Thursday, March 31, 2011
Why +1 from Google is so important (in plain English)
Right now, Google search results tell you what Google thinks is most relevant.
With +1, those same search results will tell you what your friends, peers and colleagues deem most relevant as well.
This brings word-of-mouth directly to the discovery fire-hose.
SEO tactics will continue to be important. Relevant content will still rank. But products and services with the best reputations, the best service, the best public support from customers and fans - those social rankings will matter more than ever.
The reach of +1 is limited, but that's temporary. Get ready.
For a far more comprehensive overview of +1, read Danny Sullivan's take.
The Biggest Goof Sellers Make When Dealing with Hot Prospects
I dream of hot prospects who call me up and say, “We’ve heard good things about your company. We want to make a decision quickly. We’re hoping you can help us out.”
Occasionally my sales fantasies turn into realities. When it happens, it’s so easy to be seduced by this low-handing fruit. Outwardly, I try to appear calm, cool and collected – a true professional. But inside, every inch of my body wants to scream out, “Take me! Take me!”
Okay. I’m being a bit dramatic here, but I really want to make my point.
It’s so easy to be tempted by these opportunities. And when you yield to this temptation, you make fatal mistakes—ones that can totally derail your sales efforts and cause you to lose the business.
True, But Embarrassing Story
Let me give you a personal example, to show you how easy it is to get caught up in this seduction.
A few years ago, my primary business focus was working with large corporations in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area when they were launching new products. My expertise? Helping them shorten time to revenue on new product introductions.
I’d just launched SellingtoBigCompanies.com to help small businesses gain access to my expertise. It was my new baby. I’d invested tons of time and lots of love to get it up and running.
When the phone rang that day, I answered absentmindedly. But when the caller announced that he was from Southwest Airlines, I snapped to attention. He’d been all over my new Web site, was very impressed, and also very interested in my training programs.
The airline was going to be putting its salespeople through training in the not-too-distant future and was evaluating its options. When I asked who else he was looking at, I was delighted to be included with the industry biggies.
Mr. Southwest had dozens of questions about my content, delivery models, remote training options, learning reinforcement and more. I answered every single one of them in glorious detail.
When he requested a proposal, I asked, “How soon?” When he answered that he wanted it in two days, I quickly agreed.
The proposal I sent to him via e-mail covered everything we had talked about in our conversation, plus a full range of pricing options. It was a masterpiece. I had high hopes that this opportunity would take my business to a whole new level.
I never heard from Mr. Southwest again. Even though I contacted him many times, he never called back.
It was my own fault. I mistakenly let my own eagerness to land this marquis customer outweigh my common sense.
The truth is I really needed the business at that time. After spending many months and lots of money to create SellingtoBigCompanies.com, I was running short on cash. I should have known better, but I was seduced by the opportunity.
In retrospect, I failed to find out if Mr. Southwest was just exploring his options or actually in the final stages of decision making. It’s highly likely he was just doing the former.
Had I known that, I would never have written a detailed proposal. Instead, I would have focused on helping him determine the business value of making a change. I would have used my expertise to help him sell the concept internally and establish decision criteria favorable to my solution.
Over and over again, I see other sellers make similar mistakes when they have a hot prospect on the line. Like me, they expound on their capabilities and benefits. They willingly provide detailed information and do tons of extra work to create proposals or presentations—anything the prospects want.
While that puts you into the “nice” seller category, it’s not a good business decision to invest tons of time and effort to land a fantasy customer. Nor does it help your prospects make the best decision for their organization.
If Mr. Southwest was actually deciding in a couple days, I should have addressed the fact that I was a small boutique firm that didn’t compete head-on with the larger companies he was looking at.
Doing business with me would have been risky. I knew that. But I didn’t want to bring it up; I was hoping he wouldn’t notice!
I was so blinded by the opportunity that I was willing to do anything that he asked. It was delusional on my part. Wishful thinking. Hopeful. When we feel this seduction, we need to remind ourselves that “hope is not a strategy.”
While hot prospects may hold the promise of big paychecks, there’s often much that still needs to be determine if it’s a good fit for your company.
Don’t be overeager. Instead be ruthlessly realistic. Detach from the fantasy and assess your true chances. Bring up the tough questions.
Why? Because it’s the right thing to do for both you and your prospect.
Want to learn more about the new rules of selling to crazy-busy prospects? To get four FREE sales-accelerating tools and download two chapters of SNAP Selling, visit www.snapselling.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
How you can tell what's working in B2B sales
It fascinates me how forgiving firms can be of their struggles to see what's working within the black box of business-to-business sales. Scott Santucci of Forrester Research shared with me recently that for the past nine years, the spend on sales has grown and in each of those years margins declined. Surely there must be something that can be done to drive a higher return on investment from the sales spend.
The lion's share of that spend is in the compensation of sales people. Some say the key is in spending that money differently through modified compensation plans or shifts to inside sales organizations. While sensible in and of themselves, these tactics still leave significant opportunities for better ROI.
The real drain on sales productivity is in wasted efforts that create little if any buyer value. The key to higher productivity is in hard proof of what sales people are achieving from what they're doing. The proof is there to be seen in the actions buyers willingly take as a result of a sales conversation. When measured in real-time, firms gain not only a sharper read on what their ROI is likely to be, they get to spot and fix mistakes fast.
A client called me last week to ask if Amacus was still working. The client noted that a week earlier absolutely everything they'd been doing successfully up until then completely stopped working. The good news: Amacus was working, and had been 24/7/365. The bad news: their sales tactics were no longer working. The best news: they now knew it. Something in their market had shifted. We knocked around ideas as to what it might be. Within an hour, the CEO + his team had identified a suspected cause, designed a new tactic, and began testing it in their sales conversations.
With better proof of whether or not interactions with prospects create value, firms win two ways: firms gain timely opportunities to re-engage with interested buyers; and firms get to see how often conversational sales efforts have no buyer impact. Either way, the result is a sharper, faster, read on the progress being made day-to-day to acquiring new customers. When your sunk costs of sales compensation start producing more revenues more quickly, your ROI bounces up.
My advice: be less forgiving of that elusive, declining ROI from sales. Measure your sales success by your customers actions. See that you're creating buyer value, and do more of what's working. Spot the instances in which you're not creating buyer value, and kill tactics that don't work. Reap the full rewards your firm can achieve from the talent it's worked so hard to recruit + train. Every day.
It's about time. Well spent. Knowingly so.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Marketing is (and always will be) about trust and relationships
Next time you write a marketing plan, ignore channels for a moment. Suspend any thinking about tactical strategies and implementation (which is so easy to dive into quickly).
