Bounce Rate Revisited: How It Applies To The New Buyer Journey

bounce-rate-marketing-living-edge-road-traveledThere are a lot of differing opinions about bounce rate:  The factor assigned to the duration of an individual’s visit to a particular website. The general consensus is that VERY low or VERY high bounce rates are bad and that optimally, bounce rate targets should be set, based on industry, between 40%-60%. I’m not disputing whether organizations like 21Handshake are right or wrong. I’m simply asking if it’s not time to revisit bounce rate guidelines now that so many functions of business and industry can be segmented into molecule-sized units.    

BOUNCE RATE ASSESSMENT IN A RETAIL SALES ENVIRONMENT

I’m not a fan of shopping.  In fact, I prefer to spend as little time doing it as possible.  When I need something, the first place I look is online—either at branded websites or on Amazon.  If I MUST go to a store to touch or try on something, I know EXACTLY what I’m looking for and make a beeline to that department.  I’ve gone through the selection process before ever leaving home.  All that’s left is FINDING AND PURCHASING THE ITEM  THAT’S IN MY HEAD.

If a bounce rate could be assigned to that shopping experience, what would it be?  70%?  80%? 90?  Based on what you learned about me as a CONSUMER, where would the bounce rate fall on a scale from low to high? How many consumers do you think likely share the same attitude?

A good friend, Nick Westergaard, wrote a BRILLIANT post a few years ago called “The Age of Interruption Is Over“.  It describes the opposite scenario—where a high bounce rate is bad.  More importantly:  What causes it to be bad. How convenient, as holiday shopping season is right around the corner!  In Nick’s post, the only bounce rate is the one in which those mall doors are BOUNCING OFF THE HINGES!  

BUSINESS TRANSACTIONS VERSUS COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

If money were not a concern, how many people prefer to spend time engaging with community members instead of transacting business? In other words, would most people prefer the recreational weekend activities or working in their offices?

The answer is obvious unless you have a career that allows you to work like you’re on vacation.  Here’s the quandary:  The purpose of marketing has always been to distract consumers and keep them in the buying environment/mindset.  Why are so many displays set up in retail environments?  Why are people staffed at mall kiosks handing out “free samples” to anyone who passes by, whether they want them or not?  To DISRUPT consumers.  This contradicts the objective of people like me who know what they need and want before they even leave the house—to get in and out as quickly as possible.  Why?  So I can spend MORE time engaging with members of my community that I want to be around.  For many people, this community is our family.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to set bounce rate targets for transactions as high as possible (85% or above) and bounce rates for community engagement targets as LOW as possible (15% or below), with anything in the middle considered NOISE?

LIVING ON THE EDGE

We’re experiencing great change across a multitude of industries. Consumers are making purchase decisions before they ever leave the house, if they ever need to.  Most people say that others they know, like and trust influence their decisions more than branded store personnel. Yet businesses continue to try to influence purchase decisions using distractions to entice and convince consumers to consume.  I get it…that’s how a consumption-driven economy survives and thrives.  On the other hand, streamlining transaction processes (especially automated ones) would accomplish the same outcome.   HIGH bounce rates will reflect the efficiency of those processes.  Conversely, LOW bounce rates would reflect the effectiveness of relevant content stimulating deeper community engagement.  Wouldn’t the integration of these two strategies benefit all parties involved?

A great mentor once said to me:  “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”  His wisdom is quite relevant to this post. Many activities in the middle are generating a lot of noise. Breaking through has become extremely challenging, yet many insist on staying the course.

Perhaps it’s time to check the date on that map…

Artificial Intelligence and Its Impact on Jobs

jobs-marketing-future-change

Before we start yelling “the sky is falling!”, let’s ask ourselves what functions artificial intelligence will realistically be performing: Repetitive, mathematical, formatted jobs.  Jobs that make an 8-hour workday feel like a decade.  Instead of worrying about that robot taking your job, how about focusing on what technology CAN’T DO (yet)? Things like showing emotion or displaying empathy and sympathy are great places to start.  In fact, I’d make this your PERMANENT job description, no matter where you end up: 

TO PROVIDE EXCEPTIONAL HUMAN VALUE TO EVERY PAST, CURRENT, OR FUTURE CUSTOMER THAT COMES IN CONTACT WITH ANY BRAND I REPRESENT.  

