Manufacturers: Why Customer Service Is So Important In Serving the Tradesman

By Matt Sonnhalter, Vision Architect, Sonnhalter

We’ve talked much over the years about customer service and how important it is to resolve issues. And, we’ve also addressed the issue that customer service is everyone’s responsibility, from sales through tech support. Customer service is really all about your customers’ total experience.

This is true in our relationships with distributors as well as contractors. Manufacturers need to be careful, especially when business is on the uptick and attention to detail may come in second to short-term sales increases.

Don’t take your distributor and tradesman for granted. There’s always someone out there that can identify contractor’s needs and deliver—and it won’t necessarily be based on price or delivery—but on the total customer experience.

This article in HVACR Business by Jim Baston stressed, once again, how important customer service is in the big picture. Jim’s article is focused on the HVACR service business, but his points can be transferred to the manufacturing sector as well.

Jim breaks it down into five dimensions of service:

  • Reliability: Your ability to dependably and accurately deliver as promised.
  • Assurance: Your ability to convey trust and confidence.
  • Tangibles: Your personal presentation and the condition of the physical facilities and equipment.
  • Empathy: Your ability to demonstrate a high degree of caring and individual attention.
  • Responsiveness: Your willingness to promptly and courteously respond to customers’ needs.

As manufacturers, you need to understand your customers’ (distributors and contractors) needs. Remember that everyone in your company is in customer service. If you haven’t asked your customers what their needs are recently, maybe you should. Things change and their priorities might have too. Focus on what matters to them.

If you like this post you may want read:

Manufacturers: Are you keeping up with your customers expectations?

Customer Service: What Are You Doing to Retain Customers?

8 Tips for Making Customer Service a Priority in your Marketing

Think customer service isn’t an integral part of your marketing? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What part of your company do existing customers deal with the most?
  • Have you ever avoided a business because of a negative remark a friend made?

If the answer to both is yes, you’ve just seen how an effective customer service program is also your best marketing strategy.

 

 

Need more proof? In our latest Tip Sheet, we’ve laid out eight tips for making customer service a priority in your marketing efforts, and as always, it’s geared toward manufacturers, distributors and others in the B2T marketplace. You can sign up to download it for free here.

Let us know what challenges you’ve had with customer service and check out our other tip sheets here.

Customer Service for Customer Retention & Value

Today we have a guest post from Russ Hill, Founder of Ultimate Lead Systems.

Customer Service

I recently lunched with some long-time friends and sales and marketing professionals. The topic turned to the importance of Customer Service in the face of the plethora of CRM and Marketing Automation software available today. The conversation raised more questions than it answered.

We agreed on the following definitions for the purpose of the discussion:

Customer Service – The interaction with a customer or prospect that traditionally revolves around resolving a problem and producing a positive outcome. This could be in person or via phone or email.

CRM – It’s not software but a strategic process designed to cultivate and enhance the relationship with customers. The goal is to maximize retention rates and capitalize on the life-time value of the customer.

Something else we agreed upon was that companies seem to be racing to dramatically reduce their costs of engaging customers. Those costs are typically associated with people on payroll, and management too often views automated systems as a means of delivering customer engagement AND customer service at reduced cost. We also agreed that Customer Service is all about NOW and all other engagements are about future opportunities.

We’ve all experienced agonizingly long waits in Customer Service phone queues that assure us our “call is important” only to get transferred to a voicemail box that is full and not taking messages. Programs like Hubspot, Marketo, Eloqua and Exact Target can help deliver content that may be of value to customers they already know. What about new customer and prospects? Websites without phone numbers that force the customer to do all of the work to find solutions to their own needs do not make it easy for customers to buy or remain customers. How many take their business elsewhere because Customer Service is self-serve or non-existent…and the vendor neither knows nor cares?

Dimensional Research found that Customer Service was the #1 factor impacting vendor trust, and:

  • 62% of B2B customers purchase more after a good Customer Service experience.
  • 66% of B2B customers stopped buying after a BAD Customer Service experience.
  • 88% of B2B customers were influenced by online customer service reviews when making purchasing decisions.

Customer Service clearly can be the difference between winning, keeping and losing business, and that can mean significant lifetime value won or lost. As for me, we experienced business service from AT&T that has been nothing but a nightmare. I’ll spare you the details, but we will never do business with them again. Does AT&T care? They don’t appear to.We have other vendors who do stellar jobs that we couldn’t live without. I’ll bet you do too.

In the end, we were all able to agree that people have relationships with people, that customers have “experiences” with companies, and that people do business with people they know, like and trust. It begged the question, do your customers have a relationship with you, or just have an “experience” with your company? It makes a difference.

This post originally appeared on the Ultimate Lead blog and is reposted with permission. 

Why customer service is so important to manufacturers serving the tradesman

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

I’ve talked a lot about customer service and how important it is to resolve issues. But we’ve also addressed the issue that customer service is everyone’s responsibility, from sales through tech support. Customer service is really all about your customers’ total experience.

This is true in our relationships with distributors as well as contractors. Manufacturers need to be careful, especially when business is on the uptick and attention to detail may come in second to short-term sales increase.

Don’t take your distributor and tradesman for granted. There’s always someone out there that can identify the contractor’s needs and deliver and it won’t necessarily be based on price or delivery but the total customer experience. (more…)

Are You Winning at Customer Service?

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

Everybody wants answers, especially to problems, and they expect your customer service department to be on 24/7. This is especially true in the B to C market.

I recently had trouble with a wine cooler that was one month out of warranty and quit. Needless to say, I wasn’t a happy camper and I let the manufacturer know on their website over a weekend. To my surprise, I got an answer within a few hours and they are working with upper management to solve my issue. Now they may just be blowing smoke and we’ll see, but their responsiveness made me cool down a bit.

I ran across a study recently in emarketer.com “How to win at customer service,” that claimed most people just want their questions answered.

Attitudes Toward Customer Service Among Internet Users Worldwide, Aug 2015 (% of respondents)

Here are some highlights:

  • 81% of those surveyed just wanted their questions answered
  • 89% feel more positive about brands that give good customer service
  • 46% tell their friends and family about a quick response time

So what does all this mean to the manufacturing sector? Well the bar isn’t raised too high and we certainly don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Here are some tips on how to serve the professional tradesman:

  • Keep your customer service department open on business days from 7 AM to 5 PM EST. If the contractors are having issues, you need to be available when they are working.
  • Staff your customer service department with experienced people who can answer questions, troubleshoot a problem or forward them onto someone who can.

A post you may want to read, Customer service: How are you handling unhappy people, may be a good read. A good customer service department can help increase future sales by giving them a positive experience

Customer Service: How Are You Handling Unhappy People?

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman at Sonnhalter

I’m amazed by the stats that more than half of those on social media don’t have a plan to respond to negative social media posts. Social media isn’t new, isn’t going away, and if you’ve followed or read anything about this space, you know there have been numerous posts about the subject.

customer service

Customer service departments are usually the place where traditional issues are handled. But when it comes to social media, most don’t know how to find complaints and have a process of responding in a timely manner. Customers especially on the internet want a response and want it now (42% want to be responded to in an hour or less).

I recently read a great article by Jay Baer from Convince and Convert on Why You Need a Customer Service Response Road Map that highlights ways to identify, prioritize, assign responsibility and set deadlines that’s well worth reading.

Negative issues need to be addressed and what better way to hear about issues than on social platforms. Don’t you want to know what customers are saying about you? You’d better be monitoring them and jump in with a plan to respond. There are several monitoring options out there that will help you. Here are some free ones: Social Mention, Google Alerts, Hootsuite and TweetDeck.

I recently had an experience with a major faucet manufacturer about a replacement. We had to get a new tub at home and my wife wanted to update the faucets, which we did. The manufacturer sent the wrong spout and it took our plumber almost 2 months to get the replacement for it. They weren’t good at customer service, just making excuses. I made mention (by brand name) on a tweet what my frustration was, and true to form, heard nothing back.

In the short run, ignoring me may not be a big deal to them since I had already purchased the tub set, but in the long run, my wife is planning to replace all the faucets in our 3 bathrooms. Guess who isn’t going to be considered for that purchase?

In a world where we have alternative plans for everything, don’t overlook social responses to negative posts. It’s better to address them straight on or they will fester and come back to bite you when you least expect it. Have a plan in place as negative reviews will affect your SEO.

Unless you are offering something you can’t get anywhere else, then you’re going to have competition from someone. So what makes your customers or potentials want to do business with you instead of them?

Assuming you have a good product, then I’d say the customer experience would be the major deal sealer or breaker. Customer service starts the moment someone from your company answers the phone through the sales process and follow-up with your customer service department if a question or problem arises.

I guess what I’m trying to say is your company’s customer service should start with every employee. Those that are on the front line (be it a CS or delivery man), they have the one-on-one contact with the customer and can sway future purchases by their actions or inactions. We all build our business around repeat sales, so everyone in the company needs to be good will ambassadors. The challenge for all of us is to find the friction in our process and smooth it out.

Here’s a good test. Make a complaint on social media about one of your products (under a name they won’t recognize) and see what kind of response you get.

What Buying a New Car Taught Me About Customer Service

In my list of top things I hate doing is getting a new car. It ranks right up there with going to the dentist to get a root canal.

My lease was coming due and I looked on the internet at options and customer satisfaction results and had narrowed it down to two models. I filled out the forms on the site, picked a dealer and waited for a response.

One dealer never got back to me, but I got a survey form the next day from corporate asking me if the local dealer contacted me and how my experience was with the local dealer. I told them I’d not been contacted. The next day, corporate called me to follow-up, but by then I’d driven the other car and was signing the papers when I got the call (told them I bought a competitor).

Great follow-up from corporate, but there was a missing link with the dealer I chose. Life Lesson—the sales cycle is only as good as the weakest link. Ironically, I never did hear from that dealer and they were supposed to be one of the best in the area.

The other dealer got back to me within hours, gave me availability of what he had and asked if I wanted to test drive one. I did and the sales process went smoother than I expected. I made an appointment to pick up the car and a check for the last three payments on my old lease.

I arrived at the appointed hour and my guy was too busy selling someone else a car, so he pushed me off on someone else who half-heartedly explained the features of the car and the how to’s, and of course, this new guy didn’t know anything about the check he was supposed to get to me.

I guess the original salesman thought the sale ended when I signed on the bottom line, not when I drove off the lot. I wonder if he’ll ask me for referrals? What do you think I’ll do?

So an experience that started off well didn’t end that way. Life Lesson—under promise and over deliver. The last thing that happens often is what you remember. I’m sure I’ll like the car, but my opinion of car buying hasn’t changed.

If you or I treated our customers like that, we wouldn’t be in business! Treat people the way you’d like to be treated.

Customer Service: What Are You Doing to Retain Customers?

customer serviceMost of our efforts are in generating new customers, but what about the current ones that are paying the bills? The number varies but it costs a lot more to get a new customer than to retain an existing one.

Do you know what a customer is worth to you? Think beyond this quarter or even this year. Think about the last 5 years. How much stuff have you sold them? More importantly, if you come out with something new, where are your best chances of selling it? To someone new, or to someone who knows, likes and trusts you?

I recently read a post in MarketingProfs by Rafe Gomez comparing an experience he had when taking his 11-year-old daughter to a rock concert and how the band delivered on the “customer experience.”

Here are some of his insights on how we can make the customer experience better, resulting in better loyalty and ultimately more sales:

  • Deliver outstanding quality – from a great quality product to courteous customer service and user-friendly literature.
  • Understand what your customers want – don’t assume to know what they want – ask them.
  • Connect with them – direct relationships are the most important and the most challenging. Always think WIIFT (What’s In It For Them). Be sincere and upfront with them. When communicating with them, don’t always be selling. Try to help solve a problem even though it might not, in the short-term, result in a sale to you.
  • Under promise and over deliver – exceed your customers’ expectations, then do it again!
  • Don’t sit on your laurels – Yes, you have some neat products, but instead of sitting there and just doing the same old same o, innovate. If you don’t, someone else will.

Now these points probably aren’t a revelation to you, but when was the last time you focused on your customers and said THANK YOU!

Customer Service: Is Your Company Obsessed With It?

Customer service. We all say we have it, but what is it? Where does it start?

Unless you are offering something you can’t get anywhere else, then you’re going to have competition from someone. So what makes your customers or potentials want to do business with you instead of them?

Assuming you have a good product then I’d say the customer experience would be the major deal sealer or breaker. Customer service starts  the moment someone from your company answers the phone through the sales process and follow-up with your customer service department if a question or problem arises.

I guess what I’m trying to say is your company’s customer service should start with every employee. Those that are on the front line(be it a CS or delivery man), they have the one-on-one contact with the customer and can sway future purchases by their actions or inactions. We all build our business around repeat sales so everyone in the company needs to be good will ambassadors. The challenge for all of us is to find the friction in our process and smooth it out.

Let me give you two examples of positive CS experiences.

1- I recently had to go to Buffalo for an association/trade show for one of our new clients. The host hotel was the Buffalo Hyatt and we stayed there. They were going through some renovations like any other hotel, but I seemed to notice that everyone who worked there had a very positive attitude that was focused on the customers and it showed. When we checked out and our car came from the valet, it was filthy dirty (it was clean when we checked in) and I come to find out from the valet that they park guest cars outside so they can retrieve them quicker for guests. Needless to say, the positive experience of the last three days was ending on a sour note. The next day (Sunday), I get the standard thank you for staying at the Hyatt, yada, yada, yada, and if there is anything that we could do to improve our service, please email me (general manager). So I did, explained my story and in less than 15 minutes had a response from him apologizing and crediting our bill for $30 to get a car wash.  The end result when/if I’m back in Buffalo, there is a better than 50/50 chance of me staying there again.

2- At that same show, I had the chance to talk to several dealers for this new client and asked them why they did business with Buyers Products. They all said it was because they made a good product, but more importantly the main reason is they did what they said they were going to do, when they said they were going to do it, and if any problems arose, they had their back with any product problems. Several told stories of how they needed product over the weekend and their salesman would actually deliver it to them before Monday morning. They are in a very competitive market and are growing at a pace that outsets the industry standards. Wonder why?

The key for us all is to follow our customers’ experience. From how they find out about you through the repeat orders. If there is friction along the line, work to smooth out the process so your customers have a positive experience.

Customer Service: Does Yours Deliver Happiness?

Customer service in most companies can make or break you. How you are treated can define whether you will continue to do business with that company. You can spend millions on brand building and still fall short if customer service is the weak link in the chain.

I was at a trade association meeting listening to one of the speakers talking on this subject, and he kept referring to this company called Zappos in Las Vegas and what kind of brand they built around customer service. I had never heard of them (a billion dollar company that was recently purchased by Amazon), but my wife had. She sang the praises of this online company that sold shoes. Not their own branded ones, but everybody elses.

I wondered how they could make money selling “me too”-type things, but soon found out that it’s the way they sell them that makes the difference. They offered free shipping both ways so if you didn’t like them or they didn’t fit, it wouldn’t cost you anything. My wife has a narrow foot and has a hard time finding shoes. Zappos carries a better selection on not only the standard, but the hard-to-find narrow and wide sizes.

So what I did was get Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness, that told his story of the Zappos adventure over the last 10 years. It was a good read of the ups and downs of trying to grow a company. What do selling shoes have to do with selling stuff to the professional tradesmen? I’d say plenty if you follow  Zappos ‘ 10 core values. Here they are:

  1. Deliver WOW through service
  2. Embrace and drive change
  3. Create fun and a little weirdness
  4. Be adventurous, creative and open-minded
  5. Pursue growth and learning
  6. Build open and honest relationships with communication
  7. Build a positive team and family spirit
  8. Do more with less
  9. Be passionate and determined
  10. Be humble

Many companies have core values but fail to follow them. Maybe it’s time for all of us to relook at our core values and see if we’re actually working towards them. Next time you’re in Vegas, give them a call and take the tour. They’ll come and pick you up at your hotel. My youngest son who is a business coach took the tour the last time he was out there and said it was worth seeing the culture at a billion-dollar company. All you have to do is call and set up an appointment.

Customer Service: Have You Called Yours Lately?

We focus so much time and effort on making the sale that we sometimes forget about customer service if someone has a question or problem. Don’t let your customer service department be the weak link in the chain.

Most customers are repeat buyers, so you need to keep them happy. With the advent of social media, there are more ways that an unhappy customer can let the world know about a bad experience with your company. Here are a few things you can do:

  • I’d suggest  you go out and buy one of your own products and then go through the process of registering it for warranty and see how your system really works. Is it customer friendly?
  • If you have repair centers, make a visit and see how they handle a warranty issue.
  • Call your customer service deptartment and see how they handle a problem. And by the way, don’t be nice. See how they handle adversity.

You work so hard for the sale, let’s not forget about the next one. It’s a whole lot easier selling something to an existing customer than it is trying to get a new one.

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Use Twitter in Customer Service to Take Care of Problems in the Field for Professional Tradesmen

d0d3d30c-e678-42d6-991e-d5dbce607b57twitter300I’m sure we all have stories of customer service experiences both good and bad. I’d bet you’ve had more bad than good experiences though. For manufacturers who sell to the professional tradesmen, these are even more challenging. Think about it for a minute, when do these guys have questions/problems? Usually it’s on a job site or out in the shop where they may or may not have access to a computer. If they do call, they may be on hold for what seems like an eternity and still not get an answer to their question.

You need to think outside the box. Twitter is an ideal tool to service your customers. Customer service departments are supposed to solve problems, reinforce a positive brand experience and not cost you an arm and leg to support.

  • While phone calls may solve the problem, wait times do not. Twitter is almost instantaneous and can help solve most problems quickly.
  • Brand experience. Great customer service gets talked about and can lead to more sales.
  • Economical. Using Twitter often takes less time thus saving money.

Once you have an understanding of how Twitter can work, you can also easily track and monitor what people are saying about your brand.

Tweetbeep-Keeps track of contractor conversations that mention you.

Monitter-Lets you monitor the Twitter world for a set of key words and watches what people are saying about you.

Let contractors know how to know you’re there. Ask users to follow you on Twitter. Place a button on your web site in the customer service section so they know they can contact you in another manner.

Respond quickly and transparently. When you find a tradesman complaining about an issue, @reply them asking if you can help. If the problem is sensitive or the customer is highly upset, you can either direct a message to them or give them a quick way to contact you directly (direct line or your email).

Be engaged in the conversations. Twitter is a conversational platform. Contractors like to talk. This is an opportunity to build your brand.

Be authentic. Contractors are no dummies and if you try to pull the wool over their eyes, it will come back to bite you.

Twitter and social media are helping the way customer service is done. Think outside the box. Wouldn’t you want to be the first in your line of work to offer this as an optional customer service tool?

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Manufacturers: Are you Keeping up with Your Customers’ Expectations?

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman at Sonnhalter

Are we living up to our customers expectations? As consumers, we know that through the improvements in technology that most of us want fast, cost-effective and personalized levels of experience. And most are getting it, but at what cost?

Is this any different for the manufacturing world and your customers? Have your distributors and contractors become more demanding? My guess is yes, because remember, they are consumers too and they expect the same from their business dealings.

I read an interesting article in eMarketer recently that companies in general are having trouble meeting customer expectations. 93% of business leaders worldwide said technology has changed the customer experience in the last 10 years.

Ways in Which Technological Innovations Affect Customer Expectations Today vs. in the Future* According to Business Leaders Worldwide, Jan 2015 (% of respondents)

How does that stack up with what you’re experiencing?

What are your biggest challenges? Are they in this chart?

What are you doing about it?

Customer service. We all say we have it, but what is it? Where does it start?

Unless you are offering something you can’t get anywhere else, then you’re going to have competition from someone. So what makes your customers or potentials want to do business with you instead of them?

Assuming you have a good product, then I’d say the customer experience would be the major deal sealer or breaker. Customer service starts the moment someone from your company answers the phone, through the sales process and follow-up with your customer service department if a question or problem arises.

I guess what I’m trying to say is your company’s customer service should start with every employee. Those that are on the front line (be it a CS or delivery man), they have the one-on-one contact with the customer and can sway future purchases by their actions or inactions. We all build our business around repeat sales so everyone in the company needs to be goodwill ambassadors. The challenge for all of us is to find the friction in our process and smooth it out.

Do you know what a customer is worth to you? Think beyond this quarter or even this year. Think about the last 5 years. How much stuff have you sold them? More importantly, if you come out with something new, where are your best chances of selling it? To someone new, or to someone who knows, likes and trusts you?

Here are some insights on how we can make the customer experience better, resulting in better loyalty and ultimately more sales:

  • Deliver outstanding quality – from a great quality product to courteous customer service and user-friendly literature.
  • Understand what your customers want – don’t assume to know what they want – ask them.
  • Connect with them – direct relationships are the most important and the most challenging. Always think WIIFT (What’s In It For Them). Be sincere and upfront with them. When communicating with them, don’t always be selling. Try to help solve a problem even though it might not, in the short-term, result in a sale to you.
  • Under promise and over deliver – exceed your customers’ expectations, then do it again!
  • Don’t sit on your laurels – yes, you have some neat products, but instead of sitting there and just doing the same old same o, innovate. If you don’t, someone else will.

Now these points probably aren’t a revelation to you, but when was the last time you focused on your customers and said THANK YOU!

Manufacturers: What are you doing to improve the customer experience?

Today more than ever, customers are expecting, and in some cases demanding, a better customer experience. These types of experiences have to start in the C suite and trickle down. The customer service department may be on the front line, but they can only mirror what management has in mind.

Do your top-level folks really understand the needs of your customers? If not, they certainly can’t help formulate or lead an initiative for a great customer experience if they don’t know what that is! I was surprised from a recent article in eMarketer that showed over 33% of senior managers weren’t aligned with the customer experience.

I think we can all agree that everyone needs to be on board to truly make the customer experience meaningful and real. For any of you who have flown Southwest or shopped in an Apple store, you know what I mean about customer service. The culture starts at the top and both of those brands know that other choices exist for their product and services.

The two takeaways I’d like to leave you with are:

  1. Listen to your customers – Find out what they want and how they want to get it.
  2. Under promise and over deliver – give them more than they ask for and make the mundane a memorable experience.

If you liked this post, you might want to read:

Customer service: What are you doing to retain customers?

Customer service: Is your company obsessed with it?

Mobile Apps: Manufacturers, Are You Using Them to Build Customer Loyalty?

