List-building 2.0: 7 Tips for Using ‘Power’ Polls For Prospecting

Most people know Web 2.0 is simply the evolution of the Internet into an environment of interactivity, reader participation and usability. Web 2.0 opens up the dialog between user and website or blog. This connection can help generate traffic and a viral buzz.

Most people know Web 2.0 is simply the evolution of the Internet into an environment of interactivity, reader participation and usability. Web 2.0 opens up the dialog between user and website or blog. This connection can help generate traffic and a viral buzz.

But from a search engine marketing (SEM) standpoint, the benefits are clear and measurable: More traffic and frequent interactivity (or posts) equal better organic (free) rankings in search engine results. Getting good organic rankings is a powerful way to find qualified prospective customers.

So what online tactic encourages Web 2.0 principles as well as helps with search engine results page rank, visibility and listing-building efforts? Targeted online prospecting polls, also known as “acquisition” or “lead generation” polls.

Based on the specificity of your poll question, online acquisition polls can help you: collect relevant names and email addresses; gauge general market (or subscriber) sentiment; and generate sales (via a redirect to a synergistic promotional page). Polls also allow for interactivity, where participants can sound off about a hot topic.

I’ve been including strategic acquisition polls in my online marketing strategy for nearly a decade now and have rarely been disappointed with the results. Some websites, like surveymonkey.com, allow members to set up free or low-cost surveys and polls. However, it may not allow you to include a name-collection component or a redirect to a promotional or “thank you” webpage, which is essential for a success.

If that’s the case, either ask your Webmaster to build you a proprietary poll platform or use a poll script. You can find examples at hotscripts.com, ballot-box.net/faq.php, and micropoll.com.

Here are seven ways to help create a winning prospecting poll campaign:

1. Engage. Your poll question should engage the reader, encourage participation, pique interest and tie into a current event. And be sure to have a “comments” field where people can make additional remarks. Sample topics: politics, the economy, health, consumer breakthroughs, the stock market, foreign affairs.

2. Relevance. Your poll question should also be related to your product, free e-newsletter editorial, or free bonus report (which can be used as incentive). This will greatly improve your conversion rate. Let’s say your free offer is a sign-up to a stock market e-newsletter and the upsell is a redirect landing page promotion to a paid gold investment newsletter for $39/yr. In that case, your poll question should be tied with the editorial copy and product, something like “Where is gold headed in 2013?” Investors who favor gold (your target audience), will respond to this question … and engage. You are gaining these qualified prospects as leads and perhaps buying customers.

3. Incentive. After people take your poll, tell them that to thank them for their participation, you’re automatically signing them up for your quality, free e-newsletter or e-alerts … which they can opt out of at any time. To reduce the number of bogus email addresses you get, offer an extra incentive free “must-read” report, too. And assuming it’s your policy not to sell or rent email names to third parties (and it should be, based on email best practices), indicate your privacy/anti-spam policy next to the sign-up button on your email sign up form. This will immediately reassure people that it’s safe and worry-free to give you their email addresses.

4. Flag. Having your poll question somehow tie into your product makes the names you collect extremely qualified for future offers. Each name should be flagged by your database folks according to the answer they gave by topic category. You can create buckets for each product segment. Using our investing e-newsletter example, categories could be gold, oil, income, equities, etc. Segmenting the names into such categories will make it easier for you to send targeted offers later.

5. Results. Use the poll feedback for new initiatives. In addition to collecting names, online polls will help you gauge general market opinion—and could help you come up with new products.

6. Bonding. Strengthen your new relationships. You need to reinforce the connection between the poll people just participated in and your e-newsletter. So make sure each name that comes in gets an immediate “thank you” for taking the poll. This could be via autoresponder or redirect “thank you” page. On your “thank you” page/email, can be a link for the downloadable, free e-report you promised. Consider sending a series of informational, warm and fuzzy editorial autoresponders to help new subscribers get to know who you are, what you do and how your e-newsletter will benefit them. This will help improve their lifetime customer value.

7. Results. Gratify participants with the results. Don’t just leave poll participants hanging. Make sure you tell them the results will be published in your free e-newsletter or on your website (to encourage them to check it regularly), and then upload the results, as well as some of your best, most engaging comments. This is great editorial fodder, as well as helpful to increasing website readership and traffic.

