Looking to connect with your prospects and grow your business? Texting and SMS marketing are the most efficient tools when you need to start something – from asking a question, all the way through understanding what’s next in any process. Aaron Weiche shares his text marketing tips that can make all the difference in giving you a leg up on your competition!
Rich: My guest today is the co-founder and CEO of Leadferno, a text messaging platform for businesses to close more leads faster. He’s an entrepreneur, founding and leading multiple software companies and digital marketing agencies over the past 20 years.
Prior to Leadferno, he was the CEO of GatherUp, growing it to serving over 25,000 businesses and appearing in the Inc. 5,000. He led GatherUp to an acquisition in 2019.
He speaks internationally on digital marketing, customer experience, conversion, and messaging. Today he’s here on the Agents of Change podcast to talk about leveraging SMS to engage your prospects and drive more business. So please welcome Aaron Weiche. Aaron, welcome to the podcast.
Aaron: Rich, thanks so much for having me.
Rich: I just realized, “Please welcome,” like I’m standing in front of a thousand people, right? I don’t know why I say that.
Aaron: I felt like I was running onto the stage. I felt a rush. It was awesome.
Rich: All right. We’re battling those mid-afternoon demons right now. So let me ask you a question. You’re at a networking party, you mention SMS and somebody asks, “What’s that?” How do you answer that question?
Aaron: Well, I could probably be a little tongue in cheek and say, it’s probably the way that you talk to everyone on or communicate with everyone on your phone. But in short, it is text messaging and sending textual messages back and forth between two phones.
Rich: All right. So obviously there’s email and email marketing. You and I might trade some emails. We also might be on each other’s email marketing lists. How does SMS kind of fit into that? There’s obviously you and I might text each other to figure out when you’re going to come on the podcast, but then there’s also SMS campaign. So talk to me a little bit about how they fit in with everything else we might be doing.
Aaron: Yeah, so the easiest way to describe those or to look at those to me is, there’s one-to-one and then there’s one to many. So one to many is a blast or marketing. So email marketing, SMS marketing, you have a list of 10, 100, 1,000, and you are sending them all pretty much the same message. It might be some personalization because you also know their name, or you’ve personalized the list to some extent. But you’re sending that list through one channel or another, a specific offer or making them aware of something going on that would be email or SMS marketing.
Then on the other side, you have one-to-one. And here’s where you’re using a channel to be able to answer questions, build trust, build a relationship, nurture that lead, and try to get them to an end point that you’re trying to achieve. Getting them on a demo, booking an appointment, trying to close a sale, whatever that might be. And that’s the way I look at those two and the easiest way to understand those.
Rich: So what is Leadferno offering? Are you doing more of that blast SMS, or is yours more of the one-to-one marketing channel?
Aaron: We’re focused on the one-to-one. Funny enough, we’re probably in a little bit of, I wouldn’t call it an identity crisis, but more and more I refer to us as a conversion platform that business texting is our lead conversion tool. Instead of being a business texting or a business messaging platform.
At the end of the day, the number one thing that we want to do is create more conversations with those visiting your website. Or as we coin it, turning lurkers to leads. What we found out is text messaging is by far and away, the best way to do that. Because for someone to ask a question, find out what’s next in the process, try to get anything started, texting is the lowest barrier to entry, lowest friction, easiest to manage channel for most as consumers. So that’s where we really focus.
Text marketing definitely, and SMS marketing, has its place that’s out there. The hard thing that I think for most small businesses is you gain access to this very personal channel in having their mobile number. And then what you are blasting out or sending out for your marketing message likely doesn’t carry enough weight for them to really care to see it to get a text weekly, monthly, whatever that interval might be. And I usually tell most businesses if they’re considering that, an easy litmus test is let’s talk about what your open rate is for your email marketing newsletter. And if that’s high enough where people like hearing from your brand, embrace your message, you’re delivering value, then yeah, you should definitely add a channel. Look at SMS and consider that for another option to reach them.
But for most small businesses, we just struggle with this. Well, I want to put a ‘buy now’, ‘please buy from us’, let’s get sales, and I want to put that in front of my user. And I’m not really thinking about, do they want to hear from me? Am I delivering value or am I just going to burn this personal connection I have to them now if they block me, report me as junk? And now I can’t even do a direct one-to-one, even if I have something really great for them personally or I want to help them out through that channel.
