Tag Archives: Marketing Articles

Personalize Your Business with a Monthly Newsletter

By Doug Lindsey

We enclose a monthly newsletter to our customers with our billing. It gets printed out on letterhead then photocopied on a different color paper each month, which is simple and cheap. I do all the writing, and it typically takes me between two and eight hours to get a final draft I’m happy with. I enjoy writing and we’ve received many compliments over the years on my writing style. But the main reason is not for ego gratification, it’s to create “customer bonding” and promote customer relations and account loyalty.

Four years ago we had obsolete equipment and our customer churn rate was horrible. That’s when we shopped for new equipment and bought Earth-net. But even before that, we knew we had to get our account loss rate down or we’d be out of business in a year, and we knew that new equipment, etc., would take more time than we had. It turned out to be over six months on the fastest track we could manage.

In October 1996, the building next door burnt to a crisp in a five alarm fire. Sherry and I stayed on duty while the cops evacuated everybody else in our building including the rest of our staff. For a few minutes it looked like our building was doomed too, but the entire Albany Fire Department (about 20 vehicles) arrived in the nick of time. We weren’t out of service whatsoever, and things were back to normal in a couple more hours. At midnight that night, Sherry woke up and said “what are you writing?” I said: “Our first newsletter–this story is too good not to share with our customers.”

Next month, our newsletter was born, and during the following six months, our account loss rate was 1/4 of the rate for the previous six months. There were other reasons for the turnaround, but Sherry and I are both convinced that the newsletter was a really important part. We’ve only missed writing about three monthly issues since. I have many jobs here, but keeping our equipment at maximum performance and writing the monthly newsletter are my two most important jobs. We specifically wanted to avoid the “Look and Feel” of all those stupid inserts and boring “newsletters” you get with the telephone and credit card bills. Hence, my attempt to establish a dialogue and “back home” atmosphere in each issue.

Our philosophy on “Look and Feel”: I write on whatever topic I’m in the mood for and it’s MY writing style in MY words. When it comes to writing ability, I’m better than some and worse than others, but my customers always know at a glance that it’s ME that wrote the newsletter. There are newsletter services you can subscribe to where somebody else does all the writing and slaps your masthead on it, but the problem is that such a newsletter will not look or sound like you to your customers. Our financial planner does this and it’s fine; I mean how many times can you rewrite the same basic financial advice? But I think an answering service is selling personalized service and should grab every opportunity to present its personality to its customers.

General guidelines I would suggest are: be sincere, be genuine, be relevant, be yourself and be interesting. If you miss on any of these, in my honest opinion, nobody will read it anyway. What this means is that you can “borrow” material from other people (including me), but it will look phony unless the end product looks and sounds like your operation.

After about a year’s worth of writing newsletter issues, I felt like they were all starting to look and sound alike (boring), so we started varying the writing style to include a diary-entry style, and also started writing some very short (but relevant) fiction stories when we ran out of other ideas. Everybody loves a good story, and you don’t have to look any further than Connections Magazine for some excellent examples on how to do it.

“What if I don’t have a lot of writing experience/skills?” is the question many of you are thinking right now. Even if you’re not a great writer there’s ways around this. Clip out other people’s stuff, paste it onto your newsletter, and pass it along (sort of like forwarding an email). Shatz and Associates just faxed us a newsletter with “Top 10 Good Things About Owning An Answering Service”. It was very funny and with a bit of customization here, we’ll paste it into a future newsletter for our customer’s entertainment. You can also pass along jokes, humor and stories you pick up on the Web. Steve Michaels at TAS Marketing is a master at turning small incidents in his daily life into compelling stories, and his Op-Ed pieces in Connections are some of my favorite reading. Look at a few of his stories and say to yourself: “I have things like this happening to me all the time that would make a good story if I wrote it down and shared it.”

About two years ago one of our customers got mad at us and was shopping around for a new service. We found out when they called us on one of our DBA phone numbers and I took the quote call. After both of us figuring this out and some mutual embarrassment, we found out what they were unhappy about (we did nothing wrong) and fixed it, they’ve been happy with us ever since. I told the story in the next newsletter issue for three reasons. First, it was an entertaining story. Second, it established our credibility and sincerity, because the story was way outside the box of the usual propaganda that people put in their own newsletters. Third, the moral of the story was: “If you have a complaint, please tell us right away so we can fix it.”

That brings up another point: BEG for complaints. Several studies have been done where the basic conclusion was that FIXING a genuine customer complaint results in a happier and more loyal customer than if they never complained at all. So every couple of issues we beg for complaints. It helps us identify and fix problems, it helps us establish sincerity and credibility, and it promotes customer loyalty.

Other newsletter topics have included updates on new equipment and other equipment issues, updates on phone service from the telco, frank discussions of our recent problems and what we’re doing to fix things (established credibility and honesty), recent news about our staff, how our live operator system works, how to interpret the morning fax report, etc., etc. Go ahead and keep it short if you don’t have a lot to say; ours are usually one page single spaced in 12 point type.

I just thought up a new newsletter topic while I’ve been writing this: “How to Write a Newsletter for Your Customers”–a newsletter about writing newsletters–cool idea, huh?

We often fax copies of recent newsletters to prospective customers–it helps them “get to know us” before they even start and helps us to sell the account.

Every business needs to make sure it’s gaining new customers at a faster rate than it’s losing old customers. We feel a regular newsletter is an important tool that helps. In my honest opinion, the newsletter should be personal, interesting, truthful, and different enough from the run-of-the-mill to stand out.

Influence of Color

By Pat Verlodt

The color of things around us is often taken for granted. It seems there is a large majority of people who don’t give a second thought to the colors around them, they think they fell out of the sky. Very little thought is given to why colors affect us or even the fact that they really do influence us.

Since today’s methods of communication has evolved into Web based advertising, it is important that you convey your business’s message in the most appropriate way with the most appropriate colors.

We appreciate color in our surroundings, such as the appreciation of a blue sky, a grassy knoll or a garden full of colorful blooms. Most of us are sensitive to the color we wear; although many wives claim their husbands are color blind. We are affected by colors in our personal environments but often do not understand why we dislike or feel uncomfortable in one room and feel relaxed and contemplative in another. Color plays a very important role in our lives and the right color for your company’s image is absolutely crucial.

Advertising gurus know the value of good color selections in the marketplace, as do designers of the products they tout. Our buying habits can be biased by the careful use of color. The appropriate color can make the difference between a best seller and a dud. So where do you fall? What can you do to improve your image in the marketplace or on the Web?

Since yellow pages offer no opportunity for the use of color then Web pages and advertising collateral are the obvious vehicles to employ the principles of good color use.

What are the “correct” colors? Blue Moods: A large part of a color’s message is part of our own built in instincts of what a color means. We are often reminded of tranquility when we see blue, as it is representative of blue skies and calm blue waters. Human beings are drawn to water as a primordial instinct–we need it to live and it makes up a large part of our matter and being. When asked to think of a place that comforts and relaxes us most people will say an ocean or lake view, a waterfall or a clear sunny day–all with the color blue in common. Blue is also one of the first colors we see as infants and on the side of physics, blue is on the low end of the visible spectrum and therefore less jarring. Blue comes in many forms from red side blues that include periwinkles and cobalt blues to deep midnight blue, navy, sky and baby blue. The green side of blue includes aquas and peacock blues.

Bright blues are eye catching and make an impact. They make good backgrounds for white copy; light and soft blues are good backgrounds for black copy. Subdued blues, such as navy and dusty blue, are more serious and trustworthy.

