Does Your Business Have the Support
It Needs?

Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have seen my grumbling about not getting some StomperNet stuff I had paid for. I figured a little public whining would solve my problem, and it did—they kindly called me up and made things right. (I don’t advocate that as your first line of fire, but I’d submitted two support tickets already, and I was getting a little cantankerous.)

Now the StomperNet dudes don’t think small. I believe their budget for salaries is right about one kazillion dollars. They have a large staff of ninjas on just about every facet of Internet business, from SEO to conversion to how to make your shopping cart do things that verge on the unnatural.

They apparently, though, don’t have a support expert on staff. (Maybe after this they’ll add one.) Some customers had all kinds of problems, and their fulfillment house (the folks who put CDs into boxes and mail them from a warehouse) didn’t do them any favors either.

So here’s a quick tutorial on support and handling screwups, because how you handle this is one of the most important communications challenges you’ll ever face.

Support is Marketing

A lot of companies consider spending perfectly good money on support to be a necessary evil. It’s overhead, like taxes or the light bill. It is to be minimized, controlled, pared down to the slimmest possible margins.

This is nuts.

Support and salespeople are the two groups who are the most likely to actually talk to your customers. And while salespeople have their own challenges to face, they also tend to make nice money and to at least get patted on the back when they sell lots of your product.

Support people are typically paid poorly, they get crapped on all day, and they get only the most modest recognition when they do a great job. Most support is terrible because it’s designed to be terrible. It’s starved for money, attention, respect and love. That’s not a recipe for greatness.

If you buy my assertion that marketing is the relationship your organization has with customers, support is nothing less than the front line of marketing. Which means it needs to be well-staffed, well-paid, to have incredibly robust systems in place, and to be led by people who are fanatic about getting it right.

Support is Communication

Great support tells customers you care deeply about them. Great support turns pissed off people into rabid fans. Great support snatches victory from the jaws of defeat.

Great support is about what you do as opposed to what you say.

Great support is an all-night conversation with your lover when you decide to stay together instead of break up. Great support is about the messiness that shows it’s a real relationship.

Great Support People

Support is a calling more than a job. (Actually, I think it may be a mental illness, but as the man said, we need the eggs.)

Great support people are not reasonable. They’re irrationally committed. They care too much. They have trouble setting boundaries. (You need to help them with that, incidentally.) They just want to make other people happy and to create peace, harmony and fairness in this world.

When you find a support superstar, let that person own the process. Pay him well. And give him real recognition. Talk him up in your communication with customers. Pay nice bonuses based on real accomplishment. Let him know that he’s a valued part of your success.

Great support people are junkies for recognition, and the average support job gives virtually none. Don’t be average.

Great support people want to find a great company to get married to. Make room for that. Find someone wonderful who will do anything for your customers, then make it very easy for him to stay forever.

Great Support Processes

If you have more than three or four customers, post-its and promises don’t cut it. You need some kind of automation. Yes, it’s hard to figure out and set up. Compared with having customers who hate you, that’s not a bad problem to solve.

Ensure that your great support person is constantly defining and refining processes. Great processes don’t destroy creativity, they make room for it and draw the outlines. You’ll know it’s a great process when people use it to create great relationships.

Your support process needs to be built by someone who’s answered those phones, who knows what it really takes to talk down the screaming customer and turn her into your biggest fan. And you don’t just create a process once. You own it, evolve it, nurture it and proactively keep refining it.

A Note About Fulfillment Houses

Having worked with a variety of fulfillment houses over the years (very happily, because this really is not something you ever, ever want to handle in-house), I’ve noticed something.

The smaller and more critical the job is, the higher the probability it will get screwed up.

Sending a sensitive communication to a small group of highly persnickety customers who represent millions of dollars in potential referrals? An absolute guarantee of computer glitches, process breakdowns, employees who go off the wagon in the middle of your job, and other “this has never happened to us before” SNAFUs. It’s a little-known extension of Murphy’s Law.

I don’t know a remedy for this. Hiring the best doesn’t help. Flying someone from your company out to oversee tricky jobs is a good idea, but it doesn’t solve everything. Just know that outsourcing the job to a reliable vendor doesn’t mean you will have no problems.

Shit Happens

My problem with StomperNet came from a mistake in what’s called “kitting.” (Translation, the warehouse guys forgot to put all the stuff in the box.) These things happen.

