If you're old enough to remember the early days of the internet before Google got their own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, specifically around 1990, you will remember the clash between traditional "offline" marketing and the new "online" marketing.
Back then, most people used to say that "the internet will never take off," or that "mobile will never become mainstream."
Of course, history tells us that they were very wrong!
I started my first job as a bank teller and my final role was as a commercial manager's assistant. I then founded a computer hardware and accounting software company. I went on to become the CEO of a major accounting software company and sold that company to move into digital marketing services for clients, became a book publisher, and finally developing our own all-in-one software business solutions for entrepreneurs.
Over the past 30 years, I have witnessed massive changes in new technology that have disrupted enterprises and pushed many traditional businesses to the brink.
Fast forward to today and the internet is crucial for almost every business function. But along the way, marketers got a bit lazy. Actually, they got very lazy!
It has become so simple and commonplace to create a social media page on the likes of Facebook, get likes, and run some ads and posts to generate interest around your product or service. You can even create a special interest group to attract conversations with your best buyers. Marketers then try to "game" the system to get better results, and these platforms constantly change the algorithm to even out the odds.
All the time, you are feeding the "Big Tech" machine with user data. Webmasters and Designers took Google up on their offer to help track and analyse their traffic with Google Analytics―a free website tracking code where they will give you all the data about your traffic. It's estimated that roughly 50% of the world's top 1 million websites now run this code and the volume of valuable data Google has collected and continues to collect is immeasurable.
The real tragedy is when you hear about someone who has just lost their Facebook page or was banned for life from Google AdWords. And due to those bans, they say they have lost all their followers after spending years of their time and thousands of dollars getting them. Their business is now crippled and may not survive.
You can pin the blame on marketers for putting all their eggs into one basket, but the fact is that, due to the sheer prominence of a few giant corporations, they've cornered the market. The alternatives pale in comparison. Google holds almost 90% of the search engine market―losing Google AdWords for a marketing business means losing 90% of the market and fleeing to Bing, the next biggest competitor at less than 10% of the market. For most people, the term "search engine" is equivalent to "Google." Somewhere between 1997 and now, Google entered the search engine market and became the search engine market.
This is why I think marketers have become lazy―because these platforms make it so easy for you to outsource your customers to them, all the while restricting the real information that you need to contact those customers later. Because the truth is, they aren't your customers. They're Google's customers. They're Facebook's customers. So often you know very little about your followers except for the ones who actually buy from you.
With the recent push for individual privacy and better government regulations for "Big Tech," it has forced them to re-think the way they operate. These companies are now pulling the ladder up behind them and keeping the data for themselves.
It will become harder for marketers to get useable data from these "Big Tech" advertising systems, and they will literally price the average entrepreneur out of the market. After all, the marketers who are earning these platforms the most money are big businesses, and that was who they were after all along. Advertising on Facebook wasn't even considered a few years previous, but all of these smaller marketers using the platform to good effect have popularised social media marketing. Once these platforms got the attention of bigger businesses, the smaller marketer would never be able to afford to advertise on these platforms in the future.
As the number of businesses relying on the internet for day-to-day operations grew, a new type of software system arose. It was called "SaaS"―Software as a Service. I recall people saying that "no-one will ever trust the internet enough to do their banking or accounting"; that the potential data that could be leaked would be too big of a risk to ever seriously consider it.
But the banks realized that they could save a fortune if you didn't have to come into their branch for every consultation, large and small, and today you often start a conversation with your bank through a robot; either on the phone or through fancy Artificial Intelligence chatbots. At the same time, you do yourself what a bank teller used to do for you. I know, because for 7 years, I was a bank teller!
And frankly, I think it's better for the customer to have control over their own money and manage it 24/7 without needing a human from the bank standing in as a middle man. We can learn a lot from banks about automation. I have seen the rise in massive profits over the years with banks from millions to billions.
SaaS has given rise to a myriad of online marketing and business solutions. I remember when I first started selling accounting software―you often had to buy multiple unconnected products to manage your cashbook, invoicing, payroll and asset management. Over time, these functions have merged into a powerful, interconnected all-in-one solution at a fraction of the cost of all the individual components.
On top of that, the rise of transactional apps the likes of Uber, MenuLog, and Airbnb challenge the traditional models. Amazon effectively owns the e-commerce space. In its early years, the internet spoiled users for choice. But today, there is only one Facebook, eBay, or Amazon. You'd be hard-pressed to find another industry where one company has such a huge percentage of the market share.
