Are you a young bull or an old bull?

business parable story of two bullsThere’s a popular parable which illustrates the importance of planning and patience called Two Bulls.

The story goes that there are two bulls standing side by side in a field.  One is a young bull, full of energy and what Austin Powers calls “MoJo.” The other bull is older with less energy but he still has his MoJo.

The young bull catches the scent of a herd of cows on a distant hill.  As he sniffs the air, he announces, “I’m going to run over there and have my way with one of those cows!”

The older bull demonstrates his wisdom by replying, “You do that.  I’m going to walk up that hill and have my way with all of those cows.”

Measuring SuccessYoung bulls charge ahead, full of energy.  They aren’t trying to conserve energy because they have plenty to spare.  However, because they don’t try to conserve that energy, much of it is wasted.  They run when they should walk.  Young bulls tend to think in the here and now, and not worry about tomorrow.

Meanwhile, old bulls recognize that their energy is limited – and they focus upon making the most of it.  Old bulls stop, think and plan.  They recognize the need to think about not only tomorrow, but next year as well. Because they recognize that they don’t have the energy of their youth, they are willing to take the time to map out a strategy that makes the most of all of their resources.

In the story of the two bulls, once the old bull shares his wisdom with the young bull, he creates a formidable competitor when they reach the herd of cows.  If instead he had keeps his strategy under wraps – the old bull gains a considerable advantage.

social media marketing strategyThis parable is used a lot in business.  It not only illustrated the importance of planning and patience, but it also demonstrates the advantages gained with you keep your strategy under wraps.

When I look back on my earlier entrepreneurial efforts, I can see where I acted like the young bull. When I saw an opportunity, I moved quickly so I could seized it.  I didn’t spend nearly enough time creating a strategic plan, just like the young bull in the story of two bulls.

Experience is what you get when you make mistakes.  Wisdom is learning from other people’s mistakes.

Social Media is Consumer Controlled Conversations

Ah the “buzz” around social media is burning like a wild fire out of control – it’s the bright shiny bauble of our time.  Everywhere you turn there’s another guru offering yet another “product” promising to provide everything you need to know to harness the power of social media and magically build your business.  The only problem is these programs often are guilting of forgetting what social media really is – it’s PEOPLE behind those screen names.

Promising a magic marketing with technology is nothing new.  About a decade ago, there was another bright shiny techno-bauble being lauded as the magic marketing technology anyone could use to effortlessly build their business – an online email newsletter.

Time passed and before long email marketing newsletters lost their shiny new appeal.  The “buzz” ceased and they were no longer lauded as the “fast, easy magically delicious” way to build your business online.  Just because the buzz has died doesn’t meant that email newsletters are no longer a powerful online marketing tool.  It just means that the “gurus” have moved on to the next “hot topic” – which is currently social media.   Want to use Twitter to sell more stuff?  There’s at least a dozen gurus offering webinars as you read this on how to sign up and use Twitter.  The darlings of the day these days are currently Facebook and Twitter – though 18 months ago it was Myspace.com and prior to that it was business blogs which are just now beginning to display the evidence of the promises made five years ago.

Just because the hype has moved on doesn’t mean that any of these “past” beauty queens are not still lovely when viewed through the lens of creating marketing magic.  As a matter of fact, none of these technological tools ever officially ended their reign as valuable online marketing tools.   Smart business owners didn’t drop their email newsletter when social media came knocking – they used social media to build their list.  In my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results, I talk about the phenomenon of email marketing newsletters and how those with a solid marketing strategy in place simply integrated this new tactic.  Just because a tactic is shiny and new doesn’t mean it’s valuable – or worthless.  A paintbrush in the RIGHT hands can create beauty –  Social media marketing tactics can also create beautiful bottom line figures when implemented within a solid marketing strategywhich is focused upon meeting your end consumers’ GDP – (Goals, Desires, Problems) –  email newsletters, business blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter all have the potential to grow your business.

