9 posts categorized " Customer Acquisition and Retention"

02/01/2018

Delighting Customers With a Digital Workplace

Customer-first-© iQoncept-Fotolia_70871759_XS

At NewPath we like to ask this core question: What's the most important thing to a small business owner?

Your business idea, you say? An idea is great. But without customers, it really is just an idea. And the value of an idea is related directly to the ability to bring the idea successfully to customers. The better you execute, the better the idea.

Time, then? Time is an important aspect of running a business, but we all have the same amount of time. Without customers, you just have a lot of time on your hands.

Money? It has to be money! Money is important, no doubt. But happy customers pay you for your services or product. Money on its own won't grow without value being delivered to customers.

So what IS the most important thing for small business success? Your customer! A customer is by far the most important objective for a small business owner. Happy customers will pay money for your idea and tell you when they'd like it delivered. Businesses increase their chance of success when customers are the MOST important thing.

Customer-oriented technology - a case study

So what does the customer have to do with building a digital workplace? Everything! Today, people are changing how they find valuable information, and they’re looking for help to prioritize what steps they take to run a business.

Therefore, your digital workplace should be set up in a way that you’re providing this kind of information (online content), in a way that your prospective customers can find it (and you). The pre-sales and post-sales process has changed so that customers are doing more research long before they may ever interact with you directly.

Yet there’s a natural tension between putting technology in front of your processes and being truly customer focused. That’s why when choosing the right technology solutions for your business, it’s important to discern when your technology will enhance your customer relationships, and when it will get in their way.

For example, we mentioned a customer in our last newsletter who is working on becoming digital workplace in a customer-focused way. They are trying to automate a process that is very cumbersome and complex for their patients.

When a client needs a medical test, they need to fill out forms through a paper clerical process that involves a staff member to select the right form so the patient can fill them out by hand. Different information is needed for different tests, different forms are needed for different insurance companies, and patients also want to identify the best price for the tests they need.

As you can probably tell, this is all very time-consuming and means the clinic can only serve a limited number of patients. The system NewPath designed routes data to the necessary forms depending on which insurance they have, and generates an editable PDF for the clinic that can be digitally processed or uploaded to the clinic website.

The whole thing takes far less time, and is more accurate. Automating this data collection for the customer, and automatically generating the right set of forms depending on the condition is much more customer-friendly.

In this example of digital workplace transformation, our customer was looking at what the customer values. They understood how painful it was for their patients to look for and fill out all the different requisitions, and investigate which clinics took their insurance, etc. This process ensures the right information is sent to the right place, helping their client navigate a very complex healthcare system.

These technology solutions will also help our client scale their business and talk to more patients. We’ll talk more about the specifics of this project in a future article. If you’re curious about the tools we used, click these links to learn more about Formstack and WebMerge.

Delighting customers

In a digital workplace, a business uses cloud-based technology to deliver value to customers, ensure customer success, and manage their resources. They also use technology to help deliver their value proposition consistently, delighting customers and attracting prospects through digital marketing.

Let’s take a deeper look at these last three areas, beginning with consistent value proposition delivery. Right now, clients may have a different experience depending on how they interact with your business, and with whom, and also how you portray your business value, products and services.

When you use technology, you’re taking processes that are malleable and flexible, and creating an interface where clients can consistently get the same high level of service. For example, At NewPath we prefer to talk to our customers in short meetings on a regular basis to work through the issues in our projects, so we’ve created a consistent method to achieve this.

When customers want to book time with our director Alex Sirota, they access his online booking calendar, powered by Appointlet. Instead of having to go back and forth by email to find a mutually convenient time, Alex presents a digital interface that allows customers to choose a time that will work for both.

There are a consistent set of steps that occur every time they schedule a meeting. They choose their time zone, type of meeting, and preferred location (these preferences can be saved for future bookings).

Once they select a time, the underlying technology springs into action. The customer receives a confirmation with a calendar invite and a reminder before the meeting, all of which is totally automated and personalized.

