Plant some marketing seeds

plant some marketing seedsBy the time a farmer is harvesting his crop, he’s already well into the planning of his upcoming planting season. We marketing types could learn a lot from those farmers.

The fourth quarter is a very busy time for most businesses for several reasons:

  • Lots of clients are spending the remainder of their budgets
  • Customers are motivated to wrap things up before the year’s end
  • Many companies are working short staffed and lose a lot of productivity around Thanksgiving and throughout December because of holidays and vacations
  • Internal planning for 2015 budgets and work plans is typically done during this time

That’s why it’s not all that surprising that you aren’t thinking about the sales/activity dry spell that often comes in January and February. You may be the exception to this rule, but for many organizations, the first few months of the year are often the slowest in terms of leads, sales and revenue.  That’s why you need to plant some marketing seeds right now.

It’s usually around the end of January that someone inside the company says, “Wow, our sales are really slow. We’d better do something.” They go into a brainstorming session and come up with some sort of promotion, marketing tactics or special to generate some sales activity.

Odds are, the ideas that get generated at the end of January usually start producing results 30-90 days after they’re deployed.

So if that’s the case…wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to begin those promos, specials, and increased efforts now, sixty days before your inevitable dry spell?

Let’s call it your planting seeds effort. You want to generate interest now but deliver the services/goods in January and February. How might you plant some marketing seeds now?

Offer a 2014 budget/2015 delivery deal: You know that many of your clients have a fiscal year that ends in December. They have “use it or lose it” budgets. So why not help them wisely spend those budget dollars? Create an opportunity for them to make a smart purchase in 2014 for things they’ll need in the first few months of 2015.

Put together a package: Why not bundle some of your products/services in a way that guarantees usage over the first few months of the year? Set the end date to purchase the bundle sometime in the middle of January. Begin talking about the bundles now and you’ll either sell some in December or you’ll plant the seeds now and make the sale in January.

Kick off a PR campaign: Maybe it’s time to create some buzz? That kind of buzz usually takes some time to build up so starting now means you’ll have some momentum in a few months. Be smart – concentrate on a few key publications that will position you in the right way with the right audience.

Reach out to former clients: Now might be the perfect time to re-connect with some of your former customers. Keep in mind that they’re (hopefully) doing their 2015 planning right now which might result in their realizing that they are going to need what you sell.

Develop and distribute helpful content: Depending on your industry and your customers, this might be an e-book, a white paper, a podcast, or even an in person seminar. Use this opportunity to demonstrate just how smart you are and how you can help them by sharing that expertise. Use the content to reach back out to potential customers you’ve already courted, prospects and even current customers.

Mine your referral network: Your best customers are typically more than happy to boast about your work. Now is the perfect time to ask them who else they think might benefit from your expertise/products. Set up those initial meet and greets for the first week of January.

Don’t wait until you’re in the middle of your slow season to worry about shortening it. If you plant some marketing seeds right now, the slow season may be a thing of the past.

Start a conversation with your customer?

start a conversation with your customerStart a conversation with your customer?  I know, it’s crazy talk.  Why in the world would you want to talk to the very people who choose to do business with you?

I trust you can see my tongue poking through my cheek, but the truth is, most businesses give lip service to the idea of starting a conversation with their customers, but few actually do.

Let’s agree on a few points right up front:

  • It’s cheaper to keep a customer than get a new one
  • It’s cheaper to sell more to a current customer than make the first sale to a new customer
  • There’s no better marketing than word of mouth – which usually comes from your current customers

Those truths would suggest that our current clients are pretty important to our business’ long-term success. Despite that fact, most businesses:

  • Don’t invest enough of their marketing budget/efforts on their current customers
  • Don’t routinely thank (other than the pre-printed thank you at the bottom of your invoice) their current clients
  • Don’t listen enough to their current customers.

Why in the world do we, in essence, ignore our best bet at success?

In this post, I’m going to focus on the listening issue. No one knows what it’s like to buy products or services from us like the very people who buy our products and services. And yet, the vast majority of businesses never bother to ask for feedback. Or they ask for feedback in a way that makes it so off-putting or difficult to provide the feedback that the customer ops not to. In most cases, the first chance the customer has to provide real, honest feedback is when they walk away and give their money to your competitor.

I think there are a few reasons why organizations don’t seek customer feedback.

