Your roles in running your small business should be split into thirds: one-third prospecting for new customers, another third creating products and services, and the last third supporting your customers. This is the formula I see more often than not, and I don't disagree. Let's talk about how the first and last of these thirds can be accomplished a little more easily in the online world.
Listening Aids Prospecting and Customer Service
I talk about listening more often than I do any other part of business, partly because it results in the most immediate and biggest impact. In this case, I think that listening is the most powerful technology and practice to help you in both prospecting for new clients/customers, as well as the way to help better serve your existing customers. Let's talk about that.
First, grow bigger ears. That is, build a listening station and start listening for the important terms that will help you find prospects. The moment you start hearing opportunities on various social networks and online haunts, the moment you'll be hooked. Second, pay attention to what people are talking about when you're pursuing them for a sale. If they're having a bad day, it will be on their blog, on their Twitter, wherever they hang out online. Observe their social chatter before making any kind of sales call, and you'll see your results change.
On the other end, listen for your existing customers' complaints or discomforts. If you see them talking about other products or services that might lead them away from your product, make a call and see if you can do something to help them. Maybe you've been neglecting them. Does your current client relationship management (CRM) software say when you last connected with them? What? You don't use even the most basic of CRM tools to manage your relationships? That might be a talk for another time. But your customers will often give indications before they leave. With listening and monitoring tools, you'll have a chance to catch them before they go away.
Publishing to Preserve the First and Last Thirds
The other way you can gain more traction is by creating interesting content not only for your prospects, but also for existing customers. I was recently sent a link to a guided tour of how one customer of a product I had subscribed to was using that product to make more revenue. Truth is, I hadn't logged into that platform for over a month, and as a paying user, I imagine that their system tracked this, knew I'd be the kind of guy who might change his mind and leave, and they mailed me this excellent screencast tutorial that gave me some "serving suggestions" on how to build more revenue using their product. I'm still a customer.
What should you create? That's up to you. Would videos showing people how to better use the product help your prospecting efforts? Would a blog that provides information on the space at large be useful to showing your prospects that you want a relationship and not just their sale? There are lots of great ways to look at creating useful information that might help your prospects on one end and will definitely support your paid customers on the other. It's up to you to decide what that content will be.
Quick story: I once showed a heating/ventilation company how to use content to help them attract sales, simply by having them film testimonials from their installers, showing their pride in a job well done. It certainly helped things, and it only cost the company a few hours of shooting and editing, which they did themselves on an inexpensive camcorder.
Why Online and Why Not Phone or Email?
In all of the above, I showed you some ideas on how you could help with prospecting and customer support. I showed you very open-faced ways to help. Why didn't I talk about the importance of a phone call or a well-timed email? While those methods are useful, my point is that the methods listed above are ways to leverage the power of the Internet and to let you scale a bit more. The listening tools help you hear more voices (opportunities and/or complaints) at once. The publishing of useful content helps many people with sales and support information, instead of just a singular event.
With that said, there is always a need for phone calls, for face-to-face, for one on one contact. Don't ever throw one away for the other. But as a busy small business, you have to find your time for all your efforts. Can you see how this will help you scale a bit?
One last point: Listening in the first piece of advice often points to great ideas for content creation for the last piece of advice.
Chris Brogan is president of Human Business Works, an online education and community company. He blogs regularly at chrisbrogan.com.