Thursday, August 27, 2009

 

Seven reasons your business should (probably) be on Twitter

I can think of seven specific, revenue-producing reasons why most businesses should be on Twitter. If your customers are using Twitter, you probably should be too. But how, and why? Here are seven places to start:

Get New Customers
What do you sell? There are prospective customers talking about it on Twitter right now. Do a search for that product or service or topic and you'll find them. Reply to their tweets, and engage with them directly as prospective new customers. Better yet, start sending your own tweets with the same keywords or hashtags (which is the keyword with a # in front of it to help others find it). That way you'll start attracting new customers to you with the same topics or products.

Keep In Touch With Customers & Fans
Find out which of your customers are using Twitter, ask them to follow you. Follow them in return. Share news about your business, your new products, and topics your customers collectively will care about. Reply directly to your customers & fans, and retweet their Twitter posts that would be interesting to the rest of your followers. Twitter is a great way to keep an ongoing, interactive conversation going with your customers between purchases.

Watch Your Competitors
Who do you compete with? They're either on Twitter too, or are being talked about there. Do searches for them directly, and you'll not only see what they're talking about to their customers and prospects, but you'll also see what their current customers are saying about them - good, bad and ugly. Not a bad way to find new prospective customers, but at minimum you'll keep closer tabs on the competition - including gleaning things you could be doing to grow your own business.

Announce Sales & Specials
Putting that summer line on sale? Tell your Twitter fans. Announce that anyone who retweets the discount to their own followers is entered in a drawing for free product. Send special coupons and offers exclusively to your Twitter followers (which will encourage more customers to follow you).

Generate Referrals
Contribute content or links that your followers will retweet to their own followers. This will drive new customers to discover and follow you. Run a contest for anyone who retweets about your business today - all new followers and those who retweet are entered in a drawing for a gift card, or free product.

Cross-Promote Neighboring Businesses
If you're in retail or a restaurant in particular, and physically sit with other businesses, you're in it together as far as foot traffic goes. Help promote your neighbor businesses to your followers - even if they themselves aren't yet on Twitter. The more business you help drive to them, the more they'll help drive to you - either directly or via the increased foot traffic to your general area.

Cross-promote Similar Businesses in Other Markets
You're a unique hotel in Seattle? Partner with similar hotels in other markets and cross-promote each other to travelers. High-end French restaurant? Do the same. Build a partner network via Twitter to quickly accelerate the volume of out-of-town traffic you generate.

What did I miss? How are you using Twitter specifically to generate new customers and repeat business?

Monday, August 24, 2009

 

Trust goes both ways (why consistency is important)

Micah Baldwin from Lijit Networks gave the shortest presentation from last week’s Gnomedex, but it was arguably the most important for marketers. In just 10 minutes, he inspired a series of blog posts I’ll write here over the next couple weeks.

First, however, let’s talk about trust. Micah’s definition of trust is simple:

“Trust is the creation of an expectation that person A will always act as Person B expects them to act”

In other words, trust is your reputation when consistency is added to the equation. If your customers have come to expect you’ll be honest and transparent in your dealings with them, you’ve established a very good kind of trust.

Based on Micah’s definition, however, you can also establish bad trust. If you’re always late, consistently overpromise and underdeliver, or generally get defensive when someone questions your work, that’s trust as well. Just not the trust you want to have earned.

So if creating trust is about expectations and consistency, what does that mean for your business or brand? How are you accelerating and maintaining trust by ensuring a consistent experience for every customer, every time?

The bigger your business, the more difficult this will be. But the bigger your business, the more important consistency and trust will be to future growth, revenue and success.


 

Run your business like a life

For many of us, business and life – personal and professional – blur together on a regular basis. But the idea of running your business (or your career) like a life is a good one. Chris Brogan wrote about this in his newsletter this morning, and I’ve included some excerpts below. Worth a quick read:

In writing Trust Agents with Julien, I've been building more and more information up around the idea of being human at a distance, and about the way human-shaped business works. One thing I believe: that lots of situations in business feel a lot like relationships, and vice versa.

Think of Everyone as a Relationship

Customers are a relationship. Prospects are, too. Coworkers are those people we spend more time with than many of our extended relatives. But do we treat everyone as if we're in a relationship with them? I don't mean that you have to kiss everyone (though hugging wouldn't be all that terrible, would it?), but I do mean that if we considered this, even every once in a while, our business experiences (from communication to interpersonal interactions) would improve. For instance, we don't spam our family.

