Friday, July 29, 2011

 

How to defend against upstarts in your industry

At one point, long ago, your business was the newbie. You were fighting for life, fighting for market share. You were likely either going after share from existing industry leaders, or blazing into a new market (and likely taking business away from someone who had done it the old way).

So now you're established, you have momentum, you have a sizable chunk of your market. Bully for you. And now, new upstarts are after your turf.

They're smaller, scrappier, nimbler, faster. They're interesting because they're new, and they're getting more press coverage and buzz because they're new. And now, your customers are asking questions.

You should have seen this coming. But how you react, how you reinforce and expand your customer relationships from this point forward, will define your growth and success for years to come.

Yes, you should obsess about your competitors. You should watch their every move. But that doesn't mean you follow their step, get into a feature war, or start acting defensive.

Turns out, the best way to defend against upstarts in your industry is good strategy from day one. It boils down, in part, to three things:

Know the customer better than they do
Your knowledge of your customer - who they are, what their problems are, what pain they're trying to address, etc. - should be growing daily. You have a huge head start on any new business (and those new businesses will likely make mistakes and missteps due to their lack of customer knowledge).

Every day, you listen to your customers. You see how they're changing, how their problems are changing, how their priorities are changing. Your product strategy, your business strategy, reflects that customer understanding. And your customers will continue to trust the organization that knows them best.

Talk to the customer more than they do
Not to your customer, but with your customer. If you have a call center environment, that's a good start. But ensure those conversations aren't just reactive. Aren't just solving inbound problems. What are you learning? How are you reaching out to learn more? How are you being proactive to solve problems and delight your customers?

What percentage of your organization has direct contact to your customers? How many people in roles that don't require daily interaction with customers still get first-person information, or are able to interact with customers in online forums, social networks, etc.?

Earn, keep and leverage more trust than they do
You're the incumbent, so you should have the benefit of the doubt. This is earned. These are your customers to lose. What trust do you have built up? When something goes wrong, how many customers jump up to defend you?

If your customer relationships are tenuous to start, many of those customers may jump at the chance to try something (or someone) new. But if you've been investing in customer relationships from the start, if you've made it a priority to build trust and respect into your products, services and business, it'll be that much harder for your customers to even consider switching to someone new.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

 

Friendliness is not a buying signal

Responsiveness isn't a buying signal either. Just because the prospect is nice, returns emails quickly, and answers all of your questions enthusiastically doesn't mean they're going to buy.

And yet, we too often take these signals to mean the prospect is interested. That they're qualified. That they're worth keeping in our active pipeline and continuing to spend time and company resources pursuing.

Because we get false buying signals from friendliness and responsiveness, we sometimes fail to ask the harder and real qualifying questions that will tell you if "nice" translates into "interested."

Grumpy prospects might be ready to buy today, if you ask the right questions and correctly assess pain and need.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

 

Why bullet points on Webinar slides are OK

If you're presenting live, you want people watching you, not your slides. If you're presenting live, you have a captive audience that's there for you, focused on you. It's important that they hear what you're saying, and any visuals behind you should reinforce those points.

Not verbatim. If your live presentation slides are full of bullet points, your audience will frantically try to read everything. They're no longer listening to you, and it's that much harder to remember what they heard (or read) after you're done.

Webinars, however, are a different story. They can hear you but not see you. It's far more passive, even vs. something live and in-person. And if it's literally just a slide deck they're watching, it's OK to have more words.

Why? Your audience probably isn't listening that closely to you anyway. They're multitasking. Checking email, cleaning up their desk. When they glance up, you want them to be able to quickly catch up.

Bullets or key points on Webinar slides, therefore, are far more helpful. In this context, they'll help your audience learn faster. And if Webinar slide decks are far more likely to get passed around. So if they help tell your story, with or without the soundtrack, that helps you too.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

 

The nine (other) people who can market and sell for you

So you have a sales & marketing team already. Or maybe you don't. Either way, here are nine (other) groups of people who can help you increase awareness, drive demand and close business.

1. All Employees
Do your employees believe in not just what you're selling, but what that product or service is enabling for your customers? Are they passionate about helping to make customers successful, and does that show in the way they do their job every day?

How are your employees serving as brand ambassadors at customer events, on customer forums, on their own social media channels and more?

