Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Using Live Chat To Increase Conversions

I did a little research a few months back on live chat after meeting some great folks at a solid startup that is revving up to make live chat a strong part of the customer service and support experience.

Live chat can help online retailers and other businesses who are seeing great traffic numbers but low conversion rates. It offers a very personalized experience at a time when the online customer experience can be very generic. Live chat can also help your site rise above the competition and meet customers' real-time expectations.

Click here to read Using Live Chat to Increase Conversions.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Always Be Straightforward With Your Customers

We all make mistakes – nobody is perfect, right? Well, I recently read an article about a bit of a blunder from a startup I wanted to share with you, not to highlight the company’s mistake, but to share a great lesson for enterprises. This story really got me thinking about the importance of transparency and honestly when it comes to our customers.

As reported to Medium, the former customers of a cleaning service called Homejoy that had gone out of business received an email from a company called Fly Maids, stating they were Homejoy’s new “partner” service and inviting them to give their services a try. Seems harmless enough thus far, right?

Well, the invite took a turn for the worst when these former Homejoy customers visited the Fly Maids website and found their name, address and credit card information pre-loaded into the site. To make matters worse, many customers found the Fly Maids website so similar to a competing cleaning service’s site they began to think the entire thing was a huge scam and suspect their credit card information had been compromised.

Turns out that behind the scenes, one of the co-founders of Homejoy had acquired the company’s domain and customer data then founded Fly Maids to continue to service Homejoy’s customers. The problem? He decided not to tell these facts to the Homejoy customers he was prospecting as not to influence their decisions to engage Fly Maids for their cleaning services based on their previous experience with Homejoy. First off, I’m not really sure why you wouldn’t want to take advantage of a customer’s previous experience with you…unless, of course, it was a bad experience. And secondly, how could you not expect to freak someone out by pre-loading his or her credit card information to your website? And thirdly, which is a topic for another article, how scary is it that someone can purchase your credit card information from a company that has gone out of business?!

The backlash was so bad that Fly Maids has taken down their site and assured former Homejoy customers the company has deleted all of their credit card information. So, what is the lesson here? I believe this is a great lesson in transparency and honesty for enterprises.

When you are about to launch a campaign or are planning your sales and marketing strategy, be mindful if you are ever at a point where you are about to, maliciously or not, take a step in which you are going to try to keep your customers from finding out about something. If there is one thing that customers don’t want from you, it’s a surprise. If you are about to do something sneaky, think twice. As I always say, just be square with people, no matter what. Make sure that you are always the one who is above board, straightforward and never working behind the scenes. Your customers will always appreciate your honesty.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Using the Industry Articles you Read to Stay in Touch with Prospects

You’ve called and emailed a prospect as often as reasonable and you’ve done everything to show them the value of the product or service you’re selling. We’ve all been there – we know exactly when it is time to let the prospect go and move on to the next one.

But, what if instead of completely letting go, you kept that prospect on a drip campaign that did nothing but provide them with some bellwether industry information and the latest industry news from time to time? Or, better yet, sent them a personalized email at some seemingly random times that provided them with this content.

This is the age of content marketing. And while not a new concept, today’s sales and marketing professionals need to keep in mind that simply providing a prospect with information about your product and all of its bells and whistles simply does not cut it anymore. Prospects want to buy from people they know are thought leaders and who have a close eye on the market’s pulse, not just someone who scanned their badge or bought their name on a list.

It is going to take multiple touches to make a sale these days, and if you simply continue to prod people with nothing but facts about your company and its products or services, you are going to lose their interest pretty quickly.

Chances are, you spend at least a small part of your day reading up on the latest trends and news about the industry in which you work. If not, and you’re in sales and marketing, trust me when I tell you that you should be.

When you come across a particularly interesting article, spend a few moments thinking about whom on your prospect list might also be interested in that article. Shoot them a hand-typed, text only email with a link to the article. Don’t explain how the article relates to your product or service or tell them about a discount promotion you’re running, simply, send them a quick message briefly explaining how you just finished reading an article you feel they might find interesting.