Green, the Color of Money: Green is often connected with the memory of green grass and trees; it is the color of new growth, health and vitality. Green as a color denotes friendship and conversation. Banks use green because it is comforting while at the same time it reminds us of money. It can be a high end green such as forest green or a jazzy green such as lime. Bright greens can catch the eye but they do not convey the idea of quality and value, stick to dark green for that reaction

Yell for Yellow: Bright yellow is the most visible and eye catching color, and it is a perfect background for black copy. It is a warm, sunny, exciting color and is connected with youth, vibrancy and outgoing personalities. It is a major component in fast food signage, along with orange and red because it excites and expresses speed. Yellow combined with white loses its impact and is good in large amounts due to its brightness.

Orange You Glad: This warm shade is often misunderstood. It is associated with inexpensive products, i.e.: Howard Johnson signage. It is associated with autumn and therefore the end of a season. It currently is enjoying an up trend in fashion, but that usually doesn’t last long. It is homey and can be exciting in its brighter shades and is traditional in the terra cotta shades. Peach and tangerine shades are more feminine than the deeper rust shades.

Red is Ready: Red is a very common color to find in graphics and signifies passion and power. It falls in the far end of the visible spectrum and therefore can agitate in large amounts for long periods of time. It loses its power in the light shades for rose and pink and takes on a sweet, feminine persona.

Purple Power: This hip shade is a newcomer to many markets. It was once thought of as a feminine color then the line dividing male and female colors was obliterated and it appeared on automobiles, once thought to be a male dominated product. It also appeared in men’s clothing such as ties and shirts and most of all on sporting goods for both sexes. It has the reputation of being regal and royal but also youthful and fun. Children often pick purple as their favorite color.

Putting it Together: Colors never stand alone; they must always be used with other colors. Putting the right colors with the wrong colors can destroy their impact, so follow these simple rules:

  1. Select background colors that are a strong contrast to the copy used with them, such as black on white or yellow, light letters on dark backgrounds.
  2. Select a color that you feel gives your message impact. If you stress trust then use blue, if you stress excitement use yellow, etc.
  3. Look at color combinations used in current advertising for influence, such as the yellow, orange and red used by fast food restaurants to indicate speed and efficiency; red, white and blue for patriotic. Red, yellow and blue are considered youthful.
  4. Use colors of the same temperature together to reinforce a feeling. Blues and greens together are soothing. Reds and yellows together are bold and exciting.
  5. Use opposite colors for impact. Colors that are a mix of a warm color and a cold color can create impact and interest, such as blue and yellow together.
  6. Avoid using colors that have a history or other meaning such as red and green (Christmas), orange and aqua (Howard Johnson’s), etc. Color is part of your life whether you like it or not, so use it to your advantage to send silent messages to your clients via your Web page or advertising material.

Pat is president of Color Services and Associates, Inc., a color consulting firm. She can be contacted at patscolor@aol.com.

[From Connection Magazine – May 2001]

Now That I’m Web-Enabled, How Do I Get Customers?

By Donna West, Jennifer E. Brunner, Theresa Walker, and Allan Fromm

You have a great answering service; your call center is giving excellent service; it’s time for the next step – the Web! But, how do you get there from here? Begin with the logical place, the Web itself. Where do people look for help when they want to do business on the Internet? They search by typing “call center” or “order taking” or “help desk” or even “answering service”, and they browse through the offerings they find. If you want them to find you, you need to do your homework and put some effort into the project. You can position your business high in the standings; and if you are there where potential customers can find you, you will draw business.

Step 1: Develop your image. If you have a strong image, colors, a logo or even a font style you always use, carry it over to your website. If it is time to develop a new look, do it now. Find an image that you are comfortable with and stick with it in every form of advertising you do. A recognizable identity is important.

Step 2: Determine the type of business you want to attract and design advertising that will push their hot buttons. If you want to attract order-taking accounts, for instance, you may want to show a typical order screen, use testimonials, talk about your operators and your ability to cross-sell or up-sell. Use the right language and speak with authority. Don’t know the language? Learn it before you go any further. Your credibility is important; and if you try to fake it, potential customers will know in a heartbeat.

Step 3: Get a few good books on Web design and spend the summer learning how to do it yourself or take some classes (or both). Hire a Web design firm with a good reputation or contact your local college and see if a student wants to turn you into their class project. Even if you find someone to design your site, we still recommend doing plenty of reading on your own (or take that class) because you need to be able to follow the process and understand what is transpiring.

Step 4: Once you have your site up and running, don’t think you’re finished; you’ve only just begun. A static site will quickly hit bottom and stay there. There are things you need to do to keep active, to attract people to your page. You will need to register with search engines, meet their criteria, repeat key words and change your site regularly to stay in the running. This does take effort.

Step 5: Research the ways in which businesses will want to use your services. Understand how to help them evaluate your services and others they will find on the net. Help them compare apples to apples. In other words, shop your competition.
Make sure you put your Web address everywhere; on all of your other advertising, your business cards, your fax sheets, your invoices and your letterhead. Put it in your help wanted ads, your “on-hold” announcements, your press releases and anything you put in print anywhere. Offer to link with your customers and your vendors. Links bring increased traffic and place you higher in the search engine “ratings”.

Finally, have friendly, well-informed people answering your phones and provide potential customers with immediate access to someone who will recognize their needs and offer solutions. Don’t pour all your efforts into attracting those Internet surfers and then leave them cold after their initial contact with your service. This is a new and exciting opportunity for growth. Inform your staff, teach your staff, involve your staff and be sure they are all “Web-enabled”. Then watch your dot-com take off!

– Donna West, Focus Communications; www.focustele.com.

Congratulations! You have just made the first step in entering the exciting dot-com world. Getting on the Web was an expensive undertaking, but you’re not out of the woods yet. You still need to make the technology work for you. The next steps are to identify and market practical applications for your new found Web access, train customer service representatives, develop new personnel policies and manage customer expectations in the lightening pace of the wired world. If all goes well, you may even be able to make this a profitable business.

There are many ways you can take advantage of the Internet to better serve your customers. Your customer service representatives can access the clients’ public websites to take orders and answer product questions. A Web savvy client can also provide your reps with tools to access customer order status and other information, allowing you to offer the real-time responses expected by Web consumers. There are also many interesting and previously unavailable applications like software key generation or real-time customer database maintenance. Some clients will know these services are available and ask if you can provide them, but many will not. It is best to present a well-defined list of offerings and approach clients who may benefit from services they had not previously considered.

Possibly the most frustrating aspect of providing Internet based services is the unstructured nature of the information. There are no scripts per se, nor are there built-in controls on the information that can be accessed. A different type of customer service representative may be more suitable for a Web-enabled service provider. Customer service representatives need to be very strong in Web browsing and searching. They must be able to quickly sift through large amounts of data to determine the relevant information. They must be able to stay focused on assisting the customer. There is a lot of exciting and interesting stuff on the Net. Keeping customer service representatives (CSR) focused on the clients’ goals and productivity is important. There are a number of software packages available that can go a long way to keeping this focus. Some telephone answering service (TAS) systems link in with the Web, but we were unable to find a system that was entirely Web-based. At Customer Direct, we felt we had to develop our own system to structure, script, bill, and report on our Internet client base.

A whole new crop of personnel issues come up when the Internet comes into a call center. No sooner had we opened up the Internet than we found our highly professional and pristine CSR viewing inappropriate websites, downloading unauthorized files, listening to Internet radio feeds, checking personal email, and using Internet software to ‘chat’ with their friends. Firewalls with blacklists or content advisors can help a great deal in curbing Internet abuse, but they can also interfere with viewing legitimate sites. We found it was easiest to set a clear policy and spot monitor which sites were visited.

