Photo by George Lange
“I’m not really a business author; I just happen to have used companies as the method to study human systems because there’s great data.” — Jim Collins
My guest for this episode is the incredible (and somewhat reclusive) Jim Collins.
This was a rare treat, as Jim rarely does any media or interviews. I’ve wanted to speak with him for more than a decade, and it was worth the wait. This conversation overdelivered on every level. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
So, who is Jim Collins?
Jim Collins (jimcollins.com) is a student and teacher of what makes great companies tick, and a Socratic advisor to leaders in the business and social sectors. He has authored or coauthored eight books that have together sold 10+ million copies worldwide, including Good to Great, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, Built to Last, How the Mighty Fall, Great by Choice, and his newest work, Turning the Flywheel.
Driven by a relentless curiosity, Jim began his research and teaching career on the faculty at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he received the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1992. In 1995, he founded a management laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.
In 2017, Forbes selected Jim as one of the 100 Greatest Living Business Minds.
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Want to hear an episode with someone else who likes to ask big questions? — Listen to my conversation with Nick Kokonas, subversive entrepreneur, angel investor, and restaurateur extraordinaire (stream below or right-click here to download):
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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
Scroll below for links and show notes…
SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE
- Connect with Jim Collins:
- Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great by Jim Collins
- Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins
- Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking is Not the Answer by Jim Collins
- Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras
- How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In by Jim Collins
- Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck — Why Some Thrive Despite Them All by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen
- Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great by Jim Collins
- Acquisition of Japanese Kanji: Conventional Practice and Mnemonic Supplementation by Timothy Ferriss
- What I Think: John McPhee by Jamie Saxon, Princeton University
- Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee
- A Sense of Where You Are: A Profile of William Warren Bradley by John McPhee
- Encounters with the Archdruid: Narratives About a Conservationist and Three of His Natural Enemies by John McPhee
- The Control of Nature by John McPhee
- John McPhee, The Art of Nonfiction No. 3 by Peter Hessler, The Paris Review
- Eckerd Corporation
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
- Concept: Level 5 Leadership by Jim Collins
- Teach for America
- Stanford University
- Thelma and Louise
- The Simplex Method by Hamdy Taha, Operations Research, Wikibooks
- Searching for Bobby Fischer Book and Movie
- National Jewish Health
- El Capitan
- Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II) Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones
- The Hedgehog Concept by Jim Collins
- Creativity in Business: Based on the Famed Stanford University Course That Has Revolutionized the Art of Success by Michael Ray and Rochelle Myers
- The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done by Peter F. Drucker
- Straight from the Hedgehog’s Mouth: Management Guru Jim Collins by Andrew Hill, The Irish Times
- Drucker Day Keynote with Jim Collins, The Drucker Institute
- Ten Lessons I Learned from Peter Drucker by Jim Collins (Foreword to the 50th Anniversary Edition of The Effective Executive)
- What is a Flywheel? Wikipedia
- The Flywheel Effect by Jim Collins
- The Retail Flywheel: Why Amazon Really Is Just Getting Started by Jon Allion, Seeking Alpha
- How Does Your Flywheel Turn? by Jim Collins
- Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones
- Common Sense by Thomas Paine
- Giro Sport Design
- Triathlon Ironman World Championships 1985, TheSports.org
- Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs by Jim Collins
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- On the Shortness of Life by Seneca
- We begin by Jim asking me a few questions. The first: What was the subject of my Princeton senior thesis? [08:24]
- How do I go about acquiring a new language? [09:29]
- Does language constrain or enhance the concepts we develop? Let’s ask Ludwig Wittgenstein. [11:54]
- What it was like to take a writing class taught by nonfiction great John McPhee, and how it improved more than just my writing. [15:40]
- What is a conceptual vessel, and how do you choose the right one for the occasion at hand? Jim tells us about the time his irreverent research team changed his mind and helped created what became a cornerstone conceptual vessel: the Level 5 Leadership hierarchy. [24:29]
- What is the Level 5 Leadership hierarchy? [30:27]
- Among leaders, how did Jim and his team use research data to identify genuine humility and separate it from false humility? [35:25]
- How Jim’s students led him to pursue an entrepreneurial path, why he keeps a stopwatch with three timers in his pocket, and what insight this gives us about Jim’s own successful habits. [40:26]
- How Jim summarizes the time he spends on any given day in a spreadsheet to maximize his creative hours and ensure he doesn’t get into a “funk.” [47:32]
- The method Jim uses to correlate what his bad days (and his good days) have in common while pursuing his relentless “discipline in service of creativity.” [52:45]
- What patterns has Jim discovered by using this method? [55:18]
- Three components Jim believes are crucial for living the kind of life he wants to lead. [56:27]
- When accounting for his time, how does Jim define what counts as “creative?” [59:27]
- How does Jim think about, monitor, and account for the time he spends sleeping? [1:07:10]
- As someone who benefits greatly from naps, when does Jim find time to catch them? [1:11:54]
- Jim’s absolute favorite sleeping pattern. [1:13:45]
- What is the bug book, and how does it tie in with the Hedgehog Concept? [1:15:01]
- How observations Jim made in his bug book led him from working in a corporate landscape to where he is today. [1:20:47]
- As an early version of his time accounting spreadsheets, how did the bug book compare? Was it as thorough? Was it something he brought with him everywhere and used every day? [1:22:25]
- Jim talks about “who luck” — particularly the time he was fortunate enough to spend with business visionary Peter Drucker and why, at 61 years of age, he feels his life has really just begun. [1:24:26]
- An important aside about making sure the time a mentor agrees to spend with you is ultimately worth it for both of you. [1:29:07]
- What big question does Jim think Peter Drucker was trying to answer? [1:33:42]
- Two important lessons Jim learned from Peter Drucker. [1:35:32]
- What is a flywheel, and how does it conceptually tie in with the lessons of Jim’s latest work? [1:00:00]
- How the team at Amazon elaborated on Good to Great’s flywheel principle, and what Jim came to understand from this expanded model. [1:44:59]
- What can people expect from the Turning the Flywheel monograph, and why was this format chosen to convey this message? [1:50:25]
- What is Jim’s own flywheel? Where does it start, and what fuels its perpetuation? [1:53:21]
- Can a flywheel sometimes be more of a vicious circle of degeneration than a virtuous cycle that promotes growth? What might cause an otherwise virtuous cycle to become dysfunctional? [1:55:42]
- The mechanisms and patterns demonstrated by a doom loop and how it compares and contrasts to a flywheel. [1:57:36]
- Jim explains why two seemingly spontaneous events from his past weren’t actually as out of character as they might seem at first glance. [1:59:24]
- How the best decision Jim ever made and one of his favorite paragraphs he’s ever written are related. [2:04:18]
- How the relation between empirical validation and pure analysis is like firing bullets before firing cannonballs. [2:06:00]
- According to one of Jim’s mentors, when does the option of a safety net have a negative value? [2:08:57]
- Parting thoughts. [2:11:51]
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
- John McPhee
- Mark Twain
- Reid Hoffman
- Curious George
- Jerry Porras
- Jack Eckerd
- Stanley Gault
- Wendy Kopp
- Jack Bogle
- Joanne Ernst
- George Dantzig
- Josh Waitzkin
- Walt Disney
- Rochelle Myers
- Peter Drucker
- Bill Lazier
- Tom Brown
- Warren Buffett
- Thomas Paine
- Morten Hansen
- Irv Grousbeck
- Naval Ravikant
Warning: This is not your average sales contest.
We’re not going to talk about making the most cold calls, setting the most meetings, or closing the most deals. The most creative sales contests focus on increasing other, less run-of-the-mill outcomes. That’s what makes them creative!
In this case, we are going to talk about a sales contest that builds stronger relationships and accelerates deals.
The Power of Personalization
Because of constructive learning, people are more likely to buy when a product or service becomes personally meaningful. Guiding prospects to reach their own conclusion on how working with you will improve their lives is much more effective than simply listing features.
How you create personal meaning can’t be generic. Don’t just run through a list of random list of ROI stats from other customers. Take their specific use case and share some detailed strategies they can use to achieve their goals with your solution. Paint a picture of how their exact pain points will be alleviated, with and without your solution.
But sometimes you need creative help to generate those scenarios for your prospects. That’s where our unique sales contest comes into play.
The Best Sales Contest For Your Prospects
At Sendoso, we come together as a team on a weekly basis to hold a contest with a unique goal. Rather than counting activities, we compete to come up with the most creative (and impactful) idea for how our prospects can achieve their goals using our Sending Platform.
We discuss the prospect’s use case, what touches they can send that align with their current campaigns, and how to message the value proposition. We also take into account the prospect’s go-to-market strategy, target audience, budget, brand voice, and any information that might be relevant for the exercise.
Then we find a way to tell a compelling story. This not only helps our prospects understand that we care deeply about their goals. It also positions us as strategic and technical experts.
For example, one of our prospects was looking to do a “win-back campaign” for customers of theirs that had churned within the past 12 months. Our team got together and came up with a batch of ideas focused on this idea. (Although we’re omitting specific details like campaign budget, the image below can give you an idea of how we organize our ideas.)
How to Host Your Own Creative Sales Contest
Step 1: Determine the contest criteria.
What needs to be included in each submission? We’re doing more than just counting dials, so you need to define a clear guideline of what constitutes a good submission.
We’re a Sending Platform, so each of our contest submissions needs to include the item to be sent, the budget per send, and the message that would go along with it. If you run a targeted ads platform, on the other hand, your contest criteria might include the ad copy, timeline, and channels for an upcoming campaign.
Step 2: Set a cadence for your contest
We’ve found that sales contests are most effective when they happen on a regular schedule. So whether that’s once a week, once every other week, or once a month, decide how often you’ll run the contest.
We host ours on Wednesday afternoons so that we aren’t stressed out by the beginning or end of the week.
Step 3: Choose a contest leader and invite the right team members
Do you want it to only be sales reps? Or maybe include some marketers and customer success managers for different use case ideas and a fresh perspective. In addition, each contest can have a different contest leader.
Step 4: Choose one prospect account to explore in each meeting
Digging into one account together doesn’t just give the contest helpful guardrails. It also helps team members learn more from each other’s different perspectives. Just make sure you provide the opportunity details ahead of time, so people can generate ideas and submit them (directly to the contest leader or via a tool like SurveyMonkey).
We’ve found that giving people at least two days notice gives them enough time to fit some brainstorming into their schedule.
Step 5: Meet on your scheduled day
The contest leader should present all the ideas to prevent bias. We like to showcase each of our ideas in a single slide presentation (assembled by the contest leader), but you can choose whatever format works best for your team.
Step 6: Vote
Have everyone in the contest vote anonymously for the idea they think is best. We like to reward the winner with a small gift card. Then your sales team can either present their prospect with the winning idea, or a combination of the top few!
In our experience, this exercise generates an enormous amount of excitement for decision-makers. Not only do they get a clear idea of what success will look like for their team, they also get a demonstration of your team’s expertise and dedication. It also gives them specific ideas for how they can immediately start leveraging our platform.
Step 7: Repeat!
One contest like this isn’t enough! It needs to be repeated, so you can create a culture of going above and beyond expectations for your prospects. And why wouldn’t you want to repeat it?
When your prospect sees how much time and effort you’ve put into helping them see their future success with your product, they will definitely fall in love.
So here’s the (potentially) multi-million-dollar question. What kind of creative sales contest can you use to help your prospects understand the value your product/service can offer, and how will you set that up?
PS – Want to see how we position different strategies for our prospects? Catch us at Unleash next month!
The post 7 Steps to a Creative Sales Contest Even Your Prospects Will Love appeared first on Sales Hacker.
Show of hands: How many of us brush our teeth at least twice a day? All of us? Great. Now, a follow up question: Why? The reasons are numerous, right? We care about maintaining our hygiene on a daily basis. We want to keep our smiles bright. We need to defend against offensive bad breath. We want to ensure the long-term health of our teeth, gums, and mouths. And, mostly, we want to successfully avoid pricey and painful dental work now and in the future. via GIPHY The moral here? With consistency and commitment we reap both short- and long-term benefits—and avoid a whole lot of pain. And the same is true when it comes to B2B influencer marketing. As we like to say of consistency and commitment in marketing: “Always-on is always better.” However, most B2B marketers aren’t brushing as often as they should when it comes to influencer marketing. In fact, roughly 11% of B2B influencer marketing programs are ongoing. To put this into perspective, 48% of B2C influencer marketing programs are ongoing. From building lasting relationships to enabling marketing scalability, an always-on approach to working with influencers is always, always, always better in our experience for several reasons. Today, we explore three of those reasons with the help of seasoned influencer marketing leaders at B2B brands.
#1 - Strong relationships are at the root of influencer marketing success—and relationships aren’t built in a day.At its core, influencer marketing is all about brands engaging and developing relationships with individuals—individuals who have relevant topical expertise, reach, and resonance that aligns with the goals of the brand. “It’s really about building a relationship that brings value to both parties,” Amisha Gandhi, Vice President of Influencer Marketing for SAP Ariba*, told us not long ago. “Companies should approach influencers as partners, not just as people that they can use for their marketing efforts and launches.” [bctt tweet="Companies should approach influencers as partners, not just as people that they can use for their marketing efforts and launches. - @AmishaGandhi #B2BInfluencerMarketing" username="toprank"] However, strong, long-lasting relationships aren’t built overnight, rather they’re sewed over time. “Success with influencer content is so much more than including a few famous people in a listicle post or quote roundup,” our own CEO Lee Odden says. “Competition for influencers is growing fast and there are only so many top influencers in each industry. It’s essential to create relationships now, long before you need to activate them.” [bctt tweet="It’s essential to create influencer relationships now, long before you need to activate them. - @leeodden #B2BInfluencerMarketing" username="toprank"] And as that demand for working with influencers increases, it will become more and more difficult to capture and hold their attention. By committing now to always-on relationship building and collaboration, every party can “come out ahead,” as Rani Mani, Head of Influencer Social Enablement at Adobe*, told us in a recent interview. “We at Adobe pride ourselves on cultivating and nurturing long-term relationships with our influencers,” she shares. “We look at it as dating with an eye towards long-term commitment, which means we are always looking to establish a ‘give-to-get’ exchange where all parties come out ahead.” [bctt tweet="We look at influencer relationships as dating with an eye towards long-term commitment, which means we are always looking to establish a ‘give-to-get’ exchange where all parties come out ahead. - @ranimani0707 #B2BInfluencerMarketing" username="toprank"] And before your start to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of ongoing influencer nurturing and relationship building, don’t worry. Yes. It takes work. But by making it part of your integrated marketing strategy, you’ll have an opportunity to hone in on the specific characteristics and people who are the best matches for your brand. “We used to think quantity was the key to everything,” Angela Lipscomb, Influencer Relations Manager for SAS, told us. “Now it is much more about quality over quantity. So, we’ve scaled back the scope of our engagement activities to focus on developing collaborative relationships with fewer individuals. That means that sometimes we focus on influencers who may not have the largest reach, but have greater engagement and subject-matter authority and the ability to inspire.” [bctt tweet="We used to think quantity was the key to everything. Now it is much more about quality over quantity. - @AngelaLipscomb #B2BInfluencerMarketing" username="toprank"]
#2 - Influencers can be an extension of your content marketing team.Content is the strategic foundation of marketing. Period. But marketers frequently cite that consistently creating strategic, quality, engaging content is a top marketing challenge. However, with an army of influential voices—an army that you’ve carefully cultivated and nurtured over time—you have a band of partners who can be an extension of your in-house content marketing team. In addition, by co-creating content with influencers on a regular basis, you give influential experts with a steady medium to share valuable expertise and perspectives, as well as provide your audience a drumbeat of influential, insightful, on-brand content. “Partnering with an influencer allows you to highlight your brand’s own existing narrative in a new way, so that you can reinforce the proof points you really want your customers to know,” Whitney Magnuson, Global Head of Social Media and Influencer Programs for IBM, told us not long ago. [bctt tweet="Partnering with an influencer allows you to highlight your brand’s own existing narrative in a new way. - @whitneymagnuson #B2BInfluencerMarketing" username="toprank"] Oh, and you can fill your editorial calendar, add flavor to your content campaigns, extend your audience reach—and the list goes on. And as Lee has said: “For any kind of content a business creates and publishes to the world, there is an opportunity for collaboration with credible voices that have active networks interested in what those voices have to say.”
#3 - An always-on commitment to influencer marketing helps you refine, evolve, and scale your marketing efforts.Marketers are in the business of driving results, which means we’re constantly reviewing our tactical mix and strategic priorities. This constant vigilance helps us grow in marketing sophistication so we can drive success at scale. Simply put, we don’t set and forget—we optimize and evolve our approach to achieve success. But with just one-tenth of B2B influencer programs falling in the “ongoing” bucket … there’s immense opportunity for improvement and alignment. As Dr. Konnie Alex, Head of Corporate Influencer Relations for Dell*, shared with us: “A sophisticated influencer program doesn’t rely on a single identification method or one-time vetting process to start and maintain a relationship with an influencer, but rather develops a scorecard that gets constantly reviewed and, most importantly, evolves as this emerging field matures. At this point, we review strategy, methods, tactics, and measurement on an ongoing basis.” Konnie also said: “We have a number of strategic partners who never stop evolving or expanding their expertise. We value them highly and feel that they represent a reflection of our brand’s values and long-term vision.” [bctt tweet="A sophisticated influencer program doesn’t rely on a single identification method or one-time vetting process to start and maintain a relationship with an influencer. It develops and evolves. - @konstanze #B2BInfluencerMarketing" username="toprank"] Speaking of long-term, an always-on approach to influencer marketing can help you strengthen all your other marketing efforts. How? For one, you can keep a pulse on your evolving audience. “Strategic partnerships with influencers provide for an outside-in view when creating content for our customers,” Konnie said. “We need to constantly ensure that, as a brand, we don’t start talking to ourselves, but keep a keen focus on the evolving challenges our customers have and on the language they use to express these challenges.” And secondly, you can create better experiences that lead to real results. “With influencer marketing, you’re looking to offer a better experience to your customers and deliver knowledge-based educational content with a third-party voice,” Amisha shared. “These experiences can be achieved through content, influencers speaking directly to customers, nurturing them through digital and high value assets. This approach with influencers will help you to drive sales journey and demonstrate pipeline touch.”
Smile for Always-On B2B Influencer MarketingWhile many B2B brands are still cutting their teeth on influencer marketing, success and sophistication are rooted in giving the practice constant attention and care. This commitment will not only help you grow lasting relationships with influential leaders in your industry, but also enable consistent, quality content creation and make a scalable impact on your overall marketing strategy. Looking for more inspiration? Check out these five examples of B2B influencer marketing in action. *Disclaimer: SAP, Adobe, and Dell are TopRank Marketing clients.
The post Why Always-On Is Always Better for Driving B2B Influencer Marketing Success appeared first on Online Marketing Blog - TopRank®.
geralt / Pixabay
Imagine a situation…
You buy a pink evening gown from a retail website. Within a few hours, you receive an email that showcases matching stud earrings and heels to go with it.
Wouldn’t you be tempted to buy those too?
That’s exactly how artificial intelligence (AI) works. It helps to send more relevant emails that the subscriber loves to receive and ultimately drives more conversions. The only thing to keep in mind is that it should not freak out the recipient. It should come as a pleasant surprise rather than as an annoying stalker alert.
So, how should you execute artificial intelligence without alarming the recipient?
Here are some tactics to help you out.
- Maintain a transparent approach
As privacy concerns are constantly on the rise, always inform your subscriber about how you will use their information once they sign up for your emails.
(I assume you already know the impact of anti-spam laws like GDPR and CAN-SPAM on email marketing.)
These simple tricks will update the subscriber when they can expect your emails so that your email does not pop up as dismay in their inbox.
- Understand your target audience
Whenever you are planning your email marketing strategy, consider the buyer personas in your subscriber list. According to Retail Touchpoints, Gen Z looks forward to a personalized experience and do not care much about their privacy. On the other hand, senior citizens who are not very savvy with tech do not appreciate personalization and prefer to receive subtly personalized emails.
- Make use of authentic data
Whenever a subscriber opts in to receive your email, confirm their email address by sending a verification email. Ask for the necessary personal information only and let the subscriber know that you will use this information to send them future emails. Mentioning this small detail will encourage the prospect to provide the correct information and engage with your emails without giving the feeling that you are stalking them.
