Using Social Media to Learn from Your Customers

As a small business owner, you probably don’t have a big market research budget. But you probably do have social media accounts. Here are five ways you can use those social channels to listen to what your customers are saying and improve your business and marketing.

How often does your business take the time to have a two-way conversation with your customers on social media? 

Social Media is not only a wonderful tool to promote your business to its clients, but it can also help you learn from your customers. In today's world, digital marketing is now a two-way conversation. Consumers have been trained to share their opinions, whether it be through a Facebook post or a product review, and it's up to brands to facilitate a response.Today’s small business owners don’t have big market research budgets, so they have to be creative. Social media can be an effective tool to gather information from your audience and apply them to your business.

Prompting conversations with your customers can give you some insight into their thoughts, help you improve your business and marketing, and make them feel closer to your brand.

How can you use social media to learn from your customers? Here are a few simple ways.

1. Just ask. So often, business owners create products and provide services without ever speaking to their customers.  A simple social media post directly asking them for their thoughts can help you improve your offerings. Customers are willing to and enjoy sharing their thoughts.  It also makes them feel important. Be sure to experiment with Facebook and Instagram paid posts to reach more of your customers and even reach potential new customers.  Having a variety of opinions from current and future customers can help you compare results.

2.  Launch a contest. Contests are a great way to get customers to share their opinions and thoughts. A small gift certificate to your store or restaurant or the chance to win some free swag is enough to get them to speak up. Make sure to follow Facebook's and Instagram's contest rules before going live with your contest.

3.  Test your ideas with them. Put your idea out there and let them react. Social media engagement can be a powerful measurement tool. If you get negative reactions, it might be time to go back to the drawing board. Use the Facebook reaction buttons to understand their sentiment and ask them to comment below so you can learn more about their response. On Instagram, leverage emojis and comments to help understand their response.

4. Reward them for their ideas. Make sure they know that you appreciate their thoughts. For example, if you're asking customers about potential new menu items for your restaurant, think about naming the menu item after the customer who suggested it. Asking too much from your customers and not acknowledging their input puts you at risk for being called greedy or inconsiderate!

5. Make the change. Take what you learn and put it into action. Customers will expect to see change if you ask about change. They'll be closely watching to see if their opinions get folded into your new business model, product or service. Be sure to call out your customers' help when you announce the chance to demonstrate your appreciation!

The more you engage your customers in your business decisions, the better you can market to them. Social media is a conversational tool that can help you learn more about your target audience. Are you ready to innovate? Your social media followers are ready to help!

Annie Pryatel is the owner of AMP Brand Studios. Learn more about how AMP is helping small businesses succeed by clicking here. 

Share
  • Email
  • Next up: Vote ‘Yes’ on Issue 32

    Vote ‘Yes’ on Issue 32

    During this election season, Clevelanders understand just how crucial the passage of Issue 32 is to the future of our region. If Issue 32 does not win approval from the voters the Cleveland Police Department, for example, recently cited that it will not be able to hire the officers the City needs.  Cleveland is faced with a budget deficit going into 2017 and if the gap is not filled, Clevelanders will be forced to suffer through the consequences.

    During this election season, Clevelanders understand just how crucial the passage of Issue 32 is to the future of our region. If Issue 32 does not win approval from the voters the Cleveland Police Department, for example, recently cited that it will not be able to hire the officers the City needs.  Cleveland is faced with a budget deficit going into 2017 and if the gap is not filled, Clevelanders will be forced to suffer through the consequences.

    GCP business leaders became convinced of the importance of Issue 32 and formally supported the proposal because it would give our City the ability to enhance services, grow and develop our neighborhoods, and it will lessen the impact of other revenue cuts recently imposed on Cleveland.

    Mayor Frank Jackson’s proposed 0.5% income tax increase (Issue 32) would be Cleveland’s first income tax increase since 1981 and it would:

    •    Eliminate city zoning codes that impede development and business growth.

    •    Improve trash collection, fix potholes, and enhance street sweeping.

    •    Aid in the inspection of buildings and homes with lead poisoning and the demolition of vacant dwellings.

    •    Allow the hiring of 120 Cleveland police department positions over the next four years.

