The No. 1 Reason for Business Screw-Ups

If you had to guess, what would you say the No. 1 reason was for business screw-ups? Specifically, what’s the main reason for stupid errors, dumb recurring questions, unclear communications, employee un-civil war and blunders?

If you had to guess, what would you say the No. 1 reason was for business screw-ups? Specifically, what’s the main reason for stupid errors, dumb recurring questions, unclear communications, employee un-civil war and blunders?

The Reason May Surprise You!

“Forgetting” is the No. 1 reason for the free-for-all confusion and chaos in business!

How do I know?

Before learning the art of systematization, I was a “professional” at business screw-ups. Yes, an aficionado at business blunders. Not something I’m proud of, because my ignorance cost me dearly!

Did you know, way back in 1858 a man by the name of Hermann Ebbinghaus studied and developed a system to measure “forgetting?”

It’s called the Hermann Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. It’s true!

According to Ebbinghaus’ measurements, people forget two-thirds of the information they receive within 24 hours. I believe it, because I’ve seen it and experienced it.

This being the case, it’s easy to understand WHY employees ask the business’ owner and managers the same questions repeatedly and WHY stupid errors reoccur daily.

The amazing thing is, experienced business owners seriously believe and repeat the myth that there’s nothing businesses can do about “the forgetting curve.” As a result, they say, “People are human; therefore, we must accept ‘forgetting’ as normal, and just deal with it.”

My response to that type of Mom and Pop-business-thinking is, “Tell the airline industry or your surgeon, if they forget something, you’ll understand. After all, they’re only human, right?”

Business Screw-Ups Not Tolerated at American Airlines

When I was a business owner in the printing industry, we printed for American Airlines. At that time, their hub was in Nashville, Tenn. I was always amazed at the amount of detailed information contained in their aircraft service manuals, which we printed daily.

Routinely, we received calls from an American Airlines purchasing agent asking the status of a certain manual, days before we were to deliver it. When we responded, for example, the manuals were 50% completed, the agent would say “OK, scrap them all, invoice us and come pick up the updated version.”

The reason for that was, someone in the organization had identified an issue or error with the manual; consequently, updating was immediate, no matter the cost. Their customer’s safety vastly outweighed the cost of reprinting those just-printed manuals.

The process of maintenance improvement is systematic at American Airlines. In fact, updating maintenance checklists and manuals is continual and routine. Nothing left to chance FORGETTING is not an option!

In like manner, we operated just like the “big boys” at our company. Control Checklists for quality were routine and the process of improvement, continual. If a professional business screw-up like myself can change, so can any small business owner.

You think American Airlines appreciated our quality control checklists? I’m sure they did!

Did I mention? Great systems work!

5 Common Google AdWords Mistakes to Avoid

Google AdWords is one of the most powerful tools you can use to advertise your business. It allows you to target your advertising dollars towards customers who are already ready to buy, and to tap into a constant stream of prospects searching for your product or service. Plus, there’s no big upfront investment so you can start with a low advertising budget and then scale over time. These factors make Google AdWords a vital resource for any small business, but like any tool, it is often misunderstood and misused.

Google AdWords is one of the most powerful tools you can use to advertise your business. It allows you to target your advertising dollars towards customers who are already ready to buy, and to tap into a constant stream of prospects searching for your product or service. Plus, there’s no big upfront investment so you can start with a low advertising budget and then scale over time. These factors make Google AdWords a vital resource for any small business, but like any tool, it is often misunderstood and misused.

I’ve reviewed hundreds of AdWords accounts and the most common mistakes I see typically fall into 5 basic categories, all of which can be quite costly to your business, but are fairly easy to fix. Here is a look at the most common types of mistakes people make when using Google AdWords, and how you can avoid them.

  1. Budget Allocation Errors
    This mistake can happen during the planning phase. Many company owners simply allocate their available dollars equally across all of their products or lines of business. This is almost never the best idea because all products and services are not equally valuable to your business. Instead, focus on your marketing goals based on maximizing your ROI (Return on Investment).

    Ask yourself what you are trying to achieve with your ad campaign. Do you want to grow an already profitable business unit or try to scale a new product or service? How many new customers do you hope to attract per month? Figure out what you want to accomplish, and then allocate your budget based on what is most likely to help you quickly reach your goal.

