Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) may help your business succeed now and in the future, but Customer Intelligence (C.I.) will always win.
Here's what I love about the business discipline of customer experience, customer engagement, customer success and advocacy it's all about using communication to build relationships at scale, but not just any type of relationship, we're talking about trusted, human relationships.
How do you appeal to an individual human when you are trying to build such relationships at scale?
The answer is that you speak to, and connect with, the individual. Companies are not people. People run companies.
Even if you don't have the resources to buy fancy technology that helps you easily scale the presentation of personalized communication or information tracks to your fans and customers, you can be personal in your content by writing it as if you are writing to an individual -- your target audience. This is the kind of individual with whom you know your message will resonate to help advance the relationship while bringing value to them.
A key is ensuring you’re messages bring value to the recipient without expectation of anything in return…
Or, if you do expect something in the return, that return needs to have less perceived weight in its value, take less energy, or time on the part of the recipient than the value you are providing to them. Oh, and frame it as an opportunity, not a favor. Favors are not advocacy, they burn people out. Favors make advocates avoid you. Did I mention, don't ask for favors?
Why is all this important if you’re a solo-practitioner, creative entrepreneur, or even a publicly traded enterprise SaaS business?
Ever since the internet came along – the second marketing rebellion, according to Mark Schaefer – the power of information transferred from companies to customers.
Customers are in control of the purchasing and buying cycles like never before. They research information and ask peers for recommendations rapidly, and in far reaching ways across the internet.
This leads to the lack of control companies have in their marketing – what Schaefer refers to as the third marketing rebellion.
Now, customers are not only in control of buying cycles, but in many ways, the marketing messages themselves because that's what they trust -- hearing from peers and others like them, not the companies producing the solutions.
So, what does this mean for you and/or your company’s marketing efforts?
It means, you have to determine how best to operationalize and facilitate your customers’ to be your marketers and sales people, and product development idea generators and support reps and partner program facilitators, and more.
The only way you’re in business is if you have customers, and in this day and age you’ll need to partner with your customers as part of your company’s extended team (perhaps the most important team members) to create great and engaging experiences that customers help shape and get to own.
Not only does this help customers have the kind of experience they want as they interact with your business, but it makes your job easier by taking the guesswork out of deciding how to provide what your customers need.
The only real way to create such a partnership is to have authentic, real communication with customers that builds trusted relationships.
Posted by: Nick Venturella
I'm sitting at The Steaming Cup in Waukesha, WI just chilling waiting to start performing my music set here this evening.
It's about 6pm on a gorgeous summer evening. The sun is still out but beginning it's decent. I was fortunate to spend most of the earlier part of today with my two little boys at the beach.
I sit with my cappuccino looking out at downtown Waukesha, which has been revitalized since I grew up here into a great little Arts scene full of art galleries, eateries, wine and traditional bars, and coffee shops, and many establishments host live music at least sometime each week.
I had some realizations as I sat and pondered my thoughts...
When I grew up in Waukesha I used to come downtown here to the original Sprizzo coffeehouse location to play open mic night every week. It's one of the first places I got my music performing start.
Side note...in my opinion the original Sprizzo was the first Arts-related coffeehouse in downtown Waukesha when it opened in the '90's. It changed owners a few times and eventually moved across the street into a newer space before ceasing to exist in 2015. There is a positive arts vibe here in downtown Waukesha that I realize now was really just getting going when I was in my formidable years here. At the time I didn't even know what I was a part of. Now it's a thriving Arts community for other generations.
It used to be I couldn't wait to get out of Waukesha, but I do wish I could have grown up starting my music career with the downtown as Arts focused as it is today. However, I am humbled to have had the good fortune to really start my music and Arts career here. Just by having the opportunity to be a musician, book gigs, promote those shows and sell tapes (yes, tapes) and then CDs, and do so among friends who were doing similar things -- we all learned a ton about being entrepreneurial artists and marketers. That experience has been invaluable.
I guess what I'm most proud to see in Waukesha's downtown is that the Arts are winning there, economically. It's still tough to make a living making music, but in downtown Waukesha it's embraced a little more than in other places. Knowing I have contributed to, and continue to have the opportunity to participate in, the Waukesha Arts scene puts a smile on my face.
These days Madison, WI is truly home with an unmatched vibe and music community, but I'm thankful for having the Arts experiences and exposure I had growing up in Waukesha.
Posted by: Nick Venturella
Whether you're a musician, new startup or an established enterprise, you have customers who are responsible for your endeavor's income.
