Digital Word Of Mouth Marketing: Social Bookmarking

A Guide To Social Media Marketing For SMEs (Part 4)

Social Bookmarking sites provide a fantastic viral marketing weapon and like traditional word of mouth – plays an instrumental role in marketing effectiveness.

So far in my Guide To Social Media Marketing For SMEs, we have touched on the practical applications and benefits of using Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs – In this post, we will briefly look at some of the social bookmarking sites that you should be using as part of your integrated social media strategy.

Spreading the word…
Social bookmarks provide a fantastic route to market for your business and should be used to promote your brand communications, thought leadership articles and special reports in addition to any other information that you feel is quite useful to share. The way in which we communicate and share knowledge really has evolved over the last 5 years and social bookmarking sites have played a key role in how we now do things.

Blast from the past…
I remember in the old days (a few years back), when you had a feature report that was published online – basic practice would have included: getting the report on your website, adding it to your email signature and using it as a special feature in your client newsletter. However today, we live in a world where information can be global within minutes – creating an enormous opportunity for how we share knowledge/communications.

The benefits of bookmarking…

Social bookmarking sites should not just be viewed as a handy little tool for allowing you to manage your own information online, but should be embraced as a powerful media weapon that can play a major part in your social media strategy. In many ways social bookmarking sites operate like a marketing distribution channel for your business and like any distribution partner – you need to select the most relevant partner/s that will provide you with the greatest market reach for what you provide.

Add the WOW factor…
Remember, developing/selecting the content that you wish to promote and identifying the most effective channel for sharing this content is just the starting point – you must invest time/resource into how the end product will look (so that your content has the WOW factor) and will stand out. If you don’t already have an in-house creative/multimedia designer, then it is a good idea to look at getting support in this area as presenting reports etc using audio/visual effects can make a massive difference!

Key players…

For the purpose of this blog post , I have not included Twitter, LinkedIn and Blogging sites below as we have already covered these in detail in parts 1-3 of my guide to social media marketing (and we already know that we should be using them as part of our marketing strategy). The below are some of the most popular bookmarking/information share sites:

YouTube
Facebook
Digg
StumbleUpon
Reddit
Delicious

If you enjoyed reading this post, please feel free to share it with your friends or colleagues using any of options below.

10 Basic Tips For Negotiating More Effectively

Blog Post Published on Kent Business TV (May 2011)

Last week’s third episode of The Apprentice (UK) left me amazed at how poor the candidates were at negotiating. Apart from one candidate called Jim (who actually looks a possible winner) – the others did not appear to understand the basic principles of how to get a better deal when negotiating.

This short blog aims to provide a number of practical tips on how to get a better deal when negotiating and draws upon my own experience of working across a number of challenging market sectors: retail, fmcg, electronics, distribution, market research and media.

Know what you want…

Identify exactly what it is you want to buy/source and find out where you can get it. There are many supplier directories now available online and your industry media partner’s magazine or website will help point you in the right direction. Don’t forget to use WOM (word of mouth) – ask your personal business contacts who they are using and get some background on their experiences in dealing with certain suppliers.

Know your budget…
This is common sense, but it is perhaps the most important variable – there is no point wasting your time trying to source suppliers and items which are clearly too expensive. It is critical that you keep in mind the budget that you have available and try to use your negotiational skills to maximise it. If you are quoted a price, never leave it on the table without a challenge – you have to work hard to get a good price, so be prepared to put the effort in.

Do your homework…
Establish the market cost structures for the service/products that you wish to source. A good marketer will always have an excellent knowledge of how much it will cost for advertising, event sponsorship, promotional items, printing collateral, design labour costs etc – using their previous experiences to help provide them with clear market benchmarks for negotiating. The price you pay for anything will always be dictated by the market value (what people are prepared to pay for it). It is important to get at least 3 competitive quotes from different suppliers as this will give you an idea of the price differences.