I’ve seen this relatively easy method for creating a touch point bring a cold prospect back to the table and even into the win column. You will find that over time, your prospects are not only going to see you as an industry thought leader, but also come to feel that you genuinely care about the well being of their business.

When you are out making sales and someone tells you that they actually feel you care more about their business than they do, you know you’re doing some good out there. If you’ve never heard that before, then it sounds like it’s time for you to build and strengthen some relationships. One of the best ways to do that, especially when a prospect has given you every indication they are simply not interested in your product, is to start reaching out to them about their industry and showing them that you care about their business. A simple and easy way to do that is to start sending them links in a personal message to some of the articles that you have recently read.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

It's Time To Win The War Against Your Inbox!

I’m sure there are more than a few resources out there designed to help all of us manage one of the most daunting things in our modern lives – our email inboxes – but since I’ve never actually used any of those resources, I figured I’d throw my hat in the ring as well and share my management tactics.

Over the years I have amassed a number of different email addresses, both personal and professional, and in the interest of making sure I don’t miss out on a single contact, I still maintain nearly all of them. From the AOL email addresses I used in college to the ones I manage on a shared server today, each one reminds me of a different time in my life, serves a different purpose and delivers content that I am still interested in reading.

Whether you have one email address, or way too many like I do, here are some simple steps you can take to make sure your inbox and its content are manageable:

First and foremost, if you are lucky enough to have just one email address, please feel free to skip down to the next paragraph, but if you are like most of us, you have more than one email address. You may have so many email addresses that you don’t know what to do with them. I want you to pick one of them – maybe it is the most professional, or maybe it is the easiest to check because it’s the one on your phone – but either way, choose one email address and then set up a forward to it from all of your other email addresses. Ideally, do this in a manner that allows you to reply back to each email from any of your email addresses, but if not, the process is still manageable.

Once you have everything coming in to just one email address, it is time to get ready for battle. It is not going to be easy – it is going to get frustrating and feel really repetitive at times, but there are all sorts of scammers and spammers, phishers and peddlers and they want nothing more than to see you drowning in unwanted emails. The only way you are going to get your inbox to a manageable level is going to be for you to go to war against all those unwanted emails.

The first thing you can do to fight back is to make sure you continue to protect yourself. You are going to be opening a lot of emails as part of this process, but you need to remember, above all else, that every time you see an email you think is a security threat, delete it immediately. Don’t even try to open it on any device. There is no way to manage or stop these emails, but give yourself peace of mind by deleting them right out the gate.

Unfortunately, even after doing that, you are still going to have a lot of unwanted email left in your inbox. Great deals on cars, great deals on loans, great deals on all sorts of pharmaceuticals and great deals on just about anything else you can think of - all of them cluttering your inbox. If you use your email addresses for business at all, it can be even worse - you get a ton of email trying to sell you products and services as well as a ton of emails about conferences, seminars, webcasts and all sorts of white papers. It may seem the best thing to do is to simply delete all of these emails, too, but sadly, if you just delete all of these unwanted emails, you are going to keep getting more and more of them. It’s almost like the more you delete, the more they send!

But, if you fight back by taking the time to open each of these emails, scroll down to the bottom and unsubscribe, over time, you will start to witness a miracle! Your inbox will actually start receiving less and less of these unwanted and unsolicited emails. You are always going to see new ones and they may come in waves, but overall, if you keep up the good fight and continue to unsubscribe, you will definitely see a positive difference.

I’ll say it again, just to drive the point home. If you think it’s a security threat, don’t open the email. All other emails, open them, no matter how uninterested you are in what they are selling. Scroll down to the bottom until you see a link to unsubscribe. It might be a little hidden or be a linked image, but it should be there. It won’t be there EVERY time, but when you see it, click on it. You should sometimes get a message that you have been automatically unsubscribed simply by clicking on the link, and other times, you’ll be asked to provide your email address. Make sure you know which address the email was sent to (this is for those of you with multiple email addresses) and be sure you enter that email address into the field correctly. Make sure you click unsubscribe and stick around long enough to make sure you see a confirmation that you have been subscribed in some way before backing out of the browser window. Keep in mind that these spammers are hoping that you’ll miss a step or get so frustrated with their unsubscribe process that you’ll simply quit trying.

