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23 Aug 15:50

5 Tips for Writing Inbound Marketing Content More Efficiently

by Joe Gillespie

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We’ve all been there before. An empty Word or Google document that dominates your computer screen. A keyboard that beckons activity. Outstanding inbound marketing content just waiting to be written—content that will inform readers, establish your company’s thought leadership, and, ultimately, move leads down the sales funnel and create customers.

Only one thing stands in your way of turning this scenario into something incredible: You have absolutely no idea what you are going to write.

If this dilemma is familiar, you aren’t alone. Writers across all disciplines—even professional journalists—occasionally encounter instances of writer’s block, vanished creativity, or a lack of motivation. Career writers realize these bumps in the road are normal, don’t become too discouraged, and work through whatever issue they are experiencing. However, marketers—used to immediate action and measurable results—can be thoroughly demoralized when the words don’t freely flow.

Even marketers who aren’t experiencing writer’s block or another issue might suffer from inefficiency, thus requiring more time than necessary to complete content. Unfortunately, most marketers don’t have that much time to spare. What subsequently suffers is the content itself—it becomes less of a priority, particularly if it’s requiring a seemingly Herculean effort to produce.

Blogs, e-books, and other content are obviously important to an overall inbound strategy, and they absolutely shouldn’t be causing you stress or monopolizing your time. Here are five tips for producing inbound marketing content more efficiently:

1. Outline first

Before I started writing inbound marketing content, my background was in sports journalism—with more than two decades of newspaper experience. In that realm, writing efficiently was necessary because one might only have an hour (or less) to crank out a game story. Fortunately, marketers aren’t often pressed against short turnarounds and tight deadlines—you can usually take some time to craft good content without dragging out the process.

Perhaps the best preliminary step you can take with this extra time is to outline your content before you start writing. The outline doesn’t need to be elaborate; just a basic blueprint on what you are going to focus on, and in what order, will chart a path to be followed later. For example, on this post, all these headers you see were my outline. I plotted the post out, then came back to write the content. For marketers, trying to wing an 800-word article sometimes works … and sometimes leaves you with a meandering mess. Ten minutes to formulate an outline can save you a couple hours trying to fix all-over-the place content later.

2. Don’t stress out on the lead

An entertaining and inviting lead helps grab and hold the reader’s attention and make it more likely he or she will read the rest of the content. Non-boring leads are essential to sportswriting, too, but as a novice journalist who once couldn’t come up with anything on an article and settled for a lead that was a stretch, I was given this advice by one of my more experienced co-workers: “Sometimes, you are better off just being direct.” That’s good advice for inbound marketing content as well.

The clever introduction might not readily come to you, but ultimately, the most important elements of a blog post or e-book is what comes after the lead. Be direct and concise if you need to be with leads, or better yet, write the rest of the content and come back to the introduction. There is no reason to spend an hour on your lead and then possibly be faced with less time to work on the rest of the content.

3. Don’t sweat the conclusion

Another part of content, particularly with blogs, that marketers struggle with is the conclusion—a tidy little wrap-up to summarize the entire post. They try to write some kind of closing, but it often comes off as contrived, or redundant, or even a little cheesy. If this is a challenge for you, because you aren’t good at it or because the content simply doesn’t lend itself to additional, ultimately non-essential words, here’s my suggestion: Don’t use a conclusion at all. Compelling content speaks for itself and doesn’t need a happily-ever-after moment. A reader who comes away from a post feeling enlightened and informed won’t think less of you because you omitted a “traditional” conclusion.

4. Stave off writer’s block

Sleep experts suggest that if you can’t doze off in 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something else for a while before attempting again to fall asleep. Follow the same principle with writer’s block—don’t keep staring at your screen hoping something will happen. Unless you are on a tight deadline, likely, you have plenty of other things to temporarily work on instead.

Writer’s block happens to the best of us; it doesn’t mean that you have nothing worthwhile to say, but rather, that your brain is just not ready to cooperate. Also, if you have prepared for your writing session by doing the necessary research, creating an outline, and not procrastinating, you will more ready prepared to overcome writer’s block or avoid it altogether.

5. Simple now, polished later

National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, challenges everyday people to pound out a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. For people with day jobs, finding the time to write that much in 30 days can be tough, but NaNoWriMo offers this tip that also can apply to marketers trying to be more efficient: Get the words down now, then go back and improve them later (in NaNoWriMo’s case, much later).

For inbound marketing content, if the thoughts are bursting out of your head but you can’t seem to make your sentences flow, write everything down and then step away. You should be editing whatever you write anyway, so improving the copy will already be part of the process. If you can take two hours now to write a rough draft and an hour later to fix it up, you should end up with a better end result than taking five hours in one session to produce content that still might be shaky because you were struggling. Don’t wait too long for the editing pass—you want the content to still be fresh in your mind—but even a few hours’ break can give you a new perspective on what you wrote and the energy to turn it into something great.

How do you deal with writer’s block when creating inbound marketing content?

22 Aug 15:11

3 Influencer Marketing Questions People Still Ask

by Erin Smith

This year, we’ve noticed a shift in the questions we answer about influencer marketing, pointing toward the practical application of the strategy and focusing on the real issue: “What can it do for me?” In this post, we’ll flesh out some of these questions and provide a roadmap to help you get the answers you need, and build the strategy that’s right for your business.

Where does it fit?

When you’re deciding when and how to bring influencer marketing into your fold, the first thing is to consider is who should own it. Fair question. Our recent study with Altimeter, a Prophet Company, revealed that marketers who are leveraging influencer marketing are struggling to find the proper home for the strategy within their own teams. Social Media? Digital Marketing? Content Marketing? A department of its own? As you’re navigating this decision for yourself, assess the skills you have on your team and work to understand areas you can strengthen with the help of influencers.

What’s the best solution?

As the industry expands, a variety of different solutions have risen up to meet the clamor for influencer marketing services. Keep in mind—all influencer marketing is not created equal. You need to understand the needs on your team, assess your resources, and then decide what’s right for your business. If you need some help comparing solutions, check out this handy resource: The Guide to Influencer Marketing Investments. You’ll find everything you need to choose the solution that delivers on your unique goals.

How much does it cost?

Maybe this should have been question #1. Cost is one of the most commonly-discussed and widely-misunderstood aspects of influencer marketing. And, we’ll let you know—it varies. Influencers are unique and if you’re new to the industry, it can be difficult to understand what to expect from a pricing standpoint. But we have good news: There IS a way to select and budget for influencer partners based on past performance. The TapInfluence platform allows users to search for influencers using the Cost Per Engagement metric. Translation? You can find influencers who deliver a lot of engagement for just a little spend, based on what they’ve delivered for similar customers in the past. Cool, huh?

We hope this has helped clear up the concept of influencer marketing, and figure out how it can support your goals, whatever they may be. If you’re looking to dive deeper into these, or any other influencer marketing-related questions, sign up for our premiere webinar with Brian Solis of Altimeter and Clint Bagley of Current Marketing. They’ll provide expert insights into the state of influencer marketing, as told by thousands of professional influencers and marketers who execute in this space every day. Sign up to attend here.

22 Aug 15:08

The Sales Productivity Paradox

by Daniel Kuperman

Ask any VP of Sales what their top priorities are, and undoubtedly “improving sales productivity” will be among their top 5 most pressing issues. When you look at how much time salespeople actually spend selling, it turns out to be less than half of their workday. Efforts to improve the slice of the pie devoted to actual selling is therefore given priority when it comes to allocating the sales technology budget.

Today’s Focus on Sales Technology

Auto dialers, prospecting tools, and outbound email systems are just some of the many sales technologies used for qualifying, presenting, and closing deals. With all this tech available to us, why is it that we still cannot get sales reps to spend more of their time talking to prospects? The answer may lie in the way we are approaching technology for sales.

The focus of most sales technology vendors today is about improving specific processes; from lead generation and outbound prospecting, to presentation sharing and beyond. The most common tools in a salesperson’s toolbox may help improve specific activities, however, they do not necessarily make the salesperson more effective at selling.

Sales Efficiency vs. Sales Effectiveness

Sales productivity is a combination of two factors: efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency relates to tasks and processes, while effectiveness deals with the knowledge and skills of sales reps.

You may be able to craft a compelling email, generate a great lead, and put a prospect through your entire sales process. But the real question is, can you replicate this process dozens, or even hundreds of times, to achieve the same result? Relying on manual methods won’t get you there. However, by automating manual tasks through the use of social selling tools, such as outbound emailing and automated dialing, you will be much more efficient in terms of lead volume and lead to close ratio.

Let’s take a look at a rep. They’ve just joined a company, and went through the traditional onboarding process. Although this person has been given a set of social selling tools, will this rep be efficient in using these tools at their disposal? More importantly, will this rep be very effective? It’s hard to say.

Effectiveness is the other leg of productivity, which really makes a difference between sales reps getting close to their quota, and really crushing their numbers. It means knowing how to articulate your value proposition, understanding how to conduct a discovery call, and handling objections gracefully. Without focusing on improving rep effectiveness, social selling tools will only amplify potential ineptitude. Sales reps should look closely at their pipeline to identify if deals are stuck in the middle, “suddenly” lost to competitors, or are continuously being pushed to the next quarter.

The Role of Sales Enablement

Sales enablement plays a huge part in sales effectiveness, but is often seen as an efficiency driver. Think about the mandate your company has for sales enablement. Is sales enablement mostly hunting for and evaluating new tools? Is sales enablement just operating as an administrative function to sales leadership, such as running reports and creating dashboards? Or, is sales enablement a true partner, assisting your sales leaders in identifying areas for improvement, and developing strategies to solve the current gaps?

How Can You Improve Sales Productivity Within Your Organization?

The answer lies with sales enablement. Even if you don’t have a formal sales enablement function or department, you can still have specific goals and guidelines. Sales enablement influences sales effectiveness by focusing not only on tools and technologies, but also the specific goals related to one’s knowledge and skill set.

By working with sales leaders, sales enablement can determine the key criteria for ensuring each member of the sales team is ready for their “moments of truth” (i.e. contact with prospects and clients). It involves at a minimum:

  • Articulating the company’s value proposition
  • Handling sales objections
  • Navigating and negotiating deals
  • Overcoming competitive situations
  • Proving the superior value of your solution

These items cannot simply be replaced by tools, but they can be taught and evaluated with technology. By using technology to look at the sales productivity equation, many companies are discovering that they can not only improve the efficiency of their sales reps, but also make vast improvements in their productivity as a company.

22 Aug 15:08

6 Superior Examples of the Best SaaS Websites

by Callie Hinman

Best SaaS Websites

You know the saying, “Never trust a skinny chef”? Well, we have another one: “Never trust a SaaS provider with a subpar site.” It’s a big red flag for buyers if a company that offers software as a service (SaaS) has a poorly executed website.

We took a look at IDG Connect’s 2016 list of “20 Red-Hot, Pre-IPO Companies” and compared each business’ site, choosing six we felt had an overall good design, but that also had some small opportunities for improvement. Read on to see the pros and cons of each and how software companies can create one of the best SaaS websites.

1. Adyen

Best SaaS Websites

The Product

Multi-channel payment platform that allows businesses to accept electronic payments online, on mobile devices and in-store.

What Adyen Is Doing Right

The home page instantly speaks to a B2B SaaS buyer’s pain point: how to easily collect payments from customers. The question, “Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” also implies empathy. Adyen understands your frustrations and knows how to solve them. The call-to-action (CTA), Learn more, isn’t a hard sell—the company just wants you to discover how it can help.

What Adyen Could Do Better

While easy to read and digest, Adyen’s home page is a touch boring. A few more graphics, particularly in the area above the fold, could improve the user experience (UX). It’s also a good idea to make the CTA stand out more.

2. Alteryx

Best SaaS Websites

The Product

Software for preparing, blending and analyzing data, particularly for businesses that have needs beyond Microsoft Excel’s capacities.

What Alteryx Is Doing Right

Right away, the visitor knows exactly what Alteryx offers: self-service data analytics. While the website doesn’t have a clever tagline like other providers on this list, the direct approach can be just as effective. Additionally, the website hero area has two clear CTAs, one of which addresses buyers higher in the funnel—See Alteryx in Action—and the other targeting prospects who are further along in the buyer’s journey—Try Alteryx for Free.

What Alteryx Could Do Better

The home page has four content offers, but the icons and copy are among the smallest on the page. Featuring the resources more prominently could lead to more clicks and, in turn, more form submissions.

3. Aviso

Best SaaS Websites

The Product

Predictive analytics software for forecasting sales and making data-driven decisions about resource allocation.

What Aviso Is Doing Right

Aviso takes a more aggressive approach on its B2B SaaS website, declaring its solution can forecast sales numbers better than its visitors can and inviting them to challenge this claim. Though it’s a daring strategy, it’s certainly compelling. And it seems to be working, considering Aviso has Marketo, HubSpot and Pandora among its clients. Aviso is confident in its software, and it wants its visitors to know this immediately.

What Aviso Could Do Better

The sub-headline, “Who can call your number first?” is a little unclear. Rephrasing the question to be more along the lines of, “Who can call your sales numbers first?” could improve engagement.

4. Code42

Best SaaS Websites

The Product

Cloud-based data protection and security solution for enterprises to help them mitigate risks and recover from data loss.

What Code42 Is Doing Right

Code42 uses the hero message, “See What You Can’t”, to remind visitors “What you don’t know can hurt you.” There is no offer of a free trial or a demo right off the bat; instead, the company wants visitors to first learn about endpoint data protection and how essential it is to their business. Code42 understands its type of solution isn’t as well-known as project management software or a CRM system, so its B2B website content must explain the benefits of modern endpoint backup in general, rather than focusing solely on the benefits of its particular software.

What Code42 Could Do Better

It’s great Code42 is using its site to teach visitors about data protection, but there aren’t many CTAs where prospects can actually contact the company directly. Code42 should make it as easy as possible for B2B SaaS buyers to get in touch with a sales rep when they’re ready to talk.

5. InsideSales.com

Best SaaS Websites

The Product

Sales acceleration platform that features lead scoring, predictive forecasting, multi-channel communication and gamification capabilities.

What InsideSales.com Is Doing Right

InsideSales.com’s home page approach is similar to Code42 in that its headline, “Don’t Be Blindsided”, conveys the idea that ignorance is not bliss. The company also takes the multi-level CTA approach with See a Demo (which requires a contact form submission) and Dashboard Tour, which has ungated screenshots of its solution.

What InsideSales.com Could Do Better

The hero image, a blindfolded quarterback, is definitely intriguing, but it’s not relevant to sales forecasting software. Using a photo of a blindfolded businessman might be a better idea.

6. Nutmeg

Best SaaS Websites

The Product

Online investment management software.

What Nutmeg Is Doing Right

Nutmeg’s home page has a clear path to conversion with a CTA that includes clever copy (Test it out) that beats other SaaS websites. The site outlines the advantages of Nutmeg’s solution throughout the page with a simple, clean design and additional, clear CTAs. It also has an interactive calculator that allows visitors to see how Nutmeg can help their business specifically.

What Nutmeg Could Do Better

There aren’t any higher funnel conversion opportunities on its home page—every CTA is to demo Nutmeg’s solution or speak with an associate. The company could benefit from giving buyers who are still in earlier stages of the buyer’s journey a chance to engage with the brand without committing to a demo.

The Takeaway

A B2B SaaS website is the welcome mat for the provider’s brand and is often a buyer’s initial introduction to the business. It’s important to use engaging messaging, effectively demonstrate the value of the solution and eliminate friction between the visitor and the desired conversion event. The best SaaS websites are useful to a prospect no matter where they are in the buyer’s journey and wow them the moment they hit the home page.

22 Aug 15:07

The Race for Sales Success

by Shelley Cernel

The Olympics is a celebration of the determination, willpower, and achievements of thousands of athletes from across the globe, the culmination of years of dedicated training and hard work. In a grueling yet powerful display of athleticism, competitors push themselves further than they thought possible as they seek seemingly impossible goals. We are touched by the heart-warming stories of athletes who persevered through their trials, tribulations, and tragedies, and we pull inspiration from both their wins and losses.

Though in different arenas, it’s not difficult to notice the similarities between sales and sports. Running is particularly relatable, as it is an activity most of us have participated in at some level at some point in our lives. For example, in sales, like running, you have your winners (i.e. top sales reps) and then everybody else. And of course, most reps have those stretch quota goals that they are working toward. Many of the principles that make a runner an elite athlete hold true for turning sales reps into top performers. Read ahead to learn how.

1. Proper Training is Required

If you are serious about running (and doing so safely), you will probably go to a specialty running store, have a gait analysis done, and get fitted for the right shoes. Without proper guidance, you could be stuck with a poor-fitting pair in the wrong sizes and type, which will just set you up for failure and even injury from the start.

Similarly, sales reps need onboarding and training to get them up to speed quickly, to reduce the opportunities for mistakes, and to increase their productivity and effectiveness. While new runners need advice on what to wear, how to meal plan, and how to train, sales people need guidance on the selling space and market, different buyer personas, and your products, as well as on what to say, what content to share, and how to guide the prospect through the buying process.

2. Nutrition is Important

All runners understand the importance of proper nutrition and hydration: pre-run snacks, replenishment during training, electrolyte replacement, carbo-loading, adjusting calorie intake, the right sources of protein – the list goes on.

Like runners need to feed their bodies, sales reps need to feed their minds. Top performing sales reps make sure to stay educated on industry trends, customer challenges, and competitive differences, while also understanding the product that they are selling. They are knowledgeable enough to engage prospects, add value to the conversation, help build a business case, and prove ROI.

3. Practice Makes Perfect

If you have never trained before, then you will probably not be able to run ten miles at a competitive pace without breaks. In order to compete for the win, you need to run several times a week and do tempo runs, hill repeats, and intervals. Even if your goal is a marathon, you will be doing multiple shorter runs every week and work your way up to the distance.

Similarly, a sales rep is probably not going to sit down, make 10 phone calls, and set 10 meetings. In fact, it takes 7-13 touches on average to make a sale. Instead, they will have a cadence for calling and emailing each prospect over a period of time to build a relationship. Sales people trying to hit quota will look to the top performers for guidance and work to turn best practices into habits. And like runners conditioning themselves for factors such as temperature and elevation, sales reps should be prepared to respond to prospect questions and challenges.

4. The Right Equipment Boosts Performance

Runners really only need one piece of equipment: shoes. You could go down to your local big box retailer and pick a flashy pair in your favorite color from the shelf, and they will probably perform ok for the average runner. Or you could invest in a higher-end pair of Nike FlyKnits or Adidas Racers that will help improve your stride, reduce blisters, and prevent shin splints. Which will help you perform better and makes more sense in the long run?

In the sales world, reps can use traditional sales methods, which continue to have some degree of sales success. Or organizations can invest in more modern sales tools, such as sales enablement technology, that combines predictive and automated capabilities to permit data-driven efficiencies. These tools empower sales teams to perform their job more productively and effectively, advancing prospects through the sales funnel more quickly and increasing revenue. Again, which makes more sense and will drive performance?

5. Cross-Training is Critical

Cross-training is an important part of a runner’s workout plan, from weight-lifting and yoga to biking and swimming. It can help to improve cardio endurance and flexibility, strengthen muscles, reduce the risk of injury, and speed recovery.

Likewise, sales reps need to be aware of what’s going on in the rest of the organization, particularly in the marketing department. What are the upcoming product releases? What marketing campaigns are going on? What new content is available? What hot topics are trending in the industry? These types of information can help sales reps perform more effectively.

6. Perseverance is Essential

Devoted athletes know exactly what it takes to win and how to reach that goal. And when they do hit that goal, they don’t stop there. Dozens and dozens of training runs (and likely a lot of blood, sweat, and tears) went into that achievement. After the 5k and 10k comes the half marathon, the full marathon, and maybe even an ultrathon or Ironman! And runners are definitely known for their tenacity. We have all seen the viral videos on social media of injured or exhausted runners pushing as hard as they can to drag themselves across the finish line – giving up is simply not an option.

