Archive for the 'Marketing' Category

“Ground Truth” and the Importance of Market Research

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I know.

I know you’re excited about your new business ideas.

I know you have a great idea and when you tell others about it, they think you have a great idea, too. A great idea is the birth of a new small business.

But as a self-employed small business owner, you can’t afford to take chances on ideas without getting more information about what your entire market audience wants and what they’re willing to pay for it. Talking to 10 or 20 other people isn’t enough. You’ve got to talk to hundreds.

In the military and in NASA, they use a term called “ground truth.” While they can observe things via satellite and other distant monitoring devices, nothing beats getting down on the ground and seeing what’s really happening in real life. Here’s NASA’s explanation of how they use Ground Truth when it comes to their space programs.

So, how can you get ground truth about the viability of your business idea? The answer is market research. Market research is a study of your consumer’s preferences and your competition. Sometimes you’ll hear it called a “feasibility study.”

Through in-person interviews and online surveys, literature research, internet research, and other information gathering techniques, you can learn the trends in your industry, as well as individual preferences of your potential customers. If you’re in a well-defined industry, like toy manufacturing or massage therapy, you might find that your national professional organization has already conducted research studies on behalf of the members of the organization.

Why is market research necessary?

Because we all have different tastes, different ideas about what’s important in our lives, and different ability (or willingness) to pay a particular price for what we want. Often the small business owner thinks they have a great idea for a new product or service, only to discover that people either don’t want that service or product, or they’re not willing to pay the price that the small business needs to set in order to be profitable.

Sometimes they discover, joyfully, that not only do people want this new product or service, but that these same people can suggest other new products and services that would work well with the new idea, allowing the small business owner to see future growth into new areas. Or maybe they discover through their market research that if they made a small change in their product or service, for instance, making a product with a red cover instead of a blue one, that people would buy it more often.

Another purpose of market research is to discover what your competition is doing. Say that you want to create a new type of office product and you think your idea is unique. Take a look at what’s on offer at the Staples, OfficeMax and Office Depot websites, and you might discover that your competitors have already created a product to solve the same problem as your product solves. Does that mean you should then give up the idea entirely? No, not necessarily. What it means is that you now have some ground truth about what you’re up against if you want to go head-to-head with these competitors.

You need to know the ground truth about your ideas before you spend countless hours and money taking a new product or service to market.

I know that it feels like it’s putting a damper on new business idea creation, but in fact, it’s just the opposite: I’m encouraging you to find out what your customers want, and what they will pay for it, so that you can ensure future success.

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Category: Marketing

Is Election Stress Affecting Your Business?

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Whether it’s the USA election or Brexit, September 11 or Hurricane Katrina, the uncertainty that surrounds world events brings up anxiety in people and changes their behavior, which in turn affects your marketing and sales.

I’ve spoken with several colleagues who are having a difficult time filling autumn classes or getting clients to commit to a contract, where they never had a problem before. These are high-skilled people with long-term reputations for excellent sales and marketing skills.

So I started asking around to see how widespread it is: Are you seeing anything different in your business these past few months?

I’m hearing a chilling response from my colleagues, clients and members: Yes, things appear different over the past few months, with their own businesses and in discussions they’re having with their own colleagues.

One possible explanation is that Americans are feeling extremely anxious about the elections and people in Europe are feeling anxious about Brexit.

Anxiety makes people hesitate before making a big commitment. They second-guess themselves. Many people take a wait-and-see approach when anxiety is high.

What You Can Do

Talk with your customers. While the political events may be important, and so is the rest of their personal and professional life. Reach out to customers and remind them that their dreams and goals will not go away, and instead of freezing in place, they should consider where they can empower themselves to take action. What is one next step they can take that will propel them forward?

For your own business situation, know that these anxieties come and go, and you don’t always have control over them. You can plan for these swings by keeping your finger on the pulse of how your customers are feeling, whether you sell to the general public, or to other businesses. Pay attention to these trends so that you can get ahead of the curve with strategic planning and nimble marketing. (And pay attention to your own reaction to world events – are you freezing in place, too?)

Pay attention to world events through the lens of “How will this make my customers feel and react, and how long will this event affect them?” You don’t want to make pivotal and long-lasting changes in your business and marketing model if your customers will only be affected by an event for a short time.

Where to Keep Your Finger on the Pulse

There are several places you can pay attention to what’s happening with your customers’ feelings and actions.

  • You can find a monthly consumer confidence index here. Simply scroll down to the Countries menu and select one or more countries to compare their confidence numbers.
  • Here’s a list of business confidence for many different nations as well.
  • Here’s the most recent Stress in America results from the professional association for psychologists, the American Psychological Association. It talks about how adults are feeling about the stress related to the election (in a non-partisan way):
  • The Marketplace and Edison Research Economic Anxiety Index is here.
  • Several major publications regularly interview business leaders about their outlook for their business/industry, and your local Chamber of Commerce may do so as well. Just Google “business leader outlook” to find relevant survey results. (Note: because Google will show you a series of results, even historic ones, you might want to put the current year in your search terms so that you get current results.)

