Data Geeks Must Learn to Speak to Clients

This piece is for aspiring data scientists, analysts or consultants (or any other cool title du jour in this data and analytics business). Then again, people who spend even a single dime on a data project must remember this, as well: “The main goal of any analytical endeavor is to make differences in business.”

This piece is for aspiring data scientists, analysts or consultants (or any other cool title du jour in this data and analytics business). Then again, people who spend even a single dime on a data project must remember this, as well: “The main goal of any analytical endeavor is to make differences in business.”

To this, some may say “Duh, keep stating the obvious.” But I am stating the obvious, as too many data initiatives are either for the sake of playing with data at hand, or for the “cool factor” among fellow data geeks. One may sustain such a position for a couple of years if he is lucky, but sooner or later, someone who is paying for all of the data stuff will ask where the money is going. In short, no one will pay for all of those servers, analytical tools and analysts’ salaries so that a bunch of geeks have some fun with data. If you just want the fun part, then maybe you should just stay in academia “paying” tuition for such an experience.

Not too long ago, I encountered a promising resume in a deep pile. Seemingly, this candidate had very impressive credentials. A PhD in statistics from a reputable school, hands-on analytics experience in multiple industries (so he claimed), knowledge in multiple types of statistical techniques, and proficiency in various computing languages and toolsets. But the interview couldn’t have gone worse.

When the candidate was going on and on about minute details of his mathematical journey for a rather ordinary modeling project, I interrupted and asked a very simple question: “Why did you build that model?” Unbelievably, he couldn’t answer that question, and kept resorting back to the methodology part. Unfortunately for him, I was not looking for a statistician, but an analytics consultant. There was just no way that I would put such a mechanical person in front of a client without risking losing the deal entirely.

When I interview to fill a client-facing position, I am not just looking for technical skills. What I am really looking for is an ability to break down business challenges into tangible analytics projects to meet tangible business goals.

In fact, in the near future, this will be all that is left for us humans to do: “To define the problem statement in the business context.” Machines will do all of the tedious data prep work and mathematical crunching after that. (Well, with some guidance from humans, but not requiring line-by-line instructions by many.) Now, if number-crunching is the only skill one is selling, well then, he is asking to be replaced by machines sooner than others.

From my experience, I see that the overlap between a business analyst and a statistical analyst is surprisingly small. Further, let me go on and say that most graduates with degrees in statistics are utterly ill-prepared for the real world challenges. Why?

Once I read an article somewhere (I do not recall the name of the publication or the author) that colleges are not really helping future data scientists in a practical manner, as (

  1. all of the datasets for school projects are completely clean and free of missing data, and
  2. professors set the goals and targets of modeling exercises.

I completely agree with this statement, as I have never seen a totally clean dataset since my school days (which was a long time ago in a galaxy far far away), and defining the target of any model is the most difficult challenge in any modeling project. In fact, for most hands-on analysts, data preparation and target definition are the work. If the target is hung on a wrong place, no amount of cool algorithms will save the day.

Yet, kids graduate schools thinking that they are ready to take on such challenges in the real world on Day One. Sorry to break it to them this way, but no, mathematical skills do not directly translate into ability to solve problems in the business world. Such training will definitely give them an upper hand in the job market, though, as no math-illiterate should be called an analyst.

Last summer, my team hired two promising interns, mainly to build a talent pool for the following year. Both were very bright kids, indeed, and we gave them two seemingly straightforward modeling projects. The first assignment was to build a model to proximate customer loyalty in a B2B setting. I don’t remember the second assignment, as they spent the entire summer searching for the definition of a “loyal customer” to go after. They couldn’t even begin the modeling part. So more senior members in the team had to do that fun part after they went back to school. (For more details about this project, refer to “The Secret Sauce for B2B Loyalty Marketing.”)

Of course, we as a team knew what we were doing all along, but I wanted to teach these youngsters how to approach a project from the very beginning, as no client will define the target for consultants and vendors. Technical specs? You’re supposed to write that spec from scratch.

In fact, determining if we even need a model to reach the business goal was a test in itself. Why build a model at all? Because it’s a cool thing on your resume? With what data? For what specific success metrics? If “selling more things by treating valuable customers properly” is the goal, then why not build a customer value model first? Why the loyalty model? Because clients just said so? Why not product propensity models, if there are specific products to push? Why not build multiple models and cover all bases while we’re at it? If so, will we build a one-size-fits-all model in one shot, or should we consider separating the universe for distinct segments in the footprint? If so, how would you determine such segments then? (Ah, that “segmentation of the universe” part was where the interns were stuck.)

Boy, did I wish schools spent more time doing these types of problem-solving exercises with their students. Yes, kids will be uncomfortable as these questions do NOT have clear yes or no answers to them. But in business, there rarely are clear answers to our questions. Converting such ambiguity into measurable and quantifiable answers (such as probability that a certain customer will respond to a certain offer, or sales projection of a particular product line for the next two quarters with limited data) is the required skill. Prescribing the right approach and methodology to solve long- and short-term challenges is the job, not just manipulating data and building algorithms.