Likewise, winning sales reps don’t work hard to hit their monthly quota and then sit back and wait until the next month rolls around. Instead, they keep pushing to go above and beyond their number. Even more, sales reps must have the endurance to make hundreds of sales calls and send hundreds of emails just to talk to a handful of people (and without getting discouraged!).

7. You are Driven by Competition

Runners are driven by competition – not just against other athletes but also against themselves, in constant pursuit of setting a new PR (personal record). Similarly, most sales reps are naturally ambitious and thrive in a competitive setting. They look to their colleagues’ successes and strive to do better, which is why gamification has become so popular in recent years. But sales reps, too, compete against themselves, hoping to one-up their own achievements.

8. Metrics are Key to Improving

Runners use a variety of key measures to evaluate the quality of their runs and track progress toward their end goal. Common metrics include minutes per mile, split times, cadence, distance, and heart rate.

Similarly, sales organizations can improve sales performance by measuring KPIs such as conversion rates, win rates, marketing collateral usage, average deal size, and deal response time. These data points are essential for sales teams to understand what factors impact successes and advances sales, how to deliver the right content at the right time, and what changes will improve performance.

9. The Industry Fosters Innovation

In recent years, the fitness industry has gained attention for its innovative products and processes, from the Paleo diet and barefoot running to the influx of wearable technologies and smart devices. Over in sales, traditional (and sometimes outdated) strategies have given way to new concepts such as social selling, predictive analytics, and account-based marketing. And both industries are always on the lookout for the next big thing to be bigger and better than ever before.

22 Aug 14:48

Why Self-service Tools Are Displacing The Marketing Cloud

by Kraig Swensrud

I’ve always suspected that most marketers don’t have the time or budget to implement mega-vendor marketing clouds.

When I was CMO at a Fortune 500 company, I was sold on the vision of an all-in-one marketing cloud. The pitch sounded perfect – a single suite of technology from one vendor to automate complex tasks, analyze huge amounts of data, and deliver personalized, relevant experiences to customers. The reality was far from perfect. When I actually implemented one of these products from Oracle, it took a million dollars, ten of the best technical people on my team and a year of consulting time to get it up and running. Even then, only one person in the business really knew how to use it. I thought if a Fortune 500 company with a multi-million dollar budget and an army of people had trouble implementing a mega-vendor marketing cloud, how do other businesses do it?

It turns out, most of them simply can’t.

Marketers prefer easy to use, affordable solutions

Campaign Monitor recently surveyed 500 marketers at mid-sized businesses to find out what martech tools they’re using, how they’re using them, and what they like or don’t like about them. These are professionals who want to create marketing campaigns of the same caliber as the big guys, but they don’t have the multi-million dollar budgets or armies of people. We found that these marketers are overwhelmingly embracing self-service tools, not all-in-one marketing clouds. They prefer solutions that are easy to use, affordable and work seamlessly out of the box. They want the flexibility to build powerful stacks of technology, unique to their business needs, that integrate with one click.

When you consider budgets alone, mega-vendor marketing suites immediately break the bank. More than 40% of marketers at mid-market companies we surveyed have less than $50,000 per year to spend on marketing technology. Simplicity is also crucial, whether it’s technology for landing pages, social media, content marketing, SEO, website testing, or analytics. More than 98% of marketers want products that can be set-up and used by people with minimal technical skills.

Marketers using best of breed tech stacks

It makes sense. Marketers are busy and most of us don’t have degrees in computer science. We want to deliver results for the business and look like heroes to the rest of the company without breaking a sweat. Self-service tools are delivering better results than a “master of none” marketing cloud.

Where to start when building your marketing stack

While it can seem overwhelming to build a martech stack from the bottom up (the modern marketer’s stack consists of 17 products or more), there are a few logical places to start:

Focus on setting up a world-class website. A website is the face of your company and critical to the success of many marketing campaigns. Every email campaign you send or Google Adword you buy is done with the intention of driving potential buyers to your web pages. If your business is a house, the website is the front door and it needs to look great and convey the right message. More than 50% of companies that we work with use WordPress to power their websites. I also recommend using Google Analytics for tracking and Optimizely for website testing to make sure it’s performing precisely the way you want.

Put email marketing to work and measure the results. Email marketing is foundational to a great digital marketing strategy. Everyone on the Internet has an email address that they readily share with brands they respect and want to do business with. When asked to rank the technology that delivers the highest ROI, the marketers we surveyed said email marketing topped the list. More than 70% of marketers with a best-of-breed stack and 67% with a mega-vendor marketing cloud rely on email marketing. It remains the number one way companies communicate with their customers and consistently delivers $38 in sales for every $1 invested.

Use real-time customer data as the heart of every campaign. Whether you are a B2B company using Salesforce, or an online retailer using an e-commerce system like Shopify or Magento, it is critical to have a centralized system of customer data that integrates seamlessly with other core marketing technologies. Applying customer data in real time to marketing messages makes them more timely, personalized, and relevant, which boosts customer engagement and ultimately drives sales.

Once you have the right technology to support these core marketing functions, you can augment your ideal marketing stack with other incredible tools. With a small budget and a few days, you might set up Moz for SEO, AdRoll for retargeting, or Unbounce for microsites and landing pages. Integration is the key to success here – each technology must work out of the box and connect in one click to a customer data platform such as Salesforce or Shopify. It’s important to remember that a great DIY marketing solution is less about the specific technologies and more about addressing your company’s unique needs.

Wrap up

There’s no denying that mega-vendor, expensive marketing clouds accessible to the Fortune 500 don’t work for the vast majority of companies. Even people using those single-vendor suites still have a martech stack that includes other CRM systems, advertising tools, website platforms, testing tools, and more. As the marketing landscape evolves, so must our technology – the simpler, the better. The true power of marketing technology is in its ability to meet the specific, individual needs of every organization.

22 Aug 14:45

The Top 9 White Paper Mistakes That Kill Your Credibility and Chase Away Leads

by Rachel Foster

The Top 9 White Paper Mistakes

B2B buyers rely on white papers to make informed purchasing decisions. However, many white papers aren’t helpful – they’re boring sales pitches that put readers to sleep. Here’s how to take your white papers from “snooze fest” to “lead magnet”…

White papers are a B2B marketing workhorse.

B2B buyers – especially technology buyers – rely on them for in-depth information when making purchasing decisions. According to Eccolo Media, white papers are the #2 type of content that B2B technology buyers use during their purchasing process. White papers are also used across all stages of the sales cycle – from awareness to decision.

When done correctly, white papers can present a compelling argument for your product or service.

However, many white papers miss the mark and fail to engage high-quality leads. Here are nine common mistakes that drive away customers and give white papers a bad name:

1. Your marketing objectives aren’t clear.

Before you develop a white paper, make sure that it aligns with your business objectives. Think about your marketing and business goals, along with what you hope to achieve with the white paper. For example, will you use the white paper for lead generation? Does the white paper fill a gap in your content? Will the white paper support a new product or service that you are launching? Do you want a white paper that positions you as an expert or thought leader for a specific topic?

2. You don’t align your white paper with your prospect’s buying journey.

While aligning your white paper with your business goals is important, it’s even more important to align your white paper with your target audience. After all, if your white paper doesn’t serve your target audience’s needs, they won’t read it.

For your white paper to be effective, you must get clear on your target audience’s problems, needs, and goals. You also must target content for buyers in each phase in your sales cycle. According to Demand Gen Report’s B2B Buyer Behavior Survey, 61% of respondents select vendors who deliver a mix of content that is appropriate for each stage of their buying process.

3. Your topic isn’t a subject that will drive leads.

Many white papers fail to drive leads, because buyers don’t care about the topic.

Find out what questions your customers ask during each stage of the sales cycle. Then, address these concerns in your white paper. Your white paper will get more downloads and shares if it helps your customers solve one of their top challenges.

Speak to Customer

Once you have some potential topics, ask your customers and prospects which one they prefer. You can also run topic ideas past your social media communities. Asking for feedback early in the process will ensure that you don’t waste your resources on a white paper that doesn’t bring you a strong ROI.

4. You don’t start from a good creative brief.

Many marketers create one-page documents that outline a few key messages for their white papers.

However, these documents often don’t contain enough info on who your target audience is and how your white paper will help them. If your creative brief is just a few paragraphs, it won’t give your writer enough information to craft a solid white paper.

Expand on your creative brief to answer questions such as:

  • Who is our primary and secondary audience for this white paper?
  • What are their top challenges or concerns?
  • What solution will help them overcome their challenges?

For my complete list of questions, download my white paper creative brief here.

5. You don’t include quotes and interviews from experts.

Obtaining quotes from subject matter experts and stats from third-party research is critical when writing an authoritative white paper. This information enhances your white paper’s credibility and makes your content more believable.

Stats and data are of particular importance if your target audience is analytical. They want to see numbers that back up your claims.

6. You didn’t use a professional writer.

A white paper can be one of the most persuasive items in your marketing toolbox.

However, it takes a lot of time and skill to craft a compelling white paper. Many B2B marketing teams are small, busy, and don’t have the time to write lengthy pieces of content.

Working with a professional copywriter can help you quickly take your white paper from idea to reality. A copywriter can turn your messages into compelling arguments. This will engage leads and motivate them to take the next step in working with you.

7. You blast your leads with sales messages.

IT pros refer to white paper opt-in forms as, “download a call”. Many of them want a white paper’s content, but they don’t want the sales call that comes five minutes after they download it. Many IT pros avoid answering their phones after opting in for a white paper, so that they won’t have to speak with a sales rep.

If you want to stand out from the pack, don’t bombard your leads with sales calls five minutes after they download a white paper. You can even be transparent in your landing page copy and let leads know if you will call them.

8. Your white paper is a 10-page sales pitch.

Many white papers appear useful on their landing pages. They have compelling titles and promise to share great tips. But when you read these white papers, you find out that they are just lengthy sales brochures. Some even mention their product in the first sentence!

Use 80%25 Educational Content

Make sure that your white papers contain 80% educational content. Once you educate customers and earn their trust, you can discuss your product in the remaining 20%.

9. You don’t spend enough time promoting your white papers.

Many B2B marketers put lots of time and resources into developing white papers and then simply post them on their websites and hope leads will pour in.

Unfortunately, it’s not this easy. Here are seven ways you can promote your white papers to get more downloads, shares, and leads:

  • Collect leads on your blog. Write a series of related articles for your blog, and direct readers to your white paper’s opt-in form.
  • Create an email campaign. Encourage targeted email segments to download and share your white paper.
  • Give your sales team a cheat sheet. A white paper “cheat sheet” makes it easy for salespeople to hand out to leads.
  • Host a webinar about your white paper’s topic. Not all of your ideal customers will read a white paper. If you host a webinar that’s on the same topic as your white paper, you can reach a wider audience.
  • Convert your white paper into a SlideShare presentation. SlideShare is a great channel to use if your audience responds to visuals. Post highlights from your white paper in a SlideShare presentation. You can even add a lead generation form to your SlideShare presentation to connect with potential customers.
  • Drive targeted leads to your white papers via LinkedIn. LinkedIn has advanced targeting features that let you put your ads in front of exactly the right audience. For example, you can target your audience by company size, job function, title, and location. You can buy both ads and sponsored updates.
  • Get influencers to talk about your white paper. Getting your industry’s top bloggers to talk about your white paper can bring a lot of leads your way. Build relationships with these bloggers before you ask them to do anything for you. Once you have a relationship, send them a link to your white paper’s direct download page, along with a personal email that explains why their readers will find it valuable.

Following these tips will help you take your white papers from “boring” to “brilliant.” And this information doesn’t just apply to white papers. You can also use these techniques with ebooks, guides, and other marketing content to improve your results.

20 Aug 16:43

How carbon nanotubes could give us faster processors and longer battery life

by Lucia Maffei
carbon_nanotubes Carbon nanotubes are one of those supermaterials — a cylinder with a diameter of one or two nanometers — that are full of dreamy applications, ranging from supercomputers to ultra-efficient smartphones. The problem is, they are difficult to manufacture, and commercializing these applications may require 10 or 15 years. A nanotube is a tube-like molecular structure made of one… Read More
20 Aug 16:39

6 Tools We Use at Typeform to Amplify Our Marketing Productivity

by Guest Post

6 Tools We Use at Typeform to Amplify Our Marketing Productivity written by Guest Post read more at Duct Tape Marketing

6 Tools We Use at Typeform to Amplify Our Marketing Productivity -Duct Tape Marketing

photo credit: Unsplash

Working in marketing can be very demanding. KPIs, meetings, brainstorming sessions, monthly revenue, never-ending checklists… the list goes on. Luckily, we live in a time where productivity hacks are easy to find. Even easier than catching Pokémon.

Regardless of whether you’re in a large team or an army of one, at the end of the day, it’s all about working to achieve your goals. To do so, staying organized and focused is key. At Typeform, web apps are a must. Here are six of our favorite tools that help us get stuff done.

1. SaneBox for sorting out our email

There are two kinds of people in our team: those who aim for “inbox zero” and those who prefer the “filtered email” approach. Either way, keeping email organized can be a difficult task, especially if you’re subscribed to an endless list of newsletters. That’s where SaneBox comes in. This tool, as the name suggests, keeps you sane by cleaning up your inbox in minutes. It also creates automatic file uploads to the cloud and lets you snooze your email for later—a must-have for when it’s time to focus.

2. Trello for getting organized

Organizing our day-to-day goes way beyond Google Calendar. We seem to have a thousand and one projects in motion at any one time. Project managing is a tough job. That job is made easier for us by using one of our favorite tools, Trello. Perhaps SCRUM methodologies work best for you, or maybe you’re perfectly fine with a good ol’ checklist. Trello is a great management tool that will keep your project organized from start to finish.

3. Feedly for finding the best content

At Typeform, if there’s one thing we love to do lots of, is reading online content. We need to keep up with the latest trends and always like to find new and great examples of top-notch content online. Feedly makes this task easier. This tool lets you make carefully curated lists based on your area of interest. However niche you want your reading list to be, discovering, reading, and monitoring content has never been simpler.

4. Meet Edgar for distributing content

One of the best hacks for social media marketing is scheduled content distribution. But we always found that the available tools were quite limited… until we met Edgar. Meet Edgar is a social media distribution tool that automatically fills itself out by recycling and queuing your content. You can create “buckets” of different types of content, and tell the app how often to share something from each bucket. It’s a massive time-saver.

5. Canva for creating beautiful and shareable images

Statistics show that Facebook posts with images drive 2.3x more engagement than those without and articles with images have 94% more views. So visuals are the way to go. When in doubt, Canva has got you covered. Canva is a complete graphic design tool for non-designers that lets you create beautiful visuals that make your content more attractive. It also has specific image sizes for every platform—allowing you to reach across multiple channels. We’re lucky enough to have an in-house design team at Typeform, but we use Canva to create quick, good-looking images to share in presentations, etc.

6. Crazy Egg for optimizing our website

Having a beautiful website that’s friendly, engaging, and simple is key for us. However, we sometimes want to know how much people are actually engaging with our content. Do they scroll? Have they seen that link? Do they know there’s a “see more” button at the bottom? This is where Crazy Egg comes in. It shows you how your visitors interact with your website through heat maps and scroll maps. This lets you see what works, what doesn’t, and where people are getting lost.

Whether you’re a full-scale marketing team or on your lonesome, we all ask ourselves the same question at some point: “how can I be more productive?” Hopefully with this selection of tools you’ll find that your efforts will be simplified and your results amplified without losing focus.

Joanne TorresJoanne Torres is an online & outreach marketer at Typeform. Compared to the industry average, Typeform has 4x higher completion rates due to their human-first design approach—keeping people’s attention from start to submit. Whether collecting customer feedback or having any other type of conversation with your customers, typeforms are beautiful, friendly, and engaging.

Twitter: @possiblyjoanne

LinkedIn: https://es.linkedin.com/in/joanne-torres-a1529852

20 Aug 16:39

6 body language tricks that are hard to master but will pay off forever

by Jacquelyn Smith and Áine Cain

smile friends talking talk group woman young women together

As Ursula the sea witch famously said, "Don't underestimate the importance of body language."

Some tricks, like remembering to smile and having a firm handshake, are pretty easy to implement in your everyday life.

However, there are other techniques that, while relatively commonsense, are somewhat trickier to tackle.

Still, they can make a huge difference.

Here are six body language hacks that can be tricky to master, but will definitely pay off  forever once you do:

SEE ALSO: 11 signs someone is lying to you

DON'T MISS: 11 skills that are hard to learn but will pay off forever

Maintaining good eye contact

It's all in the eyes.

People with a shaky gaze often come across as anxious, distracted, or dishonest. And it can be tough to master the skill of maintaining eye contact, since it's a very uncomfortable and unnatural thing for some people. But it's a practice that can help you immensely in life.

Luckily, there are some simple techniques for maintaining better eye contact if you feel your stare isn't cutting it.

In "How To Talk To Anyone," author and communication expert Leil Lowndes advises that you should "pretend your eyes are glued to your conversation partner's with sticky, warm taffy."

Once you master this trick, you'll immediately see an improvement in your face-to-face communications with others.



Keeping your hands visible

It's hard to know what to do with your hands sometimes, especially if you're a somewhat nervous person.

As a result, you might take to compulsively jamming them into your pockets or crossing your arms. Those are understandable moves, but they also project a somewhat negative image.

As Business Insider previously reported, it's important to keep your hands visible, lest you look like you're hiding something.

Invite people in and allow them to trust you by using more open body language. Avoid positions that make you appear defensive (even if that's how you're feeling).



Not fidgeting or swaying (but not being too stiff, either)

Some people are just a bit twitchy. Some people are almost unnaturally still. The problem is, others may mistake that for dishonesty or fear.

That might be common knowledge, but Dr. Lillian Glass, a behavioral analyst and body language expert who has worked with the FBI on unmasking signals of deception, previously told Business Insider that you should also watch out for people who are not moving at all.

"This may be a sign of the primitive neurological 'fight,' rather than the 'flight,' response, as the body positions and readies itself for possible confrontation," Glass said. "When you speak and engage in normal conversation, it is natural to move your body around in subtle, relaxed, and, for the most part, unconscious movements. So if you observe a rigid, catatonic stance devoid of movement, it is often a huge warning sign that something is off."

If you can strike a balance between swaying and stiffness, you'll be able to make a better impression with others.



See the rest of the story at Business Insider
20 Aug 16:34

5 Tips When You Have 5 Minutes With A Prospect by Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE

by Michael Nick

If you are on the phone, a webinar, or in person, and you have a few minutes with the executive, what do you say to keep on track and be professional? Here is an invaluable framework. Adapt it to your situation, and boost your confidence and credibility.

Imagine that you have a satisfied client company for one of your offerings. You feel now is the best time to discuss your next and higher investment offering. The team, your main contact, is ready to view a product demonstration set for the next day. All your demos are delivered in a webinar. At 2 P.M. you get a call from your main contact who says “Great news! Tomorrow our boss, who is the real decision-maker, is going to be in our office. Rather than just showing our team what you have to offer, the boss said he would like to sit in on the first five minutes. I know you will do well.”

Don’t panic. This is a great opportunity, and once you make a positive impact, the sales cycle is going to be cut short. You will not have to hear, “We love this, but now we have to convince our boss.” This is, however, now your number one priority to prepare. You may be seasoned, but take this seriously. Your sales manager is always telling you, “Sell to the C Suite.” This is your chance. Remember these five simple suggestions for sales success.

  1. Build rapport before you speak. It is easier to connect if you can make eye contact with the client, so turn on your webcam to welcome everyone and then again when you answer questions. Although many professionals say they are not comfortable doing this, it has many benefits. Who can resist your friendly smile? You will look more confident, and it is tougher to say no when they are looking at you.

 

  1. Be prepared, and get to the point. Remember, with an executive you need to be clear, concise, credible, and able to articulate the bottom line of your message. The higher up the corporate ladder you go, the more quickly you need to get to the point and demonstrate value. As counterintuitive as it may seem, the less time you have in which to present your case, the longer you will need to prepare. You may have friendly chatter with the team before you get to business, but in this case every second counts. Be polite, respectful, and get to the point fast.

