If you love customers, set them free

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/

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Do all of these things make your blood boil? When I first used the internet, I was amazed at the ability of computers to talk to other computers over long distance. I also marveled that email and later voice and video connected you like magic to your friends. And I was really disappointed to find out that most companies don’t actually want to talk to their customers.

Why are companies not listening?

There are a few who are: Amazon.com just launched “Mayday”, a system to allow instant tech support on your Kindle Fire device – this is a great idea! But try to get in touch with most banks, insurance agencies, or other bureaucracies and you’re likely to end up in phone tree hell.
The only conclusion that I can draw from the behavior of these other businesses is that they don’t really want to hear what you have to say, and that your voice doesn’t matter.

Your voice does matter. Dear companies (and CEOs and marketers): if you love your customers, set them free. Listen to their complaints and agree to feel a little discomfort. You might have to tell them, “I’m sorry. We made a bad decision, and I can’t make it better for you right now. And here’s what I can do for you.” Because in the age of social, where customers are always communicating among themselves, companies who want to provide great service need to respond and improve their relationship with the customer.

Without the customer, there is no business.

If you truly love customers, set them free. Let them leave. And find out why they are leaving. Customers want you buy what you’re selling for a reason. And if your reason no longer works for them, or they need something else, finding out what is wrong and understanding and solving the root cause is as important as saving that customer.

So don’t make it hard to leave simple transactional items like email lists. Do have a conversation when a customer is frustrated enough to want to take their business elsewhere. And learn from the experience so that more customers don’t feel the same way. When you solve the problem for the customer who wants to leave, they will come back. The customer will come back because your product is better, your service is better, and your overall experience is better. And because you listened to them and let them know it.

What is Agile Marketing and Why Should You Use It?

Photo courtesy of http://Flickr.com/photos/ktow

If you’re like many people, when you hear the term “Agile Marketing” you might wonder if the person is talking about some new dance form or other form of stretching rather than an exciting way to improve the way that you propose, build, and measure your marketing success.

Don’t worry – you can start doing Agile marketing without buying new and expensive tools for your marketing toolbox. Agile marketing can help you define specific goals for your campaigns and find out quickly whether they’re working or not – and give you metrics to decide whether to move on.

Borrowed from the methodology of the Agile software movement that started about 10 years ago, Agile Marketing is a philosophy of getting things done that proposes to shorten the length of marketing campaigns, to get actionable information from those campaigns as soon as possible, and to test these ideas to keep the good ones and spend less time on campaigns that don’t produce results. The goal of this process is to make the marketing process more adaptable to changes in your business. 

The purpose of Agile Marketing is – as Jim Ewel puts it – “to improve the speed, predictability, transparency, and adaptability to change of the marketing function.” The benefit of doing this should be obvious: you should spend more time working on the initiatives that work. If you can find the initiatives that work more quickly, you’ll be able to be more effective. And by communicating the metrics that you find important to the business, you’ll be better at sharing what you’re working on.

Does that sound difficult? It shouldn’t. If you focus on delivering things that work, measuring what you do, and build simple, self organizing teams, you can use these principles to get started with Agile Marketing. You can also take the application of Agile marketing ideas directly into your workplace today with these 13 hacks. You can also find some other great resources here.

On Pumpkin Harvesting and Startups

Thoughtful sepia pumpkin

Originally uploaded by gregmeyer

This year, we decided to grow our own pumpkins. This isn’t quite true — it should read more like “we planted a few seeds, and then they took over the entire property” — and it’s satisfying to see the fruits of the harvest. Pumpkin growing makes me think about startups. There is little to show at the beginning except for hard work and fertilizer; some green shoots show up but it’s very hard to tell which ones will survive; and the end harvest is wonderful (and not always what you planted).

Hard work and fertilizer at the beginning: that sounds like the recipe for a successful startup. There is no shortage of either of these things at the beginning of any business venture (or any project, for that matter), and it can sometimes be a challenge to find the right thing to focus on and nurture. Here, as in gardening, having a plan, making some rows, and planting complimentary ideas can help in case of bad weather, blight, or rodents.

After the seeds are planted, green shoots come up. (In the case of our pumpkins, everywhere.) The initial success of business ventures often obscures the fragility and newness of the initial growth. Some of these green shoots won’t make it past the first hard rain or blinding sun. But some of them will, and careful weeding will improve their chances.

At the end of the process, you get to practice 20/20 hindsight. Of course you knew which green shoots would survive and make fantastic potential jack o’ lanterns — because those are the ones you harvested — and it’s easy to forget the blossoms that failed along the way. The key to this knowledge is to enjoy the harvest and not get hung up on the pumpkins (or ideas) that didn’t survive.

We found 31 pumpkins this year. That’s enough, probably, to forgo a trip to the local pumpkin patch. It should also provide us with enough raw material to make roasted pumpkin seeds and, of course, pie. May your pumpkin picking and your startups provide such sweet results.

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