• How Existing Customers Fuel Small Business Growth

    by David Boender | Feb 19, 2018

    New Business, new business, new business! When thinking about fresh and exciting ways to grow your business, your plans probably revolve around finding those ever elusive new customers. But why? No seriously, why focus all your efforts on selling to someone who has never heard of you, when you have an established group of consumers who have given you their money, and may very well do so again?

    For small or relatively new businesses, the emphasis is all too often put on getting new customers when it should be on developing the ones you have. Retention marketing, loyalty programs, customer referrals, these are all tools you can use as a business owner to leverage the hard work you’ve already done and still continue to build revenue. Not convinced? What it I told you that “61% of SMBs report more than half their annual revenue comes from repeat customers[i]”? Or that the probability of converting a new customer is somewhere between 5-20%, whereas the likelihood of converting an existing customer[ii] ranges from 60-70%? Do I have your attention now?

    The fact is, customer retention is far more cost effective than acquisition. The channels of communication are less expensive when compared to generating new leads. You’re also dealing with a market that is more informed about who you are and how you operate. They’re the ideal target! Think about it, by purchasing from you once, they’ve handed you the ability to cross sell or upsell additional products and services.

    Plus, if a consumer liked you enough to purchase, there’s a fair chance they’ll refer you to someone else if their experience was a positive one. In fact, over half of US consumers express brand loyalty[iii] by recommending brands and companies to family and friends. With the right planning, your business can capitalize on this valuable word-of-mouth marketing. Existing customers can be your greatest supporters! Having done business with you, they’re the ideal candidate to provide positive feedback and reviews to others who may need a similar solution. A happy, existing customer base can act like an unpaid sales force, constantly promoting your business and singing your praises to those who listen to and trust them. Few forms of marketing can compare with that kind of exposure.

    At the end of the day, this all really comes down to how your business utilizes retention marketing tactics. Retention marketing refers to campaigns that target previous customers or “retains them”, so that you can make additional sales. This doesn’t just mean throwing a coupon code their way every other week, you need to engage. You need to provide something of value. Give them reasons to keep working with you. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with rewarding customer loyalty. Put together a program that has exclusivity attached to it. Make it so the only way they have access to the benefits is to interact with you, whether that’s by email, social media, on your website, or even in-store.

    There are many ways to do this but the point is, if you haven’t planned to market to your existing customer group and just assumed they were going to come back, you may be in for a rude awakening. Mining for new business is fine, and obviously encouraged, but if you’re not working to develop repeat customers, you’re going to run into the same issues next year… and the year after that, and so on.

    So as you piece together your strategy for 2018, don’t forget to focus on the customers who helped get you where you are today. They may be worth more than you think!

     

  • The Top 8 Challenges Keeping Small Business Owners Up at Night

    by Mallory Bowers | Feb 15, 2018

    Small business owners in the U.S. have a lot on their minds these days. For one thing, about half of small businesses fail within the first 4 years following their launch, according to Capterra, and naturally the owners of those companies wonder if they'll be the next to hit the skids. 

    What Keeps Small Business Owners Up at Night?

    Of course, the concern about their own longevity is just one of the issues small businesses confront daily. To find out what most concerns small businesses, the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) decided to ask them. The result is NFIB's Index of Small Business Optimism, a comprehensive report with information about everything from job openings and labor markets to budgeting and the cost of inflation. 

    At the heart of the report are the issues which most concern small businesses, according to small business owners themselves, including the following 8:

    1. Managing health care:  the rising cost of employee healthcare was the number 1 issue cited by small business owners in the survey, and with good reason. According to Forbes, from 2001 to 2015, the cost small businesses paid for each employee's health insurance premium more than doubled, from just under $2,900 to almost $6,000.  
    2. Compliance with government regulations:  although the current administration has eliminated some federal regulations, small business owners still confront a host of others, from those associated with the Clean Air Act of 1990 to advertising regulations enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. Those regulations do frequently protect consumers, but they can be a millstone around the necks of small business owners. 
    3. Compliance with tax laws:  federal business tax laws are continually changing, and complying with them is a challenge for many small business owners. Those businesses which operate out of the home must, for example, justify a litany of deductions though time-consuming record keeping. But whether a business is or isn't home-based, staying on top of changing tax regulations can seem like a full-time job in itself.
    4. Maintaining sufficient cash flow:  especially for startups, having enough cash on hand to pay employees and monthly bills can be difficult. There's the problem of how to get customers to pay on time without alienating them, and the problem of obtaining a business loan when available funds get tight. There are, of course, solutions to meet this challenge (like using invoice software and robust budgeting systems), but for many, including those whose financial understanding is limited, this can seem like a daunting task.
    5. Staying focused, and passionate:  most people abandon the 9 to 5 grind and start their own businesses because they have the passion to seek more freedom, and a business model they're convinced can succeed. That passion may quickly dry up in the wake of the inevitable failures and disappointments which come with running a small business. In the NFIB survey, losing the passion that motivated them to start their own companies was among the chief concerns small business owners reported. 
    6. Building a customer base:  every business inevitably loses customers every year. Those customers need to be replaced with new ones just to stay even—businesses that want to grow will need to replace every lost customer with 2 new ones, and that can be difficult. The challenge is exacerbated by the emergence of digital marketing, which is foreign to many small business owners. Many don't know what SEO, PPC, inbound marketing, content marketing and social media marketing are, much less how to leverage them to grow their businesses. 
    7. Growing too fast:  it's natural for new businesses to want a steep growth curve, but that increase in customers and product demand can create its own set of problems. Ecommerce businesses, for example, need to ensure they have adequate fulfillment and distribution networks in place to accommodate sudden growth. Other businesses need to ensure their customer service operations can keep up with the spike in requests for help that come with increased calls and complaints. 
    8. Retaining current employees, and hiring new ones:  according to SHRM, the cost to replace an employee is between 6 and 9 months of that employee's annual salary. That places an onus on small business owners to keep current employees satisfied and engaged. In addition, there's the problem of identifying and hiring replacement employees, and of providing them with the training they need to be effective in their jobs. 

    Small businesses are the heart of the American economy, but given the extraordinary challenges that confront them, they often struggle to stay afloat. Fortunately, business owners don't need to be experts on every aspect of their business operations—there are experienced agencies which can help with everything from regulations to taxes, human resources, healthcare and marketing.

    To learn more about the ways our marketing services will you give your small or medium-size business the tools you need to connect with your customers, drive sales and grow your business, connect with us today.

     

  • How to Determine and Set-up the Best Performance Metrics

    by Mallory Bowers | Feb 13, 2018

    Need for Business Metrics

    No two companies are exactly alike. Different product or service types, customer profiles, timelines, and patterns of staff communication and management call for different measurements to assess production and growth. All businesses, established or growing, must have ways of continuously monitoring the things that keep them alive, heartbeats.

    Established businesses have found themselves falling short when they operate blindly on the basis of previously successful operative principles. New businesses must be on the lookout for stumbling blocks as well as sometimes subtle signposts toward the future.

    Quantification of Business

    What are these metrics (key performance indicators or KPIs) for your business and how do you put them into action so they can be quickly read and interpreted? First of all, key performance indicators must be quantifiable, that is they have to be well enough defined that one can assign values to them and they have to be tapped and assessed at regular (known) time intervals.

    What are "values?" Values could be just presence or absence of something, they could be scaled on a rating scale, or they can be real counts or numbers of something. You have to have some way of obtaining these values regularly, putting them on some form of record along with their date or time parameter and then presenting them at regular intervals so management can follow how they change or progress. 

    Choosing KPIs

    When you choose metrics, you have to consider two sides of the coin, output and result. You have to measure what you and your staff are doing as a measure of the effort you put in and measure the result out in the marketplace. If you measure both sides you can begin to see how different actions you and your staff take affect the outcome.

    There are many possible measures of output. These are things your staff is doing, including your sales staff.

    • Number and quality of sales contacts. Values like number of sales contacts, kind of sales contacts, and duration of sales contacts.
    • Efficiency measures such as marketing, inventory, shipping times, and the like.

    There are two kinds of results measures:

    • Financial/profit-production and indirect effects that may reflect how things will turn out in the future. These measures include sales figures and profits.
    • Measures of customer interactions, attitudes, awareness, website hits, etc.

    Which KPIs you choose depends on the nature of your business.

    Most companies maintain elaborate measures of money movement, sales, costs, and the like. The KPIs on the financial side will probably be linked to your financial management system. Popular KPIs on the financial side include:

    • Gross profit margin and operating margin--(how much money is made after direct costs of sales.
    • Return on capital employed (ROCE)--net profit as a percentage of the total capital employed in the business. You can see how well your investment is doing.
    • Liquidity ratio--available resources to meet short-term obligations.
    • Efficiency ratio--how well are you using your business assets?
    • Financial leverage or "gearing" ratio--how exposed are you to long-term debt?

    If your business depends on customer relations, you have to find valid measures of the quality of customer relations. Many businesses use the number of customer complaints. Many businesses set up systems for customer feedback and tabulate the feedback regularly. Some businesses use systems to track the customers' journeys through their stores or web pages to measure customer reaction. Widely used customer-related metrics include:

    • Proportion of sales from returning customers.
    • Number of returned items.
    • Time it takes to fulfill an order.
    • Percentage of incoming calls answered within 30 seconds.

    Standardized Measures

    You may opt to go with a system of standard KPIs offered as a service. You can choose from hundreds of measures of performance based on your industry sector. Companies offer standard KPI reports that can be distributed in popular dashboard format through computer networks and smartphones or tablets. 

    For more ideas on how to grow your business in 2018 – check out Act!Now today.

     

  • A Beginner's Guide to Writing a Press Release

    by Mallory Bowers | Feb 12, 2018

    Maybe you regularly write posts for your company's blog or craft newsletters to send out to your team. But a press release sounds intimidating. After all, you're moving beyond company employees or potential customers to, well, potentially anyone.

    But when you look past the surface, a press release is just about communicating your story quickly and clearly. Of course, there are several tips for constructing a press release that will make that process easier and increases the chances of your story being picked up by a journalist.

    Why Write a Press Release?

    Before we get into the structure of a press release, it's important to understand why you should even bother writing one. While everything seems to be digital these days, old-fashioned press releases do the necessary job of informing the media about your event or a product or service announcement.

    While you could just release news on your company blog or social media, collaborating with the media is also good for marketing and PR. Consistently providing valuable, relevant stories for local news outlets can function as a form of networking and helps you build positive relationships. You can also offer your story as an exclusive to media outlets and release the news more broadly after a set date. When the time comes and you really need to push a big promotion or event, you'll have an established history with journalists that make them more likely to trust you and consider your story first. But first, you need to write newsworthy press releases.

    Is My Story Newsworthy?

    Before you even begin drafting a press release, you need to evaluate your content. Would the story you want to promote be interesting to people outside of your company? Journalists are always on the hunt for their next article idea. You need to have enough substance to your announcement for them to use. But take it one step further.

    What does your story add to the local community or the public? Are you hosting a fun event? Supporting a local cause? Presenting a way for community members to get involved? Try to imagine how the general public would receive your news and whether they'd consider it news at all.

    Finally, you can increase the chances of being newsworthy by connecting your announcement to a recent issue, event, or trend. Holiday-related or seasonal stories are time-sensitive, increasing the chance that a journalist will consider it now. A press release that addresses community problems or recent trends also reveals that you're engaging with the community, not just promoting your business.

    Steps to Writing an Effective Press Release

    Now you understand the value of a press release and know the value of your story, it's time to start writing. But as with any form of marketing, the press release isn't just about the words you write on a page. Here's a list of steps you should take from writing tips to follow-up.

    1. Provide the Essentials

    Press releases are brief. Your readers are busy people who don't have time to dig through elaborate prose. Quickly get to the who, what, when, where, and why of your story. Be specific, but don't go into unnecessary detail. The press release is a bit like a resume; you want your recipients to be interested enough to call you for an interview.

    2. Grab Attention with Your Hook

    We know that journalists won't spend much time on your press release. But according to a Greentarget survey, most journalists don't even spend one minute on each press release they receive. Lead with an attention-grabbing point and then dive into the specifics.

    3. Provide a Quote

    Make it easier for your reader by giving them a good quote. Ideally, outlets should contact you for more information, but giving a quote beforehand allows journalists to craft a high-quality article in less time. But your quote shouldn't be from just anyone. Try to get the words of a prominent representative in your company.

    4. Assign Follow-Up to One Person

    If journalists or reporters do have follow-up questions or request a sound bite, you need to be prepared. While follow-up may not seem important in the grand scheme, designating one person to answer follow-up questions and conduct media interviews can keep the process streamlined and consistent. If your press release went out to TV or radio stations, you're even more likely to get requests for a follow-up interview.

    5. Boost Interest with a Photo Opportunity

    Don't just wait around for interview requests; offer your reader something more. A photo opportunity is an excellent way to generate interest in your story. In an age where stock photos are the norm, real photos are a treasure. They also generate higher rates of engagement. Your photo opportunity should be listed on your press release simply as a date and time when reporters can take photos that would complement your story.

    Writing a press release may seem intimidating at first, but keep in mind that your goal is simply to communicate your message in an appealing way. Appeal to busy journalists and the public with clear information and value. For more ways to communicate the value your business, connect with us today.

  • 3 Ways to Identify a Marketing Budget

    by Travis Moss | Jan 22, 2018
    An entrepreneur’s livelihood is often determined by the success of their business. With nearly 75% of all US businesses being classified as nonemployer¹ (business receipts of over $1,000, no paid employees), entrepreneurs are often tasked with running with all aspects of the business. Sales, billing, service… entrepreneurs are forced to manage critical business areas that don’t always align with their core expertise. One of these critical areas tend to be marketing. From finding new customers, to building brand awareness, a strong marketing strategy is an absolute must for growing your business. To help entrepreneurs build their business, let’s take a look at 3 common techniques for identifying your marketing budget.

    There are a number of practices for determining your marketing budget. First and foremost, you need to identify what you can theoretically spend and still manage all aspects of your business. Allocating budget for marketing should not come at the expense of business-critical areas that require capital for the business to succeed. An honest assessment of the business’s fiscal position is required prior to identifying the methodology for determining your marketing budget. Generating opportunities, at the expense of being able to produce the good or service or pay bills, is an absolute must. Once you have identified and confirmed your marketing budget range, you should select the method that best suits your business model for setting your marketing spend.

    Technique 1 – Gross/Projected Revenue

    The first option for setting marketing spend is factoring it as a percentage of your gross or projected revenue... somewhere between 4 – 15%. Yes, that’s quite a wide range… let’s expand. You should take multiple factors into consideration when determining that percentage:

    - How long you have been in business? A startup may want to allocate less, say 4 – 6%, due to the volatility that can come from starting a new business. Young, yet established businesses might spend at a higher level to establish brand awareness and generate sales, provided that the projected marketing spend doesn’t hinder their ability to perform.