Figure out the dynamics first. Start with what it’s all based on.
How do you establish trust? Trust between your brand and your customers? Between your brand and the influencers who will endorse what you’re doing to prospective buyers?
The answer to these questions, at least up front, shouldn’t be about channels. It’s not even just messaging. It’s about actions. It’s about putting your money where your mouth is. How are you going to do it?
Relationships come next. With a foundation of trust, how will you foster and expand relationships – with customers, prospects, influencers and partners?
What are those relationships based on? Trust, yes, but what else? What tangibly would those constituents say is tying them to you? What makes them stake their own reputation and brand on an affiliation with yours?
The efficacy of our marketing is about trust and relationships. Always has been, always will be.
Monday, March 28, 2011
What having a baby and good marketing have in common
Before our son was born, I had an interesting conversation with a nurse about birth best practices and realities. If we weren't in the hospital, it could have been a conversation about good marketing.
Here's what we discussed - equally applicable to having a baby and practicing good marketing.
Make sure everyone knows the plan, the rules and the objective
There are a lot of people involved to allow for a successful outcome. The objective, of course, is to have a healthy baby. But doctor, the nurses, orderlies, the guy with the epidural (my wife's favorite) - everyone needs to be on the same page, not just with where we're going, but how we're trying to get there.
Preparation makes everything easier
If you start executing without a plan, without a strategy, without preparing for what you expect on the road to success, you're flying blind. Guessing. Hoping. And even if you don't know exactly what will happen, preparation can help you anticipate likely milestones and be prepared with a proactive plan to get through it.
Work as a team and understand/respect roles
The moments right before and right after a child is born is amazing in a well-run hospital. Whereas it was mostly just my wife and I and occasionally a nurse for the hours before Nick was born, in the minutes before and after the room was full and everyone had a job. Things happened quickly, but the verbal and silent coordinated communication was impressive. Inherent in making this work was an understanding of what everyone was doing, and what was expected of each member of the team.
Flawless execution is a myth
I once had a boss who told me that flawless execution was expected - every day, all the time. Successful people know that's not possible. The best-prepared plans still go awry. Things will not go as planned, most of the time. How you execute and continue after things go unexpectedly is what separates those who succeed from those who ultimately come up with excuses.
Consistent, regular reporting will save you time
Everyone wants an update. Parents, friends, co-workers. You could spend hours with individual updates, but a good system and set of tools to facilitate reporting gives everyone what they want in far less time.
The end goal is most important (how you get there may vary)
As I write this, I have a beautiful baby boy sleeping next to me. Labor took longer than we expected. My son's heart rate dipped too low in the moments before he was born. Later that night, two other laboring mothers were rushed into emergency c-sections. But all of us ended up with what we wanted - tiny, amazing new children. Preparation, roles, expectations, reporting - all important. But at the end of the day? Success.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Seven sales & marketing insights from recent events
It’s conference season! If you’ve been unable to leave the office and the demands of your day-to-day job, not to worry. Here’s a summary of seven things I thought worth sharing from five superb events I’ve attended recently:
1. Sales Enablement groups are increasing sales productivity.
Sometimes called Sales Productivity or Sales Effectiveness, this is a critical, dedicated function that is emerging in many Sales 2.0 companies. Though groups are defined, structured and staffed differently from company to company, there is across-the-board agreement that making the sales force more productive is a must-have, not a nice-to-have. Ken Powell, who presented at the Corporate Visions Sales & Marketing Alignment Forum, runs a large sales enablement group at ADP, supporting more than 5,000 sales reps. It has responsibility for developing sales tools, messaging, content/knowledge, lead generation and competitive analysis. Does your sales team need enablement?
2. Our biggest competition is the status quo.
Tim Riesterer, CMO at Corporate Visions, thinks customer conversations that help prospects question the status quo are your new strategic asset. In order to have these conversations, develop customer-focused messages, tools and skills. Brent Adamson of the the Corporate Executive Board presented data showing, in B2B companies selling complex products, “challenger” sales reps close more business than “relationship builders.” When the No. 1 thing your customers want to do is nothing, are you challenging their assumptions, making them think and teaching them something?
3. Re-thinking your website content improves results.
At Marketing Sherpa’s B2B Marketing Summit, Dr. Flint McGlaughlin, manager director of MECLABS, said, “People don’t buy from websites; they buy from people.” He showed examples of redesigned, “optimized” sites that significantly increased conversions and form submissions. Long paragraphs, vague and unsubstantiated claims, competing calls to action, and using “marketing speak” rather than plain English are some of the enemies of good results. Is your website failing to engage your prospects? Follow Dr. Flint’s three basic rules: Increase specificity, continuity and relevance.
4. Turn your events into networking opportunities for your customers.
Greg Sherry, VP of marketing and business development at Verint, shared 12 tactics to maximize ROI on a limited budget. One of my favorites is the idea to capture their customers’ areas of knowledge and expertise, as well as topics of interest, on the registration form for their annual customer conference. They then printed this information on the name badges, which facilitated valuable connections among attendees at the opening happy hour and throughout the event.
5. Be creative when selecting event venues.
InsideView and Marketo invited me to speak on a panel at their Customer 2.0 Roadshow event in San Francisco, which took place in a bar called the Harlot Lounge. It worked! Non-standard venues draw diverse (Sales 2.0–minded) people and set the stage for interesting conversations about how we need to change the way we sell to reach “social,” online and productivity-focused customers.
6. Measure the results of your new media marketing programs in terms sales people care about.
With a sales audience, metrics such as page views, open rates and click rates don’t have the same impact as increases in leads and sales. Presenting at Marketo’s User Summit, Todd Foresythe, a member of salesforce.com’s marketing team, revealed that decreasing traditional marketing spend 69% and increasing investments in social media and video yielded 33% more leads.
7. At executive events, mix up the content.
At the Oracle OpenWorld Sales Executive Summit, it was a little intimidating to speak before the America’s Cup sailing team and after Sean Tucker, the acrobatic pilot who flies at elite air shows along with the Blue Angels. But it was fun for the attendees (and me) to get a break from the business content, watch some thrilling sailboat and airplane videos, and have their photos taken with buff guys and the world’s oldest trophy. :-)
These insights came from the Oracle OpenWorld Executive Sales Summit, InsideView and Marketo’s Customer 2.0 Roadshow, Marketing Sherpa’s B2B Marketing Summit, the Marketo User Summit and the Corporate Visions Sales and Marketing Alignment Executive Summit.
What events have you attended recently? What did you learn?
Friday, March 25, 2011
5 steps to a better business card
They're no longer the best way to store contact information (when's the last time you saw someone with a Rolodex on their desk?), but as a marketing tool they're going to be around for a long, long time.
