“First cup of coffee is on me,” it reads on the “Events” section of Peter Shankman’s website. Best known for founding Help a Reporter Out (HARO), an online aid for journalists needing credible sources, Shankman is a big fan of people helping people – no matter how small or big the favor.
Such a big fan, he’s written books about it. Shankman sold HARO in 2010, but its underlying idea is still at the core of his business philosophy. He’s based in New York City, writing and working, and traveling often to speak on the topics of marketing and PR. His most recent book, Zombie Loyalists: Using Great Service to Create Rabid Fans, focuses on customer service, which he believes is the next big thing for companies looking to gain customers and earn their devotion.
We spoke with Shankman about his distaste for golf, how he learned to thrive on taking risks, and why it’s so important for businesses to be human.
You have a really unique hobby – skydiving.
Shankman: It’s a blast – and for me, it’s psychologically needed. When you jump out of a plane, you’re essentially ctrl-alt-deleting your brain. You’re getting a complete reset, because you’re going from zero to 100 percent of dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline in about a half a second. Your body has to do something to prevent you from looking at the sun, going, “ooh, shiny!” and forgetting to pull your parachute.
It’s like filling a giant sink with water. When you release the drain, it doesn’t all dissipate immediately – it takes time. For a while, my brain is chock-full of these chemicals, and they’re there for the next three or four hours. I’ll bring my laptop to the drop zone, do one skydive, then sit down and bang out 10,000 words in an hour because I’m so hyper-focused.
Do you see long-term results from this? You can’t exactly go skydiving whenever you get writer’s block.
Shankman: That’s why I exercise every morning, because it works the same way for me. I will never play golf. I tried it once, and by 9:30 a.m. I was not in a good place. Because I am ADHD, I have two speeds. I don’t have the ability to moderate, and I need to have this natural chemical energy to keep me going.
I understand how my brain works, and that’s key to understanding how to set up your life with rules that allow you to do well. One of those rules is that everything I do requires a backstory to it—why am I doing this? I have to ask myself, will doing this help or hurt? It prevents me from going down rabbit holes.
You’re a speaker, author, serial entrepreneur, and much more. Some aspects of your career you’ve now moved on from – like selling your businesses. What advice do you have for people who are feeling stuck or unsure how to move forward in their career?
Shankman: Some of the greatest advice I ever heard was, if you don’t like where you are, then move because you’re not a tree. If you’re doing something that you’re unhappy about, figure out how to do something else – and the best way to do that, in my opinion, is to get uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable means that you’re pushing ahead.
I think it’s good to have haters, because it means you’re fighting against the status quo, you’re asking yourself what you can do differently, and you’re taking risks.
You said in your recent book, Zombie Loyalists, that customer service is what’s going to drive business in the next 50 years. However, customer service seems to be a low priority for many companies. How do you recommend those teams effectively communicate the importance of their roles to the rest of the company?
Shankman: When it’s the middle of your workday and you go out for lunch, you take off your work hat and put on your customer hat. You expect to be treated well at the restaurant, and so on, but when people come back to the office, they take off their customer hats. They should leave it on. Think about the people you’re going back to and servicing – how are you handling them and talking to them? Anyone who is a customer of any business is a customer because they have a problem. And if you can identify and solve that problem, you’re a hero.
Right. Everyone – not just the customer success team – has been a customer, so they have their own experience to prove how important it is to have your need recognized and solved.
Shankman: The beauty of this is that, currently, the bar is really low. I don’t need you to be awesome, I just need you to be a little better.
If a company is limited on resources and time, what’s something they can do to make a big impact on their customer service?
Shankman: One of the most basic things is the concept of smiling. Smiling, and reaching out to the customer when you have nothing to sell them. Just try to say “hey, what’s going on, how can I help you?” You can send an email; for example, when a customer who orders every month hasn’t in a little while. Just make sure everything is okay and find out if there’s anything you can do.
People with resources tend to offer opportunities to people they trust. You can earn their trust by being there when you have nothing to sell – by being likeable. And people don’t expect that.
Show them that you care about them about a person, not only as a customer.
You mentioned that the haters hate change. Last year you wrote about adapting to change, and it seems even harder to keep up with now, from technology to culture, politics, and so on. What kind of coaching would you provide for people to better adapt to those changes without losing their minds?
Shankman: The number one thing you need to do is understand that everything in the world is fluid. Some things that are awesome now are going to be terrible at some point in the future, and the same might be true for things that are terrible now, because we live in a cyclical world. If you can capitalize on the things that are awesome at any given time, you’re going to do okay. And then understand that you can’t control everything. The universe does tend to unfold the way it should. Knowing that, it’s a lot easier to move on and to breathe.
The universe unfolds the way it should. I like that.
Shankman: It tends to. Not always, but it tends to.
Right, sometimes it doesn’t. The universe makes mistakes, and so do we.
Shankman: Oh, I love making mistakes.
