Don’t Underestimate The Value Of Your Small Business Reputation

Compromise your small business reputation just once and it will be almost impossible to recover. Building a consistent, long term small business lead generation process is a marathon not a sprint. It is all too easy to get impatient and inject a pushy sales message or two but to do so can destroy all your hard work up to that point.

Let me give you an example from personal experience. I always set aside time every day to read blogs and articles from authors I have grown to trust over the years. For many months I had regularly read the blog of one company (let’s call them Company X). I was evaluating the company as a potential supplier of a marketing tool and I found their blog informative on a number of marketing issues.

Recently it was obvious Company X had decided to cut down on the resources required to keep their blog up to date and guest posts were more and more common. Given the amount of resources required to run a content marketing process that was understandable, to a point. Unfortunately for them they had not allocated the resources to quality check those blog posts.

On reading the blog one day it was obvious the guest post author had very little actual experience of the subject. He was simply regurgitating the standard information (much of it actually incorrect)  that could be found online. A quick check of his various online profiles and, his website destroyed his credibility further. It left me feeling disappointed and more than a little annoyed that a company I had trusted until then could serve up such rubbish. The damage was done and, as it transpired, irreparable.

When the posts from Company X appear in my blog reader they are now routinely deleted. I could be deleting the best, most relevant information out there. It could be the last piece of the jigsaw that persuades me to buy, it does not matter. As their business reputation is destroyed. they now have no opportunity to even get out of the starting gate, and yes I did buy that marketing tool I mentioned but from their competitor.

Are Company X going to lose sleep over my lost sale, well no but I would bet I am not the only one. A huge amount of effort obviously went into their blog before they tried to take short cuts and lost their quality control. The results of much of that effort, I guess will now dissipate over time.

It can be tempting to cut corners or to slip in a pushy sales message but next time you are tempted think long and hard about the potential damage to your small business reputation and its potential long term impact on sales.

How To Write Business Case Studies And Secure New Customers

Securing new business leads is only a small part of the battle to secure new customers. These leads need to be nurtured and ultimately closed. Having a series of well written business case studies can significantly improve closure rates.

How Case Studies Help Secure New Business

Whatever you sell, but particularly if you sell a service, let’s imagine a pitch to a potential new client / customer. What is the prospect really interested in? They are interested in you (because people buy from people), hence they want to know that you are credible and have a detailed knowledge of whatever you are trying to sell. Of course, they want to know that the product or service will deliver the specified result.

A well written business case study based on a project you have delivered to others can address their fears:

  • Credibility – Tick – Delivered to others.
  • Result – Tick – This is what we did and these were the results.
  • Social Proof – Tick – (see below).
  • Objections – Tick – A well written case study will address potential objections before they occur.

It also allows you too big up your previous clients which helps cement your ongoing relationships.

A Little About Social Proof

there is no better recommendation than a case studyIn his book ‘The Psychology of Persuasion’ Robert Cialdini states ‘one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct’ which means a natural human instinct is to believe that if someone else is doing it then it must be OK. You may not like, or believe, that statement but for lots of examples (and research) of how and why it works read the book (or at least Chapter4).

By using case studies you are taping in to the power of a natural human trait. We all may wish to think we are entirely rational and can easily override any in built natural human response but be honest with yourself, is that really the case?

Key Elements Of Business Case Studies

So what should a case study include? First it should talk a little about the client and their business (some promotional copy for your client). Then, in brief, it should discuss the requirement and specifically the initial KPI’s and agreed timescales. It should then discuss a little on how results were achieved before going into detail on the results showing how the initial objectives were met or, better still, exceeded.

Graphics should be included in the results wherever possible using credible sources of information like Google analytics or photography of before and after and the job in progress. Appropriate general photography can be used sparingly to break up the text.

Building The Case Study – Process

Writing business case studies requires planning and organisation. A single case study helps but the real value is in a series of case studies including at least one for each of the products or services you deliver.

Not all clients will agree to a case study based on the work you do for them but there is more chance of success if you ask early in the process. It is best to ask not too early but once some relationship and client confidence has been built. Then asking the question can actually build your credibility as it shows you have early confidence that the results you promised will be delivered or even exceeded.

Of course every customer project should be tracked and measured but this is even more important if a case study is required. Data, be it photographic, analytics or whatever else is appropriate must be collected as the task progresses.

