Thursday, April 29, 2010


Great email response tactic or going too far?

I received this email from Eloqua this morning (click to enlarge for a closer look). I say "great" because I liked the creativity surrounding the way they got me to open and read it. But I'm wondering how effective it would ultimately be at scale, and whether it would do more harm than good.

The concept is essentially a forwarded email that looks like it's coming straight from one person to me. It's simple and brilliant. Adding a "FW:" at the beginning of the usual subject line, then actually forwarding an original email to me with a quick introduction, made the email look personal, and ensured that it explicitly did NOT look like the barrage of spam and one-to-many emails we all get. I'm guessing they got a high open rate on this.

That's why I like it. But I also wonder if, once people realize it's actually part of a mass campaign, if they'd be upset that it looked like something more personal. Would recipients think this is deceiving? Would they think this tactic is disingenuous?

Maybe I'm overthinking it. I'd love to test this. What do you think?

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Where will your next marketing ideas come from?

Here’s an idea.

Pick 5-8 people in your organization who are not in sales or marketing.  Invite them to a one-hour meeting later this week, and at the meeting spend 15 minutes each brainstorming on the four questions below.

I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised how creative, innovative and useful their ideas and that time will be.

Bonus points if you hand them a copy of the questions afterward, give them a day or two to think more about it, then reconvene the group for a  follow-up session to discuss additional ideas.

How will you identify and empower your most loyal customers to tell your story, increase positive word-of-mouth and general referrals?

What can employees do to evangelize your brand, and attract both new customers and potential new employees, on and off work hours?

How could you identify, engage and participate in customer communities to build value, trust, credibility and consideration/intent towards your brand?

What simple things can you do to inspire greater retention, renewals or frequency with current customers (without spending additional money)?



Getting the most out of an awesome conference (once you're back at the office)

I’m just returning home from an awesome conference. It was two-plus days of amazing speakers, great networking, and tons of ideas. I have 21 pages of type-written notes, full of ideas. And that doesn’t include hand-written notes on the back of business cards, other ideas embedded in presentation decks I’ve received from speakers, etc.

The flow of inspiration and ideas at a conference like this can be overwhelming while still away, but it gets worse when you’re back in the office. Unfortunately, those 21 pages of notes often get relegated to a pile on the side of our desks, or forgotten altogether once we dig into the backlog of emails, re-engage in the daily fire drills, and otherwise get overwhelmed by trying those great new ideas in the midst of the everyday madness that surrounds us.

To get the most out of the conference, and maximize your productivity and execution on all those great ideas, you need a little preparation, a little discipline, some organizational best practices and two short sharing exercises. Here’s what I’m thinking:

Take Better Notes: 21 pages of notes can be intimidating as you review them later. Next time, as you take notes during a conference, create a system for yourself that identifies the key ideas you want to review later. Put checkboxes, for example, next to things you specifically want to add to your to-do list later. Put a different symbol next to ideas you think are great, but know will take additional thinking/planning. More on what to do with those later. In essence, organize your notes as you take them to make next step capture faster and easier later on.

On The Plane Home: You likely want to tackle the backlog of work from the office as soon as the conference is over, and on the plane home. Instead, give yourself time to do a few things on that plane ride (the lack of connectivity and phone access works in your favor to keep you focused). First, go back through your notes come up with a few highlights or “headlines” you want to share with your team (or even just for yourself). Think about the 3-6 primary takeaways or themes, and write a short email with these bullets to your colleagues. This quickly & immediately share the most important learnings, and invites your colleagues to inquire to learn more (making it more likely those ideas will live on after you land). Second, start going through the rest of your notes in more detail to capture specific, immediate to-do’s into your usual to-do list(s), bigger projects worth considering on their own list, etc. Sorting your notes into something more actionable is the only way to ensure you’ll take action, and doing that now (when you’re not yet in the midst of your “usual” work) ensures it gets done while those notes and ideas are most fresh in your mind.

