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How to Get Subscribers to your Business Blog: 4 Things to Keep in Mind

Posted by on Oct 2, 2012 in Business Strategy, Marketing | 1 comment

How to Get Subscribers to your Business Blog: 4 Things to Keep in Mind

There are a lot of advantages to getting subscribers to your business blog.  A business email list is a valuable thing; it’s an opt-in strategy that allows you to communicate with your business community on a regular basis, which is invaluable when it comes time for a new product launch, website redesign, or event promotion.  Many readers subscribe to several “personal” blogs at once – but how do you get readers to subscribe to your business blog?  Here are three things to keep in mind when writing blog articles that will drive traffic to your site and keep it coming back.

1)       Write articles of real value.  Social media guru Michael Selzner calls this “giving away your secret sauce.”  Blog articles should not be reserved for things you feel are “freebies” or not really worth anything.  Think about it from the opposite point of view: what is the most valuable thing I can give away to my readers?  What is my very best insight or advice?  Many businesses feel that this will degrade their saleable product, particularly if they offer consulting services.  It doesn’t.  People pay for execution and specific engagement in their business; giving valuable advice or instruction in your blog will enhance your offering, not devalue it.   Do some SEO research to see what topics are the most important to your prospect base, and write on those. Do research if you need to.  If you only get one or two well-researched articles out a week, that’s OK. To start, you can check my blog on the best resources for SEO and gain a little depth in it. Read on for more topic ideas.

2)       Keep up with the news, and re-post articles of interest.  We recommend that all companies create an RSS feed for themselves, following a few top blogs and news channels on your industry.  This allows you to be a source of industry knowledge, providing real value to your readers by keeping them up to date on any major changes.  Reposting an article with a few sentences of your own comment is quick and easy.  This is a great strategy for a number of reasons: it provides real value to your readers, it creates links with bloggers and news reporters in your industry, and it keeps you and your staff on top of the news.  It’s cheap, easy, and effective.  Sometimes a writer gets a pingback indicating that their article has been reposted, and engages with you in the comments or offline.  This kind of interaction is fun, interesting, and great for business.

3)       Provide an incentive.  This part takes some upfront work, but can be leveraged for a long time.  What item of interest can you provide that would make it worthwhile for someone to give up their email address?  Ebooks are the easiest to produce and most common; but coupons, event tickets, or giveaways can also be used.  For example, the Boston Globe offers ebooks for download based on a compilation of most popular articles in several topics.  In return for registration, you can download ebook cookbooks (six months of recipes found in the weekly “Sunday Suppers” column) sports commentary, or a book of local  family activities (a compilation of another weekly column.) See Inbound Marketing company Hubspot for some great examples of business ebooks; among them are “Is your website converting leads to customers?  101 Examples of Effective Calls to Action.”   Choose your area of expertise, and put it together in a downloadable form.  Many business to business models feel that they don’t have as much to offer in this area, but it simply requires thought about the needs of your customers.  Take one out to lunch and ask what topics they are likely to discuss when they meet colleagues.

One caveat: don’t write a 100 page advertisement for your own product or service and expect it to yield results.  Your blog is a place to gain the trust of your customer community, not to engage in a hard sell.  Anyone who wants to be sold to will fill out your “contact me” form anyway.

4)       Make it easy.  Many businesses put too much emphasis on either the content side or the technical side of the equation.  Neither can be ignored.  Once you’ve got great content to offer as an incentive, offer it in a compelling way.  Your website developer will know how to put in some simple tools to collect subscriptions to your blog in an effective way.  In addition to the usual “Subscribe now” button next to your blog posts, what about a pop up for repeat visitors to the blog?   A button added to the FAQ page?  One to the list of staffers and executive bios?  Think about all of the places people might decide to engage with your business and make sure that they don’t have to leave the page to do so.

Finally, keep in mind that your blog subscribers are valuable.  They are your customers: smart, busy, and important to your business.  Craft your blog as a service to them and put the same care and effort into it as you do your customer service, and your business community will expand accordingly.