If you don’t like your brand or the role you play within that brand’s organizational structure, AI is irrelevant.  It’s probably time to find a new place to land.  

Selective Integration

Nobody ever said change was easy, and it’s certainly not slowing down. What many fail to see is the forest through the trees.  In the paranoia surrounding AI, IoT, VR, AR, and robots,  one very important fact remains: People NEED each other.  People CRAVE human contact.  There are some interactions when machines could effectively replace humans, but a solid argument can be made that most people would still prefer a living, breathing soul to interact with, especially in times of stress or crisis.

Something AI and IoT bring to the table that actually empowers human interaction is intuitive segmentation.  This process, executed in milliseconds, will give people more time to build deeper human-to-human relationships. While individual reps may be serving fewer people, their compatibility with them will be much higher. It’s the perfect breeding ground for both employee AND customer advocacy. Think about classroom size in schools: Smaller classes usually mean more personal attention for each student. In a marketing scenario, smaller brand tribes will equate to greater retention and ultimately increased revenue. As trust expands, more permission is granted. A tangent to this trust is stress level related to work: When smaller, more tight-knit communities form, stress levels diminish because more open communication is taking place.

Where integration needs to be selective is dependent upon CUSTOMER, not ORGANIZATIONAL, perception. Integrating technology where the CUSTOMER’S PERCEPTION of value is the least volatile frees humans to engage in situations where emotional connection is non-negotiable.

Jobs in the NEW WORLD of Work

 

A few months ago, I wrote this blog post about organic SEO growth that mirrors the advocacy model. It introduces the idea of individuals having very specific communities across networks rather than trying to be “all things to all people”.  No one advocates for anything or anyone they dislike or distrust. They only advocate for people, groups, organizations, or brands they are passionate about. The key to organic growth and reach is the intensity exhibited by both the community organizer (seller) and each community member (potential buyers and/or customers). Committed advocates then channel their passion into building deeper relationships that encourage individual community growth through INTRODUCTIONS from other passionate members, netting a far greater level of loyalty than the referral process.  As community membership grows, the advocates’ value to the organization increases.      

Introductions are Referrals That Don’t Need To Be Requested

The key to the advocacy concept working is pride in the association with brand communities and other members. Pride drives engagement activity and results in a higher propensity for personal introductions than the traditional referral process.  How do most referral processes begin again?

“Hey, Fred, may I ask you a question?  Did you find value in our conversation today?  If so, I strive to bring value to others in the same way, so would you be willing to give me the names of 3 people you feel could benefit as well?”       

That script is in every referral textbook.  The problem with it is determining if pride in the relationship is actually DEEP enough for the customer to put their friends’ names on the sheet of paper. That’s a risk in this day and age that most people are simply not willing to take.  The alternative solution is to be EASILY ACCESSIBLE.  When people recognize the value in what you do, they tell others about you ON THEIR OWN.  This admittedly changes the focus of your marketing strategy, but it results in deeper levels of trust when the long-term focus is on retention.

Ease of Accessibility

The idea of being easily accessible was more labor intensive just 6 months ago.  It required diligent effort around SEO, organic and paid reach, consistent keyword activities, editorial calendars, etc.  It ultimately paid off for those who stuck to it, as I can attest.  Here’s a personal example you may have seen before:  When you enter “Gary, Iowa” into your Google search bar and enter, the first result anywhere in the world will be mine. No gimmicks, no paid or manipulated SEO, no ads, no nothing. A decade of persistence made that possible.

Although execution of those things is still very important, there’s something you must know:  If you haven’t been doing ANYTHING even remotely systematic on the Internet, YOU DO NOT EXIST.  Search will soon incorporate AI in ways unimaginable to most people.  Check out these links:

This post from Sam Hurley actually has a little surprise inside…He was kind enough to link to one of my pieces last month.  

In this one, Diana Adams of Adams Consulting in Atlanta offers similar insights.  

