The Path

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One day long ago, a calf decided to cross a thick forest to return to its pasture. Not knowing where it was going, it forged a twisted, confusing path full of turns that went up and down hills. The next day, a dog came by and used the same path to cross the forest. Then, a sheep took the same path, which was followed by its fellow flock, and various other animals.

Later, a group of travelers came along and decided to take the path that was well worn. They went left, right, around deviating obstacles, and complained about the terrible path the entire way, but did nothing to create an alternate route. After many years, travelers continued along that same, well-worn path, each time taking three hours to cover a distance that would normally take 30 minutes had they forged a smarter path.

Here’s the way I see it: Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail.”

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Reputation Management: Why You Need to Keep a More Proactive Watch Over Your Most Valuable Asset

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While it’s true that your brand’s reputation will play a significant role in an essential factor like word-of-mouth, the real power of paying attention to what people are saying about you runs a bit deeper.

 

The Importance of Reputation Management: Facts and Figures

Consider the following statistics to help paint a vivid picture of the situation you’re dealing with:

  • According to one study, an incredible 74% of people now consult Yelp or a similar service when looking for some type of business or service provider – even if they plan on carrying on a relationship exclusively in “real life.”
  • The above statistic may actually be on the conservative side – another study indicated that 97% of consumers say that they read online reviews about local businesses on a regular basis before deciding whether or not to make a purchase.
  • Speaking of which, a one-star rating hike on a service such as Yelp often equates to a 5% to 9% rise in overall revenue. Let that sink in for just a second.
  • Another study by the World Economic Forum revealed that on average, more than 25% of a company’s market value could be tied back directly to its reputation and general perception.
  • A massive 86% of people say that they would pay more for services if they could guarantee they were being provided by a company with higher ratings and a larger number of positive reviews.

As these and other statistics indicate, reputation management is a lot more than just doing what you can to control word of mouth. Even people who discover your brand, your products, or your services entirely independently of anyone else could still shy away from that purchase if your reputation isn’t what they were expecting.

The most alarming statistic of all, however, is the fact that 50% (!) of business owners say that they have found incorrect information on their business listings. This means that not only is this info damaging your reputation in a potentially harmful way to your bottom line, but it’s doing so needlessly as it is incorrect in the first place.

Getting a Grip on Your Reputation

The most important thing to understand about reputation management is that it is NOT something you do once and then forget about. This will require you to look online on a regular basis to see what people are saying about you, what information is getting posted, and taking advantage of any opportunities for course correction as they present themselves.

But even going beyond just correcting false information, there are a number of other essential proactive steps you can take to help strengthen your reputation as much as possible.

Send follow-up surveys to buyers to see what you did properly and, more importantly, what mistakes you made. If someone sends you an email with a legitimate issue, be sure to follow-up on that issue within 24 hours.

Never, under any circumstances, encourage people to leave “fake” or “artificial” reviews about you or a competitor. The consequences far outweigh anything you will gain. This includes offering gifts for good reviews.  If you’re caught, and you likely will be, there is no telling what damage you might sustain.

In the end, reputation management is something that you will have to do on a regular basis moving forward. It’s a large part of why many businesses hire employees with this particular job in mind. But then again, when you’re talking about what is arguably the most valuable asset your business has, it makes perfect sense that this amount of effort would be required.

3 Easy Time Management Tips: How to Create More Hours in a Day

ThinkstockPhotos-517866414The one natural resource there never seems to be enough of is time. There are only so many hours in a day. You don’t need to wish that tomorrow will suddenly be a 35-hour day to get all of your work done. Instead, you need to start using a few small, yet critical, time management tips today to work smarter, not harder, with the hours that you DO have available to you. Here are three tips to get you started.

1) Learn How to Travel Productively

These days, a significant portion of your work probably isn’t taking place within the confines of your office. Whether it’s meetings with clients or unexpected personal issues, you likely find yourself stepping away from your desk more and more. The key to time management isn’t learning how to keep up with your obligations in spite of these sudden duties. It’s learning how to fit in work time around them.

Even if you don’t have a mobile tablet that you carry around with you wherever you go, it’s still easier than ever to work remotely. If you’re not already using a cloud-based file sharing service like Dropbox or iCloud, you need to start. Changing a document on your work computer makes those adjustments instantly available to every other device you have. Likewise, services like Dropbox for Business allow for real-time collaboration on files, letting people get together to work on a project even when they don’t have the time to literally “get together” at all.

Remember, the smartphone that you likely carry around with you is more powerful than the technology that NASA used to send men to the moon in the 1960s. There are hundreds of thousands of apps that are available in the iTunes and Google Play app stores right now for you to use to customize that device in any way you see fit. Stop thinking about it like a device that you merely use to send and receive calls and start looking at it as your office on-the-go.