The problem was exacerbated by two support tickets that were answered by an autoresponder without getting followed up by a person. The queue was just longer than their folks could get to. These things happen, too.

The problem didn’t end with me. I got messages from a number of folks on Twitter who had issues. Some of them suggested that StomperNet was scamming people or trying to pull something sneaky.

Support and fulfillment issues don’t mean StomperNet is evil or that they suck or that their products are crummy. In fact, so far I am quite impressed with their products. My guess is that they didn’t staff adequately for demand, and their fulfillment house wasn’t quite up to the job.

Experience is a very painful way to learn. When you see someone screw up, instead of gloating or judging, start taking notes about how you can not screw that one up when you encounter it for yourself.

Make sure your support staff and processes are amazing. Because sometimes they need to be.

Flickr Creative Commons Image by toronja_azul

Objection Blaster Series #3: Dakara Nani?
(So What?)

Once you have your foot in the door and you’ve addressed the First Great Objection (I don’t have time to talk to salespeople), you’ve got no more than a few seconds to prove you’re worthy of keeping that attention.

You’re coming up to the Second Great Objection, which is Why am I spending time listening to you?, also known as Who cares?

Or, in Presentation Zen ubergenius Garr Reynold’s nicer way of putting it, Dakara Nani? (It still means who cares, but it sounds more polite in Japanese.)

The Depressing Truth

You’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into building something great. You handcrafted it from sustainably gathered bald eagle feathers, baby tears and triple-distilled titanium. You spent every spare hour working to make it the most perfect product the world has ever seen.

And no one cares.

At all.

Potential customers are looking to answer a couple of key, self-oriented questions right away. If you don’t get to the point, they tune you out. Yes, you bought some time with your wonderfully tasty chips and salsa, but that time is not unlimited. You need to get in there and make yourself relevant.

Your prospects and readers need to be saying at least one of the following things as soon as they see your stuff. Otherwise, they’ll just drift away into the sea of ADD we’re all floating around in.

I’m in the Right Place

One of the biggest challenges of Web design is making sure that a new customer immediately grasps that she’s in the right place.

You offer what she’s looking for. You solve problems she has. Your customers look like her. And all of this is instantly communicated by your graphics. Which probably means your site looks more like Google and less like MSN, because only robots can assimilate that much information at a glance and glean anything useful from it.

A very useful little eBook I found on this topic was Ben Hunt’s charmingly snarky and highly readable Save the Pixel . It won’t turn you into a graphic designer, but it will give you the concepts and understanding you need to talk with one intelligently, or at least tweak your WordPress theme so it works better for your readers.

This Is for People Like Me

Remember when we talked about understanding who your ideal customer is? Pitch to everyone and you’ll sell to no one.

When you distill your message to focus on the people you can help the most, you start to pop out from the background of clutter. For example, when I see an ad (for anything) featuring a model who looks like Paris Hilton, it immediately becomes wallpaper to me.

My conscious mind doesn’t have to do any work, because my unconscious has already thrown that ad into the bucket marked irrelevant.

On the other hand, when I see an ad with a mom and a toddler (even more so if the mom isn’t 22), my attention gets drawn. Hm, this looks like it’s for people like me. And I investigate further.

Out of the 6 billion people on earth, figure out the handful you can do the most good for, that you can reach readily, and who have the money to buy what you sell.

Figure out where those folks hang out when they’re thinking about the kind of thing you do. Then let them know with complete clarity that what you have is for people like them.

Hey, That Would Fix My Problem!

Without pain, there is no marketing.

If we were all perfectly evolved beings who rose effortlessly above suffering and desire, there would be no such thing as advertising or marketing. There would only be Making Useful Things and Making Pretty Things. We would all trade them around as we needed them, and gradually dissolve into the effortless bliss of nirvana.

I don’t see that happening any time soon.

People have pain. They have insecurities. They have fears, both reasonable and unreasonable. They want what they don’t have. They want what they can never have. They long for certainty and stability, even though the very nature of the universe is change. They feel dumb and they want to feel smart. They feel fat and they want to feel skinny.

Selling to Problems, Selling to Desire

There are real problems (my back is killing me, my job is killing me, my kids are killing me) and then there are the problems we manufacture because we want something (not having an iPhone is killing me, not going to Paris is killing me, not having that triple bacon cheeseburger is killing me).

Desire can be a stronger force than need. When the death camps were liberated at the end of World War II, rescued women prisoners craved lipstick even more than they craved food or safety. The thing they wanted most was to feel human again. Was that a need or a desire?

