Q: We often hear about how consumers today have never been better-informed. What challenges and opportunities does that present to a small business in marketing its products and services?
The challenge for a small business remains the same – not enough time, not enough resources. So the key is knowing which marketing initiatives or combinations give the best chance for bringing in new customers. You can’t do everything, so try a few new ideas at a time, and then invest time and money in the ones that work.
Credit cards are a great way to bring cash in immediately. But what should a small business owner know about setting up and managing these transactions?
A lot of small businesses don't seem to realize how accepting credit cards can help their business, beyond just making it easier for their customers to pay. Average tickets are higher with credit cards than cash, and credit card acceptance can increase sales by 20-30%.
That said, it's important to know what you're signing up for, because not all credit card processing providers or fees are the same. Many companies promote credit card acceptance to small businesses on unappealing terms or with hidden costs.
- Things change quickly, so be flexible. Today’s best practice is tomorrow’s discarded idea.
- Know who your customers are, what they value about your company or product, and where they live online. Once you understand that, all marketing efforts will be more successful.
- Customer experience still reigns supreme. All the marketing dollars in the world cannot undo a bad experience.
Find a service that offers free analytics—this will give you actionable intelligence from which you can make informed decisions about how to best to grow your business. You should also find ways to connect with customers and drive real customer loyalty.
Many small businesses use services such as email marketing or social marketing campaigns to build relationships with prospective customers. What are 3 keys to making your message stand out?
- Be visual. Stay true to your brand and make an impression. You have only a few seconds to capture their attention.
- Be relevant. Target your message to the audience and be sensitive to the method you’re using to deliver that message.
- Be brief. Give them a reason to engage with your business by taking some action that further qualifies them as a prospect for you.
Is there a “rule of thumb” for when and how often a company should reach out to its leads?
Frequency guidelines are more dependent on the type of customers or prospects you target rather than any general rules. Plus, most businesses have significant seasonality—peaks and valleys to new business acquisition efforts.
The key is tracking the responses from all your lead/prospect communications to understand what time of day or day of the week people want to hear from you, how they want to be contacted, and how often. You’ll know immediately if you are over-communicating, but making sure you are reaching out enough is the challenge—and it’s more of an art than a science.
Sales cycles can vary so widely—products vs. services, business-to-business vs. business-to-consumer, etc. It really comes down to awareness. Providing useful, relevant content that continues to highlight your company’s unique selling proposition is timeless. It may be for a future need or a referral to a friend, so staying in touch has very long shelf life.
What benefits do social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) offer in converting leads to sales?
Social media is all about reach for a small business—gaining access to the networks of your friends and followers to find that next new customer. Often these are people your own direct marketing would not touch. But that’s just the beginning of the story.
Awareness is great, but it doesn’t pay the bills. You then have to capture their contact information, engage with them, offer them something they want/need, then convince them to buy. Email marketing and social media marketing is the ultimate combination to make that happen.
Small businesses are struggling to understand the return on their social media investment. In a time-starved world, owners often question the time it takes to maintain their social media presence. The value is in knowing what people are saying about your brand online, good and bad, so you can respond accordingly.
There are a lot of them, and many are free. For example, Constant Contact’s NutshellMail is a free social network aggregation service that allows users to manage and interact with updates from social networking services through a consolidated email digest—kind of like a DVR for social media.
Speaking of monitoring tools, what are some good options for gauging how well a marketing program is generating sales?
- Google Analytics is a fantastic free tool that lets you measure the impact of your advertising as well as track your Flash, video, and social networking sites and applications.
- HootSuite offers Social Analytics that allow businesses and organizations to more closely tie social media engagement and connections to business results. You create custom reports to share with clients and colleagues, track brand sentiment, follower growth, and incorporate Facebook Insights and Google Analytics all without leaving the dashboard.
- Also, many email marketing providers offer advanced reporting features for viewing who opened and clicked through your email, measuring your social media success, watching your email list grow and tracking opt-outs, managing bounced email addresses, and comparing results from all your email marketing campaigns.
- A good survey starts with an invitation that states the reason for the survey and acknowledges the recipients’ investment of time.
- To achieve the best response rate, keep the survey to a small number of questions, and make them clear and concise.
- Share the results. Tell your audience what you learned and what actions you will take as a result.
- Social Media: Harnessing the power of social media to start the sales cycle. It’s not about selling on social media sites; it’s about promoting your brand and developing content that grabs the reader’s attention and gets them to engage with you. The ultimate benefit of this is that when used effectively, social media can spawn referrals and word-of-mouth for your business. It’s never been easier for people to forward, share, like, follow or retweet information about your company or product.
- Mobile Marketing: Prospects should be able to access information about your company through a mobile application that looks good on their smartphone or tablet.
Why is it a good idea to consult with a SCORE small business mentor when developing and evaluating a marketing plan?
SCORE has an army of mentors with incredible talent, expertise and experience. It’s crazy not to make use of those skills to assess your marketing strategy and further develop your marketing messages.
They have experts in every aspect of launching, salvaging, or growing a business. And they have tools you can use, workshops to attend and one-on-one counseling. And their services are free. I love to watch the face of a small business owner when they first find out about SCORE!
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