5 Ways to Maximize the ROI of Your Holiday Gift

It might seem like a long way off, but the holiday season will be here before you know it. Here are five ways to ensure the gift you give also gifts you a positive impression with colleagues and clients.

Sending holiday gifts or cards to clients and colleagues is a nice tradition that can produce positive results, but also involve time and expense. As you plan for this year, consider these options for increasing your ROI by creating a positive impression—and doing something different.

1. I’m thankful for you

Send “I'm thankful for you” greetings on the Monday before Thanksgiving. They won't be lost in the sea of year-end holiday cards and can create a more positive impression.

2. Personalize your message

Whenever you send your cards, chose cards that are blank on the inside so you can hand-write a short, personalized message.

3. Use cards from non-profits or local charities

Consider using cards created by local charities or non-profits as fund-raisers. This way, the card itself becomes part of your message.

4. The personal touch

Hand-address the envelopes and even the return addresses. The extra effort will help it stand out in a crowded in-basket.

5. A gift in their honor

Five years ago, I was doing the above steps and obtaining good results, but decided to gamble on doing something really different. So, I sent everyone an email indicating that I would be making an additional donation to the local hunger center and animal shelter in their honor instead of sending them gifts or cards. I indicated that the need to help others was great and hoped they felt good about my decision. I hoped this plan would be a win for the organizations that received my donations and a win for me in my time savings and in the positive image it produced. However, I did spend a lot more money than simply buying the gifts, cards and postage would have been. The response was positive. Some people even thanked me for doing such a good thing and several said they would try something similar. I've continued with that plan ever since.

As you plan your holiday gift/cards program for this year, consider some of these ideas that would work for your needs and values. And ... Happy Holidays!

Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication (www.communicate-confidently.com, 440 449-0356) and empowers business leaders to communicate confidently. Stella is a COSE Ambassador, Resource Network  Expert, Content Committee member and has been a frequent speaker at COSE events. A popular trainer and executive coach on workplace communications and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative.  

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  • Next up: 5 ways to take your sales to new heights

    5 ways to take your sales to new heights

    Hal Becker doesn’t mince words when it comes to assessing the profession he’s spent so many years of his life working in. “Most sales people (are terrible),” the sales consultant says.  Fellow sales professional and consultant Marvin Montgomery agrees that there is a negative stigma surrounding the sales profession. “Sales people think anyone can get out there and do this,” he says, adding, “Most don’t do it the right way.” For a small business with limited resources, inefficiencies in the sales process can have a dramatic effect.

    Hal Becker doesn’t mince words when it comes to assessing the profession he’s spent so many years of his life working in. “Most sales people (are terrible),” the sales consultant says. 

    Fellow sales professional and consultant Marvin Montgomery agrees that there is a negative stigma surrounding the sales profession. “Sales people think anyone can get out there and do this,” he says, adding, “Most don’t do it the right way.” For a small business with limited resources, inefficiencies in the sales process can have a dramatic effect.

    So, what is the right way to approach the sales process? Becker and Montgomery identified five ways your business development program can be driven to new heights.

    1. Identify prospects, not suspects

    Entrepreneurs have a limited amount of time on their hands and should not be wasting that precious time on suspects; they should be going after prospects, Montgomery says. How can you tell the difference between the two? It helps to ask the following questions during the initial contact:

    • What is the timeframe for when the product or service must be delivered? If the timing doesn’t work out for both parties, then there is no sense moving forward.
    • Does the customer have the budget for the product or service? Again, if there can be no agreement on pricing, then the sales person is not talking to a prospect; he or she is dealing with a suspect.
    • Is this person a decision-maker? Ideally, your sales team will be most efficient in working with people who are in a position to make a decision and aren’t just gathering information.

    “Sales people need to look at the initial meeting as an exploration meeting,” he says. “You’ll both explore if there is a need to partner up together.” And if there isn’t a need to partner, make sure the customer leaves the meeting feeling good about potential business deals in the future.