Marketers have used polls internally (on their own company websites) for years. But now more than ever, with its cost effectiveness and efficiency, polls can be used to collect targeted leads and interact with prospects.

Polls aren’t just for finding leads, either. They are also great for measuring market sentiment, doing competitor analysis and new product development; which, in turn, can help customer retention, customer service and sales.

Email Marketing Redefined: The 3 Keys to Customer Retention

Memorable experiences make people more likely to return when they need your products or services again. Memories are made by both good and bad experiences. You expect customers to place another order after a good experience. Yet, surprisingly, they are more likely to return after a bad experience when the issues are resolved than after an uneventful good experience. Solving the problems that contribute to a bad experience creates trust, and the more people trust your company, the more they buy

The best customer retention strategies begin with the first order and continue until the lifespan is complete. Everything that happens from the first visit to completion of the final order is part of the experience of shopping with your company. Memorable experiences make people more likely to return when they need your products or services again. Memories are made by both good and bad experiences.

You expect customers to return to place another order after a good experience. Yet, surprisingly, customers are more likely to return after a bad experience when the issues are resolved than after an uneventful good experience. Solving the problems that contribute to a bad experience creates trust, and the more customers trust your company, the more they buy.

Consistently keeping promises also builds trust. When an order is placed, fulfillment is expected. Simply fulfilling orders will not retain customers because every legitimate business fulfills orders. You have to do more to differentiate your company from the competition. Relationships retain customers. Email allows companies in high-volume business to communicate with people on a one-to-one basis. This establishes relationships. Yes, it is at a superficial level, but it serves the purpose of personalizing the customer experience and significantly improves retention rates.

Most people aren’t fooled into thinking that “[insert name here]” emails are personal. They know that is a form letter, but that doesn’t matter as long as the information included is relevant. People placing orders are not looking for best friends, they are looking to solve a problem with minimal effort. The problem may be not having the perfect outfit for the next party, the best coffee maker, a service that would make their jobs easier, or a variety of other challenges. Whatever the problem, if your company provides the solution, keeps the customer informed, and makes everything as easy as possible, people will keep coming back for more.

There are three key components to an effective customer retention strategy:

  1. Knowledge of the Customer Lifecycle—Knowing how people normally act provides insight into drop-off points and inspires ideas for keeping them from leaving. When you know how each segment of your customer base typically performs, you can recognize when someone prematurely drops out of the buying cycle.
  2. Execution of a Detailed Communication Plan—Good communication is the key to all successful relationships. Sharing information about order processing, special sales, use of products and available services contributes to customer retention because it simplifies the buying and consumption process.
  3. An Automated Reactivation Process—Reactivation must start as soon as a customer reaches the first drop-off point. When you know your customer types well enough to know when they have passed the next order point without making a purchase, you can catch them before they are completely gone. Email automation simplifies the reactivation process. Create a strategy designed to connect with customers before they migrate to a competitor.

Plan your reactivation strategy to start while people are still in the active buying cycle. Every email sent from your business to your customers should have a retention element in it, such as these:

  • Make people feel valued and appreciated
  • Solve problems before people ask for help
  • Provide value above and beyond offering low prices
  • Keep people informed throughout the buying process
  • Provide information on the use of products and services
  • Create a bond between company and customer

Get Ready for 2013: Email Marketing Redefined

How much time do you spend thinking about your email marketing strategy? Would you make the time if you knew that changing your email marketing strategy could make your job easier, increase revenue, and improve customer acquisition and retention? Email campaigns can do it all, but they have to be carefully planned and orchestrated to make the good things happen.

How much time do you spend thinking about your email marketing strategy? If you are like most marketers, juggling multiple channels in an ever changing marketplace doesn’t leave much time for contemplating the whys and wherefores in any area.

Would you make the time if you knew that changing your email marketing strategy could make your job easier, increase revenue, and improve customer acquisition and retention? Email campaigns can do it all, but they have to be carefully planned and orchestrated to make the good things happen. The way people access information and connect with each other is changing rapidly. Your email marketing has to adapt or die.

The best strategy is multifaceted with specific processes that move people for one stage to another. It provides access to the content via the technology that fits your customers and prospects. The people who subscribe to your messages aren’t always at their computers. Your content and how it is delivered has to adapt to their needs.

The first step in creating a comprehensive strategy is defining the purpose of your email marketing. Do you want to acquire more customers? Sell more products and services? Keep customers happy? Reduce operating costs? Or, is it all of the above?