In other words, mathematical elegance may be a differentiating factor between a mediocre and excellent analyst, but such is not the end goal. Then what should aspiring analysts keep in mind?

In the business world, the goals of data or analytical work are really clear-cut and simple. We work with the data to (1) increase revenue, (2) decrease cost (hence, maximizing profit), or minimize risks. That’s it.

From that point, a good analyst should:

  • Define clear problem statements (even when ambiguity is all around)
  • Set tangible and attainable goals employing a phased approach (i.e., a series of small successes leading to achievement of long-term goals)
  • Examine quality of available data, and get them ready for advanced analytics (as most datasets are NOT model-ready)
  • Consider specific methodologies best fit to solve goals in each phase (as assumptions and conditions may change drastically for each progression, and one brute-force methodology may not work well in the end)
  • Set the order of operation (as sequence of events does matter in any complex project)
  • Determine success metrics, and think about how to “sell” the results to sponsors of the project (even before any data or math work begins)
  • Go about modeling or any other statistical work (only if the project calls for it)
  • Share knowledge with others and make sure resultant model scores and other findings are available to users through their favorite toolsets (even if the users are non-believers of analytics)
  • Continuously monitor the results and re-fit the models for improvement

As you can see here, even in this simplified list, modeling is just an “optional” step in the whole process. No one should build models because they know how to do it. You’re not in school anymore, where the goal is to get an A at the end of the semester. In the real world (although using this term makes me sound like a geezer), data players are supposed to make money with data, with or without advanced techniques. Methodologies? They are just colors on a palette, and you don’t have to use all of them.

For the folks who are in position to hire math geeks to maximize the value of data, simply ask them “why they would do anything.” If the candidate actually pauses and tries to think from the business perspective, then she is actually displaying some potential to be a business partner in the future. If the candidate keeps dropping technical jargon to this simple question, cut the interview short — unless you have natural curiosity in the mechanics of models and analytics, and your department’s success is just measured in complexity and elegance of solutions. But I highly doubt that such a goal would be above increasing profit for the organization in the end.

How to Win Your Next ‘Cattle Call’ Proposal Bid

A customer asks you (and your competitors) to quote a project. You’ll write an email, draft a proposal or book a meeting in response. Next, you’ll pitch. You’ll use Jeff Hoffman’s “why you, why you now” approach to create urgency. But what if you, instead, politely declined the “cattle call” by asking questions?

Who Moved the Sales? Why marketing attribution is so crucial to track, yet so hard to doA customer asks you (and your competitors) to quote a project. Or a prospect invites you to discuss a relationship. You’ll write an email, draft a proposal or book a meeting in response.

You quickly research the prospect to understand the current business scenario. They appear ready to change … ditch the status quo.

Next, you’ll pitch. You’ll use Jeff Hoffman’s “why you, why you now” approach to create urgency. You’ll flash the potential buyer a list of benefits, your customer list, maybe a testimonial or two and a bid or cost estimate.

But what if you, instead, politely declined the “cattle call” for proposal bids by asking questions?

Have You Considered This Approach?

By giving prospects what they ask for too soon, we lose the opportunity to present ideas your client may not be considering. Ideas that cost more and benefit customers likewise.

What if you resisted pitching and presented a more expensive idea? Sound crazy?

Sales trainer, Josh Braun, brings this idea to life.

He needed someone to record a live workshop. So he posted an ad. Within a few hours he received five bids.

All were $500 and based on the length of his workshop. But one provider didn’t provide a price. Instead, he responded like this:

“Josh, I can help you monetize your live workshop by taking advantage of three things you may not have considered. Open to chatting?”

Curiosity is a powerful motivator so Josh agreed.

“During the conversation the provider understood my motivation for recording the event. Then asked a series of ‘have you considered’ questions,” Braun says.

These were:

“Have you considered interviewing people after your session and using the clips as testimonials for your website?”

“Have you considered creating a trailer that you could use for promotional purposes?”

“Have you considered adding an extra camera so you can get the audiences reaction, leading to a more engaging video?”

“Have you considered editing your video into segments so you can easily upload them?”

This one provider separated himself from the competition by showing Braun what’s possible.

“He upped the perceived value of his offering,” says Braun. “I said yes, before he even gave me a price which was twice the price of his competitors.”

Next time you’re invited to bid, consider declining; instead, present upside implications of ideas your client may not be considering without discussing price.

Resist Asking Qualifying Questions

By providing proposals too soon, we squander the opportunity to help clients prepare to buy. Especially if you sell complex solutions. We also drive customers away with questions that qualify them for solutions.

Think about the questions you ask clients when sizing them up. They understand the intent of your questions. Of course they do.

Bottom line: Your questions are screaming “Are you ready to buy yet … ok … when?” Instead, they should be screaming “I can help you prepare to manage — and then execute — the nasty change your decision is going to cause.”

Instead, try asking neutral questions. This shows a bias to the client’s internal change challenges.

It shows you care about their challenges more than placing your solution!

Imagine telling the boss, “I’m following up the bid request, but not responding with a price, nor asking qualifying questions.” Sounds crazy. But what if you, instead, offered the prospect conversation about internal change needed to solve their problem?