What's the best way to ensure your business cards stand out without going too far, assist with a great first impression, and help the prospect remember you after the final handshake? Here are a few tips.
Use a thick card stock. Flimsy cards are a pet peeve of mine. The physical nature of the card, the way it feels in your hand, needs to reflect something about you. Thick card stock has presence, it shows you put some thought into the card's design, and it implies someone who's taking things seriously. Believe me, this is an important part of a good card's first impression.
Stay away from gloss. I haven't yet met someone who liked getting a glossy business card. Not only do they often look too packaged, but they're impossible to write on effectively. Plus, they typically cost more. Save your money for two-sided printing (more on that later).
Use a clean design. Make the card easy to read, not only for the recipient but for the business card scanning devices that are increasingly being used to convert cards into lists in Excel, Outlook, LinkedIn and more. Remember that business cards are an introduction and reminder, not a brochure. Don't force them to do too much.
Make an offer. There's no reason your card needs to include only contact information. Remember, it's not a brochure, but why not entice the recipient to take one small next step? It could be an offer to get your newsletter, a best practices download, your event schedule, something. Keep it simple, keep it short, but give them a reason to spend more time with you when they're back at their desk.
Use the back. It typically costs very little to print two-sided business cards, and the back is a great place to cleanly position the offer we just discussed. Leave enough white space on the back for note-taking as well (and keep the color light enough that they can see it), but take advantage of the other 50% of the card.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
10 proven sources of blog post inspiration
A primary hurdle I hear from many would-be bloggers is content inspiration.
So where do you find new blog post ideas? The answer is all around you. Experienced bloggers will tell you that they’re bombarded with possible blog topics. Their challenge isn’t finding topics, but choosing the best on which to focus.
Here are ten sources of blog post inspiration I use most often. Some I do actively seek out, but all of them take very little time and produce an ongoing source of inspiration and content.
Customer questions. Every day you’re answering questions from customers and prospects – via email, phone, in-person, and in your social networks. Inherent in many of your answers is the subject-matter expertise that people want from you. Every time you answer a question, it’s a potential blog post. Think about it.
Stuff you read. Doesn’t matter what you’re reading. Books, other blogs, magazines, even advertisements. What’s your reaction? Do you agree or disagree? What’s your take? Blog post.
People you disagree with. Someone says something in a meeting you think is wrong. Why do you disagree? Blog post. You read about a business or business leader who prioritizes something you think is taking them down the wrong path. Blog post.
Your customer-facing teams. If you’re not on the daily front lines with your customers, someone at your organization is. Your sales team, customer service team, support team. What are they hearing from customers? What issues are affecting their lives or businesses? What’s keeping them up at night and getting them up in the morning? Blog posts.
Trade press. You don’t have to read everything. Just flip through the magazines, scan the online headlines. You’ll find news stories, features, opinion pieces, trends, quotes from other thought leaders. Just keep asking yourself: What do I think of this? What would my customers think? How could I help my customers understand or navigate this issue?
Conferences, panels and Webinars. I come back from conferences with pages of potential blog posts. Not just from the speakers and panels, but from the trade show floor, the sales & marketing techniques other exhibitors use to try and woo me, and the new people I meet.
Twitter hashtags. Take a keyword relevant to you, your business or your customers. Put a hashtag in front of it, and do a search on search.twitter.com. See what other people are talking about, right now.
LinkedIn Answers. Find the topics and sub-topics most relevant to your business and customers, and sign up for daily email summaries. It’s like getting a whole list of possible blog posts in your inbox every day.
The news. Scan MSNBC.com. Have the local news on in the background as you make dinner. I can’t remember the last time I read (or even scanned) the Wall Street Journal without coming up with at least 3-4 topics to blog about.
Things you see that are dumb. Other people’s marketing. Management mistakes. Examples of inefficiency or thoughtlessness or lazy execution. Some people don’t know better. Help them get better.
You may need to be proactive and intentional about using some of these sources at first. But once you build the habit, it’ll become natural. The day you see or read something and automatically think to yourself, “wow, that would make a good blog post," you’re in.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Five sources of sales resistance (and how to overcome them)
The latest, Enchantment by Kawasaki, isn't about sales. But its lessons can help both sales and marketing professionals improve their ability to create and leverage the kind of environments that increase attraction, engagement and conversion - for yourself, your team and your products & services.
In the midst of his treatise on enchantment, Kawasaki addresses several obstacles to enchanting your customers, including reasons why many may resist your advances. These five sources of resistance, outlined below, apply directly to many of the objections sales professionals face on a regular basis.
I've included Guy's five reasons below (his words in italics) as well as a quick translation that applies directly to sales.
Inertia. Existing relationships, satisfaction with the status quo, laziness and busyness hinder change. (Sales Translation: You can't sell something if the cost of changing is greater than the cost of staying the same. If your prospect doesn't feel a need to change, it's far easier to keep doing what they're doing.)
Hesitation to reduce options. Making a decision results in the reduction of options, and the prospect of this outcome can scare people. (Sales Translation: If you can't differentiate yourself from competitors, or make a clear case how you can drive value with low to no risk, the prospect risks failure or worse. Fear will kill your sale.)
Fear of making a mistake. People may think that as long as they haven't made a choice, they haven't made a mistake. (Sales Translation: Most sales are lost to no decision. Buyers at all levels want to avoid taking risks, which often means maintaining the status quo. Show them the path to success, give them tools to quantify that to their peers and superiors, and the risk is mitigated.)
Lack of role models. If there are no role models, people don't have behavior to copy, so they hesitate to give your cause a try. (Sales Translation: Nobody wants to be the first to buy. Take advantage of your existing success stories by publishing testimonials, best practice guides, how-to videos and more. Show your prospects that they can easily emulate your best customers on their path to success.)
Your cause sucks! You or your cause may suck. Then people are right to be reluctant. (Sales Translation: If your product doesn't work, if your customers aren't happy, if you can't demonstrate an advantage over the competition, you have bigger problems than improving the sales process.)
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
You can't have a success-only policy
Do stuff. Put your plans into action. Get it off paper and into the world. Ship.
What keeps most of us from doing this more often is fear. It’s fear of what people will think if it doesn’t work, what your boss will think if you don’t hit the goal, how the organization or your team or the world will judge you.
But you can’t succeed unless you try. You can’t be a success unless you do. And the more you do, the more you will fail.
But failure is the path to success. It’s literally the only way to get there. Dream, launch, fail, learn, try again, maybe fail again, get back up, ship again, succeed.
Maybe not always exactly in that order. Sometimes you succeed faster, sometimes not.
