Should Salespeople Create Their Own Content?

You’ve probably heard that content is king (I say queen). Content is the way to start wooing your prospects in advance of sales opportunities. content strategy word cloudEvery conversation related to social selling includes a focus on using content to boost your credibility as a thought leader in your field. I don’t disagree with that premise. Buyers are doing early stage research, and the use of content that is relevant and educational can certainly work to your advantage. Buyers turn a deaf ear to the pitch, but they do pay attention when what you do, say and share makes it clear to them that you understand what is important to them.

The right content used strategically at the right time definitely, helps you stand apart from your competitors. But the big question is – should salespeople be the ones creating their content?

Many in the social selling space will insist that the answer is yes. Others say, absolutely not. After all, isn’t that marketing’s job? Me? I say it depends on your personal situation.

When you think about how to use content as part of your sales process, there are three ways you can approach it:

  1. Share the content of others.
  2. Share the content your marketing team produces.
  3. Create your own.

Let’s talk about each one.

Share the Content of Others

This can work to your advantage PROVIDED the content is relevant to your audience and offers them specific insights that can help them improve their business. This assumes something really important – you have to know what your buyer cares about.

Some investigative work is required. Your marketing department may have done buyer persona work you can use, and you can use social media to do your validation about what your targeted buyers are interested in. How? Ask yourself these questions about your target buyers:

-What content do they share on LinkedIn? Not just the topics, but the medium. Do they tend to share more articles or it is video or podcasts?

-What content topics do they comment on? Could be in tweets, LinkedIn status updates or on posts others are publishing.

-Who are the LinkedIn influencers they follow?

-Do they publish LinkedIn posts? If so, what topics do they write about?

-Who do they follow on Twitter and what kind of content do they share there? Is it business, more personal or a little of both?

– What about groups they have joined on LinkedIn, what types of questions do they answer or like?

The point is that online social behavior will provide clues to help you determine how to structure your thinking around the type of content to share. Then you can study your industry to determine who produces content that you believe your customers and potential customers will find of real benefit. Could be top bloggers, publications like Forbes, Harvard Business Review or Inc. Magazine. If you are appealing to folks in the sales world, perhaps you are sharing daily doses of content from Top Sales World. Might be a well-respected publication in your specific industry.

Will this take a little sweat equity to figure out and plan for? Yes. But, honestly, it isn’t too much and if your end game is to secure opportunities to have a sales conversation with buyers, well then, put in the effort.

Share Company Produced Content

Now that you’ve done the digging and have a good idea of what content will appeal to your prospective buyer, you can match those interests to the content your marketing team has worked hard to create. I’m thinking white papers, research reports, informative blog posts, interviews with industry leaders, etc. Be careful, though. If the content isn’t much more than dressed up sales pitches, I’d rethink how much company produced content you share. If the content is simply pitching products or services, that will turn buyers off.

Make a point to share relevant content once a day through the network of your choice. The platform where your prospective buyers are most likely to see it. Add a comment before sharing to bring attention to why your buyer should read the article. Tell them what you believe will be valuable to them.

Posting once a day doesn’t take a lot of time. What it requires though is knowing where the content is so that you get to it easily. Could be your company’s LinkedIn page, a content sharing portal that your marketing team has created and so on.

Produce Your Own Content

This one is tricky because there are only so many hours in the day. The main job of those of us in sales is to, well, you know, sell. The zealots will insist that no matter what, you have to make time to create content. Well, I don’t know about that. If you have a family you go home to that includes a spouse and kids; I’m not sure how much they’d appreciate you getting right to work on content once they finally have time with you. Okay, sure, you can get up an hour earlier. Maybe stay up after the kiddos have gone to bed. The point is you have to figure out what rhythm you can commit yourself to in this area.

If you don’t have a lot of experience creating content, it won’t be quite as easy as some experts would have you believe. You’ll need a content plan that includes topics, what type of content you will create, and where and how you’ll distribute the content. Questions have to be answered. If you blindly jump in, you will likely flounder and feel frustrated.

I know a few folks in the social selling space who INSIST salespeople WRITE their own content. I vehemently disagree! This is just another example of trying to force a one-size-fits-all approach onto everyone.

First, you must like writing. It isn’t easy.

