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I’m an avid online shopper. It’s convenient and simple, and best of all, I don’t have to deal with annoying store clerks. These are attributes that are absolutely necessary in my ideal shopping experience. Amazon.com is one of my shopping destinations of choice because of its wide selection of products. It’s like Walmart with a cooler name and actual customer service. The online juggernaut also gets into my head via typical big data fashion — it always tries to guess what I want. The keyword in that last statement, however,  is “tries.”

Amazon thinks it has me figured out as a shopper. The retail giant knows that if I click through to an item on a search query — an item like “Legend of Zelda” — even if I don’t ‘add to cart,’ I have shown interest in said item. Ideally for Amazon, the next time I visit, I would see, click, and buy one of these ‘recommended’ items related to “Legend of Zelda” that are scattered throughout my view as I browse the site. Although Amazon’s concept is spot on, it’s not quite right in execution.

I searched for “The Legend of Zelda,” and as we all know, “Zelda” and all its associated products are exclusively Nintendo products. Therefore, if I’m performing search queries for anything “Zelda” or “Mario” or “Metroid”-related, you’d think that Amazon would recommend Nintendo-specific products to me.

This isn’t the case with Amazon’s recommendations. On my Amazon homepage, I have an entire “recommended” section devoted to — you guessed it — Sony and PlayStation accessories and games. Not only is this a waste of valuable real estate, it’s a missed opportunity. If Amazon’s recommendation algorithms were effective, they would surmise my interest in Nintendo and show Nintendo accessories and games in my feed. PlayStation 3 games are absolutely no interest to me as a Wii U owner.

Now I was curious; would Amazon’s algorithms make similar incorrect assumptions outside the realm of the video game console wars? The conclusion was what I expected. I performed search queries for iPhone and Apple products, clearly showing Amazon that I have an interest in iPhones and Apple products. But, back on my homepage, I get a section dedicated exclusively to LG and Samsung phones. I have literally asked Amazon in all its infinite wisdom to show and bring me directly to iPhones, and the retailer shows me something it should know I don’t want. It’s no different than asking a sales associate where the iPhones are and that associate trying to up-sell LG and Samsung accessories — it does not make sense. In the brick-and-mortar retail world, this would be a lost customer.

There are countless instances of these faulty “product recommendations” not only on Amazon, but all over the e-commerce web space. In theory, product recommendations are a form of suggested selling. It’s the same as merchandising like-products next to each other on a store endcap. If you put too many random products near each other, or completely unrelated ones, you’ll confuse and lose that customer to the store with better merchandising. Need proof? Look at the in-store customer experience in T.J.Maxx and Marshalls versus the experience at Target or Best Buy.

Effective recommendations are a proven way to up-sell and increase conversion. To be effective, however, relevancy is absolutely necessary. SLI Systems recently announced the availability of a new product, SLI Learning Recommendations, which uses the power of SLI Learning Search data to provide contextually relevant recommendations. To learn more, take a look at our Learning Recommendations product page, or contact me at max.bunag@sli-systems.com.

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Get used to it: Twitter is here and it’s here to stay. With the successful IPO now well behind us, Twitter has cemented itself as far more than a flash in the social media pan. This means Twitter is a viable communication channel for you to reach prospects in your funnel. So, without further ado, here is how to leverage Twitter as a bona fide sales tool. By the way, these rules (minus hashtags and at signs) all apply to LinkedIn as well.

1. Perfect Your Profile

a. Get a professional (and appropriate) picture

This means no selfies, wedding pics, and no baby pictures. Basically, nothing from your Facebook page. Keep in mind that the standard “egg” profile picture is also a kiss of death. The accounts with the “egg” are typically associated with two things: spam and kids with new accounts– you don’t want to come across as either. The goal is to establish credibility with those viewing your profile– and credibility will be broken if this singular element is missing.

b. Build an effective biography

Summarize what you do in 160 characters – and make it interesting. Are you a rock climber? A Jedi warrior in training? People like other people, not sales people. Have a personality that shines through in your short biography section. Be human and be interesting.

c. Take a stance

This also goes in your biography. Are you selling a solution? If so, is it on-premise or SaaS? Whichever one it is, sell your audience on why it’s the only option out there.

d. You are NOT a salesperson

From the moment you log into Twitter with a goal of moving a deal along, you need to take a consultative approach – not a sales approach. The last thing any one of your prospects wants is for a virtual cold call. Remove all mentions of a sales rep and replace them with the idea of an industry insider or advocate.