I was recently afforded the opportunity to “listen in” on recording of an online sales training class being run by one of my clients.  She too preaches the “gospel” of “focus upon your customer’s GDP” to create a solid business base.  One gentleman on the call was nicknamed by his peers “The Load”.  He began the call with a description of how LOUSY his business had been over the past few years – living up to his nickname quite nicely. (My thought when listening to him – “Oh my goodness – he should NOT have a blog!!!  I think that’s why my client was sharing this call with me… but that’s another story!)   The Load introduced himself on the call by moaning and groaning  about how LOUSY business had been for the past few years.   Yet later in the class I heard him tell the story of how he’s changing his behavior.  He said, “I recently had a customer who was asking the sun moon and stars.  Before taking your class, I would have told them to get lost – we don’t DO THINGS like that around here.  Instead – because of your class – I listened to them and we focused upon meeting their needs.  We did a lot of extra work but we were well compensated.  They’re happy – and we made a lot of money on this sale so we’re happy as well.”

When The Load launched his business, delighting the customer was never a part of the plan.  When he delighted his first customer, only then did he begin building a foundation upon which a social media campaign could be launched.   If that customer tells their friends via Facebook or Twitter – that’s the beginning of social media marketing.  However, even if that customer is NOT using social media – yet – they still have connections where they can tell their story. There’s no limit to the bet I’d make that suddenly – everything in The Load’s business will start turning around.    His phone will begin ringing – and he’ll have the opportunity to delight more customers.

The Load addressed the unseen business killers at work in his business and began focusing upon the consumer.   If he keeps on track, soon he’ll be ready to begin to harness the power of consumer controlled conversations – a.k.a. social media- and put it to work building his business.

Old school “selling” strategies fall flat in a social media world

Old school selling strategies were very “push” oriented.  Push – Push – Push: Buy-Buy-Buy.

The communication methods associated with “old school selling” are very “one way”.  The business talks AT a prospective customer via traditional media sources – and the customer has two alternatives:  buy or don’t buy.

Then – a new school of selling began to appear.  It was called “consultative selling” and the idea was that the sales person would act as a consultant and HELP the customer find a solution to their problems.  Instead of trying to “sell” a green widget – the sales person instead was encouraged to discover how the green widget would solve a customer’s problem.

In the days when old school media was the only way to reach a large audience of consumers, businesses were forced to do a lot of “guess work”.  Oh sure, they’d try to take some of the “guessing” out of the equation by utilizing focus groups – but dragging people into a room with a two way mirror and listening in is a LOT different than observing those conversations in “real time”…. something social media allows the modern business owner to do.

A while back, I went on a weekend get away and needed to board my dog.  I had noticed a veterinary office located right along my “get away” route – so I decided to board her there.  I began the process by taking her in for a “check up” the week before.   The vet and his staff seemed very nice – and spent a lot of time talking about how fat my lab is.  She’s fat.  She’s always BEEN fat.  We feed 1/2 the recommended amount of low calorie food and she’s still fat.  The vet gave a great spiel on why we needed to test her thyroid function and how EASY it would be to fix her fat problem if her thyroid levels were low – so I agreed.   Then there was another test he wanted to do – agreed.

Push – Push – Push.  By the time I walked out of there, my first office visit to this vet was almost $250.  However, because the recommendations appeared to be made with my dog’s health and well being in mind, I didn’t feel “pushed” but instead I felt “cared for”.

When I went to pick her up from her weekend boarding.  The computed the stay at 10 days instead of three.  When $220 seemed high for three days – they corrected their mistake.  So I wrote another check… and then another when they decided she needed medicine for her gastric distress of eating their dog food.  At this point, I’m  thinking,  “Nice people – but very disorganized.”