Second, the goal is to create content that backs up your professional brand promise, demonstrates your expertise, and paints a picture of how you think and what working with you might be like. You want your words to lead buyers to think – hey, I want to talk to that person, I think they can help us.

Third, you need to do it well. I’ve read some of the most poorly written posts on LinkedIn ever. Words missing, capitalizing every word in a sentence, grammar way off, run on sentences and the like. Same goes for blog posts. Everyone makes mistakes but it is clear that some folks are writing stream of consciousness and don’t go back to edit themselves. Did I say that the content is representing you? If it looks like you are unable to string a few sentences together coherently, what message are you communicating to a potential buyer?

Writing is only one way to create content. There are many great ways to create content that is yours and here are 17 ideas to get those juices flowing. Maybe it is a presentation you create. How about conducting podcast interviews. What about a webinar you host with a panel of leaders in your industry that you invite prospects to attend, which you record and repurpose later. You might like creating short little video clips.

What I’m saying is that you need to figure out what you are most comfortable creating on your own and start there.

About that original question.

The answer isn’t yes or no. Most things are not black and white.

The answer is that salespeople need a content strategy that works for them. That much is true, and I believe it will be a mashup of the three approaches I shared in this post. It is probably a mix of 70% (other), 20% (company), and 10% (yours) in the beginning. You have to determine for yourself what will work best for you. Don’t listen to anyone insisting it has to be one way – as in you must write your own content – just because they said so. This is about your brand – not theirs! Never forget that!

The Disconnect Between Social Media Spend and Business Impact

Disconnect Words Broken Chain Links Separation ApartWith spend on social media channels expected to increase to a 20.9 percent share of marketing budgets in the next five years, according to a recent CMO Survey, the big question is if that spend investment is translating into an increase in overall business performance? The answer appears to be not so much. In a C-Suite Study conducted by IBM, they reported that almost half of Chief Marketing Officers feel that they – and their teams – still aren’t fully prepared to meet the challenges of operating in social media channels.

If CMO’s aren’t feeling that their teams are fully prepared to deliver on corporate objectives, what could be getting in the way?

There is no clearly defined social media strategy that aligns with core business objectives. With no formalized social media strategy in place, you leave your social media teams flying solo without a clear connection back to overall corporate business goals. In the Harvard Business Review article, Fix Your Social Media Strategy by Taking It Back to Basics, they mention that a Google search provides 140 million results for “social media marketing tips,” but no matter how many headlines promise it, there is no one-size-fits-all social media strategy. Tips, instead of a clearly defined strategy, won’t cut it if you want to see real results.Though the marketing team may be taking the lead on the creation of the social media strategy, the company’s social media efforts need to impact sales opportunities and revenue also. Don’t leave this important business strategy to marketing alone.

There is a gap between social media activity and business performance. It is important to link your sales and marketing goals to social media KPIs. Buzz, clicks, likes and followers are good initial gauges of social media marketing success, but long-term success requires that you go much deeper. Ultimately, social media activity needs to demonstrate how the effort led to improvement in revenue outcomes, either in qualified leads to nurture, new customer acquisition or retention.

The team doesn’t have the right balance of expertise. Don’t assume that young 20 something is the right person to drive your social media strategy. They may understand the inner workings of Twitter or Snapchat, but that doesn’t mean they understand how to apply social activity to core business objectives. Make sure your team includes people who understand the technology and have solid business experience. You need both!

All data sources are not being integrated. Be sure that you’ve built a plan that includes the seamless integration of social media data with other types of customer information, such as the data that comes from sales, purchasing, social media, and other communication channels. Though you might be able to source potential sales leads via Twitter, how is that information then integrated back into marketing’s lead nurture process or the sales CRM system for follow-up and tracking?

Lack of cross-functional skill and leadership stymies success. Today’s marketing leaders must be adept at traditional marketing strategies, and they also need to be proficient in the use and understanding of how new technologies impact their efforts. I believe this applies to sales leaders as well. Reaching buyers through the traditional avenues of phone calls (rarely answered) and emails (often ignored) mean that everyone in sales is using the appropriate social media channels to engage buyers in advance of clearly defined sales opportunities.

Investing in social media marketing and social selling strategies is important and must continue. Buyer behavior is the key factor driving the importance of engaging prospects and customers on multiple channels. To justify that investment, though, also means that your social media/social selling strategy goes beyond the surface indicators of success and aligns to key business drivers like new customer acquisition, revenue growth, and customer retention.