What Do You Think?

What’s happening in your business? Is it steady or have you seen changes? Share your thoughts on my blog.

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Category: Business Strategy & Planning, Marketing

Don’t Wait to Become an Expert

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There’s really only three ways to get known as an expert in your field: teaching, speaking, writing. Let’s do it!

Do not wait for someone’s approval or permission.

Don’t wait until you know more — there’s always an audience who knows less about a topic than you do — and there’s always opportunity for you to learn more.

Don’t wait until you lose weight, or find the perfect clothing, or get Botox. Decide once and for all that other’s judgment of your physical features is their problem, not yours.

Don’t wait until you’ve crafted the “perfect” speech or the “perfect” lesson plan. Do the best you can, and tweak after each time you speak. Speaking and teaching are living arts; you get better each time you do them.

Don’t wait until you have enough money or time to put on a huge workshop or start a big mastermind group. Instead, gather a small group of people, and start where you stand. You’ll grow your participants along the way each time you offer your class or mastermind group.

Don’t wait until you’ve written the most elegant blog post or book. If you need another pair of eyes on your writing, there are thousands of people in the world who need the same thing. Find a writing buddy and get your writing out into the world.

And finally, don’t wait until the fear goes away. It won’t go away. Instead, decide that you’ll work through the fear, you’ll be bold and brave — because it’s far worse to have regrets.

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Category: Business Strategy & Planning, Creating, Marketing & Teaching Classes, Marketing

9 Must-Have Items to Put in Your Welcome Email

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Think of a new customer or a new person to your email list as a guest in your home. How will you make them feel welcomed and appreciated?

Your first email to them, your “Welcome” email, can begin that relationship, and turn a one-way conversation into a conversation that goes both ways between your business and your customer. Make it count.

Over the past several years, people have become accustomed to building personal relationships with a business via email. They reject companies and service providers where they don’t feel they’re being honored.

Send the first email out automatically, within a few minutes after a person subscribes and opts-in to your email list. It can be one email, or a series of emails, triggered by a person joining your list.

What a Welcome Email will do for you

A well-crafted welcome email – whether it’s confirming a person’s subscription or offering immediate access to your content – can build trust and a rapport with your audience. It sets the tone of future communication, starts a conversation, helps reinforce your brand and message and acknowledges how important they are to you.

Consider it your calling card; it’s your one opportunity to knock their socks off with meaningful content that solves their problems or answers their questions. You want them to open future emails from you.

Be warm, professional, helpful – and human.

Some tips on what you should put in your first email

  • Welcome them to your community. Remind them how they got on your list – did they sign up for a free offer, did they make a purchase from your online store, or did they hear you speak or teach somewhere?
  • Thank them. Acknowledge that you’re grateful they chose your content, or for their purchase.
  • Talk to them about what they’ve signed up for. What kind of content can they expect? If they bought something from you, let them know how to access that item or when they can expect to get it.
  • Give them more than they expected. Offer links to important and helpful content on your website, or links to audio files, documents or webinar and video content.
  • Tell them how often they can expect your emails. You should be sending email newsletters at least once a month, but once a week is better. Whatever you choose, be consistent.
  • Provide them with links to your social media accounts as another way to connect.
  • Answer frequently asked questions. Are there questions that pop up all the time which a list of FAQs could answer quickly?
  • Continue the conversation. If you promised something in return for their signing up, make sure they got it. Follow up with a survey asking them wha they think about your product or service. Remember: Even if it’s free, they’re still a customer. They’re consuming your content.
  • Tell them how to unsubscribe. It’s important that you give clear instructions on how to get off your list.

Doubling down with a double opt-in

Sometimes asking people to confirm their email address – known as a “double opt-in” – will be your first electronic correspondence with a customer. By asking people to double opt-in, you’re ensuring a quality list of real email addresses. The double opt-in is meant to get people to click on a link to confirm their email address. Some people don’t do this right away – or they don’t do this at all – so you might have to send a reminder. You can also check the list of people who signed up but didn’t confirm their subscription to check for obvious misspellings in their email addresses.

I’d love to hear from you

Are you sending out Welcome emails? Do you add anything to them aside from the 9 items listed above? Do you send them automatically or manually? Share your story, comments and questions in the Comments area below. 🙂

19 comments for now



Category: Internet & Social Media Marketing, Marketing, Running a Strong & Efficient Business

Nurturing the Not-Ready Customer Through the Buying Cycle

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We’d all love it if we could close every deal or every sale with a new customer in 30 minutes or less. But that rarely happens. A sales cycle can last up to six months, depending on how much research the potential customer has done before he or she comes to you.