    2. Listen

    A lot of people simply think selling is selling, Montgomery says. That’s the wrong way to go about it. He believes selling is listening. It’s not the job of a small-business sales person to do an info dump. It’s the job of this person to identify whether there is a need for their product or service.

    “It’s all about asking questions and listening,” he says.

    Becker agrees that sales people should engage potential customers in conversation. “I bet if you ask all of your questions and listen to the customer, they will tell you what they want,” he says. “People want to be helped, not sold.”

    Montgomery says it’s best for sales people to engage in “active listening” to help force them to pay attention. This can include note-taking and can also be as simple as leaning forward during the conversation. “Acknowledge that you understand what is being said,” Montgomery says.

    3. Ask for the business

     Once the sales person has a clear understanding of the customers’ needs, it’s time to start closing the sale. That begins with asking for the business, Montgomery says.

    Becker says it’s best to be direct at this stage of the process. He points to how doctors approach patients: Doctor’s don’t waste time talking about family matters; they ask pointed questions to determine your health. In the same way, sales people should ask direct questions to try to zero in on the deal.

    “Get to the point,” he advises. “You don’t need to dance. You don’t need to play games.”

    4. After the meeting

    Regardless of whether a sale is made, it’s important for small businesses to rely on the one natural advantage they have over their larger competitors: the personal touch.

    “Be real,” Becker says. “Have a high emotional intelligence. If you are truly empathetic and put the customer first, they will never forget you. Do the right thing. Don’t just talk a good game, but pretend you have just one client: How do they want to be treated?”

    5. Practice, practice, practice

    Becker and Montgomery agree that small business owners need to be continually refining their sales game. In the same way Lebron James practices the fundamentals of the game of basketball, sales people need to practice their own fundamentals.

    “A lot of sales people come to the game not prepared and they think the best way to sell is to endear themselves to the customer by talking a lot and doing a lot of small talk,” he says. “That’s the last thing you should do.”

    Instead, in the same way musicians have a musical score laid out in front of them during a concert, entrepreneurs shouldn’t be afraid to bring notes to a sales meeting, Becker says.

    “Sales people are supposed to cheat,” he explains. If you have your questions already written out, that allows you to focus on Step No. 1: listening.

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  • Next up: 6 Ways to Create Loyal, Raving Fans

    6 Ways to Create Loyal, Raving Fans

    You don’t want customers. You want a loyal base of customers who are going to stick with your business no matter what. Here are six ways to make that happen.

    Sometimes, we take our customers for granted, don’t we? We just assume that because they just bought our product or service that they will always continue to buy from us. I mean, you do have the best _____ (fill in the blank here with what your company does or offers) on the planet, right? And why would they ever consider to NOT buy from us?

    There are a lot of possible answers to that question, but I think it may come down to the fact that we never really take any concrete steps to turn them from a satisfied customer to a loyal and raving fan.

    Keeping a client does take work and while all of us know this, how often do we practice it? How do you make your customers feel? Are you building a loyal and raving client or is it a “one and done” relationship?

    There are many different factors that go into building loyal clients and here are just a few of them. (Our workshops and seminars on The Customer Experience go into detail on how to create this experience for your clients and not make them a “one and done.")

    1. Make it personal. Get to know more about your client than just his or her name. What do they like to eat, drink, do, etc.? Know the birthdate and/or the anniversary of when they became a client with you and celebrate these events.

    2. Be proactive, not reactive. I call this “the vision.” Can you anticipate your clients’ needs before they can? Or are you always reacting to them? Remember, when you are reacting, you are typically on your heels and you are apologizing. Now, you can’t be everywhere all the time, but you can avoid challenges at times by just thinking one step ahead to potentially quiet the storm that may be looming.

    3. Ask this question: "How else can I help you today?” And it may not have anything to do with your business, but it has everything to do with theirs. Who can you connect them with to solve a problem that they may be experiencing? What you are doing is building value for you and your company. If they can think of you as an expert and someone who can help them achieve their objectives, you are making them feel better about themselves and your company at the same time.

