More Appointments With Decision Makers Is Not the Answer

“Meetings. Meetings. We need to get more appointments with decision makers!” cry owners, managers and boards of directors. But inside and digital sales organizations need better meetings, not just more. Sounds obvious, but are you doing everything possible to get better meetings and demos with decision makers?

“Meetings. Meetings. We need to get more appointments with decision makers!” cry owners, managers and boards of directors. But inside and digital sales organizations need better meetings, not just more.

Sounds obvious, but are you doing everything possible to get better meetings and demos with decision makers? I’ll bet you’re not.

Rushing into meetings gives your team:

  • Less motivation to hunt
  • Pipeline filled with unclose-able deals
  • More “no decisions” by clients

What it costs to generate a sale matters just as much as revenue. From a business perspective, wasting time on bad leads drives profit down — by driving cost up, profit decreases.

When salespeople rush meetings it decreases productivity. Under-qualified meetings waste reps’ most valuable time — speaking in real-time with prospects.

Because qualification happens purely in meetings. Objections are increased.

Instead, a qualification (screening) system ensures reps spend time on phone/in demos/appointments only with close-able customers.

Qualification is faster.

You Don’t Need More Appointments With Decision Makers

Here’s the rub: Courting un-closeable leads decreases what you want more of — time and money. Instead, field sellers (your closers) need pre-qualified discussions with decision makers most likely to close.

Before you say, “Obviously, Jeff, that’s why we have inside sales/marketing/demand generation people,” think about what you’re doing, right now, to earn more meetings. You’ve probably got a system in place, or are pursuing a systematic way to get more meetings.

Are you also giving reps ways to effectively qualify — to ensure better meetings and demos?

Too often, our “prospecting mindset” is bent on chasing quantity of conversations — at the exclusion of quality.

The lure: More activities put into the system, more sales come out. Naturally, without question. It’s a fact.

That’s what makes systems great, according to “experts.” Systems are controllable. Want more sales? Increase prospecting outreach. Bada-bing, bada-boom.

But is it really that simple? Is more appointments with decision makers the answer?

No and no. Spinning wheels on bad leads costs you. It drives profit down. Perhaps worse, sales people are demotivated.

Because your sales reps’ profit comes in two pieces: Commissions and time spent doing what they enjoy, working less. Or you might say there is a third component — enjoying their work.

Qualifying leads — before investing quality time with them — is vital to success.

The Truth About Systems

There’s a quality component to every system. It what makes one system better than another. Look at motor vehicles. Cars, motorcycles, aircraft engines.

Quality of systems drives quality of output: performance.

Purely? Of course not. Input matters. Quantity of fuel, air … inputs demand proper amount. When quantity and quality are in harmony resulting output is effective and efficient.

It’s the same in sales.

We don’t want more appointments. We want better quality pipeline. More meetings and more close-able opportunities.

Effectiveness Versus Efficiency

The happy marriage I’m describing conflicts with culture and philosophy of sales managers… even boards of directors … who want more, more, more! (promoting effectiveness, demoting efficiency)

Many are calling this model Activity Based Selling (ABS). This strategy (and philosophy) mandates quantity. Minimum number of activities.

ABS requires sellers to make X number of calls, push Y number of emails, share Z numbers of articles on LinkedIn. All good, so long the difference between effectiveness and efficiency is appreciated.

Time for Dictionary.com:

Effective: Adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result.

Efficient: Functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort.

In many cases, activities-focused selling is damaging inside/digital and field sellers’ ability to efficiently generate more and better conversations with potential customers.

Don’t care about efficiency? Not a priority? Then you don’t value money nor your time enough.

Scott Channel, a B2B cold calling expert, says “every call not made to the worthless is a call that could be made to the worthy … or lead to finding a prospect that is worthy.”

Don’t waste time. Efficient use of prospecting time drives what you want — and don’t want!

Why Efficiency Is Worth It

Being effective is simple compared to being efficient. Setting more meetings isn’t difficult when you take a meeting with practically anyone. Effectiveness takes less time, effort and communications skills than efficiency. But it’s not worth the trade-off.

People choose getting more meetings over better meetings because they’re too lazy to get the better ones. There, I said it! But this is slowly killing you/your business.

Cold calling expert, Wendy Weiss, recently profiled financial advisor, Jerry Iancangelo. Jerry invested in a quality-driven way to screen out decision makers with lower chances of closing.

Iancangelo says he learned, “How to pre-screen people better so I could stop driving everywhere and meeting just anybody.”

As a result he’s built a $200,000 recurring annual income while doubling his time off.

“With the extra money and time, I can now vacation in Hawaii every year … take better care of myself and have a happier, healthier lifestyle with good food and proper exercise,” says Iancangelo.

Being effective is simple compared to being efficient, but pays benefits.