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How to Give a Great Presentation: 3 Tips to Get Your Point Across

Posted by on Sep 27, 2012 in Business Strategy, Marketing | 0 comments

How to Give a Great Presentation: 3 Tips to Get Your Point Across

by Harry McNabb

Let’s face it, we all give and listen to presentations, and we all sometimes dread giving and listening to presentations.  If I live to be 100, I will never forget the statistic I learned in a public speaking course: most people dread public speaking more than they fear death and dismemberment.  Since webinars or presentations to clients, venture capitalists, or internal staff are often your one shot to present your ideas, you need to be sure you are communicating effectively.

 Here are three things to think about when creating a presentation:

Are you delivering the right message to the right audience? 

Create your presentation to speak your audience’s language: sales to the salespeople, investment to the venture capitalists, technology to the developers, and risk management to the legal team.  Figure out what your audience is worried about.  Put yourself in their shoes, to the degree that you can.  What are their day to day challenges and what are they really hoping to get?

By thinking about your audience and speaking in a way that relates to them you have a much better shot that they will listen to what you have to say. Really great presentations not only relate to their audience in the business sense, but also in a broader sense of common life events.  With a little thought, you can weave in these common experiences in such a way that will allow your audience to relate. Here are some examples: who has never been stuck in traffic, had a frustrating day, or a poor customer service experience?   Found that a dreaded event was not as painful as anticipated?  Been in or out of a relationship? I have an old sports car that I sometimes take out for a drive, and people constantly stop me to tell me their old car stories  (my daughter tells me that old cars are really just daddy’s Polly pockets- something every little girl can talk about.)  When you engage people in a shared experience, you get their attention.

Are you telling the audience what is in it for them, or what is in it for you? 

This is a problem with presentations that we see all time: the presenter is overly focused on their own point of view. Let’s say you are speaking to an audience of people that you want to be early stage clients.   Ask yourself: are you speaking about what your company will gain or what their companies will gain from the transaction?  An early stage client may be absorbing more risk – what will they get in return?  Will they have more and better access to your development and design team?  More specialized support?  Special pricing?  Your focus needs to be on the benefits to the audience.

My wife and I just experienced a failure on this point when we went to non-profit dinner and were told how great it would be and how helpful if we all volunteered and worked really hard to do all of things that the presenters didn’t have time to do.  The presenters proudly showed their plans for expansion and the long list of things of things that they needed help with.  It was very clear what was in it for them, but less so regarding what might benefit the audience.  Even mentioning the fact that helping might make the audience feel good about themselves, teach a lesson to their kids, or be a part of something outside of themselves would have given them a better chance to strike a chord and get people to sign up.  (As we sidled out the door with the rest of the crowd, the optimistically placed sign- up sheets were still blank.)

Don’t create slides that speak without you there.

Don’t type your speech into your slides.  Write your text and then choose images or graphics that illustrate your point in a memorable way.  This is a hard one – we often have difficulty convincing clients of this.  But a presentation of wordy slides is just not that interesting; at best, the audience reads the slides while losing touch with the speaker.  The best speakers are those that create an image in your head while they fill in the details with their words.

A year ago, I attended a large social media conference.  During the conference, I saw at least six major presentations.  There are two ways to get an audience member to remember you: be really good, or be really bad.  Ask yourself, what presentations have you seen that you would remember a year later?

Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki, speaking to promote his new book “Enchantment” stands out as one of the greats.  His images were so funny and compelling that they trigger the memory of the point that he was making a full year later.  Chip Sansome, the author of “Switch” also had a great presentation.  His concept that you tap into the emotion of your audience to engage change in an organization was illustrated by an elephant (the emotion) with a small boy driving it (the change instigator, who can steer the elephant but not overpower it.)  Got it.

A speaker that shall remain unnamed, but who is a well-known industry voice, came to the podium with little thought, no good presentation, and apparently no clear idea of what he was going to say. Effort, or the lack of it, is pretty obvious to your audience: I unsubscribed from him the next day and took a pass on his next book.

