Monday, August 25, 2014

Are you listening?

How much do we listen? I mean 'really' listen. Listening is a part of our daily life but something we do less and less. Listening is more important than talking - we do have two ears and one mouth. But - We don't really listen much. As we go about our daily routines, submerged in our mobile phone rings and pings, and one way conversations with friends, family, colleagues and everyone else, some of which we even call as discussions, the one thing we do less and less is to listen.

And why am I writing a post on this? Well answer this - Do we want to create better impressions, make lifelong friends, keep our spouse happy, grow in our careers, impress our Bosses, lead teams to success, grow businesses etc, etc? Chances are you are saying - Yes! If so then learn to listen. One of the fundamental lessons in life is - to learn and grow - first listen. 

I started my career in sales and one of the first things I learnt was that, to be able to sell better, - one needs to listen better. Listen to potential customers, listen to the existing customers, listen to bosses and colleagues. So l listened and I learnt. I did pretty well in sales (if I may say so myself) and one of the reasons was that, I was a problem solution salesperson, I was an emotional salesperson, I was a price driven salesperson, and every other type of salesperson there could be - based on listening and who I was selling to, what I was selling, where & when. My sales strategy stemmed from listening well and applying that in conjunction with other things relevant.

Later on as I moved to marketing and then to running and managing businesses, the one thing that has helped me the most is to listen.

Even in daily life, whether it is with family or with friends or out in the market dealing with shopkeepers, or in the streets getting a taxi driver to go where you want to go, listening works as it helps us to communicate better and that helps in getting things done better.

Now, I am not perfect, and I still make the mistake of talking without listening at times. We are so eager to be heard and to say what we want to say or to make an impression that we forget that the key to getting heard is not to talk and talk and talk, but to listen and listen and then talk and then listen again. Whether it's our professional or personal life, what will get us to learn and solve problems and grow as Individuals and leaders is our ability to listen first and then talk or not talk. At times when you listen well, you realize that talking is not always necessary.  You can get more done by talking less and listening more. It is not imperative to let the other person know you also know something about the topic. You don't have to have the solution to every problem. Sometimes listening itself is a solution.

Easier said than done. Most of us like to talk and hear the sound of our own voice. Just try and recall someone telling you about a conversation they had with someone else. Mostly it would be - I told her this and then I told her that. How many times does this person actually tell you what the other person was saying? Mostly never. The reason is not that the other person wasn't talking but because this one wasn't listening. Now suppose the other person comes to you and tells you about the same conversation - the same thing happens. She too wasn't listening but only talking. It's happening around us all the time. We all talk about how a person is very successful because they can really speak well or is a good orators. But in reality if this person is really successful, you will see they are also great listeners. Some very successful people in fact do not talk much but they listen very well.

A conversation is when two people talking. - "Conversation is a form of interactive, spontaneous communication between two or more people who are following rules of etiquette. It is polite give and take of subjects thought of by people talking with each other."

And - "Listening is often confused with hearing. While hearing is a biological process that can be scientifically explained, listening is a neurological cognitive regarding the processing of auditory stimuli received by the auditory system. Hearing is always occurring, most of the time subconsciously. Listening is the interpretative action taken by the listener in order to understand and potentially make meaning out of the sound waves."

Why give conversations or listening so much importance? Well it's because the better we are at listening the more we learn, the better we can converse & communicate and solve problems and be heard. Ah! There it comes again - Be heard. Yes it does. To be heard and then to be listened to - means what you say is relevant and makes sense and is important enough. For what you are saying to be relevant & make sense - you should know the topic, the intention, the current perspective and, the people who are part of the conversation, and then, articulate your thoughts well. To do that first you have to listen and understand. The more you listen the more you learn about the people, the topic, the perceptions etc, and the more you know, the better you can talk about it or not ;-)

So when to speak, what to speak, how to speak to be heard, all depends on how well you listened. Think of all the successful people you may have met who are well respected and looked up to. If you observe them you will notice they listen more than they talk.