2. Assemble a community

Right off the bat, you’ll want to follow 5 equally important groups. These will be the keys to your social success.

a. Companies

As in companies in your space. These are not necessarily competitors, but rather, if you’re in the B2B software space, follow industry leaders in the high tech space, such as Apple, IBM, or Amazon. The types of people or accounts you follow are a direct representation of what your interests are.

b. Competitors

Follow them and copy them (assuming they’re doing a good job). What a competitor is can range from the sales rep at the firm to the actual company itself. If you work at Walmart, follow the folks at Target. Why do they have a more robust Twitter following? Why do they get more responses? Is it timing? Is it content? Leverage their accounts to fine tune yours.

c. Prospects

The reason you’re on Twitter is to convert these folks, so pay close attention to them. These accounts are the meat of your social media sandwich. Every single prospect – both at the corporate and individual level should be in your follow list. These are the folks you’ll be engaging with.

d. Partners

The companies (and people) that your company is already working with have the potential to be a goldmine. Establish and foster those relationships to leverage your contacts. Having a strong partner following shows you’re engaged in the industry.

e. Clients

Have you signed a client? If so, leverage that relationship publicly (assuming it’s possible). Referenceable customers equal more customers. Boast about this relationship as often as you can.

3. Tweet content that your community cares about

On Twitter, there are really only two things that people care about: is it funny or is it insightful. This might not seem accurate, however, the same basic rule applies across most social media networks. Posts that either make you chuckle or think are going to get both more traffic and more action (clicks, likes, retweets, etc.). With that in mind, be very careful what you post. If it doesn’t fit in one of these two categories, your post will likely be seen as spam. If you’re going to post an article, don’t just post the article, state (in well under 140 characters why this article matters to your audience). Hint: use industry buzzwords and terminology (#CRM, #ecommerce, #anythingrelevant). Hint 2: Check out ‘bit.ly’ – it’s an online tool that compresses URLs to make them fit (and look better) on Twitter.

Here are some examples of things you’re going to want to post:

a. Articles – “A great read on how @Target is utilizing site search to garner higher conversions #retailwars” (This post serves 2 purposes, I’m referencing a company in my space AND I am providing insight to my following).

b. Statistics – “Check out the latest data from @InstartLogic on how a optimized #CDN is impacting and improving site traffic” (This post mentions an industry related firm AND has valuable information).

c. Reviews  - “Check out these stats on how @Salesforce is outperforming both @IBM and @Microsoft in the #CRM space” (Assuming I work for Salesforce, this is a great post that calls attention to who’s winning the CRM war, showcasing why Salesforce is superior, add to that an interesting statistic or two and you’ve got a great post).

d. Food for Thought – Not necessarily related to your industry, but articles and posts that get people thinking. Basically everything Guy Kawasaki (@guykawasaki) posts on LinkedIn or Twitter is gold.

4. Engage your community

Now that you’ve followed who you need to follow and are posting relevant material, you’re going to want to:

a. Reply – engage with relevant posts that you come across. See a post on how to maximize revenue by using Google Analytics? Post your opinion on that tweet.

b. Respond – get back to anyone who reaches out to you. Assuming it’s not spam, a quick reply to what people are saying to you is a nice way of acknowledging your community.

c. Retweet – is the post worthy of more people seeing? Retweet it!

5. Avoid the “S’s of Evil”

a. Stalk prospects (or people in general) - It’s creepy and it’s guaranteed to scare people away. A post everyday berating someone to respond or make a decision is a bad idea. Think of a post on a prospect’s wall as a strategic sales touch. You wouldn’t cold call a prospect twice a day and leave a message each time. Don’t do it on Twitter either.

b. Spam your  community – It’s often automatic, and it’s very obviously marketing and advertising spam. Don’t sign up for any automated services that push content. Messages that are automated are never personalized and they’re always junked. People are wary of opening up messages or clicking links to begin with. Don’t give them ANOTHER reason to avoid your content.

c. Smack-talk prospects – Heard of Amy’s Baking Company? This was a restaurant featured on Chef Gordon Ramsey’s ‘Kitchen Nightmares” – they also famously took the cake (get it) for having possibly one of the worst PR meltdowns in recent memory. After being featured on the show, the owners were slammed on every available channel on social media. Instead of doing the usual issuing of a press release, the owners decided to respond, negatively, to every review and post about them. Bad idea. They lost out on a ton of business and ended up with worse than a black eye in the way of reputation.

d. “Smurf” – This is usually called trolling, but ‘troll” doesn’t start with ‘s’, and a Smurf is kind of like a troll. Regardless, don’t do it. A troll is is a person who annoys people by starting arguments or upsetting them. It’s unprofessional and annoying – avoid it.

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I heard sometime last year that Kevin Garnett is now the highest paid NBA player ever. That’s right: Kevin Garnett. Not Michael Jordan. Not Kobe Bryant. Not Kazaam himself, Shaq. Kevin Garnett.

