I have been reading numerous books on Business and Internet Marketing lately, and frankly, it leaves me somewhat confused.
Let's start with "Profits Aren't Everything. They're the Only Thing."
Self-proclaimed contrarian small business guru George Cloutier says:
"You must micromanage and then micromanage some more. With a small business you have to know everything that is going on at all times."
"It's OK to be a control freak".
"Fire and hire faster. Don't tolerate mediocrity."
"I want my employees to do what I say, not what they think."
You are starting to get the picture, right?
On the other end of the scale Josh Bernoff's latest book "Empowered" says the opposite:
"Your company is not and cannot be nimble enough to serve them. With our established processes and departmental boundaries, you move too slowly."
"To succeed with empowered customers, you must empower your employees to solve customer problems."
The ideas don't come from management: management's new job is to support and empower employees."
Both books were published during the past year. How can both modern business books punt two opposing points of view and both be right?
On moral grounds the principles of empowering employees and unleashing collective creativity for the greater corporate good sound like a good idea.
From my small business experience I tend to understand the authoritarian stance. Even if there are cheques in the cheque book, you cannot write them if there is no money in the bank.
So, like so often the case, is the truth not somewhere in the middle? Experience has taught me:
- Train and mentor employees to deliver great service, BUT stay close to your valued client. Staff come and go and as business owner, the client remains YOUR customer.
- Empower, but do not abdicate. Once a clearly defined task has been delegated, check in to gauge progress. Follow up afterwards to measure success and to give feedback, thanks or rewards. My business associate Cathy is a proponent of checklists. I am a fan of our internal project management system. The secret lies in clear instructions.
- A small business has less leeway than a larger organization. Each employee in a small business sits directly on the profit line and the business can ill afford the luxury of learning from mistakes. Social media and social networks expose our businesses daily, and everyone has a direct line to almost everyone except the most untouchable deity.
While this connected world offers vast business potential that HAS to be harnessed within a clear policy, agreed use and measurable outcomes, social media is an emerging technology that requires time to mature. A small business does not have the flexibility of allocating staff to research trial and error in a new media world. Hire an expert and pay for results.
Although I do not particularly subscribe to the authoritarian language in Cloutier's book, he is very clear in what he believes. Simply put, if we are not in business to generate profit, our energies are best utilized in a different environment than the world of hard commerce.
On the other hand, although I do not believe that Bernhoff's book was born from the school of hard business knocks, we have to acknowledge that this millennium is giving birth to a generation of Internet-connected employees and customers who are changing the world - one click at a time. Ignoring this emerging force is business suicide.
What do you think? Share your comments here and let's continue the discussion...
People Do Business With The Nice Guys
In "Fierce Leadership" author Susan Scott makes the point that when you land yourself in a competitive situation with all the above being true, customers choose the "nice guys". People want to do business with people that they have a connection with. People that they can talk to and people who listen. People who make them feel good about what they buy. And that is just too bad for the smart guys.
Joseph Pine ("The Experience Economy") wrote that today's economy is an "experience economy", indicating that customers are seeking more than a good product or good service. Using the product or service has to be an enjoyable experience which begins with the very first encounter a customer has with your business.
Deepen the Experience with Web 2.0
In a global economy that first experience often starts on the Internet and relationships are deepened through the tools of web 2.0 - social networks, comments, reviews, ratings and sharing. The customer experience is created not only through your messages but also through what others say about you. The media relations and advertising departments no longer control your brand. Your customers and staff do and they are a part of your brand conversations.
Engagement - The Glue In Your Brand
In the latest of the well-known "Did You Know" videos (also known as Shift Happens) Eric Qualmann's version says: "What happens in Vegas, stays in... Facebook, Bebo, MySpace..." Keeping loyal customers will require rallying the troops - and those troops are staff and past clients. Engagement and meaningful deep conversation create loyalty which becomes the glue in your brand.
Employees who feel engaged and who are a part of meaningful conversation at work, become empowered brand ambassadors. Engaged employees contribute to the customer experience (some airlines get this right - see Southwest Airlines and WestJet or just think about the Fish vendors at Pike's market in Seattle).
Also rally current customers - they are guaranteed to talk about a great experience. Help them along by providing the forum on your website, your social network page, or your blog.
Where to Start?
It starts with buy-in at the top. As the leader of an organization the buck starts and stops with you - setting the example, creating the tone. Scott tells the story where a top notch consulting firm with the smartest employees and managers who are referred to as "partners" could not sew up a billion dollar contract - only to discover that the competition won the contract because they were the "nice guys".