Those customers are your best sales and marketing team as well as your best source of income growth. But only if you provide them opportunities to benefit from a relationship with you.
Like engaging employees to cultivate internal brand ambassadors and the kind of company culture you want, when you build a similar relationship with your customers you can expect similar results.
However, in both cases you have to be human in your interactions -- these are people you're dealing with, not just numbers on a spreadsheet or assets. That means you have to have good emotional intelligence and provide value to get value.
This is not the time to ask your best customers for favors. Present them opportunities that appeal to their ability to achieve their own personal and professional success. Opportunities that also help your organization -- a true, transparent, win-win.
This can be done at scale with various advocate marketing platforms (Influitive for enterprise level businesses, VIP Crowd for SMBs). These kinds of platforms help you continuously stay engaged with your customers and help them want to stay engaged with you.
You might think of it a bit like a dedicated social network for your customers -- a place to consistently provide your customers content and activities that are relevant to their role as they use your products or services. Because the experience is individualized, by engaging, customers gain relevant industry education, opportunities to network with professional peers and get recognition for their successes while having all sorts of opportunities to provide their unique feedback on (and therefore, have some level of ownership in) the next iteration of your product or service.
There is gamification involved, which is fun and initially sparks action from your customers to engage, but I've found that they stick around because there are more intrinsic values that resonate with the customers once they've started to engage. Those intrinsic values are presented by opportunities that appeal to the customer first, and your company second.
What advocate marketing platforms really come down to is building a reciprocal, healthy relationship with your customers. One that is a win-win, benefiting both parties. You know, like a partnership.
This kind of partnership, is what will extend the lifetime value of your customers. Instead of only having customers that buy one time and leave in a year, you can help keep those customers for several years and even have them interested in add-on purchases from you (this is where current customer growth can happen at scale). However, these things have to be cultivated over time, and you have to remember you're dealing with humans, not assets or numbers. That means you have to want to build real, meaningful, professional relationships.
What's really interesting about this concept to me is that it can be applied to just about any business, and you don't have to have an advocate marketing platform to accomplish some level of this.
Even though I'm a marketer, I'm also, and always have been, a working musician, as such, I keep in touch with those who follow my writings and music -- fans (my customers) -- regularly. Primarily, I do this through an email newsletter that provides exclusive content to my readers that I don't publish elsewhere online.
I try to pack valuable pieces of information in those newsletters that can be useful to the individual humans (fans) who subscribe and consume it. The result is that over time we get to build a relationship and a rapport of sorts. Through opportunities for feedback I learn about my fans' preferences and their ideas for songs or additional products I create, and I take that feedback seriously and implement as much of it as I can to continue to provide my fans (customers) what they've shared they want and need.
The ultimate result, is having customers who have been cultivated over time to become your advocate because you've developed a relationship with them. They trust and believe in you, your business, product or service. Plus, you become their advocate for similar reasons, and thus, genuinely want to see their success because you care about them.
Posted by Nick Venturella
There is something very vulnerable and invigorating about being naked in front of a crowd.
I don't mean that kind of naked. I'm talking about busking as a musician.
In this case it was just me and my acoustic guitar -- no microphone or PA system to amplify the sound for the outdoors. Totally stripped down and naked...at least as naked as I prefer to be in public.
I had a great experience busking recently at the Hilldale Farmers Market this past Saturday morning. It was a rather hot summer day, but worth enduring the heat.
I played my tunes in a stripped down fashion without any amplification for those milling about to each vendor's booth buying fresh produce and baked goods.
As a musician, busking feels a little awkward at first because you're not really the main attraction, it's not necessarily your show like at a club venue where people come specifically to see you perform. In some ways you feel like you're interrupting the market attendees' shopping experience.
However, as soon as you start playing that feeling subsides and it's replaced with a feeling that you're actually enhancing their experience. It's kind of like going to a store to shop and they have music playing over the speakers while you browse the shelves for items you want to purchase. Only, in this case, it's a live musician, which is more engaging.
Busking is fun as a musician because you can quickly tell if people have interest in your music. When they're interested they typical stop to listen for a while or you can see people bobbing their head to the rhythm of the song you're playing. A really nice indication that they like your music is when people drop a few bucks into your tip jar.
When this happens, as a musician, it's important to thank people for giving you a tip even in the middle of the song you're playing, or at least give them a nod to indicate that you saw them give you a tip and that you appreciate it.
In college I used to busk regularly downtown especially in the fall when the new school year started and there was a lot of people around (I live in the college town of Madison, WI).
