There has never been a better time than today to start, run, and grow a business. While there are still challenges, various resources for entrepreneurs and business leaders abound, with most accessible via a single click or touch.
From private and public sector programs to communities, websites, podcasts, and DIY videos, entrepreneurs have access to a robust support ecosystem that’s exploded to an unprecedented scale. Technology also performs pretty much all the heavy lifting needed to launch and operate a venture. Indeed, a broad array of productivity suites, communications software, marketing platforms, and other solutions help make an entrepreneur’s life a tad less difficult.
More importantly, these resources combine to make the previously elusive goal of business success more achievable. Today, there are successful startup models to follow in every industry, both for hyperlocal and global markets.
Unfortunately, those cases are still the exception, not the rule — given the high failure rate among new businesses. With nearly zero barriers to entry, quite a number of people have joined the bandwagon, leading to intense competition in some sectors.
Competing at a High Level
Ambitious business rivals are the least of your worries, however. According to studies by outlets like CB Insights, a significant number of startups fail over time, with only a few surviving to their 10th year. Major causes of failure include lack of market need for their products, poor cash flow, ineffective teams, and pricing issues.
Obviously, entrepreneurs make a serious mistake when they think everything is easy. Doing so emboldens many of us to prematurely seek capital, commence hiring, and take shortcuts (four-hour workweek, anyone?) well before we’ve proven the business model. The sad part is that we all know what usually happens if you bite even when the timing and conditions are wrong.
Indeed, you can easily find business resources virtually anywhere. But that doesn’t guarantee sustainable success. It never did.
There’s still hope, though. Based on current research, I think there are five tactical steps entrepreneurs can execute right now to grow their businesses without raising the odds of failure:
- Get organized with a CRM.
- Optimize inbound experiences.
- Drive paid traffic to hyper-specific landing pages.
- Survey customers to collect testimonials.
- Respond to customer messaging.
1. Get organized with a CRM.
Because customers call the shots in the new economy, the CRM has become a baseline requirement for business success. Customer relationship management platforms such as Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, and Pipedrive are multi-feature systems of records that help businesses keep track of and build relationships with customers.
Today, even nonprofits use CRMs, which only fuels the conclusion that a sales-dependent for-profit company without a CRM will likely become a failure statistic.
Among other functions, a decent CRM helps entrepreneurs and business leaders:
- Centralize and update all customer information and engagement data in one place, ensuring everyone on the team is always on the same page.
- Formulate data-based strategies to achieve sustainable growth.
- Gain visibility into the history, general behavior, and current sentiment of all customers in their portfolio.
- Track and evaluate the activities and performance of teams and individual sellers.
- Keep the business organized by establishing a default workflow and pipeline for salespeople.
- Prioritize leads and opportunities through a qualification process.
- Help maintain a sales follow-up sequence via phone, email, SMS text, and other channels.
2. Optimize inbound sales experiences.
Any type of inbound leads that come in (via email, calls, or chat) have great potential to drive bottom-line revenues for your business. We all know that following up with leads in a timely manner — without annoying them — is the ultimate way to get them to a demo and, eventually, to buy your product.
The trouble usually starts with the fact that most of the communication tools in your arsenal aren’t interconnected. Let’s look at an example:
- A customer lands on a homepage and starts poking around the site.
- He has a question and decides to go to the “Contact” page.
- He starts filling out the form but decides it’s too much work and leaves.
- Later on, that same customer is commuting back from work and remembers he wanted to contact you.
- He goes to the “Contact” page and decides to call you.
- It’s after business hours, so your generic Google voice message comes on.
- The prospect feels like you’ll never get his message, so he hangs up.
- The next day, the customer tells someone else on his team to reach out to your business.
- That someone else contacts your business but uses the support email, which triggers a support ticket.
- Customer service responds, asking how they can help, getting a conversation going.
- Meanwhile, your sales rep is checking the call logs on Google Voice and sees the number of the customer and decides to call him back.
- The customer meanwhile goes back to the site and sees a chat window pop up and starts engaging with someone on the chat.
You see how much friction and mess there is within this process? This is how most inbound experiences happen these days.
The solution to fixing and optimizing this process is integrating all of your communication tools so your sales rep, customer service team, and support staff all know what’s going on with inbound inquiries.
This means that your voice message service needs to be integrated with your CRM, your website chat, and your support desk software.
Nextiva recently shared a great communication channel setup guide in which it lists some of the key features and integrations you should have for all your inbound communications.
Now, let’s look at an example of a company that’s used this guide and set up all its integrations properly. The folks at Sales Message have a 90% show-up rate to all their sales demos with this process.
Here’s the flow Sales Message shared:
1. Demo request form.
Asks qualifiers (team size). If less than 10, redirect to a sales video. If 11+, redirects to Calendly to book a demo (round robins through sales team). Use PlusThis to do the redirect based on this team size variable.
2. Trigger an SMS from Sales Message (Zapier) to directly engage with the lead in real time.
(85% response rate) Speeds up the conversation and qualification. SDR will call to qualify even further.
3. Calendly sends the emails, and we send an SMS one hour before the call: “Are we still on in an hour for the Sales Message demo?”
This further drives attendance for the demo. We’re averaging a 90% show-up rate.