Triage: You will only be able to handle a fraction of those great ideas right away. And if the rest have to wait a couple weeks to tackle again, you really won’t have lost much. Be disciplined about what you (and/or your team) can tackle now vs. waiting for later. Keep a specific list of “someday” projects and plan to review them regularly. Doing this ensures the ideas are part of your regular review without feeling like you have to tackle them all right away. The last thing you want to do when you return from a great conference like this is act like a “crazy maker” and change everything you and your team is doing. It’s best to give yourself time to adjust back to the office pace, perhaps put some of those ideas in perspective, then have a system for review of those ideas to pick the right ones up as appropriate.

Publish Your Notes: This doesn’t have to be fancy, but take the time (still on the airplane if you can) to type up, lightly organize and publish your notes. Organize them by the “themes” you identified above if possible, and don’t overdo it. Don’t worry about editing, complete sentences, or anything like that. The goal here is to make your notes more complete and readable, but also something your colleagues can review and get their own ideas/inspiration from as well. Share these notes with others on your team for review, schedule a meeting to review together if you’re so inclined, and consider setting up a repository for notes from additional conferences, seminars, webinars, etc. Imagine having one place for you and others to read, remember and gain further inspiration from the past.

Execute: If you’ve identified things to do right away (from small tasks to bigger projects), give yourself a deadline and hold yourself accountable to getting them done. There’s nothing worse than attending a great conference with tons of ideas, then letting most of them slip once you’re back to the regular routine. You invested time and money to challenge the way you think, the way you do things, and what’s needed to accelerate your success. Make sure you do something about it.

Monday, April 19, 2010


How to cold call (if you must)

It's not always ideal to cold call.  It's far better to respond to an inbound prospect request, a referral, or some other means by which the call is immediately warm and easier to make.

But sometimes, you just don't have that.  Cold calling isn't easy, but if you have something that others need, there's still a win-win to be had.  The difference between a cold call and a warm call is that, with the warm call, the prospect already knows there's value in the relationship.  So if you're cold calling, your primary job is to immediately build and provide value for the prospect.

This usually has little to do with what you're selling.  It has to do with making a connection and delivering value within the first two minutes.  Here are a couple ways to do that.

Call with an offer.  Have something ready to hand over immediately, something that directly relates to their focus areas and can provide immediate value independent of a sale.  It can be a white paper, a free pass to an upcoming trade show, etc.  Your first call should be about them, not you.

Call with context.  If you're blasting through a phone list, there's no way you have any idea what that prospect is thinking about.  You don't really know their role, their concerns, their pain, or their needs.  Even if you just spend 3-5 minutes researching the organization and individual (via Google, Gist, LinkedIn or similar), you'll be far smarter about how to start the call, immediately build rapport, and continue the conversation.

Practice your voicemails.  At least 80 percent of the time you're cold-calling, you're not talking to a live person.  You're getting voicemail.  Some cold-callers immediately hang up and make the next dial.  But I'd recommend writing, practicing and leaving a 15-20 second voicemail that makes an offer, promises immediate value, delivers urgency, and requests a call back by a specific time.  Do these early in the day and you're likely to generate new inbound "leads" for yourself in the afternoon.




Friday, April 16, 2010


Are you open to the truth? Ask the hard questions early

Are you asking hard enough questions?

If you’re in sales, this means not lying to yourself (and your manager).  And that means knowing exactly how qualified your leads and opportunities are.  If you don’t know whether the prospect has budget to spend, you need to ask.  If you don’t yet know whether they can make a purchase decision by the end of the month or quarter, you’d better ask.

Because if you’re counting on that sale and the prospect has little to no urgency to get it done, it’s not going to happen.  If you ask the hard question early, you at least have a clearer picture of the current truth, and can make decisions accordingly.

If your sales pipeline isn’t nearly big enough right now to meet your April or Q2 number, get that on the table as quickly as possible.  Hiding that truth isn’t helping anybody – it’s not helping you, your manager, or your organization.