Know the market conditions…
The current economic climate means that buyers are in a very powerful position to negotiate and suppliers are under more pressure than ever to get that order. The rise of social media marketing is clearly putting pressure on industry media partners as brands’ can now implement PR and marketing campaigns without any cost to their business – this means that marketers are in a strong position to get a good bargain when negotiating advertising, events, webinars, advertorial and contact lists to name but a few (this should be used to your advantage).

Look at the bigger picture…
When looking for a special deal, always remember that building a long-term relationship with your supplier will enable you to secure a better price – make sure you emphasize this when negotiating. Suppliers will want to work with you on a price if they believe there is going to be a long-term relationship at stake. Even if this is not the immediate case, you can still sell the idea that you are working towards the selection of a number of partners for the future.

Ask for what you want…

Too many people skirt around the issues when trying to haggle over a price, make sure you ask exactly for what you want and make it clear up-front what you are prepared to pay for.

Timing is everything…
If the supplier thinks that you will be able to do a deal quickly, they will try harder to get the right price for you. Everyone is trying to get an order on the books and if they can see that something will be agreed today/tomorrow – you might just get that great price!

Use charm with integrity…
Use your personality, enthusiasm and charm to give you an advantage when negotiating. Getting a fantastic price on something really can be influenced by the emotional/rapport factors in play – being polite, friendly, genuine and direct can work, but do it with integrity.

Stay in touch…
A good marketer will stay in touch with all his/her existing/potential suppliers as part of the relationship building exercise. This will serve 2 basic purposes: it allows you to stay up-to-date with all commercial market opportunities/pricing points and it will always help you develop a better long-term relationship (which helps every negotiation for the future). It is also worth catching-up with your contacts near the end of the month to see if there are any last-minute opportunities as most sales professionals will have a monthly target to achieve (your chances of getting a better price will be improved if they need a quick sale to help them out).

Draw upon experience…

Demonstrating that you are a good buyer will help promote your credibility within the negotiation process i.e. if you have spent £xx in the past 12-months sponsoring a number of events, then you will be in a stronger position to negotiate on that next event.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog entry and remember this post is just a basic outline of the key variables which I believe to be important – there will be others! Feel free to add your own comments and suggestions.

If you found this blog interesting – please feel free to share it!

The Benefits Of Blogging

A Guide To Social Media Marketing For SMEs (Part 3)

In parts 1 and 2, we have already looked at some practical applications of using tools such as Twitter and LinkedIn as part of an integrated social media marketing approach for your business and in this latest installment – we will take a look at why you should be using a blog as an additional tool to compliment your social media strategy.

What is blogging?
Quite simply for the purpose of this basic guide, a blog is a way in which you can communicate and share your personal thoughts and views on the web using a personalised blogging website to host all your content.

Blogging has become a very popular marketing and thought leadership tool over the last 5 years and is used quite heavily by leading industry experts to share their views on topical issues.

The Power Of Blogging…

Thought Leadership
Everyday, we are trying to demonstrate to our customers/prospects that we are experts, market leaders and the best at what we do, whether we are providing a product or service. Blogging is a fantastic vehicle which can allow you to cement this position as it can provide you with enormous online reach.

To become a thought leader, you can use your blog to share your expertise and experience by publishing your thoughts and commentary on a number of topics i.e. key industry issues, market trends, customer insight, product/service developments, topical news stories, best practice, industry events – the list goes on (you get the idea).

It is important however that you keep your blog up-to-date, interesting and relevant. If you have a great idea for a blog, make sure to get in contact with your industry media partners to share your thoughts as it common practice for some of these to be published on their own website or published as copy within their magazine (if it is a great blog/thought leadership article). This means that you get great copy for your website, your client newsletter to endorse your position as an expert in your industry and also gives you additional credibility for your blog which you can share with millions online.

Boost Your Web Traffic / Online Presence
A blog is another great way of bringing more traffic to your company website as it provides enormous online reach. Creating a topical or interesting blog post that is supported with relevant tags (keywords associated with your post) means that more people will be able to find your contribution quicker. To help bring more visitors to your company website, make sure to add lots of links within your blog post (adding your preferred landing page url) as this deliver more traffic and potential new clients to your website.

