Social Media and Online Forums, Hidden Gems of Customer Insight

Social media and online forumsThere are little  that essentially go unnoticed… Consumers spend significantly more time online today than they did 10 years ago, and that amount of time is projected to keep rising in the foreseeable future. When online, consumers are spending their time across multiple activities ranging from social media to shopping, and conversing about experiences and issues regarding business and brand interaction. One way they share their experiences is via online reviews, which 3SixtySMB covered in a previous article (Landmark Case with TripAdvisor, Makes Businesses Think Twice About Reviews), but there are more ways in the form of Social Media and other online groups and forums. In this article, we’ll cover the various online communities where consumers share their insights and how businesses can create a way to adopt them as a strategy.

Consumers fill these groups and forums with critical and valuable product & organization insight in almost cult-like fashions… They use these groups to share best practices, tips, tricks, issues, or look for recommendations. However, what we find amazing is that they generally go overlooked by businesses. We’ve even seen some of the larger organizations (typically larger F500) create their own online customer forums, but then essentially ignore them as well. Generally, we find a few different reasons these groups go ignored, but there are mostly two core reasons: lack of understanding or a lack of budget…. Lack of understanding usually stems from management not recognizing the value of these groups, and the lack of budget is focused around the thinking that actively monitoring these groups as more of a cost vs profit center activity. We’ll get into the reasons behind why we find these groups so valuable and how to develop a strategy later in this article, but first, I wanted to focus on the various groups:

Facebook Groups – Facebook has put in a considerable amount of effort into enhancing these groups, and as a result, Facebook groups are becoming more prevalent and influential as of late. Typically, you’ll find these groups founded, ran, and moderated by users themselves… We also find that there could be multiple different user groups focused on similar businesses or industries which can make them difficult to find. Also, due to the nature of these groups, their structures can vary from highly moderated to almost no moderation at all. You’ll find that a majority of groups tend to be consumer-focused and can range from local businesses to nationally known brands.

LinkedIn Groups – LinkedIn groups have been around for a while in comparison to Facebook Groups. Typically, they are founded, ran, and moderated by the actual businesses themselves… However, there are several end-user generated LinkedIn Groups as well. Similar to Facebook groups, we find that their structures can vary from highly moderated to almost no moderation. We also find that due to the age of these groups, some can be significantly more active than others. These types of groups tend to be business-to-business focused, but you can and will find some consumer brands sprinkled in there as well.

Community forums – An example of this would be something similar to Nextdoor.com where the site is corporately ran, but it is independent of the content on the site with a goal to find revenue via advertising opportunities. All content is typically generated from users themselves and can be extremely active… Businesses that are local and focus on the consumer should spend a great deal of time getting to know these sites. Discussions in these sites typically revolve around individuals asking for recommendations or sharing their experiences with local businesses. Local businesses are seriously missing out if not participating in these groups.

Online forums – When thinking about online forums, naturally most think about online forums or user groups as these are some of the oldest types of forums out there. These types of organizations are usually formed by users themselves, but do have more structure than a Facebook or LinkedIn group. We’ll find that there might even be some type of advisory board with executive officers and can be highly moderated. Content within these groups is typically user generated, and in some cases, these forums have almost more of a cult-like following than any other group. They are typically funded via membership dues or advertising budget, but generally zero content would be vendor generated. These forums can focus on anything from specific products, brands, or industries.

Vendor Sponsored Forums/User Groups – These types of forums are almost 100% founded, ran, and moderated from the vendors themselves and it is mostly the larger companies that run these types of forums. There is a mixed bag of vendor interaction within these groups, as some vendors participate heavily in these groups and even go as far as having user group events. However, we also find some vendors that are almost nonexistent as well. The same can be said about the content… often most is generated via users, but you can find vendor content as well. Content can range from use cases, tips and tricks, and recommendations. However, due to the nature being focused on vendors, we do see a lot more issue related content. Again, because some vendors are better than others, some vendors groups can be extremely valuable where others not so much.

Trade or Industry Organizations – In each industry, you’ll find very specific groups dedicated to help educate their respective industries. Commonly, these groups are founded and ran by the organizations themselves but will allow vendors to participate as well… We find that these groups are geared towards industry knowledge, and as a result, you’ll have a mixed bag of users and vendors participating in them.

Again, we find these types of online/social groups and forums to be extremely valuable for any business, as topics discussed can be instrumental to understand customer usage, issues, or new strategic directions for a business, along with possible new prospects. These groups can truly help organizations strengthen their connections with customers, but also strengthen their products while bringing in new customers. This is why the thinking of these groups as a cost center is completely wrong; if done right, they can become a very valuable profit center for any business. Now that we’ve discussed the types of forums and why we find them so valuable, here are a few tips for developing a strategy of your own:

Dedicate resources – At a minimum, dedicate at least one resource to following and reviewing the various groups and forums… The bigger your company, the more resources should be dedicated. We believe most businesses think of this area as a cost vs a profit center, which is why they do not feel the need to invest into this area. Again, we find this to be a huge mistake as the insights gained from forums can be invaluable from a strategic perspective. Since prospects use groups as a sounding board for references, these forums can generate sales along with reducing support cost.

Generate reports – Topics covered in the various forums and groups are extremely valuable for any organization. It should be made a priority to set up regular reporting around various topics brought up in these groups. These reports should be directed towards executive management, product and customer service managers, along with sales leadership, as each group can benefit from these items… This is also where most companies fail because, frequently, no action items are ever taken based on knowledge gained. It should also be made a priority to select a handful of issues covered in these groups and devise a strategy for resolution weekly or monthly.

Monitor constantly – There is a reason we recommend dedicated sourcesin order to get the most out of these groups, they do require active attention. People routinely gravitate to these types of forums and groups because they know they can get fast answers. Therefore, if you want to show that you are adding value to customers and prospects that participate in these groups, ensure a fast and accurate response.

Keep experts on call – We recommend dedicated staff to actively monitor and participate in these groups, but they do not need to be experts. Experts can be very expensive for this type of activity and can be better valued elsewhere in the organization. With that said, experts should be on call to answer any questions that require knowledge that is beyond the knowledge of the team member maintaining these groups.

Keep on-call executives – The same can be said for executive support. There should always be an executive sponsor on call to address issues as they arise in these groups. Again, coming to a quick and accurate resolution can truly show your customers and prospects that you value them.

Communicate properly – There are a lot of items that fall under proper communication, from timely and accurate responses, to knowing when to pull in experts or executives into discussions. However, this also means this is not an opportunity for the hard sell or to continuously blast your marketing message to the various groups… The reason why these various groups and forums are so highly leveraged is that they are great sources for knowledge without tainted marketing messages from vendors themselves. When users are looking for recommendations, it is okay to recommend specific products or share marketing collateral, but that should be the limit of sales and marketing activity.

Take action – This goes along the lines of proper communication, however, you must ensure that your team does everything humanly possible to address all issues that come up in these various groups. Not only does this directly help a customer, unattended messages stay in these forums and are indexable via Google. So as prospective customers and active customers search their issues on Google, there is a chance they will find these forum posts… Unanswered posts show there could be a problem with your product and/or service. However, if your team properly addresses the issue, it could save needless support calls and reduce support cost.

Prioritize customer requests – This goes in line with taking action. We find that the reason a majority of customer requests go unanswered is because the vendor themselves has other priorities from a product feature and functionality perspective. This means that vendors are too involved in developing solutions to their own specifications, and what the customers actually want gets pushed aside! It’s a theme that comes up a lot in our writings–most businesses brush aside the wants and needs of their customers, as they have a belief they know what is best for their customers. Customer requests and issues, should always have a top priority in your business model.

