7 tips for boosting your call center’s FCR (First Contact Resolution) rate

When is a business delivering the best customer service possible?
It’s when zero customers interact with customer service.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s true.
Do you call your credit card company every time your bill comes out right at the end of the month?
Do you call the pizza shop when the delivery takes place on time?
In the overwhelming majority of cases we interact with companies only when we don’t get the service we have been promised.
But in a not so ideal world, foul ups will happen, and sometimes customers will have to call you to complain.  In such cases, companies must make sure that customers spend the minimum amount of time on the phone or exchanging emails.
One of the metrics that attempts to measure this is the FCR, or First Contact Resolution.

What’s FCR?
As the name indicates, FCR rate measures the number of customer calls that get resolved during the first contact with a call center agent.  High FCR rates mean that fewer customers have to call or email again for the resolution of their issue.
This translates into both the customer and the call center saving time and money.
Two call centers serving companies in different businesses will have different ideal FCR rates.  Luckily the tactics to improve FCR are not very different and can be deployed in any call center.

1. Train your agents well
Training your front line agents in the nuts and bolts of your business operations might be expensive in the short term but it will be the best investment you have ever made.  Knowledgeable frontline agents are your best guarantees for a high FCR.

2. Provide them with cutting edge tools
Well trained agents can do little if they don’t have good customer service tools and resources at their disposal.  Invest in an efficient live chat solution that identifies where the other person is chatting from.  Deploy tools that have superior analytics capabilities baked in.  Use knowledge resources that make updating your FAQs and knowledge base as easy as writing an email.

3. Avoid conflicting metrics
Call centers use a number of metrics to determine quality and profitability.  Some of these metrics, like time per call are business and not customer oriented. If the focus is on reducing the time per call they might find FCR rates falling as agents would be looking to wrap up the call as soon as possible, customer issues be damned.

4. Focus on call types that are frequently escalated
Analyze your call center communications to find out which are the most frequent calls being escalated to the next level.  After understanding the issues that prompt these calls, take steps to minimize the escalations.  It may be anything from more training, larger number of self service options on the website, change in business operations- do whatever needs to be done so that customers don’t have to call too often.

5. Be clear in customer communications
This is a part of agent training but merits its own point.  Sometimes, customers call again when they are not very sure how the matter will be resolved.  Some calls get repeated when either the customer or the agent start assuming things.
Agents have to be very careful to avoid any chance of  miscommunication.  Customers must be made aware of all the aspects of the case so that there is no need for them to call again to confirm.

6. Incentivize FCR superstars
If managers want to improve the FCR rate they have to institute incentive programs among employees who hit the requisite numbers.  This incentive can be tied in with other perks and can be in the form of bonuses, promotions and recognition.

7. Get agent feedback
Institute a system of soliciting feedback from your agents.  They deal with customers all day long and can provide insights on what changes can be made to improve FCR rate.  In particular, ask about workflow, systems and processes that need to be tweaked or implemented to achieve higher rates.
Are you focusing on improving FCR in your customer service department?  What steps have led to increase in the rate?


How, When, and Why They Buy? The Psychology Behind Online Buyer Behavior
October 29,2014

If you are a business owner, the one thing you can never be sure of is customer behavior. It can seem less complicated to make your yearly budget, audit your inventory or file your business taxes than to understand customer behavior.  Customers are temperamental, illusive creatures. The reasons they buy are complex, composed of many influential factors. They are effected by impulse, education, price, convenience, image, peers, reviews and many more factors. It can feel almost impossible to be sure of any concrete reason a customer is buying, let alone to appeal to their decision making process. Recent studies have shown that buyers may be leaving clues to their thought process along the way, and their buying decisions may be less of a mystery than previously thought.
Device choice matters

The device on which a person is shopping often indicates the urgency of buyer intentions. Andy Ching, director of mobile for Bing, stated that “70% of mobile searches are followed up by a consumer action within an hour.” So, a person shopping on a mobile device for car parts, for instance, will probably end up buying them by the end of the day. Where as a person searching on a desktop computer or laptop will most likely be searching with leisure intentions, comparison shopping, or simply researching.
Unless you are simply passing time, if you are searching for a product on a mobile phone, your intentions are most likely to take action immediately. Searching for products on mobile is often cumbersome and not very enjoyable, so the very act of the search itself on a mobile device often indicates an intention to buy.

