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Employees Can Be a Source of WOM (Good or Bad)

September 15, 2008

So I go to Sears the other day to replace a part on a weed whacker.  I approached what seemed  to be a mildly disinterested cashier. You know the type, typical summer help, there to get through the day without any hassles. I show her the part and ask, “where can I find a replacement?”. I knew before asking that she had no idea what it was and sure enough, she replies,” I don’t know, what is it?” and proceeds to call for back up. This is when I decide to have a little fun. As the cashier and her supervisor return, I say “Didn’t they give you any training on where things are? You should ask them to train you so you could provide better service to your customers.” The response from her supervisor was priceless, she says” She’s just a cashier, she doesn’t need to be trained on stuff like that?” I am quite sure that Sears management would not publicly admit to such a policy. Yet the supervisor was equally as clueless about the part as the cashier, so obviously she couldn’t be much help in making her a better cashier. Luckily, there was a young man who knew everything, but then he wasn;t a cashier.

Well this was not a complete customer service disaster. I was pleased because of the story content this encounter provided and how it ended. As I was getting ready to pay for the replacement part, the cashier tells me that Craftsman has a lifetime waranty on replacement parts and that there would be no charge. Of course that made me happy and the cashier and Sears was somewhat redeemed in my eyes as a result.

Customer service across the board is disappointingly low, even though great customer service is a sustainable point of diiferentiation. While I believe that every employee in a company should be customer focused, employees on the front line especially need to be. A lot of word of mouth about companies is a result of experiences with front line employees.

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Is Your Marketing Delivering Sale$?

July 22, 2008

Many small businesses and a number of larger ones have no clue if their marketing is bringing in any new customers or generating enough sales to justify the expense. Most don’t have a way to measure the effects of marketing.

Many small businesses have a hit-or-miss approach to marketing. There seems to be little rhyme or reason and no overall plan for the marketing. In fact, many small businesses conduct what I call “ego marketing”. They will put up a billboard on a well traveled highway with their picture on it, so every day when they drive by their ego gets inflated, the sign company gets rich and the small business owner gets zero sales from it.

Don’t get me wrong, outdoor advertising has its place, but in most cases it’s a waste of resources. In this highly competitive, high cost business environment, small business owners need to make smart investments in marketing. So what should a small business person do?

Well, before you spend another dime on a brochure, flyer, billboard or newspaper ad you need to just stop and take a careful look at what’s going on in seven (7) key areas of your business:

1. Customers- Who do you want to sell to and who are you really selling to?

2. Products- What’s your value proposition or why in the world would anyone spend money on what you’re selling?

3. Pricing – What’s your pricing strategy? ( Ah…yeah you should have a strategy for each of your targets and it shouldn’t be to make the most you can on everybody. A lot of businesses have gone out of business with predatory pricing. Subprime mortgages…nuff said)

4. Place – How are your customer’s gonna get your product? In the old days you needed to have a store to sell your wares. That cost a lot of money. Today, you could be selling to customers in Dubai and never leave Cleveland, or wherever you live, because of the Internet. Your distribution is part of your marketing (Betcha didn’t know that!!!!)

5. Promotion – This is what most people think marketing is all about. But if you don’t pay attention to the other Ps of marketing (there are 4), then you’ll end up with ego marketing or marketing that doesn’t do diddly squat to your bottom line. ( Yeah… I said it)

6. Competition – You gotta think outside of the box when it comes to your competition. Don’t think about just the other folks selling the same things you do. You got to consider everything your customer could be doing with their money and come up with a darn good reason for them to give it to you ( uh…that’s what your value proposition is all about, see how this all comes together?). Your value proposition is that compelling reason for a customer to select you and your product over all the other things they could do with their money, including the alternative of keeping it in their pocket and doing nothing. Sometimes customers doing nothing is your toughest competitor.

7. Branding -What do people think of when they think of your product? That’s what you brand is all about. For example when I think of Volvo, safety comes to mind, Walmart, low prices. Nordstroms, great service. They didn’t get this way by accident, but by consistently delivering on their brand promise over a long period of time. (Did ya notice I didn’t say anything about advertising or logos or any of that stuff when talking brand?)

So all you have to do is get your arms around these seven areas. The first step in doing so is to do an audit. Stay tuned to this blog for more information on how to do a “Small Business Marketing Audit: A Guide for Understanding & Managing the Marketing Mix” or better still “The Seven Secrets to Making Cent$ Out of Your Marketing”. Both of these sound like the titles to a book. Which do you prefer?? More soon.

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WOM Is Not New In The B2B Space

July 15, 2008

Some years ago I worked in financial services. One of my colleagues was a woman,we’ll call her Betty B, whose job was competitive intelligence. At the time I thought, how cool is that, she’s kind of like a spy, going undercover to find out all the secrets about our competitors. Boy was I disappointed when I found out how she really got all of her “intelligence”. No covert operations, no disguises, no passing of envelopes in deserted parking lots. Instead, Betty would work the phones. You see over the years she developed a network of colleagues, all of whom had similar functions, who she would call and ask about a new product or service to get a sense of their experiences. These competitors would freely share information with each other. They would get together at conferences and seminars and share insights and experiences.