If executed properly, social media and online forums can become essential mediums for collecting valuable customer and product intelligence, adding to the education when developing changes in products and/or corporate strategies. However, these groups can also become great sources of income, attracting net new customers or helping customers upgrade services as the need arises, all while reducing customer service support cost. Developing a strategy for the various online communities that consumers engage in is a critical area that each and every business should be focusing on as part of their business plans.

 

What is Omni-Channel Marketing And Tips For Developing An Omni-Channel Strategy

Omni-channel-MarketingOmni-Channel Marketing is a new term that has been thrown around increasingly more over the past few years, and it is a strategy that most organizations regardless of industry should develop, as it makes a heck of lot of sense. However, we find that there are still many organizations that are not exactly sure what Omni-Channel Marketing is or how to properly deploy an Omni-Channel strategy. 3SixtySMB believes that not deploying an Omni-Channel strategy is a huge mistake, and it is inadvertently hurting thousands of businesses today and leading to the fall of the many consumer-based retail giants of today. In this article, we’ll cover exactly what Omni-Channel Marketing is and some tips for developing and deploying a strategy of your own.

Setting the stage a bit, back before the internet or smartphones, things were literally simpler times for marketers. TV, radio, print, and in-store advertising were typically the only marketing mediums that needed constant attention from marketers, and the pace and frequency of marketing campaigns were drastically slower. Also, something like a remote worker was never part of the picture, which meant that all the various teams were under the same roof and most likely reported to the same department head. Finally, product designs did not change as much, and in some cases, you’d be lucky to see one design change in a year (sometimes in years). All of these factors allowed for teams that worked closer together and for campaigns that were much more cohesive from a consumer standpoint than what was being produced in today’s market.

This was the case for decades, until the late 90’s when something interesting happened and changed the marketing landscape forever… Technology began to be developed enough were things like the personal computer and the internet became convenient enough to make their way into a majority of homes. Almost overnight, a significant percentage of the population had access to the internet, and in short order, corporations began to follow with development of their own websites. At first, these websites were digital billboards for their businesses and overtime transitioned to the eCommerce hubs they are today. When businesses began to develop these new websites, they needed to bring in new people that would be familiar with the development and technology of websites, bringing the first drastic change to how teams functioned inside of businesses. Essentially, this is where IT began to play a marketing role, but without direct ties to the marketing department. As the developers themselves were technology people, they typically reported to the head of IT, and the same can be said for the backend supporting technology. At first, because there were typically only a few team members supporting a website, it was easy for teams to develop a strategy with the marketing teams, keeping some of the cohesiveness that was once in place, but it wasn’t without its issues… One challenge that typically came up was that marketing would develop new campaigns, but would have to wait for IT to update the website to match the campaigns. With some organizations, this took an extremely long time, leading to marketing campaigns being deployed without a website reflecting these campaigns. This led to a fragmented view from a consumer standpoint, resulting in frustration and lost revenue.

Overtime, departments began to address the issue of this fragmented view, but on June 29, 2007, something happened that would change the way consumers interacted with businesses forever: the launch of the iPhone. Almost overnight, with the launch of the first smartphone, consumers now had ready access to the internet and business websites anywhere and in the palm of their hands. At first, websites were not developed to be viewed on such small screens and were extremely difficult to navigate. Making things worse, most smartphone manufacturers had their own mobile browsers and application frameworks, giving their end-users slightly different views than the others. As a result, businesses needed to quickly pivot to create a new strategy for addressing these consumer devices, various browsers and application frameworks. This in itself created more fragmentation within businesses because it wasn’t one big team that addressed smartphone platforms, but several (typically, one per platform)–all of which reported to IT and not marketing. As a result, end-users would receive different user experiences depending on the platform, and some completely independent from the primary website… This became a nightmare for marketers; they not only had to coordinate with the primary website teams, but now with the various mobile platform teams, all of which did not report to marketing, which was a huge challenge for coordination of campaigns.. Then in 2009, something else happened that would put a whole new strain on marketing: the economic downturn of 2009. Suddenly, budgets and teams were cut almost overnight with an increase of demand for faster and more nimble marketing campaigns on the rise. This is frankly where team cohesiveness and technology of the times were put to the test, and where most failed… Organizations, big and small, began to have major customer experience issues leading to huge lost revenue gaps, and organizations began to crumble. Essentially, businesses were not up to the challenge due to how highly fragmented these organizations had become. As a result, they had difficulty being nimble enough to address the demands of the economy of the time. Many of the major consumer business downfalls happening today are almost directly due to their inability to change with the times, and instead, opting to focus on cost cutting vs innovation (The Fall of Big Box Retail in Calculator-Driven Economy). However, there were some that began to innovate and change with the times…

This is where Omni-Channel Marketing comes into play. Essentially at its basic level, Omni-channel Marketing is giving a consumer the same experience, whether they are sitting on a desktop, smartphone, in-store, or anywhere for that matter. This means that if they see a commercial on TV, the deal reflected in that commercial will be the same across all formats and in-store. Again, the concept of the Omni-Channel Marketing is to give customers a single user experience regardless of their interaction with your brand. This makes interacting with a brand as seamless and user-friendly as possible, removing all barriers and taking advantage of the convenience of today’s technology. Thus, if someone watching a commercial from the convenience of their couch sees something of interest, they can simply pick up their smartphones and place an order within minutes, having it shipped directly to their house within days or having the ability to pick up that item in store the same day. As a contrast, you still have the likes of Sears that haven’t fully adopted any of today’s technology, and the primary way of customer interaction is their in-store experience. Anyone that has been to a Sears over the past few years can attest that Sears hasn’t done the best with keeping up in-store appearances and closing hundreds of locations yearly as a result.

Again, all of this was to set the stage for how most organizations used to be compared to where they are today. When looking into creating an Omni-Channel strategy, the first thing to understand is that it is much easier for a small business to do so than it is for a larger organization such as Sears. The larger and older the organization, the more investments they have made in legacy technology, policies, and teams, along with more internal politics to deal with. These reasons alone make shifting to an Omni-Channel strategy like turning a cruise ship taking on water in a hurricane; it is no surprise that they haven’t, and that they continue to fail as a result. With all of that said, it is important to emphasize that the sooner one starts to develop their Omni-Channel strategy, the better.

As an organization begins to develop an Omni-Channel strategy, here are a few tips to consider:

Centralize your teams – Mentioned earlier, the traditional way has been fragmented teams reporting to both IT and Marketing executive leadership. As an example, websites, mobile applications, and inventory control may be managed by the CIO while Marketing campaigns and advertisements may be managed by the CMO. Instead, we recommend that any function that is related to the Omni-Channel strategy should be managed in one area, and all teams to be reporting up one executive leader.

Take an inventory – In order to change anything, it is extremely important to understand everything that would fall under the Omni-Channel Strategy. It is crucial to understand and map out everything from the website and in-store experiences to everything in between, along with supporting systems… Getting a current state of affairs is important to understand where things stand to properly put a plan in place.

Take the customer journey – Task different teams and executive leaders to take the customer journey… Have them use the website, mobile applications, and make trips to different locations to take note of inconsistencies and pain points.

Pay attention to your competition – It is important to understand what the competition is doing… There is no need to recreate the wheel when developing a strategy, and similar to the customer journey, take note of both positive and negative experiences.

