Engagement is tanking. Is it time to ditch your business’ social media program?

social media engagement

I quit Twitter last week.  There’s just too much “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  Facebook.  Pinterest.  Snapchat.  It’s all tetched.  Social media was going to evolve in to a force for good.  It was our shiny new toy.  Now, however, the platforms have found their nadir.

Remember when you’d sit at a dealer meeting and listen to a social media expert/guru/ninja/rockstar/revolutionary?  What happened to those silicone promises?  Leads!.  Loyalty!.  Brand Strength!.  Now, pictures of Dorsey meditating in Myanmar illustrate the hypocrisy.  Facebook has experienced a similar self-inflicted decline in user engagement.  Forbes insight is as follows:


Engagement has fallen below 1% across segments.  1%. Think about the money and time that people ask you to spend on social media.

The knee-jerk response that you’ll likely hear from a Ninja is that your content strategy is weak.  Your spend is insufficient.  Double down.  Yet these Insurgents apply generic campaigns, stock image, and predictable content among their clients.  They sell parity and tell you it’ll work.

The uncomfortable reality is that social media agencies often used the same canned content for the lion’s share of their clients.  This content squarely falls in to what David Ogilvy once described as “The Valley of Distrust.”

Unless you decide to design and control your unique content it is time to say goodbye to social media as a lead source.  Don’t outsource it.  Cut out the middle man.  Engagement levels are so low that it’s nearly irrational to pay for an agency.  If given a choice what you rather have:

100 Likes or 1 loyal customer?

My dad told me a story about doing business before the internet.  He explained that his secret to winning business was not based on algorithms but in taking notes.  His client files were filled with notes, observations, records of conversations, dates and times and locations from meetings.  His client’s names, interests, goals, pastimes, hobbies, concerns.  These were all recorded in what he calls “bankers files.”  That was his CRM.  That was how he stayed connected with people: by actually getting to know them and care about them.  When I asked him how he grew a one branch farm bank in to a multi-branch success story he said, “One farmer at a time.”  He visited every farmer in every town, introduced himself, got to know them and over time became their financial partner.  He prioritized “social” over “network” and the “human” before “resources.”

I’m not trying to get sappy or overly nostalgic.  I am simply suggesting that we assess the return on engagement regarding social media.  Has it generated a truly loyal customer base as evidenced by referrals and increased top/bottom line growth?  Has it lessened our dependence on other lead sources?  Is there a reasonable return on time spent?  Has it resulted in differentiation?  Has it created an on-going customer conversation among the followers?  If not then why devote the time, energy, and resources required to sustain it?

Small businesses are better served by a smaller group of highly loyal customers that grant access to their networks based on personal service.  I believe that the future of small business is better built on 1:1 relationships.

PS–Results based on traditional SEO/M will crumble as conversational search surges.



Favorite-Long Shot Bias & New Business



A friend of mine has been trying to set a meeting with a prospect.  After the initial communication the prospect replied:

Just checked you out on line.  I have had discussions in the past with your representatives.  We are a Factory Authorized Carrier Dealer and do not have any intentions of switching or carrying a “second” line.  I always enjoy meeting people, however I do not believe our meeting would be productive.  If I ever become frustrated with Carrier, I know where to find you