It is possible the customer or client may wish to write the case study when the job is complete but much more likely that you will be required to write it and let the client approve and/or make any required amendments. The completed case study should not be too long (two sides of A4 should suffice) but long enough to include all the required elements.

Conclusion

To write business case studies takes planning, time and effort but the benefits they deliver in handling objections and aiding closure should not be underestimated. The key is to build a process and ensure they are an integral part of your marketing system.

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The link between customer reviews and more sales leads

Use customer reviews to build credibility

How Customer Service Reviews Build Credibility

customer reviews and recommendationsAfter all the effort involved in driving prospects to a website it is a waste if they don’t stay around long enough to view what is on offer. Every effort should therefore be made to maximise retention and conversion by building credibility. Research (source) shows 63% of consumers indicate they are more likely to purchase from a site if it has past customer service reviews and ratings.

The issue is where to place customer service reviews, testimonials and recommendations for maximum impact. For any business with a local customer base a Google+ local listing maximises the chance the reviews will show near the top of page 1 Google.

Any search query such as ‘service’ in ‘location’ will return the Google 7 pack containing upcustomer reviews show in 7 pack to seven businesses Google selects that match the query. A click on the company name takes the user to the main company website while customer reviews are listed at the bottom of the listing. Listings showing customer reviews instantly have more credibility than those that don’t.

A further advantage of reviews on Google+ local is Google appears to give businesses with reviews a higher priority than those that don’t. As more businesses wake up to the power of Google + business listings the competition is intensifying and any advantage is welcome.

There are two main ways to secure customer reviews on a Google+ business page. The first is to ask them to log into their Google+ account and leave a review on your business. Of course, this assumes the customer has a good understanding of Google products and how to use them. The second assumes the customer has a smart phone but is a simpler alternative. In this case the customer simply clicks on the Google Maps app and this provides the facility to easily leave a review for your business.

Google+ local has the advantage of a page 1 listing compared to a business website that may have a significantly lower listing on page 2 (or below) when a prospect types in a relevant search term. However, as any website should be the key promotional item and information hub for any business it is the best possible space for testimonials, customer service reviews and recommendations.

The challenge is how to generate the customer service reviews and testimonials on a website. First of all it is crucial to ask customers to participate; with this in place it is vital that the review process is as easy as possible for the customer or they simply will not bother. There are both excellent hard copy based systems and internet based systems available that make the process simple for the customer.

With reviews in place they may be selectively developed into case studies to further build credibility and ensure any prospect quickly identifies your business as a credible supplier and engages them to at least learn more, or better still to pick up the telephone and call.

The Link Between Customer Reviews And More Sales Leads

To establish the link between customer reviews and more small business sales leads just consider your own behaviour for a second. When you last purchased a major item what information sources did you evaluate? I would guess you sourced the specifications of the various items, the best price and reviews of those who had previously bought or used the product. Evaluating reviews is a natural human reaction labelled ‘social proof’ by the psychologist Dr Robert Cialidini.

Need further proof? Then various studies in several market sectors have shown that >60% of consumers read customer testimonials, recommendation and reviews before making purchasing decisions.

So how can a small business with a local potential customer base capitalise on the impact of testimonials, recommendations and reviews to generate sales leads. The first priority should be to place reviews on the business website. However, there are two important points to remember. First, the testimonials must be genuine as false ones can be spotted a mile off and destroy credibility in an instant. Second, the odd bad (not too bad!) mixed in with the good is not a bad thing as research shows prospects trust reviews more when they see bad as well as good.

A key opportunity for any business with a local customer base is a Google My business listing. A listing presents many advantages to a small business and is free to set up. Few know for certain how Google ranks listings on their search engine but there is evidence that closeness to centroid, business category, local links, accuracy of location information and the quantity and quality of reviews all have a impact. As a Google My business listing shows up on page 1 Google it represents a major opportunity to place recommendations and reviews in front of any prospect performing a relevant search.

Customer reviews then have a major impact on potential customer behaviour. They influence the choice between any business and its competitors and therefore the number of  small business sales leads. Despite this many business owners still appear to doubt their impact.

To secure reviews it is first important to ask. With agreement in place it is then important to make it as easy as possible to for the customer to leave that review. You could have some simple cards printed and leave them with customers to complete (with a postage paid envelope). There are several online testimonial generating services (although they do come at a cost) or you could simply create a link to your Google My Business page and Email the link to the customer.