You could make the case that desire is what makes us people and not just really clever monkeys. Desire is a longing for something greater than need. Desire is a quest for something that may not even exist yet. Art and music and beauty and truth are about desire.

So don’t be ashamed to market to desire. Desire is the source of a lot of human wonderfulness.

Making Your Promise

At the end of the day, getting past Who cares? is about delivering a promise to solve a problem or fulfill a desire.

Most of us know about benefits, not features. (If you don’t, make learning about it a priority for yourself. It’s one of those keys to all marketing and sales success kinds of things.)

But those benefits have to solve an actual problem or fulfill a true desire. Otherwise, they’re what Clayton Makepeace calls fake benefits. They don’t scratch an itch anyone actually has.

Always remember that demographics, markets and targets don’t buy. People with problems and desires buy. Think about people, make solutions for people, talk to people, and make your promise to people.

Be relentless with yourself. Who cares? So what? What’s the point? Keep asking yourself these questions when you’re putting your communication together. Be tougher on yourself than any reader ever will be.

Who cares? They will.

The Objection Blaster Series

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Flickr Creative Commons image by Pixel_Addict

The Top 10 Writing Blogs for 2008/2009

I am tickled pink (and purple and orange and sparkly blue) to be in Michael Stelzner’s list of the Top 10 Writing Blogs for 2008/2009. I want to especially thank the folks who saw my post on this blog and went over to nominate me, as well as to those who posted your support in the nomination thread.

Here are Michael’s descriptions of the 10 winning blogs. I’m absolutely honored to be in such terrific company. Now I’ve just got to find the right spot for my nifty new “Top 10 Blogs” badge.

  1. Copyblogger: As the undefeated champ, this blog has held the number-one spot for three straight years!  The baby of Brian Clark, this blog keeps winning because of its excellent and educational articles.
  2. Men With Pens: James Chartrand and Harry McLeod are the dynamic duo who continue to deliver rich content and community discussion.
  3. Freelance Writing Jobs: Founded by Deb Ng, this site is the first stop for freelance writers seeking new work and great articles (and it remains a top winner since this contest began).
  4. Write to Done: This blog delivers a steady stream of excellent articles for all writers and is the product of top blogger Leo Babauta.
  5. Confident Writing: Looking for encouragement? Joanna Young will help you take your writing to the next level.
  6. The Renegade Writer: Linda Formichelli and Diana Burell, authors of a book by the same name, help freelance journalists find inspiration.
  7. Remarkable Communication: One part writing, one part marketing and one part selling, this excellent blog by Sonia Simone will help any writer succeed.
  8. Writing Journey: Looking for a great stop on your writing journey? Bob Younce’s blog will refresh and energize you.
  9. Freelance Parent: Two moms, Lorna Doone Brewer and Tamara Berry, provide excellent perspective on writing while balancing time with little ones.
  10. Urban Muse: Susan Johnson covers a wide range of excellent topics that all writers will enjoy.

Linky Thursday, September 18, 2008

b.schrade’s anemone & bee from Flickr Creative Commons

I haven’t done one of these in way too long. Here’s a collection of tasty links I’ve found that I think you will enjoy. I’m hoping to reach out more in the blog over the coming months, so look for more of these!

  • Naomi at Ittybiz has announced that she’s going to bring down her amazing Marketing School posts. Grab ‘em now while they’re still free. I have mine copied into a Word doc as my own do-it-yourself Marketing School ebook.
  • Joanna Young at Confident Writing has a fascinating post about how to handle a change in direction in your blog. When your audience (or customers) feel they have a real stake in what you do, you’ve won a battle–but taken on a whole new set of responsibilities.
  • Michael Martine at Remarkablogger is running a series called the Remarkablogger Manifesto to explore your core values as a communicator and a businessperson. The concepts all apply whether you have a blog or not–they’re really about examining what drives you and where you want to go next. This post has been my favorite, but they’re all very solid.
  • This video by the Grandmaster of Grump, Dan Kennedy, is part of a pitch for a new product of his. But I want you to pay special attention to his story about the chiropractor who let his family define him as “not too successful,” to the point of making it a moral issue. Kennedy would tell you that this kind of self-limitation is completely optional on your part, and I agree.
  • Chris Brogan’s epic post on 50 Ways to Take Your Blog to the Next Level has been bookmarked 689 times (so far) on Delicious, for good reason. He uses five different perspectives to look closely at what’s keeping you from moving forward, and how to break through. This is a much more thoughtful, meaty post than the usual linkbait list. Highly recommended.
  • Havi Brooks did a great series this week on “How to Annoy the People You Want to Help.” This was my favorite post, on speaking the language of the person you want to make a connection with.
  • If writing is torture for you, check out my Copyblogger post this week on growing a blog post. This is the system I use to write content, and I’ve really found it makes the process less painful and more productive. Hope you find it useful!