Better Appointments at Scale Is Possible

Constant over-valuation of more meetings is diminishing the value of better meetings. Don’t let this culture poison your prospecting strategy. Invest in scale-able ways to drive more and better appointments with decision makers.

Beware of over-focusing on reps hitting activity quotas — neglecting the qualitative communication skills needed to approach C-level decision-makers

We live in a world where sales managers struggle to differentiate between marketing automation and effective sales follow-up. Lines are blurred by the tech tools.

But are they? The best sales and marketing email solutions are working overtime to help sales reps understand—sales qualifies the leads marketing warmed up. I think I know why.

Because buyers of such tools prefer effectiveness (more meetings) over efficiency (better meetings).

More meetings, they believe, requires more activities. Not getting enough deals closed? Simply pull a lever and force reps to make more outbound dials, emails or LinkedIn connections.

But it doesn’t work that way. There is no room for mass emailing messages in sales environments.

Sales is (and always will be) a numbers game. But business growth, profitability and earning more free time is not driven purely by quantity of outbound activities. Excluding quality of conversation from sellers’ strategies is a mistake.

Make sure you and your organization are not over-focusing on hitting activity quotas — neglecting the qualitative communication skills needed to engage C-level decision makers.

What has your experience been?

 

Sales and Marketing Automation: Explaining the Difference

Is the difference between sales and marketing automation confusing you? There’s a reason why. Sales teams are being pushed to hit prospecting “activities” numbers — to the exclusion of making those activities count.

Is the difference between sales and marketing automation confusing you? There’s a reason why. Sales teams are being pushed to hit prospecting “activities” numbers — to the exclusion of making those activities count.

As one of my students selling enterprise software put it, “I’m glad to send out X number of emails per week and leave Y number of voicemails … so long as most of those touches bring me closer to a meeting. I’m not willing to hit my numbers for the sake of hitting my numbers — and that’s what management is demanding.”

Here’s the rub. “Mass marketing” mentality is creeping into most sales departments — especially SDRs and BDRs (sales and business development reps).

The result is a blurring between sales and marketing, broadly. But also a blurring between sales and marketing automation tools and how they’re being applied. Inside sales teams are behaving like mass marketing agents. Worse, field reps selling into enterprise accounts are being forced to pump out templated emails to C-suite and officer level prospects.

And it ain’t workin’.

Is Sales a Numbers Game?

Remember the old adage, “Sales is a numbers game?” Given LinkedIn, social media, email, postal mail, cold calling, etc., we need a new name; a more scientific name. They call it “Activity Based Selling.”

Followers of Activity Based Selling (ABS) believe, “sales is a numbers game — won primarily by those who knock on more doors.”

But here’s where it gets ugly. Sales is (and always will be) a numbers game. Is business growth purely quantitative? Certainly not. But proponents of ABS are excluding quality of conversation from sellers’ strategies. Many organizations are over-focusing on reps hitting activity quotas — neglecting the qualitative communication skills needed to approach C-level decision-makers.

In theory ABS makes good sense. In practice it turns out to be spammy, dangerous and ineffective.

Marketing Automation Isn’t Sales Automation

It may sound stupid to say marketing automation isn’t sales automation. Truth is, you may agree in theory: Marketing is distinct from sales. But in practice are your sellers behaving like mass marketers when using email, voicemail and social?

This is where things get cloudy.

According to sales automation software provider Outreach.io, marketing automation is not a substitute for a sales engagement platform. Well, duh. But interestingly, this software vendor prefers the word “engagement” over “automation,” with good reason. Folks in charge of purchasing these tools often don’t see the difference — based on how they intend to use marketing and sales automation tools.

When you intend on using both to send “campaigns,” look out!

Both sales and marketing automation tools have the capability to send en mass. I’m convinced this is because sales automation companies would go broke otherwise.

Everyone demands sellers to send mass emailed campaigns. Big mistake.

Outreach.io rightly advises marketing automation:

  • is ideal for generating leads, but not working them;
  • is too technical and feature-heavy to onboard new reps quickly;
  • lacks flexibility needed for personal conversations;
  • doesn’t enable reps to make calls and interact on social media;
  • send emails via third party servers, not a rep’s inbox, which increases chances of getting caught in spam filters

So What’s the Difference?

The difference is simple in theory and what should be practiced: One-to-many (marketing) message management and one-to-one (sales) message management. It’s the difference between trying to earn whitepaper downloads and webinar registrants, and earning the right to converse with a client and qualify their need.

Marketing automation should be generating leads via mass marketing. Sales engagement (automation) tools should be helping sellers to do what they do best — help those leads qualify or dis-qualify themselves as customers.

Can you do this using cut-and-paste templates you found on Google?

Heck no.