Ask for customer input – Find ways of speaking to customers to understand their experiences. Try to understand areas they felt comfortable with and areas where they experienced pain or difficulty, and truly listen to your customer! Too many organizations ask for customer input, but then ignore it because there is a belief that the customer does not know what is best for the organization! Trust us when we say this: your customer is everything… If they say something is a problem, it is a problem!

Start with what will impact the end-customer the most – Too many organizations start their strategies by overhauling backend technologies and systems… The problem with this strategy is that it’s typically extremely expensive, takes the longest to develop, and when finally completed, has no real effect on the end-customer at all. Many of the greats of our generation have gone out of business with this strategy… Instead, find areas that will have the most impact to the end-customer and start from there, working on the bigger backend changes in the background.

Adopt design standardization – As your organization develops their approach, a design standardization should be the highest priority. On the surface, all customer-facing mediums (desktop and mobile websites, mobile applications, and social media profiles) should all have the exact same look and feel. Behind the scenes, supporting technology and programming languages need to be standardized as well…

Standardize technology – This goes in line with design standardization, but aligned more to the backend supporting technology. Again, a key challenge to the larger organizations is no technology standardization. We’ve seen organizations that will have 100s of applications from 100s of vendors, databases from Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, and others–all with multiple program languages. Although there are different types of middleware technologies allowing for integration of these different solutions, we recommend against this completely… Instead, standardize on application, database technologies, and programming languages. Part of the reason for such fragmented systems is that, traditionally, each of the different teams had their own purchasing power to acquire whatever technology or software they felt fit for the team’s needs. Having centralized teams should help eliminate this issue, however, we also recommend a change in purchasing power… No team should be allowed to purchase rogue technology or software. Instead, teams should be finding ways to bring on solutions that fit the greater good of the organization. Yes, this may mean that some sacrifices will be made, but the good of a smart purchase will outweigh the negative of sacrifices made.

Hold meetings – Part of bringing these teams together means that meetings and decisions should not be made in vacuums. We recommend weekly, monthly, and quarterly meetings meant to bring the individual teams together reviewing changes and progress made against primary goals… This will ensure that all departments know what everyone is working on or towards.

Test, test, and test again – Developing an Omni-Channel strategy is no small undertaking, and there will be significant changes made to people, process, technology, and other enablers across the organization as a whole. Regardless of how much planning and testing is completed before items are rolled out, things will break… Ensure that your team is always testing, retesting, and then testing things over and over. The last thing you want is for your customers to find something broken in the system. Sometimes it only takes one bad customer experience to lose a customer!

Strive for constant improvement – Once a go-forward plan is in place and the various teams begin to make progress, it doesn’t stop there…. There should always be a strategy in place to find out ways of improving the overall customer experience across people, process, technology, or other enablers. We always highly encourage testing… again, this should not be done in a vacuum, the whole team should be aware of innovation items being tested and worked on.

Fail fast – Designing an Omni-Channel strategy is a process and a huge undertaking for any organization… Unfortunately, no matter how much planning and testing is in place, there are going to be things that just do not work! Too many may try to force the issue and continuously try to force a round peg in a square hole… It’s better to recognize where something just isn’t meant to be and declare failure! No one likes to fail, but no one wants to spend untold amounts of money and time on something that will never succeed in the first place.

Analyze everything – Metrics should be put around every aspect of the Omni-Channel Experience, from front end customer facing aspects to backend supporting technology… Every aspect of the system should have Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) attached to them and should be continuously monitored for areas of improvement or trouble. Depending on how big the organization, it might be worth the investment of putting together some type of war room monitoring system were specific teams are responsible for monitoring these KPI’s in real-time.

Again, creating an Omni-Channel Experience within a business is no small task… However, the more effort put into ensuring your customers have a seamless experience from anything such as your website or mobile application, to their in-store experience, the more likely you are to have happier (and returning) customers. Industry giants of all shapes and sizes have been struggling as of late due to their lack of customer experience and competition pressure. Remember, it only takes one bad customer experience to lose a customer to a competitor, and let’s not forget word of mouth as well. In today’s market, customer experience is everything, and if you’re not putting your best foot forward across all of your different customer experience touchpoints, you are risking business.

 

Landmark Case with TripAdvisor, Makes Businesses Think Twice About Reviews

It was announced on Wednesday, September 13th of 2018 that an Italian man would be jailed for nine months for running a business tied to fake TripAdvisor reviews.

Reviews, especially for consumer-based businesses, mean everything… and unfortunately there are too many businesses that are more than willing to circumvent systems to provide fake reviews for products and services. We always highly recommended against using these services, as at the end of the day, it will negatively affect your business. Not only do real customers eventually catch on, but organizations such as TripAdvisor, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Yelp are all working on solutions to combat such practices. This means that those reviews will eventually fall off, and there could be other ramifications such as fines or banning from platforms completely.

Reviews are increasingly becoming a primary tool for consumers to make daily decisions on what to buy and eat, naturally leading to increased business for businesses with a plethora of positive reviews. Instead of risking long-term gains for short-term with providers offing fake reviews, 3SixtySMB recommends developing a strategy to interact with your customers and work towards getting real, credible customer reviews for the various platforms out there. Strategies can be anything from simply asking customers to post reviews, or offering incentives such as discounts for their honest take on your business.

Real reviews are also an insight into the soul of your business. We find that many disregard reviews with the belief that the customer doesn’t know what they are talking about, or that they as a “business owner” know what is best for the business. However, real reviews are the consumer’s perception of your business (good or bad), and insights like reviews can truly help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of the business in the eyes of your customers. Making adjustments to your business model as you learn about them through your reviews will help increase your overall customer experience and lead to increased revenue over time. We wrote a related article about this not too long ago (There’s A Problem, Stop What You Are Doing).

Finally, ensuring that you are monitoring these reviews in real time also gives a clear line of communication directly to your consumers. As an example, if a consumer had an issue with your business and you did not respond, you could lose a customer for life. Furthermore, they will tell their friends, and their review is now visible for the world to see. This means that one bad review left unaddressed can lead to multiple lost customers down the road. If you have a few bad reviews, you are now taking a significant hit to your business. Addressing issues in a professional and courteous manner can not only change the perception of a customer with a bad experience, but it also shows the world that you take your customer experiences seriously. Furthermore, positive reviews are not to be ignored. Take the time to thank someone that posted a positive review for their business, possibly even offer them a discount on their next trip in. Actions like this create loyal customers, and again, show the workers what type of business you run.

Reviews are truly an inside view to the soul of your business, both for your customers and your organization. Treat customers horribly, and everyone will know! Treat customers well, and everyone will know! Which do you think is better for your business? And when it comes to “paid reviews”, steer clear of them; they could be a path to short-term gains, however they will catch up to you in the long run… Finally, there are many platforms out there (TripAdvisor, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Yelp), so do not make the mistake of only focusing on one. Where your customers are, you should be there as well!

 

The Importance of Testing in Marketing Campaigns

Testing Marketing CampaignsThe challenge with marketing in small business, is that you just do not have enough budget and resources to market like the big guys. This can create a challenge when coming up with new marketing campaigns and ensuring those campaigns are yielding the best possible results… Typically in larger organizations, they have budget and resources to develop messaging for campaigns. However, even with their large budgets, market surveys, research, and other methods, the large corporations will have a better understanding of what messages will resonate the most, but at best, they are just more of an educated guess. The only real true way to understand what messaging will yield the best results is to test, then test again, and once completed, do more testing. Testing is the only true way to understand what messaging will produce the best results, and in this article we’ll cover some of the basics for testing messaging and campaign effectiveness.