 

  1. Remember you are not alone. Speak on behalf of your leadership. This way you can feel you are making a connection with the position, even when you are not holding that position yourself. You will discover that this technique adds to your confidence.

 

  1. Remind the executive they have already made a wise decision by doing business with your company. Remind them that they have already researched your company and that they were comfortable enough to make you a vendor of choice. This is just a logical next step.

 

  1. Make heroes of the team you are working with. These are your internal champions, and although they may not make the ultimate decision, they certainly have influence and can sabotage your sale. Your job is to work closely with the team or champion who will give you information. Do your research so that you are on target with your questions about their company and the approach the executive will most likely respond to.

When you have to deliver an executive overview, be clear and concise and sound credible. When you adapt this framework to your situation, you will get results.

 “Good morning, Mr. Smith. On behalf of our leadership and my team, thank you for your business. As you know, we are committed to delivering the best service for our valued clients like you.

On a personal note, working with John and Mary is a delight. They are both helpful and incredibly efficient.

The purpose of this call is to deliver a high-level overview of our product that you have invested in, review your results compared to your expectations, and then introduce you to three other ways in which we can be of service.

Once we have proven the power of (our product), most of our clients find it logical to add ________ and ______ to their package.

John suggested you are most interest in seeing . . .

Mary mentioned you have ambitious goals for next year to . . .

That is an area in which we could be very advantageous to you.

My understanding is that we have four more minutes. Is that correct?

Let me roll up my sleeves, and you just sit back, watch the demo, and be amazed.

Please feel free to interject at any time.

Do you like what you saw?

Then our next logical step is to continue the conversation with John and Mary and prepare a draft proposal for your review.

 Does that make sense to you?

Moving forward, is there any other area you would like for us to pursue? 

Again, thank you for your business and the opportunity to demonstrate how we can continue to streamline your company.”

Can you see the five suggestions in this simple outline?

Again, I recommend you turn on the webcam when you open and close the conversation. This makes it easier to make an emotional connection.

Because you are on a webinar, you can have your opening script and outline printed.

Once you internalize your new, tightened script, it will become second nature.

Make sure you smile. Your client will hear it in your voice.

 

Join Michael and Patricia in a brand new webinar called: Millennials: Bridging the Generation Gap – Tuesday September 27, 2016 at 10:00 AM PST – Register here

Companies who want a competitive edge hire Patricia Fripp. She is a Hall of Fame keynote speaker, executive speech coach, sales presentation skills and on-line training expert. Patricia is also a subject matter expert for Continuing Education at XTRACredits. When your message must be memorable, your presentation powerful, and your sales successful  in-person or online Patricia Fripp can help.

To become a great speaker easily, conveniently and quickly you sign up for www.FrippVT. Why not sign up for your trial today?

Check out our webcast discussion on Millennials: Press here

www.fripp.com, www.frippvirtualtraining.com, pfripp@ix.netcom.com,

(415) 753-6556

The post 5 Tips When You Have 5 Minutes With A Prospect by Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE appeared first on ROI4Sales.com.

20 Aug 16:34

How Startup Founders Can Help Their Sales Teams Win Business

by bastiaan@datafox.co (Bastiaan Janmaat)

how-startup-founders-can-help-team-sell.jpg

After DataFox transitioned from founder-led sales to having a proper inside sales team, it took me a while to figure out where I, as CEO, could add the most value on the sales front without getting in the team’s way.

Our first customers, as is often the case with software-as-a-service (SaaS) startups, were closed by myself and my co-founders through brute force. Our product wasn’t really market-ready, but through our networks and unfettered enthusiasm, we wrangled a few early-adopters across the line.

As the product and our product-market fit matured, the time came to start building an actual sales team. We implemented a CRM, established rules of engagement (i.e. which salesperson owns which prospect and when), and brought in seasoned sales reps.

Today we have a nine-person sales team including sales development representatives (SDRs, who handle inbound opportunities), business development reps (BDRs, who conduct outbound prospecting), and account executives, who close deals.

Every individual on the team has more sales experience than my three co-founders and I combined. So I quickly got out of the way and let the team run and iterate on their process.

There are, however, a few ways in which the sales team calls on my help in the origination, acceleration, and closing of deals. If you’re a startup founder wondering how to help your sales team, read on.

1) Lead Generation: Always Be Prospecting

As a co-founder and CEO, I’m constantly on the front lines, meeting potential recruits, partners, investors, advisors, and of course -- potential customers.

Whether I’m at a conference or in a one-on-one meeting, I’m always thinking about ways our solution can help people get their jobs done more efficiently.

When I hear someone talk about their desire to be more data-driven in their prospecting, I know we’d be an excellent solution for them.

The critical next step is to, within 24 hours, contact that person with a clear suggestion as to how you could help them. Here’s an example:

Hubspot_blog_post_2.png

Don’t skimp on research, but have a template ready for the repeatable parts of your email.

Invariably, people love helping startups, and I often get the question, “How can I help?” If you’re a B2B startup, this is a great invitation to prospect into new sales opportunities.

I try to come away from every single external meeting with at least one new prospect. Shoot the introducer a short email they can forward, with at least one or two sentences about why the introduction might be mutually beneficial.

2) Acceleration: Offer Yourself as a Resource

Enterprise sales can be complicated, and a critical step often involves getting buy-in from key decision makers. Even if the prospective users of your product love it, the deal won’t close without a clear line of sight to the person ultimately signing the contract.

This is the number-one way our sales team asks me for help. If we aren’t already talking to senior folks at the company, I send an email to open up a dialogue and offer myself as a resource.

I’ve found that the critical step here is to do your research. Don’t send a template email without doing your homework first. I don’t feel comfortable emailing an executive until I’ve read up on their background and have a concrete understanding of how we can help their company.

For example, if I wanted to reach out to HubSpot’s CTO, Dharmesh Shah, I’d look him up on LinkedIn, check out his blog, follow him on Twitter (if I don’t already), and summarize my notes in Evernote:

Dharmesh Shah

Bio:

  • UAB (CS)
  • SunGard -- developer ‘92-’94
  • Pyramid Digital Solutions -- founder & CEO ’94-’05
  • MIT ’04-’06 (Mgmt of Tech)
  • OnStartups -- blog since ’05
  • HubSpot -- founder & CTO since ’06
    • Grew 65% in headcount in last 2 yrs
    • 20,000 customers
    • Investing heavily in HubSpot CRM

I also use DataFox’s free company profiles and similar companies lists to quickly get business context for conversations. Here's what a sample email to Dharmesh would look like:

Hubspot_blog_post_3.png

Study habits vary widely, but I know my understanding and recall are dramatically improved when I summarize my subject matter in writing. I also like having this in Evernote for easy reference later on, if we end up scheduling a call or a meeting.

My experience has been that fewer than one-third of prospects take me up on a call right away, but another one-third are interested in a chat later or after the deal closes. Either way, it helps with deal acceleration to ensure that senior decision makers hear about our company and that they see we’re taking this seriously at the executive level of our company as well.

3) Closing: Get Involved in Technical Calls

A third, hugely important way in which founders can help their sales team is by acting as sales engineers, joining calls to answer technical or product roadmap-related questions.

As we grow, our company will probably have sales engineers, but we don’t have that luxury yet. So my co-founders Mike, Ben, and Alden happily jump on calls to answer questions and offer guidance.

The benefits of these calls are manifold. They show executive involvement, they help settle any uncertainty, and, perhaps most importantly, they educate us on our prospects’ needs.

How do you help your team sell? Let us know in the comments below.

HubSpot CRM

20 Aug 16:33

The Foolproof Formula for Finding Product-Market Fit, Part II

by Sean Sheppard

As I mentioned in previous post, the path to product-market fit is a formula — one that I’m sharing with you here on the blog. I’ve touched on the first two phases, resources review and market discovery, but I’d like to go in-depth on the third phase, market messaging. This is the last part of laying the foundation for your market execution, which I’ll be covering in future posts.

What Is Market Messaging?

The right market messaging will allow you to convert new customers, as well as reinforce to your existing customers that they’ve made the right choices. Effective market messaging is based on understanding who your customer is, how your product or service benefits them, and how your company delivers value.

Customer Interviews

In order to deliver the right market messaging, you need to understand your customers. To do that, start with detailed interviews with current customers, to help you understand both why they bought your product, and how your company is different than others that offer competitive products. Focus on your customer’s buying journey — how they eventually decided on your product — as well as their actual experiences with your product.

Outcome:

  • Understand how existing customers view the value of the product.
  • Understand what features or benefits customers value the most.
  • Begin crafting market messaging hypothesis.

UVP & USP

The next step is developing your unique value proposition (UVP) and unique selling proposition (USP). Think of USP as what your product does, and UVP as what it does for someone. A quarter-inch drill bit drills quarter-inch holes — that’s USP. It allows me to make my wife happy by hanging a picture on the wall — that’s UVP.

Your UVP is what you do for your customer. A unique value proposition is a clear statement of the tangible results a customer gets from using your products or services. For each of your ideal customer profiles (ICP), you’ll develop a UVP that clarifies what value your product delivers, and how that differs from your competition. For example:

  • Whole Foods: The groceries may cost a lot, but the value of being healthy outweighs the cost.
  • Zappos.com: The world’s largest shoe store delivered to your door with free shipping both ways.

Market-Messaging-46

Unique selling proposition is what your product does and how it is different from your competitors’ products. The selling proposition is a promise of value to be delivered and a belief from the customer that value will be experienced.

That’s how you create competitive differentiation.

Market-Messaging-47-600x381

Examples of USP include:

  • Specialization: We specialize in working with financial institutions.
  • Guarantee: We guarantee service in 4 hours or your money back.
  • Methodology: We use a unique tool called SureFire! to analyze your critical needs.

Outcomes:

  • Create a market messaging map, with specific messaging for each USP & USV for each ICP by channel and format.
  • Review and update as needed.

Market-Messaging-Map-600x368

Above: A market messaging map, which details channel-specific messaging for each ICP and USP/USV

Developing Initial Attraction Framework

Grabbing new customers requires a separate strategy to generate interest and a desire to want to learn more about your product. To start, generate a list of your product’s top features and benefits. Consider your ICP’s current situation and pain points without specific features or benefits. Based on what you’ve learned so far, hypothesize your ICP’s future situation with specific features and benefits. From there, you can begin to craft your core messaging.

Outcomes:

  • Develop list of targeted and well-crafted marketing copy for every feature.
  • Review and update as needed.

The post The Foolproof Formula for Finding Product-Market Fit, Part II appeared first on Sales Hacker.

20 Aug 16:33

Is Your Company Led by Lean Leaders?

by Annette Gleneicki

Image courtesy of 12:51_photography

Are your company executives lean leaders?

Last month, I wrote about the concept of lean management and what that means not only for your company but also for your customers.

If company leadership wants to transform the culture of the organization and become a lean company, they’ve first got to understand what comprises lean leadership. And then ask themselves if they “qualify.” In other words, they need to be lean leaders themselves.

What does that mean?

Lean for Dummies outlines the following behaviors of lean leaders.

They know how the business serves the customers by:

  • Understanding what customers want, need, and value, or what will thrill them
  • Knowing how the business satisfies the customer
  • Improving the effectiveness of how the business satisfies the customer

They build ability in the people through:

  • Guiding problem solving — root cause, right problem, right resources
  • Leading from gemba; applying 3Gen
  • Asking open-ended, probing questions

They show a continuous improvement mindset by:

  • Continually challenging the status quo
  • Knowing that there is always room for improvement
  • Understanding that the customer changes — what delights today is a necessity tomorrow

They focus on process and results by:

  • Obtaining results
  • Ensuring that how the results are achieved is the most effective utilization of all resources, in the direction of the ideal state
  • Improving how the organization accomplishes results

They demonstrate an understanding of the value stream at a macro and micro level through:

  • Knowing what the customer requires and how the value stream satisfies them
  • Having knowledge of the overall value stream, including tributaries
  • Asking questions when changes are made at the local level to ensure that the team understands how the change will impact the customer and the rest of the value stream

They create a culture to sustain improvement by:

  • Identifying, modeling, and encouraging Lean behaviors
  • Finding the lessons in every “failure” — blame does not foster improvement or innovation
  • Respecting and improving standards — questions when the organization is deviating from the standard

I could’ve stopped right there and claimed that I knew enough about lean leaders. But I thought I’d take a look at a couple of other sites offering up traits and behaviors of lean leaders in order to hear some different perspectives.

TBM Consulting Group explained nine behaviors and actions of lean leadership in their whitepaper, 9 Ways Leaders’ Actions Can Sustain Lean Progress.

  1. Communicate the vision
  2. Always update standard work
  3. Go on gemba walks
  4. Build a continuous improvement culture
  5. Foster a respectful, team-drive organization
  6. Continue to motivate employees
  7. Maintain regular training
  8. Reinforce performance and progress with metrics and visual-management tools
  9. Post continuous-improvement scorecards

And, finally, Process Excellence Network shared six traits of lean leaders. They…

  1. Embrace that lean is a journey and requires long-term thinking, patience, and a sustainability mindset.
  2. Relentlessly pursue perfection, which is the essence of Kaizen thinking.
  3. Have a fanatical focus on customers, as they are the beginning and end of everything in lean.
  4. Champion simplicity, making “find and eliminate waste” their mantra.
  5. Live gemba, spending time where it happens, at various employee and customer touchpoints
  6. Are authentic, upstanding, and respectful, as lean leaders are coaches who lead by example

As I read the traits from these three sources, I realized that they’ve included all the things we typically preach when it comes to a customer experience/culture transformation. One of my favorite aspects is the notion of gemba (which all three sources have in common), going to see where the action happens. If you don’t see for yourself, if you don’t understand it, if you don’t gather facts at the point where “it” happens, then you can’t transform it.

Now, how do we develop leaders with these traits? Or instill these traits into our leaders? If they came with these traits, wouldn’t your job as a customer experience professional be much easier?

There are three kinds of leaders: those who tell you what to do, those who allow you to do what you want, and Lean leaders who come down to the work and help you figure it out. -John Shook

20 Aug 16:32

Japan in transition: How Canada could become a more important trading partner with Japan

by John Shmuel
Illustration by Mike Faille
Illustration by Mike Faille

The Financial Post presents a six-part series on the tectonic economic transformation underway in Japan. Today, in part six, how new trade deals between Canada and Japan could benefit both sides.

TOKYO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to Tokyo in May prompted his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe to say that he hoped Canada would help the push to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed deal that will reduce trade barriers between 12 Pacific Rim countries making up 40 per cent of the global economy. 

Abe showed clear enthusiasm for the deal, but Trudeau during a press conference did not, and only reiterated that his government is still planning a thorough, cross-country review before coming to a decision.

The disparity between the two leaders’ positions on the trade deal shows that Canada and Japan, despite having a long history of business and trade together, remain far apart in many ways. For both, larger markets such as the United States and China tend to be the more immediate focus.

But there is a growing sense in Japan that the two countries could grow closer economically in the coming years as the world becomes increasingly protectionist. In the U.S., both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump have adopted protectionist trade policies into their official platforms. In the United Kingdom, the Brexit vote has tilted the country further away from integration with the global economy.

Canada and Japan have traditionally had a pretty straight-forward trading relationship: Canada exports its raw materials to Japan, an island nation with few natural resources, which then sends over finished manufacturing goods such as vehicles and heavy machinery.

TORU HANAI/AFP/Getty Images
TORU HANAI/AFP/Getty ImagesCanada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bows with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) as they review a guard of honour before their meeting at Abe's official residence in Tokyo.

Trade value both ways has been relatively flat in recent years, with Canada exporting about $9.6-billion worth of products to Japan in 2015 and importing about $14.8-billion worth.

Yoichi Kimura, senior director of global strategy at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), said Canada and Japan make for natural trading partners in a world that is becoming more insular.

“There is a trend of protectionism between many countries,” he said. “We see it all over the world. This is a reason why the Canada-Japan relationship is so important. Both countries value free trade.”

But it remains a lopsided relationship. Kimura points out that Japan, mainly through factories and dealerships set up by Japanese automakers, pumps a lot of foreign direct investment into Canada. Little, however, goes the other way: Japan’s FDI into Canada is 11 times higher than the reverse relationship.

Hisako Komai, a senior manager in the international affairs bureau at Keidanren, an influential Japanese business advocacy group, said there are many reasons why Canadian companies should try to jump into the Japanese market.

“Japan has a certain scale; the size of the market is quite large,” she said. “Consumer demand levels in Japan are also quite high.”

Japanese companies, meanwhile, see Canada’s growing consumer market as attractive, but Komai admits the country is also seen as a gateway to even larger markets such as the United States and the European Union.

That could change if some of the myriad trade barriers are removed between Japan and Canada.

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg
Tomohiro Ohsumi/BloombergShoppers walk along Takeshita Street in the Harajuku area of Tokyo, Japan

Important negotiations are now underway that could definitively change their trade dynamic, including a free trade agreement. Currently, different free trade agreements cover different industries and rules, but the hope is that tariffs and restrictions between Canada and Japan will be generally eased in order to facilitate more business.

There are also other bilateral efforts underway to spur business. This past March, the second Joint Chamber Symposium of the Japan-Canada Chambers Council was held in Vancouver, with 200 attendees from the government and private sectors. The council is a way for businesses and corporate leaders from both countries to get together and promote business relations.

“I felt there was a rising momentum in the conference, especially from the Canadians, who wanted to change the traditional relationship,” said Shinichi Isobe, head of global strategy for North America and Oceania at JETRO, who attended the symposium. “Both sides wanted to find new fields to make corporate investments.”

The attendees agreed to hold a third meeting, scheduled for April 2017 in Sendai, Japan.

Wilf Wakely, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Tokyo, chair of the Wakely Foreign Law Office and a Canadian who is a long-time resident of Japan, said that there are myriad business opportunities for Canadian companies in Japan.

“There is plenty of bank financing for projects here in Tokyo,” said Wakely, adding Japan is home to thousands of pension funds.

Wakely sees a lot of opportunity for deals and knowledge transfer when it comes to Public-Private Partnerships, which Canada has a lot of experience in. In such projects, private companies help fund and maintain government projects, creating profits for both.

This is a reason why the Canada-Japan relationship is so important. Both countries value free trade

Japan has had its own successful PPP deals, but there is room for many more, especially given some of the massive infrastructure projects in the country. For example, an ultra-fast maglev (magnetic levitation) train — which can travel at 500 km/h — is currently being built from Tokyo to Osaka. For that project, the government will provide a low-interest loan to the company building the track.

“That’s the kind of scale this country thinks in,” Wakely said.

Keiichi Higuchi, director of the North America Economic Coordination Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said another area of opportunity is in the digital economy.

This is especially true if the Trans-Pacific Partnership is eventually signed. Part of the TPP makes a commitment to facilitate the cross-border transfer of information, while also bringing in rules to protect consumers in all 12 countries from online threats such as spam and identity theft. 

The TPP could provide enormous trading potential in areas such as the sharing economy, information technology and the video-game industry, which could be one of the best ways for Canada and Japan to move their economic relationship away from the resource/finished goods model.

“The real potential is in the non-goods sector, in the digital economy,” Higuchi said. “And this is where I think Canada and Japan can really work together.”

John Shmuel reported from Tokyo as part of the Foreign Press Center Japan’s fellowship for international reporters.

20 Aug 16:32

I Had to Correct Zig Ziglar, I Just Couldn’t Help Myself -The 21st-Century Demanded It

by Keenan

Zig Zigler is the man, he’s earned my respect and everyone’s respect for his contributions to the sales world. But I just couldn’t help myself when it came to this quote.

zig-ziglar-quotes

 

Although a great quote, I think it’s a bit dated. We’re in the information age of the 21st-Century and fewer and fewer people care about how much you do. We care more about what you deliver.

During the industrial age, jobs were more do oriented. Show up, punch the clock, do your job, as expected, go home.  Delivery (with the exception of sales) was not a focus. Those days are gone.

I find this quote to be a bit more appropriate for today.