Today’s most effective sales reps — on inside or in field — use qualitative, one-on-one conversations. Email plays a vital role in starting and moving conversations toward closure. Problem is, many who invest in sales automation software use it to push static, impersonal templates that scream, “delete me!” to prospects.

Prospecting templates don’t work.

The Problem With Activity Based Selling

Proponents of ABS tend to believe “If we focus on what sellers can control (activities) … and not the outcome we desire (customers buying) … sellers will perform better.” Thus, management focus sellers on “activities” that encourage a conversation via:

  • reach
  • persistence
  • education

Trouble is, those ideas easily morph into pushing information at prospects (low skill). Instead, C-level buyers demand sellers find ways to earn discussions by attracting (pulling) them into a qualitative, early-need-stage dialogue.

Worse, demand generation and sales enablement teams supporting reps instruct them to not focus on the sale. While pushing for the sale is not appropriate, telling a sales rep “don’t focus on selling” forces reps to ask, “what should I do then?”

Too often the answer is found in marketing-speak. Reps resort to pushing email messages at clients about features, benefits, solutions and webinars. Instead, effective reps provoke replies using non-marketing-speak messages based on problem-solving and other sensitive issues they’ve managed to research.

Thus, ABS demands reps to perform many touches (activities). The nature of what ends up being pushed out is purely quantitative marketing noise aimed at educating clients who have not yet asked to be educated!

Stop Sending Templates

At best, even when sellers are not pushing out education-oriented mass messages, they are sending out drivel like this…

Hi Sam,
I wanted to reach out because my company [insert vendor name] helps organizations like [target company name] [top 10 list of pain/value propositions every vendor claims — e.g., increase productivity, reduce sales cycle time, boost engagement, manage leads etc.]

Our solutions have helped customers like [list of generic famous companies designed to impress reader] see an improvement of [insert ROI stat].

Do you have 15 minutes to speak this week? Looking forward to hearing from you!

Templates don’t work nor do premature meeting requests. Effective sellers use templates to customize messages faster, not send faster. They use sales automation and engagement tools to start and qualify one-to-one conversations using qualitative (yes, time consuming) tactics designed to earn them.

Research is a key element of effective cold email messages — proving you’ve done homework on prospects multiplies response rates.

Add in a Qualitative Element

Provoking conversations with C-level executives is possible. It isn’t “cut-and-paste-easy.” Nor is pushing educational or value-added messages at them (before they’ve requested it) going to work. What does work is relatively simple: It mostly involves trimming back all messages to two to four sentences. Literally.

The other key element is sparking curiosity in cold messages.

True: It’s best to focus on what you can control (activities) … and not the outcome you desire (customers buying). But the answer is not a purely quantitative strategy—especially when calling into the C-suite.

Standardized templates do not work. They feel too “mass mailed.” Easy to spot, instant delete.

But a mental-triggers-based approach to message design—that can be very repeatable — does.

Customization is key. Psychology is front-and-center to triggering response.

What is your experience lately?

Marketing Stack From Hell

Steve Jobs thrived at balancing the complexity that drives powerful computational systems with the simplicity required for utility. “Simple can be harder than complex,” Jobs said. “You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

For retailers, mountains are marketing stacks. Even in small organizations, a stack’s silos of specialization can’t help but make tactical advances at the expense of strategic insight. As retail organizations scale and spread across channels, atomization scales too. Each retailer is unique, so I want to be careful not to overstate, or understate, the degree to which retailers complicate their worlds. But how can retailers make technology investments while balancing the long-term view of the total cost of ownership in the age of cloud technologies with no capital expenditure benefits? Moreover, how do retailers balance risk and change management in an already frantic innovation environment?

The big marketing clouds own the mainstream messaging for the space across much of the industry, but there has been a dramatic shift in recent years toward point solutions. Many brands opt for short-term investments in emerging companies to augment their larger investments in CRM, data management, advertising and personalization. Here, there’s good and bad news.

First, the good news. Embracing quick changes without heavy investment or long-term payoffs empowers retailers to solve niche challenges with agility. Indeed, many challenges can be met by specific vendor solutions that can be quickly deployed inside today’s marketing stacks. Of course, the real key is the retailer’s ability to make sense of what they need so they can source a solution from the 4,000-plus vendors in the Martech LUMAscape.

Now, the bad news. It’s very hard to create sustainable competitive advantages when your vantage point is dominated by the challenges of the moment. Meeting the immediate needs of today’s marketing stacks limits our visibility into the total stack and its holistic capabilities. Managing a sprawling ecosystem of vendor arbitrage often has greater opportunity costs than you realize. And while I’ve always believed that “the big don’t eat the small, the fast eat the slow,” there are times when slowing down pays off.