Make Everything Into an Improvement Project

At home, we carve up things into projects. We paint the deck. We decide to build out a new sun room. We replace the living room furniture. Some of our projects are recurring: vacuuming, laundry, meal preparation.

Business runs the same way, even if your job is made up of recurring tasks. If your role is director of marketing, the overarching goals of the organization are to drive more awareness and translate that to sales (let's say). Why not find ways to chunk that into projects: email marketing improvement, online presence management, blogger outreach efforts, print campaign streamlining, integration efforts, etc. Can you see how that "project" mindset changes business?

Integrate Your Presence and Profile

Online, I'm often asked the question as to whether one should have a work and a business profile separate from one another. I say no. Except in extreme cases (your fetish art hobby doesn't work well with your day care center job, maybe), I believe that our profiles and how we conduct ourselves online should be an integrated thing.

This might require some help from friends. You might need to request that your Facebook friends not tag you in photos from the party where you did the kegstand in your band costume. It might mean having to do some untagging when one of your friends tags you anyway. But I think it's worth it.

Social software allows for a more enriched view of our interests, our pursuits, our goals. By connecting on various sites as an integrated whole, we treat people more like humans, and we operate human-shaped businesses.

Will it Work?

You might be wondering if any of this improves the bottom line. My answer? Yes. Does it work for every organizational culture? No. But here's a trick: culture is a non-physical consensual reality that only exists because others perpetuate it. Inserting new programming into the culture, is similar to hacking software (or our immune system): appear externally to be compatible with the culture, and then inject small traces of the new programming into the system. Defend against the antibodies, and soon, you're in.

Hack your workplace, friends. You deserve it.


Friday, August 21, 2009

 

Evolving, changing & improving

Two "Secrets of My Success" from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman in the latest issue of Fortune Magazine apply to sales & marketing professionals as much as they do founders & CEOs:

Be Willing to Change Course
Entrepreneurs tend to believe, "I've got my idea, I'll go until I die." But I advise them to take seriously the questions about whether their plan is irredeemably flawed and whether they need to change what they're doing. Be diligent about failing fast so that you don't spend five years doing something that's just going to fail.
(the lesson for marketers: measure what's working, evaluate impact on sales & revenue, and quickly make adjustments or move on if it's not working.)

Don't Be a Perfectionist
I frequently tell Internet entrepreneurs, "If you're not somewhat embarrassed by your 1.0 product launch, then you've released too late." There's value in launching early, getting engaged with customers, and learning from them. That can direct your progress.
(the lesson for marketers: stop talking about it, and just do it! Don't be afraid to make some mistakes, and spend the majority of your time executing.)


 

Three great interview strategies

Warren Ethridge from The Warren Report gave a fantastic opening talk at Gnomedex this morning, and focused on helping us get the most out of interviews. No matter why you're interviewing someone, this is great advice:

Shock them & get their attention
Let them know right away that this isn't going to be a typical interview. Get them out of their comfort zone, for both of your sakes. If they weren't giving you their full attention, they will now - for the entire remainder of the interview.

Win their trust
Know something about them going in, study them (at least a little) to know why they're there and what they can contribute (for their and your specific interests). The more they trust you earlier in the interview, the more earnest and interesting they'll be throughout.

Earn their respect
Prove that you care, and want to learn more about them. Listen to their answers. Better yet, don't come in with a written or prepared set of questions. Spend your time listening and reacting, and let your instincts and their answers take you to the next question. You'll both get more out of it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

 

What's your late-summer BHAG?

It’s mid-August. Many of your colleagues are either on vacation, or slacking off. It’s warm, there are fewer people in the office to keep you accountable, and many significant projects are on hold until after Labor Day when your peers and/or customers get back to business.

If this sounds familiar, you probably have two maybe three weeks left until things get busy again.

So what’s your late-summer BHAG?

For those that remember, BHAG stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. It’s traditionally meant to be a very long-term goal (call it a vision) that aligns you and your organization towards a common, long-distance star that spells ultimate success. Bill Gates’ goal of a computer in every home and on every desk? When he first spoke it, it was a crazy goal. Not it’s very close to reality.

