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Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

Did you hear what I heard?

In Marketing on April 3, 2011 at 8:18 am

As a Product Manager (especially one who is customer facing), we have been given the daunting task of understanding the market, its problems and defining products and solutions that will address or resolve the previously definite problems. When done properly, the result is a successful and profitable product. When not done properly, we have the responsibility of trying to explain what went wrong and how we can learn from this for future products.

One of the most difficult tasks as a new Product Manager is separating what you hear and see in the market from your personal opinions. Many people think that it is only their opinion that matters. However, when it comes to Product Management, that is a formula for disaster. You may occasionally have a win, but chances are that there will be more failures than successes. As we learn to listen to prospects and customers and separate this information from our own personal preferences, you see products come together and be developed that are exactly (or pretty close) to what the market needs to solve the existing problems. More importantly you start to see that the solution is not necessarily what you would have created if had designed the product for yourself. This self-realization is a nirvana moment. You find yourself in a new state, and you can start to live out those out-of-body experiences you see in TV dramas and movies. The “you” represented by your personal opinions can separate itself from the situation, hover over the scenario and look from outside through the filter of this opinion. It is truly a change in your mindset, and it will change how you do things. Once you have achieved this, you then must constantly be vigilant to preserve this state of mind.

This ability described above, however, tends to create a new set of frustrations for a Product Manager. You start to realize that the people around you are doing what you used to do: the new product or solution should conform to their opinions, and not necessarily to what is best for the market. It is our job to try to make others understand this, but it is not always an easy task.

The major pushback you receive as a Product Manager when trying to confront this issue is that people who have spoken to customers believes that they are doing what you said. More often than hot, however, that person didn’t hear what you heard as a Product Manager. The person in question instead heard (but didn’t listen to) what was said, and then this information was filtered through their opinion of what should be done to validate it. For example, if you speak to a customer asks you “Is that the only color that is available?”, what does this mean for your product? For a non-Product Manager who thinks that there should be other colors or who doesn’t like the current color, this automatically registers in his/her head that the customer or prospect doesn’t like the color. For a Product Manager, however, this is just the beginning of the conversation. Due diligence must be taken to understand what is being asked without leading the customer or prospect down a path to the answer that you want to hear. A simple answer and follow up question could be: “Yes. Why do you ask?” Leave it open ended, and let the customer tell you in his/her own words. Don’t ask something like “Do you think there should be more colors?”

Continually use these types of examples to try to educate others within your company so that they can start to hear what you are hearing. Or at least if they have a different opinion of what was said, you are both speaking from a similar point-of-view that is not based on either person’s personal opinion.

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Making everyone around you social

In Marketing, Social Media on January 27, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Like any new concept, social media is not something with which all the key stakeholders in your company may be familiar. Even more so, just the thought of it may make some of them uncomfortable. So the question is bound to arise: How can I make my company social?

I asked that question to myself not long ago. After talking to various thought leaders in the social media space and having become more social myself, the answer turned out to be relatively stratightforward (especially from a business perspective). You must demonstrate the power and value of social media to the key stakeholders in  your company.

People using social media take part in thousands of conversations on a daily basis. If any of these conversations do not include your company specifically, you can rest assured that they involve your competitors and/or your industry. Even if they do not, they provide an example of how social media can benefit your company.

So if you want to make the people around you social, do the following:

  1. If you are not already listening to conversations that are taking place on the various social media sites and that are relevant to your company, then start now.
  2. Converse with them. Find out what their concerns, and help them understand.
  3. Share with the team what people are saying about your company, about the competition and about the industry.
  4. Educate the team on the successes that other companies are having with social media.
  5. Attend seminars, webinars and industry events related to social media and invite your colleagues who may not be on board with social media.

You must understand, however, that this does not guarantee that the critics and non-believers will suddenly see the light and jump on board. Don’t be discouraged! For most people, you will need to continue to repeats steps 1 through 5 over a period of time so that they can see that social media is not just a fad that will be gone in six months. This is typical of anything that enters into the business world that disturbs the norms of how people have done business for years, especially when you are dealing with people who have seen great success with the ways of the past.

As companies and as individuals, we should always be looking for ways to improve ourselves. The best way to improve is to listen to the people around you, take their advice, balance the advice with your goals and then implement changes that lead to continuous improvement. So, let’s starting making everyone around you social!