Getting Found

In the future, AI devices like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa will fulfill requests such as this:

Customer:  “Alexa, find me a professional services provider that aligns with my personal values and beliefs.”

Alexa’s AI scans the Internet for all inputs and insights created, shared, or commented on by anyone in the desired market area with a comparable professional services tag. Two years ago this assessment took 3 hours.  Alexa’s highly-intuitive search algorithm will take less than a minute.  And the technology will be here within 6 months.  

Alexa:  “I have three professional services providers for you.  They are _____, ______ and ________.”

Customer:  “Thank you, Alexa.  Please connect me to ____________.”

Alexa dials the phone via VoIP and connects the customer to the provider.

Question 1:  How does Alexa find a provider that hasn’t set up even ONE social profile?

Answer:  IT CAN’T.

Question 2:  How long will it take Alexa to find someone like me?

Answer:  Because of the activities and content created over the last decade, it’s done before you finished reading this.

No Time Like the Present

There is no better time to be in marketing, sales, advertising…business, PERIOD, than right now.  When speaking with students in the local high school and college classrooms, I can’t help but be incredibly enthusiastic about their opportunities.  The best piece of advice, therefore, is:

“Go forth and MAKE IT HAPPEN!”

Tribe Defined: An American Songwriter

tribe-community-concert-venue-marketing-countryUnless you’re a member of his tribe, I’m not sure how many people even know who Todd Snider is.  I certainly didn’t until getting introduced to his music about 10 years ago.  I was a captive audience:  My friend was playing HIS music, in HIS car, on a 7-hour road trip to Memphis where HE was running a benefit marathon for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.  Let’s say there wasn’t a lot of room for negotiation.  

My friend literally had every one of Snider’s albums on his i-Pod.  Initially I was skeptical, but after about the third song, I was thoroughly entertained.  Why?  Because between many of his songs,  Todd Snider told a story that transitioned into the next track.  Not random, pointless stories, either.  These stories were HILARIOUS.  By the end of the weekend, I was a BIG fan.

A few months later, my friend called to say that Todd Snider was doing a concert in the area and asked if I’d like to go along.  Of course, I said: “Heck yeah!”  The concert was in Cedar Rapids, at a small venue in a place called Czech Village.  (Czech Village is the place that was severely damaged a couple of years later by the flood of 2008.)  The venue seated about 250. When we walked in, we were instructed to “grab a chair”—a metal folding chair—and take it into the auditorium.  Unique, right?  Audience members could sit wherever they wanted in front of the stage, but it wasn’t disorganized…all chairs ended up in straight rows, just like a normal theater.

When Todd Snider came onstage, the crowd roared.  The crazy thing was: They began engaging in conversation with him like he was in each of their living rooms.  I’d never experienced anything quite like it in my life.  He asked them:  “What do you want to hear tonight?”  The crowd responded with a variety of requests, but when he heard the one that correlated with his agenda, he started his performance.  After each song, he again engaged his audience with another story or random conversation.  When he was singing, the audience sang along, oftentimes as loud or louder (and in tune) with him.  $65 a ticket for a community concert, and it was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had in my life.  Which is why I’ve seen Todd Snider two more times since then.

Many of you are likely thinking:  “What does this story about an obscure folk musician have to do with marketing?”  It has EVERYTHING to do with marketing, particularly the challenges CONTENT marketing is facing today.  Here are four big ways:

1. Of the concerts I’ve attended, most of the venues seated LESS THAN 500 people.  This means he prefers to play in more intimate settings. This enables him to know his community as well as they know him.

2. People travel for MILES to see him in concert.  By miles, I mean from MULTIPLE STATES AWAY, sometimes as many as 8-10 hour drives. This is a tribe of LOYAL followers.   

3.  People relate to him intimately through his music, which is totally transparent. When the audience participates in the experience, it becomes far more memorable for everyone.   

4.  Community members INTRODUCE outsiders to join the party. Since his music isn’t played on the radio, XM, or Sirius satellite, the only means of discovery is personal introduction. Serving/entertaining the TRIBE is more important, more rewarding, and less costly than trying to serve the masses.

