Is Your Company's Website Delivering the Wrong Message to Your Customers?

As a business owner, it is crucial that you create a positive user experience thru your site. If you’re struggling in this area, the following webinar recap will help you learn the steps to perfect your approach.

As the saying goes, first impressions are everything. And your website is no exception, as it’s often the first impression potential customers have of your business. Thoughts about a business, or anything, are also very difficult to change once those first impressions are formed.

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    When you don’t have a positive first experience, chances are you will never go back. After all, there are over 1.8 billion websites currently available online. So you have other options when it comes to fulfilling your needs.

    What can you do to create the right first impression on your site so you don’t lose leads and customers? To answer this million-dollar question, we turned to Jamie Gyerman, associate director of optimization for akhia communications in Hudson, Ohio. In her presentation of COSE’s most recent WebEd Series webinar, Jamie, who oversees akhia’s digital team, put a spotlight on the three aspects of a website: navigation, design and content.

    Navigation

    The most important part of any website is that it’s easy to use, so the navigation and paths to accessing what you are looking for are crucial.

    Jamie shared two statistics when it comes to navigation. First, 40% of people are going to abandon your site if it takes more than three seconds to load. Second, 48% of people who arrive at a site that isn’t mobile friendly take it as a sign that you are careless.

    Poor navigation says many negative things about your site, and therefore your business, including that:

    • You don’t value your potential customers’ time;
    • You don’t understand your audience’s pain points;
    • You’re unwilling to pay for faster website hosting; and
    • You don’t get the importance of mobile responsiveness and are out of touch with your customers. You are outdated.

    When potential customers walk away with a negative experience like this, the message they receive is that you just don’t care about your customers.

    Your website navigation should send positive messages to your audience, including that:

    • You respect their time and you’re going to get them the information they need quickly;
    • You know how to address their pain points and have mapped out a simple way to address those pain points;
    • You are willing to invest in your customers because you care about their needs; and
    • You take time to understand your customers and go to great lengths to meet their needs.

    The takeaway from these messages is that you care about the people navigating your website.

    If you’re having some trouble providing user-friendly navigation on your site, here are four things you can do:

    Navigation Tip No. 1: Conduct a website speed analysis. You can go to a site like gtmetrix.com to help you assess how quickly it takes your website to load. Plug in the URL for your site and it will tell you how much the load time is for your site. Jamie suggests that you should get your load time below three seconds.

    Navigation Tip No. 2: Revisit your site map. The goal here is to make sure your site map addresses your customers’ needs, not just yours. Take a close look at your analytics to see how people are navigating through your site.

    Navigation Tip No. 3: Keep your navigation simple. People want to have their questions answered or needs met quickly and easily. Don’t make them have to jump through hoops to get there or spend too much time clicking around.

    Navigation Tip No. 4: Leverage google analytics. It benefits you to find out what devices people are using to access your site. Look at the analytics for the different pages within your site and how they go from one page to the next. Make sure you optimize the experience for each of the different users coming to your site.

    Design

    Every design aspect that goes into your website must be strategically selected and placed. 46% of people say a website’s design is the number one criterion for discerning the credibility of a company.

    Think about your company’s designs across all marketing efforts—they should be consistent. Because your website URL will appear on all ads, literature, and other items, the look and feel of those pieces should be in align with your identity. Don’t leave people feeling disconnected.

    Poor website design can tell people that:

    • You don’t care about how you look;
    • You don’t spend money to improve your business; and
    • You aren’t aware of or connect to the rest of your organization.

    So again, the overall message is that you don’t care about your customers.

    The design of your website should make potential customers feel that:

    • First impressions are important to you;
    • You take pride in what you do;
    • You care about the small stuff and are willing to invest in your business; and
    • You are innovative and current.

    Doing so will of course send the positive message that you care about your customers.

    What can you do if you aren’t quite there yet with the design of your site? Here are four tips to consider:

    Design Tip No. 1: Stay on top of trends. Digital marketing changes so often and can be expensive. You do not have to keep up with each tiny change, but you do need to stay current and know the best way to communicate your message in a visual way that’s going to be relevant to users.

    Design Tip No. 2: Conduct audience research. You need to find out what resonates with the people coming to your site. You should also conduct research on your competitors. Keep in mind, though, that while you do want to stand out among your competitors, you don’t want to be too far off from what they are doing either.

    Design Tip No. 3: Pay attention to details. Do you know what your website looks like on a desktop versus on a tablet or phone? You must test your site across multiple devices.