I believe the next level SaaS concept will be the next major opportunity in the marketplace. Right now, most online marketers run numerous software solutions to run their businesses. It often means cobbling together systems to get the data to the final location.
How many times have you bought a membership product to see you move from the initial web landing page to a separate e-commerce platform to a back-end checkout system, and finally to another platform's login area? And in the end, you are taken off to join their Facebook Group.
If you're paying attention to the web addresses on the way through, you could have moved along 3-5 separate web-based applications before you got to the final destination.
These platforms are costly individually and labour-intensive to maintain. When I started working for clients in marketing, if I ran into a problem, I knew there was "an app for that." If you search for it, you would find numerous solutions for solving a single problem. Whilst this is great, it also opens your business up to issues if they fail or someone misses an update or forgets to sync them.
To operate a modern business, we need to take a page out of the books of some of the large corporations who have mastered automation. Like it or not, with the rise of Artificial Intelligence in the future, it's likely that businesses will be totally automated and the AI will transact without human input.
At the same time, you don't want to lose the personal approach that is the cornerstone of small business.
Next, I am going to share some practical ideas that could improve your customer experience and revenue...
We sell books for a client via Facebook. Like with anything, problems are bound to arise. For example, the prospect might have a problem ordering. The prospect assumes that if they simply place a comment on your Facebook post, your customer service team will swoop in and solve their problem, typically with zero useful information originally given. If you don't respond, you risk losing the customer, but you need a human to keep up!
One of the most effective systems you can put in place is a Customer Service Solution or "Support Ticket Platform". The prospect is sent to a page on your website and tells you about their issue, and this creates a numbered ticket. Someone in your business is responsible for monitoring and responding to these tickets. At the same time, use generic email boxes for your support alerts so that a new staff member can take over at any time.
You would think that, after all these years, this type of system would be commonplace. I deal with a lot of online businesses, and it's not as common as you would think. It's especially rare with smaller online marketers.
Implementing a system like this holds your staff accountable for service; something many online businesses seem to have forgotten about. Sometimes business websites don't even have a working method to get hold of you!
Ask yourself: how early in the prospecting process do you collect valuable contact data?
Try to shift the conversation quickly off the social media platform to your own website and get contact information. Focus on building a relationship rather than going for the sale too early. Give them resources to help position you as an expert and build trust.
This may sound really obvious, right?
But most marketers try to do this via social media by feeding the content machine and don't push to engage their followers and customers offline.
This is why the "Big Tech" platforms want to appeal to the lazy marketer to keep them on their platform and keep all the customer data to themselves.
The next step is to review how prospects interact with your business through the purchase process. How do they pay you?
One thing in small business I have learnt the hard way is to never make it hard for someone to pay you.
Pretend to be your own customer and see if the experience is world-class.
Could these processes be streamlined? Automated?
Is there a way to create recurring income for your business?
As I write this, Facebook & Instagram (both owned by the same company, by the way) have just launched a new feature called "Shops" for their platform. You see, these "Big Tech" companies have visions of being someone else. Facebook wants to become Amazon, Youtube, eBay, and Netflix. Amazon recently started to target the podcast market, and they launched Prime Video to compete with Netflix, to varying levels of success. Google tried to become Facebook with Google+. They also have visions of being your single system supplier but have the power to lock you out any time you break a rule you don't even know about.
If you want to create a real growth-based sustainable business, my advice is to focus on creating your own complete system; become independent from "Big Tech" so you can't be banned or throttled. Use them to send traffic to your owned assets like a website, recurring membership, online shop, or e-learning.
But at the same time, don't end up with a bunch of spaghetti solutions. Look for a system that gives you 80-90% of what you need. It's rare to get 100%.
Take a leaf from these big online corporations: your business needs to be its own "platform" where you control your own community and customers. Don't become a cog in the machine; create your own machine.
Take control of your own destiny and sleep better a night!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
John North is a 5 Time #1 International Selling Author who is on a mission to create the platform of the future where entrepreneurs get full control over their online destiny. John's 30+ year background in accounting, banking, finance, marketing, and software uniquely positions him to see what entrepreneurs need to be massively successful in today's competitive market and how to future proof yourself.
evolvepreneur.app is a new revolution in community-based learning and eCommerce marketing solutions.