    •    Enable the hiring of five Cleveland fire department personnel, 60 paramedics, and eight dispatchers.

    •    Improve security and programming at recreation centers for Cleveland’s youth.

    •    Support Cleveland’s seniors by increasing safety programming they can utilize at home.

    •    Allow mowing of vacant lots and clean-up illegal dumping of trash.

    •    Better coordinate initiatives that will curb and deter crime.

    “The Greater Cleveland Partnership does not take tax increases lightly,” said Joe Roman President and CEO of the GCP. “Our support of this issue comes after lengthy review and analysis. We believe this issue will help to further energize Cleveland’s renaissance and will offer multiple benefits to people who live and/or work in the city, as well as those who visit. It will make Cleveland an even better city.”
    City leaders have a strong track record managing the City budget – especially through the challenges of the late 2000s. The additional revenue (estimated at roughly $80 million annually) will ensure Cleveland remains structurally balanced and improves services desperately in need of additional resources—especially for public safety.

    Improve safety in Cleveland.  Keep services in Cleveland.  Vote “Yes” on Issue 32.

    Share
  • Email
  • Next up: Walking with Giants: Meet Your Match

    Walking with Giants: Meet Your Match

    Striking a partnership with a larger firm can be an ideal way to not only increase the amount of volume your small business does, but also give it more visibility in your marketplace as well. But what’s the best way to find these kind of partnerships?

    Striking a partnership with a larger firm can be an ideal way to not only increase the amount of volume your small business does, but also give it more visibility in your marketplace as well. But what’s the best way to find these kind of partnerships? 

    One good way to meet your ideal match is through COSE’s Cleveland B2B Matchmaker. This unique small business contracting event will present a great opportunity for small businesses to gain access to buyers that represent millions of dollars in purchasing. The goal of the event is to create future contract opportunities for small businesses through one-on-one sessions between buyers and sellers. Attendees will also have the opportunity to network with peers and learn how they can grow their small business. 

    Learn more about the Matchmaker here

    Share
  • Email
  • Next up: Walking with Giants: How to Partner with a Large Company

    Walking with Giants: How to Partner with a Large Company

    From Day One, Joshua Holmes had big dreams for his small business. “My background was never in building small websites—it was in much larger enterprise solutions for hospitals and e-commerce,” Holmes relates. Problem was, there just aren’t a whole lot of big hitters  in Medina, where his 12-person company is based. 

    From Day One, Joshua Holmes had big dreams for his small business.

    “My background was never in building small websites—it was in much larger enterprise solutions for hospitals and e-commerce,” Holmes relates. Problem was, there just aren’t a whole lot of big hitters  in Medina, where his 12-person company is based.

    At first, he did pretty much all types of Web-related work, but he kept his eye on the big leagues, and his business finally built up a rapport and symbiotic partnership with Miami, Florida-based software firm, dotCMS, that was looking for a developer like Ethode to implement its program.

    Holmes learned about dotCMS because he was looking for a platform built in Java (which is faster and more sophisticated than Word Press, from a developer standpoint). He came across dotCMS, which had the features he wanted. When he got to know the firm—which was rolling out its product to marketers who needed help with implementation—both parties discovered a synergy.

    Holmes didn’t know dotCMS, and it’s not like the relationship bloomed overnight. But Holmes took a chance, vetted the firm and dedicated time to learning their product and using it himself.  The more they got to know each other, they realized they had a lot in common. “We came from similar backgrounds,” he says.

    Today, when dotCMS sells its product to a customer, Ethode almost always installs it. And when a customer is considering dotCMS, Ethode often helps close the deal because its third-party opinion makes an impact.

    “Our business doesn’t come from constantly trying to find the next customer,” Holmes says of partnerships like dotCMS and how this opens the sales door. “They depend on us to install a product to make their customers happy, and most of their customers can’t do it themselves.”

    So you’re ready to go big-game hunting? Great! Before you start that hunt, though, read what our experts have to say about their own experiences and how it can jumpstart your efforts.? That means getting this business involves more than just asking for it. Allow our experts to explain.

    What are you trying to do?

    If you’re thinking about a partnership with a big business, the first thing you need to do is: Stop! Christian Silveira, director of sales and mass market operations at OnDemand Energy Solutions, which, like Ethode, has also taken the big-business plunge.

