.”

I used Tell me for the first time just a few days ago, when I attended the Ellevate Network’s Mobilize Women 2019 summit on behalf of Lioness Magazine and I can attest to the fact that Tell me is an effective ice-breaker that opens the door to good conversation every time.

Your networking experience can be considered a success if you discover that you may be able to somehow assist this person whom you’ve just met because the final recommended behavior to bring to your networking event is generosity.  While it is true that personal gain is a legitimate goal for networking and the 1.) Get a client  2.) Get a referral and 3.) Get information strategy remains worthwhile, remember that you and your new colleague have something in common by way of your mutual connection to the host organization that brought you both to the event and doing for others is good karma.  Be certain to follow-up with whatever actions you committed to. Your generosity will probably be repaid a couple of times over.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939), a role that                         brought her the Academy Award for Best Actress

Full Frontal LinkedIn

For B2B firms, Freelance consultants and corporate or not-for-profit professionals, LinkedIn is the preferred social media platform because it is strictly business. Members create a profile that is essentially an expanded resume. There are opportunities to receive recommendations from colleagues with whom one has worked. One can create and upload a SlideShare presentation to provide an overview of company products and services and describe how they benefit customers.

A portfolio that showcases examples of one’s best work can be created and uploaded.  The company blog and/or newsletter can be added to the profile and all connections will receive notice of publishings. If that’s not enough, LinkedIn ProFinder helps to match prospective clients with Freelancers in search of project work (I’ve had a couple of almosts but no contract yet, after 6-8 months of sporadic follow-up to prospect inquiries).

There are those members who claim to make money directly from their LinkedIn connections (other than the ProFinder feature), but I don’t know anyone who’s done so. Still, LinkedIn seems to be a worthwhile investment.  I think presence on the site lends legitimacy and I suspect that prospective clients who are evaluating whether to hire a Freelancer (me!) for a project visit the LinkedIn profile as an element of due diligence.

LinkedIn users

According to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions Blog, of the 500 million LinkedIn profile owners, 61 million are senior-level influencers and 24.5 million are in decision-making positions.  Millennials are also well-represented on LinkedIn. Globally, 87 million members are Millennial generation and 11 million are in decision-making positions.

Content Marketing

LinkedIn’s Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn  reports that LinkedIn is the top choice for B2B content marketing and that every week, LinkedIn content is viewed 9 billion times. While 94% of B2B marketers (including Freelancers) use LikedIn to distribute content, 89% use Twitter, 77% use Facebook, 77% use YouTube and 61% use Google + for B2B content distribution. Surprisingly, only 3 million LinkedIn members post content once a week or more.

When marketing executives (i.e., the Freelancer’s prospective clients) were asked their choice sites to search for relevant, high-quality B2B content, 91% voted for LinkedIn, blowing away Twitter (29%) and Facebook (27%). Decision-makers who have the authority to green-light projects and send billable hours your way trust LinkedIn.  How-to posts and lists receive the best reader response, according to OKDork.com.

About 45% of LinkedIn article readers are managers, directors, vice presidents and C-suite dwellers. Have you published articles in legitimate media outlets, or written white papers or case studies? If so, upload examples of your writing to your profile, since nearly half of LinkedIn article readers are senior level decision-makers. Furthermore, OKDork.com investigated LinkedIn viral posts and discovered that the sweet spot for content length is 1900 words. Don’t shy away from long-form content.

In your articles, be certain to include images (photos, graphs, charts); eight images emerged as the magic number.  Yet videos do not impress LinkedIn readers as they do visitors to other platforms and OKDork.com recommends that article writers avoid videos.

I’ve made this blog available to my LinkedIn connections for the 10 years of its existence and I’ve gained followers and regular readers as a result. Get busy, people! If you think about it, you’ll find that you have relevant content to share with your community every two or three weeks, at least.