You’ve mentioned in a blog post that you didn’t trust your gut, and that led you to make mistakes. Can you share a mistake you’ve made that helped you learn?
Shankman: I think one of the best stories to tell you is one from when I was seven years old. I was at a summer camp, and it was coming up on the Fourth of July, and the counselors asked us who wanted to be on the parade float. I didn’t know what a parade float was, so I said no. The day of the parade, I was watching with my parents, and I saw the float going by, with all of my friends from camp on it. I wanted to run to join them, but my dad grabbed me and stopped me because I had said no to it a few days before. On that day, I learned to always say yes. Of course, not everything I’ve said yes to has really worked out, but too many bright ideas never see the light of day because the people who came up with them are too afraid to put them into play.
Like you said, sometimes it doesn’t work out. Can you explain more why you said you like mistakes?
Shankman: The key for me is, I ask myself what’s the worst that can happen? If it doesn’t mean that you’re homeless, or you’ve started an international incident, or you’re getting kicked out of the country – If the worst that can happen is I lose a couple hundred bucks, I learned a lesson, that’s awesome. That’s the best way you can possibly do it—you might make a mistake, but it’s never a failure.
Peter Shankman will be speaking at PIMpoint on Oct. 4. He will hold an exclusive book signing party for his latest book, Zombie Loyalists. For details on Shankman’s keynote speech and more visit the event website.
Alexa, play “Changes” by David Bowie.
Every year, technology gets more advanced, more multifaceted, and more pervasive. As that happens, the roles of e-commerce platforms become increasingly crucial for businesses seeking to meet their buyers anywhere and everywhere.
The largest country driving e-commerce is still China (Alibaba Group is only part of it), with annual online sales nearing 700 billion USD, but the US is picking up speed. With the help from industry leaders Amazon and eBay, the US e-commerce sector is growing tremendously — by almost 15% annually — and the forecast for the future is more of the same.
Of course, “the same” isn’t really the same: it’s growth and change, like we’ve always experienced. 2018 is revolutionizing the way consumers and companies communicate, sell, browse, and buy. To help you keep up, we’ve compiled a list of the 25 most important e-commerce statistics and trends to pay attention to this year.
What matters most
1. After price, the top three most important factors to consumers when they shop online have to do with the website’s design and functionality. 80% of consumers say price is very or somewhat important to them, with easy product search capabilities (78%), site performance (78%), and intuitive site navigation (75%), and a speedy checkout (75%) all close behind. 72% also said that customer product reviews were important to their online shopping experience.
2. 68% of consumers are more likely to trust a brand online when they see both positive and negative reviews, whereas 95% will suspect censorship or fake reviews when they don’t see bad ratings.
3. Less than 1% of consumers leave a site after seeing a badly-reviewed product, indicating that bad reviews don’t deter customers from a brand, but rather direct them toward things they will like.
4. 69% of people find UGC (user-generated content) more authentic and therefore trustworthy than brand-created or stock images.
5. The four leading e-retail categories in the US in 2017 (by sales) were consumer electronics at $54 billion, clothing at $48 billion, and furniture/homeware and hobby/stationery at $38 billion.
6. The leading online marketplaces in the US by e-commerce sales last year were: Amazon, Inc. (55 billion USD), Walmart (14 billion), and Apple and The Home Depot (6 billion).
7. An emerging trend in online retail is a visual search capability. In a 2017 survey, 35% of millennials and 30% of Gen X-ers expressed interest in being able to search for products in a physical store or online catalog using images, videos, etc. This is becoming increasingly present, with brands like eBay and Pinterest implementing visual search tools on their apps and websites.
Pinterest's visual search tool is now being used on the Target app. Users can find items similar to those they see and like by simply taking a picture of the item in-app.
8. 81% and 80% of respondents in a study, respectively, said email marketing drives customer acquisition and retention. Email’s usefulness was followed by that of other digital tactics like organic search at 62% for acquisition and social media at 44% for retention—both rated effective by far fewer respondents than chose email, and:
9. The most effective type of email is the welcome email (sent after a consumer subscribes to a mailing list), generating 320% more revenue per email than promotional ones.
10. The average B2B buyer/researcher is younger than 35 years old.
11. Forrester estimates that by 2021, B2B e-commerce will reach $1.2 trillion and make up 13.1% of all B2B sales in the US.
12. Over half of B2B purchases are made online, which 93% of shoppers prefer over speaking with a sales rep.
13. The online share in the B2B market is currently just 2-3%, compared to the 12-15% share in the B2C market; however:
14. Experts approximate that the online B2B market will reach $6.7 trillion by 2020, which is more than twice the anticipated size of the online B2C market for that year.
Mobile commerce trends
14. The most important e-commerce functions to B2B marketers are mobile support (with 98% responding that it is either critical or important) and product management (97%).