When you use the Internet, clients expect magic. Because your CSR have a wealth of information at their fingertips, customers expect you to use it. The problem appears when they get their first bill. Working magic takes time! Many customers will ask you to limit your time with customers. Having different policies or services levels for each client is difficult to balance. We found setting up three predefine pricing and service levels helped set customer expectations and raised satisfaction.

Customer Direct has been 100% focused on the Internet market and has profitably grown a minimum of 10% per month. Since we rely on search engines and word-of-mouth advertising, our marketing budget is a whopping $100 per month! The Internet is an exciting tool and an entirely new way of doing business. By setting up the right systems and procedures, it can be a rewarding new venture that allows you to expand your offerings and your clients to reap the benefits of technology at a competitive price.

– Jennifer E. Brunner, Customer Direct, Inc.

Our concept was simple. When potential customers started asking “What do you mean I have to pay you to set up an entirely new database at your place? Why can’t you just access my website when a call comes in and place an order? After all, I already spent billions on it’s design.” So we found an ISP that we were comfortable with, installed T-1s for high speed access, paid through the nose for bandwidth, locked down our entire network with firewall technology, added net and email servers and devices to scan for unsafe email and reporting packages to be able to tell the customer what our agents were doing on their site. The cost was tremendous. The initial roll-out was slow to start and there were many issues to address from the customer’s standpoint. But after all was said and done, we realized that we had paid for all the “must-have” technology and actually going to profit on the Internet enabled accounts.

Now that you have spent a fortune on Web-enabling your call center, I suppose you are wondering how to get customers to use it. Our initial target was any company who has a website and was selling products. After all that’s what we knew best. Two of the biggest hurdles were getting our sales people familiar with what we could do and agent training. We started by training our sales staff to ask the number one question. “Do you have a website?” If the answer was no, we sold them our in-house order processing package. If yes, then we explained the benefits of URL-Pop and how your call center, fulfillment center and their company could work off the same “hub of the wheel”. We turned our yellow page inquiries about order processing into Web customers. We contacted potential Web customers through email, fax, and cold calling and it worked. We also found that if you could get the word out to Web design companies, they were willing to refer clients your way for a nominal charge.

Agent training was in depth and a major entire focus. What is great technology with untrained agents? Lost customers. We set aside special machines with specific links to teaching sites so that our operators could access the Web and learn about it. We also gave them free reign to the Web on breaks, lunches and for school purposes. We taught them about email and Web etiquette. How to maneuver around the Web, hyperlinks, hotmail and the works. We gave them tests, let them utilize search engines for company research and even got them involved in our marketing efforts. It definitely paid off.

What started as order processing via the Web, has much evolved into something entirely different today. Clients were willing to suggest and even provide us with our own sets of “special, private pages”. They were also happy to allow us access to areas where the agent could check the status of their order, handle customer service issues and in some cases give credits to unhappy consumers. We came to the conclusion that with Web-chat, page push, email and Web-callback along with in-depth agent training, we could function as a integral part of the customers company. Today any company that has a website is your potential customer. Knowledge bases and real time live customer service/support are becoming mission critical to a site’s content and as call centers, we are already positioned to offer the live coverage clients are demanding.

After being around for 25 years, we have witnessed many changes in the communications industry. None have had as large of an impact as the World Wide Web. As a call center, you can take advantage of your existing infrastructure and offer your services to customers based on what their marketing efforts, site content or services are. Place orders, check the status of their order, complete surveys, process customer care issues, register users, utilize locator services, access knowledge bases or anything the customer or yourself can imagine. The possibilities are endless.

– Theresa Walker

As you might guess, all the same principals apply to marketing now as in the past. You have to advertise effectively, have skilled sales personnel and have a quality product that meets the prospect’s needs. We have not had a surge of new business due to on our Internet capabilities–it has been a gradual thing. About 5% of our customers now have us email messages. One-percent or so of our customers make use of our ability to access their websites to take orders, locate nearest dealer or access phone directories for callers and about 10% of our sales volume is from customers that have found us on the Internet. We pop simple Web pages for another 5% of our customers to give the operators special instructions as they answer each call.

So in just a few years we already use Internet technology to serve over 10% of our customers that generate about 15% percent of our sales volume. My guess is that in another few years over 50% of our customers will utilize the Internet in connection with our service. The boundaries will rather rapidly blur between telephone and Internet communications. I do not think that will spell the end of telephone answering service unless you are not willing to get ready to do business on the Internet. For those who are willing to invest in equipment or software to offer Web-enabled services, you will find many ways to use the Internet to serve your present customers, but if you want to grow you have to actively market your services. In the early days of the Internet (three or four years ago), there were not many answering services with websites and we got some good customers simply by having a website. Anyone doing a search on AltaVista, etc. would find us near the top of the search results, since the list was very short. Today my Web browser bookmarks include over 300 telephone answering services and a few hundred telemarketing firms with Web pages and the chances of being on the first page of search results are pretty slim. There are probably a lot of equally effective ways to attract the attention of companies looking for “Web-enabled” services, but I will list for you the things we have tried so far.

  1. We have a Web page. We spent over $15,000 on our Web page and are getting ready to spend a fair amount more to upgrade our website.
  2. We have our website address on our business cards, stationary, yellow page ads, etc.
  3. We have written our customers to let them know of the new services we can offer.
  4. We have hired a skilled and knowledgeable individual to be our Director of Marketing, On-Line Services and Business Development. This is a well paid job and you need this kind of person to take advantage of the opportunities the Internet is bringing to us.
  5. All our operator stations have Internet access. Having said that, we have invested in a firewall to restrict operator Internet access to customer websites needed for business purposes.
  6. There are great opportunities for advertising on the Internet, using it as a world wide yellow pages. But there are many other ways in which we could effectively advertise our Web capabilities such as exhibiting in trade shows, magazine ads, participation in email lists, etc.

The Internet is a profound development that has come upon us with blinding speed. That makes it really hard to get perspective and “see the forest for the trees.” Yet it’s clear that communications and commerce have been changed forever, and some of the more profound changes are yet to come as wireless technology is wed to Internet technology. For those willing to embrace the Internet on faith as a source of new services and new business, the future has never looked brighter, in my opinion.

– Allan Fromm, An-ser Services; www.anser.com.

[From Connection Magazine – July 2000]

Using the Internet to Your Advantage: Part I

By Frank D’Ascenzo

Companies generally fall into four categories in regard to their Internet technology friendliness. There are the:

  1. Traditionalists: These are businesses that are in denial about the fact that most businesses must, sooner or later, become an e-business. Traditionalists cite any number of reasons why their business does not need to change. They take a “We’ll wait to see what happens” attitude and are so focused on business as usual that it’s difficult for them to even consider making the move from hard to virtual assets.
  2. Maintainers: These businesses are covert resisters of change. They say yes, but mean no. They allocate a budget and some time to the investigation or implementation of change, but never get quite around to doing anything about it. Their unspoken motto is, “Don’t make waves.”
  3. Adapters: These are businesses that are willing to change. They are open to accepting advice, open to experimentation, and they are willing to take some risk.
  4. Innovators: These are leading-edge companies that are in the process of learning how to adapt, or actually implementing, Internet technology into their business. Their goal is to find ways to use this new technology to improve or transform the service value they provide to their customers.

If your company does not fit into the Innovator or Adapter classification, then you need to re-think your future.