    - What are your revenue projections? As a general rule, revenue projections should impact the percentage used in this methodology. A small business with less than $5 million in revenue should spend around 6 – 8%. Significantly higher revenue projections, within competitive marketplaces, should consider spending significantly more to expand market penetration.

    - How certain are your revenue projections? New and established businesses alike should model forecast projections as realistically as possible… using data, market forecasts and more to establish attainable revenue projections.

    - Is the market environment primed for marketing? Consider factors such as the economy, your competitors, the target audience, etc., to assess the likelihood of your marketing campaign’s succeeding and fueling growth.

    Technique 2 – Desired Customer Growth

    Another option for determining your marketing budget is setting spend levels that correlate to desired customer growth goals. This requires that you have access to certain 2 marketing measurements:

    - Customer Growth Expectations – You need to have established growth expectations for the company in the fiscal year. These should be based on previous customer acquisition results and marketplace trends. This technique requires realistic, attainable customer growth expectations.

    - Cost per Customer Acquisition – Knowing how much/fast you want to grow your customer base, you will need to have an established “cost per customer acquisition” figure that you can use to determine overall marketing spend. When calculating these costs, you should look at how much it costs to create both a new lead, as well as a new sale. If you have the tools in place to calculate the costs per medium (email, social, media, PR, etc.), this will allow you to focus spend on your more cost effective tactics for creating customer growth.

    Once you have these figures, you can multiply the number of new customers by the costs associated with acquiring them to get your marketing budget. While this is an accurate method for determining marketing spend, it requires accurate reporting and data to get to that spend level. For those newer businesses that don’t have access to that historical performance; a full-featured CRM service like Act! can help provide those key customer acquisition and marketing expenditure/performance insights necessary to efficiently manage and grow your business.

    Technique 3 – Marketing Objective Focused

    The third possibility when setting your annual marketing budget is calculating the costs of your desired marketing efforts. This objective-based technique puts the primary focus on marketing tactics vs. revenue or customer growth expectations. It offers the opportunity to develop your budget around known marketing initiatives... ensuring that they are properly accounted for in that fiscal year. To this point, this method requires that you have your entire annual marketing plan developed, including the costs associated with each tactic, prior to setting your marketing budget. For many new and/or younger businesses, this might not be feasible; recent study² showed that only 56% of small businesses have a marketing plan. It also doesn’t provide the flexibility to expand, change or add to those planned marketing initiatives. To offset this limitation, you can set aside a bucket or pool of your marketing budget for new marketing tactics.

    Selecting What Works for You

    While these are 3 well-known methods for identifying your marketing budget, there are many other techniques for developing your marketing budget, including budgets based on market share, setting industry specific spend-levels and others. One of the first steps in this process is selecting a method that works for you and your business. What type of data do you currently have access to? How accurate/confident are you in that data? Where are you in the development of your business? These are all questions that will impact how you develop your marketing plan and budget. Knowing that entrepreneurs may be hindered by limited resources (time, money, expertise), understanding the strengths of your organization and using those in determining the best method for developing your marketing budget is an absolute essential component in this process. The simple fact that you understand the importance of setting your marketing budget and are investigating methods for doing so is a huge first step. Just make sure that you are basing your determinations on sound data and achievable growth expectations.


    Author
    Travis Moss – Sr. Marketing Manager at Swiftpage

    About the Author
    With over 20 years of corporate marketing and advertising agency experience, Travis offers unique insights into how businesses can use marketing to fuel small business growth. From identifying marketing opportunities, to implementing an integrated marketing strategy, Travis has managed the marketing efforts for large international brands like Act!, DIRECTV, Mitsubishi, Barrett-Jackson, and Safeguard.

    ¹ 16 Surprising Statistics about Small Businesses - Forbes.com
    ² Do you have a marketing plan? – SBA.gov
  • Measuring Success in the New Year

    by Act! Now | Jan 02, 2018

    As time goes by, the way in which companies measure success changes. Early on, companies generally only measured success by looking at the bottom line. And this meant looking at your profits. If the total amount of money coming in was more than the total amount of money going out of your business, then you were making a profit. And the higher the profit, the better.

    However, nowadays, the metric of measuring success has become more sophisticated. Companies are looking at many more things than just immediate profits. It's not only important for your company to be profitable in the present but it's also important for it to be profitable in the long run. For this, you need to develop positive relationships with customers and establish a good company image.

    Customer Retention

    You need to make sure that you're not just selling to customers now but that you'll also be selling to them in the future. This can be done by getting a whole new set of customers but it can also be much more easily done with customer retention.

    If you can get the same customer to trust you and keep coming back to you over and over, then your company will be successful in the long run. Additionally, it's quite likely that those customers will recommend you to their friends, thus helping you to build up your customer base.

    Positive Communication

    Long-term success has become more important now and will continue to be that way in the New Year. Remember that it's not just selling your product to a customer now which makes you successful. It's having those customers come back over and over. So if you've established a good relationship with a customer, your level of success goes up, whether or not you sell them something at the same time.

    Each positive communication with a customer, whether it's a phone call in which their problems are resolved, an email which is promptly followed up on or a social media comment which shows that they appreciate your product or service, is a form of success and should be counted among your successes in the new year.

    Keep track of positive communications from or with customers, on the phone as well as on the internet. These will help you keep a pulse on customer satisfaction allowing you to determine whether you're achieving success and not just considering your bottom line.

    Company Image

    Nowadays, customers have also become sensitive to a company's image in the market. So maintaining a good company image is important if you want to be successful in 2018 and beyond. This means that you have to be more transparent, informing customers about your vision and what's going on in your company.

    How are your products made? How are your employees treated within the company? What's your vision as a whole? Paying attention to ethical practices within your company can also help a great deal in establishing good customer relationships and leading to overall success.

    Hits, Likes and Traffic

    Consider the fact that popularity itself is a metric of success nowadays. It's true that not all the people who come to your website, blog or social media pages will turn into customers. However, it's probable that some of them will. So the more hits you get, the more likes you gather, the more traffic you generate, the better.

    This may not be the most efficient metric of immediate success because you can be popular and have a lot of traffic without really increasing your bottom line. However, getting your name out there in a positive way is important and can help you to build your company image and your brand, both of which are reliable metrics of success.

    Sign up here for exclusive updates and more great tips for measuring success in the New Year.

  • 6 Ways to Identify Opportunities

    by Act! Now | Jan 02, 2018

    The arrival of the New Year means it's time for a fresh start for your business. As 2018 begins, you want to be sure that you're taking advantage of as many new business opportunities as possible. This year, try some of these creative strategies for identifying new business opportunities and watch how they can transform your business.

    1. Narrow your focus. Typically, when you talk about expanding your business opportunities, you think about widening the scope of your reach. A highly-qualified prospect, however, is worth more than a dozen prospects who are only vaguely interested in something that your business might offer! Instead of widening your reach this year, consider narrowing your focus. This might include:

  • Discarding social media platforms that aren't working for your business so that you can focus on the ones that work best for you.
  • Letting go of leads that haven't worked out for your business in favor of reaching out to those who are more likely to be genuinely interested in your products.
  • Redefining your buyer personas in a more narrow scope so that your ads can reach those who are genuinely interested in your products or services more effectively.

  • 2. Perfect your elevator pitch. If someone were to ask you in an elevator what your business does and you knew you only had until the doors opened on their floor to snag them, what would you tell them? Your "elevator pitch" should be short, sweet, and simple--and so should your business's focus. If you have to drag on for hours to tell someone about your business or to let customers know about a new product, chances are, they're going to lose interest before they ever learn what you're actually offering. Instead, perfect your short descriptions so that when new business opportunities come your way, you're able to take full advantage. From social media and emails to in-person marketing, you'll find that it's easier to generate more business when customers don't have to wade through huge volumes of words to find the heart of your company.

    3. Find a charity that reflects the values of your business. What is it that you stand behind and support? How can your business support a local charity? Not only does partnering with a local charity allow you to get your name out to local clients, it encourages people who are genuinely interested in the charity to support your business. As a bonus, don't just donate money. Instead, donate company hours to help show your investment and commitment by encouraging employees to volunteer on the clock.

    4. Generate unique content. What is it that sets your business apart from the crowd? How can you connect more effectively with your target audience? Consider publishing a humorous blog, comic strip, or other publication that people genuinely look forward to reading. Create videos that customers come back to watch more than once. When your content is genuinely interesting, people are more likely to enjoy it, share it, and remember your business as a result of your efforts.

    5. Build bigger fans. Once you have a customer who genuinely loves your business, turn them into more than just a fan. Make them a brand ambassador who is eager to share information about your business with others. From creating "swag" merchandise that super fans are eager to own to designing promotions for those who are the most connected with your business, taking the steps to encourage fans is one of the best ways to build your network and grow your business. Those big fans are the ones who are most likely to recommend you to everyone they know.

    6. Connect with lost leads. In some cases, those clients that you missed out on a couple of months ago may be the perfect new addition to your client base. Take the time to reach out to clients who selected another company for their needs, especially those who left your business late in the buyer's journey. You may be surprised by what you can offer them as they continue their project or make other purchases in your industry.
    Building your business is an ongoing process, but it's one that's well worth the effort you'll put in. To receive exclusive updates and to learn more about how we can help your business generate new leads in 2018 and beyond, sign up here.

  • A Beginner’s Guide to Email Marketing

    by Act!Now | Dec 27, 2017

    What is Email Marketing?

    Email marketing or “E-Marketing” is a style of direct marketing that uses email to communicate a message to an audience. Email marketing can be described as anything from sending emails to enhance existing relationships between merchants and their current or previous customers, to encouraging customer loyalty, or to generate repeat business. Email marketing is also used with the purpose of customer acquisition or to convince current customers to make an immediate purchase.

    Digital marketing has changed essentially every facet of the purchase path for today’s consumers. We use digital tools every day for anything from researching a product before buying, reading/posting reviews on products or services, to following your favorite brand(s) on social media. When it comes to communicating to your customers, the message has always been the same. The only thing that differentiates it is how you communicate to your customers.

    Why is Email Marketing Important?

    Email Marketing has several advantages over traditional mail marketing, making it an extremely powerful marketing tactic all business owners should capitalize on. Here are a few key advantages:

    • Email marketing technology is used by 82% of B2B and B2C companies (Ascend2)
    • Email marketing can allow businesses to reach out to their customer base with relevant, personalized messages
    • Email marketing is cheap in comparison to direct mail marketing and other channels of advertising. Whether your email marketing campaigns target hundreds, or even thousands of consumers, it is going to cost you a fraction of the price.

    What disadvantages are there to email marketing, you may ask? There’s always the rejection and/or spam rate of your emails by a consumer’s email program, which negatively affects the delivery rate of emails. This concern has been predominantly wiped out with the idea of “Opt-In” and “Opt-Out” / “Unsubscribe” emailing, where a customer consents to receiving your emails or chooses to no longer receive your emails. With Opt-in emailing, the idea of unsolicited emails is, ideally, eliminated.

    ROI of Email Marketing

    Email Marketing has one of the highest Return on Investment out of all online channels and it is frequently reported to be the most effective form of online marketing, aside from search marketing. In the ever popular and increasingly expensive online advertising space, email marketing remains the leader of cost effective marketing. Paired with today’s available analytics, an exact ROI can be tracked and has also been proven to be high when done properly.

    For the last ten years, email marketing has consistently prevailed and outlasted other marketing categories generating the highest ROI. For every $1 invested, email marketing generates $38 in ROI, making it the best online marketing option for business growth. (VentureBeat)

    What is ROI?

    Return on Investment is a performance measure used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment or to compare a number of investments’ efficiencies. When done properly, ROI will measure the amount of return (or profit gained) on a specific investment in relation to the investment’s overall cost. The ROI is an extremely popular metric due to its simplicitiy and versatility.

    How to calculate ROI

    To calculate ROI, the return (or profit gained) of an investment is divided by the cost of the investment and the end result is expressed as either a percentage or a ratio.

    Before you bring in the analysts, you will first want to set goals and designate objectives. What “gain” is most important to you or your company at the time of your email campaign? Whether you’re focused on ensuring people hear about your company, increasing conversations with your customer or simply making the sale; deciding your goals is key to successfully calculating and tracking your ROI.

    If you need some help calculating your ROI, check out this ROI Calculator from Email Marketing ROI. This tool allows you to freely enter and adjust different factors that affect your overall ROI. Tools like ROI Calculator are great for those who prefer a simple financial calculator to do all the work.

    Reasons to Use Email Marketing

    Still looking for ways to use Email Marketing? Or maybe you’re unsure if the content you want to share with your audience is fit for an email campaign. Below are several reasons to take advantage of Email Marketing when communicating to your customer base:

    • Sharing company related information (updates, major changes in staff, etc.)
    • New products / product releases
    • New services or changes in existing services
    • Promoting sales or other targeted offers
    • Loyalty benefits (rewards, anniversaries, program updates/changes and/or exclusive promotions)
    • Related industry news
    • Upcoming events (meet and greet, webinars, etc.)
    • Engagement (asking for feedback or sending out a survey)

    Types of Email Campaigns

    Depending on the content you intend to share, there are several different types of email campaigns to choose from. Four of the most common types of email campaigns include newsletters, promotions, invitations, and announcements.  Below you will learn what they are and get a good idea of when to send them.

    Newsletter

    What is it? An email newsletter provides useful information and content to your audience. It can be tempting to fill a newsletter with promotions about your products, but you are likely to turn off your subscribers. Email newsletters are your chance to present yourself as an expert in your field. It is not about what you sell; it is about the expertise you can share, so you can build trust towards making a purchase later or increasing customer loyalty. Your newsletter should provide content that can better the people or businesses you serve. Promotions can be included, but any promotional content should be unobtrusive, and the secondary focus of your newsletter.

    When should I send it? Most companies today send an email newsletter once a month. Many companies have also been known to send weekly newsletters and then some who send quarterly newsletters. You should first determine what is manageable for your team and second, consider how often your audience wants to hear from you. If you don’t have new information to share on a weekly or monthly basis, consider a quarterly newsletter. It is important to not overwhelm your audience with emails just for the sake of sending emails. Your campaign should be concise and well planned according to your business needs.

    Promotions

    What is it: Email promotions are targeted emails that highlight a specific product, sale or savings voucher. The goal of email promotions is to generate a sale, increase overall sales, purge older products and to also maintain brand awareness. Many email promotions come across as blatant advertisements. The most successful promotional emails will provide valuable content such as product reviews/in depth information, customer experiences, problem/solution scenarios with one of your products as the solution or free samples or gifts. This content will add value to your customer, making your promotional content more enticing.