    Design Tip No. 4: Represent your brand consistently. Take a close look at all of your marketing outlets and different pieces and make sure your audience would be able to identify all of them as being part of your business.

    Content

    Customers are researching solutions to their needs online and connecting to your brand based on search results. Since they are doing their own research in this digital movement, the power lies with the customers. And, as Jamie noted, prospects are already 57% on their way to a decision before they connect with your sales team.

    Poor content can give the impression that your company:

    • Doesn’t have a good sense of its own identity and what it can do for customers;
    • Lacks focus and purpose; and
    • Is no different than its competitors.

    Again, what you’re really saying is that you don’t care about your customers.

    Your website content should let customers know that you care about them.

    Here are three tips that you can follow if you’re not there yet with your content:

    Content Tip No. 1: Clearly communicate who you are. What’s one thing you want your customers to know about you or walk away with? Make sure you clearly define who you are.

    Content Tip No. 2: Identify what makes you stand out. Make sure you highlight the differences between you and your competition throughout your site.

    Content Tip No. 3: Showcase testimonials. Satisfied customers can advocate on your behalf, which will go a long way with potential customers.

    View Gyerman's full presentation below:

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    Next up: What's Your Value? The Value of You and Messaging that Works

    What's Your Value? The Value of You and Messaging that Works

    We talk a lot about understanding the value of your product or service but it is important to also explore your value. Do you really appreciate what your product or service does for your clients? Do you believe you are pricing it appropriately? It is really easy to decide for your clients how much they can afford or wish to pay. However, that is not the best way to price your product/service. 

    We talk a lot about understanding the value of your product or service but it is important to also explore your value. Do you really appreciate what your product or service does for your clients? Do you believe you are pricing it appropriately?

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    It is really easy to decide for your clients how much they can afford or wish to pay. However, that is not the best way to price your product/service. And here’s why:

    Chaos

    You'll make it really hard to keep track of what you are charging if your pricing varies by client. You want to have a standard and usual pricing for the vast majority of clients. Unique pricing should be few and far between and only when the case makes a lot of sense. An example would be offering a first time discount when you strongly believe there will be a lot of follow up business later. This is best done when there is a contract for long term work. That way you are guaranteed to receive the revenue, and the discount makes sense. It’s like a good faith gesture.

    Devaluation

    You run the strong risk of devaluing your product/service. This is risky. You are, in essence, trying to get into the head of your prospect and make decisions for them about what they value and what they can do. If you’re wrong (and there’s a strong chance you will be) the result is that you have actually told your prospect that your product/service is worth less than it should be. That is the belief they will have moving forward. It doesn’t instill confidence and it doesn’t guarantee they will hire you.

    Failure to Grow

    When you do this you make it really hard to grow. You end up spending your time on underpriced work. Moreover, you can get yourself into a cycle where you can’t get to the right-priced work. You’ll end up frustrated and disappointed. This can even lead to re-evaluating your worth internally. You know, when you are underpaid for too long you can start believing that it’s all you are worth.

    Not only is this dangerous but it is also unfair to you and your clients. If we stay with the premise that you have a quality product or service, then undervaluing it serves no purpose. If you come across a prospect who can’t afford what you have to offer, they just may not be a qualified prospect. Don’t automatically move to the position of lower your price. The long term impact of that decision can be devastating to your business.


    Want to hear more on this topic? Attend "The Value of You and Messaging that Works" at the Small Business Convention! This workshop will be presented by Diane Helbig of Seize This Day Coaching and Matt Brower of Hey Now! Media on October 21 at 4:00p.m.

     

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    Next up: Why a Personalized Marketing Approach is Essential in Today’s World

    Why a Personalized Marketing Approach is Essential in Today’s World

    It’s easier than ever today for a business to quickly and efficiently reach a mass audience. Here are a few tips to help your business make a personal connection during your mass marketing efforts.

    In today’s business environment, marketing to the masses is becoming easier and more cost effective. With social media, an optimized website, and an email newsletter, any business can reach a large audience efficiently.

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    While this creates more opportunities, it also creates a big challenge. The age of digital marketing has made marketing less personal. How do you stand out when your potential customers are getting inundated with email newsletters and social media content?

    In 2017 and beyond, the need to personalize your marketing efforts is critical if you want to maximize your return on your marketing investment. The goal of personalization is to create an experience that shows you understand each customer’s personality and can anticipate what he or she might need from you going forward.

