The Leading Edge - Taking Care of Business
Is Social Media Always Good for Customer Relationships?
Have you ever sat in a restaurant, one of the fancy kinds where a steak costs $40 or more, and watched a good-looking young couple engrossed on their smartphones? What are they doing? Texting each other? Searching for the meaning of Gazpacho? Why aren't they talking to each other for goodness sake?
Social media has influenced the way we communicate with each other personally, but even more so in business. In the name of efficiency, of greater reach, of massive exposure, we are using Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media platforms to reach the world with our message. We hope to act as a magnet, drawing people to our website, or our bricks and mortar business. Our customer relationships are increasingly being conducted online.
Contact with customers and clients is being shortened, it's more succinct and on the surface. Only a few years ago we would have developed customer relationships over a long period of time, building trust along with a personal connection. Today we communicate online and often en masse rather than individually.
No one is saying that social media is not important as a means of promoting your company, driving prospects to your website or business, or making sales - it is and will be increasingly so in the coming years. But, it is still important to develop and maintain a deeper, more personal connection with your clients. It is this personal connection that builds trust. And trust builds loyalty. People have no loyalty when they buy online from a store where they don't know, and have no contact with, a single individual.
As your competitors put all their eggs in the social media basket, it might be worth considering developing a plan to reach out, in a personal way, to your clients and customers. It's a small world and our customers can come from anywhere, so it's not always possible to arrange face-to-face meetings with them all, but where possible this intimate connection can be very rewarding.
Phone calls, Skype, personal emails, snail mail letters can also demonstrate to your clients they are more than an account number and the SKU's of items they have ordered. Personal communication trumps a global Facebook message every time!
Here are six ways you might connect with your customers through the fog of social media.
Simply reach out to one or two clients a month and take them for a coffee or to lunch. Don't make it about sales, make it about relationship-building. Talk about their needs and their company's aspirations.Make an appointment to meet them at their office, or place of work to review their business relationship with your company. Discuss how you can better serve their needs. Ask them what other products or services you might be able to provide them, or how you might adapt existing ones to better serve them.If you don't feel you have time to actually meet with customers one-on-one, or it's not financially viable, then plan to call several of them each month by phone just to check in and see if they are happy with the service they are receiving.For clients across the country, or overseas, arrange a Skype conference from time to time to reconnect with them and let them know about new products and services. Again, ask them about how they feel about your company and the service they are receiving.Depending on your type of business, hold an open house and invite all your clients and customers. Provide refreshments and samples, or at least information about your company and what your vision is for the future, all the while focusing on how you will be able to service them better.Network at events, conferences, and trade shows where you know your customers will be attending. Seek them out and make face-to-face contact. Let them know you care about their business and that you will be happy to meet with them at any time to discuss their needs.
Social media is a boon to your marketing efforts, but don't forget to look for ways to create longer, more lasting relationships with your clients or customers. By making personal contact you will stand out from your competition and show that you are not taking your customers for granted. Creating a healthy mix of personal and online connection with your customers makes perfect sense, even in a world where two people sitting next to each other find they have more in common with their phone than their partner.
The Six-Month Business Plan
Traditional wisdom suggests that businesses should have a five-year plan; that to go into business, or continue an existing business without one is foolhardy. After all, who would consider building a house without first commissioning architectural drawings? Many small business owners and even successful entrepreneurs will tell you they have a plan, it's just in their heads. All well and good, but sharing it with others in your company, not to mention lenders and investors is a tad difficult when you have nothing written down.
One of the primary reasons why people don't get down to writing a business plan is that it's a lot of work and what small business owner has the time? The problem is, operating a business with no planning is a little like running through a thick forest blindfold; sure you may get through, but you'll suffer a lot of cuts and bruises along the way and possibly some broken bones.
The big news is that the five-year plan is all but dead; in fact, it probably is dead but many larger corporations haven't realized it yet. Bottom line? If you were to sit down and write a plan that covered the next 60-months you would be planning for a world that simply won't exist.
The business world is changing at warp speed; think of how much is changing in your industry and your market. Think about how technology is changing how you operate, manufacture, communicate. Consider how consumers' awareness, knowledge and access to information is increasing every day. Look in wonder at how consumer trends jump from country to country and cross oceans in a heartbeat.
Understanding your market is a transient thing, you have to keep reinventing yourself, your company and how you communicate with your prospective market. The good thing is, if you are a small business you can change direction more quickly and have greater flexibility than your larger competitors. This is an advantage you need to capitalize on.
