The Art of the Virtual Pitch, Part 1: Perfecting Pre-Pitch Engagement

Pitches aren’t always won in the room. That’s great news right now because it might be a while before we’re even in a room together again. Pitches are won by what you do before, during, and after the pitch. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my best insights on the art of the virtual pitch.

Pitches aren’t always won in the room. That’s great news right now because it might be a while before we’re even in a room together again. The flip side is that every other element of winning business has become a little more challenging. Pitches are won by what you do before, during, and after the pitch. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my best insights on the art of the virtual pitch.

First, let’s talk about wowing potential clients before the pitch even happens. Without the benefit of face-to-face meetings, you’ll need new ways to engage with the client and show that you’re hungry for business.

It’s Business, and It’s Personal

Now is the time to get super creative about showing off your personality. Clients aren’t just buying capability; they’re also looking for chemistry. You’ve already put some thought into the team pitching this client, so dig into your thought process there. What are the skills each person has? What makes them indispensable to your team? When clients feel like they already know you before your pitch meeting, your proposal will go that much smoother.

A technique I love (and that you can tweak and reuse often!) is compiling something engaging to show off your team. Think of it like a totally juiced up business card. You could frame it as a yearbook, a set of baseball cards, the cast of a TV show — anything you think will get a second look. Including names, photos, and specialties is a given, but this should be fun, too. Consider including information like favorite quarantine activity, preferred pitching soundtrack, or last book read. Or lean into the yearbook concept and give everyone a superlative. Emphasizing personality is going to be crucial in the era of virtual pitches.

Make a Grand Gesture

When I was assisting Paypal’s push to expand into working with small businesses, we set up interviews with small businesses and profiled how PayPal could help. One of those small businesses was a great little chocolate maker, so we had them design special PayPal logo chocolates that we delivered on Valentine’s Day.

I also fondly remember a campaign we orchestrated for Discover. We wanted to upend the old notion that Discover cards aren’t widely accepted. It was at the height of the Cronut craze in NYC. So, a box of the city’s most sought after treats with a receipt showing we paid with a Discover credit card said it all.

Okay, so both of those involved snacks, and we know food can be a positive motivator and fan favorite to receive. But right now, something that supports your clients’ community could be a great move as everyone is looking to support one another through a public health crisis.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Be Afraid to Be Different

The virtual pitch isn’t new, but conducting remote business on this level is uncharted territory for many, so feel free to break out of your usual approach. Ultimately, this all comes down to romancing potential clients, so if you missed my post about “dating” clients, check it out now.

Remember, clients are not just buying capabilities from you, they’re also buying chemistry with you. Help them get a sense of who your team is and why they’d be awesome to collaborate with.

I’ll be back soon with tips on collaborating on a winning deck … remotely.

Marketing Is a Team Sport, But Many Organizations Don’t Have the Memo

Marketing is a team sport. Every touchpoint is a part of the client’s buying experience, even post-sale. Marketing must have a seat at the table when decisions are made that shape those touchpoints.

In your organization, does marketing have a seat at the table when financial, product, or other management decisions are made? Two recent personal experiences make it clear to me that in many organizations, decisions are either made without input from the marketing team or are made despite a marketing team’s ideas. Organizations should realize that marketing is a team sport.

The Business of Medicine

I recently asked my doctor to combine two outpatient procedures into one appointment. His scheduler said he wouldn’t do so. I noted that my last doctor had been willing to do this for me and that doing so saved me a missed day of work and saved my wife a lot of time having to drive me around. (No driving after anesthesia.)

The scheduler talked a good game: There was increased risk with a longer procedure. That’s why the doctor wouldn’t do two procedures together.

A quick web search turned up all sorts of studies disproving this, as well as some interesting chat room conversations between doctors debating the issue. The bottom line was, well, their bottom line: Insurance companies reimburse at a much lower rate for one combined procedure than for two separate appointments. I can only think that money was what motivated my doctor’s position.

