Listen to Your Customers and You Shall Receive

The DNA of Your Business

LISTEN. Understand. Empathize. Comprehend. Plan. Create. Execute. Measure. LISTEN.

These words are at the very core of any company that has a set mission and vision. They are the very nucleus and DNA that makes your company what it is. They are the foundation that holds up everything in your company no matter how large or small your company is.

Without any of these words, your company will live an expensive and painful life. Marketing will be harder to measure. Selling will always require YOU! Growth will become a guessing game. Money will be lost in a much longer “learning curve.”

I find many companies that do a great job at most of these points, but they are missing at least one or two of them which is impeding the growth of their company. It took me 9 years to truly understand the importance of these words and why I struggled to grow past a certain point.

Listen First and Last

When all of these words are working synergistically, your company will grow faster than you can imagine.

Your vision WILL become a reality.

Customers WILL love you.

Marketing DOES become easier. Yes, I say easier.

Selling DOES become easier.

You’ll know EXACTLY what to measure.

I think you get the point here, but let’s talk about where it all starts and ends. LISTENING!

Listening is a Learned Experience

In the past 10 years of being in the digital media world, I created a total of 13 products under the Phase 2 Solutions umbrella. Lucky me 🙂 but 11 of them no longer exist. I dumped thousands of hours and dollars into each one. Some of them took off and were on the verge of growth, but then died a slow death because of one thing: I didn’t stay FOCUSED on listening to my customers. I would listen in the beginning, but as the products would evolve I wouldn’t maintain a sense of community that kept me in tune with my customers’ needs.

For example, one of my products (brands) was called Central PA Experts, which was launched in 2009. The concept came out of the frustration I had trying to blog on my own in order to build a brand for myself locally. Central PA Experts was a concept that brought together multiple professionals in a variety of industries to blog on one site, thus providing the opportunity to reach new LOCAL people in a format unlike any other. At its peak, the website was generating roughly over 30,000 visits per month, most of which was local traffic coming from local websites and the email campaigns from each expert.

My growth strategy was spending time with each expert to explain the program, understanding their pain points and signing them up. All of the features of the system, marketing methods and even price point was centered around the conversations I had. My customers told me what they wanted and I delivered. After 6 months from the launch, I had a little over 50 experts signed up to the program. At that point, I was focused on how to scale this program to either add more experts (customers) or launch sites in new geographical regions. Needless to say, my focus shifted away from what had made the program successful from the beginning, listening to my customers.

My move was to change the name from Central PA Experts to more a global name that would seemingly open the doors to more experts and more revenue. Well, I was wrong. VERY WRONG! The name change and shifting the focus away from the LOCAL nature of the site made it less appealing for experts to blog on the site. Most of the customers I had all benefited greatly from local website traffic so a site with global appeal removed that benefit and also removed the point of differentiation with other online publishing solutions at the time. Customers started to lose interest and drop-off. It was definitely a gut wrenching feeling.

Years later I reconnected with some of the customers I had on Central PA Experts and every single one of them told me the greatest appeal of the program was the local exposure received from it. Going back, I should have asked my own customers how they thought I should scale the program. It would have not only given me this information, but also made them feel part of the success of the program (i.e. the brand community).

Make Listening a Planned Event

The main point here is to not just make listening to customers part of something you do in the beginning of your business or during a sales process. Listening to customers needs to be part of EVERY stage of your business growth. The key is to not just to get this concept, but to institute a platform and a process behind it. Make listening a planned event. When your customers know you’ve instituted a platform and a process behind giving them a voice, they will become your sales force. They will become your market research. They will become your marketing team. They will become the very community that supports your business growth.

Implement a Customer Listening System (CLS)

Let’s grab a cup of coffee sometime and chat about how you can start instituting a platform and process behind LISTENING to your customers (i.e. a Customer Listening System) to build a true brand community that supports your mission.

 

Bring Focus to Your Community And…

Focus is the lifeblood of your community. Focus helps give the people around you a clear understanding for how they can help you. Focus helps you establish a strong position in the market space and makes it easier for people to partner with you. Focus relieves stress. Focus give you the opportunity to see through layers that otherwise wouldn’t be visible.

All of the business tips, social media tips and marketing tips in the world will not work unless you focus. Lack of focus is extremely expensive and stressful. In the video below I will cover how you can start to bring a deeper level of focus to your organization to empower your community (the people that can help you achieve your mission) to work for you. It’s a must watch…Enjoy 🙂

The Power of 1 – Do you have it?

powerofone

The number 1. It seems small. It sometimes seems like not enough. The only time the number 1 seems to be truly appreciated is in contests, races, etc. I can tell you first hand that the number 1 is the reason your business will thrive or die a slow withering death going into the future in the digital age we live in. Let’s dive in…

The Power of 1 Explained

I’ll explain the power of 1 through a real experience that I faced getting our core brand at Phase 2 Solutions, Social HubSite (a private social networking platform), off the ground. When I first launched Social HubSite back in 2011 I thought, “Hey, this will be easy, optimize the website for keywords around social network platforms, post to the blog daily, and reach out to people managing social media for companies”. The model in my head was all about getting as many people to setup and pay for a Social HubSite and charge a low monthly price to draw them in. Seems logical right? Offer a free trial and convert even 100 paying clients at $99 and you have a residual revenue stream of 120K business on your hand.