Analytics Tools – Before anything, you need to get yourself familiar with analytics tools available to your business. Some tools may be free and others will be fee-based. In this article, we’ll focus on the tools available at no cost, because even at their basic levels, free can add significant insight to your campaign effectiveness. Another reason for focusing on these tools is that we find most organizations we speak with are not aware of the analytics built in to the tools they use today.

Here are a few, for example:

E-Mail Software – Most e-mail software will have built-in analytics for tracking open, click, and unsubscribe rates along with other useful metrics.

Social Media ­- Some social platforms have analytics built in to monitor interaction levels. However, even at its most basic level, the easiest way to track social media is to keep track of follower levels from a month-to-month or week-to-week standpoint.

Google Analytics – Google analytics is an extremely powerful free website analytics tool and fairly easy to use and install. Google analytics will give visibility into items, such as which channels are driving website traffic, page click rates, time on page, traffic pattern, and more. Quite simply, Google analytics is one of the most powerful free tools available today.

CRM / Order Entry Systems – Although the most difficult to track, as you are relying on human data entry, these systems still can be effective. A simple question during the sales process like asking how someone found out about your business can yield some interesting results.

Once you have the tools and basic understanding of how they work, it is time to start testing and tracking. Here are a few simple tactics that can be implemented today to start testing campaigns and measuring effectiveness.

Splitting the List – Overtime, your company has hopefully developed a list of newsletter or e-mail recipients—this is a great base of your ideal community. An easy way to test campaign effectiveness is to break the list into equal and random buckets of two, three, or even four different segments. Once these segments are created, the goal would be to try different messaging across the list. The key is to try different structures in your subject lines, content, and content presentation. Tracking how each list performs every month across open, click, and unsubscribe rate will uncover what messaging yields the best results. Each month should be used as an opportunity to implement the changes from what was learned in the prior months and continuing to test new messaging across the different segments. Overtime, you should start to see an increase in overall interaction in your e-mail campaigns.

Social Messaging – Unfortunately without paid tools, Social Media is a little more difficult to track. However, all is not lost as there are still tactics that can be implemented to ensure you are moving in the right direction. Some social platforms, such as LinkedIn, can show interactions of individual posts which can be helpful, but also time-consuming, to track depending on how often posts are made. Instead, we recommend tracking social media on a week to week (or month to month) basis focusing on follower levels and Google Analytics traffic. Tracking follower levels is a great way to see if your messaging is attracting new followers. And by testing messaging and frequency, you should be able see a trend in follower growth. Also, Google analytics is another tool that could be used for this purpose since it can track how much traffic is being sent to your site via each social media platform.

Website Design – Quite possibly the most overlooked aspect of any marketing asset a small business has, is their website. Most tend to look at their website to showcase their products and services, which is a good start. However, we find that after launch, most small businesses leave their website as is and almost never update it or work to make improvements. This day and age, websites are becoming one of the most powerful assets a business can have and could be a full article all on its own. However, for the purpose of this article, we want to focus on the effectiveness of a website from a lead generation perspective. A proper website should not only be a showcase of products and services, but should also be an asset that generates leads (interested buyers) for the business.  Unfortunately, the most traditional ways businesses set up their websites is a simple “Contact Us” page and phone number. While “Contact Us” and phone numbers can generate leads for the business, there are other “calls to action” that can be built into the website to generate additional leads. Calls to action can be tricky, as it is difficult to understand what will compel someone to reach out to the business. Only through tracking lead flow from each call to action and testing messaging, location, and pages will you be able to understand what works best. HubSpot has a few great examples you can view here: https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/call-to-action-examples

Advertising – Small businesses tend to spend a small fortune on all types of advertising and it never ceases to amaze us when we see the exact same ads used time and time again. Depending on how much your business spends on advertising, this could be the single biggest mistake your business is making, period… Why? Much like the theme of this article, how do you know if your ad is actually yielding the best results? Truth is, you don’t! Sure, that ad that has been running the past six years is generating some leads and business, but what if you could double, triple, or quadruple the effectiveness of those campaigns with the same amount of advertising spend you are putting into those ads today? The simple answer is to test different messaging across your campaigns and see what gets the most phone calls or visits to the website. The easiest way to test the effectiveness is to either create custom website landing pages or to track each campaign and see how many submissions you receive. Another way is to simply train your staff to ask how they found out about your business and to track within your order entry system or CRM.

Again, the biggest challenge in marketing, whether you are a small business or not, is that you never know what messaging will actually relate to your ideal consumer to produce the best results. Your business is already spending time and money for marketing, and by testing, you can ensure that time and money is being well spent. Testing is the only way to truly be sure that effort is being put in the right place.

 

 

How To Develop A Social Media Marketing Strategy For Your Business

Social Media Marketing Strategy For Your BusinessFor as long as social media has been around, there are still many small and medium-sized businesses that have not fully embraced social media marketing. It was estimated in 2017 that 81 percent of the US population has a social media profile, and globally people spend more than 3.7 hours per day on social media. Furthermore, it was estimated in 2015 that Facebook influenced 52 percent of consumers, which was a 36 percent increase from 2014, and that was three years ago… Social media has become so influential for better or worse, and it now plays critical roles in presidential races across the world. It has shown no signs of slowing down and has continued to grow exponentially over the years. It has begun to absolutely dominate the way people perceive brands and make purchasing decisions. With all of this in mind, it is absolutely critical for businesses of all shapes and sizes to develop a social media marketing strategy. In this article, we’ll cover some of the key tactics to developing a social media marketing strategy—more of a Social Media Marketing 101.

Before we get into tactics, the first thing to emphasize is that social media success does not happen overnight. Too many times we run into business owners and executives that believe social media can be turned on like a light switch; this couldn’t be further from the truth. Although social media is a free marketing channel, it takes time and effort to develop a true impact… However, social media marketing does have a snow ball effect, as over time, the effectiveness of the efforts put into social media marketing will continue to grow and yield better results. In some cases, we’ve seen social media become the number one traffic generator for websites within a year’s time, however, overall success depends on effort and strategy.

Here are a few key tactics to ramping up your social media marketing strategy:

Channel Selection

The first step to developing a social marketing strategy is to identify what social media channels your business should participate in. Yes, there is a very big difference between social media channels depending on who your ideal buyer is. An organization that sells to consumers should be focused on channels such as, Facebook, Pintrest, Youtube, and Yelp, and organizations that focus on businesses focus more on LinkedIn, SlideShare, and YouTube. It comes down to understanding who your ideal buyer is, and what social media channels they actively use.

Profile Setup

Once you’ve identified the channels, it is time to set them up. This happens to be an area where we see most organizations make their first key mistake. Essentially, we find that most do enough to get by; this means they set up their accounts, add a profile picture, and maybe an address, but that’s about it. Since so many potential customers are on these social channels, it is best to think about your profile page as a digital billboard—or better yet—an extension of your website. With this in mind, it is important to share as much as possible about your business, products, and services. The end goal of any social media profile should be a virtual representation of your business.

Monitoring

Another key social media mistake businesses make is that once they setup their social media profiles, they walk away thinking their jobs are done. This couldn’t be further from the truth as prospects and customers will find your business’s profile and will interact with it; they’ll ask questions, look for additional information about your business and/or products, or post about their experiences with your business. This is a key opportunity to take advantage of the channels to directly interact with customers and prospects as they are researching for a possible purchasing decision. Indirect communication via social media is quickly becoming one of the most popular methods consumers are now using to learn more about businesses, products, or services before making a final decision.