  2. Ad Writing Problems
    Writing ads is a tough job, but a great ad is the key to attracting the right prospects and turning them into customers. Many business owners struggle with exactly what message they want to send, and end up making one of 4 basic ad writing mistakes. See if your ads fall into any of these categories:
    • One Size Fits All: One size fits all ads try to target a single ad to a long list of keywords. Instead of being highly relevant for one keyword, the ad ends up being mediocre for all of them. To fix this, create separate, tightly targeted ads for each of your core keyword phrases.
    • Me Too: These ads don’t stand out from the competition in any memorable way. If everyone in your line of business offers free consultations, then a free consultation doesn’t make you special. Figure out what you provide that is different from what your competitors provide, and highlight that difference in your ads.
    • Feature Rich: Your prospects want to buy a product or service that solves a problem in their lives. Feature rich ads focus on all the bells and whistles, but fail to answer the basic question of how the purchase will meet a specific need. To improve these ads, identify your customers’ needs and explain how you will fulfill them.
    • Company Focused: Like feature rich ads, company focused ads fail to explain what you can do for the customer. Talking too much about your company wastes space that could be better used for telling prospects what you will do for them.
  3. Landing Page Issues
    It is easy (and often the obvious first choice if you’re just getting started) to set your website’s home page as the landing page for all your ads, but it can cost you customers. Your home page gives a general introduction to everything you do, but your prospect clicked on a specific ad to meet a specific need. Make it easy for your prospects by targeting individual landing pages to the relevant ads. Describe the benefits of your product or service, give specifics, demonstrate your credibility, and don’t forget a call to action.
  4. Keyword Match Type Mistakes:
    Keyword match types is one of the least understood aspect of Google AdWords for new advertisers and unfortunately these mistakes can be extremely costly. When you add keywords to your AdWords campaign, then Google allows you to set 4 different match types to tell Google exactly which search phrases phrases should trigger your your ads.
    • Broad: This is the default setting so new advertisers often unknowingly select this when setting up their campaigns. However, it is almost never the best option. With this setting, your ad will display when a prospect searches not only your chosen keyword, but any other keyword that the algorithm thinks is related. You could end up paying for clicks from people who have no interest in what you are actually selling.
    • Exact: This setting displays your ad only to prospects who search for your exact keyword phrase in the exact way that you set it up. This can be overly restrictive because you could ignore prospects who are highly interested but searching in a slightly different way. For this reason, I generally do not recommend starting with Exact match until you identify the top performing search phrases. Once you know the exact phrase, then you’ll want to use Exact match to laser target your advertising.
    • Phrase: Phrase matching is almost always the best choice for a new Google AdWords campaign. It displays your ad when your keyword phrase is searched, even if it is part of a longer search phrase. Note that your ads could still display for irrelevant searches so it’s critical to use Negative keywords whenever you use Phrase match. Negative keywords will block your ads from displaying on any irrelevant searches you select.
    • Modified Broad: This is generally the best setting for business owners who want to expand their advertising campaigns. It matches your ad to search phrases that include all of the words in your keyword phrase in any order. It improves your reach, but also raises your risk of irrelevant clicks, which is why you’ll want to avoid this advanced setting when you’re just starting out.
  5. Conversion Tracking Omissions
    Without conversion tracking, you have no objective data to use in tweaking your advertising campaign and maximizing your ROI. Yet many business owners omit this crucial step. Setting up online conversion tracking for solely web-based businesses is as simple as adding a bit of code to your receipt, or “thank you” page.

    If your sales convert offline through phone calls or face to face meetings, conversion tracking is a bit more complicated, but still entirely possible. Your options include tracking phone numbers, coupon codes, and Offline conversion imports. All it takes is some understanding of the Google AdWords conversion tracking system and a little persistence to continually keep track of your leads and sales from your advertising campaigns.

Want more Google AdWords tips and advice? I put together an AdWords checklist to help you get your campaigns set up for success. Click here to get my Google AdWords checklist.

Fresh Insights in Selling to SMBs

Despite the attention given to large enterprise marketing, it’s small and medium businesses (SMB) where the bulk of marketing investments go. SMB is where there’s enough volume to do plenty of testing. Plus, you’ve got a tighter decision-making unit and shorter sales cycles. And you’ve got a lot of company

Despite the attention given to large enterprise marketing, it’s small and medium businesses (SMB) where the bulk of marketing investments go. SMB is where there’s enough volume to do plenty of testing. Plus, you’ve got a tighter decision-making unit and shorter sales cycles. And you’ve got a lot of company. Plenty of agencies, research firms, and other marketers are focused on SMB, and willing to share their insights. One new set comes from Bredin, Inc., a Boston-based agency that just published a new study on how SMBs buy today.

Kudos to Bredin for figuring out how to persuade 532 busy business owners to take a 15-minute survey online, in May 2014. Respondents were asked all kinds of questions about their buying, influences, media preferences, resources, the works. Here are the nuggets that were most revealing to me.

  • These buyers trust their peers more than any other information source, across the spectrum from awareness to researching product details to the buying decision.
  • They still rely on trade shows and events for product information. Second only to peers and colleagues.
  • They like print materials, for brochures, checklists, handbooks, case studies. When it comes to tablets, they expect to see quotes, order confirmations, videos, interactive tools, and presentations.
  • They want to hear from their vendors, regularly. Not just when they are ready to make a purchase. Encouraging, isn’t it?
  • They welcome email, phone and face-to-face contact from vendors in the period when they are researching, but not ready to buy-what we marketers call “nurturing.” But the number of nurturing contacts they want varies widely, from weekly, to monthly, to every six months.
  • Most of the time (74 percent), the business owner himself or herself is the person investigating the new products and solutions. And this is among businesses with up to 500 employees.
  • The vendor website is a top resource when conducting product research and honing in on a purchase decision.

What should marketers take away from these observations?

Thought Leadership: Establishing your executives and your company as trusted advisers in your field is hugely important in this market. This means networking, content marketing, PR outreach, speaking engagements, and trade/industry professional activities.

Block and Tackle: There are always shiny objects out there, but make sure you have the basics covered. A well-trained sales force, enabled with informative materials, both digital and print, email, phone and trade show support.

Content-rich Website: Intuitive navigation, clarity of design, benefit-oriented copy, loaded with explanatory tools, like case studies, product comparisons, testimonials, how-to guides, video demonstrations-this is how to attract and serve the SMB buyer.