But Seth’s point is fundamental, and right on the money. Keep thinking, keep brainstorming. But more importantly, keep launching.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Why the sales team doesn't use your collateral
The messaging may be right. The screen shots might be perfect. But the customer isn’t the only audience you have to keep in mind when building that brochure in the first place.
Most marketing organizations fail to include the sales team directly in the collateral development process. And this starts before you have a draft of something.
Before you create or design anything, figure out what the team wants. How do they sell? What do they hear from customers? What do they need to communicate to prospects to accelerate interest and deal velocity?
How do those needs translate into materials – printed, PDF, video, whatever – that the sales team will actually use?
It’s highly likely that the sales team’s vision of what they want is different than yours. But if you build based on your vision alone, and the sales team doesn’t use it, what good is a brochure sitting in a box?
Part of your job as a marketer is to be the voice of the customer. You need to work with the sales team to understand what the customer wants, how to speak to them. But the sales team is in front of customers far more often than you are. Their operational feedback from the front lines (and from their contacts who are gate-keeping the deal) is important and too-often ignored.
Build collateral that speaks to the customer, but more importantly build collateral that the sales team will use. You can’t influence and sell from inside the box.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
How often should sales and marketing meet?
The answer, of course, starts well before scheduling meeting rooms. It starts with alignment around goals and roles - knowing what success looks like, and how the organization as well as each group explicitly defines successful outcomes. Those goals are then supported with explicit, common definitions and expectations for how each group will help each other.
The inventory of requirements for successful alignment and results includes a common definition of qualified leads, and clear roles for sales and marketing at each stage of the lead and opportunity funnel.
With these things in place, meeting frequency between sales & marketing becomes somewhat of a secondary issue. But in the most successfully aligned organizations, these interactions are happening daily.
Marketing is a regular attendee at the weekly sales management meetings. Marketing team members occasionally work directly from the sales floor so they can interact with reps, hear directly the challenges they have on the phones, and address issues in real-time.
Marketing attends and presents at every all-hands sales meeting. And the head of marketing likely has a weekly 1:1 directly with the VP of sales to ensure alignment and sales goals are both being met.
Those are just examples. But in short, how often sales and marketing meet isn't about just setting up a weekly meeting. Successful alignment requires far deeper integration and daily/weekly coordination.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
4 fundamental Twitter best practices
That said, here are four pieces of advice we give often, specifically to those just getting started.
Use hashtags (“#” before your keyword) that are relevant to your audience. People will read your tweets if they follow you or find your content via a keyword search. Hashtags extend your reach beyond those who are following you, and help you accelerate new followers directly to your account. Tools like hashtags.org can help you find popular keywords. But don’t over-tag in a single tweet - no more than 3 hashtags per tweet.
Make your tweets a two-way street. Don’t just publish, participate in the conversation. If you see something that piques your interest, retweet it or respond to the Tweeter. This increases exposure to you and your message.
Write for your audience, not for yourself. Twitter’s not a press release page and it’s not your company newsletter. If you turn your Twitter account into a promotional channel, it’ll be difficult to get a wider audience. Think about reaching people who don’t yet know your business. Draw them in through content they care about (independent of what you actually sell).
Have a personality. Take time to interact and develop your public voice. Show that there's a real, live, interesting person behind the account. The more personality you show, the more people will be attracted to you (and share you with their own network).
Friday, March 18, 2011
How to give every employee a customer point of view
Sure, you can read summaries of focus groups. You can hear other people talk about the customer. But most of us don’t truly internalize it, don’t start to really live it, unless we’ve seen and heard it ourselves.
The problem with this, of course, is that the majority of employees in many organizations don’t interact regularly with customers. Many have never met or spoke to a customer. And yet, decisions are being made daily that impact customers, by people who haven’t met them and don’t know them, and haven’t heard their stories first-hand.
Often, those same individuals hear stories from the customer-facing teams – sales, customer service, support – and don’t believe them. They think the stories are exaggerated or don’t reflect the broader market.
Sometimes that’s true, but it’s also pure opinion. It’s based on the assumptions or biases of people who are directly determining the future of your customer relationships – building their products, managing the resources you fund to support them, etc.
To truly understand the customer, to get into their heart and mind, you need direct access. You need your entire company to have direct, regular access to your customers.
This may sound difficult, but with a few smart tactics it’s easier than you think. Here are a few customer immersion tactics I’ve seen work.
Site Visits. Send small groups of your employees to the customer. Shadow them at work, ask them questions about why they’re doing things, watch them directly use your product or service in the context for which it was created. I guarantee they’ll give you a running commentary whether you ask for it or not – what’s good, what’s frustrating, feedback you likely couldn’t gather any other way.
The customer will be impressed you came out. They’ll talk about it, too, with their friends, peers and social networks. Good karma for your business and brand, in addition to the insights.
Customer Listening Tour. One of the best things we did at a past company was send executives out on a 2-3 day trip to meet with customers. We set up lunches, dinners and happy hours, and invited customers to come break bread with us.
We’d typically do some informal networking first in addition to a more structured (but still informal) discussion. This is not a focus group (which works when done well but can also be stuffy and not entirely natural). In this environment, with food and drink provided, we had far more natural, honest answers & opinions from customers.
Even better, we had our non-customer facing managers in the field and focused on the customer’s words. It was amazing to hear them come back and demand new features and product priorities that just two weeks earlier were low on their to-do list.
Trade Shows. You need booth staff anyway, right? It’s worth the investment to train non customer-facing staff to understand and be able to communicate the elevator pitch, directly to a customer. This not only helps them better understand how you sell (which every employee should understand), but also gets them dozens of direct conversations with customers.
It’s difficult and expensive to take non customer-facing staff out of the office, especially front-line staff. Trade shows are a great way to fill the booth and get direct customer points of view all at the same time.
Focus Groups. If you do conduct focus groups from time to time, and especially if you do them in your home market, make attendance behind the two-way mirror mandatory for non customer-facing teams and individuals.
Bring Customers To Your Office. At another previous company, we invited a customer to the home office once a month. We’d fly them in, take them to dinner with a cross-section of employees the night before, and give them the royal treatment at the office the next day. This included dedicated sit-down time with both the product and sales teams, as well as a Q&A in front of an all-employee meeting.
This was more than just sharing their success story. We made sure we also extracted the less comfortable perspectives. What about our product was frustrating to them. What reaction they heard when they talked about the product with peers – good and bad.
