Time to get back on the horse?

Over the last few weeks and months (and for some possibly years) we have been buffeted with bad economic news. If it is not the plight of the Euro, it is the unemployment figures or the deficit or many other pieces of informatioin that makes us all feel gloomy about our prospects.

Well I say enough is enough!

We cannot sit on our hands for ever waiting for market conditions to improve. Conditions will not improve till WE do something about them. I know many companies that have had good years throughout the recession (double dip or not) Why? They have gone out and got on with business. They have not cut their marketing budgets and some have increased them and fought even harder against their competitors. They have not listened to the doom sayers and they have made their own ‘luck’

Talking to a small company recently they were moaning about the state of the Euro zone. This intrigued me as they do not export and have no intention of exporting, they do not buy from outside the UK and they only sell into a relatively small regional area. I for one cannot see how the plight of the Euro affects them. But it is an example of how companies  get bogged down in the hype of the media and press instead of looking at their market and reacting accordingly.

So it is my view that having fallen off the horse it is time to get back on and ride you way out of the doom and gloom.

If you want help getting back on the horse call Bob Francis on 07941 426 807 or email me at bob.francis@sgba.co.uk or contact us

Are new business support provisions fit for purpose?

The Government is in the forefront of encouraging new business support provisions for SMEs.  It has reorganised Business Link and done away with the local one-to-one advice provided from trained advisors and replaced them with a website.

In a recent Forum of Private Business (FPB) poll only one in ten of the respondents indicated that the support provided was adequate while 20% said it was not. Further, more than half thought that the information was inadequate to aid growth.

Mentoring and coaching now appear to be favoured by government as the best way to support SMEs and are supporting organisations and individuals who give their time free of charge. However some restrictions are placed on what they do. This means for instance that coaches cannot give advice! Whilst there are, no doubt, many good people providing good support amongst these organisations, the overall quality of these coaches and the services they provide may not suit the majority of SMEs seeking practical help and advice. For instance many of the coaches recruited are retired bank managers and the like. By the very definition bank managers have never run a business and it seems doubtful that they could assist a company that is ambitious and wants to grow but need help to develop a strategic marketing plan for instance.

The private sector provides a range of business support services. These organisations are staffed and run by business people who have run their own businesses (and by definition of being in the private sector, still run their own businesses) and are highly qualified in a range of different disciplines. Ambitious SMEs are willing to pay for quality help, support and advice as they know that the return will be substantial and will benefit their business in both the short and long term.

If you would like to explore how business support can help your company contact Bob Francis on 07941 426807 or email at bob.francis@sgba.co.uk

How customer insight can improve customer loyalty, sales and profit

Customer insight can be defined as an understanding of what customers want and how and when they make buying decisions. Customer insight is gained in many ways from customer complaints to actively seeking their views on your products, services and the way in which you do business.

Social media including Facebook and Twitter are good tools to use to listen to your customers, engage in dialogue and gain insight. More traditional ways include customer panels and surveys, both online and off line. Customer panels are groups of people who come together to discuss topics that are of interest to the client company about their products and services. Surveys are being used increasingly as they can cover a variety of topics and that both quantitative and qualitative analysis can be obtained. Current technology developments allow on-line surveys to be taken both locally and, by using web based technology, remotely.

Many studies show that the speed of response to customers is a vital element in building customer loyalty. This is especially the case in customer service situations where a bad experience is quickly shared over the internet. But speed of response is also important in sales situations too. In a typical situation the length of time between gathering customer data and fulfilling the request can be critical and can mean the difference between converting a prospect into a customer or losing the customer altogether.

It can also be shown that a lost customer or prospect can have a negative effect on others who are considering purchase. Developing customer insight using tools such as CRM systems, social media and surveys will help the business deliver great customer service which in turn helps to generate a feeling of being listened to by the customer. This will engender positive attitudes to the business and will ensure the customer not only returns for further purchases but also will further enhance loyalty and reputation as the word spreads. Great customer service is a key pillar in driving reputation, revenues and repeat business.

Obtaining customer data and insight through the latest technological advances provides a number of benefits. The data gathering process can be integrated into the sales presentation providing a better, more personalised customer experience. The data, customer preferences, decision criteria and so much more can be obtained in a natural and non threatening way. This enhanced individual customer experience helps to build loyalty. These same technological advances also allow the real time integration of the customer data into back office systems such as CRM for real time reporting and dissemination of leads. Thus a fully qualified lead can be provided to a sales agent or distributor within seconds of the information being collected, complete with preferences, decision criteria and the like. Early follow up of these leads is more likely to result in a sale to a satisfied customer.