- Segment in the right way
Age, gender, geographical location, past purchases, products or services searched for, and resources downloaded are appropriate variables to segment your subscriber list and build personalized emails to enhance the subscriber engagement with relevant offers. Your subscribers might ghost your brand if you keep sending irrelevant emails. Take the help of artificial intelligence to extract the right data and make better emails. Like EmailMonks always says, let’s make emails better.
- Determine the best time to send the email
The best time to send an email will vary across the diverse industries and business types. You can figure out the ideal send time for your emails by checking the email marketing metrics, which will give you an idea about the hour of the day when maximum subscribers have opened your email. Alternatively, you can also keep an eye on the website traffic. Send an email when your website has the highest number of visitors. That could be the time your subscribers are most likely to open your emails. Never send an email too early in the morning or too late at night as it may seem like an intrusion in the personal space of the individual.
- Set the right frequency
Most of the subscribers unsubscribe from a brand because of too many emails. Let the subscribers decide when they wish to receive your emails. Right at the time they sign up, direct them to a preference center and allow them to choose the kind of emails they want to receive and its frequency. This will make things easy for the marketer as AI will take care of the rest.
- Write intriguing subject lines and copy
There are AI-powered platforms and tools that let you draft interesting subject lines and copy based on the subscriber’s activity. Utilize them to yield the most out of your email marketing strategy. However, make sure you do not go overboard in the quest for creating personalized emails, lest you end up being creepy.
- Ask for the subscriber’s feedback
Effectiveness of email marketing depends on how well your emails resonate with the subscribers and whether they find your emails appealing enough. Of course, your metrics say a lot about it, but an even better option is to ask the subscribers what kind of emails they want to read. As simple as that!
Just create a survey and based on the results, you can plan your next email marketing campaigns.
- Start with simple personalization
Hyper-personalization and micro-segmentation are the next buzz words for email marketers. Start small with simple personalization campaigns and then go for hyper-personalized emails. Before you plan to employ artificial intelligence as a full-fledged tactic, you must set the right tone for the different subscribers on your list.
- Test and learn
Carry out A/B testing to infer whether your strategy is working or not. If you are not getting optimum open rates and click-through rates, there could be something wrong with the way you are using artificial intelligence. Test some more and maybe you will be able to get your emails to work.
There is a thin line between personalizing your emails for relevance and getting creepy. Striking the right balance between the two will add value to the subscriber’s experience because not doing it right would do no justice to the ‘enormous personal data’ that you have.
What makes a great website? A lot of business owners are at a loss when it comes to what their website should be to best serve their business and their customers. And web designers sometimes have their own ideas about what’s most important, which don’t always best serve their clients.
Here, we’ll take a look at some of the most common mistakes that business owners make when designing their website, and what you can do to correct them if you’ve made them yourself.
Forgetting about SEO
Before you begin thinking about the design elements of your website, you need to start with a solid foundation. SEO is the bedrock of any well-designed website, but a lot of business owners tend to skip over the critical steps of keyword research and solid SEO strategy.
If you’ve raced past keyword research, you’re doing a huge disservice to yourself and your prospects. When you don’t know what search terms people are using to find solutions that line up with your business’s offerings, you’re missing out on the opportunity to connect with valuable prospects. When they’re not able to discover your company, you’re not able to make revenue from them.
If you’ve never undertaken proper keyword research, check out this guide for a step by step approach.
Focusing on Style Over Substance
Everyone wants to build a spiffy-looking website. And it’s true that a website’s look does matter to a certain extent, but it shouldn’t be your primary focus.
Your business offers great solutions and a lot of knowledge to your customers and prospects—you want to be sure that message comes across loud and clear on your website.
The first step to focusing on substance is making sure you have a clearly defined value proposition, and that it’s displayed front and center on your landing pages. If prospects come to your site and are greeted by beautiful visuals but no clear description of what you do, they’ll quickly move on to one of your competitors.
The next step is thinking about storytelling as the driving force for your web copy and layout. When you let storytelling guide your web design, you ensure that you’re addressing the needs of your customers and laying information out in a way that guides the customer journey.
Hiding Your Contact Information
Have you ever been to a website, decided that the business offers a great solution for you, and then had to spend five minutes searching page after page for a simple way to get in touch? It’s a frustrating feeling!
Whatever you do, don’t hide your contact information! Make sure your phone number, address, and email are clearly displayed on each page. Consider incorporating a chat element into your site. Make getting in touch with you a completely seamless process. When a prospect wants to do business with you and give you their money, make it easy for them to do so!
Taking a “One Size Fits All” Approach
Through the power of marketing automation, you’re able to customize landing pages for each visitor. You can ensure you’re greeting prospects and customers with information that’s most relevant to them, based on prior interactions they’ve had with your brand.
A huge part of user experience is making your prospects feel special. People want to feel seen and understood by brands from their very first interaction through to the repeat and refer stages of the marketing hourglass, so being able to provide visitors with relevant, tailored information from the start is a way to make a great first impression and start building trust right away.
Ignoring Trust-Building Elements
Trust is hugely important to building a lasting relationship with customers. If you don’t win a prospect’s trust early in the game, they will never convert. And if you do something that makes a customer question your trustworthiness, they will not come to do business with you again or refer you to their friends.
There are some quick fixes you can take to make sure your site is set up to build trust from the second a visitor lands on your page. Having a website with an HTTPS certificate is the first step. HTTPS encrypts any information you’re gathering on your website, so if you’re asking visitors for their personal information or are collecting payments on your site, you have to make them feel confident their information will be kept safe.
Chrome is now alerting users when the site they’re visiting is has not migrated to HTTPS, so your site is being labeled with “not secure” in the URL bar if you haven’t made the switch.
Including badges for SSL is also an important trust-building step. Research has shown that people are more likely to trust and do business with sites that display trust badges.
When you’re designing your website, it can be easy to get caught up in focusing on the wrong elements. Making a pretty site is not the same as building a solid one, but if you don’t know what makes a truly great site then it’s easy to miss the mark. Knowing these mistakes that business owners often make allows you to identify the issues you see in your own site, and pivot to build a stronger site that empowers you to outpace the competition.
Starting a blog is a commitment that should be taken seriously. While you may be eager to get started writing and publishing blog content, there’s a list of things you should do first to set your business blog up for long-term success.
If you already have a blog but it isn’t performing as well as you want it to, the exercises and tactics in this article will help you audit your blogging strategy and come up with a fresh approach.
To start, define your blog’s purpose.
Before you decide what to write about, you need to figure out “why?”. Why is this content important? Why should people listen to you? There are millions of pieces of content being published every minute online. If you really want your content to stand out, then you need to determine your blog’s “why?”. Ultimately, you’ll want this to align with your business’s purpose.
For example, Ahrefs, a data-driven marketing toolset powered by a huge index of backlinks, keywords, and content, offers a blog that’s purpose is to “help you get better at SEO and marketing: detailed tutorials, case studies and opinion pieces from marketing practitioners and industry experts alike.”
Not only does Ahrefs tell you their purpose, but they offer the types of pieces you can expect like detailed tutorials and case studies.
Once you define your purpose, identify your audience.
This starts with understanding your business’s buyer personas.
Buyer personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customer based on real data and some select educated speculation about customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.
If your business doesn’t have a buyer persona identified, then make it a priority. You can create your personas for free using HubSpot’s Make My Persona tool.
Next, set clear, measurable goals.
Before we jump into creating specific goals, let’s talk about how they should be structured. Consider creating S.M.A.R.T. goals. A S.M.A.R.T. goal is defined as one that’s:
Here are four goals to consider making a priority:
Let’s start with organic traffic.
Organic traffic, which is non-paid traffic coming from search engines, is the most common goal for business blogs, especially in the early stages of your blog when you’re focusing on building your readership. The more relevant people you’re able to attract to your blog, the better. Let your content start a relationship with them, which can grow into them becoming a lead, a customer, and then, hopefully, a promoter of your brand.
If you’re looking for a place to get started with a goal for traffic, consider increasing organic search engine traffic to your blog by at least 6% per month. Why 6%? Because a consistent 6% increase month over month for a year equals a 100% total increase.
Next is email opt-in rate.
Again, traffic to your blog is important. There are many helpful ways to increase your blog’s traffic: search engines, social media, and so on. Another one is increasing the size of your email list. If you make email opt-ins a priority on your blog from day one, then it’ll pay off later in ongoing traffic to your posts.
If you’re looking for a place to start, consider striving to convert 20% of your incoming traffic to subscribe to your email newsletter. A conversion like this won’t happen overnight, but it can happen over time if you hold yourself accountable for creating quality, consistent content.
Which brings us to the next point, content creation.
If you want to increase your traffic month over month and have a healthy stream of people signing up for your email newsletter, then you need content — high-quality content — and you need to create it often.
If you’re looking for a place to start and depending on your bandwidth, consider creating one new blog post every other week. If you have more bandwidth for content creation, then make your goal one blog post per week. But when it comes to setting a blogging quota, focus on quality, not quantity. One quality blog post per month is going to provide more value than four mediocre blog posts.
There are 52 weeks in a year. Let’s say you blogged every other week. That’s 26 blog posts in just one year — there’s so much potential here to think bigger than just your blog. For instance, think about how to recycle your blog content into other strategic initiatives like a guide or a checklist.
Here’s a pro tip: Think of each blog post as a puzzle piece towards a larger picture. For example, if you want to create a new offer on your website every three months, then consider using some of your blog posts as a way to help you build that content.
That’s exactly what I did with a step-by-step guide that I offer on my website, wildwewander.com.
- I outlined an offer I wanted to create;
- I identified eight blog posts I could write to help me get there and wrote them over the course of eight weeks;
- I repurposed and expanded that content into a comprehensive how-to guide;
- And I used the content from the guide to create an educational site page.
And how’s the content performing? The educational site page received over 16,500 visits from search engines over the past 12 months.
For context, that’s a 574% year-over-year increase in traffic. Put the time in early, and it’ll pay off in the long run.
And lastly, make connections with industry influencers.
Working with influencers should be a big part of your business’s overall inbound marketing strategy. Who are the thought leaders in your space? Who shows up often when you Google your topics? If you can find a way to collaborate with them, then you can form a symbiotic relationship.
If you’re looking for a place to start, consider building a relationship with one new influencer each month. You can do this easily by reaching out and letting them know about a piece of content you’re working on and getting a quote from them.
If you include others in your content, then they’ll most likely be willing to share it once it’s published.
Next, do research online.
There’s no use in starting from scratch. More likely than not, people have already written about what you want to write about.
Google a topic and see what’s already ranking well.
Researching the topics you want to write about on Google is always helpful. Doing so gives you insight into what content already exists and where you might be able to provide even more value than what’s being offered. The last thing you want to do is say something that’s already been said before. That would just be creating noise, and noise isn’t helpful.
Here’s a pro tip: When doing research for a target keyword, build a spreadsheet and dig in and analyze the first page’s top 10 search results. Your spreadsheet should have the following columns that can be filled out for each search result listing:
- Page title
- A list of notes on what you like about the content and how it could be improved. It’s important to determine how you’d provide new value or meaning, as this will help you identify opportunities to create additional value.
Next, allocate resources to staff your blog.
If your goal is to create quality blog content often, which it should be, then you need to staff your blog properly. Consider starting with someone who splits their time as a writer and a strategist. Here are a few things this person will own:
- Define what your blog’s purpose is, and what strategy is going to deliver on that purpose.
- Identify performance metrics (views, comments, etc.).
- Create a set of blog guidelines (this will be handed on to other people as you grow your blog).
As your blog grows, and you want to produce more content, you can make additional hires. And as you bring more people on, that first hire can move into more of a Managing Editor position that oversees the blog.
If you’re looking for a place to start with hiring writers for your blog, consider hiring a freelancer that works remotely. This is an effective way to grow your team while keeping costs low because you don’t have to form a long-term commitment with a new employee. I recommend starting with Indeed.com and LinkedIn when posting positions for freelancers.
And lastly, use your blog to fuel a topic-driven content strategy.
Blogging is just one facet to your overall content strategy. If you want to have your website show up organically on search engines, then you should strongly consider implementing the topic cluster model. This model uses a more deliberate site architecture to organize and link URLs together to help more pages on your site rank in search engines – and to help searchers find information more easily.
This architecture consists of three components. Let’s review each in depth.
One, pillar pages, which cover a broad topic in depth and are linked to a cluster of related content. These pages are seen as the north star educational resource on your site on a specific topic, and your intention is to have them rank for more difficult, higher volume keywords on search engines.
Two, subtopic content, which is a series of content assets that form a cluster of relevant content around your pillar pages. This type of content includes blog posts that focus on more detailed, longer-tail keywords in support of the topics you want to rank for.
And three, hyperlinks that connect the cluster of related content together. At a minimum, it’s important to link all your subtopic content assets to your pillar page. Again, this helps pass more authority to the page which can help boost its search engine visibility while at the same time, providing a helpful next step for the reader.
For example, I wrote a guest blog post for Airstream on how to live and work from the road. This post, along with many others, is a subtopic content asset which links to this pillar page on my website for how to become a digital nomad.
A primary goal of this pillar page is to encourage people to download a copy of our practical transformation guide.
How’s this page doing? Well, because I’ve been busy continuously writing guest blog posts as subtopic content assets with inbound links that point back to the educational site page, in less than eight months the page is hovering around the middle of the first page of Google.
You may be asking yourself, “what is an inbound link, and why are they important?” An inbound link is a link coming from another site to your own website. Inbound links help increase domain authority. Domain authority is a prediction of how well your website will rank on search engines. The higher your domain authority, the more credible your content will appear to search engines. And if search engines think your content is credible, then it’s likely you’ll see an increase in rankings.
If I want to claim that coveted first position on Google, then I need to keep building authority to the educational site page — which I most definitely will!
And that’s it. Six things you should consider doing before starting your blog. Taking your time with this part of the process will set you and your business’s blog up for long-term success.
QR Codes Offer Convenience, Choice, and Enjoyment When Giving Feedback
A well-known automotive manufacturer, and MaritzCX client, was interested in giving its customers and employees a convenient choice for solicited feedback. The client was open to innovative technologies and methods that made surveys easier to access and more exciting to complete. The company’s goal was to maximize response rates, while providing an enjoyable and choice experience for its customers.
Implementing QR Codes in Three Separate CX Programs
After assessing the best programs to target within the organization, the automotive manufacturer sought the help of MaritzCX to implement QR code invitations for three of the company’s ongoing CX programs: the body shop satisfaction survey, pre- and post-transactional surveys, and the employee engagement program.
- The Body Shop Satisfaction Survey – QR codes were placed on the point of sale material for 180 locations that specialized in automotive body work. The program aimed to improve the organization’s customer experience as it related to work happening on customers’ cars.
- Pre- and Post-Transactional Surveys – QR codes were placed on mail surveys to supplement the online survey option. This program gauged the organization’s sales and post-sales experience to identify potential areas for improvement and opportunities for retention.
- Employee Engagement Surveys – Finally, QR codes were placed on the company’s voice of the employee surveys. The QR codes were featured on posters throughout the organization and additional internal material to supplement the online employee survey invitations.
An Increase in Response Rates
The automotive manufacturer experience significant increases in response rates as a result of the QR code placement. The body shop satisfaction program tripled its response rates over the course of a year. The pre- and post-transactional surveys saw a general increase in the overall response rate. The employee engagement program was not alone either. The employee program saw a 50% increase in the overall response rate across all feedback channels. The increase in responses for each of the three programs was more than past surveys which used mail surveys as the primary channel for data collection.
QR Codes Draw the Customer’s Attention
The use of QR codes in this client’s program drew customer attention to the survey invitations being deployed across the organization. This provided the research team more responses and greater feedback that represented a larger population. This improvement allowed the company to improve the customer experience and drive greater value through its surveys.
If your organization is experiencing low response rates or representation from a single segment in your target market, start assessing the various channels and technologies that your target market engages with, and begin testing new methods for feedback collection.
In our 30 plus years of experience with business video production, we’ve frequently helped people who are involved with trade show events such as; meeting & event planners, exhibitors, trade show organizers, and presenters, increase the benefits and ROI of their effort with trade show video projects.
Every show organizer knows that for any large meeting, implementing audio/visual techniques plays a major role in creating the staging for displaying information during important presentations. However, there are other equally important aspects of video production which are sometimes overlooked and omitted from convention, meeting, and trade show planning. These often overlooked video production opportunities give added value and subsequent utility and financial return on what occurs at the event.
If you hire a video production company that includes this planning and capability you are doing a more complete job for your clients, providing value-added and additional revenue for your company. Let’s take a look at not only some of the benefits to you but also to your client.
Trade Show Video for Business
If you are a convention planner running a trade show, you know how the revenue stream is fed by exhibitors showing their products and the number of attendees. The lifeblood of sustaining a show is to attract exhibitors. You can tell exhibitors about your show but there is no way for them to see and identify with how it can help them like viewing a professionally produced video for business where they can see, hear, and identify with the experiences and successes of current exhibitors. We recently did four videos for a trade show producer for this purpose. Each one was tailored to match the vibe and customer base of each individual show. The organizers’ sales team that are now able to use these videos as a “tool” are ecstatic with their results attracting new exhibitors.
At every show there are presentations and seminars. A presenter has likely spent months preparing and rehearsing the perfect presentation. After the presentation, a month or even a week down the road, will people remember what was said? Did everyone who should have seen the presentation see it? Once a presentation has been made the value of the content and effort need not end, and it definitely shouldn’t be limited to the people attending. Utilizing a business video production company allows the content to be documented and distributed either with media such as DVDs or put on the web allowing distribution to a much larger universe. Many times the presentations can be live streamed in real time over the web to large audiences who couldn’t attend. If the presentations are part of a paid program such as continuing education, the distributable content such as a DVD set or web access can be value added to the seminar cost and a convenient alternative to note taking, as well as a product which can be sold.
Using Video Production for Exhibitor Publicity
If you are an exhibitor at a show you’ve spent money on your booth, travel, and on your employee accommodations. You are hoping that by exhibiting you are going to get new customers and increased business from current customers as a return on your exhibit investment. Your visitors and current customers can be a valuable source for a business video production, by recording testimonial interviews, getting more publicity on your exhibit, or having your best sales reps do demos on your product or service. The finished product can be used as video for your website, or as other promotional material that allows you to keep generating a return on your booth investment.
Often, even in difficult times as a company, you want to reward your employees or generate morale and team building by sponsoring events such as golf outings, trips and dinners. Having a video production company to record these events is always well received and can be a lot of fun while adding to your goal accomplishments.
There are many more instances where a business video production can add favorably and financially to your venue. Our website can provide you a lot more information and professional examples on how video can help you increase ROI and drive in new business from your involvement at trade shows.
Other Trade Show and Convention Video Production Info
I’ve only touched on a portion of the types of trade show activities which can be benefited by a video for business. Everyone has seen how a video keynote can motivate the days activities, or how using a product demo or press conference can be used to display a new product and also for subsequent marketing. The more you think about it, I’m sure you’ll get ideas on how having a video for business can help you or your clients achieve more at a trade show.
Traditional TV usage is declining across every demographic — here's how digital media companies are recreating content bundles
As streaming becomes an increasingly mainstream behavior among consumers, the video industry has produced new combinations of streaming video programming services to prepare for the progressive overhaul in how media is distributed.
These streaming bundles have emerged in response to the problems of media fragmentation, cord-cutting, and high consumer costs. Declining usage of traditional TV across every demographic, particularly among young viewers, has also demanded new solutions to the traditional distribution model that is pay-TV.
Although streaming media bundles are still evolving, four distinct models have emerged:
- Skinny bundles — Cheaper, streaming versions of the traditional pay-TV bundle, but with fewer channels.
- SVOD aggregators — Facilitate a la carte sign-ups to third-party streaming services through a central user portal. The primary example so far is Amazon Channels, Amazon's SVOD partner program.
- SVOD integrations — SVOD services like Netflix that bring their offerings to a traditional operator's service.
- Streaming service partnerships — Combine one or more streaming services under a single offering, at a lower cost than the total price separately.