You, on the other hand, have just three weeks. But think about the set of back-burner projects you know can mean significant growth, revenue or opportunity if you only had a few more hours to focus on it. Why not now? Why not carve out a couple hours a day for the next three weeks to make it happen?

Choose something you can realistically but aggressively achieve in three weeks, and go for it.


Friday, August 07, 2009

 

A few words (and a free download) about lead nurturing

Smart marketers and marketing-driven companies use educational content to engage prospects. Marketo is no different. But what does make them different is the quality of the content they produce, and the separation they present between the value of that content and the sale of their product.

Sure, all of their content leads one to want lead nurturing all the more. But everything they produce - on their blog, in their white papers, and in their new Guide to Lead Nurturing - has a ton of value on its own. Marketo, in that sense, is a great model for marketers everywhere who want to engage sales prospects in a conversation based on credibility and value prior to the sale.

Speaking of their new Guide to Lead Nurturing, I asked Maria Pergolino, Marketo's Inbound Marketing Manager, to answer a few questions about lead nurturing in general. If you're new to lead nurturing as a concept, these questions are already in a "prospect FAQ" format. If you already know what we're talking about, feel free to skip directly to the download.

You have my attention for a three-story elevator ride. Why should my business prioritize lead nurturing?

Generating leads is often expensive and labor intensive. By turning more leads in your database into sales you will save time and resources, and increase revenue and overall market share.
Companies that excel at lead nurturing can:

My business is too small for lead nurturing, right?
No, if you are email contacts or have an opted-in house database you can do lead nurturing. Nurturing ensures that your prospects get the right message at the right time and can actually save a smaller business money by making better use of their current marketing content. Often, even for smaller companies, the ROI on lead nurturing can far outweigh the investment.

My sales reps already stay in touch with their best prospects, isn’t that enough?
The B2B buying process has fundamentally changed. Prospects are spending more time on the Web doing independent research, obtaining information from their peers and other third parties. That’s why companies are meeting prospective buyers earlier than ever, and is a key reason why having sales attempt to engage with every early-stage lead is premature. Most new leads are not ready to engage with a sales rep, causing the rep to file the lead away. This often causes sales to be frustrated with marketing leads and also puts the lead at risk of being lost, ignored or snatched up by competitors when they are ready to buy. Most non-sales-ready leads will eventually be ready, and it is up to you to both provide them with relevant information and to be there when they are ready to make a buying decision. This is why lead nurturing is so critical and can’t just be replaced by sales rep follow-up.

This sounds like a big project, and I’m already buried. How do I get started quickly & easily?
Start by reviewing The Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing to get a clear understanding of the benefits of lead nurturing, basic and advance lead nurturing tips, and information on calculating ROI with workbook. Because this book is separated into chapters you can read what you need to know without spending time on pages that aren’t relevant to you.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

 

When not to use focus groups

I’m still a fan of focus groups.  Yes, they’re mostly qualitative, and at best you’re capturing information from a handful of customers that may or may not be representative. 

But the richness of information, the multi-dimensional and behavioral feedback is unique to that environment.  And with some products (trying on jackets, or testing perfume for example) sending an email survey just doesn’t cut it.

But to make focus groups effective, you have to consider what information you’re gathering.  If you want insights on current customer perceptions, focus groups are good.  If you want to measure how current opinions might map to a future idea, great.

But if you want to capture accurate, directional feedback on an innovative new idea, good luck.  Focus groups – or simply the act of asking any set of prospective customers their opinion – won’t get you anywhere.  In fact, it may point you in the wrong direction.

Your customers – current and future – know what they know.  They like what’s comfortable, what’s expected.  Throw something new in front of them, and you’re asking them to adjust their current worldview.  That doesn’t always go well.

Innovative ideas, products and services don’t always take right away.  Even the early adopters don’t always initially like it.  So how would you expect a group of strangers (or even loyal customers!) to give you accurate feedback on something entirely out of their current frame of reference?

Too often focus groups are used to test new ideas, well beyond current thinking, and the negative feedback collected shuts down the idea before it gets to market – even for a measured test. 

And that’s a shame, because you can’t expect even a well-targeted audience to understand something totally different, even if it will be critical to their productivity, happiness and/or success in years to come.

Innovation, for better or worse, is still about using your instincts and a direct read on the market and its needs.  It’s not always quantitative.  If it was, it would probably be a lot easier and more frequently achieved than it is today.