According to a survey by CMO Council and RedPoint Global, only 3 percent of respondents felt all of their automation, engagement and deployment tools were fully connected, with data, metrics and insights traveling freely between different technologies. Put another way, 97 percent of those surveyed face marketing stacks from hell because they’re planning technology investments for systems that aren’t nearly as functional as advertised.

Kobie Fuller, the former chief marketing officer of Revolve Clothing and partner at Upfront Ventures, laid out his view of the future marketing stack. Fuller’s advice is worth circulating widely. The moral of the story is that you can’t ignore short-term thinking, but at the same time you have to be realistic about strategic outcomes and your organization’s ability to sustain those outcomes.

If you’re like most retailers, you talk about personalization as the differentiator for your business. But in reality, the scale challenges of personalization are all about a marketing stack that’s bookended by data and insights. The first step is slowing to a pace where you can distinguish between the short term, where agility is everything, and the long term, where strategy is a matter of placing scale bets. But even if you’re moving at the right speed, the best friend of a marketer in growth mode is an ecosystem that offers continued optionality. Building that ecosystem means first doing the hard work of making things simple.

Adobe Calls for a ‘Customer Experience’ Coup

“People buy experiences, not products,” so “focusing on experience design is an absolutely worthwhile effort.” To follow through on this, Adobe President and CEO Shantanu Narayen called for companies to align around the customer experience in order to cut through the red tape and silos that undermine positive customer experiences. He also proposed a new, marketing-lead enterprise technology architecture: “The Experience System of Record.”

In the opening remarks of Adobe Summit, Adobe President and CEO Shantanu Narayen gave one of those welcomes that seems innocuous until you unpack it: By calling for companies to align behind the customer experience, didn’t he really call for marketers to take the lead of their companies?

Customer Experience in the Driver Seat

“Every business should think of themselves as a subscription model,” said Narayen. Meaning, they should understand that after every interaction, customers can cancel or go elsewhere with a single click if the experience doesn’t convince them to come back.

“People buy experiences, not products,” he said. “Focusing on this experience design is an absolutely worthwhile effort.”

Brad Rencher, Adobe’s EVP and GM of digital experience, put it differently: “It’s time for marketers to change from experience thinkers to experience makers.”

Adobe calls this “Architect for Action,” and it would align your company around the customer experience in order to cut through the red tape and silos that undermine positive customer experiences.

They also propose a new architecture: “The Experience System of Record.”

A Marketing Power Struggle?

This new vision would put the customer experience at the center of the whole company, not just marketing.

Some companies already work this way, but I think you’ll agree that most do not. This idea, as more companies adopt it (and I do think more are adopting it, both according to my own customer experiences and what I hear from the people talk to in the industry), has the potential to transform the corporate landscape.

It also heralds a bit of a power struggle. Who controls that customer experience? Usually that’s a marketing function. So, does that mean the marketing department controls the company? Or does it mean the CEO and other departments should be taking responsibility for the customer experience for marketers?

If and when this plays out, marketers will either take on more powerful roles or cede power. Things will not stay the same.

The ‘Experience System of Record’

Narayen’s and Rencher’s wider point was a swipe at the dominant IT architecture of modern business.

“Enterprise and IT systems were designed for a different time and a different world,” said Narayen. “We think a new architecture for enterprise architecture is required.”

ERP and CRM systems are fundamentally insufficient for handling the data and actions needed to deliver today’s customer experiences, said Rencher. The old system of record is inadequate, with each system treating the customer individually. You either need to recombine their data elsewhere, or — like many companies — you never do and they are effectively different people in each system.

This undermines the consistent, instantaneous experience customer expect and crave today. It also worsens headaches around data-focused regulation like GDPR, where identifying records across the may different customer data systems if a significant challenge for companies trying to comply.

Adobe proposes that today’s experiences require an “experience system of record.” And that would mean a new structure for your enterprise data: Connecting data + semantics and control + machine learning + action + content workflow and content pipeline to create a seamless customer experience.

Adobe wants to do all of that for you. In fact, Narayen, Rencher and a number of other speakers during the opening keynote claimed Adobe is the only company that can do that for you. (I imagine other cloud makers would differ with that, but it’s the gauntlet Adobe threw down.)

“It’s a far more complex world than when adobe was first started,” said Narayen. “It’s no longer just about that Web page. … It’s now about anything that has a surface or a digital interface.”

“Adobe experience cloud is an engine to get the right data and the right content to the right places at the right time,” said Rencher, putting a new spin on the old saw that good marketing must put the right message in front of the right person at the right time. Adobe now sees this as the role of all enterprise systems, and is aiming to position its system as the way to do it.

And by the right time, Rencher means under 100 miliseconds — the speed of the Web. “It has to streamline integration of any system you might have on the back end and in the front end, the front office” around the customer journey.

Is It Time for an Enterprise Tech Revolution?