The four primary objectives for email campaigns are:

  • Customer Acquisition
  • Sales
  • Customer Retention
  • Service

Each objective requires a customized strategy designed to move people from original contact to completion. Everything varies from the point of origin forward. The messages that sell the latest products to seasoned customers are rarely as effective with prospects. Creating a specific process for each objective moves email marketing from generic blasts to targeted marketing that connects with people. There can be some crossover, but in general, every email sent needs a specific objective and clearly defined success metrics.

Start the planning for 2013 by reviewing 2012. How many customers were acquired via emails? What percentage of sales is directly attributed to email campaigns? What percentage of sales was influenced by email marketing? How does customer retention for people who subscribe to your emails compare with those who don’t? How do service metrics compare for subscribers versus non-subscribers? You have to know where you are before you plan the journey to your destination.

Next, look at the content of the emails sent in 2012. Does it match the information in your analysis? Are there exceptions? For example, if the majority of the emails were sales promotions, then a low customer acquisition rate and strong sales generation would be expected. If there are any exceptions, try to identify the elements that made people act.

The last part of the 2012 review is looking at segmentation and consistency. Was your list segmented so people received emails targeted by behavior, or did everyone on your list receive the same emails? How often did each group receive messages? Is there a pattern of response in relation to timing? Are all of the emails branded so your company is easily recognized?

The 2012 review provides a benchmarking foundation so you have a reference point for comparison. The review process often triggers ideas and awareness that can be used to maximize the return in 2013. Document your thoughts and any metrics readily available for future reference.

It is time to look forward to the New Year. What do you want to accomplish with your email marketing in 2013? The best strategies have a balanced approach to accomplishing the four primary objectives. They attract new customers, keep existing ones happy and generate revenue while reducing operating costs.

Identifying specific targets provides goals and accountability. How many customers do you want to acquire? What are your direct and indirect sales goals? How much should your retention rate increase? What effect do you expect on service levels and operating costs?

There are many questions to be answered in the process of creating a comprehensive email marketing strategy. The better the answers, the more likely your email program will succeed. Investing the time and resources required to do this right is guaranteed to generate a solid return on investment.

This post is the first in a series on developing a comprehensive email marketing strategy.

New Developments in B-to-B Loyalty Marketing

Business marketers have much to gain from retention marketing. Business customers tend to be fewer and more valuable—meaning you can’t afford to lose even one. But how do you keep your customers active and buying from you, versus the competition?  How do you prevent defection? Let’s look at the traditional approaches to retention marketing in B-to-B, plus some new developments in loyalty marketing being adopted by B-to-B marketers today, including social media and gamification.

Business marketers have much to gain from retention marketing. Business customers tend to be fewer and more valuable—meaning you can’t afford to lose even one. But how do you keep your customers active and buying from you, versus the competition? How do you prevent defection? Let’s look at the traditional approaches to retention marketing in B-to-B, plus some new developments in loyalty marketing being adopted by B-to-B marketers today, including social media and gamification.

Traditional Approaches in B-to-B Retention Marketing
Given the importance of customer retention in B-to-B, business marketers have a long history of investing in loyalty drivers. The most basic approach has been—simply—superb account management.

In a well-run company, the sales team in charge of any given customer will do its best to understand what’s going on in the account; sell to them the way they want to buy; deliver on time; develop new products to serve their evolving needs; solve any customer service problems; cultivate deep relationships with the specifiers, influencers and decision-makers throughout the account; and generally provide the best possible products and service levels. It is this basic approach that has stood the test of time in account development.

But as buying has become more complex, businesses have developed additional strategies to deepen customer relationships and engender loyalty. For example:

  • Data-driven segmentation and differentiated treatment. Not all customers are created equal, so segmenting customers by value and treating them differently is a strategy that works well in business markets. Some companies will identify their top accounts—based on margin or on top-line revenue—and provide them with special perks, pricing and service levels, such as:
    • Corporate-wide purchasing agreements, where all buying across a far-flung enterprise can benefit from pre-negotiated contract pricing.
    • Dedicated sales teams, some of them even housed on site at the customer’s operation.
    • Dedicated customer service phone lines, where the service personnel can develop an ongoing personal relationship with individuals in the account.
    • Special status, like Gold Customer or Preferred Customer, programs that may include access to discounts, free shipping, invitations to events and other perquisites.
  • Incentive programs. Taking a page from the consumer world, some business marketers have found success with frequency marketing programs that reward customers for certain behaviors, such as repeat purchase. These programs are not universally applicable in business, but they have their place, particularly when the purchase cycle is short and purchase behavior can be tracked.
    Rewards programs are typically applied in businesses that mimic consumer purchasing behavior, like office supplies. Staples, for example, runs a thriving business rewards program targeted to its small-medium business customers. Financial services and telecom have also done well with frequency marketing programs in SMB, examples being American Express OPEN, the MasterCard Business Bonus program and Verizon’s BusinessLink.