Mea culpa … Not following one’s own advice

In Marketing, Social Media on January 24, 2011 at 6:35 pm

In my first blog about social media, I mentioned the need to keep content up-to-date and refreshed regularly. If you’re not ready, then don’t commit to it yet. Unfortunately, I fell victim to my own warnings. The blog began, and I made a few posts. Since then, howver, nothing new has appeared … until now.

The upside to this is that I created this blog as something for me to allow me to find my own voice and to express myself on a variety of issues. My business and my livelihood do not depend upon it (at least not in the strictest interpretation of it). I am not getting paid for writing my blog. I do not yet have (and may never have) a community of readers that are waiting on the edge of their seats for my next post.

Having provided this footnote … it’s still not a good enough excuse (or justification).

Thus, I am recommencing my journey into blogging. The lesson to learn from this is that blogging takes thought and can be time consuming. You must set time aside in your schedule when you will not be interepreted by the static of every day life to put your thoughts together and to write. If you do not do this, there’s a good chance that your blog will not come together. Take me for example. I have a family; I have a career; and I have a “hobby” business that I do in the off hours. If I do not deliberately set time aside, then I will never get to my blog.

Personally, I don’t want to lose my voice before I even find it, so I am going to set time aside to think and to write. This does not mean that there will be a new post every week, but there will be a better flow of blogs. Just remember that if blogging is part of your dialogue with your customers, you do not have the same luxury. There are expectations of regular updates, refreshed content and a continuing dialogue!

People are talking about you … but are you listening?

In Marketing, Social Media on November 6, 2010 at 7:18 pm

What if I told you that someone is talking about you right now? The natural question would be, “What are they saying?” The basic human instinct urges to try to find out what is being said, who is saying, who are they saying it to, and so on. This instinct makes up the fiber of our social being. More than that, it is also natural to talk about people and things to other people. We want to share our experiences and our knowledge — both good and bad.

Then why do businesses struggle with this concept. Right now there is someone talking about your business. As business people we talk about the importance of the customer and what the customer wants. However, many companies simply “scream” out their marketing messages using traditional methods (such as print, TV and radio). They continue to beat potential customers over the head with their products with the hopes that some of them may succumb to this and buy their products or services (whether or not it provides any benefit to the customer). The approach is a “one size fits all” approach, and it is not as effective as it may seem. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying cancel your media campaigns, delete all those ad files off of your computer. They have their place, and I will discuss this once we have set the stage properly.

Now back to my point. In the not too distant past, a business did not need to worry too much about the effects of a bad customer experience. Perhaps they would lose one, two or a handful of customers. Many consumers’ circle of influence was limited to friends, family and coworkers. In the grand scheme of things, this did not appear to be much of a threat. However, this is no longer the case. With the growth of internet usage and the advent of social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, as well as groups and sites with specialized interests, the opinion of a single person can positively or negative affect millions of people in a matter of minutes. It’s that easy.

Some companies have already realized the power of social media and the impact that it can have on their businesses. These companies are no longer “screaming” at their customers. They are listening to them, talking to them, sharing with them and creating an individual experience that every consumer desires to have. When I go to buy something, I want to know that it will be the right fit for me. What my friends, family, coworkers and social media “friends” who may have similar interests is much more important to me than what the manufacturer says in advertisement or on a datasheet.

Businesses beware: if the people that I turn to for advice have had a bad experience with your company, I am not likely to buy from you.

So if you read the headline of this blog and you answered “no”, hopefully by now you’re thinking, “OK. I want to listen, but how do I do it?” There companies that believe that they have a social media strategy and that they are listening to their customers. What they have done, however, is set up a Facebook or a Twitter page and then continued to treat it as a tool for traditional marketing. They continue to “scream” their messages at their customers, but only now they are doing it through a different medium. This is neither listening to your customers nor social media marketing. “Screaming” out a message and a customer posting a comment on your Facebook page is not a conversation.

Before you start your official social media marketing campaign, you must listen to your customers, to your competitors’ customers and to people whom you want to be your customers. So, once again, you ask, “How?” There are many tools available to start this process. Some are very simple and free (or inexpensive), and some are complex and very expensive. I recommend that you start using a tool such as Hootsuite (www.hootsuite.com). With Hootsuite, you can review and post to most of your social media sites. More importantly, however, Hootsuite allows you to create “streams” using keywords or other parameters. Set up streams based on keywords that are the name of your company, the names of your products, the names of your competitors, the name of your industry or market segment, etc. Then simply monitor the streams and see what people are talking about. If they are talking about it, you can assume that it’s important to them. If not, you’ll be able to tell from the context of the conversation.