After you feel you’ve successfully unsubscribed, go back to the original email and scroll down further than that first unsubscribe link you clicked. Chances are, you are going to find a second or maybe even third unsubscribe link down there. This is because there may be an unsubscribe link for the campaign, then one for the spammer, and one for the company that is actually selling the product. If you don’t subscribe from each and every unsubscribe link on each of these unwanted emails, you’ll probably still keep getting email from them. Be sure to go back to each email and ensure you’ve unsubscribed from each link.

And, lastly, while you’ve deleted the obvious security threat emails and unsubscribed from all the unwanted emails, there is still one more step – taking a good hard look at the remaining emails – the ones you supposedly do want to receive. As you read each one of these emails, give a little thought to whether you really do read it or if you really want to keep receiving it. If you do, by all means, just let it keep coming, but if you don’t really read it – if you tend to just skim it or delete it pretty quickly - you may as well just unsubscribe from that email as well.

If you do just these few things – delete the scary stuff immediately, unsubscribe from EVERY unsubscribe link in an unwanted email, and unsubscribe from the stuff you don’t really read, you will soon find that your inbox is actually not only manageable, but you might actually enjoy checking your email again!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

ASP vs. SaaS vs. Cloud

We’ve all heard the cliché about how the only constant in technology is change, but during a recent product launch planning session, a small group of us who, if for no other reason than the years under out belts, consider ourselves to have been around the block a few times, were laughing a little bit about the semantics of “The Cloud” and how it resembles two other big buzzwords we’d marketed in the past, ASP and SaaS.

This got me thinking about the similarities and differences between these technologies and while I have, in fact, marketed all three over the years, I had never really taken the time to compare and contrast them. So, just for fun – if you can consider researching software platforms fun – I decided to take a closer look and then put together a little write up on what I discovered.

Click here to read ASP vs. SaaS vs. Cloud.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Your Marketing Mystery Box Didn't Work!

I just watched your ridiculously expensive direct mail marketing piece get opened in the elevator and I hate to tell you - it completely bombed. I didn’t get a chance to see your company name because it happened so fast, but I can tell you this – it was a complete and total waste of your money.

I was coming back from a walk and noticed a gentleman walking into my building with what I thought was a white cake box. After my mind cycled through all of the desserts I was craving at the time, I realized he and I were most likely going to end up in the same elevator. I smiled as I thought of how great it was going to smell in that elevator on the way up, especially if there was something good like donuts or fresh croissants in that cake box!

The gentleman and I made our way into the building through separate doors and he reached the elevator first. As he adjusted his grip on the box to free a hand to push the elevator button, I realized the white box was actually shaped like home plate. For you non-baseball-fans, home plate is the five-sided, square with a triangle on the bottom home base from baseball that you stand over when batting.

Just as the elevator door opened, two other gentlemen reached the elevator from the other side of the building and all four of us got inside. One of the newly arrived guys asked the guy with the home plate-shaped box, “Got something good in there?” As the door closed, the guy who asked the question pushed the “2” button and I pushed “7”. Seemed like they were all getting off at “2” so I made the assumption at that point, it wasn’t the random curiosity of a stranger wondering what was in the box, but that these three fellow elevator riders knew each other.

The guy holding the box said, “I don’t know, let’s take a look.” He flipped open the top flap of the box to reveal a home plate-shaped foam pad, obviously there to protect the contents inside, and a nicely printed letter sitting on top. Just as frivolously as he’d flipped open the box, the guy flipped up the letter as he said, “Obligatory letter,” and then reached for the padding.

I chuckled to myself a little here because as many of you know, I earn my living by writing the words that would go on that letter if this had been one of my marketing projects. I thought of all the hours the writer put into the content of that letter and all the hours it took that writer’s bosses to approve and refine that content. If only that writer and his bosses could have seen firsthand that their prospect spent an entire half-second on their letter!