In the SVOD Bundling Report, Business Insider Intelligence examines the state of the US video ecosystem and how media companies are refining their distribution strategies to meet the changing needs of consumers. The report situates each of the four bundle model types within the overall SVOD market, and investigates the overarching advantages and challenges each faces. Finally, we predict how player dynamics might transform and adapt, outlining best practices for providers to succeed within the new TV landscape.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the report:
- SVOD bundles partake in a growing SVOD market in the US. Business Insider Intelligence estimates that the SVOD market totals $13.6 billion in 2018, primarily driven by uptake on services from SVOD giants Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video.
- Streaming video accessed on over-the-top (OTT) platforms is going mainstream, while consumers — particularly younger viewers — are reducing usage on live, linear TV. Traditional TV usage among viewers ages 18-24 has dropped 48% since 2011, 35% among 25-34 year olds, and 18% in the 35-49 demographic.
- Skinny bundle services are growing in popularity, with 7.2 million subscribers in the US, but they suffer fundamental financial sustainability problems.
- Distributors with at-scale platforms and powerful back-end tech can capitalize on the growing consumer demand for content consolidation among consumers. Faced with a fragmented and expanding universe of content options, more than two-thirds of consumers say they would prefer to get all their services from a single source, per Hub Entertainment Research.
- Winners in the bundling shakeout will have prioritized internet-connected tech, an effective user experience, reasonable pricing, and content diversity.
In full, the report:
- Identifies the four SVOD model types that have emerged as alternatives or supplements to traditional distribution.
- Investigates the top advantages and challenges of each model type.
- Outlines strategies that players across media and distribution companies can use to address business or market challenges.
- Explores how the dynamics of each model type will evolve as services converge under new bundled offerings.
Startups are innovation machines. They identify market opportunities, develop novel products and go out to change the world. Some companies want to change the world in one dimension: a better product or a disruptive go-to-market. Others want to innovate in every dimension and re-invent every discipline from pricing to marketing to support to customer success.
Brad Birnbaum, founder and CEO of Kustomer, discussed the challenges of innovating on two dimensions simultaneously on the [Saastr podcast](). Kustomer’s platform is a fundamental re-architecture of customer support software. That product innovation is novel and differentiated in the market. At the outset, Brad also sought to change the pricing model.
So pricing’s a really difficult thing, right? It’s something that we wrestled with in the earliest days of Kustomer. We wanted to be innovative. We thought innovator pricing would be very important to us. We quickly learned as we started talking to customers that they didn’t want innovative pricing. They wanted repeatable, consistent pricing that mapped to the budget they already had in place.
Now as we are going mid-market and above, we’re mostly replacing existing solutions, whether it be Zendesk or Salesforce. So they already had a budget in place, so they just said, “Hey, we have X amount allocated for a solution. Our solution is better, it’s robust, it does more, but this is the budget that we have.”
So they wanted a pricing model that, frankly, mapped to the way they’re accustomed to doing business It was highly predictable. So while we wanted to think about doing a consumption model here at Kustomer, because we thought that was innovative, we realized our customers didn’t want a consumption model.
Innovating in one dimension is already a challenge. You need to find customers who want it. Then you must hire the team who believes in it and can execute the plan. That’s hard enough. In Kustomer’s case, the product evolution is a hit and the company is achieving hypergrowth.
But customers wanted the better product with the same pricing framework as the rest of the industry. Pricing and budget aren’t the customers’ pain point. Access to data and efficiency are.
Innovating in many dimensions can slow sales cycles. If you have to describe first how your product is different and then educate your buyer on why the pricing is different, you may be hindering your champion, especially if the buyer doesn’t need innovation in pricing. Prioritizing how to differentiate in the market is a key aspect of product management.
There are spaces where pricing innovation is welcome, especially when there is a large, expensive incumbent. In that case, a lower cost, less expensive competitor with a new pricing model may be highly disruptive. You’ll hear customers will complain about cost openly and may contort themselves to save money by reducing usage. Before changing pricing models, listen to customer perspectives on budget.
Founders are a special breed — independent, self-reliant, and resourceful. Yet these same attributes, critical in taking an idea from zero to one, can eventually cause first-time founders to misjudge situations and tackle problems without appropriate guidance. This is particularly true (sometimes tragically so) in the legal arena, where founders generally have little or no experience and the risks are difficult to quantify.
To solve this, Extra Crunch is offering up well-sourced lists of the best lawyers for startups, alongside articles and resources written by experts who navigate tricky legal issues for startups on a daily basis. This article is the first of a five-part series covering the legal terrain you should endeavor to navigate with the help of an experienced guide, including:
- Corporate: Business Formation, Capitalization and Financing, Securities and Options, etc.
- Intellectual Property: Patents, Trade Secrets, Trademarks, and Copyright, etc.
- Compliance and Regulatory: Business Qualification, Privacy, and FTC Regulation, etc.
- Human Resources: Employee Compensation, Contractors, Discrimination, Immigration, etc.
While none of this will be legal advice per se, it is perhaps the next best thing: a simple checklist followed by in-depth summaries helpful to evaluate whether and when formal legal counsel is needed in key areas. With the information from this article and those to follow, alongside other Extra Crunch resources, you can analyze your business circumstances and evaluate your risk exposure. Should you identify legal risks in the above or related areas, simply reference the list of best startup lawyers compiled by Extra Crunch, then reach out to those lawyers focused on serving companies at your stage with experience in the matters at hand.
This article will examine “corporate law” as it relates to startups, which includes the body of laws, rules and practices that govern the formation and operation of corporations, including most importantly for founders, ownership and investment in securities (or stock) of a company. Yuval Harari, author of Sapiens, calls corporations (and limited liability companies more broadly) “among humanity’s most ingenious inventions” — so it is worth knowing a thing or two about them.
Two final caveats here: first, TechCrunch readers include everyone from first-time founders still bootstrapping a concept on nights and weekends to serial entrepreneurs with multiple large exits behind them. Overall this article will skew in the direction of the former, since those with more experience should have less need for guidance in these areas, but even experienced entrepreneurs should find this and subsequent articles helpful.
Second, for those unfamiliar with the legal profession, there is an important distinction between transactional and litigation practice. Most TechCrunch readers already understand this difference, but simply to address it here: transactional lawyers do deals and ensure compliance with laws and regulations, while litigators file lawsuits and go to court. That’s an over-simplification, but understand that great transactional lawyers are not likely to be especially great litigators in case you become involved in a lawsuit.
This and subsequent articles will focus on transactional issues, but litigation could arise within any of the five areas above and in that unfortunate event you should seek a lawyer (or team of lawyers) focused on litigating within the specific area(s) relevant to your lawsuit.
Read on for the official Extra Crunch corporate law checklist for startups.
Threshold matters: Pre-existing IP and trademarks
Although technically not matters of corporate law, two threshold items relating to intellectual property should be mentioned form the outset. First, make sure you understand whether the intellectual property you are creating is subject to any claims from the prior or existing employers of the founders. We’ll discuss this topic further in a later article, but it is worth mentioning now so it is on your radar.
Second, because your startup will need to brand itself to attract customers and/or users, put some effort in on the front end to make sure your business name is available and it will not result in trademark disputes down the road. This is easy enough to do using the USPTO’s trademark database, for example, but ultimately it could be a state-by-state question.
Entity selection and incorporation – C corp/S corp/LLC
While many types of legal business structures exist, assuming you are interested in starting a high-growth technology company, really only two matter: the corporation and the limited liability company, or “LLC.” Each allows for multiple individuals to share in the ownership of the company and most of the time will shield owners’ personal assets from the obligations of the business — that is, unless otherwise agreed by the owners themselves, or due to some malfeasance of the owners (such as mixing personal and business expenses, something which founders have been known to do unfortunately). In the latter case, where a business owner’s personal assets can be held to account for liabilities of the company, courts have creatively termed this “piercing the corporate veil.”
For startups ultimately looking to pursue a traditional VC route, incorporating in Delaware as a C corp is the obvious choice — there is no reason to overthink it. Under your certificate of incorporation (sometimes called a “charter”), you’ll typically want to authorize 10 million shares of stock at a “par value” price of $0.00001. (“Par value” is simply the lowest price at which a corporation may issue shares upon initial offering.) Of these 10 million “authorized” shares, only about 4-6 million shares of common stock are typically “issued” to founders from the outset (and don’t worry, percentage ownership is calculated based only on the issued shares).
This will leave available additional “authorized but unissued” shares which can later be issued to create a stock option pool for incentivizing employees, or issued as preferred stock to investors in exchange for cash. With respect to the latter use specifically, it is generally not necessary to specifically authorize a separate class of preferred stock upon initial formation — this can always be done by amending the charter in connection with the actual investment round later on, since the round is likely to require a charter amendment in any case.
One final note on initial formation: more recently, a new class of stock called “Series FF Stock” is sometimes included during initial formation for issuance to founders (essentially, a hybrid of common and preferred stock) in order to later facilitate stock sales by the founders themselves to investors in future equity financings, effectively allowing founders to personally realize some liquidity before an actual sale or IPO. If this sounds appealing to you as a founder, which it should, it is definitely worth asking your lawyer about.
If you are not looking at a traditional VC path, however, S corps and LLCs can provide better options in certain situations, particularly if your business will remain relatively small over the long term (tens of employees and not hundreds). In terms of tax treatment, these entities are typically advantageous, especially in the early years, since business income and losses are “passed through” to the owners and taxed on an individual basis using Schedule K-1, with no separate layer of tax liability for the company itself.
Also, in states like Delaware, California, and others that allow for “statutory conversion,” LLCs can relatively easily convert to a C corp later down the road, should the need arise, through a tax-free transaction under Internal Revenue Code Section 351; provided, however, that the operating agreement is initially well-drafted to anticipate this event (for example, using “membership units” rather than simple percentages to indicate the ownership interests of members).
Finally, if you incorporate outside the state where you will be primarily running the business, you will also need to “qualify as a foreign entity” in your home state (in this case, “foreign” means different state, not country). Put differently, you will need to register your “foreign” company with the state where you are primarily “transacting business” and perhaps your specific county too depending on the nature of your business and any required business licenses. In both cases, the process is very simple (see, for example, New York and California) and most of the time a lawyer is not truly required here, but many, many founders just skip this step entirely, creating problems later on.
From a high level, a corporation is owned by the shareholders, who in turn have the power to elect individuals to the Board of Directors. The “Directors” govern the corporation on important matters outside the “ordinary course of business” and have the power to elect (and remove) the “Officers” of the corporation, who are responsible for day-to-day management of the business. The following offices must generally be filled right from the start: President (often the CEO), Treasurer (often the CFO or COO), and Secretary.
That said, all three offices can usually be filled by the same person; for example, in California and Delaware both, a corporation may have only a single shareholder and Director. In California, however, once a corporation has two shareholders, it must have at least two board members, and once it has three shareholders or more, it must have at least three board members. Corporations must also typically hold certain required meetings wherein formal minutes are recorded, including in most states at least one annual meeting of the Board of Directors and one annual meeting of the Stockholders (or written consents in lieu thereof).
Since the Board of Directors is the governing body of a corporation, a shareholder owning even a majority of the shares can be outvoted at the Board level with respect to important governing matters (e.g., sales of additional stock or election/removal of officers). Shareholders can remove Directors, of course, but this is a relatively drastic move, so selecting those who will occupy seats on the Board of Directors is extremely important for founders. In the beginning, the Board of Directors should only include founders and ideally an odd number of them to avoid voting deadlock on important company decisions. If you must have an even number of Directors on the Board, e.g., two 50/50 co-founders, then at least make sure you’ve included specific “tie-breaker” provisions in the governing documents of the company.Now, once the “certificate of incorporation” (or “charter”) is filed with the Secretary of State, the initial Directors of the company will be formally appointed by a written document called the “Initial Action by the Sole Incorporator” (often company counsel will perform this action). The initial Directors will then elect the Officers, authorize and issue stock to the founders, authorize the opening of a business bank account including establishing a federal Employment Identification Number (EIN), and paying expenses, etc. All of this is generally done through a “unanimous written consent” of the Board of Directors, which is a document signed by all Directors, rather than through votes taken in a formal in-person organizational meeting.
Other matters often addressed through this first “unanimous written consent” may include adoption of the following:
- Bylaws, which set out board election and voting procedures;
- Restricted Stock Purchase Agreement, which imposes “vesting” and rights of first refusal on founder/employee stock, as well as an assignment of pre-existing intellectual property to the company in certain cases;
- Equity Incentive Plan (i.e., stock option plan), which sets forth the terms on which stock options can be granted and exercised;
- Proprietary Information and Invention Assignment Agreement (PIIA), which will be signed by all founders, employees, and consultants, assigning to the company ownership of all intellectual property created in the business;
- Selection of applicable fiscal year; and
- Election of S Corp tax treatment (if desired).
Note finally, going forward, separate from any income taxes owed, corporations (as well as LLCs) must generally file certain information with the Secretary of State and pay franchise taxes each year as well (e.g., see Delaware’s Annual Report and California’s Statement of Information). For further discussion of corporate governance structure, see Holloway Guides.
For LLCs, rather than shareholders, each owner is called a “member” and instead of the “certificate of incorporation” and “bylaws,” the LLC is governed by the “articles of organization” and an “operating agreement” respectively. The operating agreement is often a lengthy, comprehensive contract detailing each member’s ownership interest (either percentage-based, or preferably, measured in ownership units), economic rights (distribution of profits and losses), governance and voting rights (addressing “tie-breaker” scenarios if necessary), and rights between members with respect to ownership interests (e.g., right of first refusal, buy-sell agreements, or other restrictions on transfers).
LLCs can either be “member managed” (all members approve major decisions and can act on behalf of the LLC) or “manager managed” (members may elect one or more managers with ultimate decision-making authority, but otherwise have no governance authority themselves). In the latter case, managers may also delegate responsibility for day-to-day business operations to officers, similar to the Board of Directors and Officers in a corporation. Since the operating agreement is essentially a contract between the members, which can be drafted with almost infinite variation, LLCs are known for being extremely flexible, but therefore less predictable for outside investors.
Since the operating agreement is less susceptible to standardization, it is wise to consult an experienced attorney to establish the desired governance and capitalization structure. Also, since equity issuance and compensation is less straightforward in the LLC context, most of the remaining sections below (except for the last) are specific to corporations, though many of the underlying principles may still apply.
All of that is to say, upon formation, you should have a clear understanding of what roles each founder will play, what time commitment is expected, what the ownership structure will look like, and who will serve on the Board of Directors (or serve as managers of the LLC) and therefore how decisions will ultimately be made. In the Delaware corporation context specifically, the Delaware Incorporation Package from Cooley Go, or services like Clerky, provide founders streamlined options and helpful resources to understand the steps involved; and again, if you’re thinking about going the LLC route, consult with a knowledgeable lawyer to ensure you don’t foreclose or complicate viable investment options later on.
Issuing “founder stock” at initial formation
“Founders Stock” is simply the common stock issued to founders when a corporation is initially formed; if done correctly, it is non-taxable because: (1) it is equal in value to the small amount of cash founders pay into the company in exchange for receiving the stock at par value (another good reason to set the par value very low, again say, $0.00001, allowing for minimal cash outlay); or (2) “property” has been contributed to the company in exchange for the stock under Section 351 of the Internal Revenue Code, which provides that no gain or loss is recognized if property is transferred to a corporation by a person or persons who together own at least 80% of the corporation.
“Property” has been broadly defined to include legally protectable know-how and trade secrets, but this definition is not infinite in scope, so don’t get carried away trying to avoid paying the par value price for the stock in cash. Instead, one recommended hybrid approach involves each founder paying a portion of the par value purchase price of their stock to the company in cash, with the remainder covered by or attributable to an assignment by each founder to the company of their pre-existing intellectual property. This approach covers all the bases in terms of valid consideration (i.e., the cash payment) while ensuring that the pre-existing intellectual property of each founder is properly owned by the company.
Founder vesting and section 83(b) within 30 days
Where co-founders have contributed cash or other property to the company in exchange for their shares at par value, they own the stock outright. Thus, to achieve vesting and protect all founders from any particular co-founder leaving early with a large chunk of the company, each founder should enter a “Restricted Stock Purchase Agreement” (directly with the company), which gives the company the right to buy back that founder’s shares, often at par value. This right gradually lapses over time with respect to more and more of the founder’s shares, creating the effect of vesting for those shares no longer subject to the company’s repurchase right.
For co-founders involved immediately upon initial formation, you could reasonably argue that a “cliff” is not necessarily required, but the typical vesting schedule is 4 years, with 25% of the total shares vesting after the first year in a single chunk (this first year representing the “cliff” since nothing will vest if this one-year mark is not reached) then monthly vesting thereafter. Founders should also be aware of single and double-trigger acceleration provisions, which typically become more relevant once institutional investors are involved — more on that via Cooley Go.
Once the Restricted Stock Purchase Agreement is signed, however, certain tax implications are raised, because technically the founder’s stock is now at a “substantial risk of forfeiture” (since founders might forfeit stock if they leave the company). This means that by the time the stock actually “vests” it will almost certainly be worth more than the par value for which it was purchased. The IRS will want taxes paid on that delta, since technically that increase in value is taxable gain.
The solution? Internal Revenue Code Section 83(b), which allows founders and employees to elect treatment of non-vested shares as fully transferred at the very beginning of the vesting schedule, rather than over time as the shares vest. This allows for immediate taxation at the relatively lower current value, which in the case of a newly formed corporation is only some nominal amount based on the par value. This Section 83(b) election must be made in a written document actually signed and filed by the taxpayer within 30 days of the date the stock was made subject to restriction (or in the case of stock options, the date granted). While relatively simple to carry out, this process is important enough that getting oversight from experienced corporate counsel is prudent. See Holloway Guides for more discussion.
Capitalization, accredited vs. non-accredited investors. “Capitalization” in the startup context generally means the funding necessary for a startup to open for business, while “capital structure” refers to the types of capital (broadly, either equity or debt) available to fund business operations. Capital structure often consists of common stock and preferred stock (equity), as well as convertible notes (debt). A “capitalization table” (or “cap table”) will provide a summary of all securities (stock) issued by the company, along with the fully diluted percentage ownership of each shareholder based on all issued shares (not the total authorized shares).
Capitalization of your startup may include issuance of convertible notes or the sale of preferred stock and other securities, all of which are subject to the federal “Securities Act of 1933” as well as various “Blue Sky” state laws, essentially intended to prevent fraudsters from selling shares in worthless companies to unwitting investors. In determining compliance with these laws, the distinction between ‘Accredited’ and ‘Non-Accredited’ investors is important; in brief, raising money from accredited investors generally means there is less to worry about.
“Accredited Investors” by definition must have net worth of $1 million (excluding a principal residence) or annual income for the current and past two years of at least $200,000 (or $300,000 jointly with a spouse). If you are planning on raising money from Non-Accredited Investors, which founders should NOT do but often will do anyway, then in addition to familiarizing yourself with Rule 502(b)(1) and related Rules 504-506 of Regulation D (which provide relevant exemptions in this context), you should absolutely consult with an experienced securities attorney to make sure your reliance on these rules is not misplaced, as they are deceptively complex, though essentially can be summarized as follows:
- Rule 504 provides an exemption for the sale of up to $1 million in securities within any 12 month period;
- Rule 505 provides an exemption for the sale of up to $5 million in securities within any 12 month period to any number of accredited investors and up to 35 unaccredited investors; and
- Rule 506 provides an exemption to an unlimited number of accredited investors and up to 35 other purchases, provided, however, that all non-accredited investors are “sophisticated” — having sufficient knowledge and experience in financial and business matters to make them capable of evaluating the merits and risks of the prospective investment.
Failure to comply with federal and state securities laws is a big deal: non-compliance gives rise to a rescission right for investors (legally they can demand their money back) and there are serious civil and criminal penalties for any materially false statements or omissions made during the offer or sale of any securities.
Selling preferred stock. Once you’ve found investors, outside of convertible notes and similar instruments discussed below, you should only be selling preferred stock to them, typically in the context of a “priced round.” If you sell common stock to investors, you will be setting the price of the common stock too high for purposes of granting attractive stock options to employees / advisers later on — that is, the “strike” or exercise price for the options will simply reflect the enterprise value of the company when sold, eliminating any real upside for employees (as well as the incentive to work extra hard) since there will be little or no spread between the strike price of the option and the ultimate price per share in an acquisition.