In the first 6 months we attracted roughly 800 new people to sign up for free trials. Mind you, getting these initial users cost a pretty penny. I also took notice that we had a good number of users that would setup their Social HubSite, but then just leave and do nothing. For those of you SAAS vendors, I’m sure you can relate to the frustration this causes.

Even the best social media tactics fail without focus

We did everything possible to get people to use and pay for their Social HubSite within their trial period. Individual email follow ups, auto responders, training webinars, video tutorials, etc. Heck, I even reached out to a few promising users to offer training myself. Yet, very few responses, very few conversions. Urrg!

As the creator of the product I sat there saying, “It must be the product. What should I add? What should I change?” So for the next 2 years of slow and frustrating growth, I invested a good bit of time and money into enhancing everything I could with the product. And…no growth. Free trial sign ups were about the same and conversions were almost non-existent. All the coding and enhancements in the world seemed like a lost cause.

Tactics don’t fail, failure to focus does

Then I realized something that would change the course of everything. The whole time I was focusing almost 100% of my attention on the product and not the problem that it solves for a specific market of people and organizations that have that problem. I realized that the problem was not that people weren’t converting and our efforts weren’t working. The problem was that I had been focusing on trying to get a user that I didn’t know to fit into the product. I basically had to make them aware that they even had a problem in the first place.

The other thing I realized is that pre-existing communities (associations, clubs, religious organizations and company teams) were seeing the most success with the product. They used it every single day (i.e. for document sharing, committee events, member messaging, fundraising, etc.). That is, however, the reason that I created the product in the first place, to unite communities of people around a mission or cause. This realization would have never occured unless I slowed down and actually paid attention to the real problems I was solving. For example, associations have a tough time pulling together all of the time and resources necessary to organize communication around the various different groups, committees, events and people that make the association what it is. Social HubSite helped to consolidate all of that activity into one central location – hence the term “HubSite” 🙂

I took this notion as step further by taking an association client out to lunch to dive into the real problems that associations face. Before I had an idea, but didn’t really know. A $25 lunch was a small price to pay to validate real problems that need to be solved for a particular market segment. Much better than spending years guessing 🙂 Wish I would have learned that in 2011 – haha.

Focus changes everything

Once I had a good bit of imperial data on the problems in the association market, I started to shift our social media efforts toward these segments which provided a real value for them. Think of articles, videos, case studies and webinars tailored specifically to a particular market segment. When you create and share content to help them overcome real problems, it gets read. If you generalize, you become irrelevant and just “another” blah blah blah company. Don’t be another blah blah blah company.

This focus took a ton of discipline. You say “NO” to a lot of opportunities, however for every “NO” there is another better opportunity awaiting. On a side note, I think I’m supposed to give credit to my friend Ryan Coleman for engraving this into my brain – haha.

So breaking this down to social media terms. Think about how focus on a particular market segment changes the way you title your articles and videos. What groups you join. Who you follow and converse with on Twitter. Who you connect with on LinkedIn. The angle you put on your content. I think you get the idea here.

Laser focused energy can cut through steel

Moving on… with this focus I decided to lead my marketing team with the methodology around building real relationships with our targeted clients (associations in this case) and not just treating them as a number on a spreadsheet. At the surface level, this seems like slower growth, but it’s the exact opposite. When you focus on building a real relationships with people that have real problems that you’ve demonstrated you’ve identified and have proven to solve, you have a real community.

Your perspective on everything will change. You focus less on how to add dollars to your bank account and more on the problem that your target segment(s) have and how to better solve those problems. You look at EVERY SINGLE PERSON as a human being, not a picture that floats on a screen somewhere. A living breathing person that you can help. A trust me, that ONE person that you help will open the door to more like people (i.e. customers) than you will know what to do with. Mass market and blast people with marketing and all you will get is one off’s. If you’re lucky you might get a bunch of them as customers, but let’s face it, your only marketing driver there is money. It’s a heck a of a lot cooler to say you’ve built 90%+ of your business with word of mouth and through social media.

Still don’t believe me? Read this article on USA Today about how ALS increased donations by almost $15 million from the same period last year all through people. Oh and do I need to mention that it starts with ONE person.

Start small – build a ground swell

So, to sum up, the power of 1 is nothing more than the mentality of building better quality relationships with specific types of people/organizations that have problems that you’ve proven to understand and solve. Stop worrying about reaching 1,000 people today. Focus on just 1 person. Seriously, today just focus on building a relationship with one key person within your focused segment of people/organizations that you know you can help by solving a clearly defined problem. That 1 person will not only be your customer and friend, but also a lifelong valued member of your community.

Think small.