How to Strengthen Customer Relationships When Time is at a Premium

How to Strengthen Customer Relationships When Time is at a Premium

As a small business owner, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of your business. And while the things that go on behind the scenes certainly matter, you can’t focus on them at the expense of your relationships with customers.

Small Businesses Are Built on Relationships

When people think about small businesses, a certain image is conjured up in their minds. They picture a quaint storefront on a main street in a small town. They see friendly storeowners who know customers by their first names and interact with them as they walk in. They picture handshakes, smiles, and promises that are always honored.

See, small businesses are all about interpersonal relations. They thrive on connections and conversations. But somewhere along the way, companies moved away from the heart of small business. With so many different forces and distractions competing for attention, small businesses have started spending less time focusing on relationships and more time dealing with “important” administrative tasks and responsibilities.

The problem with this shift in small business management is that nothing is more important than customer relationships. While payroll, accounting, digital marketing, website analytics, paid media, hiring, and training matter, they can’t take away from the focus on customer relationships. As soon as relationships erode, the business follows closely behind.

Do yourself a favor and conduct a quick analysis on your small business. Are you so wrapped up in the day-to-day tasks and managerial responsibilities that you’re no longer fostering healthy relationships with new and existing customers?

If this is the case, you aren’t alone. It’s an epidemic in the business world and you’ll find thousands of other business owners in the same boat. However, at some point, you have to make the conscious decision to get out of the boat and return to what made you successful: relationships.

4 Ways to Strengthen Customer Relationships

You can’t snap your fingers and wish your way into stronger customer relationships. What you need is a customer relations strategy that targets particular weaknesses in your business and builds on the strengths that you already have. And while every business will have different needs and action steps, the following tips should provide you with a solid footing on which you can build for the future.

1. Use CRM Software

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a term used to describe the handy tools small businesses utilize to streamline the management and nurturing of customer relationships.

“It’s usually a cloud-based system that stores information about your clients, potential clients and contacts in one central safe place that everyone in your team can access and update wherever they are,” small business expert Nadia Finer says. “A CRM can also help you grow your business and keep customers happy by keeping track of interactions and tasks, and giving you a clear view of your sales pipeline.”

What Finer is really getting at is this: CRM makes it easier to manage customer relationships when you don’t have the time to manually handle every task.

As a general principle, most businesses extract 70-80 percent of their profits from 20-30 percent of their customers. One way to maximize the value of your CRM system is to use the built-in analytics tools to keep track of who your most valuable customers are.

As marketing manager Christopher Meloni explains it, “This sort of tracking, with the help of your CRM software, will in-turn enable you to allocate your resources in such a manner that those 20-30% of your customers get the best customer service, always. This is called target-based allocation, and it can prove wonders for you and your business organization.”

CRM can also be used to help you handle customer complaints in a swift manner. By delivering fast responses, you can deal with problems as they arise (instead of letting them fester). Other valuable uses – depending on the CRM system you use – include the ability to analyze customer buying patterns, send out automatic updates, and keep track of who customers are and how they’re likely to respond in certain situations.

2. Invest in Business Intelligence

Are you currently invested in business intelligence? This is the fastest developing trend in small business and you have to make it a priority if you stand any chance of acquiring and maintaining a base of loyal customers that continue to come back time after time.

“Business intelligence for small business helps to gather data about your customers’ behavior and structure it in a clear form so that it can be analyzed fast and easy,” explains Heiko Troster of datapine. “With insights about your customers’ behavior you can make effective business decisions.”

Data is the ammunition of your communicative efforts. When you understand who your customers are and what they want, you can effectively forecast needs and satisfy their desires. You still have to strategically act on the information you have, but at least business intelligence tools can provide you with valuable data that you’d otherwise miss out on.

3. Gather More Information on Customers

Customers want to be known as more than an invoice number or receipt. They want to be seen as individuals with personal lives, needs, and sensitivities. When you have advanced CRM and business intelligence tools in place, you can tactfully gather more information on your customers and gain a fuller picture of who they are and what their needs are. This will benefit you in the long run by allowing you to interact with customers on an individual basis.

4. Reshape Your Social Media Strategy

What does your current social media strategy look like? If you haven’t made a conscious effort over the years to make your social media presence about your followers, then your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles are probably self-serving. All of the content you post is about your brand and you aren’t adding any real value to your customers. Sound familiar?