If you develop and effectively maintain your blog – delivering great content, adding relevant url links and ensuring your blog is supported with the correct tagging – you will make it easier for people to find you, your company and your content online and within the blogosphere.

To support your web traffic further, you can directly post your blog to your LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media sites. This is good practice in general and compliments your social media profile, whilst creating content that should be of interest for your customers and prospects.

Powerful Copy
Your website is a shop window not only for your existing clients, but also for potentially new ones. A blog is a great prop for your website and will give you an opportunity to generate more traffic as long as your content is thought-provoking, interesting and relevant. Giving people a reason to return to your website is always a good marketing tactic and sometimes a compelling blog which is updated each day/week can support this activity, as your visitors might be keen to read your latest entry.

Real Time Insights

The beauty about having a blog is that you do not need to be a website developer or designer and you certainly do not need to wait days to have your content published online. A blog provides real-time insight and commentary in an engaging way that allows people to get involved in the subject/topic.

Example…
You visited an industry seminar and were not able to contribute to the discussions that were taking place in which a number of interesting prospects were in attendance. A blog will give you the means to comment on anything that you agreed/disagreed with and also provide you with an opportunity to share your own views on a burning issue that you feel passionate about. Once you have created your blog post and added your tags and relevant url links to support the entry – you can share your post instantly using your various social media accounts (LinkedIn, Twitter etc) which will in addition to making your blog visible within the blogosphere, will also allow you to reach a further audience within the social media networks that you are registered with. Remember, sound out your local media partner as the post may be something they can use in their own magazine or online features section.

Get Started
There are quite a number of blogging sites available to get started and the below are just a few to point you in the right direction. Once you have decided which one you want to use, simply register and get started! At first, it will take some time to experiment, but once you become familiar with the blogging process – you will soon become an expert.

WordPress
TypePad
Blogger
Moveable Type
Xanga

In the next installment (Part 4) of my blog – A Guide To Social Media Marketing For SMEs I will be focusing on the benefits and applications of social bookmarking.

If you have found my blog interesting and helpful, please feel free to share this post with others via the below social bookmarks.

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Get Connected, Get LinkedIn

A Guide To Social Media Marketing (Part 2)

Launched in 2003 and with over 100m registered users worldwide, LinkedIn has become the fastest growing and most popular professional networking website around. LinkedIn is a tool that most professional marketers are aware of and using to great effect – and as a free resource (is a must for SMEs)!

In this blog, I will share with you some of the best practical applications of LinkedIn for SMEs and the key benefits it can deliver, however the first thing you need to do (right now) is to create an account on Linkedin.

Getting Started: The Basics
To get the most from LinkedIn, I recommend that you put time and effort into creating a strong profile. This will be the first thing that potential contacts will look at in deciding whether they wish to become a connection. I have seen a number of examples of very poor profiles on LinkedIn, where people have not filled in the most basic detail about their expertise/background or in taking the time needed to build a profile which looks credible. In my opinion, you will have little success with LinkedIn if you do not bother to work on developing a strong profile. The profile is your online CV – therefore, make it stand out!

Now you have an account, created a great profile – start using LinkedIn to find contacts for existing and former clients, colleagues, media partners, suppliers and off-course for identifying potential new contacts as part of developing your business development pipeline. Like anything, once you start using this site, it is important that your build it into your daily to-do-list as to really utilise the benefits it offers, you need to use it as a business support tool everyday.

Brand Communications: Maximising Your PR
What makes LinkedIn such a fantastic business tool for brand communications is its sheer ability to provide real-time communications with a market reach of over 100m. One of the most practical tools available on LinkedIn is the status bar on your profile – the status function should be used by all your employees (who have an account) to share company news/updates. As soon as you update your status, your connections will see it on their updates page and this is a great way of providing additional reach for your brand communications. The beauty about the status function is that you can add links to published articles, presentations, video clips and press releases that are either hosted on your own website or a media partner’s website. To get the most from LinkedIn as a PR tool – use the Groups available to also add your latest PR and thought leadership content. Doing this simple activity will ensure that your message reaches a targeted audience and in return help drive traffic to your website. Over the last 3 years, LinkedIn generated up-to 20% of all unique web visitors for my previous agency – and helped raise brand profile along the way.