As mentioned earlier, LinkedIn encourages members to take advantage of SlideShare as a storytelling and sales tool. According to TechCrunch, 70 million LinkedIn members visit SlideShare each month and 18 million pieces of content have been uploaded (does that mean there are 18 million SlideShare presentations on LinkedIn? I guess so.)

I have a SlideShare presentation that was uploaded some time ago and it’s a good way to tell the story of your company, or to detail why, when and how customers can benefit from using your products or services. But LinkedIn won’t allow edits to existing presentations and it’s aggravating.  I’d like to do an update.

Lead generation 

When tallying B2B leads generated by social media, LinkedIn outperforms all contenders, with 80% of B2B leads derived from LinkedIn and only 13% through Twitter and 7% through Facebook. Moreover, HubSpot reports that LinkedIn produces the highest visitor-to-lead conversion rate of all platforms, 2.74%, almost three times higher than Facebook, which produces a 0.77% visitor-to-lead conversion rate, and Twitter, which clocks in with a 0.69% visitor-to-lead rate.

In short, LinkedIn delivers more prospects who are more willing to do business.  The ultimate validation is that 65% of B2B companies have acquired a customer through LinkedIn (I’m still waiting. I should go back to ProFinder ASAP, because I do receive bidding invitations).

So here is my call-to-action. You’ve read the post (thank you!) and I hope you are inspired to step up your LinkedIn activity. It’s OK to start small. Do you have a profile photo? Add a photo and attract 21 times more profile views and receive 36 times more messages. I added a new photo today.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: John Pilkington (2006) Loading salt at the Taoudenni salt mines in northern Mali, 400 miles north of Timbuktu and approaching the Algerian border. The mines have operated since at least the 1500s.

Making Social Media Work for B2B Companies

Hello everyone, I’m happy to return to posting after an unexpected break! An important project demanded my full attention. Apologies.

When a prospective client speaks with me about developing a plan to optimize the use of B2B social media, I ask ask that s/he name a goal or two. Most say the goal is to increase sales. Next, we talk about the difference between goals and outcomes and I tend to consider generating revenue as an outcome and not a goal. I do consider nurturing a robust sales / marketing pipeline to be a goal and I’ve found that a reasonable approach to B2B social media is to use the resource for lead generation that continually fills the pipeline with prospects.

Other uses for B2B social media include new product or service announcements, brand awareness and enhancement and relationship- building that consists of inviting customers to take a behind-the-scenes look at your organization. YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter can play a role when your company launches a new product or service.  If you’re able, create a 5- 10 minute video so that you and key team members can personally introduce the product and make the case for why it’s useful and which customers will be the best fit.  Post your video to the company website plus social media accounts.

Instagram is ideal for brand enhancement and awareness if your business can be expressed well in visuals.  Through well-composed and lighted photos, business leaders can create a narrative that reinforces product positioning, supports the pricing strategy, touts competitive advantages, introduces a new product, or portrays the company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility through involvement in community or philanthropic events (that you’ve documented with three or four action shots).

Instagram and YouTube can support relationship-building by enabling behind-the-scenes looks into your organization, whether in still photos or videos. Maybe you might want to show how team members unwind on late Friday afternoons, or the celebration of a team member’s work anniversary or birthday?

In the meantime, we can revisit the sales/ marketing funnel that we discussed a few weeks ago and understand how to effectively measure the impact of your B2B social media strategies through easily accessed social media and website metrics.

ToFu: Top of Funnel

Awareness takes place at this stage and a reasonable goal for the business is to expand name recognition and reach. Your newsletter, blog, or social media platform presence will be the likely draws, but keyword and voice searches could also bring interested parties to your door. It’s useful to measure your company’s reach and a good KPI (Key Performance Index) is the number of readers or visitors to each platform plus your website.

MoFu: Middle of Funnel

Casual “day-trippers” to your website or social media accounts at this level have either dismissed you or begun to demonstrate trust and commitment.  Make your content click-bait with a provocative headline that makes readers want to know more and provide content that fulfills the promise. Engagement takes place here and I think it’s safe to call this group qualified leads. Visitors will step it up and follow your blog, subscribe to your newsletter or become a fan. Your ebook is downloaded and they’re reading your case studies.