Selling preferred stock to investors in the context of a “priced round” requires that the company be assigned a specific valuation, however, which can be difficult and time consuming at the beginning of a company’s life. This is why convertible notes and SAFEs (discussed below) are so popular in the very early stages.
Preferred stock is so called because it carries certain “liquidation preferences” — meaning that if the company is sold or liquidated and there is not enough money to pay out all shareholders (e.g., the total investment was greater than the final acquisition price), then preferred shareholders get their money back before the common shareholders, i.e., the founders, will receive anything. The exact terms of the liquidation preference is negotiated (usually one to three times the amount of cash invested) and may be either “participating” or “nonparticipating” — though founders will want the “nonparticipating” variety.
A number of other special rights are also negotiated for preferred stock in a priced round, including those listed below; more info at Cooley Go, but for now, simply understand that these terms are complex enough that experienced corporate counsel is absolutely required when selling preferred stock in a priced round to investors:
- Valuation/Dilution (pre/post-money)
- Dividend preferences;
- Redemption rights;
- Conversion rights;
- Anti-dilution protections (in order of most to least founder-friendly: “weighted average — broad based,” “weighted average – narrow based,” or “ratchet based”);
- Voting rights (election of “x” number of members to the Board of Directors, approval of a sale or merger, issuing more shares, etc);
- Registration rights;
- Protective provisions, which can include certain affirmative covenants (e.g., investor access to financial information of the company) and certain negative covenants (e.g., agreement not to take certain actions without approval of the preferred shareholders)
- Right of first refusal; and
- Co-sale rights.
Convertible notes. For startups looking to raise less than ~$500K (sometimes more), rather than selling preferred stock and negotiating all the particulars above, alternatives exist which do not require setting a specific company valuation, namely:
Convertible Notes: As in “promissory note,” so technically a loan and therefore debt which carries interest, which in most circumstances converts to equity as preferred stock upon a later “qualified financing” when preferred stock is sold at a specific price. Usually the note converts at a 10%-30% “discount” to the preferred share price, or subject to a valuation “cap” that is effectively lower than the preferred share price, in order to reward the earlier investment for the additional risk. More info via 500 Startups.
KISS and SAFE Instruments: The relatively more recent “KISS” (from 500 Startups) and “SAFE” (from Y-Combinator) both remove the debt element of the convertible note, but otherwise operate in a similar fashion. Even more recently, Y-Combinator adjusted the terms of its SAFE from a “pre-money” to “post-money” valuation cap structure, which effectively means the new SAFE structure is now relatively more dilutive to current stockholders when issued (often the founders and early employees), but it is also now easier to calculate the amount of ownership sold to investors via the SAFE on a percentage basis (because the percentage no longer changes based on the potential addition or increases to the employee option pool in a later priced round).
“Finders” and brokers. The startup ecosystem is filled with certain people — known as “finders” or “connectors” — who promise to find investment for startups in exchange for a fee. These “finders” typically are not registered securities brokers, so technically they should not do any of the following: participate in negotiations with respect to investing in securities, provide counsel to investors or recommend securities as investments, and perhaps most of all, receive percentage-based compensation on amounts invested.
If presented with a written agreement from a “finder” who is offering to assist in fundraising, be sure that the agreement is non-exclusive and that there is no percentage-based compensation on the funds raised; instead, seek true “advisors” who can offer real business insights, have deep industry knowledge and connections, then pay them via an hourly rate, monthly retainer, and/or properly issued stock options, generally 0.10% to 1% vesting over 2-3 years.
Correctly issuing stock options to employees and advisers
Stock options are not stock, but merely the option to buy a certain amount of stock at a given price — the “exercise” or “strike” price. Employee stock options typically vest over four years, subject to a one-year “cliff” (i.e., the employee must work for at least one year to meet the “cliff” in order to vest any options at all; after that, vesting continues in monthly increments).
Startups generally get into trouble here for two reasons: (1) they fail to establish and formally adopt through appropriate corporation action (i.e., written board consent) a written “Equity Incentive Compensation Plan” (or “option plan”) pursuant to which the options are granted; and (2) they make a promise to grant stock options at a certain time (which implies a certain strike price at that time), but then do not take the necessary corporate action to actually make the stock option grant; namely, a written board consent approving the option grant with an exercise price equal to the fair market value of the stock, as determined by the board of directors, as of the date of grant (ideally with reference to a recent and valid 409A valuation).
It is critical that the board of directors accurately set the exercise price of the stock option to be equal to the fair market value of the optioned stock as of the date of grant. The 409A valuation, when done by a qualified third-party, is really the only way to completely safeguard the Board of Directors’ determination of fair market value of the stock in this regard should the IRS or some other financial auditor later take interest. Not getting this right could later blow up crucial deals — including investment rounds and potential acquisitions — due to the accounting and tax implications. Fortunately, there are now a number of companies which provide 409A valuation services at affordable rates, including Carta, Capshare, and more recently Meld Valuation.
Moreover, unless you want to commit securities fraud, you cannot “backdate” option grants (so that the option granted reflects a previous, lower price). That said, you can set the vesting commencement date to some point in the past in order to give credit for time served. Also, for those interested, there is an important distinction, with corresponding tax implications, between Statutory or Incentive Stock Options (“ISOs”), which can only be issued to employees, and Nonstatutory or Non-Qualified Stock Options (“NSOs”), sometimes issued to non-employee advisors — more on that via the Internal Revenue Service and Investopedia.
One last point worth mentioning in this section: very early on, when company valuation is still extremely low, it is possible and still practical (since tax liability will be minimal in light of the low valuation) to grant “restricted stock” even to non-founders – though you still need an Equity Incentive Plan in place first. In fact, restricted stock is the best option for non-founders involved in the very beginning of a startup’s life because aside from some immediate tax liability (which again, should be light given the relatively low valuation of a new company), ultimate tax treatment will likely be at capital gain rates and so much more favorable as compared to stock options, which usually end up being taxed as ordinary income.
Check out Holloway Guides for more discussion of equity compensation topics.
S Corp and LLC equity compensation
In the S corp and LLC contexts respectively, stock options or equivalent instruments are not as easily issued, and thus again, corporate counsel is appropriate. In the case of the S corp, if an option holder exercises an option who is not a qualified S corp shareholder (e.g., they are a nonresident alien), the S corp could lose its “S election” for pass-through taxation entirely. For LLCs, exercising an option on an interest in the LLC requires complex accounting entries, plus the person exercising the option will then become a member of the LLC, so they will receive “IRS Form 1065, Schedule K-1” and may be required to pay tax on the income of the LLC (in some cases whether or not they actually receive it).
While LLCs can create “profit interests” for its employees, which may entitle recipients to receive a percentage of the future appreciation in enterprise value, these plans are fairly complex to administer. A simpler alternative, used by many S corps and LLCs alike, is “phantom stock” which can be placed on a vesting schedule as well. Phantom stock is essentially a creature of contract, promising that a certain amount of the company’s ultimate acquisition price shall be reserved for distribution to holders of the “phantom stock units.” The amount so reserved is then divided by the number of phantom stock units established in the operating agreement and taken “off the top” from the final acquisition price, to be distributed to each phantom stock holder in accordance with the number of phantom stock units held.
Admittedly, the foregoing covered a bit of ground. As a founder, it is important that you have at least basic familiarity with an incredibly broad range of legal topics — corporate law being one of the most important. Such familiarity will allow you to identify and distinguish between situations that your team can readily handle internally, from those that require outside legal counsel. If you’ve made it this far, a congrats are in order — you are well on your way to startup success.
Daniel T. McKenzie, Esq., manages the Law Office of Daniel McKenzie, specializing in the representation of startups and startup founders. Prior to establishing his law office, Daniel McKenzie co-founded and served as lead in-house counsel for Reelio, Inc., backed by eVentures, and acquired in 2018 by Fullscreen (a subsidiary of Otter Media and AT&T).
DISCLAIMER: This post discusses general legal issues, but it does not constitute legal advice in any respect. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction. TechCrunch, the author and the author’s law firm, expressly disclaim all liability in respect of any actions taken or not taken based on any contents of this post.
Apple has always been an evolving company. While it never really invented any product categories, it always seemed to make those product categories work better and smarter. It also found a way to make us want them, even when they were more expensive. Today, the WSJ reports, Apple is trying to find its way to a future without the iPhone at the center of its revenue model.
This shift happens as Apple reported lower revenue for the first time in years against a backdrop of flagging iPhone demand. Part of the problem is a shifting Chinese market, but it’s also due to people simply taking longer to refresh their phones. As that happens, and the price of iPhones soared to more than $1,000, there has been a decline in sales.
With iPhone sales down 15 percent, this was not a typical Apple earnings report, but it was something the company had anticipated when it announced lower Q1 guidance at the beginning of the year. If The Wall Street Journal story is accurate, Apple is already trying to take steps to move the company into its next phase, possibly as a services business.
If that’s the case, it would mark a radical departure from the company’s history in which it has redesigned various types of hardware, bucking popular design trends along the way. Back in the 1970s and 1980s when it was called Apple Computer, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak made computers with a GUI when most people were working from the DOS prompt.
In the early 2000s, Apple came out with an MP3 player called the iPod and opened a music store called iTunes. By 2006, the year before it would introduce the iPhone, Apple had sold more than 42 million units and 850 million songs. It was a combination of hardware and services that helped transform a flagging company into a powerhouse.
In 2007, when Apple introduced the iPhone, it knew that it would begin to eat into iPod sales, and it eventually did, but it didn’t matter because it was the next logical step forward. When it introduced the App Store in 2008, the iPhone became more than a standalone piece of hardware. It was a new kind of hardware-service model and it would generate incredible wealth for the company.
The iPad came along in 2009 and the Apple Watch five years later, in 2014. While each has done reasonably well, nothing has touched the success of the iPhone. Keep in mind that analysts estimated that Apple sold 71 million iPhones last quarter, and this was in a quarter in which sales declined. It’s hard to sell 71 million units of anything in a three-month period and have it be a down quarter.
What comes next is probably some combination of entertainment/content and making use of advancing technologies like AR/VR, driverless cars and artificial intelligence. It’s unclear which direction Apple will take in these areas, but we do know that recent hires and acquisitions point in these directions.
There has long been speculation that Apple could make a splashy acquisition in the content area. When Eddie Cue, Apple senior vice president of internet software and services was interviewed by CNN’s Dylan Byers at South by Southwest last year, Buyers specifically asked Cue about buying a property like Netflix or Disney. He implied that it was about taking the Apple TV and combining that with a big-name content production company.
Cue indicated that the two companies were great partners for Apple TV, but he wasn’t ready to commit to anything along those lines. “Generally, in the history of Apple, we haven’t made huge acquisitions.” He went on to explain, from Apple’s perspective, it wants to figure out where the future is and to build something to get it there, rather than buying something that is working for the current state of affairs.
It’s worth noting that Apple TV has not matched the huge success of its other devices, but service revenue has been growing steadily. In the most recent earnings report, Apple reported services revenue of $10.9 billion, up 19 percent year over year. That’s still a small percentage of the overall $84.3 billion the company reported for the quarter, but it is growing.
Regardless, nobody can know if Apple can approach the success with any product that it has had with the iPhone. But it knows that in spite of its vast riches, it’s dangerous for any company to rest on its past success. So it looks ahead and hires new blood and looks for a future with less dependence on the iPhone because it knows, as the Grateful Dead once sang, “You can’t go back and you can’t stand still. If the thunder won’t get you, then the lightning will.” Apple is hoping to avoid that fate, and perhaps it is some new combination of hardware, content and services that could lead the way.
In this article, we take a look at the role recommender systems are playing when it comes to offering a much more personalised and powerful
eCommerce experience to your website users.
Users love it when companies can second-guess their thoughts. In the ideal world, our favourite food chain creates weekly grocery lists for us. A fashion brand sends us a curated list of new garments to complement our current wardrobe. We don’t need to put much effort into getting the essentials we need. Brands do the majority of work for us, using machine learning (ML) and AI.
While we are not yet at this stage of predictive shopping experience, machine learning technology has become increasingly accessible – both as plug-in solutions and custom-built algorithms. Recommender systems, in particular, are the new favourite among eCommerce companies. Why? The post-adoption benefits are substantial as the next four use cases showcase.
1. Personalised merchandising
Pressed on time, always on the go, modern consumers shop in bursts from multiple devices, rather than take the time to engage in a thorough shopping marathon (unless it’s the holiday season of course!). Brands delivering rapid, on-point offers capture the most benefits. According to the Personalization Consumer Survey carried out by MyBuys, 48% of consumers spend more with an eCommerce company delivering personalised shopping experience.
ML systems allow you to capture data from past and current shopping sessions and transform it into dynamic offers. For instance, you can show a unique version of your store homepage to different customer segments. New visitors can see your best sellers first. Regular shoppers can be directed towards new offers or personalised discounts. You can display better cross-sell and up-sell offers at different stages of the user’s buying journey to grow the average basket size and increase conversions. On average, an intelligent recommender systems delivers a 22.66% lift in conversions rates for web products.
Furthermore, ML can pinpoint which inventory to showcase (apart from the best sellers). Smart recommender systems can scan through your entire product catalogue and line up the best products for individual buyers. You can take it a step further and display the nearest bricks and mortar location where that range of products is available. Or capture browsing data and target the prospect with local inventory ads later in the day.
2. Personalised content
Not every prospect is ready to buy from you here and now. Some will land on your website with another intent – to receive more information, to compare prices and so on. They need an extra kick to move further down the sales funnel.
Machine learning algorithms can help you understand what kind of content will prompt the user into to taking action. You can further improve your on-site experience by creating dynamic content recommendations for different kinds of audiences like Netflix does. Their machine learning platform changes the artwork depending on what you have watched in the past. For example, with Stranger Things, if you’re a sci-fi fan you might see an image of the boys cycling towards a sci-fi looking sky. Whereas if you’re into rom-coms, you might see an image of Nancy and Jonathan.
Personalised content from Netflix based on your viewing history
Image source: Medium.com
3. Product and content recommendations for voice shoppers
Voice search has become a new battlefield for brands. Amazon Echo and Google Home are entering more and more homes. Their owners don’t mind receiving relevant deals, sales and promotions from brands.
Then there’s commuter commerce – a $230 (£176,571) billion opportunity for brands. 64.9% of commuters turn to a voice assistant provided by the auto manufacturer to order groceries, food or drinks and pick them up at a drive-through. So why not connect with them on their way to work?
Gartner says that voice search optimisation will result in a 30% increase in eCommerce revenues, but creating a new SEO for voice search strategy is only one piece of the puzzle. You will also need to develop voice landing and voice-guided experiences for such shoppers.
Machine learning algorithms can be trained to strike a conversation with voice prospects. Toyota is already experimenting with this approach. Their demo voice app can lead a conversation about their car models and then offer to follow-up with a text message if the prospect is interested.
4. Better product search experience
As mobile commerce grows in popularity, you may have noticed an increased demand for ‘dognuts’ and other funny products you don’t sell. Misspelt product names are a source of amusement for your team, but they may also be a lost business opportunity.
When no ‘blue cuppa’ is found on an eCommerce website, a lot of shoppers will go searching elsewhere. Even descriptive queries like ‘a white blouse with golden buttons’ or ‘vitamins for winter’ may not lead shoppers to the products they want. On-site search engines are rather ineffective when presented with unusual queries.
Machine learning algorithms can deal with this issue. Apart from being trained to recognise a broader range of synonyms, they can also help you automatically categorise your products based on their features e.g. material, season, the colour of the buttons and so on. Deep learning algorithms are already capable of analysing product images and breaking them down into specific attributes e.g. V-neck, A-line skirt, knee-length etc.
This can save your team hours of work on manually adding all those things to thousands of product descriptions. Customers will also benefit from more advanced search capabilities, allowing them to discover a wider range of products to their taste.
And here comes the best part: intelligent recommender systems grow with your business. As they gather and analyse more data about your customers’ habits, they deliver even better recommendations. It’s no surprise then that 66% of UK large retail brands have plans to invest in machine learning for digital marketing strategies this year. If you’re not one of them, you could get left behind in the eCommerce race.
TeroVesalainen / Pixabay
A sales team needs people who have more than the, “go go go!” mentality.
It also needs competent professionals who have the essential sales skills, abilities, and talents it takes to deliver constant, successful sales. In this article, we’re going to look at some of the sales skills you’d be remiss not to master.
Something I ask all of my sales team is, “What could a sales rep do to win you over if you were the client?”
Sales skills are ever-changing, and just when it seems like you’ve got them all mastered, it all changes. However, if you stick to this simple question, you’ll more or less have a sales skills list that withstands all manner of changes in the field.
So What Makes A Great Rep? Sales Skills.
Although legions of books, papers, and studies have been done on this, researchers have yet to come to a solid conclusion.
What works for one consumer or business, doesn’t necessarily work for another. Furthermore, what works for one business in a field (eg, plumbing) doesn’t necessarily work for another in that field.
While there are some sales representative skills that are considered indispensable across the board, there are also those that are more specialized.
In these cases, there might even be respective sales teams within one company. However, all of these teams will need the sales representative skills it takes to provide value to their clients.
In this sales skills list, we’re going to advise you on what we think is some of the most integral skills for a rep to have. Some might even be considered part of the Sales Bible.
Essential Sales Skills You Need to Have
Great sales reps know how to positively engage with other people. Whether you’re meeting clients or gathering leads, being able to speak openly and honestly with your client to the point where you seem closer to friends than strangers is essential.
You need to think of relationship building, client nurturing, and active listening.
Building up a rapport with clients can also lead to relationship selling. One of the key factors of being human is craving other human contact. Even for the most misanthropic of clients, showing them they can trust you means your being able to make more decisions with them in your corner.
HubSpot’s Dan Tyre has a great guide to building up good client rapport.
Every business is a people business.
Never make guesses.
Researching market trends, rival solutions, and your clients enable you to make better decisions across the board. Knowing facts that your competition may not know could lead you to close the most high-value of deals.
Unless you can back up your claims, they remain unsubstantiated. So even if you do land the job, you’re already severing promises.
Bonus Resources: A few good spots you can research include LinkedIn, your CRM, and Glassdoor, among others.
3 Sales Prospecting
This is where your sales process begins. Without prospecting, you won’t get around to closing any deals at all. Prospecting is what separates the skillful sales reps from the less-so.
To tell the truth, a lot of people aren’t very good at outreach.
The idea of reaching out to hundreds of clients through, for example, email, sounds daunting. However, it’s also an essential skill to have.
Especially now, with the existence of social media, there are more opportunities than ever to reach out to clients and create business opportunities. Tell your prospects what they’ll get by working with you.
A good sales prospecting tip is to prospect every day. After all, not every client is going to open the email.
We’ve all been hearing stories since as far back as when we were born. There’s a reason that clients respond so well to a fully fleshed-out plot.
A lot of successful pitches need a good story. The story should also resonate with those you’re telling it to. It should also be fully catered to them and their brand goals as well as their audience or customers.
You need a story that’s simple, concise, and that provides the answers to the main questions: What’s the problem?
What is the solution provided? How will it be successful? That’s it. You need a story that is fully authentic, and you need to sell it.
As a sales rep, you don’t need to be Tolkien, you just need to show clients what they’re going to get if they go with you.
5 Knowing When To Stop
Were you ever taught to stop, look, and listen before crossing the road?
This same thing goes when it comes to sales. Listening to your clients is the best way of understanding what they want while also showing them that you care about that. In reality, this should be a life skill, not just a sales one.
No successful sale has ever been made from a representative speaking over their client.
Not one. In sales, it’s far too common to see a rep speaking too much than not at all. Just take the intense car salesman trope that is, unfortunately, not all that fictional. Would you trust the guy yelling at you?
Listening to your client means being able to respond with YOUR solutions to THEIR problems. Through this, you can show that you’re empathic to their desires and passionate in helping them to attain their goals.
There’s a talk vs listening ratio and adhering to it can drive prospective sales up massively. Additionally, there’s also a science to it.
When I ask my team, “What could a sales rep do to win you over?”, the most common answer I get is, “Be honest.”
With honesty, open communication, and the defacto necessity of delivering the value promised, you might already be on your way to acquiring the best sales skills in the business.
Which of the following is on your business development to-do list for 2019?