2. Your immediate, collective network
Think about your immediate circle of influence. Past colleagues, fellow alumni, association members, etc. Do they know what you do? Do you know what you do for your customers? When's the last time you updated them? Do they have any idea how they might help you? Have you ever asked for an explicit, specific referral or introduction?

Your network won't know how to help you unless 1) they know what you do, 2) they know what you're looking for, and 3) you ask, specifically, from time to time.

3. Current customers
Sure, start with your raving fans. Your ambassadors. Hopefully, you already know who they are and give them plenty of opportunity and incentive to spread the word. But what other, more subtle ways can the majority of your generally satisfied customers drive awareness and discovery among their own peers, their own immediate networks?

Oftentimes they won't do that with a straight introduction, or a "pitch" for what you're selling. But they might pass along a best practices guide. Or a webinar invite. Or something that helps those in their network, and makes them look good in the process.

4. Prospective customers
There are many reasons why prospective customers might not have yet bought. And some of them will still sing your praises, and drive referrals back your direction. So how are you identifying those prospective referral sources? What tools can you give prospective customers to share your story?

Sometimes prospective customers take another job, and have an easier time buying. Sometimes they have an internal decision-maker blocking the purchase, but will still passionately share your story to others in an association, at a show, in an online forum, etc.

5. Your customer’s (or prospect’s) employees or direct reports
The people working for your prospects might be upwardly-mobile. Have aspirations of promotions, raises and new responsibilities. Would they look good if they introduced your product or service to their boss, and got credit for the benefits and outcome it created?

This group includes gatekeepers. Don't treat them as a barrier to decision-makers. Oftentimes, they can be catalysts to the sale, not deterrents.

6. Early adopters
Not just early adopters who are direct prospective customers. Think more broadly in your category about those individuals who always want to be first, not just to try something but to tell others about it.

Your industry, and the concentric circles that surround it, are full of these types of early adopters. Their glory comes in breaking news, having a scoop, creating a trend. Give them early and often access, plus tools and channels to tell others.

7. Partners
If you're using channels to help drive sales, you may assume that your partners are already, naturally incented to drive business your way. But those same partners may be overwhelmed by the variety and/or breadth of other products they're taking to market and sell.

Are you going to be their squeaky wheel? Will you give them tools to help them sell more to their customers - messaging, marketing templates, etc.? Do you know what their objectives are, what relationship they're trying to create with their customers, and what role you can more actively play to enable that for them?

8. Competitors
If you're better than they are, have no fear. Meet them head on. If you're really bold, encourage them to go head-to-head, drive reviews, reference you in their own collateral.

This is a slippery slope, but if a competitor has more resources than you do, and is helping you drive greater awareness and inbound interest, that can be a net-positive game.

9. Press (professional & amateur)
Few companies, especially in B2B, are adequately engaging the long tail of "press" who influence your current and prospective customers. Yes, there are the professional journalists who write for magazines, trade journals and the like. But amateur content producers can have equal if not greater readership and influence. These might be people like you (in some industries, the most influential media channels are produced by sellers themselves).

Monday, July 25, 2011

 

How to be lazy, productive and successful

Some of the most successful and productive people I know are lazy. They'll tell you so.

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done and the godfather of productivity. Lazy. He will tell you this at the beginning of his seminar.

Seth Godin, who writes daily blog posts and has published four hundred books and continues to launch new businesses. Lazy. He told us so in a talk a couple weeks ago.

There's a theme and a lesson here. You can be highly productive and very successful - but also lazy. The trick, of course, is to make better use of your time. Work smarter, not harder. Here are eight ways to do that.

1. Do the opposite of what the lizard brain tells you to do
Seth's right, we all have a lizard brain telling us what to do. It's what makes us procrastinate, keeps us from shipping, and leads us away from taking risks or having courage to do something new. Seth told a crowd in Seattle a few weeks ago that the secret to his success has been simply to do the opposite of what his lizard brain would prefer that he do. Not bad advice.

2. Delegate & outsource
No matter your role or level or experience, you shouldn't be doing everything that's on your plate. There are things you should delegate to others on your team, or outsource to someone who's better suited to do it. Some activities should be delegated because they'll get done better by someone else. Other tasks can be done faster or cheaper elsewhere. But be crisp about what your time is best spent doing, and what would be easier/faster/better to do elsewhere (for a fraction of your time to instruct and/or manage).