Now let’s talk about the opposite of delighting customers, by using a not-so-delightful example we can all relate to: the automated phone system. You’re having an issue with one of your vendors so you dial customer service, and then various phone cues tell you which number to press for certain outcomes.

In the past we would have connected with a human voice, “How may I help you?” and that person would triage your call manually and connect you with the right person who could solve your problem. Today, customers are forced to do that routing ourselves, but if our problem doesn’t fit neatly into one of the options, it can be extremely frustrating.

So while these automated phone systems certainly make for a consistent experience, it’s definitely not delighting customers. Now with new advances in automation and artificial intelligence, there are some phone systems that you can speak to with natural phrases and it can translate those into its set menu items. In other cases, the system will identify your phone number and recognize you as a current customer to route your call accordingly. These are all steps in the right direction.

Another way companies are using digital to delight customers is by providing support via social media. They know customers are there already, and this may be the first place they go to talk about a problem they’re having with a company, product or service.

Some companies provide comprehensive social media groups on Facebook, online support materials or forums, which can be cost-saving as well. Others offer instant chat, or the option to have someone call you back instead of waiting on hold.

At NewPath one way we try to delight customers is with our customized video training sessions. Why not just send them to the support articles at Wild Apricot or our other vendors? The difference is that we train them on a particular sequence of things they need to know to reach their specific goals.

We also record these training sessions so our customers can review them later. We know that after the session when they try to replicate the steps, they may run into a bump or two. With the recording, they can re-watch the lesson as many times as they need to. Of course we’re always here for questions, but this empowers our customers to do more on their own and they tell us this is much appreciated.

We think there is a huge opportunity for service-based companies to do more video-based collaboration, training and support. It’s a way to delight customers, and can also save costs and time for you both.

Lastly, let’s look at attracting prospects through digital marketing. We find that the best way to do that is through content marketing and through building relationships with vendors that recommend our service.

How does being a digital workplace support your ability to distribute content? The first way is that you need to have a website built so that it allows you to categorize, structure, and publish content in a way that is optimized for the search engines. The second way is through email marketing, where you build a prospect list and keep in touch on a regular basis. We’ll talk about each of  these marketing efforts/tasks in detail in future articles.

Customer first, digital second

At NewPath we interact with customers primarily between email and
Zoom, and sometimes by phone. Internally, we use another channel called Slack that allows us to structure conversations around different customers and projects, but we haven’t given our customers access to that channel. We don’t want to superimpose our way of doing things onto our customers. If they hear about Slack and are interested, we will let them into Slack, but until then we’ll keep using the support channels our customers are used to.

Cloud

We think there is a place for digital transformation in every single part of your business: sales, accounting marketing, operations, HR, and client management. The caveat is that the transformation should be customer focused, not just an excuse to use an interesting digital tool. That’s why we suggest testing new solutions first with a subset of your customers, figuring out what really resonates and delivers value they have not experienced with anyone else.

If you have any questions about your own company’s digital transformation, feel free to get in touch, particularly around the implementation phase. We specialize in helping small businesses prioritize their digital transformation projects, and select and implement the right tools for the job.

08/01/2017

Why Your Customers Are More Important Than Your Brilliant Business Idea

MANWORKING

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on digital workplace transformation. Part 1 and Part 3 are also available on this website.

Continuing our conversation about bridging the digital divide, today we’re taking a closer look at the core of your business.

Which one of the following do you think is most important to a business owner?

An idea?
Money?
Time?
A customer?

An idea is what you do in your business. For example, you walk dogs, you design websites, you’ve created a new software solution, you have a bakery, or you’re a lawyer.

Money is how you fund your company, compile reserves for future needs, and pay yourself and your team.

Time is a universal measurement - we all share the same 24-hour clock.

A customer is someone who is engaged in buying or trying out your services. This is an important distinction, because it’s means that someone does not have to be paying you to be a customer.

NewPath’s Alex Sirota notes, “When I ask this question to all of our new customers and prospects, I’m surprised that fewer than 50% give what I believe is the ideal answer: the customer.”