For example, rather than asking, “When does it feel like you would be ready to make this investment?” ask “How would you know if — and when — it’s right to make this kind of change?”

The first question is clearly biased to your goal of placing a solution. The second is biased only to the customer’s decision-making process and leaves the door open to “no.”

Start With a Mindset Shift

Here’s another way to frame your mindset: What created the buyer’s status quo situation is more important than your solution. Right? Ask questions to uncover the internal decision processes your customers use to create change … change leading to solution investment.

Bottom line: We sell change. Our clients’ obstacles to change are more important than our solutions. Mine too!

Our solutions don’t matter — even if they will fix (or advance) clients’ situations. 

What matters is deciding if a buyer is able and willing to change … and helping advance that change, if (and when) it’s best.

Too often we give in to temptation … start talking about ourselves. After all, the prospect just asked us to pitch. They’re ready.

But are they? Are they truly ready to buy? Is this the decision-maker? Are there others involved? How mature is the need … where are they in the problem-solving (not vendor selection) process?

These are the questions you need answered — in order to close complex sales.

What is your experience?

2 Emails You’re Sending That Rarely Work

Never say never? I try to not speak in absolutes and remain positive. But there are two flavors of cold emails you’re probably sending that do more harm than good.

Never say never? I try to not speak in absolutes and remain positive. But there are two flavors of cold emails you’re probably sending that do more harm than good. These are the cold:

  • “help me find the right person” request;
  • “show me how to sell to you” request.

Not sending these emails? I’ll be surprised if you haven’t sent one in past … or still consider them as valid options.

Beware. They are marks of amateurs.

Asking for a chance to learn about customers’ current pain points or challenges is common … and increasingly fails. Clients are deluged with these requests every day.

It’s not the client’s job to sort a way to sell your thing. Likewise, requesting a meeting in a cold email is too big an ask, too early.

Don’t Know? Find Out!

Let’s say you don’t know the right person to talk with — at your target organization. Fair enough.

Or in cases where you do know the contact, the pain or goal may be unclear. I respect that. But ya gotta find out. No excuses.

Please don’t do this:

Hi {name},

I’m trying to figure out who is in charge of [leading general statement] there at {company}.

Would you mind pointing me towards the right person please, and the best way I might get in touch with them?

Consider tools like LinkedIn, Google and countless others. Your ability to find the right decision-maker(s) is unprecedented. Not to mention innovators like Data.com and old-fashioned (yet, perfectly good) sources like InfoUSA and their like.

“Who’s the best person to get in touch about this?”

You must be kidding. This is NOT going to work for you.

Don’t get pegged as lazy, or worse!

‘Do My Work and Pity Me’

If you’re sending emails hoping someone will do the work for you … that’s pitiful. Especially if you’re starting at the top of an organization, looking to get handed-down. Your cold email signals: “help me do my work.” And that’s pitiful.

You might argue, “Jeff, people like to help people.” They do. I help people when I can. But consider this:

Would you call the CEO or top executive on the phone — looking to get handed down? I’d hope not but maybe you would! In a digital age, cold calling top executives (to discover who to talk to) is not effective. Instead, research the target online.

You may also argue, “Jeff, I do well discovering who decisionmakers are using the phone … by tapping into administrative assistants.”

I’m cool with that. In fact, we might be forced to. Decision-makers are starting to hide or disguise their authority on LinkedIn.

Also, gathering intelligence this way is worthwhile.

However, blasting “can you help direct me?” emails, trying to discover decision-maker names is mostly ineffective. It’s the sign of an unskilled sales person. Avoid it. Don’t encourage clients to pity you.

Let’s say you use email to discover who targets are at mid-management level. This is also a losing proposition. Any idea how many requests for help these people receive each day? More than you might imagine.

Think about your hectic day. If you received three to four messages per day asking for help from sales reps, wouldn’t it get annoying? And it might even get you in trouble. Forwarding people who you don’t know (selling products your colleagues may not need) could cost you embarrassment.

There is often a negative incentive for contacts to help guide you.

Go Direct, Go Informed or Go Home

Let’s say you were face-to-face with a new prospect at a networking event. They’ve identified themselves as the decision-maker. You wouldn’t ask a potential client, “Can I get some time with you … so you can help me understand a way to sell to you?”

How to Formulate Your 2018 Content Marketing Strategy

Carolyn, a director of demand generation in the hospitality industry, shared that “It takes too much work to develop the wrong content.” In this month’s step of the revenue marketing journey, we are going to cover content marketing strategy and the steps to developing the best content editorial calendar.

Carolyn, a director of demand generation in the hospitality industry, shared that “It takes too much work to develop the wrong content.” Sadly, many organizations use a “spray and pray” methodology for content development and discover too late that much of their effort was wasted on the wrong content. Carolyn is not going that route and in this month’s article. In this month’s step of the revenue marketing journey, we cover content marketing strategy and the steps to developing the best content editorial calendar.