Expert: Leader, Follower or Copycat?

When it comes to social media, probably 4 in 5 people you meet these days are experts. A quick Internet search reveals there are 310Genius baby million “social media” experts with 166 million grabbing the “social selling” expert moniker. That’s a lot of experts.

The problem, as I see it, is that “social media” is so big, so broad and so misunderstood that it is tough to pinpoint what expert really means. How do you really know if you are talking to one? Are you talking to someone who leads, follows or just copycat’s the work of others?

It takes 10,000 Hours (or close to it) 

Just yesterday I was interviewed for an edition of Top Sales World’s HardTalk podcast series. While talking to Jonathan Farrington about what it means to be an expert, for grins, I had looked up the definition before we got started with the interview. With so much noise being created by self-proclaimed experts, potential customers need a way to determine who’s got the goods and who does not, which might be tough if they aren’t even sure of the questions to ask or what skills to vet.

As defined on Wikipedia, “Experts have a prolonged or intense experience through practice and education in a particular field.”

While some will argue that you don’t need the 10,000 hours of experience that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in Outliers, I happen to believe that demonstrable experience actually matters. Do you think someone with no athletic experience can take up figure skating and within a year be competing in the Olympics? Anything is possible, but I’ve  NEVER heard of it happening.

Gladwell said in his book that “the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.” If you did nothing else but study, work with clients and practice your craft 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you could get there in just over a year. Of course, we all know that isn’t realistic at all. More likely, we are talking in the neighborhood of five years at least. Expert status, I believe, takes time, it takes hard work and especially where social media is concerned, you must be constantly learning and adapting.

Tactics and One Trick Ponies

When it gets right down to it, you know you are talking to someone with social media chops when they demonstrate breadth and depth of knowledge of the various platforms and how they fit together. You may be a really good LinkedIn trainer, but that does not make you a social media (or social selling) expert. Someone who understands social media strategy and how it impacts Sales, Marketing and Service will have a clear sense of best practices, and they will also know where the potential for disaster or failure lies. They will be able to show you the strategic work that they’ve done.

Be wary of one proven process or one way of approaching things. What works for one customer won’t necessarily work for another one.  A truly experienced social media player knows that it all begins with strategy and that strategy is crafted after you invest the time to understand the core of a customers business. Tactics come after strategy and not the other way around.

Buyer Beware

At the end of the day, I suppose it is the way of the world. People latch onto hot ideas and hot terms and want to ride the wave without learning how to surf. But trusting your reputation, your sales and your business to “experts” could be dangerous. You may find out that all they are expert in is taking taking your money.

 

Just Cancel My Account – Part 2

This is the story of how I became a client and canceled my AWeber account all in the span of 3-days. Game Over

In part 1, I talked about Infusionsoft and how frustrating their process is for canceling your account. Had it been easy to walk away, I wouldn’t have broadcast to my followers that Infusionsoft doesn’t live up to its promise, and they are tough to do business with. In AWeber’s case, the process for canceling my account wasn’t difficult and they refunded a portion of my money to boot. But a process that they spin as being better for you – the customer – isn’t.

For 8 years, I’ve been building my email list. I take the CANN-SPAM act seriously and have always followed the rules of email marketing. This is so important to me that I NEVER add anyone I meet who hands me a business card. That’s not permission to add to a list my friends, although far too many people do it. Subscribers can easily opt-out of my list; I don’t waste their time even asking why. I assume their reason is nothing personal. Everyone is on overload these days. I’m no exception. Email inboxes are more crowded than ever and people often just don’t have the time to read one more newsletter. I opt out of plenty of them myself.

While using the Infusionsoft system, I once again scrubbed the list. If a lot of people start opting out, Infusionsoft assumes you are a spammer and will halt you in your tracks. I think that’s a good thing. But imagine my surprise when we wanted to upload our mailing list to the AWeber account only to find out that they insist on sending out a “reconfirmation” email. That means that people who have opted in to my list, now have to go to another step to say yes again.

AWeber will tell you that it is the best way to ensure that emails are not blocked by spam filters. They claim that their process is why they have a high rate of delivery versus other email marketing companies. I don’t believe it. There’s a back story there somewhere.