There wasn’t a single customer visit that didn’t end in hugs, or in greater insights across the company on how to better focus what we were doing, building and prioritizing to better serve that customer.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Three best practices to shorten your sales cycle
That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t accelerate the speed at which your prospects make a decision. You just need to focus on finding better prospects who know what they need and will make faster decisions. Here are three ways to do that.
Better qualify opportunities up front. Sales pipelines slow down not just because prospects aren’t ready, but also because the wrong prospects are being managed to begin with. If your prospect isn’t ready, or isn’t in your target group, move on. If they’re qualified but not ready to buy, put them on a nurture campaign and find the prospects who are actively in the market.
Salespeople who want to demonstrate large pipelines to their managers are notorious for working with prospects who are not qualified, not really interested, and aren’t going to buy. These prospects waste your time, keep you from spending more time with real opportunities, and artificially make your sales cycle metrics look bad.
Know what a truly qualified opportunity looks like. Create crisp definitions and enforce consistency across your sales team. Be disciplined about keeping good but not-ready-to-buy prospects out of the active opportunity pipeline.
Identify pain and create urgency early. Your prospect may have no idea what you’re selling and no idea why they need it. And if you pitch your product without context, I don’t blame them.
Before the demo, before the product summary, identify that there’s a clear and high-pain you’re able to address and solve. Your prospect may very well be able to articulate that pain clearly. They may alternatively have the pain, or be about to have that pain, and not realize it.
Your job, by asking a set of consultative and diagnostic questions, is to establish that pain. Establish, enumerate and/or create an urgency to fix a problem or address a situation that’s a high priority for the prospect. When you have this urgency established, you have a motivated buyer who 1) is ready to hear about the solution, and 2) is motivated to take action quickly.
Invest in the relationship before they’re active buyers. The vast majority of your prospective customers aren’t ready to buy. They may eventually, but not today. They have no place in your current opportunity pipeline, and they don't want to hear much from you right now anyway.
You want them to know what you do, know that you can provide value far before active selling begins, then stay in touch and build trust, credibility and preference until they are finally ready to buy.
Because when they eventually get that far, they won't be shopping. They won't be educating themselves from square one. They won't need as much time to build a relationship with you.
If you're already done much of that groundwork before the sales cycle begins, you're bound to not only increase your conversion rates but do it much, much faster than before.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Why agile development isn't always customer-focused
Unfortunately, the advantage agile development gives an organization can also be one of its biggest weaknesses.
In a more traditional product development cycle, product managers build the plan up front. They start with primary research, developing a deep understanding of what the customer needs, what problem is being solved, and how specifically your product is going to address and resolve that for the customer.
The product manager then typically builds a long-term roadmap for how the product will address a greater scope of that problem long-term, building a specific plan for what the first version of the product will look like.
This plan, if done right, is rooted in what the customer wants. What the customer needs. And although there are trade-offs in the development process (lose some features to ship faster, for example), the foundational “spec” written by the product manager helps keep the intent of the product intact.
This can be true for agile development as well. World-class agile development teams still build a plan up front, still do their primary research, and still start with a strong vision for what they’re building. But the daily trade-offs, additions of features, and constant adjustments to scope and focus make it significantly more difficult to ensure that the final product represents what the customer wants.
Too often, the final product more likely represents what a product team wants. What they determine in their daily scrums would be cool, what they think the customer would like. If the product team is itself rooted in the customer need, these daily insights might still be on target.
But that’s a very big “if.”
As more and more companies shift to an agile development methodology, it’s more important than ever for a customer advocate to be a daily part of that team. It can be the product manager, but there’s no reason it can’t be the development team directly. You’ll be far better off having the people writing the code also understand exactly how the customers think, how they act, and why they’ll buy.
But no matter how you address this challenge, make sure the advantages of agile development don’t disrupt your focus on delivering the outcomes, objectives and success stories your customers want and will pay for.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The five sales mistakes most startups make
But as start-ups begin putting a significant focus on customer growth, I’ve found that they typically make many of the same mistakes. Especially with B2B products and services, it’s easy to fall into these traps but equally easy to avoid them, and scale your sales more quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively.
Here are the five sales mistakes I find most start-ups make (and how to avoid or course-correct them in your business).
Mistake #1: Hiring a VP of Sales first. If you’re the founder or CEO of a start-up, the first head of sales is you. The first salesperson is you. You need to lead the charge to determine 1) what the customer is looking for, 2) what they’re interested in spending money on, and 3) what the sales process will look like.
Your next hire should be salespeople who hit the phones and have a quota. You need people that will sell first. Only then, when you’ve established market demand and the start of a successful sales process, should you think about hiring someone to lead. A good VP of Sales will want to build a team. And when you’re in start-up mode, just starting to sell and learn, you’re not quite there yet.
Mistake #2: Spending money on marketing too early. When you first go to market, you may have educated guesses (based on your customer insight, smarts or past experience) on what sales & marketing channels will work to efficiently drive qualified prospects and closed business. But your first few months will include a lot of learning, a lot of failures, and a lot of improvements if you’re carefully executing and measuring everything.
Despite your aggressive early sales goals, don’t throw excessive marketing dollars against channels that are unproven. Don’t scale spending in any direction until you have measurable proof that your message, offer, channel and/or overall approach is working. Instead, test frequently, quickly and then invest in channels with far greater success rates.
Mistake #3: Building a sales process that doesn’t map to how your customers want to buy. The sales process you used at your last job is interesting, but may not apply to this market, this product, this customer. You can’t build an effective sales process in a vacuum.
Successful sales processes mirror the way your customer wants to buy. It takes into account the stages they go through to develop the need, understand and prioritize outcomes, and then research solutions before a decision is made. Each customer navigates this process differently.
And if you create a sales process that conflicts with that, you’re introducing friction to the decision-making process that will distract or annoy your prospects, and impact your conversion rates. Even worse, you’ll likely blame results on the wrong factors and further delay sales process improvement.
Mistake #4: Selling beyond the early adopters. In every market, there’s a different between the early adopters and the early majority. They think different, work different, and buy different. Long-term, you have your eyes past the chasm to the bigger market opportunities. But you won’t get there until you address the most ready-to-buy prospects.
Your sales process for early adopters may be very different than what it will look like two years from now, when you’re selling to a more mainstream audience. The marketing channels and messages you use may be different as well. But in the early days of selling, stay focused on your most-likely-to-buy audience. They’re the key to growth.
Mistake #5: Building a large sales team too quickly. This lesson should be obvious by now, based on the mistakes above. Your forecast spreadsheet may show that you need 10 inside sales reps in three months, but unless you’re clear on what they’ll be doing, clear on the process they’ll follow, where they’ll get leads, and what characteristics you need from them to succeed, you shouldn’t be hiring to scale. Not yet.