Step 1: Know What Content Is Valuable for Your Clients

Seems like a simple concept, right? When was the last time you surveyed your customers to find out what content topics they like, what channels they like, or their preferred content medium? In a recent interview, Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group and co-author of “The Content Formula,” shared that companies are only just now learning “how to utilize content to effectively meet the needs of their audience as opposed to meeting the needs of their business.” If the primary guide for your content decisions is the download reports from your website you are not on solid ground for planning your content calendar. So conduct a customer engagement survey, find out what content they like. Get free subscriptions to Buzzsumo and Grapevine6 and learn:

  • Which audience is interested in what topics
  • What type of content they are sharing
  • What sources of information are they using
  • Which influencers are most important

Step 2: Document Your Personas (5 to 7 Max)

Buyer personas are examples of real people who make up your customers and clients. They can also include individuals who may influence the buying decision in some way. A persona goes deeper than demographics. Personas are developed by asking questions about a buyer’s motivation and learning what holds the buyer back from making a purchasing decision. By taking the time to document and understand your customer in this way, your content team will develop content that resonates and engages, moving leads through the buyer’s journey to conversion.

Step 3: Document the Full Customer Journey Map

Marketing engages with prospect and customer not just when they are in the funnel for the first time, but throughout their lifecycle including adoption, value realization, loyalty and advocacy. This means that we need content suitable for every stage of the customer journey map.

Your customer journey map should inform your content marketing strategy.
Your customer journey map should inform your content marketing strategy.

Step 4: Audit Your Current Content

Now that you have the customer journey map and the personas, audit your content based on which personas suit what pieces of content and in which stages of the customer journey map can it be effective. Some additional criteria you might consider in the audit include content type, medium, consume-ability, centricity (product, company, or customer), level of engagement achieved, product/service served, industry, gated/ungated, purpose (reach, engagement, conversion, retention) etc. Build the audit in such a way that it can be used as an ongoing inventory of content and so new entries are added to it as they are developed. With the audit in hand, you should be able to see the gaps where more content is needed, but we’re not done yet.

A Better Meeting Follow-Up Email

You just had a good meeting with a client or potential new client. Now you’re challenged to move the conversation forward. It’s time to send the meeting follow-up email.

You just had a good meeting with a client or potential new client. Now you’re challenged to move the conversation forward. It’s time to send the meeting follow-up email.

The three biggest mistakes I see sellers making are:

  1. Failing to secure key details & commitments before the meeting ends
  2. Recounting what happened in the meeting
  3. Sending follow up emails that don’t hold customers accountable to the next step

Remember, business email is transactional. Not conversational.

Beware: Trying to converse within the message may be sabotaging you. Clients don’t have time for “thank you so much” type conversation, especially follow-up email messages. Your follow-up is, by nature, highly deletable because most are simply a recount of what happened during the meeting.

Clients have been trained to delete follow ups because they’re just not important!

Here’s a better way to keep clients committed to moving forward with you.

Get These 5 Details Before the Meeting Ends

As the meeting unfolds, in your head (or on a piece of paper) summarize these points:

Current situation: In simple terms, describe the client’s decision-making environment.

Business priorities: How this discussion fits into the strategic (not functional) picture.

Priorities when making this decision: Jot down what the client says they are.

Timeline and process: How much time the client needs to make decisions, what are they and who is involved.

Next steps: Any suggested next steps you or your client discuss during the meeting.

This is an excellent way to conclude your meeting. Ask your client to confirm your current understanding before the meeting ends. This takes all the work out of writing your pithy follow up email.

Get commitments before the meeting ends

It sound obvious. But are you doing it? Are you earning a commitment for the next meeting before the first one ends?

My hero and sales trainer, John Barrows, likes to point out how we tend to give … and give … and give … and give … until the very end when we finally get (the sale).

But here’s the problem: By giving clients everything they ask for we’re conditioning them to treat us poorly.

Barrows says, “Because we’ve given so much, clients feel like they can do whatever they want. So what we need to do is make sure we get something all the time in return for what we’re giving away.”

In the case of your first meeting or demo that something is the next scheduled meeting date.

Barrows says this has to do with human instinct, reciprocity. And he’s right.

When your prospect asks for something there’s a fleeting moment where they feel obligated to give you something in return.

“And if you ask for it right then-and-there it’s actually easy for them to give you,” says Barrows.

So when they ask you for something, toward the end of the meeting, there’s that moment right after you gave them something … where they’re open to giving something back.

For example, it might go like this:

Your client says, “Great. Love it. Thanks for that. Send me some information and we’ll get back to you soon.”

You reply, “Sure, I can do that. But first what information would you like … and second when can we schedule fifteen minutes to go over that information … and see if it makes sense to take the next steps?”

A Proven, Effective Template Example

Remember, email templates don’t work unless you customize them. Without personalization of your messages you’ll end up deleted. Bank on it.

Remember to avoid “thank you for taking the time to meet with me” type of chit-chat. They should be thanking you, right? Right. Keep it transactional, not conversational. Help them do their job — hit reply and confirm you are on track.

Get them to re-commit to moving forward!

The below meeting follow up template gives you specific advantages. It:

  1. holds clients accountable for what they are telling you without being rude
  2. gauges their interest
  3. maintains a sense of urgency
  4. helps you re-engage strongly if/when the prospect goes dark

Subject line: Please confirm?