As I’m working to get my email marketing back on track, this little hiccup didn’t make me happy. I asked a couple of my colleagues what they thought about the double opt-in policy. Depending on who you talk too there are two ways to look at it.

1. You can think of the process are further cleaning and purging your list. Makes sense. I really do want people to find what I send them valuable.

On the other hand…

2. People are super busy. What if they never get around to reconfirming? Depending on how long it takes people to confirm again, my email marketing might not be very effective.

I did some checking on AWeber’s support site to find out if there was a way around this default. After all, quite a few of their competitors don’t require this and have their own ways of verifying if you have a purchased or spam list. It turned out that – yes – you could ask them to waive this default setting if you have a clean list. Awesome, I thought. Now we can move forward.

Uh, not so fast.

I sent AWeber my request, explaining my reason for switching providers and confirming that I had just gone through the process of scrubbing the list about 12 months earlier. Pretty quickly I received a response that essentially said that AWeber rarely makes an exception to their policy (OK, why is it on your website and written in a way that suggests you do make exceptions?). The service rep goes on to say that if I will answer their list of questions, they will research my situation and get back to me. They are trying to verify that I’m legit…I get it.

The next email I receive now says they aren’t sure and that maybe they’ll make an exception, which they will rarely do, but now I need to give them the log in details to the Infusionsoft account so that they could verify the last campaign that I’d sent. Well, for starters, I told them I had not sent a campaign in a few months. I also told them that I’d canceled my Imfusionsoft account, which at the time, I didn’t know was still active.

Now I’m fuming. Time is already being wasted; I’m no closer to getting a newsletter out. And there was no guarantee that they’d say yes anyway. Screw it, I said to myself. I told the service rep that this was a complete waste of my time and wasn’t worth it. I said that I planned to cancel the account, which I did right away.

And then…

I receive another email from the same service guy saying that if I would provide the list, they’d do some sort of verification thing to see if the addresses were valid. More of my time to be wasted and again no promise that my request would be approved.

Thank you, MailChimp.

MailChimp and AWeber both receive good reviews and recommendations but AWeber seemed have just a bit more under the hood that would suit my purposes. After my brief experience with them, I went to MailChimp. They have ecommerce hooks and other things that I need. They also happen to be a business local to me, many of my colleagues use them, and they have a fair number of corporate client. Good enough for me. But the biggie…they don’t force the double opt-in process.

MailChimp has designed an algorithm that can test your list to determine validity. Guess what…within a few minutes, my list was verified and I was ready to go.

If you won’t, your competitors will.

There must be hundreds of email marketing systems available. Why would any company want to make it difficult for new and existing customers? It is beyond me.

The experience with AWeber left me feeling a little like being back in grade school. It feels like their “rule” is meant to stop the real spammers, but in the process they penalize legitimate business people who work hard to do the right thing.

Well, thanks for the memories AWeber. MailChimp, I look forward to a beautiful relationship!

Just Cancel My Account – Part 1

In my last post, I said that I planned to share some recent examples of the less than WOW experiences I’ve had as buyer of business products. I wish I could say this post would be the only one, but I have many more to showcase going forward.

All I wanted to do was cancel my account…it should have been easy.

Business concept of problem, cancelled

At the end of 2012, I transitioned my email marketing to Infusionsoft. I’d been a long time Constant Contact user, but now I needed a more robust system that supported more sophisticated marketing campaigns and was integrated with an online shopping cart. I’d heard a lot about Infusionsoft from a variety of sources – all of it positive. After doing more research myself, I decided to make the move. Over $6,000 dollars later with nothing much to show for it, in January I decided to cancel my account.

The promise is that the system is easy to use. That wasn’t my experience. Even creating basic newsletters burned too much time. Two assistants never could figure it out and were constantly flustered. Without having the support I needed to manage the system – unless I wanted to spend thousands per month for a “certified” consultant – I let the account languish while I explored other options.

Experience matters. Every interaction counts. The system didn’t work for me, and that’s OK. I was fine to cancel my account and move on. Instead, I’m calling out Infusionsoft as one example of a company whose processes/policies make life difficult for their customers.

Here’s my story…

1. I wanted to cancel my account but Infusionsoft doesn’t make it easy for you. I should have been able to cancel online or with a quick email to the service department. Nope. Infusionsoft insists that you call them. Right away I knew why that was their policy. They wanted an opportunity to “sell me” on remaining a customer.