Good luck!  Just remember: death and dismemberment really is more frightening than giving a presentation.

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What is Sales 2.0? Using Technology to Increase Sales and Cut Costs

Posted by on Sep 7, 2012 in Business Strategy, Marketing | 0 comments

What is Sales 2.0?  Using Technology to Increase Sales and Cut Costs

Wondering what Sales 2.0 is?  Read on for an explanation: what it means, why it’s important, and how to do it.

What is Sales 2.0?

We’ve had Y2K, Web 2.0, disruptive technologies, and cloud computing.  Nobody loves a confusing buzzword more than high tech – and the latest seems to be “Sales 2.0.”  There is a recently published book by this title (see it here on Amazon ) but the phrase itself has been kicking around for a while.  Looking on the Internet for definitions of sales 2.0, I failed to find one that actually meant anything, so here’s my own attempt: Sales 2.0 means using available technology to cut your sell cycle.  That’s it.  But like most things, the devil’s in the details.

Customer Focused

One thing that the myriad of authors and bloggers defining Sales 2.0 seem to agree upon is that Sales 2.0 is a customer focused process.  “Customer Focused” is another buzz phrase that could really mean almost anything, but in this case suggests that a sales 2.0 strategy takes the perspective of the buying process rather than the perspective of the sales process.  From an efficiency standpoint, this makes perfect sense; it ensures that the sales person performs only those steps that the buyer needs completed in order to close a sale, no more and no fewer.  It also means, given current available technology and the reality of Internet research, that the marketing and sales departments work together to ensure that the customer can perform their own necessary processes as quickly and easily as possible.

How Sales 2.0 Works in Practice

The best way to understand a sales 2.0 strategy is to use an example.  Most people like to use “old school” sales vs. “cutting edge” to show a contrast, but I don’t think that really reflects current reality: few high tech companies still use snail mail for anything, and webinars are commonplace.  Still, a comparison can be made.   Most high tech companies we see use a blended 1.0/ 2.0 sales process: the web and/or an inside sales rep for lead generation, combined with face to face calls to do the final demos and training.  As webinar technology has become available, face to face meetings are less frequent.  However, in the high priced, complex product, high tech industry it is still rare to see a company use a true Sales 2.0 strategy.

Let’s look at an example.

Sales 1.0/2.0 process

1)       Marketing designs a website with information about the product.  This can be as simple as a product faq, or as flashy as online demos and videos.

Lead generation programs send suspects to the website to qualify themselves.

2)       Leads are identified by a more or less manual process depending upon the company: either they identify themselves using technology lead capture like a contact form on the website (2.0) or someone calls them and qualifies them over the phone (1.0.)

3)       Sales reps call qualified leads and offer more information about the product.  The customer asks price; the sales team is taught to deflect this question until a value case can be made.  Sales rep offers more training, either by face to face meeting (1.0) or webinar (2.0.)

4)       After selling the value proposition, sales rep steers conversation to “next steps.”  This is code for pricing, and the rep gathers required information such as volume and complexity from the prospect.  Sales person presents pricing by email or on the phone.

5)       Customer goes away to consider or to get approval from committee or department.  Since they have to get different quotes from different companies, and all of the high tech companies have basically the same process, they’ve gotten the red carpet value presentation from all competitors.  Sales reps from each company are competing mano a mano.  Armed with price quotes, the customer goes away to make a decision.

6)       Sales person waits, or pesters.

7)       Customer makes decision, initiating contract process.

A Pure Sales 2.0 Process

1)       Customer decides that they have a problem to solve.  They go on the Internet to research solutions, and find your company.  Your marketing team, well versed in Inbound Marketing, has beefed up the website to attract people looking for answers.

2)       Customer decides that your product might be interesting and looks for more information.  Marketing has set up a lead capture that trades valuable information about the customer’s problem in exchange for the customer’s name, phone, and email.