Knowing right now that your pipeline isn’t going to support your quota, or your organization’s sales goals, at least gives you a basis from which to start working.  Or a basis from which the company can adjust its expectations.  Knowing all of that now gives you options you won’t have later, if you’re open to the truth (good or bad) right now.

The answer to your hard question isn’t going to change with time.  The implications of that answer, however, increase in impact, and your choices to make adjustments diminish.  This applies to individual deals, sales pipelines, marketing strategies that aren’t working, business deals that aren’t going anywhere.

If you’re afraid of the reaction to potentially bad news (this deal won’t close, I’m at risk of not hitting quota), then you’re delivering the message wrong.  Share the answer to that hard question early and directly, but immediately follow it with options.  Make recommendations of what do to next, what to do differently, what to do instead that could still achieve the end-goal. 

Your new options still may not work, but at least you’re reacting and executing early on an alternative, and giving yourself time to execute and achieve what matters most.



Thursday, April 15, 2010


Seven ways to build a sales pipeline without cold calling

Cold calling still works, but you don’t need to do it to build a qualified sales pipeline. Fresh leads are great, but occasionally that well too runs dry.

What then? Where can you get prospects and build your sales pipeline without leads or cold calling? Here are seven places to address and leverage for your own pipeline or business:

  1. Previously Lost Deals: They said no to you before, but that doesn’t always mean no forever. Circumstances change, they may have had (or are having) a bad experience with their current product or vendor, or they just plain weren’t ready. Don’t lose touch with those opportunities.
  2. Referrals: Are you asking your best customers who else they know? Are you inviting your customers to look good among their own peer group by enabling them to use your product or service as well? Many happy customers are more than happy to give you referrals, but they’re also busy. They don’t wake up in the morning wondering how to help you get more customers. But if you ask them – occasionally, and sometimes with an incentive – they can be an powerful source of highly-qualified new opportunities for you.
  3. Repeat Buyers: The biggest and most underutilized source of incremental business. What you’re selling and/or providing needs to overdeliver on its promise, but your customers will almost always buy less from you if you’re not proactively asking them for more business.
  4. Content: Simply put, write stuff. Write about topics that your customer cares about. Find out what their objectives are, and write about possible solutions (that have little or nothing to do with specifically what you sell). Find out about their challenges, and suggest answers. Your targets will be drawn to this content, and will want to learn more about the source.
  5. Networking: I’m not just talking cocktail parties and breakfast meetings. If your prospective customers are all part of the same LinkedIn Group, that counts. If there’s an active discussion forum somewhere, that counts too. Join the community, and participate as a peer. Don’t sell. Leverage your ideas and content to build new relationships based on a foundation of trust, credibility and selfless helpfulness. Those you write to, and those who merely see or read those interactions, will want to learn more about you.
  6. Partner Network: You’re not the only company working with your customers. Who else is in their ecosystem? Who else do they go to on a daily or weekly basis? Who else has influence over them? And how could those complimentary partners help increase visibility for you?
  7. Lead Nurturing: Most leads you work with won’t be ready to buy. What are you doing with those leads? Are you staying in touch? Are you keeping yourself top of mind so that, when they are ready to engage, they’re thinking of you vs. going to a competitor?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


A three-step process for effective sales territory planning

Great salespeople have a plan. They have a goal (quota and/or commission) and a specific written plan of how they’re going to get there. Great salespeople do this on their own, but it’s also a worthwhile exercise to ask your sales team to go through at the beginning of each selling period (especially if you’re on quarterly or annual sales cycles).

It’s far better to know, at the beginning of the month, quarter or year, your individual and overall level of confidence for hitting your number. If there’s a gap in sales pipeline, or other obstacles in between you and your goal, it’s better to know that now vs. the end of the quarter.

Smart salespeople look at this level of territory business planning not as a chore, but as a roadmap for how to prioritize their time – how and where they should be committing their own resources most effectively to close more business.

