How to use decision-making styles to sell more online

You can sell more online if you tap into the psychological decision-making styles of your website visitors

Woman choosing between different shoes depends on decision-making styles

Everything we buy involves choice, so we have to make a selection and what we choose depends on decision-making styles. Even if there is only one product of its kind available, only one person delivering a specific service, we still have a choice – buy it or forget it.

The “Consumer Style Inventory” was established over 30-years ago by researchers at the University of Arizona. This established eight different types of consumers and further research over the past few decades have confirmed that these various types of buyers exist. The list is:

  • Quality conscious / perfectionist: Quality-consciousness is characterised by a consumer’s search for the very best quality in products; quality conscious consumers tend to shop systematically making more comparisons and shopping around to compare quality and value.
  • Brand-conscious: Brand-consciousness is characterised by a tendency to buy expensive, well-known brands or designer labels. Those who score high on brand-consciousness tend to believe that the higher prices are an indicator of quality and exhibit a preference for department stores or top-tier retail outlets.
  • Recreation-conscious / hedonistic: Recreational shopping is characterised by the consumer’s engagement in the purchase process. Those who score high on recreation-consciousness regard shopping itself as a form of enjoyment.
  • Price-conscious: A consumer who exhibits price-and-value consciousness. Price-conscious shoppers carefully shop around seeking lower prices, sales or discounts and are motivated by obtaining the best value for money.
  • Novelty / fashion-conscious: characterised by a consumer’s tendency to seek out new products or new experiences for the sake of excitement; who gain excitement from seeking new things; they like to keep up-to-date with fashions and trends, variety-seeking is associated with this dimension.
  • Impulsive: Impulsive consumers are somewhat careless in making purchase decisions, buy on the spur of the moment and are not overly concerned with expenditure levels or obtaining value. Those who score high on impulsive dimensions tend not to be engaged with the object at either a cognitive or emotional level.
  • Confused (by over-choice): characterised by a consumer’s confusion caused by too many product choices, too many stores or an overload of product information; tend to experience information overload.
  • Habitual / brand loyal: characterised by a consumer’s tendency to follow a routine purchase pattern on each purchase occasion; consumers have favourite brands or stores and have formed habits in choosing, the purchase decision does not involve much evaluation or shopping around.

This list is not such a problem for real-world, bricks and mortar stores as it is for online businesses. In the physical world, the sales staff can spot the behaviour of shoppers and work out what kind of person they are. We give-away our decision-making styles when we wander around the stores. We might have a confused look on our face, we could be roaming around not really sure of what to buy, or we could go straight to the same spot in the store every time we visit. For real-world sales assistants, spotting the kind of buyer you are dealing with is relatively straightforward because our non-verbal behaviour demonstrates our decision-making styles quite easily. Indeed, this could help explain why people prefer real-world shopping to buying things online.

Online, though, things are not so easy as for real-world stores. Much of the behaviour that an online store might be able to usefully spot happens outside the store. For instance, how people search would indicate whether they are a brand-conscious shopper or someone who is price-conscious. All the online store gets is both those visitors potentially landing on the same page, looking at the same item. In the real-world, sales assistants would be able to handle these customers differently to ensure they got the sale. But online, you can’t do that because you have one page which is attempting to deal with two different decision-making styles.

Similarly, shoppers may arrive on a website having clicked an advertisement or link on another page. They may have clicked such a link because they like the brand or because they are impulsive, yet the online shop doesn’t know which is the right motivation. That means, inevitably, that the page that people land on has to be “all things to all people”. In turn, that means that online stores end up selling fewer items than they could if every encounter were able to match the decision-making styles of each individual visitor. Not only that, people are making much faster decisions to buy online than they do in the real world.

Solving the decision-making conundrum

Given that, unlike real-world stores, it is tough to get a handle on the decision-making styles of your online shoppers you need to take some steps to maximise the potential of understanding your buyers.

Live chat: This is one way in which you can get to understand your online customer a little more. An operator can then detect what kind of customer is on the particular web page and direct them to specific elements of that page or to an alternative page which more closely matches their decision-making style.

Chatbot: A chatbot could operate in a similar way to live chat, but saving your company time and money in dealing with website visitors. The chatbot could ask questions that would lead it to provide a tailor-made solution for each individual customer.

Interstitial landing pages: These are pages that people reach having clicked on a link elsewhere on the web. They offer the customers a range of options as to what to do next. This means that people can be directed to particular web pages that match their decision-making style.

Highly-focused marketing campaigns: Make sure your marketing campaigns are directed at each of the individual decision-making styles you are likely to encounter in your business. Then, each of these campaigns would lead people to highly specific landing pages with wording and images that would appeal to that particular style of shopper. Often landing pages are devoted to the product or service and not to the style of buyer. Maybe you need eight separate landing pages for every one of your products and services, each targeted at individual decision-making styles.

One thing is for sure, getting to grips with the decision-making styles of shoppers is much easier in the real world than it is online. That’s why web-based shops need to do all they can to understand their customers in greater depth so they can match what they offer to the styles of their buyers.

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How to spot an online narcissist

Narcissistic behaviour appears to be increasing online. What problems can that cause for you and how do you deal with it?

Putin and trump (courtesy www.kremlin.ru)

A narcissist on the Internet is a problem, because just as they are difficult to deal with in the real world, they become an issue online. Narcissists lack empathy, and that means they can cause problems with teams as well as lead to issues with communication and support. Online, this can lead to problems with email, team communication systems such as Slack, as well as difficulties with group tasks, such as content production. Narcissists disrupt and can instil conflict. As a result, spotting and dealing with online narcissists is essential.

[Tweet “Narcissists disrupt and can instil conflict. As a result, spotting and dealing with online narcissists is essential.”]

Sometimes, it is easy to spot an online narcissist. You only have to look at Donald Trump’s Twitter account to see that it has a significant level of “me, me, me” in it. One of the key indicators of a narcissistic personality is that the individual is effectively saying in their communications “I love myself and I know you love me too”. That sentiment is clear within Donald Trump’s Twitter activity.

However, when you look at the Twitter account of the President of Russia, you will find it difficult to see anything that suggests Vladimir Putin is a narcissist. This Twitter account is limited to official announcements and diary engagements. Maybe that could be why it has less than 1.5% of the followers that Donald Trump gets. We apparently love a personality, when it comes to social media.

Even so, some would argue that to be a world leader you need a degree of narcissism anyway.  So how come one world leader openly displays narcissistic personality characteristics online, and another does not do so? After all, one study of the personality characteristics of Vladimir Putin says that he does have narcissistic tendencies. So, how come we cannot spot these easily online?

The reason is that one of these world leaders has a high degree of extroversion and the other is an introvert. There is a clear link between extroversion and the desire to be on social media. Most of the people who are regular posters on social networks have high levels of extroversion in their personality. Trump is an extrovert, but Putin is an introvert. Hence, online it is easier to spot an extroverted narcissist than an introverted narcissist. As a result, if you spot narcissists online you are generally only finding the extroverted ones; there could be several introverted narcissists you miss.

Spotting online narcissists

Narcissism isn’t new; it’s just easier to spot these days. Indeed, a decade ago I wrote a post pointing out that social networking had brought about a significant increase in narcissistic behaviour online.  This activity can be distracting and disruptive, so it is essential to spot who is an online narcissist so that you can determine in advance your potential response to what they are doing on social networks or in an email.

Here are several factors that are used by narcissists online:

  • Positive self- statements, showing a degree of supremacy over others
  • Repetitive posts showing supposed intellectual superiority
  • Regular criticism of others
  • Demands for loyalty
  • Requests for re-tweets and shares, but almost never shares or recommends others
  • Frequent posts associating themselves with others in senior positions

These kinds of social media posts are indicative of someone who has narcissistic tendencies, so they suggest you need to take care with such individuals.

What to do with online narcissists

A narcissist is attempting to trigger a reaction, and it is easy to get provoked by what they say in emails and in social media posts. So, it might seem sensible to ignore them. The problem is, in many cases that just seems to prompt them into ever-more outrageous behaviour in a further attempt to get you to react.

However, if you react, that also encourages them to repeat their online behaviour as, to them, it just confirms they were right all the time. So they carry on, in the belief that what they are doing is right.

It seems as though the recipients of messages from narcissists are in a lose-lose position.

However, it does not need to be like that. There are things you can do to minimise the disruption of narcissistic behaviour online. Ignoring the messages will not make them go away, so you do need to react. But it is the way that you respond which is crucial.

Research suggests that narcissists are either “vulnerable” or “grandiose”. The way that you react depends on what kind of narcissist they are. A vulnerable narcissist doesn’t feel good about themselves, so your reaction could be to be supportive and demonstrate they are OK. However, the grandiose narcissist would take this as confirmation of their superiority, so your reaction to these individuals could be about encouraging their support for your ideas.

In essence, regardless of the type of narcissist, one of the best ways of dealing with them appears to be in confirming, in a small way, that they are indeed good people with good ideas. Don’t go overboard on praise, but a simple acknowledgement of their goodness will help.

The next thing is to think about yourself. Consider your own reactions and decide to set-aside any negativity. Talk to others on your team about your response to messages and social media posts from narcissistic people. In other words, put their messages into context – and other people can help you do this. Otherwise, you react – perhaps over-react – and the narcissist has thereby achieved what they wanted, which only provokes them into doing more.

You will, though, at some stage need to change the views of a narcissist or get them on your side to help you. All you have to do is praise them in a small way and then demonstrate how much the ideas you are suggesting are in their favour, show them off in a good light and support their position. In other words, make all your proposed changes about them.

Narcissism may well be on the increase online because social media technologies appear to encourage it. So it is wise to be able to spot such behaviour and deal with it before it disrupts your workplace.

Picture courtesy: www.kremlin.ru

Can you create a consumer subculture?

If you can create a consumer subculture for what you sell, then you are on to a surefire winner

Harley-Davidson bikers are a consumer subculture

There are two types of motorcycle riders in the world: Harley-Davidson owners and “the rest”. That’s no joke. That is the finding of a three-year ethnographic study of the Harley-Davidson community. The people who own a Harley-Davidson see themselves as different and set apart from other motorcyclists. They consider themselves to be unique; they are a consumer subculture.

This is not a peculiarity of hairy bikers. You find the same feeling among serious skateboarders, for instance. Or you can find such feelings within fashion groupings, such as those who love the “goth” look. Back in the 1970s, you found a similar notion with “punk rockers”. In the 1960s it was the “mods”. These are all groupings of people who perceive themselves to be different to the rest of society; they are “subcultures”.

Hersham Boys coverHowever, often those people in subcultures do not realise how much commercial stimulation there is of their beliefs. Punk rockers believed they were rebels, fighting against the establishment. Yet ensuring those individuals in the punk scene got what they wanted to stimulate those feelings were multi-million-pound record companies and fashion brands. It was the establishment that was enabling the punk rock subculture. And I know that, because I worked for a record company at the time, promoting punk bands like Sham 69 and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Subcultures are significant commercial successes

Some might argue that if you can tap into, or even create, a subculture you are on to a surefire commercial winner; ask Harley Davidson. This is known as a “consumption subculture” where everyone buying the products or services have shared ideals and common interests. They see themselves as part of “the gang” or a “tribe”. No-one else is quite like them.

This commercial success often happens with pop stars. The followers of Justin Bieber even have a name for their tribe; they are “Beliebers”. For Harley-Davidson owners, if you are not a “HOG” you are no-one. (HOG is the Harley Owners Group – created by Harley-Davidson itself.)

User communities are not subcultures

One of the main confusions within many businesses is believing that they have a “community” of users, which makes some kind of “fan-base” or consumer subculture. This simply isn’t true. Your local supermarket has a community of shoppers, but they only exist as a group out of necessity. Similarly, there is a community of owners of the Ford Ka, but it is hardly a subculture. In Europe, there have been 1.9m units sold since 1997. Yet the Ford Ka’s Facebook Page has a mere 197,000 followers – just 10% of the “community”.

It is a mistake to think that just because a group of people have bought the same thing, or shop at the same place that they are a “community”. Do Ford Ka users have common goals and shared interests directly related to the vehicle? Hardly. They may have a common goal and the shared interest of having a low-cost car that gets them from A to B. But that’s not specifically about the Ford Ka. After all, a Harley-Davidson user could buy any two-wheeled motorised device. But they wouldn’t dream of it.

Subcultures change your business

If you can create a consumer subculture, you need to be prepared to act differently within your company. For a community of users, you are much more in charge. Ford does not really have to respond to the likes and dislikes of their “community” of users. They can always attract new buyers who need a cheap vehicle – any cheap car.

However, if your business has a subculture associated with it, you need to respond to what those people do and want. Harley-Davidson cannot do anything that would upset the HOGs, for instance. Justin Bieber has been learning over the past couple of years that upsetting the Beliebers has consequences.

Even so, having a consumer subculture can work wonders, if you use it wisely. Data from Nielsen show that 84% of people say that the most influential aspect of what they will buy is what their friends and colleagues say about an item. In other words, people trust their community more than they trust your business. That means if you can get the community to talk about your products and services, you are more likely to gain further sales or more leads. But that means you have to trust the community to do your selling. And that’s the hard part for many businesses. They feel as though they are giving up control.

How to create a subculture for your business

The first step in creating a subculture is in changing attitudes within your industry. You need to ensure that everyone in the company buys-in to the notion that the customers can be in control.

The next thing is to provide those customers with a means of being in control. You can create a user group or a membership system of some kind. However, if it is “your” membership group, then it will not be perceived as an independent culture. All your business has to do is provide the means, but the membership does the rest.

You also need to provide your fledgeling consumer subculture with some means of identification. This can be a badge or be identifying clothing. Your members need to “stand out” and look different to other kinds of buyers of similar products and services. Having a simple loyalty scheme or an online membership group is not enough. Members of a consumer subculture are seeking to use their membership as part of their self-identity. They need to stand out and look different to “the rest”. If you can do something to help that, you can stimulate the development of a subculture.

If you take these steps, the rest is over to the customers themselves. But they will be the biggest advocates for your business, providing you with the best word of mouth marketing you can imagine.

What is your content strategy?

You need to approach content strategically if it is to succeed. The problem is, what’s your strategy given that the world of content changes rapidly?

Content strategy concept

Content, content, content; that’s all we seem to hear about these days. You are bound to be asked things like “what kind of content do you get the most out of” or “how much content do you produce each month” or “where do you get your ideas for all your content”. You can find the hackneyed cliche “content is king” on more than one million web pages, according to Google. And that’s before you discover that there are over two million web pages saying “content is fundamental”. It’s all as though the world has gone “content crazy”.

Indeed, you might think that “content” was only invented in the past decade or so as an “Internet thing”. However, businesses have been using “content marketing” for centuries. Go back 25 years and the content was articles in magazines, corporate videos and handouts provided at events. Go back 50 years, and much content was oral, delivered by salespeople making their pitch. Go back 100 years, and there were billboards – the historical version of Twitter. And if you venture back a couple of thousand years, merchants and traders used stories as content. Businesses have always used content – words and visuals that help them sell.

However, it is different now to what it was like a couple of decades ago. Then you could use one piece of content, and it would last for ages. Now, with the voracious appetite of web users, you are lucky if an item of content continues beyond a week. You probably need to blog more than ever before.

What is your main business?

About 25 years ago one of my clients was a major international chemical company. They were “number one” in many of their global markets and were renowned having started in business in 1926. I am talking about ICI – Imperial Chemical Industries, which for much of its life was Britain’s largest manufacturer and a mainstay of the FTSE100. ICI produced chemicals, explosives, paints, dyes, fertilisers, insecticides and foodstuffs. However, shortly after I started working with them, there was a review of spending across the business which revealed something interesting. It found that the company’s second-highest level of spending after raw materials was not staff costs. Instead, most of the company’s expense was on publishing. It produced magazines for customers across dozens of different sectors, it had several in-house publications, it had magazines for pensioners, and that was on top of all the brochures, leaflets and documents it produced each year. ICI may well have been a chemical company, but its second most common activity was publishing. Who would have thought that?

The analysis made ICI think again about what was important. It was able to rationalise specific activities, find savings and improve communication as a result.

If a similar analysis were to be conducted today in many modern firms, you would probably find that producing web content is the company’s main activity. You could go to a car manufacturer or a firm of accountants, for example, and get them to analyse how much web content their employees were producing. It’s likely that across many companies, creating web content is a sizeable and significant activity. Yet the scope and size are probably not realised by many firms because it is spread around dozens of different departments and teams.

Hours of web content productionEven if you work alone, web content is probably a significant part of your work. How many hours each week do you spend on producing web content? Probably a lot more than you realise. All of my content production goes through Grammarly, which provides me with a report of my writing every seven days. Last week, I had written almost 61,000 words of content. That’s more than a book. In one week. And I am not alone – millions of people are doing the same. That’s why the web continues to grow by billions of pages every week.

Whatever the business sector is in which you work, your second most common activity is probably content production.

It’s not like the olden days

In the past, content was something a specialist department produced. If you were in sales, someone else created the leaflets. If you were in HR, another office, such as the graphics team, provided the “new starter” packs of information. Nowadays, content production is distributed throughout a company.

This has benefits, but also a causes problems. A significant advantage is that content is now being produced by the experts. Furthermore, timelines can be shortened as you don’t have to take your turn in some central production office.

However, there are also problems. In those olden days with centralised content production, it was easy to ensure consistency across the business. Those central content production teams could also ensure no clashes occurred. They could also advise on timelines and scheduling so that the company itself was not under undue pressure due to coincidental campaigns, for instance.

Now, with no-one effectively in charge, companies are facing content scheduling mismatches, the inconsistency of message and branding as well as some reduction in quality due to lack of checks before publication. Decentralising content production is highly beneficial, but it is not without its problems.

You need a content strategy

Many firms think they have a content strategy; they don’t. Instead, they have a content production plan. That’s not the same as a strategy.

Your content strategy needs to consider more than just what you are going to produce and when. You also need to ensure that you have the following factors covered:

  • Who is going to coordinate company-wide content?
  • Who is going to arbitrate on content schedules?
  • Who is in charge of editorial policy and branding for each element of content?
  • How will your content be publicised and promoted?
  • What will you be doing about non-physical content, such as audio information on artificial intelligence devices, such as Amazon Echo?
  • What is the purpose of each department’s content and how does it fit in with all other departments?
  • What is the agreed process for content naming and filing?
  • What are the minimum requirements for quality in each piece of content?

I could go on. There are several questions that need answering if your content is to work. It isn’t just about coming up with ideas and producing the material. Indeed, that’s probably the least of your worries.

Can you really achieve inbox zero?

Can you really achieve inbox zero? This article investigates the concept and looks at the psychology behind email overload.

email overload concept

Is inbox zero really achievable?  Just a couple of years ago in 2015, we all received an average of 205 emails per day. The prediction is that by the end of 2018 that will have grown to 236 emails a day and by the time the UK leaves Europe in 2019 it will be 247 emails per day ((https://www.radicati.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Email-Statistics-Report-2015-2019-Executive-Summary.pdf)). That’s around another 25 emails a day than you were getting last year. Every day, seven days a week. This year you will have another 9,000 emails to cope with compared with the previous year, and it is only going to get worse. Email growth rates are high; this year alone the number of email accounts on the Internet is expected to go up by 7%, yet we will still have the same number of accounts per person. So there will just be more and more email users pumping out more and more emails. Have fun.

Not only is this an issue, but the time we are spending on email is going up and up. Nowadays, we spend 28% of our working day on email. That’s almost three hours per day. For every minute you spend on dealing with email, it takes at least another minute to get back to work. That means if you are spending up to three hours a day on processing emails, you are spending another three hours a day doing nothing as your brain attempts to switch back to work. It is pushing productive work into around two hours a day.Email is in control - you are nt

A recent analysis from the Bank of England suggests that static productivity in the economy is linked to the use of the Internet, in particular through smartphones. That’s something I have been teaching my university students for the past five years. Kind of the Bank of England to catch up with me….!

Email is not a productive system

The fact is, email is an illusion. It makes us think we are working because we appear to spend time “doing something”. In reality, though, the “doing” has little to do with actual work. Indeed, evidence from several studies shows that 62% of the emails in a typical inbox are irrelevant to the user. And that doesn’t mean they are spam. I am talking here about the filtered email that ends up in the inbox – the material that is supposedly what the user wants to see. Most of it is time-wasting stuff.

You know the kind of thing – emails that people think you ought to see, emails you are copied-in on “just in case”, and emails from people who you once thought would be useful to you but now…..well, maybe not. Hidden away in the 240 emails you get each day is around a dozen or so that are really important and valuable.

You can try to use filters to sort out the wheat from the chaff, but guess what happens when people do that? Yes, they look in all the places where the filters put things “just in case”.

Imagine this as physical post

Consider what would happen with the physical post. There is material within the postal system that could be useful to you. But it is filtered out. Some of it goes into someone else’s postbox. Some of it doesn’t even reach your street. But, it is potentially useful to you.

If we carry over the filter system from email to the world of the physical post, this would mean that now and then you would pop next door to rummage through their letters to see what you had missed. Similarly, once a month you’d pop over to the other side of town to go through all the mail delivered to a different street – just in case there was anything useful for you.

Of course, this is madness. Yet that is precisely what millions of people are doing each day with email. They filter out messages, so they go into a special folder, and then head off to those folders “just to see”. It’s bonkers.

What is at play here is the psychology of the “fear of missing out” (FOMO). You do not fear missing out on the physical post delivered to your neighbours because you are not aware of its existence. But if you were, if you saw those envelopes, you’d start to wonder what was inside. Curiosity gets us.

With email, we do know about the existence of the messages, so we start to get curious and wonder, and then we worry about missing out if we don’t open the messages.

Man angry with emailsAnd then we end up spending more time on email, getting frustrated and angry, leading to longer working hours, more stress and less focus on productive tasks.

It has to stop…!

Forget the idea of “inbox zero”

Inbox zero is the idea that each day you can have an empty inbox.  You can’t. Stop fussing about it. Here’s why you can’t. Your inbox on your computer may be empty, but what about that inbox in your mind? What about the fact that you know emails have been filtered and filed away? What about knowing that if only you refreshed your email window, you’d get some more messages? What about the worry that colleagues or customers will email you and you’ll miss out if your inbox is so controlled?

People may have an inbox with nothing in it, but their mind is still in email mode. The issue is not with the inbox and sophisticated technological management tools we can use to control our email system. The problem is the way we think about and use email. The problem is in our heads, so that’s where we need to begin if we are to solve the difficulties we all face.

Four steps to an easier life with email

As the statistics show, email is not going away anytime soon. It is going to grow, and we are going to have to cope with it. Even with complex filters and additional software, email will remain a cumbersome and difficult system. So, we need to rethink the way we use it.

The real problem is like that of an addict. We never know when we are going to get our “next fix”. As a result, we dip in and out of email to satisfy our growing “FOMO” thinking. But consider an entirely different issue. Think about brushing your teeth. You know that proper dental hygiene avoids decay and gum disease. It also reduces the need for scary visits to dental surgeons. You are hooked on cleaning your teeth because you want to look good, feel good, smell good and avoid dental issues. Yet do you worry every few minutes “have I cleaned my teeth”? Do you keep popping into the bathroom to give your pearly whites a quick brush, “just in case”?

No. You don’t do that. Instead, you clean your teeth every morning and every night. You have a routine, and you have been doing this daily ritual for as long as you can recall. Your brain doesn’t have a fear of missing out on teeth cleaning because the daily morning and night habit reassures your subconscious as to when your next fix will be.

Step One: Establish a routine

The first step to establishing a better and more productive use of email is to set a routine. And stick to it. It doesn’t matter whether you have an extreme routine, such as Tim Ferris’s once every ten days, or once every three hours, having a routine means your brain will start to recognise what is going on. It will take about 30 days of sticking to your routine, but eventually, your subconscious will gather that your brain will get its fix of email, so it will no longer prompt you to keep looking. Your routine will only work, though, if you switch off all email notifications, on your desktop and on your mobile devices. Otherwise, your brain will get a trigger to start worrying.

Step Two: Let everyone know your routine

The second step in getting a grip on email is to let everyone know about your routine. Use an autoresponder to let every person who sends you an email know when you will respond. Place a notice on your contact page, if you have one, or your profile page, saying when you deal with emails. Get in touch with colleagues, suppliers and customers to let them know when you will deal with messages.

The other day I was running a masterclass for chief executives when I suggested people establish routines like this and let people know about them. One of the CEOs said, “that’s impossible”. When I asked why I was told it was due to the fact that people sent emails and expected an answer pretty much straight away. That’s true, but it’s because they have no idea when their next “fix” of email is going to come either. So they send emails when they think about it, or get a chance. Then they expect a prompt reply. When you set a routine and let people know about it you are helping them, not hindering them. That’s because you have managed their expectations.

Nobody’s email is so important it cannot wait a few hours for an answer. The reason we expect instant answers to email messages is because that’s what we all do, as we run around dealing with messages when we would be more productive NOT dealing with them.

[Tweet “Nobody’s email is so important it cannot wait a few hours for an answer. You are draining your productivity if you try to answer emails quickly.”]

Step Three: Schedule as much as possible

Use something like Gmelius or Boomerang to schedule your emails. Send out your emails, so they arrive in the inboxes of your recipients about an hour before your email working routine. That way they will probably reply while you are doing email. That means you will not be interrupted as often. Furthermore, people will get used to receiving emails from you at specific times, which means they will get an idea of when you are working. They will adapt their behaviour accordingly, improving the way they use email with you. True, it takes time, but generally, habits like this take around 30-60 days to get established. So, stick with it; keep your schedule going, even if you feel it is having no impact. Give it time and it will.

Step Four: Automate as much as possible

A programme like Gmelius can provide you with templates, or you can use “canned responses” to quickly insert email content. Many people spend days each year typing the same old stuff, time after time. That’s a drain on productivity. However, our brains perceive it as work, so we think we are being productive when we are not. You can also get other email automation systems to reduce the amount of work you do with email. That will have an impact on your subconscious as you will stop seeing much email activity as “work”.

Routines, managing expectations, scheduling and automation, will revolutionise email for many people. It will not achieve “inbox zero”. However, it will change the way you think about email, which is ultimately better than striving for an empty inbox which is not actually possible.

Excessive video gaming is a mental disorder and that could affect your business

The World Health Organisation has classified excess video gaming as a mental disorder. This has real implications for online businesses.

A tired video gamer

There are two organisations in the world who decide whether something is a psychological condition. One is the American Psychiatric Association which publishes the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” (the DSM), and the other is The World Health Organisation, which produces the “International Classification of Diseases” (the ICD). The World Health Organisation has announced that the next edition of ICD, due out in June, will contain “Excessive Video Gaming” as a mental disorder. The American Psychiatric Association will probably not be far behind. When they published the most recent edition of DSM, there was a section on the possibility of “Internet Gaming Disorder” as a psychological condition. The Association said that the potential condition was worthy of further study. That’s probably a code for “we think it’s a real condition, but we don’t have enough data yet”.

Researchers and clinicians are agreed; online activity is affecting our health. As yet, there are no specific disorders, such as “online dependent depression”, but they are probably on their way for an official classification. Already there is a condition called “Illness Anxiety Disorder”, and one of the diagnostic criteria of that is frequent searches for disease-related subjects on the Internet. What’s clear from a growing body of evidence is that the Internet does have an impact on our mental health.  Indeed, the UK Children’s commissioner recently said that social media is harmful to some children’s emotional development.

It is now evident that the Internet has a particular power over many people, leading to the potential for addiction and obsession. It can seemingly cause compulsive behaviour as well. And that’s before you even consider the possibility for people to become abusive and vindictive. When social media “trolls” are confronted by their victims and the impact their comments have had on them, they are mortified. Few online “trolls” appreciate the impact of their words. They are just lashing out “in the moment”, thinking they are just talking to a friend in private, not realising they are broadcasting to the world and upsetting a real person. Once they are aware of this, they are frequently repentant. It is an indication that online technology can affect everyone’s behaviour, turning nice, rational individuals, into abusive hate-mongers.

In the office, this means that you could well have individuals who are obsessed with specific online activities, eating into their productive time at work. There could be people who are more depressed, their mental health affected by being online. You could also have people in the office who become more compulsive online, leading to issues such as reputational damage. Accepting that your workforce is affected by the Internet and that it changes their behaviour, as well as their mental health, is essential for business owners these days. And if you are in a business of one, it is even more critical that you get to grips with this. The Internet could be affecting your entire performance and psychological state.

What to do about the Internet mental health issue

Once you have accepted that the Internet does affect the minds of your workforce, and yourself, it’s time to set up a plan as to what to do so you can minimise that impact. If you employ people, getting them to accept the issue is an excellent first step. Making people aware of the issues and encouraging them to discuss the way they use the Internet and how it affects them is a good place to start.

You might also have regular ideas sessions where people discuss ways they can achieve specific tasks without the Internet, reducing any dependence that your business has on it. For instance, studies show that “corporate memory” is disappearing. This is where knowledge is shared within the workforce, residing in their brains. When an issue arises, or a solution is needed a team with shared corporate memory can frequently come up with the answer based on their prior knowledge. However, these days people are not bothering to remember things in the first place because they think that whatever the problem, Google will come up with the answer. Except it doesn’t. Companies are losing hours and hours of productivity each week because of the decreasing size of “corporate memory”. Getting suggestions on how individuals can find alternatives to the Internet could, in this instance, help your business as well as improving the mental health of your employees by making them realise there are other things they can use, besides the Internet.

Maybe you or your Human Resources team need to re-write policies and procedures that take in to account the impact of the Internet on mental health. Perhaps you also need to think about support programmes for staff too.

One thing is for sure. The Internet is psychologically affecting your employees and yourself. It’s time to think what you are you going to do about that.

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Is online meeting technology ruining productivity?

Online conference calls and webinars could be reducing productivity, rather than raising it. People often end up meeting face-to-face to repeat those calls.

Online conference call

Taking part in an online meeting is an everyday occurrence for most office workers these days. Indeed, where would we be if we couldn’t have a video conference or a Skype call?  Online video conferencing is a $4bn market which is expected to more than double over the next seven years. There are dozens of services available, but Microsoft’s Skype tops the list with just over 22% market share. Cisco’s WebEx is the next biggest system with 11% market share. This is a big arena, with massive global companies taking part. Online meetings are not “small fry”.

However, are they as useful as all this data might suggest? Here’s the problem – businesses love meetings and these new technologies have made meeting up even easier. In the past, meetings would have been more difficult as you needed to book rooms or even travel. Now, everyone can meet no matter where they are based. Goodness, they can even attend a meeting in their pyjamas these days thanks to the technology..! The ease with which we can now “meet up” is so significant that businesses are having meetings all the time.

Anyone who has been in business for a while, though, knows that most meetings are, frankly, time wasters. People get called to meetings which they do not need to attend. The typical time-slot for a meeting is an hour when in many instances ten minutes will suffice. Plus, meetings generate lots of paperwork before and after the event, further eating into time. Plus, research shows that the more meetings that individuals attend, the more they suffer from fatigue and pressure of work. In other words, meetings affect the well-being of employees.

Online meetings have other problems, beyond the bounds of whether they are necessary in the first place. People appear to get “information overload” with electronic meetings.  This means that they don’t actually benefit from much of the meeting. Furthermore, the distractions available during online meetings means that many participants are busy doing something else, rather than taking part. Pat yourself on the back now if you have never “slipped away” from an online meeting or conference call and checked your emails or taken a quick peek at Facebook.

The result of all this non-meeting activity and overload of information is that further meetings have to be called because the first one didn’t achieve anything – often because people were not fully participative. Furthermore, in frustration many business leaders then call a physical face-to-face meeting to underline what they have done in an online event, just to make sure that “everyone is on the same page”. Millions of business meetings each week get repeated again online because of the distractive nature of the technology, as well as due to the fact that in many instances it is the real-world, physical closeness of people that provides the best communication.

Online business meetings provide an illusion that progress is being made when in many instances those web-based conferences are delaying things and causing fatigue, stress, overload and a waste of precious time.

How to avoid the productivity paradox of online meetings

Just because you can call an online meeting, doesn’t mean you have to do so. Sometimes, your objective can be met with an email, for instance. Even though you may have Skype, or WebEx or GoToMeeting, or Zoom installed on your computer does not mean that it is a requirement to use that service. Step One in improving productivity is to consider what is the most appropriate method of communication to achieve the objective. Sometimes it might be email, or it might be a team communication system such as Slack.

Step Two is the preparation of a clear agenda with specific objectives. That’s often the problem with face-to-face meetings where agendas are too general and objectives too broad.

Step Three is to consider the agenda and objectives and work out who needs to attend – anyone else is not necessary. That means it might only be one or two people in a team, instead of the whole group of them,

The final step is to work out how long it will take to achieve the desired outcome of the meetings. If that is only 15 minutes, then so be it. Rather than the usual “please put an hour in your diary”, be specific about start and end times. Not only does that focus the mind of the participants, it means you will avoid tangents during the meeting itself.

Online meeting technology and video conferencing clearly have advantages, however, many firms are letting the technology control them, rather than the other way round. It’s time to wrestle the productivity demons away from online meeting technology.

 

[su_icon_text icon=”icon: camera” icon_size=”10″] Image courtesy Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cambodia4kidsorg/36455181693/[/su_icon_text]

How much automation should you use in social media?

Vast amounts of social media are not social, but automated messages. How much automation is too much?

Many of the messages you receive on social media are not social at all, but the result of automation. These items have been sent out using scheduling services, CRM systems, even software “bots” that can intelligently respond to messages. Frequently, on social networks, no-one is actually having a conversation with you; instead, you are talking to a machine.

Marketing automation conceptMarketing automation is commonplace. Indeed, without it, much of social media would not exist. To be visible on social media, companies need to be sending out dozens of Tweets, Facebook posts and LinkedIn updates every day. Indeed, the best-known companies that make the most of social media are sending hundreds, sometimes thousands, of messages each day. Sustaining that volume of output either means the company needs to employ dozens of people, at a high cost, or automation is required.

However, there is a problem with all this automation. Research shows that when people realise that social media activity is automated, they have a reduced “parasocial” connection to the company. Parasocial connections occur when the recipient of the communication believes they have some kind of relationship with the sender. For instance, many people who follow celebrities on Twitter feel as though the individual is talking directly to them, almost as though they have a real relationship.

It is the same with businesses. Lovers of brands feel they have a relationship with the company of their choice, but in reality, it is a one-way connection.  However, those feelings of being involved with each other are lessened significantly when people notice that social media activity is automated. All of the benefits of a parasocial connection for a brand – such as loyalty – are eroded. In other words, social media automation can negatively impact upon a company. Much of that damage is because businesses have focused on the word “media” instead of the word “social”; social media is meant to be social.

So how much automation is too much?

Working out how much automation is “allowable” is tough. You clearly need to provide a balance between the amount of material that is automated and the volume of Tweets and posts that are “real”.  Look at your social media accounts and see whether automation is apparent. If it is, then it is too much – simple as that.

Obvious automation can be seen by Tweets and posts that are published at the same times every day for weeks on end. Another signal of too much automation is the lack of conversation. Social media is conversational. When those conversations are not obvious, the account is probably using significant amounts of automation.

Also, when you are using automation, instead of real interactions for the following aspects of social media, that’s too much. The activities that need to be “real” include:

  • Responding to new followers and connections
  • Answering comments or questions
  • Dealing with sensitive issues
  • When a brand includes a real person’s name in the post
  • Adding people to lists
  • Following people
  • Re-tweeting and sharing

When any of these activities are automated, it is quickly noticed, and it puts people off. Another indication of automation is bursts of significant growth in followers. That happens when people are using software to find followers and add them automatically. The growth of contacts and followers should be steady and not suddenly leap.

If you are using automation on your social media accounts you will save time; however that time-saving can be a cost. It can damage your reputation as well as remove brand loyalty.

Experienced consumers consider more options

As people get more used to online shopping they way they buy things on the web will change. They will become “experienced consumers” and will search harder for bargains.

Woman shopping online

It is clear that online shopping is highly attractive. Buying items online is convenient, fast and allows us to do more with our time than trudging up and down High Streets in the rain. Even so, the vast majority of purchases are made in the real world. The UK is the “e-commerce capital” of Europe with around 18% of all items being bought online. Our nearest online shopping rivals live in Germany, where 15% of goods are purchased through e-commerce. Meanwhile, in Italy, just 3% of buying is done online. Overall, worldwide, the average is that 12% of retailing is online.

What is staggering, though, is the growth. The most recent “Black Friday” was 20% up on last year, for instance, and much of that growth was online. Last year in the UK the number of goods sold online grew by 18%. This year it is predicted to have a 27% rise. That would mean that by the end of 2018 around a quarter of all shopping would be done online.

For many companies, this is causing a problem. In the world of traditional retail, for instance, it is leading to significant issues for well-established firms, such as Marks & Spencer, or Debenhams.  They are losing customers from their bricks and mortar stores who are going online instead. However, as footfall gets lower their rent for physical space continues to rise. That means the cost of servicing customers is rising for traditional firms.

Meanwhile, the problems are only just beginning for “pure play” online retailers, who are only on the web. The issue facing them – and every other business that operates online – is the phenomenon of the “expert consumer”.

Expert consumers behave differently to the “ordinary” consumer. They know exactly what they want and will not compromise on features or quality. Furthermore, they spend considerably more time choosing what to buy and researching the alternatives. Just as online stores are gaining from the rise in customers, they are about to start losing out through the intensity of competition created by the “expert consumers”.

All online businesses face this problem

It doesn’t matter if you are not an online retailer. The fact is, as more and more people use the Internet to buy things they move from lower levels of consumer behaviour to the “expert” level. That’s because they have considerably more experience.

Think of it this way. Imagine you have a department store in your nearby town. You only pop-in a couple of times a year. As a result, you don’t know precisely what’s on offer. Nor do you understand their “systems” as well as a regular shopper. As an inexperienced shopper in that store, you probably spend a few minutes looking for an item and then popping out again if you cannot find it. However, if you are a regular shopper who goes to that department store every Saturday, for instance, you know the staff by name, you know what has changed in each department, and you know what’s worth buying. But that Saturday shopper spends much more time in the shop; they look around more, spend more time considering the options and will often bargain with the salespeople.

It’s the same online. The occasional online shopper doesn’t understand the systems and doesn’t know where else to go for things. So they visit a store, buy something and then leave. However, the experienced shopper knows the systems and understands online buying very well.  That means they spend more time looking around and considering things. They know where to get the bargains and will comparison-shop more than the newcomers to online shopping.

As more and more people start to buy online, the level of experience and expertise amongst Internet users grows. That means their shopping habits will change.

If you sell anything online, you need to get ready for the change in behaviour that is coming your way. Shoppers are going to get much pickier, they are going to spend longer taking the decision to buy, and they are going to seek out the competition more than they have done in the past.

If you thought all you had to do was get more people to your website, think again. That’s only the start of your problems. The “experienced consumers” are going to present you with a wide range of issues in the coming years, not least of which is funding longer delays for purchasing decisions and fending off the competition.

Do you know your ABC from your LBC? You should

The broadcaster Nick Ferrari has launched a campaign on the radio station LBC to improve the education of children about online bullying. Here’s why you need to support that campaign.

A victim of cyberbullyingBy the time you have finished reading this article at least two children will have been bullied online. When you go to bed tonight, around 11,000 youngsters in the UK will have suffered some kind of online abuse. And that’s just today. It is happening every day, and by the time we are all wishing each other “Happy New Year” in 12 months time, around four million children will have been the victims of cyberbullying.

It has to stop.

But there are two main problems. Firstly, our education system is woefully behind the times. The curriculum doesn’t even include anything about how to use social media. That’s bonkers, considering the first online social networks were available in 1978 (before the web was invented); social media is not new. Secondly, parents are also out-of-date. Most of them wouldn’t know a “snap” from a “poke”, yet they allow their children to wander around the social media world without any real attention.

One excellent step in the right direction is the “ABC” campaign from the radio station, LBC. Broadcaster Nick Ferrari is Leading Britain’s Conversation on bullying through the “Anti-Bullying Charter“. This campaign aims to provide ideas to schools so that children can learn how to avoid problems online and deal with them if they arise. The ABC campaign deserves our support. Otherwise millions of children will miss out on vital education to help them gain the massive benefits of the Internet without the problems. And as shown on the Nick Ferrari programme this week, cyberbullying is sometimes fatal.

 

Various studies on cyberbullying make grim reading yet action by governments has been tepid. Seven years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics pointed out that this was a growing problem and needed attention. Three years before that in 2010, researchers pointed out the issue was important and subject to rapid alteration as technology changed quickly. Many governments don’t appear to have listened, as legislation is patchy, even if it exists. One study in Sweden suggested that only 4% of online attacks end up in a prosecution. In other words, the vast majority of online bullying goes on without being dealt with, the perpetrators undeterred.

However, we can not just blame intransigent or slow-acting governments; parents also haven’t adequately dealt with the problems raised by social media. Millions of children are using social networks that their parents have no experience of using. So, how can those parents advise youngsters on how to stay safe or use the networks to deal with bullying when it arises?

Think of it this way. As a parent, you probably played in a park when you were a child. You understand what it is like playing in a park from your own experience. Now, as an adult, you can comprehend the dangers in the park, and you can use your grown-up thinking and your childhood experience to support your children and advise them on how to use the local park without much risk. If you have no knowledge of a network, like Snapchat for instance, allowing your children to use it would be like sending them alone to the local park which you had never used, and never visited. In that kind of situation, most parents would say their child could not attend the local park until Mum and Dad had been to see what it was like. Yet, those same mums and dads allow their children to wander around social networks of which they have no knowledge.

Extending the ABC campaign with D and E

I am adding “D” and “E” to the Nick Ferrari campaign – “Desire Experience”. Parents should have a deep desire to experience the social networks that their children use. That way you can help them when youngsters are victims of bullying. This is important as one study has shown that around 50% of children have little idea of how to change privacy settings on the networks they use. If parents understand the networks themselves, they can help their children deal with problems. But if mums and dads don’t even use the networks their children use, how can they possibly advise and support them when things go wrong?

Parents need to take action because, according to one study, many teachers do not know how to deal with the problem of cyberbullying. That’s why parents need to get involved and is also why LBC’s ABC campaign is vital as it will provide the education system with guidance on what can be done. At the moment, schools are pretty much on their own, and research shows that much of what schools are currently doing only works in the short-term. We need a longer-term solution to cyberbullying, and that’s why the Anti-Bullying Charter from LBC could be so important as it will focus the education system on methods that work.

[button link=”http://www.lbc.co.uk/radio/presenters/nick-ferrari/nick-ferraris-abc-anti-bullying-campaign/” type=”icon” color=”red” newwindow=”yes”] Click Here to support the ABC campaign[/button]

[box type=”shadow”] If you think your child may get bullied online, check out the warning signs provided by the NSPCC. Cyberbullying signs and symptoms[/box]

 

Social media is harmful to your children

Social media is harmful to children. Numerous studies now point to emotional damage, particularly for younger children. Here’s what you can do about it.

Child taking selfie

The Children’s Commissioner in the UK, Anne Longfield, has said that considerable emotional harm is being done to young children as a result of social media. She made the claims in launching a report on the impact of social media on primary school children.

Almost seven years ago, Mark Zuckerberg suggested that under-13s should be granted access to Facebook.  The fact that it is illegal in some countries (not the UK) for under-13s to be given access to social media hasn’t stopped millions of children using such sites. Besides, when the CEO of Facebook suggested children should get access, it was technically challenging for most of them to do so. The iPhone was only three years old itself. Nowadays, smartphones are an essential add-on for the playground; if you don’t have a smartphone in your pocket at school you risk being seen as an “outsider” or “not normal”.

Concerns about the impact of smartphones and social media on children are not new. Back in 2008, for instance, a review of European research showed that there had already been 235 studies about children’s use of Internet technologies in just 18 countries investigated. Four years ago, the Daily Mail, suggested that the heavy use of the Internet was a mental health issue for children.

It’s not just the Daily Mail, though. Medical News recently reported a study showing that smartphone use can damage mental health leading to depression and anxiety. Plus, almost a year ago, the Royal Society for Public Health published a league table of social networks and their impact on child mental health, suggesting that Instagram was the most negative. And it’s not just children who suffer. A recent study found that long-term use of Facebook is associated with a reduction in mental health in adults too.

Mounting evidence like this shows one thing: social media is damaging to your mental health.

We know from many years of research that face-to-face social activity enhances psychological well-being. Indeed, a range of ill-health problems is linked to isolation and loneliness. Once you take people out of their single existence, putting them into social groups, for instance, their health issues frequently disappear altogether. Social activity is life-enhancing.

So, you might think that social activity online would also produce the same impact. However, the increasing amount of evidence shows that online social activity appears to have the reverse effect of a real-world social life. Rather than improving our mental health, it seems to lower it.

Why social media fools you into thinking you are feeling good

The problem is, social networks play a psychological trick on us. They provide a short-term “high” making us feel good “in the moment”. The burst of neurological activity that you get when you see someone has “liked” your post makes you feel good. Seeing images of friends and having people talk with you on Snapchat also provides the same kind of brain impact. Essentially, the social media activity we see causes our “reward pathway” in our brains to be stimulated. The only downside to that is that the reward doesn’t last long, so we seek another “fix”.

As yet there is no official diagnosis of “social media addiction” or, for that matter, “internet addiction”. But ask any therapist, and they’ll tell you that they see plenty of people with issues like this. Furthermore, the bodies that decide whether a psychological condition exists are the World Health Organisation and the American Psychiatric Association. They have rejected calls for technology addictions to be included in their diagnostic manuals. However, things appear to be changing. Just a few days ago, the World Health Organisation announced that it would now recognise “gaming disorder” where people could be given a diagnosis for excessive use of online games, for instance. Some experts have campaigned for “social media addiction” to be added to the diagnostic manuals too. So far, those calls have been rejected on the grounds of lack of evidence. But the evidence is mounting.

The fact that social media makes us feel good in the short term only makes the potential for addiction higher. We can – thanks to smartphones – quickly go back for another quick fix. And so the cycle gets repeated. Adults can manage this, to some extent. Work helps, for instance, as it gets in the way of continually checking social media. But children with a lower ability for independent thought and weaker emotional skills are more vulnerable. They cannot manage their social media activity as well as adults.

How to help your children

The time has come to accept that social media is harmful to children. True, it has some significant benefits too. However, many children use social media unchecked, unsupervised and without guidance. That’s like allowing them to roam the streets without ever giving them advice on crossing roads, dealing with strangers or how to find their way home. Yet, millions of children are using social networks that their parents do not use or understand. That cannot carry on.  If you have children, you need to use and understand their social networks. That’s step one.

The second step in helping is making a regular time for social media. Children will use it to stay part of their “in group”, but managing that brain impact is vital. Your brain wants another “hit” because it is never sure when it is going to get the required fix. But if you have a timetable then your brain can relax a bit, knowing it will be able to get another “high” at the appointed time. So, setting up a family “social media time” each day when the whole family uses social media is good for all of you. But parents also have to be good role models. That means as adults you also have to restrict social media usage to set times. Otherwise, your children will see that you can use social networks whenever you want, so they will do the same. Furthermore, by timetabling your own social media activity, you will gain psychological benefits too.

The third step is to talk about what we see and share. Get your children to see discussion of what is seen online and the impact it has on us as normal. Otherwise, they see something that affects them and clam up about it because it isn’t “normal” to discuss such things.

Social media and smartphones combine to provide a whole world of danger for children. As the Children’s Commissioner says, it can certainly be emotionally damaging to child mental health. The jury is no longer “out” on whether social media has problems. The data are in; social media can be harmful to your children. But there are steps you can take to minimise or even remove that danger entirely.

Why walking will improve your online business

New year, new you, new business? The desire to improve your fitness and health at this time of year will have significant benefits for your online business.

People exercising in gym

Happy New Year…! Welcome to 2018. At this time of year, many people turn their mind towards health and getting fit. They emerge from the sluggish Christmas break promising themselves that this year they will be fitter and healthier. More people join a gym in January than any other month of the year. Slimming clubs get most of their sign-ups around now. And the sales of healthy food rise in January just as the buying of alcohol goes down.

However, this is also the month when most people give up their gym membership and when alcohol sales rise rapidly again, as people find it hard to keep up with their desire to improve. Indeed, most New Year’s Resolutions fail to make it beyond 10th January.

There are a couple of psychological reasons for this. Most resolutions are about “removing” something – such as “losing” weight, “cutting down” on alcohol, or “stopping” smoking, for example. Our brain is geared more to what we gain, rather than what we lose. Hence, with resolutions focusing on loss, is it any wonder we give them up?

Another reason for the lack of permanence of resolutions is the issue of habit. It can take about 30 days of continuous activity for a new habit to sink in. So, given that most people give up on New Year Resolutions after just ten days, they haven’t actually given them a chance to become permanent changes.

What we need to do with resolutions is focus on the positive and maintain that focus for a minimum of 30 days. Then you have a chance of making them stick. Instead of trying to “lose weight” this year, for instance, instead try to “gain a better knowledge of your local area by walking around it every day”. The positive enjoyment that brings will make it easier to keep it up for 30 days and thereby make it into a new habit.

Indeed, taking a daily walk can have more benefits other than helping weight control. Regular walking for just 20-30 minutes each day is linked to a host of other benefits which will not only impact upon your personal well-being, they will help your business.

One recent study, for example, has shown that walking just 4,000 steps a day (less than half the recommended minimum) can improve cognitive performance. Indeed, this research in older adults with memory problems showed that walking more than 4,000 steps each day physically changed the structure of the brain positively. Overall, the researchers were able to show that even a small amount of walking can make you better able to recall things. In other words, walking changes your brain in a positive way to help your thinking. And at work, you need to think clearly. Vast numbers of people spend their entire working life sitting at a desk. The clarity of thought that is needed in business is potentially eroded. Indeed, there is the chance that the brains of sedentary workers are physically altered to make them less able to think clearly. That’s a problem for business.

Another study found back in 2014 that people who walk for just six minutes each day are more creative than people who do not walk. In most offices, creative thinking is required. We all need to come up with innovative solutions to a range of issues, from mundane things such as how can we arrange a meeting when everyone’s diary is full, to new product ideas. If you and your staff are sedentary, you are much less able to come up with ideas.

A few years ago I put this to the test in a workshop I ran for businesses. I set people a task to come up with ideas for a new online service for their business. They were given 30-minutes. At the end of that time, we reviewed the ideas they had produced. The participants all agreed they could not come up with any more ideas. I said I didn’t believe them. So I then gave them their next task. They had to leave the room and take part in a physical activity for the next 30 minutes. They had to do this alone, so they would not be distracted by chatting with each other. Some of them went for a walk; a couple went swimming, some went to the hotel gym. When they came back to the meeting room, I asked them to see if they could produce any more ideas for this online service that was proposed. Remember, before they went off on their physical break they all agreed they were “out of ideas”. On their return, the participants produced a second set of ideas which was longer than the first one. They instantly realised that physical activity has a significant impact on our brain’s capacity to think and to be creative.

For online businesses this is vital. E-business is sedentary. Millions of people sit in front of computer screens all day and do little else. That means the world of online business has two main problems. Firstly, the cognitive capacity of the staff is reduced due to the sedentary nature of the job. Secondly, these firms are not able to be as creative as they need.

Regular walking is all that is needed to solve these issues. It can be as simple as getting off the metro a stop early each day and walking the rest of the way to the office. Or it could be using the lunch break to walk up and down the road while eating your sandwich, instead of sitting at the desk reading social media.

There is also an added advantage for businesses if staff get walking. Walking reduces stress and anxiety. Just 20 minutes of walking a day can have a real impact on stress levels. These days, the incidence of work-related stress is at an all-time high. That level of stress is impacting on workers because they perform less well in the office and they have more days off sick, contributing to lowered productivity. If staff can be encouraged to take regular walks, it will have a real impact on their mental health, thereby helping the company.

A positive new year resolution for every online business could be to get the entire team walking each day. They’ll feel better and work better, and the company will reap the benefits.

Companies need to blog more than ever before

Blogging is increasingly being used by businesses who feel restricted by other social media platforms. Even so, most businesses still do not blog.

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Blogging has been with us for 18 years. Even so, the vast majority of businesses do not blog. A recent study of the Fortune 500, for instance, showed that only 42% of these significant companies had a blog. Mostly, they are high-tech firms producing blogs. Traditional sectors don’t appear to have taken up blogging, in spite of its long-term existence online.

Meanwhile, almost every company is using LinkedIn – 98% according to the Fortune study. The vast majority of companies also have Facebook pages, Tweet regularly and upload videos to YouTube.

But you have to ask, why?

Consider a Facebook page. No matter what you do with it, it still looks like a Facebook page. Apart from an image at the top, every Facebook page looks like every other Facebook page. The branding is Facebook’s.

The same is true for YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and every other social network you consider. When you upload any item to social media, you accept that the presentation and the brand image conveyed will be that of the owner of the network – not you.

It would seem, therefore, that even significant businesses on the Fortune 500 have collectively said, “It’s OK for our brand to be diminished, for our web presence to use your fonts and colours, not ours, and for people to think about your brand, rather than ours when they visit our content on your network.”

Businesses have given up control of their brands and put the control of their image in the hands of people they do not even know.

Meanwhile, blogging allows a firm complete and total control. As the owner of a blog you can decide how it looks and ensure it follows brand guidelines. You can decide what to include and how to promote it and what order in which it will be presented. Unlike social networks, bloggers get to decide exactly how the world perceives them.

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None of this is news, of course. Back in 2005, Business Week magazine said that “blogging was no longer an elective, but a pre-requisite”. In other words, if you didn’t blog your company would face an uncertain future. Equally, for a decade now, the inbound marketing company, HubSpot, has been producing data which demonstrates that blogging is the “number one” element in generating leads and online sales. Without blogging, companies appear to be making life much tougher for themselves on the Internet.

However, in spite of all the evidence that demonstrates the clear benefits of blogging for business, the majority of companies still don’t do it. And even those who do blog, most of them are only occasional users.

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In fact, until recently blogging went into decline for companies. The proportion of companies with blogs fell to just 21% in 2015, but now that has doubled to 42%. In the space of two years, business blogging has doubled.

Why?

Well, gradually firms are realising that social media presents them with no control. Apart from lacking any real branding, the delivery of social media messages is at the behest of the algorithms of the networks. Companies don’t like that, for good reason.

Furthermore, it would seem that more companies are realising that social media messages are meaningless without something substantial behind them. One of the founders of Twitter, Biz Stone, said in an interview in 2013 that “without longer-form, deeper-dive, more relevant conversation, I don’t think social media would have anything to be social or media about.” In other words, if your Tweets, your Facebook posts and your Pinterest pins don’t lead back to longer articles and blog posts, you may as well have not bothered.

What the recent research on the Fortune 500 reveals is that social media is treated experimentally by companies, often without any real evidence to support the notion of starting using them. There appears to be a vague notion that if you are on Snapchat, for instance, you’ll be able to reach the younger generations. That forgets they don’t want to hear from you as a business.

As businesses try and fail at one social network after another social network they appear to come back to blogging. It’s safe. It’s in your control. It works.

If you want more business, all the evidence points to blogging as a key. Equally, if you want more social media traction, blogging is what you need to promote. Furthermore, given that business blogging has doubled in the past two years, if you don’t blog now, your business will disappear behind the noise created by your competitors who do write blogs.

Blogging is more important than ever before.

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Why your website must look like your visitors

People who land on your website expect it to say “this is for me”. They need to identify with your site in a second. New research confirms this is the case for word of mouth too.

Different kinds of people

When people land on a web page they take fractions of seconds to decide whether or not “this is for me”. Indeed, some studies have shown that this decision is made in around half a second, that’s before a visitor is even consciously aware of what is on the page.

What people appear to be doing is trying to confirm whether the page they are visiting is a “good fit”. Does the page offer what is wanted and does it offer it to the same people as me?

An example I often use to explain this is the problem faced by a hotel website. Hotels service a wide range of clients – business people, wedding guests, party-goers, conference organisers and so on. A few years ago my new neighbour was chatting about her forthcoming wedding and, being new to the area, wanted to know of suitable venues. I mentioned one to her which is a highly popular country house wedding venue. She picked up her iPad, went to the website and said, “Oh no, I’m not going there, it’s a business hotel”. She had been put off within one second by the image on the front page of the hotel’s website which was of a man walking into the door, whilst carrying a business briefcase.

The hotel is not just for business people; it hosts many weddings and corporate events. Even though my neighbour’s dream venue for her wedding was a country house, she dismissed a nearby hotel simply because of the first image she saw. In less than a couple of seconds, she had decided not go there – and she didn’t…! Instead, she went to a venue almost 100 miles away. When I went to their website I could see why. The first image on this wedding venue website was of a woman, aged about 30, clearly taken on an Autumn day. My neighbour was in her mid-30s and her wedding was going to be in October. Bingo. Perfect match. The image meant she could easily see herself there.

But the problem for the venue is that not everyone is in their mid-30s nor do they all want a wedding in the Autumn. Therefore to match each visitor you would need thousands of combinations of ages and situations so that the visitor could go “that’s me”.

Therein lies the problem for website owners. If you are to show people who visit your site that this is “for them”, how can you do so when there are so many different “thems”? In the real world, you would do this by picking up on the conversation and feeding back only the material that matched. For instance, if you were sitting with a hotel owner talking about your wedding in the Autumn, they’d quickly flick through a photo album to other Autumn weddings and you would think “this is the place for me” because you could see yourself in that situation. Doing that kind of reflecting on what the individual is saying and then feeding back the relevant material so that you match your offer to the individual is almost impossible online.

Now, new research from the USA confirms this problem is probably going to get worse. That’s because for many website owners they rely on social media to help produce the “this is for people like me” effect. Yet the new study shows that people only believe electronic word of mouth through social media if the website has “homophily” (the technical name for “this is like me”). In other words, people are becoming more sceptical about reviews and recommendations unless the particular website demonstrates homophily. That means if a company is using social media for recommendations it is going to be increasingly vital that the website mentioned in such reviews demonstrates that it is precisely like the visitor. Far from making homophily less necessary (through social proof), it appears that electronic word of mouth is making it even more important that you show your website is like your visitor.

This now means that multiple landing pages targeted at specific types of individuals are essential. That also means that you need separate marketing campaigns for each kind of individual. Plus it means you need multiple persona analysis to make it all work.

This is what you do in the real world, by listening to people and responding in a way that is personalised to them. Most websites don’t do anything like that and as a result lose considerable amounts of custom because there is little “fit” with the variety of individuals visiting.

It’s time to stop thinking of websites, but of web pages aimed at tiny, tiny, tiny groups of individuals – and you’ll therefore probably need hundreds of such pages. It’s either that, or continue to lose business from thousands of people within seconds.

[Tweet “It’s time to stop thinking of websites, but of web pages aimed at tiny, tiny, tiny groups of individuals – and you’ll therefore probably need hundreds of such pages. It’s either that, or continue to lose business from thousands of people within seconds.”]

Mobile is not as important as we think

Mobile is increasingly important for search and for the initial discovery of things to buy. But the desktop is where most purchases are made.

People buying online

With Black Friday and CyberMonday upon us and the start of the Christmas shopping season, it’s no wonder there are all sorts of articles about how to use the Internet to sell more. Much of that information is focusing on the power of the smartphone. Indeed, one study has shown that mobile-driven purchasing is now behind 52% of all online sales.

Google has adjusted its algorithm to favour of mobile devices because over 50% of search is through a mobile device.

Everywhere you look, you find further emphasis that mobile is the way ahead.

Except it isn’t.

Statistics can be misleading. And we are being misled. If you want to sell more online, you have to take mobile into account, that’s true. But it is the context of the use of mobile in the purchasing pathway that is important.

Recently, I completed a small piece of research and found that 100% of the people involved in the study did the same thing. They all used the mobile devices to see potential purchases. Some used their mobile all the time for this; others did so occasionally. But everyone in the study (20 people) then went home and made the actual purchase using a desktop computer.

The reasons for doing this included security concerns of mobile devices and the poor implementation of online shops on small screens.

Now, more in-depth research has shown much the same. Almost two-thirds of purchases are made on desktops, even though most searches for suitable things to buy are done on a mobile. The study which discovered this is substantial, looking at more than 140 million purchases.

Apart from being the place where most sales take place, the desktop computer is where customers are more loyal. In other words, if you want to sell more and make more money online rather than focusing on mobile (which is the current advice you see in many places) what you really need to do is drive people to the desktop. Not only will you sell more, but you will gain more loyal purchasers.

The reasons why the desktop is responsible for more sales include:

  • Security concerns of mobiles
  • Better visual impact of large screen shops
  • Familiarity with desktop shopping
  • Increased ability to comparison shop on a desktop
  • Ability to take more time to make a purchase decision

There are plenty of reasons why mobiles are of benefit to online sellers, but all the brouhaha over mobiles is focusing website owners in the wrong direction. It isn’t about making sales on the mobile, but about using the smartphone to get people to your desktop site.

Has digital delivery had its day?

Physical items are really important to people, even in this digital age. Don’t ignore the potential for physicality

Digital “stuff” is all around you. No longer do you buy records; now you stream music on Spotify. No longer do you buy books; now you add them to your Kindle. No longer do you get software in a box; now you download it. We live in a digital world; and therein lies the problem.

Human beings need to assess their sense of self continually. If we do not have a constant update of who we are, then we find it difficult to engage with the world around us. You wouldn’t know if you were a tea drinker or a coffee aficionado. You wouldn’t know if you liked football or cricket. You wouldn’t know how to react to the people around you. A sense of self is essential to operate successfully in the world.

However, our sense of self requires regular input and it appears we get a lot of that from the world around us. Indeed, it is our physical possessions that help establish and strengthen our sense of self. If you think of yourself as a music fan, the chances are you have tangible reminders of that. It might be records and CDs, or it could be tour T-shirts and other memorabilia. Similarly, if you love reading and think of yourself as “bookish”, the chances are that your home has several bookshelves.

New research shows that our sense of self is linked to our physical possessions, which is why we don’t value digital goods as much as we do physical ones.

The study found that for items that could be bought digitally, such as a photograph, people were prepared to pay more for the physical image than for the digital one. Other studies have found similar effects. We value tangible items more than digital ones because of the connection to self.

Is it any wonder that digital book sales are falling having peaked a couple of years ago? Vinyl record sales are dramatically increasing, particularly among people who do not own a record player…! It is not the utility of the record that matters but the value it brings to the owner regarding sense of self.

For many businesses, this is a problem. They have sped full steam ahead into the digital world to enable them to cut costs in the production and delivery of physical items. You even see it in the business-to-business sector where companies will provide PDF versions of reports they would have previously had printed and bound. This inevitably means that those digital consultancy reports are now seen as less valuable than their physical counterparts.

Digital delivery may have cut costs, but it also reduces the connection we have to the physical world.

When tablet computers were first produced, there was a lot of criticism due to the lack of a keyboard. There are now more mobile devices with touch screens in circulation than there are people on the planet. We love them. Why? Because the keyboard on a standard computer is a disconnect between ownership of the letters we see on the screen. We bash away at the keyboard, and in front of us, items appear on the screen. With a tablet there is a much greater physical connection, our fingers are connected to the letters on the screen in a way that doesn’t happen with a traditional keyboard. It is further evidence of the importance of physicality.

Using digital delivery to reduce costs may help the bottom line, in the short-term. But it could impact on a business in the longer term as people search for physicality. If you produce reports, PDF delivery may be useful for speed, but getting the same document printed out and handed to your client will work wonders for the value they place on the item.

Similarly, if you sell digital items consider ways you can turn them into physical objects. The “experiences” sector does this very well. They sell vouchers for a weekend in a spa, for instance. But that’s not physical – unless you create a beautiful box for the coupon, put that into a plastic case and then shrinkwrap it. Suddenly, the physicality of a digital voucher code becomes much more appealing to people. People will – and do – pay more for those vouchers than for ones they can download from a website. Yet it’s the same thing…!

Don’t ignore the physical possibilities for what you do in your business. Your customers will value what you do much more if you make your items tangible in some way.

 

 

Customers and suppliers agree at last on email marketing

Email users and businesses agree on one thing, it seems. Email marketing needs to improve.

Email marketing concept

There are two facts we know about email marketing. One: it is the most successful form of online marketing, as shown in study after study, all demonstrating that it leads to more conversions and more sales than any other type of Internet marketing. Two: it is the most detested form of online marketing, with survey after survey demonstrating that email users are frustrated and annoyed by the vast majority of email marketing messages.

These two facts are in direct opposition to each other. Email marketing works; people hate it. Mmmm. Imagine how much better email marketing would be and what it could achieve if people liked it…!

Thankfully, a couple of new studies show that we are getting closer to that happening.

It won’t come as a surprise, but the latest piece of research on what people want from email marketing is reliable, useful and valuable information. People do not want sales-based email marketing – even though they will use the emails to buy something. The research comes from Adobe which has found that the number one request, made by 40% of people, is that emails become more informative and practically useful. Of course, other studies have found similar things, but this latest research also shows that this request is pretty consistent across age groups.

Email marketing study graph

Notice too that people want content that is directly relevant to them and also material that is from users of the product or service being marketed. In other words, email users are happy to receive detailed and personalised information. They even want to be able to buy the item direct from the email. They just don’t want to be “sold to”.

Luckily, it would appear that email marketers are themselves beginning to get the message. Another study from the sales and marketing company Televerde shows that what most marketing experts want from their businesses is a combination of better messaging and better marketing materials. They also want more case studies and testimonials. What they want the least is better sales material. In other words, marketers appear to realise that the time has come to take a different approach to online marketing.

Televerde chart

The fact is, email marketing works. But given that most people on both sides of the equation want it to be improved, there is every chance that email marketing will gain even higher potential in the future.

True, the average number of emails received each day continues to rise – it’s around 300 emails per person per day at the moment. Together with improved filtering, better anti-spam software and increased awareness you would think that email marketing would be consigned to the annals of history.

Yet, as we get more emails each day and improve the way we use email, those marketing messages appear to gain even greater value.

It doesn’t make sense.

Or does it?

There is something else going on which is making email marketing more useful to marketers and more desirable to users. And that something else is, in reality, everything else that is happening online. There’s social media, messaging services like Snapchat, WhatsApp and a host of other systems for communicating with each other.

The result of all this additional online choice is that people are categorising communication. They are saying things like “I use SMS text messaging for keeping in touch with family” and “I use WhatsApp for my team communications” or “I use LinkedIn messaging for communicating with customers”. People are using different services for separate communications activities.

Which begs the question, what are people using email for these days?

It turns out that people are increasingly categorising emails as “for marketing messages”. It is rapidly becoming THE place where people want to receive marketing materials. In other words, when you send out marketing emails they end up in exactly the right place where people expect to see them. Put those messages on a social network, and it leads to confusion because users categorise something like Facebook, for instance, as for “chatting to friends”. Put a marketing message on social media, and you get lower conversions than through email. That’s because the mind of the user is not ready to receive a marketing message. But send the same message to them on email, and because they have pre-categorised email as the place for marketing, when they open your email message they are in the right frame of mind to deal with it.

So, in these days of increased email, massive competition for communications and rising user “savviness” you might think that email marketing has had its day. But the data continue to show otherwise. These latest studies demonstrate that marketers are beginning to get the message: content-based email marketing is the future for online businesses.

Why are online shops struggling against the real world?

Online shopping is a minority activity. Forget the “mobile first” nonsense too. Most people want to go to real shops.

Happy shoppers

We have had online shopping for a long time. Indeed, the first online consumer purchase was made in Gateshead, UK, in June 1984 by a 72-year-old lady, Mrs Jane Snowball. She did her shopping at Tesco using an online system that was connected to her TV set and telephone. This was five years before the invention of the World Wide Web. Once we had websites, things started to accelerate. Yet it wasn’t until 27th April 1995 that the first book was sold online by WHSmith – months before Amazon started trading ((Click.ology: What works in online shopping, By Graham Jones, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2014)).

Online retailers trade on the convenience of their offer. You would think that given we have all become even busier since the 1980s, we would all lap up the convenience of online shopping.

Yet, in spite of the evident growth in shopping online, we persist in buying things from the real world, even if that is less convenient.

Online stores will be eager to tell you about growth rates of more than 10% a year. But 10% of not very much is still not very much. Almost 90% of everything we buy is still purchased in real world stores. Little wonder that Amazon is investing heavily in bricks and mortar these days.

Has online shopping peaked?

Just a few months ago I wrote that online shopping appeared to have stalled. Now, there is new research that confirms people still prefer real world shops, in spite of more than two decades of online shopping.

This new study shows that even the so-called darling of online retailers – mobile shopping – is still a minority activity.

Shopping activity chart

People prefer real shops, which begs the question why are so many online retailers failing to achieve the obvious benefits of the convenience of online shopping?

After all, you have to travel to a real world shop, you have to pay for fuel and parking, plus you might get wet if it is raining. Why do that when you can sit on your sofa at home in the warm, or while sunning yourself on your patio with a glass of bubbly in hand? Worse still, you might get all the way into town only to discover that the item you want is out-of-stock. What a waste! With online shopping, you would just click to another store in seconds. When you add up all the problems with real world shopping, online retail is a “no brainer”. However, we still like real world shopping. So, online retailers must be doing something wrong, surely?

What’s wrong with online shopping?

The world of online retail is so convenient that any minor slip-up in that level of convenience is massively noticeable. Most online shops are inconvenient compared with Amazon, for example. Amazon has the ability to buy items with a single click. That’s because they patented “one click” shopping. Yes, I know you are going to tell me that the Apple Store has one-click shopping too. But that only happens because Apple pays Amazon a royalty to use its patented technology.

So, compared with Amazon, almost every online retailer is slightly less convenient.

But it gets worse. There are online stores that require you to register with every last possible detail about you, in order so you can spend a couple of dollars. Similarly, there are online shops that take you through several pages of shopping cart levels, only for you to discover at the last moment that there is a massive shipping cost added to your bill. Plus, there are stores on the web that have no obvious place where you can get help or support.

Compare these factors with real world shops. In a bricks and mortar store, you don’t have to fill in pages of information to make a purchase. Neither are you given any surprises on the bill at the very last moment. And there is usually a sales assistant you can ask for help.

One of the reasons why we like shopping in the real world is because the convenience extends to the actual shopping itself. The act of buying is more convenient in many real world stores than it is online.

Amazon succeeds because the act of buying there is so simple. Other online retailers need to take note. Convenience is not just about being able to shop 24/7 in your jim-jams. It is also about the act of purchasing itself. Far too many online stores and shopping carts miss out on this issue, making real world shopping more attractive.

One of the reasons why real world shopping is so attractive is because bricks and mortar stores understand their customer needs more than many online retailers seem to do.

What do business people want? Detail, not pictures

Business buyers are interested in detail, lots of it. Forget video, social media and podcasts. What business buyers want is specific written information.

Detailed document on screen

The devil is in the detail, so goes the age-old saying. It suggests that there is some hidden catch, or a potential problem if you do not read all the information presented. It would appear that business people spend much of their time with this idiom in the back of their mind. They concentrate on detail – a lot..!

That is demonstrated in a new study which investigates what makes business people buy things online. This research showed that what business people want is lots of written, detailed information to help them make purchasing decisions.

In stark contrast to what many Internet Marketing “gurus” might tell you, here’s what the 1,200 business buyers in the study revealed.

[unordered_list style=”red-x”]

  • 76% DO NOT really care about the presentation of the website; only 24% said a professional website was one of their top 3 priorities;
  • 88% ARE NOT bothered about pictures; only 12% said pictures were essential;
  • 89% DO NOT rate testimonials as important; only 11% wanted them as a priority.

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Yet, advice to businesses is that your website must look professional, you need it crammed with pictures and if you want to get people to buy from you, then you need testimonials. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Here’s what the top priorities of business buyers are, according to this study.

[unordered_list style=”tick”]

  • The web page “speaks to my specific needs” (in other words it provides exactly what the visitor wants, nothing more, nothing less);
  • The information is detailed with full product or service specifications;
  • The content is educational, not promotional.

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Yet the advice to businesses is often to provide short, promotional material because business people are busy and don’t want to dig into the details, wasting their time. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

This confirms a further recent study which showed that executives want lengthy material; forget videos and blogs for business people. And it’s not the first time that the lengthy content notion has won. Studies from four years ago found the same thing. Business people prefer long form content.

What is interesting about this new study is that it showed that business buyers are really seeking information which helps them make a decision. They want educational material, which is in-depth and analytical. The study showed that for most buyers the source of that information is not relevant; what matters is that it is detailed and highly relevant to the buyer.

This is not news, of course. Study after study for decades shows consistently that the number-one way of getting a business sale is to provide the potential customer with piles of information and to avoid any attempt at promotion. That’s not what Sales Directors want to hear of course, nor marketers. But it is the common factor in studies of buyer behaviour.

The psychology behind this issue

There is a good reason why this focus on the detail is so important. Business people are generally not spending their own money when they buy something. As a result, they feel they need to justify their purchasing decision. Indeed, in many businesses employees have to provide a written justification for what they buy.

Ultimately, the business buyer is seeking to reduce the risk of their decision to buy something. They don’t want to look stupid or get told off. So, they seek as much information as possible to provide the justification they need and thereby minimise the risk they are taking. The more detail a seller provides, the less risky the buying decision becomes.

This is why this new study showed that one of the most influential aspects of the detailed information a business provides is “original research”. In other words, someone selling to a business has a greater chance of success if there is research to support their product or service.

Plus, the new study revealed that the main way business colleagues discuss their considerations in buying something is through email. That means if you want to sell something to a business you need shareable material that can easily be emailed. That cuts out videos for instance but makes white papers and PDF documents much more valuable.

Stick to long pieces of text and your business will sell more to other businesses.

How to sell more online – use the phone…!

The highest conversion rates from websites come from people who phone in their order. They also spend more and stick around longer. The phone is crucial.

Man at computer using phone

Most websites don’t want you to phone them. Instead, many only businesses prefer you to click on “buy now” buttons and complete your ordering without speaking to anyone. That appears to be more convenient and seems to have greater efficiency.

However, appearances can be deceptive.

Eye tracking studies, for example, have shown that when people are scanning the top of a website they are looking for two things – the navigation system and the company’s phone number.

Furthermore, exit surveys have shown that when people leave a site, one of the reasons was the lack of a phone number being visible.

Other research has shown that a phone number on a website enables greater trust in visitors – they know they can contact you easily if they have an issue. If you hide away your phone number, people feel you are also trying to hide from them and thereby trust is reduced.

Even in these days of email, social media, chat facilities and FAQs, it would appear that people still like knowing they can phone you.

Phone calls add to profits

There is, though, more to highlighting your phone number than improving trust levels in your company. A new study from Marchex shows that the humble telephone is more powerful in online business than many companies believe.

Customers that make telephone calls to an online business convert 30% more quickly than people who don’t call. That means business get the money sooner from phone callers, plus they have to do less activity to get that cash. Not only is this better for cash flow, it also reduces the work required, boosting profitability.

Furthermore, customers who call a business spend 28% more than people who do not use the phone. Not only are these individuals already more profitable, they spend more money with you. What’s not to like?

On top of all this, customers who phone tend to stick with the company for longer. There is a 28% higher retention rate in phone users, compared with other website visitors.

Get people to call you

This all adds up. It means that if you get your online customers to call you, then your business will sell more products and services with reduced costs, due to fewer engagements required. The result is both an increased turnover and a raised profitability.

So, the question is, how do you get people to phone you?

Firstly, you need to be set up to receive calls and to demonstrate you want them. That means a highly visible phone number on every web page (top right is where people look for phone numbers). Plus you need to be able to deal with calls in seconds – allowing people to hang on is worse than not letting them call you. So, you need to be well-organised internally to cope with calls from website visitors.

The second thing you need to do is to use email to trigger phone calls. The new study shows that email is the most effective method of getting people to call a business. If your emails do not suggest that people call you, then your business is missing out.

Why the phone is important

Even though we love the convenience of online shopping and the “buy now” button, the telephone allows us to speak with a “real person”. Not only doe sthis provide us with comfort and increased trust that someone is taking care of us, a phone call also creates a shorter distance between customer and supplier. One of the problems with online shopping is the increased distance between customers and companies. Even if they are in the same town, the online experience creates a perception of distance. When that occurs we feel less connected to the company and less faifthful to them.

When we talk to someone, that perception of distance plummets. We feel much closer. So, you could feel closer to a business on the other side of the planet that takes your calls, compared with a business in your town that wants to do everything online.

With closeness comes loyalty, increased trust and an emotional connection. That’s why the phone helps increase sales and profits. In the days of e-commerce and click to buy systems, the telephone may seem old-fashioned. However, it has an important and valuable place in your business. Trying to get customers to do everything online in the pursuit of convenience and efficiency is actually working against many firms, reducing the potential for their turnover and their profitability at the same time.

Don’t neglect the phone. It’s vital…!

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