3)       Customer explores website, sees the product, gets pricing information, and decides if they can afford the product.  (Other companies won’t give them pricing until they engage with a sales rep, so they don’t bother; or they just post a request on LinkedIn and find out what other companies paid.  The LinkedIn community provides pricing info and gets to complain about the competitors’ product if they have had any problems.)  The customer discusses with department or committee.  They steer other members of the committee to your website to see demonstrations or group webinars of the product.   At that point, they have a few specific questions that need to be answered.

4)       Customer requests sales support using the website, facebook, twitter, or text; and sales rep calls them.  They do an online meeting, demonstrating product in more detail and answering technical questions.  This process may go back and forth several times.

5)       Customer makes decision and contacts sales, initiating the contracting process.

To “old school” sales managers who believe that prospects can be muscled into a sale by sheer force of personality, this makes no sense.  Where’s the sales rep in this process?  They aren’t steering the ship!

But that’s the point.  In a sales 2.0 model, the sales rep’s job is not to convince a prospect to purchase.  It’s to facilitate the buying process.

This means, of course, that your product has to be good.  It has to fill a real need.  It also means that there is a much greater reliance upon the marketing department to differentiate your product from your competitors and to provide impressive demonstrations and valuable information on your website.  But, there are some real advantages.

Advantages to Sales 2.0

1)       It costs less.  Your sales reps are more effective, they can handle more prospects because they are not chasing unqualified prospects.  The marketing is a greater investment, but it persists over time and can be built upon.  Many parts of the qualification process are automated.

2)       It’s predictable.  Customers can generally do a much better job of qualifying themselves than salespeople can.  When you let the customer request your help, you get better measurement and a more predictable close rate.

3)       It cuts the time that your rep is in the sales cycle.  Your rep is only in at the end, so their part of the cycle is short and reasonably predictable.

4)       Because your rep has fewer steps in the cycle to cover, they can give the (self-qualified!) customer white glove treatment.  Because the pricing information is all out in the open, they can’t negotiate or engage in high pressure tactics.  This means the rep focuses on differentiating the company by product and service.

5)       The customers love it.  They’re loyal, and they will advocate for you.

It may be tough to convince your company to use a true sales 2.0 process, but the advantages make it worthy of consideration.  Like it or not, the world has changed – your customers can get all the information that they want about your company from the Internet.  It makes more sense for you to be the one who provides it, and reaps the benefit of the automated process.

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Increase Leads and Sales with a Webinar Strategy

Posted by on Aug 31, 2012 in Business Strategy, Marketing, Sales | 0 comments

Increase Leads and Sales with a Webinar Strategy

A webinar is an online class or seminar given to an individual or a group.  With the appropriate technology, webinars are fast to develop using PowerPoint or another common presentation software, and inexpensive to deliver using something like WebEx or Citrix.  If you’ve been working on inbound marketing but aren’t sure what to do with your prospects once they get to your website, a webinar could be the answer.  Read on to learn about three different webinar strategies and when to use them.

3 Types of Webinars to Increase Sales

There are many types of webinars, including training webinars that are a product in and of themselves.  But here we are talking about webinars to increase your sales pipeline.  There are three different types of webinars that follow along with the sales process:

1.       Lead Generation Webinars

2.       Qualification Webinars

3.       Training and Product Demo Webinars

Each of these has their uses.  Here we will discuss what they are and when to use them.

Lead Generation Webinars are webinars on industry related topics, but are not about your product.  They are a free offering designed to demonstrate thought leadership and introduce your company to the marketplace.  It is often difficult to convince your sales and marketing team that they really can’t talk about your product in this type of webinar, but you’ll have much greater success if you consider it an investment for the future and focus on giving away value in return for lead capture.

How:  If you can offer information on a topic that is very important to your client base (but does not have to do with your product) then offer a free training session.  If you’re at a loss on topics, just call up one or two of your customers and ask, or peruse three or four industry magazines to find a common theme.  If your topic is truly relevant and your experts credible, prospects will sign on to learn what you’ve got to teach them.