3. Do less (but choose wisely)
Cut at least 33 percent of the work from your current plate. Would you really miss it? Would it really impact your performance, your company's performance, or your customer's overall satisfaction? I'm not talking about short-term conversations or loss. It's critical to triage what you have on your plate against what will have long-term, lasting and scalable impact.

4. Say "no" more often (or, stop volunteering so much)
Type-A people want to lead. They want to own things. They're more likely to say "yes" to a new project, or volunteer for something new. Dial that back a bit. The potentially awkward and uncomfortable moment in which you need to decline a new opportunity will save you hours or days of time down the road.

5. Network
The more people you know, the more likely you'll find people you can turn to when you need help, or for something that can help both of you. It doesn't work if you're merely adding volume to your network and follower lists. But if you genuinely and consistently add new qualified people to your network, the chances that they'll be able to help you sooner or later increases exponentially.

6. Listen, watch or learn more
The next time you're in a meeting, shut up. Spend more time listening to others, asking for their feedback, watching what's going on. In too many meetings, people compete for attention. They talk over each other. They fight to see who can say the smart thing first. It's a losing proposition for everyone. The more you listen, the more likely someone in the meeting will stop the conversation and ask what you think. At that point, all eyes are on you. In less time, and after listening to the preceding debate, your feedback will more likely be thoughtful, better received, and could drive the output of the meeting more frequently.

7. Have other people read for you
I could spend all day reading the various sources of content (print, online, Web, email, blog, video, etc.) that I subscribe to. My favorite sources of content are those where others have already done far more reading, and have filtered the best content up to me. Read less but learn more.

8. Stop working nights & weekends
The amount of work you have will consume the time you give it. And if you cut yourself off at 6:00 p.m. on weekdays and on Friday night, it forces you to be more focused and productive during your active work hours. You know that you're checking ESPN headlines or Facebook or other non-work stuff during the workday. What if you cut some of that out and forced yourself to focus (and focus on the shorter list of work we identified above)? You'll get more done, in less time, and feel better about refreshing nights and weekends.

What else do you do that's both lazy and productive? Where have you cut back to be more productive and successful?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

 

How to survive a complete email meltdown

Earlier this week, our Exchange email server basically exploded. A few hours later we had email send/receive capability again, but it took a couple more days before historical data was back. That basically meant that all of our folders, contacts, calendar, any saved emails - all weren't available for 3-4 days.

This was painful, but with three important best practices, 90 percent of required work could continue while past data was recovered. If you're not doing these three, I highly encourage it. Losing your email isn't a matter of if, but when.

Don't use your inbox as a to-do list
If your past emails went away, would you know what to do? Where to focus? An inbox is a highly inefficient way to organize and triage your work list anyway. After all, email is mostly other people sharing their priorities with you. Sometimes those are joint priorities, but keep your own priority and to-do list separate from email.

Don't use your email folders as a filing system
I've done this in the past (largely due to laziness) and it's burned me. If a document is attached to an email and I think I'll want it later, it's far better to save it in a more organized system outside of email. Keep it in both places if you want even greater storage redundancy, but don't rely on email uptime to have access to important documents.

Keep a daily, offline snapshot of everything in Outlook
Key to keeping myself more efficient the past few days has been an "offline" record of Outlook from a few hours before our Exchange server went down. This way I still had access to a snapshot of my calendar, emails in my @Action folder awaiting follow-up, etc. The fact that I always keep Outlook in "offline" mode (so I can control the flow of inbound emails/distractions) is key to this.

Friday, July 22, 2011

 

Don't let your passion be your downfall

Your passion can be an incredible motivator. It can get you through the dip. It can push you out of your comfort zone to do amazing things.

Your passion can also make you blind. It can make you ignore warning signals. It can color your perspective against what the market is really telling you.

Passion is a double-edged sword. Entrepreneurs and business leaders in particular need to proactively watch and manage three specific manifestations of passion:

1. Passion for the idea
The idea can be a starting point, but may have nothing to do with where you end up. TechStars is famous for investing first in people, not ideas. Brilliant people come into the program with a good idea, but TechStar mentors may gently encourage them to go a different direction.

Brilliant people passionate about specific ideas aren't going to abandon them lightly. But ideas run their course. Are you careful enough, insightful enough, to know when your idea is worth fighting for, and when it's time to make a change?

