Your Online Reputation
Up to this point, I have concentrated on describing what you need to set up a sales funnel and the way your interactions with prospects play out. However, it’s important to remember that there is a “hidden” step in the lead generation process, and one you can’t completely control. It is taken when prospects get serious about exploring the possibility of working with your company. That’s when they start doing their own research about your business and its credibility.
What I’m referring to here specifically is your online reputation – the sum of all the reviews, testimonials, and impressions that have been posted online about your company and its products or services.
In a recent survey for Forbes, it was found that roughly 90% of all buyers will research the company online before they ever make a purchase, set foot in a store, or contact a sales representative. As you can imagine, your prospects are more apt to do some digging when their decision is a big one. In other words, for any kind of transaction that lends itself to lead generation, you can bet buyers are digging around to see what other customers say before they sign or pay anything.
Most of what prospects will see about your online reputation won’t be on your website, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely out of your control. In this chapter, I want to explain not only how your reputation affects your lead generation potential (not to mention your subsequent closing rates), but also outline some simple steps you can take to improve yours, starting today.
Researching Your Own Business
You probably didn’t need the statistic I offered to understand just how important online reviews are to your company. Even if you didn’t know your customers were turning to Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn to learn more about your company, you already know what it’s like to go through that process when you make a purchase.
Before you can shape your online reputation to boost your lead generation campaigns, you have to know what your prospects are seeing. That means digging around on the internet just like they would.
Where should you look? It almost goes without saying that anything a potential buyer could find about your business and its leadership might be relevant, but some feedback is more impactful than others. For instance, a review that shows up on the first page of Google’s listings, one that can be searched on a popular website like Yelp, or something posted to your Better Business Bureau profile is going to carry more weight than a blogger’s opinion that is difficult to find.
If you aren’t that familiar with your own online reputation, I recommend doing a quick search for your name, your business name, and any of your most important products on Google, Facebook, and any relevant industry forms. Go back at least a couple of pages. Look for anything, positive or negative, that makes a big impression.
Going through this exercise can be tedious, but it’s a great way to figure out what the market thinks about you, and to be familiar with the opinions your prospects are seeing before they decide to respond to your offers and move into your sales funnel.
After you’ve done this once or twice, though, you should know that there are automated tools you can use to scour the internet for new reviews about your business each and every day. I recommend you go through these steps manually at first so you’ll know what your buyers are going through, but once you’re familiar with your online reputation, there isn’t any good reason to burn more of your precious marketing time going through the exercise at regular intervals.
Identifying and Repairing Reputation Problems
If you’re like most business owners who go through this process, you’re going to find at least a couple of things that aren’t as glowing and positive as you might like. This can be true even if you do your very best to charge fair prices, give lots of value, and put your clients first.
The fact of the matter is that some customers just can’t be satisfied, and that mishaps do occur in the real world. And someone who had a bad experience with your business is roughly 10 times as likely to share their review publicly than a buyer who is pleased.
The bad news in this situation is that even a couple of negative reviews can be detrimental to your lead generation campaigns, particularly if they are highly specific or refer to an ongoing problem. The good news, though, is that you might be able to mitigate their effects somewhat.
In some instances, you may be able to have negative reviews about your company taken off the internet altogether. For example, if you can show that the reviewer made a factual mistake, or has posted something negative for personal or competitive reasons, you can contact the website hosting the review and ask them to remove it. They may oblige you, particularly if they are concerned they could have a legal liability for hosting a fraudulent review.
Additionally, you can sometimes earn a clean slate, so far as online reviews are concerned, if you can show that your business is under new management or ownership. Again, this won’t work all of the time, but it could be worth attempting under the right circumstances.
Assuming you can’t get rid of negative reviews altogether, you still have another way to stop them from hurting your lead generation efforts too badly. You do this by simply responding to the reviews. You don’t want to get personal or make accusations, but if there is another side to the story, you can share it in a professional way. That might be enough to show prospects that you care about their satisfaction and are taking steps to solve the problem.
Along the same lines, it’s important to remember that negative reviews, as difficult as they might be to endure, can be learning aids. If enough buyers have similar complaints about some of your policies, prices, or employees (as examples), you should take their feedback to heart. Better to learn a painful lesson now than watch your negative reviews stack up one after another to the point that you can’t convince anyone to do business with you.
Establishing a Stronger Online Reputation
Regardless of whether you are able to wipe away negative reviews about your business or not, your next priority should be to establish a stronger online reputation across the web.
The first step is to simply ensure your company’s profiles are easy to find. Set up accounts on all the major social platforms and industry pages, complete with things like photos, logos, and company contact information. That way, there won’t be any doubt in a prospect’s or customer’s mind that they have found the right business when they want to share their opinions. Make sure these accounts all look as professional as possible. Believe it or not, the look of your Yelp page, for example, can color the impressions customers have of your business when remembering their experiences.
Once you feel confident your business is listed and visible in all the right places, encourage your best customers to share their thoughts online. This will help your lead generation efforts in a number of ways.
First, positive reviews will obviously influence future prospects who are considering giving you their contact information. Also, when you already have several reviews, newer customers are more apt to share their feedback, too. The more reviews you have, the easier they are to get.
Additionally, a long string of glowing testimonials will help you to drown out any negative reviews that might have been holding you back. In fact, if your overall review profile is strong, a few customer complaints can actually improve your lead generation results. That’s because new prospects will be able to see that the reviews for your business are authentic, and will trust the remarks left by happy customers more than they would if all the reviews were good ones.
And finally, each new review that’s added to your profile makes your business more visible. Most websites will highlight businesses with frequent client feedback, so you could end up sending more traffic to your website and increasing the reach of your sales funnel.
Better Online Credibility Means More Leads
Researching your own online reputation, fixing any problems that jump out, and then re-establishing your business all over the internet can be time-consuming. However, it’s relatively easy to maintain a positive image after you’ve established one, and the payoff makes the effort worth it.
There’s no question that a slew of negative reviews, posted in the wrong places, can absolutely shatter your lead generation efforts. It won’t matter how good your content is, or how compelling your offers seem, if nine out of every 10 prospects interested in working with you sees a long list of complaints from previous buyers. No amount of low pricing or product guarantees is going to help you overcome that.
However, the opposite is also true. When the internet has nothing but good things to say about you, prospects feel more comfortable moving forward in the sales process. Your leads have essentially been pre-warmed for you based on the positive experiences others have had and reported in the past. That doesn’t just break down the reluctance to close a new deal; it also puts you a big step ahead of your competitors.
For that reason, when your online credibility is strong, you don’t just get more leads from your website – you also get higher-quality leads that end with bigger sales and better profit margins.
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About Glenn Brooks
Glenn Brooks is the founder of WebWize, Inc. WebWize has provided web design, development, hosting, SEO and email services since 1994. Glenn graduated from SWTSU with a degree in Commercial Art and worked in the advertising, marketing, and printing industries for 18 years before starting WebWize.