Buying cycles are longer
With all the available information out there, potential customers are researching and comparison shopping much longer than in the past leading to longer buying cycles.  A recent study by Forrester Research analyzed the online buying behavior of over 600,000 consumers across numerous e-commerce sites, and showed that surprisingly “75 percent of shopping cart abandoners would actually return to the site they abandoned within a 28-day period. This defies conventional wisdom. After polling a group on online marketing specialists, 81 percent believed that the majority of abandoners never return.”
Charles Nicholls, of the website conversion company SeeWhy, says that “not only are these abandoners more likely to finish their purchase, they are also more likely to make future purchases. In fact, they are 2.3 times more likely to do so than new visitors making first-time purchases. The stages of the buying cycle tend to go in this order: browse- abandon-consider-research-consult friends or reviews-browse-purchase.”
Buyers are seeking advice to fit their needs, not ready-made solutions
Emma Vas, the Director of Marketing for Invenio Solutions, says “most buyers are already deep into the buying cycle before they reach out to a representative or sales person.” They want to know how your product can meet their needs or offer a custom solution, not a generic benefit list that has little to do with their personal situation. Reaching out to a sales rep often means your visitor is in a mature state of the buying process. Having a personal chat conversation with a representative who can listen and understand a customer’s needs drives sales much further than a generic list of benefits on a product page on your website.

How Can Your Online Business Respond?
1. Understand why website visitors don’t buy: It’s important to collect data unique to your customers. Use exit survey tools, and triggers to get useful feedback on not only what stage of the buying process a visitor is in, but what is prohibiting a sale or influencing their choices.
2. Track Visitors to follow their steps through the buying cycle: Set up visitor monitoring tools and triggers to tell you how many times a visitor has been to your site, what pages they have visited and offer them a prompt to chat, answer questions, or help complete the checkout process.
3. Proactively re-engage visitors who don’t buy right away: Visitor monitoring tools can also give you valuable information on a visitor to reach out to them either by email, through social networks or to simply ensure that they are offered a chance to chat on their next visit to your site. A visitor who is pursued with proactive service will often feel positively about your brand and be more likely to be persuaded towards a sale and even repeat sales.

4. Optimize the search and checkout process: The top 10 converting websites are able to convert 23 percent of visitors to buyers each session. They do this primarily through customer satisfaction. Make it incredibly simple for your customers to find the information they need quickly through a searchable database of products you offer, while simultaneously making it simple for repeat purchases. Have a solid mobile customer service solution so customers buying on mobile can get fast answers and checkout easily through a platform that remembers their information for future purchases.
While no online business can ever effectively read their visitors’ minds, paying heed to these visitor clues can reduce shopping cart abandonment, increase sales and encourage repeat purchases


6 small business tips for tracking customer service issues on the cheap
| Sept 24, 2014 | 

Great customer service will get you loyal fans and  bump up your profits.
Also, the sky is blue, water is wet and Elvis is the King.
Ask a satisfied customer why she likes your service and one of the things she will probably say is- “They solve problems quickly”.
Quick turnaround times with customer issues is critical to your customer service reputation. But don’t assume that you need money to deliver prompt service.
You can run a lean and mean customer service machine on a shoestring budget that can be the envy of any Fortune 500 company.
In fact, if you are a small business, odds are in your favor of delivering higher levels of customer satisfaction. You have the advantages of being nimble, responsive and you are not staggered by red tape, turf wars and inter-departmental politics.
Besides, you’ve got numbers behind you. 81% of Americans think small businesses are better at customer service than big businesses. Hooray!
Here are a few strategies that can help you deal quickly with customer issues.  They are low to no cost in terms of tools, but need investment in training and time if you want the full benefits.

1. Use social media monitoring tools
Social media can be one of the best ways to track and solve customer problems.
Encourage customers to reach out to you on platforms like Twitter and Facebook and enable your customer care agents to respond to them rapidly.
There are also a number of monitoring tools, both free social media tools and software from paid vendors, that can help you listen in to the conversation on social media and take rapid action.

2. Leverage Google Alerts
It’s not new and shiny like social media, but Google Alerts  is a heavy hitter when it comes to keeping an eye out on what people are saying online about your brand .
You can create a series of alerts with appropriate keywords and set it up so that you get updates either by email or RSS.
And as with most Google products, it’s free.

3. Keep an eye on chatters in forums
People talk about their experiences in forums all the time. While Google Alerts might be able to catch some of this chatter, some will fly below the radar.
You would be doing yourself a tremendous favor if you get busy in these forums where your customers are likely to hang out. Use forum search engines like boardreader to help in your search.
Depending on your service and your market, you could opt to cut out the middlemen and host your own support forum.

4. Employ live chat and trouble ticket systems
You can turn your website into a help desk by hooking it up easily with live chat support. You could also allow customers to create help desk tickets on their own by installing a trouble ticket system.
Use customer support software that comes with robust analytics and issue tracking features and which can be integrated with other customer support software that you use. Also, be sure to employ best practices to get the most out of these services.

5. Use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software
You don’t need to be a Fortune 500 company to use a CRM solution to keep you top of mind with your customers.
Depending on your size and scale, you can get similar benefits from small business oriented CRM packages like SugarCRM or ZohoCRM.
And if you want to stay with a big name, vendors like Salesforce have versions for small businesses too.