Then I get a follow up phone call th enext day.  It seems that the thyroid test – the run at our initial visit and sold as the path to a “miracle” cure – showed her thyroid levels were low.  During the consult – the vet had said that if her levels were low – it would be as simple as giving her a single pill a day and her life would be so much better.  The weight would fall off of her and she’d get more active.  She might actually be able to join me again on my daily walk.  I’m psyched and ready to begin.

That’s when the wheels fell off the wagon so to speak.  The receptionist with whom I was speaking told me that the vet didn’t want to jump into prescription medication yet.  Instead  we were to begin buying prescription diet dog food – sold only at his office.  Only after using this special prescription dog food for several months would he consider putting her on medication for her thyroid.

Now I’m feeling very “sold” – a.k.a. “abused”.  Any warm fuzzies I had for this vet and his smiling office staff are gone.  I now realize that I’m a cash cow to be milked – not a client in need of help.   He’s no longer a medical professional in my book – he’s a pet product salesman.

I get it – he’s a small business owner trying to build his practice.  He’s got a new client on the line – one with an elderly pet – and he’s anxious to begin extracting  all the cash he can get from me. That’s exactly how it feels .  Instead of “this guy really cares about my dog” I’m thinking, “this guy really cares about my pocket book – and nothing else.”

This vet is engaged in  the”old school”  Push – Push – Push – selling strategy.  Unfortunately this approach really don’t “work” when it comes to social media marketing.   I would venture to say that most of the interest in social media marketing is because these old school selling strategies are NOT working anymore.  Consumers are more aware – and more sensitive to   “being sold” and the old school selling strategies only work when the communication is one way.

People are connecting online.  They’re sharing their experiences with others in their “network” just as they’ve always done in the past – only now they’re doing it “online”.

If the only relationship you want with your customers/clients is with their pocketbook – people are going to talk.   I’d like to be able to  say, “Avoid social media” if all you want is a relationship with their pocketbook -but you can’t.   How could you begin to screen your customers/clients?  The screening process might look something like this:

“Before we can schedule an appointment for your dog, do you or anyone you know have a blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Myspace account?”

How many people could answer “no”?   How can you build a business like that?

Unfortunately, that’s the only way I can see a business being able to successfully insulate itself from the impact of social media.

Before you spend one penny on an AdWords campaign….

online advertisingBefore you spend one penny on an AdWords campaign – take a walk with me – a customer – through the whole “searching for a product or service” on the internet.

Yesterday – my clothes dryer quit working.  While draping my clothes over the railing of the upstairs over look is an option, it’s not particularly decorative – so the first thing on my “to do” list this morning is to find an appliance repairman.

Right now, it’s easier for me to search for this service online rather than try to find the latest version of the yellow pages.  If I had one of those jobs where you get up, get dressed and drive to an office – I’d be using my cell phone to perform this search as I sat in rush hour traffic.  However, because I don’t have to drive to my office – I sit down at my computer and begin my search for a local business online.

I go to Google and I type in the words “appliance repair [my city + state]” and hit enter.  This, by the way, is known as a “search query”.  These are the KEYWORDS that I am using to find what I need on the internet.  I could have just as easily used “dryer repair [my city + state]| ” or “[brand name] dryer repair [my city + state]”.

I am greeted with several Adwords ads – each containing my search query.  This is good.  I WANT a local service provider.  However, while the ads all lead with my search query terms of “appliance repair [my city + state]”, when I click through to the web site – there is no MENTION of them servicing my city.  As a matter of fact, one of the web pages proclaims proudly that they travel clear up to – well, to a town in the next county.

I’m well aware that each time I click on one of these ads, that each of these businesses will be charged with the click.  I can’t help but wonder how many other people in my city have clicked on that ad only to discover that the business does NOT provide service to our city.

One company has an elaborate flash page which takes more than 20 seconds to load.  That time is an estimate.  As I watched the elaborate show unfold – I clicked away.  I don’t want to be entertained – I want my dryer fixed – NOW!