So, the padding was flipped up to reveal a piece of white cardboard inset in the box with some cut-outs that held what looked like a couple notebooks, a couple brochures, and at the very bottom, a baseball with a lot of black words printed on it.

“Looks like another development kit,” the box’s recipient said as his fingers quickly perused the items in the box until they landed on the baseball. “Well, at least my kids can play with the baseball,” he said as he closed the box. We all chuckled.

Just then, the elevator dinged that we were at floor “2”, the doors opened, and the three gentlemen exited the elevator as the guy who asked what was in the box said in a disappointed tone, “Aww, I was hoping it was something good.”

The elevator door closed and I spent the remaining trip up the next 5 stories in the elevator contemplating what I had just seen. I’d say the box, it’s custom design, all the printing, the baseball and the shipping put the per-piece price of that marketing mailer at $20 if they bought thousands of them, and more like $30 or $40 if it was a shorter run. If you’re a marketer, you know the months and months of work that can go into the creation of a piece like that – all of the hours of salaried and hourly work that triple or even quadruple the actual cost of an item like that.

And in the end, what was the result of all that work and money? The prospect’s kids got a free baseball and maybe – just maybe – the prospect will remember that time he got a home plate-shaped box with a baseball in it, though he probably won’t remember exactly which company sent it to him. “Some development company, I think,” he’ll say.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Mr. Parker, Eternal Vigilance and Our Hard-Earned Money

Remember when we were kids and there were only a few things we had to watch out for? Things like strangers in vans, strangers with candy and strangers that offered you candy to get in their van? Remember when as long as there was an adult you knew and trusted that could see you from wherever they were sitting, things were safe?

I mean, we had to watch out for Halloween candy that had razor blades in it, open bottles of Tylenol and Richard Ramirez that one summer, but all in all, when I look back to those golden years of yesterday, I always felt pretty safe.
Fast forward to today, and I feel like they are coming at us from every angle! You’re able-bodied, you have a job, a little bit of money put away, a decent car and a decent place to live and now, all of the sudden, you are prime target #1 for every sleazeball out there!

We have to watch out when we get money from an ATM because they’ll sneak up on us, or maybe they’ve already placed a card reader over the ATM card slot and are waiting for us to simply take out 20 bucks so they can gank us for all we’ve got! We have to watch out for that same card reader scam at the gas pump, too. I know 99.99% of the people who handle your credit card are trustworthy, but you still do hear about people getting card numbers lifted at retailers these days. It also seems like you stand a much better chance of not getting ripped off by the actual human holding your credit card than you do once the merchant lifts all your personal information off of that card and then stores it in their payment system. Target ring a bell for anyone out there? I didn’t get any fraudulent charges on the card I used that month at Target, but I did get a nice, brand new shiny credit card and new account number from Chase just in case.

And speaking of scams, just this past Saturday morning, I got a phone call I have to tell you about. There I was, minding my own business, about to take a live check to the bank when the phone rang. Yes, folks, an actual live check, if you can imagine! I was going to have to actually walk inside the bank! Can’t remember the last time I had to do that! Yes, those ATM machines sure are scary, but hey, much less scary than the line in the bank or one of those many colorful Orange County bank robbers that get the cool names like the Hawaiian Shirt Bandit, Cool Grandpa Bandit, and Lady In A Crazy Wig Bandit. Yeah, I made those ones up, but you know what I am talking about.

But, anyway, back to my story – back to the phone call. I am about to take this live check to the bank and my cell phone rings. It’s a 202 area code phone number with a caller ID listed in Washington, D.C. My first thought is, what the hell do they want? Haven’t I sent them enough money already this year? I don’t answer the call, but the caller leaves an automated message with the phone number, asking for a return call. Normally, I just ignore these calls, but this is the third call from that number in three days so I figure I better call them back and tell them I am not interested in their magazine subscription, low-low financing on a new automobile or whatever thing it is that they are peddling that I don’t want, that way, at the very least, they’ll stop calling me.