    You first have to figure out if it makes sense for your business. “What is your scope? It’s not necessarily a good business practice for every company, depending on the verticals or services they provide,” he points out.

    Differentiating commodities

    OK, So, you’ve decided it makes sense for you. Great! So, now what? (Hint: It has to do with standing out from the crowd!)

    Energy is a commodity, but OnDemand’s services are far from it. Acting as a consultant is how the firm differentiates itself from competitors. A conversation about the price of power shifts to business strategy—and that’s when large clients listen.

    “The conversation changes from savings to risk mitigation and that is typically exciting for our big clients,” says Christian Silveira, director of sales and mass market operations at OnDemand Energy Solutions, which, like Ethode, has also taken the big-business plunge.

    “When buying a very volatile commodity we discuss the various ways to manage risk. Negotiating favorable contract language for our clients, hedging, or layering energy purchase over time, we believe, is a more prudent way to buy power. After all, buying a commodity is a financial transaction,” says Silveria. “This message resonates with them.”

    Winning face time

    For Holmes, the key to securing large clients has been physically meeting decision makers and contacts who can point him to key personnel in large organizations.

    Of course, that’s easier said than done. But Holmes has found typical lead generation tactics many Web businesses use are not as effective—such as pay-per-click, search engine optimization and traditional advertising.

    “In this day and age, everyone thinks it’s all about electronic ads, but at the end of the day there are a lot of people who say great things but wind up doing a terrible job,” he says. “So, there is fear around hiring IT companies. People are always skeptical of you.”

    Networking in the community and actually meeting prospects makes all the difference. “You have to find them and shake their hands—and once they realize what you know, they recognize you are unique,” Holmes says.

    Show your value

    This seems like a simple question to ask, but what can you really do for a big client? If you’ll help grow their revenues, how? If you’ll mitigate risk for them in some capacity, how? If you’ll expand their footprint or product offerings—how? Be prepared to explain how you can help, and back that up with examples.

    “An anology I like to give when talking with large clients is, ‘Do you file your corporate tax returns yourself?’” Silveira says. Of course, they say no. “Did you hire the cheapest CPA, or the best that provides the most value?”

    Getting prospects to think about value and recognize their buying an expertise can be a game-changer. “The main thing we push here is question-based consulting,” Silveira adds. In other words, he doesn’t want to sit in a boardroom and spend an hour delivering a pitch. He wants prospects to toss him hard-ball questions so he can prove OnDemand’s expertise.

    Investing in growth

    By reinvesting profits into the business, Holmes has grown his firm to the scale where he can service large corporate customers. He knew from the beginning this “enterprise” demographic was his target audience, so he aligned his business strategy accordingly.

    That includes plants to build the first data center in Medina County in 2017, and possibly opening another U.S. location out of state.

    Scaling up

    If you’re going to service the big players, you better be prepared with the resources and manpower (if required) to fulfill your obligations. Big business can mean big workload. For Ethode, that meant scaling up with independent contractors at first so Holmes could service customers’ needs as a constant point of contact (and salesperson).

    Once he grew the business, by year three, Holmes brought on full-time employees. By the end of 2016, he expects to employ 20 people, growing the staff by up to eight employees. “The Catch-22 of contractors is you don’t own them,” Holmes quips. “You can’t dictate their full-time schedules, otherwise they are not considered contractors by law.”      

    Dropping names

    Holmes leveraged his background building corporate enterprise software systems when talking with large prospects about his small business. “I name dropped a little,” he says, relating that he worked on a “massive” project for Skyy Vodka and subsidiaries. “The customer is buying you. They want to know that you know what you are doing, so I said, ‘This is my background. This is what I’ve done.’”

    “I’m a small guy and I fish in a big pond,” Holmes says. “But if you have some background working with big business, that can alleviate their fears.”

    Big business wins

    Following the tips above can pay off in a big way, as Holmes and Silveira can attest.

    Through its partnership with dotCMS and others, Ethode works all over the country. This means Holmes gains exposure to a range of clients in his “sweet spot.” Ethode has implemented projects for companies such as Roto-Rooter, The Cheesecake Factory, Johnsonville, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital—and locally, The University of Akron and Oberlin College.