This got me thinking: how do the top ten all-time NBA player salaries stack up against the domestic box office results in Hollywood? If Minnesota and Boston are willing to shell out record bucks for one player as a main draw for tickets, I’m curious what movie draws comparable numbers?

1. Kevin Garnett, $328,562,398 (Minnesota 1995-2007 and Boston 2007-Present)

Movie with closest total in domestic box office: The Lion King with $328,423,001

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2. Shaquille O’Neal, $292,198,327 (Orlando 1992-1996, LA 1996-2004, Miami 2004-2008, Phoenix 2008-2009, Cleveland 2009-2010, Boston 2010-2011)

Movie with closest total in domestic box office: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with $292,000,866

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3. Kobe Bryant, $279,738,062 (LA since 1996)

Movie with closest total in domestic box office: Meet the Fockerswith $279,167,575

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4. Tim Duncan, $224,709,155 (San Antonio since 1997)

Movie with closest total in domestic box office: WALL-E with $223,806,889

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5. Dirk Nowitzki, $204,063,985 (Dallas since 1998)

Movie with closest total in domestic box office: The Exorcist with $204,565,000

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6. Joe Johnson, $198,647,490 (Boston 2001-2002, Phoenix 2002-2005, Atlanta 2005-2012, Brooklyn 2012-Present)

Movie with closest total in domestic box office: Gone With The Windwith $198,655,278

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7. Jason Kidd, $193,855,468 (Dallas 1994-1996, Phoenix 1996-2001, New Jersey 2001-2008, Dallas 2008-2012, New York 2012-Present)

Movie with closest domestic box office: Madagascar with $193,136,719

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8. Ray Allen, $181,127,360 Milwaukee 1996-2003, Seattle 2003-2007, Boston 2007-2012, Miami 2012-Present)

Movie with closest total in domestic box office: Jurassic Park III with $181,166,115

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9. Chris Webber, $178,230,218 (Golden State 1993-1994, Washington 1994-1998, Sacramento 1998-2005, Philadelphia 2005-2007, Detroit 2007, Golden State 2008) 

Movie with closest total in domestic box office: Men in Black 3 with $178,127,919

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10. Paul Pierce, $169,486,218 (Boston since 1998)

Movie with closest total in domestic box office: The Help with $169,705,587

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By the way, Michael Jordan’s salary was a whopping 90,235,000. He’s good enough to be considered almost as successful as Collateral with $100,003,492.

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Imagine yourself walking through the mall. You want that red shirt that you’ve seen your favorite singer wear on the latest episode of TMZ. You’ve got money in your pocket. You arrive at your destination. There are two stores that sell the very same shirt: Store X and Store Y. Let’s walk through the shopping experience at both.

Store X has an attractive presentation and merchandising. The store is full of employees, each devoted to their section; they are folding clothes and spraying perfume to ensure a solid guest experience. You realize that this is a pretty big store. You don’t see red shirts, but you’ve seen an advertisement showing that they carry the particular one you want. You walk through the store, passing employee after employee and asking each one where to find red shirts. None of them have an idea. They do, however, show you a completely different item and ask if you want to buy it. They are obviously not helping your shopping experience. In fact, they are hurting it. After turning down assorted belts, shoes and dresses, you casually stroll right out the exit and directly into Store Y.

You get to the entryway of Store Y, which also has an attractive presentation and merchandising. Store Y has a dedicated employee to greet you, and she asks: “Can I help you find something?” You answer: “I’m looking for the red shirt I saw Justin Bieber sporting on the red carpet.” She acknowledges your request and immediately points to a corner of the store dedicated to this red shirt – along with similar shirts. You have been in this store for all of 30 seconds at this point and you already have the shirt in hand, headed to the register – the red shirt is yours.

The experience at Store X describes the concept of having a sub-par site-search experience. All too often, I visit a website and type in the search box “red shirt,” only to find “black dresses,” “leather boots” or even worse, “no results.” This is a slap in the face to your customer. Your customer is on your site to buy. They have specifically asked for a “red shirt” and you are doing everything in your power not to help them, ensuring a negative shopping experience and a visit to the competitor’s website. You have not converted a customer plus you have ensured they don’t come back.

Shop Y, on the other hand, has a search bar that works. I visit the website, I type in the search bar “red shirt” and voila, I have the red shirt in my shopping cart. You have made that conversion and you have gained and retained that customer. This is a success – a success due to effective site search.

If you’re not thinking about site search, you absolutely should be. And if you already have site search, kudos to you – but if it’s not contributing to at least a third of your revenue, you should probably reevaluate your options. Simply having a search box is only half of the solution. Having one that works is completing the puzzle.