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10 Aug 20:50

Want Canadians to buy electric cars? Cash rebates may help, say officials

by CB Staff

OTTAWA – Cash rebates and tax incentives are the best way to convince Canadians to buy electric cars as part of an overall government strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions, federal officials conclude in a report to Transport Minister Marc Garneau.

However, those same officials have told Garneau that money set aside in this year’s budget to encourage people to take the electric vehicles for a spin may be going to waste.

The comments from the department’s policy group are in response to a report by Electric Mobility Canada, which made a number of recommendations in March to accelerate the deployment of electric vehicles (EVs) across the country.

The not-for-profit group’s report called for purchase rebates of up to $3,000 per vehicle sold, on top of provincial rebates amounting to a minimum of $3,000.

“EV purchase incentives likely hold the greatest potential to increase EV sales, as they address arguably the most important barrier to uptake — high cost premiums for EVs compared to conventional vehicles,” Transport Canada’s policy group said in internal comments on the report’s recommendations.

“Evidence suggests incentives are the primary reason for existing sales of EVs.”

In documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, officials noted that nearly all sales of electric vehicles in Canada — 95 per cent — were completed in provinces that offered EV purchase rebates.

Applying a federal cash incentive in provinces where rebates already exist would not only spur new sales, but would also encourage other jurisdictions to introduce their own incentive programs, they concluded.

British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec currently offer incentives to buyers of so-called zero-emission vehicles.

The Liberal government hasn’t said whether it’s considering offering cash incentives to buyers of more environmentally friendly cars, but it has been hearing from proponents of the idea.

“The government of Canada has launched broad consultations of addressing climate change and electric vehicles could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the transportation sector,” Garneau’s communications adviser Melany Gauvin said in an email.

“Minister Garneau recently held a roundtable on green transportation in the margins of the Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exhibition in Montreal, where he met with industry key stakeholders, academia and big thinkers.”

The Electric Mobility Canada report also recommended the federal government fund the installation of fast-charging stations as part of a national electric-vehicle highway.

Transport Canada policy advisers concluded it’s doubtful car makers will pay for the stations because they aren’t yet profitable, given how few electric vehicles have been sold in Canada.

“Industry is unlikely to make this investment, as the business case is still weak for the amount of capital required … to attract a limited number of customers,” they said.

The federal government set aside $62.5 million in the 2016-17 budget so Natural Resources Canada could help businesses install workplace fuelling stations for electric cars as well as natural gas and hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Last month the Ontario government said it would partner with private-sector companies such as Ikea and Tim Hortons to build a new network of almost 500 charging stations for electric cars at restaurants, stores and Pearson International Airport, among other locations.

But earlier this year it also capped its EV rebate program at $3,000 for cars priced between $75,000 and $150,000, sparking criticisms from wealthy Tesla owners, while expanding rebates for lower-priced vehicles, up to as much as $10,000.

There were just over 20,000 plug-in electric cars on the country’s roadways as of May this year, representing fewer than one-third of one per cent of all vehicles sold in Canada, according to online magazine Green Car Reports.

Industry observers estimate that number could grow by another 10,000 vehicles by mid-2017.

Follow @tpedwell on Twitter

The post Want Canadians to buy electric cars? Cash rebates may help, say officials appeared first on Canadian Business - Your Source For Business News.

10 Aug 19:17

Why Turkey is our worst friend in the world

by Scott Gilmore
A kid waves Turkish Flag near a poster of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in front of Erdogan's Istanbul residence in Kisikli Neighborhood on July 26, 2016. (Abdullah Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A kid waves Turkish Flag near a poster of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in front of Erdogan’s Istanbul residence in Kisikli Neighborhood on July 26, 2016. (Abdullah Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

At some point in the last three weeks, Turkey definitively shifted from ally to adversary.

Turkey has always had a complicated relationship with the Western world, straddling Asia, Europe and the Middle East both culturally and physically. But, in recent years, it still seemed like Ankara was on our team. It has been a strong member of NATO. Its efforts to join the European Union, albeit fitful, were at least efforts to move towards the West and not away. The Turkish economy and its culture have become ever more connected to Europe’s over the last several decades, and large-scale migration made those connections personal and deep.

Over the last 15 years, Turkey has arguably even been an indispensable ally, providing military bases to Western forces fighting in Syria and Iraq, and managing the flow of refugees out of that region. Ankara even sent a battalion to Afghanistan.

But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has strained that partnership right from the beginning. When you review his political career, there is such a long list of scandals, affronts and conflicts with Turkish civil society, ethnic minorities, women, secular groups and Western allies, you wonder why it took so long for relations to break down. Erdogan has ruled Turkey like a 19th-century sultan: mercurial, pompous and severe. In hindsight, with his instinctive animosity towards Turkey’s Western allies and their troublesome fixation on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, it is easy to see how things fell apart.

Under Erdogan, the government has shifted away from its secular traditions towards Islam. A staunch Muslim, Erdogan has supported Syrian groups aligned with the Islamic State, and been accused of channeling money to ISIS. He maintains Turkey committed no crime when 1.5 million people were massacred during the Armenian Genocide, and he even ordered the destruction of a monument dedicated to reconciliation between Armenian and Turkish peoples.

Related: How Turkey became a petri dish for Islamist politics

Erdogan earns only $73,000 a year; and yet, according to media investigations, he and his family have managed to build vast fortunes. Much of it comes from crony deals. In a notorious phone call recording leaked in 2014, Erdogan can allegedly be heard instructing his son on how to hide the money. When police and prosecutors began to move in, the president simply had them fired.

He is a professed admirer of the Ottoman Empire and built a thousand-room presidential palace. He has continually attacked press freedom, cracked down on anti-government protesters, and systematically strengthened the role of the president while kneecapping the opposition and politicizing the judiciary.

In spite of all this, the EU, the United States, and Canada have continued to call Turkey an ally. How could we not? NATO relies heavily on Turkish airbases. And Ankara has helped both to house 2.7 million Syrian refugees, and to staunch the flow of those attempting to migrate into Europe. Erdogan might be a bastard, but he’s our bastard.

The last few weeks, though, suggest this may no longer be the case. In the wake of the failed coup attempt on July 15, Erdogan re-emerged with a righteous fury. He declared a three-month state of emergency and set about arresting over 18,000 people. He purged the civil service of 66,000 people whose loyalty he suspected. He sacked thousands of judges. University professors were banned from travelling abroad. Schools, media outlets and even hospitals were shut down.

When it came time to point fingers, Erdogan accused the United States of sympathizing with and supporting the coup plotters, and lashed out angrily at any country that suggested his crackdown was going too far.

There is no denying that in the last three weeks Erdogan has pushed Turkey well beyond the limits of what is considered acceptable behaviour among the Western allies. This wholesale abuse of democracy and human rights has no recent comparison within Europe, North America, Australia or Japan. It is no longer possible to keep pretending Turkey is a friend.

Instinctively, we will engage. But this has been our strategy towards Turkey to date, and the results are self-evident. And yet, isolating Ankara would likely make matters even worse, allowing Erdogan to blame outsiders for the troubles he himself has inflicted.

Which leaves perhaps only one real option: preparing for failure. We need to accept that that relations will continue to deteriorate whether we offer carrots or sticks. This means NATO should shift operations to other regional hubs like Cyprus, and that efforts to manage the flow of refugees into Europe should refocus on the Balkans and Greece or into Syria itself. We may not be able to stop Turkey from slipping away, but we can stop pretending it isn’t.

The post Why Turkey is our worst friend in the world appeared first on Macleans.ca.

10 Aug 19:17

59 Amazing Tools to Help You Create Remarkable Content Easily

by Sean Ogle

When it comes down to it, the success of a blog ultimately depends on both the quality of the content you write, and your ability to share your content successfully.

There are a ton of options to help you do that – some are fantastic, some not so much.

Luckily, Charles Bourdet of Become a Top Performer did all the research for you and found 59 of the very best tools for creating and sharing remarkable content across the web. I personally found a ton of valuable resources from this, I’m adding to my regular workflow.

With that, enjoy!

You spend dozens of hours on a single blog post. You rewrite it, edit it, polish it, and make it the best you can.

It is time to hit publish, but as you give a last look at your article, you realize it sounds like any other piece of content on the internet. Same words, same advice, nothing outstanding.

It’s frustrating, right? You try your best, but creating something original and remarkable is not easy, by definition.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though.

Writing the perfect article and creating remarkable content on a regular basis is a process that can be broken down into manageable steps. There are tools out there that will help you with each step towards the creation of your perfect post.

Writing short articles that don’t provide a lot of value to your readers doesn’t work anymore. That might have worked back in 2005 when you could count bloggers on your hand, but today it’s just a waste of time.

What works today is creating outstanding content that gets noticed. It gets noticed by your readers, of course, but not only. Influencers can recognize good content and help you promote it to even more people.

Writing a crappy post might help you get a bit of traffic after the publication, but it’s not worth the effort.

Besides, writing great content will help convince your readers that you’re worth listening to. They will like you right away and start to trust you more. As a result, they’re more likely to buy your products and follow your advice.

Finally, writing remarkable content doesn’t just give you traffic right after the publication. Instead, it keeps bringing you new readers and subscribers months after it is out.

If you’ve been a regular reader of Location 180, you can’t have missed the recent post from Alp Turan: “How Complete Newbies Can Land Killer Guest Posts: The Ultimate Guide.” It is an excellent example of what remarkable content is.

I reached out to Alp to know what kind of results this post did for him. He got:

  • 300+ subscribers (and counting)
  • a relationship with Sean and Liz
  • two new guest blogging opportunities
  • a joint venture offer
  • a new client for his consulting business

Remarkable content will give you remarkable results. It would not happen with a short crappy listicle such as “5 Quick Ways to Land Guest Posts.”

Remarkable content stands the test of time.

So how do you write remarkable content?

It seems such a daunting task! It takes time, dedication, hard work, and you don’t want to spend 20 hours on each of your articles.

Don’t worry.

The process of creating remarkable content can be broken down into just a few key elements:

  1. Finding the perfect blog post idea.
  2. Engineering a remarkable headline.
  3. Writing the best outline possible.
  4. Writing a sh***y first draft.
  5. Making extensive and insightful research.
  6. Editing your first draft.
  7. Illustrating your article to make it attractive.
  8. Promoting the hell of your article as if your life was depending on it.

If you do EACH of this steps perfectly, your post will stand out.

Not only will it be perfect, but it will bring you hundreds of new subscribers right after publication, and still months later.

For each step of the process, I have prepared for you the exact tools that will make it 10 times easier for you.

All you have to do is pick a tool, do what you’re supposed to do with it, do it well, and you’re done. That’s it! Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

To help you navigate into this and help you find the RIGHT tool for your problem, I made a table of contents:

  1. Tools to Find the Perfect Blog Post Idea
  2. Tools to Engineer a Remarkable Headline
  3. Tools to Write the Best Outline
  4. Tools to Write Your Sh***y First Draft
  5. Tools to Write in the Zone and Double Your Productivity
  6. Tools to Make Extensive and Insightful Research
  7. Tools to Edit and Transform Your First Draft
  8. Tools to Illustrate Your Post and Make it Attractive
  9. Tools to Promote the Hell of Your Post
  10. Tools You Wouldn’t Even Think Of

To help you keep the list and refer to it later when you need it, I created a condensed version in PDF that you can download right now by clicking here.

1. Tools to Find the Perfect Blog Post Idea

The first step towards creating remarkable content is finding the perfect blog post idea.

You could write the best article on how to write a check, but chances are that nobody would care about it. However, if you write an awesome article on how to guest post, which is something a lot of people care about, you will more likely get a lot of success with it.

If you want to learn how to find the perfect blog post idea, here are a few suggestions for you:

And here are the tools that will help you do it quickly and efficiently:

Quora

Quora is a great place to find new blog post ideas because they come from people like you and me.

quora-0

Type your topic at the top and select either:

  • Quora topics.
  • Questions.

Quora-1

For example, select Topic: Guest Blogging. You will land on a new page with new blog post ideas submitted by people from your audience.

Quora-2

BuzzSumo

Buzzsumo-0

BuzzSumo takes a different approach. Instead of going to the source (i.e. people), this tool looks at published blog posts and tells you what worked well.

For example, I typed Guest Blogging in the search bar, selected Last Month to get recent results, and finally ranked the results by Most Twitter Shares.

Buzzsumo-1

You can see which articles get a lot of shares, take a look at them, and then find a way to make something even better (for example by using the skyscraper technique).

Portent’s Content Idea Generator

Portent

With the Portent’s Content Idea Generator, you only need to enter your topic and it will give you a headline.

Because it’s just an algorithm, you will sometimes get generic and boring headlines, but you will find some nice suggestions here and there from which you can build upon a better headline.

Portent

Here are some pretty good headlines I could find:

  • How to Cheat at Guest Blogging and Get Away With It
  • Unbelievable Guest Blogging Success Stories
  • An Expert Interview About Guest Blogging
  • 12 Ways Guest Blogging Can Make You Rich
  • Why You’ll Never Succeed at Guest Blogging

The Blog Post Ideas Generator

This tool will suggest incomplete headlines to give you more ideas.

The-Blog-Post-Ideas-Generator-0

You will usually need to complete the headline with your topic keyword, the solution you’re offering, or a burning pain of your readers.

The goal of this tool is not to give you a headline, but more to get your inspiration running to find new ideas.

The-Blog-Post-Ideas-Generator-1

Look at these examples I could find, sometimes after minor modifications:

  • The Ultimate Guide to Guest Blogging
  • Things That Nobody Told You About Guest Blogging
  • 7 Reasons Your Guest Blogging Strategy is Doomed to Failure
  • Guest Blogging: Top 10 Examples of Beautiful Pitches
  • 5 Guest Blogging Rules You Should Break!

ContentIdeator Generator

ContentIdeator-Generator-0

The ContentIdeator Generator is similar to BuzzSumo as it will give you a list of existing articles and rank them according to how many social shares they get.

They seem to have a different algorithm, though, as they don’t provide the same results. Here is what I get:

ContentIdeator-Generator-1

One drawback compared to BuzzSumo is that they don’t give you access to the number of shares the post got. However, you can go back in time long after 1 year ago, which is the limit for the free version of BuzzSumo.

Content Strategy Helper Tool – Version 3

Content-Strategy-Helper-Tool-0

This tool is unique in its genre. It’s not just a “put your word and get suggestions” tool, but a sophisticated spreadsheet that will tell you:

  • What’s trending across many social or news channels (Twitter, Google Search, Reddit, etc.)
  • What is the most successful recent content around a topic you choose.
  • Tons of information about influencers in your niche.

This tool use goes way beyond just finding blog post ideas, but let’s focus on that for now.

They explain here how to set up the tool to use it. It’s actually a Google Spreadsheet, and all you need to do is make a copy for yourself. They also explain you how to copy/paste the script, but for some reason I didn’t have to do it, it was already filled.

Then, on the first tab Ideas, enter your keyword, and get tons of successful articles for inspiration:

Content-Strategy-Helper-Tool-1

Tweak Your Biz Title Generator

Tweak-Your-Biz-Title-Generator-0

The Tweak Your Biz Title Generator first asks you whether your keyword is a noun or a verb.

This allows them to provide you with more relevant headlines and avoid the so common Here are 10 Ways to Content Marketing Better, which doesn’t make sense (in this example, my keyword Content Marketing is a noun and it was considered as a verb).

The tool separates the headlines between Lists, Questions, How To, etc., and also let you download the whole list of ideas, so that you can put it in your blog post ideas swipe file (you should have one).

As with all headlines generator, all ideas aren’t good, but this tools gives you so many ideas, that if you take only the top 10%, you’re still left with dozens of ideas!

Tweak-Your-Biz-Title-Generator-1

WebpageFX Blog Post Idea Generator

WebpageFX-Blog-Post-Idea-Generator-0

This headline generator will give you one headline at a time.

I find it better to get only 1 headline (with the possibility to generate others) rather than 100 at once, as in the latter case it can get overwhelming and leave you stuck with too many choices.

By giving you only 1, you can give it all your consideration and think of how you could tweak it. Additionally, the WebpageFX Blog Post Idea Generator provides you with a button to google the idea, and thus find other similar content ideas.

WebpageFX-Blog-Post-Idea-Generator-1

HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator

Hubspots-Blog-Topic-Generator-0

The HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator is one of the most known topic generator out there. Yet, the first time I used it, I thought it was total crap.

Now coming back to it, I realize it gives some new fresh ideas. Of course, they’re not perfect, but they’re still worth studying when you lack inspiration.

Look at these ideas:

Hubspots-Blog-Topic-Generator-1

Here is how to tweak these headlines:

  1. 5 Tools Everyone Should Be Using When Guest Blogging
  2. Are You Ready For Doing Guest Blogging? Take This Quiz
  3. How Guest Blogging Was Back in 2007, and Why It Doesn’t Work Anymore
  4. 14 Common Misconceptions About Guest Blogging
  5. Why We Love Guest Blogging (And You Should, Too!)

The #4 and #5 were good enough without modification. For the rest, the suggestions gave me some extra inspiration to get these ideas!

SEOPressor Blog Title Generator

SEOPressor-Blog-Title-Generator-0

Look, another blog title generator!

This one stands out from the rest by giving more information on your keyword: Is it a generic term, a brand/product, an event, an industry, a location, a person’s name, or a skill?

For example, you could type Sean Ogle and say it’s a person’s name.

SEOPressor-Blog-Title-Generator-1

Now you can write an article about Sean and try to get his attention! This would work well on well-known blogger such as Neil Patel or Pat Flynn.

Now, if I take Guest Blogging and say it’s a skill, I get some pretty good headlines too:

SEOPressor-Blog-Title-Generator-2

Tools to Engineer a Remarkable Headline

In the previous section, we saw a bunch of headline generators. But how do you know if they’re good? Can you use them right away without any tweak?

Most of the time, if you don’t want something too generic, the answer is no.

You don’t have to play the lottery though. First of all, there are tons of articles and courses out there that will teach you how to write the perfect headline:

But if you don’t have the time to read these great guides or if you’re still not sure whether your headline is good or not, you can use the following tools. They will give a score to your headline and tell you right away if they’re awesome… or terrible.

CoSchedule Headline Analyzer

coschedule-headline-analyzer-0

This is by far my most preferred headline analyzer. I use it every time I want to write a new post. I use it to test my headlines when I want to submit ideas for a guest post (since in this case, the blogger takes his decision mostly based on the headline). Sometimes I even include my headline score in the pitch.

Enter the headline and you’ll get a score between 0 and 100, though most of the time your score will be in the (60, 80) range. Anything above 70% is good enough.

The score is based on:

  • The word balance (common, uncommon, emotional and power words)
  • The headline type (list posts, questions, generic, …)
  • The length (too long is not good for SEO). It also shows you how it will look in Google or as an email subject line.
  • Keywords
  • Sentiment analysis

When I test the headline 101 Amazing Tools to Create Remarkable Content Easily, I get a score of 73%!

coschedule-headline-analyzer-1

Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer

Emotional-Marketing-Value-Headline-Analyzer-0

This headline analyzer from the Advanced Marketing Institute will give you a score based on the Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) of your headline. It tells how much emotion your headline communicate.

While we humans like to think we take decision based on reason, most of our actions are based on emotions, and that’s why emotional headlines work much better than rational headlines.

Enter your headline, pick a category (this doesn’t seem to have any impact on the score) and click Submit For Analysis.

Emotional-Marketing-Value-Headline-Analyzer-1

As you can see, my headline gets a 87.50% score. Fantastic! As they say, the most gifted copywriters will have 50%-75% EMV words in headlines. Maybe I should start a new copywriting career!

As with any automatic tool, you also still need to have a critical mind. Once you understand how the algorithm works, you can craft a headline that gets a 100% score but that doesn’t make sense at all. I found that the more you tweak your headline to add emotional words, the stranger it sounds.

Play with it, improve your score, but keep using your brain.

KingSumo Headlines

KingSumo-Headlines-0

Instead of analyzing your headlines based on determined factors, the KingSumo Headlines plugin will determine the best headline based on the choices on your visitors.

Let me explain. In your WordPress article editor, you write several headlines you think are good but don’t know which is the best. The plugin will randomly show different headlines to your visitors and test which one works best.

As it gets more information, the algorithm will display the headline that gets you the most traffic, without you having to do anything.

I am not using this tool, as it is rather expensive at the stage of my business (starting at $99, I won’t be able to have a positive ROI), but if you’re looking for tweaking your headlines in a sophisticated way, this tool seems to be the right one.

Thrive Headline Optimizer

Thrive-Headline-Optimizer-0

The Thrive Headline Optimizer is like the KingSumo Headlines plugin we just discussed.

After submitting several headlines to your post, it will analyze the click-through-rate, the time readers spend on the article and how much they’re scrolling in it, to determine what is the best headline.

After gathering enough information, the optimizer will show the winning headline to maximize traffic.

It is a bit less expensive than the KingSumo version, with a starting price of $67.

Title Experiments Free

Title-Experiments-Free-0

Here is another plugin that will let you test different headlines and compare them over time to find what is the best one. After having accumulated enough data, it will show the winner to your readers, meaning you don’t have to manage it anymore once set up.