    When should I send it: Promotional emails can be sent at any time, but best practice would be to strategically place promotions on your marketing calendar throughout the year to spread out your marketing opportunities. Companies have been known to have promotional heavy sales towards the end of a fiscal quarter, end of year or holiday to meet profit goals. When generating your promotional emails, develop campaigns of multiple emails instead of a single email. As your inbox likely proves, promotional emails are sent more frequently around major holidays. Think about sending promotions around more obscure holidays to stand out from the crowd.

    Invitation

    What is it: Email is an excellent medium to extend an invitation to an event, webinar, group, etc. When an email invitation is opened and accepted, the event is either automatically added to their calendar, or the invitee is likely within a few mouse clicks, to add it totheir calendar. This allows them to quickly respond, RSVP and add the reminder to their calendar. Email invitations make it easy to collect responses and see who within your audience, who is truly interested in the information you’re providing.

    When should I send it: As you are planning events throughout the year, include sending email invitations on the to-do list. For a conference, convention or larger event, you will likely want to start your email communication 4-6 months in advance. For smaller events such as open houses, workshops or seminars, 4-6 weeks out is generally the right amount of time to start inviting. Doing this will allow yourself to develop and plan and will also allow your audience to fit the event into their schedule. If you are hosting events online such as webinars or chats, 1-4 weeks in advance is generally ample time to collect a sufficient group of attendees.

    Announcement

    What is it: Email announcements are most commonly used to keep your contacts informed of what is going on in your business or in the world that directly affects your contacts. For example, if you hire a new staff member, send an email to announce the hire to your contacts with a brief bio about the person and their contact information. For businesses in specific industries such as travel or finance, send an announcement when weather may affect travel or when stocks jump. Announcements keep your business in front of your customers and instill confidence in your brand and expertise.

    When should I send it: Announcements are the one type of email that you can’t usually plan for. Consider having a few templates designed and ready for when an announcement needs to be sent. Having a template at the ready prevents you from scrambling to write content and design a template. As an expert in your field, it is important to discern when sending an announcement will boost confidence or cause unnecessary worry.

    Consider creating several templates that match your brand so you are ready when it is time to hit send. By carefully planning your email marketing in tandem with your overarching marketing strategy, you will strengthen your marketing efforts exponentially!

    Email Tips

    Whether you’re a large corporation or a small business owner, here are some tips to keep in mind when using email marketing.

    Emails should fit your Brand. Using templates is a great way to customize your communications to match your brand’s overall look and feel. You can do this by including your company colors in a creative way and by clearly and strategically displaying your company logo. You will want your emails to be consistent with your company’s content so that your subscribers feel familiar from the start. This will inadvertently increase overall Brand Awareness and lead to Brand loyalty.

    Subscribe & Unsubscribe. You can post a signup form on your social media channels, blogs or where ever else your customers or fans are already active. However you go about obtaining your customer data, you should make it easy for existing and potential customers to subscribe to your emails and likewise, they should have an easy option to unsubscribe from your communications.

    Send Welcome emails. This is controversial depending on who you ask, but more and more businesses are sending Welcome emails (either one email or a series of “welcome” emails) to remind people that they’re on your list. You can personalize your emails to new subscribers to make it feel “special” and excite them for future communications or even send an exclusive offer as your way of thanking them for their patronage.

    Your audience should be able to scan your emails. Today, everyone is busy and everyone gets an extensive amount of emails on a daily basis. Let’s assume your readers are interested in reading your email, but you don’t quite have their undivided attention. Break long groups of text up into short paragraphs. Bold important content you want to be sure is seen and take advantage of subheadings and pictures to help guide your readers through your email and make it easy to scan. Add teasers at the top of your emails or newsletter to entice them to keep scrolling or engage with hyperlinks. If you can’t break up large bodies of content, think about using “Read More” links so your customers can get to the article when it is convenient for them.

    Test and Learn. Try testing the effectiveness of subject lines and email headers to see which one gets more opens, CTR (Click-through rate) or generates more sales or website traffic. By taking the time to research what preforms best, you will ensure that you’re delivering the content your customers want. You can also send test emails to colleagues to make sure you email content is without design mistakes, looks good and displays on different screens (computers, phones, tablets).

    Always think Mobile. If your email doesn’t show on mobile devices, it will not perform to your expectations. Everything you send out should be mobile friendly, so look into using a responsive template. If you think back to making your emails “scannable,” you’ll remember how busy your subscribers are (just like you!) and they are more likely to check their emails on their phone. Sending out an email that will only display on a computer will only lower you open rate and CTR. So it’s important to make sure your emails are mobile friendly.

    Avoid Spam. It is easy to send spam if you don’t know any better. You can read up on the CAN-SPAM act to avoid any unnecessary trouble. To summarize, you can send bulk email only to people who specifically asked to be on your mailing list. If you collected email addresses for a luncheon, a giveaway or any kind of event invitation, then you cannot send marketing emails unless that was made clear during those signups. The majority of online retailers have put in their terms and conditions that simply making a purchase on their website gives your consent for them to send you marketing emails. It is not a bad idea to remind your customers/subscribers how they got on your list in the first place.

    Let Act! help you create professional email marketing campaigns that can help you grow your business. Click here to learn more.

    Not yet an Act! customer? Click here to start your free 14 day trial.

  • Email Marketing Best Practices

    by Act!Now | Dec 27, 2017

    Email marketing is a great tool to use when connecting with your customers. The majority of marketers know that emails provide the highest ROI of any marketing program, and the main objective of most marketers with email is increasing engagement. However, there are common pitfalls that limit the effectiveness of email campaigns. You can improve your efforts and ensure you have a more successful email marketing campaign by following some of these best practices.

    Measure Results

    Despite using email for increasing engagement, 15% of those surveyed don't even track how many people open and click-through emails. Only 23% are capable of tracking what happens after a click. 

    This is the first area to work on. Creating and executing an email campaign shouldn't be the end of the process. Think of this as the halfway point instead. To successfully execute a campaign, implementation is the first step and tracking is the second step. This tells you how successful your efforts are and gives you feedback on where to go next.

    Also consider your tracking technology. You might be able to see if someone clicks a link but what about after? Tracking technology has abundant potential that can gauge search results, all pages viewed and how many times a page is viewed. All this helps inform your picture of clients so you can personalize their content with what they want most.

    Segmenting Emails

    This feeds into a common mistake. Tracking should be in place so that you can segment your email list. If you send the same thing out to everyone, this decreases the chance of success. Many people don't like generic emails, and it's difficult to find a one size fits all approach that will resonate with everyone and still sound authentic. Divide your email list into different groups and create emails for each group. You might do this by age, location, gender, the type of products one purchases or more.

    Trust but Verify

    Think back to the days when direct mail campaigns were more predominant before everyone had the email accounts. Making sure your list was accurate and that the mail went to the right recipient was more important because stamps, envelopes and paper all had costs associated with them. Email blasts seem like a free way to market and advertise, so why bother checking if you reach who you want to? Having a high bounce rate makes getting to more people difficult as it can lower your Sender Score – check out our knowledge base for more deliverability tips.

    Provide Value

    Each email you send should provide value to the reader. Define objectives and ensure you're offering value to clients that help meet these objectives. The email must achieve two things: satisfying a need both for your company and your clients. These things should work together.

    For example, your goal may be to increase customer loyalty. One common tactic is to include coupons in your email campaigns. However, this idea may be better suited when trying to increase business or sell a certain product. If the goal is customer loyalty, maybe your email should provide knowledge that will help readers use your product or promotes a free app from your company.

    Call To Action

    You don't have to be cagey about your goal when it comes to giving readers value. Let the reader know what they should do next with a call to action. This tells them how to get the benefit they want. This sounds like common sense but is frequently overlooked. In one study, 70% of small business did not have a call to action anywhere on their website. The call to action doesn't have to be complicated, it could be as simple as, "For more information about creating successful marketing campaigns, contact us today."

    How Can Act! Help?

    Email marketing is a tool modern businesses cannot afford to ignore. It’s likely you even found this article via a well-placed email. Fortunately, email marketing does not have to be overly complex or jaded. With Act! emarkting, business owners can easily create custom email campaigns, or select from one of over 100 pre-built email templates. Communicate with your customers, drive sales, build awareness and more with the Act! emarketing tool.

  • How to Create a Plan to Ensure the Success of Your New Business

    by Act!Now | Dec 27, 2017

    If you've just launched a small business—or you're about to—you have high hopes. That's understandable. But you also need to understand that many new businesses fail.  In fact, according to Forbes, most new businesses don't succeed for more than 2 years, but yours can beat the odds if you have a smart business plan and get the help you need. 

    Why Do So Many New Businesses Fail?

    The reasons many startup businesses barely get off the launching pad are several. For some, it's a lack of product/market fit (in other words, consumers aren't interested in what you have to sell, or someone else sells your products for less money). For others, it's a lack of cash flow—but whatever the specific reason, what all these failed companies have in common is poor planning. That's unfortunate, because there's a proven strategy to create a smart plan for your new business, one that's been endorsed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). 

    How Do You Create a Business Plan?

    Every business is different, and no set of planning protocols applies to every new company. That said, there are several components which are common to every new business plan, so whether you are just getting started or you are looking to refocus your business in the New Year you will want to consider the following:

    1. Executive summary:  the executive summary outlines your principal business goals and helps potential investors understand the reasons your business will succeed. It should point to the market analysis you've completed and demonstrate that consumers want the products or services you plan to offer. Finally, the summary should describe your company's unique selling proposition (USP), which explains how your business is distinct from other, similar businesses.
    1. Market analysis:  your business won't succeed if you don't take stock of your chief competitors, current industry trends and growth potential. These facts should be included in the market analysis. Include an analysis of your pricing structure (vis-à-vis your major competitors), a thorough competitor analysis, and a description of your strengths and weaknesses.
    2. Organizational structure:  this should include an organizational chart with detailed profiles of the key members of your management team, along with their qualifications and professional backgrounds. You (and those you hope will invest in your business) need to understand who's responsible for what in running your business. You also need to explain the legal structure of your new business (for example, will you incorporate the business, is it a partnership, and what is the ownership structure?). 
    3. What you sell:  are you offering products, services or both? How will your products and/or services appeal to consumers, and how are they better than similar products offered by your competitors? Finally, are any of your products still in the development stage, and are there important patents or copyrights associated with them?
    4. Your marketing plan:  you can have great products and services, but if you don't have a solid plan to put them in front of consumers, your business will probably fail. In this section of your business plan, you need to describe (in detail) what your comprehensive marketing strategy will be. Will you utilize inbound marketing, outbound marketing or both? Will you have a website, and, if so, how will you drive internet traffic to your site? How will you acquire new leads, how will you nurture those leads through the buying cycle, and how will you close sales? 
    5. Financial statements:  you need to demonstrate that you'll have sufficient cash flow to keep your business thriving over the long haul. Will you be seeking investor funding?  If you will, how will you obtain it? Are you planning to secure a business loan and, if so, from what entity? If your new business is already up and running, be sure to include critical historical data in the form of balance sheets, cash flow statements and income statements. 

    You wouldn't make any important decision without a solid plan, whether it's buying a new home, getting married or driving across the country. With sound planning, you can anticipate potential problems before they arise—and ensure you'll know how to deal with them should they occur. 

    Simply stated, a solid business plan will dramatically improve the odds that your business will succeed. So will a smart marketing plan. To learn more about the ways our email and other marketing services can help you increase sales and grow your new business, contact us today.

    How Can Act! Help?

    Act! helps business owners manage customer information, track performance, and plan for the future. Combined with dozens of integration options, from Outlook, to Dropbox to Facebook, Act! is built to be the center of your business’s world. Making it easier to do business instead of just managing it.

  • Three SEO Tips for Marketing Your Business

    by Act!Now | Dec 27, 2017

    In a world where even dog collars are Wi-Fi enabled, a smart online presence is simply not optional. Customers who live around the corner from your storefront will still find you by searching their smartphones or by asking their favorite mobile maps app to tell them how to get there. In order to be found by modern tech-savvy clients, you first need to be found by the search engines. This is where SEO (search engine optimization) comes in. When your website is properly optimized to help the search engine crawlers identify you and rank your relevance to searches, you open yourself up to the vast potential customer base of the internet. Even if you only work with the local community, being available online means more business from visitors, vacationers, and tourists. So now the only question is how to SEO your website. While there have been entire books written on the subject, these three tips are a great place to start.

    1. Know Your Keywords

    When considering which keywords to integrate into your content, you must first think like a customer who doesn't know you. On the front page and several second-level pages, make sure to mention your industry, specialties, and specific services. Try to use word order similar to that typed into a search engine. If for example, you are a catering service, people will search for "good catering service", or "catering services with Italian menus" or "wedding caterers". A good example of integrating this into legitimate and useful page content might look like:

    "Romeo's Kitchen is a good catering service with a one-of-a-kind Italian menu. We do birthdays, family reunions, and rank highly among local wedding caterers."

    2. Include Localization

    People and search engines alike will tack on a location qualifier to their searches for local businesses. People planning vacations and business trips will build their itineraries out of searches like "quiet restaurants in Toronto" or "LA minigolf", and there is a significant benefit to be gained to listing and mentioning the areas you serve. This is how search engines tell customers whether or not a popular bakery site is relevant to them or too far to enjoy. A good example of localized SEO looks like:

    "Nestled in the heart of downtown Dallas, Muffin Masters serves hordes of hungry DFW professionals every day. We deliver to breakfast and lunch meetings all the way out to west Fort Worth."

    3. Off-Page SEO

    Search engines judge a business' popularity and validity based on the number of times other respectable sites link to their website. The reward for these links is a higher position in search results. The best way to get linked is by providing useful and interesting content that will be referenced in the blogs and business sites of others. It is for this reason that many companies have started their own industry-relevant blogs. As they reference each other and the industry, the total off-page links grows between them. When communities come together to link actively and responsively, everyone gets a search engine boost. After quality content, the most important thing to remember about linking is that you are essentially giving a recommendation, so link only to information sources and businesses you think are reliable and want to support.

    With good SEO practices, you are doing your part for your local and online community by accurately and efficiently representing your business. This way, when customers search for "great donuts in Tucson" or "cheap Fargo Locksmith" you will be there for them, on the front page, easy to find and ready to provide. If your website is already helpful and well-designed, there's a good chance you are already pretty well search engine optimized, but it never hurts to make a few intuitive improvements using what you've learned.

    How Can Act! Help?

    Following the tips above can help your business be seen by the people you want to talk to. Now that you have a better idea on how to be found, make sure you convert that traffic into new sales. Through the use of a CRM tool like Act!, business owners can do more online, such as integrating an ecommerce platform like Shopify within their website. This makes it that much easier to find and convert business, all from one platform.

  • Creating the Right Online Customer Experience

    by Act!Now | Dec 27, 2017

    When thinking about customer experience, many people still imagine old school interactions that take place face-to-face. As more shopping and communicating with customers happens online, it’s crucial to consider digital customer service so that consumers have the best possible experience when interacting with your small business online.

