Why Live Chat Isn’t Just For Customer Service Anymore – Sara Yin

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According to an eConsultancy report, for every $92 spent acquiring prospects only $1 is spent converting them. Sure, that dollar could give you returns in spades, but in reality the odds of that are no better than a craps table in Las Vegas. The average conversion rate for your typical marketing stack – things like forms, paid advertising or mass email – hovers around the 2% mark.

The report is a bit dated, but the underlying thinking persists: companies still spend disproportionately on acquisition and neglect conversion.

To paraphrase Tom Goodwin, isn’t it odd that we’ll spend billions of dollars trying to have a conversation with consumers, and in the rare moment we do, we consider it too expensive?

Perhaps that’s because the value of having these conversations isn’t clear. To establish that value, we analyzed an aggregate dataset of 20 million live chat messages sent through Intercom to demonstrate the potential for live chat as a channel for converting visitors and driving actual revenue for your business.

Here’s what we found (or scroll down for the full, embeddable infographic).

1. Live chat delights your visitors – and your finance team

live chat conversions

Having conversations with your website visitors really does pay off. According to our data, website visitors are 82% more likely to convert to customers if they’ve chatted with you first. What’s more, their accounts are worth 13% more than those where the business didn’t have a conversation before sign up. Leaning into real-time conversations isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s great for capturing and converting website visitors too.

Key takeaway: Live chat is a powerful (and underrated) channel for converting visitors into valuable customers. When someone visits your site, they’re more receptive to chatting with a salesperson than, say, when they receive an unsolicited LinkedIn message.

2. Even a short conversation can pay off

live chat etiquetteA common misperception about live chat is that effective conversations need to be long and time-consuming. On the contrary, a quick, real-time connection makes a big difference. We’ve found that just one reply in the messenger can increase the likelihood of conversion by 50%; one more reply makes that visitor 100% more likely to convert. A simple conversation with 6 exchanged messages makes a visitor 250% more likely to become a customer.

Key takeaway: Live chatting for business isn’t like chatting with a good friend, but the more you chat, the more likely you’ll convert them.

3. Consider where you really want to chat

live chat on websiteDon’t assume your homepage is the only place to install a messenger. According to our data, visitors are actually 45% more likely to convert on pages other than the homepage.

Key takeaway: Think about the visitor’s motivation for visiting a certain page and where they’re most likely to need a real-time response. Perhaps that’s on your pricing page when they are trying to choose between options, or perhaps it’s on a promotional landing page when they’ve clicked on an ad and are trying to figure out how your product fits their needs.

4. Bots augment your (human) sales team

live chat bots
The best chatbots are like an SDR’s secret personal assistant. They streamline their jobs by taking on repetitive tasks, i.e. booking meetings, collecting lead information and suggesting help articles, so the SDR can focus on higher cognitive tasks. Indeed, our data shows that conversations with bots convert 36% better, likely because a bot can respond faster than humans for most repetitive tasks.But in our opinion they they should never pretend to be humans, nor should they completely replace humans, who are still more efficient at converting leads into customers (amongst other human-y things, like sensing low-level rage 😡).

Key takeaway: Humans and bots make a lean, mean sales machine. But ultimately, humans are still better than bots for qualifying leads and shouldn’t replace them anytime soon.

Bottom line: it pays to chat

live chat on website

Live chat bridges the gap between the personal, timely service that makes us loyal customers in real life with the extensibility of software and the ROI of automation.

You certainly don’t need to use our live chat solution to experience these benefits, but some of our customers have experienced solid results:

  • Tradeshift’s sales team increased sales opportunities by 32% with our live chat.
  • At Salesloft, Intercom drives 40% of sales demos booked, an 8X improvement over their previous live chat tool.
  • After one month with Intercom, Prosperworks achieved 25% more leads and nearly 20 new opportunities.

Thanks to intelligent automations such as conversation routing, CRM integrations and chatbots, live chat is on the cusp of being the most efficient way to capture and convert leads.

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What to do When Your Customers Ask For a Discount & Why You Shouldn’t Give Them – Steli Efti

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Everybody wants a deal. Especially your prospects. And while you probably think giving 10% or 20% off isn’t a big deal, giving discounts just to win business can cost you more than money. It can kill your company.

Sure, you probably think I’m being dramatic. You’ve been giving discounts for ages and your revenue and customers are still growing. Right?

The problem is, when your company culture is a discount culture you might win a few battles, but you’ve already lost the war.

SaaS companies today don’t win on being cheap. They win on being valuable.

Let’s start off with the obvious: The SaaS landscape today is more crowded and competitive than ever. You know that when a prospect is talking to you, they’re also talking to your competition. And somewhere in the negotiation, that prospect is going to ask you for a discount.

And so you think “If this customer is willing to offer their solution at that price, I can too, or even a little lower. Just to win the business.” The problem is, once you start down this path, it’s almost impossible to get off it.

You’ve positioned your company as being the cheapest solution, rather than the most valuable.

Want to get better at handling discount requests and other objections? Get our free objection management template!

When you offer discounts, that’s all people think about your company. We’ve seen this exact situation happen in the consumer goods space. The market gets so crowded and undifferentiated that customers will only pick either the cheapest option or the brand they know and trust.

In SaaS, the only way to win on price is to be free. And you can’t build a company like that.

Instead, I truly believe the winning SaaS companies of today and tomorrow will win on value and they’ll win on brand. And you can’t have either if you’re just trying to be the cheapest.

Discount culture creates a weak sales force (and a weak brand)

When you give discounts, you’re setting the wrong example for your team. Instead of going out and selling on your solution’s value and your brand, your salespeople will become transactional. They’ll just give the prospect information and then offer them whatever they want.

Worse than that, your sales team will start offering discounts without even being asked! I’ve seen this happen so many times at SaaS companies and it drives me crazy.

A sales rep is talking to a prospect, they qualify them, there’s a match, they can really deliver value. And when the prospect asks about pricing, the sales rep preemptively goes: “Well, this is our price. But I would give you a good discount.”