4. Demo > Close.
I’m obviously a little biased here, but texting has been a huge help to directly engage leads right away.
The Sales Message team put together a great video walk-through of how to set up follow-ups using Zapier to automate all these steps above for inbound sales leads using SMS.
3. Drive paid traffic to hyper-specific landing pages.
Online ads, event call-outs, and affiliate links can incur significant costs over time once a major marketing campaign is in full force. So don’t dare waste them.
That means paid traffic should only lead to hyper-relevant landing pages, where visitors can easily find exactly what they were looking for or were interested in to begin with. Make no mistake: Today’s focus-challenged people barely have time to look for a needle in a haystack. Instead of loving you for dangling a remedy for their pain points, they’ll just end up hating you for forcing them to navigate a maze just to find a remedy.
You can start simple. For example, if you’re targeting small businesses, don’t send traffic to a page with generic info. I love this example on Nextiva: When it bid on Google Adwords keywords like “Small Business VoIP,” it sent paid traffic to a page specifically targeting Small Business VoIP. It’s simple, yet genius. People want relevance. Give it to them.
Lessons: Don’t expect your homepage’s wide-net messaging to catch a prospect. Never drive paid traffic to a page or marketing asset that targets general audiences. Instead, personalize the experience by providing value that’s highly relevant to each customer. Revisit your buyer personas and ideal customer profile. Create specific content, answer specific questions, and orchestrate specific experiences tailored to each type of customer.
4. Ask customers for reviews on third-party sites.
These days, potential customers don’t just reach out blindly like they used to. When they do contact a brand or a company, always expect that they’ve already done some homework. Given the availability of online information, consumers and B2B buyers do their own research well ahead of time, and a good part of that involves checking out what other people think about your brand.
For example, a simple Google search for reviews about a specific product or service pulls up a wealth of information, some of which can already make or break your business, especially user ratings. A litany of low reviews tends to pull people away from your site, while high ratings make them want to know more about you:
In many cases, search results for “reviews” also include unboxing videos, walk-throughs, and crowdsourced demos about your product. Your potential buyers will likely click on one or more of these multimedia reviews about your brand, just to gain a quick grasp of what you offer. More importantly, it’s not unusual for prospects to make decisions based on these reviews.
A steady stream of honest customer feedback and objective user reviews is a gold mine for businesses. Feedback enables companies to fix problems, build better products, and deliver superior service. When positive, testimonials help drive conversation about your brand, lead traffic to your site, and lift your revenue performance. Even negative customer reviews can still initiate positive change.
Customer reviews and feedback are the building blocks of mature, mutually beneficial business relationships. Get them whenever and as often as you can. One way to do so is by repurposing surveys into a feedback-gathering channel. Create opportunities at different touchpoints in the customer journey, where triggering a survey complements or enhances the buyer experience.
Here’s the takeaway: It’s a buyer’s world out there, and businesses can only survive by adapting. Because reviews matter to your buyers, it’s your job to maintain profiles within the networks and on the review sites that are relevant to your product or service. Last but not least, make sure those reviews are overwhelmingly positive.
5. Respond to customers’ comments and feedback.
Gracefully responding to customers’ comments and feedback is a great technique for keeping conversations open and lively. Among other things, it provides opportunities for value clarification, cross-selling, managing expectations, and mending hurts.
Never scrimp on sending thank-you notes and showing your appreciation to customers. A simple handwritten note can generate goodwill and jump-start long-lasting relationships. Based on common courtesy, positive feedback always deserves an appreciative response. You can also use it as a platform for providing more value to satisfied customers. For example, you can cite a relevant feature that will help optimize product benefits or a related solution the customer is still unaware of.
Even your “worst” customers who wrote a bad review deserve an honest, proactive, and graceful response. Remember, the mere act of responding with respect reassures customers who are still on the sidelines that your brand is worth considering. It also conveys the message that you care about how customers feel and are actively looking for ways to keep them happy.
ReviewTracker provides an excellent example demonstrating how a business owner responded to highly critical feedback posted online by an irate customer. The customer complained about the loud “party noise” that negatively impacted his or her dining experience. Moved by the bad experience, the customer gave the place the lowest (one-star) rating possible. In response, the tavern owner apologized empathetically — while repeating the good qualities of the restaurant the customer managed to praise and mentioning a solution that was always available had the customer only asked.
The response not only assuaged the customer’s feelings, but it also 1) affirmed the excellent quality of the food being served and 2) showcased an interesting but little-known solution for customers who want to dine in peace. A solution, incidentally, that was readily available to everyone — including the irate customer, as well as the readers of the review who might have otherwise been persuaded not to book because of the negative feedback.
It takes more than passion or a working product to grow your business. You have to put multiple systems together to work toward the same goals. As a business owner, no one is more passionate about your vision than you. Consider these five functional areas to scale your business for success.
The key takeaway is the preeminence of your customers in any hierarchy you can think of. Hence, prioritize their experience. Make every engagement and touchpoint good enough to be memorable — and compelling enough to move them to gladly part with their money.
Half of businesses fail by the fifth year, according to VentureBeat. These five growth tactics might just help your business survive and get to the next leg of the race.