Most folks are familiar with mobile apps, but I think we associate them more with retail/consumer applications instead of the B-to-B world. The key to a good app is no different from any other piece of content you develop. It has to answer and be helpful to your customers. To have an app for an app’s sake doesn’t do anyone any good. You need to be customer centric.

The reasons for having an app are pretty simple:

  • How many contractors do you know that don’t have a smart phone?
  • Mobile represents over 5.3 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide.
  • Mobile devices are on the way to surpassing PCs as the first screen for all web usage according to a study by Grant/Morgan Stanley.

eMarketer had a post, Mobile Apps Help Lure Customers, Spur Loyalty, that I thought had some great points that would spill over into the B-to-B world for manufacturers to consider. The survey was done by Forbes Insights to executives of companies with revenues over $250,000. Most common reasons were: customer communications, customer service and product information. No real surprises here other than the way it’s accessed and delivered.

Apps can definitely play a role well beyond branding to both support existing customers, but to help potentials through the buying cycle. Potential apps that you might consider would be:

  • Product information
  • Installation and troubleshooting instructions videos
  • Productivity tools
  • Competitive cross reference charts
  • Ability to check current inventory levels
  • Distributor locator with direct links

These are only a few ideas. The point is, with mobile being the fastest growing segment, you need to have a presence there. Make sure your interfaces are user friendly and make sure they fall within the requirement of the app stores.

If you like this post, you might want to read:

Do You Have a Mobile App? Are You Promoting it?

Things to Consider When Using Mobile to Reach the Professional Tradesman.

Customer Loyalty: What Are You Doing ?

All too often we focus so much on getting new customers that we forget about who’s supporting us now! I believe the rule of thumb is it takes 5 times as much effort to get a new customer than it does to keep an existing one.

Customer satisfaction is the main force in developing loyal customers. Why are Loyal Customers so important?

  • Repeat business.
  • More open to try new products from a reliable source (you).
  • They become Brand Ambassadors.

There are several things you can do. A loyalty program, special incentives on certain products and giving them the first chance on buying a new product line before it hits the street are just a few examples. How about a simple thanks via an email or postcard. When was the last time one of your vendors thanked you for your business? Probably not many, and if they did, you’re sure to remember them.

Have you ever calculated what a customer’s worth is over time? Say you have a 30-year old contractor that usually buys $5,000 worth of your stuff a year. Doesn’t sound like much, but if you keep him happy, you probably will have him for 30 years before he retires. So assuming he doesn’t grow his business or you don’t come out with anything new for him to buy over the next 30 years, he would have spent $150,000 with you. Is he worth keeping? I’d say so. So what are you doing to keep him happy? Unless you’re selling a proprietary product, your competition is knocking on his door every chance they get. Give your customer a reason to stay.

I know many of you who follow me don’t buy shoes online, but I’d bet that if you asked your wife if she’s heard of Zappos, she’d say yes. I picked them as an example and even wrote a post on their book, Does Customer Service Deliver Happiness, where they show that by even selling name branded shoes online, they could, in many cases, outsell the brand itself  in the online arena. The way they did it was with customer service.

So here are some points for you to consider when evaluating your Customer Service department:

  • Try to keep the personal touch (human being) as the initial touch point if you can.
  • Empower your CS people to solve a problem immediately without having to go through 3 levels of supervisors.
  • Reward customers with a loyalty program as a way of saying thanks.
  • Customer surveys are a great way to get feedback, not only on how you’re doing, but for getting ideas for future products.

How Are Your Marketing Efforts Impacting the Customer Experience?

Beyond doing a great job in advertising, PR, messaging and engagement, have you ever thought of the other side of the equation – the customer experience?

Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies by focusing on getting the message out, and the means by which we’re doing it makes sense to us, but have we asked our customers what they think?

Forrester claims that Adaptive Marketing Confederation is the trend of the future. They define as:

“A flexible structure and culture of working with marketing staff, partners and systems that enables brands to respond quickly to their environments to align customer and brand goals.”

My take on what this means is pretty straightforward. Talk with the customer service people and sales folks to get a better sense of what the customers’ wants and needs are. I challenge marketers to get out of the office and into the field for some “Street Smarts” by calling on end users.

Forrester refers to customer intelligence teams. This goes beyond spread sheets as you need to uncover customers affinities and needs. All this is driven by data and sometimes it can become overwhelming. But you need to sort through it and along with contributions from other team members, outside marketing (sales and customer service), you can improve the customer experience.

I know this is a moving target, but if you’re not trying to improve it, your competitors will be.

What are you Doing to Maintain Customer Relationships?

You’ve worked so hard to close that big account and now that you have, your job is done, right? Maybe your job is, but it should be handed off to someone else to continue to nurture it.

Lets face it, new business is hard to develop and you’ve got a lot invested in both time, talent and promotional dollars to bring the new customer through the doors. Don’t you want to keep them?

Attracting new customers may be the easier of the task. The key lies in being able to keep them engaged and buying from you. Take off your selling hat and think about giving them value they can use in their job. This could be anything from a tip on how to do a process more effectively to sharing industry concerns. You might even want to give them a survey to keep them engaged and find out profile info at the same time.

Granted there are several ways to do that, among them using email. I recently read an article by Kevin Gao, in MarketingProfs, Email best practices for developing and maintaining crucial customer relationships by effectively using email.

Kevin outlines ways you can develop a marketing plan using emails to get the most out of them.

He addresses his 6 life cycle stages of a customer and gives examples of things we all can do leverage each stage.

  1. Prospects – Not-yet customers that need to learn more about your products/services and be persuaded to consider us.
  2. New Customer – Once you have them, you need to start developing and nurturing a relationship with them.
  3. Active customer – Make them feel welcome. Thank them for the business.
  4. Repeat customers – They have already bought into the concept that you and your products are good. Don’t overwhelm them. Keep in communication with them, but make sure they are spaced out and when you do communicate with them you give them something of value.
  5. Lapsed customers – Find out why they aren’t ordering and put a plan together to start up a regular communication with them.
  6. Inactive or abandoned customers – Should be broken into those who should not be contacted and those that might be persuaded to come back.

Do you have a plan in place to maintain key customers?

How Are You Putting Relevant Content in Front of Your Customers?

As marketers, we have two challenges: one to create great content and two to deliver it. Recent studies have indicated that email still ranked among the top outreach channels to reach buyers no matter what stage they are in the buying cycle. Studies also show that emails should be integrated into other marketing tactics as well.

So knowing the emails are a viable way to deliver the message, we should probably spend some time on the other deliverable – relevant content!

Relevant content addresses the needs of a potential customer. It gives them options to solve a problem or gives them resources for them to investigate. Relevant content draws in potential customers.

According to an article in eMarketer, content creation was still the #1 challenge for them.

So our challenge is to give the reader WOW info every time, which is no small task. You should enlist the help of others within your company that have specific expertise to help develop relevant content.

Sales, engineering and customer service are certainly three places to start. They all are talking to either existing or potential customers and can readily identify issues that need to be addressed. By addressing them, you’re becoming that thought leader which should be one of your objectives.

The key to successful engagement comes in a variety of types of content.

A golden rule is, don’t put content out for the sake of having something out there. You should be looking for relevant stuff, not quantity.

B-to-B Marketers: What Are You Doing to Retain Customers?

Depending on what industry you’re in, the rule of thumb is that it takes anywhere from 5-9 times more effort to get a new customer than to keep an existing one. So why don’t we spend more time nurturing the ones we have?

We’re all guilty of taking customers for granted sometimes. I recently read an article on marketingprofs.com, The 7 Ps of Customer Retention that I thought was appropriate. Here are some highlights:

  1. People – It’s about building relationships. Treat your customer as a person.
  2. Product – Make sure your product is up to what you promised it would be.
  3. Place – How does a customer communicate with you? Make it easy.
  4. Price – You need to take care and give them a good price. They expect you to take care of them.
  5. Promotions – Since they are already your customers, you know what they are buying and can make suggestion as other potential products/services they may be interested in.
  6. Processes – Customer surveys, social media monitoring and customer engagement tools to understand how each customer is engaging with you.
  7. Positioning – Know who you are and clearly communicate that to your customers. Keep the message simple and to the point.

Those are some suggestions on how to keep your current customers happy.

What Are You Doing to Build Stronger Customer Relations?

I believe the rule of thumb is it takes 5 times as much effort to get a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. All too often we focus so much on getting new customers that we forget about who’s supporting us now!

Have you ever calculated what a customers worth is over time? Say you have a 30-year old contractor that usually buys $5,000 worth of your stuff a year. Doesn’t sound like much, but if you keep him happy, you probably will have him for 30 years before he retires. So assuming he doesn’t grow his business or you don’t come out with anything new for him to buy over the next 30 years, he would have spent $150,000 with you. Is he worth keeping? I’d say so. So what are you doing to keep him happy? Unless you’re selling a proprietary product, your competition is knocking on his door every chance they get.

I know many of you who follow me don’t buy shoes online, but I’d bet that if you asked your wife if she’s heard of Zappos, she’d say yes. I picked them as an example and even wrote a post on their book, Does Customer Service Deliver Happiness, where they show that by even selling name branded shoes online, they could, in many cases, outsell the brand itself  in the online arena. The way they did it was with customer service.

So here are some points for you to consider when evaluating your Customer Service department:

  • Try to keep the personal touch (human being) as the initial touch point if you can.
  • Empower your CS people to solve a problem immediately without having to go through 3 levels of supervisors.
  • Reward customers with a loyalty program as a way of saying thanks.
  • Customer surveys are a great way to get feedback, not only on how you’re doing, but for getting ideas for future products.

I’d also suggest if you haven’t done so in a while to call your customer service department and see what your experience is. If you aren’t impressed, what do you think your customers will feel like?

I’d also suggest reading Delivering Happiness that shows how Zappos grew to be a billion dollar company using customer service to set them apart from their competition.

Have You Surveyed Your Customers to See the Best Way to Get Them Info?

Maybe you should!

In the good old days when you wanted to tell a customer about a new product, you had limited delivery methods, among them a personal visit, snail mail or you gave them a call (before there was such a thing as voicemail).

Today, the list of options on disseminating info is almost endless, and the preferred method of delivery to each individual could vary by age, type of job they have, industry they are in or several other options. The point being is when was the last time you asked your customers how they would like to receive information? And better, if you have asked, did you respect their wishes?

It stands to reason, at least in my mind, that if I say I want all new product info via e-mail, and copies of invoices on paper with a copy to accounting and an electronic copy for my files, then you should try to respect their wishes.

If I deliver info the way customers want it, you stand a better chance of them doing something with it and at the same time, you’re making it easy for them to business with you (a novel idea).

That’s why I’m suggesting if you haven’t done a survey to customers, you should. It could be a part of a bigger customer service survey so you can get more valuable info on your clients’ profile. The results may surprise you. E-mail programs like Emma and Constant Contact have survey modules built in. This info should be put into your CRM program so you are able to deliver by their preferred method.

I’m curious how many of you have done customer surveys on a regular basis to collect data like this?

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B-to-B Marketers Have Opportunities to Build Better Customer Relations Using Social Media

Why should B-to-B companies use Social media? Oliver Young from Forrester Research sums it up, Marketers who embrace social media will outdistance competition, build community following and boost loyalty.” Is there a better time than now to start making that impression? People are still buying things, and with budgets being tight, decisions custrelationsare often made on relationships. I’m a firm believer that folks have to know, like and trust you before they start buying from you.

Laura Ramos, a marketing analyst for Forrester Research agrees in a recent interview with BtoB Online Marketing. She says today that most B-to-B buzz is around driving awareness, but it will ultimately have a bigger impact on things like customer loyalty and advocacy. With social media, you can give customers a way to engage with other customers and with like-minded individuals that can talk about the best products and services. Seeing a community like this is a much more compelling experience for prospective buyers than a case study or a pre-selected happy customer. Ramos went on to say that for B-to-B companies, social success will be about creating communities. The relationship is important, not the channel.

According to Lee Odden in a recent presentation at the Online Marketing Summit in Minneapolis, “Despite such optimism and benefits, social media is new territory for most companies. The notion of engaging customers in social is a new paradigm and will take a shift in thinking for most organizations to adopt. Companies that properly plan and implement social programs can reap a variety of benefits,” said Odden. These include:

  • Building thought leadership
  • Improving customer relationships
  • Improving recruiting
  • Reducing customer service costs
  • Improving search engine results
  • Increasing media coverage
  • Influencing sales

So what’s a company supposed to do to take advantage of these opportunities?

  • Identify a niche
  • Make a plan
  • Get senior management to buy in
  • Get started by listening first
  • When you do start communicating, make sure you always answer the question, what’s in it for them?

The opportunies are there for B-to-B marketers. Let’s make sure you take advantage of them.

Other posts that might interest you, Improving sales productivity and collaboration with social media – Laggards steps to success, by Nicky Jameson

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Podcast: Manufacturers and Distributors – What Are You Doing to Stay Relevant? New Rules of Engagement

Staying relevant to customers today has become much more complex. Traditional marketing and customer service, based on transactions, isn’t enough anymore. Customers want to pay less for faster, better service.

The new rules focus on content, commerce and community building, integrating online platforms with traditional marketing methods.

Manufacturers, manufacturer representatives and distributors have to integrate traditional systems of record (transaction-based) with systems of engagement (differentiated value-based) to stay competitive in their markets.

We caught up with Tom Gale who is President of Gale Media, a publisher of business information, research, software and market analytic tools that make wholesale distribution companies and their business partners run better for his thoughts on this important topic.

Tom’s company has two divisions: Industrial Market Information, a 25-year-old industrial products market research firm, helps customers map markets and identify potential within existing accounts and new territories, customer segments and product categories. And Modern Distribution Management, which publishes industry news and research since 1967.

Listen to what Tom has to say. Great insights. Enjoy.

To Listen Click Here.

Who at Your Company Should be Listening to Social Media Conversations?

With the advent of social media, the way customers contact us and us them has changed dramatically. Gone are the days that our only options to talk to companies were either by snail mail, email or a customer service hot line.

Social media opens up numerous ways that people not only can talk to you, but about you, to others. This is the game changer and if you do nothing else on social, please at least listen to what people are saying about your company and your brands. One comment on Twitter can start an avalanche of other comments (good or bad). Wouldn’t you like to know what’s being said about you? I sure would!

I recently read a post by Jay Baer, 6 Parts of your Company That Should be Listening to Social Conversations that I found extremely interesting and wanted to share some highlights. Some are obvious; others we all should put on our list.

  1. Sales – Listening programs give you the opportunity to find prospects when the timing is perfect and when they’re actually asking for answers you have.
  2. Marketing and PR – Listening helps make sure that the language you’re using as a company is the same language being used by the people you’re hoping to hook.
  3. Customer Service – Customers are airing their concerns, questions, and grievances over social media channels, especially if traditional channels prove less than helpful.
  4. R&D – You can fuel your idea engine by harnessing the input, thoughts and creativity of the online audience.
  5. HR – The obvious potential here is talent recruiting, in both finding potential employees and examining their online social graphs.
  6. Executives and Management – They can understand market trends through the unfettered viewpoint of the online masses and determine whether they’re behind, ahead of, or riding the curve.

Are you missing an opportunity here? How many listeners do you have at your company?

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Have You Got a Social Media Policy?

Since anyone can be a spokesperson on social media, your company should have established guidelines that outline rules for online engagement.

If you’re in a larger company, that means getting everyone from the executive suite to HR, and of course, customer service and marketing. If you’re a smaller one, you still need guidelines, but maybe not to the extreme of larger companies.

The first question is where to begin. You can look at what other big companies have done like IBM or Intel and cut and paste from publicly shared sites. Or you can look to associations like the PRSA or HR sites to give you guidelines.

Another option is developing your own set of guidelines. In reality, you’ll probably do both. The key when developing guidelines is to borrow from the best and adapt them to your company.

You need to find a balance because you are writing guidelines for a media of which you have no control over. This isn’t like writing a HR policy where you can dictate terms/conditions. Social is an open sharing of information and is one’s opinions on a subject which falls under the freedom of speech and privacy issues. Yes you as a company have the right to protect trade secrets and other proprietary info.

Here are some things you need to consider:

  • Define who will be the “official spokesperson” for your company and outline the topics they can speak about.
  • Define a process for crisis issues like a Twitter storm on a specific product.
  • Identify internally who will be responsible for granting permission on industry trends, new products, etc.
  • How can your employees engage in conversations without speaking for the company?

Here are some links that might be helpful:

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LinkedIn Webinar: Best Practices to Get the Most out of this Networking Tool

I believe LinkedIn is one of the most under-utilized social media tools, and I’d like to share with you my thoughts on how you can make the most of it.

  • It’s a way to stay in front of your connections on a regular basis.
  • It’s a way to build thought leadership and credibility.
  • It’s a way to talk to people who share the same interests that are not in your network.

The LinkedIn webinar shows the ins and outs of LinkedIn for businesses. The webinar shows manufacturers and marketers how to harness the power of this social media tool by teaching how to grow contacts, join groups and use it to promote your thought leadership and ultimately generate leads. If you are in sales, customer service or general management, LinkedIn knowledge is a must in the toolbox of business tools

The webinar will be Tuesday, July 13 at 2 PM EST. Registration is closed.

Please pass this on to business associates.

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COVID-19’s Effects on B2T (Business-to-Trades) Industry Distributors

By Matt Sonnhalter, Vision Architect

As all aspects of the B2T (business-to-trades) industry are challenged with navigating their businesses through the realities of COVID-19, we had the opportunity to gain some insights on this “New Normal” as it relates to the distributor sector of our industry. We gained insights by speaking to a couple of industry experts and learned how they saw the distributor sector adapting to this new environment.

Open for Business

When the pandemic first occurred, several major industrial distributors outlined COVID-19 safety precautions that they soon enacted in their facilities, including closing branches to the public except for curbside pickup, temperature screenings for all employees upon entry, staggered shifts and frequent deep cleanings. Smaller, local distributors followed suit, issuing statements on their protocols and not wanting their customers to wonder if they were still open. 

“The distributors that we work with were open, but the vast majority of them locked their doors,” said Beck Oberholtzer, regional and marketing manager, at CSV Marketing, Inc., a manufacturers’ representative agency offering a diverse array of high-quality, industrial products. “If the distributor had a showroom, there was no walk-in business and they were doing touchless delivery.”

“Most of the smaller distributors were not able to send their employees home,” added Oberholtzer.  “They still had employees working the phones and pulling orders, which were delivered or set outside. Some of these smaller, older-style businesses’ systems just aren’t set up to operate through the cloud. They have servers onsite and need people in the building to conduct business.”

According to Natalie Forster, editor of Supply House Times, a BNP Media brand reaching wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers’ representatives of plumbing, bath and kitchen, industrial PVF, radiant and hydronics, and HVAC products, as well as the official publication of the American Supply Association, “The biggest impact I’m seeing from the pandemic is that distributors are planning on keeping the switch to digital. Suppliers are realizing that they can be even more efficient with text-in orders and people working from home. This pandemic is going to be with us for a long time and the need for cleanliness is not going to go away. Many of the distributors, suppliers and showrooms plan to keep these changes in place.”

Forster reported that the majority of distributors had not allowed contractors to come inside when the pandemic initially hit, although it varied from state to state. Customer service, accounting and HR departments have been able to work remotely in order to keep the minimal amount of people in the showrooms and warehouses, and they have opted for drive-up, contactless service. As various states began reopening phases, suppliers implemented the typical precautions that you see elsewhere–face masks, lines on the floor and increased cleanliness.

At the beginning of the pandemic, contractors in some states, knowing that they were going to be deemed essential and that construction wouldn’t stop, came into the distributorships to obtain the supplies they needed for the remainder of their projects.

Supply Chain Challenges

Some suppliers had the foresight to predict that the pandemic would impact the U.S. in the way that it did, and proactively made mass orders to have surplus of inventory at hand. Other distributors didn’t have trouble getting inventory, other than the obvious PPE equipment, which was frozen by government mandates. However, others experienced minor troubles.

“The one trend that we heard, was that suppliers that get the majority of product from overseas, ran into the most problems,” said Oberholtzer.  “Manufacturers that are manufacturing overseas experienced a significant slowdown.”

In recent years, especially since the “Great Recession” of ‘08, distributors have tended to be very lean on inventory levels, for the most part stocking only what they must and keeping levels low.

“It will be interesting to see how distributors will react long term,” said Bill Via, president of CSV Marketing. “Margins have been forced down with online business. Why would a supplier want to hang onto inventory any longer than they must? We see distributors looking to suppliers that are really good at JIT (just-in-time).”

Staying in Touch … Virtually

As states are opening up, many distributors continue to be cautious.

“Some distributors are letting customers in, but they are not allowing salespeople in,” said Oberholtzer. “While others are not letting customers in but will meet with contractors on location. It varies, but salespeople ‘dropping in’ is not an option anywhere right now.”

According to recent survey stats from an HVAC buying group, when it inquired of its members whether distributor locations were seeing outside salespeople, it found that 37 percent were not allowing any in-person sales meetings, 46 percent were scheduling appointments for emergencies only, and only 16 percent were accepting in-person sales calls.

Manufacturers reps, whose entire job is interacting and building relationships with distributors and suppliers, are finding that during these unprecedented times, they must be especially creative at cultivating those relationships. The bottom line is more communication. More frequent video calls. More emails. More texts.

“Everyone is doing Zoom virtual meetings,” said Forster. “It’s so important to stay top of mind. Whereas, if you did an in-person meeting, maybe you went to a sports event and had a great time; that lingers for a while. Now, it’s important to be more proactive. And, I think the greatest challenge going forward is going to be figuring out how to maintain relationships with customers while sports events and gatherings aren’t happening.”

Due to social distancing policies, manufacturers that traditionally held distributor “Lunch & Learns,” to conduct product demos and education, are also turning to other avenues.

“We’ve also seen distributors embracing the opportunity for online training,” said Forster. “Training is more important than ever before—and it can be done virtually.”

Ramping Up E-Commerce

In response to the pandemic, many distributors are attempting to accelerate their efforts to revamp their e-commerce platforms. Smaller distributors that tend to be more “old school” generally haven’t implemented sophisticated e-commerce systems, if they have e-commerce at all.