    Speed is Crucial

    When evaluating any website content, first consider how easy it is to load a page. While everyone wants their website to have enough information and look professional and high-tech, having too many graphics or add-ons can make a page load more slowly. A slow website can end a customer experience before it’s really started. A wait time of ten seconds is enough for half of consumers to give up and go somewhere else.

    If you have the resources to support premium content, then there is no need to skimp. However, keep in mind that not all customers have high-speed internet. If a website is more complex, it still must load fast regardless of a user’s network connection. Also, a streamlined website is needed for mobile browsers. If your website budget is limited, prioritize what is most important. “Less is more” definitely applies in this case. Even if you have the best graphics, don’t count on customers waiting long for them to load.

    Deliver What Customers Want

    Perhaps you’ve realized that online customers are especially impatient. Microsoft found that a website 250 milliseconds slower than the competition loses traffic. Digital customers expect instantaneous results, and this applies even after the website loads. To facilitate the best experience, customers should be able to find what they’re looking for without hassle. Navigation is only part of this. In addition to creating a website that’s easy to navigate, site search technology is critical.

    Many companies don’t invest enough in their search capabilities even though this is the simplest way to connect the customer with what they want. This investment doesn’t just add to the customer experience, it benefits businesses too. This is because searches and their corresponding clicks are trackable. This shows a company what their customers are searching for and allows them to highlight these demands and create tailored content.

    Include Reviews

    It’s easy to go to Yelp or do a Google search for customer reviews. Does this mean they shouldn’t be included on your website? Probably not. Marketing content just isn’t as effective as customer reviews are, perhaps because reviews are 12 times more trusted than specially crafted content that promotes products.

    One study found that more than 80% of consumers thought reviews were vital when purchasing a product and more than half looked for websites with reviews. This means reviews should be on a website and viewable on a phone to build trust and a better experience.

    Build on Existing Material

    When your brand is already established, there’s no reason to change it in the digital world. The website should line up with what customers already know about the company. Providing consistency means that the customer gets a similar experience in person, on a phone or at a computer. Every subsequent interaction should build on the previous one. Having similar patterns, colors and language allows people to easily identify your brand.

     Be Careful With Social Media

    A website isn’t enough in today’s world. You likely also have a few social media accounts for your business. Your branding should also match on these sites, and it should be easy to navigate between these platforms.

    While social media is important, there can be a limit. If you can’t stay up to date with every account, then you may need to scale back. Consumers like being able to chat with companies on Facebook or Twitter, but they expect a prompt response. When tweeting, 86% of consumers expect a response in a day while 65% want a response within two hours. If you can’t deliver, this could turn into a negative experience. It is important to be visible, but this backfires if you bite off more than you can chew.

    How Can Act! Help?

    Using Act! Connect, business owners can easily integrate social media accounts with prospect or customer contact information. This allows you to better track and communicate with customers across multiple media outlets. Just another way Act! works to keep your business connected.

  • How Customer Experience Can Reinforce Your Brand

    by Act!Now | Dec 27, 2017

    Branding is one of those concepts that’s difficult to nail down.  Most businesses know they need a strong brand, but most don’t understand what that means or how to achieve it. Is your brand a logo, your packaging design, a slogan, or is it something more subjective; a perception your customers have about who you are, what you value and how you meet their needs?

    The truth is that effective branding is both.  The best brands are consistent not only in the face they present to the marketplace—the symbols and messaging they use—but also in the way they interact with customers, how responsive they are to their concerns, and the extent to which they clearly articulate and keep their promises.

    Think about Your Best Friends

    Some people you meet become friends; others don’t, and there’s a reason.  Of all the people you meet, some take the time to listen to your problems without immediately interjecting their own. Some come to your aid when you need help, not tell you they’re too busy.  Some take the time to find out what’s important to you, like a card on your birthday, or a hug when you’re feeling down. And some are grateful when you do something nice for them.

    The best brands are like best friends. They’re empathetic and take the time to know you, what problems you have, and what you care about.  And they’re grateful for your business and show it.

    Two Sides of the Same Coin

    Good branding and outstanding customer experience are inextricably intertwined. Brands make a promise to customers, and a positive customer experience fulfills that promise. At the same time, having a good experience through the customer journey solidifies a company’s brand - and both branding and customer experience succeed by establishing a powerful emotional connection with customers. 

    In “How To Create A Brand-Defining Customer Experience,” Brian Solis notes how important customer experience is to good branding:

    “Customer experience is the next battlefield for brands. Those that get it right, will not only create long-lasting customer relationships but will also earn a significant competitive advantage over those that solely compete on product, price, or promotion. On the other hand, companies that do not master the art of customer experience will lose relevance and market share over time.”

    Strategies to Build Brand and Improve Customer Experience

    Customer experience and branding are mutually beneficial, and there are steps you can take to make them work together to help your company grow. Here are three strategies you can use to reinforce your brand with positive customer interactions:

    1.  Make every touchpoint an opportunity to reinforce your brand. A positive customer experience isn’t linear - it’s more like a discontinuous web of “connector moments” across many touchpoints. It’s like having a good experience with a customer service representative or receiving a discount when you're dissatisfied. Improving customer experience means understanding what works and what doesn’t in each of these moments, then linking them to create an overall positive impression. Each of these moments is an opportunity to build your brand by fulfilling brand promises.

    2.  Extend emotional connections to customer interactions. The best brands use emotional triggers to reinforce their message. The ASPCA doesn’t simply tell you about the ways your contribution helps animals - it shows you with videos that evoke powerful emotions. But it goes further, extending that emotional connection to the experience you have in your interactions with caring call center reps. The brand promises empathy and caring, and the customer’s interaction reinforces that promise.

    3.  Bring your company’s vision statement down to earth. Your vision or mission statement is central to your brand. It tells customers why you’re in business, whether that means delivering quality products or outstanding customer service. By their nature, vision statements are lofty and theoretical. A positive customer experience grounds and reinforces your vision statement, showing customers you mean what you say. 

    Your brand tells customers what you value and how you can meet their needs better than your competitors. Positive customer experiences extend and reinforce your brand by showing, rather than telling customers that you mean what you say.

    How Can Act! Help?

    When your business has the right CRM, it can be so much more than a simple contact management tool. It becomes a way for you to improve customer experience, build your brand and grow your business. Act! CRM was designed with a simple truth in mind; every business is unique. It’s why, with Act!, you can decide what information and data is most important to you, your team and your customers, and organize them accordingly. You can make Act! CRM fit YOUR business, and not the other way around.

  • 6 Social Media Marketing Tips for Your Small Business

    by Act!Now | Dec 27, 2017

    While social media marketing is still in its infancy, it's definitely become too important for small businesses to ignore. In fact, social media marketing should be a central part of your overall marketing strategy. Unfortunately, social media marketing can quickly become overwhelming and you may not know where to start or which platforms to focus on.  Don’t panic or avoid social media marketing altogether; instead, follow these simple tips for implementing an easy social media marketing strategy that will bring results:

    Form a Clear Social Media Plan

    Instead of diving right into social media marketing, set aside an hour to put a plan on paper. Here are a few key points to include in your plan:

    • Who is your intended audience? Which platforms does this demographic tend to use most?
    • Which platforms are you the most comfortable with and which fit your brand best? Facebook and Twitter are great places to start, but if your service or product is visual in nature (if you own a clothing boutique or hair salon, for example), you may want to leverage the power of photos on Instagram and Pinterest to show off your goods.
    • How many platforms do you have time to update regularly? It’s better to start with just one that you can commit to than spread yourself too thin across too many platforms.   
    • Decide which platforms to create profiles on and add this task to your calendar.
    • Set a goal for how often you plan to post. For example, maybe you will create one blog a week on your business website, and update Facebook and Twitter three times a week.

    Create a Cohesive Social Media Brand

    Now it’s time to dive in and set up new profiles, as well as edit existing ones. Aim for a cohesive feel and look across every platform that you use. Your profiles should feature the same profile photo (your logo, for example) and business name as well as similar taglines. You don’t want to post the same exact content on each platform, but you do want the voice and tone to be cohesive.

    Focus on Quality Interactions

    Social media is meant to be interactive. Don’t simply post and run, but instead spend time building relationships with customers as well as other business owners. Follow people and companies on all of your platforms, re-post content you enjoy, and take time to answer questions or address concerns in a genuine, professional manner.

    Automate Your Posts

    Automating your posts via a service like HootSuite saves you time and makes you less likely to let your accounts go dormant. Set aside a time each week to craft all of your social media posts for the week. Then simply schedule them to appear at different times throughout the week using the automated service, instead of posting everything at once.

    Pay Attention to Timing

    A savvy social media plan takes timing into account. If you post updates or publish content in the middle of the night when most people in your country are asleep, by the time they wake up and check their social media accounts, your content will be buried too far in their newsfeeds. Most experts say that posting to Facebook and Twitter during the afternoon and later in the week brings the most views and engagement.

    Consider Outsourcing

    If you are too busy with other aspects of running your small business to attend to social media, consider outsourcing this task. Hiring a virtual assistant or social media intern to spend a few hours a week managing your social media is well worth the cost if it brings you new business and frees up your time. Sites like upwork.com, zirtual.com, and even Craigslist will put you in touch with qualified freelancers and assistants.

    Growing your business through social media doesn’t have to be overwhelming. By incorporating these tips into your marketing plan, you will soon engage many potential new customers for your small business.

    How Can Act! Help?

    Using Act! Connect, business owners can easily integrate social media accounts with prospect or customer contact information. This allows you to better track and communicate with customers across multiple media outlets. The better your personalized communication is with your customers, the more likely they are become long term clients. This feature is just another way Act! works to keep your business connected.

  • 4 Tips for Marketing Your Business on Social Media

    by Act!Now | Dec 27, 2017

    So, you're running a small business, and you're looking for a good way to get the news out about who you are, what you do, and why you’re different from your competitors. If you don't have a big marketing budget, then social media is a great way to build a base without spending a lot of money. Social media platforms are free to use, after all, and as a business you could potentially reach millions of people.

    The keyword there is potentially. Because if you're going to market your business through social media, you need to make sure you're actually getting seen by the people who need what you're selling. For better results, you should keep the following tips in mind.

    Tip #1: Consistency is Key

    When you get on social media, you're trying to establish yourself, and your brand. You're looking for a following, and you want that following to trust you. The easiest way to begin establishing that trust, according to Entrepreneur, is to be consistent. That means you should post roughly at the same times on the same days every month, but it also means your tone and focus should likewise be consistent. You don't start a page for a local hardware store, write ten posts about helpful life hacks that can help out around the house, and then leave a vitriolic review for the latest romantic comedy that debuted over the weekend. That's not what people are coming to you for, so make sure your followers get what they've come to expect.

    Tip #2: Tell Your Audience What to Do

    People are often willing to help, but you need to tell them what they can do in order to help you grow your following. This is typically referred to as a call to action, and you hear it in every commercial that's ever been made. Whether it's, "call today," or, "follow us on Facebook," you're getting a clear message of what you need to do in order to follow-through on what the ad is asking of you. Include this kind of hook in your posts. If you want your followers to like and share a post, tell them so. If you want them to leave comments, invite them to. Don't be afraid to give direction, because it helps.

    Tip #3: Start Small, and Work Your Way Up

    There are a lot of popular social media websites out there. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and others as well. While it might be tempting to try to get on as many platforms as possible as fast as you can, it's important to think of your social media as a plate-spinning act. Don't try to get another one going until the first is spinning smooth and clean. Then make sure the second one is going well, and that you can maintain the first two before you attempt to get a third one going. Repeat as necessary.

    Tip #4: Use Scheduled Posts

    One of the easiest ways to maintain a schedule when it comes to your posts is to make sure you have several of them lined up, ready to be publish automatically. Facebook, Twitter, and numerous other platforms allow you to create posts, and then assign them a time to go up. This ensures you're always ready, and that you're a few days to a week ahead when it comes to your social media posts in case something comes up that eats up all the time you'd normally spend putting those posts together.

    How Can Act! Help?

    Act! CRM does more than just manage your contacts. With our Social Updates Feature, you can associate Facebook and LinkedIn pages with your contacts by bookmarking them, you can then easily interact with their Facebook and LinkedIn profiles from within their contact record in Act!.

  • 4 Steps to Convert More Leads with Email Marketing

    by Act!Now | Dec 27, 2017

    Email marketing works. It has the highest ROI of any inbound or outbound marketing strategy—4,300% according to the Direct Marketing Association—and 66% of consumers say they purchased a product or service after receiving an email marketing message. 

    There’s a reason:  email marketing, unlike other strategies, is one-on-one communications happening in real time, and it provides an unparalleled opportunity to personalize communications. Armed with the right data, email marketers can target emails not only to the specific products or services in which leads are most interested, but also to precisely where they are in the buying process. 

    The Email Marketing Tsunami

    Marketers know the power of email marketing to nurture leads and drive sales (60% of marketers report that their email marketing produces positive ROI, for example). As a result, they send a lot of marketing emails:  in 2013, marketers pushed out 838 billion emails, 3 times the number of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. 

    That’s a tribute to the power of email marketing, but it also means that email marketers have a lot of competition. How can you ensure that your email marketing campaigns break through all that background noise and achieve their primary objective of increases sales?

    One way is to carefully and thoughtfully nurture your leads.To do that, think of each email conversion campaign as 4 sub-campaigns, each with a specific goal. Here are the 4 sub-campaigns, recommended by Hubspot, to move email recipients from leads to buyers to loyal customers: 

    Campaign One:  Welcome Them

    The goal of your welcome campaign is to introduce yourself and tell new leads key facts about your business. New leads might be interested in the products and services you offer, but they don’t yet know very much about you or your business—so do what you would do in any other social situation—introduce yourself. First tell them who you are—the best way to do this is with personal stories and testimonials that humanize and burnish your brand—and how you’re different from/better than your competitors.

    Next, tell them where they can go to find more information about your business and how to contact you. Give them some legitimate proof that your product or service can solve their problem (for example, customer satisfaction statistics). Finally, thank them by making a one-time offer, such as a discount on their first purchase, which entices them to opt-in to subsequent emails.

    Campaign Two:  Nurture Them

    In this campaign, you want to provide content that moves leads to core offers. Step one is to send an email with the one-time offer you promised to get them to opt-in in your previous campaign. Use the “scarcity model,” reminding them that, for example, “time is limited” on this offer to incentivize action. Step two is to send emails with links to valuable (read customer-centric) content related to the problem they’re trying to solve. For example, if your target audience is people shopping for new televisions, send them articles which detail the key features of top models, or highlight the benefits of various smart TV models. 

    Campaign Three:  Sell Them

    Now that you’ve introduced the key differentiating points about your business and sent helpful content to establish trust, it’s time to sell. Keep in mind that at this point, prospective customers are at a critical inflection point in the buying process:  they liked you enough to opt-in to your email series and receive offers and content from you, they’re interested in your products and services, but they need one final push which moves them to make the purchase. 