The plugin has the advantage of being free, compared to the two previous ones. It also has a pro version that will allow you to test different featured images (that’s useful if you write your headline on the featured image like I do) and provide detailed statistics for a price of 29.99$ per year.

It’s hard to tell which of the three plugins is the best, as they all more or less promise the same things, but might be using different technologies that provide different results.

Title-Experiments-Free-1

Tools to Write The Best Outline

Once you have a good blog post idea and a compelling headline, the next step before starting your first draft is to draw a detailed outline of your future article.

The outline is an important step, as it will allow you:

  • To write the first draft easily (by already knowing exactly what you need to write about).
  • To avoid taking many different directions and waste time (you already have a structure of the article).
  • To avoid iterating again and again (you have an initial plan and stick to it).

Here are top articles to help you learn how to write the best outlines:

Now, where are you supposed to write your outline? On a piece of paper? In Word? Or are there specific tools for this?

Yes there are, and here are the best you can find:

Evernote

Evernote-0

While Evernote is not exactly an outlining tool, but it can still be used for it.

Here is how to use it:

  • Create a Notebook called Blog post outlines. Notebooks in Evernote are like folders.
  • For each new outline, create a new Note and fill it with your outline.

Evernote provides the basic editing tools for writing your outline and organizes them all at the same place:

Evernote-1

If all you need is a place to write your outlines, Evernote will do the job.

Now, if you need fancier outlining tools, keep reading.

OmniOutliner

OmniOutliner-0

The OmniOutliner is only available for Mac users. This tool brings outlining to a new world with a bunch of incredible features. Here is a video showing how to use the app:

Introducing OmniOutliner 4 from Vimeo.

I feel that it’s even too powerful for outlining, but if you’re used to write long and detailed blog posts that look like mini-ebooks, it will be useful for you.

WorkFlowy

WorkFlowy-0

WorkFlowy is a lot simpler, and you don’t even need to create an account or download anything to try it.

While it’s intended to be used as a to-do list, you can use it to structure your blog post and take notes for each section or subsection.

The coolest features are the possibilities to move around the sections, fold and unfold them, and play with the indents. This helps to focus on creating the content and the structure without wasting too much time on formatting the text.

Scrivener

Scrivener-0

Scrivener is the ultimate software for writers. It is awesome for writing blog posts.

But in this section, we’re interested in what it can offer us to improve our outlines. Like many other outlining tools, you can write the structure similar with bullet points and then expand them by explaining what they contain.

What I like with Scrivener though is that you can zoom into your outline and know at what step you are in the creation of the article. Is this subsection already finished or still in progress? How many words have I already written for this part?

Instead of writing the outline as a step separated from the rest, Scrivener integrates it in your writing project.

CheckVist

Checkvist-0

If you want a tool that lets you write without worrying about anything else, you will like CheckVist.

This tool focuses on having a LOT of keyboard shortcuts to help you focus on outlining only and not worry about anything. The shortcuts will help you write the outline at light speed.

They define this tool as the Online outliner for geeks as it’s intended for people who aren’t afraid of complex keyboard shortcuts or writing in Markdown. If that’s you, then give it a try. If not, try something more user-friendly.

Checkvist-1

Little Outliner

Little-Outliner-0

You don’t want a fancy outliner with tons of features?

If you’re a minimalist outliner, then Little Outliner is for you. Right when you arrive on the page, you get a prompt to start typing your outline.

Little Outliner has all the basics of an outliner:

  • Indent and un-indent with Tab and Shift+Tab
  • Write in Bold, Italic, or put links.
  • Re-organize the bullet points. Fold and unfold entire sections.

If you just want a place to write a hierarchical outline and not bother with anything else, look no more.

Coggle

Coggle-0

I’m not a huge fan of mind maps for outlining my blog posts, but I know some people only use that. In fact, just creating the example for the screenshot below showed me how powerful outlining with a mind map can be.

Every time you get a new idea, you can create a new branch and divide it in sub-branches to get more and more specific.

Now, there are tons of mindmapping tools out there, so why Coggle? Because:

  • It’s free.
  • It’s simple. We don’t need fancy features.
  • It’s online. No need to download anything.
  • It’s easy to sign up. You can link your Google account and be set up in 30 seconds.

Coggle-1

Tools to Write Your Sh***y First Draft

So far you have:

  • Found a compelling blog post idea with a good headline.
  • Written a detailed outline.

What’s the next step? According to best-selling author Anne Lamott, it’s the sh**y first draft.

You just write. And later you will edit.

I won’t direct you to other articles to learn how to write your first draft, because really all you need to know is this:

  1. Follow the structure of your outline.
  2. Write everything you have in your head.
  3. Don’t worry about formatting, grammar mistakes, awkward phrasing or rambling. Don’t edit when writing the first draft. A good exercise is to prevent yourself from using the backspace key.
  4. You can only get better at it by getting practice.

Of course, there are tools to help you in this daunting task, but I must warn you: They won’t do the writing at your place!

Google Docs

Google-Docs-0

Google Docs is the holy grail of the modern blogger.

It’s like a simplified online Microsoft Word with which you can collaborate with other people. I used to write all my blog articles in Google Docs, and I still do sometimes, like right now. Indeed, it’s a great collaboration tool, I can share it very easily with Sean and then he can directly add comments or edit the article if I give him the rights.

Google-Docs-1

Markdown Pad

Markdown-Pad-0

Markdown Pad 2 is where I write most of my articles nowadays (this is going to change though, as I discovered a lot of interesting tools by writing this article).

Markdown is a markup language that helps you write in HTML without knowing HTML. Instead, you have a set of rules to write the titles, to write in bold, or to make bullet points. Most of them are really intuitive, so there’s no steep learning curve.

Now, why should you bother to write this way when nowadays we have tools such as Google Docs that make all the formatting much easier?

Here’s why: I used to write in Google Docs, but then I would waste hours trying to copy/paste it in my WordPress editor. If you’ve tried it yourself, you know what I mean.

Now, by using the HTML provided by my markdown document, all I need is one copy/paste, and everything is already beautiful. I’m saving hours writing this way.

One important drawback is that I lose the collaborating possibility that Google Docs was offering.

Markdown-Pad-1

Twords

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If you struggle to write your first draft and tend to procrastinate on it, Twords can help you with that.

It’s not great for collaboration, it’s not great for writing an entire blog post in it, but it’s great to get your writing done! And when you’re writing your sh***y first draft, that’s all that matter.

The best way to make progress in your writing is to write every day. Twords will ask you to set up a daily word count and then nudge you to get it done.

For example, you choose to write 500 words daily, you pick a time to write it (let’s say 30 minutes), and start writing it. Twords has a bunch of features that will get you more motivated to write, for example:

  • It told me “If you continue to write 717 words every day, you will write a 50,000 word novel in 70 days.” That’s inspiring!
  • It tracks the number of words you write and gives you a score on it. Improve your score by writing more!
  • Get you friends on Twords and stay accountable to them. You can add accountability buddies to your account.

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ZenPen

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If you are struggling with distractions, ZenPen is for you. They define it as a minimalist writing zone, and that’s exactly what it is.

Simply sit down, get clear on what you want to write about, open ZenPen, toggle the Full Screen feature, and start writing.

You can then set a timer if you want to write for, say, 30 minutes, or set a words goal in the application. A progress bar on the right will tell you how close you get to your goal.

Calmly Writer

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When I first looked at Calmly Writer, I thought “Well, it’s just another distraction-free writing tool, there’s no point to feature it as well since ZenPen does this job pretty well already”.

But then I looked closer. I tried it. And I fell in love. Here is why this app will probably become my next writing environment:

  1. Easy to use and distraction-free. You install it as a Chrome app.
  2. Possibility to use Markdown… or not! You can either click on a button or write the Markdown code.
  3. Very-easy-brainless integration of images. You just copy-paste it!
  4. Finally, the best feature for me: An HTML export so that you can directly copy/paste the html into the WordPress editor. For the pictures, it automatically gets the URL from where you fetched it.

Woah!

It also gets bonus points for being neat, responsive, offering backups, having a focus mode that highlights only the paragraph you’re working on (great for editing!), and many other nice features.

The app is free, but you’ve got to pay about $5 to get the top features of the app (like the backup or Markdown).

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Typewrite

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Have you ever written an article, then iterated on it, and kept iterating again and again… Only to want to come back at a previous version?

Most of the time, that’s not possible. All you’ve got is your current version and you can’t go back in the past.

If you’re this kind of writer who wants to save versions of your work as you make progress on it, then you may want to give Typewrite a try.

It also offers you a distraction-free environment, a possibility to collaborate with other people, to sync your articles on Dropbox, and also to type in Markdown!

Tools to Write in the Zone and Double Your Productivity

In the previous section, we saw a bunch of distraction-free writing environment. Why is it that most writing apps out there focus on this one feature?

The answer is: Because writing is hard.

Writing is so hard that you will find any excuse to not do it. When comes the time of your writing session, you suddenly realize that your apartment needs some cleaning and that you have the motivation to do it!

You will procrastinate on writing. If you’re not careful, you will waste hours social media, emails, or anything that is not writing. A common example is doing research for hours, thinking you’re being productive, while all you’re doing is actually postponing the writing.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A lot of tools can help you to get the writing done and resist the procrastination.

focus@will

Focus-at-Will-0

Focus@will takes listening to music while working to the next level.

You may like to listen to your preferred music while writing, and this may be a good idea… or not! The issue with most music is that they’re distracting, especially when there are lyrics.

Focus@will have selected music that will enhance your focus instead of distract you.

Basically, you set up a timer, choose your type of music, and you’re set up. At the end of the time, “Ting!”. You’re done.

I have used Focus@will for more than a year and it has always helped me get in the zone quite easily.

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Rainy Mood

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Some people find that listening to nature music, especially rain, helps increase their focus. I’m definitely part of these people, and found that Rainy Mood does this job well. All you have to do is launch the website, and that’s it.

While I like with listening to the rain is that it’s a bit similar to white noise. It isolates you from external noise, hence creating a kind of sensoriel bubble that will help you get in the zone.

Cold Turkey

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ColdTurkey is a long time favorite of mine. For a while, when I was working full-time from home, I was using it almost religiously. This was my savior from the unlimited world of distractions that is internet.

This tool will allow you to block all the distractions on your computer: Social media, emails, games, webchats, etc. You name it!

You simply make a list of websites and programs that distract you during your writing, and then tells ColdTurkey to block them during a specific time frame.

For example, after I made my list, I told the app to block all my distractions every weekday from 6 am to 9 am, which is the timeframe when I’m working on my business:

Cold-Turkey-1

If you find yourself spending too much time on Facebook instead of doing your writing, consider doing the same thing. There is no shame in admitting that resisting to distractions is hard.

There is a free version but it won’t allow you to block programs on your computer nor schedule specific times like I do. The paid version is a one-time $19 payment.

Cold Turkey Writer

Nope, Cold Turkey Writer is not the same app!

It is a writing app with a special feature: It won’t let you quit until you’re done.

You set up a number of words to write or a duration. Until the goal is achieved, you can’t quit the app. You can’t anything else but write until you’re done.

You could do with the free version, but the paid version (a one-time $10 payment) offers a setting that I particularly like: It blocks the backspace and delete keys. This is just perfect for writing your first draft! Too many people tend to edit and write at the same time, resulting in wasting a lot of time iterating again and again on the same things.

Tomato Timer

Tomato-Timer-0

You certainly have heard about the Pomodoro Technique. This time management technique invented by Francesco Cirillo works like that:

  1. You set up the timer for 25 minutes.
  2. You work until the timer expires.
  3. You take a short break of 5 minutes.
  4. Repeat steps 1 to 3.

One iteration of the process is called One Pomodoro, and every 4 pomodoros you take a long break (at least 10 minutes).

The major benefit of this technique is to reduce procrastination. Instead of thinking of the big daunting task you need to do, all you do is a click to start the timer, and now you’ve got to write for just 25 minutes, which sounds really easy.

Since writing is hard and something we tend to procrastinate on, the Pomodoro technique will help you get started with writing. That the hardest part is always getting started. Once you’re in a flow, it’s easy to keep going.

To help you keep the list and refer to it later when you need it, I created a condensed version in PDF that you can download right now by clicking here.

Tools to Make Extensive and Insightful Research

Nowadays, people want to back up their blog posts with as much research and data as possible.

I don’t always agree with this, as I found that many blog posts get their value simply from you sharing your personal experience. This way, by making people relate to your story, you inspire them to take action and change their lives. Not much research needed in this case.

That’s what matters in the end: Make people to take action. It’s not about feeding them with more information.

In this case, research should only be made to improve your current draft, not to change it or replace your personal experiences by studies and other facts.

But for some articles, like this one actually, you need to do a ton of research before writing the first word. For example, before starting to write this article, I went on an Internet journey to find as many tools as possible. Then I tried them, I discarded some and selected others.

So how to do this kind of research in an efficient and insightful way?

Here are some tools that will help you in this daunting and never-ending task.

Google

Of course… Google!

But it’s not just about typing keywords. Here are some tips that will help you get more relevant results. Let’s say my research revolves around sleep length.

  1. Add keywords
  • Sleep length statistics
  • Sleep length data
  • Sleep length science
  • Sleep length research
  • Etc.
  1. Research on a website

Adding site:websitename.com will make your research results focused on only the website that you chose.

For example, site:www.huffingtonpost.com sleep length will allow you to get search results only from the Huffington Post website.

  1. Recent research

Use the Search tools to only get recent results. Following the screenshot below, here are the steps:

  • Click Search tools
  • Click Any time
  • Choose the relevant timeframe.
  • Ask questions

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Before doing research, you should write down all the questions you have. Sometimes, the most naive approach of simply writing down the questions to Google works very well.

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Pocket

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Have you ever stumble upon an article and thought “Woah! That’s exactly what I need for my next blog post!”, but you’re in the kitchen, preparing a meal for your family, simply browsing your phone, and you can’t take the time to read the whole article right now.

So you take a mental note, hope it won’t disappear, and move on with your life.

The next morning, you sit before your computer, ready to write your blog post, and you try to remember how you found this article the previous… but your mind goes blank.

Damn!

No need for such frustration anymore. Use Pocket and simply save all these articles in one place: In your Pocket.

How does it work?

  1. You subscribe to the service (it’s free).
  2. You get the extension for your browser (they tell you right away how to do it).
  3. You also install it on your phone (they also told me how to do it, it was 1 click away, so I clicked)
  4. Every time you stumble upon an article but don’t have time to read it, Pocket it!

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Easy!

Evernote

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Yes, we already talked about Evernote for outlining, but what was once a simple note-taking app has now become powerful.

I find that Evernote is the perfect research vault for your blog posts.

First, there is a feature similar to Pocket and it’s called the Evernote Web Clipper. It will help you save your articles for later.

But you can also use it for research purposes. First, create a Notebook called Research. Then, for each topic relevant to your blog, create a new note. Finally, every time you read something interesting about a topic, you can add it in your note, with a link to your source.

This way, when you need some scientific facts or data about a topic, you can go directly to your Evernote notebook and directly find everything you need.

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Google Scholar

Google Scholar is the Google for scientific papers. Every field is subject to scientific research, whether you’re in marketing, fitness, personal finances or travel. Some fields will be more relevant than others though.

For example, if you write about travel hacking, this won’t be useful at all. But if you write about sleep, this will be a goldmine of information.

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Tools to Edit and Transform Your First Draft

You should now already have your first draft, and thanks to this list of tools, you could find the time and focus to sit and write something.

This something isn’t good enough yet. It’s just your first draft, it’s just words that barely make sense together and that need some editing.

There are a lot of wonderful tools that will help you get from a sh***y first draft to a compelling new version your readers won’t stop reading.

Let’s get started!

Hemingway Editor

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The Hemingway Editor is also a writing app, but really you don’t get any benefit from writing directly in it. It’s better to copy paste what you’ve been writing so far to try to improve it on the go.

This app will tell you:

  • The readability of your writing: It tends to tell me that sixth Graders can read my stuff, which is a good thing as it means my writing is very readable. You don’t need to write in a complex way on the internet.
  • Which sentences are hard (or very hard) to read. You may want to cut them in two or three parts.
  • When you use adverbs. Adverbs brings complexity while you could probably replace them by a better verb that means exactly what you mean.
  • When you use passive voice. You should avoid it in some cases as it will prevent you from making the emphasis on the right subject.

Simply go through your post and make minor edits here and there. If you’re like me, you’ll find a bunch of really, very and just that you can easily get rid of.

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Grammarly

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Grammarly is a grammar checker that propose you a free version or a paid version.

You can also install the Chrome plugin, so that everywhere you’ll be writing it will check grammar for you.

Otherwise, you can simply copy/paste your post in there and it will spot all your mistakes. As a non-native, I find this incredibly useful since I still make a lot of mistakes, sometimes as simple as this one:

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For you English-speaking people, “news” is singular and I tend to forget it.

With the Premium paid version, Grammarly will also help you improve your post by spotting wrong word choices, wordiness, passive voice use, lack of clarity, etc.

Thesaurus

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Has it already happened to you that you’re looking for a word but can’t grasp it? It’s frustrating right?

Or sometimes you just want to find alternatives to avoid repeating the same word over and over.

Then Thesaurus will help you a lot. Simply enter a word close to what you mean and it will give you:

  • A list of synonyms.
  • A list of antonyms.
  • A list of related words with their synonyms.

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TwinWord Writer

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Do you sometimes get stuck on a word? You know the word, you know exactly what you mean, but it’s empty in your head. How frustrating!

Well, the TwinWord Writer will remove your frustration. If you’re hesitating on a word, it will make suggestions to help you find just the right word. It’s also great for editing, as every time you highlight a word, it will propose you a bunch of alternatives.

This can be a great tool for non-native English speakers who struggle to have a rich vocabulary and tend to write like 6th graders (yes I may talk about how I feel about my writing).

While this tool could be seen as a writing environment, I chose to feature it here as an editing tool for its WordPress plugin. Once installed, you will be able to improve your writing thanks to the word alternatives it suggests to you, but it will also give you some cool stats on your article. See for example:

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After the Deadline

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Similar to Grammarly, After the Deadline will check spelling and grammar mistakes, but will also spot the use of passive voice, complex expressions, etc.

Again, you can simply copy/paste your post in there to immediately get started. Every time it spots a way to improve your article, it will give you suggestions (for example to completely omit the expression), explain you why, and also give you the option to ignore this kind of recommendation all together.

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Word Counter

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Almost all writing platforms out there will tell you how many words there are in your article.

But that’s not what WordCounter is about. This tool will rank the most frequently used words of your post.

It can be useful if you have a tendency to always use the same words again and again without noticing it (but your readers will notice and get tired of it!). It can also help identify a keyword that you could focus on for SEO purposes.

If I copy/paste this article into the tool, here is what I get:

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Clearly, the keyword I would focus on for SEO would be writing tools, which is not a surprise.

Now I notice that I might be an over-user of the word get. There are certainly many opportunities where I could replace it with a better verb that will improve the readability of my writing.

Tools to Illustrate Your Post and Make it Attractive

We’re almost done!

You’ve written a detailed outline, then expanded it into a first draft that you edited with the help of some insightful research.

It’s almost time to publish your article, but there are a few more details to set up. I usually add the pictures and screenshots right at the end, so that I can focus only on the writing until it’s done. You also need a featured image for your post!

Let’s see what internet tools can do for you.

iStockPhoto

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How much time does it take you to find a good featured image for your posts?

It rarely takes me more than 5 minutes, thanks to iStockPhoto. I write some keywords related to my articles, select the Essentials category (for cheaper stock photos) and find something good enough very quickly.

Now, it is expensive. It will cost you between $7 to $9 per picture, while it’s true you can find a lot of free stock photos on the internet.

But I found that when I was searching in the free galleries, every time I would spend an infinite amount of time trying to get something good enough. That’s why I’d rather pay a small fee, but avoid myself the pain of wasting a lot of time.

There are a ton of alternatives you might prefer. For example: Pixabay (free), depositphotos, or Pexels.

PicMonkey

Once I have my featured image for my next post, I put it into PicMonkey to have something shareable on social media. On the home page, I choose Edit / Computer and pick my featured image.

Then, you can play with your picture and add many effects. The almost only feature I use though is to add text on it. In a matter of minutes, you get your featured image with your blog post title, making it easily shareable on social media.

For example:

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Canva

Canva is similar to PicMonkey in that it will help you edit an image to add some text or other effects.

You can choose among thousands of layouts, then add text, other elements like shapes, charts, icons, etc.

I very rarely use Canva, as I prefer choosing a stock photo and just adding some text on it. But I know a lot of people who use it and are very happy with it. So give it a try! Here is a social media friendly image I made in just a few minutes:

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Skitch

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Skitch is amazing! Have you already noticed these bloggers who annotate their screenshots or add pink arrows to it? Sometimes the arrows are red, as in this article. Well, these annotations are made with Skitch!