When you deliver more value than you're paid For,

 

I talk a lot about this in Chapter 10, Not Taught. In Chapter 10, Time vs Results break down the changes in the expectations of employees and companies. There is a little patience for just doing these days. Doing is a measurement of time. Delivery is the result of doing.

Today’s world demands we deliver. It cares less and less about your ability to do if the doing doesn’t deliver results.

If you want to get paid more, don’t do more, deliver more value than your paid for, that’s where the win is.

Sorry Zig, just felt it important to make your great insight fit for the 21st-Century.

 

What do you guys think, do or deliver?

 

 

20 Aug 16:32

Forget What You Think You Know: Text Sells

by Olga Bedrina

maker banners

Over the last few years, we’ve all heard the advice to avoid too much text in banner ads. “You need images,” the experts say. “Customers are drawn to images.”

There is certainly evidence that today’s consumers are drawn to images; the success of services like Instagram and Pinterest are a testament to that. However, while discussions of banner ads often tend to focus on the idea of banner blindness and the fact that click-through rates have declined significantly since the earliest banner ads back in the 1990s, these conversations often ignore the fact that banner ads do still work — and it’s only in part because of images.

The fact is, text still sells. Even as marketers shout from the rooftops about their incredible success with ads that use hardly any text at all, effective banner ads still rely heavily on text. According to one recent study, banner ads that include text actually outperform ads that only include animated images or colors.

Companies that fail to include adequate information about their products or services in their ads — even just a basic description of what they have to offer and why customers should respond — have much lower click-through rates than those that carefully craft text for their ads.

So what does this mean for your banner ads? If they aren’t performing as well as you would like, you could have a text, not an image, problem. The good news is that you can fix the problems and improve results.

Banner Ads Basics

Whether you are starting fresh with a new banner ad campaign, or you need to make changes to an existing campaign, there are several “rules” to keep in mind as you develop your ads.

1. Your ad needs to include three basic elements: A value proposition, a call to action, and a brand identity. Now, there is some question as to whether you actually need a CTA; some argue that there’s no need to tell users to “click here” or “click now” because most people know by now to do that.

However, while you may not use that exact terminology, a CTA is still important. Using language like “please help” when raising money for a charity, or “get it now” when selling a product still serves as a call to action without turning into Captain Obvious.

2. Include plenty of information, but don’t overwhelm. Remember the value proposition? That needs to be at the forefront of your mind as you develop your banner ad copy. Give people a reason to click, but don’t go overboard with text.

3. Think “flow.” When someone clicks on your banner ad, where does it take them? Is the branding and message consistent throughout? Something as simple as using a different color scheme on the landing page can confuse users and drive them away. Your banner ads need to be consistent with the rest of your messages and your brand identity.

Copywriting 101

Now, you might be thinking, “These are great in theory, but how do I actually design my ads to get attention?” When developing your ads in a banner maker or Photoshop, there are a few key principles to keep in mind that can increase the power of your ads.

making banners

Choose simple, powerful words. Remember, your audience is being bombarded with messages all the time. Stick to words that convey your value proposition without being wordy. What does the customer get from working with you? Can you distil that concept down into a few keywords? You don’t need to reveal everything in the ad — you are only trying to get people to click on the ad and learn more.

Avoid adding prices. Studies show that adding prices to your banner text destroys click-through rates. Offering a discount (without mentioning the actual price) is moderately useful while offering freebies tends to work well. Again, the focus should be on a compelling offer, not the cost.

Choose clean, easy-to-read fonts. It’s surprising how many companies choose fonts that might look pretty but are hard to read. Use clean, simple fonts; consider combining two different fonts to increase the impact of important words and phrases, but don’t go overboard.

Use color. Color is a key part of any successful banner ad campaign, and it is worth your time to do some research on color theory and psychological responses to color. No matter what colors you select, though, use them in a way that draws attention to the most important information in the ad. Take a step back and view your ad from a distance. If you can spot the most important information right away, then you’re on the right track.

Use white space. You do not have to fill every square pixel of space on your ad with an image or text. Don’t be afraid of white space. Give the eye a place to rest; in a sea of cluttered ads, yours will stand out for looking clean and simple.

Drawing attention to your banner ads is often a process of trial and error. However, when you focus on text — both the words and the design, you’ll see more click-throughs and more successful campaigns.

20 Aug 16:31

Never Make a Critical Business Decision Without Asking Your Customers First

by Ray Beharry

Running a business sounds simple enough: All you have to do is create value for customers in a unique and meaningful way that generates profit.

To do that, you know you must first understand your customer. Entrepreneurs and small business owners who don’t consult with target customers to validate the demand for an idea, product, or service before launching one risk failure.

What you may not realize is that the same validation is needed when making critical decisions — even after your successful business is up and operating.

Never Make a Critical Business Decision Without Asking Your Customers First

Customers: the lifeblood of any business

Each year, about 400,000 new businesses are created, but 470,000 shut down, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Businesses fail for many reasons, of course. But with 66 percent of customers switching to a new company because they were unhappy with a service and 82 percent saying the business could have done something to retain them, customer satisfaction is a major factor.

This is why you should regularly assess your customers’ satisfaction, opinions, and loyalty and use those factors to help navigate your decision-making process. Many tools exist for gathering customer feedback, but market research — done correctly — is one of the most effective.

Getting to know your customer

Market research provides insight into your most valuable asset — your customer — allowing you to make precise and reliable decisions in several ways.

First, it helps you understand both your customer and your competition. It also identifies the level of interest in a product or service and what customers are willing to pay for it, effectively guiding the messaging needed to reach your target market.

Key steps in market research include:

· Choosing the questions that get the information you want.

· Figuring out what kind of data is needed.

· Determining how to collect information.

· Deciding how to analyze the information.

· Developing a plan for using that information.

Successful research and development, product management, branding, pricing, and marketing — all core business functions — depend on customer insight. And great entrepreneurial leaders in today’s ultracompetitive marketplace leverage this information to foster essential innovation.

Why market research works

Entrepreneurs begin with a vision. Market research can affirm the strength of that vision or identify needed tweaks; the success of an idea hinges on a firm understanding of customers’ buying behaviors — the functional, economic, and emotional reasons that customers make purchases. These insights shape product development, marketing, and the ways businesses reach target customers.

You need to know how and where a product fits within a market, what your customer expects, product and market strengths and weaknesses, and what kinds of similar products already exist. This information is impossible to intuit without performing market research.

Market research also helps you develop a cost plan (e.g., pricing models, investments, and resources) and create a marketing strategy (e.g., types of campaigns and channels, how to reach customers, and how to deal with competitors’ reactions).

A good example of business owners putting this into practice involves Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, founders of a locational iPhone app called Burbn. After spending a year developing Burbn and releasing it, the pair re-evaluated the market and identified some issues with their product — it had too many features and seemed cluttered, making it difficult to compete with market giant Foursquare.

Systrom and Krieger chose to remove many of the features, except for photos, commenting, and liking, and rebrand their app as Instagram. Only by examining the market, customers, and competitors did they find their way onto that new, incredibly successful path.

4 paths to quick, affordable market research

Many entrepreneurs incorrectly believe conducting market research is too time-consuming, too expensive, and too intimidating. However, today’s digital world provides several quick and affordable ways to gather information to help you make smart business decisions.

Here are four methods small business owners and entrepreneurs can use to gauge customer sentiment through market research.

#1. Focus groups

Focus groups capture in-depth, qualitative feedback, but they come with a few challenges. Focus groups take time to organize, and they require an experienced moderator to avoid bias and keep the conversation focused.

Bias is a focus group caveat, which makes selecting a qualified moderator so important. Experienced moderators know how to ask questions to gather data while eliminating bias. Qualitative research depends on valid and reliable data. If bias exists in a focus group, the results will be skewed, potentially swaying your business decisions in the wrong direction.

If you choose to organize a focus group, asking 8-10 questions would be ideal, but definitely limit the number to a maximum of 12. And be sure to over invite to ensure an adequate number participate, as 10-20 percent of those invited will, on average, be no-shows.

#2. One-on-one interviews

One-on-one interviews can be conducted quickly and affordably to uncover great feedback about products and services, but limitations exist. Reach is often limited because it’s difficult to access a large group of people due to time and geographical constraints.

While interviews can be conducted via phone or face-to-face, many business owners report better results with phone interviews. People tend to be more open to sharing opinions over the phone because they’re in their own environments — and phone interviews are cheaper because no travel is required.

#3. Online research

Online research allows entrepreneurs and business owners to connect with a large number of potential customers in a quick, affordable way. To successfully conduct online research, first decide whether the audience you want to reach consists of new or existing customers. Then, develop questions to ask and decide how to reach those people — through your email subscriber list or social media, for example.

Always reach out to people in the way that’s most convenient for them in order to create more potential for open, honest, and bias-free feedback. If you can, locate similar surveys your competitors may be conducting to make sure you don’t end up over surveying any one group. And pay close attention to the timing of your online survey — avoid sending them out around holidays or on weekends, for example.

Keep them short and simple. People often avoid surveys that take longer than 5 or 10 minutes to complete. If the survey must be longer, use page breaks, allow respondents to take the survey in stages, or split it into a few separate surveys.

#4. Mobile surveys

Mobile surveys combine the principles of traditional market research with the scale, reach, and affordability of the smartphone-enabled economy. While customers enjoy interacting with brands online, only 17 percent of researchers use mobile surveys as part of their strategy.

This presents a huge opportunity for you to get ahead of the curve by using mobile to gather customer feedback. Many people prefer to use smartphones as their main tool of communication. Consequently, 60 percent of the world’s population should have internet access by 2020, thanks to the increasing ubiquity of smartphones.

What’s more, people are more likely to respond when they can do so quickly on a mobile device. Plus, mobile’s unique features, such as geolocation, allow for more accurate data collection.

Customer feedback is absolutely paramount to your business’s success throughout its lifetime, and market research is the best way to solicit their input. Using one or more of these four methods of market research, you can validate a new product, service, or business idea, guide your internal decision-making, ensure that your existing customers are happy, and create strategies for attracting new ones.

Image: The Customer Service Target Market Support Assistance Concept

This article first appeared on Tweak Your Biz and was co-authored with John Papadakis, CEO of Pollfish.
20 Aug 16:31

Britain had a vast, unfair transfer of £36 billion in wealth and no one is talking about it

by Jim Edwards

rich poor homeless begging

If the government proposed a law that cut the amount your employer had to pay into your pension each year from an average of £7,400 ($9,675) to just £1,071, people would be angry.

Now imagine how angry people would be if this law only applied to 76% of people. The other 24% get to keep accruing their big pension deals, while the rest of us suffer.

This hypothetical law would save corporations £36 billion in annual pension contributions, keeping that money as profit or distributing it to stockholders as dividends.

Any prime minister who proposed such a law would get laughed out of Parliament. Aside from its rank unfairness and the severity of the reductions, it would leave future generations of employees unable to retire, creating a time-bomb of senior-citizen poverty for the future.

But these numbers are real, the law is in force right now, and the act that created it was passed largely unnoticed in 1986 under Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

A social security bill unintentionally paved the way for employers to get away with paying employees far less in real-terms than they had in the past. It means entire generations are on course to retire without enough money to survive until they die.

Between 1986 and now a huge inequality gap has opened up between Baby Boomer retirees and those who will come after them.

margaret thatcherIt is all completely legal. But the extreme inequality of it begs the term "theft" or "robbery."

The primary victims of the law are millennial and Generation X workers, people who began their careers in the 1990s or after. The majority of them have been banned from the lucrative "final salary" pensions that their parents enjoyed.

Plenty has been written about economic inequality in the UK and the way it is creating a generation of younger workers with curtailed financial prospects. Student debt and the booming housing market have been blamed for creating "Generation Rent." But student debt is dwarfed by the scale of the pension wealth that has been removed from millennials' income. A total of £10 billion was loaned in student debt in 2015. That is less than a third of the cash loss from pension contributions in the same year.

And yet, no one seems to care.

Young people are not good at thinking about the future. Student loans and housing costs are more immediate concerns. When you're in your 20s and 30s, retirement seems far away. So there is almost no debate about the single most important economic factor in creating inequality in Britain: The stripping away of pension money.

"A 30-something-year-old whose employer is paying 3% of their salary into a pension plan may well think that they are making adequate provision for their retirement in 40+ years’ time and, if it turns out that they’re not, they still have time to sort it out later," says Bob Scott, a partner at Lane Clark & Peacock, a consultancy that does pension research.

"They will, most likely, be unaware if their older colleagues are still in the 'final salary' scheme and are even less likely to be aware that members of the final salary scheme could be enjoying benefits worth something like 50% of their salary."

Today's workers receive only a fraction of the pension benefits their parents got

pensionsSince the 1986 act, the type of pension plans which pay a percentage of a worker's "final salary" for life have been abolished for all but a small minority of older workers. Workers in the private sector, who are five-sixths of all UK employees, are now largely in private pensions that receive only a fraction of the financial benefits that people received prior to 1986.

Generation X, the millennials, and Gen-Y have borne the brunt of the losses. Their parents, the Baby-Boomers, were largely shielded from the cuts because they were allowed to stay in the old system, which is winding down as they die.

The old plans are called "defined benefit" (DB) pensions. DB plans give workers a guaranteed income every year until they die, often based on some percentage of their "final salary" (i.e. the plan has a "defined benefit"). It is up to the company to guess how much that will cost ahead of time, and invest accordingly while the employee is still working. All the risk of the plan is borne by the company, and all the benefits go to the employee.

The new, less effective plans are called "defined contribution" (DC) plans. DC plans give workers a guaranteed financial contribution to their pension fund each year, but contributions stop when the worker leaves the company. The company has no duty to provide for the worker beyond that. You're also not guaranteed a certain pay out when you retire — and there's a good chance that the current crop of pensions won't cover you for your whole retirement. In a DC plan, all the risk is borne by the worker and none by the company.

In 2015, £13.3 billion was paid by FTSE 100 companies into the pensions of the 1.8 million workers who still have DB plans, according to data from LC&P and the Pensions Policy Institute. That works out at £7,389 in employer contributions per person. But most workers are no longer in those plans.

That same year, companies paid just £6 billion into DC plans, to cover 5.6 million workers. That works out to just £1,071 per worker. If the younger workers in the DC schemes had received the same contributions as their older colleagues in the DB schemes, they would have received another £35.4 billion in contributions toward their future retirement last year. (A full set of links to our underlying pension research data can be found at the end of this article.)

The 1980s law that ended free school lunches also destroyed UK pension plans

pensionsThe 1986 Social Security Reform Act is not a well-remembered piece of legislation.

The Conservative government wanted to conduct sweeping welfare reform by removing benefits from scroungers, means-testing applicants, and abolishing free school meals for schoolchildren.

It was intended to save the state some money. (The reform's impact on cost saving turned out to be marginal, according to a study by the London School of Economics for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Although spending was cut by 6% in the short-term, the recipients of housing benefit and unemployment payments were able to requalify by becoming more sophisticated in the way they applied for payments.)

The first section of the act was completely ignored at the time. It dealt with "personal pension schemes."

The act created a legal framework that let companies funnel workers into private pension plans and block them from entering old-fashioned but highly lucrative "defined benefit" pension plans. The act probably wasn't intended to rob the vast majority of British workers of their ability to retire with a meaningful pension. According to pension experts, the government had simply noticed that a small but increasing number of people were taking out private pension plans with their own money, to supplement existing plans or because they were self-employed. The act created a standard legal and tax framework for those plans to exist.

Until the late 1990s, most companies ignored it. But as defined benefit plans became increasingly expensive, millions of workers were shifted from the old expensive plans into the new cheaper ones.

This chart shows how workers were shifted out of good pensions into worse ones over five snapshots in timepensions

Different pensions databases give different numbers depending on how and what they count. But they all show the same broad progression, with the number of workers in DB plans declining as DC plan members rise.

That switch triggered a massive loss of cash for workers in DC plans. This chart from the ONS shows how much cash companies put into their pension plans in 2014, as a percentage of the salaries of the employees. It breaks out the types of plans involved, including DB and DC.

Companies gave DB workers 15% of their earnings as pension contributions — but DC workers received only 2.9%

pensions

Here is how that division of wealth between DC and DB pensions occurred over time. Year after year, workers in DC plans receive only a minority of the pension contributions paid by employers.

DC pension members get a minority of the pension contributions, even though they are the majority of employees

pensionsUsing data from the Pensions Policy Institute (PPI) and Lane Clark & Peacock, we can estimate how big the financial loss is to everyone who began working in the UK after 1986. For the year 2015, the PPI estimates there were 7.4 million private sector workers with pension plans. They broke down like this:

  • Workers with pension plans in 2015
  • DB: 1.8 million (24%)
  • DC: 5.6 million (76%)
  • Total: 7.4 million
  • Source: PPI

In terms of money lost, LC&P did a survey of the FTSE 100 companies' pension plans and added up the pension contributions from each company. Here is how that breaks down:

  • Pension contributions made by companies in 2015
  • DB: £13.3 billion (69%)
  • DC: £6 billion (31%)
  • Total: £19.3 billion
  • Source: LC&P

Based on those numbers, defined benefit workers received £7,389 each from their companies but defined contribution workers got only £1,071. Put another way, 69% of the money went to 24% of workers, and 76% of the workers shared only 31% of the money. The split was based largely on when they entered the workforce.

If the DC workers had received the same contributions as the DB ones, they would have been paid an extra £35.4 billion in 2015 alone.

To be clear, the PPI numbers and the LC&P stats are drawn from different databases. So it is not strictly fair to divide one by the other. PPI's numbers are an estimate of all workers, whereas LC&P's capture only the FTSE 100. If the LC&P data captured payments at all UK companies then the financial losses of DC workers would be far higher. Our calculation thus significantly understates just how bad this is for Gen-X and Millennials.

Less money is covering more workers

Data from all these organisations, including the Office for National Statistics and the Bank of International Settlements, all show the same general trend: a majority of workers are now in newer DC plans but a majority of contributions and assets are in DB plans. No matter how you slice it, less money is covering more workers — and that's a total loss of pension cash for younger workers banned from DB plans.

"If you compare the value of a final salary defined benefit pension, if you were making provisions for one now you’d have to set aside something like 50% of salary each year," LC&P's Scott says.

"That’s such a high number because final salary pensions are generous, interest rates are very low, and people are living for a long time ... Now a typical pension for a new employee joining a UK company today, their employer is required to enroll them in a pension scheme but may have to pay no more than 3% of their salary into the pension scheme."

That is the scale of the ripoff: DB members get pension contributions up to 50% of their salaries. But the law — updated in 2015 — requires only 3% for DC employees.

That has contributed to a pronounced macro-economic effect. This chart shows the level of economic inequality between people who work and those who don't, represented as an index. Retirees' income increased faster than workers' income after 1989, when before they were on the same track:gini pensions

How did this happen?

None of this was predicted when the 1986 act was passed. In fact, back then, DB plans were cheaper for companies to operate than DC plans. Two factors gave companies a financial incentive to axe DB plans: people started living longer (and therefore claiming their "final salary" deals for more years) and interest rates collapsed.

Let's look at life expectancy first. Retirement life expectancy has jumped by 50% between the 1980s and now:

  • Future years life expectancy at age 65
  • 1981: 14 years
  • 2011: 21 years
  • 2015: 21.6 years (men) 24 years (women)
  • Source: Pension Policy Institute reports from 2012 and 2015.

Life expectancy is a huge part of pension costs. In the 1980s, a person collecting retirement income at 65 might be expected to die at about age 79. After that, their pension would stop (or be reduced if they left a spouse). Now, that person is collecting income until they are 86, a 50% increase in retirement life years expectancy, from 14 years of retirement to at least 21.

That put a relatively sudden financial burden on DB schemes, many of which were designed in the 1950s and 1960s for a population that smoked and drank a lot, and never went to the gym.

The Bank of England begins destroying pensions

Bank of England governor Mark CarneyAt the same time, the Bank of England began reducing interest rates. In January 1986, base rate interest was 12.4%. That was good news for DB plans, which rely on interest payments from the bonds and gilts they buy to pay retirees.