Monday, August 03, 2009

 

What matters more than how - A Q&A with Rethink author Ric Merrifield


Many have written about the differences between urgency & importance, getting more of the right things done, and having a predetermined plan for success. But nobody had really explored the idea of how we work, vs. what we're working on, the way Ric Merrifield did in his recent book Rethink.

In Rethink, Ric challenges us to stop doing what we're told, and instead consider why it's being done in the first place. By focusing on objectives, he says, much of what we actually do can be done in a very different way to more effectively & efficiently achieve results.

Here's more on what vs. how from Ric:

What pushed you over the edge to write this book? What were you seeing that made it clear this message was necessary to get people back on the right track?
When I first started working in this area, I realized that it was a very simple way to translate business needs into technology specifications, which was why the initial focus was service-oriented architecture (SOA). But that always came off as a little too academic and people were skeptical. Then as the case studies started to take shape, I realized that we were aiming too low for success with this; it was much more than a way to translate business requirements, it is a new way to listen and communicate at the most basic level.

That's why the people at the Harvard Business Review called it "The Next Revolution in Productivity" - it took them two years of sending me previous articles saying "explain how your ideas are different from these three articles" and that went on and on until one day they REALLY got it, and helped me put it into words that other people could really understand and digest. It was in the heavy editorial process from mid-February to mid-March of 2008 that I came up with the phrase the "how" trap and realized that it's a human condition - we all fall into it (some more than others) at home and at work, and that was really the moment I knew it was a useful enough message to put in book form, with enough method and examples to get people started.

How do organizations fall into the "how" trap in the first place? What are the signs executives can look for to know they need to make a change?
In a lot of cases I think people assume that when they take a job that the previous person in their job was probably not an idiot, so they assume the work flow and steps that have always been done are probably good ones. They tend not to push back and ask the "why can't we do it this way?" kinds of questions.

Why can't we have passengers check themselves in for a flight? Why can't we only allow our bank customers to write online checks (as ING DIRECT did, which eliminated overdrafts, which eliminated the entire department for dealing with bad checks)? Why can't we turn our backs on some customer segments that make us less profitable if we give in to their demands (Eclipse Aviation)? Why can't we eliminate stores and late fees in the video rental business (Netflix)? Why can't we choose to not make a profit on the products we sell (Costco makes their profits from their membership dues)? Of course it goes on and on, but the point is to be really specific about the outcome you are chasing after, the "what" you are doing at a macro level and at a micro level, and then you can ask, are there options for "how" we go about it.

There's a ton of value in just focusing on execution to get things done and deliver results. How do you effectively balance focused execution, the how, with maintaining a strategic focus and reason for the work?
That's a great question. One of the signs that people need to take a step back and rethink their work is when they feel as though they are constantly "too busy chopping wood to stop and sharpen their axe." Sometimes it's literally just that there's too much work and not enough people, but often not. And especially now that times are tough, people should really be asking what is and isn't really valuable to their success.

What are some tactical best practices you've found for staying focused on the right work, day to day? What are the tools your best individual examples are using?
I have found that once you get in the habit of separating the what’s from the how’s, it just becomes a habit. One key is when someone is describing their work, listening for the "how" verbs like fax, ship, e-mail, etc. there's a good chance the person talking is in a "how" trap. Taking the fax example, when someone sends a fax, the "what" is communicating the status of something, or confirming (or denying) something, but when often when you walk up to someone at the fax machine and ask them what they are doing they will say something like "I am faxing the J327 form" If you say "why don't you just e-mail it?" or something along those lines, you are challenging, even threatening, their decision about their work, whereas when you say, "OK, the J327 is an order confirmation, so you are confirming an order, and 'how' you are doing it is with the fax, if you could perform that same order confirmation in some other way that would save you time, would that be OK?" that's a much cleaner, less threatening way to have the conversation, and you have started the person thinking in terms of what’s and how’s.


What's the implication here for cross-departmental work, specifically for how sales & marketing organizations work together?
These ideas are very powerful at helping to break down silos and get to a more common language. We see piles of repetition, especially in big organizations because each department uses different terminology and acronyms than others, which often mask the similarity or synergy in the work. There are lots of case studies of this in the book and in the Harvard Business Review article, that highlight how the language of process, which is often very subjective because it contains so many "how" verbs, actually preserves some of the departmental language specifics and keeps opportunities masked.

Learn more about Rethink here.

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