Now, I have a bad news for Windows users: Skitch is not supported on Windows anymore…

But don’t worry! There is a turnaround. I use Windows and still have access to Skitch. In fact, it is implemented in Evernote. Here is what to do:

  1. Open Evernote.
  2. Create a new note.
  3. Copy/Paste your image in the note.
  4. On the top-left corner of the image, click the @ (for Annotate).
  5. You can now annotate your picture!

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Piktochart

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A great way to enhance a post, or to create a content upgrade, is to make an infographic.

At first I thought it was super complicated to make one, but no, it’s super simple in fact! Very similar to Canva, you simply:

  1. Pick a template
  2. Add elements such as charts, icons, photos, etc.
  3. Fill it with your writing.

And that’s all! All the hard work of design is pre-made in the tool. The best part: It’s free!

Meme Generator

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A great way to illustrate your blog posts and add a funny touch into it is to create a meme. It is very simple to do so:

  1. Pick your meme image (or upload your own).
  2. Add your text (be creative).
  3. Click Generate Meme.

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Tools to Promote the Hell of Your Post

You have created the BEST article on a topic. Now what? How are people supposed to know it exists?

You PROMOTE it! This is a crucial step that will make or break your blog post. You share it with your email subscribers, you talk about it to your friends, you post it on social media, and you reach out to as many people as you can to get the word out.

Here are what the experts say on how to promote your post efficiently:

It can be a very long and daunting process to build relationships with influencers. Fortunately, a lot of tools can help you achieve similar results.

Buffer

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Buffer will allow you to schedule the sharing of your content easily on multiple platforms.

You can add your Tweets (or Facebook shares, or other platforms) directly in the Buffer interface, but really what’s best is to use the browser extension. As I browse the internet, if I stumble upon a good article I’d like to share with my audience, I can directly buffer it to share it multiple times in the next few days.

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Of course, you can do the same to promote your own articles.

SumoMe Sharebar

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The Sumome Sharebar is a WordPress plugin that will add a small bar at the left of your blog post and allow your visitors to share the article in just 2 clicks.

It is really easy to set up and here is what you’ll get:

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If you want to get the tweet count, you will need another app, as since November 20, 2015, Twitter stopped showing share counts. You will need to use TwitCount to get it back.

Ninja Outreach

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Ninja Outreach is a tool that will allow you to systematize and almost automate reaching out to people to let them know about your latest blog post.

This is not for spamming hundreds of people with the same template. You still need to build relationships with people, bring value to them, and be authentic if you want them to share your posts.

However, this tool will allow you to set up lists of influencers and then to email them quickly (you will have the option of personalizing your emails, even if you create a template). You can also find new influencers very easily.

PostReach

PostReach is not a tool to promote your content directly, but it will help you to measure how many shares it got, through which channels, and also discover the influencers who promoted it.

You can give your website name so that PostReach directly track your new blog posts, but also tell him when you publish a guest post on another website.

For each blog post, you have access to a detailed report giving you a bunch of information on how the article has been shared. For example:

PostReach-1

Tools You Wouldn’t Even Think Of

There are many tools I use on a regular basis that I would have never known they exist. Even if they are of great help, you’re so used to doing it your way (that is painful and tedious) that you don’t even try to Google to see if there is an easier alternative.

In this last section, you will find many tools that will your life as a blogger a lot easier.

Let’s get started!

Screencastify

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Screencastify is a free video recording tool that will help you make quick and easy videos of your screen.

Imagine that a friend of yours or a reader asks you a question, and you want to answer but it’s gonna take hours to write a really thoughtful answer since a lot of explanations are needed. Sometimes, a picture is worth 1,000 words, meaning it’s much easier to SHOW something instead of trying to describe it.

In just a few clicks, you can start recording your screen. Once done, it will automatically upload the recording on Google Drive for example, so that you can share it easily.

Amazon Mechanical Turk

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Sometimes you need to do repetitive and boring tasks for your business. It might be finding new websites to guest post for, influencers to find, reformatting a document in a robotic way, transcribing a video, etc.

Sometimes, these tasks don’t really require YOU to do them, it could be anyone with a brain. In this case, you should give Mechanical Turk a go.

You can set up a task and pay people to do it at a cheap cost.

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Trello

Trello is a productivity tool that can help you manage your blog articles (as well as your to-do list, your Kanban board, your long term projects, and many other things).

For example, by creating a board for your articles, you can then add all your blog post ideas in a first list.

Trello-1

Then, every time you write a first draft, you drag and drop the idea in the second list called “Writing first draft”. As you make progress on it, you drag the blog post to the right until it gets into the “Published” list.

As you get more and more articles in progress, this can be a great tool to manage them.

oTranscribe

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Have you already tried to transcribe an interview or a video you recorded yourself?

If yes, you know it’s HUGE pain. You find yourself always switching back and forth between your text editor and the video, returning a few seconds ago, repeating again and again, always switching windows, making miss clicks and… it’s a mess.

oTranscribe-1

oTranscribe makes it much easier. With just a few key shortcuts (basically, Esc to play/pause the video) and a few minutes of practice, you can write continuously on your transcription and finish a lot quicker than with the previous technique. This is a huge time-saver.

Daily Page

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Writing is the most important skill you can ever develop for your business. Everything involves writing, whether it’s creating content for your readers, creating a product, or connecting with your subscribers.

You just need to write, and there is no turnaround.

A bad news is that we’re all bad when we start writing. The good news is that you can better if you practice consistently. And what better way to get consistent practice than with writing every day?

That’s what Daily Page proposes you: Daily writing prompts to write daily and get a ton of practice. To increase your motivation, it also provides reminders and personal stats to see your progress.

PhraseExpress

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PhraseExpress has the potential to save you a lot of time without even you noticing it.

It has many features, but the one we’re interested in here is the Autotext. You can set up abbreviations and PhraseExpress will automatically expand them into the full words or sentences.

For example, you could just type sig to get your full signature typed up.

If you tend to use the same long words again and again when writing your blog post, this tool will save you a lot of time.

An alternative for Mac users exists, it’s called TextExpander.

Your Getaway

This is a HUGE list of tools for creating remarkable content. I tested a ton of other tools but decided not to include them for many reasons. Sometimes because there are better alternatives, sometimes because it was plain broken, or because it wasn’t really essential to the remarkable blogger.

The goal wasn’t to make the longest list ever, but to present only high-quality tools. Even with this in mind, the list is overwhelming.

My recommendation is that you keep it close with you, so that every time you face an issue, you can come back at it and find a solution.

To help you keep the list and refer to it later when you need it, I created a condensed version in PDF that you can download right now by clicking here.

10 Aug 19:15

Weeding out weak opportunities (and improving sales forecast accuracy)

by bob@inflexion-point.com (Bob Apollo)

Weeding_Square.jpgHow can B2B sales people (and the sales organisations they work for) identify and engage the prospects that are most likely to buy from them?

In even the most successful B2B sales organisations there is always a significant fall-off between the number of qualified sales opportunities that enter the top of the sales funnel and the number that eventually emerge as customers.

In less effective sales organisations this fall-off from top to bottom of funnel is significantly higher - and often happens later in the sales cycle, compounded by the number of “zombie deals” that have somehow managed to remain in the sales pipeline despite showing no recent signs of life.

If we’re destined to lose, then we had better lose early - before we have invested significant resources in pursuing a set of opportunities that are never likely to buy from us. But that takes discipline, and a determination to ruthlessly weed out weak opportunities...

This determination to weed out weak deals early by conducting effective sales opportunity qualification is one of a handful of qualities that consistently distinguish top sales performers from the rest. But how can we tell which opportunities to focus our energies on?

The question of which prospects are likely to buy from us really needs to be broken down into two constituent parts: first, we have to establish the chances that the “prospect” is actually likely to do anything, and then we have to determine the chances that they will end up selecting us as their preferred solution option.

A growing number of clients have woken up to this, and are requiring that sales people separately evaluate these two probabilities in their CRM solutions before calculating a blended weighted opportunity probability (probability of action * probability of winning) as a way of dramatically improving sales forecast accuracy.

Judging these two probabilities separately, and then combining them in a weighted value, usually results in a lower but far more accurate assessment of the likelihood that any individual opportunity will close. It’s certainly a far better approach than applying the same default probability to every opportunity at a given stage.

Here’s how I’ve been encouraging sales teams to think about this:

1: DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN INTEREST AND INTENT

If we’re to answer the first question, we need to distinguish between interest and intent, and the failure to do this is why so many sales pipelines are artificially bloated with so-called “opportunities“ that are, by any rational analysis, never actually likely to do anything.

Here’s why: interesting needs will cause our prospects to start investigating their options. Important needs will cause them to evaluate short-listed solutions. But only truly critical needs will guarantee that they will buy. That’s not to say that interesting or important needs don’t sometimes drive buying decisions. But only by uncovering or developing truly critical needs can we be sure that our prospect will inevitably decide to actually do something.

How can we distinguish between interest and intent? One simple way is to ask them what would happen if they eventually decided to stick with the status quo. If their answer is “we could cope”, we’ve got to question their motivation - or do something that will increase it.

2: CONVERTING INTENT INTO ACTION

Let’s assume that we’ve confirmed our prospect’s intent to act. Does having the “best” solution guarantee success? It’s a mistake that many tech-based businesses (in particular) seem to make. The problem is that the modern buyer expects every vendor to claim that they are better, and therefore will tend to discount or devalue any and all such assertions.

If we’re to satisfy the modern, well-educated buyer, we need to do more than claim that our solution is better. In fact in many situations we are better off challenging their perception of what they need, by introducing a new aspect of the problem they are trying to solve that they may not have previously considered. The folks at Corporate Visions refer to this as “unconsidered needs”, and it's a very powerful concept.

Offering a marginally “better” solution to the problem they thought they had is rarely very compelling. Opening their eyes to some previously unrecognised consequences of their situation is much more likely to stick in their minds, and to differentiate us from the other options they may be considering.

ENGAGING EARLY WITH THE PROSPECT

Of course, it’s much easier to influence our prospect’s thinking if we engage with them at an early stage of their buying decision journey. It’s what a long-term client of mine refers to as “finding them while the cement is still wet”. It’s a very relevant metaphor: once their thinking about what they need has solidified, it’s significantly more difficult to reframe their thinking.

I asked him to share his experiences, and here’s what he said: “I always want to know where the prospect was in their decision making cycle when we first made contact with them. I’m always very wary when we seem to have arrived late to the party, and are restricted to answering an RFP we had no ability to influence.”

His inclination is borne out by the experiences of many similar organisations: failing to find the prospect when their needs have not yet been fully defined inevitably means playing a high-risk low-reward game of catch-up, with win rates in the low single digits.

IN CONCLUSION

I recommend that you take a careful look at your current pipeline. If you haven’t engaged early, distinguished between interest and intent, or taken steps to improve your chances of turning intent into action, it’s likely that your prospects will decide to go with an alternative vendor who has managed to better address the needs of today’s well-educated B2B buyer. Or they will decide to do nothing, despite all the effort you and every other vendor may have invested in them.

ABOUT BOB

A fellow of the Association of Professional SalesBob Apollo is the founder of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners. He works with the executive teams of post-startup expansion-stage businesses with complex sales environments, helping them to engineer scalable sales and marketing machines that deliver predictable revenue outcomes. Follow him on Twitter at @bobapollo.

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An earlier version of this article was first published on CustomerThink.

A Simple Guide to Sales Process Design for the Complex Sale

10 Aug 19:15

5 Steal-Worthy Secrets of the World’s Best Hostage Negotiators

by afrost@hubspot.com (Aja Frost)

steal-worthy-secrets-worlds-best-hostage-negotiators.jpg

The scene: December 6, 1975, in Marylebone, London. Detective Superintendent Peter Imbert, Scotland Yard’s chief negotiator, picks up the phone. His team has established contact with three terrorists who have barricaded themselves and two hostages inside an apartment.

Imbert has an extremely difficult mission: Extract the hostages without losing any lives. It takes six incredibly tense days of negotiation, but he eventually succeeds.

You might not think sales reps have much to learn from Imbert and the others in his field, but you’d be wrong. The stakes are clearly different in sales than in hostage situations, but the following five techniques -- sourced from some of the best negotiators in the world -- will help you and the buyer come to a mutually beneficial conclusion.

1) State Your Purpose

It’s crucial to make the other person feel like you’re working with them, not against them. This is hard to pull off in normal negotiations, so you can imagine how challenging it is when you’re talking to a hostage-taker.

Police psychologist Dr. Laurence Miller recommends starting the discussion by stating an ideal outcome that’s good for both you and the other person.

For instance, a crisis negotiator might say, “I’m here to listen to you and to try to make sure everybody stays safe.”

A sales rep, meanwhile, could begin the conversation with: “Thanks for meeting with me today to talk about your enterprise subscription. I’m looking forward to finding the best possible solution to your current needs.

“Best possible” is the operative phrase. This shows you’re striving for a win-win deal (in which both parties benefit), rather than a win-lose deal (in which one party benefits at the expense of the other).

2) Be Honest and Direct

When you’re negotiating, playing with the truth can quickly backfire.

“From a practical standpoint, if the hostage-taker feels he’s being duped, patronized, or manipulated from the outset, he’s not going to want to cooperate with you,” Miller explains.

He advises negotiators to speak with “respect, directness, lack of deception, and integrity.”

What does that look like in a sales negotiation? First, ditch the tactics meant to force the buyer’s hand. You should never threaten to back out of the deal at the last minute, give them an aggressive deadline, or try to make them feel guilty -- at least, not if you want them to trust you.

You should also be transparent about the compromises you’re making. 

“Concessions are often necessary in negotiation,” says Harvard Business School Professor Deepak Malhotra. “But they often go unappreciated and unreciprocated.” 

Malhotra tells negotiators to label their costly concessions while explaining their value to the other side. 

For example, you might say, “Frankly, finishing the website in 10 weeks instead of 15 is going to take a lot of work on our end -- but I know your company wants the redesign done by December.”

On the flip side, don’t pretend an easy-to-make compromise will be hard: It’ll stop being believable if you make every concession seem huge.

Finally, don’t misrepresent your terms or oversell your product. The prospect could easily uncover your lies with a little digging. Plus, even if they don’t find out till later, the relationship will be ruined, and your reputation with it.

3) Build Rapport

Creating rapport is a key crisis negotiation strategy. After all, a hostage-taker is far likelier to listen to someone they feel a connection with. Along the same lines, you’re going to have a much easier time negotiating with a buyer who likes and trusts you.

Build rapport the way hostage negotiators do: By matching the other person’s way of speaking.

That means using the same words and phrases, talking at a similar pace, and echoing their style -- whether that’s casual, professional, cheery, or humorous.

To make this strategy even more effective, leverage your background knowledge of the prospect.

In practice, this might mean spending a couple minutes on lighter, non-business topics at the beginning of the call. If you and the prospect both love Game of Thrones, for example, ask what they thought of the latest episode.

Or, ask a follow-up question on a topic you’ve previously discussed. For example: “Hey, how was the trip to Rhode Island?”

Finally, you can always create some goodwill by paying them a genuine compliment.

(Need some ideas? Learn five ways to praise prospects.)

4) Use Active Listening

You might think good negotiators spend most of the conversation talking. But it’s the opposite: They spend the majority asking questions and listening.

Jeff Thompson, NYPD Detective and research scholar at Columbia University School of Law, says active listening has two benefits: It builds trust and rapport, and it helps the negotiator gather information.

At this stage of the sales process, you should already be pretty well-informed on your buyer’s pain points and goals. However, she probably has some final objections -- without uncovering these, your chances of closing are slim.

Show her you’re engaged and paying attention by recapping what she said, asking confirmation questions (like “Did I get that right?” or “Would you say that’s accurate?”), and avoiding the impulse to interrupt or answer too quickly.

For more pointers, check out our in-depth guide to active listening in sales.

5) Stay Calm

Hostage-takers are usually pretty unstable. In a mere 10 minutes, they can go from extremely angry to reasonable and back again. Negotiators, on the other hand, must stay completely calm. Reacting only pushes a hostage-taker further over the edge.

If you’re negotiating with a buyer, keeping your cool is crucial. After all, whenever you show emotion, you tell the prospect they’ve struck a nerve. Most people will use that knowledge to push forward unfavorable terms.

Plus, the person who stays calm and composed usually gets the upper hand -- even if they started the conversation with less bargaining power. 

You’re probably familiar with the strategy of taking a couple deep breaths, but how else can you avoid boiling over? Expert negotiators suggest briefly pausing the discussion. If breaking for five minutes to “get some water” isn’t possible, then shift the focus. For instance, if you’re getting frustrated haggling over a specific item, move to a different detail or bring up the implementation plan. 

Negotiations will never be easy. However, with these five techniques, you’ll have a much better shot of walking out with the best terms possible -- for everyone involved.

Which of these techniques will you use? Let us know in the comments!

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10 Aug 19:15

Why You Need to Do B2B Marketing on LinkedIn

by Angie Geffen

Why-You-Need-to-Do-B2B-Marketing-on-LinkedIn

Many, if not most, brands will acknowledge that social media marketing is important for helping them connect with their customers. However, most still believe that social marketing is best for connecting with individual consumers, not business clients.

Contrary to that popular belief, marketing on LinkedIn, specifically, is a great way to reach business clients.

Here are just a few of the many reasons why you should be doing B2B marketing on LinkedIn, if you aren’t already:

Large User Base

More than 430 million people used LinkedIn, and their sole purpose for being there is professional networking.

Of those users, 61 million are senior-level influencers and 40 million are decision makers.

No one signs up to LinkedIn to post pictures of their kids for family to see or to share their weekend escapades with friends. They sign up to make professional connections and to advance their career. Businesses and business leaders sign up to promote their brands.

You can tap into those connections to promote your products and services. Even if you have a lot of followers who are just individuals, they may be influencers in their company or they may suggest your product or service to those who are. Every contact you make on the network is potentially valuable, even if it is not a direct business client.

More Leads

LinkedIn generates more leads for B2B brands than any other social networking site.

According to new information that LinkedIn released, approximately 79 percent of B2B marketers say that marketing on the site is an effective way to generate new leads. Marketers say that 80 percent of the leads they get from social media come from LinkedIn.

Many B2B marketers use LinkedIn specifically to launch a new product, though many also report an increase in web traffic and brand awareness thanks to the site. Marketers say that 46 percent of the traffic they get from social media comes from LinkedIn.

Those are huge numbers that you just can’t deny. If you want to reach more of your audience, you need to have a well-cultivated presence on LinkedIn.

Better Ad ROI

Marketers report that they get a much better return on their investment with LinkedIn Sponsored Content than they do with Google AdWords — in fact, they get a six times better ROI.

Marketers say that they get more leads from LinkedIn Sponsored Content and that those leads are of much higher quality. They also had to spend 75 percent less per lead through LinkedIn than with Google AdWords.

LinkedIn offers a couple of sponsored opportunities: InMails and display ads.

Marketers say they get more traffic and more leads from the display ads, and they get higher open rates and better response rates from their other email campaigns. Overall, they also had to spend less for each of those leads, regardless of whether they invested in display ads, email marketing or both.

The key to their success was to find the right audience and tailor their messages. Thanks to the comprehensive information that most people provide in their LinkedIn profiles, you can get plenty of data to tailor your campaigns. Make sure that you take advantage of that data and tailor your advertising and your messaging as narrowly as you can.

Keys to Success

You can’t just create a profile on LinkedIn or start up some ads and expect results. You need to follow a strategy.

It is important that you take advantage of the opportunity that LinkedIn offers to establish your brand authority. You can do this by publishing informative articles and think pieces on LinkedIn Pulse, by contributing thoughtful commentary to groups, and by providing real value in your posts, comments and other activity.

You may want to promote your brand, but your clients only want solutions. Provide them with answers to their problems, and they will readily listen to anything else you have to say. When you strategically promote your products or services, you will have a much better response.

You also need to build your reputation on the site, and you can do that by being an active participant in groups, on your page, and on the pages of your connections.

Embrace the spirit of the site — business networking — and you will have more success with it. Even when you invest in advertising or sponsored emails, you will have more success because people will have a better perception of your brand long before they encounter your ads.

Social media is no longer the frivolous pastime it once was. It is a powerful business tool, and that is especially true for LinkedIn. If you are a B2B brand, it is important that you have a presence on the site and that you are exploring all the opportunities that it offers. If you do so, you will get closer to your goals this year.

10 Aug 19:14

How to Dig Deep and Discover the Treasure in Your Niche

by Pamela Wilson

jelle-annaars

Let’s take a moment to sing the praises of counterintuitive moves that propel our businesses to a whole new level.

Every so often, you try something completely different. And every so often, it really works.

Take Jelle Annaars, for example.

Jelle has spent years offering copywriting services to a long list of clients. But when he shortened that list, business improved.

He’s also spent years building a robust online presence. But when he incorporated offline techniques, that’s when things took off.

And he became a Copyblogger Certified Content Marketer by submitting writing samples in English — and English isn’t his first language!

Jelle’s story is this month’s Hero’s Journey feature. We’re tapping the collective wisdom of our community members to bring you reports from the front lines of the content marketing world. See all the Hero’s Journey posts here.

Read on as Jelle shares the counterintuitive moves that have made a difference in his business.