Before customers are ready to sign on the dotted line, they first must go through a well-researched route to purchasing products and services, called the Buying Cycle. You need to nurture these potential clients and help them along this route to ultimately choosing the solution you’re offering them.

Studies show that 79% of website visitors aren’t ready to buy. They’re somewhere else in the buying cycle. They may not even be aware of the scope of their problem, and may simply be in the early stages of researching a possible solution.

But just because they’re not ready to buy doesn’t mean there isn’t opportunity for you as a business owner. If you continue to educate them and nurture those leads – wherever they are in the buying cycle – you’ll be at the top of their minds when they’re ready to buy.

The Buying Cycle

The typical buying cycle goes from having an awareness that there is a problem to evaluating the possible solutions, choosing one and implementing it. And it ends, hopefully, with a long-term, meaningful relationship with a customer.

A more detailed explanation of the buying cycle:

  1. Acknowledging there’s a problem they need to solve. Something is broken – either a physical product, like their washing machine, or a process in their business – and they need to fix it.
  2. Making a decision to fix this problem. They can’t do it themselves, so they need outside help.
  3. Determining exactly what results they want. What’s their end goal? What outcome or results do they want after purchasing and implementing a solution?
  4. Gathering basic information. They’re searching for companies that can help them, and often doing this research online. Perhaps they’re asking friends or other business owners who’ve had similar problems about their solutions.
  5. Identifying possible solutions or vendors that will give the result or results that they want.
  6. Comparing those solutions or vendors.
  7. Selecting a vendor/product.
  8. Negotiating the deal.
  9. Making a purchase decision. This can mean either signing a contract or making a direct purchase.
  10. Implementing the solution. Your relationship doesn’t end with the purchase. Now you have to help them use your product or service wisely to get full results.
  11. Forging an ongoing relationship. This allows for repeat business from the same customer and ensures ongoing customer satisfaction and word-of-mouth referrals.

Recognizing where your customer is in this buying cycle is key. When a customer first makes contact with you, have a set of questions ready that help determine where he or she is. “Tell me about your situation?” “Have you looked at other solutions?” Their answers to these questions can help determine whether they’re still early in the buying cycle, or if they’re close to making a decision.

Pick Marketing Techniques Based on Buying Cycle

Choose different marketing techniques for each phase of the buying cycle. For instance:

  • A well-designed website can help customers early on in the buying cycle by allowing them to gather information.
  • A free whitepaper outlining possible solutions and comparing them helps mid-way through the buying cycle.
  • An email campaign helps prospective customers through the pre-purchase process, and later forges an ongoing, repeat-buying relationship near the end of the buying cycle.

Having content for each stage tells your customer, “We’re ready when you are.” If they’re early in the buying cycle, back off and let them explore, but be available to answer questions. If they want to discuss possibly buying from you, be available for a phone or in-person meeting, and have marketing material ready to help them make a choice from among your offerings.

By being aware of the different stages in the buying process, and thinking about what questions your customer are asking at each stage of the cycle, you can provide a prospective customer with the appropriate marketing technique at the right time.

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Category: Internet & Social Media Marketing, Marketing

The Importance of Kitchen-Tested Recipes

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When a cook is writing a cookbook, he tests each recipe in his own kitchen to make sure the instructions are 100% accurate. He may also have friends and colleagues test the recipe, as ovens, ingredients and altitude have a sneaky way of affecting a recipe’s success.

Let’s relate this back to selling services and products. Regardless of your industry or area of expertise, have you “kitchen-tested” your services and products? Do you write and speak about what you know based on your real-life experience, or do you merely base it on something you read in a book? Have you tested your ideas yourself and have you asked others to test them too, before bringing these ideas to the public?

Too often I’ve seen small business owners rush a new service or product to market before really testing to make sure it’s accurate. They use their first customers as guinea pigs without warning those same customers that they’re actually testing the product or service for the first time.

Recently I signed up for a class. I was so excited to learn more about this particular topic! The class was through 100% self-paced multimedia online content. Yet, after I paid and entered the website, more than 50 percent of the content wasn’t available yet. Of the content that did exist, much of it was weak and watered down, too simple for most students. Cries of “Where’s the Content?” were heard from all the students.

Had the teacher told us that we were to be guinea pigs, had the teacher told us that the content was not tested and that new content would be rolled out over time, we could have chosen whether we wanted to be testers. In addition, much of the content was not based on the teacher’s real-life experience but on what was read from books. When asked questions, the teacher didn’t have adequate answers. The teacher came off as “not an expert,” bad news for their reputation. I definitely won’t buy another class from them again. Worse, I won’t recommend them to others.

I know when you have a brand new product or service that you’re very, very excited about it and you want to launch it immediately. Just take that little extra time to kitchen-test your ideas before you birth them into the world. It will save your reputation and your revenue for years to come.

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Category: Business Strategy & Planning, Marketing
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