- Close more new customers
- Decrease customer churn
- Increase referrals
- All of the above
If you didn’t answer D, you’re either wildly successful (in which case, congratulations!) or you’re in trouble. But regardless of your answer, the real question is: What will it take to meet your goal?
But never fear. This list of 2019’s top-five business development trends is a great starting point. Read on and learn how relationship intelligence technology can help you check through your to-do list fast.
1. Personalize communications
Personalization can move margins and boost business. Nearly all marketers—98 percent—agree that personalization advances client relationships. And 74 percent classify that impact as either “strong” or “extreme.”
But with personalization comes raised expectations. Today’s clients and prospects expect a tailored experience—far beyond simple data merges and persona-based communications. Indeed, 79 percent of consumers will now ignore offers that don’t meet the bar of previous interactions they’ve had with a brand. So tread carefully.
What’s more, the majority of marketers—88 percent—aren’t happy with their personalization capabilities. Their biggest pain point? Customer data collection.
To take advantage of this trend strategically, and avoid the pitfalls of data collection, take a look at relationship intelligence automation (RIA). RIA automatically keeps track of all client and prospect communications, giving you the insight you need to create high-caliber personalized communications for maximum ROI.
2. Put clients first
Back in 2013, industry experts predicted that by 2020, firms would primarily compete not on price or product quality, but on customer experience. With just a few months to go, this shift is already well underway.
By 2016, 64 percent of customers reported they’d switched providers within a year due to poor customer service. And 81 percent of them said something could have prevented the switch—but that something wasn’t done. It’s clear that in 2019, and beyond, your firm must put clients first.
But that will be hard to do if you’re unsure of where you stand with your client base. Enter: relationship analytics. Tools like Introhive use relationship analytics to automatically serve up trends (how often do you talk to your most-billed client) and activities (pending orders, support inquiries, etc.). It’ll even shoot the info right to your business development team’s inboxes before meetings.
Your team can then use that information to strategically nurture trust and loyalty, showing your clients that you value them as people—not just a line item figure.
3. Lead a digital transformation
Viva la revolution! The digital revolution, that is. But which one? This trend is so ubiquitous that every day seems to bring a new tool that’s poised to revolutionize the selling process.
Technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and automation hold the power to generate more intelligence, break down silos, and streamline operations. But these endless opportunities often leave firms overwhelmed and unsure of where to start.
If you’re in business development, though, your first priority should be understanding your customer data. Here’s why: data-driven firms are killing the game. They’re 23 times more likely to acquire customers, six times more likely to retain customers, and 19 times more likely to improve ROI.
While only 37 percent of businesses believe they have successfully implemented a data-driven model, AI technology can help. With tools like Introhive, algorithms collect and aggregate wide-spread data for you, even uncovering key intel about prospective clients, industry trends, and competitive threats.
Plus, new technology can also automate mundane activities—giving you increased accuracy and better margins. Automating customer relationship management (CRM) data entry, for instance, can save each user up to 5.5 hours each week.
4. Drive business through relationships
The simple truth is that people buy from people they like. Relationship intelligence automation (RIA) is one trend that can help you make the most of this truth.
With RIA tools like Introhive, you can uncover common ground and spot relationship insights you can use to instill trust with new prospects, nurture long-standing client connections, and identify networkable prospects with the potential to lead to new opportunities.
Prospecting can be a thankless task, especially when just 1 percent of cold calls result in a meeting. Relationship mapping tools for professional service firms can save the day—or at least a few hours of it.
The tool examines the connections in your firm’s extended network and highlights the individuals who may provide a warm introduction, giving you a fast pass to a new connection. Another thing to be thankful for: customers acquired through referrals have a 37 percent higher retention rate.
5. Profit from account-based marketing
Account-based marketing (ABM) directs resources to engage a specific set of target accounts. Basically, it’s the manifestation of the first two trends on this list—personalized communication and client focus.
With a long sales cycle and numerous stakeholders to engage, ABM allows firms to nurture and engage those leads more effectively. And it works.
According to a majority of Demandbase survey respondents, ABM delivers:
- Increased target account engagement
- Better sales and marketing alignment
- More qualified prospects
- Increased understanding of program performance
- More pipeline opportunities
But if your ability to track and measure client communications is limited, this is one trend you won’t be able to take advantage of. That’s where relationship intelligence automation (RIA) comes into play. Working as an add-on to your CRM, RIA centralizes account data and breaks down information silos, so sellers have instant visibility into all the influencers in a sales cycle and who on their team has the best relationship.
With RIA sharing critical relationship insights across your entire firm, your sales and marketing teams will be much better equipped to tackle ABM.
Focus on Relationships and Technology in 2019
It’s no surprise that relationships remain at the core of business trends for 2019. This year, the challenge for firms will be to make the most of technology to advance prospective and current business.
Relationship intelligence automation is one way your firm can level-up business relationships without losing valuable time to mundane activities like data entry.
Measure relationship capital, get a 360-degree view of your firm’s overall relationship strength, and spot opportunities for referrals with relationship mapping. And use CRM data automation and automatic distribution of relationship insights to easily remain client-centric, regardless of the size of the account or the newness of the relationship.
Affiliate marketing payment methods constitute one of most important aspects you need to sort out before launching your affiliate program.
They determine not only your financial obligations to your affiliates but also how potential affiliates will see your program. These terms are among the main criteria publishers will consider when deciding whether to join your program or not.
Therefore, when defining them, you’ll want to take into account both your interests, as a merchant, and those of your affiliates. As recommended in our previous post on competitive analysis, you should check out what your main competitors do as well. Your potential affiliates will surely compare you with them, so you’ll need a competitive edge here — something to make your program stand out, projecting affiliate-friendliness and attractiveness.
Now that you understand how important your affiliate program’s payment terms are, and how you should approach them, let’s take a closer look at the aspects they need to cover. You will have to make decisions related to:
- Payment models
- Locking period and reversals
- Payment thresholds, frequency, and methods
Choosing the best payment model for your business basically means choosing what type of actions driven by your affiliates to reward. You have four main options available: clicks (PPC), leads (PPL), sales (PPS), and calls.
As Geno warns in his Affiliate Management: An Hour a Day, unless you have an excellent tracking system in place that allows you to prevent fraud, you’ll want to avoid the pay-per-click payment model. This leaves you with three options. Let’s take them one by one and see what they involve.
Sales equal revenue, and it definitely makes sense to reward your affiliates for the revenue they drive. The pay-per-sale payment model involves paying your affiliates a percentage of the full sale amounts. It is up to you to determine the percentage.
Walmart is one of the merchants who use this payment model. They reward qualifying purchases by commissions ranging between 1% and 4% on most product categories but the commissions can reach 10-18% for sales on certain categories, like Contact Lenses and Business & Personal Checks.
Sales may not be the only type of affiliate-driven actions your business benefits from. Free trials and newsletter subscriptions may be worth something as well. After all, once you’ve convinced potential clients to try your products or services and give you their contact details, turning them into paying customers should be easy.
One merchant who rewards leads is Gusto. As shown below, they pay $25+ for free trial leads on their payroll software. If your business could benefit from leads, you should consider rewarding them as well. Just be careful how you define leads to discourage fraud and fake leads that incentive affiliates may send in.
This payment model works especially well for service companies, from real estate agents and home-improvement contractors to law firms and financial consultants. It is used by luxury goods providers (think diamonds, expensive watches, luxury cruises, and more) as well.
One merchant using the pay-per-call model is KGR Contractors (see screenshot below). Most merchants prefer to run their programs on dedicated pay-per-call networks like Invoca, RingPartner, and similar. If you decide to use this payment model, partner with a good pay-per-call platform which will support assigning trackable phone numbers to your affiliates.
Now that you have a better idea of the available payment models, choosing the best option for your business should be easy. Just keep in mind that you do not have to choose just one payment model. You can combine the two or three that work best for you.
4. Combined Payment Models
Many merchants reach the conclusion that they want to reward more than one type of action. Some, like the ones below, find it easy to turn leads and calls into sales, so it makes sense for them to reward those as well. One example of such merchant is Amazon. They reward both qualifying purchases (sales) and bounty actions (leads). The actions and commissions are all detailed here.
For National Debt Relief, calls and leads are the ones that count, since they have no ready-to-sell products. As you can see in the screenshot below, they also reward affiliates who refer new affiliates. This brings us to another decision you will have to make for your affiliate program payment terms:
Do You Need a Two-Tier Affiliate Program?
A two-tier program may end up being a good way to finding more affiliates. So, it’s worth considering adding the element of second tier to your main program, allowing you to reward referred sign-ups of new affiliates.
If you feel that your business could benefit from a two-tier affiliate program, you should go for it. Just take your time when deciding how to reward referrals. A flat fee is usually preferable for merchants but it may not be enough for affiliates and does not guarantee the performance of the referred affiliate. A percentage of the referred affiliate’s commission may seem fair, but it could drive affiliates to refer themselves under different accounts only to earn higher commissions. Whatever you decide, it is important to anticipate possible issues and be ready to solve them in an affiliate-friendly way.
In affiliate marketing, cookie life means the time period between the click on the affiliate site and the last day when you are willing to pay that affiliate a percentage of the sale made by “their” visitor. After that period, even if the consumer completes the purchase, the affiliate will no longer be remunerated for it.
Some merchants may think that setting a short cookie life is a viable solution to drive sales without paying for them. However, affiliates do take cookie life into account when deciding whether to join a program or not, and a short cookie life could deter them.
What would be a decent cookie life? One way of determining that would be to study analytics, see how long visitors following affiliate links needed to become paying customers, and add a few more days to that period.
Another way to decide would be to look at your main competitors and set a matching or a slightly longer cookie life. Or, you can follow Geno’s recommendation from Affiliate Management: An Hour a Day and set cookie life at 90 days, offering increases to 180 and, respectively, 365 days as an incentive for affiliates to activate.
Amazon, for example, has set cookie life at 24 hours. However, they extend it to a 90-days’ cookie life in situations when the customer ads the product to their cart but finalizes the purchase later.
The truth is that most website visitors complete their purchase(s) within the first days from clicking the affiliate link. Therefore, you lose nothing by setting a long cookie life. On the contrary, it may help you earn affiliates, considering that most publishers prefer programs with longer cookie life.
Besides payment models and cookie life, your affiliate program payment terms need to specify the commissions you will pay to your affiliates. These are entirely up to you, and the best way to determine them is to analyze your own business, expenses, and profit margins. The following tips may come in handy:
- Look at what your competitors are offering and try to match or exceed their offer.
- Remember that, besides affiliate commissions, you will also have to cover the other costs of running your affiliate marketing program.
- If you have numerous products or services, feel free to differentiate commissions according to categories, sellability, and profit margins.
- It is never a good idea to start with a high commission only to discover that you cannot afford to pay it and be forced to lower it.
- To motivate affiliates, consider offering them tiered increases, according to their performance.
For example, Amazon pays commissions ranging from 0 to 10% according to product category. They also pay bounty fees ranging from $3 to $15, and 4% on trade-in events from specific categories. Walmart has a similar approach to sales, rewarding them with commissions between 1% and 18% (you may see these two programs compared here).
Other merchants pay a fixed commission which can reach up to 50% of the generated sale. To make sure you pay your affiliate fairly and avoid having to lower payments later, consider calculating 50% of your profit margin and using that value as the highest limit.
Should you somehow find yourself forced to lower commissions, consider applying the new, lower commissions to new affiliates only, and maintaining the same payment levels for existing affiliates. And, as Geno suggested, don’t hesitate to motivate your affiliates to sell more.
If you want your affiliates to actively promote your products or services, you should not only reward their efforts but also encourage them to perform better. And while monetary rewards should not be your only way of activating and motivating affiliates, they definitely have their well-deserved place.
There are three main ways to reward and motivate affiliates. Before we take a closer look at them, keep in mind that the terms of your incentives offer are entirely up to you. You can offer only one, combine two, or all three types of incentives.
Also, you can offer them on a monthly basis or on special occasions only. Finally, you can keep offering them to an affiliate once they’ve earned them, or you can “reset the counter” and ask your affiliates to repeat the performance if they want to continue receiving their incentives.
For best results, take the time to clearly define the incentives and the qualifying actions in your payment terms. You want your affiliates to know exactly what the bonus is, how much time they have available, and what they have to do in order to obtain it. Here are the mentioned three types of incentives:
1. Commission Increases
You can set sales thresholds at which to increase the commission your affiliates can earn. If your standard commission is 10%, you can increase it to 12.5% for affiliates who drive more than 2,500 sales and to 15% for affiliates driving more than 5,000 sales, etc.
This is the approach we took in NECTAR Sleep‘s affiliate program, and, along with other affiliate-friendly decisions, it helped them become the top merchant on ShareASale. See screenshot of their tiered payment terms highlights below.
2. Cash Bonuses
When you cannot afford or do not want to increase the commission you pay to your affiliates but you still want to reward and encourage performance, you can set fixed cash bonuses. For example, you can pay $100 on every 1,000 sales referred, or reward affiliates who drive 10 leads within one-month of joining your program with $50 on top of the standard commissions earned.
It is worth pointing out that it’s not an “either… or…” situation, but you may definitely offer both performance-based payout increases, and cash bonuses. See the NECTAR Sleep’s affiliate program description referenced above.
When you do not want to get more money out of your pocket, perhaps there are certain products or services you can offer as prizes. Think of electronics, gift certificates, event tickets, cruises, and more. They can be products from your own inventory, items you already have and can part with, or stuff you can get at convenient prices. Of course, if you want your affiliates to respond, you will have to choose attractive prizes.
Commission increases, cash bonuses, and prizes can be offered to all affiliates who meet the related-conditions or to the first ones who do. In this last case, you basically organize affiliate contests. At AM Navigator, we have been proposing and organizing affiliate contests since 2007. For more information on this method, read Geno’s post on how to make extrinsic motivators work.
Now you know what type of actions to reward, how much to reward them by, and how to motivate your affiliates. However, your affiliate program payment terms need to cover two more important aspects, discussed below.
Locking Period and Reversals
Do you have many customers who cancel their orders or ask for refunds? Depending on your answer to this question, you’ll need to set a locking period for the transactions your affiliates drive. This period is basically a waiting period you give yourself in order to determine if an action qualifies for a payout or not.
It is up to you to decide whether or not you reward sales that are canceled or reversed. When making this decision, you should honestly assess why the occasional reversals occur. They may have nothing to do with your affiliates and be the result of your products’ or services’ poor quality. If that is the case, your affiliates should not suffer.
However, there are also circumstances where affiliates mislead consumers into buying and the latter end up requesting refunds. When that happens, as a merchant, the least you can do is to retain the commission you would pay for a final sale. Depending on how clearly you defined qualifying purchases and affiliate rights and obligations, further measures may be necessary.
Returning to the locking period, Walmart and many other merchants have a 60-day policy. It should be more than enough for you as well. A longer locking period may discourage publishers, so try not to exceed the two-month threshold. Speaking of thresholds, you’ll need to set some for the payments you make.
Payment Thresholds, Frequency, and Methods
These may seem like insignificant details but, if you want to avoid misunderstandings with your affiliates, it helps to clarify them in the payment terms. Many merchants set a minimum limit for the commissions they pay to their affiliates.
For example, Amazon has a $10 minimum threshold for affiliates choosing to get paid by direct deposit or gift card, and a $100 threshold for payments by check. Affiliates who do not reach the threshold will have their payments rolled over to the following month until they do.
When setting your thresholds, make sure they don’t become an obstacle for your affiliates to get paid. A threshold of $10-25 is acceptable. One of $100 or $500 could be considered too high (and, therefore, demotivating). Besides setting minimum thresholds for payments, you will also have to decide on the frequency and payment methods.
You can make weekly payments to your affiliates if you choose to. However, to avoid tracking issues and fees, we recommend monthly payments, preferably on the same day of the month. This will give your affiliates a sense of financial security.
As far as methods are concerned, you’ll obviously want to settle on the ones that are most convenient for you while also paying attention to your affiliates’ needs. Direct deposits are a must. Gift cards make an excellent option but they should not be the only one available. Many affiliates prefer the convenience of systems like PayPal or Payoneer, so, if you can, try to take their preferences into account.
Final Recommendations on Affiliate Payment Terms
As mentioned on several occasions, the best way to make affiliate program-related decisions is to look at things from your affiliates’ perspective as well. It will help you keep your program attractive to publishers while you pursue your own interests.
We’ve already discussed the main aspects your affiliate program payment terms will have to cover. Now it is up to you to draw the line and finalize the details. If you encounter any difficulties, we’re here to guide you in the right direction. Drop a comment below or contact us and we’ll get back to you with the answers you need as soon as possible!
The post How-To Guide to Affiliate Marketing Payment Terms, Methods, and Types appeared first on Affiliate Marketing Blog by Geno Prussakov.
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Economists talk about markets being oversaturated when too many product or concept variations are competing in the same space. Over-saturation leads to products being devalued.
That’s what’s happening to inbound marketing. The buzzword has been on the forefront of the digital space for the past decade, and now it seems to have crossed a critical threshold into decline.
Inbound marketing is really just hyper-effective SEO combined with conversion optimization techniques to drive leads. It’s not a revolution, it’s simply good branding. And it’s mostly thanks to Hubspot.
Marketing agencies, like the children behind the Pied Piper, fell in line, and pushed this “inbound” craze for far longer than it should have been pushed.
But, if it hasn’t already, it’s all about to slowly fade into the sunset for your organization. Why are the tides changing? Here are our observations.
Everyone’s on Board
One of the most important factors in the decline of inbound is that everyone is on board now. It’s hard to find an industry where inbound isn’t being implemented. Just when we think we’ve found an industry, there is a leader in the space who seems to be 12-18 months ahead of the curve and dominating the space.
So the simple truth is that “inbound,” in some form or another (even if just via good SEO practices), is now the cost of entry for many businesses that use digital marketing. When companies start marketing, then, this fact requires them to build above existing marketing. They might try using paid media or other “outbound” means to gain attention. So, “inbound” as a strategy is DOA.
Fake News and Content Overload
This point is more of a cultural note. Thanks to a growing and seething distrust of media in our culture, we now have the new oxymoron of “fake news”. Couple this mentality with the sheer volume of articles and content produced online, and many people just want to turn the whole thing off.
In business terms, there is just too much competition in the market for attention. Attention is really the asset we are after, and it’s in decreasing supply.
For instance: how much attention do you give to news sites? If you’re smart, not much, as you see that no matter what’s really happening in the world, those sites still produce (or, better, manufacture) content for your viewing attention – whether it has value or not.
What are we to do? Well, there is a subset of content that is still really relevant, and that’s content that’s based on expertise. True expertise will always be in high demand and low supply. Consequently, companies that can produce content that is rich in expertise will win the day and cut through the clutter.
Life After Inbound Marketing
I don’t think that inbound marketing will really ever die. As a concept, it’s valid, and it’s truly one of the best campaign types for organic growth. Instead, here is what I think will happen as we move into the next iteration of it.
- Hubspot has already admitted by their own actions (the inclusion of Hubspot Ads) that organic SEO can’t be the only source of traffic. Paid will be a larger part of the traffic mixture, as digital attention becomes harder to acquire via organic means.
- This includes paid social media marketing. As organic reach continues to fade, social media will become more complex and serve almost as an internet OS in itself for most Americans.
- Marketing technology has blurred the line between macro and micro user tracking, allowing for increased personalization.
- Along the same lines, AI is beginning to learn how to create content. My bet is that we’ll see an epic explosion of content creation by bots and AI, which will start producing content at volumes and specifications that were previously impossible. This event will be the death blow to the entire inbound market. It’s coming (in fact, it’s almost here).
Yet, as all of these developments take place, some fundamentals will always remain true. People will need to be sold on good messaging and positioning. Sales teams will still need to be competitive and intelligent in how they approach prospects.
Life after inbound will be full of similar challenges, but it’ll be set in a vastly different landscape and managed via a different toolbox.
What Should We Do Now?
In preparation, it’s best to think about sticking to our guns. Develop the sales team to use the best tools in the industry to do their work well. Then equip the marketing team with budgets to try experimental channels of attention. Where can we gain attention of the market in big and small ways to get the edge over pure paid or organic traffic online?
There is a world of opportunity out there, we just need to turn our eyes to the horizon and move forward.
What’s the biggest cause of heartbreak for salespeople?