Useful KPIs include website clicks, time visitors spend on pages, following of embedded links, the number of fans and followers, positive reviews, comments, shares and “likes.”

BoFu: Bottom of Funnel

Leads at this stage of the funnel are looking to confirm details and finalize the decision of whether to do business.  Your prospect is ready to buy, but there’s no guarantee that s/he will buy from you.  Grease the wheels and present an inviting call-to-action that encourages the next step.  A Contact Us form on your website or Facebook Fan page makes a good call-to-action, as it signals a prospect’s desire for more than general information.  The offer of a free 30 minute consultation that can be scheduled by way of a phone call, SMS, or email should appear on the landing page of your website.

A time-sensitive special offer can make a difference. Try offering a tantalizing (and inexpensive to provide) upgrade or add-on to what the prospect has indicated s/he would like to purchase.  Free or discounted installation or a free product trial are also effective. The number of inquiries initiated to discuss your products or services, as well as the conversion rate of those inquiries, are the most relevant KPIs.

It’s useful for company leaders to remember that relationship – building is an integral ingredient of the recipe to reap benefits from social media. Too many business leaders want to dive into lead-gen, but your audience will have no desire to download your ebook until they know who you are and feel they can trust your expertise. Social media success is not an overnight sensation, it is a process that takes some time.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Julia Child on the set of The French Chef  (PBS) in 1964

Finally, A Social Media Strategy for Your B2B Company

Social Media has a B2B image problem.  Business owners, Freelancers and owners / leaders of B2B companies are for the most part able to recognize the effectiveness of Social Media marketing in the B2C realm, but many still don’t see Social Media platforms as resonating with B2B buyers, despite its pervasive use across most customer demographic groups in the U.S.

Yet numerous studies have demonstrated that the various Social Media platforms can quickly and effectively increase brand awareness and generate leads for B2B and B2C companies.  Moreover, once a Social Media strategy is developed, it’s relatively easy to implement and monitor. Consider the following statistics, courtesy of the 2019 Global Digital Report prepared by We Are Social, a top-tier digital marketing firm:

  • 76% of Americans who are on the Internet use Social Media
  • Social Media (inbound marketing) has a 100% higher lead-to-close rate than traditional marketing (outbound marketing)
  • 45% of business owners/ marketers have acquired customers through LinkedIn
  • 43% of B2B companies on Facebook report generating leads as a result
  • Brands that are on Twitter generate 2x as many leads than those who are not
  • 66% of business owners/ marketers see lead generation benefits with Social Media by putting in as little as six hours/ week

Where to start

Perhaps the simplest way to generate B2B leads with Social Media is to optimize your business page profile on the platform you decide to use.  Your business must be visible. Include a link to the company website, along with links to your blog and/or newsletter. Make your value proposition obvious and devise a compelling call-to-action that indicates to prospective customers how they can learn more about your product or service.  “Enter your email here and receive a free ebook that teaches B2B leaders how to use five Social Media platforms.

Facebook

  • Call-to-Action Button: Facebook gives business pages the option to include a call-to-action button. The seven options include Book Now, Contact Us, Use App, Play Game, Shop Now, Sign Up and Watch Video. You can send the link to a page on your business website. Here’s how you can entice browsers to get familiar with your products or services with a free offer, such as a 30 minute consultation, or a free trial of an online service.
  • About Page: Facebook provides businesses a place to list their address, phone number, hours of operation and a brief summary of their business. Be sure to complete all this information. Not only is it helpful to visitors, but also boosts the pages SEO value.

 

Instagram

B2B leaders/ owners must first understand that marketing on Instagram is less about selling the benefits of your products and services and more about establishing deeper connections with people, including industry thought-leaders and prospective clients.

