We've all been doing business on the web for more than ten years now. We all consider ourselves experts.
And yet, I still see the majority of business people making these really stupid mistakes. These mistakes are a drag on business - and your revenue. They're small things, seemingly, and simple. But they make all the difference in the daily interactions between you, the seller, and your buyers.
The Top Five Cyber Biz Mistakes
1. Missing or incomplete email sig. Let's say you have just decided that you want to buy something from someone who has been sending you emails. You have a question, and you decide it will go faster if you call. What do you do first? You go to your email inbox, find one of their emails, and open it up.
You EXPECT their contact information to be at the end of each message, complete with a direct dial number and/or their mobile number. When it isn't there - and it often isn't - you have to go digging, which is a pain.
You open up your browser, type in their company's URL, go to the Contact section, and, if you are lucky, there will actually be a phone number. You call the main number, and find yourself listening to an automated attendant giving you category choices ("For sales, press 1. For service, press 2.") Finally the attendant tells you there is a dial-by-name company directory.
Now you know you will have to tediously spell their name out using the keypad until it is recognized. If you are using a smartphone, you have to put the phone on "loudspeaker" so you can dial and hear when the attendant recognizes the name. I should also note that if you are using a smartphone, there are often no letters on the number keys, so you have to refer to something else (like an old-fashioned phone or a diagram you've made for yourself, or your Skype window, which shows very faint letters on their dialpad).
Of course, at some point in this process you might decide that this is too much work. You may give up on calling and send an email, or you may decide that vendor shouldn't get your business - and go looking for a competitor to contact.
This is crazy. We all should be putting our full contact information in an automatically appended email signature: Name, phone number(s), title, company, site URL, social media/VOIP names (Facebook [if appropriate], Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn), mailing address, blog URL. I even suggest including your email address, in case someone wants to copy and paste your contact info into another email they are sending someone else.
I bet we could eliminate 10% of the time we waste every day if everyone did this. And you'd be making it a lot easier for people to contact you when they wanted to buy.
2. Lack of attention to the little things on your website. Your copyright should be this year, not last year or the year before. An outdated copyright notice tells the prospective buyer that you are asleep at the wheel, not paying attention to detail, and probably aren't very professional. Full contact information and a link to a site map should also appear with the copyright information at the bottom of every one of your site's pages.
Once a month, click on all the links in all your sites. And try to buy something from yourself. I bet you'll find something embarrassing each time you do this, something that is causing "shopping cart abandonment."
Actively maintain and constantly upgrade your site.
Your website is your public face. People visit it every day, and pass judgment on your site in seconds. Don't just put it up and leave it there. Visit it yourself.
3. "About" sections that don't talk about company managers. CEOs tell me that they don't like to show their management team on their About page because they're afraid of headhunters. It's a silly fear. LinkedIn is the world's most convenient poaching/recruiting tool, far more convenient than your website. And if you are that worried about retaining your key managers, they probably have their resumes out on the street anyway.
And, importantly, your buyers want to know WHO YOU ARE. Showing the faces of your managers increases the trust factor, demonstrating to prospective customers that you are not just some sleazeball waiting to pounce on the unwary.
I recently looked at about a dozen websites for small and medium companies trying to make more sales in a competitive market, and NONE of them had a helpful About page. One even had a link to "our parent company"; when you clicked on that link, you were taken to a page that was all black, with only about 4 sentences on it in white type, about how great they are and how they want to help you. Very off-putting, and costing the "child" company lots of sales.
4. Incomplete and confusing emails. At the book fulfillment company I work with, there are two people I interact with frequently: the sales rep, and the customer service person. The sales rep always does a great job of communicating via email. I always get my question answered, in the first email she sends in response.
The customer service person does just the opposite. His emails ALWAYS force me to ask more questions. For example, recently Amazon was saying, "2 -3 weeks for delivery" on my book's Amazon page. I assumed they had run out of stock because orders are hockey-sticking. But just to be sure, I checked with my rep. His answer: "They ran out of stock. They have several orders that shipped last week. Once received it will show in stock."