2. Grudgingly, I make the call. The gal who answers the phone notes my request and tells me that someone will be calling me back “to verify” that I want to cancel. WTF? I’m thinking, why am I talking to you then? I’ve already burned up time making this call to handle something that shouldn’t be a hassle for me. I gave you my name and account number but someone else has to call me to verify that I do want to cancel? Argh…

3. Later in the day, I receive a call from a representative who is a “loyalty guy”. I understand you want to cancel, he says. Yes, I do. The system isn’t working for me, I tell him. He says, tell me what the problem is…maybe I can help. I basically lay out the story for the 2nd time (I’d already told the gal that I talked to) and tell him that I am firm on canceling. OK, I see you’ve made up your mind, he says. Well, yeah dude. That’s why I’m canceling; otherwise, I would have called tech support for help. Stop wasting my time.

4. Loyalty guy confirms that my account will be canceled immediately. Imagine my surprise when 3 days later, I’m billed for another month of service. Then I notice that my account is still active.

5. Phone call number three and this one to the accounting department. Naturally, I had to leave a message. I explain the situation and ask for my money to be refunded.

6. Later that day, I receive a phone message from accounting gal saying that – yes, she confirmed my request to cancel but that my billing cycle was in progress when I called them. According to their billing policy, Infusionsoft doesn’t issue refunds, so my account remains active until the end of the billing cycle. Of course, you won’t be billed again, she says. Isn’t that nice. Another $259 wasted for software that I’m not using.

What really ticks me off here is the time I had to waste going through their silly gymnastics to cancel my account. Then I’m billed for another month of service to boot. We are talking 3-days into the new cycle but Infusionsoft doesn’t prorate or return your money if your cancellation timing happens to be off. On top of that, loyalty guy never confirmed that I understood their billing policy or told me that I was already into a new cycle. Yes, I realize that I agreed to the written terms at some point. Still, the right thing to do was to tell me to be sure I understood what would happen. It would have saved me another phone call!

This is not service excellence. It is a classic example of how companies like Infusionsoft are blowing it. Even if a customer decides to cancel your service, the last thing you should want to do is piss them off! I was already annoyed at the wasted money and time that had been spent trying to get the system to work for my business. Infusionsoft’s process only made it worse.

The final point I want to make is this…

Had it been easy for me to cancel my account, I would have gone on my merry way. If someone asked me what I thought of the Infusionsoft system, I would have told them it didn’t work for me, but that I knew plenty of people using it successfully. Now I’m telling everyone I know to steer clear.

P.S. To the Infusionsoft consultants who want to come at me and tell me how easy the platform is to use…please, save your breath. I’m very accomplished with technology. You think it’s easy because A) you are drinking the Kool-Aid and B) you’ve invested hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to become certified. Contrary to the Infusionsoft marketing hype – without extensive training, it is not that easy to use. I don’t have that kind of time to waste, and if I can’t pay someone a reasonable fee to do the administration for me it isn’t worth it.

 

No Christopher Here

“Telemarketing and fancy email marketing campaigns yield disappointing results.”no

Yes, because the sales message sucks. Just like the one you sent to me.

If I am tired of this kind of cheese, you know that other busy Sales Executives and Business Owners are too. You would welcome the opportunity to learn more about my sales process?

First, I’m not Christopher and Christopher has never worked here.

Second, I’m not available to waste my time educating you about my business.

Third, you assume that the people you are emailing struggle to find prospects.

Four, if you really “care” – take time to do your homework and tailor your message.

Five, the email is a pitch, and I don’t care that you are “excited” to share how you help others.

To all sellers, sales leaders and marketers…

Differentiation from the competition is a common sales goal, and it isn’t that hard to do. Guess what…don’t send messages like this one. Guaranteed, you will stand out! Why? Because it is RARE to receive a cold email that adds value or is compelling enough for buyers to want to know more.

PLEASE don’t send emails like this one.

“Hi Christopher,

Most business owners and sales people struggle to find prospects. Telemarketing and fancy email marketing campaigns yield disappointing results. I’m excited to share how I’m helping others have a constant stream of prospects with XYZ’s automated prospecting technology; the return on investment is typically less than 3 months. I provide sales expertise and can help in other areas too.