This fresh data confirms my long-held view that business owners value the help they get from their vendors. Ours is a relationship of mutual benefit, as long as we do our part to help them solve their business problems.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

PPC Shockers and Secrets

Pay per click (PPC), particularly Google AdWords, is a marketing channel that can produce profitable results for your business, whether your goal is lead generation or sales. I have been managing PPC for businesses, as an in-house marketing leader as well as marketing consultant, for over a decade now. Though the years, I have noticed many secrets to success that I wanted to share—especially with business owners and marketers that haven’t tried PPC yet.

Pay per click (PPC), particularly Google AdWords, is a marketing channel that can produce profitable results for your business, whether your goal is lead generation or sales.

I have been managing PPC for businesses, as an in-house marketing leader as well as marketing consultant, for over a decade now.

Though the years, I have noticed many secrets to success that I wanted to share—especially with business owners and marketers that haven’t tried PPC yet.

First, I’d like to clear the air about a big shocker … or actually a fallacy … that you need a big budget to run an effective PPC campaign.

You don’t. If you happen to have a large budget, your ads will be shown more and you can spread out your ad groups and test different types. With a smaller budget, you do need to be more judicious with your efforts. But if you market smarter, not broader, your campaigns can still produce positive results.

I have run PPC campaigns with total monthly budgets of $1,000. I have run campaigns with total daily maximum budgets ranging from $25 to $50. These campaigns brought in both sales and leads, despite their limited spending. But they do require active management, strategic thinking, deep PPC knowledge and refinement/optimization.

The PPC Tri-Pod
What is going to determine the cost and return of your campaign are three simple things I call the “PPC Tri-pod”, as it supports your entire PPC efforts:

  1. Keywords
  2. Creative (or banner ad, if it’s running on the display network)
  3. Redirect URL

So in order for you to get the most bang for your buck with PPC, you should be aware of a few things regarding the PPC Tri-pod:

Keywords. The more popular the keyword, the more cost per click (CPC) it’s going to have. So it’s very important to do your keyword research before you start selecting your keywords as you’re setting up your campaign.

I like to use Keywordspy.com. The “lite” version is free, but you can also upgrade to the full version and see more results and have more capabilities for a monthly fee. Google used to have its Keyword External Tool, which has since morphed into Google AdWords Keyword Planner. You need a Gmail account to access this free tool.

Either of these tools will allow you to enter keywords or keyword phrases and then view popularity (actual search results), as well as what the average CPCs are. This is important for your keyword selection and bidding. You can also type in your “core” or focus keywords and get additional ad group/keyword ideas. To help refine your search terms, you can also choose broad match, broad match modifier, phrase match, exact match and negative match.

If you pick a word that is too vague or too under-searched, your ad will not see much (or any) action. Impressions will either not be served, or if they are served (in the case of a vague word), it may cost you a high CPC. In addition, a vague keyword may not be relevant enough to get you a good conversion rate. Because you pay by the click, your goal is to monetize that click by getting an instant conversion. And conversions, my friends, will be the role of the landing page. I’ll talk about that more in a moment.

Creative. This is your text ad (or banner ad, if you’re running in AdWords’ display network). For Google to rank your ad favorably, and more importantly, for you to get the best conversion results possible—there needs to be a relevancy and synergy between your keyword, text ad and landing page. Google will let you know if you’re not passing muster by your ad’s page position and quality score. Once you’ve carefully researched and selected your ad group keywords, you’ll want to make sure those keywords are consistent across the board with your ad and landing page. Your text ad has four visible lines with limited character count:

  1. Headline (25 Characters)
  2. Description Line 1 (35 Characters)
  3. Description Line 2 (35 Characters)
  4. Display URL (35 Characters)

Your keyword must appear in your text ad, as well as follow through and appear in the content of your landing page.

This will give you a good quality rank with Google, but also help qualify the prospect and carry the relevancy of the ad through to the landing page. Why is this important? It helps maintain consistency of the message and also set expectations with the end user. You don’t want to present one ad, and then have a completely different landing page come up.

Not only is that a “bait and switch,” but it’s costly. Because you’re paying for clicks, a great ad that is compelling and keyword rich, but not cohesive to your landing page, will not convert as well as one that is. And your campaign will actually lose conversions.

Redirect URL. This is your landing page. Different goals and different industries will have different formats. A lead generation campaign, which is just looking to collect email addresses to build an opt-in email list, will be a “squeeze page.” This is simply a landing page with a form asking for first name and email address in return for giving something away for free—albeit a bonus report, free newsletter subscription or similar. It got its name because it’s “squeezing” an email address from the prospect. Some retail campaigns will direct prospects directly to e-commerce sites or catalog pages (as opposed to a sales page). Direct response online marketers will drive their traffic to a targeted promotional landing page where it’s not typically a Web page where there’s other navigation or distractions that will take the prospect away from the main goal. It’s more streamlined and focused. The copy is not technical, it’s compelling and emotional, like promotional copy you would see in a sales letter. The anatomy of your redirect URL will vary on your goal and offer. It will take optimization and testing to see what’s working and what’s not. And that’s par for the course. If you’re testing, I suggest elements that scream and not whisper, such as long copy vs. short copy, or headlines and leads that are different themes. However, no matter what your goal, whether it’s going for the sale or the email address, you still need keyword consistency between all creative elements.