You may not even know if they should be an inside sales team, or field/territory-based. Or maybe it’s best to sell purely via channels. It’s time-consuming and expensive to unravel a sales organization you built too quickly without understanding the proven dynamics of growth in your market.
Inherent in many of these mistakes (or at least avoiding them) is patience and discipline. With investors breathing down your neck and a whole blue ocean in front of you, those attributes are difficult to keep. But trust me, you’ll save yourself a ton of wasted time and money, and you’ll find yourself selling and growing faster.
Monday, March 14, 2011
How to market a last place baseball team
The objectives for every team, however – good or bad – remain the same: sell tickets, drive associated revenue, make money. When the product on the field isn’t at the top of its game, you have to shift how you think about what you’re selling.
If fans in your market think of your team as purely a competitive product, you lose. Your product isn’t very good (at least right now). But what if your product is about more than just the game? Who are you really competing against in your marketplace?
Consider the alternative options for entertainment in your market. If the team is winning, more fans will want to come and enjoy the game. But even if the team isn’t winning, you still offer a compelling product. A family atmosphere. A place for young people to come hang out together. A great place to enjoy a warm summer afternoon.
Think of the pockets of the market that care less about team performance and more about the experience. Kids that come for the cotton candy and mascots don’t care about the scoreboard, yet they bring their family with them. If the outfield veranda becomes known as a great place for young singles to hang out, you’ll sell a lot of beer despite your team’s ERA.
Your ballpark, your games, can become a gathering place for the community. Your market’s premier family destination. The ideal corporate offsite. The cool place to go with friends after work.
The product doesn’t change. You’re still playing baseball. But that doesn’t mean what you’re selling is just baseball.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
How to prepare for your next sales call
Whether you're making outbound cold calls or preparing for a scheduled discussion with a new prospect, the last think you want to do is sit down and dial without any preparation. Successful selling, primarily over the phone but in field sales environments as well, has as much to do with preparation as it does with your natural skills in reacting to the situation unfolding before you.
The good news is that, with practice and the right tools, preparing for your next sales tool can take just a few minutes, and will have a significant impact on your conversion rate and success. Here are a few tips.
What does success look like? Have a clear image of what success looks like at the end of the call, both for you and for your prospect. What next steps do you want from the call? Based on your knowledge of the prospect (or at minimum your expectation of their needs if they're indeed qualified), what do you anticipate they would consider a successful outcome of your conversation? This includes both progress made during the call as well as expectations and an anticipation of what's to happen after the call (including next steps, promises and deliverables on either end). With this success explicitly in mind, you can ensure your call is always focused or getting back on track to meet that outcome.
Have you done your homework? What do you know about your prospect? What they're thinking, what they care about, what they've recently done or written, who they know that you might also know? Take advantage of tools such as LinkedIn and Gist to quickly do your homework and customize parts of your pitch to improve the likelihood that you'll achieve that mutually-successful outcome.
Why would the prospect take your call? Your prospect is busy, and either didn't anticipate your call (if you're cold calling) or was nice enough to give you a few minutes out of their busy schedule (in anticipation of something you might give them of value). For the qualified prospect, knowing what's keeping them so busy (what their primary focus areas are right now) and what you have to contribute to that is key to getting and keeping their attention. If you can't answer this question, or you identify early in the call that you don't have something to contribute to their priorities, the prospect is likely not qualified. Politely end the call so you can both give yourselves back the valuable time.
What does your first 10 seconds sound like? You can't script a sales call word for word, but you can script the first 10 seconds. It's what you say immediately to get the prospect's attention and earn the right to continue. Especially when cold calling, your prospect is more likely to blow you off than give you a couple minutes. Those first few seconds are critical to not only determining if the prospect is worth your continued time, but also to ensure what you're talking about is important enough for the prospect to continue the conversation.
How will you immediately follow-up? The conversation goes well, and next steps have been planned. Do you follow-up right away, or wait until later? There's value in batching follow-up activities together after multiple sales calls, but I believe the value of immediate follow-up outweighs the efficiency of batching. Getting the next meeting on the prospect's calendar, or sending the follow-up information immediately (when they're likely still at their desk and in their email), gives you a higher likelihood that next steps on the prospect's end will be followed. It also shows the prospect that you're on the ball, a professional, someone they can take seriously.
How quickly can you get ready for the next call? Cold calling is hard. Grinding through a slug of calls, cold or planned, takes focus and discipline. It's extremely easy to get off of your last call, especially if it went well, and defocus. It's easy to get up, get some more coffee, do a victory lap and tell others or your manager about your progress. But the best thing to do is complete your next steps, then start the whole process over again. Get back on the phone, and keep building your pipeline. Promise yourself a break, or some small reward, after staying focused for the next 60 minutes. I guarantee you'll be far more productive and happy with your results.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
The difference between a lead and an opportunity
None of these varying definitions are inherently wrong. What's most important is that the sales and marketing organizations agree on a common set of definitions and expectations for each category. With that consistency in place, it's far easier to measure success, identify problems with your pipeline, and work constructively to improve throughput of the overall pipeline.
That said, let me take a quick shot at how I define both groups.
I believe that a lead should be defined as a qualified prospect who proactively wants to learn more. When I say "qualified", I mean they're an ideal individual and/or company to sell to (i.e. they are the type of prospect who typically has a problem that you can solve). When I say "learn more", I mean that they've come to you asking for something. It can be a demo, a question, a white paper, something that proactively engages them in a conversation.
There is a big difference between a lead and a list. Handing your sales team a set of companies and contact information to cold-call isn't a lead. That's a list. Coming back from a trade show with a couple hundred names of badges you scanned is a list too. Unless they've somehow engaged you proactively, and have asked for a response, it's not a lead.
In general terms, when a lead progresses to the point where they're talking to you about a near-term purchase possibility, the lead can become an opportunity. Most organizations I've worked with have slightly different definitions of what qualifies as a new opportunity, but most often they have these characteristics in common:
- There's an agreed-upon timeline to purchase
- A decision-maker is directly involved or is aware of the solution & timeline
- Budget is available or has been identified
- The buyer has agreed to and is working on next steps on their end
- There's a catalyzing event or urgency driver internally that makes the purchase a priority
If you've converted a lead into an opportunity, it means you have an expected close date. It means you're beyond wishful thinking and prospecting, and have a mutually agreed-upon plan with the prospect to get the thing done, to make a decision one way or another.
As I've said, how you specifically define leads and opportunities in your organization may vary. But what's most important is that you get that definition on paper, make sure all involved parties are on board, and that you manage the operation of your sales pipeline based on it moving forward.