A good sales territory plan should answer three questions:

  1. What do I have?
  2. What am I going to do?
  3. What do I need?

You can do this by breaking down your expected closed business for the period into three parts:

  1. Current Pipeline: What current opportunities do I have that are expected to close by the end of this selling period? Which do I have the most confidence in? Which might be a stretch but are still qualified and more than likely to close?
  2. Leads: What leads am I working with currently that are qualified and likely to become closed opportunities between now and the end of the selling period? These are more long-shots, perhaps, because they’re not as far along. But you still have an expectation that they will close.
  3. Proactive Targets: What are the additional accounts within my territory that I am going to proactively pursue and close by the end of this sales period? This section may constitute the “gap” between your quota and the combination of current pipeline and leads you’re already managing, to give you a big enough pipeline to close & exceed your quota.

As a salesperson, you think first about what you can control. The above three categories put specific focus on what you have, and what you can still do. But there still maybe significant roadblocks, obstacles or needs for opportunities within any of these three areas to get them closed. This is where a good territory plan specifically identifies these needs, at the start of the selling period, as “asks” for others in your organization – your manager, marketing, the product team, an executive, etc.

As the salesperson, you are the quarterback of the deal. It’s your job to leverage whatever resources are available to you within (or even outside) of the organization to help your prospect reach a decision. Your territory plan is a great place to identify specific needs tied to potential new business, which gives the context and motivation to others to help.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Four requirements for qualifying a sales opportunity

Your sales pipeline is only as good as it is qualified. If you have deals represented there that aren’t real, and aren’t moving, then you’re just plain lying. You’re lying to yourself that those deals will close, you’re lying to your sales manager that your pipeline is healthy.

At this point in the month and quarter, an accurate assessment of pending sales is critically important. But unless there’s a common definition for what a qualified sales opportunity is, this kind of assessment is next to impossible.

So what makes for a qualified sales opportunity? In a B2B setting, I believe you need at least four things:

  1. Engaged Decision-Maker: This is someone in the organization who is qualified to make a purchase decision. They may need to get approval from a CFO, or have someone underneath them do an assessment, but you need the primary decision-maker engaged. Leads can come in from anywhere in the organization, but if that lead doesn’t have decision-making power, then your deal isn’t ready to move.
  2. Identified Budget: If you’re replacing an incumbent product or service, this is a little easier. But if you’re introducing a new expenditure, you’d better be sure there’s money for it. Ask the hard question and get explicit confirmation that there are dollars to spend on what you’re selling.
  3. Strong Tie to Organizational Objectives: This is the difference between “nice to have” and “need to have.” There are many many things that your prospects will think is cool, but that will ultimately be priority #16 (which means they won’t get funded, approved or implemented anytime soon). But if what you’re offering ties to an existing, published objective (at least for the department, but ideally for the organization), then you have a chance. If what you have can help your decision-maker and organizational target achieve or exceed a publicly-stated goal, you’re far more likely to get attention, get your project at the top of the list, and get more people inside the organization rallying behind the purchase.
  4. Mutually Agreed-Upon Purchase Timeline: Many sales professionals will put an “expected close date” next to prospective sales opportunities. But that close date is only real if the buyer would give the same timeline. To make a sales opportunity real, there needs to be a timeline in place. The buyer needs to be working concurrently with you on the same path. Just because you want a deal to close by the end of the month, or the end of the quarter, doesn’t mean your buyer has the same urgency.

Every sales situation is a little different, so your qualified pipeline criteria may differ. But it’s critically important that you at minimum create common expectations and definitions across your sales organization, so that the sales pipeline you’re looking at (good or bad) is accurate.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Best practices for successful lead generation Webinars

The use of Webinars to engage prospective customers and generate leads has increased exponentially over the past year. As such, best practices for making them successful for lead generation have become clear. Here are several recommendations for planning & executing Webinars that develop thought leadership for your business, and qualified leads for your sales team.