One can make a case for all of these items being essential to a business and its owner, but the customer is always more important than any of them. And it’s your customer who helps clarify and specify the other three.

Do they like your idea? Are they willing to pay for it, and how much? How quickly do they need it, and by when? Elevating the customer to be more important than your ideas, time or money is what makes your business successful.

A brilliant idea isn’t enough

Most people will say the idea is most important, but Alex says that means they’re letting their ego speak. “When you have an idea you think is great you think everyone’s going to buy it,” he says, “This is a mistake too many business owners make.”

You get emotionally attached and think your idea is the best, but likely it isn’t as unique and original as you think. And there are a lot of bad ideas that succeed - just look at the late-night infomercials for ordinary products that still sell extremely well because they’re using such an effective sales formula.

“I hate to break the news to you,” Alex continues, “but if you don’t have customers for your idea you’re nowhere.” He cites this post from Derek Sivers about how ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier; it’s the execution, even of a bad idea, that’s worth millions, while a 5-star idea is worth very little without execution.

When time and money are scarce

When a business owner claims that time or money are more important than customers, watch out! These are huge red flags. If time is most important to them, it probably means they’re not doing a great job at handling their time. Digital tools can help you save time, but they can only do so much. You likely have more work to do on time management before you can successfully run a business.

If money is the top issue, it means they may not have saved enough to run a business through lean times. There is a simple solution to this: Make the customer the most important thing, and the customer will pay money for the value you deliver. With enough customers and enough money, you’ll earn a profit and you can pay yourself.

If money was the most important thing in a business, anyone with money could succeed and yet there are countless examples of businesses who had money but failed. Why did that happen? They didn’t treat the customer as more important than time, money or their idea.

This question is a crucial litmus test for you as a small business owner. Get your head around the fact that that the reason you’re doing this is to get and keep customers - to get customers to buy more from you and refer others to you. Technology can save time but that is only useful if you leverage that time to earn more revenue or save costs.

It’s getting more customers that will make you run a better business because customers will tell you what they are willing to pay for and use, and how they wish to be treated.

Customer-centric marketing requires a modern business model

To get and keep customers, you have to have a functional business model. This is what many businesses have the most trouble with. By the time customers come to us at NewPath they’re already attached to a bunch of tools and technologies, but they’re unclear about their business model and how it operates. Your technology tools must support your business model.

At NewPath Consulting, we onboard all new customers by taking them through a business model generation tool called the Business Model Canvas, created by a company called Strategyzer.

This process helps us to understand their current business model and also how the business wants to evolve. This exploration and documentation greatly helps us address real business challenges with the cloud tools we have at our disposal.

These three videos explain more:

Why every business needs a business model

(This is part of a short series of videos you can watch here.)

2. The Business Model Canvas theatre - a helpful analogy

3. The sections of the Business Model Canvas

Note that out of all the elements on the business model canvas, ‘customer’ appears twice. Money is represented, but only as a measure of whether you’re making more than you’re spending. Your idea (value proposition) is at the center, but doesn’t stand on its own.

Business Model 500x342
And what about time? It doesn’t even appear on the canvas. “A lot of business plans have time lines,” says Alex, “but really they’re irrelevant. The only time that matters is when you can start delivering value to your first customers. Then it’s about how you can scale to get more customers.”

At NewPath, we have taken many small businesses through the Business Model Canvas exercise. We have observed that many customers are clear about what appears on the right-hand side of the BMC: who your customers are, what you deliver to them, and where you interact with and find your customers, as well as how you make revenue.

What’s not usually as clear is the execution - all the things that appear on the left-hand side of the BMC (or backstage, as you’ll see in the video above): their key activities, the resources they need to make these happen, and the partners who will help raise visibility and even provide customer referrals.

Businesses earnestly try to find customers one-by-one, and hope and pray they will get word-of-mouth referrals, but this is rarely a scalable model. Customers should find you, when you execute superior sales, marketing and operational processes, build mutually beneficial partnerships, and deliver consistently on your value proposition.

