Brian Snortheim, Director of Alternate Channel Marketing, Time Warner Cable – Business Class
Several things occurred to me recently about business growth and how many challenges we, as part of an agent community, have in common.
I realized that there are some well-established voices in our community that have been around for awhile and attract a lot attention. As our business gets more and more competitive, the large carriers continue to maintain a prominent and effective voice with end-users. The value of this prominent voice is that agents are able to leverage the brand equity they build when their services are “remarketed.” The agents’ challenge, however, is to create their own noise or “buzz” in the marketplace, to remain competitive and to be considered as a viable source for core communications services. Their value proposition must articulate and resonate with the customer to prevent the customer going with the carrier directly.
Ultimately, this comes down to marketing, and marketing on a small budget. There are some effective ways to market an agent’s services without breaking the bank.
We work in a transparent world, where so much information is freely available that the sheer volume is overwhelming. As a result, word of mouth has become king in terms of the best representation of a business. General claims are often questioned, but a recommendation from a reliable source generally wins the day. My guess is that a good share of an agent’s new business comes through this channel, but there are things an agent can do to encourage word of mouth and not just wait for it to happen.
- First, ask to be recommended. This is a good first step that very few people take … just ask. Make sure customers have information about you to hand out to peers. This could be as simple as a business card or even a small brochure. Approach customers in a very professional way: “If you’re happy with what I was able to put together for you, I’d appreciate it if you could recommend me to one of your friends.” It’s that simple.
- One other low-cost way to promote yourself is to develop online content. Have a point of view on your business, or industry trends, and publish it online. There are plenty of blogs and communication forums in our industry that people read. This is an excellent, almost free-of-charge way to have a voice in this community. And the more relevant and meaningful the content, the louder and more recognized your voice will be.
- You can also create an online newsletter and send it out to customers, friends, colleagues and prospects. Encourage them to forward the newsletter to others who might want to read something interesting about the industry. Once again, for very little money, you can create some buzz.
- Another key area is building and maintaining a professional Web presence. In today’s competitive world, it is increasingly important that agents build and maintain a Web marketing strategy. Let’s face it – one of the first things people look at today as a litmus test for company success is your Web site. Use it as a differentiator as you market yourself.
- But don’t get caught in the trap of “If I build it they will come.” While it’s a great dream, the reality is it just is not going to happen. It doesn’t matter if you have the most beautiful or greatest Web site on the Internet. If no one knows you are there, then how will customers and prospects ever find you? Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a great tool to help, but don’t rely solely on this for driving traffic. One reason is it takes time and much effort to make it all work and come together. You have to think of SEO as one of the tools in your toolbox of marketing tactics. You need other tools to get the job done – so think outside of the box and find what works for you.
- One very good way to help drive leads is to find local Web sites that are frequented by online users that would be interested in your product or service. Contact that site and ask about placing your logo, small banner or text ad on their Web site. These sites usually charge a small monthly fee for this. You can monitor how successful the ads are by how many click-thrus there are to your Web site from that ad. Try different sites until you find the right match. Advertising with Chambers of Commerce, community organizations, and industry trade associations can all be effective ways to drive awareness.
From better use of a Web site to search engine marketing to online advertising, you must prioritize your goals and determine how online marketing will help you achieve them. Match these goals with your “voice” and how you will be heard over the clutter and clamor among the land of giants.
Brian Snortheim is director of alternate channel marketing for Time Warner Cable – Business Class. He also is a member of the 2008-09 PHONE+ Channel Partners Advisory Board.