What if you aren’t yet established as an industry leader?  Now is a great time to form a partnership.  Offer a trade with your largest customer, or with a related industry contact.  Your partner gets exposure, and you get their name to attract attendees to your webinar: it’s a win/win.  The best part is that once you’ve hosted a live webinar once, you can record it and offer it as a download (after lead capture, of course!) ever after.

Another approach is to offer your company as a speaker or teacher at a trade show or conference.  This works well if the market is small and narrow, and helps get name recognition for your company; but it is not as effective at lead capture as an online strategy.

When: If you are currently using a calling strategy, lead generation webinars can help to build a pipeline of warm leads, or at least of suspects who know who you are.  They are particularly useful when your inbound marketing is going well and your website gets a lot of hits, but you don’t have effective lead capture from the hits.  Offering a webinar and requiring a name and email registration is a great way to transition prospects from lurking on your website to joining your contact lists.

Qualification Webinars are webinars about your company and the problems that your company solves.  Here is the opportunity to put the marketing team to work on a presentation that gives your “elevator pitch” clearly.  One of your goals should be to give each attendee the tools needed to explain to their colleagues exactly what your product offers in less than two minutes.

How: This is a broad brush overview.  Pull together the marketing and branding materials you have and create a 20-30 minute show that highlights the problem that your product solves, and the way that you solve it.  Keep it clear and simple.  Give examples if you can, and show a few screenshots if you wish to give prospects an idea of your product’s “look and feel.”

When: If you’ve got lots of unqualified leads to sort through, or tend to get a lot of “lookers” on your website who may find you by accident, qualification webinars can help you sift through to find your real prospects.  The qualification webinar will weed out those prospects who don’t really understand what your product does or have your company confused with someone else.  Set up an “opt-in” strategy for those who want to pursue contact with your company after they’ve viewed the qualification webinar.

Training Webinars are in-depth product demos.  This may be what your sales team already does with a qualified prospect, but combining with other prospects to demo as a group has several advantages.  For one thing, more prospects who aren’t ready to commit to one on one time with a sales rep may want to sign on for a group webinar, which requires less commitment from them but still gives your sales team a chance to show their stuff.  (Note: “Training Demo” is often more appealing to a prospect than “Product Demonstration” which indicates a hard sell.)

How:  Get together with your support team and your sales team and combine the two for a product demo that can answer a prospect’s common technical questions.  Make sure to keep it broad enough so that you don’t get bogged down on detailed questions of individual applications, but be specific enough so that the question of “how would I use this in my everyday life?” is clearly answered.

When: If you know your prospects understand what you do, but you’re having trouble giving them a vision of how your product can help them, this type of webinar can help.  Shift your sales approach from selling the product to selling the demo.  People are often more willing to invest time in a half hour training session than they would be in engaging right away in a question and answer session with a sales rep.

Webinars are inexpensive, scalable, and effective.  A great tool to have in your sales kit, develop as many types as you need to fill your pipeline and qualify your prospects.

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Pricing Strategy, Part 2: How to Structure Support for a Free Product Trial

Posted by on Aug 8, 2012 in Business Strategy, Marketing, Pricing, Sales | 0 comments

Pricing Strategy, Part 2: How to Structure Support for a Free Product Trial

Not getting the results that you hoped for from your product trial strategy? Are you finding that prospects don’t use the trial to evaluate the product properly? It could be that you aren’t providing enough customer support to enable your prospects to experience your product thoroughly.  Our earlier article listed three different types of free product trials; in this article we’ll describe how to structure customer support for your product trial program.

Choosing the Right Level of Customer Support: Doing the Homework

Whatever type of free trial you decide to offer, you will need some form of customer support to ensure that prospects convert smoothly to customers. The trick is to balance the level of customer support required with the cost and workload for your support team. In order to make a good management decision, you need to do some homework.

Step One:  Look at your existing process for new customers. This is a good place to start to determine how much support you need. If your sales and implementation process is automated, and you run support without a phone system, you should be able to do the same for your free trials. If you require a combination of online training, onsite consulting, extensive documentation and a specified phone representative, you will need to provide similar services for your trials to be successful.