As a young college student coming into my own as a singer/songwriter, busking was a great time to work out the kinks in new songs. It's like practice with a live audience, and because people are going about their business most are only partially listening so if you make some mistakes as you play no one but you would likely notice.
If you're a musician working on your chops I recommend busking somewhat regularly as a method of practicing. If you pay attention you'll be able to spot which of your songs resonate well with audiences, you can work out set list orders and simply practice your songs. You'll probably even make a few bucks too. I remember as a poor college student busking was always a way to make some quick cash.
Busking for a musician is like conducting market research or utilizing a focus group to perfect your product -- your music and performance -- for your audience. Busking falls into the "honing" portion of honing one's craft. Truth be told, you have to put in the work to get better and better, and if you do, it will be obvious to others.
Thanks for the great experience Hilldale Farmers Market! I hope to be back soon.
Next stop on my summer of shows, I'll be performing at The Steaming Cup coffeehouse in my old stomping grounds of Waukesha, WI. Sat. Aug. 11, 2018, beginning at 7pm. Be sure to come on out.
posted by Nick Venturella
Did you know your customers can help you fix just about any business challenge you have?
Yup, it's true.
Along the journey of engaging your customers, if done well with the customers' interests in mind first and foremost above your own, the customer can and will help you solve most of your business issues.
Things you may not be thinking of related to the above stats are that not only are your current customers likely buying more from you over time, but if they love you, they’re referring others to you, and helping you to close new business as a genuine and credible reference customer.
If ever there was a silver bullet business growth strategy, it’s your current customers.
Are you a new business? Then hustle to get your first few customers and engage the heck out of them. Help them be successful in their business even if it seems a bit beyond the scope of what your products/services are designed to do.
Business is done by people. Be genuine, care about your company, your employees, your customers and their employees. Everyone needs to make a living to support themselves and their families – to live their lives in meaningful ways. If you put forth the effort, I can guarantee you that commercial karma will come back to you in spades.
What are you doing to engage your customers to be wildly successful with your products/services?
Posted by: Nick Venturella
"Do what you love and the money will follow," they say.
"Find your bliss and just do that for a living," they say.
They make it sound so simple.
I wonder how many of them actually work as if it's play with any consistency?
I consider myself fortunate to have several creative, strategic and entrepreneurial interests and paid work that often infuses those interests.
I mean, not everyday does work feel like play. In fact, most days it's just a grind. But the small victories, and larger victories over time, really do make it worth the effort.
However, I do get to be creative everyday, I do get to be strategic everyday and my mindset is always entrepreneurial, so I have that going for me.
So, even though I don't make my entire living as singer/songwriter, I do have the good fortune of having periodic paid performances.
And, I also have the good fortune of being gainfully employed where I can use my writing and graphic design skills strategically toward real business outcomes, which is appealing to me.
Plus, I have a great newsletter following that helps create community for me and others like me who subscribe, which brings those fun, thought-provoking aspects of what I do, and what all my subscribers do, to one another in a way that resonates in our lives.
All this is to say, that while I don't have one profession that simply and easily encapsulates my 'doing what I love for a living,' I'm making a good living and infusing what I love into the work I do, consistently.
This is, perhaps, a more realistic approach anyway.
This Month, in May, if you find yourself in Verona, WI or Wales, WI come check out one of my music performances:
Feel free to check out some free streaming/downloadable music at NickVmusic.net
Have you ever recommended a good movie you saw to a friend?
Then, after your friend saw the movie she thanked you for recommending it?
That’s customer advocacy on a basic level.
You, the customer who saw the movie and liked it, advocated on behalf of the movie by recommending it to a friend you knew would likely enjoy it too.
That customer advocacy can scale too…
Say the movie was part of the Star Wars series of movies. There is an entire fan ecosystem around those movies. The producer of those movies (Disney) interacts and engages its fans with special events, fan websites and communities, contests and even opportunities for fans to share their thought leadership on various Stars Wars-related topics. It’s true, you can check it out at StarWars.com.
What ends up happening is that the Star Wars franchise has helped individual Star Wars fans feel valued for their interest and participation in the Star Wars community. Fans have even been rewarded and recognized for their Star Wars thought-leadership contributions to the community.
In this example, Star Wars/Disney makes their franchise about the fans, and as a result those fans continue to advocate on behalf of Star Wars providing that franchise with more promotional power than Disney alone could produce.
What’s the ROI of Disney putting their Star Wars fans first?
According to a Fortune Magazine article from a few years back, it was nearly $42 billion. That’s billion, with a B. Not bad for a few sci-fi fantasy movies.
