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  • 7 Things Bad Customers Always Do

    It's important to recognize the customers that will cause you the most problems.
    CREDIT: Getty Images
    Over my many years of selling to and servicing customers small and large, I have identified patterns in customer behavior that indicate they will be more difficult to work with than you bargained. 7 such signs include: 1 - Won't Sign a Contract Contracts are in place to protect both parties. Be wary of a customer who wants to start a project or make a purchase without signing some type of agreement. You can't rent a hotel room or purchase a bar of soap with your credit card without signing - why should your relationship with your customers be any different? 2 - Push Your Schedule You know how long it takes to get your product or your service delivered. A customer that waits until the last minute to engage you is not prepared and will often try to push your schedule. Even if you share the negative impacts of doing so, I find that few of these customers remember. Rushing only creates problems and disagreements later. 3 - Talk About Another Vendor Be wary of the customer that continues to reference another vendor they worked with that provides a similar service - especially if they tell you how much they like their work. You need to find out why they aren't working together any longer. This sign is often an indicator of problems with payments or unstated expectations and can be a harbinger for issues you will have later in your relationship. A trick Dan Jourdan shared on my show is "Ask your customer what they like about their current provider".  He shares that human nature will naturally make them tell you what they don't like. 4 - Say "Well, You Are the Expert" True they have hired you for your expertise, but this phrase is used to shirk their responsibility and is often followed with "but this is how I would do it" or complete withdrawal from participating in the work at hand. Be sure to get a clear understanding of their concerns and agree to a move forward plan to avoid this trap. 5 -Refuse a Standing Meeting A customer that refuses a standing meeting is establishing the ability to say at a future time "I don't know what's going on".  It's a similar excuse to "You are the expert". I recently decided to part ways with a long-term customer because I broke this very rule.  My team was doing a great job, but the lack of participation from the client led to a misunderstanding and an irreparable break down in the relationship. 6 - Insist on Full Delivery Before Payment Milestones should be established so that both parties are protected. A customer that won't pay anything until all work is done (or insists on retaining raw work product along the way) doesn't trust and isn't trustworthy.  Make sure that at the very least your sunk costs are covered and the money is in the bank before handing over the final work product. And most importantly: 7 - Your Gut Tells You No Always trust your gut - in hiring employees, to the direction of your company, to the feeling you get when you first meet with a customer.   If it doesn't feel right, then don't do it.  Whether selling a customer a service or a product, think down the road to how the relationship will end.  Will the end result help you and your company achieve the success you crave? BONUS TIP: Ask for a Discount - Just this One Time. In my experience, not all customers that get a discount will end up being a bad fit, but it is very difficult, if not impossible, to move a customer to a different price once you have provided that initial discount.  This is a classic ask from your sales team to "sign that big customer".

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  • 7 Common Social Media Mistakes and How to Fix Them

    Much of fine-tuning your social media strategy comes down to getting just a few key things right.
    Keeping up with all your social media channels sometimes feels like this.
    CREDIT: Getty Images
     As you may very well know, social media isn't always easy to handle when it comes to marketing your business. You've read article after article on how to succeed and maintain relevancy in the social media world, but it can be hard to keep up with the ever-changing platforms. What follows are seven social media tricks everyone struggles with from time to time and how you can do them right to improve your strategy and rock your social media efforts.

    1. Not Showing Any Personality

    It's simple: People like personality. We love when a brand shows its personality on social media (especially when brands banter with other brands). It's a fun and engaging way for followers to get a taste of your brand and its culture. Showing your personality can also attract your ideal target audience, which just might persuade them to convert into customers later on down the road.

    2. Not Promoting Your Posts

    There's a lot of debate on the benefits of advertising on social media. However, it's becoming increasingly popular as social networks continually enhance their advertising elements. When it comes to advertising on social media, you want to keep one thing in mind: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. That means adapting to the nuances of each platform to get the most bang for your buck. Social media ads perform best when they get noticed without disrupting the user's experience. For example, Instagram ads perform well when they're beautifully styled photos--not sales heavy graphics. Twitter ads perform significantly better when you utilize hashtags and images. Understanding and adapting to these differences will significantly improve your social media advertising efforts.

    3. Not Engaging with Followers

    Social media is by its very nature social. It's meant to foster interactions and build relationships, which is exactly what you should do with your followers. Simple things like responding to comments and liking posts you're featured in shows that you're available and willing to engage with your followers. It's also essential to respond to comments because social media is often where people go to voice issues they have with your product or service. Responding to these concerns shows you care about your customers and are willing to do whatever it takes to retain their loyalty.

