Sunday, November 29, 2009

 

Five ways to make the most of December (to get ready for January)

I can’t believe it’s already December, and 2009 is almost gone.  That means it won’t be long before the holidays are over, and we’re staring at a brand new month, quarter and year.  Before January hits you unprepared, spend time in December both catching up and getting ready.  Here are five specific things to get you started.

 

Read:  That backlog of blog posts sitting in your RSS Reader?  The stack of magazines on your desk?  Dig into them.  You don’t need to read every single article, but take time this month to catch up a bit on the reading you’ve wanted to do.  I guarantee you’ll find inspiration many times over.

Learn:  What skill have you wanted to learn?  What new sales or marketing strategy have you wanted to get smarter about before testing for your organization?  There’s something you’ve been putting off, because you simply don’t have time.  What if you devoted the next 30 days to reading, practicing and testing that skill?  How could that make you smarter and more successful in 2010? 

Brainstorm:  Pick a handful of important problems or challenges.  They can be things facing you personally or professionally, individually or with a group.  Feel free to brainstorm on your own, but also pull friends, family or colleagues (whichever group is most appropriate) into a room with a white board to help.  Even if you just take 30 minutes (our team takes as little as 10 minutes depending on the topic), with a bit of mental isolation and focus, you’ll come up with something highly useful.

Secret Shop:  Which competitors – big or small – are creeping up on you?  Which ahead of you might be within reach?  How can you dig deeper, directly, into how they do business to learn what they’re doing well, where they’re weak, and what you can do differently to accelerate past (or further away from) them in the coming months?

Plan:  You’ve probably done some of this already for 2010, at least for your organization overall and/or for your department.  But have you done it for yourself?  For your career, or other professional and personal goals?  What focus areas and milestones will be important to you in 2010, and what do you need to do starting in January to achieve them?  Then, what do you need to do in December to hit the ground running?

 


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

 

How and when to thank your customers

‘Tis the season to send your customers a “we’re thankful for your business” email.   I’ve been getting several of them this week.  Most are well written and sincere. 

I’ve had a couple clients ask me if these are a good idea for their customer base as well, and they certainly are.  But here’s the rub. 

Of course you’re thankful for your customers’ business, and reminding them of such this week in particular is a great idea.  But you’re equally thankful for their business the other 51 weeks of the year.  Your customers need to be reminded of that (with your words and your deeds) on a regular basis.  That’s the best way to demonstrate your true thankfulness and appreciation, ultimately.

By all means, take the opportunity today to send a thank you email, blog post, tweet, whatever.  Just make sure you’re doing the same the rest of the year.

 



 


Monday, November 16, 2009

 

Five Steps to a Successful B2B Social Media Strategy

The beauty of most social media channels is that they're so easy to join and engage. Most are free. It takes just a few minutes to get set up, and literally seconds to start publishing. But if you’re marketing and selling a B2B product, a simple five-step process can ensure you’re getting the maximum, measurable yield from your efforts in terms of increased pipeline size and new sales. Here’s how.

1. Strategize
Social media is mostly about engaging & participating with like-minded others, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need a strategy. Execution without strategy, after all, is really just guessing. That said, creating a strategy for your social media implementation shouldn’t take long. Most important, answer a few basic questions.

Who are your target customers? Are you targeting different types of customers within a target account? Are there deal influencers (inside and outside of the organization) you want to target & influence as well? For each of these groups, think about what you want them to hear, what you need from them, and how all of this translates into the type of content you want to share with them.

This up-front thinking should also extend to the specific social media channels on which you’ll focus. First priority should be external networks where your customers already participate and engage. Could be mass-market channels such as Facebook and Twitter, but it also could be vertical or audience-specific channels elsewhere – like LinkedIn Groups or Ning.

You’ll likely refine this strategy and content/audience focus over time, but thinking about it in advance helps hone the how and where you’ll launch your social media efforts.

2. Publish
With an eye towards the value-added content your audiences will want to read, start publishing. Publish original content, and start commenting on the content of others. This is especially important if you’re using Twitter, as you’ll need a stable of at least 20-30 tweets under your belt before others think you’re relevant, and choose to follow you.

This doesn’t have to be your own content. You know what your audience cares about, and wants to read, so part of your content and publishing strategy should be redistributing content they need. Give credit where credit is due, of course, but there’s a lot of value in filtering and aggregating content from a variety of sources into a single feed for a particular audience.

When publishing on Twitter specifically, use short headlines followed by a “shortened” URL. Use a service like bit.ly to shorten and track your links. Where to find content to republish? Start following a bunch of audience-appropriate blogs and news feeds, and pull interesting headlines out of those feeds to republish. Eventually you’ll want to start publishing your own originated content (we’ll get into why later), but for now you can create value and “follow appeal” from others by using primarily third-party content.

If you’re using Twitter, apply hashtags to your content so that it’s more easily discoverable (and both followable and retweetable) by others. If you’re using Facebook and LinkedIn, take advantage of their “linking” tools to publish content on multiple platforms at once.