When it comes to new business you have to kiss a lot of frogs.
Salespeople frequently determine a prospect’s validity based on organizational criteria: years in business, web presence, projected volume, etc.  Yet the prospect doesn’t feel a need or interest or pressure to change.  And they won’t.  So why did the salesperson determine that it was worth the risk and effort?  Why do salespeople bet on the long odds?
When it comes to prospecting, salespeople are susceptible to Favorite-Long Shot Bias.  The salesperson overvalues the odds of a long shot and undervalues the favorite. As a result the salesperson bets on the long shot and wagers an inordinate amount of time and resources for little to no gain.  The odds of a win were never in his favor.
It’s tough for salespeople to avoid this bias.  The bias is not, however, completely irrational.  A long shot prospect may demonstrate a greater interest in conversion than is actually accurate.  The long shot prospect may go so far as to participate in sponsored events such as a factory tour or a product tear-down.  Prospects can give every indication that they’re sincerely interested in converting as a means of gaining pricing insight or leverage.  The bias can be manipulated without the salesperson’s awareness.
In order to avoid this miscalculation of probability a salesperson should evaluate behavioral or contextual criteria rather than over simplified organizational criteria:
“Is the prospect under pressure to change due to market or competitive conditions?”
“Are there internal pressures to change?”
“Is there broad discontent with the status quo?”
“Is there ONE person in the business who will advocate on the salesperson’s behalf?”
“Is this a learning environment that values new ideas and/or perspectives?”
Favorite-Long Shot Bias occurs in part because the person placing the bet is unwilling or unable to accept behavioral realities.  Long Shots are long shots because they win with much less frequency than the favorites.  Yet the siren-song is alluring.
Favorite-Long Shot Bias happens because a risk-tolerant sales person overvalues the likelihood of the White Whale deciding to flip because the prospect fits an organizational profile rather than a behavioral profile.  The salesperson has failed to consider the behavioral realities.
I know a lot of sales people who love to gamble.  For a long time it never made sense.  Why does a person (like myself) with an unpredictable income roll the dice and magnify the unpredictability while certainly guaranteeing a loss?  Don’t they face enough risk and loss already?  In a sense salespeople are gamblers–on themselves, on their skills, on their intelligence, their EQ, their training, their products and employers.  Favorite-Long Shot Bias:  They often want to believe that the long shot will beat the odds even when the odds are millions to one.
As my friends in Texas say: You just can’t wish horns on a doe.

“Everything we teach should be different from machines.”


amazon solved the buying process


“Everything we teach should be different from machines.  If we do not change the way we teach, 30 years from now we will be in trouble.” — Jack Ma

Jack Ma, the co-founder of The Alibaba Group, was referring to education in the broadest sense but his point is spot on.  Trying to imitate or duplicate machine learning is a losing battle.  For many of my friends and clients this poses an existential problem.  The solution is embedded in Ma’s observation: An individual, company, or team must master the skills and attitudes that machines can’t: Building and nurturing human connections, loving the process of innovation, learning to use our imaginations, and appreciating the power of inclusion and cooperation.

While the paramount objective of a machine is to complete a task, the paramount objective of a business is to enhance human well-being in economically efficient ways. The richness of the customer experience is the most constructive way to out maneuver artificial incursions.  This experience thrives within the firm, with people who earnestly enjoy serving other people.  The ways in which they learn and creatively customize their products and services, the ways that they invite participation in an interactive process.  Most important to long term sustainability, the ways in which they send the right message: “Welcome to our family, and we’re grateful that you’re here.” Business’ should optimize for customer loyalty instead of customer transactions.

Let’s continue to rethink attitudes about how we treat people.  Business labels tell us that people are human resources first, and humans second.  Serving customers isn’t a race to an undetermined finished line, another call in the queue, another lead on another dashboard (doesn’t the name itself imply ‘Go fast’?), another inspiration-murdering KPI completed.  Instead, help them learn to listen to customers deeply in order to understand and appreciate them. Empathy cannot be mechanized.   Machines will never replace a warm hand shake or an incandescent smile or a joyful laugh.  In other words, customers cannot be seen simply as end-users.  In other words:

A business that fails to make people, communities, and society durably better also fails to create meaningful payoffs that matter in human terms, not just financial ones.




Podcast #10: Matthew Tyner on Growing Your Home Services Business in the Digital Space

Matthew Tyner (@MatthewTyner) is the Vice President of Marketing for Valve + Meter (www.valveandmeter.com).  In this episode he answers important questions about doing business in the digital world: What does a winning digital campaign look like?  How should home service business owners allocate funds for their on-line presence?  Which digital media are delivering the best returns?  And many, many more.  This is Matt’s second interview and his expertise is on par with the best.  Enjoy!

What is the best compensation plan for a salesperson?


I recently listened to a human resource manager restructure the compensation plan for a group of salespeople.  “Sounds like I’m going to make less money next year,” someone said.  I watched the two top salesmen dust off their invisible resumes.  I’ve seen owners use everything from Apple watches to vacations in an attempt to improve sales performance.  Many owners and sales managers feel that salespeople thrive under straight commission compensation plans.  Most of this, however, is a combination of collective wisdom and “hey how do you pay your guys?” conversations.  Over the last 30 years, however, a great deal of mathematical and behavioral economic analysis has contributed  quantifiable recommendations as to which compensation plan most effectively improves a firm’s profitability while reducing the uncertainties and asymmetries influencing the effort.