How has all of this worked out for Mr. Snider?  Not being on the radio, not playing to sold-out 30,000+-seat venues, and not landing a “mainstream” record deal CAN’T be lucrative, right?

Wrong.
In Cedar Rapids, he pulled up in a customized Prevost tour bus.  According to Wikipedia, he has an estimated net worth of over $2.5 million.  Perhaps that doesn’t SOUND impressive, but there’s a hidden benefit to how he has gotten there and what he does every day:  Todd Snider serves a very SPECIFIC TRIBE OF FOLLOWERS.  He’s not focused on people that don’t like him or who have never been introduced to him through the tribe.

Like it or not, HE is WHO he is, and few performers I’ve ever seen have done it better.

Scaling IoT, AI, and CX

marketing-internet-of-things-ai-scale

There’s a huge degree of inconsistency in the marketing world. Traditional leadership is beginning to see trouble on the horizon.  Instead of opening the windows, they are battening down the hatches.  Check out most corporate leadership profiles on LinkedIn and you will see either nothing at all or 500+ connections, very few of which are OUTSIDE their own organization.  This is a statement, is it not? Unfortunately, the message is: “We don’t know what to do or how to do it.”

Several recent Twitter chats and LinkedIn conversations have turned focus on the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Customer Experience, and Value Propositions.  At the same time, posts about new, up-and-coming social media platforms are diminishing in frequency.  The other day I took a step back (while taking a few steps forward on the treadmill.) “What is the impetus for this transition?”  Why have the conversations about social platforms evolved to IoT and AI?

People are settling into micro-communities (tribes) of other individuals who share complementary worldviews.  In other words, they are at parties with the people they get along with. As a result, the content shock Mark W. Schaefer refers to in his book “The Content Code” is a condition that is intensifying daily, causing random marketing messages designed to get the attention of potential buyers to fade, even get tuned out, because members of those communities are fitting themselves with earbuds.  They are only listening for the messages THEY wish to hear. It’s happening, folks, but where is all of this headed?

A few months back, I consulted a local programming team about designing a Tinder-like professional services matching app.  (No, no , NO…not THAT KIND of professional services!)  The idea was to provide a way for consumers to identify and connect with providers who were more compatible to their worldviews than those who have historically been randomly assigned by lead distribution systems utilized by most organizations.  I’m glad I didn’t waste the four grand…. I think search is going to do this automatically in the near future.  If you’ve got a second, I’ll be happy to explain how what we already have available is possibly going to evolve in a manner that will fulfill this vision, and change marketing forever in the process.

Three months ago, I listened to a “Nobody Likes It Cold” podcast which featured Drew D’Agostino, creator of CrystalKnows.com.  You can catch it here.  Two days later, I subscribed to the platform.  If you are unfamiliar with what Crystal does, you really need to log on and see for yourself.  Allow me to use it as an analogy for how the next few months may very well be a defining period in marketing history.

Crystal has integrated DISC to assess compatibility between individuals, then provides e-mail/communication templates through LI, FB, Twitter, GMail, and Outlook to boost the effectiveness of the exchanges.  It also provides the degree of compatibility between two people.  For example, it told me last week that a person I was considering interacting with shared only a 16% compatibility rating with me, going on to state that we would “have difficulty getting along.”  I didn’t pursue communications with that person.

Now let’s take this Crystal example one step further:  Have you ever used LinkedIn search?  If so, you know that when you search an organization, you also get a list of people, sometimes 1st, 2nd and 3rd-degree connections, inside that organization, right?  (When you look at the screen, the main search page features the company, but there is also a box to the right side of the screen that lists the number of connections you have on the inside.)   Until Crystal arrived on the scene, there was no way of determining the compatibility between the people in those results and the individual searching for information.  But wait:  It gets better…

Monitoring IBM and others in recent Tweet chats indicates an uptick in the development and integration of AI and IoT on the immediate horizon.  I asked a few good influencer friends this week if it was possible for search to utilize AI to assess the overwhelming amount of consumer data in a way that segments individuals into infinite categories (rather than just the 6 or 8 most organizations seem to believe exist). If so, was it then possible to add in an element of IoT, such as wearables, to acquire physiological responses to situations before, during and after the buying process. Finally, if this could actually happen, would the search THEN be able to match that consumer to not only a brand but a rep based on compatibility of worldviews, emotional and physiological support factors in a way that maximizes the customer experience through this matching process?  Let’s just say I wasn’t told “no”.