3. Follow
The easiest way to start getting the attention of people you want to engage is to follow them first. Use Twitter Search, for example, to find individuals you’d like to follow (and eventually follow you) based on keywords in their own Twitter feeds. Use TweepSearch to find users based on keywords in their Twitter bios. The same would apply within LinkedIn Groups. Spend time every day for awhile finding and following others. On average, between 25-35% of people you follow will follow you back.

Eventually, you can start using tools to automate the task of finding like-minded others to follow. You can search for followers by keywords, hashtag, organization and more.

As you gain followers, you’ll start to get pass-along from those primary followers to their followers. Over time, those secondary followers will follow you directly back, and that process and volume will pick up significantly as your audience grows. This works not just on Twitter, but on other social networks as well. The more you write good content, and help others discover you via that content, the more quickly your reach, influence and return click volume will grow.

4. Engage
Perhaps the most important component of building a healthy social media presence is to engage with your audience. Don’t just publish, don’t just follow. Interaction is key to building trust, credibility and action among those prospective customers.

This engagement can take many shapes. If you’re using Twitter, retweet interesting content from those you follow, and reply to them with ideas and questions. Follow the blogs of your prospective customers, and add comments to their posts. Ask your followers for feedback on new ideas, new messages. Occasionally share pictures, share something personal so they know you’re a human being.

Your engagement strategy will be somewhat custom to your intended audience and what they’re already doing/saying/posting, but engagement in whatever format is important. Without it, you’re not a member of the community – you’re just a lurker. And without becoming an active community member, you won’t get nearly the pass-along and clickthrough value you otherwise could.

5. Convert & Measure
By engaging your network and new community, by becoming one of them, and by significantly increasing the frequency with which they see your name on value-added content and participation, you will naturally and dramatically increase the volume of these prospects who take action to learn more about how you can help their business.

But once you get momentum with your networks, you can also start to feed direct conversion links directly into the conversation. These prospects aren’t ready for a pricing promotion or special purchase offer, that’s probably too early. But give them something value-added for which registration is required. It can be a research report, a sweepstakes entry, a Webinar invitation. The possibilities are endless, but all focused on helping those interested prospects to “raise their hand” so you can have a direct conversation with them.

These aren’t necessary “hot” sales leads. Some may be ready to buy right away, most probably won’t be. With the right lead nurture strategy in place, you can now take these new “hand raisers” and accelerate your direct relationship so that, once they are ready to enter a buying cycle, it goes much faster and has a higher likelihood of conversion.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

 

35 reasons to host an event for your business

Constant Contact recently launched event marketing capabilities for their customers, joining companies such as Cvent and EventBrite in making business events easier to organize and promote.

But why host an event in the first place? Here are 35 ideas to steal from, or use as inspiration for a unique event to drive results for your own business.

  1. Product launch
  2. Store opening
  3. Customer training event
  4. Expert guest speaker
  5. How-to workshop
  6. Raise money for a favorite charity
  7. Book signing
  8. Town hall meeting
  9. Focus group
  10. New product preview
  11. Private event for your best customers
  12. Private event for your partners and/or suppliers
  13. Press conference
  14. Anniversary celebration
  15. Birthday celebration
  16. Free sample party
  17. Kids Day
  18. Seniors Night
  19. College Night
  20. Celebrity appearance
  21. BBQ
  22. Cocktail party
  23. Black Friday “early access”
  24. Vendor/supplier fair
  25. Job fair
  26. Networking for neighboring businesses
  27. Group discussion
  28. Memorial
  29. Support group
  30. Book club
  31. Mastermind group
  32. Movie marathon
  33. Concert
  34. CD release party
  35. Expansion or remodel completion

There are dozens of reasons I've left out. What can you add? What additional reasons have you used to host an event that drives more awareness, more customers and more sales for your business?

Monday, November 09, 2009

 

Joining, talking and participating

Want credibility with a set of prospective customers?  Want to be accepted as one of them, as a part of their tribe?

It takes more than just joining their club.  It takes more than just speaking their language, and talking at them.

To be accepted today, you have to participate.

Participation means two-way communication, in an authentic manner, on a regular basis.  It takes more time, more effort, and more investment than what we used to be able to do – buy a list, get some PR, write a letter.  In other words, talk at the prospect.

Today, prospects require and expect more.  If you talk at them (in a letter, a blog post, an article in a trade publication), they expect to be able to talk and comment back.  And then, in turn, they expect you to read their response and engage yet again.

It’s more work.  And as long as your prospects keep responding, it doesn’t really end.  But isn’t that awesome?

The companies you want as your customers aren’t just reading your stuff anymore.  They’re responding, engaging, asking you questions, questioning your opinions.  They’re getting to know you, and by participating back you’re earning their trust and respect.  And if you keep participating, you can earn their business too.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

 

Traditional media + modern tactics = compelling marketing

Old-school media is far from dead. We’re watching more TV than ever before, and radio continues to be incredibly influential in local markets, especially during drive time.

As an advertising medium, traditional media such as television and radio aren’t quite as influential and powerful as they once were. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still make them work.

