Hey, are you ignoring me?!

How many times have you proposed an idea, requested information, tentatively scheduled a date or been promised a return phone call? And of those instances, how many times have you been left hanging? There’s a good chance that at least 50% of the time you’re waiting for an update on a matter of importance, you’re left in the dark. Besides negligence on the other person’s behalf, the reason you may not be getting any results from your “call to action” is because you’re not practicing effective follow-up.
There’s an art to effective follow-up that dances on the line between assertive and overbearing. So be cautious that you’re not hounding someone. Instead, let them know that you’re serious about receiving valuable feedback. There are methods you can use to practice strong follow-up. Here are a few tips:

 1) Confirm a date to check in within your initial proposal: If you tell someone ahead of time that you’ll be checking up with them on a specific date and time, they can better prepare their feedback. For example, you can say “Hey Bill, let’s talk about your input Friday at 1pm. This gives you a few days to become familiar with everything and think of some questions you may have.” You can email a meeting reminder so the other person can schedule accordingly. Stick to this time! If you wind up rescheduling or not acting on your proposed time, you risk loosing traction and getting any results.

2) Value the other person’s time: Your priorities may not be priority for someone else. It’s important that you keep this in mind when requesting and waiting for follow-up. Although you’re thinking 10 minutes should be reasonable time for someone to respond to an urgent matter, the other person may be thinking 24 hours is reasonable. So wait 24 hours for some type of response before doing any follow-up. You want to be effective, not annoying.
3) Limit the back and forth: Sometimes solid connections and feedback get lost in several chains of emails, phone tag and rescheduled meetings. Eliminate the back and forth by gradually progressing your follow-up. Email your request, then call to check in. Schedule an in-person meeting (with all of the resources and materials you need in order to prevent ineffective meetings) then make a final phone call to seal the deal (if you haven’t done so at the in-person meeting). Effective follow-up is all about progressing your status.
4) Sometimes your answer is “NO: We can’t control the final outcome of someone’s input. Perhaps you’ve done everything correctly and you’re good at what you do. That doesn’t mean that your follow up will always result in a “yes” answer. However, be sure to ask what you could do differently to improve your chances for next time.
5) Suggest someone else to handle the task: If the person you’re trying to connect with says (or shows signs of) being too busy, ask if you can include someone else in the conversation. Don’t step on their toes by excluding them or going around them. Simply ask if they can include a team member who would help to get the ball rolling. For instance, if you’re planning a meeting and the director is to busy to provide input, suggest getting the assistant and project manager involved. Everyone is welcomed to chime in and now you have a team of people working on your request.

These are just a few tips for improving your results from follow-up. For more tips, please contact me. Do you have follow-up tips that work for you? Share them! I’d like to have your feedback.

A Plan to Succeed

How to develop the ultimate to-do list

Planning is an essential part of getting the most from any task or goal. This is especially true for running a business, charting a professional path or managing a project. Planning, although initially time consuming, allows you to dissect a situation, prepare each step and monitor the growth and development of your goal.
When it comes to planning, the number one strategy is to use a to-do list. A to-do list normally outlines a number of tasks to be achieved in a specified time frame. The great thing about to-do lists is that you can reference them to determine your progress. However, if your list doesn’t provide you with a brief but detailed path to an end-result, you may end up with a dysfunctional course or unreachable goals.
A highly functional to-do list can contain a few elements to keep your momentum going and gage your success with a task. Here are a few tips about creating a meaningful to-do list for your next project, task or schedule:

1) Decide what your ultimate goal is: You can create a bunch of tasks that have no relationship to each other. That’s not a to-do list. That’s a regular list or an act of brainstorming. An effective to-do list should be tied to an objective and should be quantifiable such as “Get 100 registrants to XYZ event” or “Get 5 new clients from my sales presentations”. Defining your end result first will help you create a list of actions that are designed to help you achieve your goal.
2) Time should be of the essence: Every goal is tied to a time frame. Otherwise, you could spend days, weeks or even longer trying to achieve something. Put a time stamp on your goal, but make sure it’s realistic. If your goal is “to get 100 registrants to XYZ event” and you’d like that to happen in 2 hours, is that realistic? If you limit your opportunity to achieve a goal, you’re going to frustrate yourself and determine the goal to be unreachable. That’s counter-effective planning. Give yourself wiggle room, but put a definite (short-term) end to a solution.
3) Gather your materials: You can’t possibly achieve a goal within a specific time frame without having everything you need. Make a list of essential items that aid in getting the task done. If your goal is “To get 100 registrants to the XYZ event in two weeks”, what materials would help you achieve this goal? Materials could include technology, printed items, people, resources, personal items, etc. List only what you absolutely need to get the job done.
4) Figure out your priorities: Some lists can go on and on with action items. Some lists have tasks that can be reserved for later goals. Make sure your list contains action items that are critical elements in achieving your immediate goal.
A trick in establishing a priority item is
a) Can this goal be achieved if I omit this task from my list? (Your answer should be NO)
b) If I don’t start this right now, will it prevent me from reaching my goal? (Your answer should be YES)
c) Can I get this done with a few simple steps or in a short period of time? (Your answer should be YES)
d) Will doing this task free up additional time or resources? (Your answer should be YES)
e) Do I need to wait on other people to get this done?  (Your answer should be NO)
5) Proceed with enthusiasm: Once you have a goal, a time frame, a list of materials and your priorities are in order, you should eagerly pursue your goals. There’s no need for trepidation or wondering if you’ll achieve everything on your list. If you face your tasks with an optimism about achieving the bigger goal, you’ll have all of the momentum needed to accompany a well-planned list.

These are just a few tips on creating the ultimate to-do list. For more tips, please contact me. Have you put these tips to use? Do you have a few tips of your own? Share them! I’d like to hear your feedback.

Test before you Invest

Tips to determine if your new business could actually be a good idea
As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve had my fair share of late-night business ideas. I’ve gone to sleep thinking about a problem and when I awaken, not only do I have a solution, but I also reserve a domain name to go with it. The gift of being innovative is that you are eager to take a risk and start a new venture. The curse of being innovative, is that you come up with so many “good” ideas that you rarely see them through.
However, how would you know if the idea in your head is the next big thing if you don’t pursue it? Trust me, I’ve gone through this dilemma several times. And because of that, I’ve developed these tips for internally testing your new idea before you invest in it.

1) Build a quick and FREE website: If your new business is actually a good idea, you should be able to build a 5 page website overnight. The concept behind this idea is that a website usually displays general but critical information about a product or service for a potential customer. Your 5-page website should tell:
–what the product is
–how it solves a problem
–who benefits
–how much it costs
–how to purchase the product or service
Label each page: Product/Service Description, How it Works, Benefits, Pricing, Customers. Don’t launch the website, but you can pay for a domain if you’d like. Don’t worry about the technical aspects such as quality stock photos and a content strategy just yet. You’re simply visualizing an idea. If you’re able to fill these 5 pages with good information relatively easily, it might be a good indication to pursue the idea a little more in-depth.

2) Develop an objective FAQ: Pretend you are a customer who is just hearing about this idea. You think you may like it, but you have a few concerns. What would those questions be? Write a list of questions about the product such as description questions, customer service related questions, billing questions, ordering questions, deadlines/delivery questions, technical specs questions, contact questions, etc. Think of anything you, “the customer”, would like to know about the business and try to address it.

3) Google (or Bing) your competitors: Compare your business to theirs. What are they lacking? What do you like about them? Jot a few notes about the top 5 competitors that appear in your search engine’s results. A pro’s & con’s list is a decent way to gage whether or not a similar service would address what you feel your competitors lack and where you can fill the void.

4) Be your first customer: There’s no better way to see if something works than to try it on yourself first. Before you spend money on inventory or land a client, you should know how the business will work and IF it will really work in general. So, take it for a whirl!  Use your product/service as if you were a paying customer. Take note about the changes you’d like to make or features you’d like to add, especially when it comes to delivery. Make sure you’re objective or else you wont see the major flaws (yes, there will be flaws) that are in front of your face.

5) Pitch it! Share a general idea about the business with a trusted person. Your pitch should provide enough information to either sway or repel the person you’re talking to. Take note of their questions, concerns, comments and enthusiasm. Make sure to ask what you can do to improve the idea.

These are just a few tips on what you can do to determine if one of your many ideas should be pursued. For more detailed strategies, please contact me. Do you have tips of your own? Share them! I’d appreciate your feedback.