The nail-biting decision that now seems obvious

Jelle Annaars: I’m a content marketing consultant and copywriter. I often tell people I’m a one-man agency for content marketing: I do content strategy, planning, and production. I work mainly with small businesses that have 20-250 employees.

I give my clients a bird’s-eye view of both their current content marketing efforts and future possibilities. That’s the strategy part.

When they need to actually produce content, they can rely on me as well, since I’m a trained writer. And because I dig deep into their industry and their business, there is no “handover.”

I view my collaboration with clients as an in-depth business partnership.

I decided a while ago that I wanted to work with a small number of clients that I build deep professional relationships with — which helps differentiate me from other service providers.

My focus is on tech companies.

Choosing a niche was probably the hardest decision I’ve had to make as a consultant, but looking back, it should have been a no-brainer.

Everything improved once I committed to one niche.

An unusual move that’s working well

Jelle Annaars: I mainly market online, but I’ve branched out to offline recently.

I focus on the Dutch-speaking market in Belgium, and I’ve realized there’s a huge untapped potential for me to market myself offline.

Offline interactions with my audience may have less reach, but they have a lot of impact.

I’m adding speaking opportunities to my marketing mix now, and I’m very excited to see the results. And I’m doing a lot more phone calls lately.

Counting the blessings of self-employment

Jelle Annaars: Autonomy and personal development are both super important to me.

I’m quite curious and always looking to learn new stuff. As an employee, I needed to ask for permission every time I wanted to learn something new or attend a conference. Today, I decide that on my own.

Then there’s the freedom to work whenever I want, wherever I want.

I also value the variety of clients and tasks.

As Sonia Simone put it so well a while back, “I have a high tolerance for stress, but a low tolerance for boredom. That’s why I got started on my own.”

I completely relate to that.

From content supermarket to exclusive high-end caterer

Jelle Annaars: At one point, less than a year ago, I described my business as a bit of a “supermarket for content.”

I had 20-30 regular clients who came to me when they needed something like a blog post or an email, usually at the very last minute. Many were advertising or marketing agencies.

That model didn’t work for me.

Personally, I prefer to build deep relationships with a few people rather than being a social butterfly. I realized my business didn’t reflect that.

I’m very focused on delivering lots of value, and I couldn’t provide maximum value using the “supermarket” model, because I wasn’t as closely involved with clients.

It was also financially less rewarding. I was generating lots of invoices — but they were tiny, and my total earnings were small. It used to be that if I had four to five billable hours in a day, that was a good day.

Then one day I decided I wanted a different type of business. I purposely looked for deeper client relationships that I could invoice on a retainer basis.

I realized I could serve about six or seven clients well using this model, and I changed my business accordingly.

This involved saying no to some previous clients — including all advertising agencies. It also meant I sometimes needed to say no to new prospects.

It was a bit counterintuitive at first but really worked out for the best.

I am very happy I made that decision.

I’m working with a smaller group of clients on a retainer basis and getting to know their businesses better and better. The difference is night and day!

My stress level has dropped dramatically because I don’t have to look for new clients all the time. I also have significantly more financial security.

Today, I’m booked solid.

Your calendar fills up pretty quickly when you offer in-depth collaboration on a retainer basis. And I’m confident that the moment I have room for a new client, that slot will also fill up quickly, because word gets around.

Digging deep and daring to dream

Jelle Annaars: Something that’s working well for me right now is what I call deep networking.

I go to many digital marketing events in Belgium and I keep meeting digital media professionals. I stay in touch with them through Twitter and LinkedIn. I enjoy interacting with this crowd because I genuinely like them and want to be a part of the community. I don’t try to pitch myself; I just try to be helpful and fun to be around.

As a result, this type of networking has landed me a few great jobs.

Another practice I cannot recommend highly enough is taking one day a week to spend time on your own business.

Whether you use the time for reading, attending conferences, perfecting the way your business works, deciding which direction you want your business to take — it doesn’t matter.

It’s very counterintuitive to say no to a client or prospect because you’re booked to work on your own business, but do it anyway.

You might not be able to invoice that day of work, but you’re increasing your long-term value and doing your future self a huge favor on all fronts.

The Rainmaker Digital products Jelle uses

Jelle Annaars: I use the Rainmaker Platform, and I recently experimented with the sales and membership features to sell a webinar and make it available afterwards.

I’m in the middle of building a course that I will host on the Platform. I’m also experimenting with the email marketing features.

I’m a Certified Content Marketer, and I do not hesitate to show my certification badge at any appropriate moment.

I still refer back to the material in the Certification program. The central idea of transforming from a copywriter into a content marketing consultant was an eye-opener for me.

I have used what I’ve learned from Rainmaker Digital to sell and produce a webinar, and I am working on a larger video course right now, called the “Content Marketing Blueprint” (in Dutch only, sorry).

Onboarding, productizing, courses, and more

Jelle Annaars: I like the new direction of my consultancy a lot and want to further improve my practice, especially when it comes to client collaboration. I’m thinking about adding universal client onboarding and off-boarding processes, an online client area to organize all materials, and a briefing process.

I’m also considering “productizing” my services by offering a few packaged services with fixed prices.

Furthermore, this year I’m launching my first full course. It’s going to be a mix of online and offline lessons with my students.

I’m very excited to expand my business in that direction and be able to help people I can’t work one-on-one with for whatever reason.

Gratitude and inspiration

Jelle Annaars: I’d just like to say a word of thanks to Copyblogger.

I once was an aspiring copywriter who was desperate to get into the business but had no idea how to go about that.

At a time when it was hard to find people who would invest time and energy in training me, I found Copyblogger and was able to more or less train myself just by reading the blog.

I may well owe my current career to you.

The generous knowledge Copyblogger shares every day is still a huge inspiration.

Find Jelle Annaars online …

Thanks to Jelle for appearing in our Hero’s Journey series.

Do you have questions for him? Ask them in the comments.

We’ll be back next month with another story to teach, inspire, and encourage you along your journey.

The post How to Dig Deep and Discover the Treasure in Your Niche appeared first on Copyblogger.

10 Aug 19:14

Engineering Metrics: Grow Your Business with Outcomes, Not Activity

by Natalie Diggins

Right from the start, Melanie Ziegler knew she wanted to work in engineering. Straight out of college, she began her career journey, moving rapidly through the ranks of innovative engineering teams, first at Texas Instruments and soon thereafter at expansion stage startup Merit Technology in Dallas. Later on, she took on VP roles with a number of software companies including Advanced Visual Systems and VFA at which she led engineering and product development. In 2011, she brought her expansive experience to a new audience when she launched her own consulting firm, MSZ Consulting, LLC, to provide high-impact advisory and leadership services to early-stage and expansion-stage software companies.

The latest in Ziegler’s long list of impressive accomplishments is founding VPE Forum to provide Engineering VPs & CTOs at rapidly growing software companies with a high-caliber peer environment where they can collaborate on solutions and share best practices. “I saw early on that CEOs gained many benefits from having the opportunity to participate in peer groups,” Ziegler says of the inspiration behind VPE Forum. “I felt there was an opportunity to help engineering VPs by providing a trusted and confidential environment where they could get honest insights and advice into how to solve the very real business issues and challenges they were facing.” Since its launch in 2014, VPE Forum has been thriving and consistently helping executive engineering leaders learn and evolve so that they can make important contributions that help the companies they work for grow faster and achieve greater success.

One topic that is continually raised by Engineering leaders Ziegler works with in the VPE Forum is how to overcome the challenge of crafting relevant and useful engineering metrics that the business can use to evaluate success.

The Case Against Productivity Metrics

“Everybody struggles with this,” says Ziegler. CEOs often ask their engineering leaders to report productivity metrics in order to assess Engineering’s contribution to the business. “At the same time, engineering leaders know they can’t accurately measure productivity, their teams know it, and even if they could, they know it’s largely unrelated to the contribution engineering is making to the business.” “One of the main challenges I see is around what I would call activity-based metrics – which, at the end of the day don’t tie back to what’s really important for the business.” The problem stems, Ziegler explains, from the fact that it’s nearly impossible to measure engineering productivity. It’s an age old problem. Years ago the industry established a precedent where VPEs would report on lines of code (LOC) as a performance measurement. Thankfully, the industry has evolved beyond that simplistic and irrelevant metric, but vestiges of that mentality persist. Today, instead of asking for LOC, executives might ask engineering leaders to report on Agile metrics like velocity and story points to measure how much value has been delivered.

All too often engineering leaders deliver these metrics none the less because “Story points and velocity metrics are easy to produce,” Ziegler says, “but they are not terribly meaningful in terms of measuring team productivity. And they convey little about delivered business value. With regards to productivity, the problem is that things shift. The team’s skills make-up, size, engineering consistency, and availability are not constant within a team, never mind across teams. Vacations happen.” The benefit engineering organizations can bring is not about how many story points they delivered or their velocity, it’s about how agile they can be in meeting the changing needs of the business and the customer.

Engineering Metrics that Make Sense

So where should the focus be if it’s not on productivity metrics?

Ziegler says the focus should instead be on business outcomes. “Frankly, the types of metrics CEOs should focus on for engineering are the same types they use to measure the success of other functional areas, be it marketing, sales, or finance – business outcome metrics.” says Ziegler. After all, she points out, “You don’t grow a business on increased activity. You don’t generate revenue by selling story points. You grow a business on outcomes, such as new features delivered that are valued by your customers.”

To determine the most appropriate and meaningful metrics, CEOs and engineering leaders should collaborate to identify and articulate what the business actually cares about that engineering can impact. Is it subscription renewals, international support, features for a new vertical market? Understand the business goals and then define the metrics accordingly. Consider tagging stories in the backlog to the business impact they are intended to serve to make it more visible to all involved.

“Story points delivered do not equate to economic value,” Ziegler says. “Features delivered to enable entry into a new vertical market? That delivers economic value. That’s business impact.”

Another important element of developing sound engineering metrics is to ensure that there’s a strong collaboration between the engineering team and the product team. “Truly great delivered product is the result of a team, a true partnership between product and engineering,” Ziegler explains. “It follows that great metrics are derived from a similar partnership.”

Another challenge lies in balancing the often opposing goals of your development and operations teams. While developers are focused on deploying as much business-enhancing code as possible, the operations team is focused on maximizing up-time, and – conversely – minimizing the risk of breakage and failure that can accompany deployment. To close the gap between these two groups, you have to ensure that both teams are working toward a shared set of outcomes, outcomes that are based on calculated risk and which serve a shared audience and support the overall business strategy.

While Ziegler advocates strongly for this unified and outcome-driven approach, she doesn’t suggest that VPEs throw activity-based metrics out the window. Activity-based metrics are, she says, useful in managing and leading engineering groups. Measuring the team’s velocity, for instance, helps the team determine how much they can take on in an upcoming sprint. The key is to tailor the use of these metrics on a team-by-team basis. “All teams are not created equal,” Ziegler explains. “One team might need to focus more on improving quality, while another might really need to focus on turning up the dial on more effective user interfaces. The metrics you put in place for each of those teams are different.”

Even as she acknowledges the benefit of using activity-based metrics to manage workflow and assess team performance, Ziegler warns against letting those metrics find their way into other parts of the company. “What we don’t want to see as an engineer,” she says, “is the executive leadership looking to measure the engineering organization based on the activity-based goals that the VPE uses to plan the team’s work and drive continual improvement.”

To provide a different perspective – to the engineering team as well as to executives – she recommends evaluating the engineering team’s performance using “big,” outcome-focused questions like:

  • Are you delivering value for the customer?
  • Are you delivering results each quarter that will help grow the business?
  • Are you mitigating risk?
  • Do you know the ROI of the features you’re building?
  • Did you ship when you said you would ship?

These are the kinds of questions that get the engineering team thinking in the context of what their work means to the business.

Examples of Outcome-based Metrics

So, while activity-based metrics have their place, it’s not to help the C-suite measure engineering performance. What kinds of metrics, then, help the engineering team report on productivity and quantify the value they deliver to the organization? Ziegler has several suggestions:

Feature Usage

“One of the best practices I see amongst the collaboration between engineering and product is around defining the metrics that will be used to evaluate if a feature is successful, is being adopted, as was anticipated. After all, wasn’t there an ROI anticipated for the feature?,” Ziegler says. “Before the feature is developed, they identify the measures that define what success will look like for that feature.” In addition to putting focus on the outcome, this future-looking approach also gives the team the ability to engineer in a way to measure its usage. It gets them thinking about who is going to use the feature and for what benefit, about how the customer will define the success of the feature. Thinking about results in these terms helps eliminate situations in which a team has worked hard to develop ten new features, but no one cares: a situation that would demoralize the engineering team. Ziegler says “the resultant data also has the benefit of providing functional areas across the company with the insight they need to maximize the business benefit after initial release – whether it’s additional development that is required, more training or promotion, or any number of other paths.”

Product Scorecard

While Ziegler acknowledges that scorecards can be more qualitative than quantitative, she does see their value when the questions asked tie back to business goals. “Some companies in the VPE Forum use a product scorecard to review the business outcomes of the engineering organization,” she explains. “By having stakeholders from different parts of the company such as Customer Support, Sales, and Professional Services provide inputs, you put emphasis on the results of what has been developed.” Questions that serve well in this capacity focus on things like how easy the feature is to implement, how easy is it to support, how competitive it is, how is the quality, how satisfied are customers, and how complete is it compared to where it needs to be.

Cycle Time

Cycle time measures from the time work starts until the time it’s finished, and Ziegler finds it a great measure of how quickly an engineering team delivers value to the customer. “I don’t really view it as a velocity metric,” she says ”it does measure velocity, but instead of looking only at speed, Ziegler looks at speed in the context of customer value. For instance, if you’re building out a new vertical area for the product, or if you need to work on stats for how quickly you can get something back to the customer – those are the types of things to look at in order to evaluate engineering performance.

Lead Time

The Lead time metric measures from the time a feature is added to the backlog to the time when the engineering team has the capacity to start working on it. It’s essentially how long the feature is aging in the backlog. “In addition to addressing the organization that feels engineering never gets to anything, measuring lead time can provide a lot of insight into engineering team capacity and other ways to attend to a roadmap,” Ziegler says. There’s value, too, in identifying features and functionality that have aged out because that can help the team recognize misaligned priorities. “Looking at lead time can provide insights that generate executive conversations about how investments are being made in the company and what’s really important,” Ziegler says.

Whichever metrics you use, make sure you consider the energy you’ll need to expend tracking them. Can the data you need be collected easily? Make sure that the return you’re getting warrants the effort. And even more importantly, make sure that the metrics you choose ultimately tie back to growth.

As Ziegler rightly points out, “If it’s not about increasing the revenue, achieving high customer satisfaction and growing the business, then why track it?”

“If you’re an engineering leader, my advice to you is think about the business strategy and make sure you develop metrics that tie back to that,” Ziegler says. “If you do that, it will crystallize your thinking around the decisions you make each and every day with your team. It engages your team and visibly ties their efforts directly to the company’s success.” Ziegler also recommends that the VPE market the engineering team to the rest of the organization. “Engineering simply can’t be heads down in their group, doing all the right things for the business, but not letting the business know about it,” she says. “The more visibility and sharing you have, the more the rest of the organization will know that engineering is producing really great things for the company and the customer.” Whether it’s in a newsletter, company meeting or an internal promotional video about a new feature, Ziegler pushes the teams she works with to establish a presence of success within the organization and a palpable sense of things getting done.

“When the company is happy with delivered results, with the business outcomes” she says, “the CEO’s first question to engineering won’t be about their productivity metrics.”

The post Engineering Metrics: Grow Your Business with Outcomes, Not Activity appeared first on OpenView Labs.

10 Aug 19:14

Content And Audio Go Together Like Peas In A Pod(cast)

by Joe Phelan

Marketers are always looking for the next trend; they constantly have their finger resting on the pulse of the industry, keen to keep up with the competition while also seeking new and innovative ways to reach, inspire and engage with an audience.

Podcasts are very much ‘in’ at the moment; for consumers they offer an easy way to digest content, while businesses benefit from being able to take advantage of yet another means of reaching new audiences.

As the process of recording and releasing audio becomes increasingly easy, there really is nothing stopping you from grabbing that microphone and expanding your reach

Advancements in technology – the growing smartphone market being key – also mean podcasts are now far more convenient. The phone takes away the effort of having to actually hunt around for something to listen to by downloading episodes directly to your device as soon as they are released.

Estimates suggest that three in every four UK adults owns a smartphone, and in 2015 they overtook laptops as the most popular device for getting online. Podcasts offer businesses another valuable marketing route that involves genuinely engaging content. As the process of recording and releasing audio becomes increasingly easy, there really is nothing stopping you from grabbing that microphone and expanding your reach.

The rise of the podcast

Global statistics for podcast usage tend to vary from place to place and podcast type to podcast type, though one of the best pictures of the rapid growth of the podcast market is painted by US research from globally renowned analyst Triton.

According to Triton research, the number of Americans over the age of 12 listening to podcasts in 2016 is up by 17% when compared to 2015, while monthly podcast listenership has increased by 75% since 2013. It is estimated that around 21% (or 62.3m) of Americans listen to at least one podcast a month, which is a colossal potential audience when you consider that 21% of Americans use Twitter and 13% use Spotify.

A mobile audience

The way podcasts are consumed has changed in recent years. When podcasts first started growing in popularity they were predominantly listened to via computers or laptops, but in 2016 the vast majority of people – approximately 64% – have taken to listening to their favourite podcasts on a smartphone or tablet.

For marketers, this is significant; it means that they are now able to reach and engage an audience that may otherwise have been lost, such as commuters; people driving to work can listen to podcasts while they are in their car or on the train – a time when other kinds of content marketing might not necessarily work.

The instances where podcasts come into their own are many and varied. Whenever a person is active – at the gym, walking the dog, travelling – a podcast can step into the breach and fill an information void that cannot be occupied by the written word.

A podcast can step into the breach and fill an information void that cannot be occupied by the written word

Be succinct, be exceptional, or be unique

While podcasts give marketers the chance to speak to an audience during circumstances that would not be appropriate with ‘traditional’ content, people are always going to be limited by time constraints. There are still only so many hours in the day that people are willing, or indeed able, to dedicate to acquiring new information, learning or entertainment.

Triton ascertains that 79% of American podcast listeners consume five shows or fewer each week, with 13% saying they listen to between six and ten; only 8% claim to take in 11 shows or more during a seven-day spell.

According to a study carried out by Microsoft, the human attention span has shortened from 12 seconds to eight seconds in just over a decade, a decline which is largely attributed to the increase in digital technology. The research concluded by declaring that the average human now has a shorter attention span than a goldfish (nine seconds, on average), so if you have managed to get to this stage in our blog, give yourself a small round of applause.

Just as with the written word, content is king; nobody wants to be preached at for long periods of time, nor do they want to listen to anything monotonous or boring. Content must be crafted with the listener in mind, which means ensuring that which you produce is free from waffle, is presented in an interesting and concise manner, and refrains from repeating anything that could be found elsewhere. Conversations also work well, especially those had between ‘thought leaders’; podcasts that incorporate discussion are generally regarded as being more engaging and dynamic.

Nobody wants to be preached at for long periods of time, nor do they want to listen to anything monotonous or boring

As with all content – be it a blog, an email, a newsletter or podcast – it is essential to give the audience value. Produce something that people will want to listen to, and then promote it in as many ways as possible to ensure your voice is heard.

Know your audience

As is the case when producing any form of content, it is essential that you know your audience and understand what will appeal to them. Keep that which you produce as unbranded and unbiased as possible and, above all, be interesting! Anyone can record themselves talking, but very few can produce something that will hook a listener in and make them look forward to the next edition of your audio offering.

Anyone can record themselves talking, but very few can produce something that will hook a listener in and make them look forward to the next edition of your audio offering

You will not be able to retain a listenership if what you produce is little more than a glorified sales pitch; give those you are reaching out to information that they will value. Offer them insight and knowledge that they cannot find elsewhere. After all, this is your chance to tell a story in a way your brand might not have tried before.

And remember that by speaking to your audience in a way that treats them with respect you will gain their loyalty, admiration, and potentially even their business. Establishing trust is vital in all elements of content marketing, and a podcast should just be a means of further developing your company as a brand that can be relied upon and is worth dealing with.

10 Aug 19:12

How to Personalize The Sales Process Through Content

by Michael Bouso

Does your sales process meet the needs of today’s empowered buyer? Does your sales team rely on a scattershot approach of cold calls and unsolicited emails? Buyers have become a savvy bunch — they’re willing and able to conduct the research and identify solutions before coming into contact with a salesperson.

If your buyer doesn’t feel that your team has delivered value or insights into their process, they will likely disconnect until they are equipped and ready to negotiate a favorable contract. In order to remain involved in the process, your salespeople must be able to understand the buyer’s intent to deliver content to address it.

The modern buyer is looking to minimize friction in the sales process — just look at recent news on bots emerging from Google I/O & F8. While these bots might not be ready to replace sales professionals, they are going to disrupt the way in which buyers interact with salespeople. Buyers will still demand access to your content, however, they may come to prefer to engage with bots early in the process in much the same way that modern buyers research via Google or Youtube.