If customers are walking away, competitors stealing your staff, or getting the job done is like pulling teeth - check the level of engagement with your staff and your customers. Facebook is entering the world of location-based marketing, similar to Gowalla, FourSquare, and Yelp, with Facebook Places. Facebook Places was recently launched in the US and is being deployed world wide.
Location Based Marketing, including services such as Four Square and Facebook Places is a fairly new addition to the Internet Marketing toolkit and has enormous potential for businesses, in particular businesses such as restaurants, coffee shops, bars and other "social" businesses where the general public gather.
A service like FourSquare is a fun web and mobile application that allows registered users to connect with friends and update their location. Points are awarded for "checking in" at venues.
Facebook Places, similarly, will allow users to let others know where they are. This video that was published on the Social Media Examiner page explains what Facebook Places is all about.
As we leave summer behind, we get into work and school mode with being organized on of the top items on the list. Here are a few tips to make it easier...
Get it out of your head and onto paper.
Many competing ideas in your head will drive you crazy. Paper is tangible, so get it out of your head and onto paper. From there you can underline, colour code, connect certain items, stick it on the wall or share.
Set up space in the clouds to store information.
Upload documents to space on the Internet where they are accessible and secure such as Microsoft's Skydrive, Apple’s Mobileme iDisk, Dropbox. Store your client contact information online in Google Contacts (need a Gmail account or in Apple's Mobileme.)
Flag your to-do items for follow up.
Often emails contain a reminder to do something or to follow up on something. In Microsoft Outlook, use the Flag feature to flag those emails for follow up or in Google Mail, use the Star feature.
Online collaboration saves time.
Use Google Docs to take minutes in meetings. Save, format and share with others. It saves paper and time. Zoho is a service that rivals what Google has to offer and Zoho Docs is worth looking into.
Search, not File.
As a time saver, use a mail program that lets you search for information in stead of organizing information into folders. Google Apps is a must for your small to medium sized business.
Keep track with an online calendar.
Google Calendar lets you store multiple calendars in one, it syncs with other calendars (Microsoft Outlook, iCal, iPhone) and it can send you a reminder by SMS or email. Your Google Calendar can also easily be shared with others. And above all, you can access it from wherever you are.
Get an iReader.
Carry multiple books with you, save paper, add notes and bookmarks electronically and see what other readers highlighted in a book. My favourite is the Kindle app on my iPad. iBooks on the iPad is equally as nice. The Kindle app will also let you read books on your PC or Mac.
So you have any time saving organizing tips to share? Let us know.
Labour Day Weekend in North America signals the end of summer for many and with it, the end of family vacations, visits and travel. June, July and August is peak tourism season in the northern hemisphere and tourism operators work like bees to create a good time, comfort, memories and great experiences.
With the end of this busy season in sight, the list of work continues as things are getting wrapped up. Here are a few marketing ideas to consider:
Manage Contact Information
- Organize your list of names and addresses of guests and customers that you collected during this past season.
- Segment your contact lists (couples, families, boomers... whatever is suitable for your business).
- Capture the contact information in a contact management system (Google Contacts, Batchbook, Zoho CRM, Microsoft Outlook Address Book or an Excel Spreadsheet) or in an email program (Constant Contact, MailChimp or StreamSend)
- Send a follow-up e-newsletter with photos from the summer and a bit of news to encourage happy memories to linger a bit longer. If it makes sense in your business, create different version of your e-newsletter for different segments of your list, i.e. outdoor enthusiasts; theatre-lovers; families, honeymooners etc.
- Send a sincere thank-you note or card - make sure your business gets a fond spot in the email box, on the fridge, album or notice board.
- Invite guests to become a part of your social community on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or YouTube. Continue conversations with your guests on these social channels.
- Search for photos, tweets, blogs or videos that were posted by guests or visitors to your region, establishment or town and comment, link, "friend" or "like" the content.
- Add a Facebook "like" button to your website as well as social media buttons to your social channels.
- Update your website with photographs and images for the new season to encourage a few more weeks of travel during the shoulder season.
- Post photos to your website and invite your guests to provide their favourite pictures for your site.
- Plan travel packages with other tourism operators in your area or a location along the route for the new season.
- Update testimonials on your site and invite your list to submit testimonials to sites like Canada Select and Tripadvisor.
- Plan for your own professional development and register to attend one of our workshops! You may learn a few new things but also network with like-minded people.