November 23rd, 2010 by Alex Coté
One of the great things about the web these days is all of the free and nearly free tools that have popped up to help businesses of all sizes better support, sell, and market their products. What is often overlooked is that many of these tools are also great at helping you identify new growth opportunities and protect against any downside risks. There is an amazing amount of information available that can give you an edge and better engage with your customers. Here are some tips to get you started.
The business world has rapidly embraced much of the consumer social web, with LinkedIn leading the charge. But don’t overlook Twitter and Facebook – many businesses have invested in these outlets as well. The combination of all three social networks give you the ability to not only know what your customers are saying, but also know what your customers’ customers are saying. LinkedIn recently added an expanded companies feature that has a wealth of statistics that can give you a feel for whether a business is expanding or contracting. By following a business on LinkedIn you can see recent hiring, departures, promotions and openings – all clues about the company’s existing financial health as well as potential future growth plans.
I’m sure you’ve used Google or Bing Maps to get directions to a customer location, but one feature that’s often overlooked is Google Street View or Maps 3D. (See my office here) Google and Bing have amassed a massive collection of street level and bird’s eye view pictures and allow you to pan in different directions to get a complete feel of the surroundings. From a business perspective this extra level of information helps tell you whether your customer is in an office park, industrial complex, renting space above a restaurant or even working out of their house—all of which can help provide you with more insight as to the financial strength of your customer.
There are a variety of tools that allow you to follow companies and track specific keywords across the major social networks. Tools like TweetDeck, HootSuite, Seesmic and CoTweet provide both desktop, web and mobile clients to help you manage the flow of information. All offer free versions and some offer premium offerings. You’ll find a broader range of features for the paid versions. Not only can you track your own brand, but you can search and monitor your customers.
Obviously you can’t be in front of your computer all the time, so alerts are a great way to stay up to date. On this front you have a few options that range from free to paid monthly subscriptions—for these it depends on the type of information being monitored to determine cost. For public companies there is a wealth of free information from Google, Yahoo, MarketWatch and others – all enable you to build a portfolio of public companies and trigger alerts for free. For private companies Google and Yahoo will generally pick up web, larger media news sources and blog information, but for more in-depth information you’ll need to use a paid service. I’m obviously biased, but in the spirit of nearly free, Cortera offers a daily customer alerting service for only $99/month that focuses on payment risk, regional and industry news and growth opportunities. Recently called the “biggest ‘bang for my buck’ of any source that I have ever used“, Cortera can spot the downside and upside in your customer portfolio – all for thousands less than other solutions on the market. Another free service called SocialMention enables you to both set alerts and search in real-time across the major social networks, web and blogs.
Rating and review websites have become a major intersection of consumers with local businesses. Instead of a professional critic rating a service, business or restaurant- – these communities enable members to provide their own commentary and ratings. The number of outlets grows every day along with the wealth of information provided on these sites. If you are interacting with smaller, local business, websites like Yelp, Kudzu, TripAdvisor, CitySearch, and InsiderPages are worth a search. You’ll definitely get a feel for what your customers’ customers are saying. On payment risk side we have the Cortera Credit Exchange which provides members with free access to ratings and reviews of how companies pay their bills. If you operate in specific industry, we also have groups or what we call Circles that you can join – you’ll receive alerts on how businesses are paying their bills from other users in the same industry.
All of these tools will help you become smarter about yours customer and will likely win you a few points as are able to easily converse about their current needs.
Have a website or source I missed? Please send them along for the group.