Interest rates were so good that many companies ran surpluses in their DB pension schemes, paying out less than they needed to cover everyone.

It would actually have cost more money for companies to start DC schemes immediately after 1986 because a DB plan running a surplus allows a company to reduce or forgo pension contributions completely. If you put a lump sum in one year and it's earning enough in interest to cover everyone's retirement , no need to top it up. But with DC, the plans are based around a regular contribution of cash — a minimum of 3% of monthly salary as it stands today.

"Many employers made strenuous efforts to keep their employees in defined benefit pension schemes," says Scott, the LC&P partner. "At the time many of them had surpluses and the companies weren’t actually paying contributions to the schemes. In fact, in some cases, it could be cheaper to put a new employee into a pension scheme and fund their benefits out of surplus than it would be to put them into a defined contribution scheme and pay 5% of their salary."

As the 1990s rolled into the 2000s, inflation came down, and the Bank of England reduced rates. The Bank reduced rates further in hopes of spurring inflation after the 2008 credit crisis, and rates have now effectively been at zero for seven straight years.

Interest payments dried up. Suddenly, DB pension schemes that had been running surpluses in the 1990s could not cover their commitments in the 2000s. By July of 2016, there were 5,945 companies in the UK unable to meet their DB commitments. Their total deficit is £408 billion, according to the Pension Protection Fund.

This chart from LP&C shows that the cost of funding DB plans has doubled since 2009. Companies must now pay 50% of a workers' salary to keep pace with a DB pension commitment.pensionsYou can see companies' problem here: costs for DB plans are getting out of control.

BHS owner Philip Green, the "unacceptable face of capitalism," turns out to be the typical face of capitalism

Sir Philip Green gives evidence to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and Work and Pensions Committee at Portcullis House, London, on the collapse of BHS.Sir Philip Green, the former owner of BHS, is the ne plus ultra villain in this story. The story of how he handled the BHS pension plan — which covers 20,000 workers — is a good example of how all companies have been forced to axe their DB plans.

Green acquired BHS in 2000, when its pension had a £43 million surplus. But he failed to fund it adequately, according to a Parliamentary inquiry, and by the time he sold the company the pension plan was £275 million in deficit, and the company was near bankruptcy. By that time, Green had pulled £307 million out of the business, in dividends for himself.

BHS is one of the pension schemes inside the PPF rescue vehicle, and part of that rescue may require BHS workers to take less money in retirement than they expected. For this, Conservative MP Richard Fuller called Green "the unacceptable face of capitalism."

But Green is actually the typical face of capitalism on this issue. In the last year, companies who have closed their DB pensions include Marks & Spencer, Legal & General, Tata, HSBC, Severn Trent and Standard Life. The PPF now shelters nearly 6,000 company pensions that, like BHS, are in deficit. Fourteen companies in the FTSE 100 followed BHS's lead last year by paying pension contributions that were less than required to meet their DB plan deficits, according to LC&P. Those companies include Experian, Next, Royal Mail, Standard Life, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, SAB Miller, Sage, and Tesco.

And Green isn't worse than his peers because he paid himself, as BHS's largest shareholder, a fat dividend while his pension fund tanked.

That behaviour is also typical.

Companies pay five times more in dividends to shareholders than they make in pension investments

In 2015, FTSE 100 companies paid five times as much in stock dividends as they did in contributions to their DB pensions, according to LC&P. In the FTSE 100, only six companies paid more in pension contributions than dividends. Even companies running pension deficits paid more in dividends than they did in pension contributions. Fifty-six FTSE 100 companies ran a total pension deficit of £42.3 billion last year. "Those same companies paid dividends totalling £53.0 billion – some 25% higher," LC&P's analysis says.

So it is not simply that companies decided to put their DB workers ahead of their DC workers. It is worse than that:

DC employees are now third in line behind shareholders and DB employees.

Needless to say, the 56 FTSE 100 companies running that aggregate £42.3 billion in pension deficits could have paid the entire £42.3 billion into their current employees' DC plans and still had about £10 billion left over for dividends, assuming they were comfortable running those DB schemes in deficit (which they were). But they didn't.

They give the cash to shareholders instead:pensions

Can this be fixed?

The obvious solution would be to change the law to ban companies from paying dividends if their pension scheme is in deficit.

But that would only affect DB schemes. And it might only worsen the problem, LC&P's Scott says. It would make DB pensions even more expensive to maintain than they were before, thus accelerating the flight to DC plans.

"If a company has an overall pension budget and it's required to put that all in its defined benefit scheme then it will be much less able to provide generous [defined] contributions to a number of employees," Scott says.

Australia has a solution: "superannuation"

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks to the media during a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, May 8, 2016 after asking Australia's Governor-General Peter Cosgrove to dissolve both Houses of Parliament to call a double dissolution election for July 2, 2016.  AAP/Lukas Coch/via REUTERS  Another solution might be to increase the legal requirement for DC contributions. Currently, the law only requires companies to offer DC funding at a paltry at 3% — far lower than the amount actually required to retire. Experts generally recommend workers save between 15% and 25% of their earnings, starting in their 20s, if they want stable finances in their retirement.

So where could this extra money come from? Amazingly, there is a way of fixing the problem without requiring any changes in UK tax law. It is called "superannuation," and Australia already does it.

Back in 1993, the Australian government realised that the country's aging population was going to create an extremely expensive unfunded retirement problem three decades down the road. So it began requiring companies to make mandatory contributions to employee pension plans in much the same way that the UK does now, starting at 3%. In 1992, the rate of those contributions was gradually increased — it is 9.5% now and scheduled to increase to 12% in 2025.

The Australian "super" is so popular that some pollsters believe prime minister Malcolm Turnbull's plan to reduce tax breaks for "super" pension holders lost him votes in the July 2016 federal elections, nearly costing him his coalition government.

LC&P's Scott believes percentage increases in compulsory contributions can be brought in gradually, and increased whenever an employee earns a pay rise. He also recommends auto-enrollment and auto-escalation over time, requiring employees to opt out, in order to take advantage of inertia (most workers fail to save for retirement because they have to opt into the system).

"It’s easier to absorb an increase in contribution rate if pay has increased at a faster rate," Scott says. "So, if someone gets a 5% pay rise, increasing their pension contribution by 1% still leaves them 4% better off in take-home pay. And, for employers, a gradual increase in the rate of contribution over a period of years is much more manageable than one big jump."

Note the irony here: Thirty years ago Australia began planning for the future at the exact same time that the UK began ignoring it.

It is a shame that no one here seems to care.

Statistics for this story were drawn from the following resources [PDFs]

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: OBAMA: Here’s the best advice George W. Bush gave me

20 Aug 16:30

Joint ownership

by Seth Godin

Before you create intellectual property (a book, a song, a patent, the words on a website, a design) with someone else, agree in writing about who owns what, who can exploit it, what happens to the earnings, who can control its destiny.

This is sometimes an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it's far worse to have it later, after the thing you've created has been shown to have value.

It's almost impossible to efficiently split a soup dumpling after it's been cooked...

       
20 Aug 16:30

Am I Doing This Right? 5 Social Media Best Practices for Your Business

by Katharina Cavano

So, you’ve signed up for Twitter, or Instagram, or even Snapchat, and you’re staring at your phone or your computer screen wondering what the heck you’re supposed to do next or how you should utilize each platform…especially when it comes to your business. We’re here to tell you, when it comes to social media and figuring out the best practices, the etiquette, and the best way to utilize it for business marketing, you’re not alone in feeling confused or bewildered.

The world of social media has become a wild one and figuring out where you fit in on each platform can be a daunting task…that might even turn you off from using it all together. But before you go running away from even trying your hand at it, we’ve got a few best practices you should follow to keep you on track, especially if you’ll be utilizing social media for your business.

4 Social Media Best Practices:

Take it step by step, no one becomes a social media mastermind in a single day, just like anything else in your business, it needs to be built up. We’ve lined up the 4 best practices for getting your business up and running on social media, because at the end of the day, the online community is where more and more people are turning to discover more about the businesses they love…and you don’t want to be ‘unsearchable’ in this day and age.

Defining your purpose:

Why are you on social media anyway? Before you post a single thing, you need to figure out exactly what platforms you’ll be using and why you’re using them. If you’re already an experienced Facebook-er, this could be your chance to expand your horizons into setting up a business profile and tackling building out your network there. It could also be a great chance to tackle another platform you may not have tried yet, like Twitter or LinkedIn.

If you want to expand your business and professional network, then LinkedIn is the right place for you, but if you want to easily build up an online presence and interact more with your customers then Facebook could be the right avenue. Many people are starting to turn to social media as their news source, so keep that in mind when you’re determining your purpose for each platform. Facebook is one of the most popular platforms that online folks use to get their news and information, so what does that mean for the information and value you can share on the platform?

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 1.35.11 PM

Etiquette:

When you walk up to someone at a networking event and they ask you about your business, you don’t yell, right? The same goes for your online etiquette, avoid the messages in all caps and the extraneous exclamation points.

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 1.53.56 PM

You wouldn’t be the first person to wonder if all caps is okay, and in the sense of building up your brand online or communicating with potential clients and customers, it’s probably not your best bet. Beyond avoiding ‘yelling’ at your newfound friends and fans, basic etiquette rules apply here online. When you’re running a small business, we tend to stress the importance of always responding when someone reaches out via social media. And yes, that means in a timely manner too.

Social media has become something that’s so immediate, and when people ask a question via social, they almost always expect a quick response. Don’t leave them hanging! Build in some time on a daily basis where you can field any questions and make any updates to your profiles.

Sharing is Caring:

Give credit where credit is due. Always. It’s easy to feel like you have access to anything and everything you find on the web, and while you do, it’s not always yours for the taking or sharing. While it’s often encouraged to share other people’s or brands’ posts, you need to keep in mind that it’s always necessary to link back to them or tag them in the post.

There have been plenty of online celebrities or others who have gotten in trouble for not properly attributing the owner of content they’ve shared, so you wouldn’t be the first to commit a sharing faux pas.

The bright side? By tagging others, you up your chances of more people seeing your posts and your profile. Plus, it gives you a great reason to reach out to the original poster and give them the heads up that you’ve shared their post/meme/content on your own site. By doing so, you’re not only building up some crucial relationships with like-minded people but could also inspire them to check out your own content and share it themselves….better helping to spread the word of the value you’re bringing to your clients, customers and fans!

Marketing:

Finally, the fine art of marketing your business or brand on social media. Not everything you post should be a sales pitch, because at the end of the day, that isn’t what your fans are going to your social media for. You need to balance both the professional and the personal here. As you probably already know, social media tends to lean towards the personal, and as soon as people start pushing the sale of something on their personal profiles, people will quickly back away, unfollow, or block.

Since it’s a business profile, people come to expect some aspect of the sales pitch, but it doesn’t have to be all about it. Often people utilize social media as a way to learn more about a brand or business, or see if they can get any value from them. What does that mean? Well think about it this way, what can you provide your clients and potential customers with beyond what your business offers?

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 11.54.02 AM

Here at Contactually, you can see on our social channels that we share blog posts and relevant articles that we think our customers and followers would find useful. We’re sharing value that pertains to our business, without giving them the hard sell, because after a while, that can get pretty stale, and leave your followers disinterested in ever returning to your profiles. Find your value and start sharing it! Whether it’s quick anecdotes that you can share easily via Twitter, or longer blog posts you want to promote on Facebook or LinkedIn, find a way to utilize social media as a way to market the value you provide…not necessarily your business.

Go forth and be social

Here’s the thing, social media won’t start working for you, until you start working it yourself. It requires some time and a little dedication to figuring out your best habits and how to smoothly run your profiles without it getting overwhelming. Start with these 5 tips and go from there. Keep in mind that manners matter and making the hard sell will only turn people off. Social media is meant to be social, so use it as a way to allow your customers and potential clients better get to know you!

20 Aug 16:28

The Key to Effective B2B Selling

by Rachel Clapp Miller

B2B sellingIf you are selling a B2B solution, there is nothing more effective than having a consistent way to answer the following questions:

  • What problems do you solve for your customers?
  • How do you specifically solve these problems?
  • How do you differently than your competition?
  • What’s your proof?

The answers to these questions tie directly to your customer conversations. Your sales teams’ ability to articulate your company’s value and differentiation during key prospect conversations is directly related to your effectiveness as a B2B sales organization.

At face value, these questions appear simple. However, pull your colleagues into a room and ask them what the answers are and you’ll probably see several different viewpoints. Broaden the pool of people to different departments within your organization and you will likely be shocked at how different your co-workers view your solutions.

Your prospects are likely experiencing the same thing. And guaranteed, a disjointed value message with no ability to consistently articulate differentiation is not helping you close deals.

The first step to gaining clarity across your organization around the above questions is to develop a value framework that provides that pivotal “source of the truth” around how you provide value for your customers and how you do it differently from your competition. The framework also provides your sales team with a guide to conduct a value-based business conversation, no matter the buyer.

The key to making a value framework successful for your organization is that it’s sales consumable. Meaning a salesperson can easily apply it to his/her daily conversations. Think one-sheets, not binders filled with information. Sellers play a vital role in engaging buyers and current customers on the value your solutions provide. A sales team’s ability to consistently articulate the value message helps execute on marketing’s hard work and allows product and services to deliver on realistic expectations.

It’s easy to articulate your product’s features and functions, but that’s not going to help your sales team sell large deals and consistently beat the competition. Complex, enterprise sales requires company alignment around a focused value-message. Driving that alignment and as a result, enabling your sales team to have these conversations, will help you improve margins, generate more revenue and make your overall company more successful.

Download our Ebook: The ROI of Sales Messaging

20 Aug 16:28

It’s Not a Sales Funnel; It’s an Engagement Funnel

by Jess Ostroff

TDTM - Anthony Helmstetter - episode artWelcome back to Talk Digital to Me! Convince & Convert strategist Anthony Helmstetter is in the hot seat today, offering up his tips for revitalizing your sales funnel and customer engagement.

As a member of Convince & Convert’s team of strategists, Anthony is an expert problem solver. He helps brands of every stripe find solutions to their digital marketing challenges. One stumbling block he encounters all too often, Anthony says, is a brand’s sales funnel. Today, he’ll explore how the modern-day sales funnel has changed, common sales process mistakes, and the five steps you can take to turn your struggling sales funnel into a high-performing “engagement funnel.”

Watch the video for more tips and strategies from Anthony!

Kate: Welcome to Talk Digital to Me, conversations about marketing and customer service from the Pros over at Convince & Convert. I am Kate Volman, and during each episode I have the pleasure of interviewing one of the team members over at Convince & Convert, and today I have the pleasure of being joined by Anthony Helmstetter as the strategist, and today, it’s not a sales funnel, it’s an engagement funnel, and you’ve got several. So I’m really excited to dive into this topic, Anthony. It’s a good one.

Anthony: Hey, Kate. How are you? It’s good to see you.

Kate: You too. So before we dive into the topic, why don’t you share with everybody what you do over at Convince & Convert?

Anthony: Sure. I’m a strategist with Convince & Convert. I have over 20-some years of digital marketing experience. I did my first e-commerce site in 1995. Where were you in 1995?

Kate: Not doing that.

Anthony: I, and my colleagues, we get called into various brands, businesses, organizations, even government entities sometimes, to help them solve some sort of a digital marketing challenge. We get to see all kinds of different situations and scenarios. But basically, we’re just there to sort of lend a little bit of strategic oversight, help figure out some plans. Sometimes it’s a big idea out of the box, and sometimes it’s some operational changes. But we get to come and sort of help solve the problem and move the needle, and that’s what we like to do.

Kate: Awesome. So today, we’re talking specifically about the sales funnel. Obviously, with digital marketing now, it’s very advanced. As consumers, we like to see messages very related to us that we want to consume, that we want to see, and we’re able to be really targeted these days. Businesses are able to target their audience very specifically. So when talking about the sales funnel, you say that the traditional sales funnel doesn’t even really exist anymore, and that’s it an overly simplistic lead gen and sales model. What do you mean by that?

Anthony: Sure. You can still have top of the funnel things and calls to action, and so on. But the traditional or the old-school sales model is too simplistic. It evolved from a time when we, as marketers, controlled the message. Therefore, whatever the message we put out there, that was the message. It went out there through our traditional advertising. There was the traditional point of sale, whatever that might have been. Anybody in marketing knows now that is far too simplistic. It doesn’t work that way. We, as consumers, have changed.

Now, a consumer may become aware of the product or service from a review site, or then maybe go check out some other resources before even coming to a website or picking up the phone to call. So where the conversation, the dialog, occurs has changed. So that sales funnel has to change also.

The other aspect of this is we can no longer talk to the entire target audience as though they are one person or one audience. They’re not. We are individuals. We have different wants and needs. My motivation might be different than someone else’s. The solution might be the same, but we might be solving the same problem from two different aspects completely.

Even the points of contact in the sales funnel, wherever it may be, are very different. So the model has to change.

Kate: So knowing that, how can a company look at their sales funnel and figure out a better way to start engaging with their prospects and having a better, more effective sales process?

Anthony: So the first thing to do is say, “All right. Be prepared to suspend the notion that all leads come in the same way, they all get spoken to the same way, and they all get closed the same way.” We, as consumers, don’t all behave the same way, so that’s just sort of a silly notion. There are five things that we like to tell our clients to do and sort of reinvent this process.

The first one is, you have to know the audience and if you don’t know the audience, you need to get to know the audience. You have to understand the nuances between them. You have to understand not just where they are in sort of that old model sales funnel, but understand what their motivations, understand their particular needs, a problem they’re trying to solve. It’s different for different people.

You can do this by talking to your sales team. You can talk to your customer service people. You can do surveying of your existing prospects and customers. I mean, there are a lot of different ways to get information. But we have to understand, “What are their buttons?” because you have to be able to address them.

The second thing, you need to develop, if you don’t have already, personas. The personas are simply mapping out a particular type of customer that covers a certain aspect of your customer base or your target audience, and understanding who they are, what they need. What emotional trigger is going to help them get to a purchase decision or not? Are they a decision maker or not, or are they going to be an influence to the process? Identify for each one of your product lines or service lines the personas that might be involved, and that dialog that’s going to lead to a good customer and good customer loyalty.

The third thing, be helpful. Don’t be salesy. It’s too easy now to lose a prospect with a hardcore sales pitch, and this is culturally challenging for many sales-driven organizations, where it’s all about getting the quota and the commission. That model has changed and there is far more benefit now to being helpful. Jay Baer’s book “Youtility” goes into this in great detail, about being helpful now is far more important than being a good salesperson. Four . . . Sure.

Kate: I’m going to cut you off with number three. Just because when it comes to being helpful, a lot of salespeople, they don’t want to give it away. They have this idea of, “I can’t share this great information. I can’t share the best stuff.” But the companies that create really good content, now they’re sharing their best content in order to build up that audience. What do you say when companies are kind of like, “I can’t be that helpful, or they are not going to hire me?”

Anthony: We say, “Stop it.” Here’s why. We have all been the customer, and we know that when we’re interacting with any business or organization and they are clearly interested in our needs and not their needs, that comes through. You can tell when the person you’re dealing with, the organization or the brand, is really looking out for them or looking out for us. The way for them to succeed is to look out for the customer. Culturally, that concept just has to be embraced at every level of the organization.

Kate: I love that. The way for them to succeed is to be helpful. That’s awesome. Okay. So number one, know your audience. Number two, create personas. Number three, be helpful. Number four.

Anthony: Number four, content and specifically, content mapping. Once you understand you have different audiences with different needs along each different product or service line, there might be a great deal of overlap but there are going to be differences. So we need to take a look then at what content do you have that’s going to address those emotional triggers at various stages of sort of the awareness journey or the old sales funnel. So that’s why the old funnel doesn’t work, is because it’s very kind of two-dimensional.

Now, we’ve got really multiple engagement funnels. People are going to be engaged perhaps for months or years with your brand before there’s ever a revenue event. They might be engaged with the brand and become an advocate, and yet still not be a customer.