Try it today. Try and be patient and listen. Listen to your Boss (I know we all do but this time really listen, don't just hear him/her), your colleagues, your boyfriend, girlfriend, wife (yes her too), husband, the child, parents, the customer, and everyone else. Not selective listening - where you listen to only what you want to hear, but listen to what they are saying. And it will change your perspective and you will realize, you now know them a bit better, and can interact with them better. Just imagine if you did this every day, and the impact it can make in your life. It's not the easiest thing to do, but, if you are conscious of it, and make listening a habit, you will be the gainer in the long term and short term too.

Being a good listener is an important part of improving our overall communication skills, and will write a post on communication skills too sometime soon. Meanwhile would love to hear of your experiences on listening and conversations. Please comment below and share your opinions and experiences on the same.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Digital marketing & the Internet of keywords

Getting your products, services and / or yourself, found on the internet involves many a things. The most important of them all, and something that's an integral part of almost everything, however, is keywords. While we run around implementing everything in Digital Marketing to get discovered and then to convert to sales, what plays a key role, directly or indirectly, in almost all that we do, is keywords. And as we get more and more involved in operations or in doing of things, we at times, start taking keywords for granted and give it lesser and lesser attention. In actuality that's the first and most important thing we should do, and review it all the time.

Why are keywords so important? Well! the answer is simple. Whether we are selling a product on an e-commerce site, or a service on our own website, or driving traffic to our blog or social media page our first objective is to get found. As I had said in my earlier blog on "How tosell your Products online", - "Jo dikhta hai woh bikta hai" (what is seen, sells). And to sell - think of all that we do - SEO or Search Engine Optimization - keywords play a key role here, SEM or Search Engine Marketing - and Keywords play a vital part, social media marketing and keywords play an important role, blog, display, landing pages, etc - Keywords are important everywhere.

Start with the basics. My suggestion hence, is to start with making a simple list of keywords related to your product or service or whatever it is that you want to drive traffic to. Of course, here am assuming that have first defined your target audience and your intended goal.

Then start by making a list of words or terms related to your product or service. And do this with the target audience in mind. What problem are you solving for them, what product or service they would search for and what words are they likely to use that relates to your solution, and use those. At the very top should be the most important and most likely used words to describe what you are offering. Next would be a phrase that they would search for and where your solution is relevant. And then would come the rarely used words or combination of words. Also include misspellings if that's likely to happen specially with brand names and the likes.

Next do some searches for these terms and see what comes up. Use a tool like the ad words traffic estimator tool to see traffic for these search terms. Other tools too can help you estimate traffic for keywords. Also see suggestions and phrases. Use keyword generator tools or suggestion tools to then expand this list of keywords. Also check what keywords other similar products or sites are using. Further enhance your list. Check hashtags for some of the main keywords and see what's trending so you know which keywords you can hastag on social media. Some of the tools available include
  • Google Adwords Keyword Research Tool
  • Google Traffic Estimator tool
  • SEMrush Competitors Research Tool
  • SEO Book Free Keyword Tool
  • Wordpot Free Keyword Analysis Tool &
  • Traffic Travis

Once you have your list ready, then start using the main keywords in your content (website, blog, product title and description etc etc). When using keywords in content, do not overuse the same keywords over and over again, keep it relevant and easy to read. While having the main keywords in the content is important it should not make it difficult to read and should not seem like you are writing for the sake of stuffing keywords. Then whatever you do next in your Digital Marketing efforts, make sure your keywords are part of the implementation. Use them on landing pages, in your blogs, in your links, your social media posts and everywhere relevant. So now when you are deciding on the Video creative, title and description, or your display ads or your text ads or anything else that you may do, think from the keywords perspective, see how you can use them.

Once done, study response, see your analytics and see what keywords are working for you, where, and go refine the list again and modify the use accordingly everywhere. You will see some keywords work better on some platforms and others elsewhere. That will help you get a better understanding of how your product / service relates to an audience on a particular platform. It will give you insights that you can use next time.

There is a lot more to write here in terms of tools and specific platform related keyword nuances plus systems and processes to follow. Will cover some of that in another post at another time. For now, get started on your keyword strategy and you will see performance of all your Digital Marketing efforts improve.