  • Fear: “I just don’t want to know because then I’m going to have to deal with it.”
  • Bad time management: “I know it’s important and I’ve been meaning to launch a survey but then things got crazy.”
  • Ignorance: “I don’t know how to make it happen and I think it has to be some big, elaborate thing.”

If you’re not actively and regularly seeking your clients’ input and insights, it’s one of the biggest marketing mistakes you can make. The only mistake worse than not asking for their input is actually asking for it and then not doing anything to fix the issues you uncover. Now you’ve asked for their opinion and then told them how little you care by ignoring their concerns.

Let’s assume you have found the courage and the time to listen. Are you ready to start a conversation with your customer?How do you go about it? Depending on your size and budget, you can make it as simple or regimented as you need.

Start a conversation: Take your client to lunch and ask “how are we doing and what could we do better?” Walk up to a customer in your store and say “we just re-arranged the shelves, did we make it easier for you to find what you need?” It can be that simple.

Observe: Sometimes the best way to listen is to just watch. How do people move through your store or website? What do they pick up or mouse over? What do they walk right by? Which Facebook posts do they share?

Ask on a schedule: Once a quarter or once a year – reach out to your customers with a survey that asks open-ended questions like “what’s your favorite thing about our service?” Or “what do you wish we’d stop doing?” Then (and this is vital) – report back to them what you learned and what you’re going to do about it.

Do true market research: If you’re big enough and have the budget, do more than antidotal research. Hire a pro and crunch the numbers. Build a benchmark that you can measure against, time and time again.

Just dip your toe into listening if you’re not ready to jump in head-first. But don’t wait too long – or your customers will be swimming in your competitor’s pool!

 

Is your website sales funnel-shaped?

Website Sales FunnelThere’s always a lot of buzz about SEO (search engine optimization), SEM (search engine marketing) and of course, Google rankings.

Rightly so – each of those plays a role in how effectively your website can serve you from a marketing and sales perspective. Your website should be sales funnel shaped.

But I think most companies approach the web a little like the fable about the five blind men who were asked to describe the elephant that stood before them. The man who was near the elephant’s leg reached out, touched the elephant and announced that an elephant was like a huge tree trunk. The man who was by the tail, after feeling it, described an elephant like a bullwhip and so on.

While none of them were wrong – none of them were right either. That’s exactly where many companies are when they think about how to leverage their website. They’re not wrong but they haven’t got it quite right either.

Lets step back and take a more holistic view of the website’s purpose for being. You might have a website because it:

  • Gives you credibility – it proves that you’re real
  • Tells the visitor what your company is all about and why you exist
  • Lists/show what you sell/do
  • Educates your prospect on how you are different from your competitors and help them make an more informed buying decision
  • Helps your customers and prospects by making them smarter/better in some way
  • Is an information repository so your customers can access things like users manuals, support forums, case studies, testimonials or other forms of thought leadership
  • Provides ways to start a conversation, ask a question or give you feedback
  • May serve as a shopping portal and people can buy right there

But if we step back even a little further and take a look from the 30,000 foot level, we can see through all those functionalities, your website is the entry point to your sales funnel. For most organizations today — your website is the initial point of entry that could lead to a sale today or five years from today.

That doesn’t happen by accident. Getting them to your site isn’t the end of the game; it’s just the beginning. Now your goal is to move them into and through your sales funnel. You have to build your site and everything that happens on it with that intention.

Whenever I think of a sales funnel, I picture one of those plastic funnels people use when they do an oil change. The top of it is really wide and the bottom is a very skinny hole. The funnel coincides with the know • like • trust equation.

The top of the sales funnel – know

The top of the funnel is for catching all those people who have no idea you exist or that you sell anything they might need or want. This is where you are hoping they’ll get to know you.

The middle of the funnel is filled with all the ways you either keep them on your site or get them to come back. With repeated exposure, you’re hoping they’ll come to like you.

The smallest section of the funnel is where you’re hoping they come to trust you through repeated interactions, you continuing to be helpful and demonstrating a consistency in how you talk, behave and perform.

Once they’ve willingly squeezed themselves through that tiny little section of the funnel, they’ll be ready to buy. But not before.

Let’s look at the first stage of the funnel (know) and what you can do to catch the interest of your web visitors and encourage them to get to know you a little.

At the top of the funnel we have people who’ve never heard of you and may have no idea they need or want what you sell. They might discover you by clicking on a link in a blog post or after reading about you in the newspaper. They might have a problem and be Googling to find a solution and your site is listed in their search results. They may see a Facebook ad or type in your URL off your business card that they picked up at a trade show. But at this point, you’re a stranger. They don’t know, like or trust you. And we know we have to earn their trust before we can earn their money.

