Secrets of Successful Business Relationships Online

Operating a successful business is largely about building and maintaining relationships. Sure, your customers are concerned about price, quality, service, etc., but the most successful businesses are those that work to develop a relationship with their customers. Look at Wal-Mart, for example. Do you really need someone handing you a shopping cart on your way in the store? No, but they always hire a nice, elderly type people who smile and says hello to you as you walk in. That’s relationship building!

Truth is people will often pay more for something if they have established some kind of personal connection with the person or persons within the business. Certainly, such relationships lead to repeat business, whether you run a grocery store, a restaurant, a sporting goods store, or a movie theater.

For most of us, it’s not often that we develop substantial relationships with people at the places we frequent. This is due to a number of reasons; maybe the store is large and has many employees and therefore you never really see the same people with each visit, sometimes it’s just a quick stop or perhaps you don’t visit all that frequently. But if you think about it, there are probably places you go often, where you have established some kind of relational bond with someone who works there. It’s that kind of familiarity that keeps bringing you back. And of course, not every place of business can develop an intimate relationship with every customer, but those that try are often more successful than those that don’t.

Building Business Relationships Online

While online businesses lack the ability to build relationships face-to-face, this does not negate the importance of building relationships with your customers–you just have to go about it a bit differently. In part, this is accomplished through your website itself, sometimes through email communications, and occasionally over the phone. Since the website is usually your first point of contact, and therefore the point where you establish your first impression, it’s vital that your website do all that it can to set the groundwork for building a strong relationship. The website can’t do everything for you, but if your visitors come and leave without ever having made even a superficial contact with a person or a persona worked into the site copy, they will leave without having established any sort of intimacy, and therefore no sense of “connection,” with you or your business.

I found the following quote the other day in regard to building relationships with people in a personal sense, but I felt it also applies to building relationships for business as well:

People are insecure; give them confidence.

People want to feel special; compliment them.

People desire a better tomorrow; show them hope.

People need to be understood; listen to them.

People are selfish; speak to their needs first.

People are emotionally low; encourage them.

People want to be associated with success; help them win.

–Pete Vossler

While all of the above are generalities, they do largely apply to most people, regardless of how successful, “important” or how well-known they are. And of course, it also applies to the average Joe and Jane Doe web surfer looking for a place where they feel comfortable handing over their money. So how do you go about building relationships with your potential customers online? Glad you asked.

People are Insecure; Give Them Confidence

It’s easy to buy from a brick and mortar store where you see real faces involved. Even if it’s some 16-year old kid, with numerous body-piercings standing behind the counter, you have confidence that when he takes your credit card he won’t be stealing the numbers. This kind of confidence in the buying process is lost online. My biggest issue with buying products online is the return process if, for whatever reason, something goes wrong. It’s easy to drive back to Target and return something you don’t want. But online, once the purchase is made, the return process is more cumbersome and often results in extra shipping fees.

You need to give your visitors confidence, not only in the security of the purchase process, but also in the quality of your products, their expectations and your policies and procedures in case something doesn’t go as expected. This is most easily accomplished through making sure you have pages on your site that address each of these issues, and clear and obvious links in the places where the customer will be most looking for them. For example, your product pages might need an obvious link to your return policies page–even if that link is already available through the main navigation.

People Want to Feel Special; Compliment Them

Who doesn’t want to feel special? A compliment goes a long, long way in helping to establish that mental relationship. How do you compliment someone you don’t know? Some simply ways are to write these compliments into your content, “You’re obviously looking for quality baby clothing, you’ve made a wise decision visiting our store.” It might sound a bit cheesy, but it works, as long as you don’t go overboard. These types of compliments can also be worked into your email and phone communications.

People Desire a Better Tomorrow; Show Them Hope

Will your products or services make their lives better or easier? You must already believe that otherwise you wouldn’t be selling what you do. So use this opportunity to explain how your products are going to be good for them. Explain how life will be better once your customer purchases what you are selling. Illustrate to them the benefits, not just the features. If you can give your customers hope–convince them–that your product or service will improve their lives; you’ve got a sale in hand without the cost being a significant factor.