Rich: So if we feel that the one-to-one SMS is the way to go for our business, I guess very basically, where do we initiate that conversation? How do we get people to either start talking to us or how do we start talking to other people via that channel?
Aaron: Yeah. So one way is including it within all of the marketing you’re already doing. You have billboards, print ads, service vehicles signage, whatever that looks like. You might want to add text us at this number as well. If you’ve had an existing landline, a lot of services and tools – including ours – allow you to do what’s called ‘hosted messaging’ so you can enable texting for that existing landline that you have. And now you can say, “call or text us at this number.”
I’m definitely of the belief as we go through the next handful of years that consumer’s expectations will be, if I see a number, I should be able to call or text that number, because it just becomes the norm. And if I can’t text it, I start to think, well, that numbers broken the fact that I can’t text it. So the thing is, we continue to go on here. The consumer expectation is going to be that every business offers text as an option because it is such a dominant communication channel for us.
And then secondarily, that would be allowing people to start texting you right from your website. So similar to when you see a live chat button, we place floating buttons that trigger a widget on the website, desktop, tablet, mobile, they click to open that and then starting a text conversation just by saying, here’s my name, here’s my number, and the first question or message. And then from there, everything else in that conversation then goes into their SMS app.
Rich: So I’m one of those weird people that doesn’t even put my mobile number on my business card because like it’s my one last bastion of privacy in the world. And I’m sure there’s a few other people who don’t want to get any more business texts after hours. So how does that work for us, those of us who don’t want to be using our mobile device for this SMS?
Aaron: I am with you on that, Rich. Having some protection or some walled gardens and the cell phone being one is definitely there. So one of the things that we do when you start an account with us is we instantly provision you a toll-free number, so you don’t have to use your personal number to communicate as the business. You just have the LeadFerno app on your phone. There’s a number of other business texting services that are out there so that you can use a number provided by them and not your personal number that’s out there, if that’s already something that you’re trying to guard or keep off. Then everything flows into that and you’re reading and replying and responding out of there instead of your own.
Rich: Okay, so it can be app driven. And I assume there must be also a website or app-like device as well for my laptop if I happen to be on my laptop more than I am my phone, correct?
Aaron: Yep. Yep. Both web app and mobile app.
Rich: So from the consumer standpoint, they don’t need to know any of this. They’re just able to communicate one-on-one with me or a representative of my team. That’s what I’m hearing?
Rich: Okay, great. And so I guess then the next thing is, not all of us have 24/7 businesses. What happens after hours? If they see our phone number on the side of our truck or they visit our website and it says, “start a text conversation with us now,” how do you manage that?
Aaron: Yeah, so what we’ve built into ours that you should definitely seek to find is an auto reply. So any new lead that comes in, whether direct or through that web to text widget that we are talking about, gets an auto reply. And ours is based on your availability or your business hours. So you set that time. You have one reply that fires off during the 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. You set your availability and that one might read like, “Hey, thanks for contacting ABC business. We’re currently helping a customer. We’ll be back with you within the hour, and we’ll talk to you then.” If they send it to you at midnight, 2:00 AM, 3:00 AM, it’ll automatically pull in your next availability time. So we’ll tell them, “Thanks for contacting us. We’re not online right now, but we will reply to this text message starting at 9:00 AM tomorrow.”
So that really does a great job of establishing immediate contact with that user when they reach out, and then giving them a very solid expectation on when you’re replying. And when you think of that compared to a number of other solutions and situations and contact methods, it’s definitely something that we find with our customer closes a lot more after hours and weekend business for them personally.
I just filled out a small business contact form this week. I have a couple of paint chips on my car that I’d like to get filled before they become a bigger problem. I filled out their 10-question form. I uploaded three photos. And I’ve never heard back from them. We’ve all probably had that experience. We fill out a contact form, it goes out into the ether, and we never know if they got it, if it’s coming back or anything else.