We had a bit of fun last week concocting our own list of 17 heartbreaking sales GIFs just ahead of Valentine’s Day, but if you had to boil it all down to one single answer, it’d probably be this:
Prospect rejections can range from passive (no response) to aggressive (“LEAVE ME ALONE!”) but they never feel good. It hurts on both personal and professional levels. If you’ve worked in sales for a while, you have probably experienced your fair share, but that doesn’t take the sting away.
Over time, rejection threatens our persistence. That might ultimately be the biggest heartbreak, because a healthy level of persistence is essential to success in B2B prospecting.
Defining Healthy Persistence
In 1997, a band called Chumbawamba released a song called “Tubthumping.” That may sound like a bunch of gibberish, but the lyrics of its energetic chorus are beautifully clear and resonant, which contributed to the single’s massive popularity.
I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down
It’s the ultimate anthem to resilience and a great theme song for today’s post. (There’s a good chance it’s now blaring inside your head, and for that I am sorry.)
Persistence in sales is all about overcoming setbacks and keeping after it. You’ve probably heard this statistic before, or some variation: 80% of prospects say ‘no’ four times before they say ‘yes.’ This alone speaks to the crucial importance of tenacity in B2B prospecting. If you give up on a deal after the first speed bump, you’re not going to be closing too many.
That said, there’s a fine line between being persistent and being obstinate, or even downright obnoxious. So it’s all about understanding when and how to follow up or reach out again.
The Purpose of Persistence in B2B Prospecting
I came across a good post on the SalesGenie blog last week outlining why persistence matters in in sales prospecting. Three key points were offered up (commentary my own):
- It fortifies your strategic plan. Persistence isn’t just about repeated prospect outreach and follow-ups. It’s also about being relentless in your planning, and continually making the tweaks necessary to optimize your approach.
- It helps you overcome rejection. Over time, hearing the word “no” becomes less deflating when you’re finding ways to make the best out of situations.
- You maintain pipeline discipline. As we keep grinding, and continually gain clarity around what works and what doesn’t, we are able to refine and sharpen our pipeline management.
There’s another dimension to this as well: When done right, persistence makes a strong impression on your customers and peers. They will recognize your determination and drive.
So how do we consistently get it right with persistence in B2B prospecting? I’ll offer up a mindset that might prove helpful.
N.O. = Next Opportunity
In the break room at a job I used to work, there was a sign on the wall that said, “If someone tells you ‘no,’ N.O. means… Next Opportunity.”
There are plenty of similar rah-rah acronyms out there (F.A.I.L. = First Attempt In Learning; E.N.D. = Effort Never Dies) but I particularly like N.O. = Next Opportunity from a sales perspective, because it gets to the heart of what healthy persistence really means.
It’s not just about “if you fail, try again.” It’s about moving on to the next opportunity when someone says no. Maybe that means following up with the same individual at a later date, once there’s a legitimate impetus. Maybe it means turning your attention to someone else on the buying committee, or another promising prospect in your pipeline. And maybe it means getting back to prospecting — building up that pipeline with more targeted opportunities that are less likely to result in heartbreak.
You get knocked down, and you get up again.
And if you want to learn more about guiding modern sales teams toward success, subscribe to the LinkedIn Sales Blog and never miss out on the latest big deal in B2B sales.
For 48% of consumers, a website’s design speaks for the credibility of the business. What do you think? Clearly, the design is a powerful instrument that helps to make a statement about the company or designer. Perhaps that is why you are here. Are you looking to dabble in the world of web design? Maybe you are sharpening your skills as you prepare for the New Year. Regardless of the reason, you have landed on the right page!
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Growing your blog is as much about branding as writing good content, and that’s why Tailor Brands is the perfect platform for bloggers who are trying to expand their reach. Tailor provides customers with a complete branding solution, offering all of the brand design tools you need to get your blog noticed.
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WordPress is by far the most used platform for powering websites and one of the strong points that it is having is that it is open source, and everybody can help improving it. WP Hacks is loaded with lots of great tutorials, very well written and easy to follow, with themes, plugins and excellent deals. Everything is handpicked, prepare to find high-quality content and items.
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uLanding offers a set of powerful tools to create your landing page: mobile-friendly designs, hosting, domains, robust SEO, a nifty Promotion feature, A/B testing, Google Analytics, and more. No coding knowledge is required at that — everything happens in the visual mode. It has never been easier for a non-tech-savvy person to get online. Create your landing page today!
uSocial empowers website owners to quickly connect share and like buttons to their sites and encourage visitors to spread the word about the brand. Moreover, uSocial offers some unique features like the Social Lockers that hides posts behind a window until a visitor performs a required action, and the Metadata builder that ensures the shared posts look nice on social networking platforms.
Using Logaster there were created over 10 million beautiful logos, this being probably the most popular logo design platform on the planet. It is used for building logo designs and for brand identity, in a couple of minutes while not spending a fortune.
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MaiMunch can be used by anybody without programming skills to create high-converting landing pages and squeeze pages within minutes. It is the fastest growing landing page platform on the market that you can use to increase conversions up to 400%.
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Connecting all of your gadgets to the internet isn’t always a great idea. While the Internet of Things allows you to perform tasks remotely and monitor your devices from anywhere in the world, it also provides a way in for malicious hackers who want to use your devices for their own good.
In this article, we explore how the Internet of Things and smart home devices are being used to form a “digital army” that obeys the whims of hackers with malintent.
What Is a Botnet?
The concept of computers and devices being conscripted against a user’s will is nothing new. The technical term for it is a “botnet“, and the name explains it all. It’s a network of compromised devices that receive commands from a central server. When a command is sent out, the hacked devices carry it out without question and in unison—much like a swarm of robots.
The owner of a botnet wants to compromise as many devices as possible. More devices mean more processing power under their control, which makes the botnet stronger. Once enough devices have been gathered under a botnet, the owner has the power to perform website-crippling attacks or worse.
How Botnets Affect the Internet of Things
Due to the autonomous nature of a botnet, it’s not very picky about what devices it brings into its web. If a device has a consistent internet connection, a processor, and the ability to have malware installed on it, it can be used in a botnet.
Previously, this was limited to computers and mobile devices, as they were the only things that matched the criteria. With the spread of the Internet of Things, more and more devices are entering the pool of potential candidates for a botnet.
Even worse, with the Internet of Things still in its teething phase, security hasn’t been fully fleshed out yet. A good example of this is when a benevolent hacker gained access someone’s Nest home security system and talked to them through their own security cameras.
With IoT security being this lax, it’s no wonder that botnet developers are keen to capitalize on this new trend.
How Much Damage Can an IoT Botnet Do?
The Mirai Botnet
While IoT botnets are a new concept, the tech world has already witnessed some devastating attacks from them. We saw one such attack during late 2017, when the Mirai botnet rose in power. It scanned the internet for IoT devices, then tried 60 default usernames and passwords to gain access.
Once successful, the attack infected the compromised device with the Mirai botnet malware.
With its rapidly-forming army, Mirai began to attack sites around the internet. It did this by using its army to perform Direct Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, swarming websites with connections from the devices on the botnet. The Krebs on Security site suffered a 620Gb/s attack, and Ars Technica came under siege from a 1Tb/s swarm.
Mirai is open source, which allowed eager botnet owners to make their own copycat variants of the malware.
The Torii Botnet
In late 2018, we saw a new contender; Torii. Unlike the other IoT botnets that used Mirai’s code, this one was its own strain. It used highly advanced code, able to infect a large majority of internet-connected devices. Torii hasn’t attacked anything just yet, but it may simply be amassing an army for a huge attack.
A study by Princeton demonstrated that IoT botnets may hold the power to take out power grids. The report describes a method of attack called “Manipulation of demand via IoT” (MadIoT), which acts similar to a DDoS attack but targets the power grid instead. Hackers could install botnets on high-power IoT devices, then enable them all at the same time to trigger a blackout.
What Other Threats Do Botnets Pose?
While collective processor power is very useful for performing DDoS attacks, it’s not the only thing botnets are capable of. Botnets specialize in any task that requires a lot of processing power. What those tasks consist of is decided by the person controlling the botnet.
If someone wants to run a spam email campaign, they can use the processing power of the botnet to send out millions of messages at once. They could direct all the bots to a website or advertisement to generate false traffic and earn some extra income. They could even command their botnet to install malware on itself, such as ransomware.
Some botnet owners may not even want to use what they create. Instead, they’ll aim to make a large and impressive network to sell on the dark net for a tidy profit. Some even rent out their botnets under a subscription service that’s not too different from renting a server!
Why It’s Difficult to Detect a Breach
The main issue with the IoT botnet is how silently it works. This isn’t a kind of malware that makes a drastic difference on how the compromised device works. It quietly installs itself and stays dormant until it’s called by the command server to perform an action.
People using the device may report that it’s “sluggish” or “acting slow”, but nothing will alert them that their smart camera is being used to stage a cyberattack!
As such, it’s totally normal for people to continue their daily lives without knowing their devices are part of a botnet. This makes it very hard to take down a botnet, as the people who own the devices don’t realize they’re a part of it.
Even worse, some botnets will install malware that persists through resets, so a power cycle won’t get rid of it.
How to Protect Your Smart Devices
If you’re a big fan of the Internet of Things, don’t fret too much! While this attack sounds scary, you can do your part to ensure your own devices aren’t added to a botnet.
Remember how the Mirai botnet gained access to devices by using 60 usernames and passwords? The only reason it could achieve this was due to people not setting up their devices correctly. If the username and password for your IoT devices is both “admin”, it will be compromised very quickly.
Be sure to log onto any devices with an account system and set up a unique, strong password.
Be sure to install security software on any device that allows it. This acts as an additional layer of defense that should catch the malware when it tries to spread onto your system. Can’t decide which antivirus software to use? Read our list of the top security and antivirus tools for inspiration.
Botnets can also spread via vulnerabilities in the device’s firmware. To stop this, always ensure your IoT gadgets have the latest version of their firmware installed. Also, only purchase brand new devices made by reputable and respected companies. That way, you know the device has gone through all the proper security checks before it enters your home.
More Ways to Keep Your Devices Safe
As more of our devices connect to the internet, botnet developers are keen to capitalize on this increase of targets. With Mirai and Torii demonstrating what IoT botnets can do, device security is very important. By buying reputable hardware and ensuring it’s set up correctly, your devices won’t be added to a digital army.
If you’d like to secure your smart home, be sure to read our tips for securing your devices.
Read the full article: The Rise of IoT Botnets (And How to Protect Your Smart Devices)
This week I gave a LinkedIn presentation at a huge conference on the West Coast, and it reminded me about how much time and money people and companies commit to these types of events.
It also struck me that very few people have a system or procedure to ensure that they'll see measurable results from their investment of time and money.
Here are some steps you can take before, during and after your next conference that will help you achieve the results you deserve.
Before the event
Contact the event coordinator and request a list of who will be attending. Many times you can get the list—if you ask politely. Spend some time checking out the LinkedIn profiles of the people who look most interesting to you. In addition to conference attendees, don't forget to consider connecting with sponsors, presenters, and conference organizers. Many of these people are the movers and shakers in your industry.
Send a customized LinkedIn connection request, and, where appropriate, suggest you meet during the conference. People are much more likely to agree to a short meeting during a conference than when they're in their regular work environment.
You can use your mobile device to look at their profiles before you meet with them or you may want to print the profiles and take them along. You will then have lots of information at your fingertips to figure out how to start a conversation with the most interesting people—plus you'll have photos to help you pick them out of the crowd.
Join any relevant groups associated with the conference.
Post a status update about how excited you are to attend the conference, and mention some of the speakers you're looking forward to hearing from. Use the LinkedIn mention and hashtag features so your update gets seen by more people in your network.
During the event
When you're having conversations with those "right" people, be sure to ask them if they use LinkedIn, and ask them to join your LinkedIn network as a way to stay connected after the event. This is much more productive than just grabbing business cards and adding people to your database after the event. Once you're connected on LinkedIn, you can see all of their connections, ask for introductions, stay in front of them with status updates, and review their profiles at all times.
I suggest you include media on your LinkedIn profile. Then, when you meet people at an event, you can suggest they go to your profile and look at or download materials that will help them. You'll be immediately adding value to a new relationship.
During the conference, use individual status updates and/or group conversations to share comments, pictures or videos about important information you've learned each day.
With the LinkedIn mobile app's Find Nearby feature, it's quick and easy to add to your network people you meet at the conference. This is a real winner and was designed by LinkedIn specifically for these types of events. Click here to learn more about this feature.
After the event
Review the conference agenda and the list of participants, and send LinkedIn connection requests to any important people you weren't able to find and meet with at the conference. Do this only if your connection strategy includes adding people to your network that you may not know but would like to know. Rather than using LinkedIn's standard invitation, include a thoughtful message with your invitation.
Review the profiles of the people with whom you had productive conversations at the event. Follow up with a phone call or suggest a meeting to move the relationship forward. Consider attaching or adding a link to a piece of content you think will be helpful to them.
Publish an article with your most important conference takeaways, and share it with your network as a status update or a direct message to a select group of connections.
Try these strategies so that the time and money you spend to attend conferences will never be wasted again.
If you'd like me to help with your 2019 LinkedIn plan and get your profile tuned up, sign up for one of the four to six personal sessions I fit into my schedule each week. These consultations are specially priced at $197. Book your session here.
I will share my computer screen with you during the call and send you a marked-up copy of your profile prior to the call.
Whether you’re using LinkedIn to find your next high-impact customer, raise your organization’s profile, or land the job of your dreams, this session is for you.
There are limited spots available, so don't delay. Book your session today by clicking here.
The post Here’s How to Get Big Results at Your Next Conference With LinkedIn appeared first on Wayne Breitbarth.
Why do you keep sending emails to your prospective clients instead of calling them?
You know that most people get too much email, and because they are already too busy, a salesperson’s email is among the easiest to ignore.
You know that an email finds its way to the bottom of a never-ending onslaught of emails that accumulate day and night, moving to a place where it is both out of sight and out of mind.
The information you provide to your prospective client about what makes your company so great isn’t useful or helpful to your potential client as an email. More still, more PDFs are not better than fewer PDFs. Fewer PDFs aren’t better than no PDFs (unless it is serious insight with your handwriting all over it).
An email is a lousy place to ask for the Commitment for Time, especially when it is your very first communication. It’s doubtful that you can pitch enough value in this format to gain the commitment you seek.
You make it easy to say no when you ask over email. You make it possible for your prospective client to reject you without even having to tell you no by merely pressing the delete button.
You have established that you are no different from the dozens or hundreds of salespeople and sales organizations that seek efficiency instead of effectiveness, trading less effort for even less effectiveness. Your effort should match your desire for the outcome you want, and your unwillingness to exert that effort is proof positive you don’t want the outcome enough.
The person receiving your email knows something about you, namely, that you are afraid of them. They know that you prefer to hide behind a computer screen, which indicates a lack of confidence and suggests you don’t think of yourself as a peer and a value creator.
You send the email believing that your dream client will read your words, pick up the phone, call you directly, and ask you to drive out to see them so they can buy from you. But the phone never rings, and you rarely receive even a rejection email. When you do receive an email, you believe it indicates engagement and become your dream client’s penpal, arguing for a meeting.
Email has a place in your prospecting sequence and cadence. However, it should not be your first attempt, and it isn’t the right place to ask for the commitment for time. If you want to schedule a meeting, and if that meeting is important to you, start by picking up the telephone.
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Campaign Monitor offers a recurring series titled Marketing Mistakes which is about the biggest email or digital marketing missteps made by various thought leaders across the industry. As these leaders share some hard-won wisdom from earlier in their careers, the rest of us have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes without the accompanying costly consequences.
In this series, we’ll cover the mistakes people have made, how they fixed them, and what they learned in order to make us all better digital marketers.
Marketing Mistakes with Mari Smith, the queen of Facebook
Mari Smith is widely known as the premier Facebook marketing expert and a top social media thought leader. Mari is a sought after keynote speaker and brand ambassador for leading organizations, helping them establish social media marketing that connects with their audience and builds a loyal following.
Image Source: Mari Smith International, Inc.
She is also an expert webinar leader, live webcast host, and author of The New Relationship Marketing and co-author of Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day.
But before she was social media marketing royalty, she was CEO of Mari Smith International, Inc., and her company was about to take off. Unfortunately, Mari wouldn’t quite be ready to handle all the rapid growth without encountering a few snags along the way.
Read on to discover what she did and how you can avoid her mistake:
Mari’s biggest marketing mistake
When she was CEO of Mari Smith International, Inc., Mari owned more than just the company. She was responsible for growing the business in every way. She headed up marketing for her business, driving sales and revenue, as well as actually delivering the promised services.
She was no longer just starting out. Her business was doing well and, in fact, it was about to experience exponential growth unlike anything it had undergone before. Up until that point, Mari had still been able to handle most tasks on her own.
But not for much longer.
The mistake: Not hiring enough employees to anticipate growth
Mari Smith International, Inc. had grown beyond a one-woman operation at that point, and Mari worked with a small team of virtual assistants and freelance contractors. And while that worked for a while, contractors and virtual assistants couldn’t cut it when it was time to graduate to the next level.
“Without certain key roles filled with dedicated full-time team members, I’ve limited my growth.”
Full-time team members bring dedication and creativity to projects that freelance professionals just can’t.
Takeaway: Working with contract employees might work for your business, but don’t underestimate the power of bringing on full-time team members who can be dedicated to your company and its success.
Working harder, not smarter
According to Mari, “My Achilles heel is that I can turn my hand to such a variety of skills, and I really have trouble delegating.” When it’s your name on the company, it’s understandable that you feel responsible for every single thing that has to get done, but if you want to grow past a certain point, you’ll run out of bandwidth.
While you might have the desire and even the skill to do it all, there will come a time when you no longer have the time or the energy.
I allowed myself to get caught up ‘doing it all’ and worked longer hours: working harder not smarter.
Takeaway: Just because you have the skills to “do it all” doesn’t mean you should.
Prepare for the growth you want
Although she’d been running her own business since the early 2000s and started specializing in Facebook in 2007, her business really skyrocketed in 2009 when everything seemed to line up.
After being active as a Facebook marketing expert for several years, Mari found success teaching, speaking, and presenting webinars aimed at helping businesses develop their Facebook marketing strategy.
Building this loyal following meant she had a section of her audience that eagerly wanted a training program, and that’s exactly what Mari delivered. She launched “Mentoring with Mari” in the spring of 2009, which then catapulted her business forward.
“Things were pregnant with possibility and I just didn’t realize it. But I’d been laying the groundwork for years.”
Takeaway: When you’re trying to grow, don’t forget about the devoted audience you already have. While you need new customers, consider the ways your current following can take your business and your revenue to the next level
What I missed: Opportunities for growth during a period of growth
Opening the floodgates
Mari put up a sales page on her website with very little information, asking people to pay a fully refundable deposit just to figure out what the pitch was about.
This tactic meant she “got rid of the looky-loos,” allowing her to focus on high-value leads who didn’t balk at paying in advance for a well-trusted thought leader. While some people decided they weren’t interested and asked for their money back, plenty of people were glad they bought in.
The floodgates opened and Mari’s business pretty much tripled overnight. “In hindsight,” she tells us, “I ought to have staffed up well in advance.”
While it’s difficult to anticipate exactly what new hires you’re going to need and how many, taking the time to think ahead and strategize before launching a big initiative can be the difference between sustaining a new rate of growth and continuing to increase it.
Takeaway: When you offer a higher-end, big-ticket product, think outside of the box to create curiosity and mystique around the offer in order to build anticipation and drive in leads.
Opportunities fell through the cracks
Ironically, even though her company experienced massive growth, not staffing up early enough meant Mari couldn’t and didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that accompanied the rapid expansion. “I know there were numerous opportunities back then that ended up falling through the cracks,” she said.
Not to mention, she had to push herself to get everything done, often at the expense of her own self-care.
“I had to say ‘no’ to some invitations as I was so caught up in the operation of my business, in conjunction with being the talent delivering all the training, speaking, consulting, etc.”
Of course, Mari loves what she does and wouldn’t change being the talent behind her business. But that meant she couldn’t scale her company properly while also covering so many roles, even with the small team she had.