Thought Leadership: Sharing Knowledge
If you have a presentation that was recently delivered at an industry conference, make sure to upload it on LinkedIn using the Google presentation application – this will provide another great way of enhancing your profile whilst offering a targeted/extended route for sharing your knowledge which will support your company’s brand position as an industry expert.

Get Prospecting: Lead Generation Development
As a social site that has over 100m registered accounts, LinkedIn provides marketers and business development professionals with a fantastic prospecting resource – you can use the people and company search functions to easily identify possible prospects. Now you have found a possible prospect/contact – you have a few options available i.e.invite them to become a connection or use the information that you now have at your disposal to create a foundation for the next stage of your prospecting/lead generation strategy. Another great benefit of LinkedIn is that you are able to view most of the contacts who view your profile, and again this is a powerful lead generation tool which should be acted upon!

The Power of Groups: Enhancing Your Industry Expertise
Using the groups directory and search function, make sure you are a member of all relevant groups for your business. This will allow you to follow key industry/group issues, track contact level activity, whilst providing you with a golden opportunity to get involved in on-going group discussions. It also provides another avenue for brand positioning and developing your company profile at group level – as most of your existing clients and key targets will already be members. There are many examples of clients finding suppliers using groups as handy industry resource. Don’t forget – you can also set-up your own group and this option will support your lead generation strategy as you will be able to monitor all leads who register to your group.

Better SEO: Letting Clients Find You
Creating a company profile on LinkedIn will ensure that potential clients and prospects will find you easily and this is becoming a popular search tool. Make sure you keep the company profile up-to-date and get all your employees to set-up their own accounts on LinkedIn – but make sure they develop their profile pages, so that they are as impactful as possible. The company page is something that a lot of people now browse to get a feel for your organisation and also to get an overview of your team and latest activity/updates. LinkedIn is similar in nature to Twitter and provides a follow option – therefore make sure to follow all companies that are relevant to your business as this will keep you up-to-date with their activity on LinkedIn i.e. new hires, employees, latest news etc.

Remember, the more content you add to your profile, the more groups you join, the more discussions you get involved in, the more connections you make – the better your SEO will be on LinkedIn (meaning more people will be able to find you).

Talent Management: Find Your Next Employee
If you are spending a lot of money on recruitment agencies to support your talent management strategy, then look no further than LinkedIn as your perfect HR partner. LinkedIn offers you the perfect free solution to filling that next vacancy. Simply using the advanced people/company search options – you can identify potential employees and make direct contact with them (cutting out the middle man).

Working Smarter: Handy Apps
There are a number of handy apps on LinkedIn which will help you work smarter and also provide yet more benefits for lead generation and marketing activities. Take the time to explore all the applications available and define the most appropriate for your business. To give you a head start on apps, here are a few which you should be using: Google Presentation, SlideShare, WordPress, Blog Link, Events and Company Buzz.

Summary
This blog has covered some of the most basic applications of how LinkedIn can help your business and if used effectively – it will deliver a cost-effective route to market. The benefits it will yield will depend on the time and effort you put into the resource (so make sure you use it on a daily basis and embed it into your marketing and business development strategy).

In part 3 of my “Guide To Social Media Marketing For SMEs”, I will be looking at Blogging, so keep an eye out for my next installment.

Twitter as an effective marketing weapon

A Guide To Social Media Marketing For SMEs (Part 1)

Twitter has been around since 2006 and today boasts over 200 million account registrations with over 65 million tweets being recorded every day – if used effectively, it can provide SME marketeers with a powerful brand, sales and communications touchpoint.

Whilst Twitter is something that millions use on a daily basis as a way of staying in touch, sharing knowledge and embracing technology – it can be quite a useful marketing vehicle (with an added bonus of providing something for free, in real-time, engaging and with fantastic marketing reach).