People Need to be Understood; Listen to Them

Even before you have a chance to communicate with your clients verbally or via email, are you listening to their needs? Whether or not you listen to your website visitors can easily be determined by your USP, Unique Selling Proposition. What? You don’t have one? Then you may not be listening to your customers needs. Your USP is what makes you stand out from the thousands of other stores online peddling the same wares as you. Why should they buy from you as opposed to someone else? Price alone is rarely the determining factor.

You need to offer your visitors something unique that tells them that you have listened and responded to their needs. Even if you sell the same product or service as others, your unique approach is one developed out of conversations with your customers and seeking ways to find solutions to problems even before those problems existed.

People are Selfish; Speak to Their Needs First

More than anything, people want you to meet their wants and needs. They’re not shopping on your site for your benefit; they are there because they are in need of a solution for X. Your first order of business on your website is to tell the customers how you can meet those needs and what your products or services will achieve for them.

People are Emotionally Low; Encourage Them

For some sites, shopping cart abandonment is astronomically high. Why is that? Primarily because people need to be encouraged to proceed with their purchase. I’ll often start shopping for a book or DVD, have it in my basket, go through much of the checkout process, but just before I finalize the payment I hesitate. In my mind I’m thinking, “should I buy this now?”, or “Will my frivolous spending upset the wife?”, or for larger purchases, “Can I afford this?” Most of these questions surface on an emotional level; sometimes rooted in fact, sometimes not. The bottom line is that a little extra encouragement can help persuade visitors through the selling process.

In fact this very thing happened to me just the other day. I threw a couple of books into my Amazon shopping cart but since I’ve purchased quite a few books lately so I began to think twice about buying a couple more now. Amazon provided the encouragement I needed. By filling out an application for an Amazon Visa card I got something like $30 off my purchase. I was sold and so were the books. You don’t have to give away money to encourage your visitors to make a purchase, but you can re-iterate the benefits of their purchase one more time.

People Want to be Associated with Success; Help Them Win

Everybody wants to feel successful. The funny thing is that people don’t even have to be successful in the larger financial/business sense in order to feel successful in every day life. Success often comes from the little victories achieved here and there. Your product or service may not be able to change your customer’s destiny, but you can help him or her feel that their decision to purchase from you will help them be successful at something.

Selling baby diapers? Your diapers can successfully prevent leakage. Selling batteries? Your batteries can successfully start the car each morning. Selling cleaning supplies? Your supplies can help them successfully clean their house better. Let your visitors know what they will be successful at with their purchase.

The other side of this is that people also want to see that you are successful. Your success–or lack thereof–is inferred by how your website looks, the number of employees that work for your organization, or possibly even the number of clients you have. A business’ success is determined mostly by superficial perceptions. If visitors perceive that you are successful they will gravitate to you based on that alone. After all, you must obviously know what you’re doing if you can afford a great site, X number of employees, to charge outrageous fees, etc. But be careful here as well, success can often create a negative perception of you or your business. You might be considered too successful to be able to give them the time or quality your visitors expect.

If you are able to build strong relationships with your website visitors, even perceptually, this will give you a significant sales and marketing advantage over many of your competitors. Building these relationships alone won’t make your business the most successful in your industry–there are many other factors involved–but relationships are a crucial factor in being able to establish and maintain long-term customers. Every marketing dollar saved by not having to seek a replacement for a former customer that now shops elsewhere is an additional dollar (plus additional sales profits) that can be spent in obtaining and maintaining new customers.

Do You Run a Successful Business?

If you take a sample of people and ask them what they think it means to run a successful business, the majority of the answers will be different. What one person defines as successful may just be a small step up the ladder for someone else.

Much of your definition will come down to what you actually want to achieve from your business. No matter what you want to achieve, however, there are a number of things that, if you run a successful business, you’re going to have to aim for.

