Monthly Archives: July 2016

How to manage the budget for small business

Behind nearly every news feature, profile or review about any company is a great public relations strategy. Take it from a reporter: You might have a great story to tell, but getting the word out — and more importantly, getting the media interested — requires some real PR know-how.

You may not have the budget to keep a PR firm on retainer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a professional-level media outreach strategy. With a little bit of research, planning and effort, you can get your business’s name out there while keeping your communications fresh and creative.

Whether you’re handling your own public relations or thinking about hiring a consultant, here are a few affordable but effective strategies to boost your business’s recognition and engagement.

Make friends with industry influencers. The first step in creating a good communications strategy is to connect with the right people. This is especially true if you’re doing your own PR, as you won’t have the advantage of established PR firms’ robust media lists. Margie Zable Fisher, founder of Zable Fisher Public Relations, said that it’s critical for businesses to do their due diligence and identify the appropriate outlets and reporters who cover your industry and market. Then, reach out, cultivate a relationship and send your pitch.

Even if reporters aren’t able to write about you at first, Meghan Gross, founder and president of GEM Strategic Communications, noted that you should try to maintain regular communication with these key influencers to keep you on their radar.

Refresh your messaging. Not getting any press attention? You might want to give your message a makeover. Gross advised analyzing a few of your competitors and creating a “message map” by identifying key phrases and message points of competitors and comparing them against your own. When done, it provides a way for you to clearly see your company’s position against those of its peers so you can adjust messaging as necessary.

When you’re updating your media message, be sure to figure out a few different story angles that you can “sell” to the media, who likely won’t be interested in writing a piece that’s essentially an advertisement for your company.

“Reporters don’t just write about how fabulous you are or how wonderful your company is,” said Jenny Finke, founder of Red Jeweled Media. “Journalists want to learn about what makes you tick and what obstacles you’ve had to overcome to get where you are today. Stories are the heart and soul of PR.”

Hook into seasonal trends. Seasonal or event-based pitches can be a great way to offer a timely story that isn’t all about you and your company. Look ahead one or two months — is there an anniversary, a national recognition or celebration day or a seasonal change that brings different activities, entertainment or foods into focus? Gross recommended creating an infographic around it to put your company into that context for reporters.

“Infographics are also great original content to share through your social networks and with customers,” Gross said.

Distribute a multimedia news release. If you want to reach a large number of news outlets at once, you can try a distribution service that will send your news release to many national and local journalists who might be interested. These services aren’t always free — PRWeb, one of the best-known services, begins at $99 for a basic press release — but it’s money well spent if you’re interested in spreading the word about your company quickly and effectively.

Gross noted that while long-term strategic planning is best, your company might benefit from diving right into some of the above-named strategies to see what kind of response you get.

How to Take a Loyal Customers

While you might think you’re losing a customer when an item is returned, the opposite could actually be happening depending on how easy the process is, new research finds.

Creating positive return experiences can result in valuable long-term customers whose contributions far outweigh the costs associated with those initial returns, according to a new study in the Journal of Marketing Research.

“Product returns are no small part of the firm-customer exchange process, currently costing firms about $100 billion annually,” the study’s authors wrote. “However, these same returns create long-term value because customers who feel there is little risk in making the wrong purchase keep coming back.”

To help determine the extent to which product returns benefit businesses, researchers conducted a large-scale experiment with 26,000 customers over six months from an online retailer.

For the experiment, customers were divided into several groups that had the return process marketed to them differently.  The control group received no marketing effort, several groups received traditional marketing approaches to product-returning customers, and a model group had a marketing tactic that factored in both the consumer’s positive attitude toward returns, as well as the cost to the company of those returns.

The results showed that marketing efforts toward the model group achieved the highest profits. Researchers discovered that when managers took into consideration not only the cost of the return process but the positive effect of returns on customers, and targeted marketing accordingly, they brought in $1.8 million, compared with the control group’s $1.22 million.

The study’s authors said that by paying attention to product returns, instead of ignoring them or simply accepting them as a necessary cost, businesses were better able to strategize ways to reduce the cost of the return process overall.