I have read and relied heavily on a number of expert sources for this blog:

Salesforce Compensation Plans: An Agency Theoretic Perspective; Basu, Lal, Srinivisan

A Study of a Class of Simple Compensation Plans; Basu, Kalyanaram

Optimal Incentive Plans with Imperfect Information; Grossman

Salesforce Compensation: An Empirical Investigation of Factors Affecting the Use of Salary versus Incentive Compensation; John, Weitz

I recommend all of these for anyone interested in further research.

Compensation plans don’t exist in a vacuum.  There are variables involved in developing a compensation plan that need to be considered:

  1.  The selling environment is uncertain as is the salesperson’s effort.
  2. The salesperson may be accustomed to a given compensation plan and may be asked to switch from a previous to a current compensation.
  3. The salesperson is risk averse.  Although many stereotype salespeople as having a high level of risk tolerance that typically isn’t the case–they value security and will stick to what works in the interest of avoiding risk, a lack of self-preservation, an economic change in their quality of life.  Sales people are best characterized by “The Happy Loser” archetype as found in Clotaire Rapaille’s research.
  4. Sales is stochastic rather than deterministic profession.

Compensation plans must also account for various internal uncertainties effecting a salesperson’s effort.  Marketing, for example, is an uncertainty.  Is the firm’s marketing plan on-going, sporadic, promotional?  Are competitive marketing efforts more robust?  Does the firm allocate sufficient funds in order to generate consistent opportunities for salespeople?  Do selling technicians impact opportunities?  Is there a lack of transparency between the sales manager and the sales team?  These and other variables should be considered as the compensation plan has a specific goal: Maximize a firm’s profit.  Considering external and internal uncertainties, owners and managers then determine the compensation plan.

There are four fundamental types of compensation and incentive plans:

  1. Straight salary
  2. Straight commission
  3. Contests
  4. Ala Carte: the salesperson is able to select his or her own type of compensation plan, typically reflective the salesperson’s risk tolerance (Gonik 1971)

Straight salary compensation plans are best applied when the selling effort involves a team.  Straight salary compensation plans appeal to security oriented individuals rather than achievement oriented individuals.  And while straight salary compensation plans are easy to administer there is a drawback.  This type of compensation plan results in “the total inability on the owner or sales manager’s behalf to provide the strong motivation that induces high performance” (Basu 1985).  I’ve worked with firms that relied on a straight salary commission plan.  The salespeople were happy, the owner believed that every employee deserved stability, and that sales people would do the right things for these reasons.  He was correct in his thinking on the first two outcomes.  Less so on the final outcome–specifically pertaining to new business results.

Straight commission compensation plans are perceived to be fair.  Over a period of time good performers are rewarded while poor performers are discouraged.  But there are limitations to straight commission compensation plans in both B2B and B2C settings.  Salespeople will be hesitant to spend much effort on opening new accounts, administrative duties or other activities perceived to be not financially rewarding (John, Weitz).  In B2B selling this is evident in insufficient prospecting activities that are not viewed as a priority because they don’t reward the salesperson.  In B2C selling this often results in poorly assembled job packets, a lack of customer follow-up, and lackluster reporting efforts on the part of the salesperson.  Finally, straight commission plans are unstable.  Market uncertainties, inconsistent marketing efforts, economic or seasonal shifts, and aggressive competitive tactics challenge risk-averse salespeople with financial uncertainties.

Contests are a form of compensation.  Contests, games, and rewards are intended to raise a salesperson’s effort for a short period of time.  Contests are also used among field teams for the same reason.  Unfortunately this type of compensation has a flaw: the best salespeople typically win while the lesser salespeople fail to improve their effort or, worse yet, slacken their efforts.

Ala Carte compensation plans allow salespeople to select a compensation plan that satisfies their risk tolerance.  Highly risk averse salespeople are likely select a salary while risk tolerant salespeople are likely to select a straight commission based compensation plan (Gonik 1971).  I’d like to point out that this this conclusion preceded current Agency Theory research.  I work with a company using this compensation model.  It accomplishes the goal of meeting individual requirements.  It does not result in a consistent effort across the sales team.  This model also results in an element of unfairness as salary based salespeople are less impacted by market variables while maintaining an income while others are susceptible to inconsistencies.