I’m not going to evaluate whether or not Adobe has the tools in place to replace your entire data architecture and become the defacto “experience system of record.” Right now I’m only interpreting this based on what was said in yesterday’s keynote, I haven’t been hands on with anything. (Not to mention, being “hands on” with a proposition of this size would be difficult without a full installation and several years invested.) Adobe also announced a lot of new initiatives and features that are worth checking out on the Adobe Summit website.

But you’re in the trenches. You’re working between disparate systems standing between your customer data, real-time customer activity and the kind of customer experiences everyone is saying you need to deliver.

Can that experience be done with the ERP-based enterprise architecture we have today? Do you need an experience system of record?

I think most marketers would say the vision Adobe has outlined would be a big improvement on the capabilities hey have today. … Even if it takes a bloody coup to become realty.

Marketing AI Is Overhyped, and That’s Good

Today, marketing AI is a know-it-all with a short resume. Just like Big Data and personalization, it is also a catch-all phrase that is becoming harder to define. As a result, it is no surprise that most marketers are rolling their eyes at the topic. Nevertheless, this is also the time to take the topic seriously, unless you plan to retire into seclusion in the next few years.

AI
“artificial-intelligence-2228610_1920,” Creative Common license. | Credit: Flickr by Many Wonderful Artists

Today, marketing AI is a know-it-all with a short resume. Just like Big Data and personalization, it is also a catch-all phrase that is becoming harder to define. As a result, it is no surprise that most marketers are rolling their eyes at the topic. Nevertheless, this is also the time to take the topic seriously, unless you plan to retire into seclusion in the next few years.

New research by marketing automation provider Resulticks shows that 73 percent of marketers are either skeptical, neutral or simply exhausted by the hype around marketing AI. In addition, large numbers of marketers think that vendors using industry buzzwords are full of it. This is not surprising, considering how most vendors are probably over-selling their AI solution. In the same Resulticks study, only 18 percent of marketers claim that AI vendors are delivering the goods as promised and 43 percent felt they were over-promised.

However, for those of us who have lived through (and even reveled in) industry catchphrases, from “marketing analytics” to Big Data to “MarTech,” these statistics indicate that “Marketing AI” is on a strong growth trajectory. This is because the combination of huge industry-level investments and a few success stories is generally a recipe for a new frontier of innovation. Some time ago, I wrote an article on the VC investments being made in data-driven marketing technology and many of the technology solutions were still evolving innovations, like marketing automation. Today, the phrase “Marketing AI is also heading toward becoming broad and meaningless, with heavy investments in the sector. In a few years, underneath that generic umbrella will evolve smart, pragmatic solutions which will become part of the standard tool kit. For example, under the Big Data and MarTech labels, we now have well-adopted solutions, such as CRM, programmatic buying and marketing automation. While there are still bugs and varying degrees of success, there is also a large body of fruitful use-cases which demonstrate how these tools can be very effective.

So, what is a marketer to do in this environment where marketing AI has yet to evolve to a stage where it is a stable and valued marketing tool? The most important step is to set low expectations and begin to dip your feet in the water. Experimenting now is critical, as new skills sets and operating frameworks will be required to fully take advantage of the coming AI-driven innovations, and building those individual and institutional capabilities will take time.

Are Email Autoresponders Becoming Too Aggressive?

When is the line crossed between email subject lines — usually in a series of autoresponders — that provoke curiosity and prompt engagement, versus those that become aggressive and look like the sender has descended into desperation?

We all get a lot of email. Often, it’s a mystery how one gets on a list. But I suspect that over time, we all get accustomed to the daily barrage of email that we didn’t sign up for. Or if we did sign on, it may have been months (or longer) ago and have no recollection of having done so.

But, I’ve noticed a trend in recent months about email subject lines: they seem to be getting more desperate and aggressive.

Perhaps these aggressive subject line approaches have been tested and are proven to work, but they were enough to prompt me unsubscribe (without even reading the email).

A few months ago, I shared my “5 Copywriting Tips to Reduce Email Unsubscribes.” Looking at the popularity of this blog post, it’s clear that reducing unsubscribes is a hot topic. So I have to wonder if these aggressive subject lines have been tested, and unsubscribe rates monitored.

In another post, “Are Autoresponders Killing Email Marketing?,” recounted my experience of making an inquiry for a direct mail list from an automated website. I didn’t order that day, but suggested to a client that they place an order. Thankfully, they didn’t.

The next day, less than a full 24 hours after I didn’t purchase, they presented me an offer of 15 percent off my order. That seemed smart until I realized that had I ordered the day before, I would have paid full price. I would never have known because no doubt the marketing automation software would have placed me in a totally different sequence of autoresponder follow-up messages. I lost trust in that direct mail list company because while well intended, the aggressiveness of making the sale overshadowed what would have been right for the customer.