Furthermore, what most businesses do not know is that regardless of whether an organization sets up their social profile or not, social media channels allow people to comment about these businesses. This means by not setting up and monitoring your social media presence, your business is missing out on possible customers wanting to learn more about your business and/or solutions—or worse—allowing them to complain about your business without a response. Quite honestly, you are missing out on business if you do not monitor these channels.

Sharing

Now that you’ve set up and started monitoring your social media profiles, the next item on the list is to start sharing content. Content can be anything from showcasing your products and/or services to providing opportunities that go beyond these things. We recommend sharing information about the industry, highlight. The key is to be social and educate customers and prospects while attempting to not be disingenuous. Almost all purchases today start with some type of online or social media search which means, if you are not educating your buyers, most likely someone else is (quite possibly, your competition).

Another key thing to understand is that social media posts have a very short shelf life; this means that from the minute you make a post, it becomes less relevant as others post their own content. For example, since there are so many people on twitter, the shelf life of a tweet is only minutes. With this in mind, it is important to post content several times a day. As a rule of thumb, we suggest posting at a minimum of once an hour in your respective social channels. We also recommend taking advantage of tools available (some for free) that make this task easier. We at 3SixtySMB use HootSuite.

Company Involvement

One social media marketing tactic that we’ve seen used to significantly enhance a strategy is to get the entire business involved. Social media is a numbers game, and there is only so much one person can do. As an example, one organization we worked with had a main corporate twitter profile with roughly 2,000 followers. However, due to the work we did with the rest of the organization, their CEO grew their own twitter profile to more than 14,000 followers. This led the organization, as a whole, to having more than 28,000 followers. This meant that as a company they had an exponentially higher follower count and reach that was far greater than the corporate profile alone.

This strategy required the person responsible for social media to create “lazy posts” and share them with the team daily. A lazy post was essentially a set of pre-canned social posts that the team could simply copy and paste into their own profiles. This guaranteed that, even at the basic level, the team was posting content. However, some took their social media profile to the next level and grew their follower base significantly by posting their own content as well.

Social Effectiveness

Once your organization has the basics down, it is important to find ways of improvement. This is done by measuring the effectiveness of all the social media effort by testing different tactics. There are some paid tools available, but even at the basic level, you can track follower and traffic levels month-over-month. Follower levels are easily captured from the channels themselves, and with Google Analytics, you can see what referral sources brought traffic to your site. Tracking both of these statistics month-over-month can give your team a fairly good indication of success from your social marketing. After a few months of developing a baseline for follower growth and website traffic, it is then important to try new tactics to improve the performance of your campaigns.

Again, in order for a social media marketing strategy to be effective, it’s important to remember it does not happen overnight. It takes a true commitment of time and effort in order to be successful. However, as mentioned earlier, when successfully deployed, we’ve seen it take as little as a year’s time for social media to become the #1 traffic generator for websites. Social media has become a marketing channel that just cannot be ignored; halfhearted approaches to this channel will not help your business be successful, and it must be approached with the same effort put into it as other more traditional marketing efforts.

Good luck, and we look forward to hearing about your tips and success stories regarding your social media experiences.

Sources:

https://www.statista.com/statistics/273476/percentage-of-us-population-with-a-social-network-profile/

https://www.dreamgrow.com/21-social-media-marketing-statistics

 

What is Social Selling Really, Six Tips to Social Selling

What is Social SellingEvery time we read a new article on increasing sales from sales coaches, consultants, or the media, we see them hyping up social selling. This is a great suggestion, as we couldn’t agree more. Why? Because social selling does lead to an increase in sales. Here is the problem: a majority of sales reps and leadership have no clue what social selling really is or how to properly employ social selling tactics. Furthermore, most organizations as a whole have no clue how to sell socially or provide any real training around the topic. So, while everyone is hyping social selling, there is little about how to actually socially sell. In this article, we plan on reviewing Social Selling 101 techniques.

The first thing to understand when it comes to social selling or social media is that this stuff does not happen overnight. Social media is a process that takes time in order to develop a true online presence and impact revenue. We point this out because even at the executive level, we find that social media at its core is not properly understood. This leads to people being quickly discouraged when they do not see immediate results. Social media is an intangible marketing channel as it takes time to build up an online presence, and those results are not as directly trackable as traditional lead generation campaigns. Like TV or magazine advertising for example, it is understood that the ad is making an impression, and that those impressions lead to sales. Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to track which specific ad led to which specific sale. There are tools that can be used for social media that will make tracking of social campaigns easier, but that’s for another article.

How does social selling work? Traditionally, the only way to educate prospects or clients is to be in direct communication with them via phone, email, or face-to-face meetings. Social media breaks into a new dimension of indirect selling. When social media is done properly, it becomes a new channel to educate your prospects about you, your company, products, success stories, and the industry at their own pace. Essentially, it is a new channel for brand education and impressions, which eventually leads to more educated and confident buyers. Another aspect is that people buy from people. Again, you only traditionally interact with your prospects and clients in a very limited window of time, which does not give them time to really get to know you. Social media gives them more exposure to you as a person, and overtime, it helps them become more comfortable with who you really are and builds up a trusted advisor status. It’s all about breaking down the traditional selling barriers.

With all of that said, here are a few tips to get you started:

Choose Social Channels – The first thing to figure out is which channels should be included in your strategy. LinkedIn and Twitter are pretty much a given for most professionals, but then there is Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest. In reality, if your business is heavy B2B, it is best to stick with LinkedIn and avoid the others. If your business is heavily consumer-focused, I’d put more emphasis on channels like Facebook, Instagram, and others. The key is to put yourself into the seat of your consumer to figure out what channels they may be using.

Set Up Social Accounts – This should sound basic, but as a next step, set up social accounts across the different channels you picked. Ensure that usernames are either your real name, a similar variation of your name, or something related to the industry. They need to be professional and convey exactly who you are. Also, this is the time to pick a profile picture that is actually you and a bio that makes sense. Again, people buy from people, so you want your community to know who you are professionally.

Start Following – Avoid following random people that have nothing to do with your industry. Start by focusing on people that are key influencers in the space, competitors, industry news outlets, your account base, and people within your accounts. People buy from people, and the more connected you can be with your industry, prospects, and accounts, the more familiar they become with “you” as a person. The key thing to remember is that this is not a onetime activity. Personally, every time I meet someone new, they get a LinkedIn and Twitter follow request. This is where the time aspect comes into play; you will start out with zero followers, and it will take a while to build up more followers.

Start Sharing – The second step to becoming social is to actually share content… This is also where the rubber meets the road when it comes to “social selling”. The first thing to note when it comes to sharing content is that under no circumstances should you directly message prospect sales pitches, or really anything; this tactic does not work (it pisses people off more than anything). Sharing content on social media should be educational; typically, we recommend sharing content, such as case studies, press releases, marketing content, trade articles, industry news, and other material such as that. The shelf life of a social post is usually minutes within certain channels—once you share content, after some time has passed, the likelihood someone will see it drops significantly. With that in mind, you want to continuously share content. We typically recommend sharing a minimum of 3 – 6 pieces of information a day.

Start Communicating – The third step to social selling is interacting with your connections. This does not mean sending a LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter sales message (as mentioned earlier, this does not work). Instead, read the various feeds to see what your community is sharing. If you see something interesting, Like, Share, or Comment on it. Another option is if you see some news on one of your accounts and/or contacts, you can mention them when you post content. Again, people buy from people, and this just helps bring in the human element back into the picture. There are tools available, such as HooteSuite or TweetDeck, that are free and can help with the monitoring aspect.