    “I knew I wanted to immediately grow the company,” Holmes says of the business that got its start in 2010. “It made sense for me to reach out to those two industries (healthcare and e-commerce) and network with people I knew already.”

    It’s been a worthwhile venture also for OnDemand, where large customers comprise approximately 20% of the customer base. And 80% of the energy load under contract comes from that base. “It’s the old 80/20 rule,” Silveira says.

    Overall, OnDemand manages electricty supply requirements for more than 5,000 clients with more than 27,000 meters, a total energy load under contract exceeding 15 billion kilowatt hours. That’s big.

    A “legacy book” of ongoing relationships prior to launching OnDemand has been key to getting in the door with big companies. Like Ethode, OnDemand took a good look at “who do you know” and honed in on those clients. Previously, the firm was part a wholly owned subsidiary of Duquesne Light in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania.

    OnDemand’s client base runs the gamut, and most are small businesses. But the firm can really stretch its consulting muscles when working with large firms that hire OnDemand as an extension of their energy management teams. They look at OnDemand as the CPA or attorney—a professional they need on hand to navigate energy procurement contract language.  

    Share
  • Email
  • Next up: Want free help with digital marketing?

    Want free help with digital marketing?

    Stuck/Challenged by Digital Marketing?  Want some free help with taking more advantage of digital marketing? As part of our job to connect you with opportunities, we thought we’d pass this along….from Bill Leamon at The Enterprise Development Center at Notre Dame College.  Bill is a big advocate for our region’s small businesses and this opportunity is a legitimate effort to both bring value to small businesses that need help with their digital marketing and give students with time and skills a “real world” project helping your business with it’s real needs. 

    Stuck/Challenged by Digital Marketing?  Want some free help with taking more advantage of digital marketing?

    As part of our job to connect you with opportunities, we thought we’d pass this along….from Bill Leamon at The Enterprise Development Center at Notre Dame College.  Bill is a big advocate for our region’s small businesses and this opportunity is a legitimate effort to both bring value to small businesses that need help with their digital marketing and give students with time and skills a “real world” project helping your business with it’s real needs.  If you are interested, read more…

    Notre Dame College has a Digital Marketing Class this spring.  As a part of the student’s work, they will work with 20 small businesses and/or start-ups to help them improve their digital marketing strategy and execution.

    The lead professor for the course will be Erika Port, a talented digital marketing consultant specializing in supporting startups and small businesses in Northeast Ohio.

    The program is designed to provide free help to startups and small businesses, while providing micro-internship experiences for the students, with the possibility that some could also land internships (also paid by NDC) this summer. Students will be expected to work 3 hours/week (45 hours total) beyond the regular course time to help build the entrepreneurs' online presence, and will be paid a stipend by the Enterprise Development Center at Notre Dame College (EDC@NDC) based on their performance.

    The EDC@NDC's support will be provided free to COSE members. The quality of the students' work will be closely monitored by Erika, Bill Leamon, and Notre Dame’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Todd Warmington. In order to participate you need only to commit to an initial project launch meeting (January 21, 2016), a mid-term review of progress (mid-March), and final evaluation of performance (early May).

    Here are the specific objectives of the course: 

    Objective 1: Students will recognize the importance of digital marketing and apply digital marketing elements into local businesses

    Objective 2: Students will creatively audit and analyze a local business, and find opportunities to improve the local business through digital marketing

    Objective 3: Students will develop a strategy for growing a local business and present their findings to the local business owner and help the entrepreneurs carry out the strategy

    Additional objectives specific to the needs of the participating companies can be included in the project scope.

    If you are interested in participating and providing both an experience for a student and getting value for your business, please send an email to Todd, providing him with your contact information, a brief description of your business, and a link to your website (you need to have a website of some sort to participate).  Also, please note, there are only about 20 students in this program, so the opportunity is limited.

    Share
  • Email
  • Next up: We're All in Sales, So Get Better at it!

    We're All in Sales, So Get Better at it!

    Sales is one of the foundational skills for any profession, for any leader in any organization who wants sustained growth. Here's how to master the art, even if it doesn't come naturally to you.