So, I call the number, and that is when it gets interesting. A man that sounds to be about my age or so with a very thick Indian accent answers my call and proceeds to tell me that I have reached the “IRS” and that they have been trying to reach me.
I laugh as I think to myself that the United States Internal Revenue Service sure as hell has never had a hard time reaching me before! They always seem to find my paycheck and me just fine every couple weeks. The man on the other end says that he wants to just confirm that he is speaking to the right person, so I figure, I am game...let’s see what they know about me.

Turns out to be pretty scary – He’s spot on with my first and last name, middle initial, full address, and obviously, my phone number. Granted, this information is available all over the Internet from just about any form I have filled out in the past 10 years, but nonetheless, a little annoying that they have all this info ready and at-hand when they are on the phone with me.

I proceed to tell the man on the phone that I am not sure why they are calling me because I am all paid up. He then apologizes, but doesn’t understand what I mean. I proceed to remind him that he works at the IRS and ask him if he understands what they do there. I explain that the take money from me every time I get paid and then another lump sum once a year, but right now, I am all paid up!
He them proceeds to tell me they have sent me multiple unanswered letters because, apparently, I owe so much in back taxes that I am now subject to a lawsuit being filed against me by the government. Now, keep in mind, this entire time, I am being very patient while this man struggles to get this entire story out in English, tripping up more than a few times.

I proceed to explain to him that since they have my correct address, the letters should have reached me no problem and that I am starting to wonder if he is really calling from the IRS. He then proceeds to tell me that he wants me to write down his name, his badge number, my case number and the toll free number to the IRS so that I always have it handy throughout what is most likely going to be a long and drug-out investigation by the IRS to determine exactly how much money I owe them.
I proceed to listen as “Mr. Parker” – and I confirmed that was the last name he was giving me because believe me, he had a really hard time saying it – gave me his badge number, my case number and the toll free number to the IRS. I looked up the number and it is, in fact, the main information line for our friends over at Internal Revenue.

I then proceeded to explain to Mr. Parker that I still didn’t believe he was who he said he was and that I really did not think he worked at the IRS. Once flustered, he became even harder to understand and I wasn’t really sure what it was he was saying by the time I wished him a good day and hung up the phone.

I reported the number – (202) 684-6436, so you all can keep an eye out for it – to the Do Not Call Registry, which naturally has my phone number as a happy registrant, but as you can imagine, I have very little confidence anything will be done by the folks who actually work in Washington, D.C. to stop these guys from making these calls.

Naturally, a Google search of the phone number yields a number of scam registry sites and complaints and funny stories from people who messed with the person on the phone far worse than I did, but I always think back to all of those episodes of American Greed and all of our elderly Americans who continue to fall victim to scams just like these and it makes me sad that we live in a world today where things like this have really become so common place.

It’s bad enough that I have the real IRS trying so hard to milk me dry, but having to deal with Mr. Parker and his obviously organized scammer friends on one of the two days a week when I am actually trying to relax is really annoying. Makes you wonder how it is that we got here. How is it that I have to now watch out for people who will even go as far as to steal a house – go ahead, look it up – they file paperwork to steal the title to your house from the County Clerk’s office – when all I used to have to do was simply stay where an adult I knew could see me and all would be fine?
Don’t get me wrong, folks, we live in an amazing time, and I know that a lot of us live some really great lives – definitely not trying to be a Debbie Downer, but just remember, as the saying goes, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and eternal vigilance is the only thing that will keep me and you from losing our hard-earned money to all the Mr. Parker’s out there.

UPDATE: Looks like this scam is large enough,we're actually doing something about it. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Who Is Driving Earlier Start To Holiday Shopping Season?

It’s July 1st and you’re walking through your favorite local big-box retail store (or the one you tolerate to save all that money every year) and suddenly, despite it being sweltering outside, you find yourself in the middle of an aisle fully stocked with brand new Christmas decorations. You shake your head and snicker as you say under your breath, “Already?!”

You’re not going crazy, my friends. What was once a holiday shopping frenzy that took up the last month of the year has progressed into a full-blown half-year sales and strategy extravaganza for both retailers and consumers. Who is to blame, you ask? Surprisingly, if you do a little digging, you’ll find this is not a one-sided push from retailers, but in fact, the market reacting to the demands of shoppers.  
Trust me when I tell you that retail marketers don’t want to be in holiday shopping season planning meetings in April, but they also recognize that if they wait until September to start thinking about the holiday season, they will have some serious catching up to do!