2) Hold Better Meetings

Meetings are just a fact of life. But one of the many reasons why people tend to dread that weekly “catch-up” gathering is because they’re huge drains of productivity. The answer to this problem isn’t to stop holding meetings altogether; it’s to start holding better meetings.

Think long and hard about why you’re having a meeting. If it’s just to convey information, you could probably save everyone a lot of time and just send a lengthy email or inter-office memo instead. A meeting should always justify its existence. If it doesn’t, it needs to drop off the schedule. Likewise, plan out an agenda for your meeting ahead of time and stick with it. Make sure everyone who needs to contribute knows what is expected of them before you all walk into a room, giving everyone a chance to be as prepared as they need to be.

3) Get Organized and Stay That Way

Again, time management isn’t about finding more hours in a day; it’s about working smarter, not harder with the hours you already have. One study estimates that as much as thirty percent of our working time each day is spent looking for misplaced items. It stands to reason that if you never feel like you have enough time to get things done, the true issue might just be that you need to take a look around and organize your life more effectively.

The Importance of Appreciation For Morale

ThinkstockPhotos-476092520.jpgAs a hard worker, you want to be appreciated. This is simply human nature. We all want to feel our hard work is noticed and appreciated. After all, it only seems fair to be at least appreciated for giving your blood, sweat, and tears to make a profit for your employer. As an employer, you need to understand the importance appreciation has when it comes to the morale of your workplace. Appreciation is a huge aspect of a healthy, thriving workplace environment.

The Data Proves The Importance of Appreciation

A Chicago Tribune survey asked 30,000 employees who enjoyed their job why they loved their work. The most common reason cited by these employees was, “I feel genuinely appreciated at this company.” This data shows what we have been talking about, showing appreciation matters. Making people feel like their efforts at work make a difference is important. The next step is learning how to communicate genuine appreciation without it coming across as fake.

What Appreciation is Not

Just because your goal is to show your employees the appreciation they deserve doesn’t mean you will automatically know how to go about this. There are a few clear ways not to go about showing appreciation, though. For example, don’t just depend on your employee recognition program to do the job. Appreciation at Work found that around thirty to thirty-five percent of employees don’t want to go up in front of a large group and accept an appreciation award anyway. Therefore, even though an event created to show appreciation is well intentioned, it can backfire and create an adverse outcome. Often, even if a person doesn’t mind going up in front and receiving such an award, the certificate or gift they receive feels impersonal. Generic, group-based awards don’t feel genuine in many cases, so employees don’t find this as motivating as true appreciation. Besides, saying one positive thing about an employee in front of a group hardly makes up for an entire year ignoring all the extra work an employee is doing.

What Authentic Appreciation Looks Like

Of course, money always talks, so giving out bonuses, gift cards, or other monetary rewards is an excellent way to show appreciation. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that your employees only want to receive financial rewards. They also want to hear how appreciated they are on a regular basis. Keep in mind that appreciation doesn’t have to be something you say, it can be something you don’t say. For example, if your employee works extra hours all the time and they have to take off to handle a personal situation, don’t give them a hard time because they are out of the office for one day. This only makes them resent being at work and in turn, makes them a less productive employee who will eventually start looking for work elsewhere.

Remember, don’t act like your reward for their hard work or their paycheck is a gift. You aren’t giving them a gift. You are simply paying them what they are owed. Look at bonuses the same way. It might seem like “extra” to you, but to your employee, they feel they have worked hard to “earn” that money by working extra hours or taking on additional responsibilities.

Creating a workplace that shows appreciation is necessary to keep employees happy and loyal. The saying, “an employee who feels appreciated will always do more than is expected” says it all. Although your employees are getting paid for services rendered, they are people who want to feel like their efforts matter to the company. This is a crucial piece towards creating healthy morale in the workplace.

Four Keys to More Meaningful Customer Relations

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UNLOCK THE POTENTIAL IN ALL YOUR CUSTOMERS

Companies lose an average of 10 to 30 percent of their customers each year. Much of this loss can be attributed to poor service. Companies that focus on customer retention tend to see profits grow anywhere from 25 to 100 percent annually. Nonprofits that focus on customer retention often see reductions in turnover and better results. In business, we all strive to provide outstanding customer service. Unfortunately, we don’t always live up to those ideals. Here are four keys to unlocking richer, more meaningful relationships with your customers:

key 1 Learn your customers’ names
Everybody appreciates being recognized when they walk into a place of business, particularly if they visit that company frequently. As the theme song to Cheers puts it, “Sometimes, you want to go where everybody knows your name.” Make a concerted effort to learn the names of the people you come into contact with regularly, and greet them by name whenever possible.
key 2 But start with last names first
Of course, before you start addressing customers on a first-name basis, make sure they’re comfortable with this practice. Some customers might find it disrespectful or “too” personal to have you greet them by their first name. Follow the customer’s lead, if possible, or try starting with “Mr. Johnson,” before calling your customer “Bob,” particularly if they are not your peer.
key 3 Show genuine appreciation
Let your customers know you’re glad to see them every time they walk through the door. Make an effort to greet people with a warm smile and an enthusiastic hello. Then back it up with outstanding service and a “can do” attitude. Thank your customers when they buy from you, and keep in touch to let them know they’re on your mind… and appreciated for everything they do.
key 4 Avoid judgments and negativity
We’ve all heard the adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” The same is true of people. Strive to approach each new or prospective customer with an open mind and positive attitude. Don’t rush to judgment based on a first impression. Many times, those initial reactions and snap judgments don’t hold up to the test of time.