This blog is not intended to tell you in minute detail how to do things – it is simply to advise you how it can be used at a basic and yet practical level. You will have to invest a little time doing your own research into using Twitter for your business.

How you achieve maximum reach for your tweets will depend on a number of simple things (your account followers and how you use hashtags in your tweets). There is no point boasting over 1000 followers if indeed these people are in no way connected to your business; what is important is that you are marketing to the right people – therefore having 50-100 quality client/prospect followers is more important and effective). Make sure you check who your followers are and assess whether they are the type of people who you feel would add value to your Twitter approach. You can also boost your followers by inviting people to follow you (click here to find a few other ways for getting more followers on Twitter).

As a brand marketing professional who has spent the last 6 years working agency side, the below are just a few practical examples of how Twitter can be used in an SME environment.

Free PR
Twitter is a great way for sharing useful information with your target market. If you have a press release, published article, best practice feature, new product update, upcoming event or indeed anything that is interesting enough to shout about – use your Twitter account as an additional means of doing this. To gain more exposure on your tweets use relevant hashtags which will allow your tweets to be viewed by anyone following a specific trend/topic or subject matter. Click here to find out more about hashtags.

Keeping your Twitter account topical, interesting and up-to-date is important. Putting a little effort and time into this area is needed at the start, but once you are up and running – the rest will be easy enough and quite low maintenance.

Account Management

In my opinion, nothing beats face-to-face dialog and your business should always strive to achieve this at all costs via effective account management. Twitter should never replace your traditional account management but can and should be used as an integrated tool for staying up-to-date with your clients/prospects, industry news/media partners and the key movers and shakers within your industry.

Example:
If company (A) is a target for your business – then try following the official company twitter account for company (A). To complement this further – establish the key decision makers at company (A) and follow their own personal feeds as this can provide you with a real-time status on what they are tweeting about as this can also enhance your account intelligence for the next stage of your follow-up.

Industry/Competitor Intelligence

Twitter is a great way of staying abreast of key trends and updates within your marketplace – so make sure to follow your competitors and the key media/news partners (as this will develop your market awareness of what is happening now!). To make this easier, you can create bespoke lists on Twitter i.e. create a list for competitors and in one view – you can monitor all competitor activity in real-time.

Customer Insight
Twitter is a great source of real-time customer insight and with the trend/search settings available on the social media site.Simply monitor what is being said about your company, competitors or stay abreast of any comments on a topical industry issue by using the search or trend settings available. You can create a number of simple lists which will allow you to follow specific tweeters and/or you can save a trend which may be relevant to your company – saving this trend using the appropriate hashtag available i.e. #iPad (you will be able to track all comments across Twitter for any mention of iPad.

Promote your Twitter Account
There are a number of ways this can be achieved and the following are a few examples: promote your Twitter account on your website (make it easy for clients/prospects to follow you); add your Twitter icon on your company e-newsletter; add to your company email signature and have all your employees who are using LinkedIn promote your Twitter account (I will cover LinkedIn in my next blog).

The next installment in my blog on “A Guide To Social Media Marketing For SMEs” will look at how you can use LinkedIn as part of an integrated marketing approach for your business.

A Guide To Effective Employee Satisfaction Research

Most organisations put considerable effort into maintaining customer closeness, as this is rightly seen as a key component of running a successful business. As part of this process, it is important to remember that customer opinion can be heavily influenced by the attitude and morale of employees within your organisation, and that monitoring this is therefore crucial. Indeed, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development goes as far as to say, “Most research confirms that the quality of people management is a better predictor of performance than business strategy, research and development or quality management” (Change Agenda on Human Capital, 2003). This being the case, monitoring staff opinions and reacting effectively to their feedback can lead not only to improved retention and productivity, but can also be reflected in improvements in customer satisfaction, and so is a critical component in the management toolkit.