John,

Please review the below — confirm I’m accurate on these?

Business Priorities:

  • Priority one
  • Priority two
  • Priority three

Statement of Work requirements: (your customer’s priorities when making this decision)

  • Requirement one
  • Requirement two
  • Requirement three

Time line: (things that must happen in order for the final decision to transact)

  • Milestone / project one
  • Milestone / project two
  • Milestone / project three

Next steps: (be sure to include commitments made, if any)

  • Step you mentioned during meeting
  • Step they mentioned during meeting

Please confirm the above is accurate—and guide me if not?

Thanks, John

[your signature]

The idea here is to earn a response that is, in effect, a confirmation and further commitment. If you ran a proper meeting the prospect gave you time on their calendar. Put this commitment in writing. You may need it later — if and when they “go dark” on you (don’t respond).

My students do better with this kind of technique. However, this doesn’t mean you cannot improve on it. What can you add or subtract from the above template — to make it stronger in your specific selling context?

Are there other key meeting takeaways that are not included here — or can be added to strengthen it?

Let me know in comments!

When Your Price Really Is Too High

When I get asked by sales professionals all around the county how they can overcome the “Your Price is Too High” objection, my response is you must first understand that in their operating reality, your prospect is right. Your price is too high. For now.

when-your-price-really-is-too-high[Editor’s note: Though this post talks about sales, it does get into issues marketers find vexing. It also provides solutions marketers may be able to use.]

When I get asked by sales professionals all around the county how they can overcome the “Your Price is Too High” objection, my response is you must first understand that in their operating reality, your prospect is right. Your price is too high. For now.

Your price is too high because you have not done one or both of the following:

  1. You have not uncovered a good and compelling reason for them to buy from you. Put simply, they have not recognized a need.
  2. You have a value problem. You have not established what your product or service will provide to them financially, operationally or personally and what problem you are solving for them.

You have choices when you hear that objection.

You can ask “Where do I need to be with my price in order to close this deal?” which many salespeople resort to. Selling on price, however, is always a losing proposition. You might win a deal, but you are left defenseless because someone can always come along with a cheaper price and take your client away. The other option is that you can take the time to uncover needs and sell value.

The most effective strategy against the price objection is preventing it in the first place.

What’s the Problem?

Let’s assume we have a great handle on all the features and benefits of our product/service. We also have a target set of clients that have been predetermined to likely need what we are selling. We might have even been trained on why they need what we sell. This combination can often be deadly — especially to the seasoned sales rep. We think we know the problem our client has (because we’ve seen it before) and so we charge in to solve it! Even if we are right, we set ourselves up for failure. Why? Because we didn’t take the time to ask about their situation, really listen to them and create something that will be meaningful to them personally. You must show that you care and that you want more than anything else to understand their operating reality and see if you can possibly make it better. If you do this, they will acknowledge a need for what you are selling. The only way to accomplish this is to use effective questioning skills and active listening skills.

So What?

True sales professionals concentrate on first understanding the client’s current challenges and identifying how your product or service will solve their problem. Think of it like this, no one buys the product or service you sell, they buy what it will do for them. 

WIIFM. What’s In It For Me. That is what they buy. Picture your prospect thinking to themselves with every sentence you utter about your product or service. “So What? So What does that mean to ME? What’s In It for ME?” If you can take the problem you uncovered and communicate the value you can deliver in those terms, you are well on your way.

Value = Benefits – Cost

Value has a price tag. And it varies depending on the buyer – not the product/service. Long before the price is ever mentioned, the sales professional must uncover what their prospect perceives as valuable and what the consequences of not buying are worth. With that in mind, they can position it so that the buyer feels as though the price was a great deal for them, regardless of the price. ROI! The equation Value = Benefits – Cost shows that we put a price on cost AND we put a price on the benefits. If in our mind, the benefits are greater, than there is value in making a purchase.

Let’s use buying a highly commoditized item as an example. A cotton, short-sleeved, T-shirt. These types of T-shirts can range in price from $5 to $100 or more. Things matter to buyers; color, sheen, logos, convenience of purchase, weight, etc. And, they often also appeal to emotions such as a souvenir of a great vacation, your favorite band, college, a show of super-fan for a favorite sports team. Personally, I wouldn’t pay much for a Mets T-shirt, but would spend plenty more on a Cubs T-shirt and even more still if I bought it at a game, where I had a great time watching them beat the Mets. But, that’s just me.

You can be prepared in advance to uncover the problem, position what you are selling in terms of what it means to them and in terms of their perception of value, AND help them justify their purchase when they state your price is too high. Or you can lower your price. It’s your choice.

 

A-Plus: Marketing Students Try Their Hand at Technology

It’s nearly graduation time with a new legion of graduates about to enter the marketplace. In my previous post, I noted how many are seeking careers in data, and we’re glad to have them in the marketing field. We need them by the thousands.

It’s nearly graduation time with a new legion of graduates about to enter the marketplace. In my previous post, I noted how many are seeking careers in data, and we’re glad to have them in the marketing field. We need them by the thousands.