The result is not only better reporting and expectations, but far more efficient and productive salespeople.
Friday, March 11, 2011
9 proven alternatives to cold calling
Fortunately, even for sales professionals who are responsible for generating their own leads and prospects, a variety of proven strategies and tactics exist that can reduce or eliminate your need to pound the phones. Here are a few.
Referrals from existing customers. Your current customers know far more prospective customers than you do – they work with them, hang out with them, spend time in the same social and professional circles. Your current customers also know better than anyone the real value of what you do – not just what you sell but what that enables for them in their personal and/or professional lives. Make sure you’re tapping into that relationship, and thanking/rewarding your customers for doing so.
Check back with past customers. Just because they left doesn’t mean they won’t come back. Do you have new products or services? Have you improved significantly since they last bought from you? Just because they left, doesn’t mean they won’t also refer you to people or businesses they know who are qualified and interested. Keeping good relationships with past customers is a significant source of new business for countless smart companies.
Watch the social Web for buying signals. You’re one-click away from knowing which of your prospective customers are complaining about a relationship they may have with your competitor. You’re a Google search away from seeing which individuals or organizations are asking public questions about problems or desired outcomes that your product or service was created to solve. The better you understand the needs of your customers and the reasons why prospects come to you to buy in the first place, the more likely you can search for, identify and take action on those behaviors and signals when they appear on the social Web.
Participate in customer communities. You’re a seller, but you’re also a subject matter expert. Find communities online where your customers are congregating and talking amongst themselves, and become a peer. This doesn’t happen overnight, especially as your customers are likely used to people like you who come in and want to sell. But if you represent yourself as a source of knowledge and advice, you can win their trust. And the next time they have a problem or question, they’re more likely to come back to you first.
Work with referral partners. Who else does business with your customer? How well do they understand what you do, and how you could help that customer in a complimentary way? The better you cultivate your partner relationships, the more likely you can convert those relationships into proactive and reactive prospect introductions.
Upsell current customers. Don’t just call current customers and start selling. Check in. See how they’re doing. Ask about their business and what’s missing. What are their obstacles to reaching even greater success? You might find they need more of what you have but have been too busy to reach out (or simply haven’t made the connection that you can help the more than you already have).
Hire an appointment setter (but make it good). This one might not be fair, as it’s really just having someone else do the cold calling for you. But what if the appointment setter was calling to offer not a product pitch but a consultation? Do you have 10-15 minutes worth of best practices to share with prospects independent of what you’re selling? Could you use that appointment as a warm introduction to you, your company, and the value you can provide the prospect as a subject matter expert?
Answer questions. Find the online communities where customers asking open questions, and start answering. In B2B, this includes forums like LinkedIn Answers and Focus.com. Create a paper trail of how well you understand your client’s problems and how to address them. Plus, the people asking the questions are more likely to come back to you if they like your answer and want to hear more.
Join the comment conversations on targeted blogs. Interact directly with prospects in an environment where they’re already comfortable and sharing back and forth with other prospects. Use a good RSS Reader to help you quickly identify the blog posts you want to be associated with.
Why your consultative sales approach isn't working
Prospects don't want to buy your product or service. What they really want to buy are solutions to their problems. They want to buy a desired outcome. They want to buy something that takes away pain.
Your product might do that, but your prospect doesn't know it yet. And launching directly into feature/benefit statements fails to put what you're selling into any relevant context for the buyer.
That's one reason why the consultative sales approach has worked so well in recent years. The concept, in general, is to first better understand the circumstances, priorities and needs of the prospect before deciding if they're a candidate to buy.
Many sellers who attempt a consultative sales approach still fail. The reasons why generally come down to three things:
You're asking questions that require the prospect to educate you on basic stuff. Many sales professionals begin their consultative sales approach with basic, fact-finding questions. Tell me about your organization. What is your role. What are your objectives. These are certainly important questions to have answers to, but it's not the prospect's job to answer them. Your prospect is busy, doesn't yet know why you're calling and what you're trying to sell, and isn't interested in taking time to educate you.
Alternatively, if you do your homework and understand answers to some of these basic questions beforehand, you can begin the conversation by asking questions the prospect may not have thought about or answered for themselves before. And, with that, they're at least interested and engaged enough to hear more.
You ask a good first question, then immediately start selling. Sellers are anxious to start selling. Even with a thought-out consultative approach, it's easy to ask the first question and immediately come back with an answer that includes your sales pitch. Unless your consultative approach truly only pivots on one question, keep working through the discussion. Probe for more needs, more context, so that (simultaneously) you have the information you need to determine if there's a fit, and the buyer is sufficiently intrigued by the line of questioning that they naturally want to hear how you think you can solve the problem.
In other words, be patient. Follow the process. A qualified prospect, with the right set of consultative questions, will stay engaged because you're asking smart questions, relevant to their focus, and they already want to learn more.
Your questions don't make the prospect think or learn something new. Many buyers fail to buy because a need hasn't been established. They may have a problem but they can't see it. They can't envision how that problem will manifest itself in the future. Your consultative sales approach needs to be built to help the prospect discover answers to these questions. It doesn't have to immediately answer the question, but should at least get the prospect thinking that they do, in fact, have a potential problem they need to explore further.
The fact that you're asking questions, relevant questions, they don't have the answer to is itself valuable to the prospect. They'll wonder what other questions you have they should have answers to, and they'll also immediately start believing that 1) you probably know what you're talking about, and 2) you might have some of the answers or solutions they all of a sudden need.
At its core, consultative selling is about asking questions first. But the right questions and the right sequencing is key.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Maximizing the revenue halo of a championship season
It's been fascinating to watch the varying levels of effectiveness by which teams across sports take advantage of this opportunity, especially when they win a championship. From the moment you hoist the trophy over your head, there's no more valuable time when the local and national markets have their eyes on you - your team, your accomplishments, your future.
The immediate halo of opportunity, if you do nothing to extend it, can fade quickly. If you field a competitive team year after year, that halo can extend, but it's never as intense as when you win the whole thing.
The opportunities in the short-term are fairly easy. Accelerate ticket sales, increase conversion of corporate sponsorships, strike while the iron is hot. But the real opportunity, and challenge for most organizations, is to use the immediate championship halo to build long-term relationships with fans, businesses and the broader market for the slow times.
This starts immediately, of course, as you capture interest, registration, subscriptions, new social media followers, etc. in the days & weeks following the championship. Dig into your old databases of season ticket holders, corporate sponsors, and get them back engaged with the team. Use the immediate halo to create as many two-way relationships with fans as possible.
What you’re working towards is building loyalty with the team independent of the play on the field. You want to make the relationship and value exchange between team and customer about the game, the stadium, the experience, the family atmosphere, even the players.