2. Passion for your product plan
You build a plan up front, based on your vision. Customers start using the product, and have feedback. Critiques. They want changes. Additions. Add-ons. Integration.

Their feedback may not fit with your product plan. Who's right? Who will you listen to?

Some people follow their specific plan and succeed, but that's only because their vision happened to be the same vision of a wide set of prospective customers. This mass-market match is the exception vs. the rule for most of us. Plans are great, but you can't let your passion get in the way of reading and reacting to market feedback.

3. Passion for the way you want to do it
I have yet to meet an entrepreneur who didn't have trouble letting go. I'll never forget the first time someone other than myself ran a Heinz Marketing meeting with a client. It was difficult. Since then, there have been countless times in which I've had a different vision for how something could be done - strategic things, tactical things, and all points in between.

But my job - your job - as a leader isn't to direct everything exactly the way you want it. Your job is to impart a vision for the future, for the outcome, and for a way of doing business. Hiring the right people and inspiring them to improve on your vision is how you grow.

It's also how you'll get to see what your passionate about come to life in a way, and at a scale, that you couldn't have previously imagined possible.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

 

Four proven ways to improve marketing performance (without spending a thing)

When we want better results, we tend to first try and do more. Need more sales leads? Buy more media. Need more awareness? Spend more time on PR. Need higher sales? Hire more reps.

Oftentimes, instead of investing in new channels or added expenses, you can manufacture value out of strategies and channels that cost you little to nothing. Investing in SEO and leveraging partner relationships, for example. But these efforts still have a cost. They still require creating something new.

What about making adjustments to what's already happening (or not happening) to improve performance?

For example:

Use already-written content
Rather than commission a bunch of brand-new content for your drip marketing or social media programs, look inside the organization for what's already been written and approved. Speeches, event presentations, customer service templates, new customer training content. With a little editing, much of this content could be leveraged in new ways quickly.

Focus on better execution
I guarantee there are sales, marketing, customer service initiatives and more happening, right now, in your organization that are sub-optimized. Emails without a call to action. Customer conversations without a next step, or upsell, or feedback captured. A process that could be done in less time, with fewer people involved.

Say no more often, and do less
Stop tackling more than you can adequately handle. A mediocre project isn't going to generate results, likely isn't going to be measured in a way that can help you improve or scale, and isn't going to allow you the necessary time, attention and energy on the projects that really matter. Focusing on less puts more importance and risk on the smaller list of projects, but if you choose right - and execute well - it'll be worth it.

Avoid dead ends
There should be no pages in your product that simply say "thank you" without offering something next. No customer or prospect communications that don't give a recommended next step. Every dead end in your business is an opportunity to engage deeper. So what if most of the audience is done with the primary task. Why not offer more?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

 

How to keep working when your email is down

Our Exchange server was down most of the day yesterday. And I got a ton of work done.

Yes, it really sucked when hours of unread email came flooding in at once. Yes, there were a couple things in there that would have been better and/or easier to address earlier in the day.

But I started the day knowing what I needed to do. And it wasn't in new, incoming email.

Instead, I spent most of yesterday:
The secret to getting work done when your email is down? It's probably the way we should be working every other day too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

 

What if your customers were in charge?

What would happen to your business if your customers were in charge? If they could take over and run the business?

What would they change about the product itself? How would they change the sales process? The onboarding process? Billing, support, the entire experience?

Of course, this isn't a theoretical exercise at all. Your customers are in charge. They may not make the decisions internally, but if they don't like what you're doing they'll leave.

If you don't know explicitly what your customers would do, now would be a great time to start asking. And if you do know, and it's different from what you're currently doing, why is that? And what are you going to do about it?

Monday, July 18, 2011

 

How to keep your sale alive after an org change

There's nothing worse to a seller than feeling good about a deal's momentum, only to have the prospect's company shuffle the team and change who's in charge. Even if the internal reorganization (or "reorg") doesn't directly affect the team or individual buying from you, the uncertainty about micro and macro priorities moving forward may very well freeze your deal anyway.

Some of this, of course, is well outside of your control. But if you quickly read and assess the new organization, you can still sell. In fact, the reorg may help you sell faster.