In theory the compensation plan that best protects a firm’s profit is one in which a salesperson is guaranteed a salary only when the firm’s profit goal is met and a commission only when the firm’s goals are exceeded.  If the goals are not met the salesperson does not receive any compensation (Grossman).  In reality, however, there are obvious problems.  Firm’s who are profitable some months and not profitable during others risk losing salespeople to competitive offers.

The compensation plan that is most accepted combines a salary and a commission.  However, the salary and the commission rates must be based on a realistic assessment of the role that a salesperson plays in the sales cycle.  Should the salary be higher or lower?  Should the commission rate be higher or lower?  Basu and Kalyanaram recommend the following considerations when determining a salary:

Salary range

For example, a salesperson’s salary should be lower if their “personal skills in making sales” is “considerable” and the salary should be higher if their personal skills only slightly contribute to the sale.  In the trades, a market in which product parity is widespread, the salesperson’s salary should be lower.  If the salesperson’s product has a distinct advantage over competitive products then the salary should be higher and the commission should be lower.  If there are important factors beyond the control of the salesperson’s influence then the salary should be “slight.”  This is important in that revenue producers play a significant role in the firm’s net profitability.  As well as determining the current salary level given the above variables, owners must also determine the correct commission levels.

Sliding scale commission rates are less effective that fixed rates (John, Weitz).  Consider product mix, for example.  Risk averse salespeople are more likely to sell less profitable projects despite the fact that their commissions increase with higher margin product sales.  They reduce their effort accordingly (“something is better than nothing”).  In turn, this makes it more difficult for the firm makes less money.  In the trades we see this in a consistently imbalanced unitary mix.  Sliding scale commission rates are also more difficult to administer.  Fixed rate commissions based on net profit provide the truest compensation for effort.

Commissions based on gross profit are less effective than commissions based on net profit.  This is particularly true in B2C sales.  Gross profit commission plans relieve the salesperson from accountability regarding application errors, parts and material omissions, labor overage caused by hasty or poor planning.  In other words, the salesperson is paid regardless of any intentional or unintentional oversights.  Owners and sales managers then have to determine any deductions, communicate these deductions, and negatively impact the risk averse salesperson’s future effort.

Owners and sales managers should determine the appropriate salary level as well as a fixed commission rate based on net profit.

Risk averse salespeople want security and stability.  Compensation plans must be easy to understand.  I often ask salespeople how they are paid and I often hear: “I really couldn’t tell you.”  The goal of a compensation plan is to maximize a firm’s profit given the salesperson’s effort.  This effort is best ensured when the salesperson understands how he is paid and therefore how he should best exert himself.

Zig Ziglar was quoted as saying “Timid salespeople have skinny kids.”  He’s only partially correct.  Is the firm providing sufficient selling opportunities?  Does the firm invest in training?  Are market conditions uncertain?  Does the firm respond to competitive adjustments proactively or reactively?  Is the salesperson the right fit for the job?  And if he is then is the compensation plan creating the right results?  A firm’s sales compensation plan should maximize profit while reducing as much uncertainty as possible.  Yet many owners and sales managers determine a compensation plan through arbitrary methods and then wonder why the team isn’t performing at or above expectations.  Why won’t they sell more high-efficiency products?  Why won’t they sell more accessories?  Why does salesperson X always make layout related mistakes while salesperson Y acts like a project manager?  Why won’t salespeople spend more time prospecting?  Why do salespeople stick around for just enough time to find a better job?  The mathematical and behavioral economics suggest that the right compensation plan will significantly reduce these uncertainties while extracting the right efforts from risk averse salespeople.



Will traditional advertising be reborn in a voice-search world?

chick fil a

The advertising research firm Capgemini, projects that voice-based shopping will exceed $40 billion by 2022 across the United States.  This isn’t a surprise.  What is remarkable, however, is the difference between the way consumers conduct a voice search versus a standard text search:

Based on research conducted by AdAge magazine: “70 percent of the keywords used when searching with voice are different from those used with text, and people are 60% less likely to do a brand search using voice.”