Wait a minute. Nobody asked about a discount!

This is a weak sales culture. Your sales reps will always use the easiest tools available, and when they see discounts being given they’ll start to abuse them. They’ll start to think: “Everybody thinks everything is too expensive. Every buyer wants the cheapest, so before they ask, let me just tell them I’m going to give them a discount.”

All of a sudden one of the most vocal voices of your brand—your salespeople—are weak. They’re cheap. And that’s going to reflect on your brand at the end of the day.

You can’t scale because you don’t know what a customer’s actually worth

The other huge issue with discounts is that they make your business completely unpredictable and unscalable.

Instead of a Basic, Pro, and Business plan where you know how much revenue you make for each, you’ve got Customer A with a 12% discount, Customer B with 14%, and Customer C with 2 free user accounts. Good luck trying to build models or forecast your future revenue or even figure out what’s going on with churn.

Those discounts are going to undermine your entire financial structure because you don’t know what a customer’s actually worth. If they remove or add seats, you have no idea what that means in true revenue or churn.

It’s going to cause problems for your support team, your success team, and your marketing team. Even your product people are going to get angry because they’ll have to build all these backend solutions to keep track of billing on all your different discount cases.

You’ll piss off your customers when they find out you’re charging them more than others

Let’s say a slightly larger company aggressively negotiates a big discount. A few months later, a smaller company comes are your sales rep says “this is the best discount we can give. I can’t go any lower.” I guarantee at some point your customers are going to talk to each other. And when they do, the second customer is going to be pissed.

And rightfully so. You lied to them. You betrayed them. And they have every right to get loud and aggressive and drag your brand through the dirt and tell everyone they know about how terrible you are.

This doesn’t mean you can’t give discounts. You just have to do them right.

If you’re just giving our discounts willy nilly, you’re going to get burned. You’re going to destroy your brand, piss off your customers, and create more headaches than that little bit of extra business is worth.

But this doesn’t mean you can’t give out any discounts. You just have to make sure when you do, you do these two things.

First, make sure you’re getting something in return

The problem with discounts is they create abusive customer relationships. Your customer comes in, demands a bunch of things, and you give it to them just for a bit of business. Instead, you need to ask for something in return. This creates a healthy, reciprocal relationship.

In SaaS, that means asking for:

    1. Prepayment: When a customer agrees to sign a long-term contract or prepays for an entire year, you can absolutely give them a discount. You get guaranteed income and predictable cashflow and they get a break on the monthly price. We offer customers of our inside sales CRM a 10% discount if they pay annually instead of monthly.
    2. Case Studies: Trading a bit of a discount for marketing materials is also a good deal. Feel free to offer a discount if a customer is willing to spend a few hours on the phone with your sales team to make a great case study and do some co-promotion.
    3. Referrals and reviews: You can also offer discounts for connections and leads. Ask for a positive review on a specific platform or give discounts if they connect you with other people in the industry who could be strong prospects.

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Second, make sure your discounts are standardized

If you are giving out discounts, you can’t have any flexibility or offer customization. Your sales reps can’t just give them out however they want. You need to have set, predetermined discounts for each of the deals you’re offering.

For example, you could offer 10% for a case study, 15% for prepayment, and 20% for a referral that leads to a new customer. That’s it. There’s no 12% or free seats on offer.

But Steli, what do I do if a customer says they’re not going to buy if I don’t give them a bigger discount than I want to?

There’s always going to be someone who wants more. But you have to draw a line in the sand.

If they’re not willing to work with you, they’re most likely not your ideal customer. At Close.io, we’ve told thousands of businesses “No” when they asked for bigger discounts.

And you know what’s funny? They all get angry. They all scream and yell and tell you there’s no way in Hell they’re going to buy from you at that price. But in my experience, about 50% of the time, they become customers anyways.

It’s just the way they negotiate. They’re trying to get the best deal for their business and you have to respect that. If you have a strong brand and can show the value you provide, there’s a very good chance they’ll choose you anyways.

Of course, there’s one big exception to all of this: Enterprise

As you can tell, I’m sick of seeing discount culture in SaaS companies. But there is one big exception.

If you’re selling to enterprise clients, the way you handle discounts is going to be completely different. You can’t just give them a price and say “this is what it is,” because that’s just not how they work.

Most enterprise companies have a procurement department whose entire job is to get discounts. They have a discount quota to meet, and if you won’t play ball, they’re not even going to consider you.

That’s just the way their organization is built and you’re going to have to go with it if those are your ideal customers.

If you’re trying to win with discounts, you’ve already lost

If you don’t value your solution, your customers won’t either.

So, if you feel like you absolutely have to offer some sort of discount, make sure:

  1. They’re standardized (and don’t budge!)
  2. You’re getting something equally as valuable in return

Sell your prospects on value first and make the discount an added bonus. Not only will this give you a stronger brand, but it will set you down the right path for real, sustainable growth.

If everyone who reads our articles and likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure by your donations – Thank you.

 

How To Turn a Bully Prospect Into a Paying Customer – Steli Efti

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Sure, not every sales call is going to go smoothly. But when a prospect turns into a bully, listing off all the reasons your product and company is terrible. It’s hard not to feel discouraged and not know what to do.

But there’s a mantra you can use in these situations to regain your confidence and turn a bully prospect into a paying customer. When they start yelling just ask yourself: If what we have is so bad why are they still talking to us?

The reason a prospect picked up the phone and called you is because they want to buy from you. Plain and simple.

However, they don’t want you to know this. Your prospects know that if they attack your confidence, they’re going to gain the upper hand in the negotiation. So they start rattling off a laundry list of reasons why they won’t buy from you:

  • You’re too expensive
  • You’re lacking critical features
  • Your company is too small
  • You’re not offering a big enough discount

And I get it. It’s hard to hear these things and still feel like you can sell at your best. But you need to remember that mantra: Why are they still talking to us?

If you’re too expensive, why did they both to waste more time and money by picking up the phone and calling you?