There were two comments from readers of that blog about autoresponders worth sharing:

“The balance between follow up, pestering, and offer management … strikes at the heart of the matter. The fact is that marketing automation is pulling marketers into sales roles for the first time and without deep personal engagement to guide the level of aggressiveness. The point at which sales and marketing intersect has always created friction. Marketing automation can amplify good or bad decisions for content at what is really at the top of the sales funnel, bottom of the marketing funnel.”

This reader made a great point: perhaps people who are not trained as email copywriters, and who don’t know what they’re doing, are writing these aggressive subject lines. Do they test these subject lines to know what works? Or monitor unsubscribes? Maybe aggressiveness is a business decision no matter the outcome. Or aggressive subject lines are a new normal.

Then, there was this comment:

“If your email strategy and creative is cr*p, marketing automation simply empowers you to send more cr*p, more quickly. Technology is not the problem. Bad strategy and creative is the problem.”

I’d say that comment pretty much sums it up.

Gary Hennerberg’s latest book is “Crack the Customer Mind Code: Seven Pathways from Head to Heart to YES!” is available on Amazon. For a free download with more detail about the seven pathways and other copywriting and consulting tips, go to Hennerberg.com.

Why Content Marketers Fail

Without the right foundation, attempting to produce curated, personalized content can quickly become overwhelming and ineffective. Why? In this issue of The Pulse, we’ll address two common problems and how you can overcome them.

Check out even more about personalization and artificial intelligence with FUSE Enterprise.

With 75 percent of marketers reporting an increased investment on content marketing in 2016 and about 70 percent reporting they expect to produce even more content in 2017, it’s clear that content is king. But, without the right foundation, attempting to produce curated, personalized content can quickly become overwhelming and ineffective. Why? According to a 2017 Content Marketing Institute survey, the top two reasons cited for sub-par content programs are strategy issues (49 percent) and a lack of time (48 percent).

In this issue of The Pulse, we’ll address these two common problems and how you can overcome them.

Get To Know <Sally Sample>

Twenty years ago, personalized marketing was as simple as adding a variable name field to a direct mail piece. Today, however, customers expect more. They know we’re tracking their every move on and offline. And, thanks to successful disruptors like Amazon, Uber and Netflix, these customers also know that this data can be used to create VIP-level, curated, customized experiences.

That’s a lot of pressure on marketers.

The good news is that you don’t have to create bespoke content for every single one of your customers. You just need to create an experience that makes them feel like you did.

Done right, personalization can reduce acquisition costs by as much as 50 percent, lift revenues by 5 to 15 percent, and increase the efficiency of marketing spend by 10 to 30 percent.

To get results like these, most marketers have the technology and tools needed. But when it comes to integrating and orchestrating the technology stack to unlock the full value of personalization, many marketers get stuck.

Don’t Just ‘Set It and Forget It’

With about 5,000 Marketing Technology companies out there, it’s easy to get swept off your feet with promises of automated success. But, as much as we’d like to believe it, long-term success doesn’t come from flipping a switch and walking away.

Currently, an average of 49 percent of companies use marketing automation technology to help plan, manage and measure content. However, many of these same companies latched onto a technology solution before determining their content marketing strategy — and now they’re out of money and time.

It’s helpful to think about marketing automation technology in the same way you think about a car’s cruise control. Whether you’re driving a campaign or a car, you can tell your machine to maintain a certain speed. However, both scenarios require someone in the driver’s seat to steer and, occasionally, to pump the breaks.

Even the biggest brands have fallen victim to the siren song of automation.

In May 2017, UK-based Walkers Crisps put their #WalkersWave campaign on cruise control. The crisps company featured Twitter-submitted selfies in a video where FIFA World Cup record holder Gary Lineker held up their portrait, showed them performing the Mexican wave and wished them luck in a sweepstakes for Champions League tickets. Unfortunately, trolls overloaded the system with photos of murderers, dictators and other ne’er-do-wells causing Walkers to pull the campaign and issue a public apology.

In 2012, Target automatically mailed promotions to women based on their “pregnancy scores” — a proprietary equation triggered by Target purchases commonly made by women in their first trimester. For those public about their pregnancies, this mail was timely, effective and helpful. However, for a teenage girl who hadn’t revealed her dilemma to her parents, it was disastrous.

In both of these examples, extreme personalization backfired. That’s not to say that hyper-targeted marketing materials should be avoided, but it is to point out that hyper-targeting and personalization isn’t always the right answer. The more important moral to this story is recognizing how quickly things can spiral out of control when you don’t have a contingency plan in place. And, while you can’t predict everything, you can build a solid strategy that can be adjusted along the way.

