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.

Unseen Business Killers

How a common business blogging excuse may be a sign of an unseen killer within your business.

Lately I’ve been inundated with stories of people battling cancer.  One of my friend’s sister was recently diagnosed with the disease and a client’s sister also received this devastating diagnosis.   Then I received news that the outlook isn’t bright for a client of mine who is also battling this killer disease.  While she was diagnosed within a few weeks of my friend’s sister – my client didn’t discover she had cancer until symptoms forced her to see her doctor.  By the time the cancer was causing her discomfort, it had spread throughout her body.

Just as early diagnosis is a key element in treating cancer – it’s also a key to combating a common unseen business killer as well.

Over the past few years, I’ve helped hundreds of client launch blogs to promote their businesses – and I’ve had perhaps just as many if not more decide against launching a blog.  One of the most common excuses I hear is, ” I don’t have time to blog.”

Unfortunately, when the gloves come off – “I don’t have time to blog” is usually exposed for what it really  is – an excuse.

It’s an excuse used to avoid confronting what may be literally a CANCER which may be growing within the belly of your business.   Like all cancers, early detection is the key to an effective cure.

It’s easy to determine if “I don’t have time to blog” is an excuse or a reason.  If you really don’t have time to blog for your business, you can either

  • hire someone to blog for your business or
  • hire someone to assume some of your duties so you can find time to blog.

Nine times out of ten, when this “either or” is presented,  the REAL objection to blogging for business surfaces.  It takes various forms, but it can be “boiled down” to a very simple: “I don’t know what to write about.”

AH -now here’s the REAL reason most business owners aren’t blogging. It’s not a lack of time – but rather a lack of direction.

It makes sense if you think about it.  After all, we human beings always seem to be able to MAKE time to do what’s important.   The working mother who exercises regularly doesn’t do so because she’s got an extra hour not available to the rest of the population – she MAKES the time to exercise.   She does so because she recognizes how important daily exercise it is for her health and her sanity.

If the reason is that you aren’t blogging for your business is that you don’t know what to write about – the answer is deceptively simple:

Simply write about your customer’s GDP.

It doesn’t matter if your a B 2 B or a B 2 C – if you’re in business – you are either helping customers/clients  to

  1. achieve a goal
  2. satisfying a desire
  3. solve a problem

I call this magic triad “GDP – Goals – Desires – Problems.  Pick one -pick two or pick all three as the reason you’re in business and then start talking about it via your blog.

If you find you can’t isolate one of these three reasons for being in business – then chances are you aren’t creating or communicating an effective marketing message for your company.

If you don’t KNOW what goals you’re helping people achieve,

If you don’t know what desires are being quenched,

If you don’t know what problems need to be solved,

Then OF  COURSE you aren’t going to know what to blog about.

This is definitely a case of what you don’t know CAN hurt your business.

If you don’t know which GDP “button” to push – you’re eventually going to find yourself – and your business – in between a rock and a hard spot.

Your business blog could be the greatest business diagnostic tool ever created.

The sheer act of creating blog posts forces you to FOCUS upon prospective clients/customer’s GDP.   If you don’t know your target audience’s GDP – then you know you have a serious problem in your business.

Discovering that you don’t know what your target audience’s GDP is is almost like discovering you have the earliest stages of cancer.  Admittedly, it’s not good news – but it’s news much better delivered sooner than later.

It used to be that it took a competitor who who understands the target audience’s GDP entering the marketplace and inflicting “sales discomfort” to send the average business owner scrambling for a speedy business diagnosis.  Unfortunately, the explosion of social media  has lead to a new “symptom” for the company with a lack of understanding of consumer GDP: customer complaints being shared via social media tools.

There are plenty of reasons to hit the keyboard and start to blog for your business.  Perhaps the best reason to begin blogging is the act of blogging constantly encourages you to focus upon what matters most – your target audience’s GDP.

If the REAL reason you’re not blogging for your business is that you don’t know what to write about – think of it as an early stage diagnosis of a serious problem – one that should be addressed quickly and decisively.

Business Building Strategy: The most important question of all…

business-building-strategyWhen you’re building a business – there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered.  Dr. Jean Murray says there are 10,000 questions you’ll have to answer as you start your business.  While I never stopped to count them all – I think she’s definitely in the ball park with that estimate.

Some of those start up questions are easy – and when a question is easily answered it’s usually answered quickly.  Some questions are hard – and it takes time to discover the answer.

There is one word which can drive your business towards success more quickly than any other word.  While this word can stand alone as a question – when it’s part of larger question – it’s presence signals that the question at hand is one of the most important you’ll ask over the course of your business.

This powerful word is easy to say – and easy to spell.

This mystical magical word is the word – WHY.

Why ask why?

Why is a powerful question to answer as you build your business.  In Business Building Strategy: What will you do to get their money?, I talk about a common business problem – those idiot customers and their stupid requests.  (If you don’t know me or haven’t spoken with me – you might not know that my tongue is FIRMLY in my cheek when I wrote the previous sentence.)  Often – when you’re tempted to “label” a customer as “stupid” or an “idiot” – it’s often because you don’t understand thy “why” which is driving the customer’s behavior.