If you’re missing critical features, why are they even entertaining you as an option?

If they love what they currently have, or competitors are offering them a deeper discount, why even come to you (or anyone else) at all?

This is the key question you need to ask whenever a prospect starts trying to bully you. Because there’s only one logical reason why they’re still talking to you: They want what you’re selling.

Remembering this mantra puts you in a position of strength

Negotiations are all about power. And the stronger you can come into one, the better chance you have of getting everything you want. These bully reps know this, and they’re using it against you.

When most sales reps get yelled at or told their product is terrible, they lose their confidence. They think there’s no chance they’re going to get the sale and the only way they remotely might be able to is to fix all these problems and give the prospect everything they want.

They become insecure and end up in a position of weakness in the negotiation.

Yet by asking “Why are they still talking to us?” it puts you on equal ground with your prospect. You know they’re still interested in your product, despite their complaints that you’re too expensive or lacking features.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you aren’t more expensive than the competition. Or that you’re not missing features they’d like to have. What it does mean, is that these issues aren’t dealbreakers.

So, instead of feeling beaten by the bully, you can come back at them with a position of strength:

“Yes, we’re more expensive than the competition. However, we offer X, Y, Z, and our technology is better for these reasons…”

Your attitude needs to be, if we’re so bad why did you take the time to talk to us? And then remember that they came to you, because they want what you have.

When the prospect starts yelling, just remember, they called you

It’s easy to get shaken or lose your confidence when a prospect starts trying to bully you. But just remember, inside every bully, whether they’re on the schoolyard or a sales call, is someone looking for attention.

Look past their anger and frustration and ask: Why are they still talking to us?

You know why.

Write it out. Print it out. Tape it up on your desk. And whenever a prospect starts yelling or getting aggressive, look at it and use it to turn the negotiation into an even playing field.

Have you successfully turned a bully prospect into a paying customer? Tell me your stories in the comments below. 

Don’t let a bully prospect kill your confidence. Stay one step ahead with our free Objection Management Template.

If everyone who reads our articles and likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure by your donations – Thank you.

Here’s How to Stop Overspending When Hanging Out With Friends – Joshua Becker

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Nearly 40% of millennials overspend to keep up with friends. And two-thirds of them feel buyer’s remorse after spending more than they had planned to on a social situation.

Of course, this temptation to overspend when hanging out with friends is not unique to any one generation.

Speaking of overspending to keep up with friends, Stephanie M. Tully and Eesha Sharma, researchers and co-authors of Context-Dependent Drivers of Discretionary Debt Decisions: Explaining Willingness to Borrow for Experiential Purchasessaid, “We actually don’t see any differences across age in our data. It seems to be just as pronounced among older generations as younger generations.”

Interestingly enough, and vitally important to point out, this is also not a socioeconomic phenomenon. You cannot outearn this temptation.

According to Robert Frank in his 2007 book, Richistan, “20 percent of households with between $1 million and $10 million in assets in 2004 spent all their income—or more—in a frantic race to keep up with their newfound friends: those with more money than them.”

 Apparently, regardless of generation and/or net income, the temptation to overspend in an effort to keep up with our friends and their spending habits is common to all of us. No doubt, many of you have felt the same temptation in your own life.

How then, do we overcome this?

Nine Ways to Stop Overspending When Hanging Out With Friends

1. Set your budget. Or better yet, create a spending plan. Be specific on the amount of money you set aside for dining, experiences, and travel per month. Then, stick to it.

2. Keep in mind the big goals you have for your life. When creating your budget, remember that your budget is not restrictive. Just the opposite in fact, your budget is a roadmap to the life you desire: free from debt, financially focused on your values and most cherished pursuits.

3. Be honest with your friends. Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), some of your friends feel the same way you do. According to the same survey cited above, 36% of respondents doubt they can keep up with their friends for another year without going into debt, but nearly 30% don’t feel comfortable being the one to say “no.” Break the trend in your friendship group by being the one to initiate the conversation.

4. Look for less expensive alternatives when out with friends. Of course, entirely changing your friends (or hoping to change your friends’ interests) is not the only option, nor is rejecting them altogether. The next time you are out, look for less expensive alternatives: rather than ordering an expensive meal on the menu, order something more reasonably priced; skip the snacks and drinks at your next movie; or order a cheaper drink at the club.

5. Cut costs elsewhere. If spending time with friends and having the financial margin to do so is important to you, look for other spending areas in your budget that can be cut: buy less clothing, don’t upgrade your phone, or pack your lunch for work. Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value by removing anything that distracts us from it. Applying minimalism in one area may free up more money to be spent with your friends.

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6. Be clear on your reasoning. When speaking openly and honestly with your friends, also speak in clear, reasoned terms. Share with them why you want to spend less. Is staying out of debt important to you? Are you working hard to pay off a student loan or build up an emergency savings fund? Maybe generosity is something you want to leave space for in your life? Be clear that your reasoning isn’t just “I don’t have enough money,” there is usually a deeper reason and motivation behind it.

7. Suggest less expensive ideas. Friends spend time together—this is true. But that doesn’t mean everything they do together needs to cost a lot of money. Sometimes it just takes someone to offer up some less expensive ideas: Frisbee in the park, an afternoon on the beach, a hike, or a Redbox rather than a theater.

8. If you lose them, it’s okay. I understand the fear that if you don’t keep spending the money to be with your friends, they might stop being your friends. And that may be the case. But ask yourself, if that’s true, isn’t it eventually going to happen anyway? Can you keep overspending and going into debt indefinitely just to be with them? Of course not. At some point, something will need to change—either how much money they spend or how much money you spend.  Besides, if you need to spend lots of money in order to impress your friends, you probably need new ones.

9. Remember, there will be other opportunities. One thing I know to be true of life, it goes on. Opportunities come and opportunities go. And sometimes bypassing an opportunity today means I can enjoy a different one tomorrow—when I’m in a better stage of life financially. Taking a step back from overspending to keep up with your friends doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to spend money with friends. Just the opposite. It’ll help put you in a more financially stable place, so you can do even more of it in the future.