    You can give them that push by getting extremely specific about the problem they have, the ways your product will solve it, and the negative consequences of not taking action. Provide logical justifications for their purchase—for example, you could point out the 90% of customers have been extremely satisfied with this product. Finally, for those who still aren’t sold, ask them what other information you could provide to help them make a decision and give them contact information to obtain that information.

    Campaign Four:  Solidify Your Relationship Post-Purchase

    The fact that your leads have made their first purchase provides new opportunities to solidify your relationship with them, including offering other, similar products in which they might be interested. First things first:  thank them for their purchase, and give them advice on how to get the most out of the product they just bought. Invite them to complete a customer feedback survey about their purchase—this gives you valuable data and tells them you care about their experience—and to submit a review. Finally, use this opportunity to sell other products (think of the way Walmart and Amazon use features like “customers who bought this product also bought X or Y”). 

    The way you roll out your email marketing campaigns is about more than making a sale—it also informs customers and prospective customers about who you are and what you value. Every email you send—in fact, every time you touch customers through any marketing strategy—constitutes one piece of the relationship you’re building with them and the experience they have with your business.

    How Can Act! Help?

    Use Act! emarketing to quickly create email campaigns to get your customers attention. Act! emarketing offers professional, mobile-friendly templates that help you put your message together quickly, or you can build you own email from scratch. Most importantly, Act! gives you the tools you need to see what is and is not performing well with your email campaigns, making it easier than ever to know what’s right for your business.

  • 4 Reasons Your Business Needs a Self-Service Portal

    by Act!Now | Dec 27, 2017

    Consumers are increasingly savvy in the ways they conduct research on the internet, likewise they are increasingly more demanding of getting the answers to their questions as quickly and painlessly as possible. Unfortunately, most businesses don't do an adequate job of giving consumers the tools they need find those answers. That's because they're relying on a traditional, reactive customer service model, one which depends on customers interrupting what they're doing and contacting the company to resolve their problems.

    The Move to Self-Service Customer Service

    The fact is that any time a customer is forced to contact your business for help, you've disrupted whatever it was they were doing before their problem arose. That means wasted time for them. The longer it takes your business to provide them the answers they need, the more their impatience and frustration grows, and so does their unhappiness with you.

    Increasingly, forward-leaning companies are turning to a new customer service paradigm, one which gives customers the tools they need to get answers on their own, quickly and without unnecessary disruption. As Forrester points out:

    "Customers demand accurate, relevant, and complete answers to their questions upon first contact, served up as painlessly as possible...Forrester data backs this up: In our December 2015 Customer Lifecycle Survey, we found that 53% of customers are likely to abandon their online purchases if they can't find quick answers to their questions. 73% say that valuing their time is the most important thing companies can do to provide them with good customer service."

    The Rise of the Self-Service Portal

    One of the best ways to enable the kind of self-service options customers want is with a self-service portal. A reliable, dedicated portal offers several key benefits to your business, from expediting your customers' search for answers to controlling unnecessary costs and improving your relationship with your customers, and their relationship with each other.

    Here are 4 ways a self-service portal will boost customer experience:

    1.  You'll Empower Your Customers

    The old saw is still true:  if you give someone a fish, you feed him for a day; if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for life. When your self-service portal gives customers the tools that can help them solve problems not just today, but in the future, you make them feel empowered, and that makes them feel better about your business.

    Find out what questions customers ask most frequently, then use diagrams, step-by-step guides and how-to videos that show them how to get answers. That's what Facebook did with its "Tips" series, which shows users how to get more out of the social media site's functionalities. Notice how this Stickers Tip arms Facebook users with valuable knowledge they can use in perpetuity, and does so in just 19 seconds.

    2.  You'll Create a Self-Service Community

    You can include a users' forum in your portal, empowering customers to provide peer-to-peer support as they answer one another's questions. This builds trust in your business (since customers can see how your business is empowering other customers), establishes your brand as one which values community, and potentially reduces traditional customer service costs.

    3.  You'll Increase Referrals to Your Business

    Every time your self-service portal works for a customer, that customer's opinion of your company will be strengthened, which means he's more likely to recommend you to his friends and coworkers. The more robust and effective your portal, the more current customers will push referrals to you. To boost referrals, ensure your portal has a comprehensive and consistent knowledge base, that it's user-friendly and intuitive, and that it's integrated with other customer service features like email and live chat.

    4.  You'll Enhance Personalization

    Your portal can be an extremely effective tool to personalize customer experience. For example, you should address customers by name each time they enter the portal. You should also maintain a comprehensive record of the products and services they've purchased and the issues they've had in the past to more effectively steer them to solutions. Finally, you should use the data you gather through portal interactions as business intelligence to update and improve your portal's knowledge base.

    The installation of a self-service portal can be an extremely effective strategy to boost customer service, customer experience and customer satisfaction. It's important to remember, however, that every interaction customers have with your business is critically important, whether it involves a portal, a phone call, an email, or a visit to your website. The sum of these interactions defines the nature of the relationship you have with your customers, now and in the future.

    How Can Act! Help?

    Two of the greatest benefits to having a CRM system is the ability to track detailed information about your customers and provide them with personalized communications that speak to their interests and individual needs. One of the larger benefits to a CRM system is that it allows you to track detailed information about your customers and reach out to them with communication that speaks directly to their service level.

  • Social Strategy Checklist for the Little Guy

    by Act!Now | Dec 27, 2017
    Originally published by: Audrey Howes

    You are your business. You wear every hat from sales to marketing to customer service. Adding yet another hat as a Social Media Guru may not seem feasible, yet you know social media is a must for businesses today. Before you throw your hands up and walk away, take a look at our tips designed just for you: The Little Guy.
     
    Blogging: The Gateway to Social

    In his eBook, “Let’s Talk: Social Media for Small Business,” John Jantsch suggests that blogging is the foundation of the social media pyramid. He says, “Read blogs, comment on blogs, and then blog. This is the doorway to all other social marketing.”
     
    Your Blogging Checklist
    • Start by finding a handful of blogs in your industry using a simple Google search.
    • Dedicate 10-20 minutes every morning to reading the blogs. To facilitate this process, you may want to use Google Reader or similar service to keep the blogs in one easy to access format.
    • Add your two cents in the form of a comment to posts you resonate strongly with.
    • Search for content you can repurpose on your blog. Articles you have written, informative pages from your website, press releases, etc.
    • Start writing your own posts. Keep them short and sweet, around 250-450 words. You will want to post at least 1 time a week with a goal of eventually reaching about 20+ posts per month.
    • When you have a bucket of about 20 posts, start your business blog. Sites such as Wordpress.com, Tumblr.com, and Typepad.com provide free and easy to use formats to get your blog up and going.
     
    Pick a Network, Any Network

    Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram… social networks seems to be popping up all the time. As a business, it is hard to decide where you place your limited time. 
     
    Your Network Checklist:
    • Do a little homework to find out what network(s) most of your customers/demographic are using. Consider sending a survey link in an email or posting a poll on your website.
    • Select one network to start with and open a business page.
    • Set up email alerts so you are able to be notified when someone posts to your page, adds a comment, responds to a tweet, etc.
    • Once your page has the basics such as your logo, contact information, etc. go ahead and launch it to your network by making the site public. Consider announcing it with an email and including your Social Media information on direct mail pieces.
    • Each time you post to your blog, post it to your social network of choice as well.
    • Post your email newsletters and promotions to your social network.
    • Start following/liking other businesses and sharing their content that is relevant with your followers.
    • When you are ready, pick another social network and repeat the steps above.

    Spread the Word

    Now that you are regularly generating content on your blog and you have a social network or two up and running, it’s time to attract more followers.
     
    Your Word Spreading Checklist
    • Start by adding your social media links to your email signature, email templates, and website if you haven’t already.
    • Ask bloggers and industry experts if they would a) be interested in allowing you the chance to guest post on their blog or b) provide content as a guest blogger for your blog.
    • Increase the number of comments you leave on blogs and link back to relevant content on your blog or website. (Don’t overdo it, though, or you could be viewed as spam.)
    • Douglas Karr from the MarketingTech Blog suggests, “Spend 10 minutes a day promoting your content. At first, this may even be soliciting opportunities to guest blog, speak or even buying advertisements to get the word out!”
    • Consider creating other content such as videos or recorded demos to share on sites like YouTube, PowerPoint presentations that can be shared by using something like SlideShare, or even a podcast.

    Social Media is not out of reach for small businesses. Even if you never complete every item we have listed here, checking off a few will make a tremendous difference in the way you reach your audience and your marketing efforts. So put it on your daily calendar now and be sure to tell us how it goes!

    How Can Act! Help?

    Using Act! Connect, business owners can easily integrate social media accounts with prospect or customer contact information. This allows you to better track and communicate with customers across multiple media outlets. The better your personalized communication is with your customers, the more likely they are become long term clients. This feature is just another way Act! works to keep your business connected.
  • Email Marketing: Quality Trumps Quantity

    by Act!Now | Dec 27, 2017

    When it comes to email marketing, they say you should focus on quality over quantity, and they are right to say so. Quality leads to customer engagement, while quantity can just put you in the spam folder. Here are three areas where it's always better to focus on the quality of your email marketing campaign:

    Your subscriber list 

    If you focus on quantity in regard to your subscriber list, then you'll acquire a whole lot of email addresses. But does that really matter if those addresses belong to people who aren't in your target audience?

    Sending emails to irrelevant subscribers is a waste of time and money. According to a Huffington Post article, it's better to have a small amount of relevant subscribers: 

    "Simply collecting emails isn't going to translate into more growth and profits for your business. Would you rather collect 2,500 emails of consumers that aren't really interested in what your business offers or would you like 250 email subscribers that are going to open your emails, engage with your content and potentially click over to your website and develop into a lead or sale?" To learn more on this topic, read Kevin Kelly’s infamous article “1,000 True Fans”

    The number of emails you send

    Quality also trumps quantity in regard to how many emails you send. A novice may assume that sending emails frequently is the best way to increase leads and sales. 

    However, experienced email marketers know that that's how you end up on the spam list. We always recommend limiting the amount of emails you send so that you can focus on quality. Investing in an email marketing platform that provides you with valuable insights can assist you further – insuring you’re sending the right message at the right time.

    Your content

    And finally, some businesses try to include as much content as they possibly can in marketing emails. What they don't understand is that subscribers don't want to read about every aspect of your business. 

    You should try to limit the amount of content you include in emails. The less you write, the better chance you have of subscribers reading your entire message. Just make sure the content you include is top quality. 

    How Can Act! Help?

    Act!’s CRM and emarketing tools help business owners market more effectively, allowing you to quickly segment customers into lists and groups based on your campaign goals, and provide them with the right message at the right time. With better targeting, businesses gain more in-depth knowledge about their customer base and campaign performance, which leads to increase sales and brand loyalty.

  • Tips for Identifying Your Target Market

    by Act!Now | Dec 27, 2017
    No matter what type of business you have, one of your first tasks is to identify your audience or target market. This informs your entire marketing strategy. Your website, social media pages, advertisements, emails, and other promotional tools must all be directed towards the people who are most receptive to your message. If you're not targeting the right customers, your efforts will be in vain. Here are some of the best ways to identify your audience. 

    Focus on Pleasure/Pain

    Traditionally, marketers are told to identify the most pressing problem their business solves for customers. If you're a dentist, you're helping people with painful issues affecting their teeth and gums as well as general oral health. If you're an exterminator, you help people rid themselves of troublesome critters like ants or termites. However, other businesses cater more to pleasure. If you're in the travel industry, you might be appealing to people's sense of adventure. On the other hand, you might also alleviate the misery of suffering through a brutal winter by tempting people with a tropical cruise. No matter what you're selling, think of how it relates to the pain-pleasure spectrum.  

    Who Needs It Most?

    Now it's time to get more specific and ask yourself who benefits most from your product or service. One approach to this is to create a buyer persona. The paradox about buyer personas is that they are typical yet fictional. Statistics may reveal that the average family has 2.34 children but no family actually has fractional children. Your typical customer may be a 38-year-old, college-educated, married woman who lives in the suburbs and drives a Honda Accord. This is useful to know but remember that most of your customers won't fit this exact profile. 

    How do you go about constructing a buyer persona? If you've been in business for a while, you already have tools to work with. Study analytics of your customers, using tools such as Google Analytics and Facebook Insights. The best sources to use for research depend on your business. Pinterest analytics, for example, is very useful if you're selling physical products that are popular on that social media platform. If you have an email list, you can send out surveys. If you're looking for data on sensitive topics such as people's income, it's best to keep the surveys anonymous and to use ranges (e.g. check a box such as "between $50,000 and $75,000 rather than asking them to fill in the exact number). 

    Where Do They Spend Their Time?


    Once you've identified your customers' needs and typical characteristics, you want to find out where they hang out. This includes social media sites, which provide one of the best testing grounds to find and connect with your audience. Facebook is fairly universal but different groups are more likely to use Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, or SnapChat. If you're not sure, test different platforms and find out where you get the best results. If you're doing offline marketing, you'll want to identify the best places to reach your target market, which may include print publications, billboards, TV and radio stations, colleges and universities, and events such as conferences, trade shows, and festivals.

    Speak Their Language

    Part of understanding your target market is knowing their preferences for certain words, images, and styles. You wouldn't use the same approach when selling a financial product to investors as you would an energy drink or smartphone app. Does your audience prefer a casual or formal style of communication? Are they driven more by logic or emotion? What keywords do they respond to? The latter is important for writing effective copy and also for optimizing your online content for the search engines. Your competition provides some clues in this area. Look at the most successful businesses in your niche or industry and see how they communicate. 

    Keep Studying Your Target Audience

    Understanding your audience isn't a set-and-forget task. It's a constantly evolving process where you're always refining your knowledge. The world changes quickly as new social media platforms rise and fall. People's preferences also change. For example, many beauty care products and salons now target male as well as female customers. Demographics and market trends are always evolving. By constantly asking questions and accumulating data, you gain a better understanding of your audience that helps you serve them better. 

    How Can Act! Help?

    Having a customer relationship management software is quickly becoming an outright necessity instead of a luxury.  Mobile apps like Act! Companion make it easy to access vital customer information anywhere you go. Additionally, Act! helps business owners manage customer information, track performance, and plan for the future. Combined with dozens of integration options, from Outlook, to Dropbox to Facebook, Act! is built to be the center of your business’s world. Making it easier to do business instead of just managing it.
  • How to Tell if a Prospect Likes You

    by Act!Now | Dec 26, 2017

    Published by: John Golly, Swiftpage Employee

    Prospecting in sales can be similar to online dating and summed up in one word...awkward.  Someone in the online dating world spends time putting their profile together with witty comments and flattering pictures; then starts to look for a prospective partner with similar interests, desires, and goals in life.  Keep in mind, pictures mean a thousand words because physical attraction usually carries a heavy weight in online dating since you have never met the person.  Once you have found that special someone, you send an email to attract their attention which contains even more clever and interesting statements and hopefully a question.  The next step is waiting….  Or is it?