For example,  “Those idiot customers keep calling to get directions to our store, even though we have a map on our web site!”

Ask “why” and suddenly the view of the situation changes.  Asking why helps to move the view of  from a customer problem – to a web site problem.

When you apply the “why word” to the questions raised – the questions suddenly take on an elevated level of importance.  You can even add this mystical magical word to a simple statement to turn it into a thought provoking important business building question.

Take this “complaint” – “My [insert advertising media here] is driving visitors to my web site – but it isn’t generating any new business.”  Adding the word “why”takes a complaint and turns it into an essential business building question.

Sometimes  answering this question is easy.  Sometimes it’s hard – but the reason it’s hard is not that it’s like solving a complex math problem hard – but rather it’s a “we’re going to have to do something that’s outside of our comfort zone.”

“Because I said so” is a LOUSY answer when someone -anyone – asks you why.   If you’re tempted to give that answer – take a moment to think.  Often, that answer is often a sign that you just aren’t willing to dig in and answer the real question – “why?”

Asking why often leads to discovering business problems which lie outside of your comfort zone.  For that reason alone – knowing the answer to “why” is essential.  The “why” can help you take that first scary step through the Looking Glass – which is known in MBA speak as “thinking outside of the box”.

Business Building Strategy: What will you do to get their money?

steps to building your businessI’ve been doing a lot of individual work with clients and a phrase I’ve been using a LOT lately is…. “What are you willing to do to get their money?”

It’s easy to blame those idiot customers for not being smart enough or willing to work hard enough to do business with you.

You know – the idiot customers who aren’t SMART enough to properly spell your Eastern European last name which you use as your domain name.

The idiot customers who aren’t SMART enough to search for your business by name – and instead they’re searching for a solution to their problems.

The idiot customers who still call and ask the VERY questions answered on the FAQ page of your web site.

The idiot customers who call and ask for directions when there’s a map right there on the web site under “more information”.

What are you willing to do to earn their business?

One of the key elements I bring to my clients is an objective “outside eye”.  Often, my input will ruffle some feathers – because in the end – I can’t make your customers “smarter” or “prettier”.  Often – I find myself delivering this nugget of wisdom:

Your customers are NOT idiots – really. (Check out “Business Building Secret:  People are pretty smart” for more on this.)

We can spend shit loads of money trying to influence customer behavior  or we can go the  quicker, easier and more profitable route which is to change how YOU ARE doing things rather than trying to change how YOUR CUSTOMERS are doing things.

If you’re waiting for your customers to make it easy on YOU to take their money- well – good luck with that.  The worm doesn’t find it’s way to the early bird – it’s the other way around.

Something triggers the call…. maybe the “problem” has been niggling at you for weeks or months.  Perhaps it’s visited you in your dreams.  Something isn’t RIGHT and it needs to GET RIGHT – the sooner the better.

“Our web site is getting lots of hits – but no one is buying” – is just one sign that SOMETHING isn’t right.

That’s why you call in outside help – an objective eye – to see what you can’t see.  Just don’t expect the answer to be, “You’re doing EVERYTHING right – you just need better and smarter customers.”

So assuming that you KNOW something’s wrong – and that what needs to change is on your end – where do you begin?

It would be easy to see the forest if you just weren’t surrounded by all these damned trees!

Begin with this – you don’t know what you don’t know.

If you did know – you wouldn’t need outside help.

Here’s the catch 22 – when you don’t know what you don’t know – how can you tell the difference between someone who really DOES know – and someone who just knows a little bit more than you do?

There was a time when finding out how much an “expert” knew  meant sitting down – either in person or on the phone – and talking to them.  You ask questions, the expert answers and you try to discern whether this “expert” can solve your problem.

However, and this is where “experts get frustrated, often as a potential client -it’s hard to get “up to speed” in a single 30-60 minute conversation.   So – the prospective client meets with SEVERAL “experts” – asking questions and comparing answers.   It’s all part of the process of educating themselves to the point of being able to MAKE a decision but from the experts point of view – these people are wasting time and time is what most experts are selling.

However – there is a way for experts to circumvent the time consuming client education process.  Instead of sitting down with individuals – answering the same questions over and over – the expert can begin blogging.

About a year ago – I began to notice something about my “new client” conversations – the people who were calling had read my blog.  Because of this, they were calling me at a later point in the “decision making process”.  Instead of getting tire kickers – I was getting people ready to sign up to work with me.

I recently had a tire kicker conversation – from someone who hadn’t read my blog.  I found myself – in the conversation – directing these people to various blog posts to answer their questions.   That conversation reminded me of the “old days” before my blog – the days when I spent a LOT of time with “tire kickers”… trying to bring them up to speed as quickly as possible.

What are you willing to do get their money?  Are you willing to make the investment of time and effort to educate your prospective customers with your blog?