When you are ready to join the conversation, do so as if you were joining a conversation among strangers at a social event … because that is what you are doing. Once you have begun a dialogue, more people will talk to you. Eventually, if done properly, you will become the center of the conversation. People will be listening to you. It is reaching this critical point that will truly allow your company to benefit and to grow from social media. Be prepared, however, that sometimes you may have to do things that you had not planned to do due to the fact that you are listening to your customers and addressing their needs. If you are not prepared to do this, do not bother joining the conversation, because you will be perceived as disingenous. At this point, you may also want to consider another business or another market, because your customers will become customers of the business that have a conversation with them and listen to them.

You may ask how your business will grow from these conversations. Many times it is difficult to measure the return on investment for social media. Do not expect that you will implement a social media strategy and that your business will have overnight, double digit growth in revenue. It takes time. What happens during this time is not only that the people that have a positive experience with your company or even have a negative experience but a positive resolution to the experience through your conversations and attempts to remedy the situation will share their experience with others and become evangelists for your business, but also other people will listen to these conversations and make the decision that this is the type of company with which they want to do business. Or at the very least they may tell others even if they never become a customer.

Listening to your customers, engaging with your customers and providing products and solutions that solve their individual needs will create customers that will be lifelong customers. These customers will trust your company and remain loyal, even when a lower cost solution comes along (because that will happen).

So stop “screaming” at your customers and starting listening to what they have to say. We are at a unique point in history. Businesses now have more access to their customers and potential customers than any other time. Embrace social media, engage with your customers, learn from them, and let them learn from you!

P.S.
As a final note, I had mentioned earlier that you shouldn’t abandon your traditional marketing efforts. Now that you are listening to your customers and to the market, you should make sure that your traditional marketing efforts reflect what you are learning. Take your “one size fits all” pieces and develop them into pieces with a common look and feel but that provide a message to each of the specific user groups or market segments within your customer base. Once again, personalize this as much as possible. If you can’t do it on a single user level, then do it based on smaller, more focused groups of customers. Use these pieces to draw your customer base into the conversations that you are having with your social media strategy. Your traditional marketing efforts will serve more like an invitation, and your social media marketing will include your customers in the conversation and make them stakeholders in your business. Whatever you do, do not “scream” your message out loud at everyone that can possibly hear it. Your customers are telling you what they want and how they want it, let them know that you have heard them through your traditional marketing efforts.

Is Your Company Ready to Be ‘Social’?

In Marketing, Social Media on October 12, 2010 at 9:31 pm

It may sound like a simple question? Many will answer, “Of course.” Or maybe even, “We’re already ‘social.’ We have a Facebook page. What more do you need?” However, it’s not that simple. There are many things to consider when your company enters into the realm of social media. Some of these considerations are obvious; however, many others require careful thought and planning. Once the decision is made to go ‘social,’ then your company must be committed to it and everything that comes with it. Here are some things to consider, and some things to be ready to commit to:

  1. Understand Social Media. There are many social media sites and communities, and the list grows longer every day. The primary sites include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn (professional networking site), Foursquare (a location-based tool that let’s you ‘check in’ to the places that you visit and see where your friends go), YouTube (video sharing), and Flickr (picture sharing). At a minimum, I recommend that your company has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. If you have the resources for photo and video sharing, then definitely take advantage of YouTube and Flickr. You should create profiles and pages specifically for your company. When updates are generated, the updates will come from the company and not from an individual. Pay attention for new and upcoming sites and tools so that your company stays relevant.
  2. Company Culture. Does your company have a culture that is prepared for social media? What do I mean? A company that will truly benefit from social media must be a company that has an open culture that is focused on the customer and the customer’s experience. If you are not willing to listen to what your customers have to say, take it into consideration and possibly act upon it, then your company is not a good candidate for social media. However, if your company is not willing to listen to the customer, your company may not be able to adapt to continue to meet and/or exceed market requirements, which will lead to decreased sales, lower profits, loss of market share and potentially will even lead to going out of business. You should not enter into the social media space with the expectation that you will just set up a Facebook page, never check it, never create content for it and just ignore it (simply to say that your company has a social media presence). On the other hand, if your company has a culture where the customer is king and you are looking for any and all feedback that you can get, then enter the realm of social media and take advantage of it.
  3. Social Media Strategy. Before you do anything else, create a strategy. You will need to identify your company’s employees who will be responsible for monitoring and responding to all the data and feedback from the social media sites. If you are not using a monitoring tool, this will also require someone who will listen to industry and competitor feedback in addition to what your customers are sayinig in communities and forums that are not specific to your company. This information can be as valuable, if not more valuable, as the feedback that your customers provide in your company’s social media portals. You also need to identify who will be responsible for responding to the feedback. Ideally, you should have as wide a range of individuals in your company who are empowered to respond so that your company can respond to your customers in a timeframe that is acceptable to the audience. The last thing that you want is to have your customers waiting for hours or days for a response while someone in the company is trying to get approval on how to respond. WARNING! When you empower employees to participate in your company’s responses on social media sites, you must ensure that you provide them with clear guidelines and policies on how and how not to respond. In addition, you must be certain that the employees that you designate are capable of writing clear, consistent and grammatically correct responses that reflect your company’s culture and voice. Remember that how your employees respond is a direct reflection of your company.
  4. Listen before Speaking. This aspect of social media was explained extremely well at a conference recently by Jon Ferrara, the founder and CEO of Nimble. When you go to a party and you do not know the people, what do you do? Typically, you find a group of people that you would like to talk to, then you make your way over and start to listen to the conversation. As you listen to what is being said, you wait for an opportunity where you can interject a thought. You do this once or twice, and then you become part of the conversation. You should follow this same approach with social media. Before you start ‘talking,’ you should listen to what’s being said on social media sites about your industry, about your competitors, about your company, etc. Once you understand what is being said and how it is being said, start the conversation. As you continue the conversation and share information and resources that your customers find valuable, you will establish your company as a key source of information. This is how you will begin to create and nurture an engaged community focused on your company and its products.
  5. Consistency. As long as your company is creating valuable content on a regular basis, be consistent. You must have the discipline to continue to create and post content on a regular basis, and you must respond to feedback in a timely manner. If you are not consistent or you do not respond in a timely manner, your customers will notice. In order to be relevant, you must be willing to hold a continual conversation. If you stop speaking, your customers will stop listening to you and start listening to someone else. Don’t let that happen.
  6. Content. Your customers are not interested in learning about your company and your products. Many times this is information that they can find on your website. When creating content, you should focus on trying to create content that will let your customers feel that the information was created for each of them individually. Share industry information, data, tips, etc. Develop thought leaders throughout your company. Let your employeses who have been assigned the task of creating content share their knowledge that will benefit your customers. For example, your Technical Support, Engineering, Sales, Customer Service and Marketing teams can share information that is specific to their disciplines related to your industry that will establish them as thought leaders. By doing this, your employees will be called upon by professional associations and conferences to be speakers, to author articles, etc. In addition, your customers will share this information with their colleagues, friends and family, which will in turn generate more brand awareness and revenue for your company. Develop as much useful content as possible. WARNING! Do not create content just for the sake of creating content. Your customers must see the value in your content, otherwise all the efforts to create the content were done in vain.
  7. Create a Community. You should encourage not just your employees to participate, share content and help customers with their issues. You should encourage your customers to help each other, thereby creating a community. When everyone starts participating on an equal level, then everyone will feel that they are truly part of a community. The best part is that this community is centered around your company and your products.

Now that you have some food for thought, would you answer the question in the same way as you did before reading this? Social media will change the way that many companies do business. Those that adopt it and embrace it will have the opportunity to be highly successful. Those that choose not to integrate social media will likely not be as successful in the future. Social media allows for a more individualized customer experience, which is something that most of us want, and it gives the customer more of a voice in your business.

For those companies that think that they can avoid the negative feedback and control their message better by not adopting a social media strategy, they are only fooling themselves. Your customers are going to have conversations about your products and the experiences (both positive and negative) with or without you. By being part of the conversation, you can let customers know that their feedback is vital to your business. If you take this feedback and act upon it, your customers will feel more invested in your company and you will have a better chance of creating loyal customers that will also become evangelists for your company among their coworkers, friends, family members and other members of the community.

The good news is that you don’t have to undertake this monumental step alone. There are many resources available to you — from blogs to consultants to companies that are providing a variety of tools to help you make the most out of your investment in social media. To get a sense of some of these tools, check out Hootsuite.com (to manage your social media accounts through a single portal), Nimble.com (they will soon be coming out with their public beta for their new social CRM tool) and Parature (they are the leaders in integrating social media into customer service and technical support).

The time for your company to become ‘social’ is now. Give your customers a voice, and hear what they have to say!

Resources:

www.hootsuite.com
www.nimble.com
www.parature.com
www.facebook.com
www.twitter.com
www.linkedin.com
www.foursquare.com

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