“Retailers who do not consider product returns in their measure of customer value (even simply as a cost that needs to be managed) are missing out on profits they could be obtaining by understanding and allocating resources to product-returning customers,” the researchers wrote. “Paying attention to these customers pays off.”

The study was authored by Andrew Petersen, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of North Carolina, and V. Kumar, the Richard and Susan Lenny Distinguished Chair Professor in Marketing at Georgia State University.

How the E Commerce Growth

For most startups, especially in the e-commerce industry, achieving rapid revenue and sales growth in the first few years is a dream come true. The bigger and more powerful you get, the easier it will be to keep adding resources and expanding in the future, right? Maybe not.

Business intelligence company RJMetrics recently published its 2015 E-commerce Growth Benchmark report, which analyzed anonymous data from its e-commerce clients to uncover trends in growth, sales and revenue. The report found that the smallest companies — those with less than $1 million in annual revenue — grow at a rate of nearly 140 percent each year. This annual growth slows significantly when a company reaches each new revenue bracket, dropping to 40 percent at $1 million to $5 million, 25 percent at $5 million to $10 million, and about 10 percent at more than $10 million.

The report’s authors wrote that it becomes harder to sustain rapid growth as a company gets bigger and that the business will eventually need to explore new ways to boost its revenue.

“The most successful e-commerce companies … target a very specific niche of customers,” said Jake Stein, chief operating officer of RJMetrics. “This hyperfocus allows them to acquire customers quickly and grow incredibly fast in the early days. But [as] they start to max out customers in that target niche … growth often starts to slow. This forces them to expand their product line or distribution network so they can reach a bigger market. In order to maintain that rapid growth, a company needs to continue to excel at customer acquisition but still retain that core market.”

Stein said that although it’s tough to make that leap as a growing e-commerce company, it’s doable with the right strategy and tools. Online retailers can start to achieve this balance of old and new business by building a product and brand experience people want to come back for.

“Our report found that product-market fit emerges early, within the first six months of sales,” Stein told Business News Daily. “If you’re not seeing these indicators of rapid adoption from the start, it’s a sign you need to either change your product or how you’re presenting it to the market, Stein said.

The report identified six factors driving fast e-commerce growth in today’s market:

  • Increasingly tech-savvy consumers spend more money online than ever before.
  • Mobile purchases made via smartphones and tablets have increased by nearly 50 percent year over year.
  • Third-party and in-house warehouses and shipping services are becoming more efficient.
  • All-in-one logistics providers have made it easier to enter international markets.
  • Niche retailers are differentiating their product and brand experience to compete with larger companies like Amazon.
  • Brick-and-mortar retailers are expanding into online sales and adjusting their in-store strategies accordingly.

While these trends are indeed fueling e-commerce growth, a company’s choice of tech tools remains one of the most important factors in maintaining sales growth. According to the RJMetrics report, e-commerce startups that were launched in 2013 saw a tremendous spike in monthly revenue growth in their first 18 to 24 months in business, reaching an average of more than $2 million. Businesses founded in 2010, 2011 and 2012, on the other hand, grew more slowly, barely reaching $1.5 million by the 36-month mark. Stein believes this is because companies getting started today have access to technology that older e-commerce companies could only dream of.

“Major shopping-cart platforms offer beautiful, mobile-optimized sites,” he said. “Facebook has made it easier than ever for very new companies to do brand advertising. SaaS [software as a service] products make it easy for brand-new retailers to send great emails, run A/B tests and make sense of the data they have at their fingertips. All of these products make it easier for new retailers to grow quickly from day one.”

All About Online Businesses

Online businesses benefit most from offering loyalty rewards programs, new research finds.

Shoppers typically don’t need an added incentive to continue visiting their favorite brick-and-mortar retailers, however, online shoppers can be much more persuaded by a loyalty reward to revisit a merchant’s website, according to a study recently published in the Decision Support Systems journal.

Online shoppers tend to search the Internet for the best bargains they can find, with little sense of loyalty to one retailer or another, said Sanghee Lim, one of the study’s authors and an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. By offering discount programs, online retailers can turn choosy Internet shoppers into repeat buyers.