    While sales is comparable to dating, it doesn’t have to be awkward.  Whether you are a business owner, manager, or sales person, your chosen profession is sales.  We should always step out of our comfort zone, but should never feel uncomfortable in our career.  Here are a few steps to make prospecting simple.

    1. 1. Create your online profile:  Does this sound familiar?  Like dating?  Information is at people’s fingertips, so make sure your company website and LinkedIn profile is up to par.  Make sure to include your mission and/or value statement so any person searching you can quickly tell what benefits you bring to the table. 
    2. 2. Identify your target market and understand what business problems these industries face:  Whether you are offering a product or service, there are certain industries which will benefit from what you are offering more than others.  Research can be done online or through various industry articles or publications.  While doing this research, list out several business problems common to your target industries and understand how your organization can alleviate these concerns. 
    3. 3. Send a concise email to attract attention from those in your targeted industry:  This is where one must work smarter rather than harder.  It is much more lucrative to send emails (make sure they have opted in to hear from you) and follow-up with those who are interested, rather than cold calling 100’s of people every day.  Cold calling can be like throwing a dart while blindfolded as opposed to utilizing email technology to understand who your most interested prospects may be.  Include common challenges those industries face and how your product or service can solve those issues.
    4. 4. See if the prospect likes you:  Call or schedule appointments with your most interested prospects (those that opened, clicked, or even responded to your email) and qualify them.  Interest can be gauged by ensuring the person you are speaking with understands how your two companies can mutually benefit one another.  You also want to ensure the person on the other end of the phone is able to make a buying decision, has the financial resources, and has a problem they are wanting to solve in a specific timeframe so you do not waste your time with someone who will never buy.

    Starting a courtship today in dating or in business is a bit more complicated than in grade school when you just had to check “yes” or “no.”  However, if you use the steps mentioned above it never has to be awkward.  Most of all, remember you have a great business with so much to offer your prospects. If you approach this right, you could all live happily ever after.

    How Can Act! Help?

    At Act! we love playing matchmaker, and we provide business owners with a whole host of options to manage, communicate and truly understand their customers. With Act! CRM, you can:

    • Manage a prospect’s contact details, history, notes, emails and more, all in one convenient location.
    • Organize your contact into similar groups and companies to deliver targeted communications
    • View reports or use the Act! Insights dashboard to see real-time productivity and performance metrics that make understanding your business as easy as swiping right.
  • 3 ways to use your CRM to keep customers

    by Act!Now | Dec 26, 2017

    Alanna is a Business Solutions executive with 20+ years in product marketing, business development, sales and marketing of B2B services.  She helps C-level, business owners, sales managers and marketing managers in navigating the myriad of technology solutions and advising on workflow process development, sales and marketing techniques and continuous training and process improvement. www.linkedin.com/in/alannagaliano
    .



    Acquiring new customers is expensive. I know you have heard someone say this.

    According to Bain & Company, it costs businesses about 6-7 times more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one. It is a lot more expensive than retaining your current customers and finding ways to keep them happy.

    Customer loyalty and retention drive referrals and inevitably, revenue. Customer retention takes time to bear fruit and it is certainly worth investing your time and effort into it.

    Here are three ways a CRM solution can help you increase customer retention:

    1. Understand customer needs and preferences

      A CRM solution is not just a place to put your customers' contact information. It can tell you a lot about a customer's behavior, preferences, buying patterns, and their history with your company. By having this type of data right at your fingertips, you can better understand your customers.

      When you understand your customers at this level, it will help you to better identify their needs. You can anticipate things that they may need right now or in the future and can upsell and cross-sell more effectively, increasing overall profitability.
    2.    
    3. Deliver highly targeted promotions/marketing campaigns

      With CRM, you can see all data about your customer’s buying behavior and history with your company. You can create alerts when a customer’s birthday is coming up so that you can offer them a 20% discount on new products that might interest them.

      With robust reporting capabilities, you can use CRM to track important metrics to see the success of each marketing campaign and make adjustments to make them more effective. You can even track how people respond to your email promotions by viewing open rates, bounce rates, see which links they’ve clicked, and much more. This will help you to do more of what is working and quickly stop what’s not.

    4. Improve overall customer experience

      Like most of us, you are probably busy and hate having to stay on the phone to repeat the same information over and over when dealing with the same company. A CRM can hold previous history of emails or issues that a customer may have had in the past and a customer service agent can quickly review and gain insight on why a customer might be calling now.

      When your service agents have quick access to CRM, they can provide more efficient and personalized service that will make your customers happy.

      Used properly, a CRM tool can help you surpass your customers' expectations with every interaction. If you can make working with your company a delight, you turn consumers into loyal customers, who not only look for reasons to work with you in the future, but will become advocates for your brand.

      How Can Act! Help?

      Could your business benefit from the tips above? Act! CRM and emarketing tools help you to manage, maintain and engage with your existing customer base easily and effectively. Build customer loyalty by targeting specific groups of customers with offers relevant to their needs and provide personalized service with our intuitive contact management features. Click here to learn more!

     

  • Social CRM: How Customer Support can Benefit from Social Media

    by Act!Now | Dec 15, 2017

    Social media has slowly but surely become the dominant paradigm for instant communication. And as our understanding of the implications of social media have evolved to a somewhat mature degree, experts have started to spot trends that could prove to be useful in some way or another.

    One such trend is the exponential growth in the role social media plays between businesses and their customers. According to Twitter, customer service interactions over Twitter have increased 250% in the last two years. If the data is anything to go by, it is high time businesses recognize social media as the gold mine for online customer relations that it is, and hop on board.

    The rise in said online business-customer interactions has snowballed to the point where it warrants its own name in CRM lingo: Social CRM. Businesses have started paying attention to Social CRM, with hopes that it will improve their customer experience and boost brand image. And if utilized correctly, Social CRM may very well end up doing just that.


    What is Social CRM?

    It is easy to overlook certain marketing trends in a sea of hype-infested buzzwords. Social CRM might be considered such, though you would be doing your business a grave injustice.

    Traditional CRM vs. Social CRM

    Unlike traditional Customer Relationship Management (CRM), which predominantly glances at the customer from the outside by making suggestions based on the customer’s data and preferences, Social CRM attempts to engage with the customer in a more direct, one-to-one fashion. Businesses do not have to play the guessing game anymore; customers will use social media to speak their minds directly.

    Put bluntly, Social CRM incorporates the customer’s social media interaction into the CRM. You can track your customer’s queries, suggestions and complaints systematically using Social CRM. At the core of Social CRM is customer experience management – it helps you organize all instances of online customer interactions, and reply quicker than ever using social platforms. You also get to combine the newly acquired data with pre-existing knowledge to construct a clearer picture of customers’ wants and needs.

    What does it mean for you

    Practically, businesses can use social platforms like Facebook and Twitter to engage with customers in real-time. Social CRM is mutually beneficial for the business and its customer; the latter does not have to wait for an e-mail reply or on a phone call, while the former can swiftly respond to queries and get back to work.


    Why is Social CRM important?

    When times change, so should you

    A recent survey of consumer behavior conducted by J.D. Power concludes that 67% of consumers have interacted with a businesses’ social media account. That is not by mere chance; the on-demand nature of the modern world has also left its mark on customer behavior. Today, customers expect lightning fast responses to their business queries. And if these expectations aren’t met, businesses suffer.

    Social CRM, by design, is there to help you cope with these expectations. By tracking online customer interactions, it enhances customer experience to unprecedented levels. Because businesses can now respond within minutes to any customer engagement, Social CRM provides a chance for them to show their customers just how valuable they are to the business.

    It’s the statistics, stupid

    Statistics show that missing out on Social CRM is hardly a matter of choice for any burgeoning business. Customers are much more likely to spread positive word regarding a business if they get quick, satisfactory responses on social media from the business. In another survey, around 43% of customers ranked direct responses from businesses as the most important feature of their customer experience. But even amidst such a high demand, a meager 36% concur that their online queries are resolved in an acceptable manner. All this shows that there is plenty of room to grow in the Social CRM space. What’s more, customers are conscious of great customer support, and will in fact reward businesses for providing it.

    A friend of the little guy

    Small businesses can achieve equal footing with their corporate counterparts if their social media game is on point. In a recent survey, HelpScout found out that about 80% of businesses claim to have ‘superior’ customer service, while only 8% of customers of said businesses agree with their evaluation. Small businesses can greatly capitalize on this complacency on part of their competitors, by utilizing Social CRM astutely.


    Infographic Social CRM

    Social CRM strategies

    Rapid response is the right response

    The most crucial aspect of Social CRM is ensuring swift, relevant responses to customer queries. In fact, response time should be the focal point of your customer experience strategy as it relates to Social CRM. Fanhub reports that 25% of social media users expect businesses to respond to their complaints within an hour. That might sound unreasonably demanding, but is in fact achievable given a framework of Social CRM is in place at the business. It is imperative for businesses to treat each customer as the most important one, as 70% of customer experience is based on how customers think they’re being treated. By replying quickly and effectively to your customers, you can get a leg up over the competition.

    Social Listening is all the rage

    You might have already heard about Social Listening. The term refers to businesses employing various techniques to monitor how they’re being discussed in the online social sphere.

    Examples of active social listening leading to positive results are increasing quite a bit. In one of the more famous instances, a German utility company was able to retain 60% of potentially leaving customers through social listening. It did so by monitoring phrases similar to ‘change of provider’ on social media, and channeling resources in those customers’ direction in due time. Resultantly, it saved itself a hefty sum worth €200,000.

    Something similar happened in Vancouver, when a Delta Hotels customer Mike McCready, who was attending a conference, tweeted that his room had a far-from-ideal view. He didn’t even use the hotel’s name; mentioning the conference’s name with a hashtag was enough for Delta to notice the tweet. Delta not only gave him another room, but also treated him with a plate of dessert.

    Reward loyalty and sweeten the pot

    Beyond merely responding to customer questions, businesses can take initiative and actively reward customers from time to time. Because Social CRM gives businesses the chance to track and monitor customer engagement, it is fairly easy to pinpoint the loyal customers, who will typically comment, like and share your posts. Businesses should return the favor, by frequently commenting on those customers’ posts. It will not only make those particular customers more loyal, but also let the world know just much invested you are in your customers.

    Of course, you can go the extra mile and pamper the odd customer like Morton’s Steakhouse. When asked by a customer to deliver an order to the airport when he landed, Morton’s not only welcomed him with the meal, but did so without charging a penny. Customer service doesn’t get better than that.


    Social CRM platforms

    Facebook and Twitter

    Okay, so you’re convinced of the miracles of Social CRM. But which social media platforms should you target? Well, a good place to start is Facebook. The de-facto leader in online interactions, Facebook gives businesses multiple metrics to gauge customer experience. You can monitor comments, likes and views, all of which can collectively tell you how well your customers think they’re being dealt with. Make sure your responses are contextual; if a customer asked something in the comments, try to respond there. If there’s one thing customers are not very fond of, it’s being passed around.

    Twitter is another solid choice. In fact, Socialbakers claims that Twitter receives 19% more customer questions compared to Facebook. This claim is further bolstered by HBR’s findings, which indicate an increase of 2.5x in tweets that use handles of businesses from 2013 to 2015. Twitter’s popularity with customer service experience can be measured by the fact that 86% of customers say they want to hear back from businesses on Twitter when reporting a complaint.

    Leave no one behind

    People below 35 years of age use social media approximately 4 hours/day. This segment of your customers is moving beyond Facebook and Twitter. It is equally important for businesses to maintain a presence on alternative social platforms.

    Instagram can be the perfect customer service tool in a visual economy, if you want it to be. Make sure to use relevant hashtags, as they can connect more people with your posts, resulting in a higher chance of landing new customers. Also, include call-to-actions in your captions; any increase in customer engagement is a win for your business.

    Finally, make smart use of Instant Messaging. Be it WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, ensure your customers have your ears on these platforms. You can even automate certain customer interactions with Messenger for Business, using Facebook’s AI bots.

    How Can Act! Help?

    In this day and age, where efficiency can make or break your business, using social media to deliver customer support is imperative. The math is heavily skewed in favor of businesses that are able to deliver robust customer experience through Social CRM. Yes, we get it: social media is relatively new, and it is easy to stumble into its pitfalls if not given due attention. But the opportunity is too big to pass on. And with Act!, businesses can easily integrate their customer’s social media information with their CRM. See for yourself by ordering the demo now!

  • How and When to Send Emails for the Best Results

    by Act!Now | Dec 15, 2017

    Email marketing is a powerful way to stay in touch with your audience, including both existing customers and new leads. Building a list gives you the ability to reach out to your subscribers whenever you want. To get the best results from your email list, though, you have to follow certain guidelines. You have to identify the best times to send your messages, the ideal frequency and other details, such as topics and subject lines. Let's look at some tips to help you send out emails that bring you great results.

    When is the Best Time to Send Emails?

    If you want to increase your open and response rates, it's important to identify the best time to send emails. If you send your messages at the wrong time, they're likely to get ignored. Most people get lots of email so if they haven't checked their email in a while, they'll see a long, overwhelming list of messages. The natural inclination is to delete most of these. So when is the best time to send your messages?

    Most research indicates that the best time to send emails is in the morning between 9 AM and noon. The day of the week also matters. Some studies suggest that the best days to send emails are Tuesdays and Thursdays. The ideal timing for you, however, depends on your customers. For example, the advice to send emails weekday mornings is especially relevant for B2B emails. On the other hand, if you're targeting consumers for leisure products, it's not a bad idea to send emails on weekends. The best approach is to test different days and times and find out what works best for you.

    How Frequently Should You Email Your List?

    Another crucial factor is the frequency that you email your subscribers. This can have profound implications for your success. If you contact them too often, you risk annoying people and increasing your unsubscribe rate. On the other hand, if you don't email them frequently enough, your brand recognition suffers. So how do you identify the ideal frequency?

    According to the National Client Email Report, most marketers send messages to their lists 4 to 5 times per week. Does this mean that this is ideal for your business? Not necessarily. The answer depends a great deal on the nature of your business and how relevant your emails are to your subscribers. For example, if you're selling retail products where sales and price fluctuations occur frequently, daily emails might be welcome by your audience. On the other hand, if you're publishing a more general newsletter, once per week may be more appropriate.

    You can test different schedules to find the right balance between sending too many and too few emails. This balance is not exactly the same for every business. If you find that many people are unsubscribing, try decreasing the frequency and see if this helps you retain more readers. 