Consistent Personalization

Taking an increasingly strategic approach, top firms are enabling their salesforce with data-driven content. According to Forbes Insights, 44% of top performing organizations recognize the critical role of content. Dan Smoot, Salesforce executive vice-president, noted, “Content creates high-value conversations. In a world where information is readily available online, high-value conversations are more important than ever.”

As we all know, every buyer has different needs, which requires a sales team that can actively produce content from existing assets to personalize for each buyer. The more personalized the content, the better it will be received in a world of generic mass emails and an endless barrage of content.

As your sales team develops more autonomy, you need to assure that your messaging remains consistent. Regardless of where the buyer is in the journey, the information and the proposition must be one in the same; the transition from a marketing to the sales must be seamless. This handover doesn’t just create credibility and build trust for your business, it also strengthens the message in every step.

Anticipate Through Content

Today’s buyers demand relevancy and substance from your content. That’s why you need to make sure your prospective buyer will see the value in the content you send them. Your sales team must be a couple of steps ahead of your prospect and anticipate the kind questions they may have along every step of the sales cycle. This is why sales enablement technologies matter. Forbes Insights reports that 59% of leading companies have sales enablement tools that help them customize their message to each audience segment. These platforms (armed with analytics) allow companies to plan effective content to engage every customer at a personal level.

Accessibility is Imperative

Finally, there is the issue of accessibility. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your content is, if your sales reps can’t get a hold of it in time, it’s pointless. You must ensure that the information your sales team needs is, literally, one click away. This is another reason why many successful organizations turn to sales enablement. Aside from an avenue to create or curate content, it also serves as a repository where marketing and sales can organize their content.

Think of these two possible scenarios: Your client asks you for the most recent case study. You excuse yourself and waste 15-20 minutes checking the files in your computer. Desperate, you email your marketing executive for the information your client wants. Then you wait another 15 minutes for a response. By the time you give the case study to your client, he is no longer interested. With a sales enablement solution, you can readily present the information to your client within minutes of him asking for it. Not only did you answer your client’s need, you did so efficiently and with ease.

The buying process has changed dramatically, throughout the years. As buyers become more intelligent in navigating the buyer’s journey, there is an increasing challenge to adapt to this ever-changing environment. Whether you view this as a hurdle or an opportunity is completely up to you.

10 Aug 19:12

How B2B Marketers Can Rise Above Roadblocks with Influencer Marketing

by Joshua Nite

Roadblocks-Influencer-Marketing

As the old joke goes, there are two seasons in my home state of Minnesota: Winter and Road Construction. Right now, we are smack in the middle of the latter.

I’m a guy who doesn’t like pony-sized potholes on my streets. So I try to make peace with the endless lane changes, reroutes, and slow-downs. But sometimes it seems like they go out of their way to mess up our routines, doesn’t it?

If you’re a B2B marketer, you may feel similar desperation looking at your marketing channels. It seems like every route between you and your audience is getting blocked or traffic jammed. Organic social visibility is way down: Each Facebook post you make will reach between 2-6% of your followers. A quarter of those who might be interested in your display ads are using ad blockers. Your content can only engage readers if they can find it, and there’s a lot of commodity content clogging the roads.

What’s the best way to navigate the stops and jams? Do what you wish you could do on the road: Rise above it.

Instead of dodging detours and fuming in traffic, reach your buyers via the people they’re already listening to. [Keep reading for a chance to win a free ticket to the conference!]

The Solution: Influencer Content

Lee Odden LinkedIn

To help marketers understand how to approach (and get more out of) influencer marketing, TopRank Marketing’s CEO Lee Odden will be presenting influencer content best practices to attendees at this year’s Überflip Experience.

 

Session Details
Date: August 25, 2016
Time: 10:50am
Session Title: Winfluencer Marketing: How B2B Companies Are Winning Hearts & Minds with Influencer Content

Session Description: 

Word of mouth is still the most powerful form of advertising and recommendations from friends, peers and experts hold valuable influence in the mind of business buyers. Losing business to content overload, disappearing organic social visibility and the effects of ad blocking, B2B marketers are looking for better ways to attract, engage and
convert new business.

This presentation will provide the strategy, tools, and tactics for developing an integrated influencer content program that will put points on your ROI scoreboard.

Attendees will learn: 

  • The fundamentals of organic and paid influencer recruiting
  • Creative ways to engage influencers to co-create content
  • Top influencer marketing platforms and tools
  • How to maintain influencer relationships between campaigns

Snackable Q&A with Lee Odden: What is the most compelling reason for B2B companies to start influencer marketing?

“Buyers are tired of being bombarded by salesy brand content and more than 50% say they don’t trust advertising (Nielsen). What they do trust are peers, experts and influencers in their networks. By developing relationships with industry influencers to collaborate on content, B2B companies can scale the quantity of quality content they produce, boost their credibility and influence, differentiate from the competition and substantially extend their reach – all without a substantial increase in budget.”

3 Elements of Successful Influencer Marketing Programs

Create a Strategy for Influencer Alignment

All influencers are not created equal, but everyone is influential about something. It’s your job as a marketer to identify what it is that your customers care about and find influencers that align with those needs.

In addition to finding influencers that align with customer needs, they also should align with your brand message and marketing goals. Influencers that are properly aligned are much more likely to promote the content that you create together.

Develop Relationships with Influencers

Some brands hire influencers as a one-time, strictly business exchange. That’s fine, to a certain point, but developing ongoing relationships with influencers is better for everyone in the long run. Here are some easy tips to begin building relationships:

  1. Add Value First. Don’t propose on the first date. And definitely don’t propose before then, either. Start by following influencers on social media, commenting on their shares, and sharing their work with your audience. Provide value first.
  2. Start with an Easy Ask. Asking for a quick quote is a good way to begin an influencer relationship. It’s a low effort/high reward proposition, far easier than asking for an hour-long interview or a 1,000-word blog post.
  3. Make Promotion Easy. Many influencers are incredibly busy, make sure to provide them with the necessary tools to promote the content that you co-created.
  4. Follow up, Follow up, and then Follow up. Stay current with your influencers. Congratulate them when they make the news. Keep promoting their content. Show genuine interest even when (especially when) you don’t need something from them.

Don’t Just Collaborate, Co-Create

There’s no bonding experience quite like joining forces to create something cool. The influencers who are willing to truly co-create with you are far more likely to create with you in the future, promote you to their audience, and introduce you to other influencers.

The Cure for Content Traffic Jams

If your usual routes to reach your audience are blocked, influencers can help your content fly over the obstacles. Even a little influencer collaboration can go a long way. And once you start building relationships and regularly co-creating awesome content over time, the sky isn’t even the limit.

If you’re ready to rise above, join Lee at the Überflip Experience in Toronto, August 24th and 25th. Our President, Sue Misukanis, will also be there to answer any questions you might have. And our Director of Agency Marketing, Ashley Zeckman, will be attending and live-blogging sessions.

I know what you’re thinking: “But I don’t have a ticket!” Well, we can help with that.

If you’d like to win a conference pass (does not include flight and hotel) that is worth over $800, all you need to do is answer the question below in the comments. We are looking for the most creative response so give it your all!

What is a creative or innovative way that B2B marketers can use influencers to create awesome content?

Make sure to include your Twitter handle in your response. The winner will be announced on Friday, August 12th.


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© Online Marketing Blog - TopRank®, 2016. | How B2B Marketers Can Rise Above Roadblocks with Influencer Marketing | http://www.toprankblog.com

The post How B2B Marketers Can Rise Above Roadblocks with Influencer Marketing appeared first on Online Marketing Blog - TopRank®.

10 Aug 19:10

How to Build a Cash Converting Marketing Funnel [Infographic]

by Louis Foong

Ask any business owner which resource they want to have more of, and they are almost guaranteed to tell you that they’d love to have more time or money. There are a lot of gadgets, apps, and processes currently being used that are designed to help business owners make better use of the time that they have, and many of these can also help them out on the money front as well. Implementing great marketing automation is not only a time-saver but can also be a great profit-booster – if it’s done right. This infographic from eliv8 outlines a 7-step formula that will help your business create a high-converting automated marketing funnel. Let’s see what they recommend.

Step 1. Product/Market Fit.

Does your product really fit the market? Does your solution really make sense for the audience that you’re targeting? The first step is to really understand your solution and your audience and to make sure that there is a real fit.

Step 2. Choose Your Traffic Source. You have a few choices here. Paid ads, targeted traffic through sites like Google or Facebook, SEO, email marketing, content marketing, local search – there is no shortage of options. Traffic is the easy part, the real trick is to make sure that the rest of your funnel is in place once your audience sees your advertising.

Step 3. Offer a Lead Magnet. Once people click on your ad, give them a hook to hang on to. Create a specific, irresistible offer that qualified leads can take advantage of in exchange for their contact information. A great way to do this is to build an eye-catching landing page – this is also helpful in capturing cold traffic. You can offer a free webinar, video, e-book, promotion, whatever you like. Just make sure that it provides real value.

Step 4. Offer a Tripwire. What’s a tripwire? It’s a low-ticket offer designed to capture as many new buyers as possible. It’s not going to net you the most money per customer, but it will help you to convert a lot of first-time buyers. This is actually more important – it’s a lot harder to get money from someone the first time. Once they’ve already purchased from you, they’re far more likely to do it again.

Step 5. Offer a Core Product or Service. At this point, your new customer has given you their contact information and taken advantage of your great tripwire offer. If they’re with you this far, they are likely interested in your core offering. So remind them what you’re selling!

Step 6. Offer a Profit Maximizer. Profit maximizers include things like 1-click upsells, bundles, subscriptions, memberships, cross-sells, and high-ticket items. Offering maximizers that provide value to loyal customers is a great way to increase the average transaction value per customer.

Step 7. Create a Return Path. No matter how amazing your product or service, customers aren’t going to immediately say yes to every offer you send them – and that’s okay. A return path will allow you to keep in contact with your would-be customer using frequent, strategic communication that inspires them to revisit your website or offer. Loyalty programs, content marketing, and social media reminds your audience that you’re still around and still offering some great solutions.

How to Build a Cash Converting Marketing Funnel

10 Aug 19:10

What Canada could learn from a Dutch self-build housing movement

by Leah McLaren
Almere Poort, The Netherlands. (Adrienne Norman)

Almere Poort, The Netherlands. (Adrienne Norman)

Many Western countries, Canada, the U.S. and Britain among them, are currently facing a housing crisis when it comes to middle- to low-income residents. A combination of soaring real estate values, high rents, stagnant wages and a premium on urban space have conspired in recent years to make it difficult for regular working people to acquire stable, affordable family housing. It seems the Dutch—known for their industriousness as well as their love of cycling and social liberalism—may have hit upon a surprising solution in the form of radical DIY.

After the devastating financial effects of the 2008 market crash shut down property development in the Netherlands, the Dutch government decided to encourage the notion of self-built housing—i.e. new homes, often constructed in large-scale developments, but financed and customized by private individuals (not developers) with help from government stimulus schemes. While the Canadian and British governments offer first-time buyers certain advantages and incentives (for instance, the right to borrow against any RRSPs in Canada), the Dutch government has, for nearly the past decade, heavily subsidized private investment in new housing projects for middle- to low-income buyers. Similar schemes exist in Germany, Austria, France and Italy as well, but in the Netherlands, self-build now accounts for a third of all homes purchased.

The world headquarters of the self-build movement is the small Dutch city of Almere, in a district called Oosterwold. A hub of radical social planning, Almere is also one of the most rapidly expanding cities in Western Europe. After the financial crisis, when development ground to a halt, the city government embarked on projects geared at providing new housing for families earning less than $29,000 a year.

Under the Almere Poort housing project, private individuals can purchase a plot of land from the government and easily secure a mortgage with a small down payment. After that, Almere residents can build their own customized house (with the help of qualified tradespeople of course) according to basic government standards. The result is a small city of some 190,000 in which the majority of residents live in houses they designed and oversaw the building of themselves. The idea, according to the city government, was to foster a new direct relationship between individuals and the local authority, cutting out developers, who often scoop up large plots of residentially zoned land and act as middle men, pumping up local real estate prices.

The success of Almere has become a fascination for innovative city planners across Europe, and the reason is not just its past success but future ambition. The Oosterwold project is not just a collection of houses but a community that’s part of a 30- to 50-year plan for the development of the outskirts of the entirety of Almere. As Jeroen Zuidgeest, one of the self-build architects who help develop the basic rules on irrigation, road planning and building codes, told the Guardian last year, “It means you are not simply building a house and a garden but also part of the infrastructure, part of the energy network and so on. The most important rule is that you have more liberty and also more responsibility for the development of Oosterwold.”

The theory behind self-build is fairly radical, however, in that it transgresses many of the common zoning and restrictions in countries like Canada and Britain. Looking at the results, these communities might be not be, aesthetically speaking, to everyone’s taste. Self-built designs have a somewhat inconsistent feel that architectural critics might describe as “higgledy piggledy,” or worse, “a dog’s breakfast.” Since the Victorian era and the rise of middle-class housing developments, there has been a conventionally accepted notion in the West that housing facades ought to be more or less aesthetically consistent in terms of design and scope.

But self-build projects across Europe also embrace the idea that people will naturally build what’s best for themselves and their local community if strongly invested from the outset. It’s a notion that runs contrary to the paternalistic view of past social housing projects, i.e. that developers and urban planners are in a unique position to figure out what’s best for low-income families—rather than the low-income individuals themselves.

In any case, the Dutch are doing it their own way and other countries are following suit. Britain has plans to build roughly 20,000 new self-build homes in the coming months and one Tory MP, Richard Bacon, has been crusading around the country promoting the idea that self-build will effectively “break open the oligopoly of companies who control housing development,” and “offer financial help and housing for poorer people.”

Could Vancouver be far behind?

The post What Canada could learn from a Dutch self-build housing movement appeared first on Macleans.ca.

10 Aug 19:10

Why Salespeople Need To Be Therapists, Not Doctors

by Conner Burt

sales-therapists-not-doctors.jpg

On average, account executives selling software with a small or average annual contract value conduct two to three new meetings each day. Over the course of a year, that’s upwards of 600 appointments. We see most account executives make one crucial mistake as they approach these meetings.

But first, let me say that most modern salespeople recognize that buyers have more power than ever before. Fueled by the growth of the internet and freedom of information, customers are more informed than they’ve ever been. Sales teams have risen to the occasion as the increase in consultative and Challenger selling can attest. These trends reveal how much the modern seller needs to do right by their customers.

But the crucial mistake that we see comes down to this: Modern salespeople view themselves as doctors, not therapists.

When you walk into the doctor’s office, you have no idea what you need. Yes, you have a symptom or two, and maybe you went to WebMD to research your problems, but you’re walking in entirely uninformed. The doctor will ask a few questions, check you out, give a diagnosis with a solution, and you take the doctor’s word as truth.

Most modern sales professionals live in this mindset.

In reality, we’re more like therapists. Their job starts and ends with questions. Questions are the only tool they have. They ask, you answer. They read your body language and ask second-level questions. They interpret what you mean when you’re not clear, and ask a different way to gain clarity.

The best therapists get their patients thinking about things they didn’t consider before. They help connect dots in areas that once seemed scattered. They provide a solution by leading the patient to the answers, not necessarily prescribing them.

This is the philosophy that should guide the modern sales professional.

If you agree, I challenge you to think about your discovery process and the conversations you have. Are you a therapist or are you a doctor? Because like it or not, the buyer will prefer the former.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you build rapport quickly? Does the prospect trust you?
  2. When you listen to recordings of your calls, who’s doing the most talking? Like any good therapist, you should talk less. Try getting to 30% you, 70% your prospect.
  3. Do you get responses like: “That’s a great question”; “I hadn’t thought about it that way”; and “How do your other clients solve the problem?”
  4. Do you understand their business as well as the prospect does? And can you recite their hopes, dreams, and fears?

If you’re not a therapist yet, you can be. As you approach discovery calls, work on these skills one at a time until you’ve mastered them.

1) Preparation

Never come into a call cold if you can help it. Use the tools your company provides to learn as much about the business and your specific prospect as possible. By preparing, you spend less time on basic surface-level questions and gain credibility quicker. Rapportive and Mattermark are two tools we use that can help you get started.

2) Asking good second-level questions.

Second-level questions allow you to peel the layers of your prospect’s problem, and both parties gain value. Often, they start with “why?”. Here are some examples:

  • Why is that a challenge?
  • If you don’t make a change now, what will happen?
  • Why does this align with the business’s strategic objectives?
  • Why haven’t you done X or Y in the past?

Learning about the prospect doesn’t stop after the first call. Try to go deeper with each step in the process, learning a bit at a time.

3) Taking a human approach to problem-solving in sales.

Consider how you act outside of work with family, friends, or a significant other. When they bring a problem to you, how quickly do you propose a solution? How do they usually react to that?

Work on asking better questions and delaying your diagnosis in everyday conversations. You aren’t trying to merely sell to your family and friends, you are trying to help them. This mentality should bleed over into your job.

In those roughly 600 meetings each year, use this repetition to your advantage. Build your therapist muscles and focus on how your questions are affecting your prospects. Not only will your prospects appreciate you more, but you’ll close more deals in the process.

HubSpot CRM

10 Aug 19:08

Personalize, Standardize, Automize: Striking the Right Balance with Data Science

by Rachel Serpa

As part of an industry built on a foundation of effective communication and influential relationships, salespeople sometimes think of data science as their worst enemy. Data science is often seen as an evil overlord, lurking over reps’ shoulders and reporting back on their every move to their supervisors. And then, of course, there’s the concern that eventually data science and machines will become so advanced that they will replace sales teams in their entirety.

Well, fear not. The truth is that there is no substitute for the human element in sales, and that data science can actually improve reps’ performance, make them more productive and help them develop better relationships with their prospects. As we’ll see, when used correctly, data science can strike an effective balance between helping reps personalize, standardize and automize key actions and activities.

Personalize

It’s no surprise that people respond better to content and communications when they’re tailored to their personal needs and interests. In fact, a recent study shows that personalized emails deliver 6X higher transaction rates than generic messages; however, the same study also shows that only 30% of companies actually personalize their emails. Hey, nobody said personalization was easy! Companies like PersistIQ are leading the way as they’re encouraging reps to pump the brakes with automation and bring the human element back to sales.

One of the biggest roadblocks when it comes to personalization in sales is the time it takes reps to research a prospect and tailor each piece of individual communication. What’s more, data by nature is messy and more often than not is spread across various disparate systems within a single organization, making it difficult to get a complete, consolidated view. Enter data science.

New technologies and tools are emerging every day that make it easy for reps to learn about their prospects and reach out with personalized messages. Take MadKudu, for example, a company that monitors prospects’ in-app behavior and gives reps a detailed breakdown of their free trial usage. Having this kind of information makes all the difference between sending an email like this:

Note 1 - non-personalized message

Or like this:

Note 2 - personalized message

Data science also helps to give reps a full picture of prospect and customer activities and interactions by merging information from across company platforms. This single view can highlight otherwise unseen opportunities for customized outbound sales and better-informed communications. For instance, with the new Base and Zendesk integration, sales reps can view customers’ open and past Zendesk tickets directly within Base’s contact and deal cards. This single view ensures that reps are not reaching out to customers for upsells in the middle of a support issue.

Standardize

While it’s important to personalize interactions with prospects and customers, the ability to standardize certain protocols and processes is invaluable to business success. One of the most important procedures for any company to standardize is its sales process, which outlines the exact steps reps must take to move a deal from one stage of the sales pipeline to the next.

Having a formalized sales process in place is proven to lead to a 65% increase in reps hitting their individual targets and an 88% increase in companies hitting their overall goals. But how does a team know if its sales process is right for the business, and how can it tell when and what changes should be made?

Using data and sales science, the effectiveness of a sales process can be accurately measured by mapping each step to the Sales Formula. The Sales Formula provides a consistent and reliable way to evaluate sales strategy over time across the key conversion points needed to turn a lead into a closed deal. While a business may adapt the formula to suit its own unique pipeline and process, the baseline formula and definitions for its variables is as follows:

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 1.30.15 PM

Mapping a sales process to this formula may look something like this:

Base_Sales Formula_Sales Process

By dynamically analyzing hundreds of deals and processes using this same formula, data science will uncover variabilities in sales performance that lead to actionable insights. For example, you may discover that reps who have an onsite meeting sooner in the sales process are 2X as likely to close as those who have these meetings later. Or, perhaps deals where Demo 2 was shown instead of Demo 1 made it through the pipeline in half the time. Both of these discoveries provide the opportunity to standardize these proven practices within the sales process, ultimately saving reps time and setting them up for success.

Science can and should be applied to the sales process. We can go on and on about this. Also note that other dimensions (lead source, industry, contact title, etc.) of sales performance can be measured using this same formula to understand, optimize and standardize other key initiatives like lead scoring.

For reps to consistently execute against their sales process, and for managers to test and continuously refine their strategy, they must be using the latest sales technology that gives full visibility into the daily operations of the sales team.

Automize

While technology will never be able to replace the human element of sales, there are definitely some tasks that data science can automate to make sales teams more effective and efficient. One of these is sales reporting and intelligence.