And so we see text messaging, because it’s more of a trusted channel, there’s better engagement. You immediately were contacted by the business, and you understand an expectation, the trust and the value is there so much higher. And it’s a rabbit hole that we can go down. When you compare that to live chat experiences for most businesses, there’s a number of wins for the consumer in using a text message channel for a conversation, and definitely wins for the business and how it’s managed and staffed as well.
Rich: So you mentioned that the business owner or the business can use an app or use a website to be able to control their side of the conversation, manage their side of the conversation. If somebody visits us on our website, is it like a chatbot interface, or is it just that we’re putting our phone number on there and they’re using their phone and we are using whatever app we want to use?
Aaron: Yep. They’re really just using a short form to start the conversation. It’s just a prompt to say, here’s my name, here’s my number, and here’s what I want to talk about. That auto reply fires to their phone, to their SMS app that they use on their phone, and then everything else is flowing through there.
For the business side, yeah, they’re using that app. And then there’s other added benefits too, depending upon other channels you might be using. So we integrate with Facebook Messenger and Google’s business messages, which is a chat feature that can be prompted in your Google business profile. So with ours, you’re able to read and reply to all three of those channels through the same interface, without having to check multiple other platforms and use all the features we have for efficiencies to engage with those customers.
Rich: All right. And so from the customer standpoint, it’s that one trigger of the form, and then they’re on their phone and they’re just text messaging as if they were messaging a friend, correct?
Aaron: Absolutely. And that’s exactly like one of the benefits when you look versus live chat. We all know, because we’ve all likely had a live chat where you have to stay in that window. You have to keep it up. How many times have we opened that tab, then we’ve gone to do something else in another tab because it told us they’re waiting to get us an agent? And then all of a sudden we remember, oh yeah, I have a live chat going. You go back to the tab, and they were like, “Hey, I’m here, where are you?” Oh, now the chat’s closed and you have to start the process all over again.
So yeah, having that freedom where you start a text conversation, now you’re free to go to that meeting, go to lunch, drop the kids off somewhere, or do whatever else. You’re going to get a notification when they reply in the app you likely use the most on your phone.
Rich: Have you found that there are certain industries where this is just such a natural fit, and maybe some others that it’s a little bit tougher sell?
Aaron: Yeah. As a really high level B2C, so home services, professional services, things like that, it’s really great for that. When you consider what most small businesses are trying to do with their website, they’re trying to put out enough content, put out enough information, social proof, all of these things that say, hey, we’re a great choice to work with.
But we still see so often that consumers still have one or two very specific questions for themselves that if I just feel good about this, or I get this answered because I think my situation might be a little unique, or I just want to understand before moving forward then I’m willing to take that leap. So when you make it easy to cross that last mile by just asking a couple of questions, say, “Great, what’s the next step?” “How do I get a quote?” “How do I hire you?” “What does that look like?” You’re just making that process so much easier and so much smoother.
After you get inside of that and those industries, I just always tell people, if answering a couple questions might make you hundreds or thousands of dollars with a prospect, you definitely want to test this out. Because it’s all about, at the end of the day, one of my principles in business is, be easy to work with. And when a customer has choices of, I can call, I can email, I can fill out a form, ooh, I can text message. And this is the most frictionless way, and it’s easier for me to manage. Now you’re using optionality as a conversion. And that’s truly helping you get more conversations started with those customers.
Rich: You mentioned earlier that we can set up autoresponders for just if we can’t get back to people right away or if it’s off hours. I’m wondering if there are other automation tools built into these platforms similar to a chatbot experience. And I know the whole point here is to have real conversations with people and walk them through the sales process, but are there other automation tools? We get the same questions over and over again, I can hit one button, it just shoots outta script. Or even if I’m not there, SMS bot could respond to the first few basic questions before saying, “Rich will get back to you in the morning.”
Aaron: Yeah. The biggest thing that we look at after the auto replies instead of automation is efficiency. So how do we make this as simple as possible? So to your first point on things that are redundant that you’re doing over and over I’m answering this question all day long or multiple times a week. We have a solution called ‘shortcuts’. So this allows you to build out saved reply templates. It can be answers, could be questions, could be links, but whatever that response is going to look like, you’re able to call those up in just a tap or two on the mobile app, or a click or two on the desktop app, and put those into the conversation. So instead of having to type out those hundreds of characters, you’re quickly and easily able to ask those presale questions, capture more information, give people answers to what they’re looking for.