This is especially true in today’s tough economic climate, where there is far less flexibility in the offer of financial rewards – employee engagement is increasingly important in retaining talent. The recession has changed the playing field for many businesses, and they are having to re-evaluate what they can do to attract, develop and retain the best people at least cost, not simply for the sake of being a good employer but to secure the financial success of their organisation.

Measuring employee perceptions is not as straightforward as just taking more notice of discussions around the water-cooler, of course; here are some tips to help you design and get the most out of your employee consultation process.

Make sure the research format is accessible to all
Every staff member should be given the chance to air their views, in a systematic and structured way. This is important in terms of being seen to be inclusive, and also to enable results to be analysed, and recommendations targeted, in as fine detail as possible. In practical terms, this means undertaking a survey to which all staff, not just a sample, are invited to participate, and careful consideration must be given to the circumstances of all existing staff, making sure they can access the survey, and have sufficient time to take part.

If you are considering an online approach, for example, remember that any field-based employees may access their e-mails much less frequently than those based in the office. It may be worth thinking about offering different methods for different categories of employee, if necessary.

A high response rate gives the results more power
Just like an election with poor turnout, a low response rate can result in people questioning the legitimacy of the results. Therefore, plans must be put in place to maximise buy-in to the study. Before the survey is distributed, publicise the fact that it will be taking place. Explain the process, stressing that it provides an opportunity for staff to give their views and that the results will help shape internal policy. This message is best communicated from someone at a senior level, as having visible senior buy-in emphasises the importance of the consultation.

The questionnaire itself can also impact response rates, as can the organisation of the fieldwork period. Questions should cover all aspects of the working experience, but it’s best to avoid a long questionnaire, as this can make it harder for busy people to find time to participate. Open ended questions in particular should be used carefully: they can provide useful, detailed feedback, but they also take longer to answer than closed questions. Finally, set a reasonable deadline for completing the survey. Ideally, staff should be given a few weeks to respond, as this should still allow any who are on annual leave during part of the fieldwork period to participate. A small number of reminder communications during the fieldwork period can also help to increase response.

Remember the importance of anonymity
Another pre-requisite of a successful employee consultation is guaranteeing that anonymity is protected and emphasised throughout the process. If there is any concern that comments could be identified by senior management, the chance of obtaining honest, open feedback is lost. Commissioning an external agency to run the consultation project, and making this clear to all staff, can make all the difference to the success of the exercise – having the results held and processed by an independent party can provide reassurance that anonymity will be ensured.

It is also useful to explain how the results will be analysed. Whilst it is common practice to break the results down by department or level of seniority, the level of drill-down does depend on the number of employees in each subgroup. A good research process will prevent the possibility of someone’s answers being identifiable because they are the only senior manager within a particular division, for example. Finally, the methodology must also allow respondents to complete the survey in private; this can make a telephone interview inappropriate if respondents are contacted in the office.

Identify feasible improvements that will make a difference
Once the fieldwork is completed, that’s when the real work begins. Whilst each result may be interesting in its own way, it’s advisable to focus on finding out what’s important to employees themselves. This can be done by identifying the issues most strongly correlated with overall satisfaction. Most employees will be happy to accept that their job cannot be perfect in every way, but may still become disenchanted if they find fault in those areas that they value most in a job. By focussing on what is most important, it should be possible to identify the most pressing problems, and then prioritise changes that can potentially make the largest difference.

Communicate the findings and the actions you intend to take
Post-survey communication can prove as important as the analysis itself. Sharing the findings with all staff is strongly recommended; if employees think you are merely paying lip service to the process without actively looking to change anything, this is only marginally better than not consulting them at all. Tell them where the results were positive, where they could have been better, and importantly, what you plan to do in response to their feedback.

Finally, follow through on your promises
Once you’ve informed staff what actions will be taken, it is vitally important to then go ahead and do what you said you would. If you don’t follow through effectively, this can engender a cynical attitude which could even result in a drop in morale. In her work on psychological contracts in organisations (1995), Rousseau observed, “We know that when employees feel that their boss or firm has broken their expectations about work and career opportunities they often feel less committed to the organisation.” And less commitment to the organisation translates into less commitment to your customers.