Underlying the opportunity to speed up your deal is to help the new organization achieve some quick wins. If the organization has put new people in new seats, those individuals are going to be motivated to quickly prove their value. They're going to want to demonstrate results as quickly as possible.

If you can quickly assess their new objectives and priorities, and position your product or service as fundamental to getting that done, then your sale may go to the top of their list. Especially if assessment work has already been done by the organization, saying "yes" might be faster and easier for the new regime.

Whether a faster sale is possible or not, here are four other best practices to keep deals moving with new people in charge:

1. Define the new ecosystem and players
Just as you did at the start of the sale, assess who's in charge, who's making the final decision, who owns the budget, and who else may need to sign off to make the deal happen. Some of those seats may have stayed the same during the org change, and those players (no matter where they are in the decision tree) may be critical to helping keep your deal on track.

2. Understand any changes in goals or priorities
Has the new leadership provided a new vision or set of goals for the organization moving forward? What outcomes are most important to the organization, teams or individuals you're working with? Make sure you adjust the highlighted benefits and outcomes of the purchase accordingly.

3. Get a warm intro and transition from the previous internal owner
Even if the previous owner is no longer involved, your new buyers will appreciate getting up to speed quickly. Leverage the previous deal owner to not only make a warm introduction and transition to the new buyer, but also provide an endorsement both to the prioritization of the project and to you as the preferred provider.

4. Quantify progress and explicit next steps
Make it easy for the new team to quickly understand what you're doing, progress made and specifically what to do next. Remember, new teams in charge are buried in understanding their new world and where to focus, let alone translating specific tactics that may help them get there. The more of that ground work you can do for them, the better.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

 

Constant feeding (and harvesting) of professional networks

Asking yourself "how do I get more leads from LinkedIn" or "how do I get more business from Twitter" is putting the cart before the horse.

Of course, you want your investment in your network to pay off - new business, new partners, etc. But the key to growing volume, influence and inbound business value from every social network is to give, give, give. You've got to give to get. The harvest happens only after regular hard work to grow your "crops." And it doesn't happen quickly.

Feeding your networks is both a skill and discipline, but mostly it's about giving back. Showing others that you notice and care.

For example, think about the networks in which you're active, and consider the daily and/or weekly activities you could implement to constantly give back:
How are you giving back to your network? How are you showing those in your community that you're watching, noticing, and getting value from their contributions?

Friday, July 15, 2011

 

Four keys to building (or improving) your online presence

Ask most people how to build out or improve your online presence and they'll immediately get tactical. They'll tell you you absolutely must be on Twitter. Or that you have to build your site a certain way. Or write everything with SEO in mind.

And they might be right. But before you can execute, you have to put your entire online presence and strategy in context. The best online strategies (for enterprise organizations as well as small businesses) focus on the following four key areas:

Customers
Everything you do is for them. You need to know who they are, who you're targeting and prioritizing, where they hang out, who they hang out with, and so on. The more you understand this customer or prospective customer audience, the more their behavior will tell you where to be, how to write and how to interact.

Content
In a variety of formats - written, audio, video, and driven by your customer's preferences - content is the engine that will drive performance, engagement and action with your customers and prospects online. You need to translate your customer's needs and pain points into advice, recommendations, best practices and other content specifically focused on helping your customers succeed.

Community
Marketing will never be a one-way street ever again. To quickly earn trust and credibility, you need to comment, connect, engage and otherwise interact with your customer and prospect community. Even if you're not engaging 24/7, at minimum make it very easy to engage with you, or respond to something you've published. Better yet, find other places online where your customers are participating and join in right with them, not as a seller but as a peer.

Call to Action
Never leave your customers or prospects with a dead end. Put yourself in their shoes - what would they need next? What additional article would be valuable as a follow-up to what they just read? What additional information will they likely want to request after educating themselves? Include and measure calls to action throughout your online presence.

By having a plan that includes each of the above four components, you can get tactical and execute with confidence that you're engaging the right people in the right places with the right content, with an end game in mind.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

 

Three keys to successful sales & marketing alignment

The very idea of creating alignment between sales & marketing is part of the problem. The organizations that have best solved this challenge aren't tackling a sales & marketing alignment problem, but have instead prioritized a proactive, cross-functional approach to customer acquisition overall.