6. Use feedback apps for brick and mortar businesses
While you have a lot of options for getting customer feedback online, do not neglect  to obtain on the spot feedback from customers when they are in your brick and mortar store.
One of the rapidly deployed technologies in several niches are quick response (QR) codes. Small businesses are teaming up with vendors like QRstuff.com that insert quick response codes on merchandise.
Scanning a QR code can take your customers to a mobile friendly form while they are still in your store. They can leave appropriate feedback that can be analyzed in real time and any issues found can be fixed rapidly.

How do you track and solve customer issues rapidly with a small budget?



How to Boost Your Productivity by Outsourcing
 | August 13, 2014 | 

Whether you’re a small business owner, solo entrepreneur, or just a hard working person trying to get more done in less time, you can maximize your productivity by outsourcing. A lot of people hear the word “outsourcing” and they think of big businesses sending jobs overseas or hiring people in other countries to work in call centers – but that’s not the only kind of outsourcing. Outsourcing can include anything that you hire another person to do so you won’t have to do it yourself.
I run a company that helps companies get more sales leads and improve their marketing. In a way, my company offers “outsourcing” to companies who don’t have the right skills or don’t have the right capacity to do these activities for themselves. In my business, we use outsourcing to help our company grow and help manage a lot of business tasks that other people can do better or cheaper or more efficiently than we can handle them ourselves.
You don’t need to be a business owner or executive to outsource some of your responsibilities. If you think about it, we outsource many things in our personal lives such a tax preparation, public transportation, and often, cooking meals for our families (delivery, frozen foods, and going out for meals). As a business owner, there are probably a lot of things you are trying to do all on your own that you could effectively outsource like customer service or tech support. Outsourcing helps us all save time, money, and focus on what we do best.

Here are a few ideas for how you can use outsourcing to maximize productivity and efficiency in your daily life:
1. Hiring a virtual assistant: A few years ago, Tim Ferris wrote a hugely influential book called the Four Hour Workweek that explained how he changed his life and ran a successful online business by hiring low-cost virtual assistants in foreign countries to help him do everything from respond to e-mail to schedule meetings to manage the finances of his company. If you want to start a business, hiring a virtual assistant can be an ideal way to maximize your time. There are only so many hours in a day, and if you can hire virtual assistants to take some of the routine administrative tasks off your to-do list, this will free you up to create, plan, and execute your business strategies. You can hire a virtual assistant using online talent platforms like Elanceand Odesk.

2. Delegating tasks to others: One of the most important lessons that people need to learn when running a company, or after they get promoted to management at a job, is learning how to delegate. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true – as you attain more responsibility in your career, you need to learn to get better at surrendering control. You can’t do everything yourself, and you can’t micromanage every single step of every single work process. What are you doing in your daily life that could be delegated to someone else? Delegating doesn’t have to mean “hiring help.” It can also be a simple matter of asking other people to do tasks that they can do more efficiently than you. For example, find out which household chores can be handled most efficiently by you and your spouse, and then delegate accordingly. Do you hate washing dishes, but are handy at cleaning toilets? Does your spouse love to vacuum and hate to mow the lawn? Whatever it is, find a way to maximize your time by doing the things you do best.

3. Value your time by hiring help: There’s an old saying in business, “You have to spend money to make money.” In the same way, in your personal productivity, you sometimes need to spend money to save time (as long as the time you gain is more valuable than the money you spent). Think about the value of your time. Let’s say you make $50,000 per year. That means an hour of your time (roughly) is worth $25. (Assuming 50 weeks of work per year and 40 hours of work per week.) To free up more of your time, it might be worth hiring babysitters to watch your kids while you work, or hiring people to clean your gutters, paint your house, clean your house, or cook your meals. Think about the value of your time. Isn’t it worth $100 to pay someone else to install your new dishwasher, rather than spend 5 hours trying (and struggling) to do it yourself? Many people undervalue their time, and end up wasting time on unproductive tasks that they don’t even enjoy doing. By saving time by outsourcing your household chores and tasks, you can free up time to start a business, work harder at your job, or earn more money on the side – or just enjoy more of your free time. Why spend 2 hours (time value = $50) raking leaves when you can hire some neighborhood kids to do it for $10?

Getting more productive isn’t a matter of superhuman strength or relentless determination – sometimes it’s just a matter of taking your focus off of less productive tasks and focusing more on the things you do best. Outsourcing – in all of its forms – is one of the best ways to boost your productivity and make the most of every hour of your day.

Customer Service Cornerstones For Your Online Business

As a business owner and a consumer, you know that a company’s level of customer service can make or break a customer’s loyally and commitment to a brand.  Unfortunately one drawback of running an online business is that you miss out on those personal, face-to-face opportunities to really -wow- your customers.