Tips And Tricks For Maximum ROI
Whether you have a big or small budget, there are a few things I’ve learned during the years that help the overall performance of a PPC campaign. Some of these are anecdotal, so if you’ve seen otherwise, I suggest testing to see if it makes a difference to your particular industry.

Ad and Landing Page. In general, I have noticed that shorter, to the point, landing pages produce better results. And the rationale is quite obvious. People searching the Web are looking for quick solutions to a problem. This means your creatives have to not only be keyword rich, but compelling and eye-caching. You have seconds to grab a Web surfer’s attention and get them to click. In the same sense, the landing page has to be equally relevant and persuasive, and typically shorter in copy. Keep in mind Google has many rules surrounding ad copy development. So write your text ads in accordance to its advertising policy.

Price Point. Again, in my personal experience, most Web surfers have a price threshold. And that’s items under about $79. When running a PPC campaign, think about price points that are more tolerable to “cold” prospects; that is, people who haven’t built a relationship with you or know anything about you. They have no brand loyalty. They don’t know you from Adam. So getting a sale at a lower price point is an easier sell than a product you have that costs hundreds of dollars. Luxury items or items with strong recognition and brand loyalty are the exception to that rule. As a direct response marketer, I urge you to price test and see for yourself.

Campaign Set-up. There are a few tactics I notice that help with ad exposure, clicks and saving money. When you’re setting up your campaign you can day-part, frequency cap and run ad extensions. Day parting allows you to select the hours of the day you’d like your campaign to run; ad extensions allow you to add components to your text ad to help visibility and call to action—such as location, site links, reviews and more; And frequency capping lets you set a threshold on how many times you’d like a given person to see your ad (based on impressions).

PPC Networks. It’s smart not to put all your eggs in one basket. In addition to Google AdWords, try running campaigns on other PPC networks, such as Bing/Yahoo, Adroll (retargeting through Facebook), Advertising.com/AdSonar.com, SiteScout.com (formerly Adbrite.com), and Kanoodle.com. Then see where you get the best cost per click, cost per conversion and overall results.

I’ve only touched the surface here. There are more tactics and features that can help a PPC campaign’s performance. So get yourself familiar with it, read up on the best practices, and don’t be afraid to put your toe in the water. As with any marketing tactic, some channels will work for your business, and some won’t. But you won’t know unless you test. Just remember the foundation of success hinges on the PPC Tri-Pod. The possibilities are endless.

When a Customer Is Not Worthy

As business owners and employees of businesses, we all work diligently to acquire prospects, qualify leads and convert customers, but sometimes we need to stop and consider whether a particular person or company is worthy of our efforts. It makes our constituents feel appreciated and empowered when we treat them well and expend effort to develop the relationship, but

As business owners and employees of businesses, we all work diligently to acquire prospects, qualify leads and convert customers, but sometimes we need to stop and consider whether a particular person or company is worthy of our efforts.

It makes our constituents feel appreciated and empowered when we treat them well and expend effort to develop the relationship, but in some cases that empowerment can go to one of their heads and lead the person to behave in a manner not conducive to a healthy relationship.

There have been a number of instances over the years where I’ve needed to ask prospective or current customers to take their business elsewhere. While this is never a pleasant conversation, it can be critical in ensuring your company remains profitable, your employees remain appreciated and happy, and you remain sane. The best way to approach this conversation is with civility and a calm tone.

More often than not, an unhappy customer will vent their frustration on an underling with the assumption the person is unprepared to manage the onslaught. Annoyed customers will attack in a way they believes will result in a resolution favoring them—sometimes greatly and to the detriment of the employee’s wellbeing and the company’s profitability. We’re all able to take a loss every now and then to satisfy an unhappy customer, but when you have a repeat offender (customer), it’s time to step in.

Every employee and contractor in my organization knows they are never expected to submit to a venting, complaining or abusive customer—period. The employee’s response is mandatory and simple, “Please hold and I will have our manager help you.” From there, I am quick to set the ground rules as I take over the call. I will listen to the customer politely and allow that person to give voice to their entire complaint, but they may not scream, call names or be uncivil in any manner. If they are, I will hang up. I will continue to hang up each time the person calls back until they accept and adhere to the rules of this engagement (to date, it hasn’t gone beyond three hang ups).

Beyond this, I make it clear I am fully responsible for my team’s actions and responses, and we will not engage in a bashing of a personal nature. I will not side with the complainant against my team, but I will be empathetic to the customer’s plight and go to great lengths to find a resolution suitable to the situation—for as long as we can continue to have a professional, if not amicable, discussion.

For plaintiffs who cannot accept and follow the ground rules, it’s even simpler: “I’m sorry we did not meet your expectations, here is the phone number to another company providing this product/service. We’re confident you will be happier elsewhere.”

This type of response shifts the power from the complaining customer to the employee and fosters a better relationship between you and the person with whom you work every day instead of a customer whose value is far less. Yes, some customers have great monetary worth, and for those you will exert additional effort to resolve the situation before sending them on their way, but for most small businesses, individual customers have a smaller overall value than a dedicated employee.

With that said, there are ways for a customer to complain without aggressive discourse—those are the customers we want to please, keep, and reward—and for those, it’s best to keep the employee in the discussion. These are the customers whom I prefer to foster and benefit, even at a monetary loss to the company. They often turn out to be long-term, repeat customers because we have created an atmosphere of loyalty by tending to their concerns as a team. (Why would we allow an abusive customer to receive a more beneficial resolution than a kind, calm customer who truly wishes to resolve the condition?)