Friday, April 02, 2010


Eight mistakes to avoid with your customer loyalty program

Let's say you're building a loyalty incentives program for your product. Everybody has great ideas about what will motivate the desired customer behavior, outcome and lifetime value.

You're clearly not the first company to build such a program. What if you could read through a bunch of post-launch post-mortem reports from their own experiences? What if you could understand which components of your current plan should be scrapped, reversed or modified before they see the light of day?

I unfortunately do not have this magical stack of reports, but I do hear many of the same things over and over as marketers move to "V2" of their loyalty programs. Here are eight statements I hear most often.

"We should have focused on the customer's priorities, not just our own."
This may seem like a straightforward concept, but it's not how most loyalty programs are built. Loyalty programs, by their nature, are intended to drive activity that has been pre-determined to drive value for the company. Shop here more often, increase your order size, refer your friends so we don't have to spend more marketing dollars. All great ideas. Problem is, many loyalty programs are built such that they so directly and transparently focus on these end-goals, that there's little value or actual incentive built in for the customer.

Building your loyalty strategy needs to be a two-step process. First, by all means determine your objectives. Know the business outcome you expect to create. But then, translate that into something customer-centric. Find the ties between your business objectives and your customer's priorities. Those direct ties - where there's little to no friction between what both parties want - is likely the foundation of how your loyalty program will grow and thrive.

"We made it too complicated."
Collect points, bundle them together, mail them in, then win a prize. Thanks for playing. Refer us to your colleagues, answer three trivia questions, then come back next week and answer three more. Then you're entered in our drawing.

OK, not every loyalty program is that complicated. But think about the programs you like the best. They don't require a lot of work. They don't require math. You do what you've been doing, and things happen. Buy an airline ticket, and you get miles. Buy enough tickets, and you get a free flight. Shop at my grocery store all the time, and we'll give you lower prices on certain items.

Problems with loyalty program complications arise when 1) you make the customer think too much, 2) you add too many steps to collect the motivation, or 3) you require either math or memory. Don't do these things. Make it simple, at least at first.

"When we stopped marketing, the program stopped working."
If you have to keep asking your customers to participate, then your loyalty program 1) isn't really resonating, and 2) isn't sustainable. If it doesn't eventually create a habit - where customers know it exists, want it, and naturally take the right steps to get it on their own - then it's either too complicated or not tied to an important-enough customer interest.

When you launch a new loyalty program, of course it's going to need its own stand-alone marketing campaign to build awareness and participation. But eventually, ongoing marketing of the program to existing customers should happen less frequently, less interruptively, and largely via existing communication channels.

If as you build your new loyalty program, this end-goal doesn't feel achievable, keep thinking.

"We didn't need to spend as much money to get the same behavior."
Your customers are money-driven, all of them. They want more of it, they want to spend less of it, they want products & services that will help them get and save more of it. They also don't mind free stuff, so if you want to drive behavior, you can 1) give them money, 2) save them money or 3) give them something cool for free.

Or, you could put a star next to their name on your Web site. You could make their membership card a different color. You could let them into the store an hour early. You could give them a special phone number that puts them at the front of the call queue.

Your customers are motivated by money, but not just money. They also want to feel special, have special privileges, demonstrate they're different or better than their peers or colleagues. The better you understand your customer and what ultimately motivates them, the more things beyond money you'll realize can be powerful drivers of behavior. And many of those cost next to nothing.

"Our best customers just wanted to be recognized."
This is a subset of comments above, but an important one. Recognition, differentiation and ego are powerful motivators. They work with business and consumer audiences alike. They are likely motivating behavior with your product independent of any existing or non-existing loyalty program.

And recognition can come cheap. A club that's little more than a name. A personal letter from the CEO or store manager. A hand-written thank you card. Their name written on the wall. Cheap but effective.