Building a Foundation for Marketing Automation

According to the 2017 B2C Content Marketing Trends report from CMI and MarketingProfs, the number one factor contributing to B2C marketers’ stagnant success over the last year is strategy issues (49 percent). This is followed by not having enough time devoted to content marketing (48 percent) and the challenge of content creation (37 percent).

In order to avoid the pitfalls of content marketing and customization, it’s critical to partner with someone that understands the value of and is experienced in developing content marketing strategies to unlock personalization at scale.

At HackerAgency, we’ve developed an agile process designed to help us predict the future for your brand and develop the content your customers need before they know they need it. Although we customize our approach for every client, three common elements include:

Plan Ahead to Pivot Quickly

Although a solid piece of content can quickly go viral, the best content marketing programs aren’t built from fly-by-night strategies. Determining the right strategy takes time. Developing the right creative takes time. Measuring results and pivoting the approach takes time. And, although automated marketing technology makes things move more quickly than managing everything manually, it still takes time.

When you’re scrambling to keep up with the content marketing Joneses, the last thing you want to hear is someone telling you to slow down. But the world of content marketing and personalization requires the ability to analyze the past, tune into the present and predict the future — and that definitely takes time.

The return on your investment in the initial content marketing strategy will pay off when you’re about to hit the new fiscal and know you don’t have to create a new content strategy from scratch. Instead, this malleable foundation is designed for year-round testing, analyzing, fine-tuning and scaling. So, although it’s a hefty investment of brainpower up front, the long-term results far outweigh alternate short-term solutions.

Learn even more about the convergence of technology and branded content at the FUSE Enterprise summit. Artificial intelligence and personalization will be featured among many other techniques and technologies.

Top 10 Technologies Marketers Are Buying

We’ve talked a lot about how companies are buying marketing technology. Now let’s take a look at the top technologies marketers are buying. Email, CRM, automation, ABM? Click through to see the top 10 marketing tools companies are investing in.

We’ve talked a lot about how companies are buying marketing technology. Now let’s take a look at the top technologies marketers are buying. Email, CRM, automation, ABM? Here are the top 10 marketing tools companies are investing in.

This data comes from our Marketing Technology Buying Process research report. Click here to download the full report, including the complete list of technologies being bought.

In a survey about how marketers are buying technology, it’s helpful to know what they’re buying. Here are the technologies our respondents have used these techniques to purchase.

  1. Email 53%
  2. CRM 47%
  3. Social Media Marketing 39%
  4. Marketing Automation 38%
  5. Web Analytics/Web Design/Web Optimization 33%
  6. Content Marketing 32%
  7. Database Marketing/Personalization 30%
  8. Direct Mail 29%
  9. SEM/SEO 29%
  10. E-commerce Platforms 25%

As I mentioned, this question was part of the Marketing Technology Buying Process survey, and we did ask specifically what technologies marketers bought using those techniques. So this is not “tech we’re buying this year.” It’s “tech we have bought using the processes discussed in this survey.”

The most-bought technologies, perhaps not surprisingly, are email and CRM. But I did not expect to see social media marketing tech at No. 3. We know that marketers have been dramatically increasing spending on the social ad channels, and it appears that investment is going to tech as well.

At 4 we have marketing automation, which lines up with 1 and 2. Then the various web site accessories at 5 with content marketing at 6 (although, e-commerce platforms, wound up all the way down at 10).

One technology not on the list surprised me as well: Account-based marketing, despite being a top buzz word this year, has not seen heavy investment. It came in at 12 (off the bottom of this list).

How does that match up to the technologies in your tech stack? Let me know in the comments below.

4 Tips for Choosing a Marketing Automation Tool

The selection of a marketing automation tool is not an easy process. There are a ton of factors to consider — from integration to process to workflow and much more.

For the past few months, I’ve had the chance to work with several companies on either improving their marketing automation processes or defining the need for a marketing automation tool. From those conversations, here’s four key tips for walking through the marketing automation tool selection process.

Tip #1: It Starts with You

Like many technologies, there is a clear buzz in the market around the rollout of marketing automation tools in the media sector. That buzz makes it easy to say, “I need this to solve my problems.”

But, the question publishers must ask first is, “What problems am I trying to solve?”

Like any other technology rollout, the successful rollout of a marketing automation tool starts with first defining your needs. It’s easy to say, “I need drip marketing capabilities” or “I need a marketing automation tool to improve subscription renewals.” But, if you’re going to succeed, you need to be a lot more specific up front. Take the time to walk through the areas where you see marketing automation as an option and walk through potential workflows. For example, if you’re sending an email promotion to generate event attendee registration, there are several flows to consider:

  1. A user opens, clicks, and registers
  2. A user opens, clicks, but doesn’t register
  3. A user opens, but doesn’t click
  4. A user doesn’t open

In each case here, you can set a different workflow and a different messaging scheme.