    There are many ways to approach personalized marketing. Here are a few ways to get started:

    Gather ‘personal’ information and develop buyer personas
    The key to personalizing your marketing is to gather data and information about your customers and prospects. Utilize historical buyer behavior, surveys, focus groups and one-on-one discussions to gather demographic data, purchasing habits, content preferences and interests in your solutions. This information will help you develop buyer personas that group certain sets of customers into logical categories.

    Segment your e-newsletter
    If you are using an email marketing tool such as Constant Contact or MailChimp, great! Many businesses will send a monthly newsletter to all customers and prospects. The issue with this is that in most cases, the messaging doesn’t resonate with the recipients—it’s either too general or contains content that doesn’t apply. Consider segmenting your email list, leveraging your buyer personas, and sending separate newsletters to each segment.

    Use an ‘old school’ approach to connect with your customers
    With everyone moving to digital and impersonal marketing methods, there are more opportunities to leverage “old” techniques to complement your marketing. Some ways to do this include writing handwritten thank you notes, making personal phone calls, and creating more opportunities for in-person interaction, whether it be at tradeshows, lunch meetings and events.

    Showcase your company’s personality
    There is a saying that people work with people they like and trust. This saying also holds true for companies. Showcase your company’s personality publicly through social media and other digital marketing avenues. A few ways to do this might be to publicly recognize employees, showcase team volunteer efforts and share testimonials and examples of your work.

    These are a few examples that are relatively cost-effective and straightforward. Some companies go well beyond these techniques, including designing a robust website that has custom landing pages and fill-in forms. However, by taking these steps to personalization, you will be able to better target your content and your solutions to meet the needs of each customer.

    Nevin Bansal is the president and CEO of Outreach Promotional Solutions.

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    Next up: Why a Political Action Committee is important and the power of your involvement

    Why a Political Action Committee is important and the power of your involvement

    Primary election season is in full swing, Iowa and New Hampshire have cast their ballots, and Ohioans will march to the polls on March 15th to have their say.  Now, more than ever, the business community needs to be proactive in helping candidates for office work towards common sense solutions in the areas of workforce, workers’ compensation, tax, regulation, health care, energy, economic development, and labor.  

    Primary election season is in full swing, Iowa and New Hampshire have cast their ballots, and Ohioans will march to the polls on March 15th to have their say.  Now, more than ever, the business community needs to be proactive in helping candidates for office work towards common sense solutions in the areas of workforce, workers’ compensation, tax, regulation, health care, energy, economic development, and labor. 

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    Individually, you may choose to support candidates through your contributions and your vote.  While the right to vote and your perspective on the issues are crucial, many still believe their voice is not heard throughout the process.  So, what role does the Greater Cleveland Partnership Political Action Committee (GCP PAC) play in amplifying the voice of business?

    Stated simply, the GCP PAC is a non-partisan, member-driven tool that unifies businesses of all sizes and industries in our region and aids us in educating key decision makers on the issues that are important to you.  A Political Action Committee provides our members with the means for concerted political action.  And, the dollars contributed through the GCP PAC are used to provide support for state and local governmental leaders campaigning for election who share your interests.

    The GCP PAC provides an avenue for you to make a meaningful impact on the process and by collectively mobilizing efforts (and, your engagement), GCP PAC creates synergy.  Together, we are greater than the sum of our parts and our strength in numbers allows us to lead the conversation on public policy matters in Ohio.

    Interested in learning more about the GCP PAC or how you can get involved in our advocacy efforts?  Visit the GCP PAC website here or e-mail advocacy@cose.org.

    Please note individuals, limited liability companies (LLCs), partnerships and sole proprietorships can legally make contributions to a PAC.  Contributions must include itemized allocations by partners in partnerships or members of a LLC.  Ohio law prohibits other corporate political contributions. 

    Your participation in the GCP PAC is completely voluntary and you may contribute as much or as little as you choose.  Donations are not tax-deductible and will be used for political purposes.  An individual may contribute up to $12,532 annually to an Ohio Political Action Committee.  You may choose not to participate without fear of reprisal.  You will not be favored or disadvantaged by reason of the amount of your contribution or decision not to contribute.

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    Next up: Why Setting More than 2 or 3 Yearly Goals Is a Bad Idea

    Why Setting More than 2 or 3 Yearly Goals Is a Bad Idea

    We all have goals. Sometimes we call them objectives. Whatever they’re called, setting the table for the coming year is something all business owners must do. If the goals are bold enough and complex enough, they are referred to as "strategic." The implementation is more complex than one person can tackle alone. Some call these kinds of goals "BHAGs"—Big, Hairy (complex) Audacious Goals.  