They have created an organizational philosophy that makes a common approach to the customer acquisition funnel a fundamental part of doing business, not a quarterly initiative.

But most organizations aren't starting from scratch; they're trying to make existing teams and processes more effective. There are some great recommendations on Focus.com addressing the issue of sales & marketing alignment. Below are the three priorities I believe most quickly & successfully lead to a consistent approach and accelerated results.

1. Gain active executive sponsorship
Ensure someone above sales & marketing has prioritized alignment. It can be a CEO, COO or CFO. But this person needs to not just be a passive "copied on email" supporter. Ideally, they are helping to drive the process and ensure participation from all parties.

Link 2. Create common reporting & success metrics
I'm not talking about a document that has half marketing and half sales objectives. What's required for trust alignment is a common set of metrics that both sales and marketing are measured against. Marketing has to take responsibility for closed business, sales must take responsibility for lead quality and conversion, and so on.

3. Operationalize a single, integrated acquisition team
This is more than just weekly meetings. Sales & marketing team members need to tackle customer acquisition challenges together on a daily basis. This means listening to or attending sales calls, having frank and metrics-driven conversations about lead channel quality, etc.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

 

Five common content marketing mistakes (and how to fix them)

Don't overthink your content marketing strategy. It's more important to have a bias for action and get rolling. That said, when getting started with content marketing for your organization or brand, there are a few things to make sure you've thought through up front. Here are five mistakes I see organizations making most often.

1. Not having a plan up front
Before you start any marketing activity (no matter how strategic or tactical), you have to know why you're doing it. What does success look like? How does this activity translate to immediate or eventual sales and revenue?

2. Writing for the company instead of for the customer
Too many content programs focus on new features, chest-beating on company milestones, and otherwise weaving strong product tie-ins into every new piece of content created. That content has its place, but your readers (customers and prospects) will gravitate towards content that independently provides value. What are your customer's issues? What do they need help with, right now? That's the content that will spread like wildfire for you.

3. Not encouraging and participating in two-way communication
Creating content isn't enough. To really accelerate your audience and impact, you must devote time to responding, commenting, engaging questions and so on. If you're just a one-way communication channel, even with good content, your prospects will go elsewhere for the interaction they crave.

4. Not promoting, aggregating and curating great content from others
It's not all about you. And frankly, you can drive significant audience volume (and accelerated awareness and positive brand impressions for your business) by simply aggregating and promoting great content from others. By doing this, you'll create awareness and interest from other content originators as well as demonstrate to your growing audience that you're filtering great content from numerous sources for them.

5. Only producing written content
Written content may be the core of your content strategy, but don't forget video. Or podcasts. Or short, embedded slide presentations. Or whatever other formats your audience naturally gravitates towards.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

 

Organize the tribes of lonely prospects

Your prospects are probably lonely. They have plenty of colleagues in their organization, likely too many people telling them what to do and possibly a team of people to help them do it.

But they're still lonely. Lonely because nobody else in the organization has their job. Lonely because they can't show weakness or indecision to their direct reports, can't talk shop with peers who run other departments, and can't share pockets of inexperience with their boss.

Take the CIO of a Fortune 500 company. Or, better yet, the CIOs of Fortune 500 pharmaceutical companies. They face similar and unique challenges. There's no real playbook. They're all blazing trails. And even though they compete with each other, there's still plenty of information they can share, problems via which they can commiserate, best practices to pass along.

These senior leaders, your prospects, are lonely - and they're desperate to connect with each other.

So what happens when your company facilitates that gathering? What benefit would come your way if you organized the tribe?

What could you learn by simply listening to the conversation? Is it possible that they'd start brainstorming new ideas to solve collective problems, and occasionally lean back to ask if you could do that? Build that? Sell that?

These tribes are already forming. Don't wait until someone else organizes your tribes, and both takes and receives the credit (and business) for doing something so simple but so highly effective and valuable.

Monday, July 11, 2011

 

Business planning is a discipline, not a document

It's one thing to have a plan. It's another thing to assume you know what you're doing before you do it.

You aren't likely to convince a VC to fork over millions without a written plan. Your investors, your board, your leadership team and your employees need to know where to focus, what markets you're betting on, and what specifically to do next (in a cohesive, coordinated fashion) to grow the business.