Fortunately, you can begin transforming your traditional TAS business into an iTAS-business (that’s lower-case “i” for Internet) with a relatively small investment of time and money. You can begin the process by investigating, and then adapting into your business, one or more of the following Internet advantages:

  • You must establish a Net Presence for your company–you need a website.
  • You should take advantage of Internet unified messaging to enhance your present service offerings.
  • You can start offering live-answer services for websites using Internet telephony technology.
  • You should take the time to investigate, and perhaps use, some of the business assistance services available on the Internet.

The first three: A Net presence, unified messaging service, and live-answer service for websites, are important. Using available Internet business assistance services is optional, but could prove beneficial for your own business. There is a lot of free or low-cost help available for small businesses on the Internet, and you should take some time to see if any of it might be useful.

1. Establishing a Net Presence

A. Why You Need A Web Site: A website is your Internet communications connection. It’s one more way prospects can find you. It’s a convenient and inexpensive way to stay in touch with your present customers. In short, it’s the first and necessary step in the iTAS transformation process.

Establishing a Net presence means more than simply putting up a website. Establishing a Net presence entails several important elements that together elevate a website into a “Net presence.” Unless you want to take the time to learn how to build and manage a website yourself, you should enlist the advice and services of an organization that specializes in cost-effective website implementation to help you establish your Net presence. A complete Net presence package should include the following basic services:

  • Domain name selection and registration,
  • website design,
  • website hosting,
  • Search engine registration, and
  • website management.

While each one is important in and of itself, the combination taken together is what helps create your Net presence. Let’s take a closer look at each to better understand the part they play in the total picture.

B. Domain Name Selection: Your domain name, or universal resource locator (URL), is how your business is identified on the Web. It’s the Web address you’ll add to all your business materials. Your domain name is one of your business assets. It can be as important as your business name, or your logo. Recently, the rules regarding domain names has been changed. domain name size has been increased from 23 to 63 characters. It is more than likely, therefore, that your complete company name can be used as your domain name. Once you have your domain name, and after your website is on-line, make sure you actively promote your new Web address. Publish it every where. Add it to your business cards. Print it on your letterhead, invoices, and brochures. Include it in your yellow pages ad. In short, make sure it appears anywhere and everywhere (like at the bottom of this magazine’s page). It’s not enough to simply have it available on the Internet.

C. Web Site Design: website design can become very complex; however, the old “keep it simple” adage applies here in spades. Don’t be swayed by exploding graphics and multi-media effects. Beyond all else, a well designed website needs to:

  • Look professional.
  • Be filled with meaningful information about your company and services.
  • Be properly managed and kept current, or up-to-date.

Here are some basic elements of website design:

  • The actual design or look of the site,
  • The content on the site,
  • Keywords and other Meta Tag descriptors,
  • Inter-site and intra-site Links,
  • Auto-responder links.

Graphic design is the most subjective element, and because it is, the cost of website design can run into hundreds of dollars, or even thousands, without some control of graphics. A good website does not need to be burdened with expensive graphic design. A good website, especially for a smaller company, should present a professional uncluttered look coupled with good site content.

While you might think a graphic-intense website is important to capture and retain viewer interest, the fact is most people visit your site to learn something about your company and services, not to be entertained. There is nothing worse than waiting 60 or more seconds for a website to load. In fact, many viewers won’t wait. The complexity of any graphics on your site, therefore, must be weighed against the purpose of your site.

As they say, “content is king.” And that’s as true here as it is on any printed media. The text on your website that tells the visitor who you are, what you do and how you do it, is probably more important than the actual graphic design. Keep the design simple, but provide interesting content for the viewer. Tell them how they can save money using your service, or explain how using your service will improve their business. What you say on your website, and how you say it, is the more critical aspect of your overall website design.

Meta Tags are website HTML code elements that are not visible to viewers, but are to search engines. Meta Tags are used to identify special information or characteristics about the website and include things like keywords, character set identification, and background color.

Keywords are one of the more important Meta Tag elements. Keywords help search engines find and list your website. Choosing keywords that best define your business, your services, and perhaps your business location, and using these keywords in your site content, will help assure the proper and better listing of your site by search engines. Links are website elements that assist navigation throughout your website. Links help a visitor move rapidly to information within the site, to another page, or even to another website.

An auto responder is a special kind of a link. An auto responder is used for automatically providing additional information to a visitor. This is information that might be too long to include as part of the site content, like pricing for example, or a “How To” white paper. When a site visitor clicks on an Auto Responder link it initiates a transaction that results in the automatic transmission of the information to the visitor in the form of an email message.

D. Web Site Hosting: website hosting is a separate and necessary part of website implementation. A website host is a business that provides space on a Web server for your website. The term “virtual server” is usually applied to a hosting service. Its “virtual,” because your website uses only a part of the overall server capability, and because the server is not in your office facility, but its “somewhere else.” The Web server is, of course, connected to the Internet for access by search engines and individuals. Your website does not exist on the Internet unless it’s hosted somewhere.

E. Search Engine Registration: Once your new website is on-line it’s necessary to let the world know it’s there. Simply installing your website on a Web server is not sufficient. Your new website must be submitted or registered with the various search engines. Otherwise, your website has absolutely no chance of ever being located by a visitor–unless they know your exact domain name. You mostly hear about the larger search engines like Yahoo, Alta Vista, Lycos, and Hot Bot; however, there are literally hundreds more, and while inclusion in the major search engines is important, it does not hurt to be listed in some of the less known engines as well. Search engine registration is an absolute requirement for your new website. Once the website is designed and hosted, proper registration helps assure that a prospective visitor has a chance of being directed to your site by a search engine.

Remember the Keywords discussed earlier? A search engine looks for websites based on the keywords entered by a visitor. If your keywords are a close match to those entered by the viewer, then your site will get a higher listing by the search engine, which means a better chance your site might be selected for a visit.

F. Web Site Management: Publishing your site on the net and getting it hosted and registered does not mean you are finished. It’s important to keep your website content updated. It’s important to re-submit your site to search engines; and, changes will need to be made to the information on your website. For example:

  • Your address or telephone number might change.
  • Your auto responder message might need to be updated.
  • You may need to revise product information, or add a new product.
  • Keywords might need updating.
  • Graphics, like photos, may need updating.
  • Search engine re-registration is desired.
  • You might want to move the site to a different Web hosting service.

There is nothing worse that a website with out-of-date or incorrect information. It’s like an incorrect Yellow Pages ad, or a brochure misprint. website management is the process of maintaining the accuracy and viability of your site, and is an absolute requirement.

G. Traffic: On the Internet, “No one knows you are in.” The process of traffic generation is a separate issue to address, once you have your Net presence established. The process of attracting visitors to your website is mainly a matter of marketing, or promotion. Earlier, we mentioned the importance of publishing your website address “everywhere.” In addition to having it printed on all your business materials, you can:

  • Make sure all your present customers know about your website.
  • Give your customers a reason to visit your site.
  • Give them a reason to return.
  • Let local newspapers know about your site.
  • Promote your website through business groups, your church, and local chamber.

You can venture beyond these avenues through direct mail and email, and local and national advertising, if appropriate. How much you spend on promotion, of course, must be cost effective.

[See “Using the Internet to Your Advantage, Part II” in the July 2000 issue.]

[From Connection Magazine – May 2000]

A Plan to Grow On

By Donna West

In today’s competitive marketplace, simply opening your door for business will not guarantee you success. You need to put together a comprehensive marketing plan:

Step I: Do your homework.

Identify our industry competitive advantage.

It is people! Although we can do more and more nifty things with our equipment, the real success of our business comes back to real people.