Instagram is a channel where building and maintaining awareness of your brand needs to come before lead generation.  Unlike Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, where you can drive traffic to your site, think of Instagram as a way to grab the attention of industry influencers and prospective clients at a time when they’re not really in ‘work mode’.  When they’re not in ‘work mode’ they’re not going to be clicking links, they’re not going to be interested in being ‘sold to’.  This is your chance to seamlessly inject your brand values into their Instagram feed so it doesn’t look out of place amongst the B2Cs, friends and co-workers they also follow on Instagram.

The key to leveraging Instagram as a marketing tool for B2B buyers is to not think of it as a marketing tool at all.  Instead, think about Instagram as a way to tell your story as part of a larger online marketing strategy.

Instagram will help you to demonstrate your company’s commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility when you include three or four photos of you and your team participating in spring clean-up, or fall planting of tulip bulbs, in a public park.  You can show the celebration of a team member’s baby shower. You can even show the team sharing beer and wine and celebrating that a big project deadline was successfully met.

LinkedIn:

  • Images: As with both Facebook and Twitter, your profile and banner images can have a big impact on the success of your page. Make your profile image some recognizable variation of your company logo and be sure to mirror your header image with current marketing initiatives.
  • SEO: LinkedIn company profiles are often indexed by search engines. Be sure that the first few lines of your company description are compelling and contain your target keywords, as this text will often be used as Google’s preview text. LinkedIn users can browse the platform using keywords, meaning that this optimization will help get more eyes on your profile within the platform.
  • Showcase Pages: LinkedIn offers the ability to create separate pages to showcase products or examples of your work, such as writing. These pages live at the top of your profile in prime page real estate. Use these to help out with your lead generation efforts.

 

Twitter

  • Bio: Twitter marketing expert, Madalyn Sklar recommends that “Your bio should be compelling and inviting. Don’t be cutesy or funny. Your profile should paint your story in 160 characters and encourage me to want to learn more about you.”
  • Profile/Header Images: For most B2B organizations, your Twitter profile image should be some variation of your logo — consider color, size, and how it will look on different devices. Your image, more than your handle, is what your followers will come to recognize you for, so it’s important to keep it consistent. Your header image, on the other hand, should be changed fairly regularly to match your marketing initiatives. Running an important event? Holding a webinar? Promoting a new product? This should be reflected in your banner image.
  • Pinned Tweet: Twitter allows you to pin important tweets to the top of your feed so they don’t get lost among your other tweets. If your goal is lead generation, this tweet should contain a call-to-action and a link to your website. Consider pinning a tweet about exclusive content, a free trial, or a special product discount.
  • Open Your DMs: Make sure your Direct Messages are open to the public. That way, if customers or prospects have questions, they can come to you directly. Prepare responses to common questions ahead of time.
  • Hashtags: Studies show that tweets with hashtags generate twice the engagement as tweets without. But be careful, because too many hashtags can resemble spam. Your marketing team should develop a strategy around which hashtags to use and how often. Soon your followers, customers and prospects will catch on and use these hashtags, too.

That’s all for today. Go to work on this and we’ll pick up the thread next week.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Hussey’s Horse Auction (1926) at the Bonhay Cattle Market. Exeter, UK

How to Target Content Marketing

Now that you’ve completed your business plan, you’re ready to put it in motion. Here’s the guide that will make sure you know how to get your entrepreneurial groove on! In Be Your Own Boss, Part 2: The Implementation and Beyond, you’ll learn to recognize the strengths or weaknesses in your proposed business model and develop an effective customer acquisition plan. You’ll get insight into what you should consider when choosing the right legal entity for your venture. Learn to implement savvy marketing, branding and social media strategies, get real about business financing options and build a solid financial strategy that will sustain your dream. Thursdays April 18 & 25 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Register here.

Content marketing continues to be an effective Inbound Marketing strategy for Freelancers and other business leaders who seek to interest and engage potential clients, nurture relationships with current clients, demonstrate an understanding of client concerns and generate leads that have a healthy possibility to convert to sales.