The business will have to be able to cover the costs of buying or creating any products you sell. You’ll have to be able to pay the wages of any employees you have working for your business; that includes any work you do yourself. You’ll also need to make sure you have enough money coming in to pay any taxes that the business will have to pay.

All of those things will apply whether you’re the only person in the business, or you have a worldwide company with thousands of employees. But, that’s where the similarities between businesses end, and ambition takes over to determine if you run a successful business.

Do you want to make a comfortable living? Do you want to be able to leave the running of the business to someone else? Do you want to be a tycoon and have an empire that you can watch over? Or, is having just enough money to pay all of your monthly bills your definition of what qualifies for you as having run a successful business?

These are the sort of things you really need to work out for yourself before you go into business; each will require a different sort of business plan, and it helps to know what your end goal is.

If your aim in life is to have more time with the family, and that’s why you’re setting up a business, then you’re going to want to have a business that will run as smoothly as possible while you’re not there. This could mean getting someone else in to run it for you, or it could mean setting up something online that will run as automatically as possible.

Whichever of the two options you choose your definition of having run a successful business will be when you can spend that time with the family, and still have money coming in all of the time to pay for things.

If you want to be the next corporate millionaire and have offices all over the world, you’re going to have to go about things a little differently to the person wanting to spend more time with their family. You may still choose to spend more time with them, obviously, but the chances are that for the first few years at least, you’re going to be spending a lot of time making contacts, employing people, studying trends, etc, etc.

Here you’re going to have a different definition of what it means to run a successful business. Will it be when you’ve made your first million? When you have offices in America, Europe, Asia, and the Pacific? Or will it be when you’re a global brand?

Although both types of business model take work and planning, the results are essentially the same; you have something that you specifically want to achieve at the end of it.

The ultimate aim of most people, no matter whether they go for the global domination or the increased family time, is to be happy with what they’re doing. If you can achieve what you set out to do, and be happy with the process and results, then the chances are you’ve run a successful business.

2010 Top 5 Social Networking Websites (How To Apply to Your Business)

If you’re using social networking websites to market your business, you always want to keep in mind where your market is going. Chances are, they are going to be involved in at least one of the following websites. I checked out the top 5 social websites recently, and wanted to share with you what I found.

Top 5 Social Networking Sites:

Number 5 – Ning
You may never have heard of Ning, but its slotted in as the 5th most trafficked social networking website. According to Wikipedia, Ning is a social networking site that appeals “to people who want to create their own social networks around specific interests with their own visual design, choice of features and member data.” Ning is a good place for companies that have success on other social networking websites to register. They offer you the opportunity to build a complete custom network, which can really prod viral marketing. The biggest drawback I see right now is that it is a paid membership site. So, you do have to pay to create your own site centered on a particular idea or niche (which I believe we used to call “websites”). I’m curious to see how this takes off, and if they decide to offer a free option as well.

Number 4 – LinkedIn
Not surprising to be in the top 5. It’s still really the only social networking site dedicated to connecting business professionals together. It’ll be interesting to see how it fares now that sites like Facebook and Twitter are giving business owners a lot more resources to market themselves to a greater audience. Also, a lot of people are starting to complain about how stubborn LinkedIn is about listening to its users, and adding new features. Unless LinkedIn chooses to evolve soon, I believe they will be replaced for business to business needs.

Number 3 – Twitter
No surprises to be one of the top three. Twitter really has started to gain a lot of popularity recently. The developers did a good job of making sure that it was easy to connect Twitter to everything, and allow you to send out a blast of your content in the smallest way possible.

Internally, a lot of companies are starting to use Twitter accounts to keep each other updated through the day, avoiding setting up a paid service that does basically the same thing. This has helped said companies run more efficiently, and keep in touch using the internet.

Twitter is launching a lot of new features for local businesses, so will probably continue to grow for the business person’s need.

