Content Mitigation: How Sharing Service Details Could Keep You Out of A Crisis

So, you’re using content marketing — articles, blogs, e-newsletters, case studies, videos, and social media platforms — to build brand awareness, customer acquisition, lead generation and customer retention. Work all of these as far as you can take them.

Then take it one step farther.

Producing helpful, educational and valuable content isn’t just for attracting customers. It can be an invaluable ally if something between your company and a customer goes awry, even if you’ve done nothing wrong. Because somewhere, somehow, someone will find something with which to take issue.

Supplying varied and detailed information on your company’s product or service in the form of an ongoing blog series or an expansive FAQ that answers an exhaustive series of questions could help mitigate potential problems and even help tamp down a full-blown crisis if enough instructive information is available and accessible.

Leaving these elements out of your content mix could cost you time, money and potentially your firm’s reputation.

Realistically, not everyone is going to read everything related to your product or service, but having it available within a couple of clicks on a keyboard could be enough to make a news organization beg off a story if information countering an issue is within easy reach.

What should you share in content mitigation program?  Everything possible, such as:

    • Guarantees/Warranties – Be explicit and don’t bury the fine print.
    • Cost/Price – If you have a service that doesn’t have set price because each situation is different, explain what the variables are and supply a range of price, from the lowest to the highest.
    • Problems/issues – No service can be all things for all people. Detail the limitations of your product or service.
    • Comparisons with Competitors – Explaining differentiation between all comers in your niche lets prospects self select and lays bare stark differences.
    • Regulatory Compliance – If you work in an industry where adhering to federal regulations differentiates you from more lax competitors, ensure you explain why you do and how you do it.
    • Scope of Work/Payment – Particularly for potentially high-priced services where scope could change based on circumstances, keep the customer apprised of the charges so there won’t be a surprise at the end that could turn into a public issue… and a potential lawsuit.
    • Accolades/Awards/Testimonials – Your customers, third party endorsements and awards for quality weave a powerful story.  Tell it.
    • Approach/Philosophy – Most businesses have a story of why they began the business and/or guiding principles of how they work. Creating narratives like this make you appear more human and accessible.
    • Limitations/Usage Policies – Your business isn’t super human.  Explain what your business and service is and is not capable of doing.
    • Training/Education – Do your employees undergo intensive education about how to execute their jobs for optimum outcome and value?  Spell it out.
    • Personnel qualifications – The job your company does is only as good as the employees that do it.  For highly technical and regulated industries, offer up details of the training and experience of your employees
    • Consumer/Client Ratings – If you receive consistently high ratings from internal surveys and external ranking services, promote those high scores to help validate your value.
    • Accreditation/Endorsement– Positive reviews from third parties, such as associations and non-profit groups can help bolster credibility.

 

All of these suggestions may or may not be applicable to your business, but err on the side of caution in supplying as much about your service as possible. Because anything that could be misunderstood and misinterpreted will be.

Want to Serve More Clients? Serve Up More Content

“Marketing is the lifelong process of educating your customers about why they should buy from you.”

This quip by marketing star Jay Abraham was penned almost two decades ago, and couldn’t be more true today.

It’s one of my favorites because it makes simple, yet very revealing, points:

1.  Marketing is a lifelong process

2.  Educating your market attracts sales

3.  Customers are just as important as prospects

It’s a concept not many marketers followed 20 years ago (thus, Jay’s urging), and one that B2B companies are beginning to get a grip on today, with the advent of digital marketing and especially, social media.

Educating your customer is important not only as a method of or framework for communicating — but also because competition is everywhere.

Consider the current plight of the Big-Box stores. Years ago, you had mom-and-pop appliance stores, and Sears was about the only department store around.  The smaller stores relied heavily on service and knowledge to secure and maintain loyal customers.

Then came the Big-Box stores, with their vast selection, low prices, and suburban ubiquity.  Customers migrated there in droves, and the smaller shops — lamenting that price trumps the personal touch — ended up closing their doors.

Now, it’s the Big-Box stores lamenting.  They’re fighting “showrooming” (buyers researching their options at the stores, but making their purchases from one of the many resources on the Internet).  And are they ever feeling the pinch.

Because your customers also find you (and your competitors) on the Internet … because they are actively seeking information and ‘comparison shopping’ before they make a purchase …because they rely on referrals from friends and colleagues … because they trust objective information – the degree to which you educate can mean the difference in sales, and, lifetime customers.

Educating your market – if you’re not already doing so – is an opportunity worthy of your marketing investment

So companies must ask: how well are we doing the basics of explaining the value our products or services provide? And, on what topics can we offer educational information?

The old standards for educating your market: Published articles, white papers, speaking engagements, just plain relationships, these still apply.  These were the means for offering knowledge.  What does not apply is the mindset of talking at the customer.