Sometimes customers are unworthy in other manners. We recently spent quite some time reviewing a lead’s current drip-marketing campaign, only to come to the conclusion we really couldn’t add enough value to their current process to make hiring our company beneficial to them. In this situation, we fired the customer before we were hired, and we were quite frank about why. I don’t know how this response was truly received by the customer; they did seem to be happy with our honesty. If I were on the receiving end of this conversation, I would rather have a company tell me genuinely they cannot help me than to have them take my money for months/years and be no wiser for the engagement—but not everyone thinks like I do. (Thankfully.)

In many ways, email marketing has cultivated an atmosphere allowing customers to be more unhappy and more quickly. The anonymity of email makes marketers seem less like a company of people here to serve their needs and more like a faceless organization poised to aggravate them. Gone are phone calls that allowed us to connect with at least a modicum human interaction, in their place we have electronic communications sent to thousands of people all at once. This is why personalization can be so important to you and to the recipient. Adding a bit or a lot of personalization warms the tone and the relationship. It reminds the receiver, you are a company of people who care about their success. It will also help lay a foundation of civility if a divorce is imminent.

If you must fire an email customer, don’t fire by email. Pick up the phone, set the ground rules, and be polite and professional. It’s the least you can do. You may not be able to salvage the relationship, but you’re less likely to leave them with a terrible last impression.

I Am the Judge of You

Pointing the finger has never been so easy … and so anonymous. I suppose it’s human nature to feel (and act on) the need to take pot shots at others—whether it’s their point of view, their creations or their behavior. But to be able to do so without the fear of repercussion seems to be a growing trend. And as the owner of a product or service, it’s never been more infuriating

Pointing the finger has never been so easy … and so anonymous.

I suppose it’s human nature to feel (and act on) the need to take pot shots at others—whether it’s their point of view, their creations or their behavior. But to be able to do so without the fear of repercussion seems to be a growing trend. And as the owner of a product or service, it’s never been more infuriating.

Many small business owners complain about the power of Yelp, and understandably so. But the concept is actually brilliant. Interact with a business and, whether your experience was good or bad, you have a very large forum where you can share the love (or not). The fatal flaw is that you can do so without the business owner having the ability to correct the situation because, inevitably, pot shots are done from behind the shield of anonymity.

My Dad always used to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I believe in the concept of healthy debate, so I don’t necessarily agree with my Dad, but to have a healthy debate, you need to know the enemy.

Many sites (like this one) require you to log in before you can post a comment. However you can log in with your gmail or yahoo account … and if your user name is not your actual name, it’s easy to start the attack without your boss, co-workers, spouse or clients judging you for your aggressive behavior and unsportsmanlike conduct.

The behavior is not limited to consumer sites like Yelp. On business-to-business sites like this one, there are lots of negative posts from unknown readers, and I wonder, what do they hope to accomplish??

I was recently planning a trip to Mexico and visited several travel sites trying to get the inside scoop on hotels and restaurants. While I was delighted with the many insights like “try to stay on the 4th floor or higher because the thumping beat from the dance floor will keep you awake until midnight,” I was also stunned by the spewing rants from individuals who have logged in with names like “CrabbyinNJ.”

How do we, as brand ambassadors, overcome these customer feedback challenges?

First, and foremost, train AND empower those who are on the front lines of customer engagement to act like the customer—is—always—right. Granted, you can never please all the people all of the time, but sometimes a lot of customer sympathy and a few “my apologies!” can go a long way to diffuse a situation. There is nothing more infuriating than having an issue and the person serving you is either indifferent or plainly unequipped to help solve your problem.

Second, don’t just send blanket “How did we do?” emails to every customer after an interaction. If the customer has had an issue, there should be a place to flag that issue in your customer database, so it can be quickly followed up on by someone who is in authority. Many situations can be rectified before the individual decides to go into a public forum to publicly skewer you and your business.

Third, listen to complaints and actually try to think about ways you may be able to change your policies or procedures in order to ensure the issue doesn’t repeat itself.

Finally, circle back to those customers who had an issue, got it resolved satisfactorily, and ask them if they’d be willing to write about the incident. I hear many business owners say they’re worried that if the customer “advertises” they got something for free or at a deeper discount as a way to try and resolve the issue, it will set the stage for a future customers demanding the same thing. My response is that if, as a rule of business, you treat people the way they want to be treated in the first place—with respect, concern and understanding—you shouldn’t have a problem.

As for those who slap others from behind the shield of anonymity (and you know who you are), man up.

3 Online Recommendations for Small Business Direct Marketers

Many smaller companies who use direct mail don’t have a large staff to identify digital alternatives. This column is for the organization wondering what to do online when direct mail response is declining, costs are increasing, and inevitably, profits are shrinking. Today’s topic was triggered by

Many smaller companies who use direct mail don’t have a large staff to identify digital alternatives. This column is for the organization wondering what to do online when direct mail response is declining, costs are increasing, and inevitably, profits are shrinking. Today’s topic was triggered by a phone call from the new owner of a company we worked with a few years ago.

His challenge was typical of a lot of small business owners using direct mail: declining response rates, with lower profit, exacerbated by the fact that postage, once again, has recently gone up.