If I have missed out anything relevant here or you have your own experience and learning on this, please do comment and share with everyone. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Do you have a Mobile Strategy yet?

When I meet with companies and marketing heads of organisations, I realize that while Digital is now a part of most marketing plans, mobile still, is either not a part, or too small, or just an afterthought. Considering the nature of the medium and that it is the primary source for Internet connection in India that is surprising. Why? Consider this

As per a 2013 report by Avendus Capital more than 50% of Indians access Internet primarily from Mobile devices compared to the world average of 20 - 25%. What's more
  • India has more than 160 million Internet users, of which 86 million access Internet using their mobile devices. 
  • In the last 3-4 years, the number of users who access the Internet through a 3G connection has grown to round 22 million. To put things in perspective, compare this with the 15 million fixed line broadband connections accrued over the last 17 years. 
  • There are over 36 million Smartphone users as against 60 million PC users.
  • 9% of overall Internet page views in India come from mobile devices.
  • Over 40% of searches on Google originate from mobile device.
  • 30% of Face book users in India are mobile-only Internet users and 30% of new registrations are coming through mobile. 
  • LinkedIn ranks India among its top 4 growth markets for mobile usage

Need more reason to think Mobile?

IDC Asia Pacific Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, 1Q 2014 points out that India was the highest growing market in Asia Pacific with a year-on-year Smartphone shipment growth of over 186% in 1Q 2014.The vast majority of the country’s user base migrated to Smartphones from feature phones and as a result Indian Smartphone market outshone other emerging markets like China which registered a year-on-year growth of 31% in 1Q 2014.

Mobango, which is among the largest independent free Apps Games and Video store, saw a dramatic increase of over 56% in the number of Android downloads in 2013 primarily due to users shifting from feature phones to Android powered Smartphones. Of this, India was the single largest contributor of game downloads at over 45m downloads.

Almost all interviews of top honchos from Flipkart, Myntra, SnapDeal and others talk about how more & more of their sales are coming from Mobile devices.

Mostly, the reason for Mobile being absent from marketing plans or why a lot of companies still do not have a mobile strategy, is lack of information on what they can do and how. So let's try and list a few things one can do from the Mobile Perspective.
  • First comes the website. Is your website mobile ready? Which could either be a customized site for mobile devices or making your website responsive so that it can render correctly based on the device the person is browsing from.
  • Next comes apps. Now not all businesses or brands need to have apps. But if it can add value to your customer then do work on that.
  • Search is as important on the mobile as on the desktop, if not more, so are your targeting mobile users in your search ads?
  • SMS is still a very good way to keep connected with your customers. And no, am not talking of spam sms messages to anyone and everyone using bought out databases from the market. What I am talking of is permission based messaging to keep your customers informed of offers, new arrivals, loyalty points,and other things that can be of value.
  • More emails are now being read on mobiles than on desktops so check if your emails are now mobile friendly?
  • Banner advertising or display as it is called is also on mobiles? It could be in-app banners or website banners. Have you tried the same?
  • QR codes can help get users reach your website, know more about your products or services or participate in a contest or just see a brand video. Are you using QR codes wisely?
  • Location based services can help get people to your outlet or know about special offers close to them. Are you looking at who your customer's are from this perspective and if you can use this as a tool to get them in?

Whether it be marketing, selling, attracting new customers, getting old ones back, engaging with  customers, CRM, notifications on special offers and new arrivals, or something else, Mobile can be used for anything and everything. Plus, the Mobile, is a personal device and, it is also almost always on. It's the one device people take with them almost everywhere. So if you haven't then it is high time to start thinking how you can use this devise to connect with your customers, current and potential, better.

A few do's and don'ts to keep in mind while thinking mobile.

  • Use only what suits your business and adds value to your customer.
  • Do not be intrusive and do not spam.
  • Be time and culture conscious.
  • Think consumer and what they want and will appreciate and not just what you can give them.
  • Remember apps have to be downloaded, installed and opened and used. So just creating one is not the end all.
  • And last but not the least, test, analyze, adapt and change and keep doing that.