Identify your company’s competitive advantages.

What does your company do especially well? Answer before the fourth ring 96% of the time, etc. What do you brag about? What are you most proud of?

Do Market research before investing in a big way.

Several years ago we decided to begin a Spanish division. We have a fairly big Hispanic population in our area, how could it miss? We promoted a sharp young lady to head and market the division. We hired several bilingual operators for each shift, we advertised in the Hispanic yellow pages, we even put ads in two local Hispanic newspapers, and we closed the division down a year later for lack of interest. The reason being, we did not collect adequate market research for this industry segment.

Do industry research.

This can be as informal as asking “sharing” competitors what is working for them. Or as precise as conducting a customer survey. Really study your marketing options and your resources to carry them out. You can’t market every field at once, so pick a few, such as apartment complexes in real estate, that you feel you can do successfully and then grow from there. It is important not to make the mistake of trying to go in too many directions at once.

Identify the customer benefits you will emphasize.

We stress greater customer knowledge through training. We specialize in servicing complex and complicated accounts, through programming, training and our customer liaison program. And last, we offer greater cost savings using automation.

State your target audience.

We will contact our current property management customers, and potential real estate customers for voice mail options; the local county physicians for new packages utilizing voice mail and operator services, and the general business population (including our former customers) for customized operator services. In addition we have invested in additional training for our order entry sales rep.

List the marketing techniques you will use.

We will use a wide variety of marketing tools, including direct mail (letters, postcards and brochures), a website, our newsletter, networking, a customer liaison campaign, trade shows, advertorials, a referral program, and yellow pages advertising.

Describe your niche in the marketplace; the position that is yours in the eyes of your customers.

Our niche is to provide warm, interested, knowledgeable, well trained, operators who answer before the fourth ring 96% of the time and rarely ever put a caller on hold. We complete 370,000 messages a month, accurately!

Describe how you perceive your comp-any: your identity.

We are an industry leader. As a company, we share a commitment to our customers, our staff and our company to provide accurate messages correctly and promptly.

State your marketing budget as a percentage of your projected gross revenues.

Because we have modest growth plans for 1998 we have committed xx% of our income to marketing (excluding our sales staff salaries).

Be sure this plan is embraced and understood by everyone on your team, your employees, investors (if you have them), your banker, your family, even your vendors. You need to have everyone on the same page, understanding the goals and the opportunities. Don’t share your goals with your sales staff and forget to involve your operations staff! EVERYONE must be dedicated to your market.

Step II: Write a Marketing Plan.

Spell out the purpose of your marketing.

Give yourself clearly defined goals. You may not meet your expectations, but you’ll learn from the experience and be able to judge better next time. For instance, last August when I shared this plan, I was sharing a work-in-progress. We were trying it out for the first time and I was so enthusiastic about our beginnings I couldn’t wait for real results to share with people.

My notes from that seminar read, “Focus Telecommunications, Inc. wants to increase revenues by 15% in fiscal 1997; and diversify our customer base by growing our voice mail division by 20% and beginning a true medical division.”

Here are the results: in fiscal 1997 our revenues did not increase by 15%! There were two reasons for this, first was some surprising leadership problems, and my failure to identify them and act to eliminate them quickly enough. The second, I think was because of electronic competition that we had not given enough respect and attention to, we remained fairly flat last year.

We intended to grow our voice mail division by 20% but we discovered that unless we upgraded our voice mail, that would be a bad idea so we had to rethink that issue. Finally we were going to begin a true medical division, but the person we hired to develop that market turned out to have been better at selling us than selling Accounts!

I am sharing these failures with you because we learned from them and you can too, no use all of us making the same mistakes.

The important lesson here is that if we had not set those goals, we would never have realized why we didn’t grow, we would have forgotten our intentions. Because we had goals, failing to reach them became a great learning experience. We have much more “focused” goals this year. And they are probably more achievable. We have put together a brochure aimed at the medical profession, emphasizing a voice mail solution to their thinning bottom line. We have a fax flyer for medical and dental offices telling about our appointment confirmation package, and we plan to grow our order entry division by 15%.

Step III: Create a Marketing Calendar

When you are making each week’s plans ask yourself what you expect to happen with this segment of your marketing and when you will know the results. Note the “expiration date” in this space and when that time comes give the plan a grade based on how close you came to your goals. In the beginning, you will have to rely on your gut reaction, but in time you will have hard sales and profits to back up your intuition.

As we moved through 1997, we began to see that we were getting no new leads through one small chamber of commerce to which we belonged. We shifted more emphasis to a larger chamber a little further away and did much better. We also noticed that a trade show we had been taking part in for a few years had been having poorer and poorer attendance (and results), so we will not attend this year and we will look for another marketing venue to replace it. If we had not been measuring results, we may not have realized and reacted so quickly.

Step IV: Set a Date and Begin.

Start slowly, but confidently. Remember that if the plan feels too complicated, it will fail. Plan to do no more than each person can comfortably accomplish in each week. In the beginning there will be plenty of “plans gone awry.” Don’t abandon the concept, it just takes some getting used to, and some discipline.

Step V: Keep careful records.

Tracking your results will show you where to concentrate your efforts next year. After three months you should begin to have an idea of how a segment of the plan is working. After six months, there will be no doubt. Grade the plan and go on.

Step VI: As the plan develops you will be able to see which media work for each market segment.

Your aim: to raise your results to straight “A”s every week of the year. Your competitors won’t stand a chance! We are now into our second year using this plan. It has made a difference, and I have no doubt that it will only get better with time.

To work a plan is very important. You can hire a sales person or sales people to promote your company and they will probably succeed, but by developing a plan, a “focus” for your sales staff, and purchasing the right marketing mediums to help promote your services, your sales staff will be much more effective; and that gives you greater results for your marketing expenditure.

Donna West is President of Focus Telecommunications, Inc., www.focustele.com.

[From Connection Magazine – September 1998]

Ten Key Reasons Why Websites Fail

By Greg Roberts and Albert Iannantuono

Reason #1 – They Don’t Do Anything. [AI] Web surfers don’t take the time to search and surf for the privilege of reading about your company. They visit a site for a reason: product or service information; convenience; purchase information; to learn your hours of operation and/or how to find you; download software; purchase goods, etc. Surfers know in seconds whether there are any goodies to be had, and if there aren’t, they move on. When planning your site, consider what you want to accomplish and build around that goal. Use valuable information, make it consumer friendly, in-depth, and a valuable, convenient option for people to contact you. Promote it correctly via various search engines and traditional means of marketing.

Reason #2 – They Get Stale. [AI] Not enough up-front attention is paid to the amount of support and on-going development needed to keep Web communications effective. A website is never finished. The amount of time to keep it fresh and stay up to date on where the Web is going is significant, and is something you must be dedicated to in order to achieve the desired end result.

Reason #3 – Uninspired Design. [GR] Too many sites are boring. Use interesting backgrounds, menu bars and colors. Nevertheless, boring and fast to load are better than beautiful but glacially slow any time. (See Reason #4)

Reason #4 – Too Many/Large Images. [GR] Think of the users. Many are using 14.4 or 28.8 modems. A page with large or many graphic images can take forever to download. That’s okay for a non-line art gallery, but for an information site it’s the kiss of death. Keep images to a minimum, or provide a high-graphics and low-graphics version.

Reason #5 – Frames. [GR] They often mess up the navigating with the forward and back buttons. A site with frames results in a small main window where you can barely see the information, and information is why they’re visiting the site. A well-designed site should have a menu bar on the top or sides, indicated by color or shading so it stands out.