15 Google recently switched to mobile-first indexing, meaning the search engine will use the mobile version of a website to rank the site and understanding its content. This is a response to the shift toward most users accessing Google via their smartphones versus a desktop.16. 42% of B2B buyers use a mobile device in the process of researching their purchase.
17. Purchase rates on mobile have increased 22% from the past 2 years.
19. Mobile payment systems (such as Apple Pay and PayPal) are gaining traction for their convenience. The number of people using these systems surpassed 100 million in 2017, and is expected to reach 150 million by the end of 2020—which at that time will be 56% of the consumer population.
E-commerce in the research process
20. More than half (55%) of Americans begin their product searches on Amazon, whose sales compose 44% of all e-commerce sales in the US. The second is eBay, with a share of only 7%.
Amazon in brick-and-mortar: At an Amazon Go store in Seattle, WA, customers link their phones to their Amazon accounts to enable automatic scanning and purchasing of the items they take out of the store.
22. 74% of buyers research at least half of their work purchases online to avoid dealing with a sales rep, and:
24. Buyers research online even when they purchase products offline. A survey revealed that 98% of global business buyers do at least some online research on work-related purchases that they complete in-person.
25. A company’s website is the number one place for consumers researching a product to get information, with 74% of consumers using it as a resource, while the second biggest research touchpoint is email, at 43%.
The reality is that e-commerce is not what it once was. Building sites and processes that engage buyers and drive revenue means building product content that first attracts buyers, then tells them everything they need to know, to learn, to “see” and to touch to help them convert.
Watch how Wehkamp tells better product stories and delivers a better CX with inRiver.
Lisa Trowbridge, Marketing
Lisa is a budding marketer and writer, and a senior at Miami University in Ohio. She loves peanut butter and skirts with pockets, and doesn’t believe in horoscopes, but always reads hers anyway.
There’s not really one single secret to drive omnichannel e-commerce success. It is just hard to accomplish, but not for the reasons you think. No e-commerce organization will be able to drive revenue and deliver a great customer experience without understanding who their buyers are, how they want to buy, and where they buy. Understanding these three areas is really the key to success in an omnichannel world.
Omnichannel retail is defined as, “a modern approach to commerce that focuses on designing a cohesive user experience for customers at every touchpoint.” This is a vastly different than traditional marketing when specific channels were used to reach specific buyers, without a focus on a continuous customer experience.
Today’s most successful e-commerce organizations understand the value that omnichannel provides and focus on optimizing their engagement at every opportunity.
3 tips to achieve omnichannel success:
Identify Who Your Buyers Are
Sounds like an easy question to answer, but it is one of the areas in which marketers often struggle with. Building an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) is critical to every sales and marketing organization. Anyone can sell a few products here and there, but once you understand who your ideal buyer is, the world is your oyster.
Benefits of building an IPC include a building a deeper understanding of who you ideal buyer is so that you can find more of them. It’s an exercise to narrow down the prospective buyer pool that will help identify more of the kinds of buyers that are likely to purchase your solution. Why spend time and resources driving demand for buyer that will never buy from you?
There are many areas to focus on when building out an ICP, but a great start includes key verticals, size of company, department, and job title. For example, when identifying verticals for your ICP, don’t go too deep, especially if you are just starting out. Pick one or two verticals (retail and branded manufacturing are our top two verticals at inRiver) where you know your buyers are and there is a clear fit. Focus on those and then expand into other verticals or industries as you learn more about your buyers and their needs.
Learn How Your Buyers Buy
The majority of browsing happens on mobile devices, but buying still happens on a desktop. That is not shock. However, most e-commerce sites are still not optimized for search, limiting a buyer’s ability to find your organization and your products. Make sure to reduce load times. Fast load times not only improve customer experience, but also impact search rankings in a big way.
Ensure your site is mobile-optimized as well. If a buyer goes to your site as part of their process and it’s not mobile-friendly, they’ll leave before the first page renders to fit the screen. And they probably won’t return if they have a poor experience.
Discover Where Your Buyers Buy
Although this post is about omnichannel e-commerce, it’s about knowing your buyers inside and out. It’s essential to understand every channel your buyers use to purchase because “online” just isn’t enough.
“96% of Americans with internet access have made an online purchase at some point in their lives, and four in five (80%) have done so in the last month alone,” from The Complete Omni-Channel Retail Report. This ties into understanding your ICP as well, but knowing what channels your buyers prefer will help you optimize content and offers to engage them.
Delivering omnichannel e-commerce means providing content in a consistent and seamless way to help guide and assist the buyer in their purchase, anytime and anyplace they seek it.
To be successful in e-commerce today, marketers need to understand their buyers before they try to market to them. Begin by identifying who the buyer is, how they like to buy and where they buy to build the strategies to engage them. Being “online” isn’t enough, it’s about being the best solution available online that matters.
To learn more about omnichannel e-commerce, listen how L’Oreal drives results for their organization.