Still, just because you’re interacting in a virtual sense does not mean you can’t commit your online business to exceptional customer service.  Read on to discover 3 simple ways in which you can establish customer service cornerstones while enhancing the overall online experience.

Be Available Even When You’re Away
The caveat of running an online business is that people often forget that there is a living, breathing human behind your webpage.  Just like the rest of the world, you can’t work 24/7.  However, online customers still expect and seek out online business’s that can cater to them at anytime during any day.

One way to save your super-human effort is to upload a comprehensive frequently asked questions (FAQ) page. An option like this can act as an available voice that can cater to your audience even when you’re away.  Consider taking things a step further with a searchable FAQ bar that can identify key words and anticipate audience member’s needs.

Back up your effort with a customer feedback form that customer’s can fill out and then receive an automatic comment like, “Thank you…we will respond within 24 hours.”  Obviously, only make commitments that you can uphold.  Also be diligent in making sure that every aspect of your online presence (your website, Facebook, even Yelp account) has thorough details as to your contact info and available over-the-phone hours.

Monitor Your Reputation
Even if your online business prevents you from ever seeing your customers, you can always hear them.  Be sure to monitor online forums and respond to customer complaints and issues directly.

Keep in mind that apologizing and fixing an issue just evens things out; it’s important to then ask yourself: how can I make things better so that I keep this customer and their positive word of mouth?  Discounts for future orders or free, expedited shipping are just a few accommodations to consider.   Then, follow up internally to make sure certain issues don’t become chronic problems.

A word to the wise, monitoring your online reputation can easily become an obsessive, out-of control habit.  Set up free Google alerts for your business to act as a second set of ears and set aside just one hour a week to review comment sections and reasonably stay on top of your customer service game.

Enlist and Enlighten
Encouraging customer’s to subscribe to your email list packs multiple customer-service oriented benefits.  Having a collection of customer emails can help you keep them informed of any changes in you offerings and procedures.  A list also provides you with an avenue to send perks like coupons and sales alerts.
Online customers appreciate being in the loop so consider setting up automatic confirmation emails of their purchases and/or tracking options for their order.  The more proactive of an effort you can make- the more pleased and attended-to your customers will feel.


Mastering the Sales Funnel: How to Build Long-Term Loyalty

| Jun 14, 2014 |

You’ve generated new leads, qualified them, pursued them, and gotten the sale. Now how can you keep those shoppers coming back? Loyal customers keep companies alive, not only through repeated business, but also through free word-of-mouth advertising and positive reviews.

1. Build a loyal team

Developing loyal customers begins with building a loyal staff. Employees who care about your success will work harder to deliver great results. Provide support for your employees, giving them the adequate training and tools they need to do their job well, and resources to turn to for help. Back up their decisions and create reward programs for staff members who excel. One way to do this is to set up a recognition award with specific criteria (positive customer feedback, high sales, punctuality, etc.) and give itevery employee who meets them, not just the top performer.
Work also on creating an office or company culture that employees can identify with. Start with a motto or mission statement. This provides the feeling of having a reputation to uphold.

2. Recognize returning customers
Keep your CRM system updated so you can track who provides you with repeat business. Address them by name when they return, offer them discounts or special offers that aren’t available to first-time buyers, or enroll them in loyalty programs. If you can see a record of past purchases, ask how they’ve enjoyed that product or service so far. They’ll see that it pays off financially to stick with your company long-term and realize that you care about their satisfaction.

3. Personalize interactions
Too often, companies take too authoritative of a stance in customer interactions, automatically playing defense. Every conversation, whether in person, on the phone,or online, should start with the smile or a warm welcome. Talk to your customer like he or she is a friendly acquaintance to put them at ease and dispel the attitude that you’re out to empty their pockets and nothing more. Take time to learn their names and understand their unique needs so they don’t feel like just another number. Successful companies often make a friendly attitude mandatory in their employee training manuals. If you’ve ever visited a Starbucks, you likely noticed how cheery the baristas are, even in the face of long lines, and how they label everyone’s drink with their first name. It’s small way to make business seem personal and intimate.

4. Be quick!
As stated in our last post, customers often develop loyalty to the business that responds to them first. If you get an email requesting a quote or asking a question, don’t leave it till a slow period in the day to answer. Sending a quick note immediately reassures your customer that someone has heard and is attending to them. Getting an immediate response not only makes life easier for customers, but also makes them feel valuable to the company, like their business is truly important.People tend to return where they feel like they matter.


