By Peter Shenk, Vice President of Partnerships, Womply
Smart merchant-level sales (MLS) agents understand that their relevance is tied to consultative sales. Local merchants are coping with unprecedented change in the business landscape and will give their loyalty to agents who offer informed opinions and useful tools to help them adapt.
For small businesses, recent trends in technology have changed the entire customer journey as well as the customer relationship management (CRM) process. As you internalize the concepts outlined below, you can move into a more consultative role with your merchants and help them navigate this problematic new business environment.
Word of mouth has moved online—even for local merchants
In the past, small-business marketing consisted primarily of taking out ads in the local paper, yellow pages, TV, and/or radio, and creating a good customer experience in-store—that was about it. In-person word of mouth handled the rest.
Over the past decade, however, a sea change has occurred in the way customers find and recommend local merchants. Ninety-seven percent of people now search online for local businesses. And while word-of-mouth is still the #1 way customers learn about your merchants, that conversation now takes place online at review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, Facebook, and Foursquare.
This means that a solid online presence is incredibly important for every one of your merchants. A Cornell study found that a one-star increase in a merchant’s online rating can increase revenue by 39%. On the other hand, studies also show one bad online review could cost a merchant 30 new customers. Ouch.
Please note: even if a theoretical merchant didn’t care about their online presence—even if they didn’t have a website, smart phone, or a computer—they would still get online reviews, because all of the popular review sites allow customers to post reviews for a business regardless of whether that business has created or claimed their profile on those sites.
Merchants can no longer afford to just cross their fingers and hope for foot traffic or good word-of-mouth. They must take a proactive approach and become intimately involved in the online conversation about their businesses.
Merchants must take control of their online presence and embrace online reviews
The first step in your merchants’ marketing strategy must therefore be taking control of their online presence by claiming their business profile on all the major review sites (and any additional industry-specific review sites like OpenTable for restaurants), and responding to all reviews.
Maintaining a robust and accurate online presence attracts new customers, and engaging them by welcoming feedback and responding appropriately encourages customer loyalty and repeat business.
Savvy merchants have embraced the “digital age” and understand that a primary benefit of the new online conversation is immediate, qualitative feedback directly from customers—at no charge.
One of Womply’s small business software clients, The Gables at Chadds Ford, recognizes the value of online customer engagement, including the occasional negative review.
Cathy Centofanti, who manages the restaurant’s online presence, says, “We want customer feedback. Some companies pay a lot of money to know what customers think, and we get it for free from online reviews.”
Cathy reaches out to customers who have left unsatisfactory reviews, asking them for another chance. “They almost always take us up on it, and they always leave happy the second time.”
The Junction, another Womply reputation management client, used some bad online reviews to identify a key process that had changed in one of their most popular items: the biscuits. The recipe was fixed, the biscuits returned to their stellar quality, and the positive reviews resumed rolling in.
Merchants must build an accurate list to keep customers engaged for repeat business
We all know that repeat customers are insanely valuable. As foot traffic to local merchants has dropped, the value of each customer visit has tripled. But did you know that up to 4 out of 5 satisfiedcustomers never return to the merchant who made them happy? People are inundated with options today.
Your merchants need to keep customers engaged to stay top of mind, and the most cost-efficient and effective way to do this is with email marketing, which has an astounding 42 to 1 ROI.
Of course, in order for your merchants to implement a customer loyalty email marketing strategy, they need customer contact info—something that many small merchants simply don’t have and can’t easily get.
While large companies have dozens of people entering and interpreting data for each prospect, this is unrealistic for small, local merchants for whom gathering a simple email address creates considerable friction (more on this later).
Merchants should invest in targeted advertising
Only after your merchants have completed the above steps should they then begin amplifying those efforts with targeted advertising (on Google, Facebook, Instagram where applicable, etc.), and loyalty programs.
As noted above, for small merchants, email is hands-down the most powerful, effective, and efficient marketing tool to create the lasting connection that keeps customers coming back with smiles on their faces and cash in their hands.
Advertising brings new customers, and loyalty programs build stronger customer engagement and repeat business. When your merchants add advertising to a solid online presence and active customer engagement strategies, they maximize the effect of each marketing dollar.
Encourage merchants to embrace small business CRM technology
Of course, for local merchants, monitoring their online presence, responding to all reviews, gathering and updating customer contact information, and managing their email marketing campaigns is a tall order, even if they didn’t have a thousand other things to do every day.
MLS agents must therefore educate themselves on the available technological solutions and provide relevant customer relationship management (CRM) software options to their merchants.
Womply is dedicated to helping small businesses thrive in a digital world, serving more than 450,000 small businesses with software built specifically to solve their unique problems.
In Womply’s view any CRM software intended for small businesses should facilitate, automate, and illuminate every possible touch point between your merchants and their customers.
An effective CRM will greatly ease the burden of maintaining a strong online presence and collating and responding to online reviews, which attracts and adds value to potential customers.
It will automatically populate their customer list, including contact information and transaction history. (Womply’s “pre-populated” CRM for small businesses is the first and only one of its type.)
It will provide comprehensive business intelligence, including complete revenue data and trends, benchmarking against competitors, allow merchants to know who their best customers are and how much they’re worth.
After customers have left the store, an effective small business CRM will facilitate low-lift, retention marketing email campaigns, reminders, and promotions.
Whatever solutions you offer your merchants, learn enough about them to know whether they will actually be a benefit and not just another time-sucking “value added” solution that doesn’t get used.
A happy merchant is a sticky merchant
Merchant churn is a continuing and growing problem. Anything you can offer your merchants that helps them adjust their marketing strategy to align with changing customer trends will create stickier relationships and elevate you from merchant services broker to a trusted partner.
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