“Larger distributors that had solid e-commerce platforms actually did very well so far during the pandemic, some even showed growth,” said Via. “Smaller, mom and pop distributors, who might not even have online purchasing capabilities, weren’t prepared to keep the business running off site. Those businesses have reported sales down anywhere from 30 to 80 percent, and I think they are realizing that they’ve got to proactively get e-commerce in place, or they may not survive the next pandemic.”

“I think some distributors are capitalizing on this time to ramp up (or launch) their e-commerce platforms to get them to where they need to be sales-wise,” agreed Forster.

New Opportunities

While some distributors are really grateful that they were located in less populated areas that were less affected by COVID shut downs, other distributors are predicting that the industry will see an increase in acquisitions, which it has already seen for years. Some of these acquisitions will be made strictly for their customer base or for their skilled employees.

“There is a real possibility that there will be some casualties because of the pandemic,” said Via. “We are also seeing distributors that have approached manufacturers for credit relief.”

“In addition, we’re seeing manufacturers that are offering extended dating and special shipping deals like prepaid freight to ease the stress for suppliers,” added Oberholtzer.

New Respect for the Trades

One interesting takeaway from the pandemic that several distributors noticed is that people seemed to have gained additional respect for essential workers and the trades, that perhaps was lacking.

“We’ve had a couple of distributors submit thank you letters acknowledging plumbers and other essential workers in the trades and requesting it to be published,” said Forster. “Now, people might be thinking, ‘It’s not a bad idea to be in an essential field.’ Maybe, if we activate this in the correct way, we can turn this into a positive and help address the skilled labor shortage.”

Made in the USA

Another silver lining in the pandemic is the move towards, “Made in the U.S.”

“We think there is going to be a real serious push towards domestically made products as we move forward,” said Via. “Imported products are going to have to be the only option, or suppliers are going to have a battle on their hands. There is a very anti-Asia sentiment in the market right now.”

“Initially, the reason why manufacturers went to China was cost,” added Oberholtzer. “When you change the equation with the risks involved with another disruption, as well as customers pushing back for domestic products, it makes sense to re-examine imported products. Over the next five to 15 years, expect to see a lot more manufacturing in America when it is possible.”

It’s great to see people coming together, not just in this industry, but across all industries,” said Forster. “We’re all going through this together. We are finding more efficient ways to do things, and everyone is trying to be as productive as possible. We are going to come out of this!”

To read more of the series or more about the effects of COVID-19 in the B2T industry:

How the Trade Media is Adjusting to the “New Normal” of COVID-19: A Conversation with Babcox Media

Throughout COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic, Professional Tradesmen are Essential as Ever

Even During a Pandemic, Influencers in the Trades Build On: Part One

 

 

Will Tradesmen Be Safe From the Rise of Automation?

by Relena Jane, guest columnist

Article exclusively written for Tradesmen Insights

The rise of machinery and automation has been a constant thorn in the side of engineers, machine operatives and even farmers for many years.

As far back as the 1700s workers were revolting against the onset of technology. English textile workers rallied against the development and implementation of new machinery. They were known as the Luddites, a term that became synonymous with people who opposed technological advances.

It might have taken a couple of centuries, but increased understanding of technology is leading to more automation and AI involvement in our working processes than ever before. Slowly, but surely, machines have taken over from human beings. Think about your supermarket experience and the self-service checkout, or booking cinema tickets using your computer, collecting them from a machine on arrival.

Source: Pexels

Nowadays, algorithms are being used to mark essays in certain parts of the world, something that seemed impossible a decade or two ago. People are being used less and less in all forms of business, customer service and engineering. Will our dependable tradesmen, the plumbers and joiners of this world, be safe from the rise of automation?

To answer we have to understand how quickly technology is advancing. Manufacturing is one industry that has been hugely affected. Operatives have become scarcer on production lines, even when dealing with intricate assembly and manufacture of parts such as computer chips. Soon enough, AI will start disrupting this industry for the better, making processes much more efficient and quicker. The complexity of circuit board parts to create new machinery will be no more, and will lead to completely eradicating the need for human intervention. Thus, some areas will always need reactive operatives, but in far fewer numbers than before. (more…)

5 Tips for Communications During the Coronavirus Crisis

By Matt Sonnhalter, Vision Architect, Sonnhalter

As we’ve learned from the fallout regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), this is a very unsettling time for businesses, and it has created many challenges for manufacturers, as well as their team members and customers. It’s important during times of crisis, such as we are experiencing, to maintain a calm, collected brand voice and keep the channels of communication open with customers, team members and stakeholders.

Here are five tips for effective communications during the COVID-19 crisis:

Form a Communications Leadership Team

Have representatives from every aspect of your business—C-suite, Marketing, HR, Operations, Sales, Legal, etc. so that you receive input on the different perspectives of how the crisis is affecting the individual departments and their functions. This team can vary in size based on the size of your company and should include a chain of command. From this team, appoint one or two official spokespersons that will be the only ones providing information on behalf of the organization. (more…)

3 Tips on Maintaining Good Relationships with Contractors

By Matt Sonnhalter, Vision Architect, Sonnhalter

The cost of acquiring a new customer can be up to five times greater than keeping an existing one.

 

Unless you have a unique product that no one else has, you have to compete with someone for the business, and part of that process is building good customer relationships.

Contractors, for the most part, are loyal as long as your product delivers on its promises and you don’t treat them like dirt. Bottom line is, if you treat them right, they’ll be customers for life.

Not only will they continue to be a customer, but they will become an advocate for your brand. Contractors talk to each other and believe me, if your product doesn’t deliver on its promises, word will spread fast.

Here are three ways to cultivate strong relationships with professional tradesmen:

  1. Stay in touch. E-mail is probably the best and most cost-effective way to this. Make them feel important, even if it’s a quick e-mail to say “thanks for your business” or a follow-up note from customer service after they helped out with a problem. It will pay off long term.

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Social Media: Does it Affect Marketing to the Professional Tradesman?

By Matt Sonnhalter, Vision Architect

Are you trying to increase your exposure, traffic and leads? Are you trying to provide insights to contractors and generate leads? If so, social media should be part of your overall marketing program.

Social media is a targeted way of getting your message out and letting prospective customers find you.

Social media benefits are:

  • Reach – get your message distributed to a broader audience.
  • Influence – both existing contractors as well as new prospects.
  • Conversions – marketing insights lead to engagement that leads to sales.

Here are some tips to maximize your social media efforts to the contractor market.

Reach – Use several different social media platforms, i.e. YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, to reach contractors. Make sure what you do share is relevant, as you don’t want to waste contractors time. They want quality content, not quantity. Repurpose existing content that they may not have been aware of.

Influence – You may not have to impress your existing customers, but you do for potential customers. Here’s where you have to become a thought leader. Don’t push your company or brand, but communicate a solution to a potential problem. Develop thought leaders within your company (no need for marketing to bear all the responsibility). Tap seasoned customer service reps, your engineering department and sales force. They are the ones on the front lines that deal with problems and arrive at solutions.

Conversion – This is a hard metric if you want to tie it directly to sales. In many cases where products are either specified or sold through distribution channels, it’s nearly impossible to track sales results. You can, though, create landing pages with offers for white papers or other items that would help the contractor in their day-to-day operations. Be patient, and as you engage these contractors on social media, work at taking them offline and start a traditional relationship with them.

The Scary Side of Public Relations

By Rosemarie Ascherl-Lenhard, Public Relations Foreman

It’s that spooky time of the year — so it seems like a good time to rehash some of the aspects of public relations that can be the scariest to clients.

We find the realm of public relations to be fun, exciting and consistently fresh, but some areas of our field can be scary to our clients. Here are the top five fears people have about public relations, and why you shouldn’t be spooked by them.

1. You can’t control what the media does with a story once you’ve given it to them.

“Earned media” is highly credible because readers know that you didn’t purchase the space to promote your company. Public relations and media relations professionals cultivate positive relationships with media, we work with these folks on behalf of multiple clients most of the time so we’ve built the foundation for positive coverage before they even get your story. In B2T public relations, we’re working with trade publications primarily and their goal is to be a source of helpful information for their readers.

It can be scary not to see the actual article before it’s published, but with long lead times of trade media, it can be a sweet surprise to see your words in print.  

2. Negative comments on blogs and social media. 

Your responses to negative comments offer an excellent opportunity to show off your wonderful customer service. Negative comments happen, and if they happen on your social media, you can control the outcome with your response and the community response from your other fans. It’s actually scarier to hide your head in the sand or cover your ears when it comes to social media.

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Is Selling to Professional Tradesmen Getting Easier?

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman

 

I don’t know if it’s getting easier, but it sure is different from years ago. Twenty to 30 years ago, salesmen needed to make cold calls, and the only way to communicate was through land lines, faxes, letters and direct mail. The selling cycle certainly took longer back then!

Now, with the internet, cell phones, email and social media, much of the upfront work is already done for sales. YouTube videos, application data sheets and competitive comparisons are just a few of the resources available.

The key is not to try to sell something; instead, your main objective is to help solve a problem or issue. Here are a few key takeaways when selling to professional tradesmen:

– If possible, actually show you have a solution by demoing your product on an actual job site.

– Sell your value proposition on why using your product will be the reason to choose you over the competition.

– Give them names of other contractors who have similar problems/issues that you helped solve.

– Respect their time; show them your solution and ask when you should follow up.

Here are some tips:

  • Deliver outstanding quality – from a great quality product to courteous customer service and user-friendly info – and then let them have the option on how they want to receive it.
  • Understand what your customers want – don’t assume to know what they want – ask them.
  • Connect with them – direct relationships are the most important and the most challenging. Always think WIIFT (What’s In It For Them). Be sincere and upfront with them. When communicating with them, don’t always be selling. Try to help solve a problem even though it might not, in the short term, result in a sale.
  • Under promise and over deliver – exceed your customers’ expectations, then do it again.
  • Don’t sit on your laurels – yes, you have real neat products, but instead of sitting there and just doing the same old, same old, innovate. If you don’t, someone else will.

 

Run Social Media the Way Your Grandfather Ran His Business

By Rachel Kerstetter, PR Architect

social media business winHow should you run your social media? 

To answer that question, perhaps you should ask instead, “How would my grandfather have run his business?” Or at least that’s the question Mark Schaefer asked. Mark is a globally-recognized speaker, educator, business consultant, and author, and he blogs at one of the top marketing blogs of the world.

One of his recent videos, “Social media marketing lessons from my grandfather, the plumber,” dug into the attributes that made his grandfather successful in the plumbing business and how they can be applied to social media. For those of us marketing to the trades, his example is even more important.

How did Mark’s grandfather, a plumber from Pittsburgh, grow a successful business? (more…)

6 CRM Best Practices

Today we have a guest post from Russ Hill, Founder and CEO of Ultimate Lead Systems. BestPracticesImage-300x171

With a couple of decades of experience helping companies with their B2B sales lead management and CRM programs, 6 Best Practices have revealed themselves that I would like to share. I’ve witnessed companies succeed and increase sales by diligently applying these practices. I’ve also seen organizations waste thousands of marketing dollars and lose thousands of dollars in sales opportunities by ignoring these practices. If you are serious about improving your sales and marketing ROI, these practices will lead you to some big wins.

1. Get your sales and marketing teams on the same page

First of all, Sales and Marketing need to re-think how they fundamentally interact. They frequently operate in their own “silos.” They need to learn how to support each other to release their inherent synergy to increase sales. Customers are rarely ready to sign a purchase order when reps first call. And reps are usually not present when the purchasing decision is made. Thus, today’s marketing programs need to nurture buyers throughout their buying process and notify the rep when a buyer is ready to engage. Marketers must send the right messages out at the right time that appeal to all of the buying influences. And the sales person must make multiple calls on the right people to further cultivate the relationship. It is a team selling approach. Everyone has a role and responsibility.

Industry research shows that buyers are 60% into their buying process before they engage your company or sales person, so it’s crucial to have sales and marketing working together.

(more…)

What’s your Unique Selling Proposition to the Professional Tradesman?

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

I recently read an article by Mark Buckshon from Construction Marketing Ideas where he was talking about how contractors need to identify what makes them different from all the rest. It got me to thinking about farther up the food chain (manufacturers) and how they all have a hard time differentiating themselves. How many times have you heard the following:

  • Best in Class
  • Industry Expert
  • Leading Source
  • Industry Leader
  • World Class
  • Award Winning
  • One-of-a-Kind
  • Innovative

The point is, what do these really say about your company that sets it apart from the competition? Phrases like these are marketing hype and nothing more. You need to look hard at those things that really truly set you apart from the competition. Manufacturers typically look at products as the points of difference and in some cases, that might enough. But no manufacturer can say that across their entire product line.

Maybe you should be looking at other points of differentiation such as tech/field support, customer service or distribution policies. For example, in the plumbing fixture category, there are tons of competitors. Yes, some like Kohler and Grohe go after the high-end, but what about the regular guy who needs a new faucet or shower head? If you were a contractor, who would you recommend?

Here’s a good example. Gerber Plumbing fixtures are sold only through plumbing wholesalers and plumbing contractors. Now if you’re a contractor, that would make a difference. They offer similar styles and finishes as their competitors, but they don’t have the hassle of a customer going to Home Depot and telling them they can buy that same fixture for $50 less than what you’re quoting. That’s a competitive advantage. Gerber has the contractors’ backs because that’s their target market.

Here are 3 questions you need to answer regarding your positioning:

  • Is it True?
  • Is it Relevant?
  • Is it Provable?

So I might suggest you take a look at your positioning statement and see if it passes the test.

 

Are You Using Brand Advocacy in Reaching Contractors ?

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

Let’s face it, in an ideal world we’d all want our customers to love us! We all know that’s not going to happen, but I’ll bet you might have more advocates for your brand than you think.

Why are brand advocates important? Studies show that people rely on peer recommendations and reviews before purchasing goods. Contractors are no different, especially if you’re introducing a new product or application they haven’t used or seen before. They certainly don’t want to be the first to try something.

Brand advocates are more than loyal customers. They are your ambassadors in the trades. I’ve seen contractors with tattoos of company logos. That to me is the ultimate.

Some brand advocates will surface on their own by commenting on your blog or website several times or talking you up on an online forum. Others might offer positive comments on a survey or warranty card. Don’t forget to ask your sales staff in the field who are calling on contractors, as well as your customer service department. They certainly should be able to identify a few. Hopefully a few will be high-profile folks within some associations that you are a part of.

One of our clients in the plumbing market was able to identify and nurture several advocates over the years. Once they brought the top 10 contributors into the main office and treated them like royalty for two days and then sent them home. They got a plant tour, a look at what was coming down the line as new products and met with customer service and technical people that they interface with on a regular basis on the phone or with emails. You wouldn’t believe the results of that effort. They became ambassadors on steroids!

Once you’ve found them, then what? You should set up a brand advocacy program that will give them ways to help you grow the brand. Here are a few ideas:

  • Ask them to write testimonials or reviews on new products. Then ask them to share them.
  • See if they would be willing to do a case history for you.
  • If timing permits and you can meet them at an association meeting or trade show, see if they would let you  interview them both for a podcast and testimonial video.
  • Ask them for referrals.
  • Have them test and evaluate new products before they are brought to market.
  • Have them identify potential new products.

This needs to be an ongoing effort so you’re always adding new advocates to keep the message current and fresh.

Don’t miss a golden opportunity for your customers to help sell your brand.

Manufacturers – What is your Biggest Concern?

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

I guess it would be getting new customers and keeping existing ones.

An effective customer experience starts with understanding your customer and then delivering good, meaningful content to them. The more positive the experience, the better the sales or so it would seem. This could be a challenge in today’s market where sales have turned from relationship-based to transactional-type sales.

So let’s look at two areas – marketing and customer service.

It’s not surprising then that a recent survey of CMO’s by eMarketer showed that their biggest concern was the customer relationship followed by ROI on marketing activities.

But what about once you have them as customers? Usually it’s easier and less costly to keep an existing customer than try to find a new one.

I ran across a study recently in emarketer.com “How to Win at Customer Service,” that claimed most people just want their questions answered.

Attitudes Toward Customer Service Among Internet Users Worldwide, Aug 2015 (% of respondents)

Here are some highlights:

  • 81% of those surveyed just wanted their questions answered
  • 89% feel more positive about brands that give good customer service
  • 46% tell their friends and family about a quick response time

So what does all this mean to the manufacturing sector? Well the bar isn’t raised too high and we certainly don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Here are some tips on how to serve the professional tradesman:

  • Keep your customer service department open on business days from 7 AM to 5 PM EST. If the contractors are having issues, you need to be available when they are working.
  • Staff your customer service department with experienced people who can answer questions, troubleshoot a problem or forward them on to someone who can.

A post you may want to read, Customer Service: How are you Handling Unhappy People, may be a good read. A good customer service department can help increase future sales by giving them a positive experience.

Don’t Get Lazy

By Rachel Kerstetter, PR Architect, Sonnhalter

705_3550791Sonnhalter has used several services for a very long time… as in decades. I’m not sure how we started working with these services, but  I had to assume there was a reason.

However when I took over the contracts with these services, no one seemed eager to provide the most important service of all… customer service. Coming into my new role, I wanted to understand our various contracts so I reached out to the most recent person assigned to us. No answer. I reached out to the company referencing our account number. No answer.

I attended a conference and visited the service provider’s table, and immediately got attention because they thought I was a new customer. The sales person apologized up and down and said our rep would be in contact with me. He was able to look up answers to some of my questions. More than a week after the conference, I had no contact.

When it comes to your customers, it’s crucial not to become lazy. Don’t expect your relationship to maintain itself just because you’ve been with them for years. Don’t focus all of your time and attention trying to win new business that you forget your current business.

As I learned in Marketing 101 in college, it’s cheaper to maintain an existing customer relationship than to build a new one.

When you ignore, forget or don’t serve your current customers the way that you should, you are in danger of losing them.

At the conference I met with several competing service providers who would be happy to have me as a customer, what makes our current providers think we’ll stick with them if there’s someone else who isn’t lazy?

In your personal life, if you were to call your mechanic for general maintenance on your car and they never called you back to schedule an appointment, you’d probably consider finding a new mechanic, right? It’s the same in the business-to-business world.

Your customers want to be valued, whether they’ve been working with you 5 days or 50 years.

4 Ways manufacturers Can Gain Better Pricing Data Visualization

This post originally appeared on INSIGHT2PROFIT.com

Pricing data can be dense. If no one is reviewing it, managing it, comparing it or scrutinizing it, it’s likely your organization is missing price leaks you could otherwise put a stop to. From volume discounts to price overrides, profits are lost and margins are cut, but do you know by how much? Can you identify your true pocket price for your top selling products?

If not, you may have a data visualization problem. But like any problem, a solution exists, you just have to seek it out. Here are four ways to gain better visualization into your organization’s pricing data.

1. Establish Pricing Ownership:

In most manufacturing businesses, pricing is a responsibility divided amongst marketing, sales, finance, product teams and other executives. But whose job is it to see the big picture? If you can’t validate hiring a pricing manager, you can develop a Pricing Ownership Matrix.

In a decentralized customer environment where no pricing leader is appointed, you can define pricing area ownership. Consider catalog and list pricing, discounting, key accounts, geography and business divisions.

Then ensure these “area owners” meet often to talk about the big picture of pricing.

2. Search Out Discounting Visibility:

Do you know how many discounts your sales team is offering? How about your customer service team? From freight and volume discounts to rebates and “long-time customer” pricing, the hits to your margins add up.

Obtaining clear visibility to your discounting structure through a Pricing Waterfall is a powerful way to determine pricing leaks and non-value added discounts. Discover how to determine your true pocket price in the this 1-minute video.

3. Determine Product Value:

Your organization deserves to be paid for the value it creates. But do you know which products create the most value for your company?

Most businesses focus on getting the price they set for each product, but are often disappointed when customers won’t agree to it. More important than “getting the price” is balancing what the right price is.

Some products won’t create a lot of value for the brand—perhaps they are not differentiated enough when compared to the competition. Those products will fetch a lower margin. Other products may create a lot of value; they may be highly differentiated or solve a problem your competitors can’t. Higher margins can be sustained, bringing in higher revenues.

Once you determine and utilize this information, your pricing strategy can become far more sophisticated.

4. Utilize Technology:

If you are using an outdated ERP system or BI tool, you may not be seeing the entire pricing picture. While you can track list price and invoice price, what about analyzing pricing and mix analysis? Without actionable information from your tools, how will you identify outliers, see pricing variations among peer groups or be immediately alerted to pricing variances?

While there is power in your data, you must utilize the proper pricing application to discover that power. To truly visualize your pricing data in the most efficient manner, you need a pricing application that can stop price leaks before they become dangerous to your bottom line, predict customer churn and identify the root causes of profitability issues.

The Bottom Line

By establishing pricing ownership, seeking discount visibility, determining product value and utilizing technology, you can gain the pricing data visualization you truly need. In fact, one manufacturer worked with INSIGHT2PROFIT to gain better visualization and was able to realize an additional $2.3 million in revenue over 16 months. Learn more in our case study.

Think Outside (Your) Box

By Chris Ilcin, Account Superintendent at Sonnhalter

Ask yourself and a few other people in your organization to name your top-selling product. If anyone answers with a product number, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t think like your catalog or even your current customers. Think like the customer you don’t have yet.

A potential customer doesn’t know you or your company and certainly hasn’t memorized your product numbers. They may not even know that they need your product yet.

All they know is that they have a problem, and they’re desperately looking for a solution.

Help them find it – and you.

Start by not thinking about what you make, but why you made it. What purpose does it serve? What niche it fills? Or, what issues it helps resolve?

Use the answers to those questions as the basis for white papers, success stories and as key words in press releases, websites and YouTube videos.

Put all that out there, and when a customer with an issue starts searching for an answer, your crumb trail of keywords will lead them to you. Make it so that where your marketing efforts don’t bring your product to a customer. Have their search bring them to you.

The best part about turning the tables like this is that it can be a refreshing change of perspective for your entire organization. It makes everyone get out of their silo and put themselves in a customer’s shoes. That can affect not only marketing and SEO, but also product development, customer service and morale.

Are You Making the Most of Your Content Curation?

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

One of the biggest challenges we all face is getting more out of our marketing budgets. Most of us, when thinking of developing content, think of it as a new task that we have to start with a clean sheet of paper.

Some overlook the fact that you may be sitting on a gold mine of existing content, but have you maximized your existing content (content curation)? Heidi Cohen’s post, Internal Content Curation: What Most Marketers Miss, shows how to give new life to content you’ve already published.