Do your sales prospects all look the same?

| May 26, 2014 |

Companies are like stars. From a distance, they all look very similar, but upon closer inspection, we discover our customers, prospects and suppliers are unique in many ways and represent a variety of different revenue opportunities and business risks. Until now, B2B marketing, sales, finance and credit professionals have viewed companies through traditional data lenses which deliver limited and often inaccurate images of the businesses they interact with every day. Customers and prospects are typically profiled, targeted and evaluated based on four primary attributes:

� What they do which industry are they and are they likely to by my product or service?

� How big they are what is their revenue?

� How healthy they are are they growing or in financial retreat?

� How likely they are to pay or, more importantly how well do they pay companies like mine?

Since 1937, we've used Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) and North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes to determine what companies do, but unfortunately, these classifications can be inaccurate, misleading or lack the granularity needed to truly determine which business a company is in. We typically associate a company's size with revenue, which is relatively easy to find on the 15,000 U.S. public companies, but near impossible to find on the 5,985,000 companies that are privately held. To compensate for the lack of data on private companies, we make assumptions and build sophisticated models to estimate revenue which is also fraught with inaccuracies. A company's ability to pay is typically measured via a risk score which is a trailing indicator that gives us insight into how company has paid in the past rather than how well they'll pay you in the future.

Does your traditional data improve your sales and marketing efficiency?

As you process this waterfall of inaccurate data on customers, prospects and suppliers, how much more do you really know even about companies with whom you have frequent business transactions? Does this information which is costly to acquire and manage significantly improve your sales and marketing efficiency, boost your revenues, or reduce your risks?

If you're still amassing conventionally available business information, the answer is almost certainly NO .

Conventional business information tools provide too much information, irrelevant information or simply lack the key information needed especially on private companies. The image of our customers and prospects that emerge are incomplete and reveals very little about a company's true financial value to you now, or in the future.

Take a page from the B2C marketing playbook

When it comes to customer analytics, the business-to-business world is long overdue in borrowing a page from the innovators in business-to-consumer sales and marketing. Ever since the broad adoption of credit and debit cards, retailers have employed increasingly sophisticated methods for capturing and analyzing consumer purchasing habits. Through data mining, pattern detection, 'market baske' analysis and other techniques, they have dramatically improved their ability to identify premium customers, improve cross-selling opportunities, predict future purchasing behavior and enhance overall sales and marketing effectiveness. For instance, marketing and sales professionals can correlate a customer's purchase of a minivan with the purchase of diapers, car seats, and a constellation of other child-centric products and services.

Imagine the same advantage in the B2B world

As with consumers, the manner in which companies spend their money speaks volumes about their priorities and direction. If you had a view into that behavior you would ideally see purchasing data for raw materials, shipping services, and an array of business supplies and services. The details and trends revealed in these spending areas can tell you if a company is experiencing growth or decline if it is expanding and adding personnel, or contracting and treading water financially


How To Provide A Great Customer Service Experience

| April 02, 2014 |

Customer service. It’s easy, right? Just answer the phone, say, “How can I help you?” and then help them. Simple. Right?
Customer service that doesn’t suck is more than just an isolated interaction. It’s a whole experience. It’s a way of life; whether you’re a small business, a call center, or a corporation. In order to not suck at customer service, you have to make it part of your brand. You must live and breathe customer experience, and we have some advice on how to do it.

You Have to Care

It seems like a no-brainer, but don’t fool yourself. Do you truly care about providing your customers with a customer experience that makes them trust and love you? You should—the less you care, the more money you’re throwing away. Only about 4% of dissatisfied customers complain. You know what happens to the other 96%? They just go away. Poof. Gone. And it costs 6 times more to attract a new customer than it does to keep an old one. On the flipside, a 5% increase in customer retention increases profits up to 125%, according to Bain & Company. If the idea of being excellent providers of customer service alone doesn’t make you care, these numbers should. Simply put: it pays to have outstanding customer service, so put your heart in it.
What does “put your heart in it mean?” More on that to follow.

You Have to Hire the Right People

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh recently spoke to his decision for his call centers to be staffed with Zappos employees: “We didn’t trust that a third party would care about our customers as much as we did.” You need to have the same consideration for your customer service quality. Who are the right people? Who are the people that are going to get on the phone with your callers and turn them into life-long fans? Who are the people who are going to turn every complaint into a positive, memorable moment? If you don’t want your customer service to suck, you need to make sure the people responsible for it don’t suck. This sounds harsh. Maybe so. But you know what’s really harsh? Yelp reviews for companies that don’t take care of their customers. Just saying.

You Need to Be Accessible

Don’t buy into the myth that social media is the new customer service and fool yourself into believing that a positive customer experience can be provided solely through a series of 140-character messages. Your Twitter account is a great jumping-off point for customer service, but make yourself accessible by other channels when more in-depth scenarios arise. Provide a phone number on every page of your website—yes, every page—so that no matter where they are on your site when they run into trouble, they can reach you easily. There is nothing worse for a customer than when they need assistance and can’t find a way to reach the business. The easier you are to reach, the less frustrated they will be when they reach you.