“Offline stores may be giving away profits when they offer loyalty rewards to customers who will keep coming back anyway, regardless of any discount that’s offered,” Lim said in a statement. “Online shoppers, on the other hand, may use a coupon to revisit a retail website even when it’s not one of their preferred sellers.”

For the study, researchers used a model that examined how shoppers might behave after making a purchase. Once buyers made that initial purchase, they looked at whether they would revisit that business – both brick-and-mortar and online – after considering factors such as price, potential rewards (like coupons) and possible expenses (like transportation.) [Customer Loyalty Programs: A Must-Have Retention Strategy ]

Researchers also investigated the value of the transaction data collected through loyalty programs, such as the information about consumer habits and preferences that triggers the mailing of coupons to regular buyers of particular products.

Lim said retailers have been this type of transaction data for years, but were never clear on what to do with it.

 “Only in the past decade have they begun to study their data and introduce these reward programs as a way to retain customers,” Lim said. “And the companies are getting more sophisticated about it all the time.”

Using this transaction data pays off most for online retailers trying to build loyalty programs, according to the research. For brick-and-mortar stores in the study’s model, this information can lead to the offer of rewards. However, price competition has a greater potential to soak up any profits that offline merchants might make from their rewards programs, Lim said.

The study was co-authored by Byungtae Lee, a professor of the College of Business at KAIST in Seoul, South Korea.

Sales Mistakes That You Need to Know

Making a sale isn’t always the easiest task.

From finding leads to closing deals and signing contracts, the entire sales process can be long and exhausting. One wrong move, and you could lose a huge lead. The good news is, there are plenty of ways to improve your sales game and get past many of the challenges you’ll face along the way.

Ready to become a better salesperson? Here are 11 major sales mistakes to avoid from now on.

It can be easy to get so wrapped up in the task at hand — making a sale — that you forget to look at your potential client’s needs.

“What matters most — when prospecting, during a sale and even after the contracts have been signed — are their problems, their time,” said Rory Channer, chief business officer at CircleBack.

Channer also warned that neglecting the client’s needs could destroy his or her trust in you and shut down all communication.

Mistake: You don’t follow up quickly enough.

Businesses should follow up immediately when a lead is generated because waiting too long could cost them sales, said Brandon Stuerke, president of Advisors Edge Marketing.

Stuerke’s advice is supported by research conducted by James Oldroyd, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That study found that the odds of leads becoming sales were 21 times greater if businesses were contacted within 5 minutes.

Mistake: You’re leaving it up to the client.

When you have a lead, you need to take ownership of the next steps and avoid leaving it in the client’s hands, said Chris Johnson, CEO of Permission Click.

“For example, when you’re leaving a voicemail, try adding, ‘If I haven’t heard back by XYZ time and date, I’ll try you again,'” Johnson said. “This can yield surprising results.”

Johnson also noted that it’s important to leave things open to follow up if there’s no response.

“This reinforces that you’ll do what you say,” he noted.

Mistake: Your advertising calls to action are all or nothing.

Most salespeople offer only a face-to-face meeting or a telephone appointment as their call to action in their advertising, Stuerke noted, but that’s asking a lot of prospects who are simply exploring options and aren’t yet ready for that level of commitment. Those are leads that, three to six months later, may become sales — but they’re lost early in the process.

Instead, Stuerke suggested offering an option involving less commitment, such as the ability to download a free report in exchange for the client’s information for follow-up.

Mistake: You’re on the defensive.

It’s important to anticipate that customers and clients will have questions about your products or services. Don’t be quick to overexplain — instead, ask thoughtful questions, Channer advised.

For example, if a customer were to complain that a product is too expensive, rather than launching into an explanation about what the product does and what features make it worth the cost, try asking questions like, “Why do you feel that way?” and “What are you comparing it to?” This is a great way to maintain control of the conversation and avoid scrambling to keep the sale on track, Channer said.

When Your Business Doing Enough

Businesses are not doing enough to ensure disabled customers have a positive consumer experience, one researcher argues in a new paper.