Today, we have the unprecedented opportunity to talk with the customer.  Author Dan Pink describes the fundamental shift in the customer/company relationship as the difference between the “information asymmetry” of the past, when companies had all the information, and the “information symmetry” we now experience, in which the customer has all the information. The customer is (sigh) no longer ignorant.

The digital age has allowed companies to become their own media. To be seen as thought leaders. To have their educational content (not just their websites) found online.  Between your own website, blog, Facebook page, LinkedIn activities, Twitter, industry, online forums, associations, blogs, etc., your educational messages have more places to be seen.

Beyond educating customers about your product or service’s unique advantages, you can offer insights about your field in general.  You can share value from others, industry wide; you can share best practices thinking to help them run their business, address a difficult sales issue, etc. – virtually any topic that you know would be of interest and helpful to them.

Information equals trust. Use it, or be prepared to be out-marketed by competitors that do.

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Two: Three Reasons Why Sales and Marketing Can (And Must) Communicate

One of the greatest failings of a business is not listening to its customers. The next is when marketing doesn’t, or won’t, listen to its sales people.

While far from a new problem, in the era of social marketing, such a weakness is potentially disruptive and costly. When so many companies acknowledge that developing targeted, relevant content can help attract customers, some companies still refuse to tap the one source that knows what’s actually happening on the ground.

Attention Marketers: You Don’t Know EVERYTHING

Here’s the thing. Marketing serves a vitally important function, but it does not have all the answers. Far from it. And, honestly, how can it? Its inputs derive from the company leadership, product development, competitive analysis and customer and industry trends.

Anyone who thinks that all the solutions to a company’s marketing strategy can be constantly cooked up in a lone office is either overworked, over confident or overlooking the obvious.

Here are three reasons why an ongoing marketing /sales dialogue is crucial.

Deeper Insights. There might be an issue your customers are thinking and talking about right now that is crucial to their sales and revenue. The good thing is that your sales people know about it. The bad thing is that you don’t. Imagine the rewards you could reap if you were addressing that issue that went to the core of your customers’ pain and that your company understood it and shared insights on how to solve it?  How much long term good will and potential revenue are you missing out on?

Info Alignment. Marketers are generally measured on producing deliverables –brochures, white papers, ads, and so forth – even if none of that activity results in measurable financial impact. Aligning what “stuff” works for what stage the prospect is in the sales funnel does two things:

1. It puts a microscope on the kinds of support and sales materials that will help move the prospect to a customer, cutting down on useless and costly materials; and

2. it arms sales people with the right piece of information at the right time to supply useful and relevant information to drive the process forward.

Working From The Same Page. A perennial rant from sales is that it believes marketing doesn’t listen to what it needs and delivers materials and messages it doesn’t want. Message to marketing: don’t ignore sales, involve them.

Sales knows what resonates with customers, and how to best communicate it, so what better way to improve your marketing and messaging by routinely bringing them into the process of coming up with ideas/angles? Marketing will get valuable inputs and sales will get useful, valuable and timely “stuff” they really want.

So many channels and mechanisms exist, from email to Twitter, to communicate mission critical information rapidly and regularly. Developing two-way access between sales and marketing will not only promote better communication, but ongoing trust. This cultural shift, while not easy, is essential.

Marketing and sales shouldn’t be treated like two separate operations; they are simply two parts of a bigger process. When you connect the two, good things happen for the entire organization.

Keeping your Child’s Eye Open for Greater Creativity

“How sad if we pass through life and never see it with the eyes of a child…When we start off in life, we look at reality with wonder, but it isn’t the intelligent wonder of the mystics; it’s the formless wonder of the child.  Then wonder dies and is replaced by boredom, as we develop language, words, and concepts.  Then hopefully, if we’re lucky, we’ll return to wonder again.” – Anthony de Mello

One of the disadvantages of growing up is the loss of your “child’s eye”, that simple accepting, sense of wonder of first time-experiences unmarked by skepticism or cynicism.

After reading a comment from Sean McGinnis on a SpinSucks post about developing social content for B2B companies, I began looking for resources on how we might lighten up the reality-based shades we adults wear and so we can better see and appreciate what our businesses have to offer our clients.

Naturally, we have to create programs that deliver a business outcome, whatever that may be, but staying open to those creative possibilities could help us deliver the right ideas.

I came up with short list of resources (some of which themselves are expansive) to help keep the child-like wonder alive.

1. One Man’s Wonder, by writer, traveler and marcom agency owner Jeffery Willus, is about looking further, paying attention, making time for discovery, celebrating little things, and being open to wonder. Check out his “How To Be in the Moment – 101 Tips” series.