Objection Blaster Series #2: The Zen of Selling

candles

This is the second in a six- or seven-part series (maybe more if I come up with a bunch of great ideas) on overcoming sales objections. But before I start in on today’s post, I want to be sure you know what objections are.

Basically, every sale has two major components. The first part lets prospects know what you have to offer, and on what terms. The second part addresses the reasons your prospects don’t want to take you up on it.

If you’re selling face to face, you can deal with these as they come up. But when you’re marketing online or with direct mail, you have to blast through objections another way.

This series will walk you through the overarching objections that just about every client has, as well as giving you some techniques for dealing with objections that might be specific to your product or service.

What’s Keeping Your Customers from Buying?

It’s very helpful, before you try to answer this question, if you have an extremely solid idea of who your ideal customer is. Don’t bother trying to sell to not-ideal customers, they’ll waste your time and keep you from optimizing your business for the folks who really matter.

With an ideal customer in mind, brainstorm as many things as you can think of that might keep that person from pulling the trigger. This is a great time to wallow in a little creative paranoia. Is your stuff too expensive? Is it hard to understand? Will it take a lot of time to install? Is it going to break in two weeks?

Think about every hesitation your prospect might conceivably have about buying your stuff, no matter how weird or far-fetched. Don’t assume that your brilliant marketing has already laid this hesitation to rest. Just list everything.

How to Create an FAQ

The FAQ is a misnamed creature. It really should be FRO–frequently raised objections.

Every objection you can think of should be on your FAQ, answered in a calm and logical way that puts those fears to rest. The underlying fear to nearly all objections is what if I feel like an idiot for buying from you?  So keep that in mind when you put your answers together.

Don’t overpromise. Don’t hype. If there’s not-perfect stuff, either solve it or admit to it. (Admitting to minor not-perfect stuff is an excellent way to build a real relationship.) Just answer the questions in a way that shows you give a damn.

A Fantastic Example

I tend to assume that everyone who reads Remarkable Communication also reads Ittybiz, so you may have seen this already. But if you haven’t checked out Havi’s terrific FAQ for the Non Icky Self Promotion class (I’m taking the class and it seriously rocks, I don’t know if you can still sign up, but you should if you can), go do that.

Havi, in her adorable hippie marketer brilliance, goes through six significant objections in a respectful, thoughtful way. She doesn’t promise that her stuff fixes every problem. She doesn’t say that anyone’s objections are wrong or stupid. She just gives you an alternate way to look at them.

She’s not going to sell to everyone who reads the post. She doesn’t need or want to. The post is targeted directly at the people she can most help, and who are going to go back to Havi and Naomi and buy everything they ever put out. They’re creating their 1,000 True Fans with this kind of respectful, benefit-based marketing. It’s a great model, and one you can adapt today for your own gig.

Zen Selling

The Zen master Suzuki Roshi might have said, “Selling, not selling. No difference.” (He never did say that, but in the spirit of the thing, that doesn’t matter.)

I know a fair number of kazillion-dollar salespeople. They all have one thing in common–they don’t seem like salespeople at all. They don’t use weird closing techniques. They don’t have handshakes that could crush rocks into gravel. They’re just nice (often soft-spoken), friendly people who have a knack for creating trusting relationships.

They can close half-million dollar deals (and do, several times a week) and leave their customers thinking, “She’s such a nice person, she didn’t sell me at all.”

If you know someone who fits that description, even if they’re not a professional salesperson, sit down & have a conversation with them around your stuff–what you have to offer, and what kinds of objections come up. Ask them how they’d talk about your FROs. Scribble down or record what they say, capturing as much of that low-key, friendly flavor as you can.

Learn the art of directly but gently addressing prospect objections, and you’ll start converting more sales. Not only that, you’ll build repeat and referral business from those customers, which puts you on track to exponential growth. It works, and you won’t need a shower afterwards.

The next post in this series will help you blast through another giant general objection: “Who cares.”