Your goal is to become the hometown team. Loyalty beyond results. And in a world where intimate relationships at a 1:1 level with millions of fans is possible through a variety of online, social, mobile and word-of-mouth channels, this opportunity clearly exists for every team in every sport.
But no team has a better advantage or opportunity to capitalize on this than a team that’s just won it all.
How to measure sales and marketing collaboration
Although still too-few companies are doing it well, the idea of driving deeper integration between sales and marketing is an increasingly high priority for executives as a means of driving greater sales output and velocity, and at a lower cost.
Much of the conversation has focused on how to get these teams talking to each other, aligning around common goals, and coordinating their efforts to map to the complete buying cycle of both new and existing customers.
But how do you measure it? How do you ensure this new focus on collaboration between sales and marketing is working?
Here are a few strategies I’ve found work particularly well.
Focus on fewer metrics (not more). Most of the time when we talk about establishing new measurements, we add metrics to our scorecards. This is actually an opportunity to reduce the metrics we’re watching. If sales and marketing are aligned, then lead volume doesn’t necessarily matter as much as it once did. Qualified lead activity is more important. And, in fact, I’d argue that the most important metric for sales and marketing to focus on and measure together is qualified opportunity creation. This single metric requires both sales and marketing to work together, and makes other measures secondary.
Establish a baseline first, then measure the lift. If there’s little to no collaboration today, your current performance is your baseline. As you establish and begin executing on your initial integration priorities, immediately begin measuring improvements to leading-indicator statistics. Leads converted, sales cycle velocity, outbound call response rates, etc. If you have a snapshot of how well these activities were performing before, you should have an early indicator of how effective your initial integration attempts are working.
Compare opportunity and sales output to total cost of resources. Effective sales and marketing collaboration should ultimately reduce the required resources to collectively engage and close qualified opportunities. It should make your current resources more efficient (with higher conversion rates), allow those same resources to produce greater results, or allow you to reduce total resources allocated to a specific focus area. In general, in addition to increasing sales volume and velocity, successful collaboration should consistently reduce your cost of acquisition. This is an important and often overlooked measure of sales and marketing integration effectiveness.
Measure before and after team satisfaction. Salespeople want to make more sales. Marketing, believe it or not, wants to help salespeople make more sales. The blame-game that exists in many organization not only keeps companies from closing more business, but frustrates members of both teams. Driving effective, successful collaboration between sales and marketing will drive both sides to feel better about their contribution, the direct line it provides to revenue, and greater satisfaction in their day-to-day execution to achieve those results.
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
Do businesses only do these three things?
A smart guy today told me that most businesses are focused on just three functions:
- Building stuff
- Selling stuff
- Supporting those two functions
Assume for a services industry that “building” equates to providing and supporting the service.
Is this accurate? An oversimplification? Or somewhere in between?
What if your entire organization was entirely focused on building and selling for the rest of this year? That sounds like a good thing…
Saturday, March 05, 2011
8 common mistakes with transactional email (and how to fix them)
They're often the least conspicuous emails we receive, but they're among the most profitable tools smart marketers have in their arsenal. The basic transactional email - order confirmations, shipping notifications, service updates, etc. - can drive clickthrough rates more than three times that of commercial email, according to industry analysts.
And yet, in most organizations, transactional emails are an afterthought.
Recently, I presented a Webinar with WhatCounts titled Multiply Your Revenue Returns with Transactional Email, in which I walked through several best practices and samples of good and bad transactional emails, including some best practices that can be leveraged immediately to improve response and revenue performance. (The presentation slides are also available here).
In addition to the best practices, there are several common mistakes many companies make with their transactional email - many simply because there's too little focus on leveraging them as proactive, intentional customer communication tools. Here are eight common mistakes we'll get into in the Webinar:
Marketing doesn't own the email. According to industry research, 53 percent of transactional emails are controlled outside of marketing. They're quickly written by customer operations, IT or another department with little thought to the message, intent and desired next action. Rectifying this ownership conflict alone (and folding transactional email into the purview of the core email marketing team) will put most organizations on the right path.
Undercommunication. There's a difference between commercial email (often about something we didn't ask for) and a transactional email about something we care about - our order, our account, the service levels we receive. As consumers, we want this information, and smart companies provide a lot of it. Yes, you can overcommunicate via email with your customers. But when it comes to the core of your relationship, and purchase behavior that the customer initiates, most companies aren't communicating enough.
Focusing only on the transaction. Your customer bought something, and you send them a receipt. That's appropriate, but it's also too linear. What did they need it for? What else might they need? If they bought an appliance, would they like it delivered? If they bought a new HDTV, would they like to purchase installation and set-up services? Transactional emails are a great place to do contextual upselling at the point of purchase.
Not paying attention to timing. I'm so surprised when I receive an email confirmation for something I ordered long ago. And in Internet time, long ago means 20-30 minutes or more. If I just placed the order online, I'm still at my computer. I'm still thinking about that order. I might still be thinking about the things I left in the shopping cart for later. At this moment, I'm most likely to 1) read your email, and 2) take action on something related to that purchase that I also need.
Making it a one-way street. Some companies and service providers apparently don't want to hear from you. They want your order, sure, but the "do not reply" in the email address makes it clear they want to talk at you, not with you. Every interaction with your customer is an opportunity to build brand preference, future purchase behavior, loyalty and pass-along value. Make that interaction a one-way communication channel and you're missing the point, let alone the opportunity.
No personality. You've worked hard to create a consistent brand. Most of your marketing - your Web site, your advertising, your content strategy, your social media channels - all play a key, integrated role in reinforcing that brand. And then you get that transactional email - text-based, cold, from a corporate email address (that tells you not to reply, no less). Every touch point with your customer is a chance to reinforce their choice, confirm their decision to go with you, strengthen the bond you have with that customer today and tomorrow.
Hard to read. It's so incredibly clear when transactional emails are written by someone who isn't thinking about the customer experience. Isn't thinking about what the customer wants to see, and what you want them to do next. If you send me a shipping notification, make sure the details I care most about (when my product will arrive, for example) is the most prominent thing on the page. Cross-selling is fine, but if you bury the primary message, your response-driven transactional email might have the opposite impact you're looking for.
Not enough resources. Let's say your transactional emails are in fact owned by the marketing department. I bet they get far less attention than your commercial emails. Few companies think about how to optimize transactional emails - A/B testing, trying different offers, segmenting messages by different customer segments. If transactional emails are proven to drive significantly higher response rates than our other email campaigns, shouldn't the resources we put behind them be somewhat commensurate with that?