So there are all kinds of examples now of sort of, again, that traditional dialog has changed. It’s no longer marketer to general public. It’s now everything is on the cloud. We don’t control it. We can be a participant in it. So we have to understand that we need the content, and it’s not just content on our own website or at our point of sale. Content needs to be out there, because the conversations are happening out there. It’s social channels. It’s blogs. It’s forums. It’s podcasts. It’s influencers. Just a variety of places that we need to get our content distributed, and that leads to the fifth point. That’s the content creation, distribution, and the atomization of our content.

So recognizing now that what we want is a content library or a content arsenal that really is designed to address a broad spectrum of needs and wants at various stages of engagement from different personas of our product lines, there’s a lot of stuff that we need there. Then, we need to get out there to where the conversations are happening. It’s no longer just, “Oh, well I put that on our blog, so we’re done.” No. You have far more potential customers than are on your blog site right now. You need to get the content out there where they are, so it can be consumed. That’s how you build your customer base.

Kate: So those are all so awesome, and I feel like we could dive into each one of those and pick them apart so specifically. But let’s talk a little bit about the content mapping and the idea of that content mapping kind of being around . . . You talked about how some people are going to maybe be on your email list or be following you on social media for months, weeks, years before they actually buy something. So how many different pieces of content should you be creating, and how do you know like what the right content is for you? Should you be doing videos, podcasts, blogs? What does that look like?

Anthony: Okay. So a couple questions all rolled up together there. Thank you for that.

Kate: I did do that. I realized that. I’m trying to make it hard for you, Anthony.

Anthony: That’s the challenge.

Kate: Yes.

Anthony: Okay. So in content mapping, a good place to start often is a content audit. Figure out what content you have, what content is evergreen, what content is by design short lived, and where the gaps are. Those gaps need to be filled, and there are pretty simple ways to figure out the rank priority of that.

Once you identified the content gaps, then the content creation comes into play, and then content distribution and content atomization that we talked about. But your question about how much content, some organizations have content creation teams, marketing communication teams, and their job is to create content. So there could actually be an abundance of content. There can sometimes be even too much content. But more often, we see there is a content shortfall.

People are always saying, “We’ve got to update the website, update the website, update the website,” and that’s not necessarily the best approach. It’s finding a way to be helpful and be relevant to a particular recipient or individual, or lead, or even a customer so you can build that ongoing relationship at whatever stage that relationship might be. Because really you want to move people from initial awareness to a lead or a prospect, to a customer, to a brand advocate, brand loyalty, and build that lifetime value.

So there’s no point in that spectrum where you should stop talking to the customer. So you need to keep finding things to say that are going to be helpful to that lead or that prospect, or that customer.

How much is the right amount? There’s no single answer to that and there’s usually more opportunity for content than there are resources to create it. So prioritization becomes the important thing then.

Kate: So what tools and technology . . . I know people get really excited to learn about the latest and greatest tools and trends that people are using to help them create content, distribute content. Do you have any apps and tools that you love to share that you recommend your client use?

Anthony: Well, I guess one thing that’s good about our position is we don’t sell a particular solution or suite of solutions. Our clients often come to us looking for what are the best and greatest tools, and our collective knowledge on that area is pretty vast. But I think the better question isn’t so much what’s the right tool or technology. The better question is, what’s the problem you’re trying to solve? Let’s figure that out, get a good definition on that, then go see what tool meshes well with that. I think also, it’s not so much about at this stage the technology. It’s really the content plan. That’s still more of a human being-involved process.

There are good content publishing tools and things like that, but understanding your content plan, as you alluded to before. “Is this content going to be best served for our particular persona, for this particular product or service line via an email drip campaign? Is it, say, a one-time blog post that we keep referring to go back to? Is this going to be a six-part podcast series that we can dole out to people? Is this going to be part of a live podcast, whatever that might be?” Think of that plan. Then that starts to lead you to, “All right,” the processes and the tools necessary to complete that. That’s I think, a more likely approach than just saying, “Here’s this awesome platform for X, Y, Z,” because there are so many out there.

I mean, just marketing automation. My last count, there were 125 known established marketing automation platforms. Not one of them were the same, and they all have their strengths and non-strengths. So it’s really good tying it back to our particular client, what they need for where they are right now.

Kate: That is a beautiful answer, Anthony. I love that you said that because I think that it can be very easy for people to get caught up in like the latest, “Oh, this just came out. We have to jump on it,” as opposed to, “What are you trying to say? How are you engaging with your clients?” It’s about the content, so I love that. What should people do as far as setting themselves up for success and knowing what to measure? Let’s talk a little bit about testing and measurement so that they know that their content plan, that their sales funnel is actually working and getting the results that they’re looking for.

Anthony: So I’m going to answer that from the context of the sales process funnel that it’s more like a cloud now. The big thing they want to measure here is not just, “I ran this paid search ad on Google and I got this sale, therefore I’ve got revenue ROI.” It’s more complex than that and organizations need to first come to terms with, “What metrics are meaningful? What are we trying to accomplish?” I know, sure, there’s always revenue. But there are a lot of things out there that are worth measuring that don’t directly lead to revenue, but indirectly can have a huge influence on it.

So we’re taking a look at where we measure things such as engagement. Engagement can occur at the website, but not necessarily at the e-store. Engagement can occur when a piece of content is consumed, or a video is viewed, but there’s no immediate sale. But later, a subsequent sale, that may have been part of that sphere of influence.

So in a more mature measurement and analytics environment, you will try and track the content consumption throughout the relationship [inaudible 00:15:16] to ultimately the revenue of it, and then really beyond what content is being consumed post-transaction or for customer retention, or customer renewal, or customer brand advocacy, and things like that.

So the tracking of that content consumption is a little harder. It requires kind of the next layer, the next evolution for a lot of companies today to get to so they can understand, “That piece of content is knocking it out of the park. That content is not working. But why? Is it because people aren’t finding it, they’re not interested, it’s too long, it doesn’t really address the needs, if the wrong people are finding it?” Digging into that why, that’s still very much a human analytics process and we always say it’s not just the report. It’s not just the data of the report, and it’s not just what does it mean. But you really have to get down to, “All right. What do we do?”

I mean, we’ve got all these reports and spreadsheets that people are now generating all over the place. But someone has got to look at it and say, “All right. Here’s the story this is telling us. What are we going to do to try and move the needle?”

Kate: Awesome. When you go in to a client and obviously they have a lot of things probably happening and going on. They’ve got their salespeople out there or they have some kind of content that they’re producing and putting out there. What does this look like, like your first meeting and helping them figure out kind of where they’re going to start and what kind of plan they’re going to have? Walk me through that.

Anthony: Sure. This is actually the part that I find is almost most exciting. Because the first meeting, our job is to get in and very, very quickly get the lay of the land. It’s brand new people, brand new faces. It’s their business. They’re at their spot in time and they’re trying to solve something, and they’ve called us because they want some help with that thing, whatever it might be.

Our job is to really, very quickly, understand their situational reality. So it’s asking a lot of questions. This is one of the things that I really enjoy doing is asking the right questions so we can figure out, “All right. What are the obstacles? Is it operational? Is it resource constraint? Is it a cultural issue? Is it a competitive threat?” Every company is different.

So it’s always a brand new minefield that we then get to make a map of and sort of figure out, “All right. With our client’s help, how do we navigate this together to get to the goal that they’re trying to accomplish?”

Kate: All right. So do you have a great example that you can share of a company that you have worked with or are working with now that you’ve been able to just make those shifts and changes and see better results with this kind of funnel?

Anthony: I’ve got an example of one. It’s a project that I did not too long ago. But in this example it sort of takes you through what they were doing as far as a call to action and that traditional funnel and what we moved them to. This particular client was one of the industry leaders in identity theft protection, almost a household word. You may have heard of them. When I first started working, they had one call to action. That was, “Go to the website and sign up,” and that was it. There was no lead capture or nurture program whatsoever. The funny thing was, they were spending enormous amounts of money on traditional advertising driving traffic there, and the falloff rate was massive.

So ironically too, the person who’s concerned about their identity theft and looking into it, taking that next step and going to the website, and then the first question on the site form is, “Give us your Social Security number.” That’s not the warm, fuzzy feeling that they’re trying to build. So we constructed a simple lead gen program that was going to take somebody who’s not yet ready to purchase and put them into a nurture program. But it was based upon their specific individual fears and concerns regarding identity theft. That’s a big topic. So we constructed an online tool, a survey that people could take for free. It required an email address, to send the results in a follow-up email.

But then we asked some very specific questions of each individual who wanted to use this free tool. We asked things like, “Do you use credit cards? Do you travel internationally? When you travel internationally, do you use credit cards? Do you ever leave your wallet or your purse in the car when you run into the convenience store? Do you have access to social file sharing in your home?” and things like that. So every person got to answer some simple Yes or No questions. But what we gleaned from it was, “All right. For this particular visitor, we know his or her exact hot buttons and we know how to talk to this individual. But we’re not going to sell. Instead, we’re going to be helpful.”

So this then triggered a four-touch email nurture program that basically said, “Previously, you let us know that you do this, this, and are worried about this. You’re not a customer yet, so we can’t really help you and protect you. So you could do this yourself, and you should do this. Oh, and by the way, you should also do this as well.” So give them tips and suggestions, and steps to go help protect their identity, because obviously they have a concern about that. But we gave them three very specific tactical things to do.

The second email, the next three in the series for that particular individual. Then, the third email was the final three. So over the course of several weeks, each recipient got the nine things that person should do based upon his or her specific fears and concerns. Then, the fourth and final email wrap-up, summarizing things, remind them which product is right for them based upon their life situation and, “Here’s the free trial,” or the discount or promo offer, whatever it might be.

So what that did was it took somebody who was not here to purchase, built rapport overtime, provided utility in the form of being helpful and useful, and also demonstrate it’s a lot of work to protect your own identity. I mean, there’s a lot of things you’ve got to do, and this service might just be much more efficient for you.

Kate: That is an awesome example, and that is very helpful. Like you said in your number three, be helpful.

Anthony: Be helpful. Also, it was content. I mean, other than the strategic idea, that was the new thing we helped put together was, “All right. Well, what do you say to the person in this situation?” The thing was, internally, they had the subject matter experts who knew these answers. We just had to extract it from them, help them put together a content matrix. You know what? It’s a mini self-contained content plan of what to say in each email, and then some execution where, variable content now, pretty easy execution side stuff.

Kate: It’s so great how you get a third-party strategist like yourself to go into a company to just look at everything that they have going on, and how easy it is for a third-party person sometimes to figure out what pieces are missing. When the business owner and the team were just so in it sometimes, that you just can’t see those pieces or you can’t see . . . You might think you’re being really helpful. But really, your clients are looking at you as being more salesy than not. So to be able to have someone help you kind of think through that content marketing strategy is so invaluable to businesses.

Anthony: Really, I mean, it’s that external perspective, someone who’s not bogged down in the day to day. Every client I work with are made up of individuals and they’re all busy. I mean, they all have too much to do as it is. So just to try and get above the fray a little bit and look down, even if they know they need to, it’s just very challenging.

Then we come in and say, “All right. We’re not involved in the day-to-day fray. We need to ask some specific questions of certain individuals, find out, has this ever been tried?” We just had a client this past week that they want us to help with some email list growth initiatives, and they showed us their plan from a year ago. The plan is rock solid.

I’m like, “This looks like a plan we would’ve written for you,” and we asked what got done. He said, “Nothing.” Internally, resource constraints. It wasn’t even they didn’t know what to do, resource constraints. So then we said, “All right. So the problem isn’t you don’t know what to do. You had the internal knowledge. The challenge is now we have to find out a different way to get this done. So then we approach it from that angle.” But yeah, it’s just being that external perspective on things.

Kate: Anthony, I feel like I could talk to you forever about this particular topic and dive in, like I said, super-deep with all these things. But before we get to your bonus round questions, do you have any last pieces of advice, or things that you want to share about this topic before we go?

Anthony: You’re right. We could talk about this for a long . . . I could talk a long time. I think people would stop listening after a point. But it’s an awesome new opportunity. It needs to be embraced by all marketers. It’s not going to change. But also, it’s a lot of fun. I mean, is it some work? Yes. But it’s work that you can actually measure and analyze, and know if the work is worthwhile, and you can change and be agile, and be nimble.

Those are things now we, as marketers, have to do because as I said earlier, we don’t control the message anymore. We at least have to be a participant, and that means we have to be able to jump in wherever [inaudible 00:24:25] is happening, move, shift.

When a public perception changes, we’ve got to be a participant in the conversation. It requires a different way of looking at marketing. I think most people listening to this now recognize that. It’s getting the rest of the organization on board sometimes that’s a challenge.

Kate: Awesome. Okay. So are you ready for your bonus round questions?

Anthony: I am ready. Fire away.

Kate: What is your marketing superpower?

Anthony: I kind of already alluded to it. I’ve had a very successful career thus far, talking to a lot of different types of companies and having to very quickly find out, “Okay. What’s at the core of the problem.” They’re usually very good at saying, “Here’s the thing we’ve got to change or solve, or here’s the objective.” They can articulate that. But asking the right questions to the right people, you can sometimes start at the operations level, or going out and talking to their customers.

It’s going to where we need to quickly get up to speed. Like I said, understand their situational reality and recognize that you can’t necessarily change that. Therefore, you’ve got to do something in spite of that. I think that’s something that is a superpower I’ve had some very, very good, consistent success with over the years.

Kate: Great. Okay. Number two, what digital marketing trend are you most excited about?

Anthony: I’m going to have to give you two. The first one is the Internet of Things, things talking to each other. This is a whole new marketing opportunity that I think a lot of marketers aren’t even thinking about yet. You buy a new desktop printer, and it’s internet-connected, and it can sense when its ink levels are low. It pops up on your screen that you can subscribe to a service that will automatically send you refills a certain number of days before you’re likely to run out of ink.

So the marketing message here is, it’s sales-oriented but it’s also service-oriented and it’s a way that I don’t have to run out of ink, and then contact them as a [inaudible 00:26:24] supply store or something like that. So as things become more able to help us with customer retention messaging, that’s marketing. The devices now are in fact a whole new channel. So to the companies that have the opportunity to leverage that, marketing needs to be involved. They have to absolutely control a lot of the voice that’s happening in those brand new Internet of Things channels.

The second thing, augmented reality. This again, is brand new for most people. But it’s, again, being able as the marketer to put the right marketing message in the right place at the right time that that prospect, potential customer, or customer is interested. That’s always been our dream. An augmented reality allows us to do that in a highly leveraged way. Cool, new technology and capabilities, very much still in its infancy, but absolutely needs to be embraced by marketers going forward.

Kate: All right. The last question, and this is the hardest one, if you could only have one mobile app, what would it be?

Anthony: All right. So I thought hard about the final question. I’m kind of a home automation geek. Not just, I can close the blinds with my phone because I can, because that’s not really useful, but I have two homes. I’m always not at one of them. So I like apps that can actually do things for me when I’m not there.

It’s more important to me than just I’m moving ones and zeros around or digital bits and bytes, I’m moving atoms. So when I use my app to physically change a thermostat and it shuts off a compressor, I’m making something happen through the app. Or if I lock or unlock a door bolt, I’m physically moving that deadbolt. I like that stuff.

So today, I don’t have one app that does everything, and there are different home automation platforms and so on. Nexia is one of them, but there are others. So it’s not just one app today, but it’s that family of apps. So I’m going to cheat the answer and say it’s a family of apps that let me do things from afar.

Kate: You cheated on two answers, Anthony. Well, that was awesome. Thank you so much for sharing such great tips and strategies. This was a really great conversation around this whole new sales funnel model. So I appreciate you taking the time. You’re awesome, full of information.

Anthony: Thank you very much. My pleasure. You are awesome.

Kate: Well, thank you, Anthony. Thanks, everyone, for watching Talk Digital to Me. We will see you next time.

20 Aug 16:27

How To Track Customer Acquisition: Customer Lifecycle, Sales Funnel & Content Strategy

by Myk Pono

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Myk Pono on The Startup, a Medium publication. The below is an excerpt from the post. You can read the full article here.

This article will walk you through the customer acquisition funnel for SaaS companies. The primary goal is to help you design, analyze, and optimize your customer acquisition process. The secondary goal is to present different perspectives on moving customers through the lifecycle stages and to show how marketing, sales, and customer success teams should collaborate and where each team’s responsibilities lay. Hopefully, everyone will find at least one useful idea to try or to test.

The effectiveness of your customer acquisition funnel can be tracked by metrics that measure leakages when moving prospects from one stage to the other. The process of handing over prospects from the marketing to sales team and from the sales to customer success team presents higher than average risks of losing prospects, missing data, or miscommunication between teams about responsibilities, definitions, and success metrics.

Content strategy is one of the most effective ways for companies to increase the velocity with which prospects move from one stage to the other. As we go through each step in the funnel it will become clear why it is crucial to analyze content strategy from a customer lifecycle perspective. In favor of simplicity, the customer acquisition diagram is missing the reference to target customer profiles, product positioning, and value messaging. These three topics require a separate discussion.

Other pieces that are missing in this diagram are Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and Customer Lifetime Value (LTV). Again, this information was omitted for the purpose of clarity.

The customer acquisition funnel is a process of tracking and monitoring how effective the company is in attracting, engaging, converting, and retaining its customers.

Before we dive into the detailed discussion, let me answer a couple of questions.

1. Will this customer acquisition framework fit my SaaS company?
The Customer Acquisition Framework presented below is just ONE of the ways for a SaaS company to track customer acquisition effectiveness. Obviously, Slack’s customer acquisition strategy will be different from the one Salesforce uses. Companies with similar business models, product prices, and average deal size will have similar customer acquisition funnels. Please adjust and adapt this approach to fit your specific needs.

2. Why create another Customer Acquisition Funnel?
Many experienced investors, founders, and marketers have already written about customer acquisition funnels, SaaS sales cycles, SaaS metrics, and content strategy. Why do we need yet another customer acquisition funnel?

The customer acquisition framework for SaaS companies presented here has some key differentiations that are missing from other writings on this topic (based on my findings). It also highlights how content impacts customer acquisition and why Customer Lifecycle is important to track and consider when making decisions on how to grow your SaaS product faster. Here are some of the best resources for learning more about how SaaS companies design and track Customer Acquisition Funnels:

David Skok
Customer Acquisition: Maximizing your Funnel
SaaS Metrics 2.0 — A Guide to Measuring and Improving what Matters

Tom Tunguz
Sales Funnel Optimization For SaaS Startups
The Number One Objection In The Sales Funnel

Jason Lemkin
The Right Sales Metrics For Your SaaS Startup
Hire the Right Type of VP Marketing

Jacco vanderKooij
How to Scale ARR to $50M

3. Why is this framework missing X?
The goal for this framework is to provide comprehensive information that is easy to digest. My hope is that people working in SaaS businesses will look at this diagram, see things in a different perspective, and then take these ideas and optimize their customer acquisition process.

For example, the content strategy part of the diagram assumes that your company has clear messaging and positioning for your product. In other words, you have in-depth target customer profiles that your team uses to understand each of the different players in the buying process and the customer value they get from your product. Read more on how to create target customer profiles and effective value messaging.


Part 1 :  Customer Acquisition Framework

1.1. Customer Lifecycle vs. Sales Funnel

Customer Lifecycle helps companies understand how customers are experiencing your product and what actions they are taking.

Sales Funnel shows internal processes that companies need to follow in order to move prospects down the funnel effectively and efficiently.

The diagram shows that the sales funnel is shorter than the customer lifecycle. For companies that track both, the sales funnel is just one part of the overall customer lifecycle journey.

Customer Acquisition Framework

Sales-centric approach vs. Customer-centric approach

If we only discuss the Sales Funnel part of the Customer Acquisition Framework, it’s easy to forget that customers look at your product differently and there are multiple paths to conversion.

The sales funnel is used by organizations to analyze how effectively they move prospects through the sales pipeline. Sales funnel stages represent a prospect’s current stage as the company sees it. As a prospect moves down the funnel, the probability of closing the deal increases.