I come to a really GREAT web site of an appliance repair shop.  It’s a GREAT web site, complete with a cute basset hound puppy as a mascot.  I’m such a SUCKER for appealing mascots.  I picked my pest control company because they dressed their cars up as mice.   With that experience in mind,  maybe it’s best that this appliance repair service is not local.  However, while the basset hound puppy was cute, it took me three clicks to find out the company is based out of a city over an hour away.

As I search, notice I’m looking for something really specific.  Yet, while the AdWord ads parrot my search terms – when they take me to a page which lists cities two and three counties away – I instantly think I’m in the wrong place.

If a keyword is worth bidding on – then it’s worth creating a landing page for that keyword.

I’ve written before about the importance of landing pages.   If you’re using the web for marketing, you’ll know it’s a numbers game pure and simple.  However,  the key concept is that those numbers include VIABLE prospects.

Once I exhaust searching the paid ads – that’s right, there were 9 ads and not ONE of them mentioned my city as an area they serviced – I move on down the page to the “natural” search.

Natural search are the results that DID  NOT pay to get moved to the top of the page.  These pages are here because they actually contain the words “appliance repair” combined with “[my city + state]”.  Fortunately for these businesses – none of which have an ad displayed – those who DID pay to have their ad displayed couldn’t convince me in 30 seconds or less that they had a solution to my problem.  Because paid search failed me – now I’m off through a hunt through the “natural” search.

THAT IS THE KEY TO USING ADWORDS: You’ve got 30 seconds or less for the page to load and to convince me YOU are the business I need to call.  You’ve paid to be bumped to the head of the list – take advantage of your one time only shot at my business!

Before I get to the “true” natural search, I see Google’s “local business results.”  This yields a better quality of options for me.  After all, there’s a map so I can SEE that each of these businesses is located near me.

I like Google’s local business result.  In order to sign up, the business owner must fill in a form with essential information.  Instead of assaulting me with an audio/video extravaganza – I see the essential facts I need to know – like what brands they service.  I can choose to click on the link and go to their website – or I can click the “click more button and see the results of the form they filled out to open the account. Without exception – I use the “more” button because the web sites are so poorly done.

I begin dialing and call the three businesses listed on local search which service my brand of dryer.

This is the moment of truth.  Across my city, phones begin ringing as I try to become a member of an appliance repair company’s “tribe”.

At this point, I could launch into a rant on customer service.  I’m getting answering machines at 9:15 AM on Monday morning.   These are the people who will be bitching about how the poor economy is killing their business.  Here’s a tip – it’s NOT the economy – it’s your lack of attention and commitment to your business.

Finally I get a busy signal.  It’s a welcome relief.  At least they’re in the office and answering calls – and other people are calling them as well.   I may have a winner – but I have to wait.

As I wait – I move on down the list of results to my search query and find a Superpages.com listing.  Oooo – the all inclusiveness of the yellow pages delivered online.  This sounds promising!  I click and am greeted with a page that lists 15 different paid ads.  FIFTEEN!!!  Many of these are for other search sites.  Just what I want to do on a Monday morning – go on a wild goose chase!

I scroll and scroll until I find the business listings.  However, this positively cryptic when compared to the local business results offered by Google.  I get out of the Superpages site and get back to the number which was busy 10 minutes ago.

BINGO!  The phone is not only ringing – it’s manned by a living breathing person who speaks English fluently.  RELIEF!  I am willing to wait until tomorrow for my dryer repair person if it means my search is over.

Thirty minutes ago, I thought my dryer would be fixed by nightfall – now I’m just glad to know I’ll be seeing someone this week.

By the way, I had to have my oven repaired about 5 months ago.  I was thrilled with the service, but I don’t remember the company name.  If they’d left behind a refrigerator magnet – I would have called them.  I remember the guy’s face and first name- but not the name of his business.  It’s too bad.  I liked him and he did a great job.