Benefits:
• 30%+ Response rates (personal & relevant content with multiple touches, totally automated & managed)

• Steady Stream of prospects=$ MORE SALES$

• Fewer missed opportunities: our clients are at the “Top of their prospects minds”

•Personal and professional attention from a sales professional with over 20 years of B2B sales success, I care.

I would welcome the opportunity to learn more about your sales process and share with how I can help add drive more revenue.. Do you have any availability for a brief call in the next few weeks?

Sincerely,
XYZ
Chief Salesologist”

The Future of Business is Change

Though I maintain my steadfast passion for igniting sales transformation, I do not believe that placing emphasis on improving just one silo of the business makes sense if anything is expected to change. The conversation should no longer focus on social selling or social media marketing, as if each is operating in a vacuum. Organizations need to become much more focused on becoming a “social business”. Time for change. Stopwatch on white background. Isolated 3D imag

Engaging consultants or trainers to help improve Sales, Marketing or Service capabilities – in silos – won’t net much more than marginal improvement. With departments myopically focused on their own improvement, not surprisingly, you rarely see the large scale, institutional change needed when the market evolves to a point where it is clear that business practices must change.

Social media did that…it disrupted business completely. Most companies were not – are not – getting a real handle on what that means for the future of their business. And I haven’t even started talking about the impact of multiple generations on a social business strategy.

As social, mobile, cloud and digital technologies are going to force business leaders to rethink everything they thought they knew about how buyers choose to purchase something, it isn’t only Marketing or PR that has to change things, but Sales, Service and every other department too. The connected buyer communicates through any number of modalities…text, phone, email, mobile, social networks – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, blogging – and cloud computing services like Evernote or Dropbox. Not everyone with dollars to spend will want to interact with your company in the same way. If you keep trying to force them to do that, you’ll lose.

After eight years, I thought companies would be seeing greater success and be a little farther along in their strategic use of social media to support business objectives in Marketing, Sales and Service. One reason it isn’t happening is because social strategies ARE NOT LINKED to the performance of business goals. According to Brian Solis and Charlene Li in their white paper, The Evolution of Social Business, they suggest that business use of social media is often guided by a peer or competitive-driven “social for social’s sake” philosophy. Unfortunately, there is a ton of truth in their observation.

It is rare to find the company that doesn’t relegate the social strategy to the Marketing department even though social now impacts the entire enterprise (inside and out), but certainly Sales and Service in big ways. Even if companies establish measurable outcomes to track, and it’s a big IF, social initiatives fizzle and die due to a lack of strategic vision, funding and oversight that is guided by top down vision from the C-Suite. This has to change.

Buyers have choices…lots of them. You are kidding yourself if you think otherwise. Do you know what happens from that very first interaction with a prospective customer? Do you know what they are thinking? Do you know how you stack up in their minds?

What about your customers? Are they sticking with you? Are they happy? Are you sure? What happens if something goes wrong? What’s the service and support experience like? You may think you know the answers to these questions, but my bet is that your company is not doing as well as you think.

If you expect to have a future in business, your business has to change. Stay tuned for my next several posts, because I will be sharing my own personal experiences as a business buyer. Hopefully, as a business leader, it will give you a bit more to think about.

Talk is Cheap

In 2005, I wrote an article outdated customer service. It is now 2013, and I’m still asking the same questions about service and customer experience as I did back then.

Person Annoyed by Others Talking

When it comes to delivering a service experience that WOWS are most companies talking rather than doing?

At the time that I wrote my article, I quoted Tom Peters from his book The Pursuit of Wow in which he said, “70% of customers hit the road not because of price or product quality issues, but because they did not like the human side of doing business with the provider of the product or service.”

It doesn’t feel like much has changed. Yes, companies like Zappos and Amazon WOW. But what about all the thousands of other brands out there?

I recently read a blog post penned by Frank Eliason, Director of Global Social Media at Citi. In his post, he says that “One of the reasons the Customer experience is broken at many companies is we have tried to force the Customer into our view instead of taking the Customer view.” Exactly. I couldn’t agree more. How often are companies insisting that their employees walk in the shoes of their customers? How often is the boss going “undercover” to really see what’s going on?

We’ve had rapid advancements in technology – digital, mobile, social networks – in the past 10 years. More people can be reached faster and in more unique ways, but what good does any of that do if you talk about service but never actually deliver. As buyers, have we become so accustomed to mediocre service or worse that we just tolerate it?