When we worked with the previous owner of this company a few years ago, we identified a more responsive direct mailing, built a new website, and got him started with a modest pay-per-click campaign. We wanted to test email, but the owner didn’t want to use email, so we didn’t. The outcome from these efforts was a combination of a better list; the capability for responders to complete a lead form on a new, search-engine-optimized website; and a PPC campaign that put them back in the black.

Fast forward about five years and direct mail response has declined yet again, while costs are up. The new owner wanted to rebrand his company with a different website. But in his attempt to save money, and having no clue what he was doing, the “new” website became a brand liability and all optimization was lost. And the pay-per-click campaign faltered because of the website switch.

So what to do? He called us for help.

In an instance like this, and in the interest of keeping a plan of action simple and as cost-effective as possible for the small business going at this alone, here are three initiatives that should be explored to keep things simple and cost-effective.

1. Website Review
Most small businesses have a website. But what is its purpose, and is it effective at achieving that? Ask someone to evaluate it for you who will understand what websites should do for a company. Get an audit. Invest the money to make it a stronger representation of your brand; create great content, videos, and don’t forget your all-important opt-in form to capture email addresses. Make sure it’s optimized for the search engines. And make sure you claim your local listing on the search engines if you’re a local company.

2. Manage Expectations if You Test Email to Prospects
Because email marketing costs less than direct mail, it’s natural to think you can divert all your efforts to email and achieve the same results. But that’s often not the case, especially when you’re prospecting and not emailing a customer list. Making email prospecting more challenging is that there is no established relationship between the marketer and recipient. This isn’t to say that email prospecting shouldn’t be used, but rather, run the numbers first to manage expectations (see “Crack the Email Prospecting Code” for more on this topic). If you’re going to use email, make sure you have a compelling, relevant landing page and opt-in form to begin nurture marketing with regular email or direct mail follow-up (more about nurture marketing in a future blog post).

3. Give Pay-Per-Click a Shot
PPC enables you to set a daily budget comfortable for you. It can be ramped up, or shut down, without a lot of cost exposure. But you need strong text copy, understand your keywords, and have a powerful landing page. There, someone who clicks will opt-in by asking for more information. You can add those individuals to your nurture marketing campaign.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a quick and affordable way to reinvent or expand your direct marketing from exclusively direct mail to cross-media online efforts, these three initiatives are a good place to start.

‘I Can’t Because, I Need … ’

Does this sound like you? Have you ever set up a goal, but then realized (either quickly or too late) that it wasn’t possible due to some other dependency? This dependency could be outdated technology, lack of the “right” resource or an immovable deliverable date. Well, this is just reality.

Does this sound like you?

Have you ever set up a goal, but then realized (either quickly or too late) that it wasn’t possible due to some other dependency?

This dependency could be outdated technology, lack of the “right” resource or an immovable deliverable date.

Well, this is just reality. And if you haven’t come across this yet, bless your soul.

Having worked with both large brands and small businesses … basically, budgets of all sizes … I realized this can happen to you no matter who you are.

When it comes to mobile, I feel it happens even more due to a few reasons.

The technology is advancing so fast that older, more traditional companies have a hard time keeping their back-end infrastructure up-to-date. This means the technology they have in place may not, and most likely won’t, support some of the new and innovative tools you may want to use to meet your goals.

The experience needed to execute mobile programs the way you desire doesn’t currently exist within your reach … either internally, or affordably with a partnering organization. This means that you’re either going to force additional demand on your existing staff (or yourself) or just not meet your goals.

Both of these can be a bummer, as you can imagine. But there can be light at the end of the tunnel for you.

Instead of just putting your head down and saying “we just can’t do this” or “this isn’t fair” (I know some businesses say this. We’re all human.) you just need to shift your mindset.

If you can’t reach a specific goal due to a particular dependency and sometimes dependencies … just change your goal.

I know this sounds simple, but I’ve watched this with my own eyes at huge brands that generate billions of dollars a year to small business owners who generate a little over $100,000 a year.

Too many of us (yes, myself included) have become so reactionary that we don’t plan out our success. We just chase shiny objects that won’t even get us to our goals.

If a dependency is holding you back, you have two options.

First, your new goal is to remove the dependency. If this takes time, so be it. Put together a road map (I mean an actual calendar) working backward from when you want to achieve this goal. Then identify as many smaller milestones that will help you get there. I don’t care if one of those milestones is faxing a contract.

Do people still use fax machines? I digress …

Whether you’re a small business or a large business, small wins matter. I’m telling you, I’m speaking from firsthand knowledge. Small wins help you build momentum, show progress to the rest of the organization (or again … yourself).

Second, modify your goal based on the dependency. You’ll probably want to do this while you’re doing the option above too. 😉 If you can’t reach your desired goal because you can’t afford a certain tool or enough money for advertising (hopefully, you’re not wasting advertising dollars already, as you likely are) then change your goal.

It amazes me to see people get hung up on only one desired outcome or path to that outcome that they just take no action at all. Stop your pity party and just change your goal. You can dictate what success looks like and what path can get you there based on these dependencies.

Once you’ve figured out how to modify your path to work within your means, I want you to make that calendar again. Determine when you want to reach that goal and identify all of the small wins along the way. Celebrate each and every one in some way and report that back to the business or your employees or your family if you’re a “solopreneur.”

You can power-on and find your success in a variety of ways.

Don’t let dependencies create inaction.

Are you enjoying more of these thought pieces? Please let me know in the comments.

Share what you think is holding you back from success. Go!