Having friends doesn’t mean you have to go broke. You can have both friends and money. It just might take some intentional decisions to get there.

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Five Ways to Conduct Market Research – Steve Cartwright

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If you’re looking into producing a product or service, your first step is usually to conduct market research. No matter how good your product is, it’s not going to sell if it doesn’t meet a need or serve a purpose that is useful to your customers. While you can hire someone to do the research for you, most people can’t afford the thousands of dollars it will cost. Here are five ways to do your own research on an affordable scale.

1. Customer Polling

The easiest way to conduct market research is to poll your current customers. If you publish an ezine or newsletter, include a short survey with it that the reader has the option of returning. If you have web pages, add a survey question or two to the top of some or all of the pages that the reader has the option of filling out.

This is a great way to get useful information on future product releases or improvements for current products from your most likely users. The problem is actually getting them to respond. Surveys should very short, or include some sort of small incentive to respond. This will help increase response to help you get more data.

2. Attend Events

Seminars and other events are a great way to learn the latest market research. Even if the seminars are not specifically about this, the people attending them have done or know the research and many of them are already successful at what they’re doing (and what you want to do). Pick the parts of the seminar that you think will be most beneficial to you, then spend the rest chatting and networking with presenters and other attendees.

3. Focus Groups

Focus groups are a tool researchers have been using for a long time. These are small groups of people brought together to talk about and come up with specific ideas. If you’re working on a topic, you can get together a small group of people who are willing to answer and discuss questions in a group setting. You can do this by actually getting them together, or by getting everyone on a conference call or in an online chat room.

4. Published Data

If you’re looking for a reputable source for market resource, researching published data is the way to go. Take a trip to your local library. While their books are likely outdated, they often have subscriptions to magazines, journals, and journal databases. This way, instead of doing the research yourself, you can simply find the results of someone else’s work. Plus, to make it into these journals, the research must be validated and peer approved.

5. Random Surveys

You can use your local telephone book to conduct surveys in your area. If you are looking into a larger market, use online telephone books to expand your survey. You can pull numbers randomly for general opinions, or narrow down people polled by looking only at small restaurant owners or something else your product would be marketed to. Just realize that this method will take you a lot of time and a lot of calling.

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How to Attract the Right Clients – Steve Cartwright

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It took me many years to learn the lesson that when it comes to freelancing, there are two types of clients only, the right clients and the wrong clients. When you have the right clients the world seems wonderful, work seems exciting, and you don’t dread checking your emails and messages. But, if you have the wrong clients, you suddenly start checking the “Want Ads” for jobs and dread those emails coming in. Since no one wants to work with such stress and especially if you work for yourself, the answer is to only work with the right clients. But, how can you be sure that you’re attracting the right clients?

Determine Who Exactly Your Ideal Client Is

Write down what your ideal client looks like. What motives them? What keeps them up at night? Are they results-focused on money-focused? All of these questions can help you determine the type of client you want to attract. As a freelancer you should focus on clients who have a specific need, who care more about results than price, and who are willing to hand over the work to you and focus only on deliverables – i.e. no micromanagers.

Set Your Prices High

Instead of trying to compete on price, compete on value. Price your value instead of trying to match your competition or freelancers who want to compete on price. Remember that your prices set an expectation in the minds of your audience. The higher the price, the more perceived value they have for your services. If your prices are currently low, raise them right now. Don’t be scared; you’ll attract clients who are successful instead of struggling, which will give you a much better type of client.

Do Not Lower Your Prices

When you get to the negotiation phase, never lower your prices. You can add more value into your work for the price, but don’t lower it. You’re not selling a commodity; you’re selling a specialized skill that took you a lot of time, money and training to be able to offer it professionally. Do not under value yourself. No matter what your competitors charge, you should stick to the value you set at the beginning. Lowering your prices only sets you up for failure and resentment. Let your clients know that you never cut prices or corners.

Set Up a Client Screening Process

Your potential clients need to go through a process that qualifies them before you ever speak to them on a call. Set up a client questionnaire that will not only help determine what type of client they are, but also help them clarify what it is they want from you. Clients who know what they want are a lot easier to work with than clients who have no idea what they want. Plus, if they are willing to go through the questionnaire, that is a good sign they’re going to be willing to use your processes and your systems.

Determine Your Potential Client’s Motivation

Most business owners literally guess about their clients’ motivation, and due to this are often wrong. When you can figure out what truly motivates your clients, you’ll be able to improve on your client screening process exponentially. The truth is, the only real way to qualify a client is to know what gets their engine burning. Put these into your client screening process and you’ll start figuring it out.

In the form you create to screen potential clients, simply ask what motivates them. Give them the choices of: Speed, Value, Price, Results. You can have them choose one or rank them in terms of importance. This does a few things. If they fill out the form, you know they’re serious; if they answer price and speed as most important, you can toss them out as potential clients, or you can move them to a new list that educates them on value and results over price.

Focus on Results

The more value you can provide, the better. What your clients really want is results. If you can prove the results, your clients will be clamoring for more at any price. Determine a way to prove the results of your work, and then submit that information to your clients on a periodic basis with notes on what more can be done (at a price) to improve these outcomes even more.

Place a Premium on Value

You’ve likely heard the phrase, “under promise and over deliver”. It’s excellent advice and something you should focus on doing. The more you can do that, the more your clients will perceive your work as top-notch and excellent – no matter the price. Each month that you work with your client, always figure out a way to do a little something extra that you didn’t list in your duties just to give them that wow factor.

Follow Up

One of the biggest keys to keeping your business afloat and working with the right clients is the follow-up. When you’ve received objections from clients that you know would be a good fit, you want to address them immediately. For example, if a potential client went through your entire process but still is on the fence due to the cost, you’ll need to step it up. Give them more testimonials, references, and examples of the results of your work.