Despite their progress in giving disabled customers access, many businesses don’t recognize that the consumer experience goes beyond the ability to simply enter a building, according to research from Rutgers University-Camden.

“Maybe they can get in, and maybe there is a ramp, but what about the rest?” Carol Kaufman-Scarborough, the study’s author and a professor of marketing at the Rutgers School of Business-Camden, said in a statement. “If the aisles are blocked and there’s merchandise in the way, and shoppers just can’t get around the store, it’s a signal that they’re not welcome.”

The research points to a court case involving Hollister clothing stores. The business has steps leading up to the entrance of the store, which is made to look like a beach-style hut.

Although a federal court originally ruled that the store entrance violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the case was overturned in 2014, when the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals court found that, because Hollister offers alternative entrances for the disabled, the retailer was not breaking any laws.

“The problem was that they only talked about the entrances being compliant, and they did not talk about the consumer experience,” Kaufman-Scarborough said. “If we’re only discussing the number of doors, or only asking about access, then we haven’t done our jobs.”

As part of her research, Kaufman-Scarborough sent a group of students into the Hollister stores to gauge the customer experience. They discovered that alternative doors on both sides of the porch were hard to notice and sometimes locked from the inside. Once inside, they found that the aisles were narrow and occasionally blocked by merchandise.

Retailers aren’t the only businesses providing a poor experience for disabled customers, Kaufman-Scarborough said. Fast-food restaurants with assembly counters are often difficult for those in wheelchairs to see, and movie theaters with wheelchair seating in the first few rows makes for a poor viewing experience, she noted.

Part of the problem is that some businesses don’t fully understand their customers, and others would rather not spend the money to make their stores fully accessible to the disabled, Kaufman-Scarborough said.

“Some think that they don’t have to fix their stores because they don’t have disabled customers,” Kaufman-Scarborough said. “Well, you probably don’t have any because you haven’t made the accommodations.”

Kaufman-Scarborough hopes her research helps retailers and the courts realize that the consumer experience goes far beyond access. “Even a fairly simplistic accommodation can go a long way, and you can do it without incurring a large expense,” she said.

Kaufman-Scarborough’s paper, “Forces for Change in Consumer Access: A Retrospective Analysis of the Hollister Case,” was recently presented at the American Marketing Association’s Marketing and Public Policy Conference.

How to success on sales marketing

unduhan-19When you’re trying to make a sale, it’s best to trust your gut, new research finds.

The first impression salespeople have of a customer’s needs and wants is often the correct one, according to a new study in the Journal of Marketing.

“Salespeople can make accurate intuitive judgments of a customer’s needs, and those judgments can significantly increase sales,” the study’s authors wrote. “In fact, when a salesperson deliberately rethinks first impressions of a customer, he or she might lose a potential sale.”

For the study, researchers observed the interactions between salespeople, who were paid by commission and motivated to makes sales, and customers for four months at several locations of a national mattress store. In addition, they conducted interviews with both the sales associates and customers.

The study’s authors measured the sales force’s “intuitive” judgments, which was determined by the accuracy with which they ranked each customer’s top needs before interacting with him or her, and their “deliberative” judgments, which were determined by whether they changed their initial impression after rethinking their sales approach.

The researchers discovered that salespeople who didn’t purposely rethink their initial judgments made more sales than those who deliberated and then revised their initial impressions.

“The study showed that, while skilled deliberation is useful, overthinking can reduce performance,” the study’s authors wrote.

To boost their intuitive accuracy, salespeople need to focus on their customers’ nonverbal cues, the research found.

“By encouraging salespeople to focus empathetically on a customer’s posture and physique, as well as their tone of voice and concrete emotions, empathy training holds real promise for improving intuitive accuracy and overall sales,” the study’s authors wrote.

In the end, the best salespeople are those who are able to find a balance between trusting their initial instinct and making accurate changes after some additional thought, the researchers found.  The study revealed that when salespeople made both judgments, their performance improved by more than 130 percent.

The study was authored by Zachary Hall, an assistant professor at Texas Christian University; Michael Ahearne, a professor at the University of Houston; and Harish Sujan, a professor at Tulane University.