Let’s recap, shall we?

First start with LinkedIn search.

Next add Crystal.

Finally, integrate AI and IoT.

Voila!  Customers are matched by search to relevant brands and reps based on ORGANIC content (as Google has been leaning toward for a few years).

Here’s the kicker:  Reps and brands who have been inactive or who are doing it wrong are deemed irrelevant…   Or worse…

Invisible.

Confidence In Relationships

ConfidenceWouldn’t it be nice if yours was the last sales call anyone ever wanted to accept?   Wouldn’t it be great if your customers could really MEAN IT when they told the interrupter: “I’ve got everything taken care of?”

The most stand-out characteristic of a successful sales team in the new millennium is that they genuinely care about their customers’ time with friends and family, enjoying experiences that matter more than taking a phone call, reading an e-mail, sorting—not even opening— junk mail or responding to a text. They understand that production numbers are a product of relationships, not the other way around. Build deeper, trusting relationships and earning a decent living will never be a problem.

It would be foolish to think that everyone appreciates this philosophy, or that “those kinds of salespeople” get along with everyone. Comedian Steven Wright once said: “You can’t have everything. Where would you PUT it?” We feel the same way about people: We can’t serve everyone. How would we DO it? No one is so naïve as to think serving everyone is possible, so how do we determine who we are compatible with? Relationships. Getting to know people. Being introduced through mutual connections. Building communities. Generating thoughtful dialogue. Reaching out. Serving.

We aren’t ignorant, either. Change is hard. People on both sides of the table resist it. “But I like the way it’s always been done” is code for “I don’t want to try something new”. When people drive to the car dealership with their worn out trade-in, they KNOW the process. How many would honestly say they LIKE it? Not many. But they know (or think) it’s never going to change, so they deal with it.

Many businesses have done marketing and sales the same way for decades. Prospects used to get calls from telemarketers or door-to-door salespeople offering a variety of products and services several times a week.  Then, on June 27, 2003, the National Do-Not-Call Registry was introduced in the United States. Why? Because people apparently didn’t like being called at home during dinner to be sold something…books, magazines, cookware, vacuums, whatever. What was the result?  You guessed it. All of the calls formerly directed to the people who signed up for DNC were redirected to those who didn’t, exponentially increasing their interruptions.  What was the next public reaction? (Hint: Cell phones.) People began disconnecting their land lines. “You can’t call me if I don’t have a phone number.” Don’t tell me I’m the only one who’s said this out loud. The people spoke with their wire cutters, but instead of reducing the amount of clutter, it resulted in even more of something else: JUNK MAIL.

“If you won’t let me talk to you on the phone, I’ll flood your mailbox. You’ll either call to tell me to stop or buy something so it stops.” The U.S. Postal Service became the distribution network for every mass marketer in the world. What’s your ratio of junk mail to important/personal correspondence on a given day? Mine is about 8:1. Some days I just trash the whole thing after the 5-second review while walking up the driveway. Like many others, I chose years ago to electronically opt-in to anything important:  Bills, newsletters, policy information, etc. Unless it’s a hand-written, personally-addressed card or letter, if it comes on paper its likely irrelevant.

The argument for telemarketing and direct mail has always been that they motivate people to act when they otherwise wouldn’t. If you live with the old mindset and refuse to change, you’re right. You’ve spent years being conditioned with external stimuli that influence every purchase decision you’ve ever made. Seeing a new car ad makes you want and believe you need a new car. Seeing a well-dressed Banana Republic model makes you think your wardrobe needs an upgrade. Getting a 0% offer in the mail makes you think your current rate is too high. All of these stimuli, all of these ads, and all of these interruptions are intensifying daily, yet hardly anyone does anything to stop them. Why is that?

The breaking point is on the horizon. It’s very close to being real. You can hear it in the checkout lines at your local grocery store. What’s your reaction when the person ahead of you in the Express Lane has 20 items instead of the maximum of TEN allowed, then has the audacity to pay with a CHECK?!?!? Odds are your response is something like this: “Are you kidding?!?!? I don’t have time for this!!!!”