All of this may seem like a lot of work, but if you don’t put potential clients through a screening process before you get to the first phone call, you will more often than not waste your time. It can be scary to stick to your price point, but it’s imperative if you want to be happy doing this work and working with these clients. Oh and if you make a mistake and accept a client that you later find out isn’t right for you, then never be afraid to sack the client, working with the right clients ensures you do your best work after all.

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How to Activate Employees and Harness the Power of Internal Experts – Michael Brenner

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Here’s a strategy brands such as IBM and Starbucks have been using for years to bolster their marketing reach and their revenue – employee activation.

By harnessing the potential of the people who know your brand better than even your most devoted customers, you can tap into a rich source of brand advocacy and fuel growth.At the same time, you’ll boost employee engagement.

Engaged employees have a vested interest in your organization’s success.  They are aligned with your messaging and vision. And they offer something much more important than greater productivity.

A positive employee attitude can engage your customers as well. Look at it this way. As many as 68 percent of customers abandon a brand as a direct response to poor employee attitude.

The bulk of customer brand perception – about 70 percent – doesn’t depend on the ingenuity of your video marketing strategy or the quality of your products – it’s human interaction with customer service representatives, your employees at in-person events, email and live chat responses, and the content your employees are sharing about your brand.

When your employees do share your company’s content – something that’s not likely to happen without motivation, only about 3 percent of employees share company-related content – you are looking at a healthy boost of customer engagement.

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This positive impact is exponential. When you can motivate 6 percent of your employees to share content, customer engagement increases by 60 percent. With 10 percent active employees, you’re looking at the potential for a 100 percent increase.

The bottom line is, the experiences customers have with your employees shape the impression of your brand more than anything else.

On the other hand, when you fail to activate your employees, you’ve effectively created a financial black hole for your organization. Disengaged employees cost businesses from $450 to $550 billion each year.

So, how can you activate your employees?

The key is in understanding what employee activation truly means. Hint: it’s much more than offering a carrot.

When you look at examples of excellent employee advocacy programs in action, you’ll see that it’s more than a few tweaks to your organizational processes and internal communications. It’s a shift. A transformation that’s going to take time and conscious effort, but one that you can fully achieve with the help of a few tools, tips and strategies to help you activate your internal experts.

Let’s get started.

What Does Employee Activation Involve?

Employee activation is all about motivating your employees to share content with their social networks. We already know that word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most effective techniques for generating leads and boosting sales.

Employee activation takes this one step further, tapping into your employees to expand the reach of your brand. Just how much of a difference will this make? It can potentially have a seismic effect. This is because, for the typical business, the social networks of employees are 10 times the size of the social following of the company itself.

“When you can activate your entire company to be brand ambassadors, the full effects of social selling can be felt globally.”

-Koka Sexton, Sr. Social Marketing Manager formerly of LinkedIn and Hootsuite

Being able to activate your employees offers more benefits than a wider social media net for your brand to reach out to. Way more.

Your organization will experience a cascading positive effect because as you put in the effort to activate your employees through training, supporting, mentoring, and mobilizing, you’re also aligning their work with the purpose and mission of the business. You’re making their job more meaningful.

This isn’t just a shiny ideal. Purpose is what makes getting out of bed in the morning to come to work appealing. And it’s something consistently profitable companies have been focusing on for years – take Southwest Airlines for example.

They focus on both company culture and customer service and make a point of recognizing employees regularly on their website, their brand magazine, and they have a library of videos sharing stories form real customers who appreciated the experience they’ve had with the brand.

Taken further, active employees have a lot to gain. When they share their insights, expertise and vision, they are building their own personal brand, which can support their careers in the long run.

“If you help brand your people, they will help brand your company.”

Jennifer Jones Newbill, Dell

86 percent of those who have been a part of a social media advocacy program for their job have said it has had a positive impact on their career.

You’ll have employees who are both engaged and motivated, and who can benefit themselves from their experience as an employee advocate. The more they invest into the company through sharing content and brand advocacy, the more they have to gain professionally. Win-wins tend to be good for everyone.

Here are just a few of the bonuses other companies are already seeing from a serious approach to employee activation:

  • Easier to attract top talent. Employees are trusted 3 times more than your organization’s CEO by potential recruits. When they are visible on social media as brand representatives, it’s a lot easier to attract quality hires.
  • Increased employee retention. Companies with active social engagement are 20 percent more likely to retain talent.
  • Better brand storytelling. Want more authentic content? Get it from the people who are the heart of your business by inviting them to share their voice. Neil Gunn, the Digital Strategy Advisor for the World Wildlife Fund in the UK says, “The theory is that people who have the stories to tell are on the ground. If you really are going to do social well, you need to make the connection with those who have the story to tell.”
  • Boost in sales leads. For employee sharing on LinkedIn, research shows that sales leads increase by as much as 58 percent.

3 Brands with Employee Advocate Programs

Take a look at these examples of brands who have made engaging their employees a priority.

Dell

Dell excels at activating their employees on social. What they’ve done is create a dynamic training, support and facilitation program to empower their sales employees to be active on social and to ensure social usage is as effective as possible.

Dell’s Social Media University involves over 16,000 employees in 46 different countries. This is how it works:

  • Employees who want to be a part of the program go through training.
  • Dell then gives their employees branded accounts to use (@dell).
  • There’s a Governance system in place to guide the process, approve ideas, and, in general, facilitate more worthwhile marketing and recruiting content.
  • They also have a specialist team to monitor and respond to customer service issues and branded conversations on social media.

This highly structured approach has been a big win for both employees and Dell.

Sales employees who use social media outperform nonsocial salespeople by 23 percent. For Dell, they get way more customer engagement – social content posted by employees, for Dell, is eight times more engaging than the content the brand publishes. It’s also boosted profits, by over $14 million.

Adobe

Adobe’s Social Shift Program is another forward-thinking approach to employee brand advocacy. It offers education and best practices to help employees become better brand advocates. Employees can even test their ambassador skills by practicing with simulated experiences.