Keeping Customers Satisfied

Effective customer satisfaction research brings accurate feedback and valuable data, says Jonathan Pickup, B2B research manager at McCallum Layton Customer satisfaction is integral to a successful business operation and is strongly linked to customer retention. But not all businesses formally evaluate and track the changing satisfaction levels of their customers. In particular, B2B organisations tend to rely on more anecdotal feedback, provided by relationship managers or account handlers. While this can work, there is a danger that dissatisfaction can remain hidden until it is too late. Relationship managers may be reluctant to feed back minor issues that might not portray their own work in the best light.

Engaging a third party to conduct customer satisfaction research brings more rigour and independence to the process. The opportunity to speak anonymously allows customers to provide more honest feedback. A good research provider will also help you to maximise the value of your customer satisfaction measurement.
Here are some tips for getting the most out your customer satisfaction research.

1. Who to survey?
It is easy to bias your results from the start if care is not taken when compiling the list of customers to contact. The best starting point is to put together a comprehensive list of all contacts, regardless of how likely you feel they are to respond to a survey, or to answer positively.

Next, think about how you might classify your customer base. It makes sense to conduct the survey with a representative sample of customers, but there may be good reason to consider conducting research with certain subgroups. For example, your organisation may provide different products or services to different markets – and customer experiences may therefore differ widely. Similarly, you may wish to include more of your most important customers, especially if these relationships are managed differently.

2. What method?
Once you have compiled your list, consider how customers could best be contacted. Most B2B customer satisfaction research is conducted by telephone, as this usually achieves the best levels of response. If you typically communicate with your customers electronically, however, an online approach could also work. High-value customers may be interviewed face-to-face, to help reinforce the relationship.

3. What to ask?
Your results should not just measure satisfaction, but also identify the most effective steps you could take to improve perceptions. Listing the factors on which you are likely to be judged is a good starting point. Include overall satisfaction and loyalty measures, as easy reference scores that can be communicated throughout the business.

A good customer satisfaction survey would normally take about 10–15 minutes. Much longer than this and the depth and quality of customers” responses may suffer, or they may be less likely to agree to take part in the first place. If your initial draft is too long, separate the “nice-to-know” from the “need-to-know” – focus on what is important to the customer and those factors you can really do something about.

4. How often?
Many customer satisfaction projects are run as regular tracking programmes, rather than one-off surveys. This helps you to keep your finger on the pulse of customer opinion, and evaluate any actions you have taken based on previous results.

How often you need to take measurements will depend on the nature of your market. If most customers tend to build long-term relationships with your organisation, satisfaction may be a fairly stable measure that is unlikely to change dramatically in the short-term unless there are exceptional circumstances (e.g. major changes to pricing). In this case, annual tracking may be sufficient.
Conversely, if your industry is fast moving and competitive, and customers readily switch suppliers, more frequent waves may be appropriate, allowing you to identify and react to any changes in customer opinion promptly.

5. Data analysis
The analysis of customer satisfaction data tends to centre around identifying weaker areas of performance, so that improvements can be implemented. A quick scan of the results will identify the areas of service where scores are lowest.

What this does not provide, however, is any kind of prioritisation. Most customers will accept a lesser service in areas they think of as less important, as long as performance is good on the critical factors. A “key driver analysis” can be used to identify factors most closely correlated with overall satisfaction, so that you can focus first on improvements that are likely to have the greatest impact.

6. Review and refresh
Whilst the first wave of research should provide you with a greater understanding of customer opinion, it is important that future waves continue to build on this. An effective customer satisfaction tracking survey will offer much more than just a regular set of top-level figures.

The programme should be regularly reviewed to identify any new areas of interest to include in future waves. Even though the survey is designed to track data over time, this does not mean that the questionnaire cannot be changed at all, as long as care is taken not to introduce any new bias into the overall measures.

Finally, leave room in your questionnaire for a tactical response section that changes periodically. Questions can be inserted as new issues of interest arise, providing topical information to the business without needing to set up and conduct separate research studies.