    4. Handle last minute requests with professionalism. That can be challenging at times, especially when clients change their minds and orders—a lot. But we can all pick up poor body language cues and non-verbal communication, even on the phone. Make sure your people handle these requests with a smile on their face, no matter what they may be really thinking about your customer.

    5. Think like a franchise. Here is what we mean: Any good franchise will have systems in place on how to do most everything in their company or organization. In theory, almost anyone in their company (who can read and follow directions) should be able to handle any situation or challenge that could arise with a client. Do you have your systems in place so that anyone in your company could take care of a client when they have a challenge? Or is your customer “shuttled” from one department to another because people in your company just don’t know how to answer that particular question. If you are able to create systems that will cross-train your employees, just think what the feeling will be from your customers. They will feel better about any challenge they may have knowing that anyone from your team can work with them. This is quite refreshing in this day of “always being put on hold.”

    6. Thank them over and over. This doesn’t always mean with gifts (although those are always nice). It could also be in the form of a special price on a product or service they order from you. It could be special recognition on your website or social media sites. It could be having their favorite beverage and snack waiting for them the next time they come to your office (or when you visit them).

    These are just a few ways to not only build loyal client relationships (and friendships) but to make people feel better about you and your company brand than they do about your competitor.

    Bob Pacanovsky is a Keynote Speaker and Trainer who works with companies and organizations to develop the Black Tie Experience- creating an impression that LASTS through leadership, service, actions, and behaviors. To learn more, contact Bob at (330) 352-6084 or Bob@BobPacanovsky.com

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  • Next up: 6 Ways to Create Relationships (And Conversions) with Your Digital Fans

    6 Ways to Create Relationships (And Conversions) with Your Digital Fans

    Here are a half dozen ways your small business can start winning the online customer relationship battle.

    Before Facebook, Instagram, email and all the other social media platforms came along, customer relationship building happened in-person and small businesses were the kings of those relationships. While big companies saw a small staff, limited locations, and not so big production facilities as downfalls for small businesses and advantages for themselves, they forgot about the most important marketing tactic: customer-relationship building. And small businesses excelled at it.

    Today, customer-relationship building has taken a turn. It's no longer the "Hello" at the bakery or "Here's a birthday card in the mail" from your local dry cleaner. It has become so digitalized that it's hard to grasp that it can even be considered a relationship!

    Many small businesses have set up their digital channels to consider conversions, but have not carried over their wonderful customer-relationship skills to the digital space. Conversions and customer-relationships go together. You can't have one without the other when it comes to social media and the digital landscape.

    How can you build better relationships with your digital fans? Here are six strategies you can implement at your business.

    Customer relationship tip No. 1: Bring them in and talk to them

    Many people look at Facebook followers and Instagram fans as the end of the line, but it's important to remember to create content that doesn't bring them into your page but relevantly communicates with them. (Relevant is the key word here).  This also includes boosting your posts to your audience!  Just because you post it on your channels does not mean they will see it in today's pay to play world.

    Customer relationship tip No. 2: Turn in-person customers into fans

    Offer promotion to those you work with in-person if they follow you on social media. Then, get ready to communicate with them!

    Customer relationship tip No. 3: Send targeted emails 

    For a while, sending a monthly newsletter was the biggest trend in email marketing, but today consumers have gotten smarter.  To build a relationship with them through email, you need to send highly targeted, relevant messages for them to consider opening your email.

    Customer relationship tip No. 4: Segment your digital audience

    Look at psychographics, demographics, and other behaviors to segment your fans and databases for a more personalized message.

    Customer relationship tip No. 5: Get personal! 

    Don't be afraid to send private Facebook messages, respond directly to tweets, and tag customers on your channels.  Act like a human, not a business, when you're communicating in the digital space.

    Customer relationship tip No. 6: Brainstorm
    Think about how you currently interact with your customers in-person, then convert those behaviors to the digital space.  Look at all the tools available to you - from Facebook live to Instagram stories to email segmenting. 