Now, I can assume from this that he is really saying: "Amazon ran out of stock. We shipped more books to them last week. As soon as Amazon receives them, they will be able to ship immediately again."
This is what he should have said. Instead, his answer begged more questions. Who are "they"? What is "it"? Indefinite pronouns are killers. Banish indefinite pronouns from your communications.
There are plenty of people in business out there who write this way. Their emails drive everyone crazy. They may know what they are trying to say, but they are not communicating those thoughts effectively and unambiguously to the recipient.
Be formal, explicit, specific, and thorough in your emails. Everyone who gets your clear messages, and is able to act on them, will thank you for it.
5. Old and useless subject lines. When we work on projects via email (which is how most of us work now), we file - and search through - those emails, using three filtering criteria: person, subject, date. The "person" and "date" fields are automatic. The subject lines are what separate super cyber citizens from the herd.
Don't be lazy. Change the subject line when the message subject changes. This is especially important when you're giving instructions to employees and vendors, and answering questions for customers. Make it a practice, no matter who you're interacting with.
Your digital content should be answering questions, not confusing people - or forcing them to search elsewhere for the answer.
We are all doing business digitally now. There is a standard. Meet it.
All of your projects will go more smoothly. You'll get more done - and you'll sell more, too.
This is a discouraging time for people who work. It's discouraging for anyone who works, but it is an especially dismal time for entrepreneurs and other business owners.
It is not that people aren't working, and working hard. It is not that there aren't companies succeeding, and succeeding well. It's that underneath it all, there is this sense that something has gone very wrong and the people in positions to fix it aren't interested in fixing it.
It isn't a vague sort of feeling; it's palatable. It's a fear you can taste, a real sense of doom.
I'm not going to get into the reasons that people feel that way; others are filling that role.
What I want to do here is remind us all - to remember together - why our work matters.
If you look at the history of mankind, you see two types of situations: Prosperity and poverty. They are polar opposites. I have seen - and experienced - both, firsthand.
Everyone wants to be prosperous; no one wants to be poor. So I am going to focus here on the realities of prosperity.
When societies are prosperous, there is a sense of promise. There is a belief that work leads to reward, that an honest day of work will result in financial gain, which can be used however we want to improve our lives and secure our family's future.
This promise is kept by us and by all those around us, with whom we interact every day. This promise is kept the tiny, individual decisions made and actions taken by billions of people around the planet. It is the symphony of work; an interweaving of people working in harmony; people helping people, people showing their appreciation for that help via payment.
The tiny individual decisions and actions are what make it all work.
We decide to come to work. We decide to do a good job. We decide to be courteous and helpful. We strive to make a good product or provide a useful service. We decide to learn as much as we can and to keep learning, because we know that if we don't, we will not be as helpful nor as prosperous; we know that we will put our future at risk.
This is especially true for us entrepreneurs, who will only have customers as long as we are doing a lot of things right. There is no end to the amount of excellence that we must strive to attain. It is a constant challenge to be our best at all times.
Every person who decides to work is contributing to the greater good. Prosperous societies are those where people work. The more people working, the more prosperous the society is. More money is flowing and more opportunities exist. For everyone - not just a chosen few.
It is the opposite of the old Soviet joke, which summed up the alternative: "They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work."
Prosperous people are able to feed their families, improve their surroundings, and contribute to causes. Their prosperity creates an environment that is safer for the less fortunate among us, including children, old folks, and the disabled. It presents opportunities for those who want to improve their own lot in life, to become prosperous themselves, because people who are prosperous hire less-prosperous people to help them.
As you contribute to this community of work, you help raise the standard of living for everyone. You make it easier for someone else to do something or get a problem solved. To meet a need. To improve their life somehow. Your decision to keep improving what you do contributes to their decision to improve some aspect of their lives. It is a never-ending cycle of improvement, which raises the tide for all the boats.
This is why your work matters.
Thank you for working.
Sam Decker is a brilliant marketer who is now the CEO of a company called Mass Relevance. The company is less than a year old, but was recently the curation engine behind the Presidential Twitter town hall and tweets on NBC's The Voice.