One prerequisite to a career in marketing (or just about anywhere) is having a demonstrated comfort level in technology. Universities are spending a mint designing and delivering digital labs in their technology builds—but in the world of advertising and marketing, there’s not much measured in ad tech investments that I can find. Providing students with rewarding internships is one great way to give prospective marketing practitioners invaluable exposure to tech, working alongside professionals using these tools.

Some universities also have student-run ad agencies, providing real work for real clients. Perhaps the next opportunity is to arm these students with campaign management platforms and other advertising technologies that reflect what’s really going on in the workplace today.

The University of Akron is doing just that, in its Taylor Institute of Direct Marketing. Three years back, during a Direct Marketing Association Conference, Professor William Baker initiated a conversation with Michael Hall, vice president of business development, V12 Group. “Michael was intrigued from the start,” Professor Baker told me. “He explained V12 Group’s Launchpad Marketing Cloud and we began to brainstorm ways that we could employ it in an educational setting. [We were looking for] Data, data and data, as well as the ability to apply the key concepts associated with Direct Interactive Marketing. As Confucius said, ‘I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.’ Our goal was to find a way that we could enable our students to turn key a database digital interactive campaign as a part of their educational experience.”

Students are using V12’s LaunchPad to devise and execute targeted campaigns for student agency clients, he explained. “The attraction to V12 Group is student’s ability to learn it quickly and marry data to the launching of email, display advertising, social media and print from one desktop system,” Professor Baker said.

To date, “Approximately 200 students have gone through [the tech] training,” said Vanja Djuric, University of Akron’s Director of Analytics. “I would estimate that in the future we should have anywhere between 200-300 students per semester—depending on the projects and class enrollment.” In few instances, the clients—often local businesses and organizations in the Akron area—have their own customer data, in which the technology acts as a customer relationship management tool, Djuric said. Most often, V12 Group-sourced data is used to identify, select and contact intended targets.

What matters most, of course, is the impact such tech use has on students. “I definitely think that using a professional tool … has enriched my education,” said Sarah Wright, who recently was graduated with an Integrated Marketing Communications degree, and is currently a Business Analytics MBA Candidate. “Having knowledge of and experience with a standard automated marketing tool sets me apart from the rest of the pool of candidates. Before, I could understand the theory behind automated marketing campaigns, but learning how to create and launch the campaign has given me the full picture. It is the type of practical, real world experience that companies are looking for in marketing candidates in today’s business world where companies compete on the quality of their data and their skills in leveraging that data.”

Students crave these real-world experiences. And we’re all better off in our marketing organizations when it comes time to put these graduates to work. Anybody hiring?

Thank you to the University of Akron and V12 Group for offering one great example of an education-private sector partnership in our field.

Should I Accept Your LinkedIn Invitation?

Recently I accepted a full-time position with one of my clients, the Digital Advertising Alliance, which makes me particularly happy to have benefits again, but I sure will miss my daily freedoms from the past six years. Since I updated my LinkedIn profile, a plethora of people I do not know have reached out to me asking for LinkedIn invite acceptances—but not stating anything specific or particular in their request of me

Recently I accepted a full-time position with one of my clients, the Digital Advertising Alliance, which makes me particularly happy to have benefits again, but I sure will miss my daily freedoms from the past six years.

Thankfully, I get to maintain a small stable of freelance clients that keep me busy at night and on weekends, too. And I enjoy uncovering new business opportunities for myself or to steer potential business to trusted colleagues in my field. Other folks have done much the same for me, a virtuous circle.

Obtaining a new job is one business happening that “triggers” marketing events of one sort or another. While I haven’t made it yet to the C-suite (I can only imagine the triggers there), I’m getting my share of social check-in’s, emails, not-so-many telephone calls, and a direct mail piece or two.

Since I updated my LinkedIn profile, a plethora of people I do not know have reached out to me asking for LinkedIn invite acceptances—but not stating anything specific or particular in their request of me. Please, take a moment and give a short sentence stating what we have or could have in common. I’m a PR guy, and I genuinely like getting to know people and how we can build bridges and do business together … but I don’t want the quality of my social network to become watered down. I wonder if LinkedIn has relaxed its rules for enabling introductions.

My normal protocol in response is to visit his or her profile, and see if there’s an apparent fit to my professional life. Sometimes I discover it’s someone I do know with a new or different surname (and I readily accept), but most of the time it’s a complete stranger, with only imagined relevance. Is it me they’re after, my position that intrigues them, or my employer’s marketplace presence? It’s always good form to keep your own profiles edgy and up to date for the inspection of others—and your invites to the point.

Let me also state the opposite: I do feel some guilt dismissing online a complete stranger (but perhaps an industry cohort) because I wonder if I’m doing myself, my new employer and my existing social network a disservice. Shouldn’t I be willing to talk to a stranger—I do it all the time at tradeshows and industry gatherings (we’ve self-qualified each other by both being there)? Yes, I should be willing—but I don’t’ always feel the need to get a business card.

Recently, I came across these rules for accepting LinkedIn invites which I believe are worth sharing.