Overwhelmed by the Complexity of Mobile Marketing? Start Here

When talking to small business owners,  I hear a lot of reasons as to why they haven’t added mobile to their marketing mix … These excuses illustrate why it’s important to educate folks on the benefits and use cases of mobile and to demystify how it all works in order to eliminate the fear and uncertainty that prevent businesses from moving forward with mobile.

When talking to small business owners, I hear a lot of reasons as to why they haven’t added mobile to their marketing mix …

“I don’t have time to manage one more thing … ”

“I’m not sure where to start … ”

“I feel like my competition has already done that … ”

“I can’t keep up with how fast the technology is advancing … ”

“I can’t afford to use mobile for my small business … ”

These excuses illustrate why it’s important to educate folks on the benefits and use cases of mobile and to demystify how it all works in order to eliminate the fear and uncertainty that prevent businesses from moving forward with mobile.

As those businesses begin to understand that mobile is just a piece of the puzzle they become less confused and you hear more of …

“OK, well. There are so many options. So how can it work for MY business?”

Well, I can tell you that if you’re asking yourself that question, you’re already two steps ahead of most business owners.

And you know what? It’s OK to be confused. The truth is, it’s overwhelming.

Mobile websites, responsive design, SMS marketing, MMS marketing, mobile optimized email, QR Codes, location-based services, augmented reality, smarpthone apps, tablets, NFC, the mobile wallet, mobile commerce …

Holy smokes!

Warning: If you try to jump into all of these areas at once, you will most definitely fail.

If you break down your mobile strategy into smaller parts, integrating one aspect at a time, it will become less overwhelming and you’ll be in a position for a successful mobile program without disrupting the rest of your business.

Remember … mobile is just one part of your marketing strategy. Take it one step at a time:

1. Start by planning how it will play a part into your existing initiatives. Mobile is the most dependent marketing channel to-date. You can’t view it as a solo initiative.

Plan accordingly and make sure it will play nice with your other channels, meaning there is one voice and one message. Chasing the “latest shiny object” thinking it will save your business will get you nowhere fast.

2. Focus on what works and what will delivers results to your business.
You’ll most likely start with your mobile site.

The most important thing to work on is making sure your mobile website is friendly. You’ve probably heard people say that having a mobile-friendly website will give you a competitive advantage.

To some degree, this is true—if your competitors are slow to execute. But, to be honest, a mobile-friendly website is now a cost of doing business.

As a small business owner you’re foolish if you don’t have a mobile friendly site. Let’s say you own a restaurant … A recent Google study stated that 88 percent of total search volume for the keyword “restaurant” comes from mobile devices. Do you own a bar? About 97 percent of search volume for the keyword “bar” is coming from mobile devices.

In fact, “restaurants near me” receives 10,000 searches a month from desktops. Guess what? It’s four times more on mobile devices.

This is the reason that you see restaurants and bars listed in the top of search results in Google from your mobile device but not from your desktop.

Small business owners seem slow to adopt mobile. Surprisingly, a restaurant study stated that 95 percent of independent restaurants do not have a mobile website, and only about half of chain restaurants have some sort of mobile site.

This means a lot of unhappy mobile searchers and no repeat visits.

3. You see, mobile searchers have a different intent than those on a desktop. They are looking for different things. When it comes to local locations like a restaurant or bar they most often look for your location, hours, directions and how to contact you.

4. What’s the cost of not offering these folks a mobile friendly version?
That’s easy … a whole lot of sales.

The same Google study found that 94 percent of U.S.-based smartphone users look for local information on their phones and 90 percent take action as a result, such as making a purchase or contacting the business.

90 percent take action …

Read that again.

Basically, if your site is not mobile friendly when a prospective customer is looking for you, the odds of you losing a sale are close to 100 percent.

5. Speaking of being more “findable” … If you list your business in the various directories AND location-based services, such as Google Places, Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook, etc., you’ll put yourself in a better position to be found. It’s like adding your listing to the Yellow Pages.

6. OK. So you built a mobile-friendly website. Now what?

Your mobile website is what many would consider a “pull” channel. This means that it doesn’t offer you the level of outreach that other channels do, but allows you to be right there when your customer needs you.

So next time, we’re going to dive into the second aspect of your mobile strategy to put in place. It’s actually the most overlooked part of mobile, in my opinion.

Seeing as how you are going to start mobilizing your website right now, you have time to prepare for the second part of your small business mobile strategy … mobile-friendly email.

13 Things You Must Do This Year To Boost Your Biz! Part One

OK, so 2011 was a tough year for a lot of business owners. Perhaps you got caught in the maelstrom of economic uncertainty and your business paid the price. Maybe you neglected your business by cutting down or eliminating marketing efforts. Or maybe you got duped by so-called “online gurus” who promise the world with their wonder products, all to fall short of their promises.

[Editor’s note: This is Part One of a two-part series.]

OK, so 2011 was a tough year for a lot of business owners. Perhaps you got caught in the maelstrom of economic uncertainty and your business paid the price. Maybe you neglected your business by cutting down or eliminating marketing efforts. Or maybe you got duped by so-called “online gurus” who promise the world with their wonder products, all to fall short of their promises.

Boosting your business doesn’t have to take a lot of time, or money. Certain marketing tactics are tried and true because they work year after year, decade after decade. They’re proven. And they get results. Best of all, I’m going to reveal them to you … all for free.