So, what's the difference between a five-year plan and one that lasts just 180-days? Focus. Today's planning needs to concentrate on one to three goals, all of which will further your primary cause - profitability. A six-month plan needs to be all about deliverables.
Here's our quick guide to writing your plan in one-day. Yes, one-day - we all know you don't have more time to spend on it, or at least we realize that if it goes beyond that you'll be distracted fighting fires and embroiled in day-to-day business detritus.
First gather your management staff together - if that's just you, then place yourself in front of a whiteboard or a flip chart for the day. Or, better still, ask any friends, family, or other advisors to pretend they are employees for the day. Amazing what second-opinions can do to improve a plan!
If you can manage to co-opt someone into being your scribe so much the better - this stuff needs to be recorded. Worst case, you will have use your smartphone to photograph everything you write on a whiteboard, or flip chart and transcribe it later.
Think about what one to three goals are vital to the success of your business. Remember they need to lead to increased revenue and/or profitability.Break down each goal into its component objectives.Allocate each objective to someone. If you are a one-person business, then consider what you can manage and either sub-contract, or get friends or family, to help with some of the work.Break each objective into individual tasks and set start and finish dates.Set deliverables - these will be how you identify that tasks have been achieved. You need a way to evaluate the success, or otherwise, of your objectives.Set an overall timeline for each goal - remember it has to be within six months. If a goal is to large, then it should be broken into phases and the next phase allocated to the following six-month plan.Set targets both in terms of units and revenue. It's no good doing all this work and then not reaping the rewards in terms of cash in the bank. So sales targets need to be set for each of the six-months. How you break this down will depend on your goals, objectives and tasks. Be realistic - enthusiasm is great, but failing to reach targets can be demoralizing.Create a cash-flow spreadsheet. It's an old adage, but cash really is king. No plan is going to work if you don't have enough money in the bank to keep operating. Use your sales targets spreadsheet to help you figure out whether you'll need to go to the bank (with your plan) to increase your line of credit, or get a loan.
There's a whole lot more you can add to the plan, and feel free to do so. But the simple one-day to create, six-month plan above will help steer your business through the ever-changing and often turbulent waters of today's business world.
Coach's Corner - Apologies are Important.
What do you feel about the person who is quick with an excuse, takes no responsibility for their actions and does not apologize easily or with sincerity? This is the case when an apology is meaningless or insincere.
Saying "I am sorry" with sincerity and by acknowledging the mistake without excuses is truly three words that will enhance respect and engender trust from colleagues, friends, family, or employees. It will show a strength of character in admitting a mistake, which we all make from time to time. It is about genuinely accepting the blame.
Marshall Goldsmith, a prominent executive coach, says, "I regard apologizing as the most magical, healing, restorative gesture human beings can make. It is the centerpiece of my work with executives who want to get better." As in any leadership role, mentoring and modelling behavior is an integral part. How we apologize and how we accept apologies speaks volumes as to our character and how we want to be viewed in the world.
What makes an apology sincere?
As Benjamin Franklin said, "Never ruin an apology with an excuse." To be authentic, you need to understand that you did something wrong and state what you did without excuses. In that way, the person(s) to whom you are apologizing knows that you are owning the responsibility for your actions. How you will make things right is another part of the apology, how will you make amends or right the wrong? It is also important that you do not expect anything in return for your apology. Finally, how will you ensure that you will not repeat the mistake in the future?
Accepting an apology.
How often have you heard a teacher or parent tell a child to apologize for something? How sincere does the apology sound? The first rule of thumb when dealing with a failure or mistake is to not ask for an apology. As hard as this may seem, for it to be sincere you need to wait for it to happen. Remember it takes courage for some of us to apologize.
To honestly forgive and thank the person for the apology, also goes a long way to move the relationship forward. Furthermore; once the apology is given and received, it is important that is not held against the person or brought up in future conversations. Moving forward, the hope is that a lesson has been learned and mistakes are not repeated. "Apologies aren't meant to change the past, they are meant to change the future," wrote Kevin Hancock in his book, Not For Sale.
Apologizing and accepting apologies is an important part of human dynamics and relationships. How you handle both the giving and receiving goes a long way to help you succeed in your business and personal life.
Paul Abra, Certified Executive Coach, Motivated Coaching