Reason #6 – They Don’t Reflect the Company’s Core Business. [AI] You need to ensure your site is developed with your business goals, marketing and communications needs in mind. The best sites are developed with customized attention. There is a phenomenon I like to call The Jurassic Park Syndrome that has snookered a lot of Web designers. This is letting the fascination of what you can do technically determine what you put into action. The driving force needs to be your business goals.

Reason #7 – Bad Structure. [GR] I visit many sites where the only way to get from a particular section to another desired section is to back up to the main page and then select the desired section. This is bad structural design and is unfortunately very common. You should be able to navigate easily around a site. From any page on your site, make it possible to select any other section, or the main page, as well as the information in that specific section.

Reason #8 – Browser-Specific Sites. [GR] A disturbing trend in sites recently is designing specifically for either Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Explorer, the two main Web browsers. Sites that are designed for one browser’s specific capabilities can look very strange when viewed with the other browser. A few very in hospitable sites don’t even allow you to visit them if you aren’t browsing with Explorer. Give your site a common design, or provide two versions of the site, one for Netscape Navigator and another for Microsoft Explorer.

Reason #9 – They Lack Professional Planning. [AI] The same companies that insist on professionals to design their brochures have turned to their brothers-in-law and relatives or their neighbor’s kids with perhaps basic computer knowledge for their websites. Anyone can HTML a document. In fact, word processing and desktop software packages are being developed with an HTML “save as” feature. The software companies have some improvements to make to this feature, but it’s only a matter of time before your corporate newsletter can be saved to look like the printed version on the Web. But can anyone design a solid communications piece that not only gets your message out there, but motivates the decision to bite? That’s what your website is a communication opportunity.

Reason #10 – Nobody Knows About Them. [AI] There was a point in 1996 when the experts estimated there were more Web pages than Web users. It’s not surprising that a site can get lost in the crowd. websites aren’t the only initiatives out there to get lost in a crowd. There are many wonderful inventions and projects that never get off the ground for lack of marketing. The strategies for driving traffic to your site are numerous, from search engine registration to public relations and cross-marketing. And they don’t have to be expensive. Simply choosing an easy-to-remember domain name makes a huge difference. The key is to do it.

Too many people rush full speed ahead into developing a Web presence without developing specific goals and without thought to generating productive traffic and measuring success. Often they make the mistake of hiring someone who understands technology, but knows little about their business. Good Web designers use the above criteria to define their approach, and as a result, Web mania will have a successful, active portfolio of valuable sites.

Albert Iannantuonno is President and Creative Director of Tri-Media Marketing & Publicity, Inc., based in Niagara since 1986. Greg Roberts is the Editor of Parliamentary Names & Numbers and Technical Coordinator for Sources Media Directory.

Reprinted with permission for Sources HotLink and Business Niagara.

[From Connection Magazine, July 1997]

Postcard Power

By Frankie Kangas

Small is beautiful: For its size, the postcard packs the biggest wallop of any mailing device. Why? It has instant visibility because it’s out there to be seen and read immediately. No envelope to fuss with or hide your real message.

Most people find postcards irresistible, and will look them over even if they eventually throw them away. This means prospects get your message and then decide, where as an envelope all too often deprives you of that chance.

Because the postcard requires so little effort, it is more likely to generate action: it is read and acted upon immediately, rather than being shelved along with the other mail for possible later action.

More bank for your buck: The postcard is much more cost-effective than other marketing tools for many uses. For example, compared with a direct mail package, the postcard is cheaper to produce, to stuff, and to mail.

A postcard-sized display ad in a metropolitan daily newspaper will normally cost several times as much as a postcard mailing. And the postcard, handled properly, will provide a much greater return on investment, because it is more precisely targeted, and not wasted on non-prospects like the majority of a newspaper’s readers.

Unlike an ad, the postcard competes with only a few other items in the mailbox that day, rather than with the 350 ads in a typical daily newspaper. And if the postcard is a ” keeper,” if it has a coupon or some valuable information, it will be around to repeat the sales message long after the newspaper is discarded.

For many small business, a postcard can be more effective than a brochure, at about half the price, or less. Used as a “mini-brochure,” it offers the added benefit of forcing you to focus your marketing message to fit in a small space. As a postcard, your mini-brochure is much cheaper to mail, and more likely to be read.

Postcards can have a wide variety of uses, but they are most effective for three marketing tasks:

  1. Prospecting for leads
  2. Reselling current customers
  3. Maintaining customer contact.

Prospecting by postcard: The postcard is a cheap and effective method for generating leads, often as the first step of a two-step sales effort. Such a postcard will offer recipients a free incentive, or invite them to send for more information. This inexpensive first step qualifies prospects for the next, more expensive, step of the sales effort.

We have seen two-step selling with postcards work for products and services as varied as computer software, bookkeeping and tax services, marketing services, and computers to name only a handful.

Reselling current customers: We often quote a study by Fortune Magazine which found it is five times easier to sell to current customers than to acquire new ones. To reap the benefits of your investment in current customers, you should be continually soliciting business from them. Postcards are one of the most cost-effective ways of doing so.

Franklin Quest illustrates this use with a postcard notice of upcoming seminars for customers who use their Franklin Day Planner. A jazz band in our area uses postcards to notify fans of their schedule of appearances. A shoe store sends postcards to its customers with a color photo of a new line of shoes they’re selling. A carpet store notifies preferred customers of a private sale event with a postcard.

Maintaining customer contact: It has been estimated that you should contact each customer at least eight times a year to retain them as active customers. This means the customer must see your advertising, visit your business, get a phone call, receive a mailing, or have some other form of contact from you.

A postcard is an ideal way to keep your name current with customers at a low cost: You can find dozens of reasons to contact your customers during the year. If you move, acquire a new line of merchandise, hire a new chef or a new sales representative, or have some other news worthy change in your business, you have a solid reason to make contact. If you don’t have a reason, invent one.

A good example of this kind of postcard use is the Mini-Marketing Newsletter, a new postcard-newsletter we have developed for business-to-business customers. One side of the card provides marketing tips developed by Win-Win Marketing, and highlights your company as the sponsor. The other side is blank for addressing, and also allows space for printing or writing your sales message.

This type of contact is especially effective because it provides valuable, interesting information which the customer will want to keep for reference. That means your company’s sales message will be repeated every time the customer looks at the postcard.

Good postcard markets: Postcards are an easy and cost-effective way to reach a market that is confined to a small geographic area. It has been estimated that the majority of customers for a typical retail sole proprietorship are within a quarter mile area of the business. For franchises, the estimate is three quarters of a mile. When you can locate your market this closely, it pays to use the mail to solicit business, and the cheapest form of direct mail is a postcard.

The same holds true for markets which are geographically widespread, but small and highly specialized. Buyers of American Indian artifact and owners of pot-bellied pigs are good examples. With a good list, you can reach your highly targeted market without the waste of advertising in a newspaper or magazine whose circulation includes people who aren’t interested in your product.

It costs less to be creative: Postcards are a versatile marketing tool that can be used in an infinite variety of ways by small businesses. We’ve received postcards selling everything from computers to bed & breakfast inns; in designs ranging from a pink telephone message to a $5 discount coupon for a lube job.

Because they are so low in cost, postcards let you be creative without breaking the bank.

Postcards – they’re small, fast, cheap, and effective. With a little thought, they’ll probably be a winner for you.

Postal Regulation for Postcards: To qualify for the postcard postage rate, the maximum dimensions are 4-1/4″ x 6″. Postcards outside of the maximum allowable dimensions are processed either manually or mechanically. That means slower mail.