But if you've written a business plan, you know it's at best a reflection of a particular moment in time. It's full of untested assumptions and largely precedes the significant execution, learning, adjustments, optimization, failures and new directions every business (new or existing) will go through.

Business planning is extremely important, but it's not a document. It's a process. A discipline. A regular means by which you proactively manage the direction of the business at a strategic and tactical level.

Execution without a plan is just guessing. But spending too much time building a plan and not enough time executing will let competitors and/or the market opportunity pass you by before you even get started.

Friday, July 08, 2011

 

Marketing is a game of inches

It's not good enough to say "we'll email our customers in the morning instead of the afternoon" or "Tuesday is the best day to send our newsletter." That's way too general.

What time, precisely, is the best time to send? What specific time Tuesday morning (local time for the recipient, not your time)? When are your customers specifically most receptive to your message?

Quick example:

I had been publishing new blog posts each weekday morning between 8:10 and 8:25 a.m. Pacific time. My assumption had been that I wanted to reach readers early, when they get into the office, and before they're consumed by the morning's priorities and fire drills.

Recently, I tested posting content closer to 8:45 a.m. We're talking about a mere 20-25 minutes later.

This small change lifted my immediate readership (measured by views and clicks within the first 60 minutes) by 65-90 percent (with the range reflecting a multi-day test).

One more quick example:

At a past job, while testing dozens of variables to increase conversion rate on a two-page registration form, the single-largest variable we discovered to lift conversion was changing the background color from white to light blue.

Details matter. What are yours?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

 

How to reach & influence bloggers in your industry

The purpose of PR has never been about influencing press. It's about reaching your target audience through their published channels. And yes, the traditional media still has significant influence and reach worth pursuing.

But now more than ever, the "blogosphere" offers an even greater opportunity to reach both wide and very narrow audiences. And while some blogs are written and operated by professional journalists and publications, many (if not most) are written by people like you and me - passionate individuals with something to say and share.

In every industry, there's an opportunity to find and influence these bloggers to tell your story. And the key to doing this is to (temporarily) forget about your objectives, and focus entirely on helping the blogger.

First, understand their situation. If they don't blog for a living, then what they're doing is likely a labor of love. They also have limited time to do it, and finding good stories to tell is a primary constraint.

Get to know their content, their angle, their interests. Make yourself familiar to them first by commenting on their posts, retweeting their Twitter updates, and generally helping them extend their audience and facilitate online discussions.

When you do finally reach out directly, do so with value independent of a pitch. Be a resource or expert on a particular topic they care about. Point out an external link or resource or potential story source they may not have known about. Offer an introduction to someone in your network who could give them a new perspective.

Generally, make things easier for them without expecting anything in return. Yes, this is an investment and yes, it takes time. But this is how you can create long-term trust, credibility and eventually coverage for your own stories and priorities through their channel.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

 

The fastest, easiest way to learn about Google+

You can drive yourself nuts and waste loads of time chasing after every new technology, gadget, productivity tool, social network or other flavor of the week.

And if you insist on being the first to try everything and position yourself on the bleeding edge, knock yourself out.

But the good news for the rest of us is that there are plenty of smart folks out there doing the testing, evaluation and practicability analysis on our behalf. For free.

Take Google+, for example. Is it worth the time? Will it help me achieve my goals? Will it be around in a couple months?

Instead of spending hours learning directly, take just 10 minutes to read Chris Brogan's summary of 50 ways Google+ might be valuable. As of this writing, he's already spent several hours digging into the product.

And given his experience and expertise in all things social media, I'm highly confident that his several hours, translated into 10 minutes of reading, is going to save me a ton of time and get me up to speed very, very quickly.

There are plenty of Google+ recommendations out there already, but by finding people I trust and letting them do the pioneering for me, I get the information I need in a fraction of the time (and I'm still pretty close to the bleeding edge if I care to be).

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

 

10 B2B sales & marketing metrics worth tracking

The fine folks at Focus.com let me do a Webinar on this topic several months ago, but I wanted to summarize what I consider to be 10 fundamental B2B sales & marketing metrics here as well.

You can get an on-demand recording of the full Webinar here, but below (with some qualifying thoughts & questions) are the 10 metrics.

Quick Disclaimer: Just because you can track it, doesn't mean you should. Just because you can track it, doesn't mean it's important. Choosing the right metrics that will give you clarity and drive action in your business is most important.