    We all have goals. Sometimes we call them objectives. Whatever they’re called, setting the table for the coming year is something all business owners must do. If the goals are bold enough and complex enough, they are referred to as "strategic." The implementation is more complex than one person can tackle alone. Some call these kinds of goals "BHAGs"—Big, Hairy (complex) Audacious Goals. 

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    Let's examine the process in a local family business. The owner did his homework and sat down to plan the strategic goals he wanted to get accomplished for the next year. He was pumped up.

    That was the situation I encountered while advising a $4-million manufacturing/distributor of technical industrial products. On the year's agenda were the following:

    1. Establish a physical presence

    Break ground for, complete, and move into a modern, state-of-the-art facility. The landlord raised the rent at the old location to the point where it wasn't fiscally prudent to remain there. Architectural drawings and building plans had been drawn up in the previous year and appropriate land had been purchased. A general contractor had been hired and promised to start as soon as the weather permitted in the spring. He assured the owner the building would be complete and ready to move in before the first snow of the fall.

    2. Establish new systems

    The company administrative/accounting IT systems were antiquated. The owner no longer felt comfortable with the accuracy or the timeliness of information provided by these systems. An outside accounting firm had been brought in the prior year and  recommended a newer, more reliable platform (Windows 97 was no longer supported).  So another goal for the year was to switch to the newer platform and system.

    3. It’s a family affair

    Inquiries from potential overseas customers had been increasing in recent years. The company’s market territory was principally the United States and Canada. The potential seemed to be attractive, but no one in the company had international business experience. Luckily (?), the eldest son had decided the prior year his future did not lie in furthering his career in a Washington, D.C.-based political job with his degree in international relations. He came home and had been the company production manager. The owner promoted the young lad to manager for European activities and he was tasked with developing that market for the company’s products. As an aside, the company had never had a sales manager other than the owner, who, in addition to being the CEO, was also the chief scientist, directly responsible for new product creation and product development. He also was 67 and really wanted to retire soon.

    4. Create performance standards

    The office manager (wife of the CEO)  was continuously critical of and dissatisfied with the performance of her entire administrative staff. Her major goal for the year was to oversee the implementation of a new IT/accounting system. The company’s advisors suggested (note: advisors suggest or advise, that's why they’re called advisors) she implement a formal performance appraisal system with detailed, written performance standards against which to measure performance. By doing so, they reasoned, her people would know what her concerns were about their performance and her staff might be in a better position to understand what they were doing to upset her. The CEO and the plant manager  thought this was a good idea and took to heart the notion that employees should be provided regular performance feedback.

    That's only 4 BHAGs. There were a couple more, including an ongoing ownership transition plan that the wife insisted that all four of the sons share equally in the eventual transfer of ownership (even though only one of the sons actually was working in the business).  That, however, is a story for a future installments of this blog.

    What happened? What do you think happened? Don't read further until you have thought about it for a minute or two. 

    Surprise! NONE of the BHAGs were fully accomplished during the goal year.

    1. The new building wasn't completed until late June of the following year. Weather was not a contributing factor. Multiple design changes and change orders dragged out the construction process. Aside: I recommended the general contractor who was hired because, among other things, he had a great track record of on-time delivery and had a lot of experience in working with closely-held business owners. He told me later this project was the most difficult/stressful general contracting project he has ever undertaken. Luckily, he still talks to me.

    2. The company trusted neither the old IT nor the new IT systems. So, they ran both in parallel for the better part of the next two years. The outside accounting firm's advice throughout this period fell on deaf ears, primarily because the CEO's wife didn't believe either system was accurate. In reality, the solution was way beyond her pay grade, but after all, she was the wife of the owner.   

    3. The son's performance in opening the new market was, frankly, a disaster.  He was earnest, loyal, dedicated, but held a position far beyond his competence. While he was personable and gregarious, he lacked the technical skills and expertise necessary to create a profitable outcome. The company’s advisors finally got the CEO to admit that if his last name had not been "Smith" (disguised name), he would have been terminated 12 to 14 months into the project. He continued in the same position, with mediocre results, for at least the next four years.

