Differentiating a Commodity from a Solution

Any company can sell commodities, solutions, or a combination of the two. At the management level, knowing which is which rarely creates any difficulty: McDonald’s sells hamburgers, while Stanley Steamer sells carpet cleaning. When looking specifically at sales, however, it’s a bit more difficult to understand how to differentiate between selling a commodity and selling a solution. Each requires its own separate approaches and strategies in order to be successful. What should you know about the difference between the two sales methods?

Sales Focus

Knowing where and how to invest your energy when selling either a commodity or a solution goes a long way towards creating a new customer. In many cases, the focus on selling a commodity will be on the commodity itself: in the McDonald’s example, every commercial features the hamburgers (and french fries) front and center on billboards, commercials, and so forth. The customer is secondary, if featured at all. Compare that with the Stanley Steamer example: no commercial highlights the vacuums, but rather the end result and the customers’ satisfaction. When promoting a commodity sale, the commodity itself should be first and foremost; in a solution sale, the customer should be the highest priority.

Negotiation

Sometimes closing a sale is easier said than done. Skepticism is a common trend amongst customers who are less than willing to part ways with their hard-earned finances. When pitching the sale of a commodity, sometimes the best way to provide value proposition, or the convincing factor of a sale, lies in the simple mathematics. If it’s less expensive to purchase a double cheeseburger, why would you ever go to any other fast-food competitor? By contrast, pitching the value proposition of a solution, it’s necessary to sell the value of a concept rather than the dollar value: having a carpet free of stains and dirt gives you peace of mind or a living space that you can take pride in.

Measuring Multi-Channel Marketing Efforts

Multi-channel marketing has become increasingly important due to the number of ways consumers can find information on products and services. B2B Marketing Insider says that consumers are making purchasing decisions from a variety of sources beyond your business website and sales people. Effectively measuring multi-channel marketing efforts helps you target where your brand message has the most impact. Knowing the most effective channels gives you a better ROI on your marketing dollars.

Collecting Customer Data

The key to evaluating your channel decisions is collecting customer data. This is especially important when creating channel combinations. A TV ad that shows a Twitter hashtag, a direct mailing that includes a QR code, and a radio ad that announces a URL will drive traffic to your retail store or website and generate purchases. But what were the most effective touch points?

Collect all of the channels seen by the consumer to get the best picture of how your campaign is doing. Did they go to your website because they heard it on the radio or scanned the QR code on the brochure? With this consumer data you’ll know how well your brand message is being seen and where you might want to focus your future marketing efforts.

Measuring Revenue Performance

Your baseline is a forecast of revenue. You can then compare the actual revenue received against the baseline. Matched with the above customer data, you’ll be able to tell what percent of revenue during the campaign was the result of offline versus online channels. Your combo channels, such as print brochure with a QR code, become a third channel type to evaluate.

Measuring Consumer Actions

Your channel effectiveness is not only about revenue but about successfully getting a consumer to take action up to the purchase point. For example, a TV ad that displays a URL can drive a consumer to your website. They may or may not purchase something, but if you offer an opt-in to receive a monthly email with special offers, you’ve created a prospect and added them to your pipeline.

Other measurements could include:

  • Visits to a specific landing page
  • Sign ups for a newsletter
  • Views of a certain hashtag
  • Consumer surveys completed

These are all ways of measuring the effectiveness of the channels you’re chosen. Being able to evaluate your channel marketing means you can fine-tune your efforts. Put your dollars where they are most effective and stop wasting money on channels that no longer meet your brand’s message.

6 E-Commerce Advantages

These days, an online store is essential (not optional) for business success. Having an online presence and e-commerce store has many advantages — some obvious, some less overt. To start, an e-commerce store has far lower overhead than a brick and mortar shop. E-commerce advantages start with making your business available to customers 24/7, 365 days a year for a very affordable cost and proceed from there. Here are six additional e-commerce advantages:

1. Stock more items. With e-commerce and a warehouse or a drop-shipper, it’s easy to stock a huge selection without the need for costly retail space.

2. New sales channels. Connecting with new markets and customers is easy with a website, SEO and an e-commerce-enabled store.

3. Up-sells and cross-sells. It’s easy and almost effortless to offer up-sells and cross-promotions as your customers shop your e-commerce store. Suggesting products at checkout can result in additional immediate or future sales.

4. Data/business intelligence. E-commerce also facilitates a much higher level of intelligence and insight about your customers. With quality analytics paired with your e-commerce store, you’ll collect useful, actionable data about your customers. You can track spending habits, preferences, wish lists, and more. With this data, you’ll be able to adapt and fine-tune your store to make it even more effective.

5. Social media engagement. In many cases, an e-commerce store can help to increase the effectiveness of a social media strategy. Since the majority of your customers will be using a computer or mobile device when making a purchase, it’s easy to motivate them to “Like” you on Facebook or engage with your brand via other social media channels.

6. Email marketing. Ideally, your e-commerce store will be collecting customer e-mail addresses at checkout and encouraging visitors to register or create a free account. Email marketing with properly opted-in members is a low cost and effective method of driving traffic back to your store through the use of newsletters, special offers, contests, etc.

Clearly, the advantages of e-commerce far outweigh its minimal investment. Contact us today to find out more about our online ordering and warehouse management software.

The Importance of Customer Relationship Management

Try to imagine, for a moment, being unable to tell family and friends apart or to distinguish them from strangers in a crowd. This is a real circumstance for some people, such as a woman, featured in this video, who suffered an injury in her work as a firefighter and who now experiences “face blindness” because of her injury. There are even people who, although they’re otherwise healthy, live their entire life without being able to tell one person from another by just looking at them, as most of us are easily able to do. One such person, Tom Uglow of Google’s Creative Lab, has written a blog post illustrating how he must use clues to guess the identity of people he knows very well. For someone who really can’t recognize the faces of family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, everyone looks like a stranger.