You Need the Right Technology

This is a big one, because it encompasses a lot of the problems that customer service that sucks embodies, such as hold times, bad phone systems, etc. If you want to provide a customer experience that doesn’t suck, not only should you be using call tracking software that enables your agents to see the source of the caller, you should be using other voice tools like interactive voice response to either provide fast self-help or to gather details about the caller’s problem that can then be used to route the call more efficiently. The phone call is critical. Everything from hold times to whether the caller is routed to the correct agent for the problem they need assistance with can take a customer service experience from successful to sucky. Have the correct tools in your arsenal to ensure every caller gets an experience that lives up to your internal standards.
You can’t just do one thing for un-sucky customer service. It’s a toolbelt, not a single hammer. But above all…you have to care. You cannot expect to win the hearts of your customers if your heart isn’t in your customer service.


The B2B Sales Dilemma

| Dec 02, 2013 |


Knowledge is power especially when it comes to self-educating before making a purchase: 88% of consumers research before they buy reviewing an average of 10.4 sources. From purchasing a digital camera to choosing a new restaurant, we self educate through basic online search to visiting review sites to social media. Gone the way of the dodo is the consumer who walks into the Apple store to begin his search for a new laptop without having first done his own online research. We in the B2B world like to think that because the sale is often more complex, entails a longer sales cycle and is generally more practical, our buyers are different than consumers  and they'll  consult with a sales person earlier in the buying cycle. The reality is that even B2B buyers are self-educating by consulting a significant number of resources before they ever speak to a salesperson. In fact, according to a recent survey by DemandGen Report, 77% of B2B buyers do not talk with a salesperson until after they have self-educated and even more interesting 36% of buyers reported that they didn't engage with a sales rep until after they had developed a vendor short list.

What does that mean for today's B2B sales professional? In the past the top performing sales professionals had their list of closely guarded connections in specific industry verticals where they had demonstrated their industry expertise by closing business. Their tools for selling: hand-written notes stacked in a manila folder, big expense accounts for wining and dining, and a golf membership. Has the digital age changed all that? Considering that the average company tenure of a US-based employee is about 4 years the question naturally arises how long will those connections to target companies be of any use? A recent B2B sales and marketing conference broached this topic on how the buying cycle has change and its impact on the B2B sales professional: how should they spend their time and budget dinner or digital?

It's a blend of both. B2B Sales people need to engage and educate buyers digitally and then build the relationship over dinner. At the end of the day, people like doing business with well people they like so dinner is still a weapon in the salesperson's arsenal. With the focus on self-education and the importance of targeting the right companies to begin with, B2B sales professionals need to strike a balance.

Here's four tips for adding digital tools and technologies to the mix:

Find the right targets. Like consumers, companies change gears and priorities constantly. At the same time, employees at all levels come and go so leverage the best online, automated data sources available to find prospects that have a high propensity to buy what you sell. This step dramatically improves productivity, shortens the sales cycle and leads to better closure rates.

Ensure your marketing team is generating quality, informative content to push through digital channels � including the website, email, online advertising and social channels. If buyers are self-educating, make sure they're getting educated about you!

Get social make connections in LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook then establish yourself as an expert in order to help educate prospects by sharing content via Twitter, Facebook and engaging in group discussions on LinkedIn.

Stay up-to-date on the latest digital tools many are free and will help you remain productive, engaged and hopefully successful.

So when it comes to going digital or going to dinner, choose a little bit of both.


6 ways you can get quality customer feedback

| June 6, 2013 |

Running a business without asking your customers feedback is like trying to cross a busy street with headphones plugged into your ears while playing Angry Birds on your phone.

If you think customer feedback is only useful for putting out future fires then you are quite mistaken. The customer insights gained from the feedback can reflect very positively on your companys performance.

Before the Internet and social media there were limited options for collecting customer feedback. Now, a quick email, a Facebook status update or a tweet is all that it takes for them to tell you, and others, how you measure up.

Keep your ears to the ground by implementing these options for collecting customer feedback.

1. Contact forms

Use contact forms on your website to facilitate an easy exchange of ideas between customers and your organization. Do not guide the feedback process by allowing customers to answer only a few pre-set questions. It is in your own interest to keep the feedback as free flowing as possible.

Use a ticket management system in the backend so that every customer contact can be managed and tracked.

2. Forums

User forums are one of the most effective ways to know what customers think about your products or services. These forums can be hosted by you or by third parties. Monitor these forums for valuable insights and interact regularly with the other members.