Which is why I had to go searching again.  I tried to follow the “path” I used five months ago – but none of the results I saw looked familiar.

Without a well defined, tightly targeted audience… well… Google Adwords then becomes just another way to drain cash from your accounts.  Before you spend one penny on an Adwords campaign, be sure you get inside your customer’s head and find out what they’re  REALLY searching for online.  AdWords is no play to launch a “spray and pray” advertising campaign.

Need help with getting inside your target customer’s head?  Pick up a copy of my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results for a step by step process you can follow to figure out the who, what where and most importantly WHY customers buy.

Are your customers wearing tin foil hats?

business-building-strategyIn Business Building Strategy: The most important question of all…, I suggested that the word”why” can turn a simple complaint into an essential business building strategy question.  Sometimes – a series of very mystifying actions can have their root in a very simple disconnect which can be quickly and easily discovered by simply asking “Why?”

For example, let’s say you’re taking a walk through the park.  You come across a man wearing tin foil hat who is hiding under a metal park bench.  Words like “idiot” and “crazy” will quickly come to mind – and to be honest, it’s easiest to dismiss his actions as that and move on.   However, asking our mystical magical question, “Why?” can lead to some insight  into customer buying behavior.

Perhaps our friend in the park is wearing the tin foil hat and hiding under the metal park bench to prevent aliens from reading and manipulating his thoughts.

Think about it for a moment – if there really WERE aliens with the ability to control minds orbiting the earth in their cloaked space ship – this man’s actions would be perfectly rational – even sane.  The disconnect lies in a belief about aliens orbiting the earth.  If I thought there were aliens  –  I too would be wearing my own tin foil hat.

By asking “why” I can quickly ascertain that there will be no meeting of the minds with the fellow in the tin foil hat in the park. I can’t make the leap to my way of thinking – and he can’t join me.

How does this apply to your business?

When it comes to your marketing strategy – asking “Why” is a VERY common question.  In the best marketing strategies – it’s the central question driving all marketing decisions.

  • Why would people spend their hard earned money on our products/services?

When you know that answer  – the REAL answer – to the question above, the world becomes your oyster!

However, there’s a catch to all of this: you can’t directly ask your customers why they’re buying your products or services.

Just as you can’t ask the dude donning the tin foil hat WHY he’s wearing the tin foil hat and expected a well reasoned, rational answer – you can’t ask your customers to tell you WHY they’re buying your products or services.

It’s been estimated that up to 90% of a buying decision is sub-conscious and because it’s subconscious – it takes some digging to discover WHY someone is buying what they buy.  It’s a process I go through in great detail in my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results.

The short answer – you can’t ask customers to answer the question “why” for you.

I once had a client who began a new ad campaign and each time a new customer visited his business – he would grill them mercilessly on how they found him.  One poor woman who was subjected to this grilling kept trying to help- but she was certain she had seen a sign for the business and kept mentioning possible locations for the sign.  We were running a mix of television, radio and newspaper and the only sign he had was the one outside his retail store.

He desperately wanted his customer to answer the “why” for him.  She just couldn’t do it.  The reason she couldn’t do it was because she wasn’t conscious as she walked the path to the final buying decision.  The television ads we had been running combined with radio and newspaper ads had subtly influenced her over the past 12 weeks.  Then, when the time came to make a buying decision – she chose his business.

So while my client wanted to know why his new customer (the lifetime value of this customer was much higher than the previous 12 week media buy) chose his business – asking her why she chose him was kind of like asking the dude in the park why he’s wearing a tin foil hat. This same client was MUCH happier a few weeks later when another new customer cited his informative blog as being the main reason he chose his business.

It’s great when a customer is paying attention – but often they’re not.     When you can’t ask your customers to answer this question for you, then it’s time to begin playing detective to learn the answer to this powerful business building question.    Just like any great detective – you’ll be required to pick up on subtle clues your customers give you which tell you more than mere words can communicate.