Traditionally, sales reporting has been a meticulous, time-consuming exercise requiring sales leaders to spend days crunching numbers and rolling up reports in Excel. Sure, these reports might find their way to the frontlines of the business, but once they do, who’s to say they’re the most recent or most accurate versions?

Consider the following statistics:

  • 60% of sales leaders have to wait for someone to give them access to their data
  • 38% have to use 4+ systems to keep track of their goals and priorities
  • Just 31% can view their data in a single dashboard

This poses a huge problem in today’s fast-paced, data-driven market where reps need to have real-time information to independently track progress and make more strategic decisions. Fortunately, data science has the power to seamlessly capture and process big data from across multiple sources in real time. This leads to visual dashboards and out-of-the-box reports that can be made available to each and every person on the sales team.

Jump into your outbound sales platform and see how your efforts are doing at the top of your funnel. Is Email Template A outperforming Email Template B? Does starting out with a call touch work better than a cold email? There are many critical factors for outbound sales success.

PersistIQ sales campaign summary

Diving into your CRM, at a higher level, you can look at your opportunities and stage conversion by owner. This provides much insight into pipeline health and sales team performance.

Base CRM Sales reporting

Now reps are able to get their hands on the reports they need when they need them, like sales goals, forecasts, call outcomes and more. Rather than entering 1:1s and being told they didn’t send enough emails, are performing at the bottom of the pack or are missing out on deals with the best lead source, reps can monitor data and manage performance on their own.

Striking a Balance

As a rep, seeing how data science can benefit you personally and help solve your day-to-day challenges may seem like a stretch. But the reality is that data science really can help you personalize, standardize and automize the key processes and procedures impacting your sales performance. If you’d like to learn more, check out this free eBook, From Art to Science: 5 Steps to Predictable Sales Growth.

10 Aug 19:07

8 Ways to Turn Skeptical Prospects Into True Believers

by afrost@hubspot.com (Aja Frost)

turn-skeptical-buyer-into-true-believer.jpg

Have you met a “Suspicious Stewart”? That’s sales expert Grant Cardone’s nickname for a type of buyer who really makes you work to earn his trust. Stewart is a critical thinker, meaning he’ll question everything you say. If you don’t shoot from the hip at all times, you’ll probably lose his confidence -- and the deal with it.

Working with this type of buyer poses some unique challenges. But there’s an upside: If you can convert a skeptic into a true believer, you know they’re really on your side.

Read on for eight ways to win over a doubtful buyer.

1) Avoid Jargon and Buzzwords

Stay far away from jargon and filler words. Skeptical buyers are always on high alert for things that sound good yet but don’t mean anything -- so using fancy lingo will convince them that you are, in fact, full of it.

What you say: “Our cost-effective solution is specifically engineered to meet your needs.”

What they hear: “Blah blah blah.”

To see whether your statement passes the “no B.S.” test, reword it without any buzzwords, acronyms, or industry terms. If you can’t put it in everyday language, it’s probably all jargon, no meaning.

2) Reference Case Studies and Testimonials

A dubious prospect might not trust you, but they will trust other customers -- who they usually view as less biased. Bring in case studies and testimonials when relevant, including when you’re first reaching out, when you’re discussing potential use cases, when you’re demonstrating credibility, and so on.

(Want more detailed instructions? Check out our guide to using case studies in the sales process.)

If you’re fortunate enough to have multiple case studies and testimonials, reference only the most relevant ones. A skeptical buyer won’t be overly swayed by a success story from a company totally different from his own.

3) Bring In Plenty of Evidence

You know what they say -- numbers don’t lie. Skeptical prospects typically see your point when it's backed by by cold, hard data.

So next time you find yourself making a generic value statement, reinforce it with some statistics. Don’t have any stats? You probably shouldn’t be making that claim.

Here’s an example of how you’d reframe a value statement:

Bad: “Our tool streamlines internal communication.”

Better: “Our tool reduces the average number of daily emails sent per employee by 25%.”

Best: “Eighty-nine percent of our customers see each employee sending around 25% fewer emails per day. For instance, Greenwood Supply’s average employee used to send 60 messages every day. Now, they send 45.”

4) Be Specific 

On a similar note, steer clear of vague or hypothetical statements. Use the “who, what, when, where, and how” rule to guide what you say -- if your statement doesn’t answer those five questions, it’s not specific enough.

Take this sample line: “Our platform is really easy to install.”

It fails to answer every question but the “what.” Here’s a much more specific version:

The platform will only take you -- or anyone else on your team with admin computer privileges -- roughly 20 minutes to install on your servers. Since the download won’t affect normal operations, you can do it anytime. We’ve also got a dedicated implementation specialist to walk you through the process.”

As you can see, adding a couple details makes the claim far more persuasive.

5) Directly Answer Their Questions

You might be able to get away with evading questions from regular prospects (although we'd never advise it). However, when you pull the same trick with skeptical prospects, they’ll definitely notice -- and it'll make them suspicious.

To avoid seeming shady, always give buyers a straight answer. For instance, if they ask which integrations your platform supports, don't dodge their question by bringing up your API and how simple to configure it is.

Tangents and misdirections will make them think that you're hiding something or are only interested in pushing your own agenda.

This policy applies even when you’re facing a tough question. Sure, admitting that your company has had some quality issues lately won’t be easy, but you’ll gain the buyer’s respect.

6) Always Provide Context

Doubtful prospects don’t take anything at face value. Win their trust by giving them plenty of context -- and letting them make up their minds for themselves.

Imagine you’re discussing the features of your visitor management system. If you were speaking to a normal prospect, they might accept, “You’ll save a ton of time by pre-registering your office visitors.”

But to a skeptical prospect, you’d have to explain: “We added the pre-registration option after noticing how many users would book their visitors hours in advance, just to save the hassle of doing it when the person actually came in.”

This technique also comes in handy during agenda-setting. When you call a prospect, start with, “Hey Jane, here’s why I called … ” They’ll appreciate the no-nonsense approach.

7) Use Your Commonalities

Who are you more likely to trust: The stranger wearing a shirt for your favorite band, or the stranger wearing a plain top? Yup, probably the fellow fan.

“In-group bias is a phenomenon where people favor members of groups they belong to,” explains HubSpot sales blog editor Leslie Ye. “Rapport isn’t enough to close deals on its own, but if you can find a point of commonality, use it to your advantage.”

The key to this technique: Keep it natural. If you’re only “meh” about Mediterranean food, don’t tell the prospect you eat falafel every night just to force a connection. It’ll only take a couple questions for the truth to come out -- and then the buyer will trust you even less than before.

8) Tell It Like It Is

Some prospects respond extremely well to bluntness. If they express their skepticism with phrases like, “Don’t beat around the bush with me … ” or “You say that now, but I’m not sure I believe you … ”, match their style.

Here's an example to give you an idea:

Before: Your website looks good, but I have some suggestions that’ll make it even stronger.

After: You’re likely losing leads because your website looks out-of-date. I have some suggestions for making it more current.

And here's another:

Before: Since you’re just getting started with remarketing, I’d suggest the Basic plan.

After: In my opinion, you won’t get your money’s worth out of Pro. Most of our customers who haven’t done remarketing before only use the Pro features that you can also get with Basic.

Caveat: Being direct doesn’t mean being rude. If you’d be embarrassed to say something in front of your grandparents, keep your lips zipped.

Next time you meet a prospect who’s highly skeptical, don’t write them off. You may have to work a little harder to show them you’re trustworthy -- but once you do, you’ll have won their loyalty for a long time.

Email tool in HubSpot CRM

10 Aug 19:07

Convert Every Time with Strong, Creative Lead Forms: 4 Great Examples

by Tom DeVoto

Lead forms are like eyebrows – you only pay attention if they look really good or really bad.

Odds are you’re not getting attention for having the worst lead forms around, since they are pretty hard to mess up. At the same time, though, it’s just as hard to create a strong lead form that consistently converts for your company.

The only way to figure out how to do a better job of converting leads is to test a variety of different variables. Here are a few different elements of your lead form that can be effectively tested, and some of the companies that have found success with various methods.

1. Amount of information

This is pretty simple – You can either ask for a lot of information in your lead form, or keep it simple with just a few fields to fill out. The amount of information for which you ask in a lead form is largely dependent on the product or service that is being offered.

For example, if your lead form is a call-to-action encouraging blog subscription at the bottom of a post, you might not need to ask for more than a name and an email. If the lead form is connected to a helpful, lengthy PDF marketed to people lower in your sales funnel, it might be more appropriate to ask for more information from your potential customers.

Drift, a messaging software company based in Boston, has an incredibly simple blog subscription lead form. The form asks for only an email address, and it also lays out exactly what a reader will not get upon subscribing.

drift.PNG

So they’ve eliminated two of the biggest pet peeves people have when subscribing to blogs, and they’ve given the reader minimal work to confirm their subscription. Considering that over 8,000 people subscribe to Drift’s blog, they must be doing something right.

2. Location

Do you want to present your consumer with a lead form at the very beginning, in the middle of their experience, or closer to the very end?

There are a few benefits for each option. If you put the lead form at the beginning of the consumer’s experience – say, a quiz or an assessment – you get it out of the way early and let the person know up front what is required of them.

If you put the lead form at the end of the consumer’s journey, you can tease him or her with the entire quiz but then withhold the results until the lead form is filled out.

This assessment from HotSchedules, for example, tests how well a store owner is managing employee schedules. After completing a six-question quiz (and, thus, demonstrating serious interest in the results), the participant is prompted to complete the following lead form.

hotschedule.PNG

3. Level of Fun / Creativity

Who ever said lead forms had to be boring?

Most lead forms are the same – dull, drab, and just a formality. But don’t fear – It’s easy to make yours stand out from the crowd and convert.

Andrew Littlefield, creator of One For the Swipe File, does an excellent job of this. At the bottom of each blog post, he attaches a lead form for readers to subscribe to his blog. He asks for the reader’s name and email, of course, but then he also asks what the one movie you would watch for the rest of your life would be.

oftsf.PNG

Now, if you were on the fence about filling out the form, I bet you’re hooked.

By throwing in a fun question like that, you get a sense of the lighthearted tone of Andrew’s blog, you get a sense that he actually reads each individual response, and, in all likelihood, you’re more likely to complete the form.

In addition to the fields to be filled out, you can also get creative with the CTA button on your lead form. It doesn’t need to be as simple as “subscribe” or “confirm,” and often a more creative CTA button can be more effective.

One of the most effective uses of this comes from Lianna Patch, founder of Punchline Conversion Copywriting. The name of the newsletter is “Just the Tips” and her CTA button reads “Give it to me,” so there’s an obvious underlying comedic theme here.

punchline.PNG

Test, Test, Test

The only way to really know if any of these variables will be effective is to test them on your own site. Don’t just blindly adopt any of these methods simply because they worked for other companies – past success for one individual will not guarantee future results for you.

So get out there, curious marketer, and A/B test until your heart can A/B test no longer. Think outside the box (or inside it, if it’s more appropriate for you). Show us what you can come up with!

09 Aug 17:08

10 signs someone is lying to you

by Mike Nudelman and Jacquelyn Smith

Chances are, you get lied to multiple times on a daily basis. But the good news is, spotting a fib isn't as difficult as you might think — so long as you know the signs.

Behavioral analyst and body language expert Dr. Lillian Glass, who has worked with the FBI on unmasking signals of deception, says when trying to figure out if someone is being dishonest, you'll need to pay careful attention to their facial expressions, body language, and speech patterns, she writes in her book "The Body Language of Liars."

Here are the telltale signs:

BI_Graphics_10 signs someone is lying to you

SEE ALSO: 7 signs someone's not listening to you

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: We asked Siri the most existential question ever and she had a lot to say

09 Aug 17:02

9 Inspiring Quotes That Sum Up What Modern-Day Salespeople Need to Do to Succeed

by dkhim@hubspot.com (David Ly Khim)

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The way buyers buy has changed dramatically. Prospects no longer need to speak to a single human being in order to make an intelligent purchasing decision. So where do you fit in? According to Forrester Research, salespeople who can’t adapt to these changes in buyer behavior will become obsolete by 2020.

These quotes from sales experts shed light on what needs to change and how you can be a better salesperson to build trust, become your prospects’ consultant of choice, and close more deals.

1) “Stop selling. Start helping.” -Zig Ziglar, bestselling author, salesman, and motivational speaker

It’s timeless advice that applies now more than ever. Pushy salespeople who focus only on selling, not helping their prospects buy, will lose deals. The helpful rep shall inherit the earth.

Action Step:

Sign up for the Inbound Sales Certification which walks you through how to execute a consultative sales process.

2) "The single biggest reason salespeople don't do enough business is: They don't speak to enough people. They don't speak to enough people because they fear rejection. They fear rejection because they don't know how much rejection they need. And they don't know how much rejection they need, because they don't know what they personally need: they have no goals, plans or direction for their lives or careers." -Warren Greshes, serial entrepreneur and bestselling author

With over 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur, Greshes understands the pain of rejection. However, if you want to succeed in sales, you can’t let rejection deter you.

Action Step:

Fear of rejection is a major sales weakness, says HubSpot VP of Sales Pete Caputa. Check out Caputa’s post for tips on how to overcome this fear and start hitting the phones.

3) “Internalize the Golden Rule of sales that says: All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.” -Bob Burg, bestselling author of The Go-Giver and Endless Referrals

Buyers can find all the information they need online. As a salesperson, your goal is to build trust and rapport and help them find the solution that best fits their needs.

Action Step:

Save your seat for Inbound Sales Day to learn tactics to build trust with your prospects, just like how doctors build trust with their patients.

4) “Selling breaks rapport, educating builds it. Stop selling and start educating!” -Chet Holmes, founder and former CEO of Chet Holmes International

5) “The world has had enough of pushy sales tactics. When you come from a place of service with your prospect’s best interest in mind, your whole business improves. Your customers become raving fans, they walk around like billboards bringing you business, and they stick with you forever. Ultimately it’s about serving, not selling." -Amanda Holmes, CEO of Chet Holmes International

6) "To become a great sales professional, I had to first change my daily routine. I stopped checking emails in the morning, which were other people's priorities, and started being customer-centric. Start your day by thinking strategically on how you can help one customer better navigate their buying journey - what can you teach them today that they didn't understand yesterday?" -Jamie Shanks, CEO of Sales For Life

7) "Sales is really as simple as getting your leads to ask questions and focusing on answering them, while leading them to the best solution that you are currently aware of; even if that is not with your company." -Josh Harcus, author of A Closing Culture

Action Step:

What challenges do your prospects or customers have that your product can’t help with? How can you educate them to help solve those challenges? What solutions exist that you can provide them? Provide prospects with the best recommendation for their needs, even if it isn’t your product. Educate and build trust.

8) “The best thing salespeople can do to get better is second-level research. Second-level research is researching the industry of their prospects, including the issues, challenges, players, regulations, its evolution, origins, end users, etc. We're not expert enough in the industries we sell to, so it makes it hard to be seen as credible. Less focus in, more focus out.” -Keenan, CEO of A Sales Guy, Inc.

9) "With all the free data that's available to us, salespeople are expected to do their due diligence about a prospect and have some familiarity before they ever starting writing an email or picking up the phone. The salespeople who can do this effectively will be the most successful. The lazy ones will become obsolete." -Max Altschuler, CEO of Sales Hacker

Action Step:

Get the tools and tactics Altschuler uses to effectively research prospects. Save your seat for Inbound Sales Day to learn from Max.

Inspired by these quotes? Hear these entrepreneurs and many more at Inbound Sales Day. Claim your seat today and get a full day of exclusive material on the selling tactics that built multi-million dollar companies.

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09 Aug 16:51

Marketing Automation Missed Its Mark & And Why That’s A Good Thing

by David Crane

How_Marketing_Automation_missed_the_mark.pngOnly a few years ago, most marketing automation vendors were sprinting to expand their cloud offerings.

It was an intense race: most major vendors wanted to be the first all-in-one, customer data platform to automate the entire customer experience — from initial prospect identification to post-purchase advocate creation.

They wanted to be the Salesforce of marketing.

They all failed. And this has been great for marketers.

MarTech Realities

In the past two years, all marketing automation vendors have shed ambitions for MarTech industry domination.

Instead, they’ve embraced a new reality, one based on the development of customizable ecosystems of tech vendors and data providers.

Consequently, innovative digital experiences have flourished through creative integrations.

Great Marketing Now Depends on Tech Specialization

When discussing a restaurant’s quality, have you ever heard the phrase: “The bigger the menu, the worse the food?”

This concept is pretty analogous to where marketing clouds were headed a few years ago.

While vendor offerings expanded, integrations between impulsively acquired systems left something to be desired. Moreover, such marketing cloud vendor acquisitions encumbered marketers’ tech investments and options, limiting their ability to build best-of-bread tech stacks.

Specialization begets better products, whether with food or technology. And while fewer logins and ease of use were once major selling points for marketing tech vendors, marketing automation’s rise itself is what (somewhat ironically) changed this.

Learning how to integrate marketing platforms with CRM systems, set up nurture tracks and scoring models, and customize reporting and analytics to the needs of various stakeholders transformed marketers into tech-savvy, data-driven professionals.

They became tech experts, priding themselves on their new set of skills.

Marketers Want Control, Customizability

As a result, marketers no longer wanted all-in-one marketing platforms.

Just like a racecar driver saddled with an automatic transmission, all-in-one marketing platforms limited control, innovation and performance.

Marketers wanted more control and customizability. This has led to marketers building customized MarTech ecosystems comprising numerous specialized systems, tools and data sources.

Marketing automation systems are now the hubs of expanding MarTech ecosystems.

3 MarTech Realities

The big marketing automation vendors haven’t been blind to these developments.

In fact, they’ve been very smart over recent years, highlighting partnerships with adjacent technologies and promoting innovative integrations.

This, in turn, has had further effects.

  1. The MarTech landscape has exploded. As Scott Brinker’s Marketing Tech Supergraphic clearly illustrates, the marketing tech landscape has grown to nearly 4,000 offerings across categories ranging from back-office operations (data reporting and analytics, budgeting and finance, project management, etc.) to front-office digital experiences (advertising, content creation, social media, etc.). This unlikely would’ve happened if the large marketing automation platforms hadn’t changed course from all-inclusive offerings to liberal integrations.
  2. Marketing automation platforms have become the must-have hub of the B2B MarTech stack. Almost every marketing system or tool is connected in some way to marketing automation platforms. It’s the first major tech investment any B2B marketing team makes (CRM is a sales technology). This wasn’t inevitable — it was a consequence of timing, a keen understanding of industry trends and market developments, and just great marketing.
  3. MarTech has and continues to gradually consume the AdTech space. Advertising technology was once on an island of its own, far removed from the desktops of marketers. It was something B2B marketing orgs handed off to their agencies to deal with, which explains why the pricing model was usually based on media-spend rather than subscriptions. But as marketers’ MarTech skills have grown, their AdTech hesitation has abated, and AdTech vendors have seen this as a prime opportunity to rebrand themselves marketing technology (which garners them better valuations). This wasn’t trickery — marketers have welcomed this (if not fully encouraged it) because it further increases control of the customer’s digital experience. And as with all marketing tech, advertising and other digital experience solutions are fully integratable with marketing automation platforms.

All Digital Experience Roads Lead to Marketing Automation

Digital experiences used to be thought of in a very compartmentalized way. Ads were handled by agencies and were mostly used for brand lift, having little impact on marketers’ efforts. Social was a tangential concern as well — one that a millennial intern could deal with. SEO has always been important, but just as a source of website traffic.

Now all these external digital experiences and more are seen as demand-driving vehicles that also enable the acquisition of prospective-customer data. Digital experiences aren’t only coordinated but also tracked to inform the subsequent sequence of digital interactions, whether via website landing pages, email or further advertising and social channels.

And at the center of all these interactions is the marketing automation platform.

It’s for this reason that the next evolution of digital marketing will witness the rise of tech solutions that help marketing automation platforms orchestrate all these digital experiences in highly sophisticated, continuously evolving ways.

create-marketing-stack-blueprint

09 Aug 16:46

Are Links Still a Powerful Search Ranking Factor?

by Eric Enge

Are Links Still a Powerful Search Ranking Factor

If you’ve been following SEO for more than 15 years like I have, you’ve seen the ongoing debates about ranking factors go on seemingly forever. One of the latest themes is the decline of links as a ranking factor. Many theories have been offered about what’s replaced them, such as:

  1. Social Media Signals
  2. Clickthrough Rate in the Search Results
  3. User Engagement
  4. RankBrain

But links remain a very powerful ranking factor. Read on for data from three different sources that backs this up, including data from our newly published extensive study on how links impact rankings.

Moz Ranking Factors Survey

Every two years, Moz does a ranking factors survey of the top SEO practitioners, asking them to identify the most important factors. This survey gathers input from those that perform SEO work day in and day out. As a result, this is one of the best sources of empirical evidence. After all, these people are trying to drive rankings for their clients every single day. Here are the top few results shown in the last survey, which published in 2015:

moz ranking factors survey

As you can see, this pegs links as the top two factors, and by a decent margin to boot.