But forums cannot be operated on a fire and forget basis. An absentee moderator or owner is the quickest way to turn an online forum into a dystopian wasteland. A dead forum hosted by you has the same impact as an abandoned social media profile or a crumbling store- none of them inspire buyer confidence.

3. Social networks

Depending on what you sell, social networks can be immensely beneficial in engaging with customers and getting feedback. The trick here is to know what social network your customers are active on. Interacting with your market and mining information from social networks is easy to do with a number of tools, both free software and business vendors are available.

A presence on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube is an obvious way to get started. But this is only scratching at the surface. For example, if you are a restaurant you should look at Yelp. If you are a tour company, focus on TripAdvisor.

4. Live chat

Live Chat is an important tool for customer feedback. Live chat is the next best thing to talking with a customer on the phone or face to face- you can get targeted feedback in real time.

These days adding live chat functionality to your website is as easy as signing up for an email account. Pick a good solution that comes with features like robust analytics and live chat transfer.

5. Surveys

Surveys are also widely used to get customer feedback. Done right, they can uncover a lot of things that you might have overlooked otherwise. Design the questionnaire so that the questions are short and concise. Keep the user informed of the progress made and do not have hundreds of questions in it.

Some further tips- be upfront about the objectives of the survey and give sufficient incentive for users to participate. At the minimum, create a report out of the results of the survey and gift it to them.

6. Customer touchpoints

Asking upfront for feedback after the user has completed a call to action can also give you high quality feedback. For example, a good time for an e-commerce site to ask for user feedback would be after the customer has completed a transaction. A restaurant or a call center can ask for feedback after the customer has paid the bill or hung up after a call.

Another time to ask for feedback is when a customer stops buying from you or returns your product. The volume of feedback will be less than in the previous scenario but if you ask for it often you will get information that can help you increase general customer satisfaction.

Do you have a policy of regularly seeking customer feedback? Which option has given you the maximum amount of feedback?


Mastering the Sales Funnel: turning Leads into Sales

| Nov 06, 2012 |

Once you've got leads coming in, take the next steps to walk them toward the register. The process may not always be speedy, but taking the time to parse through potential customers and develop a meaningful relationship with them will result in greater gains in the long run through their repeated business.

1. Act Quickly

Shoppers are more likely to develop a sense of loyalty to the first business that calls them back. Make an effort to get in touch right away, whether it's with a phone call, chat invitation, or email. An analysis by Leads360 showed that "speed is the single most critical component to lead conversion. Conversion rates are 391% higher when the lead is called within a minute of their inquiry; 120% within two minutes; 98% in under three minutes; 62% in under 30 minutes; and 36% in under an hour." The purpose of this initial connection in simply to make contact and establish the beginning stage of relationship. After the conversation, you can determine if that relationship is worth developing.

2. Qualify Leads

Determine which of your leads is worth pursuing, and which are less serious. Start this by asking the right questions, like what your prospect can afford, when they need to have your product or service, and if the person you're talking to actually has the authority to buy. Ask if they are serious about purchasing, or just shopping around, and if you are capable of delivering what they need. This will help you determine if your company is really a good fit for them and if the business relationship will be successful. If you don't think you can help them, don't waste valuable time and resources trying to force something to work. Move on to a more valuable lead.
Most importantly, pass this message on to ALL of your employees. Leads can come from anywhere, and everyone on your team should be aware of what to look for to keep your efforts concerted and unified.

3. Empathize

Once you pinpoint your sales-ready leads, cultivate an emotional connection that earns their trust in and loyalty to your company. This often means stepping out of your salesperson shoes into your customer's. Find out what they already know about you so you don't repeat information or talk down to them. Conversely, don't use technical language or industry jargon if the client has no knowledge of it. Know their perspective and meet them on their level. Prospects will feel closer to you if they feel you understand them. When they trust you, they will be willing to spend more for what you offer. This is where you can look for cross-selling or up-selling opportunities.
BUT don't go overboard! People know when they're being "sold," and no one likes to feel like a commodity.

In CRM, Size Matters and Smaller Is Better

| Oct 06, 2012 |

The term CRM is one of those big business buzzwords that seems so general as to be almost incomprehensible. The term stands for customer relationship management, and it centers around three concepts familiar to every business owner:Retaining existing customers is cheaper than acquiring new ones.
Eighty percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your customer base. The best new business is referral business. The premise of CRM is that by identifying individual customers, businesses learn the customer's specific needs and desires. This allows the business to provide the service that differentiates it from competitors.