Today, I going to go over some proven winners to help create visibility, drive website traffic, increase sales, generate leads and produce buzz. These are low-to-no cost tactics that fit most any budget and most any business niche. All you really need is the manpower to implement them. And the few that do involve a budget are extremely cost effective. So, without further ado, here’s numbers one through six:

1. Affiliate Partnerships/Affiliate Marketing Plan. (Includes joint ventures, also known as ‘JVs). This tactic is having other people market (promote) for you in exchange for a commission. It’s extremely effective and cost efficient. On the JV site, the key is having some kind of leverage when approaching publishers with a similar list size and interest as your own list. In exchange for content or revenue share efforts, you and the other publisher agree to reciprocate either e-news ads or solo emails to each other’s lists for cross-marketing purposes. You have an agreed upon, competitive affiliate split (net commission on each sale) and forward payment either monthly or quarterly. Or, you can agree to reciprocate efforts and both agree to promote to each others’ lists and keep whatever sales (or leads) you each get from the efforts. It’s also a best practice to advise deliverability and performance stats. On the affiliate marketing side, many online affiliate programs are robust and offer real-time access to a control panel where affiliates can download creatives, check status of payments, and view campaign stats. Creating an affiliate program and marketing plan for that program can be turn-key. There are several off-the-shelf programs and softwares, such as DirectTrack and WordPress; as well as online networks such as CJ.com (Commission Junction), Clickbank.com, Linkshare.com. What’s most important as with any affiliate marketing plan is the PR. That is, getting the news out and marketing the program itself to as many targeted locations as possible. If you have a product to sell, not having an affiliate program is simply leaving money on the table.

2. Content Syndication Plus. A recent article by Forbes, which was actually featured here on TargetMarketingMag.com, mentioned 2012 was going to be the year of content and social marketing. Content is king and you can leverage it via the SONAR Content Distribution Model:

  • (S) Syndicate partners, content syndication networks, and user generate content sites;
  • (O) Online press releases;
  • (N) Network (social) communities;
  • (A) Article directories;
  • (R) Relevant posts to blogs, forums, and bulletin boards.

SONAR works hand-in-hand with your existing search engine marketing (SEM), social media marketing (SMM), and search engine optimization (SEO) tactics. If you have original content … you can do SONAR marketing!

3. Search Engine Optimization. In order to drive as much organic traffic as possible to your website, you need to make sure your site is optimized for the correct keywords and your target audience. Once you optimize your site with title tags, meta descriptions, meta keywords, and alt attributes/alt tags, you need to make sure you enhanced your site to harness the traffic that will be coming. That means adding eye-catching email collection boxes to the home page; relevant cross-marketing banners; obvious links to get to product pages; keyword-dense, search-friendly and consumer-friendly content pages; a site map; and more. You don’t want to downplay the importance of SEO. Site already optimized? Great. But remember that you need to review your analytics and visitor usage patterns and keywords on a timely basis, as algorithms and search behavior are always changing.

4. Online Lead Generation Polls. Incorporating a lead gen poll on your website, or having a poll on another site or e-newsletter (via a media buy or ad swap) is a great way to build your list. It’s important to spend time thinking about your poll question—something that is a hot topic, controversial, and relevant to the locations where you’re placing your poll. You want to pull people in with your headline and make the poll entertaining. Your answers should be multiple choice and have an “other” field which encourages participants to engage with your question. I’ve found this “other” field as a fantastic way to make the poll interactive. Many people are passionate about certain subject matters and won’t mind giving you their two cents. Then, to show appreciation for talking the poll, tell participants they are getting a bonus report and free e-newsletter subscription (which they can opt out of at any time). And of course, make sure to mention—and link to—your privacy/anti-spam policy. After you kick off your list-building efforts, make sure you start tracking them so you can quantify the time and resources spent. This involves working with your webmaster on setting up tracking URLs specific to each website you’re advertising on. It also means looking at Google Analytics for your website and corresponding landing pages to see traffic and referring page sources.

5. Viral Marketing. Make sure you have a “forward to friend” feature in your e-newsletter to encourage viral marketing. It’s also important to have what I call a “content syndication blurb”—both on your website and in your e-newsletter. This blurb simply states that anyone can republish your free content, as long as they give attribution to the author and publication, as well as provide a back-link to the original article. This encourages other websites, publishers, editors and bloggers to republish—creating buzz and back-links, both of which help SEO. You can set Google Alerts for your articles (buy using keywords of article title, author, topic) and then see when the article has been picked up by another site. You can also look at your site’s back-links, as well as referring traffic sources, to see which sites you didn’t push the article out to, but republished it from a viral standpoint.

6. Cost-Effective Media Buying. To complement your “free” online efforts, you may want to consider targeted, low-cost media buys (paid online advertising) in the form of text ads, banner ads, blog networks/ads, or list rentals (i.e. e-news sponsorships or solo emails). You’re paying for the placement in these locations, so you must make sure you have strong promotional copy and offers for the best results possible. Blog ad networks and online ad networks are a great, cheap alternative and they have a wider reach. Networks to consider: BlogAds.com, Advertising.com, ValueClick.com, BurstMedia.com, and FastClick.com. You can also find a full list of sites. Make sure you’re savvy as to what comparable rates are (CPMs, CPCs) and try never to pay rate card. It’s all about the power of negotiation.

Stay tuned for the next article which will feature more tips (#7—#13!)