Recruit New Departments ­– Social selling is not limited to just the sales team—get other teams involved too. The companies that do it right have executive leadership, marketing, product, and other teams involved as well.

The key with social selling is to actually be social and educational without being a typical sales person. Also, it’s important to note again that social media takes time, and results are not seen overnight. Furthermore, social media is not a one-and-done event. The main mistake we see all too often is someone setting up their various profiles and walking away thinking people will magically come to them. Instead, dedicate a few minutes a day to social media; it truly doesn’t take much more effort than that. There are a few organizational examples to check out, such as @Drift and @HubSpot. They have some of the most socially-minded employees out there, and much can be learned from their use of social media.

One additional note: there is a byproduct of becoming social. It is that you begin to build your own personal brand in the market. The more information you share, the more people will take note. Future employers may take note on how influential you’ve become. Your community also becomes an additional asset that can come into play regarding how valuable a company may believe you are. Plus, social media is not easy, so it shows that you know how to put in effort.

Good luck and message us with any questions and/or tips!

How To Make CRM Play A More Important Role In Your Small Business

How To Make CRM Play A More Important Role In Your Small BusinessMost CRM systems these days such as: Salesfore.com, Zoho, SugarCRM, Infusionsoft, and HubSpot are highly customizable, yet, even at their bases, they have enough capability to have significant impact on your business and efficiencies within it. In spite of this, you wouldn’t believe how many small businesses still run their firms with a piece of paper or Excel spreadsheet! What is even more unbelievable is that most small businesses have some type of CRM within their organization, but it sits to the side like some leftover desktop computer from the 90’s collecting dust. When used properly, CRMs can be one of the most useful and time saving tools within your business. In this article, we will cover how a CRM can be used to optimize your small business, and we’ll cover one of the most challenging topics when it comes to CRM in any organization—usage.

While CRM implies a tool for the sales team, when properly implemented, a CRM can be used as a single point of reference throughout the organization. However, at its base, a CRM is only as effective as how it’s being used and the data quality inputted. When it comes to CRMs, the expression that I like to refer to the most is “garbage in, garbage out,” and a CRM is pretty much useless without the various teams using it properly. Before we get into the mechanics and usefulness of a CRM, we need to first talk about usage.

When it comes to CRM implementation, especially when first being implemented into an organization, usage is typically the biggest hurdle. Most people see it as an additional step to their already busy and packed daily schedules as they are not aware of the downstream effects of a system like a CRM. The first step to usage is to implement a system that measures the team utilizing the reporting capabilities of the system and keeping the mindset of “what gets measured, gets done”. This means that essentially every team connected to the CRM needs to have some type of measurement: sales – pipeline and connections, marketing – lead counts, customer service – call resolution count, etc.

However, it doesn’t stop there; management needs to adapt a policy of then tracking these metrics on a consistent basis and using them for corporate reporting & meetings (not Excel Spreadsheets). Too many times, we see leadership defaulting to Excel spreadsheets, emails, or a piece of paper for tracking details, and this will frustrate employees. The question of why take the time to input information into a system that is not even being used by management always gets asked. Furthermore, another fix to ensure usage of a CRM is to directly tie compensation to stats and usage. As an example, no sales rep should ever receive commission if an opportunity is not in the system and doesn’t have proper documentation. Similarly, if your Customer Service team has a call resolution quota attached to their bonus, this information should be pulled via the CRM and not by other methods like Excel. At the end of the day, to ensure proper CRM usage throughout the organization, it truly does need a top down approach reflecting on the actions of management in what gets measured, gets done. As a tip, we have a habit of pulling up our CRM reporting in meetings and forcing the team to talk to their stats based on the reporting in the system.

As mentioned earlier, CRM is not just for sales. A properly implemented CRM can be incorporated throughout an organization making it a single point of reference for the organizations and improving efficiencies across the board. Remember, at its base, CRM is not meant for “oversight”, it’s just a byproduct of proper usage. Below we’ll review some of the departments and use cases for proper CRM implementation.

Sales

The sales department is clearly the best use case for a CRM; however, to ensure you are getting the most out of the system, do not limit usage to just sales opportunities or contacts. Sales should be using their CRM as the sole system of record and ensuring that they are transcribing all conversations, connections, and actions in the system. This will allow sales to ensure that they have a working knowledge of all their activities within each account—and most important of all, a proper pipeline. With so many conversations happening within a sales person’s day, it is fairly easy to forget conversations that happen earlier in the morning or throughout the week. With proper usage, they can use a CRM as that system of record, which allows them to keep tabs on past conversations and actions needed. Furthermore, as other departments interact with these same accounts, the sales notes become equally important to understanding the history of an account.

Marketing

Marketing has changed over the years from being completely independent from sales, tending now to being fully integrated with sales, and in some cases, having the same leadership teams. Years ago, Sales had their CRM, and Marketing had their Marketing Automation Platform where they were two completely separate systems. However, as an example with Salesforce’s purchase of Pardot, marketing capabilities are now being built directly into CRMs. Especially with small businesses, this means that there is no need to purchase expensive marketing automation software anymore. This integration also allows sales to have a complete view of prospect and account activities leading to more efficient sales cycles.

Customer Service / Tech Support

Most organizations look to deploy separate systems for these departments, which might work for larger enterprise type organizations, but in small businesses, it is a key mistake. Small Businesses should look to take advantage of their existing CRM which may already have these capabilities out of the box. As an example, Saleforce.com has “Cases”, a complete section built out of the box for Customer Service or Tech Support. A few key advantages of using your CRM for these teams starts at simplicity, where there is no need to duplicate information across multiple systems. Not having to purchase a separate system keeps software and software management costs down as well. However, another advantage is that these teams now have access to critical sales notes to understand more about the history of an account. This leads to faster and higher quality closed calls ratios, as well as an overall better customer experience. Also, as sales is interacting with these notes, it gives them the ability to see call history which also leads to better customer experience from a sales perspective.

Product Development

Most likely, one of the most overlooked departments from a CRM perspective is Product Development. However, companies like HubSpot have fully integrated their product teams into their CRM. Why? It’s simple: within their CRM, they actively track each and every customer’s usage and apply a score to that usage. This score can then measure how active or inactive each client is; this allows for sales and support teams to take actionable steps within each account to improve customer experience as it relates to their software. The overall effect is more customer usage and happier customers. There is also another byproduct; this view gives HubSpot’s entire product team access to usage data allowing them to pivot and make changes within the software. Although this information can be pulled from the software itself, the benefit of having it tied to the CRM is that they can have visibility into the specific accounts and history, giving them a more holistic view.

Finance

Finance is another overlooked department for CRM usage. Typically, like Customer Services and Support, organizations will deploy additional financial software. However, within a Small Business, it is not necessary. Although most out-of-the-box CRMs are not built for the financial department, small customization or plugins can offer solutions. For example, FinancialForce will give most financial teams the full capabilities needed in order to do their jobs. Again, this leads to a single system of record and decreased software cost.

Executive & Leadership

Executives are hit and miss when it comes to CRM usage, however, most are unfortunately a miss. Typically, you’ll find CEOs and Leadership running around at the end of the quarter with a piece of paper or some type of Excel spreadsheet looking for “real time” updates from their teams on opportunities to close or other stats. However, with a properly motivated team, a CRM can be updated in real time along with reporting functionality displaying real time updates directly to the CRM. Some areas included, but not limited to, are total pipeline, pipeline age, average close time, average deal size, average collections outstanding, call resolution times, etc. Many executives believe there is a need for an expensive EPM system in order to obtain cross-organizational insight, however with a properly set up CRM, a Small Business can get all this information and more in one spot.