That's it for a start. Think Mobile. Think Customer. Get started. If you are already using Mobile for your business then do share your learning. If you have questions or opinions to share please feel free to comment below. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Problem Solution

Once when I was home from engineering college for the holidays, I happened to go to my father's office. There, in his room, on the soft board, I saw a typed out message on a plain A4 sheet of paper. And it read - 

" Are you here with a solution?
Are you part of the problem?"

I remember asking my Dad why he had put it up and he said "Oh I read this somewhere and liked it, and it has helped to get my team thinking about solutions rather than problems."

Later on, he explained that he realized, people had a habit of coming in to his cabin with all type of problems and asking for solutions when they themselves were very capable of finding the solutions. By encouraging his team to come to him with solutions, he had been able to nurture a team of thinkers rather than followers, and it had helped him and them excel and grow, faster than their peers in other departments. It became the department that got things done and accepted the most impossible of tasks and accomplished them well.

Well  somehow that stuck with me. I started to look at everything from a solutions perspective rather than a problem perspective. So now whenever someone spoke to me about an issue, or when someone bitched about someone else, I would spend less time sympathizing with them or bitching along with them and more time suggesting solutions. It became a sort of a second nature to me. And it has helped me tremendously in life in general and in work in particular.

When faced with a problem most of us start with "why it happened?", Or "how it happened?" Or, "because of whom it happened?". Well till here is still ok. Dwelling some more on the problem starts to get us thinking on "Oh Why me?", "Oh Why Now?", "How this will impact me?", "What will others think?" and even "Oh why does this happen to me only". As many of us would agree - now we are on the downhill path, and, the more we dwell on these things the faster we slide down & away. Self pity sinks in, loathing towards the world and everything around us starts to happen and soon we are in this "Oh poor me" frame of mind that we forget that problems are just part of life and so are solutions.

A problem is just a solution waiting to happen. But let's face it - some of us are problem oriented and some solution oriented. Right? Yes. But can we change? Yes. How? Well a simple approach could be to
  • First acknowledge there is a problem. Acknowledgement is the first step to dealing with it.
  • Think what could be the worst outcome. The absolute worst. That way we are done thinking our worst fears, then & there.
  • Now that we know what could be worst, lets also think what all could happen if we found a solution to the problem. All the positives.
  • And start looking at all probable solutions. Don't shoot down ANY solution, think of all possible solutions that we can think of. However bizarre.
  • Start working on the most practical looking solution or discuss the same with someone close. Remember - Discuss the solutions more than the problem. And start working on it.
  • Keep working on the solutions one after the other till one works. You will notice that as you work on the solutions, more possibilities will appear and chances are you will find a way out. 
  • Celebrate the working to a solution. Enjoy the process. That will help you to focus on the joy of solution hunting rather than the sorrow of dwelling on the problem itself.
  • If for any reason none of the solutions work, you will realize that the problem itself has lost significance and life goes on as you are concentrating on other things more important than the problem itself.

Looking for solutions also makes a person become more positive in his / her approach to everything in Life, more confident of oneself and overall more at peace internally. So try it. And do let me know if it helped you. If it didn't, then think what more, what else, you can do about it and then, let me know :-)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How to increase your online sales - analytics, social media

Sometime back I had written a post on "How to sell your products online" and a lot of people asked me if there was anything else they could do after that, to further increase sales. As I had mentioned at the end of the post "There is a lot more that can be done to further increase sales, but then, that would be a topic by itself ." So here is the first one on the next steps to increase sales of your products online.

First let me begin by saying that the basics covered in my last post are not a onetime activity. In fact it is a continuous activity. Hence this is the first step to further increase sales.

Use Analytics. Marketplaces such as Amazon, provide analytics on your listings. Use those. Continuously monitor page views, clicks and sales of one's products and modify the Product Title, Images, Description, Keywords, and price based on what's working and what's not. Take the learning from one similar product and apply it to another. If something is not working try something different and again observe the data. Keep analyzing data, keep a track of changes made and progress and keep fine tuning till you have a winner. How?