In the case of a subscription renewals, you may want to set up a process where a user receives a special pop-up message to re-subscribe if their subscription is up or to subscribe if they are not one already.

These are both solutions where marketing automation can help. But, they may only be a few of the scenarios you have. So, to the best of your ability, identify the different use cases. You can then use these use cases to set up proof of concept campaigns with vendors during the RFP selection process.

Tip #2: Easy Workflow Set Up

One way in which today’s marketing automation tool vendors excel is in the breadth of features they offer in their product. But, that large feature set is a blessing and a curse. Just like many analytics tools, it’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed by the amount of capabilities found in today’s modern marketing automation products.

But, no matter what tool you use, one feature stands out more than most — the ability to easily set up workflows. Workflows lie at the heart of the marketing automation tool and are the keys to building a successful automation campaign. When looking at tools, search for one that offers a visual experience where workflows can be created or adapted by dragging and dropping blocks. This makes the workflow process more intuitive to a user and quicker to implement.

Most modern tools offer this capability. If you’re looking at a tool that doesn’t, you may want to look at additional options.

Tip #3: Get a Dedicated IP Address

Here’s the number one mistake some publishers, especially smaller ones, make when selecting a marketing automation tool. Marketing automation tool providers will push for all emails to go out through the tool. They have good reason for it. If you’re going to truly automate marketing efforts, then it’s critical to understand how users are interacting with all emails.

However, this is where some publishers have made a big mistake. To save on cost, some publishers are leveraging one of the shared IP addresses from the tool provider. That means that your emails are traveling on the same channels as other marketing partners that may not be following the same best email practices you are. So, if they do something wrong, it can have a direct impact on your marketing efforts. And, when you add in a higher-value email product like a newsletter to the mix, then you are opening yourself up for potential issues from both an editorial and business perspective.

What Does a Successful Content Marketing Website Do?

Your website has a tough job. It must appeal to your site visitors in a way that encourages engagement and moves those visitors toward action, and it must do this without necessarily knowing anything about your visitors when they first arrive. Once a visitor has been to the content marketing site or connected with you via social media or email, you have much more information to work with — assuming you have good CRM and marketing automation tools in place.

content marketingCheck out even more about personalization and artificial intelligence with FUSE Enterprise.

Your website has a tough job. It must appeal to your site visitors in a way that encourages engagement and moves those visitors toward action, and it must do this without necessarily knowing anything about your visitors when they first arrive.

Once a visitor has been to the content marketing site or connected with you via social media or email, you have much more information to work with — assuming you have good CRM and marketing automation tools in place.

But even without that information, your site needs to do the following:

  • Address prospects’ problems
  • Educate
  • Demonstrate your experience and expertise
  • Prove effectiveness of your solutions
  • Build trust
  • Provide a way to reach you

With all that is required of an effective marketing website, the planning and strategy that go into the site before the first line of code is written will have an enormous impact on how well your site performs. The tips below will make the process more productive.

Define Success

It often helps to begin at the end: Define what constitutes success. Is success adding a new subscriber to your email list? Getting a prospect to call or request contact with a sales person? Or is it actually completing the sale right there on the site?

If you know what you are hoping to achieve, you can design the site with that goal in mind. Or, we should say, with those goals in mind, because you’re likely to have multiple success points.

Adopt the Proper Perspective

Your site needs to be organized, written and focused on the world from your prospect’s perspective. Your organizational chart doesn’t matter. Nor do your mission, vision, values or your founder’s inspiration.

At least, not at first.

All these things will help bring your brand to life once prospects have been convinced that your solutions can help solve their problems.

Until then, though, nothing about you matters. So make sure your pages dedicated to early-funnel prospects are all about them.

Answer the Right Questions

You know the questions your clients and prospects ask. (If you don’t, stop reading and sit down with your front-line sales people and customer service reps. Their knowledge is going to help your marketing more than I possibly could.) Make sure your website answers those questions and, wherever possible, digs deeper to answer the questions your prospects don’t yet know to ask. This is a critical link in the chain from casual visitor to a prospect who is comfortable enough to engage with you more deeply.

Ask for Action

Every page of your website should lead naturally toward one thing: the next step in the buyer’s journey. That might simply be the next page on the site, subscribing to an email, downloading a white paper or eventually reaching out for contact with your sales team.

The difficult task here is balancing the need to maintain this tight focus while also presenting the visitor with reasonable options for their next steps. Again, planning and strategy will determine what those options should be and how they should be presented.

If you’re successful at defining success, moving prospects toward that end goal and giving them opportunities to engage and commit, you will have created all the elements for success. You’ll have a content marketing site that converts visitors to subscribers, subscribers to leads and leads to clients.

Learn even more about the convergence of technology and branded content at the FUSE Enterprise summit. Artificial intelligence and personalization will be featured among many other techniques and technologies.