    This article was not written with the intent to tell you to stop building relationships in-person.  That method hasn't gone away. By leveraging relationship building in the digital space and incorporating it into your conversion strategy, you can take advantage of the great world of digital marketing for your small business.

    Annie Pryatel is the owner of AMP Brand Studios. Learn more about how AMP is helping small businesses succeed by clicking here.
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  • Next up: 6 Ways to Use Social Media to Attract Millennials to Your Business

    6 Ways to Use Social Media to Attract Millennials to Your Business

    Here are six easy-to-implement social media tactics that will draw more millennials to your business.

    It doesn’t matter if you’re selling a product or service, social media can be one of your strongest tools to growing your brand and business. If you’re looking to engage the demographic that we all constantly hear about, millennials, then look no further than social media to grow your audience in this age demographic.

    A study from Deloitte, found 47% of millennials make purchasing decisions influenced by social media. That’s a lot. And it’s a large group you might be potentially be missing out on. To utilize social media and capture the attention of Millennials, keep in mind the following six tips the next time you go online.

    Hit the record button

    Video can be intimidating but worth it in the long run. A recent study from  HubSpot Research found 54% of consumers want to see videos from brands they support. The great news is it’s easy to do if you have a phone in hand. Are you debuting a new product or have a new office space? Use video to show it off! There are many ways you can get creative to help promote your business. If you’re an event planner who wants to showcase that gala on Saturday or a small business owner debuting your new storefront, grab your phone and capture the moment to share. The facts don’t lie, 64% of users are more likely to buy a product online after watching a video, according to HubSpot. This means you’re more likely to secure new clients after sharing.

    Go live

    Once you’ve mastered the art of video, try going “Live.” I’m sure you’ve noticed the notifications that pop up on your phone when someone goes live. It’s a great way to capture attention and encourage real time interaction. If you’re introducing a new employee and want your audience to meet them or give your audience a chance to ask questions, utilize the live feature for your audience to follow along, ask questions and listen in real time.

    Be consistent

    Consistency is key when it comes to building brand awareness and growing your social media audience. There’re a lot of social media suggestions on how often you should be posting. Do a quick Google search and you’ll find anyone recommending posting multiple times to every couple days to once a week. However, there’s no special formula that what works for everyone. Find out what works for you and experiment when you’re posting. If you have days and times that seem to get the most engagement from your audience, continue to post those days. It might take some time but post different times and days to see what works for you. From there take the time to create a social media calendar, it’s a great to way to be consistent and set social media goals for your business.

    Be mindful

    Don’t forget quality is more important than quantity. As much as it’s important to be consistent, don’t post just for the sake of posting. It’s great to switch it up and post something that is different than your usual post, but ask yourself, “Will my audience be interested in this?” If this answer is no or you’re not sure, I highly recommend refraining from posting.

    Get engaged

    As much as putting quality content is major part of being successful in social media, it’s as important to be an active participant with your audience and build those online relationships. As most things in life, social media is a two-way street. To take full advantage of what social media can do for your personal brand and business, you must be as engaging as the next person. That means responding to the comment someone left on your most recent Instagram post or following back that new follower.

    Have a plan

    This might seem like a no-brainer but as a busy business owner you don’t have a ton of time on your hands. Creating social media guidelines and a calendar can do wonders for your business’s social media, while saving you time. Sit down and create a list of goals you’d like to achieve with your social media as well as what content is relevant to your brand. Having a clear outline of how often you would like to post. In addition to how often you should be posting, content aligns with your business is incredibly helpful.

    Katelyn Gainer is the marketing, events and development manager at Engage! Cleveland, a nonprofit whose mission is to attract, engage and retain young, diverse talent to the Greater Cleveland area. Learn more about her organization’s work by clicking here.

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  • Next up: Webinar: 7 Marketing Tactics to Know

    Webinar: 7 Marketing Tactics to Know

    Seasoned marketer Nicole Burke gives the inside scoop on the tools, tips and tactics you need to add to your marketing mix.


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