How different businesses use the Business Model Canvas

If you want to see sample Business Model Canvases from Amazon, Disney and Lego, check out this video playlist. You can also try sketching out your organization’s canvas with this BMC template for Google Drive (save a copy to your own Google Drive account in order to enter your own content).

For the first time ever, we’re sharing the NewPath Consulting Business Model Canvas, Version 4, which describes where we currently stand. As you’ll see, we’ve identified one of our key costs as marketing, particularly content marketing, and the money we’re spending here is working.

One of our recent new customers has been on our mailing list for years. When we started writing about business models, they finally reached out because they realized they needed to identify who their target customers really were and whether they were effectively communicating with them online.

Too many small businesses don’t know where they’re spending their money and don’t reinvest enough back into their business. Service businesses charge for their time and materials and fail to “break the time barrier.” You have to invest wisely on the left-hand side of the canvas in order to drive new revenue. Unfortunately many SMBs don’t know where to invest or how.

If you read the NewPath BMC carefully you’ll see our key resources are writers and social media experts, as well as our sales relationships. It’s essential for a business to clarify who are its real partners, and who are the new partners you should be considering.

When clients come to NewPath Consulting, “I don’t ask what colour your website should be,” says Alex , “and we’re not just here to fix your technology issues. I want to first understand your business model, and the key activities and resources that will help your business model run better.”

Would you like to sit down with Alex Sirota and see how your business fits into the Business Model Canvas? Join him for a free 30-minute consultation where he’ll work with you to:

  • Start to document your Business Model Canvas
  • Recommend a few goals to help your organization grow
  • Explore a NewPath Consulting business success plan that’s right for you

Click here to book your free consultation today!

07/21/2016

How to Expertly Manage More Small Business Leads with a CRM

Highrise is a key service in NewPath Consulting’s service plans as well as the CRM it uses in its business.

Put yourself in a prospective client’s shoes for a moment. Imagine how it would feel to hear, “Hey, congratulations on that award, that’s terrific! What would you say was the key thing you did to move that project along?” or “I saw that link you shared about the [industry news]. How do you think that’s going to change things in the industry?” or “I see you’re a [sports team] fan. What did you think about that [call, penalty, trade, announcement, etc.]?”

Chances are, you would feel like the other person understands something about who you are and what interests you, and you would probably enjoy the chance to talk about yourself, your opinions, and your accomplishments. That would put you in a much warmer frame of mind to explore potential opportunities.

To build a successful business it’s not enough just to meet a lot of people or collect names in a database; you need to develop those relationships. What’s most important is how often people hear from you, and how they feel about those interactions.

 

What is CRM software?

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is a tool designed to help you structure and advance your ongoing communications with everyone who comes in contact with your business - potential customers (leads), prospective customers (leads you’ve qualified as prospects), and existing customers.

Some CRM programs are downloaded as software onto your computer, and others are in the cloud and you can access them from any device with an internet connection including, in most cases, a mobile app, so you can stay connected and up to date from anywhere.

 

Why use CRM software?

You may have good intentions about following up with people, but be honest: How well are you doing this on your own? Without a system in place, are people and potential opportunities falling through the cracks?

When you do reach out, are you armed with enough background information about the person on the other end? Can you trust your memory of what you’ve already discussed in previous calls, emails, or social networking messages?

Highrise, for example, is a cloud-based CRM service that allows you to quickly and easily scan a history of notes you’ve taken during or after phone calls, as well as emails sent back and forth with this person. You’ll never have to rely on your memory again!

You can also browse your prospect’s recent Twitter updates or their latest job moves from LinkedIn to bring more context into your conversation. (Click on screen shot to see full size image)

Highrise with integrated twitter stream in profile


When is it time to use CRM software?

Many businesses start using CRM software when they get serious about direct sales; when more than one person is involved and coordination and collaboration is required. You’ll know you’re at this point when you’re attending trade shows, giving presentations, and in other situations where you’re collecting a lot of leads.