Internal Content Curation -Chart

By changing headlines, graphics or focusing it on a specific industry or application, you can get more mileage out of it. Or utilize the content in a different format, i.e. SlideShare or an infographic. It’s a great way to get more content out there to incremental audiences without spending lots of money.

Heidi lists 10 steps to maximize your internal content curation. Here are a few that caught my eye:

  • Audit existing content – This is low hanging fruit. Look at the gems that get the most attention. Are there content sections missing or that are weak and need to be bolstered up?
  • Gather content from across the organization  Look outside the marketing department for relative content. Don’t overlook customer service, tech service and engineering as good resources. Collect questions they get from customers on a regular basis and make sure you address them.
  • Monitor content analytics – What kind of content attracts the most traffic? What keywords do best? Is one platform outperforming others?

What are you doing to maximize your ROI on content?

What are you doing to keep good employees?

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

We’re in a service business, and I always say our assets walk up and down the stairs every day. The key to any good company is great people. This is especially true in smaller companies where every “body” needs to be the right person.

I recently read a book by Andrew Bennett, The Talent Mandate: Why Smart Companies put People First, that outlines sure-fire ways of keeping great people. Here are some highlights:

  • Don’t put jerks in management just because they’ve been around for a while; it doesn’t mean they are ready to manage others. No matter who you put there, they need to be able to think out of the box and come to the table with new and fresh ideas.
  • Hire for the future, not the past – Choose talent that has a broader perspective on life and can adapt to the world of today.
  • Measure results, not hours  unless you run a factory. Focus on the end game, not how they got there. There’s plenty of ways to get to a goal; be open to new ideas.
  • Mix old with new – If your company is big enough, include different generations on teams to get a better perspective on solving a problem. A good idea can come from anywhere and the Millennials have a lot to offer and are willing to learn.
  • Formal training program – No matter how big or small your company is, if you want them to move up the ladder, you need to get them exposed to different aspects of your business. Someone in sales may need to do a stint in customer service or production scheduling to have a greater appreciation of the bigger picture.
  • Empower your team – The best way for anyone to make good decisions is have all the facts. Don’t hoard info or rationale on why you want to do something.

What are you doing to keep good people?

Listen…Please

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman at Sonnhalter

ListeningThink about the people you care about and like both in your personal life as well as your professional one. I bet one of the reasons you like them is because they take the time to listen.

You know it’s hard to have a conversation with someone who’s always talking. In business, I think the best salesmen are the ones who take the time to find out what the customer’s problem is and then offers options for fixing it.

I find that those same people who want to talk a lot don’t worry much what’s said about their company or brand on the internet, and that could come back to bite them big time in the long run.

I recently read a post by Zoe Summers in Social Media Examiner that outlines ways to use listening in your business life (social listening is also known as social media monitoring). Here are some highlights:

  • Generate leads by solving problems
  • Attract new customers
  • Discover where your target audience hangs out
  • Use as a customer care tool
  • Get feedback on new products

Another post by Jay Baer, 6 Parts of Your Company That Should be Listening to Social Conversations, I found extremely interesting and wanted to share some highlights. Some are obvious; others we all should put on our list.

  1. Sales – Listening programs give you the opportunity to find prospects when the timing is perfect and when they’re actually asking for answers you have.
  2. Marketing and PR – Listening helps make sure that the language you’re using as a company is the same language being used by the people you’re hoping to hook.
  3. Customer Service – Customers are airing their concerns, questions and grievances over social media channels, especially if traditional channels prove less than helpful.
  4. R&D – You can fuel your idea engine by harnessing the input, thoughts and creativity of the online audience.
  5. HR – The obvious potential here is talent recruiting, in both finding potential employees and examining their online social graphs.
  6. Executives and Management – They can understand market trends through the unfettered viewpoint of the online masses and determine whether they’re behind, ahead of, or riding the curve.

So next time, whether it’s online or in person, take a deep breath and listen first.

Are Your Employees Brand Ambassadors? Why Not?

By Chris Ilcin, Account Superintendent at Sonnhalter

Osborn

Photo Courtesy of Osborn

Do your employees know where your products are used? Do they know the applications the parts they make make possible? Are they aware of the history and critical nature of your company? There are many simple, cost-effective ways to increase productivity and morale by implementing a program that lets them know.

To land new business, you’re always told to “Tell Your Story” well. It’s just as important to tell it internally. Why?

It makes employees feel like part of the plan – Let them see the big picture and where you as a company fit into it

It helps them see the long view, not just their day-to-day part in it – There’s a plan, not just a daily task

It builds internal networks – If Engineering tells their story to Customer Service, everyone sees people and faces, not silos

It allows them to be brand ambassadors – If they know the story you want told, then that’s the story that gets re-told

So how do you reach them? That’s the easiest part—the same way you reach new customers:

Host an Employee Open House – Let them show off to their kids, and see what goes on in other departments

Giving a tour of your facility? Engage employees – Don’t treat them like an extension of the machine they’re working, but have them describe what they do, and the cost savings, quality assurance or other aspect of their work

Start an internal newsletter – It’s a great place to either post external press releases, or develop case studies for outside use

Cover the Walls – Advertising blown up as posters reinforce your brand internally and when guests tour your facility

Let them hear & be heard – Have a quarterly or monthly meeting of non-managerial representatives from every department, and allow for an open exchange or ideas, complaints and stories

Highlight your company’s history whenever possible – Old ads, press clippings or photos give a sense of pride and place

Have a mission statement – And stress it internally. Print it on business cards, coffee cups in the vending machines; anywhere it will be seen regularly

You don’t need to be told that Manufacturing has gotten a bad rap. For years it’s been the butt of jokes, seen as a “dead end” and been declared all but extinct in this country by countless talking heads.

Well those people are wrong. And the house they left to get into the car they drove to the studio where they made their comments is testament to it. And it’s time your employees knew that too.

I once heard a really cool story about the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. It has a unique elevator that kind of side-steps its way up to the top of the arch. Well if you look into the arch, instead of out at the view, along the way you’ll see large welder-generators. They’ve been there since the Arch was built in the mid 60’s. Because of the way the arch was made, it was impossible to move them, so they just left them, placed another (which also got left behind) and kept building.

As a former employee of that welding manufacturer, I think that’s fascinating, and if I could ever get over my nagging fear of heights, it would be the best part of the trip up. To know that something that was made in the same building I worked in was instrumental in a project like that, it just boggles the mind. All the “ordinary” people, doing their “ordinary” job at factories all across the country added up to a modern marvel like that. Inspire that sense of awe in your employees, and they’ll help do the heavy lifting of establishing a brand.

12 Tips for Effective Tradesman Videos

By Chris Ilcin, Account Superintendent at Sonnhalter

If you’re like me, you’ll flip the channel when commercials come on. Hopefully, unlike me, you’ll remember what you were watching when the break is over.

Well tradesmen are the same way, so don’t expect them to actively seek out a 5-minute commercial on YouTube. All the search terms in the world won’t make people sit through a video that does nothing more than pat yourself on the back for making such a great product.

If you want eyeballs, and the increased search results they equal, you need to show how your product fixes their problems. Here are a few tips:

  1. Make it shooting-videoSolution Based – Why does this product exist? What problem does it solve, or how is it best used. Make the solution, not the product the focus. This also gives you a chance to showcase your “total” solution; customer service, technical support, anything else that sets your solution apart from the competition.
  2. Keep it, and Your Customers Moving – Just like a good commercial, an effective video should drive the customer somewhere, in the shortest amount of time available. Website, local distributors, a call center. Figure out where you want them, and give them a reason to get there.
  3. Be Yourself; or Have Someone Else – If you’re not funny, don’t try to be now. Work with what you have. Or better yet, add another person. They can bounce ideas and concepts off each other instead of the camera and both will feel more natural. One set up I’ve always liked is a “Product Expert” being interviewed by an “Everyman.” This way they can tease the pertinent info out, rephrase it in common language and keep the conversation moving.
  4. Know What You’re Good At – Even the best message can get lost with poor delivery. Now isn’t the time to hire your Brother-In-Law’s cousin. Highly qualified freelancers are available across the country. Put out feelers through friends, social media, your PR people and vendors, and get quotes. And not just for camera, but sound, direction, editing and production. Done correctly, a video will become the first interaction a potential customer will have with your company, so make it count.
  5. It’s All in the Prep – Just like painting a room, most of the work should take place before the job gets started. Have a script, a shot list, a location, talent, and props in-hand. Make sure everyone is on the same page about goals and message. Editing is great, but it can’t make words or actions you never shot magically appear.
  6. Say It or Show It; Not Both – A picture is worth a thousand words, so save the words for something else. It’s a video, not a book (or blog post) so keep text to an absolute minimum.
  7. Multitask – As long as you’re hiring freelancers, setting up lights and everything else, cover a few other bases. Product photography, other solutions or products that can be shown in the same set-up, video for trade show use and social media all can be taken care of. With a well-choreographed crew, you can shoot 3-6 short videos in one day. So make the most of it, but keep to your priorities.
  8. Consider All Platforms – Where do you want your video to be watched? Everywhere. On your website, YouTube, Facebook and mobile devices. So keep it as short as possible. Even the best smart phone right under a cell tower won’t play a 10-minute video without a pause or two, so don’t try your viewer’s patience.
  9. Don’t Re-Post; Re-Direct – Once you’ve uploaded the video to YouTube, make sure you let everyone know. But do it through links and redirected placement. For instance, don’t embed the video on the product page; embed the YouTube link. That way all the views are being accumulated in one place, increasing that number and moving it up the search results.
  10. Tag, So You’ll Be It – Think like a customer, or potential customer. They don’t know the products part number or trademarked name. So while all that should be in the tags, so should more generic terms and phrases, as well as your competitors’ names, terms and phrases.
  11. Keep An Eye On It – Once it’s posted, track it. How many views does it get after a week, a month and a year? Use the Analytics options on YouTube (all free) to see how people are finding it, how long they’re watching it and re-post it someplace every few months.
  12. Don’t Take Comments Personally – By now you’ve been living with this project for a few months, and feel pretty happy about the end product. So negative comments, which are almost guaranteed in the internet age, are going to feel like a personal attack. They aren’t, and the biggest mistake you can make is to feed the trolls. Address legitimate concerns as diplomatically and quickly as possible, but don’t add fuel to a fire.

Video is an incredibly powerful tool. It works in almost any setting; in an office, on a sales call, or in the field. Make it as effective as possible, and it can sell the product, reinforce your brand and be relevant for years to come.

Jerks are going to be jerks: Do’s and Don’ts for dealing with jerks online

Rachel Kerstetter, PR Engineer, Sonnhalter

Sometimes in life you encounter people who are jerks.

Via Mike Licht

Via Mike Licht

As children, we were often told to ignore the jerks. As adults we find ways to cope with the jerks we encounter throughout our days.

It’s a little more difficult for companies to deal with the jerks on social media. Unfortunately social media also provides jerks with a megaphone for their poor attitudes.

You can’t make everyone like you on social media, but you can take the high road when it comes to the social jerks who you encounter.

Don’t fire back at them.

If someone tweets nasty things at your company, don’t tweet nasty things back at them. It makes you look petty and like a jerk yourself.

Do fix legitimate problems.

People often use social media for customer service problems. If someone is having a problem that has them upset, they might come off as a jerk on social media. Publically respond that you would like to do what you can to fix their problem and ask for contact. For example, “We’re sorry to hear you’re having a delivery problem, please direct message us your email or phone number so we can find out more about your problem.” Or “We have been experiencing some issues with x, please call customer service at 800-xxx-xxx for an update.”

Don’t let jerks scare you away from using social media.

Often when we consult with a company who either refuses to join social media or has their channels locked down, it’s because they’re concerned about negativity on their social media channels. People will say what they want, if you let them say it on your channel you can be aware of it, try to fix it, or let your community come to your defense.

Do let the rest of your community support you.

Social media jerks (they are usually called “detractors”) tend to show themselves for who they are. Social community members are great at identifying the jerks out there and will sometimes shut them down for you by responding with their own positive tales. Definitely foster a positive social media community, it can work for your organization.

Don’t be a jerk yourself.

Whether this is on your personal or your company’s social media, do what you can to not be a jerk. If you have a problem with a product or service and choose to try to solve it on social media, do so in a human and respectful manner. It sets a great example for all around you.

Do report abusive users.

It is absolutely okay to report a social media account that is spamming or harassing your company. On a promoted tweet program for a client, one user took their hate for promoted tweets so far as to abuse our client’s account and claimed to report us for spam. (All social media ad programs that we run are in compliance with the platform’s policies and are in no way spam.) So we reported the user back for harassment. Make sure you read the terms before reporting a user so that you aren’t being a jerk. (By the way, if you don’t want to see a promoted tweet or post, click the dismiss button and Twitter won’t show it to you again.)

Is Listening a Lost Art?

Did you know that we spend 25 percent of our waking hours listening?

Are we making the most out of it, and what’s more important, what are we missing?

If social media hasn’t taught us anything else, its made it clear that people want to be heard. Listening makes us better people whether it’s listening to our kids, friends, coworkers or customers. We all fall prey to interrupting someone to make a point. We’re so busy thinking about what we’re going to say instead of listening to what’s being said and responding appropriately.

From a leadership point of view, listening is the most important skill a strong leader can have.

In the business world, listening spurs conversations which leads to resolutions and probably more sales. We need to make sure our salesmen and customer service folks are honing these skills.

According to an article in American Express‘ open forum, the article cites a study by the American Listening Association that only 2 percent of all professionals obtain any training to improve their listening skills.

As the landscape continues to change, prospective new customers armed with the internet and social media now are coming to the table with a whole nother set of questions which we may have to think about before we answer. Truly listening to customers can lead to more business!

Here a few listening tips:

  • Focus on what people are saying instead of formulating a response before they finish
  • Interpret what you hear
  • Clarify what you heard
  • Ask open-ended questions to engage deeper conversation
  • Validate what you heard

Just because you listen doesn’t mean you have to agree. Good listening spurs good conversations and that’s what we’re all looking for.

Are You Leveraging Social Media Across Your Manufacturing Business?

There are all kinds of buzz words out there—integrated marketing, 360 degree marketing, etc. They all have the same goal in mind, and that is to take your marketing message and share it across all methods of communication. Place your customer in the center of your efforts and then deliver your information in various ways so they can get it in the format they prefer.

Heidi Cohen had an interesting post recently, 360 Degree Social Media Marketing, where she shared 37 different tactics that you can use.

Here are some highlights that manufacturers should consider:

  • Be consistent – Develop content on a regular basis so you can start to build a relationship.
  • Selective use of social media – Use the appropriate media to get in front of your prospects. Make sure you use photos and videos in making your points.
  • Utilize customer service – they are talking to customers all the time. Create a FAQ segment to share. Give your customers options on ways to contact you other than on social.
  • Collect customer feedback and input for research purposes. Hear firsthand their compliments and complaints on your products/services.
  • Utilize social in your PR efforts – We all have brand advocates. Work with them to help build your visibility. Start a blog to establish thought leadership.

If you like this subject, you may want to reads:

Are You Getting Your Sales Force Involved in Social Media?

How Does Social Media Impact a B-to-B Purchase?

 

Is Brand Advocacy Part of Your Marketing Strategy to Reach Tradesmen?

Let’s face it, in an ideal world we’d all want our customers to love us! We all know that’s not going to happen, but I’ll bet you might have more advocates for your brand than you think.

Why are brand advocates important? Studies show that people rely on peer recommendations and reviews before purchasing goods. Contractors are no different, especially if you’re introducing a new product or application they haven’t used or seen before. They certainly don’t want to be the first to try something.

Brand advocates are more than loyal customers. They are your ambassadors in the trades. I’ve seen contractors with tattoos of company logos. That to me is the ultimate.

Some brand advocates will surface on their own by commenting on your blog or website several times or talking you up on an online forum.  Others might offer positive comments on a survey or warranty card. Don’t forget to ask your sales staff in the field who are calling on contractors, as well as your customer service department. They certainly should be able to identify a few. Hopefully a few will be high-profile folks within some associations that you are a part of.

One of our clients in the plumbing market was able to identify and nurture several advocates over the years. Once they brought the top 10 contributors into the main office and treated them like royalty for 2 days and then sent them home. They got a plant tour, a look at what was coming down the line as new products and met with customer service and technical people that they interface with on a regular basis on the phone or with emails. You wouldn’t believe the results of that effort. They became ambassadors on steroids!

Once you’ve found them, then what? You should set up a brand advocacy program that will give them ways to help you grow the brand. Here are a few ideas:

  • Ask them to write testimonials or reviews on new products. Then ask them to share them.
  • See if they would be willing to do a case history for you.
  • If timing permits and you can meet them at an association meeting or trade show, see if they would let you  interview them both for a podcast and testimonial video.
  • Ask them for referrals.
  • Have them test and evaluate new products before they are brought to market.
  • Have them identify potential new products.

This needs to be an ongoing effort so you’re always adding new advocates to keep the message current and fresh.

Don’t miss a golden opportunity for your customers to help sell your brand.

Are You Asking Contractors for Feedback?

We are all focusing on the next greatest product or making sales numbers for the month, but often overlook the very source of those sales.

Consistent contractor feedback is a key in establishing a long-term partnership. Let’s face it, we all have competition and contractors have choices. I think we are missing opportunities to cement relationships and differentiate our brands. When was the last time you talked to a contractor that didn’t have an opinion?

It doesn’t have to be a complex program and your field sales people can certainly help in this regard. Here are a few questions they should ask:

  • What’s working – Find out what you’re doing right. Are they getting the tech support they need? Is customer service taking care of them in a timely manner? It’s a great way of finding out their level of satisfaction with you.
  • What’s not – Here is your opportunity for you to find out ways of things that need to be improved. After talking with several contractors, you will find out rather quickly if a pattern is emerging.
  • What can we do to improve our relationship – Show them that you are proactive. It might surprise you. Together you may identify new opportunities.

Of course, the info you collect will be worthless unless sales and marketing compile a spreadsheet of all answers to review, action items and process improvements. If you’re not ready and open to making changes, don’t waste your time or the contractors. When talking with tradesmen, there’s not a one of them that would love the opportunity to share insights. Wouldn’t you rather they share them with you instead of your competitors?

 

Distributor Strategy: What’s Yours?

In the B-to-B world that I live in, manufacturers have to balance their time and efforts when dealing with distribution, between the big boys like Grainger ($9.4 billion), Fastenal ($3.3 billion) and MSC ($678 million), and the independently owned small local distributors.

Here are a few facts about the independent distributors (ISA) that you might not have known:

They collectively represent about $153 billion in sales.

AD (Affiliated Distributors) members do about $25 billion and NetPlus Alliance more than 5 billion in sales.

Now I realize they need to sell both. The strategy and support for a big player is much different from that of the local independent distributor. Let’s look at the different personas of both.

Big Boys.

  • Sell lots of stuff.
  • Beat you up on price and delivery.
  • Are more order takers than problem solvers.
  • Most are high maintenance from a customer service perspective.
  • Sales staff turnover high – most use sales as a stepping stone either inside that organization or for a position elsewhere.
  • Because of the high turnover, it’s hard to train and build a relationship with them.

Independent Distributors.

  • Collectively they sell more than the big boys.
  • Usually you can make more margin.
  • Are usually problem solvers not order takers (that’s their value proposition).
  • Lower maintenance from a customer service perspective.
  • More stable sales staff.
  • Have actual relationships with local customers
  • Able to train and build relationships with sales staff.

Logic and sometimes management says that we need to focus more time on the big boys as that’s where the biggest potential is.

Here’s a challenge for you.

Let’s take Fastenal for example. They have over 2,000 branches in North America. Besides calling on corporate, how many of the branches are stocking your product? What’s the average sale per year per branch?

Now look at the number of independents you sell to and what is the average annual sales for those that stock your product?

I think what you might find is that the independents will be outselling the big boys.

Now the next question is, what percentage of your sales teams times are being spent on both groups.

For those of you who do the exercise, I’d be interested if your results are similar to what I’m suggesting.

Trade Shows: Are You Telling a Compelling Story?

I don’t know about you, but we go to lots of trade shows during the course of a year, and I sometimes scratch my head as I walk by some of the booths and say,“What were they thinking?”

Either they haven’t had a new message in years or they are talking so much about me, me, me that I wonder why anyone would walk into their booth. I’m not talking about small companies either. I’m sure some of them have seven-figure trade show budgets. I always wonder what kind of metric they use (or are forced to report to management to justify ROI)?

Trade show booth exampleSo let’s step back for a minute and assume that you have a great product, customer service to die for and a sales staff that understands and can articulate your value proposition. My question is, “Does your trade show booth tell a compelling story of why folks should be doing business with you?” If that value proposition doesn’t stick out and scream at potentials, then you may be wasting valuable time, talent and resources that can be put to use elsewhere.

Your pre-show checklist should include:

  • Defining the show objective based on the target audience that is attending the show. Highlight what’s in it for me, the customer.
  • Defining the types of leads you want to come out of the show with. (Remember, quality over quantity.)
  • Defining how to qualify them as to where they are in the sales funnel.
  • Communicating your trade show objectives with the folks that will be working the booth. Let them know what is expected of them.
  • Have post-show follow-up all ready to go before you go to the show so it can be implemented as soon as you get back. Thank you note, phone scripts and who’s doing what.
  • Review the content you’re sending out after the show so it corresponds with what the prospect is looking for (product info, distributor, local contractor).
  • When sending something, make it be something of value – a copy of your latest e-book, a competitive crossover chart. Something that will help them do their job better and make them feel good about you. Sales will follow.

Trade shows are so expensive, and to make the most out of them, you need a plan.

What kinds of things are you doing to maximize your trade shows?

Do You Have a Strategy for Negative Social Media Posts?

I’m amazed by the stats that more than half of those on social media don’t have a plan to respond to negative social media posts.  Social media isn’t new, isn’t going away, and if you’ve followed or read anything about this space, you know there have been numerous posts about the subject.

The February 2014 research from Social Media Marketing University substantiates the notion that people still aren’t taking this seriously.

Negative issues need to be addressed and what better way to hear about issues than on social platforms. Don’t you want to know what customers are saying about you? You’d better be monitoring them and jump in with a plan to respond. There are several monitoring options out there will help you. Here are some free ones – Social mention, Google alerts, Hootsuite and Tweetdeck.