The Key: Relationships

The concept moves a business' focus from the singular transaction to the lifetime value a loyal customer holds. And here's the dirty little secret: Small businesses can accomplish the objectives of CRM more effectively than big business -- and for a lot less money.
 Big business realizes the necessity of managing customer relationships. Its efforts to do so have resulted in the development of computer software that focuses on such things. Generally speaking, this software attempts to gain a 360-degree perspective on the customer -- that is, to view, gather and learn from all of the customer's interactions with the company. These software packages typically cost $250,000 (U.S.) and up. Big business' fatal error in attempts at CRM lies in the fact that a corporation is incapable of having a good relationship with an individual. Only individuals can have good relationships. This often overlooked fact gives small business the upper hand in all CRM. Most small businesses practice good CRM in their daily routine. The question becomes how to incorporate technology into a CRM routine.

Here's How It Works

In a town of 10,000 people in the state of Wisconsin, a family-owned hotel has been in business for several decades. The company has a healthy community relationship, complete with a great location.
 Being digitally hip folks, the owners of this hotel want to use a Web site as a tool for travelers needing to book a room. And in a stroke of pure CRM genius, they decide they don't want their online reservation form to simply result in an e-mail confirmation.Rather, by using a service that converts e-mail messages into faxes, their online reservation form is faxed to their front desk. To make the confirmation, a hotel employee contacts the customer at a time the customer has specified as convenient. Additionally, all customer data, such as "prefers tea not coffee," are maintained in a database. Total cost for setting up the above-described Web site, fax service and database: less than $2,000.

You Hold the Key

By using technology to funnel customers to a human being, this hotel has unlocked the key to CRM -- relationships. And in focusing on relationships, small business can maximize the value of its current customer base while establishing the quality of service that leads to the best new business -- referrals. 
Customer relationship management is a matter of realizing that the lifetime value of a customer is much greater than the single transaction, then using each interaction as an opportunity to learn so superior service can be provided.
 When it comes to CRM, a small business can use its size to its advantage.

6 cross selling and up selling tactics that work

| Sept 06, 2012 |

"Would you like fries with that?"

These are some of the most common words spoken in fast food restaurants in the country, and they account for a significant percentage of the 2 billion servings of fries consumed by Americans.

This is cross selling at its finest, and it nets the fast food restaurant industry hundreds of millions of dollars in sales.

And if you want to get an example of how up selling works , I have got one word for you- Supersize. During the time Supersizing was in action, McDonald's probably made enough cash to fill up several Olympic size swimming pools.

So if cross selling and up selling can deliver blockbuster revenues for the fast food industry, can't these techniques boost your sales numbers?

Sure they can, if you don't mess it up.

Here are a few principles every business needs to keep in mind if they want to apply cross-selling and up-selling to boost the bottom line.

1. Don't be pushy and sales-y

I wasn't lying when I said up selling and cross selling can increase your sales and the lifetime value per customer. But despite the word sell, these strategies are not a replacement for traditional sales and marketing.

When you decide to implement cross selling and up selling in your business the deciding factor has to be customer value.

Don't make customers resent you by insisting on a credit card they they might not want when they open an account with your bank.

2. Actively recommend

However, don't be shy about recommending items of value to the customer. Take a leaf out of Amazon's handbook and provide relevant recommendations on what else could be bought.

As visitors browse your site their behaviours can reveal product preferences. Live chat with visitor monitoring lets customers chat with you and gives you an opportunity to make great recommendations.

This recommendation tactic is especially important if you have a large inventory or you provide complicated services. Sometimes, it might be the only way for you to expose all your offerings to customers.

3. Keep those recommendations limited

While you are at it, don't get carried away. A smart salesperson won't unfold the store's entire stock of jeans when you want to see just a few, right?

No one wants customers overwhelmed and confused with too many choices that might cause them to back away slowly, or in the case of a website, hit the close button and flee to the familiar environs of Facebook.

4. Justify your choices

So you have determined that the customer can buy item B with item A and benefit from the transaction. You have suggested that, and also displayed items C and D to the customer which might also be good purchases.

You can still trip up and lose the sale.

You have to get rid of customer objections by demonstrating that others agree with your choices. This is where testimonials, expert reviews, user ratings etc come into play.

This is why, Amazon does not title their recommendations as "Our Recommendations". They say "Customers who bought this item also bought".

5. Try bundling

Don't sell tennis racquets, balls or sweatbands in separate transactions. Make it convenient for your customers by packaging all these three items and selling them at a price lower than the sum of the individual items.

Don't stop only at coding when a client wants a new website. Offer to do the graphics, logo, SEO and content.

Customers love integrated offerings because they can get everything they want with minimum of hassles. You should love this tactic because it increase the value per sale and reduces marketing costs.

6. Don't rush the transaction

In some cases, the best idea to introduce additional or costlier items is after the customer has already selected something first.

Don't interrupt the customer when they are searching for a particular item- it messes up the user experience and might lead to shopping cart, or store abandonment.

What would likely happen if a waiter did not take the orders for the main course, but instead made the patrons sit through a recitation of the dessert menu?


 What cross selling and up selling strategies have worked for you?