Another one would be the ability to transfer conversations. So say as they come in, and then you have certain people on the team that are better equipped to help based on the person’s questions, specifically what they’re looking for, or a stage in your sales or service process. The beauty with a business texting app is you can transfer that entire conversation and now I can send it over to Sarah and she can see a summary of what we’ve talked about, read through everything if she needs to, but she’s picking up the conversation and for the customer, everything’s still coming through that same number. So they’re not having to learn another person’s email address. It’s not getting handed off into another thread. Everything is centralized and easy for them.
And then lastly would be scheduled messages. So you’re able to create a message and then say, here’s where I want to send it in the future. So great for follow-ups, appointment reminders, review requests after service, all kinds of things like that where you can dive in and have 5, 10 customers all at the same point. And you can create these messages. They could already be saved shortcuts you compose. Put them out when you’re going to want them to send, based on their service or buying process flow. And then the system’s going to automatically send them for you while you’re doing something else.
Rich: I know that there are a lot of laws and rules around SMS marketing, like the one-to-many. Are there any laws or rules that we should be aware of when it comes to this more one-to-one type of message?
Aaron: Yeah, the beauty of the one-to-one. And the way we present it is the customers usually opting in. They’re the ones starting the conversation. So when they’re filling out that widget form, there’s already a disclaimer that by submitting they’re agreeing to accept receiving text messages from the business. Their actions themselves are stating, this is the channel I choose to communicate with you. So it helps you avoid a lot of those things that businesses need to think about.
The other thing I would always tell people is, if you have an onboarding form process, things like that, asking for permission to reach out to them. Because you might onboard them another way through a contact form, through a piece of paper when you’re in person, but asking them, “Can we reach out with timely updates?” Being able to ask questions to get clarification via text, that’s just definitely smart and wise to do, because then if you do reach out by text, it’s not a surprise that you’re texting them. They’re like, oh yeah, they asked if I’d prefer updates this way or if they could keep me updated that way. And it really becomes a helpful tool.
Just as you mentioned with one to many, you absolutely need permission. And depending upon where you’re at, you might even need double opt-in, where they opt in and say ‘yes’. And then the first text needs to say, “We just need to verify again, please reply ‘yes’, that you want to receive messages from us.”
So if you’re sending those out of the blue weekly, monthly, quarterly, then you definitely need to have that permission and be storing that permission so that you’ve stated that you’ve received implied consent from that consumer.
Rich: All right. We’ve all seen those messages, ‘message and data rates may apply’. Are there any costs to us, outside of obviously the cost of a platform like yours, or is it all done through the app, so we don’t need to worry about that?
Aaron: Yeah, it really should be centralized all through the apps that you’re doing. Some will have different usage values and things like that, depending upon how many messages you’re sending. But most of those for small business have such high caps that it’s really just going to be the monthly fee for the software and platform.
Rich: All right. This has been really helpful in terms of understanding how this all fits in with your website and everything else. If people want to learn more about you, more about LeadFerno, where can we send them?
Aaron: Yeah, leadferno.com. And then I would tell you, check out our blog. We have 50+ articles on business text messaging and messaging. As an overall, we’ve conducted a number of surveys, so if you have questions on how do people feel about web to text versus live chat, what are reply time expectations, what age group of consumers prefer texting over calls and emails. And hint it’s basically everybody but the 65+ crowd. So all that kind of information is there. You can find out a ton and be able to see what’s there.
As of us talking, I’m still on Twitter and a Twitterholic, so @AaronWeiche on Twitter. We’ll see how that changes over time with that landscape.
Rich: Sounds good. All right. Aaron, thank you so much for coming by and sharing your expertise today.
Aaron: Really appreciate it, Rich.
Aaron Weiche helps his clients create SMS messages that close more leads faster, by reaching their audience in a way they prefer to communicate. Check out how his team at Leadferno is helping their clients create delightful connections at speed. Connect with Aaron on Twitter and be sure to tell him you heard him on the Agents of Change podcast!
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.