Stone Temple Consulting Case Studies

As a participant in that survey, I can tell you that I certainly ranked links as being among the very top factors as well. One reason for this is the experiences we have at Stone Temple Consulting, where over and over again, links drive rankings. We typically help clients get these links via high-end content marketing campaigns which focus on helping drive their reputation and visibility.

The results are stunning. Here is a sample of results from a wide mix of clients:

Sample Content Marketing Results

As you can see, the results are pretty powerful!

Our Link Study

These results already tell a compelling story, but we wanted to dig into this deeper. To do that, we did a detailed correlation study. We took 6,000 search queries and gathered data across the top 50 search results. We captured the rankings for each of the SERPs and used Open Site Explorer to capture the link data related to each of the ranking URLs. (Thanks also to Moz for providing us access to their awesome API for use in the study).

We looked at the data several different ways. In one view, we normalized the total number of links for each search result, so that the search position with the most links had a link count score of 1, and a search result with half the links would get a link score of 0.5, and so forth. We then summed the link scores across, so that we could see the total link scores for all the number 1 results, the total link scores for all the number 2 result, all the way through all 50 results.

We then calculated Pearson and Spearman correlations for those totals. Pearson and Spearman correlations provide a measurement of the strength of the relationship between two variables. Here are the resulting scores we obtained:

links per ranking position

If you’re not familiar with correlations, those numbers mean there is an extremely strong correlation between links and rankings. (highlight to tweet) Just to spot check the conclusion, we also took a look at the correlations by ranking positions in blocks of 10. We once again normalized the link totals, but this time looked at the total number of links to all of the top 10 positions, then the number of links to all the second 10 positions, then the third 10, and so forth. Here is what that correlation showed:

block 10 results

That is still a very strong Pearson correlation value, and a perfect Spearman correlation. Wow!

What Did We Learn About the Power of Links?

So now we have it three different ways, and they all tell us the same thing: Links remain a very powerful ranking factor. But this doesn’t mean they are the only thing. Content relevance and quality are huge factors as well. If the content isn’t relevant, it shouldn’t matter how many links it has—it shouldn’t rank. If it’s relevant but of really poor quality, it shouldn’t rank, either.

There are other aspects of SEO that you can’t ignore, either, such as your overall information architecture, your site usability, how users engage with your content, and whether you need to be using SEO tags, such as rel=canonical, noindex, rel prev/next, and others.

That said, links remain a very important ranking factor, so promote your business in a way that will get it lots of recognition (and links) in the process. Stay away from the link schemes, of course, and focus on attracting the most high quality links that will stand the test of time.

Get more content like this, plus the very BEST marketing education, totally free. Get our Definitive email newsletter.

       
09 Aug 16:45

3 Crafty Ways To Use LinkedIn Groups

by Darnelle O'Brien

With over 3 million active Australian LinkedIn accounts, LinkedIn is a powerful social media channel. When used effectively, LinkedIn can give your business authenticity and credibility, and provide a space for you to engage in communities outside of your immediate circle of connections.

While having an active profile is necessary, you’re not going to see any leads or huge networking opportunities if you don’t have an interactive profile. Like on any other social media platform, the ongoing interaction you have with your network is what keeps your audience engaged.

Leveraging the power of LinkedIn Groups

LinkedIn Groups provide a place for professionals in the same industry or with similar interests to share content, find answers, post and view jobs, make business contacts, and establish themselves as industry experts.

Identify and join

Start by short-listing groups relevant to your clients and potential clients.

Narrow the list by identifying groups with the most recent activity.

LinkedIn has a “groups you may like” function that suggests groups based on your current profile and connections.

Top tip: If you join lots of groups, make sure you turn off the daily digest e-mails in the settings section.

Share your own content

Be sure to provide value and context to your post when sharing.

If you know of an external source that fits a discussion, share it with others.

Establish yourself

Strengthen connections by contributing to a discussion that will make either your profile or Company Page more visible helping you to establish you as a thought leader among other participants.

Look for active members and add relevant replies to posts. But don’t SPAM! As your replies are publicly available to all group members, by using this technique you are showing people what you have to offer.

Have you seen positive results with LinkedIn Groups? Tell us about it in the comments below.

09 Aug 16:45

Should You Put a Phone Number On Your Site?

by Ryan Farley

A great deal has been written about whether in the internet age, your business should have a phone number on your website or not.

On one hand, having a phone number can increase the trustworthiness of your website, help sell potential customers who aren’t comfortable buying online, and allow customers to easily contact support.

The flip side? Phone support costs money.

Many anecdotes support both strategies, but we should be asking, “where’s the data?”

A Tale of Two Different Approaches

Zappos – a company that built its brand on customer service – drew a line in the sand by featuring its phone number on the top of their website, all the time.

zappos

Here’s what Zappos founder and CEO has to say about their stance on their phone number:

tonyTony Hseih:

“On many websites the contact information is buried at least five links deep, because the company doesn’t really want to hear from you. And when you find it, it’s a form or an e-mail address.

We take the exact opposite approach.

We put our phone number (it’s 800-927-7671, in case you’d like to call) at the top of every single page of our website, because we actually want to talk to our customers. And we staff our call center 24/7.”

Rackspace is another example of a company that built its brand on customer service, or “fanatical support.”

In the post “A Letter to Our Customers Announcing Fanatical Support for Microsoft Azure,” Rackspace CEO says, “We will be available to you by phone or ticket, 24/7 — within minutes. We won’t send you to FAQs or message boards for support. We will be there for your team, backing you up with Fanatical Support.”

Jeff Bezos, CEO and co-founder of Amazon, has a very different take: “The best customer service is if the customer doesn’t need to call you, doesn’t need to talk to you. It just works.”

And if it couldn’t be more apparent…

Rackspace (two phone numbers):

Rackspace Managed Dedicated Cloud Computing Services

Amazon Web Services Web Page (no phone number in sight):

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 7.43.02 AM

What does this show?

Not much. These are a handful of anecdotes which prove nothing other than that you can build a successful business with or without having a phone number featured on the page.

This post is about how you can use testing and data to determine if having a phone number is right for you and your business.

How to Use Testing and Data to Decide Whether to Use a Phone Number

Here’s the exact method we used to decide whether or not putting a phone number on our site was effective and efficient.

Step 0 – Gather Qualitative Data

At my company, LawnStarter, we allow people to easily book lawn service online.

Both my co-founder and I were inspired early on by Zappos, so we always featured a phone number on the page.

But as we got better at CRO, built up our A/B testing cadence and saw more conversion online, we asked ourselves if we should still include our number on the page.

We follow the ConversionXL process, so we ran the following poll.

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 9.03.24 PM

The results:

chart

Booking lawn care online is fairly new in the grand scheme of things, so it was a pleasant suprise that a majority of responders seemed somewhat comfortable booking lawn care online.

Plus, we could probably use some of the tactics described in the article “What Do You Do When Your Customers Are Afraid To Shop Online?” to combat this.

But with a strong 10% clearly terrified of the prospect of booking lawn care online, it’s very clear that we should at least test having a phone number on the page.

Running the initial test

Conceptually, it’s quite simple to figure out. You run an A/B test with version A featuring no phone and version B having the phone prominently displayed.

The tricky part is attribution. While I strongly recommend connecting all your company’s data together in once place, there’s no need to invest in an elaborate call tracking setup before you even know if having a phone on your site is worthwhile.

This method will use a forwarding number and a little bit of excel work to do the test.

Step 1 -Set Up a Tracking Number

The first step is setting up a tracking number. Fortunately this is very easy with most VOIP systems.

Please note: you should use a tracking number specific to this experiment – not just your existing phone number. The reason being that phone numbers get scraped by Google and other directories. Phone calls made to your main number may not have originated on your landing page.

Make sure your phone records can be exported to a CSV. Talkdesk and most other VOIP providers allow for this.

For purposes of this tutorial, we’ll use Twilio. This video walks you through the steps of setting up a forwarding number.

Step 2 – Run Your Test

This part is pretty straightforward. Simply take your tracking number, and put it in the desired spot in your preferred A/B testing tool.

Version A – Leave phone blank (or remove it)

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 8.09.06 AM

Version B – Insert your tracking number

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 8.07.39 AM

Once you have this setup, go ahead and integrate the test with Google Analytics, Mixpanel, Segment, or however you’re used to tracking conversions.

Now your test is ready to be run.

Step 3 – Link Your Inbound Calls With Customer Signups

Once you’ve run the test long enough, it’s time to look at the results…

1 – Export your online conversion data from whichever tool you use, put into one tab like this.

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 2.05.48 PM

2 – Download your customer account data into a CSV

In the previous step, we made sure we were capturing our customers’ phone numbers. Download these from your database, and put them in their own tab.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 7.38.38 PM

3 – Clean your phone numbers

If your phone numbers look like this – perfectly formatted – then good on you.

In many cases, the phone numbers look like they do in the formula above.

Not to worry, first, you’ll just have to remove spaces and erroneous characters with the following statement:

=SUBSTITUTE(SUBSTITUTE(SUBSTITUTE(SUBSTITUTE(SUBSTITUTE(I2,”(“,””),”)”,””),”-“,””),” “,””),”.”,””)

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 7.40.59 PM

And if you have 1s preceding your number, you’ll need to take it a step further using a statement like this:

=if(left(J2,1)*1=1,right(J2,10),J2)*1

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 7.44.47 PM (1)

(Note: I like to always multiply string operations on numbers by 1 to keep the data formatted as a number rather than a string.)

4 – Download your call data, put into a google doc

Fortunately, Twilio keeps call data clean, so you shouldn’t have to do too much formatting.

Simply import the incoming calls associated with your tracking number, and paste them into a third tab in your spreadsheet.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 8.01.02 PM

5 – Use a vlookup to get your call conversions

Now we’re going to use the trusty ole VLOOKUP function to get call conversions.

For those unfamiliar, here’s what Microsoft has to say about a VLOOKUP:

Use VLOOKUP, one of the lookup and reference functions, when you need to find things in a table or a range by row. For example, look up a price of an automotive part by the part number.

=VLOOKUP(Value you want to look up, range where you want to lookup the value, the column number in the range containing the return value, Exact Match or Approximate Match – indicated as 0/FALSE or 1/TRUE).

We’re going to use VLOOKUP to check whether the incoming caller number is also found in our customers list.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 8.04.05 PM

See all those cells with phone numbers in column C? Those are customers. The error cells, indicate incoming calls that did not result in conversions.

Let’s make it a little cleaner using an an IF() and ISERROR() statement.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 8.09.04 PM

Much cleaner.

Now let’s go ahead and get a few data points out of here. We want:

  • Total Number of Calls: Number of incoming calls we received
  • Total Number of Callers: Number of distinct/unique incoming numbers that called us
  • Caller Conversion Rate: Converted Customers / Total Number of Callers

You can see the formulas here:

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 8.14.16 PM

We’ll go ahead and cut and paste these formulas into the ‘Summary’ tab.

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 1.08.48 PM

Step 4 – Combine and Check Your Results

Now, modify your original summary tab as follows to combine the results and compare conversion rates:

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 1.09.21 PM

In this fictitious example, we saw a significantly lower online conversion (having the phone number), but a higher overall conversion.

But the test isn’t yet finished.

Step 5 – Account for Revenue

Phone sales aren’t free – you need to pay a human to make the sale, and you can’t exclude this in your analysis.

In order to get a general sense of how much of a true win this test was, we’re going to incorporate a few more data points:

  • Lifetime Value of a Customer (LTV) – for our purposes, this is net of all marketing & support costs
  • Number of sales reps required
  • Monthly cost per rep – their salary
  • Test period – for simplicity, we’ll assume it’s one month

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 1.16.19 PM

The calculations we did are as follows:

  • Unadjusted total LTV = LTV per customer * total conversions
  • Sale cost = sales reps * monthly cost per rep * test period
  • Adjusted total LTV = unadjusted total LTV – sale cost

As you can see in the spreadsheet, we got a 9% increase in conversion, while we only got 2% increase in total LTV.

Next Steps – It’s Not Just a Conversion Rate Problem

If we were making a simple tweak to the UI, it wouldn’t be a complicated decision to execute. However, phone support requires people, time, resources, and costs. Here are some next steps to help you hone in on a data-driven decision.

Sensitivity Analysis

You could do a significance test on revenue and call it quits.

But that isn’t the point. The point of testing phone vs no phone is to get a general sense of whether having a phone can be a large enough opportunity to account for the overhead involved.

Sensitivity analyses can help evaluate the real opportunity.

Investopedia defines sensitivity analysis as “A sensitivity analysis is a technique used to determine how different values of an independent variable will impact a particular dependent variable under a given set of assumptions.”

Here are some of the “what if” scenarios you’ll want to evaluate:

  • Increase in phone conversion: Your phone conversion probably wasn’t optimal for the first go around – what does total LTV look like if you can increase it?
  • Decrease in rep cost: What does it look like if you decide to have your sales reps overseas at a fraction of the cost?
  • Hiding the phone number: Suppose you hide the phone number at the bottom of the page, hoping to maintain your online conversion, but allow those super-luddites to still all in.

Device Testing

Many businesses report significantly lower conversion on mobile.

A popular solution is click to call, and you might want to test that. This would involve using a bit of javascript to include a different tracking number on mobile than desktop.

The result could be that you only include a phone number on mobile, but none on desktop.

True cost of human sales

You’re probably thinking, “Ryan, you made some pretty simple assumptions there with that analysis.”

And you’re right. Hiring a sales rep costs time and money.

There’s turnover. You have to train them. While a rep may be able to handle 30 calls per day on average, it’s very likely you’ll have to increase the number of reps to handle peak time. As the team scales you have to do call reviews, and eventually hire management. Scaling a sales team and maintaining, not to mention improving your conversion rate is no easy task.

You’ll have to account for this in your financial plan, but that’s another post.

Accounting for increased support costs

If you currently don’t offer phone support, and suddenly put a phone number on your site, you’re going to get phone calls. You have two options:

  • Start offering phone support – this changes your business model and associated costs
  • Tell these customers you can’t help them – this creates a bad experience

If you currently have phone support and remove the number, you’ll want to make sure your customers can still get their problems solved.

Testing infrastructure

The method I presented is quick, dirty, and requires no overhead.

But should you decide that having a phone number is right for your business, it will inevitably be part of every A/B test you do going forward. You’ll want to make sure you create the systems to track on an ongoing basis.

For more info on this, check out the following resources:

Personally, I hate being slave to the limitations of out-of-the-box analytics tools. So at LawnStarter, we simply set up a MySQL table that contains all of our tracking numbers. We put all of our internal data as well as data from 3rd party tools into one Redshift database, then join it up and visualize in Tableau.

Your core brand identity

Finally, you have to think about the type of brand you want to build. Do you want to be Zappos, Amazon, or something in-between? The phone number goes a long way to making this determination.

Conclusion

A phone number on a website can be a game changing opportunity, a huge cost center, or simply inconsequential. And with most things in digital marketing, you can’t rely on other companies’ case studies or “best practices”; you have to test it yourself.

Have you used data to make the phone – no phone decision for your business? Share your experience in the comments below!

09 Aug 16:45

How You Can Use Rank Brain and Human Behavior to Your Advantage

by Ronald Dod

If you haven’t already heard, Rank Brain recently made headlines as one of the three main ranking factors that Google looks at. Of course it is worth mentioning that this claim was made by a Google senior scientist, who may have just been overzealous. Or, it may just be Google’s shiny new toy. Truthfully, we really do not know exactly how much it effects Google’s algorithm. However, we do know that there has been a good amount of fluctuations, which have been mostly positive for our clients, and therefore can decipher that it is effecting the SERPs. We won’t know how much until they get done tweaking it, but for the time being it is a major player. Now that it is out, it is important that we understand it and know how to leverage it to our benefit.

Rank Brain Overview

Before we get too far into how to leverage Rank Brain, we have to discuss the Google update. Generally, Google goes way overboard with their updates and tones them down after a big release, but here is what we have seen so far with the latest update. The biggest revelation was that it uses user behavior to determine search results. In short, if everyone searches for “black hat,” and no one clicks on websites that sell black hats or have “black hat” keywords on their pages, and instead people click on “charcoal hats” pages instead, then wouldn’t they want that page ranked higher? Wouldn’t Google want the page that is clicked on the most in the SERP and served first? It’s true – check out the example below. We searched for “women’s heels,” and received a bunch of results with “pumps” as a keyword. Google has determined through data and behavior that what the searcher really wants is “heels” or “pumps.”

Heels

Also, doesn’t it make sense that Google would only want websites that users actually interact with? So, if users are clicking away from a site, wouldn’t they want to push that page down the SERPs? In a nutshell, that is Rank Brain. This really effects long tailed phrases, as Google doesn’t have enough link data to judge results, so it uses Rank Brain to figure out what people want, based on clicks and user behavior. In our opinion, this is a good thing because it gives the user a better experience, as they get served popular results based on human behavior rather than a “system” of links and keywords.

Don’t believe us? In the example below, we Googled “Garmin watches.” There are no combinations of “Garmin watches” in any of the search results that we were served. That’s enough to make old traditional SEO people lose their minds, right? Well, don’t fret. It really isn’t as hard to optimize for Rank Brain as it might sound. You just have to know how to do it properly.

Garmin

Optimize for CTR and Usability

The first thing that you want to do is look at your on page efforts. If your websites looks like it was built in 2004, then you are probably way over due for a site redesign. A good way to check to see if you need a redesign or if your usability is suffering is to check out your bounce rate over time. If your bounce rate continues to rise, then most likely it is time for a redesign, with usability in mind. For example, if it looks like this, you need to immediately find a website design/UX partner.

UX

Secondly, go check out your meta titles and descriptions. If they are bland, boring, short, or have nothing to catch your reader’s attention, you might be doomed and you need to fix them ASAP. Focus on call to actions, like “show now,” “free shipping,” “US made,” or other modifiers that will show value in your titles and descriptions. For example:

Old SEO Meta Title – Garmin Watches for Sale by runningcompany.com

Rank Brain Meta Title – Garmin Watches get Free Shipping at runningcompany.com

I’m not a betting man, but I would wager that the second example is going to produce higher click-throughs. And even if you wouldn’t dare put your main keywords in the middle of your title, you could do “Free Shipping on Garmin Watches at runningcompany.com” The same goes for descriptions. You want good call to actions on your descriptions so that people will click on them and you will boost up in the rankings.

Using the example above, we can see that almost all of the top results for “women’s heels” have the keyword on the left hand side most. However, some do not and in the future, we should see where this tactic is less and less important.

Focus on Keywords in Links and Social Signals

I bet you haven’t seen that subject line! Let’s go back to our original example where we Googled “women’s heels.” How does Google know that people really want pumps as well? Is it an assimilated keyword? Well, the answer is that Rank Brain can use the languages and gap the keywords to understand that heels and pumps are the same thing. BUT, Google can also use social media data and links to know that a page might be about pumps, but people consider them to be heels. Wait, what? What does that mean? Let’s look at one example which ranked for “women’s heels:” http://shop.nordstrom.com/c/womens-pumps.

Nor

When you look at their meta information, which by the way is ranked #6 in Google, and their page, you can see that they don’t’ ever use the words “women’s heels.” They only say “heels” one time in their meta description. In fact, the entire web page is ALL about pumps. So, why would Google rank them that high for “women’s heels?” In looking at their backlink profile, we can see that this page individually had 10% of its anchor texts with the word “heels” in it.

Anchor

When you explore even further into these links, you find they all have a single commonality. They all use the keyword heels in their main phrases like titles, anchor text, and more. They also are shared on social media. Google can crawl these links, pages, and then say the shop.nordstrom.com/c/womens-pumps is not only about “women’s pumps” but also “women’s heels.” The way that humans interact with websites links to us, and what keywords that they use in the titles, articles, and anchor text affects the way that we are showing up in the rankings.

How do you optimize for this?

When focusing on your link efforts, do not spam your anchor text, but if you have the liberty of choosing, make sure that the keywords that you want pages to be assimilated with are there, and the title of the page, and lastly, within the first paragraph of the backlink. You also want people sharing your backlinks on social media and using various keywords within their social media posts.

Having a keyword matrix of each of the pages that what keywords you want focused on helps when you are creating your link building efforts and interlinking to your different pages.

09 Aug 16:45

Retailers use 3 psychological tricks to get you to spend more money

by Ashley Lutz

shopping

The retail landscape is more competitive than ever as consumers spend on experiences like restaurants and vacations more than material possessions. 

This shift in consumer habits has led to a wave of discounting from retailers. 

Aron Ezra, CEO of marketing software company OfferCraft, recently published a list of common psychological tricks retailers use to drive sales. 

His piece, first published on industry newsletter Retail Touch Points, offers a glimpse into how brands get you to spend more money. 

1. The "decoy effect"

williams sonoma

High-end kitchen retailer Williams-Sonoma once struggled to sell a $275 "bread bakery" machine, finding that consumers were choosing to buy cheaper appliances instead. 

To drive sales of the bread machine, Williams-Sonoma started offering it alongside a larger — and more expensive — version. Once consumers saw the more costly option, they began to believe the $275 version was a steal. 