In other words, businesses are going to have to completely re-think how they market to voice-search consumers.  AdAge further adds, businesses “must be talked about, mentioned proactively, and demanded.  This is what it means to be ‘tip of the tongue.'”  Ironically this may include a re-consideration of the role and purpose that legacy advertising plays in small business marketing.

A business is more likely to win at voice search when they’re a tip of the tongue recollection.  Quickly recalled brands are asked for 30% more than lesser known brands.  Not that long ago some people in the industry (myself included) cautioned against the dwindling efficacy of direct mail bundles, billboards, radio, and television.  In a voice-search world, however, targeted direct mail pieces remain a fairly low-cost way to make lots of impressions on an ongoing basis (a mail piece shaped like Alexa would be cool).  A company that consistently sends well designed mail pieces is at least attempting to proactively put their name in front of as many potential customers as possible.  Well designed billboards placed at well-trafficked locations, a catchy radio, Spotify, or Pandora jingle, a sponsored television spot can create impressions that result in tip of the tongue awareness.  Ever had a jingle stuck in your head?  That’s what I’m talking about.

Brands should work hard to become part of a cultural conversation.  Nike accomplished this recently and to tremendous controversy (and huge sales).  It made me think of Oscar Wilde opinion: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”  On a smaller and more affordable scale businesses should look for ways to embed themselves in their communities.  Good will gestures, community involvement, special events, and sponsorships allow for valuable business-to-community-to-culture connections that send the right messages on a repeatable basis.  On an even smaller scale, businesses that continue to take advantage of full home service offerings have a myriad of opportunities to stay connected to loyal customers.  Small businesses will have to pursue a new mandate: identifying and connecting multiple business-to-consumer interactions, holistic data collection,  and a customer-centric CRM.  Businesses must learn to become essential to their customers and their communities.

Lastly, businesses can create a tip of the tongue awareness by creating a well planned series of positive impressions during the sales, installation, and service cycles.  This is often referred to as the user experience (UX) and is something I’ve written a great deal over the years–that the quality of the experience and the likelihood of a referral go hand in glove.  People are hard-wired to pay attention to positive experiences: it’s Positivity Bias.  Businesses should consider the small ways in which they can systematically put a genuine smile on a customer’s face.  These are intentionally designed touch points that the customers subtly notice and recall later.  Voluntary, positive referrals are the result of a design process.

You have to make enough positive impressions that people automatically recall your company and talk about your company as if it were a fixture in their lives.

We’re playing by a different set of rules that are almost completely different than standard text search.  Alexa will select your company because your user experience keeps people talking about your business (in a good way) and if you are embedding your business in your customers’ lives rather than conducting business transactionally.  You have to become the Band-Aid or Kleenex of home services in your market.  That starts by proactively making lots and lots of impressions.  Maybe it’s time to re-think a brilliantly designed direct mail schedule or dust off that jingle that you shelved.  Perhaps your remaining co-op dollars are best spent overlooking a busy intersection!  It’s definitely time to prioritize a fantastic user experience!  It feels like everything old is new again as Alexa becomes that friend you always turn to for a recommendation.




Algorithm Changes and Your Web Experience

Rubik Cube


Last month Google announced a significant algorithm update.  They are calling it the Medic Update.  Here’s a link if you’re interested in learning about the implications that this update may have on your business’ website:

Analysis and Findings From The August 1, 2018 Google Algorithm Update – A Massive Core Ranking Update

Ostensibly these changes are targeting health and wellness sites as well as YMYL categories.  Nonetheless, Google is recommending that you continually strive to maintain a website that creates an enjoyable, engaging user experience.  The trades have typically struggled with this for a couple of reasons:

  1. We expect too much from template web sites with limited customization–resulting in parity among contractor websites.
  2. The site builder usually doesn’t know much about the trades and they look to you for content (or they just copy-paste from similar sites in the interest of saving time).  This misses the point: The audience’s perspective is the one that matters.

As a result it’s common to find HVAC or plumbing websites that look and feel very much the same: About Us, FAQ, Our Products, Our Services . . . (don’t get me wrong, these are important but it’s the perspective, creative capacity, and content quality that matter).