Takeaway: Find what area of your company or what projects you cannot step away from and delegate other tasks. You’ll be able to invest more of your time, energy, and skills into the tasks and projects where you’re most effective
What I learned: The right team makes all the difference
Don’t forget the coach
Mari learned that no matter how good you are at what you do, your business will eventually reach a point where you can no longer manage everything on your own. And that’s a good thing! But when that time comes, you’ll need to ask for help in more ways than one, such as hiring a business coach, seeking mentors, and recruiting the right team.
That’s what Mari learned: “It’s impossible to truly grow my business without a skilled coach and without the right team members.”
In addition to guiding you and offering assistance as you build your business strategy, the right coach can also help you decide who the right team members are: The right people will bring their A-game to their work every day, ultimately impacting the bottom line across the board, in all roles.
Takeaway: No one can do it all on their own. Having the right people in place will help your business succeed without sacrificing the quality of your life.
Say yes with discernment
Mari also learned to be much more mindful when saying yes, only saying yes to specific things and always taking commitments seriously.
“I do my best to stay focused on my ‘one thing’ that impacts everything else. For me, that is creating content, typically in the form of educational Facebook live video broadcasts on my business page, along with leading webinars and speaking.”
Takeaway: Find the one thing you do best that differentiates you and your business and give that role everything you’ve got.
The solution: Hire your all-star team
Guidance for you, guidance for your team
So in 2011, Mari hired a highly skilled business development coach who guided her in recruiting the right team members for her business growth. And it worked: Within just a few months of that hire, everything changed for her and her business.
“I ended up generating my previous year’s annual revenue in one week during Q1 the following year.”
Takeaway: Having the right team in place will help you, your business, and your bottom line.
Her advice? Ask for help.
Mari’s advice? “Absolutely do not be afraid to put your hand up and ask for help!” You shouldn’t expect yourself to know how to run your business as it grows and expands. You’re exploring new territory, after all, so Mari suggests getting a mentor and/or a business coach to help you and your business succeed.
To that end, join a Mastermind that’s a good fit for the role you’re growing into. Regardless of your experience level, seek people out who are where you’re at, but who are also looking to move forward.
“Seek out opportunities to grow yourself as a person. Document all your internal processes. Be sure to hire slow and fire fast! Clarity on the vision and goals of your business will help identify the ideal team members you need.”
Takeaway: Surround yourself with people who will help you grow, whether that’s a mastermind, a mentor, a business coach, a great team, or some mixture of them all.
Whether you’re just starting out or your business has gained some momentum, knowing when to delegate and hire more help is a valuable skill. But more than that, not knowing when to bring in more people can be detrimental to your company. It might seem like everything with your business is fine, and business is progressing as usual, but business as usual is rarely the point.
Usually, you want your company to thrive, not just succeed.
This means surrounding yourself with the right people and the right mentors. Take it from Mari, you want to be ready when your business takes off. Don’t wait to prepare yourself, your team, and your strategy until you start gaining momentum, because by that point, you’ll already be behind.
‘The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing.’ – Tom Fishburne
We’ve all had that experience where we enter a store excited to browse and then quickly flee from overly ambitious sales personnel, seemingly salivating after our wallets and purses. The classic wisdom goes something like this: ‘People love to buy. People hate being sold to.’ At a most basic level, good marketing is ingrained in the experience so that consumers are aware of it as little as possible.
While fundamental tenants remain consistent, the implementation of these trademark strategies is always in flux. The advent of new technology and shifting societal trends constantly create opportunities for adventurous and diligent marketers to hone advantages over competitors. Let’s take a look at five marketing trends that are poised to top the charts for 2019.
Content is King. You’ve probably heard this proud maxim before. People aren’t on the internet or reading a newspaper or watching TV to be sold to. They show up in search of information or entertainment – something that adds value to their lives. While they’re enjoying the true intent of their search (the content), marketers can be at work, pitching products or services. The trick is to do so without straying far from the target of the consumer’s search: authentic, substantive information.
While the ubiquity of the internet and digital marketing didn’t invent the need for content-driven advertising, it certainly changed the face of it. People are increasingly wary of a bait-and-switch – having their attention subtly (or not-so-subtly) redirected onto advertising. When they detect that motive, many people have a very strong adverse reaction. The trick is to properly align the marketing with the content so that the results are organic and in line with the consumer’s original intention. The key to success in 2019 is original and relevant content as illustrated below.
Example of Good Content-Driven Advertising: a consumer reads an article about No-Trace backpacking and clicks a link to lightweight, sustainably-produced camping equipment.
Example of Bad Content-Driven Advertising: a consumer reads an article about No-Trace backpacking and is interrupted by a pop-up ad for a low APR credit card.
There exists a basic paradox with large-scale marketing: the need to reach the maximum number of potential customers while making each individual feel specifically catered to. With its trademark slogan ‘It’s Not for Everyone’, Hendrick’s Gin famously made masterful use of this conundrum. By capitalizing on people’s desire to be part of a select (and selective) subset, Hendrick’s beefed up their popularity and their sales. Basically, they made all Hendrick’s drinkers feel special.
With the availability and accessibility of modern tech and customer relationship management (CRM) programs, it’s irresponsible not to tailor your approach to your target market. Consumer analytics have the capacity to tell you everything from who is interested in a market to who is browsing your domain. As personalization becomes increasingly refined, marketers are able to identify individuals by interest – not just issue generalities based on demographics.
One form of personalization provided by Artificial Intelligence (AI) is called ‘Intent Data’. If you’ve ever purchased a product or listened to a song and then been presented a message started with ‘You may also like…’ or ‘Because you watched…’, you’ve experienced Intent Data at work. Increasingly, these sorts of algorithms are being used to tailor marketing based on individual preferences.
#3 Chat Boxes
A few years ago, you probably started seeing these popping up (literally) on the websites of large customer service entities such as banks and cell service providers. Today, you see them on the homepages of many small to mid-sized companies. The proliferation of chat box providers makes purchasing, installing and customizing chat boxes feasible for almost any company who can afford to staff the vendor side of the interaction. Some chat boxes are also designed to field a standard range of inquiries using AI.
Worldwide, the chat box market is growing at almost 25% annually and will reach $1.25B by 2025. A growing number of consumers are comfortable with or even prefer the interface. It splits the difference between the broad, impersonal nature of an FAQ page and the frustrating or potentially intimidating experience of calling customer support.
#4 Voice Search & Artificial Intelligence
With the rising prevalence of virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant and the continuing refinement of voice recognition technology, voice search is becoming increasingly popular. With this shift in how consumers search for products and services comes to an opportunity for companies to refocus their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy.
Simply put, what people say is slightly (but significantly) different than what people write. For instance, in voice search, consumers are much more likely to use longer, more detailed phrases. This means that businesses that have focused their SEO on long tail keywords (keyword phrases that are three words or more) are better positioned to attract business from people using voice search technology. AI is being used in business by app developers, hiring managers and marketers with good, and interesting results.
There was a time in recent memory when product endorsement was almost exclusively the privilege of movie stars, athletes and other celebrities. For several reasons, this has dramatically changed in recent years. One, celebrities are expensive. Two, celebrity endorsements don’t necessarily make sense (What does Roger Federer really know about shaving technology?). Three, the ubiquity of blogs and privately held domains have led to an upswing in micro-influencers.
Strategies involving micro-influencers are more-or-less ‘peer marketing’ approaches. Individuals build up an online following by demonstrating expertise in a certain area (e.g. cooking, sewing, rock-climbing). Their followers, ostensibly other devotees of that passion, look to them for advice on what to do and what to buy. With certain products and services, micro-influencers can be a much more effective (and cheaper) avenue the traditional endorsements.
Always Be Evolving
If you Google ‘Top Marketing Trends’, and open ten different articles, you’re likely to find ten different compilations of advice. While based on data, marketing strategy remains largely subjective, leaving a good deal of room for experimentation and personal preference.
One ironic constant in marketing is that it is always changing. As technology advances at an escalating rate and our increasingly populated world are tied ever closer together, marketing strategies will continue to evolve more rapidly. Always do your diligence and keep up with changing topics, tactics and trends. You may still elect to take out a radio spot or an add in the local paper, but you should do so based on all the information at your disposal.
This is a preview of a research report from Business Insider Intelligence, Business Insider's premium research service. To learn more about Business Insider Intelligence, click here.
What is eSports? History & Rise of Video Game Tournaments
Years ago, eSports was a community of video gamers who would gather at conventions to play Counter Strike, Call of Duty, or League of Legends.
These multiplayer video game competitions would determine League of Legends champions, the greatest shooters in Call of Duty, the cream of the crop of Street Fighter players, the elite Dota 2 competitors, and more.
But today, as the history of eSports continue to unfold, media giants such as ESPN and Turner are broadcasting eSports tournaments and competitions. And in 2014, Amazon acquired Twitch, the live streaming video platform that has been and continues to be the leader in online gaming broadcasts. And YouTube also wanted to jump on the live streaming gaming community with the creation of YouTube Gaming.
eSports Market Growth Booming
To put in perspective how big eSports is becoming, a Google search for "lol" does not produce "laughing out loud" as the top result. Instead, it points to League of Legends, one of the most popular competitive games in existence. The game has spawned a worldwide community called the League of Legends Championship Series, more commonly known as LCS or LOL eSports.
What started as friends gathering in each other's homes to host LAN parties and play into the night has become an official network of pro gaming tournaments and leagues with legitimate teams, some of which are even sponsored and have international reach. Organizations such as Denial, AHQ, and MLG have multiple eSports leagues.
And to really understand the scope of all this, consider that the prize pool for the latest Dota 2 tournament was more than $20 million.
Websites even exist for eSports live scores to let people track the competitions in real time if they are unable to watch. There are even fantasy eSports leagues similar to fantasy football, along with the large and growing scene of eSports betting and gambling.
So it's understandable why traditional media companies would want to capitalize on this growing trend just before it floods into the mainstream. Approximately 300 million people worldwide tune in to eSports today, and that number is growing rapidly. By 2020, that number will be closer to 500 million.
eSports Industry Analysis - The Future of the Competitive Gaming Market
Financial institutions are starting to take notice. Goldman Sachs valued eSports at $500 million in 2016 and expects the market will grow at 22% annually compounded over the next three years into a more than $1 billion opportunity.
And industry statistics are already backing this valuation and demonstrating the potential for massive earnings. To illustrate the market value, market growth, and potential earnings for eSports, consider Swedish media company Modern Times Group's $87 million acquisition of Turtle Entertainment, the holding company for ESL. YouTube has made its biggest eSports investment to date by signing a multiyear broadcasting deal with Faceit to stream the latter's Esports Championship Series. And the NBA will launch its own eSports league in 2018.
Of course, as with any growing phenomenon, the question becomes: How do advertisers capitalize? This is especially tricky for eSports because of its audience demographics, which is young, passionate, male-dominated, and digital-first. They live online and on social media, are avid ad-blockers, and don't watch traditional TV or respond to conventional advertising.
So what will the future of eSports look like? How high can it climb? Could it reach the mainstream popularity of baseball or football? How will advertisers be able to reach an audience that does its best to shield itself from advertising?
Business Insider Intelligence, Business Insider's premium research service, has compiled an unparalleled report on the eSports ecosystem that dissects the growing market for competitive gaming. This comprehensive, industry-defining report contains more than 30 charts and figures that forecast audience growth, average revenue per user, and revenue growth.
Companies and organizations mentioned in the report include: NFL, NBA, English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, NHL, Paris Saint-Germain, Ligue 1, Ligue de Football, Twitch, Amazon, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, ESPN, Electronic Arts, EA Sports, Valve, Riot Games, Activision Blizzard, ESL, Turtle Entertainment, Dreamhack, Modern Times Group, Turner Broadcasting, TBS Network, Vivendi, Canal Plus, Dailymotion, Disney, BAMTech, Intel, Coca Cola, Red Bull, HTC, Mikonet
Here are some eSports industry facts and statistics from the report:
- eSports is a still nascent industry filled with commercial opportunity.
- There are a variety of revenue streams that companies can tap into.
- The market is presently undervalued and has significant room to grow.
- The dynamism of this market distinguishes it from traditional sports.
- The audience is high-value and global, and its numbers are rising.
- Brands can prosper in eSports by following the appropriate game plan.
- Game publishers approach their Esport ecosystems in different ways.
- Successful esport games are comprised of the same basic ingredients.
- Digital streaming platforms are spearheading the popularity of eSports.
- Legacy media are investing into eSports, and seeing encouraging results.
- Traditional sports franchises have a clear opportunity to seize in eSports.
- Virtual and augmented reality firms also stand to benefit from eSports.
In full, the report illuminates the business of eSports from four angles:
- The gaming nucleus of eSports, including an overview of popular esport genres and games; the influence of game publishers, and the spectrum of strategies they adopt toward their respective esport scenes; the role of eSports event producers and the tournaments they operate.
- The eSports audience profile, its size, global reach, and demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes; the underlying factors driving its growth; why they are an attractive target for brands and broadcasters; and the significant audience and commercial crossover with traditional sports.
- eSports media broadcasters, including digital avant-garde like Twitch and YouTube, newer digital entrants like Facebook and traditional media outlets like Turner’s TBS Network, ESPN, and Canal Plus; their strategies and successes in this space; and the virtual reality opportunity.
- eSports market economics, with a market sizing, growth forecasts, and regional analyses; an evaluation of the eSports spectacle and its revenue generators, some of which are idiosyncratic to this industry; strategic planning for brand marketers, with case studies; and an exploration of the infinite dynamism and immense potential of the eSports economy.
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In The Lost Art of Closing, I wrote about the ten commitments you need in a typical B2B sale. In that book, I identified two rules to acquire these commitments, the first of which is that you must trade enough value to create an imbalance in your client’s favor (they gain from the meeting, even if they never buy from you). The second rule is that you need to control the process (the sales conversation).
Here are eleven ways you give up control.
- Not knowing that it is your responsibility to control the process: It is easy to lose control of the process when you don’t know it is your responsibility to manage it in the first place. Improvement here starts with awareness. There are some who believe that buyer should—or does—control the process, and that you should be subservient, waiting for them to direct you. This is wrong, and it will cause limit your ability to win and serve your clients.
- Not creating enough value in a meeting to earn the next: If you don’t show up prepared, with an agenda, with insights and ideas, and with good questions, you are not going to generate enough value to earn the right to another meeting. Your client is going to decide whether the next meeting makes sense, and that judgment is shaped by how you perform.
- Leaving a meeting without a meeting: You should never leave a meeting without another meeting. If you do, you are going to find yourself chasing your prospective client for the next meeting, first over voicemail, then over email (two mediums which make it easy for your client to avoid you). Book the next meeting before you end each meeting.
- Accepting a non-commitment: A non-commitment sounds like this: “We’ll reach out to you in the next couple weeks.” Maybe they mean it. Alternatively, perhaps they’re just nice so that they can get rid of you. One thing is certain, there is no next meeting on their calendar, and there is nothing on yours. You accepted a non-commitment, and you are back to chasing.
- Making a commitment instead of gaining one: You may have established a few critical follow-up tasks from your meeting. You owe your prospect an email with some additional information. The commitment that you made is not a commitment for the client, and they are in no way obligated to open, read, or respond to your mail. A commitment was made, but your client didn’t make it.
- Avoiding conflict over next steps: Your client may not want to do what they need to do next. They may not want to bring in other parties. They may not want to commit to a meeting with your operations team. They may not want to let your legal team hash out an indemnification clause with their legal team. When these commitments are necessary, avoiding the difficult conversation to gain the commitment can levy a hefty penalty of your conflict-aversion of your lack of diplomacy.
- Failing to trade enough value for the commitment you want: If you can’t tell your client precisely what they gain from the meeting you are trying to schedule, they are right to refuse it. They need to know how they benefit from agreeing to the meeting. No value, no commitment.
- Allowing clients to determine what comes next when it is the wrong decision: Sometimes a client will tell you something that sounds positive, like “Go ahead and get us a proposal and pricing.” But if you haven’t done the work to be able to provide what they are asking for, you have to do what is right instead of what seems easy.
- Not knowing what commitment you need: It’s possible that you don’t know what commitment you need. Because the sales conversation is nonlinear, it is easy to find yourself outside of your sales process and in a place where turn-by-turn directions are not available. Even if you have to guess, and even if you are wrong, you need a commitment that moves the opportunity forward.
- Failing to identify the next best commitment: Sometimes the commitment you need is difficult to gain. If you don’t have a backup commitment, something you can ask for that, while not being optimal, still moves your forward. Something is almost always better than nothing.
- Not asking: If you don’t ask for the commitment you need, you are not going to acquire that commitment. Ask!
The post 11 Ways You Give Up Control of the Sales Conversation appeared first on The Sales Blog.
84264 / Pixabay
According to Forbes, a staggering 1.2 trillion photos were taken in 2017 that is 38,025 photos taken every second! In 2018 this numbers increased astronomically. Shooting photos has become the world’s pastime, enjoyed by three thirds of the world’s population.
A few years back, before the advent of smartphone photography very few people actually took photos. It’s now estimated over 70% of the world’s population shoot photos either with DSLR cameras or smartphones cameras. Most of these photos end up uploaded online.
Unfortunately very few, meet minimum photography threshold. Shooting professional photos that sell online require among other things basic knowledge in photography.
In this article I will share with you four important hacks that will help you shoot, process and upload stunning images,images that sell online, images that will take you from the realm of amateur photography to a knowledgeable photographer.
Whether shooting with a DSLR camera,a point and shoot camera, or a Smartphone camera, this hacks, applied professionally, will set you apart from the debris of ameteur photography.
Light is the pillar of professional photography, experiment with your camera, get to know how to capture images in different light situations, in addition,apply these four photography secrets:
1. Resolution, Aspect ratio, and Cropping
2. Background, Color correction, Saturation and Contrast
3. Composition, Context, and Consistency
4. Free Editing tools and Apps.
Start by picking the most pleasing photo to the eye, proceed to edit using any of the free online editing software shared below:
1. Resolution, Aspect Ratio and Cropping
Screen resolution of your image affects how professional and well rounded an image looks. The pixels per inch (ppi) of your image must be right for your audience, it must load fast enough on all devices.
Statistics show that most viewers access online images on smartphones. Resize your images appropriately to accommodate them. Make sure your image’s resolution is high, save your image in JPG format, it’s more adaptive to web pages.
A square image is attractive and fits on most screens comfortably, keep thumbnails and aspect ratio of the image balanced, the image will look polished. Crop, trim, and straighten the image, to remove distractions. help the viewer focus on your subject.
2. Background, Color correction, Saturation and Contrast
Remove clutter and noise from the background. Most image buyers prefer images on a clean uncluttered background.Adjust your image’s brightness as appropriate, take care that you do not create blowouts.
When contrasting strive to keep the image’s original colors, contrast will also help you create a favourable mood in your image. Take care of the blue and yellow hue as you balance brightness, saturate the image to make your colors more vibrant, evoke your viewers emotions.
3. Composition, Context, and Consistency
Different image buyers want different color schemes targeting a specific market niches, study your targeted buyers and create images with content that resonates with the Brand’s demographic group.
Remember to shoot images with the Brand’s colour palette, use complementing colours to reflect the brand’s image.Images should be shot with the right focal length to get right composition.
A Brand’s identity will dictate the image’s composition, some Brands require a minimalistic look with a lot of negative space and a single subject, while others prefer a more crowded approach with multiple lively subjects.
The last Tip is actually not a Tip, but free online resources!
4. Free Editing tools and Apps.
Photoshop is the most common editing software, it’s however not free. In this article I will share a few free online resources that will help you edit your image professionally.
This is a free online photo editing resource with most features found on photoshop.
A comfortable user friendly free online editor works well with your marketing images.
This is an open-source resource meaning that it’s free. Its versatility will manipulate your photos beautifully.
An app that lets you edit images directly on your phone, easy to use with multiple interfaces to help you create perfect product images.
Free easy-to-use app,creates wonderful frames and visual effects compatible with RAW among many other features.
Aviary Photo Editor
A simple and intuitive free app, it boasts of all basic photo editing features, it’s easily manipulative.
Your passion, commitment, and hard work, will help you to create stunning images, images that will be accepted and sold by stock agencies.
In closing, Practice. Practice to shoot excellent photos, practice to edit, practice to create astounding images,- wow your viewers with your creations.