Before founding Mass Relevance, Sam was the founding CMO for Bazaarvoice, the leading social commerce & reviews platform company which recently filed for an IPO.
I have always liked and respected Sam. I think of him now as the King of Curation. I interviewed him recently to see what he could teach us all about curation.
First, the Presidential Twitter town hall. Why was Mass Relevance chosen?
We're ideally suited to have pulled this off. The White House reached out to Twitter, who reached out to us. We were behind the website, all the displays on TV, and the curation strategy. We powered all the content that flowed through. We were able to add our logo to the set, which was seen by the entire nation. It was cool.
We usually provide curation services on a subscription basis, but we've also been behind real-time social integration for individual events such as the Golden Globes, the Oscars, Fashion Week for Pepsi, and the Royal Wedding for CNN and ABC.
How do you define curation?
When people think of curation, they typically think about museums. The curator is thinking about the theme for the museum, where the museum is, and what kind of people are coming into that museum. Then the curator finds the art to fill that context.
To me, curation on the web is the process of working backwards from a certain context. You're trying to create an experience in that context. You need to work backwards and find the content that will support that context, in the most relevant and engaging way, as opposed to creating it yourself.
At the moment, we are in what Steve Rubel calls the Validation Era. We're validating ourselves and each other in our sharing and postings. It's all growing like crazy; Twitter is now at 200 million tweets a day. Facebook has over 700 million users. Who knows where we'll be a year from now.
Content marketing is all the rage, but I think there's a content overload problem at the recipient end, one that should concern all marketers.
Yes, there's a linear growth of content. As a result, as the content and connections increase, you pay less and less attention. It all becomes more diluted. And amidst all the noise, there is still some great content in there. It's all about finding the needles in the haystack.
My hypothesis, which I have been focusing on my whole career, is how do you use the voice of your audience of customers to say what you want to say - to tell your story?
I talk about customer oxygen; the concept that you're living and breathing the voice of the customer. Everyone is starting to pull in this content and use it for advertising or events or other things. In the process of doing this work, they're actually listening to customers.
Brands have such an opportunity. Think of Coca Cola being able to pull all the (public) pictures posted to Twitter in the last hour of people drinking a can of Coke next to a pool. Pictures taken by real customers. That's the context: "Here are pictures of people who just had a Coke next to a pool in the last hour." Imagine these pictures on display at a large grocery store, served up in real time. People would look at it and think, "Oh, that looks good."
This kind of content is more engaging. People will want to post their own. It leads to a lot of auxiliary benefits for brands, not the least of which is making them more interactive and socially mature. It's a full circle; you put stuff out, but you also bring in people who want to share their voice. The whole company becomes more conversational.
What's the biggest challenge in curation?
The same challenges all new channels face: getting executives to see that this is the way things are headed. And helping marketers figure out where all this fits in.
They have to think about how to do it right, based on their culture, their product type, and their customers.
Yes. We're trying to make that as easy for them as possible, exploring all the different ways that companies can use curation. We can do data visualizations, we can do Q&A, we can do something where you could tweet and follow and then you get something in return, so you can add interaction. You can do voting and polling and caption contests.
It's all about publishing and making it interactive and appropriate for what you're trying to accomplish.
Starting with the end in mind reminds me of how I teach people to market and sell: What if we assume that the customer wants to buy? How do we make it easy for them? What I hear you saying about curation is similar - that you start with the desired end result in mind - the right end result for your company, the audience and the channels.
Yes, that's right. Curation is more than just filtering and moderating. How do we take it from curation to integration? For example, when someone has a mobile phone why are they going to that mobile site? What are they looking for? When they're coming to your home page, when they're going to your product page, when they're going to your reach-out site and they see your product, what could curation do, to bring in real-time content?
The great thing about Twitter is that anyone publishing content is likely to also tweet their content. Any interesting piece of content is available to us to go out and discover. We can put in a list of all Fortune 1000 brands and combine it with "progressive," "innovative," "social," "case study," etc., and start to look at all the published case studies and white papers and the things that they're doing that are progressive. We could take all of the magazines, Ad Age, Adweek . . . just pull all their tweets and then filter them by brand names. We can see when they mention a brand name in one of their articles.
What is your ultimate goal - your personal mission - regarding curation?
In each client company, there are a couple of people who really get it - what curation can do and the ways to do it. We want to create more kings and queens of curation, so they can create great experiences and achieve great things.
Real-time content is more interesting and engaging. The goal is to curate the real-time social content across any 'surface' (mobile, web, TV, etc.). It's exciting for a fan to know that they can tweet something and all 50,000 people in a stadium are going to see it. We recently went live with NY Giants for their opening game. Tweets from fans can be seen throughout the stadium.
Of course, you have to moderate, filter, source, and secure that content. Your automation has to have rules, and you have to combine automatic moderation with hand moderation. You have to know how to display it (streaming, visualizing, etc.). You have to understand how to spur people on to participate. But it all starts with what you're trying to accomplish on those surfaces, and then working backwards from there.
What does the future of curation look like?
Right now we are tending to focus on media and entertainment, because there is a huge demand and we can expand to serve many surfaces. Also, we're a preferred partner of the Twitter media team.
But primarily, we are a B2B company. One of the great lessons I learned from you was thinking about how people buy. I see all the innovative ways that these curation tools can be applied. However, quite often our buyer really wants to just "plug it in." So we are constantly working toward their desired goal.
What's the biggest lesson you've learned so far, regarding curation?
It's the realization that one piece of content can make all the difference in the world, in the right place in the right way. I think the best example I have of that is the story about Subway and Jared, where one franchise found him. At first, corporate said "No," so the franchise started using him as a marketing tool, for the franchise. Then the rest of the corporation woke up and said, "Here's a customer that has one very great story." And more than ten years later, he's still a spokesperson.
It's all about finding that nugget, and the person associated with it, and making that connection.
The Mass Relevance platform provides thousands of combinations of automated rules to increase quality and relevance of output.
Using the platform, you can also take an additional step of hand moderation before content goes live.
The Mass Relevance team, platform, and visualizations were behind the recent White House Twitter town hall, held both on the web and at the White House.
Keynoting on the 27th - "The Buyer's Funnel and Your Political Power: Joined at the Hip"
Last chance special - offer ends Sept 15
B2B Marketing Webinar event starts at 11; KZ keynote is at 1PM.
"How Your Customers Can Make You Indispensable to Your Company"
Keynoting on the 25th - "The Buyer's Funnel and Your Political Power: Joined at the Hip"
Last chance special - offer ends Sept 15 (3-day package sold out!)
Will be signing books after the keynote at the Sherpa booth
I have eaten my own dogfood and interviewed attendees prior to these speeches - and will be delivering very relevant, timely keynotes. I look forward to meeting you there!
Buyers are literally bombarded, every day, with messages from sellers that sound wonderful but are absolutely, positively, designed to cheat them.
As buyers, not one of us has escaped the onslaught. We are being swarmed by this kind of deception. Deception is at historically high levels because the bad guys have more ways than ever to invade our personal and commercial spaces with their lies.
High levels of deception have also made life more difficult for legitimate, caring companies. Because our customers are constantly under attack by the cheaters and chiselers, we have to go further than ever to prove that we will take proper care of them. We have to be more educational than pushy; we have to provide proof of performance using customer reviews and testimonials, and we have to find new ways to prove ourselves to customers before they decide to buy.
Email has been most hurt (although deceptive social media is certainly trending). Customers get disgusting emails by the hundreds every week, telling them that $1,567,895 is sitting in a bank somewhere waiting for them to pick it up - AFTER they provide the incredibly sincere and gracious emailer with their banking information.
But more subtle, sophisticated methods used by large companies are also contributing to sky-high levels of buyer skepticism.
There's the insurance agent talking to a customer who has called in to say his basement finally flooded, in an exceptional storm. This is the customer's first claim ever, after paying the insurance premium faithfully for 24 years. The customer says that to the agent. The agent says, very cheerfully and conversationally, all friendly-like:
"Yes, thanks, I see that in your account info here. Such a shame, about your basement. [Pause.] Tell me, did you have a sump pump?"
"Well, no, because I've been in this house 24 years, and there's never been a problem with moisture of any kind."
"Gee, that's too bad. Because if you had a sump pump down there, even if you never used it, I'd be sending you a $10,000 check today. But since you don't have a sump pump, there's nothing I can do."
At that moment, the customer realizes he's just been shafted by his "friend," who had waited until this moment to tell him this essential piece of information. The customer also decides that he is going to start looking for a new insurance agency.
Will he have better luck with the next insurance company? Probably not. When I interviewed a bunch of doctors for a medical device division of Johnson & Johnson, they told me that their biggest problem, one that has cost them dearly, is getting insurance companies to pay for surgeries they have already performed. The insurers' excuse was always some paperwork, method, or device technicality.
There are zillions of examples of this crooked, promise-them-one-thing-then-do-another activity. We have all been victims, and we all have our own stories, so I won't go into any more examples.
What has happened, as a result of all this lying, cheating, and stealing, is that customers have adopted a "guilty until proven innocent" mindset to all of their purchasing. Customers will discount 90% of the content on your website, as they search for a way to determine just how honest you really are. This is especially true for expensive, high-risk purchases.
I recently interviewed buyers of an industrial, electro-mechanical product that is used in R&D labs. I always ask what they'd do first if they wanted to buy one of those again - what their steps would be, and what they'd type into Google, if they used Google. Every single person said 1) first they'd call other people they knew doing similar jobs for other companies, and ask what their experience has been with this type of product and 2) then they'd also go to Google.
Using recommendations and then Google, they'd quickly narrow down the candidates to 2 or 3 companies. They'd go to the websites, but they wouldn't spend a lot of time trying to separate fact from fiction. They'd call the sales rep, hoping to get answers to their very specific questions, quickly. One person summed it up perfectly: "I get tired of looking for stuff on websites. I just call them - so they can tell me."
When a customer does call, it takes about two seconds for a knowledgeable customer to figure out if the salesperson is 1) going to be helpful, 2) has been trained to help - versus being trained to manipulate the caller into buying, and 3) is able to answer the customer's specific questions. The customer will quickly terminate the call if he sees the conversation going in the wrong direction, and will keep looking elsewhere.
Note that the first thing customers do is talk to their working buddies. That means that the only way you will get on the "recommended list" is if you've been successful selling to enough people, and you've treated them right after they made the purchase. Your own good-guy behavior is your most powerful marketing tool.
Once that customer finds a vendor who is helpful, honest, and knowledgeable, that customer will go out of his way to take his business there. He will even be willing to pay a little extra. He will also tell others about his positive experience, and recommend that vendor, without reservation.
If your business model is based on being honest and helping people, keep in mind that you must take into account the deception swarming around your customers, and work even harder to demonstrate your positive performance and honest character. Every interaction your customer has with your website and your people must be straightforward and reassuring.
One more thought on this subject. There may be someone on your staff who "kisses up and ------ down." That person will treat those below him badly, and will also treat customers badly. The only way you will know about that person's behavior is by:
- Asking those at the bottom of the ladder how things are going. In the course of your conversation, ask who tends to be most helpful and who tends to obstruct progress.
- Talking to customers who come in contact with the person. In the course of a normal customer interview, ask who has been the most helpful and who is not as helpful. While people are often reluctant to say anything negative, if you tell them their comments will not be shared (you must keep that promise, of course), they will open up.
A deceptive employee will present himself to you as a model employee, but will selfishly take advantage of your other employees and your customers. His behavior will create a viral negative wave that works against your company and makes it much harder for you to sell.
It's important to ferret out the deceivers on your staff, warn them, and re-train them. If they still don't get it, replace them.
Good guys always hate to fire people. But if you've really found a stinker, don't put it off. Afterwards, employees and customers will breathe a sigh of relief and will ask, "What took you so long?" My own experience has proven to me, over and over, that once you are back to an all-honest staff, everything will go up: morale, sales, and your company's reputation.