Precise information of postal regulations can be found in “A Guide to Business Mail Preparation” (publication 25), available free from: U.S. Postal Service Headquarters, Marketing Dept. Regular Mail Services Div. 475, L Enfant Plz SW, Rm 5541 Washington DC 20260-6336.

Other Postcard Uses

  1. Appointment reminder
  2. Address change
  3. Introduce new employee
  4. Gift certificate
  5. Personal notes
  6. Thank you note
  7. Clean your mailing list
  8. Sale announcement
  9. Valuable information

Frankie Kangas is president of Win-Win Marketing, a marketing firm which specializes in small business. She is also publisher of the Win-Win Marketing Newsletter For Small Business. For a free sample issue of the newsletter, call 800-292-8625.

[From Connection Magazine, November 1994]

You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression

By John W. Weikert

How many clichés have you found that apply to the “live” operator business such as “Your service is only as good as your worst operator?” How would you ever really know what impact your total business is having on your customers if you haven’t surveyed your customers? If you haven’t surveyed your customers, your business operation is based on guesswork. The bottom line is that customers are just about the most important component in any business. If you aren’t keeping them happy, they will find someone else who will.

The bottom line to the successful operation of a live operator business is maintaining a loyal customer base. Present answering service owners must look for new ways to improve their business which can be done by applying corporate management techniques. To apply these techniques, management must have the information to utilize the changes and improvements. Thus in order to improve customer retention and increase profits, management must have continual feedback from its customer base.

Customer surveys can identify factors that are most predictive of customer risk and loyalty. Recent surveys conducted of answering service customers found that between 23% and 28% felt their existing service provided either fair or poor service. This alone indicates that an astounding number of customers might be ready to switch services.

In real business terms, a lost customer is a shocking expense. New customer prospecting is expensive, so good customer care matters! For an example, the cost to purchase new customers from another service can range from $400 to $600 per account. Conversely, a dissatisfied customer can spread the bad news and undermine your business.

Here’s some examples of how management can use the information produced from a survey:

  • establish a company-wide standard for performance and customer satisfaction
  • immediately contact all dissatisfied customers and rectify any misunderstandings
  • reward top performers and initiate additional training on poor performers
  • detect negative trends as they occur – not after
  • identify which strategies should be emphasized in the sales and marketing process.

The following responses are from a recent customer survey taken around the country. The question asked was “Please tell us how (name of TAS company) could become even more important to you?”

  • “This firm is very unprofessional on the phone when/if they answer at all. One of my parishioners asked what time the church service was held and was told they didn’t have the information. I have also had numerous complaints that the phone simply wasn’t being answered.”
  • “Patients who call on weekends with emergencies are cutoff. several times. This is unacceptable in a medical practice and can potentially become a legal issue. It should never happen.”
  • “If they would: answer the phone more politely, give correct information about the office, take messages instead of abruptly getting rid of callers, answer the phone when asked after one ring instead of 15 rings.”
  • “We lost a big contract due to their inability to answer the phone. They let it ring 7 – 10 times then mispronounced the company name. There were also babies crying in the background.”

In all fairness, there are many customers who also have a great many accolades to say about their service.

The only true way to evaluate your client base is to have an independent company perform the survey function. Many times it’s easier for customers to respond candidly to an objective third party. It will cost more than for example, enclosing a survey card to your customer base, but the results and analysis can make a world of difference in the way you conduct your business. It is not uncommon for a research company to achieve a response rate of 35% or more which gives a statistically accurate assessment of your customers’ loyalty factor. A survey can take anywhere from a few days to about 75 days depending on the complexity.

Here are eight things to look for in a survey:

  1. Simplicity of Language: Questions should be clearly and easily understood. Avoid questions such as “do our operators engage you in interactive dialogue”.
  2. No Ambiguity: Avoid words such as “often”, “usually”, or “normally”. These terms mean different things to different people.
  3. High Level of Confidence: Confidence levels are dependent upon the number of people surveyed. Thus aim to survey 95% of your client base or higher.
  4. A Carefully Chosen Sample: Choose the right mix of people from your client list. Samples can be selected at random, by cross section, stratified according to specific criteria etc.
  5. Selecting the Most Appropriate Question Format: Deciding what kind of questions to use is an essential part of the questionnaire design process. Survey developers must avoid making the mistake of asking only what someone thinks are the important questions. Ask the customers what they think the important issues are. Ask what improvements they would like to see; what new services can be offered. People may be asked to rate something according to a certain scale i.e. 1-20 (use a scale that will give a range of response but not too large as it can be overwhelming); to check off their response to choices; to answer simple yes or no; or to answer how they feel about a certain issue.
  6. Survey Administration: One must now decide how to administer the survey; by email, mail, fax, letter, by telephone etc. How will you encourage people to complete the survey and how are they to send it back to you? What is an acceptable rate of response? There are factors to be considered for each of these issues and the best test designers will and should explain the differences.
  7. Scoring and the Turn Around Time: How the survey will be scored (turn around time) can be important factors in your choice of a survey design and provider. Today most, if not all, surveys are scored by computer and should be analyzed by computer. This will give you the fastest turn around time and the greatest degree of complexity and sophistication in data analysis.
  8. The Kind of Report that will be Produced: Survey results are usually reported in the form of tables, graphs and written comments. You must decide how much complexity and detail you want and can use. A good rule of thumb is to strive for simplicity, clarity and brevity. Decisions about the report should be tempered with some thought about who is going to read it, to use it and how the information will be disseminated to other people in the organization.

Surveys are one of the most important tools to use in determining customer loyalty. Contact a market research company for additional information. Your customer’s loyalty factor can either make or break your organization.

John Weikert, of J. Weikert & Company, may be reached  at 203-371-6423.

[From Connection Magazine, May 1994]

Ten Common Marketing Mistakes

By Orvel Ray Wilson

  1. Assuming You Don’t Have to Market: Coca-Cola is by far the most widely recognized brand name in the world, and one of the world’s largest advertisers, investing tens of millions of dollars annually in marketing. Even if you’ve got a better mousetrap, the world will not beat a path to your door. Every business must market itself constantly, aggressively, or fail.
  2. Assuming You Need Big Money to Market: Jay Conrad Levinson, in his best-selling book Guerrilla Marketing Attack*, lists 100 marketing weapons, and 50 of them cost you nothing. Even the smallest one-person business should cultivate good relations with the press. Read Jeffery Lant’s book, The Unabashed Self Promoter’s Guide, to learn how to write dollars worth press releases and articles that will generate thousand of dollars worth of free publicity.
  3. Improper Targeting: Try to say something to somebody or you will be saying nothing to everybody. “Narrow cast” your marketing message to a specific group who want, need, or have to buy your products. Advertise to remind rather that to impress. Repetition is key; mail postcards weekly for a month instead of a single multi-page brochure blitz. Enclose a business card with everything.
  4. Confusing Image and Identity: Guerrillas strive to communicate their identity, not their image. Image implies something contrived or counterfeit. Your identity is who you really are. Customers recognize and appreciate the truth. Put your picture on your business card and your address on your stationary. How else will they know where to send the check?
  5. Undervaluing the Product: Hungry retailers routinely sell their work for a fraction of the fair market value. Be competitive, even aggressive, but don’t give products or services away. Customers will not place a value on your work unless you do.
  6. Incomplete Customer Feedback: Follow up every order after several days to make sure the customer is still satisfied. Ask everyone, “How are we doing?” and “How could we improve?” Take every suggestion seriously. If you really listen to your customers, and do what they tell you to, you can’t fail.
  7. No Specific Marketing Goals: Define exactly the outcome you want your marketing to produce É to inform, to educate, to entertain, or to persuade? Every dollar spent on marketing is an investment, so expect a specific rate of return. Be clear about your goals and track your response rates in registrations per hundred calls, or sales per thousand brochures.
  8. Insufficient Information: The belief that people don’t read long copy is a common marketing myth. Readership falls off dramatically after the first 50 words, but long copy sells to readers interested enough to finish. Put the “5 W’s” up front (who, what, when, where, why), then use enough ink to tell your whole story so your customers can make an informed decision.
  9. Failure to Develop Vendor Relationships: Don’t always go with the lowest quote. Get to know a printer, designer, or agency that understands your needs and will compete for your long-term business. For example, ask them to price the printing of your newsletter on a monthly-for-a-year basis.
  10. Switching Too Soon: Easily the most costly, and certainly the most common mistake, is changing the theme, format, or media used in your marketing campaign. This one is so important that it should be listed as number one. Just about the time you’re sick to death of your marketing, your prospects are just beginning to recognize who you are. Instead of updating your advertising, spend the money repeating your message, again and again and again and again.