Would that have been the response twenty years ago? Possibly. Would the emotion feeding it been as strong? Not likely. But twenty years ago we didn’t have SMARTPHONES or AMAZON or SNAPCHAT. We had attention to spare. Not anymore. What happens when you trap an animal in a corner in a way that increases their stress level (they sense danger)? If it’s a cat, it arches it’s back, hisses, and its claws come out. A dog bares its teeth, growls, and the hair stands up on its back.

The breaking point I’m referring to will generate the same response as the cat and dog, except in people. In our human environment, the danger isn’t physical or spatial…the threat is whatever distracts us from what we truly enjoy doing, namely by questioning the confidence we have in the important decisions we’ve made, both past and present.  So…What are we, as consumers, going to do differently after we scare away the perpetrator?   If we’re not actively reinforcing change in the way the marketing and sales world treats you each day, the perpetrator will always pose a threat to the time we spend enjoying the people, places and things that matter most.

Find a way to say, with confidence, “I’ve got it taken care of.” If you need help making that possible, contact me.  Even if I’m not the right fit, someone in my “know, like and trust network” might be.

Time To Re-Run Your Lists

Lists spreadsheetBut first you must change the categories. The old way was to sort by name, address, city/state/zip and phone number, not necessarily in that order.  Sales representatives used those criteria because they were expected to provide products and services to customers within a reasonable driving distance of their office location. They were expected to qualify people for products and services very early in the prospecting process. They, of course, needed to know prospects’ names, addresses, and phone numbers to ensure their after-hours marketing efforts weren’t going to be fruitless.   

What percentage of today’s books of business are set up on those sort criteria? 50%? 70%? 90%?  How territorial are the salespeople that serve those books of business?   Over the top, right?  They base their depth of relationships on the number of products and services they have sold their customers over the years. Now for the question that’s going to raise a lot of eyebrows: What percentage of customers bought before either party to the sale knew each other personally?   How many of them would stay with their representative even if their best friend worked for a competitor with a competitive price point? No one reading this can honestly say that this has never happened to them. It happens all the time.

It’s always been said that selling multiple products to your customers insulates your book of business and establishes a consistent revenue stream by increasing retention. There is no disagreement that more product lines increase retention FOR THE BRAND. Where the disagreement arises is in the argument that customers who own a broad array of products and services distributed by one brand will remain with the representative that initially sold them even when someone enters the picture with whom they share a deeper personal connection. Herein lies the quandary: Does the brand care more about retaining their customer or which representative is serving them?

The old way of ensuring retention is no longer enough. Products and services are now automated. Customers no longer have to “sign here, now here, now here, now here”…on each page of a ream of paper the applications were printed on. They sign ONCE, ELECTRONICALLY, if even then. The myth that more product lines makes it harder for people to leave, and thus, increases retention, is BUSTED. Increasing retention today means sorting on an entirely different set of criteria that most companies don’t even have sortable categories for. They don’t even know what data they need.

Whoever figures that out first WINS BIG.

Two Sides of the Advocacy Debate

advocate

Advocacy:  The act or process of supporting a cause or proposal. —Merriam Webster Dictionary.  

The act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending.   —  Dictionary.com

My first career was in food and beverage, and it was tough.  A lot of work for not much income, at least back in the ’80’s.  The great thing about hard work, however, is that it usually nets the best life lessons.  The consequences of bad decisions are amplified when you have no money to start with, and the restaurant business is known for delicate profit margins. This is the premise for an unwritten rule that I’ve carried forward to today: If you’re not confident that you have the best food in the business, why in the world would you ask people to come to your restaurant?  Better yet, why even open one in the first place?  

There’s a running joke in the food and beverage world:  “Wanna know how to end up with a million dollars in the restaurant business?  Start with TWO million.”  Few owners run on tighter budgets and are more impacted by outside forces than restaurateurs.  The average profit margin of a successful restaurant is between 5% and 15%, but every day, managers are forced to deal with varying prices from their suppliers, customer counts, new competitors, and now, wage and salary challenges that all impact their bottom lines.  