Davis Law Group in Seattle, for example, wants to engage potential local clients who may need help after an accident or injury. They’re using radio advertising as part of their campaign, in this case specifically targeting auto accident victims, but they’re doing two things in particular very well:

1. The voice-over for many of their spots isn’t a company spokesperson or even the desk-based drive-time news anchor. It’s the helicopter-based traffic guy, literally reading (or recording) the ad from the chopper. Where the message comes from (both the reader and the context) are highly relevant and attention-grabbing.

2. Chris Davis doesn’t just tell people to call him. He offers a free e-book to anyone who visits his site (or microsite, as he’s specifically promoting a site featuring the e-book that’s separate from the firm’s main Web presence). It’s a no-obligation, value-added offer that contextually relevant to his business, and focused on engaging potential clients before they get into that accident.

I’m not sure whether Chris is able to measure better performance for this campaign vs. traditional radio campaigns he may have run in the past (Chris, if you’re reading this, drop us a line and we’ll update this post). But he’s definitely using a traditional channel in a smarter way.

 

It's not who you know (why trust trumps volume)

The assumption that a big network – thousands of followers on Twitter, an enormous rolodex, a really big mailing list – directly translates into influence and performance is ridiculous.  Anybody can build a big list of names. 

The more important question is whether those people care about you.  Do they respect you?  Do they trust you?  When called upon, will they help you?  Will they buy from you?

The trick is translating that big list into an army of evangelists, a group of individuals who respect and trust you.

That’s how to measure the value of your network.  Not by sheer volume, but by trust. 

Trust drives influence, and influence enables action. 

 


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

 

Chris Brogan on being "them-centric"

Chris knows that building relationships, trust and credibility means talking less about yourself, and more about others – their wants, needs, interests, etc.

In his weekly newsletter yesterday, Chris outlined three simple but important ways to be “them-centric” more often. Here they are:

Always ask about the other person first. In social gatherings, be quick to ask about the other person's interests, what's currently on their mind, whatever turns the conversation to them.

Look at your efforts through others' eyes. Now, in measuring your self-worth, your own eyes are the only ones that matter, but in trying to better understand how well you're serving people's needs, try to see it from their side. Are you quick to pounce? Do you have their interests at heart or yours? The more clarity you can bring to this, the better you'll do.

Accept that you WILL get a turn. I taught this to my daughter over the years, and she seems to really practice this. Sometimes, she is last to take her turn, but she knows that she'll get a chance. This rings true for how we approach our interactions with others. Take a breath. Relax. Know that your story will come out when the pause is just right. It's okay to be assertive if the other person failed their kindergarten lessons on sharing, but otherwise, go slowly.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

 

How to build thought leadership and influence

The steps to building trust & credibility w/ a growing network is relatively straightforward:

  1. Engage new contacts somewhere, based on their needs
  2. Provide some immediate value, based on the messages/competencies you want to represent
  3. Establish a great first impression and initial reputation for those same messages/competencies
  4. Continue passively reiterating that value/message through high-volume, high-leverage channels

Contacts in, influencers and pipeline out. The more you can start the process by reaching multiple contacts at once, the more efficient the model. If you have to engage people 1:1 at the start of the process, for example, it doesn’t scale well. If you can engage folks via speaking engagements, third-party published articles, attending well-targeted networking events, etc., you get lots of input into the process at once.

How you choose to execute the “passive reiterating” depends on what channels your audience uses most, and which you’re most comfortable with. Blogs, newsletters, Twitter, whatever. Could be just one, could be a couple, definitely doesn’t need to be all.

Thinking about it this way is a bit systematic and perhaps cold, but it works as long as the content and value you’re providing the individuals on the other side of the process is genuine, authentic and truly helpful.


 

Dunbar's Number works both ways

Seth made a compelling argument last week that it’s extremely difficult to maintain quality relationships with more than 150 people.  He postulates that, if we believe Dunbar’s Number and theory to be true, it’s impossible to maintain close, meaningful relationships with the thousands of followers we try to collect via Facebook, Twitter, or blogs, and so forth.

And he’s right.  But Dunbar’s Number goes two ways.

If you’re building a following – for yourself, your brand, your cause, etc. – you’re creating value for your followers.  And although you can’t possibly have close relationships with thousands of followers, you very well may be among the 150 people your followers include in their Number.

Put another way, if you’re creating enough value for your audience, in an authentic and sustainable way, you can earn your way into their 150.  Into their inner circle, the influences they consider most important to their lives.  And if you can do that with enough followers, then scaling your volume into the thousands, tens of thousands and beyond can be an incredibly powerful opportunity.

Seth himself is a great example of this.  Tens of thousands of people worldwide read his blog and books, many on a daily basis.  For those people, he’s in the top-tier of their marketing and general business influencers.  He’s in their 150. 

That’s a position of authority, respect and influence that’s reachable for more of us.

Think about you target audience, your target customer.  What do they care about, think about on a daily basis?  What do you have to offer that can earn your way into their 150?  Then, how are you delivering value every day to keep that position?

 


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