Lauren Friedman, head of Global Social Business Enablement for Adobe says of their employee advocacy, “We believe that people trust people. People buy from people. Relationships fuel our overall success.” She also points out the program works through enabling and encouragement, giving employees plenty of room to be themselves, saying, “We don’t want to create an army of Adobe-bots!”

Adobe then encourages employees to share on different platforms.

  • Post on the Adobe Life blog
  • Participate in contests for social sharing with weekly recognition for top ambassadors
  • Adobe scouts out ideal spokespeople to post on LinkedIn and Glassdoor
  • Employees who really stand out are invited to special events like Adobe’s MAX conference

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Their strategy works. Over one-third of Adobe’s employees have gone through the Social Shift. Adobe is known for having the most social employees in the entire tech industry.

Starbucks

Headed by the always visionary Howard Schultz, Starbucks is another company that has been motivating employee brand advocacy for years. This hasn’t just led to active employees on social media and boosted trust in the brand, it’s also sparked their customer-based brand advocate army. Starbucks is king at inspiring user-generated content.

Starbucks encourages employees to share brand updates and stories on their social media profiles. They also use their internal team to gain feedback before releasing new products. This is an excellent technique for B2C brands who want to test out new ideas on ‘consumers’ before launching into the real-world.

“[Employees] are the true ambassadors of our brand, the real merchants of romance, and as such, the primary catalyst for delighting customers. [They] elevate the experience for each customer – something you can hardly accomplish with a billboard or a 30-second spot.”

Howard Schultz

7 Tips for Activating Your Employees

Your employees are more trusted, more social, and may be some of your brand’s best storytellers. Here are tips and strategies you can use to motivate them to be vocal about your brand.

1. Start Small with the Social Stars You Already Have

Talent consultant Lars Schmidt warns that starting an employee activation initiative with your HR department or upper management can backfire. “Employees may be skeptical if HR or leadership pushes them to act. If they see their peer participating, they’ll be more compelled to follow suit and your initiatives can grow organically and authentically.”

Identify your employees who are already advocates on social media and start small with them. Once you’ve trained them to use their social profiles or their dedicated branded profiles, you have your internal leaders who you can then use for a larger program.

2. Make It about Personal Branding

The best way to motivate brand advocacy within your organization isn’t by offering a financial or physical reward. It’s about personal incentive.

Especially for B2B brands, employees have the chance to share their own expertise and establish themselves as industry experts while they work for you when they post well-researched or thought-provoking content on LinkedIn, publish how-to videos on YouTube, or share links to content on Twitter and Facebook.

Your employee activation should be about empowering your employees to be the best professional version of themselves. This, in turn, benefits your brand as they are your organization’s social representatives. It also fosters an authentic interest in giving their best to the organization they work for.

Approach brand advocacy as advantageous for both company and employee and you’ll get sustainable interest.

3. Teach Your Employees to Fish

Have a support system in place at the beginning. You don’t have to start out with a social training academy like Dell or Adobe. But, at least have established guidelines, tips and best practices, and identify social experts within your organization for individuals to go to with questions or for some one-on-one guidance. This will set the foundation for a successful program.

An effective strategy is to create regular educational content. Webinars, a library of educational videos filled with social media pointers, training sessions, or short weekly or monthly meetings are all methods you can use to make sure your employees know what’s acceptable to share and the best ways they can be successful sharing their expert voice on various social media platforms.

4. Make Social Sharing Convenient with Curated Content

Your employees are more likely to be active when you make it easy for them. As part of your employee activation program, you can regularly supply curated content. Include relevant blog posts, videos, industry news, and case studies. Then, encourage your advocates to edit the posts so as to use their personal voice.

5. Incentivize with Contests

You won’t be able to maintain a sustainable employee advocacy program on incentives alone, but they definitely can keep people interested. Think weekly contests or giveaways. This type of motivation is more about keeping your employees engaged than it is the reward itself so make your contests fun and interesting.

6. Leverage Technology

Yes, there’s an app for employee activation. In fact, there are several, including plenty of machine learning algorithms and AI-inspired platforms. Take advantage of these tools to make motivating your employees that much more effective.

  • Elevate is a LinkedIn resource that you can use to share curated content at scale. It’s a built-in feature, making it too convenient not to use.
  • EveryoneSocial is the employee advocacy platform used by Dell and Adobe and makes it exceedingly simple for employees to share content to their social networks at scale.
  • Dynamic Signal is another useful tool for employee sharing that comes with analytics. The platform includes the ability to send out real-time notifications and personalized invites. You can also create quizzes, surveys and interactive content to keep your employees engaged.
  • Influitive is an advocacy platform that is used by companies like Quickbase and MongoDB. Their AdvocateHub motivates advocates to share content, reviews, and testimonials across the social web.
  • DrumUp lets you create custom posts and curate content. It also comes with a point system to recognize social stars and analytics to track activity. DrumUp uses machine learning and Natural Language Processing, which means you’re going to see highly relevant content with the curation function.
  • There are also solutions from social platforms like Hootsuite’s Amplify and Bambu from Sprout Social

7. Use Your Advocates Wisely

While your employees’ social profiles may have the Midas touch, you still need to be careful how much you use your employee advocates. This is true for two reasons. First, you don’t want to make your advocates feel pressured to spend too much time on social sharing. For them, it should be simple and easy, not another task. Otherwise, you’ll have less people interested in your voluntary program.

Second, and more importantly, too much social sharing will dilute the value and authenticity of employee content. The reason employee sharing is so powerful is that it is an individual sharing content rather than the brand. If your employees’ social networks are being inundated by posts, people are going to start ignoring the content and, at some point, it will start to feel like brand marketing content rather than authentic insights.

Employee activation gives your brand’s online presence and reputation a mega boost of trust and engagement. Leads that are generated from employee social sharing convert seven times more often than other leads. It can increase sales and establish your brand as a more trustworthy organization. It can even help you attract premium hires to help your business succeed more in the future.

On the other hand, overlooking the potential of your employees can be a fatal error. Not only will you miss the chance to rake in more leads and sales and to enjoy a brand reputation boost. You are also missing the opportunity to help your employees grow professionally and to experience a greater sense of value and connection with the company they spend 40 plus hours a week working for – and this will cost you big time.