Originally published here.
tswedensky / Pixabay
Landing pages are an essential part of lead generation, as they are a primary tool to gather contact information from visitors and increase conversions. A powerful landing page simplifies the offer process and eliminates distractions, so the design of your landing page is key to its effectiveness.
When visitors land on your page, they should be able to quickly understand what they’re downloading and how it will be valuable to them. It requires a different strategy than that of other pages on your site, so we’ve outlined ten design tips for a landing page that converts.
1. Consistent branding and logo
It’s important for your landing page to look like it belongs on your website. This doesn’t mean it needs to look exactly like the rest of your website or have a complex design – in fact, simple is best when it comes to landing pages – but they should have consistent branding. Having your company logo at the top of every landing page ensures that visitors know where they are and who is providing the content.
2. Negative space and limited navigation
To achieve the goal of your landing page, you should make clear for visitors the action you want them to take and how to get there. Avoid cluttering the page. There should be a significant amount of negative space to make the page elements and their hierarchical relationship clear. This will guide the user to your call-to-action. Unlike websites where there are multiple journeys for a user to take, a landing page should have a specific path for the user to take to easily accomplish the actions you’ve anticipated. Since you want to keep the user on a specified journey, it’s also best to exclude any exit links and to limit navigation. Having a menu and other secondary links may lead users to abandon the landing page.
3. Clear, compelling headline (and sub headline)
Your headline should be clear, direct and explain exactly what the offer is. It should also be consistent with the copy that was used in the original call-to-action or email that promoted the landing page. The headline is usually the first thing visitors see when they land on your page, so it should be catchy and attention-grabbing but still clearly state the purpose. As a complement to the heading, a subheadline should be written to persuade the user to stay on the page and encourage them to take action.
4. Premium offer
Landing pages should promote a premium offer that your visitor receives in exchange for providing information in a form. The offer could be premium content like a whitepaper, eBook, report or webinar, or another type of offer like a free trial, demo or free consultation.
5. Enticing visuals or video
Content including images improves engagement and can make your offer more exciting. Images and icons on your landing page could be interactive, tell a story, or even give directional cues that point a visitor towards your call-to-action.
In 2019, video can be very effective on a landing page. Having a landing page video can increase conversions by 80%, and 96% of consumers find videos helpful when making online buying decisions. Videos should be strategically placed on the page with a good thumbnail and have a clear call-to-action. Be sure to keep your videos short, as users are then more likely to watch the whole video. It can also be optimized for SEO and help your search engine ranking! Just be sure that all multimedia is purposeful and pointed to the desired user behavior, which is usually a call to action to submit a form.
6. Simple, direct copy
Your landing page copy should be short and to-the-point, and it should be relevant to the call-to-action. It should explain exactly what the prospect will learn or what value they will receive from your offer. Bullet points or bolded words are a great way to get your point across quickly. Use benefit-oriented language that speaks directly to your visitors, and while the copy should be concise, you can also personalize it so it’s less generic.
7. Standout call-to-action (CTA)
Your landing page needs a clear call-to-action button that demands attention. To increase effectiveness, use a contrasting color (which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bright color) and an actual button, as users have been trained to expect one. Design the page without clutter or distractions, and make the button big enough so there’s no doubt where to go to redeem your offer. You can take into consideration the F-Pattern and Z-Pattern of eye movement when deciding where to place the button. Be sure to use only one CTA per landing page so you don’t confuse your visitors.
8. Lead capture form
This may arguably be the most important part of your landing page. It’s best not to ask for too much information on the form, as you don’t want to overwhelm or intimidate visitors. You should require a visitor to provide key information like name, company, email and job title. If you want to learn more about a lead, you can make certain questions optional or implement progressive profiling so that you are able to ask additional questions each time they interact with one of your forms. Overall, design the form so that it’s quick and easy to complete.
9. Trust indicators
Consider including a few elements that add credibility to your offer such as statistical evidence, testimonials and reviews, or trust badges, like awards or customer logos. Social proof can also be effective in increasing conversions, as people are 71% more likely to make a purchase if referred by social media. You can display the number of reads, shares, likes, or subscribers on the page, and you should include social media sharing buttons, too, so visitors can share your offer with others. Including your company phone number and address on the landing page is another way to add credibility as it provides proof to visitors that you are a real company, especially since the design and navigation of a good landing page will be limited.
10. Mobile friendly
Today, mobile optimization is table stakes for any website or page, and that applies to your landing page, too. More than 60% of B2B consumers say mobile played a significant role in a recent purchase, and 50% of B2B queries are made on smartphones. That number is predicted to grow to 70% by 2020. So as you design and develop your landing page, remember that designing it to be responsive and optimized for mobile is essential.
Test your landing page for best results
After you have designed the perfect landing page, consider testing multiple versions with an A/B test, especially if you’re undecided on the layout or social proof elements. You can then study the analytics, and make adjustments depending on your findings. Landing pages can be a great way for your company to turn website visitors into known leads. But always remember, if a visitor is going to give you their contact information, they will expect to get something of value in return.
I recently chatted with a VC invested in 15 healthcare apps that use Behavior Modification to facilitate patients through permanent behavior change for enhanced health. He said although many of his apps use it, there’s no scientific evidence that Behavior Modification works. Hmmmm… And the reason you’re still using it is… “There’s nothing else to use.”
I contend that current Behavior Mod approaches are not only faulty, but seriously harmful to a large population of people who need to consider permanent change. You see, Behavior Modification does NOT instigate new behaviors or permanently change existing ones. In diet, smoking cessation, and exercise maintenance alone, there is a 97% failure rate for ongoing adoption of altered behaviors.
Now let’s be honest here. If you’ve ever tried to keep lost weight off, or habituate a new exercise routine, or stop smoking, or… you’ve probably tried to modify your current behaviors by doing the same thing differently, or doing a different thing the same. Diets always work. It’s when we try to return to ‘normal’ that our lost weight returns. The problem isn’t the diet.
This essay is about conscious behavior change. For this, I must take you to the source – into your brain – to not only understand why you behave the way you do or resist new behaviors, but HOW to actually elicit the behaviors you want. Conventional thinking usually explains the WHAT and WHY, but fail to teach the HOW. In this article I’ll lead you through HOW your brain causes your behaviors, and where the inflexion points are so you can intervene and consciously design your own behaviors (or lead your patients and clients through to their best choices). I’ve tried to make the more procedural stuff fun and relatable so you’ll barely notice. Enjoy.
There are two major problems with Behavior Modification:
1. Behavior 2. Modification.
I suspect most people haven’t considered what a ‘behavior’ denotes. Behaviors are our identity, our beliefs, our history/norms/life experience in action, in the service of representing us to the world, to show people through our actions what we stand for. It’s how we show up as ‘us’ every day – the demonstration, the expression, the translation of who we are – the external actions that portray our internal essence, beliefs, and morals. Like an autobiography is the written representation of a life but not THE life. Like going to church represents us practicing our faith but not FAITH. Behaviors are the visible depictions of each of us.
Behaviors don’t occur without a stimulus. Nor do they operate in a vacuum. And they are always, always congruent with our beliefs. You know, without asking, that someone wearing a bathing suit to a church wedding most likely has different beliefs than the other guests. It’s not about the bathing suit.
In our brains, behaviors are the output of physiological signals, much as words and meaning are the output of our brain’s interpretation of electrical signals coming into our ears. In other words, it’s all happening unconsciously through brain chemistry: behaviors are merely the end result of a very specific sequence of chemical signals in our brains that traverse a series of congruency checks that ultimately agree to act.
Below is a summary of the physiology of what happens in our brains – the step by step path – that ultimately leads to behaviors. Here you’ll recognize exactly where and why Behavior Mod fails. For those wanting to skip the brain stuff, go directly to the CASE STUDY below. But don’t forget to peek at the great graphic of the HOW of decision making just below.
THE PHYSIOLOGY OF BEHAVIOR
For those of you who love to learn esoteric stuff, here is an overview of the physiology of our brain’s path to a behavior: from an Input/Cue that starts the process and signals that an action is requested, through our filters and trials that check the signal for risk, through to a STOP or an Output/Behavior. It’s what our brain does to cause us to behave, or not.
SIGNAL/CUE/MOTIVATION/INPUT: We start by giving ourselves some sort of CUE, an instruction or request, to take action, whether it’s to brush our teeth, or move our arm, or eat a salad. This signal traverses a neural pathway to get to the next stage, the CEN.
CEN/BELIEF FILTER: Our Central Executive Network, or CEN, filters all requests through our beliefs, morals, and norms. If the incoming cue is congruent with our beliefs and determined to have no risk, we peruse our lifelong history and trillions (literally) of neural pathways to find an existing behavior we’ve used before that matches the request. If one is found, there’s an immediate GO and you get a CUE –> BEHAVIOR, or in other words, INPUT –> OUTPUT match immediately. This happens when you get into your car and automatically put on your seatbelt, for example.
But if the motivating cue is incongruent with our norms and beliefs there is a STOP or resistance. This happens a lot when people try to do something they dislike, like add working out to their schedules, for example, because they believe they should – and they hate the gym, hate working out, and hate taking the time out of their day. Or something they’ve tried and have failed at. Or something that goes against their beliefs.
For the past 10 years, after decades of unsuccessfully trying to convince myself to get to the gym, I finally created a new habit and now go 8 hours a week – AND I HATE THE GYM. First I changed my cue. I told telling myself that as a healthy person, I believed (CEN) I am fit in mind, body, spirit. Now, if I want to be a slug, I ask myself if I want to be a healthy person today. Thankfully, I do 90% of the time.
The job of the CEN is to let in the good stuff and stop the bad. Behavior Mod doesn’t have the ability to change cues, and address belief filters.
TRIAL LOOP: If the CEN is congruent with the signal and there’s no behavior already in place, the signal goes into a trial loop where it
- assigns/weights/determines the risk of the new against the beliefs and norms (CEN);
- seeks new knowledge/learning tools to trial and practice behaviors that conform with the cue;
- while comparing against the filters in the CEN for congruence;
- develop a new neural pathway/synaptic connection for a new behavior if congruent (i.e. GO) or
- STOP a signal if a risk uncovered, and no new behavior is formed.
Obviously our brains are set up to filter out what they believe will harm us. And anything new that has not been bought into, or tested to fit in with our other norms, will be deemed a risk, regardless of the efficacy of the new or need for change.
When our cue gets stopped and doesn’t lead to a behavior it’s because
- We’re giving ourselves a cue that’s incongruent with who we are;
- We’re trying to use a pathway already developed for a different behavior;
- We’re attempting to change a behavior by starting from the output (behavior) end without going through the congruency process of weighting risk and getting Buy In.
Input (signal, cue, stimulus) –> CEN (beliefs) –> trial loop (congruency check) –> output (behavior)
You can see that behaviors are at the end of a chain of physiological events, the final step along the neural pathway between the input cue and action. The end. The response. The reaction. Nowhere do they occur on their own.
THE PROBLEM WITH MODIFICATION
Behavior Mod attempts to effect change at the output where an existing behavior is already in place, hoping that by practicing a preferred behavior over and over and over, different results will emerge. Obviously it can’t work. New behaviors activate and will permanently take hold ONLY once instructed by an input stimulus that has then been approved by your beliefs and weighted for risk and congruence.
In other words, when you try to change a behavior by trying to change an existing behavior, you’re trying to change the output without getting necessary Buy In for change. It’s not even logical. It’s why diets and exercise regimens fail: people try to change their existing habits rather than form wholly new ones with different signals that lead to wholly different – and more successful – routines.
Consider a robot that has been programmed to move forward but you want it to move backward. You tell it why ‘backward’ is best, you pitch it reasons it should want to move backward, you tell it a story about why moving backward is advantageous, and you even try to push it backward. But until you reprogram it, it will not go backward. It’s the same with us. We must create new incoming cues, go through a trial loop that weights risks/tries/fails/tries/fails, gathers necessary data along the way, and gets agreement to develop a wholly new neural pathway to a new action that’s congruent. You cannot change a behavior by changing a behavior.
It’s also impossible to expect permanent change when we omit the entire risk-check element of our Buy In process. The risk to our system of becoming imbalanced by shoving in something foreign into a system that’s been working just fine, is just too great, regardless of the efficacy of the new, and any new inputs will stop behaviors that haven’t been vetted. And Behavior Mod supersedes these tests by trying to push the change from the output end, before it’s been vetted.
HOW TO CHANGE BEHAVIORS PERMANENTLY
Here are three of the key elements involved in how we choose to behave differently. It’s systemic.
SYSTEMS CONGRUENCE. The role of systems here cannot be underestimated because they’re the glue that holds us together. I am a system. You are a system. Your family is a system. Every conglomeration of things that follow the same rules is a system. Every system has its own status quo – its own unique set of norms, beliefs, identifiers that show up, together, and are identified as Me, or My Family, or My Work Team. The system of people working together at Google will be different from the system of people working together at Kaiser Permanente, with unspoken rules that apply to dress codes, hiring practices, working hours, relationships, the way meetings are run.
The job of our status quo is to maintain Systems Congruence (You learned that in 6th grade. It means that all systems, all of us, seek balance, or Homeostasis.) so we can wake up every day being who we were yesterday. And all day, trillions of signals enter into our brains and lead us to behaviors that have met the criteria of systems congruence and safety. These are our habits. Indeed, our brains check all incoming signals for incongruence before behaviors are agreed to, making sure we remain in balance minutely.
Any time you try (and try and try and…) to behave in a way that unconsciously causes imbalance within you – when you push against an existing habit or action and try to get a different behavior – you’ll experience resistance or sabotage. For any proposed change, to maintain congruence, your system must agree, Buy In, in a way that matches your beliefs, identity, and norms. And it’s physiologic, chemical, automatic, and unconscious. Our brains do this for us every second of our lives. Behavior Modification supersedes this process, trying to induce behavior change in a way that risks generating imbalance, or Systems Incongruence – and inaction.
INPUT. Any new input signals will only become a behavior if they are congruent with the beliefs, identity and norms of the person’s system. When you wish to change a behavior, it’s necessary to input the correct message as all that follows is a response to the input cue. I recently asked a friend with a long history of trying to lose weight permanently what she tells herself to begin (her stimulus). ‘I tell myself I’m a disgusting slob.’ Since different inputs will be assessed by the CEN uniquely and each achieve different outputs, being a ‘disgusting slob’ will invite the same behaviors that caused her to be a ‘disgusting slob’ to begin with, and she’ll fail over and over; she’s inputting the same signal expecting a different response, but her brain will only seek/find the old response.
TRIAL LOOP. Because a new input seeking a new output/behavior demands a congruence test in the CEN to assess risk, there’s a trial process that includes
- adding new knowledge (education, books, coaching, lessons, etc.) to achieve new skills to trial;
- continual comparisons against the CEN, or against our beliefs and identity, as each iteration progresses, to test for congruence;
- Buy-In so our CEN, our beliefs and identity, concur with each iteration of trialing and failing as our brains go about weighting any risk;
- trialing any new behaviors for congruence, that result from adding the new knowledge.
If at any point a risk is determined to put the system out of congruence, it will stop the new behavior. If the input cue is determined safe, it will agree to create a new behavior. Not to kick a dead horse, but Behavior Mod does not address this at all. That’s why it fails so often.
So if my friend wanted to permanently lose weight, she’d input something like “I’m a healthy person”, discover which of her beliefs are connected to that (“As part of my health practice, I eat nutritionally healthful food that works well with my lifestyle.”), and go through a trial loop that would include her doing research and possibly blood tests to see what types of food best align with her being healthy, and end up with a new set of healthful eating behaviors. Ultimately she’d have a lifetime food plan that kept her healthy, congruent with her beliefs about herself and habituated into her life. And her eating would become part of her system and become habituated.
I’ll share a recent experience I had using this process with my neighbor. In it I’ll label each element within the Buy In process in the chart above.
My neighbor Maria once came to my house crying. Her doctor had told her she was borderline diabetic and needed to eat differently. He gave her a printed list of foods to eat and foods to avoid and sent her on her way. At my house she told me she’d been trying for months, lost some weight, but finally gave up and went back to her normal eating habits and gained back the weight. But she was fearful of dying from diabetes like her mother did. Apparently the fear of death wasn’t enough to change her eating habits. She asked if I could help, and I told her I’d lead her through to finding her own answers. Here was our exchange.
SDM: Who are you? [RESPONSE TO DOCTOR INPUT/CUE]
Maria: I’m a mother and grandmother. [CEN FILTER, IDENTITY]
SDM: What are your beliefs that go with being a mother and grandmother?
Maria: I believe I’m responsible for feeding my family in a way that makes them happy. [CEN FILTER, BELIEFS]
SDM: What is it you’re doing now that makes them happy? [CEN FILTER, IDENTITY]
Maria: I make 150 tortillas each morning and hand them out to all my children and grandchildren who come over on their way to work and school in the morning. They love my tortillas. But I know they’re bad for me with all the lard in them, even though I eat them. I’ve tried to stop, but since I’m making them for everyone, they are a big part of my diet. When the doctor told me I can’t eat them anymore, it felt like he asked me to not love my family. [NO BUY IN FROM CEN/STOP]
SDM: So I hear that tortillas are the way you keep your family happy but the lard in them is unhealthy for you. Is there any other way you can keep your family happy by feeding them without putting your own health at risk?
Maria: Hmmmm… I could make them corn tacos. They don’t have lard, and my family loves them. [TRIAL LOOP, BUY-IN]
Maria then invited her entire (huge) family for dinner and presented her daughter Sonia with her tortilla pan outfitted with a big red bow. [TRIAL LOOP, NEW BEHAVIOR] She told her family she couldn’t make tortillas any more due to health reasons, and proclaimed Sonia the new “Tortilla Tia”. She could, she said, make them corn tacos whenever they wanted and she would happily try out whatever they wanted so long as they were happy. [TRIAL LOOP, KNOWLEDGE ACQUISITION]
That simple switch in her food choices and her handover to Sonia helped her begin a healthy eating plan. It inspired her to research other food substitutions [TRIAL LOOP, KNOWLEDGE ACQUISITION] she could make to avoid having a chronic illness. Eventually, she lost weight and had a food plan more closely aligned with what her doc suggested. And of course, she could still make her family happy with her food and meet her beliefs. [NEW NEURAL PATHWAY, NEW BEHAVIOR]
As you can see, just from entering the problem with a different hat on – helping patients figure out their own route to change and Buy In instead of trying to drive it – using a different curiosity and a different questioning system, it’s quite possible to guide people to discover their own best choices that are congruent with who they are.
FACILITATE BUY IN THEN ADD BEHAVIOR MOD
I realize my ideas aren’t in the mainstream at the moment. But just because Behavior Mod has such a stronghold in the healthcare field doesn’t mean it can’t be reexamined or appended. And just because Behavior Mod has been the accepted model to induce change doesn’t mean it’s successful. Remember when we believed top down leadership was the way to go? Millions of books sold? Billions spent on consultants? I’m offering something new here that deserves consideration.
And it’s not either/or; it can be both/and. You don’t have to throw away what you’ve got, just add a front end to stimulate Buy In. I’ve used this approach to train a large number of sales folks globally to facilitate buying decisions and it was quite successful. And here’s an article I wrote on adding my change facilitation concepts to Behavior Mod, should you have interest.
There are plenty of uses for this add on. Think of enabling patient Buy In for obesity or cardio clinics, to help patients design a work-out regimen for heart health. Or for diabetes sufferers to design a healthful food plan for life. Or athletes trying to change an inferior swing, or develop a new pattern to their feet differently to run faster. What about helping yourself meditate daily or organizing your life. Or to get more sleep.
We can help people alter their behaviors in a way that’s not only congruent with who they are, but helps them make their own best choices. But not with Behavior Modification alone.
Contact me to put you on an advance list for a Buy In program I’m running in June with Learning Strategies. In it you’ll learn how to design your own flow chart from Cue to Behavior to have conscious choice whenever you want to make a change. And if you have any interest at all in testing this model, or just sharing ideas, I welcome the conversation. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and thought leader. She is the author of 9 books, including the New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? She is also the inventor of the Buying Facilitation® model which is used by sellers, leaders, and coaches, to facilitate others through all of the steps of their decision making and change to lead them through their steps to purchase or change. Sharon Drew is a trainer, coach, speaker, and consultant in the areas of sales, healthcare, leadership, and coaching. email@example.com