Regular and particular communication to customers that have been segmented on the basis of data obtained will result in cross sell and up sell opportunities. This will not only enhance sales but profitability is improved. Customer acquisition costs are also reduced. The on-line survey approach can be used for discovering trends in the market. Regular surveys at time intervals will show how markets and tastes change. This can be used to inform a product or service development programme. Having this sort of information will not only provide sustained profitable growth but will ensure that your business will provide your customers with products and services they need both now and into the foreseeable future.

This blog post was contributed by Hugo Spalding MD of MSP, a customer insight company.

For more information on how on-line survey solutions can increase your profits please contact Hugo Spalding for an informal discussion.

Will Entrepreneurs rescue the world?

There comes a time when Business Leaders need to take control. Many are doing just that, but just as many (if not more) are being highly cautious.

Whether it is the leader of the IMF, the Leaders of Governments (Obama, Cameron, Merkel, etc) the messages all spell GLOOM, DOOM and DISASTER.

But Business Owners can take matters into their own hands. How many are “waiting to see how matters are developing” before they make a decision? Too many.

For the shrewd, now is the time for opportunity. After all, if YOUR competitor is ‘procrastinating’, then they are at their most vulnerable.

Risk…? Every business has an element of risk. But why not take a risk at the expense of your competitors.

Bite the bullet – invest in growth whilst our ‘so called leaders’ talk the World economy down. Reinvent not only your products, but the way you do business.

Growth is there for those who are bold!

Social Networking for Small Businesses

Facebook

Social Networking is the term given to a variety of new techniques for communication with clients, customers, prospects and other interested parties. As with other marketing techniques it needs careful planning to ensure that the right message gets through to the right (target) audience.  Whilst using social networking and media can be a blunt, scatter gun approach, with careful planning and dedicated application it can, like a rifle, be accurate, well targeted and can be useful in developing relationships with the target audience.

TwitterWhat it is.

Social networking is the name given to a variety of tools that can be used to develop relationships with customers. Of particular importance is the fact that the use of these tools will help to drive traffic to a website or blog and ultimately help search engine optimisation of the website.

For businesses these tools can be used for reputation management, test marketing and feedback from customers on existing or proposed new products. It can also help to increase brand awareness of  the business and raise the profile of individuals establishing them as experts in their field and can be linked to articles, websites,   blogs and a variety of other media.

LinkedInThe main tools for small and micro businesses are LinkedIn, Twitter and increasingly Facebook where Business pages can now be set up. Facebook has currently over 500M users and businesses find this increasingly useful to provide a channel for communication with customers. For instance videos and photos can be downloaded from the site and forums set up to discuss various aspects of the business and its products.

What it isn’t

Social networking is not a quick fix for getting customers. Like all marketing it needs a careful and thoroughly thought out plan to achieve goals set for it. It should be used as part of a complete plan and not instead of it. At all times the focus must be on the business goals and not on chatter about your social life. If that is what you want to network about, then set up additional  accounts with that as the main focus.

Each of the three tools identified (and there are many more that you should consider to see what is right for you and your business) have different purposes. LinkedIn for instance allows you to search for specific people in your target market. It also has very useful Q & A area where your expertise can be shown and your own reputation as a knowledgeable expert can be developed. Twitter on the other hand only allows 140 characters in each ‘tweet’ so the main purpose is to drive traffic and enhance your Google search listing as tweets are also indexed by Google.

As mentioned previously Facebook can be used for business and personal reasons. Currently the development of Facebook for business is in its early stages but it can still be used for developing your expertise and to link to other media such as your website and blog.

How to get started

Getting started is simple. All the tools I have mentioned are free to set up an account and to use. Just register and start using. A word of caution, however. Although they are free to use to be effective needs a considerable amount of time.  Firstly you need to establish your account; then you need to gather fans, friends or other contacts.  This can be done by searching for your target audience or ensuring that your communications are keyword rich. Then you need to provide useful content and information. Only then can you start to see the benefit.  It needs co-ordination between these tools and your blog and website. However before you even start, develop an action plan so that you can integrate this form of marketing with your existing plans and make sure they work with each other.

If you require further information or want to discuss how Social Media and Networking can help your business contact bob.francis@sgba.co.uk or call 07941 426807

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