Think like a customer while analyzing the data. Start by asking "is my product visible in search?" If not then tweak the Keywords and title. If Yes but clicks are less, then modify the Image, Title OR Price or all three. If Clicks are good and so are the page views of the Product detail page but sales are low, then check and work on the description, features and price. Keep an eye on the competition while doing these. Who are you competing against, how are their images, do they describe the product better? or are the cheaper? Follow the same process for products that may have sold well earlier but may not be selling well now. Also check customer reviews. Has someone written a negative review of your product? why? what can you do about it?

The reason this comes as a first step to increasing online sales is that this is basic. First sell to customers who are searching as they have the highest intent to buy. Then look at doing things to attract other customers. It's like having a shop in a mall. If your location, sign board, display and pricing are not enticing customers who are already at the mall, to buy, then it does not make too much sense in trying to get customers who are outside to the mall. Does it?

There are also a lot of tools available online to manage your listings, inventory, customer feedback and response & sales and get better data to help you increase sales. If your product categories and items are multiple and/or you sell on multiple platforms then these tools can really help you manage your process, your time and pricing strategy better and thus increase sales. So do look at them and choose what suits your current and future needs the best.

Once you have set systems in place to list products and then analyse data to tweak your listings then look at the next steps. Key ones here would be Social Media presence, Blogs, and online advertising, in that order. Let's start with Social media.

What Social media to choose and what to do there would depend upon your target audience, your products and what you want to achieve. The objective here is to increase sales so that is sorted. However, whether to use Facebook, or Twitter or Instagram or Google plus or Pinterest and what you do there will depend on your target audience - where they frequent? what they do there? and your products. My post "Does Social media Work" covers most of the basics for making social media work. So do refer to that. But keep in mind that social media is for engagement so don't sell too hard. Which means please do not just post your title of the product with the image and price and a link to where they can buy it from.  Here talk about your product category, its advantage to the user, its uniqueness, similar products or items, the people behind it, etc etc. Engagement is the key. Think what a prospective customer would be interested in and engage with them on that. Here the fact that you are selling xyz product is secondary. The user and their interest comes first. Engage with them and then also let them know that if they are interested in buying they could so from xyz place. Also this is place to talk to your users to gauge their interests and concerns. This is the place to get feedback and act upon the same. This is the place to offer discounts, hold contests and build a community of current and prospective customers. And if you do this well sales will happen.

You may want to build a social media community from scratch over a period of time organically or if you have the budgets you could use social media advertising to ramp up fast. Which advertising options to use on a particular social media channel would again depend on what you are doing there. You may want to promote your posts or just build likes (FB) to your channel depending upon your short term or long term goals. My suggestion always is to first go the organic route and use your own networks to propagate the page, see what kind of posts and activity drives your desired goal and then decide on how to spend your money and do what to further your goals. Social media channels too, provide analytics on how your page is doing and what is working and what is not. use that data to tweak your posts and activity. Remember social media does take time to do it well so don't expect a jump in sales immediately. Work at it, analyze, tweak, change, see what others are doing, talk to your audience and you will see an impact over a period of time.  

Blogs and online advertising come next. But will cover these in another post. So get started on using analytics to increase sales and start you social media channel pages. If you have questions or want to know something in more detail or just share your experiences, please feel free to comment below.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Amazon, Flipkart, SnapDeal, and the future of Indian e-commerce

The recent $1 billion funding of Flipkart and $2 billion commitment to India by Amazon, has made news everywhere and everybody is talking about how it will impact the Indian e-commerce space, the other players, what will it mean to the Indian consumer etc. Some are debating who will win and who will end up number one. Numbers are being compared and future is being debated.

In my opinion it's not about who will win or be number one or two or three. It's about how can you create value for your customer, your shareholder /investors, and  partners. And that will be decided based on what they chose to do with the money that is being raised or invested today and in the future. Yes there will ultimately be some No 1 and No 2 and 3. But its too early for that now. 

Let's talk about what Indian e-commerce needs and what are the key things that will decide the future. And as I always like to do - let's look at it from the Customers perspective. And for the sake of this article let's call the buying Customer as Customer 1 and the Seller as Customer 2. After all both are customers for Marketplace owners.