"This is a classic example of the 'decoy effect,' a marketing principle first demonstrated by Duke University researchers in 1982," Ezra writes. "They found that a product will be perceived as more valuable if the buyer can compare it to a less desirable model on the shelf or a web page." 

2. Giving you a "gift"

Retailers use "gift psychology' to get you to spend more.  

Ezra uses a story about belts to illustrate the point: 

"Now say you’re buying a pair of pants at this store. Typically the sales associate might try to upsell you by saying something like, “Would you also like to buy a $15 belt with your $60 pants?” That will work for some people, but not most of us.

But now imagine a different sales associate says, “These $75 pants come with a thank you gift: Your choice of one of these belts. You can take any of these, or you can give back the belt to reduce the price a little.”

Instead of deciding to make an additional purchase, you’re now asked to actively give back a gift. This enterprising sales associate will generally sell a lot more belts than his counterpart."

3. The illusion of choice

shopper shopping harrods shoes

Choice can be a powerful factor in getting consumers to spend more money. 

Ezra cites one company that ran a promotion offering customers a $100 credit toward specific products. Then, they offered them the choice of a $50 credit toward a different product. 

One of our retail clients offers a fascinating example of the power of choice.

"The results were startling: more than one third (34.9%) of the customers swapped the higher value prize for the lower value prize on a different product," Ezra writes. "The customers were happier, while the retailer cut promotional costs significantly and generated invaluable insights about the preferences of their best customers."

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: Chick-fil-A is giving out free entrées today — here's how to get one

09 Aug 16:44

Leveraging Your Competitor’s Brand Assets

by Paul Friederichsen

Leveraging Your Competitors Brand Assets

Between 2002 and 2011, the Verizon brand spent billions in ad media accomplishing two things quite well: Keeping it in a competitive horse race with rival AT&T and burning the question “can you hear me now?” as well as the likeness and voice of their iconic horned-rim glasses “test man” Paul Marcarelli, into the national psyche. For nine years, the “can you hear me now” guy and the Verizon brand became one in the same.

Back when Verizon launched their campaign, cell phone coverage was a real issue (and still is to a certain extent), so the brand’s approach had definite consumer resonance. As a consequence, Verizon successfully positioned its brand as superior in coverage and, as of last year, was neck and neck with larger AT&T in market share (34% vs 32%) according to MarketRealist.com.

After the retirement of the “Can you hear me now?” Campaign and with his contractual obligations to Verizon concluded, the ever determined and roaming “test man” Marcarelli did the unthinkable … he roamed right into a Sprint store. This was just too good to pass up for the much smaller and distant third-place player. As a result, Sprint launched their “Yep, I switched” campaign a couple of months ago and an aggressive 50% off promotional incentive.

By using Marcarelli, Sprint is saying they are as good as his former brand (Verizon) and for less money. That’s why he switched and why you should, too.

This isn’t the first time a brand has appropriated the competitor’s assets to do battle in the marketplace, and it likely won’t be the last. Consider a few other examples …

  • Taco Bell launches its breakfast menu by taking on fast food giant McDonalds. It films real customers (who happened to be named Ronald McDonald) providing glowing testimonials about the upstart’s new offering, waffle tacos.
  • Regional burger chain Krystal actually portrays Ronald McDonald and the Burger King rushing to its restaurant in TV spots that aired in 2012.
  • Pepsi airs its memorable BBDO “Delivery Man” spot during the 1995 Super Bowl, telling the story of a chance encounter of Coke and Pepsi delivery men at a diner, sampling each other’s product and the ensuing fracas when the Coke delivery man refuses to surrender the Pepsi that he is now in love with. In a brilliant move, Pepsi reprised the story, updated for 2010 by TBWA/Chiat/Day, complete with threatened cell phone video of the Coke deliveryman drinking a Pepsi Max instead of his Coke Zero. And the predictable fracas ensued once more.

In each of these examples, we’re asked as brand specialists is this a good idea? For the sake of “disruptive marketing,” are we not violating a cardinal rule by reminding our customer of the competition and giving the competing brand some free advertising … at our expense? What is the legal exposure for using someone’s trademark or brand assets without permission? And, do we do harm to our own brand in the process?

Respect For Trademarks

First a quick note regarding the legality of using your competitor’s trademark, brand assets or anything else that would be construed as part of the brand identification. In “fair use” instances, unauthorized use of trademarks can be allowable when making comparisons, references or assurances. We would always advise you consult your legal counsel before doing anything, however.

Comparison Strategy

All of this falls under the heading of the popular strategy of “comparison advertising.” According to a study conducted back in 2012, roughly half of all TV spots struck a competitive comparison to some degree, and out of those, about 5% called out the competitor by name. Obviously, political ads will routinely call out the competition, but so do many others, such as automotive, insurance, foods, beverages, credit cards, etc. And one can only guess that the comparison ad percentage is greater today than four years ago.

Using The Competition’s Brand Assets

The Sprint example as well as the others we’ve listed goes beyond mere comparison when they appropriate competitor’s brand assets to gain our attention. When this is done, it’s always the smaller brand that does the appropriating. You will never see the larger, dominant brand comparing itself to the smaller, weaker rival, much less using the smaller rival’s brand assets against them. Rarely, if ever, will you see the larger brand counter-attacking the smaller brand for the comparison campaign launched against it, in any large scale, meaningful way. By doing that, the larger brand would be giving legitimacy to the smaller brand, and allowing the smaller brand to essentially dictate the advertising strategy of the larger brand. Not smart. Wise, leading brands always play defense and must never play offense. On that note, this is how leading brands — including Verizon– should respond to a challenger brand like Sprint.

Pros And Cons

It is true; brands that use their competitor’s assets in marketing will gain some degree of attention. And yes, it will have a disruptive effect on the marketplace much like a sales promotion (which Sprint is doing) spiking interest and sales for a time. But this isn’t a long-term brand building strategy. And in fact, it can be an ongoing subtle reminder of the competitor. It is also a reminder that you are not the leading brand. Only solid, original brand building will hold and grow the short term gains that a promotion of this type will create. Over-reliance on using borrowed brand equity from your competitor runs the risk of diminishing the value of your own brand and forever type-casting it as the next best thing. And who wants to buy that?

Many years ago, Xerox ran a TV spot that beautifully illustrated the fallacy of this approach. In it, a succession of copier salesmen are shown pitching their copiers and each time saying “It’s as good as a Xerox” to which the announcer finally asks “Why not choose Xerox?” Good question.

If you’re considering comparison marketing and going so far as using your competitor’s brand assets first ask…

  1. Have you explored alternatives that are just as effective?
  2. How does your brand excel over your larger competitor and what are you doing to tell that story?
  3. Have you researched the exposure with your legal counsel?
  4. Can you build brand insistence without the reliance of this approach?
  5. Have you weighed the possible repercussions?
  6. Are your comparisons water-tight and documented by a third party?
  7. Is the asset and creative context strong enough to work more for you than for them?

The Blake Project Can Help: The Brand Storytelling Workshop

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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09 Aug 16:42

Breaking Bland: Adding Personality to Your B2B Content Marketing

by Imani Mixon

Close your eyes. No really, close your eyes and let your fingers dance across your keyboard. Open your eyes. Now, break up the jumble of text with a few haphazard bullets, lists, and stats. Then, log in to your dashboard and publish your improvised masterpiece on your company blog. You can blast the email list while you’re at it too. Before you hit send, make sure that there are a few words underlined in blue to give your helpless clients an escape route to the nearest website. Congratulations, you’ve just written your first piece of bland business content.

Ok, maybe B2B content isn’t that horrible, but it has earned a bad reputation. Sirius Decisions reports that, “60 to 70 percent of content churned out by B2B marketing departments today sits unused.” Just imagine if you could do the same dust-collecting work with your budget! Oh that’s right, when money sits, it’s called savings. When content sits? That’s just a waste of time.

It’s time to crash your bland B2B content marketing strategy and introduce ideas that will appeal to the eyes that drive the clicks and views that today’s companies value so much. Yes, we’re talking about humans, those advanced machines who have the power to push your business forward and actually close deals.

A groundbreaking B2B presence can’t be built in a day. It’s built campaign after campaign, as each piece of content pushes prospects closer and closer to being buyers. Successful companies understand that it takes some oomph to give prospects the necessary tools to make an informed decision in their favor.

“There is infinitely more content generated than we can ever hope to individually consume. The most important strategy for B2B content marketers is making creativity and data analytics a priority in the content generation and distribution process, to combat building content machines that churn out more of the sameness.”Shahed Ahmed, Partner and SVP at Merritt Group

Let’s start by highlighting a few eye-opening B2B content examples that break the mold.

Blackboard Teaches Twitter

Blackboard_5.png

It’s easy to assume that an academic B2B company would have a pencils and crayons approach to marketing their product, but one visit to Blackboard’s website and you’ll see their Grade A branding efforts. From the eye-catching colors to the thought-provoking opinion pieces, Blackboard, an innovative technology and solutions platform for schools, has devised a great content formula. The brand caters to school districts while appealing to teachers and even students. Their Twitter page (and its 35.7K followers) especially caught our eye. The colorful, quote-based page presents sage advice from thought leaders, well-known educators, and recently published resources in the same way. In an effort to maintain a clean and consistent aesthetic, the brand directs user questions to a dedicated support page. The more objective, interesting, and educational the content, the more successful it is going to be.

Salesforce Explores Instagram

Salesforce_Instagram_Infographic.png

Salesforce, a leading CRM software provider, provides a useful example of avoiding self-serving content in favor of topics that clients will find genuinely interesting. The above Instagram advertising infographic caters to the growing need for brands to build a multi-platform presence. The infographic’s crisp blue design echoes Salesforce’s overall brand and is inviting without being annoying. The content is concisely informative, alternating between number-crunching and advice-giving to provide readers with actionable tips. Expert yet approachable content pieces like this build your company’s reputation and encourage clients to seek further industry-leading news from your brand.

Square Goes Full Circle

Square_Stories.png

Square, a financial services merchant, understood that they’d have to go deeper than point-of-sale transactions to get their point across to clients. With Square Stories, the brand zoomed in on a personal customer story then zoomed out to highlight Square’s contribution to business growth. This Square homepage does a great job of seamlessly featuring varied multimedia elements. This Woody Lovell feature offers readers a glimpse into a single customer story through rich images, quirky typography, storytelling, and a documentary-style video. B2B brands looking to break away from the mundane should direct their content marketing resources to highlight the most compelling aspects of their business.

Finding Your B2B Content Personality

According to OpenView Labs, 72% of marketers think that branded content is more effective than magazine advertisements and 69% say it’s superior to direct mail and PR. Take a second to think about the effectiveness of your current B2B content. Then, ask yourself these questions:

– Would our targeted audience read this when they’re not “on the clock?”

– Are readers likely to sign-up to receive new content based upon this piece?

– How many times has similar content been written?

– Can we present a freshly substantial or educational idea?

– Is this a piece that other departments would want to share in their next big meeting?

– What do the experts have to say?

How can this topic be broadened or narrowed?

– Does this relate to an industry-wide trend or current event?

– Which emotions does this content invoke?

The B2B Content Marketing Breakthrough

Stellar B2B content will increase brand awareness, position your company as a thought leader, and ultimately convert readers into potential buyers of your product or service. Developing resonant and compelling B2B content will take time, just like any other business-altering approach that your company adopts. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and invest the proper time and resources in your B2B company’s content marketing vision.

Executive

09 Aug 16:42

Caution: Predictive Analytics May Miss One Important Thing

by Jeff Weinberger

Predictive analytics is, without a doubt, the new big thing in marketing. It’s how we marketers are putting so-called big data to work to help us find, target, and sell to the right customers at the right time. I’ve written about this before; any time we rely on technology or process to tell us about our customers’ preferences, habits, or needs, we run the risk of missing out on one critical element of our customers’ decision-making. Our customers are human and, therefore, somewhat unpredictable.

Many years ago, I worked with a company that created customized news feeds. Customers would select their areas of interest, and each day, the company would sort items from a range of newswires (yes, this is before social media!) and send each customer a custom collection of articles, press releases, and other news items.

A general concern others and I raised about the trend toward more personalization (which is still ongoing) is that people would miss out on items of general interest. In those days, when I read the newspaper, I would seek out sections of particular interest to me, but I would also read the front page and often catch other items on my way to my sections. This exposed me to news, information, and thinking outside my specific area of interest. In particular, reading the front page gave me a sense of what was collectively considered important (as filtered by an editor, granted, but one whose interest likely was matching the collective interest). This provided a common understanding of the world and important events of the day. With an entirely customized newswire (or, in today’s terms, a group of Facebook friends with whom you completely agree), you create your own unique understanding of the world around you, and you become less aware of what is outside your bubble (and in some cases, less able to understand it).

One of our goals as marketers is to influence behavior, particularly toward buying our products and services. One way to do this is to create some elements of a bubble around the target buyers so they see more of your offerings than anything else and more messages encouraging the lifestyle associated with your offerings. That creates stronger associations with the promise of the brand and results in brand loyalty.

We observe the actions customers take and focus on the ones that make them most likely to deepen their association with our brand and all of the things for which that brand stands. That creates the customer journey.

Once we know all that, we work hard to influence customers to take the next step on their journey toward becoming a brand loyalist and buying more and more from us.

Dealing with the myriad actions, possible paths, probable journeys, and the wide range of customer tastes and behaviors has been nearly impossible until technology stepped in to give us ways to store and analyze all that data. Enter big data and predictive analytics.

We now have computer systems that tell us—if a customer has a certain set of tastes and preferences, and then takes a given action (or a series of actions)—what the most effective way to get them to take the next action is. So we do that. Then we see many of those customers taking the hoped-for action.

Enhancing the Impact of Predictive Analytics

One of my favorite themes is to remind marketers that your instinct—your intuitive understanding—goes far beyond the analysis of any computer system. You will not always be right, but your intuition provides a strong sanity check.

For example, your predictive analytics might suggest prospects who end up buying from you always take a specified action several steps prior to purchasing. This might be true. But you might also notice there is a large drop-off rate right before that step—only a small number of prospects in your funnel move to that step. Your analytics don’t tell you this because you’ve told your systems to answer the question of what causes people to buy, so it looks at the outcome and works backward. It takes human powers of observation to look at the funnel from a different perspective.

I rely on my systems and the analyses they produce to tell me how my programs are working. I set them up to give me data-driven answers to a variety of questions, including the question of what actions are most influential in converting prospects to paying customers.

But I always look at the data myself. I look for anomalies. I look for things that might not be answered by my systems the way I’ve set them up. I look for things I’ve otherwise overlooked. Some of those insights have led to opportunities I would not have seen otherwise.

In short, I use my own experienced intuition to make the final call about what is working, what is not, and where I should look next to improve my efforts.

Don’t miss out on this one critical factor. Don’t let your predictive analytics and automation systems take over your marketing. There may come a day when intelligent systems can do this for us, but for now, this is your job. It’s where your value gets added. Using your own experienced intuition is what makes the difference between good marketing and great marketing. Don’t give that up.

09 Aug 16:41

Sales Activities: A Day in the Life of an Inbound SDR

by Blanche Reese

As the name implies, Inbound Sales Development is on the opposite side of the sales prospecting gamut from Outbound Sales Development. Whether it be downloading a piece of content, signing up for a free trial, or calling into the sales line to learn more, inbound prospects are typically considered “warmer” leads, having expressed interest on their end in your company or product, rather than leads reached through cold sales activities.

That’s why the goal of an Inbound SDR is to play prospect cupid — to determine whether or not the inbound prospects are a good match for the product, and vice versa. If it’s a match on both ends, that’s when it’s time to set an appointment for the prospect to continue the conversation with an Account Executive.

But what do the sales activities of a day in the life of a SalesLoft Inbound SDR look like?

8:30 – 9:30 AM: There are 4 Inbound SDRs here at SalesLoft, and divided amongst us each morning are around 10 new assigned leads. These leads typically need to be scrubbed, so, to start, we fill in any additional information based off of the prospect’s LinkedIn profile, or company website.

9:30 – 10:30 AM: Next, our team uses a tiered approach when it comes to reaching out to prospects. So, after a lead is scrubbed, it’s then imported into the cadence that fits best with its lead source and tier:

Tier 1 – The prospect fits the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).
Tier 2 – The prospect fits the ICP, but we may need more information.
Tier 3 – The prospect does not necessarily match the ICP however we will reach out a few times to continue adding value.

Then, once we’ve identified where each prospect falls, the next step is to add them to the appropriate cadence.


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Sales activities for Tier 1 & 2 are very similar, but Tier 1 cadences should include more hyper-personalization in every email or social touch. Tier 1 or 2 prospects who are not the decision maker are added to a Discovery Cadence, designed to learn more about the prospect’s team, their process, and ultimately determine the decision maker at the company.

Tier 3 cadences are fully automated, with only email touches, allowing the SDR to spend more time crafting personalized messages for Tier 1 & 2 prospects. This process still adds value to the Tier 3 prospect, though, attaching content for a possible relationship in the future.

10:30 AM – 12:00 PM: We spend this time working to personalize our sales activities even further by mentioning prospects’ tweets, blog posts, or anything else we can find to establish a common bond with them. Now is also a great time to get in touch with anyone who is in the office, especially international prospects, and if there are any prospects who’ve asked to be contacted, they should be reached out to as quickly as possible during this time.

1:00 – 2:00 PM: Review and scrub any new leads that have come in throughout the morning, and reach out to them by, again, adding them to the appropriate tiered cadence.

2:00 – 5:00 PM: Throughout the rest of the afternoon, we’re focused on making outbound calls and emails to qualify our inbound prospects. If qualified, we do our best to move them to the next step by setting up a meeting with an Account Executive and providing the AE as much info about the prospect as possible.

While this might seem like a typical organization of sales activities, when it comes to Inbound Sales Development, there’s always more factors to consider. From live chats to incoming sales inquiries, there are a number of incoming distractions to be cognizant of throughout the day. That’s why our team of 4 uses a buddy system to trade off days and shifts to ensure that not just one person is responsible for the additional incoming leads.

The phrase teamwork makes the dreamwork may apply cross-functionally to a degree, but in the Inbound SDR’s case, it’s everything. From a pre-planned daily structure, to team-wide collaboration, a day in the life of an Inbound SDR is ever-flowing, but the ultimate goal is to create the most efficient lead home base for the sales organization.

Download your copy of the eBook today to launch into greater detail on each of these issues, how deeply they impact a sales organization, and what using the right sales tools can do to solve them. Let’s get ready for take off!

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The post Sales Activities: A Day in the Life of an Inbound SDR appeared first on SalesLoft.

09 Aug 16:41

Long-Term Leads Demand Attention Now

by dan.mcdade@pointclear.com (Dan McDade)

Long Term Leads Demand Attention NowNear-Term Opportunities are Important, But So is Keeping the Pipeline Full

Your sales team likes nothing better than getting leads with a high probability of closing soon. So much so that many reps often ignore every lead they don’t consider hot.

In reality, long-term leads often prove to be more valuable than those slated for a short-term decision. It may seem counter intuitive, but there are three key reasons why B2B companies need to pay more—not less—attention to opportunities not yet ready to close:

1. In many cases hot opportunities are already baked.

Often hot leads are really prospective buyers that have already been sold by another vendor. They’ve indicated they have a short buying cycle and they’re eager to talk, but what these buyers may be doing is validating a decision already made. They’re looking to you for what is frequently called column fodder, or price comparison after-the-fact, to justify the purchase of a competitive offering.

A longer-term lead may lack urgency, but it makes up for it by giving your team a very real chance to form relationships with decision makers, and in fact define and manage the buying process (including designing the RFP). This is an advantageous position to be in—and one that leads to more deals closing and a reputation as the go-to resource in your category.

2. Longer-term opportunities increase marketing ROI.

The numbers consistently show that organizations that pay proper sales attention to all leads are better stewards of their marketing budgets. They’re insuring money spent to generate leads isn’t wasted simply because the qualified prospect isn’t in a hurry.

Here’s an example: Marketing spends $60,000 to generate 80 leads. Forty are short term, and 40 are long term. If the 40 long-term leads are not followed up on simply because they’re a buying cycle or two out, $30,000 (half of the total spent) is wasted. If on the other hand, all 80 are worked appropriately, and sales closes 20% of the total at an average selling price of $250,000, revenue is doubled. Once they are identified, it costs only an incrementally small amount to nurture long-term leads to fruition.

3. Leads at every stage of the buying cycle are essential for a healthy pipeline.

For predictability and consistency in meeting your numbers, you can’t count on just one type of lead in the pipeline. Companies need a mix of short-term and longer-term opportunities to keep the quarterly scramble at bay, and they need for all involved to understand the significant value of the less-than-hot lead.

Weigh the cost, weigh the benefit. No company can begrudge the incremental dollars (in the example above, it’s less than $5,000) it takes to nurture long-term leads already generated and qualified, across additional cycles, into the opportunities that drive revenue growth over the long haul.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to effectively nurture your long-term opportunities to increase marketing ROI, click here to for a resource on that topic or send an email to mark.collura@pointclear.com.