    Subject Lines

    If you want to get more people to open and respond to your emails, the topic is obviously very important. When it comes to getting people to notice and open your emails, the subject line is at least as important as the actual message. Recipients see your subject line and make a split second decision whether to open your email, delete it, or save it for later (which often never arrives). That's why it's worth giving plenty of thought to your subject lines. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

    • Keep subject lines short, preferably under 50 characters. One reason for this is that longer subject lines are harder to read on mobile devices.
    • Personalize the message. Aside from using the recipient's name, try segmenting lists by geography and mention specific cities or regions.
    • Use action words. Some examples include "play," "make," "eat," "enjoy," "buy," and "travel."
    • Create urgency or scarcity. Terms such as "today only," "ends in 24 hours," or "only 20 remaining" suggest that time or supply is limited.
    • Be honest. Don't make false promises just to get people to open your message. This will only make people want to unsubscribe.
    • Ask provocative questions. This makes people want to learn answers. 
    • Avoid spam filters. While you want to provoke interest, don't go overboard with hype. Certain tactics, such as using all caps or exclamation points not only make your messages look spammy but they actually set off spam filters.
    • Conduct A/B tests on subject lines to find out which ones provide you with the best results. 

    These are some of the guidelines to keep in mind when sending emails. One common theme with all of these tips is to always do your own testing. General rules are worth studying, but you'll do even better by finding out what your own subscribers prefer. 

    How can Act! Help?

    Knowing what does and does not work for your business is crucial to your long-term success. Act! emarketing gives business owners the ability to create and track email campaigns that make it easy to communicate with their customers and ultimately close more deals.

  • 3 Ways Your Small Business Can Successfully Compete with Industry Giants

    by Act!Now | Dec 15, 2017

    The date was March 9, 1862. It would prove to be one of the most decisive battles of the Civil War. It pitted the South’s Merrimack, a formidable, 263-foot wooden vessel, against the North’s Monitor, a 172-foot, ironclad vessel with something new, a revolving turret. The South was confident, even arrogant—they even dubbed the North’s ship a “Yankee cheese box on a raft.” Battle on.

    The South was wrong. The more agile and faster Northern ship outmaneuvered the Merrimack, which, damaged and defeated, hobbled back to its Navy yard at 12:30 p.m.

    Sometimes, Smaller Is Better

    If you own a small business, one of the biggest challenges you face is going up against industry giants. You can’t outspend them. You can’t out-advertise them. But you can beat them. To do so, you have to be smart and strategic. Here are 3 smart strategies to go up against enterprise competitors—and win:

    1.  Carve out a Niche

    If you’re a local business that sells soft drinks, you won’t be competing with Coke or Pepsi on a level playing field. They’re established, precisely and consistently branded, and loved by millions of consumers. What you can do is find a chink in their armor, some part of the marketplace they don’t serve, or don’t serve as well as you can.

    That’s what Red Bull did. When the company launched, co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz didn’t have any specific demographic in mind. There wasn’t that much competition in the energy drink market at the time, but still, sales were slow. Mateschitz did some market research and discovered consumers didn’t know if Red Bull was a soft drink or an energy drink—and that spelled opportunity. He laser-targeted a niche market—students—and marketed his rebranded energy drink relentlessly. Red Bull quickly carved out its niche market—the rest, as they say, is history. 

    To succeed when you’re up against the big guys on the block, dive down into your data, find an underserved market, hone your message, and win.

    2.  Tell Your Story—Your Way

    The narrative you create about your business is a powerful tool in your overall marketing strategy. To make that story work for you when you’re competing with enterprise competitors, pick a narrative that distinguishes you from them, and sell it consistently. Your angle could be outstanding customer service, the fact that your products are eco-friendly, free shipping, or more affordable products. Whatever your distinguishing feature is, you need to make sure that you deliver—for example, if you’re selling superior customer service, make sure you’re more responsive than your better-heeled competitors.

    3.  Make Your Message Simple and Easy to Understand

    Whatever your message is, filter it down to its essentials in a simple, concise and credible set of talking points, and deliver them in a way that, implicitly or explicitly, demonstrates how you solve a consumer problem in a way your chief competitors don’t. When Sparkle Paper Towels entered the market, they identified a weakness in the pitch made by super-competitors like Bounty. It wasn’t only that Sparkle gave you a better price—it was also that Bounty and other industry leaders were selling features consumer didn’t really need—I mean, who really needs a paper towel that can hold a bowling ball? Consumers quickly got the simple and easy-to-understand message:  the products you buy don’t need to do everything—they just need to do what you need, and do it for less.

    Think of yourself as the little Monitor. You might be smaller and even have less firepower than the big guys, but your size also gives you an agility and flexibility they don’t possess. You can make decisions more quickly, and more quickly deploy them. To win when you compete with enterprise competitors, find a market niche they haven’t adequately served, craft your distinctiveness into a compelling story, and deploy a message the makes sense and resonates with your customers.

    How Can Act! Help?

    When you’re trying to carve out a niche for your business, knowing how you’re performing, good or bad, will help you understand whether your initiatives on are the right track. Using tools like Act! Insight you can view real-time performance metrics for you company through easy to use dashboards. With up-to-date information, your business can remain agile and adjust to the changing landscape of your industry.

  • Why Invest in a CRM for SMBs

    by Act!Now | Dec 15, 2017

    Establishing intense personal relationships with customers should be a top priority for all small (but budding) businesses. Almost every small enterprise counts on word of mouth and customer referrals as the main lead generating tool. To achieve the pertinent level of customer satisfaction, you have to treat them like they REALLY matter. As the client base starts to grow however, maintaining said relationships becomes harder; this is where a CRM (customer relationship management) system comes into play. A CRM solution allows business owners to confront operational hiccups (like high client attenuation, sales decline and corporate revenue target misalignment etc.) head-on.

    If you are a small business owner, then there are a multitude of reasons why you should be investing in a customer management software. Below are some of the most noteworthy:


    1. Making the shift from Excel (free) to a CRM (paid) is viable

    Excel sheets are good if you have only a few columns (name, contact information and some designations) against each customer but as soon as your business becomes even slightly more robust, keeping more relevant details about every customer becomes a necessity. With a CRM, you no longer have to relentlessly search through the spreadsheet using the “Find” option because it acts as a central hub of easily accessible information.

    Additionally, keeping a spreadsheet up to date is a real steep mountain to climb as there is always a pile of spreadsheets ready to be micromanaged. With a customer management software, you no longer have to worry about updating precious customer information manually and you never end up saying, “Oh, I wish I were able to apply a collective action to a group of contacts” among so many other things. Down the line, you will look back at your CRM-purchasing decision with a smile on your face as according to Baseline, the average CRM system return-on-investment is 5.60 dollars (for every spent dollar).


    2. Ease of access

    Almost all CRM systems come with the inherent ability to run across different devices. Any field representative can have access to important customer information anywhere they want. This improves sales efficiency and gives revenue boosts in the long run. Trackvia.Com claims that a CRM system can improve revenue by a fat 41 percent per sales-person.


    3. Achieve standardisation

    The main reason why companies are making the switch is because as they expand and transform, organizational knowledge might get overlooked if information isn’t captured using a single system. For instance, if there is a sales team expansion or if you have to swap accounts between different employees for some reason, how will they transfer knowledge among themselves? Or if a supervisor wants to know his team’s performance (say at both, personal and group levels), how will they be able to get their hands on data instantly? A CRM’s ability to consistently capture and store information comes in very handy in this regard. Whenever a customer is called or a marketing email (or a survey) is sent or a customer request is received, the interaction takes place in a standardized template, which makes it easy for anybody to access (and make sense of) the interaction at a later time.


    4. Add a layer of security

    The database of customers is arguably your business’ biggest asset. In the world of today where criminal sophistication is increasing rapidly, you need to protect this asset as rigorously as possible. Most of the CRMs ensure the security of sensitive customer data by:

    • Centralizing data in a single database and using state-of-the-art encryption techniques to ensure maximum protection.
    • Periodically create data back-ups.
    • Using security controls and multi-level authentication methods to ensure that only authorized personnel can access information.

    According to RingLead.com, around 67 percent of CRM software users work in small businesses that have 100 (or fewer) employees. This stat on its own shows how pivotal a component a CRM is in today’s technological world.


    5. Seamless data analysis

    A customer management software for small businesses can be a real game changer as its data analysis prowess is always very handy. Data from a CRM can be used to view contemporary trends and eventually formulate sound enterprise strategies. From making astute mailing lists to releasing targeted discount offers, a CRM can help a strategist do it all. This eventually leads to improved customer retention. In fact, CRM systems have been shown to help increase customer retention by up to 27 percent!


    6. Increase customer satisfaction

    Nothing makes a customer happier than knowing that their money bought them more than just a product or a service. It goes without saying that a CRM solution lets a small business make its customers happier. According to American Express’ Global Customer Service Barometer, 3 out of 4 consumers claim that they spent more money on a company’s products/services because of a better customer experience. This goes to show how a CRM can improve customer service by establishing brand loyalty and increasing each customer’s lifetime value.


    7. Email marketing made simpler

    Roughly speaking, 60 percent of all small businesses are using CRM systems for email marketing. Some CRM solutions provide efficient email marketing features that can streamline the process of email marketing. The integrated email marketing suites contain templates, personalization and automation support that can come in very handy while sending out emails. Additionally, businesses have the ability to send bulk emails to selective customer groups and to track sent emails. This makes the emailing process simpler, while also allowing businesses to target their messages more effectively.


    8. Integration with other software

    Most of the modern CRM systems support integrations with many other applications like project management, accounting and data processing software suites. This is important as it allows different functions of a business to be closely matched based on customer information. It makes your CRM a hub for all the relevant information you need in order to run your business.


    9. Be able to make sound business predictions

    Making intelligent decisions based on proceedings of the past customer interactions and behavior can increase the overall success of a company. Knowing how customers reacted to a specific product or service can allow businesses to formulate effective future strategies. For instance, if a specific demographic reacted poorly to an expensive product and if there were a lot of returns associated with the product, it can be concluded that most of the people didn’t find the product value was worth the cost. This can lead to the company dropping the product’s price, or changing the target market.


    10. Open a whole another world of possibilities

    When you (and your salespersons) get their hands on a CRM solution, the possibilities are endless. A business can prosper at great speeds when CRM provides them with the ability to:

    • build better client relationships
    • increase the collaboration within your team members
    • improve your ability to cross sell
    • enhance client-serving efficiency

    Having features like highly user-friendly reports and dashboards, sales analytics charts and visualizations and sales automation among many others available at your disposal, the only thing holding you back (from generating exciting marketing strategies) is your imagination.


    How Can Act! Help?

    Having a customer relationship management software is quickly becoming an outright necessity instead of a luxury. Mobile apps like Act! Companion make it easy to access vital customer information anywhere you go. Additionally, Act! helps business owners manage customer information, track performance, and plan for the future. Combined with dozens of interactions options, from Outlook, to Dropbox to Facebook, Act! is built to be the center of your business’s world. Making it easier to do business instead of just managing it.

  • Top 5 Tools Your Small Business Needs in 2018

    by Act!Now | Dec 15, 2017

    If you want your small business to grow and stay competitive, it's necessary to continually make adjustments and upgrades – not only to the products and/or services that you provide but to the tools you use to run your business. As technology continues to permeate every aspect of our lives, businesses that keep up with the changing times are able to maintain a competitive advantage. Another year is almost over and it's time to start thinking about what you're going to do differently next year. To help you make 2018 a success, here are the top 5 tools your business needs most.

    File Sharing Services

    If your business isn't using a cloud-based file sharing service such as Google Docs or Dropbox, you're probably not operating as efficiently as you could (should) be. These types of services let you post, share, and edit all kinds of documents, making it easy for team members, partners, and clients to collaborate and share files from any device or location. Depending on your needs, you may be able to get by using the free version of Dropbox or Google Docs. If you need more space, the upgraded versions are still a good deal. This is more efficient than sending files via email and helps everyone stay current with all of your projects.

    Accounting Software

    Another area where it's essential to maximize accuracy and productivity is with your books. Software such as QuickBooks or FreshBooks can save you both time and money. A quality accounting program is often the difference between having to hire a bookkeeper or accountant. Of course, you may still need such services for certain purposes. Even so, however, it's still nice to have accurate and user-friendly financial software so you know the state of your finances. This also makes tasks such as billing clients faster and more accurate. If your business hasn't yet upgraded to a professional accounting program, doing so in 2018 will help you manage your money better and help you keep an accurate, real-time pulse on your bottom line. 

    Time Management Apps 

    Time management is an essential concern for every business. Very often, people aren't aware of how productive they really are. For example, do you track how much time you spend every day checking your email and social media pages? What about your employees? Time management and productivity apps let you track the amount of time spent on each task. Some apps, such as My Minutes, let you set goals to help you focus and remove distractions. Apps such as Freedom and SelfControl are specifically geared towards blocking distractions such as Facebook while you're working. 

    Outsourcing Tools

    One way to make your business more efficient is to outsource tasks to free up your time. Many small business owners waste countless hours doing things that could easily be outsourced to virtual assistants or freelancers. There are quite a few sites where freelancers list their services. Fiverr and Upworthy are just a couple of examples of sites that list basically any type of service you could think of. There are also sites for more specific tasks. Blogmutt, for example, has tiered content writers and offers flexible plans to fit any budget depending on the length/quantity of posts you need. WP Curve is good for finding IT specialists. There are also companies that connect you with virtual assistants in countries such as the Philippines. Outsourcing frees up your time to focus on more productive areas such as product creation, marketing, and engaging with your customer acquisition.  

    A Flexible CRM 

    CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software is helpful for improving efficiency, delivering better customer service, gaining access to more accurate analytics and more. With a CRM like Act!, you can automate many of your business's everyday tasks by integrating hundreds of popular business optimization tools via Act! Connect. This type of software enhances communication between individuals and teams and helps every user engage more effectively with your customers. It can also help you connect various activities under a single dashboard. For example, if your email, communications, accounting, and social media activities are more integrated it's easier to keep track of everything. If you're not using a CRM or the system you currently have doesn't meet your needs, it's more than worth it to consider a new one.

    How Can Act! Help?

    With a CRM like Act!, you can automate many of your business's everyday tasks by integrating hundreds of popular business optimization tools via Act! Connect. Having all your most used tools and programs makes managing you day and your customers much more efficient. For example, if your email, communications, accounting, and social media activities are more integrated, it's easier to keep track of and access the performance of your latest marketing efforts and determine their return on investment.

  • 4 Email Marketing Metrics You Should Be Tracking

    by Act!Now | Dec 15, 2017

    If you’re not sure whether your email marketing campaigns are delivering results, you need to ask yourself two questions. First, do you have clearly articulated goals and, second, are you effectively measuring progress towards those goals? 

    A surprising number of small and medium size businesses invest a lot of time and energy creating email campaigns with vague objectives, or no objectives at all, other than increasing general awareness of their products and services. Your email marketing campaign should be directed to a specific, measurable outcome, like growing your subscriber list, generating new leads, or improving conversion rates. 