    If you are starting a business or own a business, you need to be able to sell. If you are pitching new ideas to your organization, you need to be able to sell. If you are raising funds for a nonprofit, you need to be able to sell. If you are a parent and raising a family, you need to be able sell.

    Selling skills are not the exclusive domain of the people in the sales department. At some point in any career we will find ourselves needing to sell something: an idea, a vision, a solution, etc.

    As Henry Ford’s quote states, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.”  The basis of selling is the process of helping a prospect or customer (individual or group) make decisions to achieve a desired outcome. Fundamental skills in selling are used to help the customer navigate their buying journey resulting in a decision based on trust, data/proof and emotion.

    Based on your business, the role of sales is to manage the gap between a target customer’s needs and the solution a company offers with its products and services. By closing the gap, the company is able to achieve its revenue targets and forecasts. The sales function in any company helps the organization achieve profit and growth objectives. Sales must assume a key team leadership role by engaging other departments in the profitable support of target customers and the successful growth of the organization.

    As you develop as a sales professional, here are five tips to helping others feel confident about their decision to work with and buy from you and your company.

    Sales tip no. 1: Be a professional. How do you want others to see you as a sales professional? Are you able to sell at all levels? Can you be counted on or can’t you be trusted? Are you serious or casual? Are you organized or sloppy? On a foundational level, to be a successful and professional sales person you must learn how to lead and manage yourself while developing the skills to get other people to follow you as you manage complex relationships with customers. Your customers will expect you to have expert business knowledge, skills and strategy, while your company will expect you to anticipate and lead change between your business and your customers. In your company, you are the team leader/team builder; you must have the right mindset, behaviors, initiative and discipline to be successful.

    Sales tip no. 2: Manage your assigned sales pipeline. A sales person must learn how to design and manage their own sales pipeline to achieve their personal and assigned goals. A sales pipeline must have a consistent volume and reliable speed (rate) of opportunities moving through from lead to new sale to achieve monthly forecasts.  As a sales professional, your selling process needs to be aligned with the customer’s buying process. Your project management skills help you track the stages in your pipeline as opportunities flow through the conversion stages: prospect, lead, meetings, quotes, close, etc.

    Sales tip no. 3: Manage successful transitions. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Warning: not all objections to change will be uncovered during your sales process. You must be prepared to lead change and manage the transition and the new relationships between your customers and your company. Some objections and resistance will come after the sale is made and they will arise in a variety of ways. As a sales professional you have to take the lead and manage the transition with new accounts or major new products.

    Sales tip no. 4: Drive results and sustain profitable growth. Stay focused and keep individuals and teams aligned with the key internal drivers, metrics and KPIs in your business: Financial, customer, marketing, product/services, people and processes of the business. A focus on key drivers that grow cash flow and profits are needed to sustain and scale a company. Be sure to align everyone’s daily decisions and actions to the big picture—serving your customers and increasing the value of the business.

    Sales tip no. 5: Engage and innovate. Use a combination of business review meetings or surveys with your customers as well as internal meetings within your company to discuss how you can keep your customers satisfied and loyal. Leverage the data you collect and load into your CRM systems, as well as data from the market, to discover the best ways to recognize and reward loyalty. Make it easier for customers to keep buying from you by offering more products and services that are aligned with customer needs and economics.

    We have all heard it, people ultimately do business with companies and people who can be trusted to deliver what they promised and are easy to do business with. If you make doing business harder or you hate working with people, you may want to look for other work.

    According to Warren Bennis, “The basis of leadership is the capacity of the leader to change the mindset, the framework of the other person.”

    Selling is about change. Leading is about change. Both deal with being able to successfully build relationships with other humans who are looking for new ideas or a solution to something that may be broken.

    What then do you need to know about sales as a function or a skill in your business or organization? Who do you have to become to be more successful as a leader in sales? What do you need to do to become more successful for yourself, your family and your company?

    There are no shortcuts, but there are plenty of clues and successful and proven strategies to be more successful in sales.

    Wayne Bergman is a business and executive coach and founder of Consistent Business Growth. Questions or comments about this piece? Email him directly at wayne@cbgrowth-gfm.com.

    Share
  • Email