Again, it is staggering the amount of businesses that do not have a CRM, and the ones that do barely scratch the surface of functionality. With a small amount of customization, a CRM can become an extremely powerful tool to optimize the performance of a business and get everyone on the same page. Most importantly, remember that “what gets measured, gets done”; your CRM should not be a set-and-forget system. Finally, management, once your system is set up, drop the Excel spreadsheets!

 

The Marketing Magic of Beats by Dre

Dr. Dre and Jimmy IovineBeats by Dre is arguably one of the most successful marketing stories in recent history. Sure, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine are very successful businessmen and music producers, but what really made the sale to Apple was their success in how they marketed the headphone company to the consumer market.

At the end of the day, Beats by Dre are nothing more than an estimated $16.89 pair of weighted headphones that Apple paid an estimated $3 Billion to acquire. How Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine made it to this point was nothing more than marketing genius. Founded in 2006, Beats became a household brand in a matter of months as a result of a marketing plan pushed by the duo. As Beats were just hitting the market, both Dre and Iovine worked closely with well-known music artists to ensure they were seen with the headphones by public eyes as detailed in their latest biography, The Defiant Ones. In short order, Beats made their way into music videos, artist social media accounts, and photo shoots, amongst other places. The pair then set their targets on professional athletes within the NFL, NBA, and other professional sports; this made Beats visible to a whole new market with major sports athletes now wearing Beats daily on national TV for tens of millions to see. The widespread use of Beats within the music and sports industries quickly skyrocketed the little-known venture into the national spotlight, and in 2012 Beats made their way into the global spotlight with Olympic athletes. The visibility with music artists and athletes alike made Beats a household name and at the top of every teenager’s wish list.

However, the marketing genius of Beats didn’t stop with celebrity endorsements. The design of the headphones themselves were straight out of a “how to” marketing playbook, starting with the iconic “b” logo on the side of each headphone. This simple but unique logo made Beats stand out, not only when celebrities would wear them, but when your everyday consumer would wear them as well. When someone was wearing Beats, there was no missing it. With brand recognition as a major influencer in today’s consumer market, the simple little “b” was integral to getting the brand the visibly it has today.

Beyond the logo, the headphones themselves were all about the design as opposed to one of their main competitors, Bose. When sitting a pair of Beats headphones next to a pair of Bose headphones, the differences were clear. Bose’s simple matte black finish with a chrome logo contrasted with Beats’ multitudinous array of glossy colors that not only stuck out in a crowd, but allowed individuals to personalize by picking their favorite color. As Steve Jobs did with the induction of the iMac, the duo did the same with Beats; personalization was a game changer for the high-end headphone market and everyone wanted it.

Finally, the pair didn’t stop at celebrity endorsements, a simple yet clever logo, and a look that everyone wanted, they also made a product that “felt” like quality. Part of the design included heavy metal components (that some say equates to about one-third of the total weight) giving the product a heavier and more expensive look and feel. With most consumer products, lighter tends to have a cheaper feel, whereas something heavier tends to lead to thoughts of higher quality. As an example, car companies spend millions of dollars to get the feel and sound of a closing door right because consumers want a product that feels quality.

Overall, the quality of the sound has been considered “decent,” not great, when compared to other competitors, but that’s not why Apple paid $3 Billion for the brand. The partnership between Dre and Iovine led to a brand that quickly became a household name with a significant fan base and sales numbers to back it up showing no signs of slowing down. The key to the story of Beats by Dre is that marketing should play a significant role in product design and everyday product strategy. In the social day and age that we live in today, having a great product is just not enough anymore—it needs to look and feel the part.

Why A Free Trial Should Be Part of Your Business Strategy Today

Why A Free Trial Should Be Part Of Your Business Strategy TodayWhat do Netflix, DropBox, Salesforce.com, HubSpot, Hulu, and Spotify all have in common?

They all offer up their services for free either as a free trial or as a free service alternative to their premium paid service; they rely heavily on their free services to drive revenue for their organizations. Most of these organizations even used a free version of their services as a launching pad for the business.  Case in point, there was a time when you could not buy a DVD player without getting a free 30 day trial Netflix coupon inside the box. At this point, Netflix did not have the name recognition they currently have, and it was their free trial that truly helped them become the household name they are today.

If you run either a software or a services based organization, it is in your best interest to establish a free trial or a free version of your service. Not too long ago, I made this recommendation to an organization. Their CEO’s instant reaction was, “No, offering free trials will give people the ability to sign up for the trial and download our entire library. As a result, they will have all our content for free, and no one will pay for our service”. Sure, that was a valid statement as some people will sign up for a trial, use it for all its worth, and never become a paying customer. However, the first thing we say to that is when it comes to free trials, there will be some people that will take advantage of the free trial and never become a paid customer. At the end of the day, these people will never become a paying customer, regardless of the free trial’s availability. A free trial of a software or service must have a delicate balance between showcasing enough of your solution to allow a buyer “to want” to become a paying customer, and not giving away too much for free. When it comes to free trials, there are a few stopgaps that should be put into place to ensure you’re providing enough value, but not letting people take advantage of your service. In this article, I’ll review some of the basic steps your organization can put into place to launch a successful free version of your solution.

Stopgaps:

  • Time Limits: Most services offer a 7 or 30-day trial. Choose what is best for your organization; 7 days may not be enough, but 30 could be too much.
  • Qualification: Some free trials do not need much qualification beyond an e-mail address. However, if you believe your service is valuable enough, set up a qualification process where a prospect must be qualified by an actual person on your team before being allowed into the trial.
  • Limits & Gates: Do not offer up everything for free. Allow a prospect enough access to your solution to see the value, but limit access to premium items. This gives them more of a reason to purchase a solution. However, do not limit the trial to an extent that no value can be extracted.
  • Cut-offs: Repeat offenders should be cut off when trying to sign up for another trial.
  • Training & Communication: Many organizations fall short on training and communication. Assuming that the prospect knows exactly how to use your service is a surefire way to have an unsuccessful trial. Ensure that you offer training, guidance, and other communications with your prospects throughout the process as many prospects will abandon a trial when they are lost or not seeing the value they were expecting.

A free trial, although simple in nature and can generate customers on its own, must also have some structure in order to generate the highest numbers of conversions to paying customers. Here are a few things that you should look at when deploying a free trial.

  • Trial Tracking: Whether it’s a piece of software or a service, it’s important to understand exactly how prospects are utilizing a free trial. Tracking trial usage can provide valuable insights to where prospects are getting hung up, tools that are used most often, and other actions that will help you understand the overall experience prospects are having. Armed with this information, your sales team can build a tighter bond with your prospects giving them actionable insight to progress successfully through the trial. Also, the data collected can be invaluable for improving your solution in future revisions.
  • Training & Consulting: As mentioned above, do not assume that your prospect has the best understanding of your solution, or even the best use case. There should be several methods of communication, training, and assistance throughout the trial process. This will allow your prospect to extract the maximum value from a trial increasing the likelihood they will purchase.
  • Customer Contact: Ensure that there is always an easy path for your prospects to reach technical support, sales, or any other relevant department whenever they have troubles, questions, or just want to learn more. Responsiveness is key in this situation, as your prospect can be evaluating other solutions at the same time.
  • Ease of use: You would not believe how many free trials are out on the market today where you need a Doctorate in Astrophysics in order to figure them out. Prospects have extremely short attention spans and if they cannot figure out how to use your service in a few short minutes, they will most likely abandon your trial.
  • Marketing: Many originations will hide their trial or make it extremely difficult to sign up. Instead, like the organizations mentioned earlier, put it front and center. Again, trials convert to paid customers at an exponentially higher rate than most lead generation sources.