New Developments in Loyalty for Business Markets
In the last few years, B-to-B loyalty marketing has benefited from the arrival of new tools that support the goal of deepening relationships with business buyers. Social media, for example, has created an easy, low-cost way for companies to build communities and foster engagement. Social media is being applied across the B-to-B marketing spectrum, from prospecting via viral pass-along, to enhancing customer relationships, to surfacing and solving customer service problems.

In the area of enhancing customer relationships and fostering loyalty, the power of social media is being felt throughout the B-to-B marketing world:

  • Companies build the ranks of their followers on Twitter and LinkedIn, their “likes” on Facebook, and their RSS subscribers to blogs and YouTube channels. These connections then become another set of media channels for staying in touch, introducing new products, sharing ideas and case studies, and otherwise building an ongoing relationship.
  • Within social media environments, companies establish communities of customers and prospects around certain subjects, like technologies, products, events and other shared interests. In these forums, chat groups, blogs and other formats, like-minded people share ideas, expand their knowledge and make valuable connections.

One of the most exciting new developments in B-to-B loyalty marketing is the new concept known as gamification. The idea here is to build on people’s natural enthusiasm for games involving prizes, competition and recognition, and turn that motivation into a loyalty driver. The goal of gamification is to add gaming elements to otherwise boring processes and tasks, converting them into something fun, competitive and addictively engaging.

Marketers who want to introduce game design and mechanics to their loyalty programs can now take advantage of several new software platforms, like Badgeville, CallidusCloud and Bunchball. These tools are taking loyalty programs to a new level of interactivity, real-time feedback and social interaction, with some promising early results.

If you’ve experimented with loyalty programs in B-to-B, please share your experiences.

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

An Opportunity to Learn From Leading Retailers

What do cross-channel retailers like to do best (besides make money)? Share their stories and insights with their peers so they can learn from one another. Well, eM+C’s sister publication, Retail Online Integration, is giving those retailers a great platform to share their thoughts with its Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo – Fall 2011, which is taking place next Tuesday, Sept. 27.

What do cross-channel retailers like to do best (besides make money)? Share their stories and insights with their peers so they can learn from one another.

Well, eM+C’s sister publication, Retail Online Integration, is giving those retailers a great platform to share their thoughts with its Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo – Fall 2011, which is taking place next Tuesday, Sept. 27.

If you’re a retailer, you don’t want to miss out on this free, informative one-day virtual event. The opening keynote, E-Commerce Retail Roundtable: Holiday Best Practices, featuring Peter Cobb , co-founder and senior vice president of eBags.comOpens in a new window; Jack Kiefer , founder, president and CEO of BabyAge.comOpens in a new window; and Andy Hoar , an analyst at Forrester ResearchOpens in a new window, will provide listeners with tips to make the 2011 holiday season their best one yet.

Best practices that will be discussed include:

  • how to ensure your website is prepared for the holiday rush of traffic;
  • updating fulfillment processes to meet growing demand; and
  • last-minute social media and email marketing tips.

The closing keynote, The Future of Retail Shopping With Augmented Reality, Mobile and Social Media, will discus strategies for integrating these emerging technologies into your marketing mix to help increase conversions and sales.

Other information-packed sessions include the following:

  • At Your Service: E-Commerce Customer Service Trends
  • Social Marketing and Commerce Retail Case Studies
  • Cutting Through the Mobile Marketing and Mobile Commerce Clutter
  • Winning Customer Acquisition Tactics for Cross-Channel Retailers
  • Customer Retention Best Practices

View the most up-to-date agenda here. In addition to the great lineup of sessions we’ve put together, you’ll have the ability to network with other attendees via live chats and social networking, as well as download resources and giveaways. To register for this free event, click hereOpens in a new window.

Hope to “see” you there!