I recently had an experience with a major faucet manufacturer about a replacement. We had to get a new tub at home and my wife wanted to update the faucets, which we did. The manufacturer sent the wrong spout and it took our plumber almost 2 months to get the replacement for it. They weren’t good at customer service, just making excuses. I made mention (by brand name) on a tweet what my frustration was, and true to form, heard nothing back.

In the short run, ignoring me may not be a big deal to them since I had already purchased the tub set, but in the long run, my wife is planning to replace all the faucets in our 3 bathrooms. Guess who isn’t going to be considered for that purchase?

In a world where we have alternative plans for everything, don’t overlook social responses to negative posts. It’s better to address them straight on or they will fester and come back to bite you when you least expect it. Have a plan in place.

Sonnhalter Adds Three New Clients

Business-to-Tradesmen marketing communications firm partners with General Pipe Cleaners, Gerber Plumbing Fixtures and WD-40.

BEREA, Ohio – January 2014 – Sonnhalter, a communications firm marketing to the professional tradesman in the construction, industrial and MRO markets, announces three new clients, General Pipe Cleaners, Gerber Plumbing Fixtures and WD-40 Company.

General Pipe Cleaners is a leading manufacturer of high-quality drain cleaning equipment that is manufactured in the United States. Sonnhalter provides General Pipe Cleaners with professional marketing services including strategic planning, product launches, project management, creative development, social media management and fulfills other marketing communications needs.

Gerber Plumbing Fixtures LLC is a leading manufacturer of vitreous china plumbing fixtures, faucets and fittings for the residential, commercial and hospitality construction markets. Gerber’s comprehensive line of plumbing products is sold exclusively to the plumbing professional. Sonnhalter provides Gerber with professional marketing services including brand guidance, strategic planning, project management, creative development, media planning and buying and fulfills other marketing communications needs.

Sonnhalter does project work for WD-40’s Specialist line of products, including consulting and creative services for targeted product sampling, lead marketing and online training module development. WD-40 Company is a global supplier of unique, high-value and easy-to-use solutions for a wide variety of maintenance needs and produces the WD-40 Specialist® line of best-in-class products, designed to meet the needs of trade and industry professionals.

“These reputable companies chose to work with Sonnhalter because they needed to reach professional tradesmen and knew that we could help them do that,” said Matt Sonnhalter, vision architect at Sonnhalter. “Our area of expertise made us the perfect solution for their needs.”

About General Pipe Cleaners

General Pipe Cleaners is a leading manufacturer of high-quality drain cleaning equipment manufactured in the U.S. since 1930. General serves drain-cleaning professionals and plumbing contractors, as well as facilities managers, the rental industry and the hardware/home center market. Drainbrain.com

About Gerber

Since 1932, Gerber Plumbing Fixtures LLC has been a leading manufacturer of vitreous china plumbing fixtures, faucets and fittings for the residential, commercial and hospitality construction markets. Gerber’s comprehensive line of high-performance, high-efficiency and eco-friendly plumbing products are sold exclusively to the plumbing professional and are supported with Gerber’s “Best-in-Class” customer service. As a partner in the U.S. EPA WaterSense Program, Gerber is committed to protecting the environment through resource conservation and building best practices. Gerberonline.com

About WD-40 Company

WD-40 Company, with headquarters in San Diego, is a global, consumer product company dedicated to delivering unique, high-value and easy-to-use solutions for a wide variety of maintenance needs of “doer” and “on-the-job” users by leveraging and building the brand fortress of the company. The company markets three multi-purpose maintenance products under the WD-40® and 3-IN-ONE® brand names. The company also markets homecare and cleaning product brands: X-14® mildew stain remover and automatic toilet bowl cleaners, 2000 Flushes® automatic toilet bowl cleaners, Carpet Fresh® and No Vac® rug and room deodorizers, Spot Shot® aerosol and liquid carpet stain removers, 1001® household cleaners and rug and room deodorizers, and Lava® and Solvol® heavy-duty hand cleaners. Wd40.com


About Sonnhalter

Established in 1976, Sonnhalter is the leading B2T marketing communications firm to companies that target professional tradesmen in construction, industrial and MRO markets. Sonnhalter’s brand identity highlights its expertise in marketing to the professional tradesmen. Its tagline, “Not Afraid To Get Our Hands Dirty,” promotes the employees’ willingness to roll up their sleeves and dig deep into clients’ businesses, also, it refers to the market it targets: the tradesmen who work with – and dirty – their hands every day. Sonnhalter developed the acronym “B2T,” which stands for “business-to-tradesmen” to capture the essence of its specialty. Sonnhalter is listed as a BtoB Magazine’s Top Agency for 2013 and has received the honor annually since 2009. For more information, visit the company website at www.Sonnhalter.com or visit the company blog at www.TradesmenInsights.com.

Are you Having Trouble Getting the Staff on Board Supporting Social Media?

I think most marketers realize that social isn’t going away and they need to plan to incorporate it into their overall marketing strategy. Marketers also know that adding social means more work for their existing staffs.

One of the biggest issues is push back from others within the organization. While marketing may be in charge of social media, it doesn’t mean they have to carry the entire load. I recently read an article by Stephanie Shkolnik in Social Media Examiner that outlines suggestions on why to get employees involved. Here are some highlights:

  • Define the end goal – like any other initiative, we need to define objectives on what we’re trying to accomplish and how we are going to measure its success.
  • Create a task force – whether you’re a one-man band marketing department or have a big staff, you need to get others involved and they can and should come from other departments. Tap into sales, customer service, engineering, R&D and general management to be part of the process.
  • Develop a strategy – that will involve the whole company.
  • Be consistent – hold regular meetings with the team and track your progress.

If you get others involved and explain what the goal is, it will become easier to get others on board and share the responsibility.

The Scary Side of Public Relations

Today Rosemarie and Rachel from our PR department are sharing some of the aspects of public relations that can be the scariest to clients.

jackolantern05We find the realm of public relations to be fun, exciting and consistently fresh, but some areas of our field can be scary to our clients.

Here are the top five fears people have about public relations, and why you shouldn’t be spooked by them.

1. You can’t control what the media does with a story once you’ve given it to them.

“Earned media” is highly credible because readers know that you didn’t purchase the space to promote your company. Public relations and media relations professionals cultivate positive relationships with media, we work with these folks on behalf of multiple clients most of the time so we’ve built the foundation for positive coverage before they even get your story. In B2T public relations, we’re working with trade publications primarily and their goal is to be a source of helpful information for their readers.

It can be scary not to see the actual article before it’s published, but with long lead times of trade media, it can be a sweet surprise to see your words in print.

2. Negative comments on blogs and social media.

Your responses to negative comments offer an excellent opportunity to show off your wonderful customer service. Negative comments happen, and if they happen on your social media, you can control the outcome with your response and the community response from your other fans. It’s actually scarier to hide your head in the sand or cover your ears when it comes to social media.

3. Giving interviews is intimidating.

When we set up interviews with trade publications, they often send some sample questions ahead of time to help you prepare. Knowing how you would answer those questions provides a foundation of confidence. Media people are not out to get you, and by providing an interview you’re helping them educate their readers and they’re helping you get your name and expertise out there.

Think of interviews as a conversation rather than an interrogation. Sometimes our clients are even given the opportunity to review and approve their quotes! And they’re often surprised by how articulate their quotes sound.

4. Am I missing out on all of the new things that pop up overnight?

There is actually a name for this condition, it’s a condition called FOMO, Fear of Missing Out. Your company can’t, and shouldn’t, join every new platform or use every new tool that is introduced. If you’re suffering from a severe case of FOMO, work with your public relations people to set your goals and evaluate which platforms and tools are the best for us to get our hands dirty with and which ones would be a waste of time and resources.

5. I want to use the excellent testimonial from my customers, but I’m afraid to share customer information that my competitors will find.

When you’re confident with a customer relationship and know that you’re giving that customer the best quality and service, there’s no need to be afraid of telling their story. Testimonials are an excellent tool for building your credibility, when others read about what your company made possible for that customer, they’ll wonder what your company can do for them too.

When you feature a customer in a testimonial, you’re also helping them get their name out there and gain more visibility. And they’ll love you for that!

 

Are You Training Your “Non-Selling” Sales People?

When we think about sales training, we all think about teaching our sales crew about the latest and greatest product we have and seeing how many we can sell. But these folks who we send out into the trenches each day aren’t our only salespeople. What about your non-selling sales people?

Think about your guy who does will calls or the truck driver who delivers your products. How about the receptionist that answers the phones (yes, some companies still have them), customer service folks and yes, even your credit department. These are all non-selling roles that could ultimately affect future orders.

The point I’m trying to make is anyone who comes in contact with your existing customers has an impact on future sales whether they’re thinking about it or not. Think about the last time you called in with a problem or an issue and got treated like they were doing you a favor by taking time to talk to you? Now you’d expect that the customer service department is aware and has had training in how to be nice to people.

Think about your credit department (most people would break out into a cold sweat). Are they working on future sales or just trying to collect money. I know of credit departments that are firm but flexible in coming up with ways that treat customers fair and foster the relationship. Abe Walking Bear Sanchez gives you a fresh perspective on this job function and how it can be a positive way to increase sales.

But are you overlooking other ambassadors within your company that can influence future purchases? We need to instill in all that come in contact with our customers that our future paychecks are hinging on keeping them happy. I think companies need to make sure the attitude and culture is reflected on the front lines and not just in a mission statement that’s on our lobby wall or on our website.

We are who we appear to be and success is based on the weakest link in the chain. Maybe we should all be a little more sensitive on how we present our companies… and a THANKS FOR YOUR BUSINESS every once in a while couldn’t hurt.

An Interview with Habitat for Humanity ReStore Manager, Frank Drahan

Right now we’re in the middle of our annual Tool Drive supporting the Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity. Since our efforts started in 2010, we’ve found amazing support from our clients, partners, friends and community members.

HFHReStoreID_H_clr

We talked with Frank Drahan with the Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity to find out more about him, Habitat for Humanity and their ReStore. Here’s the conversation:

Q. What is your position at Habitat for Humanity?

A. I’m the ReStore Manager

Q. What is the Habitat for Humanity ReStore?

A. The ReStore is about the four Rs: Recycle! Reuse! Reduce! Rebuild!

Regarding “recycle,” the ReStore is operated by Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity as one of the largest reuse and recycle centers in Cuyahoga County.

For reuse, the ReStore recycles and resells salvaged and reclaimed building materials, fixtures and tools that are in good condition.

In order to reduce, the ReStore diverts thousands of tons of usable materials from local landfills.

And finally, rebuild: The community can purchase affordable home improvement items at a fraction of retail cost and proceeds from the ReStore support Habitat’s mission to eliminate poverty housing through home construction and rehabilitation.

Q. How long have you been there?

A. 9 years

Q. What are your responsibilities at Restore?

A. I schedule donations, do customer service, help and work with our great volunteers, coordinate projects around the store and much more that comes with the day-to-day operations at the ReStore.

Q. What’s your most memorable moment working for Habitat for Humanity?

A. It would have to be opening the new ReStore at the new facility, where it’s currently operating.

Q. What do people most commonly donate?

Cabinets in all shapes, sizes and finishes are the most common donation, but also needed

Cabinets are the most common donation but are also needed

A. Kitchen cabinets and appliances

Q. What’s the most unusual donation that you’ve seen come in?

A. The strangest item that has been donated was an embalming machine from a funeral home.

Q. What’s on the ReStore donation wish list?

A. We always have a wish list of items that people might or might not think to donate which includes: appliances, kitchen and bath cabinets, lighting fixtures, sinks, furniture, tubs and showers, architectural salvage items, tools hand/power/yard… any tools!

We also need lumber that’s six feet or longer so we can use it, landscaping equipment, flooring and so much more.

Q. What’s best about working for Habitat for Humanity?

A. Getting to know all of our wonderful volunteers. Also, working with our customers and donors.

Q. The Sonnhalter tagline is “Not Afraid to Get Our Hands Dirty.” What is your favorite way to get your hands dirty at Habitat for Humanity?

A. Picking up donations and meeting the donors around Cuyahoga County

Q. What’s your favorite way to get your hands dirty outside of work?

A. BBQing!

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A. Thank you so much for your awesome support for the ReStore.  We really appreciate everything you have done for us!

If you’re interested in participating in the Sonnhalter Tool Drive, visit sonnhalter.com/tooldrive or contact us to find out more.

Manufacturers: Tips on Getting More of Your Distributors Time

We did a survey to marketing/sales folks in the manufacturing sector who sell through either industrial or construction distributors to see what their biggest challenges are.

From the manufacturer’s point of view, their biggest challenge is getting the distributor’s salespeople to focus on their products. Sound familiar?

Here’s another interesting note. The manufacturers biggest marketing challenge is getting in front of the ultimate end user (contractor or MRO professional).

So it seems that we are in a catch 22 scenario. Manufacturers sell through distribution for many reasons. One of  the most important ones is that they have an active loyal customer base that we want to reach. The issue is how do we get more of the distributor’s salesman’s time and attention? I’ve been in this market for over 30 years and have been trying to address this on a regular basis. I feel like I’m in the movie Groundhog Day.

Here are some tips that we’ve initiated over the years that might help you:

  • Training – over half of the folks we surveyed didn’t have a formal training. It’s hard to imagine anyone trying to sell something they don’t understand. While most people focus on products, don’t overlook the opportunity of how to sell and look for application opportunities when on a job site or in a plant. A good resource for training modules is BlueVolt. They focus on distributor training and focus on marketing and buying groups for the industrial/construction markets.
  • Promotions – plan them well enough in advance so the distributor can incorporate it into their normal correspondence to their customers. So many times we give them too short of a lead time and we wonder why they don’t do well. SPIF programs work if they are easy to understand and manage. Note that you don’t have to have one for a promotion to be successful. What you need to do is communicate to their marketing and sales force.
  • Inside Sales & Customer Service – we normally focus our efforts on the outside sales folks since those are the ones we usually ride along with. But in the real world, CSR’s and inside sales talk to 10 times as many customers a day than the outside guysThese are the people you want to train and incentivize. When taking an order, they have the ability in most cases to enter an order for the products they are most familiar with. Not often (although we’d like to think so) that someone calls in and says I want 10 Acme Widgets. They normally say I need 10 widgets and the person taking the order has the discretion of sending them yours instead.

The key is planning and communications. I’d like to hear what you’re doing to make your distributor relationships better.

If you like this post, you might want to read:

Trends in Distribution and What it Means to the Distributor/Supplier Relationship.

Podcast: Manufacturers and Distributors – What are you Doing to stay Relevant? New rules of Engagement

Tools of the Trade: How to Handle Negative Reviews

The following is a guest post from Kimberley Laws, a freelance writer and small business owner. She knows firsthand how tough it is to survive in the business world and hopes to use her writing to empower fellow entrepreneurs. 

This may be tough to hear, but not everyone is going to love—or even like—your business and the products it offers. In fact, some may come away from your company hurling expletives like Yosemite Sam on crack. And, thanks to social media, these unhappy customers can now share their negative thoughts with a massive on-line audience.

But don’t panic. There is no need to wave the white flag or pull up stakes just yet. With a little know-how and a touch of finesse, you can turn these negative reviews into positives—and win over a new batch of clientele.

white flag

There is no need to surrender to bad reviews. You can reclaim your shiny on-line image.

Here is some negative review advice that can help restore your on-line reputation.

Get Acquainted With Social Media.

Many business owners are unfamiliar with the social media tools that are being used against them. How can you respond to a negative tweet on Twitter if you don’t know how to use it? You can’t. That’s why it is important to become adept at using social media platforms. You also need to become knowledgeable about the most popular review sites like Yelp and Angie’s list.

Mastering these internet tools will enable you to respond to unhappy customers and keep on top of future negative reviews.

 hugging laptop

To tackle negative on-line reviews successfully, you must embrace technology.

Image courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/Computing_g368-Man_With_Computer_p34425.html.

Don’t Hit the Snooze Button.

You need to respond to negative comments quickly. Ignoring them will make you look like you don’t care, which serves to validate the original complaint. Delaying your response will allow others the chance to pile on further negative reviews—turning the proverbial molehill into Mount Vesuvius.

Don’t Be a “Right Fighter.”

This is not the time to make excuses or argue with an unsatisfied customer. It doesn’t matter who was right or who was wrong. As the owner of the business at fault, you must take full responsibility for what has transpired and apologize. A sincere “I’m sorry” will go a long way to mending the relationship. Plus, it will make you look like a caring professional in the eyes of those watching the exchange.

right

Who cares who is “right?” All that matters is that you get the complaint resolved.

Image courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1095399.

Encourage the Happy People.

Customers seem to be much more motivated to share bad experiences rather than good ones on-line. Let’s face it—humans love to gripe. But it is important that you encourage your happy customers to share their joy as well.

Ask long-time clients to post a positive review. A barrage of positive feedback will make the negatives appear less important to potential clientele.

But never falsify a review. If you have to fabricate positive customer experiences, you have a bigger problem than a simple negative on-line review.

thumbs up

Encourage happy clientele to give you “two thumbs up” on-line.

    Image courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/Learning_g376-Students_Showing_Thumb_Up_p96826.html.

The best defense against a negative on-line review is, of course, to provide the best customer service possible in the first place. But even the most top-notch service provider can’t please everyone all the time. This is why it is so important that every business owner become well versed in the techniques for handling a bad internet review.

Are You Communicating With Clients Effectively?

No matter what business we’re in, we’re all in the communicating business. I think sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day that we forget some simple pointers.

Today we have a guest post by Ryan Franklin, a small business blogger and marketer who writes on behalf of Ordoro. He points out the obvious but sometimes we need to be reminded.

Did you know that the golden rule applies to business, too? That is, treat clients how you would like to be treated. How do you expect to be treated when you have to call into a supplier with a customer service issue? That is how firms and tradesmen expect to be treated when they contact your company. So here are a few key points to communicate with those customers effectively.

Listen to your client. You may be hearing what your customer has to say, but are you listening? Active listening is an essential part to communicating with customers effectively. There is nothing worse than getting on the phone with a service provider to explain your issue with their product or service and realizing that the rep is just not listening – causing you to repeat everything you just said! Pay attention to what your clients are saying; picking up on keywords can assist you in directing the conversation to address the problem.

Do not interrupt your client. Another step to communicating with clients effectively is to avoid interruptions. The last thing your client wants is to be cut off mid-sentence. Show them respect by letting them have a fair chance to speak, and then address the issue carefully. If a client has a complicated issue or is upset about something, it can be helpful to repeat the situation back to them to show that you understand. This is plain common courtesy and good customer service, and clients will appreciate your willingness to listen.

Smile. This may seem a bit ridiculous when you are making calls on the telephone, but this point still applies. Call center representatives across the nation are taught to smile when they speak because it conveys a friendly demeanor between the rep and the customer. How do you feel when you clearly reach a customer service representative that obviously does not want to be at work that day? Customer service agents should always smile and make the customer feel like they care. This will ensure return customers and high client satisfaction.

Make small talk. Avoid dead air even if you are researching an issue for the customer. If you must put a client on hold, be diligent in checking back with them every 60-80 seconds. Even a minute can feel like an eternity when you are placed on hold. Every customer feels like their issue is of great importance and that’s how you should make them feel. Without your clients, you don’t have a job; treat each one of them like they are the only one you have. At that moment, they are.

Again, communicating with customers can be as simple as treating them as you would want to be treated. Train your representatives to think the same way.

What Are You Doing to Ensure Your Content Marketing is Selling for You?

Content Marketing is developing useful information to various questions a potential customer might have about your product or application. When someone goes to Google and types in a question, hopefully you already have an answer waiting on page 1 of the search results.

If not, you’ll be missing a big opportunity. If you haven’t capitalized on things like case studies, white papers, newsletters and blogging, you should consider trying some of them. They are content rich and will help you gain credibility.

So the question arises, what do I write about or how do I know what they want? Here’s a way to start. Ask your sales force, customer service, engineering and product management what are the top 10 issues you continually get asked. That should be a start.

Ask the question on some of your social media sites, like groups on LinkedIn. You might be surprised at the feedback you get. If you have the opportunity to visit customers or go to trade shows, ask the same type of questions. Then when you have all the questions, answer them!

The key to content marketing  is how you present your info. Storytelling is one of the best ways.

I recently read a post by Heidi Cohen, How to Create B2B Content Marketing That Sells that highlights ways you get to tell your stories. Here are some highlights:

  • Use show and tell – use photos or videos to show products and features.
  • Become a teacher – offer training by providing them info on why to buy or use it more effectively.
  • Answer questions – this will give your responses more life.
  • Interview others in your organization that might not think they have valuable info to contribute, and then you write  it.
  • Interview existing customers – get their perspective (good and bad) and address them.
  • Offer insights from senior management – on industry trends or issues.

Content is king and we need to do everything we can to make sure that we get GOOD content out. If we do, you’ll be surprised at who will find it.

Why Are You Afraid of Starting a Blog?

I bet for most of you it’s that you’re afraid you won’t be able to publish relevant content on a regular basis. I’m the first to admit starting a blog is a commitment, but one that’s well worth it.

Your blog can be the center of your social media plan where you can repurpose posts to your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. We have found that consistent posts have helped us become the thought leader in marketing to the professional tradesman and have generated new clients from it.

Since content is usually the stumbling block to starting a blog, here are some suggestions on where and how you can get good content. You need to realize you don’t have to write everything. You need to be the “go-to” resource for your niche, so utilize other experts.

  • Try to do one original post a week.
  • Supplement other posts by sharing industry/association news with your insights.
  • Set up a Google Reader account where you can send RSS feeds of people you want to read on a regular basis and repost their articles with commentary and insights from your point of view.
  • Case studies and testimonials – Get your sales staff involved. These are great stories and it’s great when customers tell, in their own words, how you helped them solve a problem.
  • Stats/surveys – folks love to get industry info or trends. Start your own survey and share the results. It’s a great way of getting a conversation going.
  • Look internally – some of your best resources might just be down the hall. Talk with sales, customer service and engineering. They probably can give you more topics and issues to talk about than anyone else, and it’s relevant to your industry.

Those are some suggestions for getting great content, and don’t think you need to be the sole source of content. Make it a team effort.

Does Your Company Have a Social Media Plan?

Does your company have a social media strategy for your social media efforts? Most companies have jumped on the bandwagon but appear to be shooting from the hip with no strategy or measurements in place.

Companies are going about social strategy backwards, by first concentrating on the tools and technologies instead of focusing on what they want to achieve.  My understanding of social media and how to monetize it was greatly expedited because my rifled focus on applying it for new business.

A survey conducted by marketing firm Digital Brand Expressions found that 78 percent of client companies responding to their survey said they use social media, but only 41 percent said they have a strategic plan in place to direct their social media efforts.

Other key findings from this survey that should be of interest:

  • Of the companies that have no plan in place, 88% agree that it is important.
  • Of those companies that work from some plan, 94% said that marketing activities are included in the plan.
  • 71% of those with a plan said their Marketing Department is the group with the primary responsibility for creating and maintaining the firm’s social media presence.
  • Of the planners, 71% indicate they use social media for public relations communications, while 55% said that they used social media for sales-related activities. A surprisingly small percentage (16%) say their HR team is using social media for recruiting, employee retention, training and development, etc. and 26% use it for customer service.
  • Social media efforts are being led primarily by Marketing (71%) and PR (29%) departments.
  • Even among those with a plan, few (29%) have written policies and communications protocols in place, leaving the organization exposed to problems arising out of employees communicating in ways that inadvertently hurt, rather than help, their company brands.

“It’s fairly well established that social media is a channel that businesses must participate in, leaving CEOs with the new challenge of planning and implementing brand aligned initiatives enterprise-wide,” said Veronica Fielding, president and CEO of Digital Brand Expressions.

Click on the link to download a PDF copy of: Corporate Social Media Report

Your purpose should dictate strategy and the tactics used for reaching desired goals.

Are You Talking to Professional Tradesmen?

I’m sure you’ll answer yes, but are you talking with them or at them? We all assume that email or phone calls are the best way to communicate with your customers. I’m surprised when I ask our clients that question that it’s based on their assumptions on how their customers wanted to be contacted.

It’s interesting that we all want to build relationships and engage our customers, but if you think about it, you’re doing it on your terms not necessarily on theirs.

Here’s what I’d suggest. Have your customer service department contact your customer base and ask them how they want to be contacted (most of this can be done on regular inbound calls), for example, regarding new products or new training that’s available. You may be surprised at their answers.

For new products, they may want a one-on-one with their salesman, and for training, they may want to be contacted by email. They should touch most of your customers in a normal period of a month or so, and for those that are reached from inbound calls, start an outbound campaign to those that haven’t purchased for some time. It will give your customer service people a reason to reach out, and who knows, they might even sell something!

I’m assuming you’re working with some sort of CRM system that can be updated, and when new things come up that need to be shared, you have a better chance of getting that message out if you deliver it the preferred way the customer wants.

Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.

Four B-to-B Marketing Efforts That Can Improve Your Results

As B-to-B marketers, we are concerned about demand generation as our fundamental mission with lead generation being the primary way of measuring success. Here are four ways that will help you get better results.

I read an interesting article by Jim Leach, VP-Marketing, Harris Corp that outlines the CORE items you need to focus on. Here are some highlights:

  • Content – You have two challenges here for creating great content. One, the people who probably know the most about your product are probably terrible writers and two, your audience has no time to read. Jim suggests that a product engineer or possibly a customer service person might be the ones to tap to write content. His rules are simple: be brief, be brilliant, and be gone.
  • Outreach – Your best source of info is from your sales force. They are out in the trenches every day and know what the pain points are for customers and potentials. Take those insights and turn them into content nugget one pagers with common themes that might be used in a drip marketing program.
  • Response – Don’t lead your potential back to your home page on the web where they have to start the search over for the particular item that interested them in the first place. Create specific landing pages with tailored messages and the ability to collect info and download valuable info depending on where they are on the sales ladder – awareness, research, evaluation, selection or purchase – you should have items on that page that address each step in the process so the potential can find what they want easily.
  • Engagement – Most B-to-B sales have longer buying cycles so you need to keep your prospect engaged throughout the process. Make sure that when they come back at you with questions to be sure to ask them some as well so you can continually update their status.

CORE marketing can help you focus your efforts and close more sales. What are you doing to improve your marketing results?

4 Reasons Why B-to-B Email Newsletters Should be a Part of Your Marketing Plan for 2012

Are you using email newsletters to keep in touch with customers and prospects? If not, you should be considering it. They are relatively easy to do, especially if you do a blog.

Using a CRM service like Emma, Exact Target or Constant Contact it will give you access to templates to use for formatting, and more importantly, it will give you tracking data on who opened the email and where they spent time. The metrics will also tell you where and on what subjects people are attracted to. They also give you room for special messaging and links to appropriate sites.

Here are 4 reasons why you should consider a newsletter:

  1. Helps you stay in front of customers and potentials.
  2. Helps you establish thought  leadership in your area of expertise.
  3. Helps identify potentials who sign up for and keep coming back to your newsletter. Maybe someone should call on them?
  4. Build a mailing list. Use it as one touch point to get your brand in front of your audience.

Frequency will depend on a few things. If you do a blog, I’d suggest you do it monthly and highlight the top 5 posts of the month. Most templates give you room for a customized message, like look for a new product launch coming next month or promotion of a webinar. 

If you don’t do a blog, assembly of info for the newsletter may be a little more time-consuming and I would suggest doing it at least quarterly. You could assign responsibilities to various people within your company. Customer service, sales and marketing. The key is to give the reader relevent and timely info.

Manufacturers and Distributors: A Breakthrough in Inventory and Supply Chain Planning and Execution

From time to time I try to address issues other than marketing as it relates to manufacturing and distribution. With the soft economy the last few years, inventory and its management is an issue for both sides.

So I decided to ask a friend, Howard Coleman from MCA Associates who is an expert in this field, to shed some light on the new “pull ” inventory management system. Here are Howard’s thoughts on the issue:

A Breakthrough in Inventory & Supply Chain Planning & Execution

For the first time in years, inventory and supply chain planning for the wholesale-distributor and their suppliers is undergoing a most fundamental change! A major development is finally moving from “talk” to practice. If you have any involvement in supply chain management, and with your Enterprise ERP system, you would be wise to catch up with this. Yes, there is something in it for manufacturers/suppliers too!

Many years ago our ERP systems evolved beyond utilizing manually set fixed reorder points and reorder quantities. The big conceptual breakthrough was the advent of methodologies exactly like, or similar to, what was described in “Distribution Inventory Management (for the 1990s)” by Gordon Graham and the MRP (materials requirements planning) systems used by manufacturers. Software developers latched on to it as the primary “engine” contained in several popular ERP inventory and purchasing modules. Yes, it was an improvement – but has remained essentially unchanged.

In practice, it relied heavily on demand forecasts to drive inventory planning and reordering, and used safety stock inventory to mitigate variability in demand forecasts (forecast error) and lead-times. The results were better, but I believe at the expense of “more inventory than you need immediately,” and sacrificing a focus on – “where inventory should be” as opposed to “how much inventory we have” – particularly in terms of distribution center and branch warehouse inventory replenishment, how wholesale distributors go about ordering product from suppliers, and how suppliers react.

Along the way, “other passes on improvement” have been attempted, at least in part as a desire to obtain some better outcomes. Often, oversimplified versions of Just-In-Time (JIT) appeared, taking its cue from the quality management and lean movement in Japan in the 1980s. JIT relied on simple “demand signals” from customers – to suppliers up and down the supply chain, often with little or no computer support. JIT looked at inventory as “waste,” as opposed to an asset, and sought to minimize it by minimizing the variation in demand and supply, as well as reducing reorder quantities. But its emphasis on inventory reduction, a lack of a systems-wide view of inventory, and an incomplete planning equation often created an inflexible supply chain subject to disruptions.

Embracing “Pull” Inventory & Supply Chain Management

But something did emerge from all of this. If not completely new, it built upon and extended some of the best features of JIT as well as from the lean movement. Called “Pull Inventory & Supply Chain Management,” it sought to align efforts and resources as close as possible to actual customer demand, while at the same time providing more visibility to the total inventory requirements and status across the entire supply chain. It didn’t necessarily view inventory as waste nor did it seek to establish safety stock levels in some static way. Rather it sought:

 

  • to hold the right amount of inventory, at the right place in the supply chain, to promote inventory flow (pulling inventory, not pushing inventory), while minimizing working capital
  • to size and dynamically adjust stock positions based on focusing heavily on the “inventory drivers”
  • to reduce the emphasis on that elusive goal of forecast accuracy in driving supply plans; instead demand was driven almost entirely by actual customer demand – often called the “buy signal” 
  • a “new collaboration” approach with manufacturers/suppliers in sharing “buy signals;” in other words fostering the opportunity to share data?

These are just a few of the key concepts. Now, are you thinking, “Pull Inventory & Supply Chain Management” is just a nice theory? Not so. The benefits have been amply demonstrated in several industries. The problem is that many wholesale distributors and their suppliers think they are a lot different – as opposed to thinking, “supply chain is supply chain – no matter who you are.” As a result, they have settled for incremental improvement – rather than more radical change – not learning from the “new chapters” in supply chain management and accelerating the time-line for adoption.

What’s Coming?

If there is any obstacle to the adoption of this new inventory and supply chain methodology, it will be “the change in thinking” and the general level of supply chain skills required of purchasing, inventory and supply chain managers to execute. Conceptual education will surely be one of the keys – not just some eventual software training. Understanding the impact for both wholesale-distributors and their suppliers will be another; finally an attempt at a win-win relationship through flexibility in their supply chain delivery approach and a true alignment of interests.

Inventory and supply chain management at all channel levels is going to be an even more critical function. Of course it has always been important, but will become more critical, competitively, as some companies adapt…and others don’t. This is no longer just a back-office function consideration. It’s about competitiveness and your company’s resource management; its impact on profits, cash flow and customer service levels.

Enterprise software vendors are going to move pretty quickly, I believe, to begin to incorporate these concepts into their systems. But, even before they do, there are several steps you can take right now, with little or no software support.

Email me for our “white paper” which describes “Pull” in more detail, along with more of “the how to;” what you can do right now! 

MCA Associates, a management consulting firm since 1986, works with wholesale distribution and manufacturing companies that are seeking and committed to operational excellence. Our staff of Senior Consultants provides operational excellence – thought leadership – and implements continuous improvement solutions focused on business process re-engineering, inventory and supply chain management, sales development and revenue generation, information systems and technology, organizational assessment and development, and family business succession planning. MCA Associates may be contacted at 203-732-0603, or by email at hcoleman@mcaassociates.com. Visit our website at http://www.mcaassociates.com/.

Does Blogging Fit Into Your Overall Marketing Strategy?

Not all companies should be blogging. How do you determine if you’re one of them? Most manufacturers, unless they are making commodity items, should fit into the “do” column. If you sell through a distribution channel, there should be another check, and if you ultimately want to reach your targeted end user, put a bunch of checks!!!

Blogs are becoming more popular all the time, and according to eMarketer, blogs have increased from 16-39 percent in companies blogging for marketing purposes.

US Companies Using Blogs for Marketing Purposes, 2007-2012 (% of total)

Our blog is the hub of all activity for us generating several times the number of page views than our web site. By utilizing other social media tools like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to drive more eyes to our blog by posting links on these sites, it insures that people keep coming back to the blog.

Why should you blog?

  • Position yourself as an expert in your field
  • Build your brand
  • Use SEO to build readership

Why is a stategy is important. The main reason is you don’t want the ready-fire-aim approach to be your guidepost. Consider these points:

  • Develop a policy and guidelines – This is new to everyone so someone has to set the ground rules.
  • Identify topic categories and resources – Don’t think you have to be responsible for creating all the posts. Get sales customer service, engineering and of course marketing into the mix.
  • Define frequency – You can start a blog and then do one post a month. That’s like trying to date and only calling the girl once a month. In order to build relationships, it takes time to get to know, like and trust people. I suggest at least once a week for a post; more if time permits.
  • Define the audience – This is key so you can write to the interests and issues (content).
  • Choosing the right voice – Remember, social is like having a conversation. Save the features and benefits for the sell sheets.

The key when considering blogging is that IT IS A COMMITMENT. But the upside is you can position your brand very favorably and generate lots of traffic, some of which will turn into relationships and maybe even business.

How Do You Recruit Sources for Content on Your Blog?

Anyone who does a blog on a regular basis know it’s a huge commitment. I try to do three posts a week and some weeks work (clients) gets in the way. But the show must go on and constistency is something I think every blogger should aspire to. So what do you do? If you’ve read other posts about blogs on this site, you know that I’m a big proponent of doing an editorial calendar and having a list of people who could help out with content.

If you’re a manufacturer, here are some tips on identifying helpers:

  • Internal employees – Your editorial calender along with the topic categories you’ve decided to write on will help you identify possible contributors. Engineering, customer service and sales are three that come to mind.
  • Suppliers and distributors – These folks certainly understand your product and have a motivation to spread the word. Distributors and suppliers can shed light on various other issues that are closer to and are industry related.
  • Customers – They have first-hand knowledge of not only how your product solves their needs, but they can also talk about how important customer service or engineering support is.
  • Industry experts – Every industry has several “experts.”  Ask them to do a guest post on a pressing industry issue. They can offer their take on it and hopefully start a conversation on your site.
  • Magazine editors – Editors from trade publications that cover your world are in the thick of industry issues and most would be happy to share their opinion either in writing a post or being interviewed for a podcast, for instance.

Those are some ideas of who you can tap to help out with content. Who have you been asking for help?

Are You Using Social Media to Keep Track of Your Competitors?

We all like to know what our competitors are doing, and more importantly, what customers are saying about them. Until the advent of social media, it was hard to track conversations from customers. There are several platforms, tools and tactics that you can implement to help you keep ahead of the competition.

Adam Holden-Bache in a recent article in Social Media B2B outlines 6 Ways to Beat Your Competition Using Social Media. Here are some highlights:

  • Do your research – Set up tools and key words/phrases to monitor both the competition as well as the industry.
  • Identify opportunities – If you see a topic or trend gaining traction, promote your capabilities.
  • Produce more educational content – Decision makers are doing more research online. The more relevant content you can provide, the better the chances of you being considered.
  • Showcase your service and support – B2B companies that excel in providing prompt customer service should promote it as it will influence a purchasing decision.
  • Ask for feedback, then use it – Customers can be a good resource for honest feedback.
  • Engage your customers – If your customers like you, they will tell their friends and business associates. They are what we call brand advocates and they turn out to be one of your best resources.

Free Monitoring Tools to Track Your Competition (or Yourself)

www.Topsy.com is a real-time social search that lets you see what people are saying about a topic across social platforms which provides qualitative feedback.

www.socialmention.com is another real-time search that analyzes strength, sentiment, passion and reach, as well as provides averages, keywords, top users and other metrics that all show impact and reach of social activity.

www.google.com/trends analyzes search and news reference volumes for topics and produces the top regions and cities allowing you to see how popular a topic or brand is as well as where it is popular.

www.howsociable.com measures social visibility of brands allowing you to see how active brands are on 20 different platforms.

These are some ideas on how to monitor the competition. What are you doing using social media?

5 Tips to Improve Your B-to-B Direct Marketing Efforts

Social media may be the hottest topic around the water cooler at work, but when it comes down to generating sales, direct marketing still fills a need. We all need to remember that there are many tools in the marketing tool box and we shouldn’t dismiss or forget about what’s been successful in the past.

You may have been bombarded by DM in past years to the point of oversaturation and were kind of turned off by it. Then there are e-mail campaigns that also began to bombard us and we either tuned them out or our IT department put enough filters on that nothing or next to nothing comes in.

What do you want to bet that the same will hold true of social sometime down the road? That happens when everyone hops on the newest thing. Ironically, we have had for both ourselves and for clients great success of late with DM because very few people are doing it!

I recently read a post by Chris Cottle in BtoB magazine  that highlighted 5 best practices to help guide your DM efforts and I wanted to share some highlights thant might help you:

  1. Invest in your list – The old adage “garbage in, garbage out.” Don’t be concerned so much about the size of the list, but the quality. Your best list is an internal one that’s a combination of leads from traditional marketing efforts, as well as input from your customer service, outside sales and warranty cards. Segment the list by markets, job function and if you can, where they are in the buying cycle.
  2. The offer matters – What’s in in for me” should be the first thing a prospect should see. Make offers instantly relevant and show them the benefits.
  3. KISS – Keep it simple. You don’t have to have an “award winning” piece, but one that gets the prospect’s attention. Simplicity implies confidence.
  4. Frequency matters – Depending on your audience, you’ll have to test to see how often you can touch them without getting pushback. If you’re using e-mail as part of your program, you will find out very quickly where the opt-out rate start to increase.
  5. Prove your business case -You only have a few seconds to get their attention and then you need to quickly convince them of the value of your proposition. In most B-to-B cases, there are multiple buying infuences and you want to get this person on your side to be your advocate with other colleagues.

I hope these have spurred some ideas for your next direct marketing program.

Content-Marketing Guidelines to Ensure Success

We’ve all heard the expression “Content is King.” Although we all know it sometimes, we may not practice it. Content drives credibility, market leadership and leads, so it’s important to follow certain steps to ensure positive results. I read a post recently from Roy Young in Marketing prof.com, 12 B2B Content-Marketing Practices to Ensure Success that I thought was right on the money. Here are some of the ones that hit home for me:

  • Identify sources within your organization for content – look outside marketing to search for experts. Product development, customer service and sales are 3 areas that could be good sources for content.
  • Listen to customers and prospects – what are they talking about, what issues/pain points do they need addressed?
  • Develop different content for different audience segments. Owners of contracting firms might want one thing and the guy who heads up the crews might want something different.
  • Vary your content for buying cycles – not everyone is ready to buy. Some are researching and gathering info. Make sure you speak to them as well.
  • Vary formats – Shake it up a little. Don’t just write, throw in a short video or podcast. Even lighten it up once in a while. Most people have a sense of humor and who doesn’t need a laugh now and then?
  • Use social media to build relationships and distribute your content – other than the traditional ways of getting your story out, use social to inform and engage your customers and target audiences.

These are a few hints that help me in my efforts to produce good content. What are you doing?

What is your Level of Participation in Social Media?

Each of us are at different stages in the social media process. Some are in “denial” while others have drank the “kool aid” and have jumped in with both feet. If you’re a serious marketer though, and represent a brand or company, you really need to get on the bus.

A recent benchmark study on social media from Ketchum and Fedex found that 100% of those surveyed had some kind of social presence. 94% hoped to increase awareness and interactions with consumers.

The thing I found interesting is different levels of engagement. 75% participated while 10% wanted to be leaders and 15% just wanted to be observers.

Level of Social Media Engagement Among Companies Worldwide, Oct 2010 (% of respondents)

This, in my mind, tells me there is a whole lot of room at the top for leadership and that folks should be moving in that direction. By integrating social media into a bigger marketing plan, they can leverage social media.

Common goals among participants were:

  • word of mouth advocacy
  • close relationships with customers
  • manage customer service
  • educate media about company related issues

Other posts you may find interesting:

Should Marketing and IT Work Together?

How Do You Measure Social Media Success?

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Have You Started a Company Blog? Maybe You Should.

Blogs are a great way to build thought leadership within specific categories. While personal blogs have stalled in recent years as consumers move towards social networking and microblogging, company blogs are on the rise. Maybe you’re missing an opportunity.

According to Paul Verna from eMarketing.com, over a third of companies have a public blog used for marketing and it’s anticipated to rise to 43% by 2012.

US Companies Using Blogs for Marketing Purposes, 2007-2012 (% of total)

 

Studies had shown that marketers perceive blogs to have the highest value of any social media in driving site traffic, brand awareness, lead generation and sales – as well as improving customer service,” said Verna. He also said that smaller companies are embracing blogging at greater rates than larger firms due in part to more constraints whether it be legal, regulatory or other reasons.

So what does this mean for manufacturers? Those who get on board now will have the advantage long term since they will be developing relationships through thought leadership and will become a “go to” resource for customers and potentials.

If you like this post, you may want to read:

Pros and Cons of Starting a Blog.

6 Tips to Make your Blog more Successful in Reaching the Professional Tradesmen

If you like this post, please share it with a friend.

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Social Media: It’s Better to Give Than to Receive

We’ve all heard of this saying and most people at least try to follow that advice. In the social media world, this mantra is the rule not the exception. Many who jump into social media think of it as just another marketing tool and start SELLING right off the bat and can’t figure out why they aren’t getting anywhere.

There’s another saying – When in Rome, do as the Romans do. This couldn’t be more true than with the social space. You need to help people by giving info away. This flies directly in the face of traditional marketers who want to control the message and have the potential customer jump through some hoops to get information. That’s not how the Romans do it!

I was reading a post recently by Jay Baer, 5 Ways to Turn Helpfulness Into Marketing Greatness, and he outlined ways you could identify customer pain points in order to be helpful. Here are some highlights:

  1. Use your customer service department – Who talks more frequently to your customers than they do? Have them document every question they receive, and if a pattern develops, create content to answer the questions.
  2. Ask your customers directly – Web surveys, e-mail surveys, and focus groups are just a few ways to get feedback. Better yet, talk to your top 100 customers and ask them about issues of dealing with your company. You’ll not only come away with good info, you can get some goodwill by just asking.
  3. Internal search reports – If your website has a search engine, look at a report that tells you what people typed in. This should give you a clear indication of what’s on their minds.
  4. Get in the trenches – You can’t learn much about your customers’ experience by sitting in your office. Go out and buy your own product, call your customer service department, try to return something. You may be surprised as to how your company is really being perceived in the marketplace.
  5. Shop the competition – Repeat step 4 but with your competitors. Again, once you go through the experience first-hand, you’ll be able to tell your strong and weak points.

Those are some ideas on how to identify areas/ways to be helpful to customers. What are you doing?

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Social Media Strategy: READY-FIRE-AIM

60% of companies using social media have no plan. Shooting from the hip does not make sense. Your purpose should dictate strategy.

Companies are going about social strategy backwards, by first concentrating on the tools and technologies instead of focusing on what they want to achieve. My understanding of social media and how to use it was greatly expedited because my rifled focus on applying it for new business.

A survey conducted by marketing firm Digital Brand Expressions found that 78 percent of client companies responding to their survey said they use social media, but only 41 percent said they have a strategic plan in place to direct their social media efforts.

Other key findings from this survey that should be of interest:

  • Of the companies that have no plan in place, 88% agree that it is important.
  • Of those companies that work from some plan, 94% said that marketing activities are included in the plan.
  • 71% of those with a plan said their Marketing Department is the group with the primary responsibility for creating and maintaining the firm’s social media presence.
  • Of the planners, 71% indicate they use social media for public relations communications while 55% said that they used social media for sales-related activities. A surprisingly small percentage (16%) say their HR team is using social media for recruiting, employee retention, training and development, etc. and 26% use it for customer service.
  • Social media efforts are being led primarily by Marketing (71%) and PR (29%) departments.
  • Even among those with a plan, few (29%) have written policies and communications protocols in place, leaving the organization exposed to problems arising out of employees communicating in ways that inadvertently hurt, rather than help, their company brands.

“It’s fairly well established that social media is a channel that businesses must participate in, leaving CEOs with the new challenge of planning and implementing brand aligned initiatives enterprise-wide,” said Veronica Fielding, president and CEO of Digital Brand Expressions.

Click on the link to download a PDF copy of: Corporate Social Media Report

If you like this post, these others might be of interest to you:

 Social Media Catching on in the B-to-B Markets

Social Media Marketing Continues to Grow: Great Way to Reach the Professional Tradesmen.

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Distributor Survey Shows Online Training from Manufacturers Helps Them to Recommend and Sell More Products

If you’re a manufacturer who sells through a distribution channel, you need to think about training. A recent survey by BlueVolt indicates that distributors who are trained online recommend and sell more.

It makes sense – most distributors stock over 20,000 items and it’s impossible for them to know about each one of them. It stands to reason if they feel comfortable about a product, it makes it easy for them to recommend it.

Think beyond new product launches as well. Look at some of your core product that might be considered by the end user as a commodity. What better way to differentiate your product from the pack than by training the people who have influence over what users buy?

And what’s more interesting is that these folks are requesting online training mentioning manufacturers by name. Talk about an opportunity! You need to think of training as a selling tool, not a marketing expense.

About the study:
BlueVolt, starting in the fall of 2009, sent out a survey to employees of distributors who took online training within the major buying groups and associations. Among the industries covered were Electrical, Plumbing, HVAC, PVC, Construction, Industrial and Flooring. Job titles included sales (inside and out), counter people and CSRs, to name a few. A total of 1291 surveys were sent out and 1210 were returned for a 94% return rate. The respondents were given the opportunity beyond just answering the questionnarie to identify, by name, those manufacturers they wanted more training from.

Regarding increasing sales and improving customer service:
– 81% said that they sell more as a result of learning through BlueVolt
– 94% said their customers rely on them to recommend products or manufacturers
– 89% said that they service their customers better as a result of online training from BlueVolt
– 63% said they recommend products at least once a day
– 57% said they recommend products 2-5 plus times a day

If you like this post, please pass it on.

Here are other posts that might be of interest to you:

Use Online Training to Educate Tradesmen Part 1

Use Online Training to Educate Tradesmen Part 2

B-to-B Marketers: 5 “Must Haves” Before Starting Social Media

Unless you live under a rock, everyone knows about social media at least in broad terms. Social media holds a tremendous amount of potential for businesses looking to grow. Many companies, in an effort to get started, jump right in, and while that’s not the end of the world, I think if they really want social media to have a positive impact on their business, they should consider the following:

  1. Set clear goals – Too many people are ready, fire, aim! They are so interested in the “how” of social instead of the “why.” What are you trying to do, brand build, increase the number of leads, use as a customer service tool? Just like any other marketing exercise, you need to have a plan.
  2. Human capital – Once the goals are in writing, do you have the people power needed to accomplish the task?
  3. Content – Do we or can we produce enough “good” content to sustain a social media program?
  4. Current web site – Is it social media ready? I don’t mean putting up logos saying follow me on Twitter or Facebook. Is there a reason for customers or potentials to return to your site? Have you set up a forum or industry update button?
  5. Incorporate it throughout the buying process – Remember where these new leads came from (social) and that they expect the same type of access and interaction throughout the process. Besides, you as a marketer would probably like to know which leads you handed off to sales were actually converted into new business.

If you follow these five steps, you’ll be off on the right direction.

What things could you add to the list?


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B-to-B Marketers: Put The “Why” Before The “How” In Social Media

When it comes to social media, many marketers first concern is on “How” are we going to use social before the “Why.” They should really first consider the “who” are we trying to connect with and “What” do we bring to the party. Although marketing, most of the time, takes the lead in social media, it really involves the whole company starting with those that touch the customers – sales, customer service and tech support are a few that come quickly to mind. Marketing can’t create a spin campaign and push it out to customers. Social isn’t about you, it’s about the customer and what they want and need.

Valeria Maltoni in a recent post, Developing a B2B Content Strategy: Starts With the Who, outlines issues that marketing should consider when developing a social strategy. She notes that to stay ahead you need to adapt and evolve using your experience and expertise to serve your customers. It’s a good read.

What are you doing to get better connected with your audience?

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Why Do People Ignore Social Media Metrics?

If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

One of the main reasons folks should use social is, for the most part, easily trackable and you can see quickly your success/failure rates. I’m amazed when asking people who are using social tools how are they doing, they come back to me with some generalized statements like, “I’m doing really well.” If I press them for more details, I come to find out that they really don’t have a plan for measuring what they do and the time they spend at it. Metrics are an important component for the use of social media. Especially measuring for ROI in regards to the amount of time that must be invested. You would think this would be a no brainer. But according to a recent a survey by Mzinga and Babson Executive Education, a whopping 84% of professionals do not measure ROI for social media. It appears that hardly anyone is taking the time to measure the ROI for social.

Social Media ROI

Some additional insightful statistics from this survey:

  • 86% of respondents to the survey of professionals from a variety of industries said they had adopted social technologies.
  • 57% said they were using social media tools for marketing.
  • More than four in 10 respondents did not even know whether the social tools they were using had ROI measurement capabilities.
  • 3 in 10 reported using social media for customer service and support.

Click Here to download a copy of this report.

Here’s another post you might find interesting: How Do You Measure Social Media?

A great resource of social media articles and fresh reports comes from eMarketer. I found the original source of this survey through their eMarketer Daily Newsletter. I highly recommend it.

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Social Media: Who Uses It and Why?

Would it surprise you to learn that the biggest gains in who’s using social media are among older users? According to a report in eMarketer, “consumer internet barometer” U.S. internet users who visited a social site in the 2nd quarter of ’09 rose 16% over last year. Females still lead males in usage and 70% of users were under the age of 35. The most popular sites in order were: Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter.

 

US Internet Users Who Visit Social Networks, by Gender and Age, Q2 2008 & Q2 2009 (% of respondents in each group)

Now that we know who uses it, we can tackle the why.

According to a post in eMarketer, marketers surveyed by Marketing Sherpa in late 2008 found that increasing brand reputation and awareness, along with improved search engines, headed up the reasons why they thought social media was an effective tool. Blog or social media advertising, online news release distribution and blogging led the way as far as tactics they thought to be useful.

 

Social Media Tactics that US Social Media Marketing Professionals Feel Are Measurable and Effective, December 2008 (% of respondents)

Now based on what you just read, what do you think business executives think of social media?

Sean Callahan from BtoB online reported recently on a survey conducted by Russell Herder and Ethos business law that business executives were grappling with social media. The online survey of 438 executives showed:

  • 51% fear social media and that it could be detrimental to employee productivity
  • 49% said social media could damage the company’s reputation

At the same time they said:

  • 81% can enhance relationships with customers
  • 69% can aid in recruiting
  • 64% it could function as a customer service tool

About 70% say they are going to increase their social media, however only 33% had a social media policy in place.

I don’t know about you, but I think these guys are talking out of both sides of their mouth. The only thing they should do is support a social program. They should stick to what they know and do well and let the marketing departments do their jobs.

What are your thoughts?

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5 Ways to use Twitter as a Tool to Reach the Professional Tradesman

B-to-B marketers are having a hard time figuring out the best way to use Twitter. If they understand that the people who are following them are obviously interested in them and their products, they’ve already pre-qualified themselves. Twitter has become my number-one source of activity to my blog.

Here are 5 ways I recommend using Twitter in a B-to-B setting:

  1. Share product and technical information: By putting up new product info, technical and other harder to obtain info on Twitter, you’re allowing tradesmen to keep up to date on information without distractions for search engines or even your web site.
  2. Drive people to your blog: One main objective is to get them to your blog, and Twitter is an ideal way of doing that. We use TweetLater to send out posts hourly during the business day. Our traffic has increased substantially since we started using this, and our followers have also increased.
  3. Keep up on competitors as well as what people are saying about you: We use Twitter Search as the tool to keep us informed. It’s fast and easy, much like Google Alerts. Wouldn’t you like to know who’s talking about buying something from your competitor?
  4. Share solutions for specific applications: Manufacturers can do everything from quick tips for tradesmen in the field, to best practices on how to get the most productivity in certain applications.
  5. Creating buzz at trade shows: This is relatively new, but is a great way to talk about the latest new widget at XYZ’s booth, and you really should stop by booth #2459. Obviously for this to work, you need to have a number of followers in that industry who are probably at the show. Even if they aren’t, you will have peaked their curiosity enough for them to look on your blog or web for more info on the product.

These are my top 5 ways…what are yours?

Here are a few more posts about Twitter that may be of interest to you:

Using Twitter in Customer Service

Use Twitter to Grow Your Brand

Twitter Search Benefits B-to-B Marketers

Social Media: 4 Signs Your Tradesmen Want to Hear From You

Construction Worker RelaxedBlogs, Forums, Twitter – are your brands or company being mentioned on any of these? If not, what are you going to do about it? Should you be joining the conversation? What are your competitors doing? Remember, those that start conversations often end up leading them.

I read an interesting post recently from Maria Pergolino, Social media: Signs your prospects want to hear from you, that I thought had some valid points to consider.

  1. People Talking about You. While this is the most obvious, when you do find those opportunities you need to start participating. Tools like Google and Twitter Search are good free tools to use to help identify opportunities.
  2. Friends on Parked Names. Sometimes companies reserve names (park) on social sites so no one else can get them, but aren’t active on the site other than some basic company info. While there, you might be attracting potential customers or editors even without putting content up. If this is the case, you’re missing opportunities.
  3. Someone Speaking for your Brand. Sometimes people (many times they are customers) take over your name and start talking about your brand or product. Often these advocates share tips and tricks on how you can do your job better. Other times they may be complaining about a product, its features or even your customer service. Regardless, the conversations that are taking place indicates interest in your products. In either case, you should know that you’re being talked about, and in the case of the customer who is unhappy, you should try to come to the root of his problem.
  4. Name Squatting. This is where someone else beats you to your name (brand) on a social site. It may be someone who wants to profit from your name like one of your distributors, or it could be a competitor trying to lock you out of that particular market. If it’s someone using your name, you should monitor it (use a service) to make sure they aren’t saying anything negative about you. Whatever the reason, it should indicate to you that someone thinks it’s important enough to capture your name.

In Social media, they’re going to talk about you whether you’re listening or not. Don’t stick your head in the sand and ignore them.

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Pricing in a Volatile Market

This post originally appeared on INSIGHT2PROFIT.com.

We are in unchartered waters of a global pandemic and macroeconomic uncertainty. In this environment, how should businesses adjust their strategies to best address the unpredictable market?  Are price cuts – or price increases – warranted to protect growth and margins?

Pricing in a volatile market is challenging. Dramatic pricing decisions can have a lasting effect on the profitability profile of a business long after a downturn. Conversely, best-in-class businesses use market volatility to their advantage by identifying opportunities to maintain, and even expand margins and reset their profitability. Now is not the time to overreact. Rather it’s a time when data analytics can help considerably to make informed decisions. With the right strategy, tools and approach, businesses can turn what appears to be a poor market situation into greater profitability and improved market positioning in the long-term.

What To Do

Resist the urge to immediately lower pricing. Impulsive decisions often have unanticipated consequences. If competitors respond with their own price reductions, it could start a price war that will decrease industry profitability across the board and reset the competitive dynamics in the market for years to come. A lower price in the downturn becomes a new normal in the minds of customers and sets new reference price and margin expectations for the business. And when the market rebounds, there’s no guarantee that price increases can recoup lost profitability.

In the same vein, don’t mirror competitor behaviors without a data-driven strategic review. These actions may trigger a race to the bottom all market participants want to avoid. Try to balance the need to stay competitive against implementing a policy that will reduce industry profitability. (more…)

Manufacturers: Help Your Contractors Have Online Success

Many contractors have trouble navigating the digital scene. Here are tips that you can share with them to help them get noticed and sell more of your stuff!

 

Contractor’s Online Success Strategy: Get Listed on These Four Websites

For service-providing businesses, like contracting companies, greater online visibility can almost immediately bring more business. People’s primary way of finding somebody to do a job for them is by doing quick online research. In order to increase your chance of being found online, one of the simplest things you can do is get listed on websites for contractor services. Here are some websites worth considering.

HomeAdvisor

HomeAdvisor.com

HomeAdvisor.com

With over 487,000 likes on Facebook, 26,200 followers on Instagram and more than 40,400 followers on Twitter, HomeAdvisor is one of the most popular websites for home service professionals.

HomeAdvisor’s web platform is extremely user-friendly. There is a very wide array of home improvement categories to choose from. Homeowners pick one, describe their needs and they get matched with up to four professionals. They can also read reviews of a particular contractor’s services.

HomeAdvisor offers contractors a robust, user-friendly system that lets you categorize and organize your leads, keep track of communications, and connect with prospects via phone or email with the touch of a button. Its mobile app lets you take these tools on the road to help you stay on top of your pipeline.

CraftJack

CraftJack.com

CraftJack.com

CraftJack is a very versatile web tool which allows you to do a lot more than just get listed in a search directory.

CraftJack works much like a social network but one geared exclusively towards contractors. Each contractor has a unique profile page, which they can use to promote their business. You can use it to showcase your finished work by posting photos and videos. Plus, the page will display your overall customer rating.

The CraftJack Pro app allows contractors to connect with homeowners, receive job alerts, schedule work, and request reviews right from their mobile device. CraftJack comes with a feature called Lead Manager, which can help you get more leads and referrals. You can even get discounts on the leads you win (e.g. by contacting a lead within 30 minutes of receiving the notification).

ACCA

Acca.org

Acca.org

ACCA stands for the Air Conditioning Contractors of America. But that doesn’t mean that only HVAC contractors can get listed. The website also works for contractors in refrigeration, plumbing, home and building performance, etc.

The way the website works is very simple. There is a search engine which homeowners, builders or building owners can use to find a contractor based on a variety of criteria, such as proximity, the kind of work they perform and the market segment in which they operate – commercial, residential or government. Site visitors can also find instructions on how to choose the most suitable contractor and see a list of questions they may want to ask the contractor before the work begins.

While you can get listed even if you are not a member, becoming one will grant you some extra benefits, such as opportunities to network during ACCA events or discounts on accreditation programs.

Angie’s List

AngiesList.com

AngiesList.com

Angie’s List is for contractors who work in the areas of home and yard improvement, as well as auto and health services. The website claims to be used by more than 6 million US households.

There are two ways your business can get listed in Angie’s List’s search directory. The first one is if a customer that is really pleased with your services adds you there and recommends you as a professional. The second one is if you create your own free profile where you can list your areas of expertise, follow your ratings and respond to customer feedback.

If you receive a negative review, Angie’s List will give you the opportunity to talk to the reviewer and hopefully have the review removed. Bear in mind that you should have a valid license, because Angie’s List gives homeowners the option to check if you are licensed and bonded.

Some Additional Advice

These four websites will give your business great visibility and increase your chances of getting more business. But there are two other things you should also do. First, get listed on Google My Business, so your business can appear in the “sponsored ads” column of Google search results. Second, try to get listed in the .gov website of your state, as this will give you some extra credibility.

What steps are you taking to advertise your business and make sure you are visible online?

 

How the Trade Media is Adjusting to the “New Normal” of COVID-19: A Conversation with CFE Media

By Matt Sonnhalter, Vision Architect

As we are all challenged with navigating our businesses through the realities of COVID-19, we’ve noticed that a number of the trade media have been nimble in responding to the “New Normal.”

We had the opportunity to speak with several publishers in our B2T (business-to-trades) industry to learn how they were adapting to this new environment. The following is part five of our five-part series.

CFE Media and Technology has provided engineers in manufacturing, commercial and industrial buildings and manufacturing control systems with the knowledge they need to improve their operational efficiency for the past 10 years. The company’s publishing brands include Consulting-Specifying Engineer, Control Engineering, Plant Engineering and Oil and Gas Engineering.

We spoke with Matt Waddell, vice president of sales at CFE Media and Technology, who oversees the entire sales organization and ensures CFE provides its marketing partners with direct access to targeted engineers, market intelligence and best practices to accomplish their marketing goals.

When the COVID-19 pandemic initially hit, CFE immediately realized that its subscribers were, for the most part, working from home. Reaching multiple engineer marketplaces—plant engineering and manufacturing, control engineering, oil and gas engineering and consulting specifying engineering—its subscribers had an easier transition than many other industry segments.

“They either travel a lot and are used to working remotely, or they’ve been able to transfer computer capabilities and bandwidth to a home office,” said Waddell. “Other engineers within our subscriber base are considered essential workers that are represented by key markets like food and beverage-, pharma- and healthcare-related markets.”

Lend a Helping Hand

“We know that our engineering audience will remember those that have helped them during this difficult time, whether it was creating education or providing a free service,” said Waddell. “And, when companies find a way to help out, they definitely endear themselves to our audience.”

For an example, one of CFE’s partners, Bentley, created its, “We’ve Got Your Back Initiative,” to help its customers meet work-from-home challenges by making its software accessible and waiving its fees until the end of September 2020.

“Sophisticated marketers know that now is a bad time to disappear,” said Waddell. “We’ve talked to a lot of manufacturers that are interested in working with us to create content for the engineers to educate the market during this time.”

To address the changes that have occurred in the marketplace, not only with its subscribers, but also with its advertiser partners, CFE made several changes and created several new digital and virtual communication products.

Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic started, CFE launched a weekly e-newsletter titled, “COVID-19 Engineering Alert.” The e-newsletter was created in four versions, targeted with specific content to CFE’s four engineering markets, consulting specifying, control, plant and oil and gas. The newsletter provides engineers with up-to-date information about how this global pandemic is impacting the engineering community.

“We’ve noticed that our open rates and click-thru rates have been very impressive across all brands,” said Waddell. “Likely, because many engineers have more time working from home.”

No Show, No Problem

As more and more industry trade shows are cancelled or postponed, CFE found additional ways to keep its engineering audience up-to-date and allow its clients the opportunity to showcase their products. CFE brands typically attend the international Hannover Messe, International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), Pack Expo International, and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). CFE also hosts the Global Manufacturing and Automation Summit (GMA) in connection with IMTS.

CFE created its Virtual Booth Visit as a way for manufacturers to showcase their products to targeted engineering audiences, despite the cancellations of these trade shows and other events. The Virtual Booth Visit is hosted online and is available for engineers to access on demand. It includes a 15-minute product overview presentation, a 5-minute demonstration video for the product and options for the viewers to download spec sheets or contact the product manager directly.

“If you were planning on launching new products or product updates at a show, we’ve got a virtual event platform solution,” said Waddell. “Our partners aren’t going to shows, so they likely have some budget to work with to find alternate methods to get the word out to their audiences without having the big party and the booth expo.”

At certain trade shows, for an example NFPA, the association uses the conference as a platform for fire and safety engineers to review, update and vote on codes and standards to ensure the safety of buildings and fire protection practices. These codes and standards must be followed by the AHJs (authorities having jurisdiction), municipalities and other government agencies for design purposes.

“As we come out of the COVID-19 era, we know there are going to be a lot of dramatic changes,” suggested Waddell. “Not only are the codes and standards going to change, but as a result, there is going to be a demand for creating new products and solutions. It’s actually a great opportunity for both the engineers and manufacturers to be very involved in these updates.”

Regarding live events, CFE holds its annual Marketing to Engineers® educational seminar for its marketing partners. The seminar features industry experts presenting tips for successful integrated marketing campaigns and the latest marketing trends relevant to the engineering community.

“In the past, we’ve always held our Marketing to Engineers event live and in person,” said Waddell. “Unfortunately, this year we had to change it to a virtual live event. Now, more than ever, this event is extremely important because there are limited ways to communicate with engineers.”

CFE marketing partners had the option to access the same great content that they would have experienced in-person and they have the option to view it on-demand on any computer or smart device.

CFE also recently launched CFE Edu to provide continuing education to engineering professionals. Whether enrolled students need a refresher course on a particular topic or need to know the latest issues going on in the engineering industry, CFE Edu offers courses that touch on various topics. CFE’s new Virtual Training Week, which will be held October 5-9, 2020, is an additional way to further educate engineer subscribers and offer CEU and PDH accreditation at the same time.

“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in registrations for all of our products,” said Waddell, “Keep in mind that this is a small amount of data, but we have to assume that with our engineer subscribers stuck at home, they have more time to actually consume information.”

CFE believes that the ability for the engineer to consume highly educational content at their pace is resonating. And, the opportunity to earn professional development hours (PDH) or continuing education units (CEU) is also valuable.

In spite of the unique and difficult situation of COVID-19, CFE continues to roll out new products and look for unique ways to proactively get valuable information out to its engineer subscribers.

“We’re not letting COVID stop us,” declared Waddell. “We remain positive. And, we continue to keep the ideas coming, we keep learning how engineers are consuming content and we keep putting out the best vehicles to proactively help engineers during this time.”

To read more of the series about how the trade media is adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic and more about the effects of COVID-19 in the B2T industry:

How the Trade Media is Adjusting to the “New Normal” of COVID-19: A Conversation with SGC Horizon

Throughout COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic, Professional Tradesmen are Essential as Ever

Even During a Pandemic, Influencers in the Trades Build On: Part One

 

 

 

How the Trade Media is Adjusting to the “New Normal” of COVID-19: A Conversation with SGC Horizon Media

By Matt Sonnhalter, Vision Architect

As we are all challenged with navigating our businesses through the realities of COVID-19, we’ve noticed that a number of the trade media have been nimble in responding to the “New Normal.”

We had the opportunity to speak with several publishers in our B2T (business-to-trades) industry to learn how they were adapting to this new environment. The following is part four of our five-part series.