If everyone who reads our articles and likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure by your donations – Thank you.

 

How to Refocus Your Strategy and Reenergize Your Team – Stanley Meytin

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A person’s passion is the sincerest definition of who they are. Passion can manifest itself in a hobby, an aspiration, or if you’re really lucky, a career. Take two people, Joe and Jane, as an example. Joe has a passion outside of his career. He devotes a lot of his free time to this passion and naturally speaks about it to his peers.

When his peers think of him they probably define him as “person passionate about X.” Now take Jane, one of the lucky few who has made a career out of her passion. She devotes twice the amount of time, twice the amount of energy and twice the amount of conversation to her passion. How do you think her peers define her?

If you’ve read Simon Sinek’s bestseller Start With Why, then Jane will remind you of Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines, or Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc. Joe will remind you of the Wright Brothers. Each of these individuals built empires by undyingly following their passion. Sure, you can claim that these individuals are used as examples because of winner’s bias. But they succeeded because not only were they extremely passionate. They succeeded because they were able to clearly communicate their visions.

I consider myself extremely lucky. Like Jane, I’ve built a career out of my passion. When I first launched my film production company, my team asked the same questions regarding our clients that our competition was asking:

  • What is this client doing that’s different?
  • What do they bring to the table?
  • What problems are they solving for their customers?

While these questions helped us understand our clients, we realized they weren’t getting to the core of what defined them. We were part of the same old convention of business. We were focusing on what our clients were doing and not why they were doing it in the first place. Once we realized this, we began asking ourselves different questions:

  • How can we harness the passion that defines the client’s company to create a story?
  • Are their employees inspired by that passion?
  • Does the story align with their core values?
  • How can we align the story with the company’s brand mission?
  • How is that story going to connect with their audience?
  • How are we going to make the story authentic and engaging?

The biggest takeaway, however, didn’t come in the form of one of our clients’ videos going viral. It came in-house. 2016 was the first year we set a quantitative benchmark for the number of videos we wanted to produce. Not only did we not hit the benchmark, but with all the energy we put into hitting a quota we lost focus on creating a better product. We produced more videos, but they were watered down compared to previous years. We lost our own purpose.

We got rid of all quantity benchmarks in 2017 and as a team, we held a meeting to refocus. In this meeting, we asked ourselves the same questions that we asked our clients. We ended the meeting with a mission to create a video channel to tell impactful and authentic stories that inspire others.

That channel has been a remarkably accurate reflection of the meeting where it was first conceptualized. We’re now using the same techniques that helped us define our purpose in our core business for our corporate clients. Not only has it righted our ship and produced success but it has also provided us with an entirely new set of questions to ask our clients:

  • Is their organization helping others?
  • Is their mission connecting with others?
  • Are their customers genuinely understanding their mission?
  • Are employees buying into their mission, do they believe their roles play an important part in promoting the mission?
  • Are they building a community?
  • Are they staying true to their core values and the values of their customers and employees?

The beauty of these questions is that you can propose them to your clients, to your employees and even to yourself. They’re not specific to video production or any industry for that matter. If you already have the answers, that’s incredible. If not, then use them to refocus your strategy or reenergize your team.

Just swap “their” and “they” for “your” and “you.” Connecting to people on a deeper level, nurturing a human connection, evoking emotion and inspiring are key ingredients to building loyalty and bringing the best out in people.

Note, however, that not all ingredients are created equal. Like apples grown on two separate farms, the ingredients that I listed — those that were seeded and cared for with passion — will always taste better.

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6 Signs Your Business Idea Is Ready For Financing – Jared Hecht

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It’s thrilling to hit on a great idea for a business, and envision yourself at the helm of a lucrative new endeavor. Less thrilling, though, is the prospect of securing the necessary financing to get from idea to real-life CEO.

The truth is, finding the money to run a startup requires a lot of preliminary planning, regardless of whether you’re going to pursue outside funding or choose to bootstrap your first few months. Most startups looking elsewhere to kickstart their cash flow will have the best luck securing funding through their personal networks. You can look to an angel investor, a loan from friends or family or even crowdfunding. Alternatively, there’s also the option for a small business startup loan, another route entirely.

Regardless of which financing route you take, your potential investors need to see evidence that your idea is practically viable before they throw their hats into the ring. These six signs indicate that your business idea is ready for financing — and just might provide the evidence your potential investors need to be convinced.

1. Your idea serves a true, identified need

Your business isn’t going to work, let alone make money, if it doesn’t have a customer base. And, what’s more, if they don’t need whatever you’re creating. This may seem obvious, but many aspiring entrepreneurs get so caught up in the excitement of their big ideas that they fail to plan for how that idea will function in the real world.

Before you jump into the financing process, you need to identify your target customer segment and understand their behavior. You should design your product or idea to deliver a solution to a problem that those customers are facing.

While we’re on the subject of product: You need to know what that product or sevice is, how it works and how you’re going to sell it. You’ve identified potential problems that may arise with your product, or barriers you may come up against in the market, and you have a game plan for troubleshooting those snags.

Then, you need to perform due diligence in your industry. Determine exactly how you’ll situate your business within the existing market, understand how your product can shift and grow along with it, and differentiate yourself from competitors. And make sure your customers can afford your product or service.

2. You’ve tested out your product, and it works

Pay attention, especially to that second part. Very few lenders will feel comfortable investing their money into just an idea, no matter how enticing it might be.

Your business idea is ready for financing when you have material evidence to bring to your investors’ table, whether it’s a prototype of a physical product or a beta version of a program or website. Be ready to present any data, reviews or research you’ve acquired after testing out that product, too. And if that data isn’t favorable, you might need to go back to the drawing board.

3. You have a business model and plan

If your business model is the what, your business plan is the why.

Your business model indicates your business’s revenue streams, and your business plan lays out how you’re going to acquire those revenue streams. How is your business’s leadership team organized, and how is your business legally structured? What kind of equipment, staffing and marketing plan do you need to operate your business and generate income?