The CRM provides a shared view of where your company is at with its sales and marketing process. Any number of people can move forward a relationship with a contact as needed and no one will be lost. Of course ideally a relationship is built with the same person over time, but it’s wise to have checks and balances in place for the inevitable hiccups your team will go through.

In Highrise, the business owner can designate which team members can access which areas of the account, and choose which parts of the sales process to outsource and how.

This screenshot shows assignment of a task to one of the NewPath Consulting staff. (Click on screen shot to see full size image)

Highrise task assignment

What else can you do with CRM software?

Use your CRM as a help desk

Sales and marketing aren’t the only functions that benefit from a systematic approach that’s documented and housed in a central location. Good customer support also depends on having a clear line of communication and dedicated follow up.

The Highrise team came up with a way to use their CRM for customer support. It starts by funneling customer support emails into Highrise. They outlined the process in this blog post: How we do incredible customer support (and run a support help desk).

 

Use your CRM to email a group of people and track responses

When you think of pre-written emails sent en masse to a specific group, newsletters probably come to mind. “Folks are numb to the gloss of email newsletters,” writes Chris Gallo of Highrise. He equates newsletters to “a blast of email to a group of people you don’t know or a list of emails you bought somewhere.”

The Highrise Broadcast tool, on the other hand, “is conversational. It’s for sending email to a group of people who really want to hear from you. People you do business with. Or people who’ve opted in to receive messages from you.”

For example, people who’ve just joined Highrise receive a note from CEO Nathan Kontny. “Our team averages almost a 60% open rate on all welcome emails using Broadcast. Lots of customers even reply to them, and start conversations with our support team.”

See Chris’s article: Send Emails that You Would Want to Receive.

To use this group emailing strategy effectively, you must get into the habit of creating a new record immediately after meeting someone. Depending on the tools you’re using, you can type the data into your computer, scan the business card using your smartphone, or merge the contact right from your email program.  

Assign one or more tags to your new contact. You can create tags for where you met the person, how they came into your pipeline, where they live, which service they need, or whatever makes sense for your business.

Here is a screenshot of filtering contacts by  tags in Highrise (Click on screen shot to see full size image):

Highrise filtering by tags


Customer relationship management is about far more than serving your current customers. It is a powerful way to build and maintain strong ties with everyone who comes in contact with your business. When you show people that you remember, know, and understand them, they will feel cared for and motivated to stay connected with you.

10/29/2015

Should you buy online ads for your small business?

 

Ethan Zuckerman puts it better than we ever could in this Atlantic article where he apologizes for creating the popup ad, among other mea culpas.

As a rule, the ads that are worth the most money are those that appear when you’re ready to make a purchase—the ads that appear on Google when you’re searching for a new car or for someone to repair your roof can be sold for dollars per click because advertisers know you’re already interested in the services they are offering and that you’re likely to make an expensive purchase. But most online advertising doesn’t follow your interest; it competes for your attention. It’s a barrier you have to overcome (minimizing windows, clicking it out of the way, ignoring it) to get to the article or interaction you want.

So should you buy an online ad for your small business? Sure, as long as the ad you are putting up is aimed at people who are ready to make a purchase right away. For most people browsing the internet they are not in that position, so the likelihood that you should buy an ad is very small. You also will need a budget of thousands of dollars per month to make a difference, even if you do decide to advertise. The investment is much better spent towards building a high quality business model as well as hiring the best people you can to help your business grow. Don't support Google's payroll, support your own.

08/12/2015

A new Formstack Infographic: Lead Generation Tips

Some new excellent tips on designing forms, based on best practices on 12,000 forms hosted at Formstack.

Constructing the Perfect Lead Gen Form
Constructing the Perfect Lead Gen Form

12/04/2014

GoDaddy is rocking it!

GoDaddy is rocking the domain registrar space right now. They have some excellent solutions and their growth has been phenomenal. I think they are well on their way to a cleaner, SMB friendly image.