"It was too much work."
Ambitious new programs often require new tools, extra bandwidth, and more people thinking about and acting upon the program to make it work. If this work is required of existing people, existing systems and existing budgets without adding additional time or resources to execute, you're doomed to failure (or at least frustration from the get-go).

As you've already seen from examples listed above, great loyalty programs don't need to be complicated. They don't need to require significant new infrastructure, policies or procedures to make them work. And if they do need new resources, the program had better be important enough and cross-functionally supported well enough to get the support it needs to succeed.

"We should have tested it before the full roll-out."
Even if you follow the advice above and more, you'll still not get it right. You'll still find ways to improve. Better to know that with a subset of customers before those mistakes are made with your entire base.

Pick a handful of customers for a test group. Not your most vocal, not your most favorite. Try to find a cross-section, or a segment that's naturally unbiased (i.e. a particular store, or all customers in a particular city or state). Don't just tell them about the program, but try and actually roll it out. Feedback you get in a focus group or survey will be different from what they tell you when they're faced with what you're actually requiring them to do.

"We didn't involve others throughout the organization."
It's fine if the marketing team plans and spearheads the launch of your loyalty program. But execution should be a cross-functional effort. Every customer-facing team and individual should know about it and help you promote it. Teams and individuals beyond marketing could themselves have incentives for how well they get customers involved.

Marketing today can't be contained to the marketing team. Every member of your organization is helping to market your product, service, brand and company. The customer-facing teams do it directly. But your developers build product that impacts how your customers feel about you. Your finance team makes decisions that impact how well you can support them.

Each one of these groups will play a role in making your loyalty program successful. And if it truly drives the right behavior and business results, they'll be proud and motivated to continue their support & participation.


How to never repeat the same mistake twice

We often do a fine job writing plans.  We describe what we're going to do, why we're going to do it, and what we hope to accomplish.

Then we do it.  And we learn a ton by what works, what doesn't, and what that means for what to do next.

So, wouldn't a written post-mortem be far more valuable then the up-front plan?  Wouldn't something specifically documenting what you learned be incredibly valuable as a record of your organization's collective knowledge?  Otherwise, how are future groups, other similar groups elsewhere in your organization, and teammates not yet hired going to build off of your success?  How are they going to keep from making the honest mistakes you've already made?

Yes, it takes time to document this.  And yes, for larger projects, it often requires a team get-together to extract collective post-mortem thoughts, best practices, things to never do again, etc.  But that time taken is a small fraction of the time that can be saved and the acceleration of innovation and success possible by never having to learn those lessons again.

Are you documenting what's working (and what's not)?  Is anybody else on your team and/or at your organization doing this?  Probably more importantly, is there a central place where all is of this is being stored and published internally?

Seems important.


Thursday, April 01, 2010


How to automatically track and close open-loops in your business

One of the biggest inhibitors to increased productivity and output for many of us are the open loops we have with others.  All of us are dependent on countless others to get our jobs done, to close business, to further our objectives.  We’re daily delegating tasks or making requests of others to feed into what we’re trying to accomplish.

It’s easy to shoot out an email or have a conversation with someone that asks for follow-up or a quick contribution.  What’s more difficult is remembering that same request when the follow-up doesn’t happen.  So how do you keep track of everything you’ve asked for from others?

One thing I do, which I learned first from David Allen, is to keep a “Waiting For” folder in my inbox.  It’s populated entirely with “open loop” emails for which I’m waiting for a response.  When I send out emails that require a response, I’ll blind copy myself.  I have a rule set in Outlook such that any blind self-copy goes into this folder. 

I can then review this folder on a periodic basis to see who’s followed up already (in which case the email is deleted) or who still owes me something (in which case they get an email, phone or live follow-up).

The last thing I want to do is keep track of those open loops in my head.  It’ll drive me crazy, and keep me from thinking about the next thing that’s more important for me to spend time on right now.  But I still need reminders, and this is a simple way to build that list without any extra work.

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