What’s in a Leaf?

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If you enjoy watching the leaves float down during the fall season, you probably already know that just like snowflakes, each tree’s leaves are individual and unique. Unlike snowflakes, though, leaves can tell you from which tree they came, and fortunately, there are many resources available to you for identifying trees by their leaves.

Knowing more about your surroundings is important, and it can apply well in a work situation.

Discovery

An excellent resource for identifying trees will take you on a journey of discovery: from the color and shape of the leaf to how many points it has, all to learn more about the tree it came from. It might go on to identify the type of bark, the size of the tree, and more to help you determine which tree you are looking at.

There are many ways you can apply this strategy of discovery with your customers, especially if they are repeat customers. If you think about each customer as if they were an onion with many layers to uncover, you can view each contact with them as an opportunity to peel away one more layer.

Learning

Your customers are individuals with unique personalities, family issues, work challenges, and styles of doing business. You can work on strategies to uncover more information about your customers to help cement a relationship with them. Customers who like you and enjoy your relationship are more willing to continue to do business with you and become loyal repeat customers.

Depth

Depending on how you maintain your customer records, there are different methods of collecting and retaining information about your clients. In an article, “7 Ways to (Really) Know Your Customers” (http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/4890-customer-engagement-tips.html), it offers several suggestions for small businesses to get to know their customers better including gleaning social data from sites such as Facebook.

By getting to know your customers better, you can anticipate when they will be spending, what triggers a purchase, and how you can be proactive in contacting them for their triggers. As you learn more about your customer, you can apply your knowledge to help them better manage their relationship with you, potentially saving them money in the long run. For instance, if they are buying their products when needed, but you see a pattern, you can sell them a larger bulk amount on a periodic basis saving them money and securing the purchase for your account.

Knowledge

Knowing your customers will allow you to separate the A and B level of customers from the one-time business customers. As you develop your relationships with your clients, you can grow your business in depth. Then, using similar methods, seek out new business and begin the process again.

Tips for Nurturing Existing Sales Leads

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While bringing new leads into your business is always important, sometimes it’s not the “be all, end all” solution to your bottom line. Remember that according to most statistics, an incredible 90% of new prospects are merely in the “browsing” stage of their relationship with your company – meaning that they’re not quite ready to buy. Out of every new lead you bring into your business, only 5% are ready to pull the trigger – if that. While you may think this means you have to work harder to bring in a higher volume of leads (this is a numbers game, after all), try a different approach. Don’t forget about the leads you already have.

If you want to get better at nurturing your existing sales leads to get them ready for that ever-important purchase, you’ll want to keep a few key things in mind.

You Are an Authority. Don’t Forget This

When people think about nurturing leads, one of the qualities required for a solid relationship is one of trust. Never forget that you’re not just selling a product or service – you’re also selling yourself. People are a lot more willing to spend money with your company if they trust that you know what you’re talking about.

Don’t JUST hit your prospects with sales materials over and over again; this isn’t lead nurturing, this is badgering. Instead, try sending helpful, well-researched content in their direction as well. You need to be focused on establishing that you know what you’re talking about. People aren’t just going to take your word for it. When you spend time positioning yourself as an authority and focusing on the other qualities of lead nurturing as well, people will begin to see you as the solution to their problem when they do feel comfortable enough to buy.

Don’t Just Make Contact When You Have Something to Sell

One of the biggest mistakes that a businessperson can make involves only remembering that a lead exists when you need to increase your sales numbers for a particular quarter. Nurturing leads requires you to keep in mind that you’re talking about more than just line items on a balance sheet – prospects are living, breathing people who don’t like to feel used.

As a result, make an effort to reach out to a few of your potentially higher quality leads even if you’re not pushing a new product or service. Thanks to the power of social media, this is easier than ever. Even a quick Facebook message on a birthday or at Christmas will go a long way towards strengthening (and increasing the ultimate value of) your relationship.

These are just a few of the many reasons why it is so important to nurture your existing sales leads. None of this is to say that you should stop focusing on bringing in new leads and turn 100% of your attention on existing ones. As always, success requires you to strike a delicate balance between the two. But if you let the majority of your existing leads lay dormant for too long, you’re burning a lot more than just potentially important relationships. You’re leaving a lot of money on the table at the same time.