    4. How about the performance appraisal system? Surely that must have gone off without a hitch. Nope. The CEO and plant manager embraced the system wholeheartedly. They set up formal performance reviews and the back of the shop (operations, R&D) responded extremely well. Cost of goods sold dropped significantly.  On-time delivery greatly improved. Waste/rework dropped. The back of the company exhibited much better teamwork and interpersonal communication. Unfortunately, these results were not replicated in the office. The CEO’s wife refused to implement the system, continued to rail against what she considered poor/substandard performance and didn't buy in.  As result, the IT/Accounting systems continued to be dysfunctional, the office atmosphere was toxic, and at the end of the day, because "Mama isn't happy, no one was happy."

    What can be learned from this story?

    1. BHAGs are generally carved out of the time you have after you have done your day job. The day job doesn't go away just because you have an overarching project to accomplish. 

    2. Most people are not good at juggling. Even semi-pro jugglers have a hard time juggling more than three items at a time. Most people have a hard time juggling two items at a time. We live in a work culture in which  people are praised for their multi-tasking skills. Juggling and multi-tasking are the same thing. In smaller enterprises, the stretch, or extra time that people have to work on things other than their day jobs is pretty limited. That's why more than two or three yearly important goals don't get accomplished on time.

    3. Family business frequently does not work because the family often takes precedence over good business practices.

    4. You are only as good as your weakest link. Goal accomplishment needs everyone to be competent and on the same page.

    Jeffrey C. Susbauer, Ph.D. is Associate Professor Emeritus at the Monte Ahuja College of Business, Cleveland State University where he has taught strategic management and entrepreneurship courses since 1970.  A long-time consultant to scores of businesses, a member of the boards of advisors to over 60 companies, he co-founded and serves as the principal instructor for the COSE Strategic Planning/CEO Development Course for the past 36 years. The course is concerned with providing entrepreneurs with education to guide their vision, strategic thinking and execution in their businesses.

    Want to learn more about the Strategic Planning/CEO Development course? Click here for additional information or contact Jeff via email.

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    Next up: Why the Customer Lifecycle is Crucial to Your Business

    Why the Customer Lifecycle is Crucial to Your Business

    Many small businesses are laser-focused on just getting the sale. While there’s no doubt acquiring customers is crucial, retaining them is just as important. The key to customer retention is understanding the customer lifecycle journey, according to Mike Stocker, director of business development at Marketo. From the moment the customer first learns about your product or service, to the day they become a full-fledged advocate, there is a lifecycle that customers follow. Understanding that lifecycle is an essential part to retaining the customers you already have, Stocker said during a recent webinar.

    Many small businesses are laser-focused on just getting the sale. While there’s no doubt acquiring customers is crucial, retaining them is just as important. The key to customer retention is understanding the customer lifecycle journey, according to Mike Stocker, director of business development at Marketo.

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    From the moment the customer first learns about your product or service, to the day they become a full-fledged advocate, there is a lifecycle that customers follow. Understanding that lifecycle is an essential part to retaining the customers you already have, Stocker said during a recent webinar.

    “Consumers today are moving between different (marketing) channels,” he said. “You need to think about your strategy across all of your channels.”

    An example of this, he said, is understanding that some customers might be more apt to check their email first thing in the morning when they wake up. That could be an ideal time for your email marketing campaign. “Engage at the right time,” he said.

    Increasing mobile usage is driving the customers’ movement between channels, Stocker said. That has led to a rise during the past five or 10 years of engagement marketing.

    “This is where you’re focused more on the long-term relationship,” he said.

    The key tenets of engagement marketing, he said, are:

    •   understanding your customers are individuals;

    •   evolving your marketing message continuously over time;

    •   directing your messaging toward a positive outcome; and

    •   ensuring your message is everywhere your customer is.

    “Marketing is becoming the steward of the customer journey,” he said.

    One good example of this? Stocker said he purchased a pair of pants from a clothing retailer two years ago. Recently, he got an email from the business suggesting some shirts that go well with the pair of pants he bought.

     

    Challenges

    This kind of marketing does bring about its own set of unique challenges, Stocker said. Chief among those is measuring the impact of your messaging.

    For instance, Stocker said 82.2% of marketers are unable to measure cross-channel performance or return on investment. This limited visibility can make it difficult to understand whether you’ve created a winning message.

    Another challenge for small business in particular is how to devote limited resources to such an intensive marketing plan. Mike Madden, demand generation program manager at Marketo, said small companies would do well to mimic their larger brethren.

    The key is to create unique, personalized conversations with your customers. At its core, this is powered by strong segmentation and the personalization capabilities of your marketing automation solution or email service provider.

     

    This article originally appeared in the September 7, 2015, edition of Small Business Matters.

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