First comes the Customer who buys the products - Customer 1. What is required is to -
  • Provide the customer the best choice of products in a variety of categories. In the Marketplace Model that means having more and varied sellers - Customer 2 that is.
  • The ease of finding these products and being able to quickly decide on what to buy. Which means the platform and search and categorisation and reviews and suggestions etc.
  • Pricing of products - competitive pricing.
  • Easy and fast delivery and returns.
  • Ability to easily add reviews.
  • Ability to create wish lists and fan clubs and share & discuss opinions and lists.
  • Customer service.

Then comes the Customer 2 Or Sellers. What is required here is
  • To be able to attract more of them with better returns (read lower commissions for the marketplace itself).
  • Backend ease of signing up, uploading products, and images etc.
  • Robust reporting systems.
  • Payouts on time.
  • Helping them market their products better in terms of keywords, multiple images, handholding new sellers, providing them advertising options on the site itself, tools to help automate their processes and of course seller support.
  • Ability to help sellers reach out to a larger audience by offering packaging and shipping options across the country and internationally at a reasonable cost.

The lists above are not comprehensive but I have just tried to list some of the most common or essential requirements here. As you will see these overlap to some extent. Both require a robust backend, a easy to navigate website, a robust customer service team, warehousing and delivery capabilities and marketing muscle to attract new buyers and sellers.

Now it's nobody's guess where the billions that are being pumped in will be spent - On creating more robust back-end, on creating more user friendly apps and mobile discovery and buying platforms - as in India growth will come from the Mobile, on warehousing and delivery -specially so in India where third party services are still being created, on marketing - to attract new buyers and sellers, on building a solid support team and infrastructure, on offering lower prices - taking a hit on their own margins for quite some time to come to give the buyer an attractive price as well as the seller a decent enough margin.

Now if we look at Amazon, Flipkart or SnapDeal they are all working toward all of these. The race for money is to be able to do these quickly and scale at a rapid pace. Yes Amazon has done this before, has the experience and the platform but Flipkart has the first mover advantage in India - as of now & SnapDeal has been nimble and efficient to change from a discount based model to a marketplace one.

I work as a consultant with clients to set up and increase sales on in the US, UK and other markets and in my experience their focus on Customer first - and am talking of Customer 1 here, is unbelievable. Their concept of winning the Buy Box - where if the multiple sellers are selling the same item, the seller with the best price, reviews, history (based on an algorithm) gets the buy box, is meant to ensure the customer always gets the best price. 

I have seen them discount products on their own with no reduction in seller margins to help the seller - Customer 2, sell more. Be it Amazon Prime membership for buyers or the FBA program for sellers, Amazon has a unrelenting focus on their customers. Same day shipping to ease of returns all are handled in a way that has made them No 1 in the US and many other markets. Their automated warehouses and packaging and delivery systems are case studies in themselves.

Having said that Flipkart or even SnapDeal here in India have delighted the customer with their prompt deliveries, attractive pricing and responsive customer service. Lets understand that e-commerce in India happened much before they started but Flipkart, Snap Deal, Myntra and some others are the ones who converted Indian buyers into e-shoppers. They too have developed robust backend systems, have adapted the best from e-commerce sites from across the world, are setting up warehouses and delivery mechanisms etc.

So yes Amazon has the experience & the money. But Flipkart or SnapDeal have done a tremendous job so far and going by the confidence that their investors are showing in them I don't think the No 1, 2 or 3 place can be decided very soon. What is certain is that the Indian market still has a long way to go and all these companies stand a fair chance. How fast they can get the funds required and how intelligently they can use these funds to satisfy their customers (1 & 2) is what will decide who leads and who lags. Till that time the game is still open. And wait - Others such as Alibaba from China - with their IPO in the US on the way and their launch in the US OR even Rakuten - The Japanese major who bought in the US may still decide to enter India and shake up the space even more. So wait and watch who attracts and satisfies the customer better for the best is yet to come.

Would love to hear more views on this so if you agree? or disagree? Do write in with your comments below. Meanwhile search, compare and buy.