  1. I accept/send LinkedIn invitations if I have had the opportunity to work with you
  2. I accept/send LinkedIn invitations if we have met in person
  3. I accept/send LinkedIn invitations if we have spoken on the phone (and an in-person meeting is not feasible)
  4. I accept/send LinkedIn invitations to initiate a professional relationship where phone, online, and/or in-person collaboration is expected.
  5. My goal in every LinkedIn relationship is to be able to recommend your services to other professionals who trust my opinion.

I’ve built my network with rules one, two and three—which has allowed me to implement Rule 5. I’m admittedly not so quick on rule four, precisely because of Rule 5! The integrity of anyone’s social network is one’s ability to leverage it: quality before quantity.

As interconnectedness grows in our world and our field—all marketing is integrated, and my status as a PR professional informs marketing—I’m going to try and be more open to new faces online, but I will continue to insist on some due diligence. Otherwise, what’s the point in having a connection?

Feel free to post your own rules on social networking. Or offer an opposing point of view.

How to Treat a Client

Over the holidays, I relocated my office a few doors down the hallway in order to accommodate some staff changes. While cleaning out a bookcase, I came across a 1991 edition of Courier, the in-house newsletter for Ogilvy & Mather Direct. I had saved it because it was chock full of great tips on Client Service and reminded me of how much I had learned during my days at OMD.

Over the holidays, I relocated my office a few doors down the hallway in order to accommodate some staff changes. While cleaning out a bookcase, I came across a 1991 edition of Courier, the in-house newsletter for Ogilvy & Mather Direct. I had saved it because it was chock full of great tips on Client Service and reminded me of how much I had learned during my days at OMD.

As I reread the front page article, it struck me that the 20 pithy tips in How to Treat a Client, penned by the late David Ogilvy, had stayed with me throughout my career—and, that I espouse them as my own. Given we’ve just entered a new year and there’s always lots of great advice being thrown around, I thought I’d reprint them here as a reminder of how great agencies truly operate. And they are as relevant today as they were 24 years ago…

  1. Never submit an ad unless you honestly think it is good.
  2. Tell Clients what you would do if you were in their shoes.
  3. Always put your Client’s interests above the agency’s.
  4. Never tell a Client a lie.
  5. When you make a serious mistake, tell your Client before he (or she) hears it from somebody else.
  6. Ask your Client for their opinions, and listen attentively to what they say.
  7. Never get between a Client and the footlights. Give her (or her) the credit for our success.
  8. Never miss a due date, even if it means working nights and weekends.
  9. Never get involved in the politics in the Client’s office.
  10. Never leak the Client’s secrets.
  11. When your Client makes a mistake, rush to the rescue.
  12. Know more about the Client’s business than he (or she) does.
  13. Invent new ways to help your Clients grow their business—above and beyond the call of duty.
  14. If you think a Client is a dope, conceal your opinion.
  15. Never use a product which is manufactured by one of the Client’s competitors.
  16. Make friends with your Clients, but never grovel. For example, never thank a Client for coming to a meeting.
  17. Never give a job to anyone in a Client’s family. They are impossible to fire.
  18. Expose your Clients to other people in the agency, in case you are hit by a taxi.
  19. Never argue with Clients about charges. Leave it to somebody in our Treasurer’s department.
  20. If you think you are a bad fit on an account, tell your boss. He can then assign it to someone else.

If you behave like this, you will win the gratitude and respect of your Clients—and of the agency.

Thank you, David. Truer words have never been spoken.

3 Steps to an Effective LinkedIn Profile for Sales Reps

Tired of getting so few leads from your LinkedIn profile, investing in LinkedIn Sales Navigator or needing to generate leads with email faster? You’ll need more than a pretty photo on your profile. You need a summary section that creates urges in prospects—provoking them to connect, email or call.

Tired of getting so few leads from your LinkedIn profile, investing in LinkedIn Sales Navigator or needing to generate leads with email faster? You’ll need more than a pretty photo on your profile. You need a summary section that creates urges in prospects—provoking them to connect, email or call.

Make sure prospects viewing your LinkedIn profile take an action and are producing leads for you. But first, ne sure your or your team’s profile is structured to:

  1. Create an urge for what customers’ want most in the Headline space;
  2. Spark buyers’ curiosity about what you can do for them in the Summary;
  3. Direct that curiosity—give them an irresistible reason to act.

These steps are the low-hanging fruit. Don’t just know them, do them. Every word, video, Powerpoint, PDF whitepaper and link on your profile can help buyers develop an irresistible urge to solve their problems or reach a goal—through you. But only if you take a minute to design it to. The best place to start is your Professional Headline.

Fire up your browser. Compare your profile against the checklist below. Check off each one as you implement these proven, effective steps.

STEP 1: Create an Urge to Read via Your Headline
Like it or not, headlines control our world. If you’re not getting to the point and sparking curiosity in a matter of seconds you’re not going anywhere. Just like an effective cold call or elevator pitch.