Step Two:  Create a rough budget. No company that we’ve worked with has these numbers at their fingertips-although in an ideal scenario, they would – so just do your best with an estimate on the following: what revenue do you expect from a customer over the next five years? What is your current customer acquisition cost? How long do you expect it to take for your customer to become profitable? What is the highest cost of customer acquisition that the business could absorb and still enable growth? These numbers, or at least educated guesses at these numbers, are important. It may be that you just can’t afford to support a trial, in which case you should not do them, or you will need to change the trial structure so that the numbers come into line with reasonable customer acquisition costs for your product.

Step Three:  Talk to the support team. This one is both obvious and most often overlooked. Trials are often developed in the sales or marketing department, but they are supported in customer service. If you aren’t sure what support is available to you, or how the current support system works, you are doomed to failure. You are doomed even more so if you don’t have the cooperation of your customer support management colleagues. Make the effort to put together some numbers, take them out to lunch, and explain how a successful trial strategy could potentially boost sales and customer base. A customer with prior experience of the product may also lessens the support burden at purchase.

Trial Support Options: 3 Possible Choices

Let’s assume that your trial requires some support, and it’s not a simple sample of a manufactured product. There are many variations that you can come up with, but here are three basic structures to start from.

  1. Automated Support. Automated Support could be documentation built into the product, automated training videos, an FAQ page, or user forums.

Pros: Once developed, automated support is inexpensive to maintain and doesn’t generally require a new hire or extra staffing. This structure is scalable; having fifty people using the system is no harder than having five people use it.

Cons: This structure doesn’t allow you to do the extra hand holding and nurturing that might tip a prospect into a sale. You may lose the opportunity to step in if your prospect runs into a problem. You have to rely upon the technology to do its job, and you have to make the investment to be absolutely sure that the automated processes are user friendly.

The Right Choice: If the product is user friendly, and your usual customer support load is light, an automated support process may work well. This also makes the most sense for a business model with a high volume, low margin customer base.

  1. Group Training and Support. Often done in an online format, group training is a simplification of your normal training process. Performed on a regularly scheduled basis, all trial prospects undergo the training together, minimizing cost to the company. This is combined with some form of support, either full or limited, to answer questions during the trial.

Pros: This is less expensive than personalized training, and when it’s developed can usually be fit into the existing support team’s load. It lessens the individual support calls that may follow, and allows the prospect exposure to the company staffing, which may be a selling point.

Cons: A group training may not cover details specific to the needs of the individual prospect, and it usually is not sufficient by itself to get a prospect up and running on a successful trial.

The Right Choice: This is a great option for products that don’t quite explain themselves, but also don’t require a lot of customization. It’s a good choice if you sell a single or <10 seat license, and if the product won’t require a change of business process across multiple departments.

  1. Individual SupportIndividual support or onsite consulting. This is the red carpet treatment for your prospects, where you hold their hands through every step of the trial process.

Pros: The clients love it.  It provides them the opportunity to experience your support and your expertise, and gives you a lot of control over the prospect’s user experience and decision making process. Often it means an investment on the prospect side, so close rate is high.

Cons: This is a very expensive option. It’s only reasonable if your lifetime revenue expectations for a customer are very high. It also may require separate staffing; the best person to support a nervous prospect and soothe them through some initial confusion is sometimes a combination of sales and support, rather than a very efficient technical support staffer.

The Right Choice: This option may be necessary if you have a very complex product, if your product requires customization, or requires significant change of business process. It’s a correct option if your business model is one of high lifetime customer revenue with a lower volume customer base, and if your current revenue can support the staffing.

Offering good support is critical for the success of your trial program. If it’s worth your company’s effort to put a trial system in place, it is worth the extra step of setting up an appropriate support system to ensure that those prospects have the best user experience possible and convert to customers at a high rate.

Miriam McNabb is a principal at Spalding Barker Strategies, sales and marketing consultants.

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