At that moment, your website has to be helpful or relevant enough in some way that they spend a little time on it so they begin to get a sense of you and how you might matter to them.

This is a do or die moment. If the visitor pokes around the site and then leaves, they might never return and you’ll never know who they were or if you could have served them. That’s how it works on most websites. If I asked you to show me a list of people who were on your website in the last six months, could you do it?

One of the appealing aspects of using the web to pre-shop is the anonymity of it. To get someone to introduce themselves to you — you have to either give them a compelling reason to keep coming back or better yet, you have to create the opportunity for an information exchange. You have to offer them something that is valuable enough that they’ll give you their email address in return. While it sounds simple – think of how many websites you visit and how few capture your contact information.

What does that look like? You want to offer something that’s a low barrier to entry. It doesn’t feel too intrusive. It could be any of these:

  • Sign up for our Enewsletter or regular tips
  • Get a copy of a how-to report, whitepaper or cheat sheet
  • Take an online course via email
  • Get access to unique content behind a firewall
  • Join a discussion group/closed forum
  • Be notified when new content/information is available
  • Download an eBook or watch a short video series
  • Sign up for a webinar or phone conference

Once you’ve done made that initial connection and you have a way to stay in touch – you can continue to be helpful which will keep the conversation going. At that point, one of two things is going to happen. As they get to know you/your company – they’re either going to decide they like you or they don’t. Both are great outcomes.

If they like you, they’ll stay in the conversation and get to know you even better. If they don’t like you, they’ll go away. Now you don’t have to waste any energy on someone who was going to be a bad fit.

The middle section of the sales funnel – like

To move someone from the start of the process into this section requires a mix of bravery and generosity on your part.

Keep in mind that most prospects are pretty skittish. Whether it’s in a retail store or online, they’re used to being chased around by over eager salespeople that pester the poor potential buyer until they flee. That’s one of the reasons many people do a significant amount of their shopping online. The anonymity allows them to browse without pressure.

That’s why you want to load up your website with lots of content that has no barrier to consumption like blog posts, testimonials and FAQs. Those elements will generate traffic to your site. The strategies we talked about last week – where there is an exchange of information (their email address for some downloadable tool or content) begins to thin the herd. The tire kickers will avoid the opt-in level, preferring to stick with your free content. And that’s fine. Until they move to the next level, they’re not ready to buy. Once they trade you their email address for some content, they’ve indicated that they are open to hearing from you.

I find it hard to believe I have to actually say this but I’ve seen time and time again that I do. There is absolutely no reason to collect email addresses if you aren’t going to actually send them something.

And that something cannot be a sales pitch. I’ve seen so many businesses stumble here. They didn’t give you their email address so you could hard sell them or immediately try to get an appointment or schedule a sales call. They gave it to you so you would keep sending them information that’s valuable to them.

That is your litmus test. Each and every time, before you hit send, ask yourself “is this going to be valuable to my audience?” Time for a re-write if your honest answer is no.

Assuming you keep producing helpful content and you actually send it out consistently – the prospects will let you stay in their in box. Week (or month or quarter) after week, you’re there. You’re teaching, helping and they are getting a little smarter and a little more comfortable with you each time they hear from you.

You should also use those regular emails (or however you decide to connect with them) to drive them back to new content/offerings on the website. Maybe you produced a demo video series or you’re hosting an educational event that you’d like them to register for.

While we are focusing on your website, it certainly shouldn’t be the only tool in your toolbox. Your sales funnel should be armed with both digital and traditional tactics. They work together hand in glove, each strengthening the other.

The days of your website just being an online brochure are long gone. Be sure your web presence is the sales workhorse it should be by building a sales funnel around the know • like • trust = sales equation.

The last section of the sales funnel – trust

Having the right timing matters. You don’t get to this part of the funnel after the first couple interactions. If I see one consistent mistake, it’s that people shift into these sorts of strategy way too early. It’s like meeting someone in a bar and proposing the same night. Odds are you aren’t going to get too many yeses.

I totally get it from a business’ point of view and have often felt that frustration myself. You’ve shared your expertise. You’ve answered their questions. Surely they should be ready to buy by now. They obviously like what you do enough to keep coming back. So why aren’t they buying?