So without further adieu...

1. Marketing Cost per Sale
You absolutely must track leads through to close and beyond. This helps you understand not only spend efficiency but cost per lead source and, eventually, lifetime value of leads you may be generating from higher-priced channels. Even better if you can track those leads through to renewals, referrals and other post-sale activity.

2. Customer Lifetime Value
What are you willing to spend to acquire a new customer? It's more than just the first purchase or first month's revenue. Which customers are most profitable to you? What do they look like, where do they come from, and how can you get more of them? How will this insight drive sales incentives and behavior as well? And is your customer experience team involved in defining target customers and setting expectations before the sale?

3. Nurture Database Performance
First off, how are you defining a lead that's in a "nurture" category - someone who's somehow qualified but not yet ready to buy? What number and percentage of deals come out of your growing nurture database? Do you know what catalyzed their movement out of nurture and into an active buying cycle?

Bonus points if you can use this insight to predict future revenue from your nurture database over time. What's a new "nurturable" lead worth to you based on this model?

4. Sales Cycle Length
How long is each sales stage once a lead is qualified and in the market to buy? What catalyzing events (internally or externally) accelerate deal velocity? Where are your opportunities getting stuck and is there anything you can do to proactively move them through more quickly?

Many lead generation models don't take into account sales cycle length and duration, and therefore overestimate new sales in too short of a period of time. This metric is critical to accurate forecasting.

5. Addressable Market Size
Does your entire organization define your target market the same way? How do your sales goals translate to market penetration expectations? Based on your funnel input and conversion assumptions, are those market penetration expectations realistic?

Depending on the maturity of your market, you may also want to make sure your addressable market is small enough. Are you unique enough for your immediately most addressable customers, or are you reaching too broadly?

6. Lead-to-Opportunity-to-Sale Conversion Rates
You can quickly over-complicate this one, but at minimum make sure you understand two numbers: How many leads does it take to create an opportunity, and how many opportunities end up closing? Bonus points, of course, if you can further break this information down by lead source, vertical industry, sales rep and any other angles that help you optimize for acquisition cost and sales volume.

7. Deal Size
Are some deals not worth pursuing? Do you know where your sweet spot is, and are you proactively targeting it? Are you adjusting your sales & marketing strategies based on revenue, margin and lifetime value yield potential?

8. Qualified Leads
First, ensure that sales & marketing agree on a common definition of a qualified lead. And it's OK to have different stages of qualified leads. But make sure there are explicit next steps for managing these leads moving forward, and explicit roles for both sales & marketing to do that. Now look back at your lead sources, nurture paths and other activities to determine where you're most successfully generating qualified leads from, and double down there.

9. Referrals
Too often companies constrain potential referral volume by making the act of generating a referral too difficult. A cumbersome form or registration process may be easier for you to track, but may lower your capture rate. What programs and incentives do you have in place to drive the right referrals? And are you segmenting referrals from customers vs. prospect, influencers, etc.?

If you're doing it right, the biggest source of referrals for your business may be a group that's never given you money, and never been an active customer. How are you engaging, capturing and measuring referrals with that audience?

10. Customers
Quantify your best customers, and ensure that your sales & marketing efforts are focused on finding and closing more of them. Is your core or most-valuable customer segment growing or shrinking? Can you quantify your share of wallet? What additional opportunities do you have to increase loyalty, lifetime value, referral potential and more?

Saturday, July 02, 2011

 

The difference between publicity and PR

Seth spoke about this at his event in Seattle last week, and it bears repeating.

Publicity is very different from PR. They’re related, but different in their execution, objectives and value to your brand and organization.

Publicity is about getting coverage for yourself. It’s about pushing your story, your agenda to the masses. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Publicity for a political candidate is critical. For a new movie or TV show, important. But publicity is mostly about me, not you.

Effective PR is about telling stories – unique, compelling stories that attract people to you. PR isn’t about you, it’s about the broader connections, trends, innovation and value being created in the ecosystem in which you work and operate.

Successful PR can be as much if not more about your customers and partners as it is about you. Your role as the implied enabler of success, your role as the originator and owner of the story, gives you the credibility and leadership you need to further your own agenda in a more authentic way.

Again, both are fine and in many cases both can be leveraged in parallel. Just make sure you understand which is which as you plan and execute.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?