Reuniting with “The Ghost of Customers Past”

Returning customers are always a plus. You know their history and they appreciate the way you conduct business. And although all customers should create revenue for your company, returning customers fair better with spending more money more frequently.  After all, they trust you and your service and they know that you provide great results.
Returning customers deserve special attention so that no matter how or when their needs change, they continue to seek you out and rely on your company to provide solutions.  Here are some quick tips on gaining from the relationship between your company and a returning customer:
1) Make sure to play catch up. Learn how their needs have changed since you last worked with each other. Talk about their successes and failures, trials with other vendors and progress as a company.
2) Be appreciative and be careful not to gloat. Perhaps you knew all along you were the best provider for your customer’s needs, but maybe they wanted to check out the green grass on the other side. Understand their reasoning and thank them for returning to you.
3) Talk long-term strategies with them. Conjure up a feasible plan that creates a long-standing relationship with the customer.  If they’re comfortable with a contract, have them sign one that secures priority space, rates or service.  Now that the customer has returned, your goal is to keep them with you.

4) Make the customer a brand ambassador. The notion behind this strategy is to turn your customer into a lead   generator. They will provide the best word-of-mouth advertising and share their positive personal experiences with anyone who can benefit from the service you provide. Discuss referral fees or kickbacks for their loyalty to your business.
5) Reward their return. Any customer– new or returning– deserves to be rewarded. Show them you value their commitment to your business with something like a free upgrade to a better service/product, a coupon for a discount, a promotional item– or even get social media savvy and tag them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or on your blog.

These are just a few tips on how to build from a relationship with a returning client. For more tips, please contact me.
Do you have strategies of your own? Share them! I’d like to hear what works for you.

How to treat the customer who is never satisfied.

As a business owner, you’re pretty  familiar with the idea that “the customer is always right”. I’m sure you’ve tried to apply this rule to even the most disgruntled customer, who is headstrong on proving that your business has the worst product or service they’ve ever experienced.  Perhaps you’ve been apologetic and even sympathetic that they are unhappy, but no matter what, the customer just isn’t satisfied. Although you may want to ignore or  dismiss this type of customer,  there are ways to benefit from their input.
Here are a few tips for dealing with a customer who just can’t be satisfied:

1) Politely ask why they initially decided to use your service. This approach allows you to identify whether their pain is simply a mismatch in supply & demand. If you never had the capability to meet their needs, no matter what you do to rectify the situatuon, your business may never be the right solution.

2) Ask how you can accommodate them. Sometimes, the customer has their own solution for the problem. Ask them what they think would be a good fix for the problem. And as long as it doesn’t compromise your integrity or hurt your pockets too much, simply oblige.

3) Ask if you could use their troublesome situation to help other customers who may be experiencing the same problems, but make sure you focus on your high-level of customer focus too! You can use their woes to develop a comprehensive FAQ, support forum, newsletter topic, etc. Additionally, you can spotlight the customer.  Tag them on social media networks for added coverage of their situation.  Who doesn’t like their name in the spotlight?

4) After you’ve helped the customer, reach out to them with a phone call (yes, actually call them). Even if they’ve decided not to use your product/ service after their bad experience, your level of customer service may convince them to eventually return or at least spread the word about your dynamic customer support. And of course, word -of-mouth is the best form of advertising.

For more tips on satisfying a disgruntled customer, contact me!
Do you have your own tips? Share them! I’d like to hear your feedback.

Responding to positive feedback

This morning I woke up to an email from a client who was on vacation. The email was two sentences long, but it spoke volumes:

“Thank you, Shannon for handling this project for my company. Job well done.”

This jolted me more than any cup of coffee could. Not only did my client approve the work I had done, he took the time to graciously respond at 6:15 am ON HIS VACATION!

So with this exciting piece of information, I immediately questioned, how should someone respond to a customer’s positive feedback?

Here’s what I’ve come up with:
1. Use social media to share the news with others.
2. Ask if you can use their feedback as a testimony on your website or in sales collateral.
3. Respond in an alternative manner such as sending a video response.
4. Write an article about what you did for the client and post it as a piece on your blog or send it to the client. Include their logo and company bio.
5. Ask if you can share the positive experience with people your client refers to you.

Either way, responding to a client’s positive feedback is a great way to show you’re appreciative of the relationship you have with them and it opens the door for more opportunities.

For more tips on this topic or to learn how you can expand on the tips I’ve offered in this blog, please contact me.