If the goal is to strengthen customer relationships, you’ll need to reshape your social media strategy and make it less about you and more about them. Make it an avenue for two-way conversations to take place.

“Unlike a one-way conversation where a company typically dominates the narrative and doesn’t really acknowledge or interact with visitors/followers , a two-way conversation directly connects brands and consumers,” says Carolyn Edgecomb of IMPACT. “A two-conversation is a dialogue, where brands speak and listen to their audience, responding directly to their wants and needs.”

The classic rule of thumb is that 80 percent of your social media posts should add value to your brand without directly promoting your products and services. Try your best to meet this goal.

Make More Time for Customers

Forging strong relationships with customers takes effort. But thanks to the technologies you now have available to you – such as CRM systems, business intelligence tools, and social media – it doesn’t have to require a ton of time.

Now’s the time to create a game plan for success. How are you going to handle the many needs of your company without compromising on the customer relationship front? It’ll take some trial and error, but you can find a solution.

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This article, “How to Strengthen Customer Relationships When Time is at a Premium” was first published on Small Business Trends

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The Role of CSR in Marketing and Branding

CSR Marketing: The Role of CSR in Branding

What do you think about when you hear the term corporate social responsibility (CSR)? There’s a lot of noise around this business opportunity, but a lot of business owners either view it as a passing fad or an unnecessary external pressure. However, the truth is that it’s very important to the overall health of your organization – especially from a marketing and branding perspective.

CSR Marketing

The Link Between CSR and Brand Equity

When you bring up the idea of CSR in a room full of business executives, you’re bound to get a variety of responses. Some will reveal that they actually know very little about it, while others will go on a spiel about all of the wonderful things their company is doing to better society. You’ll also have those who are skeptical about the return on investment in CSR.

By one definition, “Corporate Social Responsibility is an ethical management concept where companies aim to integrate social, economic and environmental concerns along with the consideration of human rights into their business operations.”

This definition is particularly relevant because it touches on just how far-reaching a CSR program can be. It’s not just about partnering with an NPO or sponsoring a local charity. It’s about creating tangible change – socially, economically, and environmentally.

While the underlying purpose of CSR is to advance a specific cause that benefits society, don’t be fooled into thinking that it can’t also have a positive impact on your own company. A strategically developed, properly implemented CSR program can directly enhance a brand’s ability to create and maintain a positive image in the consumer marketplace.

Don’t feel bad if you have profits on your mind whenever you approach the subject of CSR – you aren’t alone. “One of the main reasons companies engage in socially responsible behavior is the possible financial gain that can come from it,” management expert Timothy Creel explains. “Recent studies show that companies engaging in socially responsible behavior tend to show long-term financial gains and increases in value.”

CSR is very much a long-term play, however. Companies tend to show financial losses in the first three years. It isn’t until 36 or 48 months down the road that benefits begin to kick in. But when they do, the impact can be instrumental in terms of marketing and branding.

The reason why CSR builds brand equity is largely psychological. As Creel notes, “Positive feelings are related to social approval and self-respect. Brands that evoke positive feelings make customers feel better about themselves.” Remember that most purchases aren’t about satisfying a need. Sure, there are instances where customers need products to survive, but most purchases are rooted in wants. When a company is able to tie a purchase that is otherwise seen as non-essential to something larger than the product, customers have an easier time validating the purchase in their minds.

Another branding-related benefit of CSR is the sense of community it creates. Creel points to how Lowe’s donates materials and provides volunteer hours to Habitat for Humanity, which allows the company to form connections in local communities. These connections fuel the brand’s image and result in better connectivity.

Ultimately, a commitment to serving others has an impact on sales. According to a survey from Better Business Journey, 88 percent of customers say they’re more likely to buy from a company that supports and engages in activities that improve society.

Three Companies Getting CSR Right

Lowe’s was already mentioned, but what other companies are getting CSR right?

1. Kitchen Cabinet Kings

Environmental sustainability is a big focus right now and Kitchen Cabinet Kings is doing a phenomenal job of positioning its brand for the future by aligning the company’s sales with the Plant a Tree Campaign. For every full kitchen purchased, the company plants a tree in one of the 155 National Forests in the United States.

“We think a tree planting is a great way to thank you for your business while giving back to our planet,” the company explains. “Our hope is that as this tree grows, so does our relationship.”