Corporate types tend to be risk averse. It’s highly unlikely that a middle manager in Corporate America is going to be the first to try any new product or service, recall the saying “nobody ever got fired for using IBM”.  He’s going to call around and find out how others in his industry have fared. So yes, word of mouth works in B2B. In fact it has worked for years, it’s nothing new.

You can influence WOM in the B2B space by attending the conferences your clients go to. Get involved in the discussions, develop relationships and most of all listen. Submit articles to the trade publications your clients read and establish yourself as a trusted resource and get in the game of spreading the word.

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Use Big Events To Generate Word of Mouth

July 10, 2008

People like being appreciated. It’s a natural thing, having others acknowledge us for something we have done for them makes us feel good. We tell our friends all about it. Companies can use events to generate positive word of mouth by their customers.

An event celebrating company achievements can come off as self serving and may not generate word of mouth outside the company. However, events that celebrate customers is a much more effective way to spread word of mouth. Companies that use word of mouth marketing techniques find ways to recognize their best customers. These customers tend to be ardent advocates and evangelists for the company.

Customer appreciation events and celebrations help create a sense of community and belonging. They also foster the relationships you have with your customer.

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Can Negative Word of Mouth Cost Me Money?

July 5, 2008

Yes it can. According to a 2005 study by Informative Inc., negative word of mouth has 2.4 times more financial impact than positive comments. In fact , the study found that when negative comments increased, operating profits decreased. Likewise, when negative comments decreased, operating profits increased. Moreover, the study found very little correlation between the amount of positive word of mouth and operating profits.

This is an important finding that small businesses should pay attention to. While positive word of mouth may not help us much as you’d like, negative word of mouth can be a killer. Negative word of mouth works like the game telephone. What the last person hears is very much different from what the first person said. Negative incidents relayed by consumers get embellished with each telling. So what may have started out as a five minute wait with a mildly disinterested customer service rep turns into a grueling five hour wait fueled by a cast of incompetent uncaring reps…you get the picture.

So what should a small business do? What I try to do is treat every customer like they are my only customer. And if somehow a customer finds something not to their liking, by all means, small business owner, don’t take it personal. If one customer is dissatisfied with something you do, then there may be others that feel the same way but just have not told you. Try and understand what the cause of the customer dissatisfaction is all about. Get them involved in solving the problem and acknowledge their role. By getting them involved they will see that you respect not just their money but their opinion as well.

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Think B2C2 for Effective WOMM in Urban Markets

June 21, 2008

A key requirement of successful word of mouth marketing campaigns is to identify advocates and evangelists. These are the centers of influence, people who are connected, respected and never neglected. If you’re a company that wants to implement a word of mouth marketing campaign in urban markets, specifically among the African American community, think B2C2 for influencers. Okay, so what is B2C2? I thought you’d never ask.

B2C2 are Barber Shops, Beauty Salons, Churches and Clubs. These are the best places to begin because it’s where many influential African Americans congregate, contemplate and celebrate.

The Prostate Net’s Barbershop Initiative demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach when they reached out to barber shops to raise awareness about prostate cancer among African American men.

Sharp Talk with Al Sharpton on TV One features this renowned civil rights activist holding court discussing issues of the day in a barber shop. The show illustrates the very type of interaction and discussion that takes place on many a Saturday all over the country.

Clubs are where companies can reach young urban professionals. There are many types of clubs that cater to this segment, not all of which are social clubs. Included in this category are the various professional associations and fraternities where key influentials come together.

The Church has been and continues to be an important institution in African American culture. Church pastors are some of the most influential figures in the African American community and church functions are also venues where people share ideas, thoughts and advice on a range of topics.

If you are a business or organization seeking to increase your presence and brand awareness within the African American community and you’re looking to do accomplish it through word of mouth marketing then be sure to think: B2C2

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Five Steps to Planning a WOM Campaign

June 19, 2008

Small business owners often operate under the mistaken assumption that word of mouth is out of their control and that what ever will happen will happen. However, while it is impossible to control word of mouth, it is very possible to influence what people say about a company product or service.

Providing a superior product and/or world class customer service is one way to influence consumer conversations and it is an absolute must for businesses considering a word of mouth marketing campaign. It seems simple, yet so many businesses, small medium and large, provide mediocre products and less than stellar customer service.

I am certain that readers of this blog are not among the mediocre product and service bunch. So if you have the basics in place, great products and service we can talk about creating a campaign to promote, sustain and foster positive word of mouth. There are five steps in planning and developing a word of mouth marketing campaign:
• Identify Your A&E’s
• Develop the Right Stuff
• Facilitate The Conversation
• Get In The Game
• Measure

For more information how to plan a word of mouth campaign, e-mail us at info@glmarketresearch.com for a copy of our latest white paper: Planning and Developing a Word of Mouth Campaign