Orvel Ray Wilson is an author and speaker on sales, marketing and management, and co-author of Guerrilla Selling: Unconventional Weapons and Tactics for Making the Sale. For a free copy of The Guerrilla Selling Newsletter, call 303-637-1461.

*guerrilla marketer (n) 1: one who deploys irregular marketing weapons that are effective, inexpensive, and productive. 2: one who uses time, energy and imagination, instead of brute marketing force to gain an advantage.

[From Connection Magazine, March 1994]

A Novice’s Guide to Marketing & Sales

By John E. Hudson

Marketing has long been a fancy of mine. The reason I find marketing so interesting is that it deals with the way people develop and react to different concepts. It also provides insight into the process a particular individual uses to develop the rationale for the decision they just reached. The key to a good market program is to focus on, and exploit this human trait. Creating a plan to suggest consumer acceptance before the targeted prospect develops the sense of need is a great skill.

While this may sound like a subliminal message, it really isn’t. Today’s technical name is pro-active marketing. You can really call it what you want. The bottom line is to create a market need using your strengths in order to capture a position of leadership. After you have done it, you tell the world about it and they stand in line to give you money.

Sounds great doesn’t it? You know the market really needs what you have to offer. Are you ready to start tomorrow? Why not?

These are the key attitudes necessary to create an aggressive marketing campaign that will increase your sales volume and profit dollars. A common mistake of business is the belief that price management allows you to maintain a level of business that is necessary for long term success. To develop long term business success you must provide value to a select group of individuals who truly believe you are the only source for what they seek.

There are several items critical to the development of a successful, aggressive marketing plan: Market Leadership, Risk Management and Selling Tactics. Without these essential skills it is difficult to control the business environment because you don’t have a complete picture of how outside influences affect the market.

Market Leadership: If you are not willing to define the industry accepted criteria for a specific product or service offering, your competition will. The prospect will always have an opinion of what they want to buy and how much they are willing to pay. They will also have an opinion on the perceived value of your goods and services to their business or to them personally.

Selling Message #1, Perception. Create an industry need only you can fulfill!

To lead the market it is necessary to teach it about the benefits of purchasing goods and services from you. The consumers are influenced by what they read, see and hear. Rarely do you find an independent thinker. People want things that make them successful. So, your objective is well defined. Create a message that is believable and is verifiable by references in the market segment.

Risk Management: Aggressive campaigns must be measurable. The primary goal is to take control of the market. Other elements that must be influence dare, the content of services offered, the proper price structure, and the acceptable standards for conducting business. These are the goals. To be successful you must have criteria for measuring your success at reaching these goals. Risk management consists of many elements. Each of these issues deals specifically with the elements that affect your potential for success. Also, each has an associated out-of-pocket expense. This makes it mandatory to manage the effectiveness of the program.

Selling Message #2, Value. By tailoring our products to the requirements of their market, we have helped our customers succeed.

I believe the two most critical issues in a pro-active marketing campaign are the “time line for success,” and the “barriers to entry.” Many business planners deal with these issues separately. In my opinion, it is mandatory that these two issues be dealt with as a set. This is especially true in a small business that has limited resources in time and money.

The “time line for success” provides a schedule of events that must occur during the campaign. You manage the campaign with a series of milestones. Each milestone has a set of goals associated with it. The milestones will change with each new campaign. As you approach the milestones at the end of the schedule, you should have specific goals for capture rate and customer acceptance.

If you are meeting your goals on the time line you set, you are on the road to success. As soon as you sense that you are having trouble meeting the goals, reevaluate both the goals and the timing for success. You may find that the market is not what you expected, or your goals are too ambitious. Apply the rule of “time versus money.” Will the project create the income I want in a time frame that is acceptable to me and by business? If the answer is no, or maybe, you should consider abandoning the project. If you do closeout the project, you need to know why it did not succeed. Some parts were successful, some were not. It is equally important to know why elements of any project succeed or fail.

Selling Message #3, Need. The market needs your services because you told them they did!

Entry barriers have a major effect on the time line. The level of market awareness by the consumer, as well as the number and quality of your perceived competitors, can severely impact the timing required to succeed. In either case these are two items that you must understand and factor into your campaign before you commit to spend your business development dollars.

Other issues affecting your decision to enter are; market segment knowledge, your time commitments to other projects, personal and business resources, and the cost of technology to serve the market. The bottom line in risk management should not be viewed as a negative. It is good business to know your strengths and limitations. This kind of knowledge allows you to optimize your personal and business resources. Any time you decide to take an aggressive position you should be well prepared to win.

Selling Tactics: Creating an aggressive marketing plan without an aggressive selling plan is like practicing all your life to hit a home run and then never getting up to bat. If your intent is to attack the market you need to:

  1. Develop the language of the industry
  2. Solve the problem
  3. Manage the selling cycle
  4. Steam roll the competition

These four items are dealt with in sets. Language development and solving problems go hand-in hand. In order to successfully sell in a market segment you must develop their vocabulary and understand how and when to apply it. We have all seen it É someone tries to sell us something and they have no concept of how it’s used, or why we would use it. If that applies to us, why wouldn’t it apply to our prospect? To make the sale, allow the prospect to be the hero. We win because we allowed them to provide solutions to the individuals they are responsible to.

Selling Message #4, Ask for the Order. At some point in the selling cycle you must stop selling and ask for a commitment from the buyer. Managing the selling cycle and steam rolling the competition are keys to sales success. The only way to steam roll the competition is understand and manage the selling cycle. This means that you, or a sales manager, must take an active roll in preparing the sales staff to be well trained in creating the approach to closing the sale.

The requirements for closing a sale are part of the risk management portion of a marketing plan. To complete a sale for anything certain needs have to be met. The other portion of the sales cycle is managing the flow of the sale. By managing the flow it makes it difficult for competition to invade the prospect.

Selling Message #5, Winning. To win both the seller and the buyer must believe that their objectives are being met. Remember, the company that defines the buyers needs, presents products to fill those needs, and controls the selling cycle will always win in the long run.

Conclusion: Some industry critics believe that aggressively attacking a specific business segment is risky and leaves a bad image if it is done improperly. To some degree they are correct. The business that is not prepared to actively solve the buyer’s needs will fail and negatively influence the prospect on the value of goods offered to them by another company. The message is be prepared to win. Fill the needs of the prospect at the point of sale.

John Hudson is a Product Director for Comverse Technology, Inc.

[From Connection Magazine, January 1994]