It might seem like a small thing, but when it comes to choosing between Kitchen Cabinet Kings and a competitor, something as simple as supporting sustainability can make a big difference.

2. Kroger

The popular supermarket chain Kroger has long been involved with CSR programs. As the company explains, “We have built a strong foundation based upon the commitment of our associates to serve each and every customer every day, and our promise to be good stewards of our communities and our planet. We know that trust is earned and we never take for granted the trust and confidence of our associates, customers, suppliers, communities and other stakeholders.”

Specifically, Kroger partners with companies and groups that fight world hunger, support women’s health, and provide for military members and their families. They also have initiatives in place that relate to the environment, supply chain, and local economies.

3. Delta Airlines

In an industry where companies are often blasted by frustrated customers, Delta seems to be doing something right on the CSR front. The focus of Delta’s CSR programs, which center on reducing carbon emissions and encouraging environmental sustainability, is on improving transparency.

Delta also asks a lot of its employees, who are heavily involved in Delta Force for Global Good. The fact that Delta employees are also committed to the company’s CSR goals is something that appeals to many customers.

Give Your Brand a Boost With CSR

The benefits of CSR are plentiful. While a CSR program should have a positive influence on the people, groups, or communities that are directly affected by the actions, it’s also becoming abundantly clear that CSR is a strong marketing and branding play.

If your brand is looking for a boost, CSR may be the answer.

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This article, “The Role of CSR in Marketing and Branding” was first published on Small Business Trends

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5 Marketing Tasks Your Competitors are Successfully Automating

If you're still performing all of your marketing tasks manually, it's time to look into marketing automation for small businesses.

We live in a business world that’s largely ruled by automation. As a result, you’re losing time and money if you’re manually doing something that your competition is streamlining through automation. But are you aware of the various marketing tasks that your competitors are already automating?

What to Know About Automation

Automation is a big word with big consequences. It’s not as simple as identifying a problem, finding an automated solution, and implementing said solution. There are certain areas of your business that are naturally conducive to being streamlined and then there are other areas that need lots of manual input.

It’s also important to recognize that automating a task doesn’t mean you’re completely stepping away and severing all human ties with that task. Automation simply means that you’re able to eliminate some of the time wasted and relocate resources elsewhere.

“Businesses looking to adopt automation must realize that it is far from a one-size-fits-all solution,” IT pro Barclay Ballard says. “There are areas of your businesses that can become more efficient and productive by being automated, but even these are likely to require some human involvement. What’s more, there are likely to be some companies or teams that are completely unsuited to automation.”

The point is that you need to spend time carefully evaluating your needs and understanding what can and cannot be automated within your organization. What you discover may surprise you.

Marketing Automation for Small Businesses

Five Marketing Tasks the Competition is Automating

One area of automation that’s experienced a lot of growth over the last couple of years is marketing automation. There’s a ton of competition in this niche, with many good vendors to choose from. You can either select some sort of all-encompassing automation platform or pick and choose which tasks you want to streamline with individual tools. Either way, here’s a look at some of the tasks your competition is already automating as you read this article.

1. Social Media

Social media is the best place to start since just about every business with a solid online presence is automating their activity in some form or fashion. There are a multitude of tools and you can find applications for automating posting, sharing, engaging followers, syncing accounts, and much more. While there’s still a place for manually monitoring your account, automation can greatly reduce the time and manpower it takes to complete very basic tasks.

2. Blog Promotion

Blog promotion is a huge undertaking that has a considerable impact on your ability to grow your brand and generate leads. With the help of marketing automation tools, you can streamline many of the smaller tasks that take up your time – such as sharing posts, split testing headlines, finding high-quality images, and more. Most marketing automation platforms have a handful of blog promotion features packed inside.

3. Email Marketing

How’s your email marketing going? If you aren’t automating parts of this time-intensive area of your business, chances are, you’re missing out on opportunities to capture more leads and push them through the conversion funnel. Email marketing is naturally conducive to automation and with the right system in place you can segment lists, personalize messaging to the recipient, schedule email blasts, integrate relevant calls-to-action, and much more.

4. A/B Testing

A/B testing is something that a lot of marketers are scared to get involved with because they feel it will overcomplicate things. Well, thanks to automated tools that effortlessly handle spit testing, nothing could be farther from the truth. You can set up A/B tests in the background and you won’t even know they’re running. Then, based on the results from the tests, you can set up a system that automatically changes various landing page elements to satisfy what your audience responds best to.