Go GoDaddy!    Check these out from their recent SEC filing. The fact that this type of stuff is in an SEC filing is a tribute to their user-friendliness.

image from www.sec.gov

The customer journey is very well described here -- it's realistic and authentic.

image from www.sec.gov

12/03/2014

Excellent Webinar on Modern Forms with a Focus on Higher Education

mStoner recently held a webinar on their experience with Formstack as a form builder in higher education. The webinar featured Chris Lucas, VP of Business Development at Formstack. Many terrific insights and examples were shared. One important observation: forms must be considered as first class content on the web along side text, graphics, video and audio. To date PDFs have been the best way to distribute forms, but that is changing now with tools like Formstack. The webinar featured a case study with some great return on investment.

Take a look a the webinar and slide deck below. We think they are spot on!

Webinar Video:

 

Slide Deck:

 

08/05/2014

The Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL) is in effect as of July 1, 2014.

If you are a Canadian business who does email marketing to prospects and customers, you should be aware of Canada's Anti-SPAM Legislation (CASL).

A great summary and a nifty chart is available here. Suffice it to say. our clients have started to opt-in their database lists. Our initial feedback from them is that if your lists was high quality to begin with, and of reasonable size, you will retain most of your email list. If the list is of suspect quality or really old, you will lose most of your email list. Your mileage may vary. So far we have retained about 20% of the NewPath Consulting list. We value our relationship with every one of those people, and confirm our relationship with them through CASL. It is unfortunate that we will most likely lose 70%+ of our list, but we cannot afford the risk of breaking CASL.

The CASL law will allow people to take legal action (sue) post July 1, 2017 when the CASL Private Right of Action takes effect. Until this date, private citizens will not be able to take civil action against violators of the CASL. After this date anyone who has been affected can take legal action.

The Government has promised that after July 1, 2014 they will make a concerted effort to go after the serious offenders, the “spammers” we all detest.   The Government will enforce the legislation through the CRTC and various other Federal agencies like the Competition Bureau and the Privacy Commissioner.

07/16/2010

Business Success with Autonomy, Master and Purpose

Dan Pink is a well-spoken and extremely talented journalist and business author who I have been following ardently for 10+ years. Since his Free Agent Nation article in the December 1997 Fast Company (and subsequent book) I always believed that small business drives the economy and innovation around the world. His latest book "Drive" brings home the key aspects of what motivates individuals and organizations.

image from innovativeperformanceandpedagogy.files.wordpress.com

The argument that Pink makes is that years of psychology and economics research has shown that money motivates individuals only in extremely focused tasks such as building a widget or performing a step by step procedure consistently well. When faced with much more open-ended challenges that require problem solving and innovation, money doesn't work so well to motivate. When figuring out problems without a set of steps, money actually demotivates and even leads some people to "game" the system. This is why sales people when motivated with quotas underachieve one quarter only to rocket ahead in a subsequent quarter to show a "25% improvement" which leads to bonuses. Dan Pink consistently points to the popular and not-so-popular research and draws a conclusion that 3 elements, when combined, provide the best motivation for people:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

With the advent of inexpensive, easy to use technology, I believe that it is possible to businesses to also motivate themselves around these 3 principles. And I think most successful businesses have already been practicing these 3 ideas -- it's probably why they are successful.

As an organization being free to control your own fate with the right culture and right tools enables innovation and the willingness to try something new. Getting good at sales, marketing, operations, finances requires "grit" as Mr. Pink puts it. To succeed, businesses need to aim high no matter how small they are and do what they are really good at and "get rid of the crappy stuff" (or outsource what they cannot master to ones that can). Finally, businesses must have a clear purpose to what they are doing -- employees are no longer satisfied with being a cog in a machine and they must see themselves as part of a bigger picture. Businesses as well must see themselves as part of a bigger ecosystem of partners and relationships.

Success in business requires autonomy, mastery and purpose. Research has shown this to be true for people. Does your business have 1 or 2 of these covered but cannot quite get the 3rd put together? NewPath Technologies can definitely help with the autonomy and mastery part. It's up to you to find the purpose.

Finally here's a short video describing motivation in an unusual way: