Dear Sarcasm…..

Ah Sarcasm,

We have had a good run you and I. There have been some fun times, but it’s just not working anymore.

Love Erin

Dear Sarcasm

I read somewhere that sarcasm is the lowest form of discourse (literature scholars please offer a source for this truth). I had always thought that sarcasm was a gift. I didn’t realise that it was one of those gifts that might be best left behind for another to use.

For a long-time I took pride in my fast responses and enjoyed the impact of a well placed disdainful comment. I didn’t fully value the impact that these remarks might have on perceptions.

As a professional I do my best to keep my terminology crisp and clear as so much can be lost in the space between words read quickly on a screen. This has come from some tough lessons of items that have been misconstrued due to language or context being undeclared in the content.

Sarcasm can be a great tool in the right circumstance. When combined with wit or humour a sarcastic retort can be impactful. It can make a story land in a way that makes a listener remember it. Over time I have learned that unlike sarcasm both wit and humour can be used to great impact on their own. Sarcasm can too, but without humour or wit to soften the blow it tends to just sound bitchy.

You will notice in great literature sarcasm is a tool for the supporting characters. Rarely is it used by the hero of the story. Heroes are known to put the villains back in their places without the need for this crutch. So why does this matter?

If you want to be the hero instead of the sidekick, you better get some more effective weapons for your arsenal.

Not too long ago I submitted some writing that I had done for a grad school assignment. One of the items had what I considered a cheeky dig at the opponent’s approach. While my work received a great grade, the point received a negative comment from my professor. At the time I thought that she was attacking my point which was well researched and valid. I was offended that she didn’t get me.

This weekend I went for a hike in the woods and was struck with an epiphany that she wasn’t actually attacking me. She was warning me that I might lose my argument because of the sarcastic delivery.

My work might not win the debate even though I had the better argument because my sarcasm would serve to make the reader stop listening.

People don’t hear your message when you attack them before you share it.

Persuasive arguments are fought on good data and sound logic. Sometimes they may include a witty or funny analogy in order to make the reader engage on a deeper level, but they have no need for bitchy digs.

It’s because of this realisation that over the next few months I am weaning myself off sarcastic comments. I work hard to build credible connections between different data points and should not serve to reduce their impact or risk losing the game by throwing foul balls at the batter.

I realise that it can be hard to change something that I used to take pride in. While I may mourn for the retorts never getting a chance to hit their mark, I will celebrate my ability to articulate an argument and win the debate as the hero of my story.

The power of “I don’t know”

So often people are afraid to look unprepared in a meeting and because of this will make something up rather than just admitting that they don’t know the answer. These ad hoc answers are often incomplete at best and completely wrong at worst and do nothing to move the business forward.

It’s not worth the risk…

Many years ago I worked on the sales floor of a Home Depot store.  This is a place where the wrong answer can cause a customer to be electrocuted from bad wiring advice or see their basement flooded from bad plumbing directions.  This is where I learned to say that I didn’t know.

The risks of the wrong answer were just too high to take, so instead you offered “I’m not sure, but let’s find out together”.

In the end I learned as the customer learned and was better prepared to answer the question the next time a customer asked me.

Changing my habits

A few years ago I started to implement this in my work life. If I didn’t know the answer I said so and would do the research and follow up with the correct response as the information became available. This meant that I became a resource that learned the answers in many categories because I was spending a great deal of time researching each vertical.

At first I was afraid that saying I didn’t know would make people think I was unprepared, but it became quite the opposite. People discovered that if they added questions into the meeting notices I would come armed with as much information as I could and realized that if I gave an answer it was because I had the research to support it.

Challenge the desire to know everything. There is no person who can possibly know everything.  Experts in all categories reference their research and that of others before they make a claim.

So if you don’t know, don’t bullshit. Accept it and start digging up the answers.

Cold calls don’t need to be clammy

Please stop spamming my Linkedin profile.

I understand, its the end of the year and as a sales person you have quotas that you have to meet.  I’m not judging you for using your premium account to search out people like me that may need your good or service, but don’t let yourself think I’m not judging your approach.

“Dear Sir,”

Your first failing: I am plainly a female and would have preferred that since my first AND last name are already on my profile you would be best to address me as Erin, Ms. Burrell or even the slightly more annoying Mrs. Burrell. It would have only taken a moment to edit that form letter to incorporate my name. A clever person may even find a method to automate the Linkedin message to include a pull of the name I have displayed.

“It appears that my (fill in the blank good or service) may be of use to you or your company”

Can you get more generic? It appears to me that you did not take the time to READ my profile or do any research about where I work or what I do. Had you taken the time to read my info you may have realized that 1) your service might not actually be relevant to me,  2) I am actually responsible for providing the very service you are selling, or 3) This girl needs what you have to sell… tell me more!

I’m not saying that I dislike cold calls. They are sometimes a cost of doing business. You as a sales person need to create relationships, but ask yourself: Would you approach a potential future spouse this way?

Google just told me there is a guy that has the following tags associated with him: #job #car #doesntliveinparentsbasement.  He’s perfect!

Dear Sir,

I think that you and I would be a great fit since I want to marry someone who does not live in their parents basement.

Please reach out to me soon to discuss our upcoming marriage.

Best,

Random Girl

416.XXX.XXXX

randomgirl@youhaventmetyet.com

What?  You think that is a bad idea?

Some of my best professional relationships have been started with a well-researched cold call, but I can’t tell you how much more likely you are going to be to get a reply if you at least know why you are reaching out to me. Figure out how your goods/service would best fit my organization/role and use my name and that of my organization in your message.

If you spend the time to do at least that, I will read the rest of your message and likely even send you a reply. If you cannot take the time, I am afraid that neither can I.

Is Social Media the Answer?

Erin Burrell-Is Social Media the Answer
Defining strategies for social media in business

Each day I come across businesses that are trying to grow their engagement with their customers and employees and the first thing they come to the table with is the need for a Social Media Strategy.  I love and believe in social media, but I don’t believe that it is the best channel for every business or employee relations challenge that you are presented with.

In order to validate if a social media approach is right for a specific business challenge I have started to ask a few specific questions that help to get each brand on the right path.

Is the customer you are trying to reach in the demographic that uses the particular platform?

If you create a Twitter feed for a group that are loyal to Tumblr you may be wasting your time. Social media is a great tool to grow your business but you have to be relevant.  If the platform is not a match to the customers, then don’t bother, but if the answer is yes keep going.

Are you going to commit resources to write content and respond to questions or posts that arrive on the different platforms?

If the answer is no, then maybe you should re-think the idea of being in social media.  Responses that aren’t timely can turn into PR nightmares quickly on most platforms so what could have begun as a question about hours of service could spiral out of control and become damaging to your brand.  It is better not to be in the social space, than to do it badly.

Are you hoping to engage internal employees?

If you want to have an associate Facebook page and they can’t access Facebook from your internal network, you have likely created an obstacle to your own success.  Make sure your team can access your content from their workplace.  Hoping that they will go home and like your brand after a long day is a lot to ask of anyone.

Additionally, if your business includes employees that may not have great internet and/or cellular coverage because they work in remote locations, you may be spending time talking to yourself.

Ok, so you are going to staff the venture and you are committed to making sure everyone can access the content in the channel that fits them best, so what next?

You likely need a social media strategy.  Before you move forward and invest in the project make sure you know what you want to accomplish, and are willing to test it for a reasonable amount of time.  Most social media projects need at least six months to really build up steam, and don’t really hit their stride until at least a year of content and customer engagement has been completed.

When building your plan, include key milestones that will define success of the program as it builds and grows.  Try to be realistic about followers, circlers or likes that you want  for the first few months of the program.  Remember, just because you now have a presence doesn’t mean that everyone will seek out your page tomorrow.

Social media may have what seems like an immediate return on your investment, but you need people to care about what you have to say, before they will trust you with their time.  Be engaging, whatever your platform of choice and make sure that your social brand stays true to your existing non-social customer.

Sales Hide All Sins

This is an old adage that comes from my home in the retail world.  My entire career has been focused on getting customers to buy stuff in one form or another, whether it comes via driving them through a conversion funnel online or motivate them with the right price in a flyer to come into a store and lay down their credit card.

A little while ago I talked about customer service and how sometimes you have to break up with bad customers.  While I believe this is true, I still think you need to love and support your customer or client through your entire relationship.  Their dollars pay your bills.  You get to do fun user experience tests and cool projects with YOUR brand because of THEIR dollars.

Sales hide your mistakes.

When you make (or have made for you) a bad buying, pricing or inventory choice those high turning, high selling items balance the scales and hide your mistake.  The business P&L still appears balanced and all is right with the world because there are items offsetting your error.

If there are no sales those mistakes become magnified.  There is nowhere to hide the mistake and you are left with what could be a career ending issue.

Sales motivate your team.

Sales are like a drug.  Each dollar, transaction, swipe of a credit card is its own little high for you and your team.  It makes you want more.  You become motivated to find a way to get more sales or to drive the average ticket.  If there are no sales, it becomes a sad hollow shell of a team.  They slow down, stop caring, pay less attention and sooner than you think have less desire to produce.

Sales put hours on the floor.

There are no staffing hours if you don’t make sales.  In the small business community this is the time that the owner ends up on the floor.  In a big retail store the shareholders don’t often pick up a broom so you end up with staff left disengaged because they are trying to do three things at once without any support to drive profit into someone else’s pocket

Hours on the floor help you sell more stuff.

When there is someone there to read the box to the customer they are more likely to buy it.  When there is someone there to ensure the customer leaves with a complete project of items (eg: brushes and tape with paint) they spend more and are less likely to spend at your potentially closer competitor.  As a perk they often also come back because you treated them well.

Hours on the floor make everyone feel like they aren’t alone.

Even if an associate is run off their feet they will keep going when they see others doing the same thing.

Associates helping customers drive more sales.

It always comes back to this.  In ecommerce great product content, a good FAQ list, quick response to a help email or actually answering the 800 number mean that the customer feels like you took care of them.  They complete their transaction.   In a retail store it can be about being willing to get the ladder, or walk them to the product that makes them engage.

In the end we know that sales make us feel better, but it is taking care of the customer that truly drives sales.

Retail success both online or in store is about a few simple tactics.

Select an assortment that fits your customer’s needs

Be in stock

Be priced competitively

Take care of the customer

You don’t need to have the sexiest system, the best floor plan or website.  You have to know what they are looking for and work to fulfill those needs.

That means that sometimes you might need to sweep the floor or move the box to get the sale

Are you making promises that your content can’t deliver?

Search marketing is hard work.

Writing good ads, getting them approved.  Sending the customer to the right location.  All work, but you are tracking that.  Likely every day.  Watching conversions, tweaking, adjusting correcting.

What about search engine optimization?  SEO has been a sexy topic for quite some time now, but just because your site is optimized, DOES NOT mean that your customer is going to get to where they want.

Are you writing keyword rich well tagged blogs about products?  Great!

Now… are you doing this before you actually write good quality product content?

STOP.

Do Not Pass GO.

DO not collect $200.

Start writing good product content.

Now!

Today!

Do not wait for more resources, do not bother questioning the time it takes to write (and translate) better product content.

Start with the answer your customers questions.  Give them information and images they didn’t even know they wanted to see until you showed them.  Tag the products.  Tag the images.  Offer more information on the product warranty and specifications.  Offer links to relevant accessories.  Offer them product reviews and ratings.

This will give them what they want first.  The product itself is so much more relevant than your blog post on hot new products, or the stuff FILL IN THE BLANK celebrity is using.

Now go write your blog.  Link the blog to the products and services that are relevant so that the customer who gets to the blog first can still reach the product they want.

NOW…If you want to be really fancy add a bullet to your product content to talk about your blog and link it back there too.

Give your customers value in multiple ways and locations and they will see you more times in what Google or Bing or Yahoo serves in the organic search results, but they will have an opportunity to chose their own adventure about how they get to your stuff.

Maybe..just maybe they will add something to cart in the end and become a real conversion to your store.  If they decide not to buy something today at least you won’t have a 100% bounce rate because what you give them will be closer to meeting their needs, and they might just be back.

Want to know what makes a complete product?  Check out this post.

There’s No Swearing in “Good” Content (but maybe there should be)

I love content.  I am the first person to credit a site that finds that perfect balance of words and images for their brand.  That being said, I think too many of the little guys are afraid of really shouting out what makes them special and instead sound like a dirty little brother of the big sites.

Unfortunately they don’t have the budgets that big brands have for SEM and digital marketing so they find themselves on page 4 of the search results because while their content sounds just like everyone else, their site has less links and credibilty.

While the socially acceptable way to approach both product and site content is to think about telling the customer your story while weaving in responsible SEO and deep links; is that the best way to address every brand?

Some pretty successful small/medium businesses make their brand by specifically being clear and concise in their copy.  Sometimes that means the use of words or phrases that a lot of us shy away from.

A great example of this use of light profanity comes in some great blogger/web/copywriting talents likeRedheaded Writing and The Middle Finger Project.

Their specialties are not just about helping your brand sell its stuff, but also about defining a voice for your brand.  If your brand is “The Shit!” and you are afraid to tell people you risk becoming another bland voice in an ocean of bland voices.

I understand that most big corporations need to focus on their voice and their customers expectations, but if you are a small or medium business that is designed as clever and cheeky don’t be afraid to use a bit of real language to get your message out there.

Translate your passion about your level of awesome in your content.

Differentiate yourself and define your own online voice.  Don’t let the big guys define you.

I can tell you I am personally more likely to click on a link claiming that this widget is “the best fucking widget on the planet!” before I click through to another beige sounding widget.