5. Analytics

If you look at your analytics data and feel like it’s composed in a foreign language, you aren’t alone. But if you aren’t doing anything to deconstruct and understand what the data is telling you, you’re in the minority. Thanks to an influx of new analytics tools in the marketplace, it’s easier than ever to automate the collection and interpretation of data so that you can see exactly what’s happening in clean, visually stimulating reports.

Catch Up With the Times

“To carry out an automation project correctly requires time and investment in both software and people. It is not a quick fix,” Ballard says. “However, the businesses that succeed in automating the most time-consuming and repetitive tasks will reinvigorate their workplace by giving their employees the ability to work faster, more efficiently and more intelligently than previously possible.”

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This article, “5 Marketing Tasks Your Competitors are Successfully Automating” was first published on Small Business Trends

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6 Reasons Why Your Business Should Use Podcasting

Many businesses nowadays are using podcasts as a a powerful marketing tool for improving their prospects. Discover the 6 benefits of podcasting.

The changing times have led to the implementation of various products of technology in businesses. With various aspects of businesses transforming everyday with the changing customer requirements and market demands, these tools have turned out to be necessities to stay afloat in this highly competitive market.

Podcasting has garnered an immense popularity over the years. A podcast is a set of digital audio files that are available on the internet for downloading. A user can subscribe to the podcast to receive the digital files once they are uploaded.

Businesses nowadays are increasingly using podcasts to improve their prospects. It is a powerful marketing tool. Podcasts have become the new talk radio on mobile devices. In fact, the increased usage of mobile phones has led to the explosive growth of podcasting. Let’s take a look at how podcasting can benefit your business.

The Benefits of Podcasting

Podcasting is an Alternative to Video

It is no news that video marketing is crucial for businesses. However, not everyone is comfortable to shoot videos. As a result, using videos, in that case, can hurt your and your business’s reputation considerably.

Additionally, some small businesses may not have the right equipment to shoot videos that will stand out. This is because there are numerous variables involved in videos which include lighting, sound, background and so on. Each of these can go wrong if they are not handled carefully. This is where podcasts become relevant.

Increased Traffic Generation

Using podcasts can help you reach out to new audiences for your business. Podcasts can help in building familiarity with a wide range of audiences. Listeners usually subscribe to the series and regularly listen. As long as the audio series continues, your audience is quite likely to keep listening.

Additionally, your audience may recommend the podcasts to others who may be interested in them, thus increasing your reach considerably. This can lead to improved traffic generation quickly.

Helps in Building Better Relationships with the Audience

Even though a podcast is a one-sided medium, it helps in building effective relationships with the listeners. It gives the feeling that the listeners know the person speaking on the podcast. People listen to podcasts because they have something in common with the speaker and the brand the speaker is representing.

Such a good relationship helps in building trust. This encourages listeners to be associated with the brand. This, in turn, leads to improved conversion. People are more likely to buy something from a friend than a stranger.

Easy to Create

Creating a podcast does not involve a lot of steps. The equipment required for the same is reasonably priced and also available easily. You would need a good quality microphone and headphones for creating a podcast. The editing software for this purpose is free and is quite simple. For uploading the files on your website, a good WiFi connection is important. You may also need to send the podcast to your audience through Email.

Once you have created the podcast, you can start promoting it to increase its exposure and reach out to a larger audience. For this, you would need to make the podcasts available on a variety of distribution channels.

Podcasts are Highly Engaging

We are no strangers to information overload. With the internet being filled with an ample amount of written content, audio information that attempts to engage customers can be a welcoming break from the monotony. Additionally, it leaves enough room for the speaker to convey the message in a highly interactive way which written content may not essentially provide.

In a survey conducted on 300,000 podcast listeners, it was found that 63 percent of the respondents had bought what the host had promoted. This indicates that podcasts can be used to engage the audience and influence their buying decisions positively.

Improves Public Speaking Skills

Regularly hosting podcasts could help you develop confidence while speaking in public. As a result, you would not face any problem while taking part in public speeches. You would start developing a natural, easygoing flow while speaking. In addition to that, you would also receive ample public speaking opportunities wherein you can promote your business.

Most businesses have already started augmenting podcasts into their marketing strategies. It is high time you start implementing them for the growth of your company.

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This article, “6 Reasons Why Your Business Should Use Podcasting” was first published on Small Business Trends

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