Number 2 – MySpace
I’m going to be honest here, I was shocked that MySpace is still getting the second most traffic in online social networking. Granted it’s not too much more than Twitter, but it still seems like no one goes on MySpace anymore. I did a little research and found out why this is (and the reason your business should stay off of MySpace). A lot of artists and bands still use MySpace music to release information and connect with their fan base. MySpace music is still a huge thing, and pretty much the only thing, MySpace offers that other social networking websites lag on. Once the bands start taking these pages down and moving elsewhere, MySpace is going to have trouble remaining as a website.

Number 1 – Facebook
No surprises here, since if Facebook was a country it would be the third largest country in the world (as far as active users go). Facebook seems like it is going to be around for a while, as it answers the needs that people became obsessed with in using MySpace, however, Facebook learned from MySpace’s mistakes. If you’re new to business social networking, Facebook is becoming a must have to market your business online. Facebook is answering the call of entrepreneurs and business owners, and is seeking to improve the way that a business can interact with its customers.

-Jerry Nihen

Two Important Secrets for Successful Business Women Who Want to Grow and Advance

The current business climate is making it tough on everyone. The state of affairs is compounded for successful business women who still feel impacted by lack of opportunities based upon their gender. But the reality is that we have limited control over the business conditions or these gender disparities. Female leaders alone can’t grow the economy alone or fix diversity problems.

They can complain and get side-tracked or maybe take a different look at the problems. To start turning these concerns into opportunities for success. The challenges are real but we wonder if sometimes our reactions to such events tend to be more significant and do more to hold us back than anything else.

Even in the best of times, corporate women or women CEOs in particular face many common obstacles such as poor work-life integration, lower self-confidence to advance themselves and limited organizational help and support to help them be more successful.

Strengths

Female leaders tend to be much more restrained than men when it comes to self-promotion. But the reality is to be successful, the right amount and type of self-promotion is critical. And who will do it if they don’t do it for themselves? You certainly do not want to (and should not) go unnoticed for your efforts. And while you can’t change overnight, there are a few ways for women leaders to develop the self-confidence to push through this challenge.

The first step is an honest evaluation of what you do well and what you don’t do well. If you are like most successful business women the evidence is there that you have done some things well to get you to where you are. Why did your successes occur? What did you do well? How could you replicate them? Take a look at your curriculum vitae to determine how your experiences helped created who you are. Once you have a better understanding of your background in the right context, you may start to view your experiences in a better light.

By focusing on your successes you’ll begin to approach each day in a position of strength and view challenges as a new opportunity to learn. Your work will improve, your confidence is likely to grow and your ability to self-promote yourself in the right way will grow too. Not something that will happen overnight, but with a daily commitment, perhaps a verbal affirmation recited daily, the changes will become apparent to you and everyone that you work with.

Work-life integration

Most successful business women (and men) struggle with work-life integration. We’ve given up calling it work-life balance because there is no such thing. It’s in truth how can you successfully mix all the various aspects of your life – work, family and leisure to feel successful and achieve your goals and aspirations. The first step we recommend for female leaders is just to sit down and rank your priorities. Look at how you typically spend most of your days. What do you enjoy the most? The least? These questions and their answers will offer some important clues as to what your priorities have been and could be going forward.

Then ask yourself – Do I feel energized most of the time. If so, your priorities are likely right on. If you don’t feel energized than you may not have the right priorities. Your lack of effective integration of your work, life, family and leisure is not positively impacting your life.

Once you have answered these questions, you should spend some time to lay out a realistic plan for yourself. You may not like the answers or wish that they were different, but you may not have any other choice. Living in this situation is not an effective long-term outline for anyone. Unchecked it could lead to split up, health issues, poor relations, lack of advancement and even termination.

The barriers are there and significant. Things are changing but at a glacial rate. You can sit back and wait or take matters into your own hands. Developing the self-confidence to promote yourself and having positive energy from a workable and supportive work-life integration can propel to you to career heights and business success that you never dreamed about. Good luck getting there and joining the ranks of the growing number of women CEOs and corporate women who are getting there.