The Objection Blaster Series (So Far)

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A Favor to Ask of You

Michael Stelzner, the white paper guru, is running his annual contest for the year’s Top 10 Blogs for Writers. Now’s the time to submit your nominations–you have until this coming Friday, September 12. Write a comment on his post to nominate or vote for a blog.

Now if Remarkable Communication happens to be your favorite writing blog, I would dearly love your vote. Getting on a Top 10 list like this would be a wonderful way to re-launch this blog and expand the wonderful community that’s grown here.

But it would be churlish of me not to point to some other great contenders! I truly want you to vote for whichever writing blog you find the most valuable. Whether it’s mine or someone else’s, the important thing is to get your vote counted.

Here’s a very incomplete list of some terrific writing blogs.

The awful thing about putting together a little list of amazing blogs like this is that I know I’ve left some major ones off. Mend my ways in the comments! Let me know your very favorite writing blog, and be sure you nominate and/or vote for it on Stelzner’s site. Here’s that link again, just add a comment to the post. And remember, you need to vote by September 12.

Additions:

Jean Gogolin has a new-ish and very good blog called WordTales. Well-written, sharp, and incisive. She’s a speechwriter, but the focus is broader than that–there’s lots of good stuff here for anyone who communicates in words. I invite you all to check it out!

Objection Blaster Series #1: Capturing Attention

It would be nice if we could just tell people how great we are and they’d then buy our stuff, wouldn’t it? Annoyingly, it hardly ever works that way. Prospects have an irritating collection of reasons they don’t want to buy, don’t have time to talk to us now, and don’t take their credit cards out of their wallets.

Fortunately for us, human nature tends to be comfortingly consistent. There are actually five recurring objections that virtually every prospect needs to be brought through before they’ll become customers.

This series will walk you through how to get past each one of them in turn. The truth is, you don’t have to be a “born salesman” to sell, you just have to learn the techniques that work.

The first barrier to blast through is the toughest one for most people . . . managing to get a prospective customer to spend two minutes looking at our stuff. It’s the equivalent of getting your bright shiny rocket off the ground–you’ll spend most of your energy just overcoming gravity.

How often have you heard the following sentence? (How often have you spoken it?)

I Don’t Have Time to Talk to Salespeople

Is there anyone, anywhere, who does have time to talk with salespeople?

One of the 50 things your customers wish you knew is that we absolutely hate to be sold to (even though we love to buy). Is there anything more annoying than that person you met at a networking event who calls and calls after the event, even though you have no interest in her product? Even worse, you might have actually been interested, but the incessant nagging makes her product about as appealing as taking out the trash.

When you nag prospects, you associate yourself with the feeling of being nagged. Bad idea.

Pestering or trying to guilt-trip customers into paying attention is a poor use of your time. The mean ones who yell at you or rudely hang up are actually doing you a favor–they’re unambiguously letting you know that they’re not going to buy. It’s the “nice” prospect who lets himself get nagged into talking to you who’s the problem, because he’s not going to buy either.

Attracting Attention in a Sea of Clutter

Every advertiser knows that ads are becoming a mass of white noise. Customers will tune in if you’ve got something they want, but breaking through the clutter gets harder every year.

My copywriting hero Gary Bencivenga gives the best advice I’ve found on this: your advertising must be valuable in and of itself.

Is a blog advertising? It is if you’re using it to build your business. And in fact, a blog fits Bencivenga’s advice to a tee. Build lots of great, valuable content and you’ll attract attention, build loyalty, and establish yourself as an authority. You put yourself into the category of “good, useful guy” instead of “bloodsucking ratbag salesman.”

(I’m not saying it’s fair. I’m just saying that’s how it is.)

Remarkable Communication is based on the idea of using useful, friendly communication as the “something valuable” in your advertising. Newsletters, whether they’re paper or electronic, fill the bill. So do blogs and email autoresponders, or a terrific series of articles hosted on your Web site. Direct mail pieces like “magalogs” or other freebies with good content are a great example, although they take more resources to put together.

If you’re facing a lot of “Sorry, I don’t have time to talk now” from prospects, see what kind of valuable free chips and salsa you can put together. And if you’re not quite sure where to begin, sign up for my free email and content marketing class to get started. (Will I hit you up with dozens of high-pressure offers or rent your email to Romanian pharmaceutical spammers? I will not.)

The Objection Blaster Series (So Far)

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