That being said, and given Google’s changes, here are a few things a business owner can do to improve her company’s site:

  1. Ask your web/SEO provider to ensure your short and long-tail keywords are up-to-date and unique to your market.
  2. Take a look at Google’s Keyword Tool (https://ads.google.com/home/tools/keyword-planner/) to help focus your keywords.
  3. Talk to your web/SEO provider about Topic Clusters (https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2018/04/12/build-topic-clusters-to-change-content-architecture-for-top-rankings/#59598d2353d5) and the extent to which your site is using them well.
  4. Set up a blog or vlog and produce content on a regular basis.  Once a week is good.
  5. Stay current.  I like SEOmoz and Google’s blog for updates.
  6. Make sure you’re getting what you pay for.  SEO providers collect their monthly fee but are you getting monthly improvements or are you paying for general maintenance?

The thing that all of us need to constantly think about is the customer experience.  Anyone who shops on-line with regularity is having a trusted and engaging experience with a website.  Amazon, Patagonia, REI . . . they all get this and do it well.  What can you learn from their web experience?  Have you asked your customers what they like and dislike about your site, how it can be improved or made easier to navigate?  The Experience is the product these days.  The experience is a multi-verse and that includes our business websites.

Enjoy the the article in the link above.  Schedule a meeting with your SEO provider.  Consider your customer’s point-of-view.  How is your site more engaging that your competitors’?



A Better Way to Coach Salespeople

“To teach is to learn twice.”

The majority of B2B sales professionals that I work with have never sold their products to a  homeowner.  They have a limited understanding of how their products are sold, and that’s a liability.  In order to gain a complete understanding of their sales cycle I recommend that they accompany their customers on B2C sales calls.  It provides a better understanding of the entire sales cycle as well as the real-world challenges and opportunities their clients face on a regular basis.   Anyone interested in improving their sales performance benefits from credible coaching–IF the coaching is structured.

As of Monday there is a brand new coaching guide and template for outside sales professionals who want to add value to their client coaching/ride-along opportunities!

The guide and template are on the Premier Client Learning page on my website:  www.arrowandfletching.com.

Thanks for your support and enjoy the new resources.  Also, look for new great content on a weekly basis.

Your friend,


Words are Deeds

“A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will never return.” — Jewish Proverb

Another terrible week.  A domestic terrorist killed 11 people while they were praying.  “Kill all the Jews!” he shouted as he opened fire.

In the same week a man killed two people in Louisville after failing to gain access to a predominantly black church.

In the same week a man attempted to assassinate individuals whom he’d targeted as “enemies of the state.”

In the same week the Department of Health and Human Services began dehumanizing members of the LGBQT community.

I remember when politics was Elephants vs. Donkeys, blue versus red. Simpler times.

Something has gone terribly wrong.  How we talk about it matters.

In society and in business, allowing hate speech to go unchecked makes is openly permissible. Far worse, it makes it tacitly normal.

Leaders who allow this to happen are not leaders.  They are perversions of leadership.

Elected leaders who allow this are not real leaders.  Business leaders who allow this are not real leaders.  Community leaders, church leaders, coaches, teachers, mothers, fathers.  You.  Me.  What we tolerate and the words that come out of our mouths say something about our character, maybe our souls.

Without real leadership The things that we allow to be permissible can metastasize in to nightmares.

Real leaders find the best in people, urge them toward excellence, motivate them toward “the better angels” of their nature.

I am aware that this is a complicated problem.  The Klan has been around for a long time–it’s always been there.  I prefer it to remain marginalized.

We have to de-normalize it.  Society has to say: “You’re wrong.  Cut it out.”

Whether we allow racism, anti-semitism, or xenophobia to live in the open is an open judgement on our society.

New Podcast: Matthew Tyner on social, SEO, and expert media strategies for your business.

Matthew Tyner is the VP of Marketing for Valve + Meter.  His company creates expert SEO and digital strategies for the trades-based businesses.  More importantly, he’s about as down-to-earth a guy as you’ll find out there.  In this interview Matthew and I talk about social media, SEO, and how Valve + Meter helps customers win in the ever-evolving digital world.  Tons of expert insights and recommendations in this interview.  Hope you enjoy it!