SGC Horizon is a leading diversified media, content, marketing, data and events company serving the residential and commercial design and construction markets. The company has a collection of leading publication brands, including ProBuilder, Pro Remodeler, Building Design+Construction, Products, ProTradeCraft and Construction Equipment.

 

We spoke with Jeff Elliott, SGC Horizon Regional Sales Director and Principal.

Since 2018, one of SGC Horizon’s key initiatives is ProCONNECT, a series of events that bring leading building industry professionals together with top building product manufacturers for a day-and-a-half of confidential one-on-one meetings to discuss upcoming projects and explore solutions.

ProCONNECT is not just another trade show. ProCONNECT’s unique, one-on-one format and manageable size of up to 100 attendees and sponsors creates just the right environment for truly effective problem solving, high-level networking, and efficient use of attendees’ valuable time.

“ProCONNECT is kind of like ‘speed dating’ between key target audiences of builders and building product manufacturers,” said Elliott. “Since we launched ProCONNECT, our 12 events have produced more than 5,000 one-on-one meetings.”

Connecting Pros Virtually

“When COVID-19 hit, we were in the midst of holding an in-person ProCONNECT event for the multifamily market,” said Elliott. “It was held right when the pandemic was starting, and only three people canceled. We received positive reactions with productive meetings and great leads.”

Once the country started closing down and live events became impossible, SGC Horizon quickly responded to the new normal. “We knew that allowing people to connect virtually and engage in substantive discussions was going to be a valuable service we could provide,” said Elliott.

The company immediately launched Virtual ProCONNECT. “Keeping the health and safety of our audience members and building products customers in mind, we can keep connecting builders and manufacturers in an effort to establish and grow long-lasting partnerships—all from the comfort and safety of their home offices,” said Elliott.

The virtual ProCONNECT format brings traditional event ideas right to a home office. The event opens with an opportunity for attendees to ‘e-meet’ and continues with one-on-one private Zoom breakout meetings to discuss future projects and partnerships. Manufacturers meet with at least 16 builders over what amounts to a total of eight hours over two half-days.

ProCONNECT Produces Tangible Sales Results

ProCONNECT events have proven to be highly efficient for both attendees and sponsor companies.

“At a time when people are finding it impossible to meet in person, ProCONNECT is giving them an opportunity to keep their businesses moving along, said Elliott. “It’s a really good investment, where you can actually measure the marketing ROI and tie it back to orders. The feedback we are getting has been great.”

For more information on future ProCONNECT events, visit: https://sgchorizonproconnect.com

 

To read more of the series or more about the effects of COVID-19 in the B2T industry:

How the Trade Media is Adjusting to the “New Normal” of COVID-19: A Conversation with Babcox Media

Throughout COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic, Professional Tradesmen are Essential as Ever

Even During a Pandemic, Influencers in the Trades Build On: Part One

Let’s Improve Your Demonstration Skills

Each month, Alan Sipe, a contributing editor for Professional Distributor magazine, writes a sales skill article targeted to the independent business people who own and operate the various branded tool trucks you see parked at automotive repair shops  everywhere. Although this article is written for the automotive repair industry, the sales skills are applicable to everyone.

Practice feature, advantage, benefit selling … and create some videos.

All the cool stuff you ordered at your recent major jobber show or from your recent promotions is in and your mobile store is filled to the top. Your credit line is stretched to, or even past, its limit. Adding to this situation is the fact that COVID-19 is giving everyone good reason to keep their distance and be conservative with their purchases. Additionally, since most of us are not driving our vehicles very
much, our cars are not breaking down and the rate of collisions has decreased.

If you are still making your calls, each one must be more productive than ever. And if you are working from home, getting those sales is more difficult than ever. So, what’s a mobile jobber to do? The answer is to demonstrate your products better than ever. Remember: a presentation without demonstration is a wasted conversation. As a wagon jobber, you offer the technicians several benefits that other merchants can’t or won’t. Things like on-the-spot sales/service, repair or replacement of broken products, specialty products that are very hard to find elsewhere, a wide variety of products, excellent credit terms, and the knowledge to present the right tool for the job to be done.

What you cannot do is compete on price. Therefore, you must be a better salesperson than any online picture or description, and significantly better than the next mobile jobber coming through the door.

Let’s get to the point. If you want to sell more stuff, make your calls, give great demonstrations and ask for the order. Do that enough times and you will sell something. Do it better and better each time and you will make more sales.

It is very important for you to know the product features, advantages, and benefits before you start your presentation. The feature simply is what it is: “This unit has a USB port.” The advantage is what it does: “This USB port will power and charge your phone, tablet, and other electronics.” The benefit describes how it impacts the user: “This handy feature will help you keep your electronics ready for use at any time and stop those annoying dead battery delays.”

Again, the feature is simply what it is. The advantage is what it does. To you, the benefit may be so logical that you may feel silly mentioning it. Present it anyway! You are not selling to yourself; you are selling a product to your prospect. Don’t assume what they do or do not know. In fact, presume they know nothing and you will be better off. Think of it this way: your demonstration is no different than singing a song or performing in a play. Every time AC/DC performs “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” they sing every word. They leave out nothing, even though their fans know every word. Performing a demo is no different. Leave out nothing. That one little feature or benefit that you omit may be exactly the one that convinces your prospect to buy. (more…)

SEO Checklist for 2020

Today we have a guest post from Pete Kever, president of K6 Digital Marketing, who has been leading the SEO, search marketing, website development and digital marketing for its clients. He’s been at it since before Google.

The World Wide Web has reached its “thirtysomething” birthday and is the base of the world’s digital information infrastructure. Today, according to websitehostingrating.com, there are over 1.74 billion websites containing many trillions of documents. With so many websites clamoring to deliver information to their target audience, search engine optimization (SEO) is as important as ever.

SEO is the art and science of attempting to gain a listing of website content on page one of Google, the world’s most popular search engine. If your content is not on page one, your competitors are getting their messages in front of your potential customers instead of you.

SEO helps businesses put their messages in front of people right at the moment they are searching for it.

SEO is Important to Every Business

Trades marketers and manufacturers need to care about their search engine rank. According to a recent Google study:

 

  • 71 percent of B2B researchers start their research with a generic search
  • On average, B2B researchers do 12 searches prior to engaging on a specific brand’s site
  • 89 percent of B2B researchers use the internet during the B2B research process
  • Nearly half of all B2B researchers are millennials
  • B2B researchers who are not in the C-suite influence purchase decisions
  • 70 percent of B2B buyers and researchers are watching videos throughout their path to purchase

While there are a number of marketing strategies and services available to get the attention of online viewers, such as social media marketing, pay-per-click advertising, email marketing and digital banner ads, SEO still offers the most long-term value.

We have developed a checklist of important technical and creative SEO tactics.

Pick Relevant, Focused Keywords

Based on your products and services and on what people are actually searching for, select a list of keywords and phrases that will lead people to your site who most likely will buy. This list becomes your keyword roster and is monitored; over time your rankings should increase for the important terms. Online tools are available for conducting keyword research and for monitoring rankings–a popular one is SEMRush but there are others.

Be sure to choose a mixture of highly popular, but more difficult keywords and long-tail keyword phrases–specific terms that are not used as often, but are less competitive and that tend to bring qualified traffic.

Write Useful, Engaging, Unique Content

Once you know the terms that are actually being used to find your products and services, you need to build content containing those keywords and phrases throughout your site. Professional SEO writers are valuable here, as they understand tactics like semantic search and keyword iterations and can weave keywords into on-page copy for the search engines that also help drive action from users.

Your site needs content that is both sales- and value-based, as well as educational. The sales and value content is optimized for keywords and focused on pitching your products and services. The educational content builds your organization as a thought leader and is useful for providing helpful resources that eventually drive purchase decisions.

Educational content–such as a blog–is also great for social media sharing and building awareness.

Make Sure All HTML Tags Are Optimized

Some HTML tags are absolutely essential for any SEO campaign and MUST be utilized if you want SEO success. Title tags feature keywords from your roster and are useful to search engines in understanding the context of each page. The description meta tag gives more detail on the page’s content is usually a reader’s first encounter with your website in the listings on search results pages.

There are rules and best practices for character-count limits and what to include in these tags if you want to maximize their effectiveness. Search Engine Journal offers a good primer on these essential tags for your online presence.

Build Inbound Links

The more links from other sites that link to your website, the better. The logic here is that other sites respect your site and are referring their traffic to your site. Your website is thus a healthy and participating component of the Web.

Be aware: links that are deemed “toxic” by Google and other search engines can actually harm the SEO rankings of your site, and disavowing bad links is an aspect of SEO that needs to be followed. Google Analytics can help with this SEO task and many others!

Make Sure Your Site Is Mobile Friendly

Google has begun displaying mobile content more predominately and is thus very interested in ranking websites that work well on a mobile platform. Google has even created a “mobile friendly test” tool to get insight into whether individual pages on your site pass basic mobile checks.

Make Sure Your Site Is Fast and Responsive

Since Google’s business relies on being the “front door” to web content, they are constantly looking to rank websites that have short wait times, load correctly and respond well to users. Therefore, it is important to constantly be checking your site for slow-loading pages, images that are very large, broken links and more.

Stay Connected with Customers and Prospects via Social Media

Social media sites like LinkedIn and Instagram are powerful tools to connect with your customers and prospects, and to increase your brand awareness. Social media does not directly influence your search engine rank, but well-known brands tend to get more clicks and engagement than unknown entities.

These platforms are other digital destinations where searchers can find out about your business and often you can provide a link on these platforms to come to your website. Just as “all roads lead to Rome,” many roads can lead to your website. Social media platforms are also useful in promoting special campaigns and offers.

Video Marketing

YouTube is owned by Google and indexed by Google with great regularity. More importantly, video content is highly popular–YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world behind Google. 68% of YouTube viewers have watched a video to help them decide upon a purchase. Having your company content on YouTube is a smart marketing strategy. Also, videos keep site visitors on your web pages longer.

Staying on top of SEO is an expense, but the long-term ROI is one of the highest among all forms of advertising and marketing. Once your website has been optimized and you continue to follow SEO best practices, you will see a payback over time, whether your goals are increased brand share, more leads, or more sales.

Make no mistake, whether you decide to pursue SEO or not, some of your competitors absolutely will.

Would you like to engage with Sonnhalter for SEO services for your industrial or manufacturing business? We’re here for you – please contact us to get the conversation started.

How the Trade Media is Adjusting to the “New Normal” of COVID-19: A Conversation with BNP Media

By Matt Sonnhalter, Vision Architect

As we are all challenged with navigating our businesses through the realities of COVID-19, we’ve noticed that a number of the trade media have been nimble in responding to the “new normal.”

We had the opportunity to speak with several publishers in our B2T (business-to-trades) industry to learn how they were changing their tactics to adapt to this new environment. Following is part one of our five-part series.

As print readership has been declining over the past several years, many publications have been gradually making the move to offering digital issue options for readers who would prefer to receive their industry news on their laptop, tablet or smartphone.

One publisher doing exactly that is BNP Media. In business for more than 90 years, BNP Media is one of the largest B2B publishers, publishing nearly 60 titles that serve the architecture, engineering & construction, food, beverage & packaging, gaming & hospitality, manufacturing, mechanical systems (including plumbing), security and services markets.

We spoke with Dan Ashenden, group publisher of the Mechanical/Plumbing Group at BNP Media, on his organization’s reaction. The Mechanical/Plumbing Group publications include Plumbing & Mechanical, which targets contractors, Supply House Times, which targets wholesale distributors and PM Engineer which targets plumbing/mechanical engineers.

Digital-First Format

“Moving to an all-digital platform was part of BNP’s long-term strategy, said Ashenden. “The unfortunate pandemic we find ourselves in was simply a happenstance and motivation for BNP to say, ‘Why go slow with this plan?’ We’d already done the groundwork—we had been getting all our users registered and had started creating products that were trackable. And, our customers were demanding more digital options.”

On March 31, 2020, BNP co-CEO Taggert Henderson made an official video announcement that beginning with the April 2020 issues, BNP controlled subscription publications were moving to 100 percent digital-first format. (more…)

Throughout COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic, Professional Tradesmen are Essential as Ever

By Matt Sonnhalter, Vision Architect, Sonnhalter

Over the past few weeks, the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has presented an unprecedented set of challenges to not only our country’s workforce, but nearly all facets of our daily lives. While millions of Americans are being advised to work remotely or self-quarantine, our professional tradesmen are still reporting for work each day to keep the lights on and the water running. While this pandemic has brought on stress and uncertainty for many, Sonnhalter wanted to shine a light on some of the ways that those working in the trades continue to persevere, with some even finding new opportunities to succeed during this crisis.

Toilet Woes Still Require Plumbing Pros

With the well-documented toilet paper shortages across the country, people have resorted to using toilet paper alternatives that can wreak havoc on your plumbing, from napkins to shredded t-shirts. While those at home see these incidents as misfortunes, the recent increase of flushing improper items has provided an unexpected increase in business for some plumbers, like Michael Williams of Just Drains LLC in Philadelphia. “This is going to turn out fantastically for the drain cleaning industry,” he asserts. “People are flushing lots of things down the drain that should not go there – wipes, tissues, paper towels.”

Utility Company Workers are Redefining “Work from Home”

With hospitals filling up, people filing to the supermarkets to stock up and many telecommuting from their homes, it is unthinkable how much worse the crisis would be without power or natural gas. But in order to maintain operations, utility companies in New York and Florida have taken a new approach to both keep utilities running and abide social distancing guidelines by sequestering employees in offices, power stations and control rooms. According to the article, employees for these utility companies are trading off week-long shifts living in RVs and trailers at the company’s facilities in order to maintain power and natural gas services to thousands of customers.

Architecture Firm Uses 3D Printers to Make PPE Face Shields for Healthcare Workers

Some of the biggest heroes in our country’s response to this crisis have been the healthcare workers on the frontlines, and it has been encouraging to see companies using their resources and technology to help provide essential safety equipment. For example, HMC Architects is using 3D printers to manufacture PPE face shields and making them available to hospitals and clinics in its communities. The face shields are produced remotely by HMC employees, who are able to produce about 35 face shields per day from their homes.

National Association of Home Builders Provides Key Tips for Jobsite Safety

As construction jobs move forward, there is significant need for information that employers and workers can use to help reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) published guidance for construction employers, employees, contractors and companies conducting work on construction job sites on a number of topics such as coronavirus exposure prevention, preparedness and response. These documents describe, “how to prevent worker exposure to coronavirus, protective measures to be taken on the jobsite, personal protective equipment and work practice controls to be used, cleaning and disinfecting procedures, and OSHA guidance on what to do if a worker becomes sick, including recordkeeping requirements.”

HVAC Technicians Implement “Contact-Free” Protocol to Keep Employees and Customers Safe

For necessary HVAC service jobs, some companies are offering “contact-free” protocol to help mitigate the spread of the virus. Technicians for these companies will call before heading to the job site, as well as calling when they arrive at the door. Technicians are also advised to maintain a six-foot distance from the customer at all times, wear masks and protective gloves and even offer video chat consultation if extra precautions are necessary.

We are living in a time where it feels like the situation is changing by the day, but one thing that remains constant is the courage and fortitude of the professional tradesmen and their ability to find new ways to providing all of their essential services. Know of any other innovative ways professional tradesmen are getting the job done during the pandemic? Email us at info@sonnhalter.com.

 

Generic Values = Generic Culture

Following is a guest post from our friends over at Long & Short of It, masters of ideation, customer insights and market research. They like to say they “dig and find lots of data and then turn it into actionable insights.”

MOST COMPANIES HAVE A SET OF VALUES. MOST OF THESE STATED VALUES ARE GENERIC AND QUITE FRANKLY, MEANINGLESS.

Take this test. Pull out a copy of your organization’s values – remove your company name and logo from it. Replace it with another company name. Does it work for them? Could it apply to that company? If so, then your company values are not distinct enough to have meaning and value. A company like a person needs to have unique values similar to your personal values which cannot easily be shared by anyone else. This is important because the culture of your company is a reflection of what the company values – it guides employee behavior and decision making. The more generic the values, the more difficult it is for employees to know what to do or how to represent the company that is in alignment with the culture. 

For example, here are the values of a company:

Communication – We have an obligation to communicate. Here, we take the time to talk with one another… and to listen. We believe that information is meant to move and that information moves people.

Respect – We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment.

Integrity – We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, then we won’t do it.

Excellence– We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. We will continue to raise the bar for everyone. The great fun here will be for all of us to discover just how good we can really be. (more…)

Pricing Challenge: Actual Versus Plan

This post originally appeared on INSIGHT2PROFIT.com.

Welcome back to INSIGHT2PROFIT’s 2019 Pricing Challenge! Each article covers a common pricing challenge faced by businesses and provide some tips to help improve your profitability.

 

Now that we’re about halfway through 2019, let’s talk about the plan you set for the year. How have you performed thus far relative to your plan?

If your performance hasn’t matched your financial projections for this first part of the year, what happened?  Maybe you’ve looked at your financial reports, and you see that your customer or product mix isn’t what you were expecting, or that you have been impacted by tariffs, and your profitability has suffered because of it.

That’s a start – having a rough idea of the shortfall – but you need to get to the root causes. Has a shift in your mix driven down margin rates? Are you falling short of plan due to a volume slowdown, or are pricing shortfalls eroding your revenue growth? How does that vary by market segment or by salesperson?

Analyzing the gap down to the customer-SKU level can yield clear, actionable intelligence about your problem. Well-run businesses have a strategy, and the budget is the road map to execute it. Planning at the same level of granularity as your sales allows for a healthier understanding of what’s happening within your business, why, and how to act. By having a detailed budget, you are creating a source of accountability for your team and a path for success for your business.

Accurate revenue planning and measurement is tough to do, but it’s one of our specialties. Every engagement includes strategy, a client-specific model, a detailed plan and road map to execute it, and measurement to achieve the set goals. All while leveraging our DRIVE technology platform.

To learn more about how your company can improve results for the remainder of 2019, schedule a time to talk to one of our profit experts today.

What’s your pricing challenge? Talking about pricing challenge, with tariffs ever present in the news, you may want to download our 3 Steps to Navigating Tariffs Guide.

Best Practices for Dealing with Negative Feedback on Social Media

By Andrew Poulsen, Public Relations Technician, Sonnhalter

When social media was in its dinosaur days, the technology’s potential seemingly capped out at reconnecting with old friends who live abroad, or more commonly, sharing with your peers that you were having a taco salad for lunch. Few would’ve predicted that social media would become not just a helpful, but an essential tool for companies to connect with customers in ways that are faster, easier, cheaper and more personal than almost any other asset within a marketing strategy.

Social media allows companies to speak with customers directly and display trust and accountability in ways that did not exist 20 years ago. However, for companies new to these platforms or unfamiliar with the volatile nature of Internet commenters, seeing countless strangers saying hurtful and profane things about your products or services in real time can be jarring, if not infuriating. Uncomfortable as it may be, these kinds of comments are inevitable. Even the most beloved brands in the world have comment sections filled with negativity from disgruntled commenters and trolls. The reality is that there is no way to avoid negative comments and reviews, but by internalizing some of these best practices, you can learn how to maintain an even keel and turn some of these upset commenters into lifelong customers.

Be quick to respond, even if you don’t have an immediate answer

Customers who leave negative feedback are often coming from a place of disappointment or unmet expectations. The last thing you want to do is make them feel like you are avoiding them or as if their opinion doesn’t matter. If someone comments on an issue they have with your business, publicly reply to the comment immediately, even if it is just to say, “Can you please email or message us with more details (more…)

Why Should You Use Social Media in New Business Development?

In the traditional sales model, we identify our prospects and then use several tactics to get in front of them, qualify them and ultimately sell them. But, what about all the other potential users of your product or service that you don’t know about? Yes, some of them may find you through a referral or make their way to your website, but there are many more that may not ever know that you exist.

In most cases, especially for manufacturers who are selling more complicated products, there is a sales funnel you need to take prospects through before they are ready to buy. That’s great, but that only works if you’ve identified the potential sale.

Think of social media as your silent salesman. It’s out there bird dogging for you and taking a potential customer through some of the initial stages of the selling cycle.

Social media is a great way to connect with prospective buyers because they will find you based on what they are searching for (what kind of problem they are looking for a solution for) on the web. It allows you not only to connect, but to start a conversation. It allows them to get a better feeling for the company and how you go about helping people. In other words, you start building the “know, like and trust” model that comes with any sale, especially to new potentials.

Social media is a great way to educate prospective buyers because of all the tools you have available: Blogs, Forums, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. All are platforms for you to add value to the conversations by giving them great content, and it starts establishing you as an expert they can count on.

Social media is a great way to collaborate with potential buyers because of the tools like GoToMeeting, WebEx, Zoom and join.me or other technologies that allow you to connect almost immediately to help answer a question or show how to fix a problem. There are even listening platforms, like HooteSuite, Sprout Social and others that will help you monitor conversations around the areas you want to be in, and you can contribute at the appropriate time.

So, don’t just fall into business as usual. Think outside the box and give social media a try in your new business development efforts. You might be surprised as you may eventually identify a potential new customer that was never on your radar screen.

 

Is It Time for a Website Tune-Up? Make Sure You Use the Right Mechanic.

By Angela Ruland, Design Engineer

 

Your website is a lot like your car.

For example:

Sure, it’s your car. But let’s face it; one of the reasons you bought it, is for what it says to other people about you.

»A website is very often your first chance to tell someone who your company is, and it should always be geared towards them and their experience.

And sure, you can buy a car from your sister’s brother-in-law’s cousin. But if you want one that’s reliable, safe and not going to break down on you in the middle of a long trip, it’s best to buy from a reputable place.

»When you go to build a new website, ALWAYS use a professional web designer, but make sure they fundamentally understand your business and customers.

Of course, you can (and should) do some of the regular maintenance yourself, but for the major tune-ups and preventative stuff, it’s best to find a mechanic that knows what they’re doing and how you use the car.

»And that’s what we’d like to examine today.

Your website should never be something that you set up and take for granted until someone decides it’s time for a revamp. Just like your car, your website is being used daily, for short trips, long trips and in all kinds of traffic. Occasionally it may wind up in a sketchy neighborhood, or have someone try and break in. So, just like you work on your car, or have someone do maintenance, you need to check on your website regularly. Here are a few ways to accomplish that:

(more…)