Use your profile’s Professional Headline space to display information that creates an urge to discover whatever is most important to them. Don’t list your title or job position. Make sure your professional headline presents:

  • what you do,
  • who you do it for and, if possible, and
  • elude to how you do it that creates distinction.

If possible, hint at why buyers should choose you. Make your why clear but not totally complete. Leave off the details. This creates an urge to scroll down to the next section: Your profile’s Summary.

For example, turnaround and acquisition expert, Carter Pennington, says he “maximizes shareholder value of troubled companies.” Mando Villareal names his target market and says he helps them “reduce cost increase efficiency & automate deliverables.”

In both cases, structuring words this way helps prospects wonder, “I wonder how he does that?” It creates an urge to scroll down and learn more about the seller.

Wondering where to start yourself? Use what you already know is most important to your prospective buyer. Don’t be clever. Instead, push your prospects’ buttons.

Trent Smith is a “Trusted advisor to attorneys who want to grow their practice.” He knows there isn’t an attorney on the planet who doesn’t want to grow their practice. In a moment, I’ll show you how Trent exploits this urge in various sections of his profile.

Remember: Use your Professional Headline space to create an urge to discover more about what makes you someone worth paying attention to. Be bold. Grab your prospect, fast.

STEP 2: Ditch the Resume, Go for a Reaction
Your LinkedIn profile is a tool to get prospects curious about what you can do for (not sell) them. Because once they’re curious, they’re more likely to react—to act. Since your Summary section is often “above the fold” (is seen before anything else) it’s the best place to start sparking reactions.

The idea is to quickly make statements that cause customers to become excited, unsure, eager or even a bit scared. This is different than reciting information about yourself, resume style. Showing customers, “I have a better way,” telling them you have short-cuts they desire or making a bold claim helps you:

  • prove to be worth listening to (grabs the prospect) and
  • position yourself to make a big claim.

Every B-to-B seller has a big claim that plays on the desire of buyers—no matter what you’re selling. It’s believable, credible and needed. So use it. Your LinkedIn profile is a great place to

  • set up the claim
  • make it and
  • create an urge to act on the reaction your claim creates.

For example, Gerry Blaum makes the claim he’ll save Fortune 1000 clients $500,000 in health care over-spending and connect them with better service providers. If he cannot he’ll give clients his fee back. He says, “we only get paid when we save money for our clients.”

Gerry makes his claim in dramatic form. To keep it believable and credible, he reveals how he gets paid. This encourages HR executives at some of the world’s largest companies to wonder, “how, exactly, does Gerry accomplish this?”

Be careful to balance. You don’t want to make a claim that is unbelievable. Or a promise that gives away too much, too fast. Only make claims that sound believable and help buyers develop hunger for all the details. You’re going for a reaction, or an irritation—not total satisfaction.

The idea is to scratch the buyers’ itch-stopping short of offering full relief.

To more fully relieve their itch (or help them reach a goal) they need to take an action. This is just one way to effectively spark connections, email conversations or phone calls with prospects. Shoot me an email or comment below and I’ll share more examples.

STEP 3: Make a Direct or Subtle Call to Action
Give ’em what they want. Whether you’re a job-seeker, marketer or sales rep, your LinkedIn profile should contain “exit points.” Spots where a call to action should be placed—driving prospects away from your profile, toward your landing page, telephone or email inbox.

Toward shortcuts, tips, advice, pain relief, clarity on a fuzzy (yet important) issue or confirmation of nagging fears—whatever they want most.

Make sure you use calls to action to the fullest. Here are quick tips on how to make effective LinkedIn profile calls to action.

You cannot use HTML or links in the Summary section. But you can place calls to action inside it. Creating clearly identifiable sub-sections and headlines gives you the chance to make calls to action.

Look at how Gerry Blaum executes it. It’s easy to scan with the eye, grabbing the essence of each “chunk” of copy.

Stick to the basics. In a few words, use sub-sections inside the Summary to describe:

  • What you do & who you do it for
  • Why the prospect should care (how you do it differently than everyone else)
  • How & WHY customers should contact you (email, Facebook, Twitter, phone, Web site, etc.)

Give ’em what they want. Prove to them, quickly, you’ve got what they want.

Use trigger words to encourage action. Use phrases like:

  • Get all the details
  • Call me, email me
  • Discover fresh tips
  • See examples here
  • Start here (this one is very powerful believe it or not!)

Although you cannot use HTML here, readers will take advantage of links your provide.

Your target audience will visit your Web URL by cutting & pasting or right-clicking. In some Web browsers (like Chrome) users can jump to your Web site by highlighting the URL, right-clicking and immediately visiting your site.

Trent Smith uses his Contact and Summary sections to speak directly to prospects:

If you want visitors to say, “Wow! I’ve got to talk to this attorney right now!” then get website strategies for attracting clients at: http://www.JangoStudios.com

Of course, there are subtle, indirect approaches that are also effective. Choosing the specific approach often depends on your target market, type of decision-maker(s), sales cycles, complexity of what you’re selling etc. For example, Challenger sellers will need to take a much different, educational approach.

If you’re interested in taking first steps on everything I’ve presented today this free video training will get you started in just 12 minutes. Otherwise let’s chat in comments below!