The most valuable lesson gleaned from the restaurant experience is that people vote with their feet.  In other words, serve them a bad meal, fail to listen to their complaints and suggestions, or do just do some little thing they don’t like on any given day and they’re gone…FOREVER.  No goodbyes, no second chances, no nothing.  Just GONE.  Not only that, they tell their friends and relatives about  their miserable experience. Before the Internet, they could tell 10-20 in a week.  Today, one mouse click can reach 100-2000 people in a millisecond without anyone ever knowing what happened.   What used to be the cloud of dust from customers speeding out of the parking lot is now a vapor trail.      

Here’s the side of the advocacy debate that nobody seems to want to discuss:  A large number of organizations are still not willing to accept that change is no longer an option…it’s mandatory… yet influencers and other experts are trying to sell them on advocacy programs. On one hand, that’s fine:  Just do your competitors a favor:  Keep doing what you’ve always done and get it over with. Encourage everyone inside and outside the organization to spread the “word”, non-verbally…actions and processes speak the loudest…about how they aren’t aligned with customers’ preferences. Then the doors and windows can get boarded up faster to make room for others who DO pay attention. On the other hand, there are people who truly are passionate about their careers.  They want to invoke changes that build their brand’s reputation, even if it means doing it from the ground up because the organizational culture isn’t evolving as rapidly as their personal brand.

Perhaps the advocacy programs should be directed at individual change agents, no matter what their position or role.

Dealing The Cards Face-up

Dealing cards face-up

My wife and I enjoy getting together with other couples to play cards once in a while.  It’s a way to give the brain a workout while also having a good conversation with friends.  One of the husbands, in particular, always insists on cutting the cards after shuffling them.  Apparently you’re less likely to be dealt two bad hands in a row if you mix them up really well.  That made me think:  What if the same concept were applied to the business world?

The traditional marketing model is like the standard card game:  Each player is dealt cards, face-down, from the top of queue (otherwise known as the deck.)  Most games require that the cards remain face-down and out of their opponents’ sight throughout each round of play.  Players have little or no control over the hand they receive, nor do they know what cards their opponents possess.  Sounds like the traditional marketing funnel:   A large number of faceless “leads” are distributed randomly to players who then arrange their hands in a way that makes sense according to the game they are playing.  Just as different cards have different values or significance, different leads may require unique approaches based on their position in the buying journey.  In addition, players are rarely given the opportunity to openly trade cards with one another.  That’s probably where the old saying:  “You need to play the hand you’re dealt” comes from.  The problem with this system is that there are more losers than there need to be. Not everyone wants to play the same game and some cards have more value in one game versus another.  What if this could somehow be changed?  What if the cards could be dealt face-up and were matched to each specific game?  

Personal branding and content marketing are beginning to enable this process of shuffling and face-up re-dealing.

As more and more people tell their stories online, both representatives AND customers are finding it easier to align with those of complementary beliefs and values (or separate themselves from those with conflicting world views). Such re-shuffling is likely disconcerting for “territorial” traditional representatives who see the number of products or services they have sold their customers as the definition of relationship depth, but in the end the process will prove to be quite beneficial to brands, specifically as it relates to retention.  Using the analogy of the card games, some representatives prefer to play Poker while others may prefer to play Cribbage.  Both games use cards, but the rules of each game are different, as are the assigned point values.  For instance, the perfect hand in Cribbage is J (knobs)-5-5-5-5, while the perfect hand in poker is A-K-Q-J-10 (all same suit = Royal Flush).  The Crazy-8’s game I used to play with my grandpa has a different “perfect hand”.  Pitch has yet another.

The point is this:  If representatives are playing different games within the scope of one brand, wouldn’t it be advantageous to the brand’s retention AND acquisition rates to encourage redistributing the cards face-up based on what the best fit for each CARD is rather than only requiring one game to be played?  The greater the variety of games (differentiation between personal brands), the more cards (customers) could be perfectly aligned with each.

We Are Your Customers: Experience Evolution

customer-experience-customers-evolution-changeCustomers want seamless experiences, especially if purchases are mandated by lending institutions and/or law enforcement.  