Here’s the thing, these same Star Wars advocacy fundamentals can be applied to B2B Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tech businesses, and it just so happens that I personally know the Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi who can share the ways of the Customer Advocacy Force...
Join the webinar - Customer Success + Marketing: How to Team Up to Boost Advocacy. February 22, 2018 @ 10 am (PT) / 1 pm (ET)
Join Howard Tarnoff (Founder & Managing Director of Customer Success LLC) and Carlos Gonzalez (Vice President of Customer Success Operations at Ceridian) as they reveal the advocacy playbooks they respectively use to:
Post by: Nick Venturella
When you’re working with customers, or your audience on social media or even your email distribution list, remember those you’re trying to reach with your message, opportunity or solution will only continue to give you their attention if you continue to provide them value.
A harsh truth is, your audience likely doesn’t care too much about what you want them to hear/read as much as they care about whether or not that content actually provides them solutions to problems they have, or stops them in their tracks to change their perspective about your solution to a problem you’ve helped them finally identify that they have (an aha moment, if you will).
You can continually provide your audience value if you stop trying to be the hero of their story and guide them, so they can be the hero of their story (notice the italics for emphasis).
Recently, I was introduced to Donald Miller’s Building a Storybrand blog and podcast (thanks Beky, co-owner of Montae Creative), and I like the way he describes things. Miller’s approach, which I agree with, is that your audience, or your customer, is the hero in their journey toward a solution and success. You are not.
Here’s one reason why you are not the hero in your customer’s story…
Your customer, let’s call her Janey, has her own job in the company she works for, and if she brings you and/or your solution in to help the company she works for and you steal the glory of being the hero, then why does the company need her anymore?
Now that’s an extreme example that doesn’t necessarily take into account other factors, but the emotional response is the same in practical application, and if higher ups at Janey’s company think you’re the hero and they can minimize Janey’s role to save a few bucks now that your solution is in place, what’s really stopping them from doing so?
However, if you come in with your solution and you position Janey as the thought leader who helped drive the decision to seek and implement this solution – and you partner with Janey to ensure she can maximize your solution and show positive results – then you’ve just helped Janey become indispensable.
Yes, your solution helps Janey realize success, but so many things that Janey and her company are in control of are what will make them successful or not. As for your solution, it likely only helps them to reach that success more easily, quickly and efficiently.
In other words, they may have reached success without your solution, but by partnering with Janey and her company your guidance helped accelerate their success.
And…this isn’t a one-sided scenario. You and your solution or brand or company benefit too.
Actually, you will benefit more than any success you might have achieved if you were trying to be the hero because you’ve fostered a positive relationship with Janey and her company. You’ve built trust by proving their success is paramount.
When you do that, your success is inevitable because you have created a positive advocate on your behalf.
Janey advocates on your behalf because she is someone who has gone through the work it takes to be successful under your guidance. Then, as Janey tells her industry colleagues about her success and your solution, the perceived value of your solution goes up. Even more importantly though, the true value of your guidance skyrockets, and that, will attract more Janeys.
posted by: Nick Venturella
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I was recently at an advocate marketing industry conference (Advocamp) where I saw David Spinks, CEO of CMX Media speak. He outlined some major trends and research around how isolation is more prevalent these days even though we are more connected than ever with the Internet.
The stats were astonishing. Loneliness has been proven to be as detrimental to an individual’s health as smoking or obesity. I personally related as being an isolated remote worker contributing to those statistics.
Isolation and mental health is not a new issue, but it's gaining more exposure lately, which is a good step toward improving it.
Even, marketer/entrepreneur extraordinaire, Gary Vaynerchuk, said, “Mental health needs to be the number one thing we talk about over the next 20 years. Mental Health is something we need to put on a pedestal and really start talking about…if you’re brain’s not right, nothing else is gonna work.” (check out DailyVee episode 341).
I have spent the better part of the last two years working remotely from my home.
While I love the autonomy of working the way I do I have found that the isolation, even though I talk to people via phone and online all day, is intense when not occupying the same physical space as other human beings.
This was making me irritable, obsessed about little things around the house being in the right place, and it was making me depressed, all of which was affecting my own well-being as well as my family's.
Today, I'm in a better place. Balance is key. I still work remotely. I am actually enjoying it more than ever, but there are some things I figured out that helped me turn the corner toward a more positive mindset to make working remotely work for me.
Being a creative professional, I often write in a journal to hone my craft, capture ideas, work out strategies for projects as well as distill my emotions.
At this point in my life, I have been journaling for nearly two decades and have multiple volumes of journals collected for posterity. Although I wasn't always journaling daily or specifically touching on things in my writing to purposely help improve my mindset, I did notice that in my spurts of regular writing through the years it often helped improve my mood. It was and is cathartic to get things out of my head and onto paper.
More recently I had come across a few articles that each mentioned James Pennebaker's research on the effects of expressive writing and keeping a journal.
The simple act of having a daily writing practice to allow one to reflect on what they've experienced and how they felt and how that kind of writing can improve one's mood, mindset and even immune health was inspiring to me.
This made me think of being more purposeful with my own journaling to improve my mental health as I continue to work from home. Eventually, I created a journaling framework to do just that.
It started out as a personal journaling system just for me, but I realized that maybe others could benefit from it as well.
Along with wanting to identify goals and track progress over time towards meeting those goals, I wanted to incorporate into my daily writing things that would help improve my mood beyond just the act of writing itself.
I found that identifying things I was grateful for as well as victories I accomplished towards my goals and acts of kindness that I had performed no matter how large or small served as a conscious reminder of good and positive things in my life that reflected my values and more of the way I wanted to live.
Over a short period of time this approach began to change my mindset and my mood. I felt like I had more energy, was more positive with my family and had a better outlook on each day.
That’s when I thought of a way to work into the framework of short daily prompts, a scoring system that easily allows one to track their color-coded mood (red, yellow, green) over time and identify trends of how they’re feeling to be informed and potentially change up daily habits, or continue daily habits that are working, to positively affect one’s overall mood.
This solution is a simple, low-tech, high-result journal called the Provision Journal that can potentially increase one’s productivity and health for less than $20.
I’m not saying it’s the only, or even the best solution, but it’s an extremely affordable place to start for those in creative fields, those who work remotely and are fighting isolation, those who wish to reduce their anxiety and stress, or even professionals looking to up their game (when in a positive state of mind, it’s easier to achieve success).
I can see not only individuals using this, but entire work teams who are striving for a more positive company culture promoting health (physical and mental) as well as productivity and personal/professional development…essentially humans trying to be better humans.
This journaling system, along with some needed time spent among other working humans in a coffee shop, has helped to improve my mood and productivity.
Posted by: Nick Venturella
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"What do you do when you're just feeling like you're in a funk?"
"What do you mean?"
"I'm just not feeling excited about much in life right now. I'm actually feeling a bit overwhelmed and stressed. I feel like I can't get past the obligations in my life to reach the goals I really want to pursue. I'm just down and irritable."
"Ahh, I get it. That's no fun. I can tell you though, you're not alone. In fact, I often feel those things too."
"So then what do you do to push through it? You seem like you have your stuff together."
" I address it. Specifically, I write about it in a daily journal."
"Journaling!? Like keeping a diary?"
"If you want to call it that, then sure. It's just an opportunity to spend some time gaining some personal self-awareness by putting pen to paper and writing out what's on your mind. The simple act of writing out what's on your mind makes you feel better because you've gotten it off your chest, so to speak. Although, the benefits go far beyond that, and you can actually alter your mindset and positive outlook by doing it daily and identifying things you're grateful for in your life."
"I'm not convinced. I don't have time to even eat lunch every day let alone write in a daily journal ."
"Yeah, but I would argue that if you try it for two weeks and only spend 10 to 15 minutes writing per day, you'll notice a positive difference in your mood, outlook, energy and productivity."
Have you heard anything about the benefits of daily journal writing like that depicted in the scenario above?
Well, there is actually proven science that says that daily journal writing can not only improve your mindset, but it can promote other physical health benefits too. Here's an article that explains some of those benefits.
As a musician/artist/writer I tend to journal a lot to foster my creative process, but lately I've been more cognoscente about my journaling.
Specifically, I've been identifying things that bother me or cause me anxiety as well as things I'm grateful for and actions I know I need to take to reach goals of mine.
In doing so, I've noticed my mood and energy level has increased and I'm more present, engaged and productive with whatever I'm working on in any given moment.
So, I built a specific journaling system help others use daily journaling to meet goals and improve their mood and mindset over time.
The idea is to nourish the mind, body and soul through daily writing that gives you brief guides related to how you can make this work for you and measure your progress/mood over time.
It's called the Provision Journal, which is a proactive daily journaling system for achieving a better vision and version of one's self.
If that sounds like something of interest to you, here's how you can get it.
Posted by: Nick Venturella
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