Customers want to work with those businesses who demonstrate a sincere desire to help them with anything they need, and they are willing to pay for it. Yes, they want products to work and services that meet their needs. More importantly though, they want people who care that what they sell does their business no harm.

Major departments inside organizations continue to work in silos. Pour a little social media into the mix and the problem is exacerbated. Proudly proclaiming to the world that you provide service and support via Twitter means nothing if you never respond to complaints shared on your page. It happens all the time.

I’m going to be talking a lot more about customer experience in the coming days and weeks. Businesses need to start realizing that there is no “linear” path that a prospect now takes on the way to becoming a customer. Marketing, sales and service folks all need to work together to define and deliver exceptional experience at every touch point in the prospect–to-customer life cycle. Beyond the feel good aspect of delivering WOW experiences, there is financial gain as well.

Is providing great a rich and robust customer experience really that difficult?

I’ll close with these words from IBM founder Thomas Watson who said, “If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work”.

Influence the Customer Experience

My post about the Social Shake Up conference is getting a lot of play. That’s good. My goal was and is to shake up traditional thinking about what social media means to business. During the Day 2 kick-off session with Brian Solis, he said it best when he said…”You cannot slap something new onto what is comfortable.” In other words, you cannot do what you have always done – even if you use new tools – and expect a different result.

C-level executives have got to enter the discussion.

Social isn’t a fad! Executives must first accept this one fundamental truth. Your business is being disrupted. How people make buying decisions has changed. In order to adapt to this new reality, companies must create a social business strategy that considers the “new” customer lifecycle from beginning to end.  Sales, Marketing and Service folks must break out of their silos, trash traditional thinking and work together to create an experience that wows from beginning to end.

Let go of what you think you know.

As with the technologies that preceded them, social, digital and mobile have continued to further evolve. Some of you are too young to remember that there was actually a time when we didn’t text or communicate via email on our phones. We certainly didn’t surf the web or talk to our friends on Facebook. Nope, we actually just used the mobile phone to make phone calls. Weird, I know.

These days buyers use multiple devices to remain connected – laptops, smart phones, iPad’s, tablets and soon Google Glass. They can access news and information when and how they prefer to consume it. They do not rely on your marketing, PR or advertising to make their buying decisions. They gather information from multiple sources, and they rely on the peer reviews of others when making a decision to purchase or not. Why? Sorry, but they don’t trust your pitch.

Social, digital, heck, the web in general has completely changed expectations of what buyers want from the companies who seek to gain a share of their wallets. And I believe that the number one expectation today’s buyer has is that your company has to EARN the right to do business with them.

How do you earn that right?

By creating and delivering buying experiences that cultivate trust, loyalty and advocacy. Understand what your buyer cares about, speak to what is important to them, treat them with respect, honesty, transparency and fairness throughout the buying process, and they will reward you many times over. Keep talking at them or burn them when something goes wrong and in a nanosecond they will tell everyone they know to avoid you. This applies whether you touch the buyer as an executive, a marketer, sales person or customer service representative.

Though I have evangelized the importance of sellers using social media as part of their sales process, I have always believed that sales, marketing and service must be completely aligned when creating an overall experience that moves a prospect from interest to sale to happy customer. If any of the pieces are broken, you lose.

Do you know what it is like to try and do business with your company?

The irony is that most companies probably have no idea what it is like to be a potential customer. I think of one “big data” company who doesn’t even use the data to qualify buyers. Instead, they put sales resources into having reps call anyone who attended their webinar. How do I know? I know because I run a small business and am not their target client. It did not matter. They had sales reps calling and emailing me anyway. This is a classic example of a customer acquisition process that wasn’t thought through from beginning to end. I wish I could say that this was the exception rather than the norm.

If you are an executive, in marketing, sales or customer service, here is my challenge to you.

Pretend YOU are the potential customer. Go through every step of the buying process just as buyer would. Pick your website apart. Carefully review your social media marketing messages. Make a call to the sales department and experience what it feels like to have features, benefits and a product demo pushed on you. Reach out to customer service with a problem – phone, Twitter and Facebook. How was the problem handled? What was the response time?

Once you have done these things, rate the experience. Would you buy from your company? If your answer isn’t a resounding hell yeah, that was awesome, you need to stop, rethink whatever you think you know and roll up those sleeves… you have work to do!