In fact, a recent report shows that not only have more than 30 million Americans already started their holiday shopping by September, a full 50 million say they will start earlier this year than last year. Over 6 million Americans claim they are DONE with their holiday shopping by the end of September and nearly 64 million expect to be complete by the end of November.

From the Fiscal Times:

“We love to complain about stores putting up holiday displays earlier and earlier each year, but the truth is that millions of Americans start holiday shopping long before the first Christmas tree appears in a store,” industry analyst Matt Schultz said in a statement.

So, gone are the days of black-and-white movies where the family piled into the station wagon and went out on December 24th to buy the tree and all the presents as soon as dad got home from work with his bonus. In today’s consumer-driven, always-open, online retail world, you can expect to see the vibrant colors of a fully stocked aisle of decorations on the first day of Q3. Enjoy your 177-day Christmas shopping season, America!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

It's Time To Secure Cyberspace

Whether left or right, liberal or conservative, libertarian or mainstream party hardliner, taxpayer or tax money recipient, I think most of us as Americans can agree the one thing we expect from our government is to shield us from attack.

I am confident when alien invaders strike from above or a foreign army lands on the beach or zombies come streaming across the land, our military will be ready and willing to fight to defend us. But, there is a scary, new frontier that all the aircraft carriers, jet aircraft, smart weapons and the most highly-trained and prepared military force in the world are all powerless to stop without a serious shift in U.S. government policy: cyberspace.

I recently read an article from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on a small business that was forced to close its doors by a hacker, or a group of hackers, or maybe even that group of folks in those guy-from-England masks themselves. Sorry for the vague and wordy description, but I’m afraid to type out their name in case they have their Google alerts on!

The business featured in the article developed a site designed to allow people to post their opinions on political issues of the day, essentially providing a forum for people to debate back and forth through pre-recorded video. This was truly a small start-up, founded by college students and funded with a mere $35,000. This site could have been the next great thing, but once users posted videos commenting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hackers set out to destroy the site.

The attack began by redirecting the site’s main page to another page, which featured a graphic of that famous hacking mask and some green Matrix-style falling letters and numbers. Every time the site’s owners had the page redirect fixed, it was hacked and redirected again. Each time a hack was fixed, it was costing the site’s owners money because paid contractors maintained the site. Though they eventually found some angel coders to fix the hacks for free, the relentlessness of the attacks led the business owners to abandon their site and try to operate their vision through a mobile app. Unfortunately, though, the mobile app never caught on and hackers successfully silenced another site that had great capital potential.

According to a study by the National Cyber Security Alliance, these small business owners are not alone. One in five small businesses becomes the victim of hacking and of those that do, 60 percent go out of business within six months. But, according to a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce article, as cybercrime increases, our country still lacks policies to defend America’s cyber networks and the companies that use them.

The biggest problem for businesses that get hacked is they simply do not have the resources to fight back. They are completely on their own, fighting the attack in a silo. There is no “911” to call, no federal agency to ask for help when an attack occurs. The business can only hunker down and rely on the limited personnel and funds they have to combat the relentless attacks of people with a very unlimited resource – their own free time.

The only way we can fix this problem is to demand that our government step in to defend these small businesses – to defend us as Americans – just as they would if the hackers landed on the beach with a gunboat and an army in tow.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

One of the first steps our country's leaders should take to strengthen our defenses, experts say, is to pass federal cybersecurity information sharing legislation, which would protect firms that share information about data breaches and other cybersecurity-related experiences with public officials and other companies. Without it, business leaders will remain understandably hesitant to share information about attacks for fear of litigation or other consequences.

This sounds like a really great idea to me. Fortunately, legislation that would accomplish this has already passed the House and is being debated in the Senate. Let’s hope the people we put our faith in and send to Washington see fit to make every small business owner just as safe from cyberattacks as they are today from aliens, zombies and foreign armies.