Both your business model and plan provide proof, both to yourself and to any potential lenders, that your business idea is practical and operable.

4. And you have a financial plan, too

Whether you’re pitching an investor or seeking a small business loan through a lender, your financier will want to see how you plan on using that potential money. You can’t just ask for money as an entrepreneur. You need to know exactly how much money you need, why you need it and how you’ll use it.

That’s especially true if you seek financing through an angel investor. Since these individuals lay their own money on the line to fund your startup, they need to be sure your venture is sustainable, eventually lucrative and that you’ll use their resources wisely.

Poor financial planning, or no financial planning, certainly can’t convince potential lenders of your business acumen. So, draw up a financial road map that projects exactly how you’ll get from point A — where you and your resources are now — to point B, where you hope to be within the next one to five years.

Be sure to include a detailed plan of your projected business expenses, or how much capital it’ll take to get your business idea off the ground, and your operating expenses, or how much it’ll cost to keep that business going.

5. You’ve recruited a qualified team to execute on your vision.

Even if you created your business idea on your own, in reality, every entrepreneur needs help kicking off, then operating, their startups.

Before you seek financing, recruit a capable and qualified management team to run your business, or have a hiring plan in place to do so ASAP. And if you don’t have enough relevant experience in the field yourself, you’ll need to gather a team of partners or mentors to fill the gaps in your knowledge. It’s crucial to acknowledge you can’t do and know everything yourself.

6. You can prove you spend money responsibly

Although you might not have a way to prove you’re responsible with business financing yet, you want to make sure you’re positioning yourself to create a track record so investors and lenders can trust you.

Even if you start with seed money from close friends, or crowdfunding from Kickstarter for your business idea, you may need to seek additional financing through a larger venture round or a small business lender. That’s where the proof becomes necessary. For instance, if you’re working with a lender, they’ll want to know that your business is capable of repaying your debt before extending you a loan. And any other investor will want to know that any money they give you will be spent responsibly, especially if they’re expecting returns.

One of the best ways you can do that is to cultivate a healthy financial profile, and keep a high business credit score. Open a business credit card, and follow best practices to improve your credit score, like paying all your bills in full and on time and regularly checking your credit reports for errors.

Then, the proof will be in the numbers. Alongside a squeaky-clean track record and a strong personal credit score, a great financial history will position you for the financing your growing small business needs, whether that’s new term sheet, or maybe a gold-standard SBA loan.

For aspiring entrepreneurs, sometimes the hardest thing isn’t coming up with innovative ideas, it’s knowing which of those ideas are worthy of financing. Watch out for these six signs to know when you’re ready to seek the financing you need to turn that big idea into a reality.

If everyone who reads our articles and likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure. For as little as $5, you can donate us – Thank you.

Starbucks Is Now Open for Loitering and It’s a Terrible Business Decision – Gene Marks

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Starbucks, in an effort to walk back from the recent bad press it received, has just made a terrible business decision. Did you catch it? According other reports, the company, in a letter to its employees this past weekend, said that “any person who enters our spaces, including patios, cafes and restrooms, regardless of whether they make a purchase, is considered a customer.”

Starbucks employees were told to follow company procedures for people that are acting in a “disruptive manner,” particularly when there’s a potential safety concern. The company is also asking its customers to “behave in a manner that maintains a warm and welcoming environment by using spaces as intended, being considerate of others and communicating with respect.” That’s fine for “customers.” But if a guy’s not buying any coffee how can you call him a customer?

It’s a terrible mistake and it should be a fascinating business lesson, not only for the giant coffee chain but for the thousands of smaller, independent coffee shops, merchants and restaurant owners that operate around the country. Why?

First of all, consider my local Starbucks (which by coincidence is the one located at 18th and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia, where the now infamous racial incident that occurred last month). I go there all the time. Unfortunately, so do lots and lots of homeless people who sleep the nights in nearby Rittenhouse Square looking to use their bathroom or to get a cup of water.

The employees at that location are great — always providing but then politely moving them along. (Let’s please not get into a homeless debate here: It’s a terrible and sad problem. But anyone who lives in a city like me knows the best thing to do is to contribute to organizations who can provide food, clothing and medical care for this population.)

Once word of this new policy spreads — and it will spread quickly — my expectation is that this location will be residence for many indigent people…all day long. If you were homeless, wouldn’t you do the same? As long as you’re “considerate of others” and “communicating with respect” (whatever that means) you can sit there from opening to closing and enjoy warmth, security, a bathroom and as much water as you can drink.

It’ll be interesting to see the impact this has on all the other customers who use that location as a place to meet friends, study or relax with a latte and a book. My prediction: Bye-bye, Starbucks.Secondly, what will Starbucks do if the policy fails? Has this really been thought through? Was it even tested during this past month? Please, don’t ever do this in your business.

Yes, we all sympathize with the homeless, but do you sympathize so much that you would sit next to someone who’s been living rough (and smells like it) after spending six bucks on a Frappuccino? And what about their employees? Does the company realize just how much more difficult their jobs will become? Will Starbucks lose valuable people due to the added stress from adding “policeman” and “psychiatrist” to their already long list of job duties? I think so.

There is potentially good news from this decision, particularly if you’re one of the thousands of coffee shop, store or restaurant owners around the country. It’s quite possible that the influx of homeless or other people who aren’t paying but use Starbucks like a bus station waiting room will drive existing Starbucks customers to you.

But then again, it’s possible that the Seattle chain’s supposed “benevolence” may force you into doing the same — or bear the wrath of activist groups, social media trolls and bad headlines. Will this force the many independent business of chains like Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts to do the same? Ugh.

So let’s see how this plays out. I’m ready to buy my coffee at any of the dozens of local merchants nearby if my local Starbucks becomes uncomfortable or undesirable. You know what? I should be doing that already.

If everyone who reads our articles and likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure. For as little as $5, you can donate us – Thank you.