For example, a company may know they have a 30% probability (based on past sales) of closing a prospect once they reach the opportunity stage. They use this probability when doing sales planning and modeling. If they currently have $500,000 in opportunities, then they have a potential for $150K in closed business.

NOTE: If you are doing sales planning, you need to take into account the average time it takes to move a prospect from the opportunity stage to the closed stage. Using the example above, if it takes an average of 60 days to close an account after it becomes an opportunity, the company can forecast a revenue of $50K net 30 and the remaining $100K net 60.

Customer lifecycle is a framework that puts the customer at the center of the process and looks at how they move along the buying process. It provides insights on customer’s actions that identify an increased probability of buying your product.

For companies that have a freemium business model, the customer lifecycle funnel is more important than the sales funnel. A great example of this is Slack, which offers their basic service for free, but converts free customers into paid customers by offering additional features. Obviously, a sales funnel with MQLs and SQLs isn’t tracked at Slack since their bottom-up approach to customer acquisition eliminates this need.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the higher the product price, the more emphasis companies should place on monitoring sales cycle. For example, Salesforce’s free trial isn’t as useful as Slack’s since their product is too complicated and needs significant resources to be integrated. Therefore, following the internal sales funnel makes more sense.


1.2. Customer Lifecycle Funnel

The Customer Lifecycle is often drawn as a circle, but in this case we use a vertical representation to make it easier to visualize the relationship between the customer lifecycle and sales funnel. There are six stages the customer has to go through in order to “complete the circle”. Each transition between stages corresponds with a direct action that customer has to do or achieve. Think of this process as different levels in a video game.

To become a visitor, somebody needs to visit your company’s website. When they submit a form or sign up for a free trial, they become a prospect. Prospects then become activated users when value is delivered or a certain level of usage is reached.

Let’s quickly go over each stage.

Customer Lifecycle

Visitor
Visitor is a very broad category that includes everyone who lands on your website. In theory, every visitor is a potential customer (not really). When a visitor signs up for a free trial or downloads something (e.g., case study, ebook, etc.), they become a prospect.

Action required to move to the next stage: Conversion

Prospect
A visitor becomes a prospect once they convert on a website. A prospect is a potential customer who has expressed interest in the pains, solutions, products, or materials related to your company. The contacts on a list that your marketing team might buy from a third party are not prospects since they haven’t actively expressed interest by sharing their information nor have they been qualified by your sales development team.

Metric: Conversion Rate

The conversion rate, in a sense, tracks the effectiveness of your website and content. Overall, the conversion rate for your website is a more generic metric (and can be ignored), but the conversion rate for free trial and product signups pages are more explicit and actionable.

Action required to move to the next stage: 1st value delivered

Activated User
Not tracking user activation during the initial signup or a free trial is one of the most common mistakes SaaS companies make. They are focused vastly on getting customers into the product that first interaction with the product becomes an afterthought. Tremendous resources are spent to get prospects in and even more resources should be allocated to designing the first experience and getting prospects to the aha-moment when first value is delivered.

The primary goal after getting a prospect inside your product is to activate them by delivering the core value unit for the first time. You entice the prospect to reach your pre-defined activation level.

As discussed in The Cost of Poor User Onboarding, Slack user activation happens when a team chat reaches 2000 messages.

Other examples of user activation goals:

  • Subscription billing: connecting your payment options or bank account can be used to activate a user.
  • Platform connecting farmers, distributors and chefs: activation can be tracked when a first order is placed.
  • Airbnb: an activated user could be a new visitor that saves their first listing.
  • Lyft (yes, I’m rooting for the underdog!): an activated user could be one who connects a credit card to the app.

You get the point.

Metric: Activation Rate

The activation rate is a ratio to track how effective the company is in delivering first value and designing the first experience with the product. Activation rate simple shows the percentage of prospects who actually activate their free trial and received a first value unit.

Action required to move to the next stage: Customer Paid

NOTE: It can be extremely challenging for a SaaS company to use a third party onboarding solution. User-onboarding is such a critical step that it’s almost impossible for someone outside of your company to design a product that perfectly meets the needs of your customers. Your product team needs to own it.

Customer
A user or prospects becomes a customer as soon as he/she pays. Your team’s next goal is make this customer an active one. Two questions you want to ask your team:

  1. Do all of our customers use our product regularly?
  2. Are they happy with how much value your solution delivers?

Metric: Daily / Weekly Active User Rate
Action required to move to the next stage: regularly use product

Active Customer
Your customers can pay for the product but not use it very often or at all. An active customer is one that regularly uses your product and therefore receives value and installs habits of using your solution on a regular basis. SaaS companies need to identify what usage correlates with high Lifetime Customer Value and a higher renewal rate.

Metric: Renewal Rate / Churn
Action required to move to the next stage: Renew / Upsell

Loyal Customer
When a customer renews or signs up for additional features (e.g., extra seats or API access), they become a loyal customer.

Metric: Net Promoter Score / Referrals

The customer lifecycle helps you understand how customers experience your product and company. It’s a customer-centric approach in which customer action drives the funnel.

Takeaways:

  • Each stage that a customer goes through is preceded by a specific action.
  • Effectiveness of each stage needs to be tracked and optimized with conversion metrics.
  • For products that have free trials, it’s crucial to track ‘Activated Users’. This metric is an important checkpoint for measuring intermediate steps between the ‘prospect’ and ‘customer’ stages.
  • Companies need to know how often customers use their product/solution and how much value they derive from it.

NOTES:

Buying decisions for larger companies are rarely done by one person. Because of this, the “Customer Lifecycle” refers to everyone (i.e., whole account) involved in the purchase and use of the product, not just one manager or one end user.

A company can request case studies and referrals from a customer as soon as it make sense. Make sure that the customer receives consistent value before asking for a case study or referrals. The customer should be at least an active customer.


1.3. Sales Funnel

Whereas the customer lifecycle is driven by customer actions and tracks how they experience the product and company, the ultimate goal of the sales funnel is following specific actions, processes, and workflows to track and optimize the sales process effectiveness.

Questions that your sales funnel has to answer:

  • How does your team prioritize leads?
  • How does your team nurture prospects?
  • What prospect actions correlate higher with closed deals?
  • How long does it take for your SDR team to reach out to leads that reach a qualifying lead score?
  • How long is your sales cycle?
  • What metric best represents efficiency of moving prospects from one stage to the next?
  • When and how do your teams handoff prospects in the funnel?
  • Do you have an onboarding plan?

Let’s take a closer look at the sales funnel.

Sales Funnel

Leads
Leads can enter the sales funnel from outbound and inbound channels.

Outbound leads are leads created by Sales Development Reps (SDRs) by carefully targeting accounts that may have never heard about the company. Outbound email outreach is still one of the most effective tactics for generating outbound leads. Cold calls, direct mail, sending messaging on social media are all part of the outbound channel.

LEARN MORE: get everything you need to know to start outbound sales for your startup with Steli Efti’s ebook — “The Ultimate Startup Guide to Outbound Sales”.

Inbound leads are leads created when prospects submit information in exchange for an asset (whitepaper, case study, etc.) or signs up for a free trial.

NOTE: In account-based selling approach where SDRs pre-qualify accounts before initiating an outreach prospects that showed interest can be assigned to Sales Qualified Lead (SQL).

Action required to move to the next stage: filtering bad data, enriching inbound leads

Two things usually happen after lead data is entered in a company’s database whether it’s marketing automation or CRM: 1) filtering bad data; 2) enriching incoming leads with more information using 3rd party solutions. (insert your ad here — just kidding 🙂 )

Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
Not every lead is created equal so it pays to have some sort of lead scoring system that correlates with the historic probability of closing a deal.

Lead nurturing campaigns help companies communicate with prospects. Educational content is a great way to nurture leads. Drip campaigns, newsletters, and webinars can help your marketing team qualify leads and understand when they are ready to discuss their specific problems with you. As soon as prospects hit a certain lead score they are moved to the Sales Qualified Leads stage.

LEARN MORE: In some cases MQL could be completely abundant. Tom Wentworth makes an interesting point about this in his article “Why I’m Killing the Marketing Qualified Lead”. My take on this subject is this: if your average deal size is large or your solution can’t be self-trialed by customers, then generating leads using marketing assets can still be effective. But if you are selling a self-serving solution like Slack, Dropbox or Google Apps, then you can drive customers directly to your product and skip lead forms. However, you still need to find a way to nurture and prioritize people coming through your product gates.Another interesting take on this topic by David Cancel and Dave Gerhardt from Drift — “Why We’re Throwing Out All Of Our Lead Forms And Making Content Free”.

Action required to move to the next stage: Lead score reaches the level needed to be moved to the SQL stage.

Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
At this stage, a sales development team conducts lead qualification. The qualification process depends on your target audience and it should provide your sales team with enough information to establish the level of pain or interest that the prospect has.

The BANT framework can be used in qualification process. The BANT stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeframe.

NOTE: We need to also mention that if a company sells a complex solution or multiple people are involved in the purchasing process (decision maker, influencer, end-user), then a good qualification process will identify the goal and value points for each party involved in the buying process. Decision makers in two different companies might look to solve two different problems and your account executive will have more ammunition if the SDR can identify these differences.

Action required to move to the next stage: The SDR qualifies prospect using BANT approach.

Opportunity
When a lead passes all the necessary qualification parameters, it becomes an opportunity. The SDR will schedule a demo between the prospect and account executive.

It’s a very useful practice to assign a dollar amount based on the projected deal size for every opportunity. Doing this will help the SDRs to be become more skilled at qualifying and targeting outbound accounts. It’s also a good idea for account executives to prioritize opportunities based on deal sizes.

The account executive gives a demo to the prospect and setups a guided free trial. Getting customers to agree on specific metrics to measure the success of a free trial can increase the probability of closing and reduce the length of the sales cycle.

Action required to move to the next stage: Completed demo or guided free trial.

Proof of Concept (PoC)
The higher the deal size, the more important the proof of concept becomes in the sales process. For fully self-serving products, it’s easy to show a demo and give full access to the solution for a prospect to play with. But what if your product requires integration with third party data platforms?

Since setting up a trial period for a more complicated product requires extra resources from your team, the account executive and the prospect should agree on how success will be measured and what the potential deal size will be if the trial is deemed a success.

For technical products, a sales engineer can be brought into discussions with prospects.

Action required to move to the next stage: Negotiation and proposal delivery

Closed
This is the funnest stage of all. The customer sends the signed proposal and pays for the first invoice. You ring the sales bells while everyone celebrates with champagne. But the real work actually begins now. The customer success team needs to train and fully onboard the customer so that everyone on their team can access your product.

Action required to move down the funnel: product setup

Onboarding
The customer success team (CST) leads the onboarding process by training customers on how to use your solution. In some cases, the solution will have different user roles and multiple levels of access which complicates the onboarding.

Some companies run weekly product training webinars for all customers. During these sessions, the CST can walk the customers through the most common user path and showcase new features and changes to your product.

Individual training with your customer’s inside team can be very effective. The onboarding process never truly ends. The top tech companies realize that a happy customer is cheaper to maintain than acquiring new ones. A top CST will schedule monthly or bi-weekly meetings to review customer’s metrics and check whether the product is fully meeting their needs.

Action required to move to the next stage: Training completed

LEARN MORE: Lincoln Murphy has a few great articles on customer success and onboarding. He is an expert on customer success.

Renew / Upsell
The effectiveness of your customer success team is measured by renewal, upselling, and churn metrics. Typically, the customer success team starts the renewal conversation about 2–3 months before the annual contract is set to expire. But as we discussed earlier, if your Customer Success team communicates regularly with your customers you probably don’t have to worry about setting up a separate meeting for this. Your CST can bring up a conversation about contract renewal on one of the touch-base calls that it has.

Churn Rate — the annual percentage rate at which customers stop subscribing to a service.

LEARN MORE: Tom Tunguz wrote an interesting post on how ServiceNow tracks churn.

The sales process should be designed in a way where each stage identifies where the prospect is in the sales cycle and has specific deliverables that must be met before advancing to the next stage. By monitoring metrics of conversion on each stage, you can focus on ways to increase your sales effectiveness while building strong customer relationships, which lead to higher renewal rates.

LEARN MORE:

This sales funnel is a simplified example. I want to remind you that this framework is not meant to be used as a cookie cutter solution. I highly recommend Jacco’s book “BLUEPRINTS For a SaaS Sales Organization” for a more detailed and in-depth analysis.

Also, we need to mention “The Sales Acceleration Formula” book by Mark Roberge as the best resource to understand HOW sales processes, goals, and workflows are changing depending on the different stages of the company.

Want more on customer acquistion? Read the full article here.

The post How To Track Customer Acquisition: Customer Lifecycle, Sales Funnel & Content Strategy appeared first on OpenView Labs.

20 Aug 16:27

Why Quality Is Exponentially More Important Than Quantity In Content Marketing

by Janessa Lantz

Classic content marketing strategy preaches the value of the “content treadmill”–publish high quality content, publish it often, and publish regularly. You know the drill, a webinar a month, two blog posts a week, an ebook or guide once a quarter or so. At RJMetrics (now Magento Analytics), I built the content team on this model, and while we were getting results, it felt unexpectedly difficult.

Every piece we got out the door was painful. It took long, it involved 5–10 rounds of editing, and it still frequently ended in big chunks of a piece being rewritten. At this point, I’ve talked to enough marketing leaders to know this experience is not unique to my team. Once I started admitting out loud how hard this was for us, I started hearing their admissions as well: “Yeah, I rewrite 80% of what my freelancers do.” “I don’t let anyone do writing for our blog but me, it’s never right.” Plus, even with all this work put into creating great content, it seemed like it just wasn’t getting the kind of traction it should.

What was happening?

Classic Content Strategy: The Treadmill

The content treadmill is the classic content marketing strategy. You create a content calendar that identifies topics your audience cares about, you hire content marketers, then you churn out content and promote it. If you need more content, you hire more content marketers. Repeat this until you hit your lead goal.

Why The Content Treadmill is Fundamentally Flawed

There are some big reasons why the content treadmill is fundamentally flawed:

  • You cannot outsource your thinking. Many times while working through a presentation or blog post, you’ll find that you’re developing new thoughts and adding clarity to the thoughts that have been bouncing around in your brain. This happens because you have a deep understanding of your product, market, and customer. People that lack that deep, strategic understanding of your business simply can’t do this. And really, it’s unfair to expect that a content marketer (or anyone for that matter) should do your thinking for you.
  • The content treadmill doesn’t scale. Classic content strategy says more content = more leads, but this falls apart if the only people that can create quality, strategic content are senior people.
  • Attention is painfully scarce. Even when you create great content, it’s getting harder and harder to get heard. Buzzsumo released research where they found that even for companies known for producing top-notch content, engagement with that content is slipping:

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 12.15.23 PM

  • It’s built on a faulty assumption. The content treadmill assumes that more content gets more results. Not only did this prove to be 100% untrue for us at RJMetrics (and other teams out there), I would go so far as to suggest that creating volumes of content not only does not help, it actually hurts your brand. Here’s the secret: the quality of your content has an exponentially greater impact than quantity. This means you likely need far less content to achieve your goals than you think. Meet the content marketing power law.

The Content Marketing Power Law

The power law is more commonly known as the 80–20 rule. At its most rudimentary, it’s the idea that a small number of things generate the highest impact. Let’s take a look at how this plays out in content marketing.

The chart below shows all of the traffic to the RJMetrics blog in 2015.

The top post got over 22,000 unique page views (and it was written in 2013). Then there’s a slice of posts getting between 3,000–7,000 page views, and then the long tail…many of them getting fewer than 100 page views. The top 25 blog posts got more pageviews than the next 225 combined. Or, to put it another way, the top 10% of posts got more pageviews than the next 90% combined.

This same trend played out in our lead flow:

Let me break what these categories mean:

  • Benchmark: We released four benchmark reports in 2015. These reports were the cornerstone of our content strategy.
  • Microsite: We maintained five microsites around key terms our audience cared about (only one of them was actually created in 2015).

That’s a total of nine pieces of content generating over 55% of our leads. On top of that, in each of these content categories, you see another power law playing out. Our top two benchmark reports performed nearly 3x better than the average report. Our best microsite generated nearly 2x the number of Sales Qualified Leads.

You can see this same rule play out publicly on social. One easy example, search “content marketing” on Buzzsumo and you’ll see the top two pieces of content have nearly 3x the number of Twitter shares.

I’m certainly not the first person to spot the power law at play. Walter Chen wrote about the content marketing power law back in 2014, and has some great data on how it played out for them. Larry Kim saw this same rule play out in landing pages, with 80% of the traffic going to the top 10% of pages.

People have seen this power law at work in marketing before, but the general consensus seems to be “get better at identifying what makes a viral hit and do more of them.” I’m not ok with this answer. This thinking just puts marketers back onto the grind of the treadmill. Sure, this time you’re taking a more scientific approach to predicting what will be a big hit (a step in the right direction), but you’re back to asking essentially the same question, “How can we produce more content?” That’s the wrong question.

The right question is something like, “What is the best possible content we are positioned to create that will add the highest value to the lives of our target audience?” In other words, the power law indicates that marketers should be thinking a lot more like product people than factory managers. Any product manager good at their job knows more features do not equal happy customers. So why do we assume more content will lead to happier prospects?

New Content Strategy: The Barbell

The barbell strategy is the content marketing power law + content “atomization.” Content atomization is an idea popularized by Jay Baer, others call it content recycling. The basic gist is that you extract as much possible value out of a single piece of content as possible by breaking it down into smaller parts or different formats.

Separate these concepts and you end up with a lopsided strategy. If you only create a piece of “big hit” content, you waste a lot of potential value. If you overemphasize atomization, you end up churning out reams of derivative content. Combine the two ideas and you have what I’ve started calling the barbell strategy.

The Barbell Content Strategy in Practice

Let’s leave content theory aside for a moment and look at how this actually played out in real life. In late 2012 and 2013 we wrote our first benchmark reports. They weren’t great, containing a few charts and a few key metrics that mattered to ecommerce companies — customer lifetime value, growth rates, that kind of thing. But they showed some very promising signs. I can’t speak much to the 2012 report because it was produced before I was on the team. But I do know that by 2014, our latest benchmark report was our best-performing PPC campaign, and we had good success using it to pitch guest posts to industry blogs.

So in 2015, we went all in on the barbell strategy. We put out a survey to our list of 35k+ asking them what they wanted to learn about. We looked at our data set and spent time thinking about the insights we could extract from it. We did SEO research to find the terms we wanted to optimize for. We spent hours doing the analysis. In the end, we wrote a report that was over 3,000 words and contained 14 interactive charts. The results over the next year speak for themselves:

  • 50,000 unique pageviews
  • 10,000+ quality leads

That was the “1 big thing” side of the barbell. The atomization side of the barbell was doing all the little supporting activities around this massive piece. Here’s what the other side looked like:

  • PR strategy: Our press campaign around this content landed coverage inThe Huffington Post, Retail Touchpoints, Internet Retailer.
  • Guest blogging/backlinks: We conducted a wave of outreach to industry blogs that resulted in 100+ backlinks.
  • Webinars: We used this research to form the basis of our webinar strategy; partnering with companies like Zendesk, Hubspot, and Bounce Exchange to lend fresh perspective to the data. These events created another roughly 3000 new leads.
  • Blog: And, of course, we wrote blog posts on our on blog. We used blog posts to give further context to the data, editorialize, and optimize for new search terms. Several of those posts are in that top 25 chart I showed at the beginning, generating over 5,000 page views all on their own.
  • Presentations: This content also got us in at industry events. Thanks to this research, we landed our CEO a speaking spot at IRCE (not a paid sponsorship!), the biggest ecommerce event in the US.
  • SEO: But my favorite result is the SEO impact. The thing with great content is that it actually has a very long shelf-life. Anytime you release a new piece of content you’ll see a bump at the beginning and then it tails off. High quality, SEO-optimized content will see a bump at the beginning, then it tails off, then about three-six months later, you’ll start seeing it rise in search rank. And with that, a new steady lead flow.