Yet according to sales and marketing experts, fewer than 50% of those who claim to be evaluating a product or service purchase are ready to buy. Therefore, the job of business leaders/ owners and Freelancers is to move prospects through the buyer’s journey, also known as the sales funnel, and toward the sale.

Recall if you will the shape of a funnel—wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. The shape of a funnel reflects to the buyer’s journey.  Early in the search for a solution, would-be clients search for information. Many are window shoppers. Others are more serious. They explore options, compare prices, clarify their needs and confirm their budgets. Eventually the most serious shoppers become fewer in number as they acknowledge their must-haves and narrow their choices down to a short list of sellers (i.e., businesses).  Only a relative handful buy make a purchase. 

Let’s examine the typical buyer’s journey and understand how inbound marketing can function to encourage the sale along the way.

Tofu: Top of Funnel 

This stage signals awareness and potential prospects are searching for information.  Content here will cast a wide net, to attract the attention of all those who are searching for insights, opinions, research and other data in their early stage and education process. Just as you may scan rating sites such as Yelp or Trip Advisor when searching for a hotel or restaurant, Tofu tier leads get familiar with your products and services through your blog, newsletter and social media postings.  It’s too early to present a call-to-action appeal, which could be a turn-off at this point. In general, the value of Tofu leads is low.

Nevertheless, your objective is to peel off the most promising leads and move them into the next tier.  Achieve this aim when you offer a 15 minute free consultation, announce a podcast or webinar in which you’ll be featured to discuss a topic relevant to your typical clients, or extend an invitation to download an e-book that you’ve written, gratis. Those who register for these extras are making a commitment, to an extent, to your business.  Furthermore, they must share their name and email contact as they register. They will progress to Mofu.

MoFu: Middle of Funnel 

You now have a qualified lead. The prospect is real and has acknowledged that a problem that must be solved in the near term.  Your prospect must evaluate  which of the available solutions might be the best fit?

Content at this tier must continue to educate, but the approach will become more specific, to position your company as capable and trustworthy, prepared to deliver the right solutions and solve problems.  Here, content explains why your solution and approach to problem-solving are the best fit. Examples of your ability to understand client concerns and priorities, as well as provide the best solution, can be illustrated in white papers, case studies, or (video) testimonials.

This tier is often considered the most critical because prospects will either agree to move forward and approve the sale or decide you’re not the one based on the information  presented.  Demonstrate expertise, establish trust and build relationships here.  Flash the power of your brand by dropping the names of a marquis client or two.

On the other hand, if it becomes apparent that you are not the best fit for a client, be upfront and make that known. You always want to provide the optimum customer experience that leads to good word of mouth and avoids churn (see last week’s post).

BoFu: Bottom of Funnel

Here is where the buyer confirms his/her decision to do business with your organization and the actual sales process can begin.  According to research featured in Forbes Magazine in 2013, many prospects get 60% – 70%  through the buyer’s journey before they care to speak with a sales representative.

There may be no content offered at this stage, but time-sensitive special offers can make a big difference.  Your prospect is ready to buy but there is still no guarantee that s/he will buy from you.  Here you give a little nudge, a sweetener, as you present your call-to-action, at last.

Depending on whether your business is B2B or B2C, tangible product or intangible service, you may offer a modest discount to buy now (or within 24 hours).  You might offer a tantalizing (and inexpensive to provide) upgrade or add-on to what the prospect has indicated s/he would like to purchase.  Free or discounted installation and a free trial are also effective.  Art galleries have been known to allow serious prospects to take an artwork home so that they can live with it for 10 days.

Inbound Marketing is lots more work than tried-and-true Outbound Marketing, where you scrape together some money and place an advertisement or two in target publications, or distribute flyers in certain zip codes, and hope for the best. Outbound Marketing still works, but Inbound Marketing is how to highly target your marketing campaigns and receive the highest ROI.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: A 13th century Ottoman (Turkish) horseman draws his bow. Artist unknown.