2. 50 Ways to Lighten Up & Become Child Like Again. Many of these seem elemental, but they resonated with me. When my son was much younger and yanking open our kitchen cabinet doors (and subsequently baby-proofing the place) I decided to make one small cabinet completely his.  I called it “The Discovery Vault”.  Each day I’d place something new for him to discover and play with. It got to the point that if I’d forgotten to put something new, he’d show disappointment. He wanted to keep the vault fresh. Reminds me of fresh content.

3. From my recent online acquaintance, Kaarina Dillabough defends (and rightly so) the many times we believe we’re not creative. She delivers a simple list of 10 creativity starters.

4. If these don’t resonate, take the adult path of negative/positive reinforcement with “How to stifle your creativity in 10 easy steps”.  Number one on the list goes to the heart of thinking like an adult versus a kid.

So what did I get out of these? It came through loud and clear. As adults running businesses, we have to act realistically, sensibly and rationally… most of the time.  When we can free ourselves, dreaming, curiosity, and wishful thinking — all of the traits a child would have – keep us open to endless possibilities.

How do you keep you child’s eye open and alive?

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12 Most Common Excuses Why SMBs
Are Afraid of Strategic Planning

While this is the time of year many SMBs have developed their plans for the new fiscal year, many more used some of the 12 most common excuses not to.

It reminds me of the spittle-prone Sylvester the Cat. If you’re a fan of classic Warner Brothers animation (like I am), you’ve undoubtedly been exposed to the Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn song “You Never Know Where You’re Goin’ Till You Get There”.

No truer words have been spoken about businesses that don’t plan. If there’s no destination, how will you know when you’ve arrived, or at least headed in the right direction?

No time
The workday is filled with the day-to-day business drumbeat and emergencies, both large and small. How is there time to focus on the long-term when the short term needs so much attention? Understand where you’re spending time, and then segment time to work ON the business. You can’t execute all day, every day, nor should you

The culture doesn’t allow it.
“The sky looks the same anywhere you go”, my grandfather would say about his aversion to travel. The same goes for SMBs that say what worked yesterday will work tomorrow.  Change is the only constant. Your customers change, your competition changes.

Marketing is married to an outdated set of tools
If a company says that print advertising is as effective as it ever was, it isn’t looking to divorce old-line thinking. They heyday of mass marketing is gone. Today’s marketing kit is wider and deeper because there are more ways than ever to interact with customers and prospects.

What are we buying?
Consultant speak, academic nomenclature, and business jargon can be off-putting to small business owners. They worry that the theoretical won’t translate into the real world. Be open to the idea of planning, but do not be a pushover on what you’re paying for. Ask for a definition of terms so you and the consultant are speaking the same language.

Too costly
Instead of viewing strategic planning as investment, company leadership will see it as an expense. You invest in people, equipment and technology. There’s no difference in investing to discover a better path forward. An effective plan will produce a pay-off. 

Planning takes away from selling
Daily, weekly, quarterly and annual numbers. No matter the duration, the only thing that is of importance to many companies is growth. Without a plan, the growth will come by luck.  Numbers tell a story, but a numbers-only focus is like putting blinders on a horse. Peripheral vision lets you see more than just straight ahead. 

“Stuff” is easier
While addressing real issues, someone throws out a kernel of an idea and “Boom!”, everyone starts popping down the tactical solution highway.  Ideas based on what you’re already doing are easy; understanding how to plow new paths takes work.

The process is overwhelming
Fear, uncertainty and doubt clouds many smaller business owners and leaders about what strategic planning is about. Intimidation leads to not even starting the process. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is good strategy. Like anything else, chunk the process down into smaller portions that are easier to execute.

Lack of control
Business owners fear that the facilitation process, no matter how well intended, will be rudderless, focusing on past faults and head toward the weeds without a clear purpose. You are a participant in the process; if you don’t understand something, speak up.

Fear of commitment (and failure)
A commitment to anything means taking action. Management that is fearful of change can talk themselves around issues and out of anything, especially when one’s livelihood is on the line. Give yourself some credit. You’ve been flying without a net since you started your business.

No accountability
The reason most small business owners started their firms is because they didn’t want to be accountable to anyone. Therein lies the problem. Strategic planning introduces a layer of accountability into the process, producing fear and anxiety among some owners. Like the smart solo practitioner who toils in near total independence most of the time, move outside your comfort zone and get a different perspective and direction from someone else, sometime.

Past experiences
Previously negative strategic planning experiences produce the “once bitten, twice shy” organization.  An unqualified consultant produced an inferior plan or a poor facilitator spent weeks in meetings without accomplishing anything.  There are the good and the bad at everything. You have the experience to ask the right questions to find the right guide.

Sufferin’ succotash! Are any of these the reasons why strategic planning is the plan of last resort?