Adding a free trial to a portfolio is not enough; take the time to think about how your trial is set up and executed for maximum benefit. Properly executed trials will increase an organization’s lead to customer ratio, shorten sales cycles, and ultimately lead to increased revenue. In conclusion, do not be afraid of the prospects that use your trial and never purchase—they were never going to buy in the first place. Instead, focus on the prospects that show genuine interest in your solution!

Account Management Strategy 101

where-to-startOne of the biggest mistakes organizations make today is not having a “real” account management plan in place. Whether it is at the executive, marketing, or sales rep level, we’ve uncovered that once you peel back the layers of the onion, you find the strategy is nothing more than a bunch of names on a napkin defining a territory. Most organizations will define that account territory based on a list of accounts that match what “they sell,” starting with the largest or most recognizable accounts, and in some cases, every possible buying account in a given region. Once a territory is defined, it is then up to sales to start calling down the list and do their “sales” thing. Separately, marketing is on the other side of the wall doing their “marketing” thing. Sure it’s an okay place to start, but if an organization really wants to be successful, it has to take the account management strategy to the next level. In this article, we’ve defined a few strategies to tighten your account management strategy.

As a first step, you’ve identified your ideal account territory as it relates to the products you sell. It’s a start, but in order to be successful, more layers need to be put into place to identify where to start. A list of accounts is nothing more than a list of accounts; a lot of time can be lost before you find the ideal buying accounts within that group. However, there is a methodology that can be applied to that list of accounts that will allow your team to identify who they should be targeting first, and how much time they should be spending with each account. This is called the account tiering process. When you tier an account base, you are essentially grouping them into buckets in a fashion that gives focus to your account management strategy.

Factors in reviewing accounts:

There are multiple factors that should be reviewed when starting to tier the individual accounts. Here are a few:

  • Website – Is it clean and does it look like they spend money on marketing? Or does it look like it was coded in someone’s basement back in 1999? This is important as an indicating factor of whether they spend money on marketing and technology. If they spend in these areas, it means they could likely have available budget in others as well.
  • Employee size – Are they a one or two-person shop, a business of a few hundred, or an organization of tens of thousands of employees? Typically, you want to shoot for targets that fit in the middle. Midsize firm decision makers are easier to obtain direct access to, and the decision-making process is usually simpler. Stay away from smaller firms as they commonly have little to no budget and can easily turn into time sucks. Larger firms, although they provide great logos for the company overview deck, are usually extremely difficult to turn into buyers, take longer to pay, and typically have long vendor approval processes.
  • Tenure – How long have they been around? Are they a startup that just received funding, or are they someone who has been around for a while? Although first round start-ups spend money, they are someone to steer clear of until they get more established. Even if you get a startup to buy, you will most likely take up most of their available budget, and their likelihood to purchase again is low. On the other hand, an established firm will have a firmer budget and be more likely to spend again.
  • Pricing – How much do they charge for their product, and how much do you charge for yours? Are they selling high ticket items and can recoup their investment in one or two sales? Or is their sales price significantly lower, and if so, do they have the volume to recoup the investment? If you’re selling something worth $100,000 and their average sale price is $8 a month with a small customer base, you are guaranteed not to get a sale (unless they have huge funding).
  • Prior spend – Have they spent with your organization before? Prior spend is a great indication that they could spend again. Getting someone to buy for the first time is the hardest part.
  • Annual Reports and 10k’s – These are untapped resources for many companies. They will typically list key organization priorities, changes, and in most cases, budget for certain departments. Do their priorities fit yours?

Account Tiering:

All of these factors come into play with tiering your account territory as it all plays into ease of sale and their likelihood to purchase from your organization again. Once you’ve evaluated your account territory across the factors above, the next process is to begin to tier each account.

  • Tier 1 – These should be the accounts that are 100% in alignment to what you are selling without question, along with checking every box in the criteria above. These accounts are a direct home run fit, and the very first place to start. They should be the focus of 60% – 70 % of all activity.
  • Tier 2 – Although you cannot check all boxes from above, you can check most of them. And overall, they are in great alignment to your products & solutions. These accounts should be about 10% – 20% of your focus from an account management perspective.
  • Tier 3 – They fit less than 50% of the boxes above, but are still interesting. They should be about 5% – 10% of your focus.
  • Tier 4 – They fit one or maybe two of the boxes above. Focus 0% of your time on these accounts and figure out a nurture marketing campaign to target them. Let marketing automation do the hard work for you, as it will take too much effort to get a sale, and they will most likely not be a repeat buyer.
  • Global Accounts – Finally, the F500 or above. These organizations hit every one of the attributes above, but are historically the hardest accounts to crack. Most organizations make the mistake of targeting these establishments first, but so is everyone else. Not only are these accounts hard to crack, there is also an extreme amount of competition in the mix. Focus around 20% – 25% of your effort into these accounts. If you do things right, you will get them to buy over time, and they will be your greatest accounts without you having to sacrifice your short term gains by working on other accounts.

Name Development:

You’ve taken your account territory, and you now have an organized list tiering out each target. What’s next? Name development! Both sales and marketing need to know who to target within each account. When it comes to name development, do not make the mistake of only finding one or two names within each account—it’s a losing battle. In order to set yourself up for success, you must target a minimum of five to ten names per account across multiple departments. Each account is a little different, and you never know who could be a key influencer, a core decision maker, or who left their position and didn’t update LinkedIn. Furthermore, as you begin to target these accounts, you should constantly add new names to grow out the list. With each new connection, you should go beyond your typical email and title, and ensure that you are connecting with them on social media profiles like LinkedIn and Twitter.

Sales & Marketing Alignment:

Finally, once you’ve identified your account tiers and key contacts within each account, you can now start the planning with marketing. In most organizations, marketing and sales couldn’t be further apart; instead, bring these two departments together and develop a strategy. Marketing should know who your most important accounts, contacts, and opportunities are in order to develop marketing campaigns targeting these accounts and contacts. The sales and marketing strategy should be updated each week to include new weekly targets.

As marketing and sales get together to develop a strategy, there are just a few things that should be covered:

  • Social Media
    • Have these key targets been followed on individual and corporate social platforms?
    • How do we get these key targets mentioned in social media posts?
    • Are they posting any content that can be commented on, liked, or shared?
  • Content
    • Has there been any content that mentions these key targets directly?
    • Has any content published that they would be interested in?
    • Do they have a key strategy or use case that can be covered in a blog?
  • Email
    • Have these key targets been added to the newsletter?
    • Have they been targeted as part of an email marketing campaign recently?
    • Can a special campaign be created for them?
    • Are there any analytics that show they have been reading these emails?
  • Others
    • Do you know if they visited the website?
    • What pages have they viewed?
    • Does anyone have personal knowledge of these organizations?
    • Has executive leadership reached out to them personally?

Many of the items above, can help create marketing air cover for sales as they are making direct contact with your key targets. These activities show your key targets that your organization has taken genuine interest in them, while giving them educational material to help progress them forward in the sales process.

A proper account management strategy does not develop overnight and does not only include sales. Knowing who to target and how to target individual accounts will increase an organization’s efficiency from both a sales and a marketing perspective. This will lead to a faster sales cycle and increase overall deal sizes. Just because you have a list of accounts to call, it doesn’t actually mean you have an account management strategy in place.