For any business, the interactions between associates and employees, on one hand, and customers and prospects, on the other hand, tend to become numerous, scattered, and fleeting. As a business grows, its possible relationships go well beyond what we human beings can comfortably maintain as far as truly personal relationships. A business’s leaders have to find ways to maintain and develop the business’s relationships with its customers and prospects, and to the extent that a business lacks such customer relationship management, it suffers something a little like “face blindness.” Every contact the business has with a prospect or a customer remains like a first and only meeting with stranger.

Customer relationship management, defined in one way as “the practice of building a strong relationship between a business and its customers and potential customers,” requires developing within a business the internal functions or abilities it must have, if it’s even to be capable of developing and sustaining relationships with prospects and customers. The business, as a whole, gains social abilities only to the extent that its leaders see what’s missing and give the business new organization.

Fortunately, they don’t have to invent better systems of customer relationship management from scratch. interlinkONE has experience and software tools that will help.

Contact us today to learn more about how our customer relationship management software can help you grow and succeed. Already know you want to see increased sales success with a CRM? Schedule a demo of ilinkSALES by clicking here now.

No Bull: Jumping the Chasm Between Sales & Marketing

Recently, I had the pleasure of being on the Sales Lead Management Association Radio with host Jim Obermayer. I was thrilled to have this opportunity to participate in the topic of “Jumping the Chasm between Sales and Marketing.” Below, please enjoy a recording from the session, where you will hear my unique perspective on why marketing so often fails in its understanding of sales problems, and how sales doesn’t escape when it flops in “selling” marketing on its needs. During this session, I will address the failures that both departments experience, and how to better bridge this communication gap.

Meet Sales Goals by Lifting Up Your Customer Service Staff

Lift Customer Service StaffMeeting sales goals is heavily dependent on the customer experience your team provides. Since the experience begins with the skills and level of service offered by your reps, why are most customer service strategies focused on the customer? A big revenue opportunity is in doing your part to make sure teams on the front lines feel empowered and satisfied.

In this Q&A with Software Advice’s Holly Regan, we discuss some recent tips she developed for empowering customer service reps, inspired by Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson. While some might think energy and resources are best spent on the satisfaction of the customer, you’ll see how organizations notorious for excellent customer service (like Virgin) lift up staff to meet overall company goals.

 

interlinkONE: One of Richard Branson’s strategies for empowering customer support staff is encouraging them to collaborate for the best solution, rather than getting management involved. What are some ways to foster this collaboration?

Holly: According to Branson, praising employees for collaboration is the best motivator. Any time your customer support team members work together to provide better service, make sure you commend them for their actions. Consider offering a tangible reward for times they really go above and beyond. Branson personally praises Virgin employees on a regular basis and recognizes them company-wide when they provide exceptional service. Senior leaders should also lead by example where collaboration is concerned. They should consistently get out on the floor and work side by side with the rest of the team. This will give them a better understanding of what they should be encouraging team members to do to help each other.

interlinkONE: What is your advice for other organizations looking to operate within a “judgment playing field,” where staff are asked to make their own decisions?

Holly: It starts and ends with smart hiring. When you only hire staff who share your company values and fit with your culture, you know you can trust them to make decisions that benefit both the company and the customer. Of course, even the best employees will make mistakes from time to time, so you’ll have to make sure you clearly define the boundaries of the “judgment playing field” for all new hires–in other words, outline which practices, behavior and language are acceptable and which are “out of bounds.” By establishing clear guidelines that all members of your staff agree to uphold, you give employees the freedom to make their own customer service decisions, while ensuring that even a poor decision won’t have a catastrophic effect on your business.

interlinkONE: In what ways can you encourage your customer service reps to “bring their personalities to work”?

Holly: Customers prefer having genuine interactions with employees; they don’t want their reps to be robots. So don’t require them to follow a script, which by definition will make service interactions seem forced and ingenuine. Allow your reps to engage customers personally, like they would with a friend. If you’ve hired quality employees who have been thoroughly vetted, you’ll know you can trust them to keep customer service interactions friendly, yet professional. And if you have clearly established what sort of language and behavior is and isn’t allowed within the “judgment playing field,” you won’t have to worry about employees crossing the line. Managers can demonstrate this behavior in their own interactions with customers, too, to give reps an idea of how they can let their personality shine while retaining respectful boundaries.

interlinkONE: Here at interlinkONE we use our own customer communications software ilinkONE V8 to manage customer contacts and communications on one central, web-based  platform. Do you think it’s important for software providers to practice what they preach in their customer service department?

Holly: Yes; if software providers offer a product that they believe enhances the customer communication experience, like ilinkONE V8, then there’s no reason they shouldn’t use that product for themselves. Agents will be able to provide better customer service when they have personal experience with the product they’re supporting, and can understand firsthand how it benefits the customer.

interlinkONE: Why might reps who have a sense of overall company mission deliver a better customer experience than those who do not?

Holly: Reps who have a sense of the overall mission have a broader view of what exactly it is the company is trying to achieve. This not only clearly delineates employee goals, it also provides them with a greater sense of purpose. In order to be passionate about the company, employees must first know what it stands for. Then, they can internalize the mission and use their own judgment to deliver on it when serving customers. Knowing how each of their customer service interactions contributes to the bigger picture empowers reps to make these interactions the best they can be.