If we have to make mandatory purchases, fine. But once we’ve signed up, we don’t want to discuss it again unless the prices we’re being charged increase for no apparent reason.  Then we want to know why—immediately.

If we choose to buy products and services from you, we want to do it when it’s convenient for US.  And if we buy online, we want the same price we were quoted when the items are actually delivered. If your systems can’t make that happen, we’ll find a company that can.   

If we need something more than what we’ve already purchased, the people who will help us understand that are our relatives, friends, and co-workers…not a commissioned salesperson who sends 1000 mailers a month or expects us to “come in for an appointment between the hours of 9 and 5.”  We have a jobs, families, and social lives:   Just like you.    

Speaking of expertise, why should a customer have to call your office every time they have a question?  Why can’t you just tell them in simple language how to use what they’ve purchased?  Better yet, why don’t you post podcasts or video links on a blog or website?  Then, even if it’s 10 pm we can find the answer instead of thinking about it all night.  Customers do have smartphones, you know!  

As for additional purchases:  We prefer to research most things on our own.  When we have a good understanding of their features and benefits, we’ll narrow down our options.  Again, our friends and family bring things up because they’re concerned about us, but we’re not always in a financial position to do something at the moment.  If we trust that you understand and respect our choices, we’ll actually look forward to having you help us put it all together when we’re ready.  It’s not like we WANT to be in that position…  We’ve just been forced to adjust a few priorities.     

If we’re looking for a new company, we’ll ask friends and family what their costs are and how well they like their provider/representative.  Then we’ll do research within our own networked communities.  If they’re connected to someone we know, we’ll be more comfortable asking for an introduction.  

Researching you online means you need to BE online. And if we contact you for help, you’d better respond if you expect us to EVER talk to you again. If you’re not where we want you to be, you don’t exist.  We’re not going to waste any personal time looking for you.   

What are we looking for in a brand representative, anyway?  Well, if we share complementary world views and you’re empathetic to everything we just laid out, most of us prefer to have a personal (human) relationship. We’ll even add your number to our contacts as long as we can trust that the only reason you would contact us is to share something you think we’d find interesting or helpful.  On the other hand,  if you refuse to accept our way of doing things and don’t meet us halfway on some of these requests, we’re fine with getting our stuff online, even if it means we’re working with chat bots driven by artificial intelligence.  

The choice is yours.

Learning To Swim

When do you learn to swim, when it’s sunny or when the flood waters are approaching your second-story windows? Why, then, do you wait for the storm clouds to fill the skies?  Because like most people, you don’t think it will ever be THAT bad.  

There are times when being an optimist is perfectly reasonable, but this isn’t one of them.  Now it’s all about realism. It’s time to open the blinds and take a long, hard look outside.  The Industrial Age is gone.  So are land lines, televisions with tuning dials maxed out at the number “13”, and 8-track tapes.  We are now in the Internet Age, where consumers are armed with more information about not only brands, but also their representatives, than can be printed on a direct-mail newsletter.  Where does all of this information come from?  Transparent sharing by real human beings in and between an infinite number of online communities.  “Dirty little secrets” can’t stay secure forever.  Inside information may be protected legally, but common-knowledge across-the-board “perks”  of most industries will likely not fall in that category.

What happens when the proverbial cat is out of the bag?  How do you explain to customers the REAL reason for calling them repeatedly when they aren’t expecting it?  They’re going to find out.  The legacy generation that has provided a solid income stream for the last three decades probably knows, but they no longer care. They are nearing the end of their buying cycle for your products and services.  Unless they are independently wealthy, the likelihood of them needing more than they already have is slim.  What many fail to realize is that every generation of consumer that follows is going to have access to exponentially more information shared transparently across infinitely more platforms than their Industrial Age elders. No longer are they going to lie down in a sales appointment.  In fact, there won’t be a “sales appointment”.  It will be a “validation meeting”.  They will meet to confirm that you are a real human being, matching your face to that of your online avatar,  then to verify that the solution they quoted on their mobile device has identical features and pricing on your brand’s platform.

Are you prepared to deal with that reality?