    4. Not Focusing On Other Channels

    Social media is a reliable way to raise brand awareness and engage with your customers. Many will tell you it's the only way to go. But it won't ever be the be-all end-all of advertising for your business. Your marketing efforts should be diverse and include social media, not be exclusively social media related. It's is a small piece of the marketing pie and you'll waste your effort and your dollars if your strategy relies solely on social media marketing.

    5. Not Self-Promoting

    There's no denying that you entered the social media world to promote your business. There's also no denying that some people self-promote too much, which can result in unfollows. When deciding what kind of content to promote via social media, you want to follow the rule of thirds. In this strategy, one third of your content should be shared content from industry leaders, one third should come from personal interactions with your followers and one third should consist of promoting your business and generating profit.

    6. Not Analyzing Posts

    If you're determining a campaign's success based on how many likes or shares it gets, you're doing it wrong. There's much more you need to take into account when it comes to determining a social media campaign's performance like impressions, profile visits, mentions, clicks and the list goes on. Luckily, there are an abundance of free and affordable tools out there to help you in this area.

    7. Not Focusing On Your Target

    Blandly trying to appeal to everyone never got a business anywhere. It's important to know who is your target audience, as well as when and where to find them on social media. It's going to take some research but you want to make sure you intimately know your audience and the kind of content they're interested in. This will allow you to give them exactly what they want at the most opportune time, which will eventually have a big payoff. Keeping these seven tricks in mind will have a huge impact on your social media efforts. Once you get in the habit of sticking to them, you'll have a solid strategy and will be succeeding on those tricky social media platforms in no time.
    The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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  • 4 Unexpected Ways You Can Benefit From Your Competitors

    In the game of business, there can be winners without losers.

    In competitive sports, your goal, by definition, is to beat your opponents. No matter the game, you're simultaneously keeping an eye on the prize and an eye on your competition. The game of entrepreneurship is no exception. As a product manager, I learned how and when to focus on our competitors. When we did it right, it helped my team answer questions, make decisions, and iterate effectively. Two years ago, I managed the launch of Livefyre Sidenotes, an in-line commenting application for enterprise publications. With only four months to design the product from end-to-end, it was important for us to stay focused on our path. Here are four ways we used competing products to propel ourselves ahead:

    1. Identify opportunities for innovation

    Early on, we identified Medium's "Highlights" feature as our closest competing product. We learned how it worked in various contexts and on different devices. While inspired by the robustness of the feature, we also recognized its constraints: It could only be used on articles published on Medium's platform. There was no way for independent online publications to use Highlights on their own sites. Using Medium as a jumping off point, we set out to create the first enterprise annotations product -- one that any online publication could turn on so that its community could highlight and comment on articles in-line. By studying a key competitor and its product use cases, we discovered an untapped opportunity in the enterprise publisher space and targeted our product at this market. 2. Get inside customers' heads Before we designed anything, my team became power users of every annotation solution out there. We spent hours underlining physical books, creating Kindle highlights, and writing in-line comments in Google Docs. We noted what we liked, didn't like, and wished we could in each experience. For example, when we read used books, we found pre-existing underlines, highlights, and notes to be distracting. This inspired us to make an "opt-in" feature on Sidenotes: readers would have to voluntarily click a button to see previous highlights and comments. Getting entrenched in our competitors' products allowed my team to deeply understand the goals and emotions of our prospective users, then design an experience that would resolve shortcomings of existing solutions.

    3. Figure out what problems your competitors have already solved

    With only four months to design, build, and test Sidenotes, my team needed to be smart about the way we used our time. While it was important for us to address certain unsolved technical challenges, we didn't necessarily need to invent a new way for readers to highlight and comment -- Kindle and Medium had already successfully solved that. We chose to "steal smart" from our competitors by copying what they did well and made sense in the context of our application. Because we recognized areas where our competitors were succeeding, we could confidently fast-track our own process.

    4. Find ways customers can integrate your product with competitor products

    Once we had a basic prototype of Sidenotes, we started to share it with potential customers. One, Slate, already had a feature that enabled readers to highlight andshare the selection on Twitter or Facebook. Instead of seeing this as a competing feature to beat, we instead worked with Slate to understand how Sidenotes could work with their existing one. Slate ended up keeping the feature for its public site and launching ours only on Slate Plus, its premium section. Though it initially seemed like we had been beat to the game, we found ways to integrate our product with the competing one, thus creating a stronger solution for our customer that neither one product could have provided on its own. Whether you're building a new product or service from scratch or fine-tuning an existing one, leverage your competitors in healthy ways. They will accelerate your growth, and in some cases, you will simultaneously accelerate theirs. And what's more fun than a game where everyone wins?
    BY ROHINI VENKATRAMAN, Business Designer, IDEO