In my thirty years of being in business, I’ve rarely met a buyer who is as anxious to make the sale as the seller. Sure, there are those customers who come to us in crisis, and we scramble to put out their fire but they’re not the norm. So what do we do? We hang in there, and we keep being helpful and we work to stay top of mind until they’re ready to move forward.

The other factor to remember is that while we are the ones who build the sales funnel, it’s the prospect that moves through it and they control the pace and direction. So while one prospect may linger in the getting to know you (remember our know • like • trust = sales model) or growing to like you section for years, another may whip through both of those and be willing to trust you enough for a trial purchase in a matter of a couple visits.

For your website to truly be an effective sales funnel, you need to offer different levels of engagement, so the prospects can move themselves through at their own speed. As we talked about in the last couple columns, that means free content (text and video if possible) and content that you’ll give them for an email trade. But what kinds of things should you have available for those who are ready to consider a purchase?

Believe it or not – one that many companies miss is having contact information on the site. Don’t make me look for your phone number or email address. If you have the capacity, live chat is great. But make sure I can contact you and give me more than one method. If you have a brick and mortar presence, be sure you list your street addresses as well, with a link to one of the mapping sites.

You can also offer the ability to schedule a call, demo or take an assessment that will require you contact them (usually by email) with the results.

Remember that most buyers want to be pretty sure they’re going to buy before they speak to a salesperson or company representative. When they do reach out, they may have some final questions but they’re very close to making a buying decision. Which means you need to be ready to respond quickly once they do trigger that next level of readiness. Test your site and all your internal systems to verify that nothing is going to get in the way of you finally connecting with this potential buyer.

Today’s consumers want to be able to shop us on the web. How well that works for you is completely in your control. Is your site ready?

P.S. I found the great graphic on a SocialFresh blog post.

 

Is creativity bad for marketing?

funny eggs with facial expression: scared screaming and being terrified.As a writer just typing the question – is creativity bad for marketing – hurts a little.

Advertising and marketing people pride themselves on their creativity. After all, it’s one of the lures of the profession for most of us.

But does it serve our businesses and our business goals?

On the surface, it’s easy to argue that creativity is essential to good advertising and marketing. Whether it’s strategic nuances and insights, being innovative in your brand and how you express it, or marketing materials that capture the audience’s attention and imagination – all of those are built on a foundation of creative thinking.

But I’ve been in some situations recently where it was evident that the long-term objectives were not being well served by an infusion of creativity. Then, sadly the answer is yes…. creativity can be bad for marketing.

So let’s look at how the very thing we work so hard to capture can also be a detriment.

Too many ideas: This can be a killer. When a team is on fire with great ideas and falls in love with them all, the end result can be a mess. Sometimes the team tries to pack in all the ideas so rather than building a message hierarchy where you lead with your key message and then support that message — you get five pounds of ideas shoved into a one pound bag. That results in a lot of superficial messaging rather than a well-developed story with depth and relevance.

The other possible outcome of too many ideas is that the team decides to use them all sequentially. That typically means that no one idea is left in place long enough to really take root. Remember, about the time that we as the creators are getting sick of the ad/brochure/tagline etc. is about the same time the intended audience is just noticing the communication. If you pull the plug too soon, you lose all momentum and have to start all over.

Unbridled creativity: As the brainstorming pendulum swings, it often goes to an extreme that’s beyond the audience’s sensibilities. Sometimes a team can get so enamored with being provocative or wildly creative that they forget who their audience is. We’ve all seen ads that were very outlandish and got a lot of attention but in the end, were too far over the top and the company ended up issuing an apology or retracting the ad.

Marketing has a very simple purpose – to sell something. It might be selling a product, or an ideal or a candidate or a charity’s cause. But it does not exist to entertain, provoke a reaction or win awards. If it sells AND entertains, all the better. But it needs to do its job. Which means the audience’s perspective must always be front and center.

Cart before the horse creativity: Believe it or not, good creativity is actually the outcome of a very disciplined process, at least in marketing. To truly be creative in a way that nets the desired results, you have to do your homework before you release the creative juices. Until you define the goals, identify and get to know your audience and understand your unique position in the marketplace – you hold your creativity in place.

When you unleash it too soon, you may come up with the most compelling marketing tools that drive the audience to action, but they might be the wrong audience, might be taking the wrong action or might play to one of your competitor’s strengths.

Like most things, creativity isn’t good or bad, at least not in the world of marketing. It’s how we use it that makes it either a huge asset or a hindrance to us achieving our ultimate marketing goals.