    Track Different Metrics for Different Goals

    The metrics you need to track are a function of the goal of your email marketing campaign. For example, if your goal is to grow the top of your funnel by driving more traffic to your website, you should be measuring the growth rate of your subscriber list. If your goal is lead generation, you should be tracking the number of leads generated over time. If you want to convert more leads into customers, you need to monitor changes in your conversion rate.

    Metrics Every Email Marketer Should Be Tracking

    While some metrics are goal-specific, others are important to track in every campaign, including the following 4:

    1.  Click through Rate (CTR)

    This is the percentage of your recipients who clicked on one or more links in your email. To calculate CTR, divide the number of clicks by the number of delivered emails—for example, if you delivered 5,000 emails and 250 recipients clicked on a link, your click through rate would be 250/5,000, or 5%. 

    Many email marketers obsess over their open rate, but this can be a misleading metric. A well-written subject line can boost open rates, but that doesn’t really help your business if recipients simply read your email without doing what it is you want them to do, like click through to a landing page on your website, watch a product video or download an eBook. Your click through rate is an important benchmark index because, unlike your open rate, it tells you how engaging your content is, and how many email recipients want to learn more about your products and services based on the quality of that content.

    2.  Conversion Rate

    The conversion rate of your email campaign goes a step further, telling you how many recipients both clicked on an email link and completed a desired action, such as buying a product or completing a lead generation form. To calculate conversion rate, divide the number of recipients who completed the desired action by the number of delivered emails (if you delivered 5,000 emails and 100 recipients completed your desired action, your conversion rate would be 100/5,000, or 2%).

    Conversion rate is among the most important metrics you can track because it’s directly related to the goal of your campaign. If, for example, you want email recipients to view a product video (as a precursor to purchasing that product), you need to know how effectively your email content and call-to-action are persuading recipients to watch that video.

    3.  Bounce Rate

    This is the percentage of emails which weren’t successfully delivered to your recipients’ inboxes, calculated as the number of undelivered emails divided by the number of emails sent.   You should be tracking both “soft” and “hard” bounces. Soft bounces are emails that can’t be delivered because a recipient’s inbox is full, or a result of some other temporary problem with a valid email address. Hard bounces are emails that aren’t delivered because the recipient’s email address doesn’t exist or has been closed.

    An email recipient’s server will often hold soft bounces until the temporary problem is fixed. Hard bounces, on the other hand, signal a more serious issue. You should delete these email addresses immediately:  internet service providers use your hard bounce rate to assess your reputation, and potentially to identify you as a spammer.

    4.  Return on Investment (ROI)

    This one is self-evident:  it represents how much revenue your campaign generates as a function of how much you spent. For example, if your total email marketing campaign costs are $100 and your campaign generates $2,000 in additional sales, you made $1,900, and your ROI is 1,900% (1,900/100). 

    In calculating ROI, it’s important to include every cost related to your email marketing campaign, such as how much you paid to an email service provider for the duration of your campaign, and how much you paid employees for their work. You also need to ensure that every sale you include is a direct result of your email campaign. 

    Tracking these are other metrics will let you know how much progress you’re making towards the goals of your email marketing campaigns, and where you need to make improvements to hasten that progress. Equally important, the emails you send are one component of the relationship you’re building with customers and prospective customers, a relationship based on the experience they have with your business at every touch point. 

    How Act! Can Help?

    Act! emarketing is designed with business owners in mind. Creating, sending and tracking emails is just a few simple clicks away. With Act! emarketing, you can quickly see the performance of your customer outreach initiatives and make necessary changes to increase overall engagement. Easy to use templates and reports give you rich insights into how your business is doing, and ultimately influence the decisions that will lead to increased ROI.
  • CRM: More than Contact Management

    by Act!Now | Dec 14, 2017

    Your relationship with your customers is the most important element of your business. You may have a great product or service and you’re likely selling it at a competitive price. However, if you don’t have a quality CRM tool at your disposal, your business is likely to suffer.

    This is because, while everyone wants to get the best deals on the things they buy, they generally just want to be treated like human beings. What do I mean by this? They want their requests and complaints to be taken into consideration. They want to know that their opinion matters to you. They want to be heard.

    Here are a couple suggestions to make sure that you’re utilizing your CRM to foster an environment that creates a positive customer experience:

    Customer Service Training

    Customer service training is important for all employees who are going to be interacting with customers. Even if certain employees rarely deal with customers, such as those in the accounting department, it doesn’t hurt to make sure that they are also up to speed on your standards for dealing with customers. You want to deliver a cohesive experience, no matter who your customer interacts with at your company.

    When providing this training, you need to make sure that your employees learn how to listen actively. Sometimes, you have to use your own creativity to understand what the customer wants. After all, your employee is going to be familiar with all the product specifications while the customer isn’t. So the employee needs to listen to what the customer wants but also use their own expertise to provide the customer with what they need.

    Another basic component of customer service is being patient. Sometimes, you might be able to help a customer right away. Maybe this is because the customer knows what they want or because they can correctly identify what they are having trouble with. Sometimes, however, a customer may have a genuine need but they don’t know exactly what they want. In this case, it’s important to be patient and ask questions to try and understand how you can help that person.

    Having a CRM tool allows your employees to add notes to the customer’s contact, not only to keep an accurate record of the interactions between your company and that customer, but to better prepare the next person they interact with should another issue arise in the future.

    Staying in Touch

    It’s not only important to provide the best possible service to all the customers who come looking for it. You also have to follow up and make sure that they’re satisfied with their purchase or the service they received. You can also follow up to let them know about special offers they might be interested in based off their previous purchases – which you can easily access because of your CRM, or if you have their birthday, you can email them coupons around that time of year. Use every possible reason that you can to stay in touch with your customers, either via email, social channels or direct mail. You can even ask them which method they prefer.

    Another great way of spreading the word about what’s going on with your company is by using social media and blogs. Updating your web presence continuously helps drive traffic to your website and lets people know about the latest innovations or developments in your business.

    Follow these simple suggestions and you’re sure to provide a positive customer experience that keeps them coming back time and time again.

    How Can Act! Help?

    Could your business benefit from the tips above? Act! CRM and emarketing tools help you to manage, maintain and engage with your existing customer base easily and effectively. Build customer loyalty by targeting specific groups of customers with offers relevant to their needs and provide personalized service with our intuitive contact management features. Click here to learn more!

  • How to Efficiently Manage your Sales Pipeline

    by Act!Now | Dec 14, 2017

    A prospect or a potential customer doesn’t ideally make a purchase immediately after approaching your company. Even though our lives would be a lot simpler if that were the case but in practice, the process of converting a prospect into an actual purchasing customer takes a little more time. This process, which starts with the first interaction with a prospect and runs all the way till the actual purchase is made, is known as a sales pipeline. Analysing a sales pipeline allows you to predict the amount of business that’s expected to be done within a specific period of time.

    Even if the idea of sales pipeline management sounds foreign to you, it’s likely that you already have one in place but you just don’t know it. Do you deal with prospected customers in a specific way? Do you follow a special protocol to close a sale? If yes, then your sales pipeline is already up and running.

    Efficient management of the sales pipeline can guarantee increased sale success and in turn, increased revenue. When you scrutinise the whole process of dealing with a person who is interested in your product, you are able to find out areas of concern along with areas of strength.

    Now that we all agree on the importance and need of a well-managed sales pipeline, let’s take a look at sales metrics – the numbers and figures that gives meaning to a sales pipeline. As a sales manager, you need to live and breathe sales metrics in order to manage your sales funnel in the finest way possible. The better aware you are of the averages that govern the sales funnel, the better you will be able to predict closable business and revenue. Here are a few amounts that you need to be aware of:

    • The number of generated monthly leads per source
    • The rate of conversion of the generated leads into actual pursuable opportunities
    • The rate of conversion of the opportunities into actual closed deals
    • Average size of the closed deal
    • Average tenure/length of the sales cycle
    • Total pursuable opportunities

    Nothing matters more when we talk about sales pipelines than the correctness of collected data. Unauthentic data can inhibit the streamlining of the process and can lead to sales managers failing to give sound predictions.

    An efficient sales pipeline depends on much more than just the metrics however; here’s our plan that can be followed to set one up:

    1. Who are your prospects?

      To manage a pipeline, you need to have one at first. Finding possible prospects/leads is step 1. There are many ways to generate leads and if you have a business model in place, we are guessing you already know how you are generating yours. The most basic tool to capture leads is via the lead capture form i.e. a form which can be put up on your website for visitors to fill with information. The contact information that these forms give should be treated with extra care because these people reached out to you directly and will be expecting to hear back from you. It’s a recommended practice to link the form to your company’s CRM software to ensure that no leads get lost.

    2. How much potential are we talking?

      According to a research conducted by Hubspot, around 60 percent of all purchasers prefer discussing price in the very first call.

      Quantitative information like total sales amount and the frequency of possible purchases over a specific time period is critical for your sales funnel. It’s worth noting here that you can’t go with a conjecture; you can’t estimate what the prospect has in mind regarding what they want to buy and to what extent they intend to keep in touch with the company. Another piece of information that you need to retrieve here is the purchasing policy of the client. Is price the only factor for the client while making a purchase? Does the client intend to make purchases every month? Or every year? Try to get as much out of the client, without making them lose their interest, as you can. It’s your duty to find out the possibility of them following through: This can be done by analysing the responsiveness of the client and their seriousness during the conversation.

    3. Who is calling the shots?

      Sometimes, you will be lucky and the person in contact with you, will be the actual decision maker. However, most of the time, it’s the executives who call the shots depending on the price and other determining factors that can be market-specific. However, asking a prospected client who their boss is can be an act of crossing the metaphorical line; so, you need to be clever. Let the contact know that since the purchase would set the company back a significant amount, executive approval is usually imperative and while you are “just talking” about it, ask them whether it’s the same in their case as well. It’s also a good idea to ask if the executives have given any special requirements for the purchase.

    4. Follow up:

      Your sales follow-up is arguably the most important part of the sales funnel. A recommended practice is to ensure that all promised follow-up tasks are documented in the CRM (against all clients and prospects). Be as descriptive as possible regarding the requirements and also record the estimated date by which the action has to be completed. Tracking, monitoring and (obviously) completing these actions astutely and within the agreed deadline should be your primary concern. Always be vigilant to reply if a customer makes a query.

    5. Measure and scrutinise everything:

      Every prospect is different and you need to measure results for every single one of them. When you track the successes and failures for clients in a CRM, you are able to figure out how accurate your sales metrics are and what your closure rate is. By being able to perform accurate sales forecasting, you are able to predict revenue and make informed strategic decisions in the future.

      After tracking the actions you took for every sale that you made, you have laid out a pathway to success in front of you. Take the path that helped you close deals repeatedly and avoid the actions that made you lose a potential client. The key here is to never settle on a success-yielding pathway, for an indefinite period of time, but to always be willing to adapt and improve with every new sale.

    How Can Act! Help?

    An efficient sales pipeline can not only help in providing correct data regarding expected sales and revenue, but it can also help in improving the process of customer conversion. Act! CRM offers sales process automation tools and contact management features that help business owners see where their pipeline stands and plan for the future. To find out how you can efficiently manage your sales pipeline with Act! sign up for a free demo or try Act! for free.

  • Top 5 Keys to Sales Success for the Solopreneur

    by Act!Now | Dec 14, 2017

    If you're a solopreneur, someone who runs a one-person business, you face some special challenges. With no partners or employees, you're responsible for keeping everything running. This position has its benefits as well as its drawbacks. On the one hand, you're completely independent and don't have to answer to anyone. At the same time, you're constantly jumping from one task to the next and wearing many hats. There are certain principles that can make your journey as a solopreneur more rewarding and less stressful. 

    1. Resist the Urge to Multitask

    As a solopreneur, it's almost impossible to avoid a certain amount of multitasking. It's best, however, to keep this to a minimum. There are quite a few disadvantages to multitasking, which often makes us less rather than more efficient. The best way to avoid this practice is to discipline yourself to stick to a schedule. If you're working on an email or blog post, finish it before making a phone call. Conversely, if you're on an important call, don't scroll Facebook or Twitter at the same time. Focusing intently on a single task helps you get more accomplished. 

    2. Give Yourself Breaks

    Solopreneurs, more than almost anyone else, risk burning themselves out. When you're building a business, you have a multitude of tasks to complete. Additionally, your day doesn't end at 5; it can easily extend into the night and over weekends and holidays. If you work around the clock, you'll get lots accomplished but you also risk burnout. Taking regular breaks helps you feel refreshed and focused. The Pomodoro Technique, where you alternately work for 25 minutes and take 5-minute breaks, is an effective way to ensure you don't overwork. Even if you prefer not to follow such a rigid system, however, don't forget to give yourself breaks. It's also a good rule to take at least one full day off per week. In the long run, you'll get more accomplished this way. 

    3. Set Clear Boundaries

    It's crucial that the people in your life respect your time and understand that just because you don't have a traditional 9-5 job doesn't mean that you're free to talk for hours on the phone, chat on Facebook, or meet for long lunches or coffee breaks every day. Similarly, remind yourself to avoid distractions when you're working at your business. In some ways, it's beneficial to treat your business like a job. Find a time and a place, whether at home or a cafe with wi-fi, where you can work undisturbed and make it clear, both to yourself and everyone else, that you're working and not available for socializing or random errands. On the other hand, as a solopreneur you don't have to be rigid about your schedule. You're free to alter your work hours and the place you work as it suits you. Wherever and whenever you go, however, make sure that you set and enforce certain boundaries. Otherwise, you'll find that people and events sap away your time. 

    4. Get Help When You Need It

    One of the biggest mistakes that solopreneurs make is trying to do everything themselves. As a solo owner, you do have to make all of the big decisions regarding your business. That doesn't mean, though, that you can't outsource certain tasks. Identify your priorities and strengths and decide where your time is most effectively spent. Then look for ways to outsource other time-draining items on your to-do list. If you're accustomed to doing everything yourself, start outsourcing gradually. Over time, you'll find that this is one of the best ways to scale up your business and avoid burnout. 

    5. Automate as Many Tasks as Possible

    In addition to outsourcing, one of the best ways to get more efficient is to find the right automation tools. Finding automation tools to manage tasks such as sending emails, managing ads, and scheduling social media posts makes a big difference in your time management. Research different tools and services and find solutions that work for you. The right plugins, CMS (content management system) or CRM (customer relationship management) systems help you get more accomplished in less time. 

    How Can Act! Help?

    How can Act! help the solopreneur? The biggest commodity to someone running a business is time. Act! doesn’t add more hours to your day, but it can help you use the hours you have more effectively. With Act! you have access to preloaded reports and email templates, sales automation tools, a robust CRM platform, and email marketing tool and so much more. Reach out today to learn more about how Act!