Here’s a look at our page views for the Ecommerce Growth Benchmark:

Over a year later and this piece is still responsible for the same number of monthly pageviews that it was bringing in 4 months after launch.

How to Make the Barbell Strategy Work for You

The barbell strategy works because it is laser focused on creating something that people want. It also gave us a completely unique perspective on the industry that we could use to drive all other marketing activities. While I can’t see their numbers, I have seen evidence of other companies using this strategy:

For us it was the benchmarking reports, and I believe that proprietary research is the most predictable way to make the barbell strategy work. If you’re a SaaS company, you’re sitting on a proprietary data set. You have unique insights into your industry, and if you’re not using this in your marketing — you’re missing a massive opportunity. There are a few good reasons why data adds an enormous amount of predictability to your barbell strategy:

  1. The press loves data
  2. Customers love seeing how they stack up
  3. Prospects love having data to show their boss and colleagues
  4. Companies love partnering with companies that have a data-driven perspective
  5. Having data positions you as an expert. You have “insider info.” That’s a tough message to convey on thought leadership content alone.

Now Get off the Damn Treadmill

The content marketing power law + atomization + data completely changed the way I thought about content marketing, and I want to see more SaaS companies adopting the data-driven barbell strategy. You don’t need reams of content to achieve your goals. You don’t need three blog posts a week or a whitepaper a month. If your content calendar is holding you to production goals, you’re doing it wrong.

I know it’s uncomfortable. Even after I saw the data proving this strategy works, I kept trying to do treadmill activities. It’s hard to break the content marketing habits of always producing. But it’s time to stop.

We have reached Peak Content. We’re in a world where volumes of isn’t only useless, it’s actually harmful. But Erica Berger offers hope in her wonderful missive on the topic of Peak Content:

As we come down from our peak [content], we’ll get the chance to reimagine how we should be creating and distributing the news and content that matters, as well as the stuff that inspires, delights, and even distracts us…

It’s time, content marketers. It’s time to get off the damn treadmill. There’s a better way to do content marketing, and honestly? It’s a whole lot more fun.

A version of this post first appeared on Medium.

20 Aug 16:25

Social Media Don’ts for Small Business

by Andrew Gazdecki

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A strong social network can become an asset for any business. Social media offers every business the opportunity to strengthen relationships with their target audience, creating loyal customers and even brand advocates. Exploiting this potential is no easy feat, but can be done if the medium is used well.

Unfortunately, many companies are still not getting the best out of their social media accounts. Yet social media is big business: 74% of all internet users use social networking sites, and for younger adults, it’s even more. That’s a huge readjustment of the traditional marketing paradigm.

The fact is, if you want to reach your audience, social media is the place to start. But avoiding the many pitfalls can prove difficult.

Don’t Create Accounts Just Because

Everybody’s doing it, and they’re telling you that your business should be too. It may be great for other businesses, but you just aren’t sure how it can help your company.

If you aren’t clear on the benefits of social media, then the chances are you aren’t going to use it properly, and it could be damaging to your business. Yet, no presence on social media is a poor choice as well. Even if you aren’t on Facebook or Instagram, your audience is, and they’re likely having a conversation about you—without your input.

Take the time to understand social media and what it can do for you, and invest the time and budget needed to do it well.

Don’t Ignore Social Norms

It’s difficult to get the tone right on social media. Each social network has different systems, rules, and social norms. What is acceptable on one network may be a social faux pas on another.

Unless you’re confident on each one, it’s only natural that you will make mistakes. But getting your tone right is a must. Common expectations of corporate behavior include:

  • Take the time to respond to messages left by customers; social media is about engagement and conversation should be a two-way street.
  • Don’t talk about yourself continuously, or spam your followers’ feeds with sales messages.
  • Don’t be needy. Asking for retweets and likes for your content is frowned upon. If the content and messages you are sharing are truly interesting and insightful, shares, likes, and retweets will take care of themselves.

Don’t be afraid to be imperfect (in fact humanizing your brand is a good thing on social media) but be aware you are expected to follow the unwritten rules of social networking behavior.

Don’t be Present on Every Social Network

Spreading yourself too thinly across every social network is a common mistake. You want to be everywhere so you can maximize the opportunity, but cast the net too wide and it will be difficult to network effectively across all channels.

Building a strong network on 1 or 2 social media platforms is much better than having a weak and patchy presence on them all. It’s more difficult for a business to regularly update many social media accounts. Even if you manage to maintain a regular presence, the quality of your content will probably suffer. Being on too many social networks will undermine your brand values, not reinforce them.

Each social network has its own strengths, and they are popular with different audiences. Choose one or two that are best for you. Research them to find out where your audience hangs out and think carefully about what you want to achieve on social media. If you are a creative, youth-oriented brand, Instagram or Snapchat may be a great social network for you to engage your audience. Conversely, if you’re a B2B company, LinkedIn may the best choice.

Don’t Favor Quantity Over Quality

Your social media presence should be about brand awareness and customer engagement, and these goals should be at the heart of your business strategy on social media.

Too many businesses use social media as a broadcasting channel or sales channel. But social media isn’t just a free advertising channel – it has the potential to build a relationship with your target market and improve customer loyalty. But first, you have to get your content right.

In order to build your network, you must consider your customer’s needs and have a content strategy in place. An unfocused approach that prioritizes quantity of content over quality isn’t going to be successful. If it doesn’t provide value to your audience, they aren’t going to engage with you.

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Don’t Ignore Comments

Building a conversation with your customers is the holy grail of social media. But many businesses invest most of their time building awareness and growing their network, rather than having a conversation.

Comments from customers are the beginning of a dialogue with them, the moment at which they give you permission to interact with them. Yet research has found 9 out of 10 social media comments sent to brands are ignored. The same research found people expect a response within 4 hours, and the average is 10 hours.

Take the example of British Airways. In 2013 a customer promoted a tweet to complain about the customer service, the company’s Twitter account was only monitored during office hours so there was a delay in their response, which gave the tweet plenty of time to circulate around the Internet.

It’s ironic that so much energy is spent building a social network to strengthen customer relationships and the opportunity to do so is ignored when it presents itself. Balance building your social presence with strengthening your network and always respond to your customers promptly.

Don’t Remove Negative Comments

We all want to show ourselves in the best light possible, but sweeping negativity under the carpet is simply going to infuriate dissatisfied customers even more. No organization is perfect, but show you are prepared to learn from your mistakes by facing them head on.

People are increasingly expecting a response to their complaints through social media. They won’t call you, they won’t write (not even an email), they will however take to social media to inform you, and everyone in your network. It’s a particularly public form of complaint, and you need to be ready or it could prove costly. United Airlines paid a heavy price for poor complaint management in 2008 when a disgruntled passenger took to YouTube after getting no satisfaction from their complaints procedure.

When this happens, be professional and don’t be defensive. The old adage (some might say cliché) about a complaint being an opportunity is certainly true on social media. You can’t stop people from complaining about you, but you can demonstrate a willingness to learn from any mistakes. Not just to customers with the issue, but to all your customers in your social network.

Don’t be Complacent About Security

All a disgruntled employee needs is your login and password, and they have access to your entire social network, including customers, partners, and your target audience. The potential to damage your reputation and lose business is incalculable.

In 2013, an employee of British retailer HMV hijacked the company’s Twitter account. Senior management was helpless as it didn’t know its own password.

To avoid this situation happening to you, put in place a system that secures your social media accounts and reduces the potential for reputational damage.

  • Set up limited permissions for selected staff to update your social media. Managing your social media accounts shouldn’t be left to a low-level employee.
  • Make sure publishing rights are only given to a select number of people who have responsibility for overseeing the suitability of the content (though many people in the organization should be encouraged to draft content).
  • Train your staff about social media.

Complacency can lead to public embarrassment; put in place security measures to protect the integrity of your brand.

Don’t Rely on Automating Updates

It’s understandable businesses are inclined to reduce the burden of updating their social media accounts by automating them. But automation tools should be used with caution; they can never be a substitute for true engagement with customers.

Businesses should take care to ensure customer engagement isn’t forgotten in the rush to reduce workload. Without customer engagement you are reducing your social networks to a promotional tool, or a cheap advertising channel, and you won’t get any value out if it. Your customers can’t have a conversation with an automation tool.

Don’t Treat it as a Marketing Function Alone

It’s often the case that businesses fall into the trap of ‘silo thinking’, and social media is no exception. In organizations that still treat social media as a promotional tool, it’s often left in the control of the marketing function.

In recognition of its increasing importance as a means of managing the customer relationships, many organizations are now taking a decentralized approach to reflect customer expectations. Your social network is now a sales channel, a promotional channel, a customer service channel, and a market research channel. To get the best out of it, and to meet your customers’ expectations, move it out of the marketing department and make it an integral part of your customer relationships.

Conclusion

The place of social media in business strategy has evolved, and it has moved from just a marketing device to a tool that’s of strategic importance to your company and its brand. Many companies haven’t embraced its full potential.

Organizations need to remember customers are using social media as a place to discuss and complain about brands whether the company is engaging with them or not.

19 Aug 16:17

Are You Certain You Know Everything Your Client Wants?

by Michael Lang

“Clients buy for emotional reasons, and they justify with logic.”

Think about the above statement for a moment.

Remember a time you approved a major contract with one of your suppliers. Did you only buy based on the product or service offered (i.e. what you needed at a base level, a logical choice) or what you thought you wanted and the feeling you had about each supplier’s ability and desire to deliver (emotional choice)?

Take any major purchasing decision you have made recently; you most likely bought the product or service from the supplier that you most trusted, the one that made you feel best (whatever your criteria was).

Your clients do the same, even with your products and services!

Why?

Because most people make their buying decisions based on a broad set of criterion that frequently determines the level of comfort, trust or certainty that each particular option affords them. In today’s market, there is so much competition from both domestic and international suppliers that having a high-quality product is no longer a differentiator. Today, your product or service is your ticket to the game!

Clients expect more. If you were to write a list of what your clients want and expect from you, you’d probably write something like this:

They want to feel important
Be appreciated
They want you to stop talking about yourself
They want you to stop talking ab
out your firm
Listen
Be understood
Want to teach YOU something
Want and need your help
Buy something
Delight and surprise them
Make logical decisions
Success and happiness

There is one element that is missing off this list, and it’s ‘certainty.’ They are looking for the elements of your offering that provide them with a feeling of ‘certainty’ (many terms, such as trust, reliability, value, availability, etc., are used to describe what is essentially certainty).

While a number of factors contribute to this situation, it can be easily explained by understanding that most people who make buying decisions feel like they are so busy, often overwhelmed with the amount they have to get done. Therefore, they select the vendor who leaves them with the most certainty that once the buying decision has been made, the process will proceed smoothly.

Regardless of which industry, product or service, most clients buy from you because you convey the highest level (feeling) of ‘certainty.’ Certainty comes in many forms. For your client it’s likely to include:

  • Your knowledge of their business
  • Previous performance and the quality of your products and services
  • The relationships your team maintains with your clients
  • Flexibility during the entire project
  • Ability to clearly articulate how your solution will deliver your clients’ requirements
  • Ability to manufacture, deliver and make ready for use or install promptly
  • Pricing and commercial terms
  • Responsiveness to solving problems and challenges

The reality is that if you and your team aren’t providing your clients with enough certainty, your clients will be looking for someone else who will- so what can you do to stop this?

  1. In your diary list three or four valuable clients that may feel undervalued. Check in on them by calling or emailing and scheduling a time to meet-up. WHY? To make them feel valued, significant and to enhance their certainty that you are committed to this business partnership and their future success.
  2. Think about the certainty forms listed above. Can you and your team improve on any of the points above with your clients? The good idea is to ask them questions so you know how your clients feel about you, in order to see where you can improve.
  3. From these results establish a ‘certainty protocol.’ Market your organisation as the one to trust with certainty, but be certain with your own team that you can deliver.

Is your business selling certainty?

This blog was originally posted on LinkedIn

19 Aug 16:17

4 Things Salespeople Can Learn From Marketing

by Jeffrey Davis II

I’ve always said that marketers can learn a lot from salespeople and the same is true in reverse. One difference that great salespeople have is that they understand the value of time. The key killer of using time effectively is lack of direction. Marketers have the discipline of thinking strategically about the business and taking the actions needed to respond. Salespeople should do this as well.

“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.” – Zig Zigler

Doing this exercise helps salespeople in that it forces them to think about their territory, identify high potential targets, and effectively go after the business.

What I propose is using the fundamental Marketing Mix framework (aka the 4 P’s) and transforming it into a tool for salespeople.

Marketing

The 4 P’s for Sales

Product – Know you product inside and out. Good sales people are well informed about their product and understand the solution it offers to the customer.

Place – Know where your customers are…and then go there. Go beyond just selling to people where all the other vendors are and understand where they go to get information about making decisions about buying your products. Blogs, social media, physical locations, etc. If you are there you can be a part of the conversation. If you are not…your competition probably is.

Price – Understand the buying decision for your target customer. What “price” do they have to pay to buy your product? Their time? Reputation? Just the pain of doing something different? The better you understand what the customer has to give up in order to buy your product the better you can proactively respond to their potential concern or objection.

Promotion – How do you make the customer aware not only that your product exist but why they should care? This is really about consultative selling and positioning the product in a way that resonates with the potential customer.

Salespeople should and typically know their business better than anyone. But there is always time to step back and think like a marketer. It will help in being more focused and more strategic. In the end, it makes life easier and will translate into more sales.

19 Aug 16:17

Rainmaker Rewind: The Power of Being an Unmistakably Creative Entrepreneur, with Srinivas Rao

by Caroline Early

Rainmaker FM rewind

This week on Rewind, Chris Ducker welcomes creative entrepreneur Srinivas Rao to Youpreneur to chat about the importance of thinking outside of the box and differentiating yourself in your industry.

They also share their tips on setting yourself apart and explore the value of audience participation and feedback when it comes to developing or shifting your brand.

And, as always, be sure to check out the other great episodes that recently aired on Rainmaker FM.

  1. Youpreneur. Chris Ducker and Srinivas Rao discuss standing out in a crowded space and the importance of being creative: The Power of Being an Unmistakably Creative Entrepreneur, with Srinivas Rao
  2. Copyblogger FM. Pamela Wilson reveals the story arc that makes testimonials believable and covers the six “magic” questions that generate powerful testimonials: How to Give and Get Exceptional Testimonials, Part One
  3. The Writer Files. Kelton Reid rounds out his latest interview with Stephanie Danler, bestselling author of the acclaimed debut novel Sweetbitter: How ‘Sweetbitter’ Author Stephanie Danler Writes: Part Two
  4. The Missing Link. Jabez LeBret shares his secret sauce for writing a book fast and how to get the attention of the media: How to Write a Book In 8 Hours and Get More Media Attention
  5. Zero to Book. Pamela Wilson and Jeff Goins welcome The Kindlepreneur, Dave Chesson, to the show to navigate the world of Amazon book sales: Get Your Book Found: How to Outsmart Amazon’s Algorithm
  6. Elsewhere. Pamela Wilson hops over to Beyond the To-Do List with Erik Fisher to discuss her workflows, processes, and organizational systems: Pamela Wilson on Beyond the To-Do List
  7. StudioPress FM. Brian Gardner and Lauren Mancke are back again this week to review the creative process behind the StudioPress site redesign: The Creative Process Behind the StudioPress.com Redesign

And, one more thing …

If you want to get Rainmaker Rewind sent straight to your favorite podcast player, subscribe right here on Rainmaker FM.

The post Rainmaker Rewind: The Power of Being an Unmistakably Creative Entrepreneur, with Srinivas Rao appeared first on Copyblogger.

19 Aug 16:12

The Myth That’s Hurting Your Sales

by Sabrina Ferraioli

“Myths which are believed in,” wrote George Orwell, “tend to become true.”

And when that myth is based on a statistic that discourages companies from directly engaging and conversing with prospective customers early in the sales cycle, it hurts sales and, ultimately, business.

The myth I’m referring to is the supposed trend toward delaying communication with sales reps until late in the buying cycle.

If this myth has your salespeople sitting on the sidelines and waiting for prospects to make the first move, it’s time to rethink your sales strategy. You need to strike early—when you can have the greatest influence on the sales’ outcome.

Ignore the Myth and Focus on Customer Needs

Depending on the study you read, today’s B2B customers are likely to complete 57 (CEB) percent of their decision-making before interacting with a sales rep.

Even if it’s true that buyers are reaching out to salespeople later, this may not be entirely by design. It may be out of necessity because:

  • Sales reps are too product focused and are not engaging prospects in a two-way conversation that helps buyers make an educated purchasing decision.
  • Vendors have bought into the belief that outbound marketing lacks value because it is intrusive and interruptive. They are, therefore, hesitant to reach out to prospects and rely instead on content marketing to attract them.

If you’ve bought into this passive sales strategy, you could be missing opportunities to help prospects make good buying decisions and thereby increasing your chances of making the sale. Contacting a company proactively enables your sales reps to:

  • Help buyers focus on real problems and formulate successful strategies.
  • Answer prospects’ questions when they’re struggling to determine the best way to solve their business issues.
  • Reach out to several of the decision makers involved in a complex buying decision.
  • Build a relationship with a company and be seen as a trusted advisor.

To get a jump on the sales cycle, here are three strategies you can adopt.

Gain the First-Mover Advantage in B2B Sales

Given that InsideSales.com reports studies show that anywhere from 35% to 50% of sales go to the vendor who is first at bat, a proactive, first-mover strategy is a true competitive advantage.

The first-mover advantage is more than being quick to respond to an inbound lead. It’s about returning to a proactive sales strategy that enables you to get ahead of the buyer’s journey. You can take the lead by identifying and reaching out to the companies most likely to benefit from the products, services and solutions you offer. In this way, you turn the sales funnel on its head.

On the surface, this may sound like a hit-or-miss approach that will require you to make more calls than your competition to get one conversation. You can short-circuit the process, however, by analyzing your marketing metrics to determine the firmographics of the accounts that convert best. Use your insights to identify similar companies that likely face comparable issues.

In other words, create an ideal company profile, then segment your database and target the organizations and individuals you are most capable of serving.

Reach Out and Consult With Your Ideal Prospect

Technology gives us many ways to reach out to prospects, but dollar for dollar professional B2B telemarketing provides many advantages.

Some vendors try to get in front of prospects by inviting them to attend an executive event. While events are one way to meet and answer specific questions, they require a high level of investment, careful planning to optimize ROI and are time-consuming. Plus, you cannot guarantee the individual you want to talk with will be there.

There are also downsides to telemarketing. If you structure a campaign by scheduling routine, product-oriented calls to pitch your company’s agenda, it negates your first-mover advantage. You need a professional B2B telemarketing strategy that focuses on what you can do to help prospects solve real problems. Such a strategy includes the following:

  • Research

Know how your company’s solutions have helped other businesses and how you compare with the competition.

  • Engage

Reach out to target companies with the intention of helping them improve their businesses.

  • Communicate

Start a two-way dialogue with prospects — listen to their issues and propose specific solutions.

  • Consult

When you take a consultative approach, you are building a long-term relationship that can earn you trusted advisor status.

Don’t Give Up After One Call

If at first you don’t succeed…try, try again. Even if you’re the first to call, you may not get through on your first try. Or even the second or third call.

It may take several calls before you get into a serious sales conversation. But when you’re building a lasting relationship, you have an opportunity to influence the discussion, bring attention to potential problems, help shape how the prospect writes an RFP and elevate your trust quotient.

Zig While Others Zag

Let your competitor wait until prospects are more than 50% of the way through the buying cycle. Meanwhile, get off the sidelines and be the first player on the field. And don’t just play the game. Shape it. Help your prospects solve their problems, gradually introducing your product or solution and showing them why it is a good fit. To do this, you’ll need to conduct an in-depth analysis of your best clientele and create a profile, so you can target the right individuals. Then, segment your database and reach out to them by phone. You likely won’t reach them the first time, but you will contact some individuals if you try, try and try again. It’s the first challenging step in what will hopefully blossom into a long-term productive relationship. Remember, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. They’re not, and that’s your opportunity.