The financial difference to the practice is not insignificant, but for an organization that probably bills more than $2 million a year, is $1,200 worth the negative word of mouth I’ve spread since my experience?

Of course, it’s likely the case that a small medical practice won’t even have a marketing team. So this decision may have been made without anyone thinking from a patient’s — that is, a client’s — perspective.

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

DirecTV, on the other hand, most certainly does have a marketing department. I sure hope they weren’t consulting on the decision to withhold refunds from cancelling customers for four months — and then pay that refund via gift card, “for your convenience.”

My guess is that a number-cruncher somewhere realized how much they could make with this petty idea. And though I don’t know for a fact that the marketing team didn’t sign off on the decision, my guess is that the accounting department didn’t even consider how this interaction would make customers feel.

Every Touchpoint is a Marketing Touchpoint

The question for marketers is, “Why aren’t we more involved in these decisions?”

It doesn’t take much searching to find other instances like this, both in the B2C and B2B worlds. It’s critical for your entire team to realize that every touchpoint is a part of the client’s buying experience, even post-sale. That makes every touchpoint a part of your sales and marketing process.

Can You Put a Value on Customer Experience?

You may not win every battle when it comes to customer experience vs. efficiency, but marketing should at least be a part of the discussion. And you should be pressing for testing that can verify whether the efficiency is coming at too high a price. However you measure customer satisfaction, make sure it includes testing of the kind of policies that elicit complaints from clients.

Above all, don’t let these decisions force you to play your prospects and customers for fools. They’re not. They know how to use a search engine. They’ve seen the same tricks before from other myopic organizations. Consider interviewing customer service teams to find what policies make your customers miserable.

Marketing won’t get far without a great product to sell. It won’t fare much better without a great customer experience, too.

Digital Marketing Strategy Involves Knowing When to Seek an Outside Perspective

In deciding how to tackle a marketing problem, you should consider whether insider expertise, an outside perspective, or a combination of the two will lead to the best possible outcome.

Tackling digital marketing tasks — as with just about any other business task — can lead you to solutions under your own roof or to bringing in outside help.

Primary motivators in that decision-making process are likely to be cost, of course, or expertise. Do you have someone with the necessary skills and enough bandwidth to take on the project?

There should be another consideration, as well: would an outside perspective provide value that an in-house resource can’t?

The situations below provide some possible paths with which you might approach your own marketing conundrums, even if they aren’t an exact match for these examples.

Website Architecture and Navigation

For all but the most complex of websites, structure and navigation look deceptively simple. (Most sites with overly complex navigation could probably be better organized.)

And of course, most of us spend a fair amount of time on the web, so we feel we can tell a good experience from a bad one.

But just because your team members have their opinions doesn’t mean they can translate them into a useful set of recommendations that fit your website’s needs. That’s where applicable experience becomes valuable, though that experience doesn’t necessarily require an outside perspective.

The real value an outside perspective provides is an ability to more easily view your message and content in the same way your target audience will. An outside expert is not saddled with the deeply ingrained knowledge that any well-versed marketing employee will have.

An outside perspective here can mean the difference between a site that is set up to mimic your firm’s org chart or business units, and a site that is organized to appeal to each of your most important audience segments and gather the information they’re likely to be most interested in.

Content Strategy and Content Development

But an outside perspective doesn’t always win the day. For example, when it comes to content development, we encourage our clients to devote skills and resources needed to generate content themselves, in-house. Nobody will ever know your business as well as your own team does, though a long-term “permalancer” can come very close. In that case, though, they’re not really providing an outside perspective. Quite the opposite; they are outsiders who are essentially assimilating your culture.

There are exceptions, as with problem areas that seem like they should be producing a positive marketing ROI but are not. An outside perspective can be all that’s needed to make the adjustment that get the results rolling in.

Same Old Wine in a Brand New Jar

(Bonus points if you can name the song from which that line comes. Hint: It’s by The Who, but it’s not one of their big hits.)

Finally, there are instances where the combination of an outside perspective and inside knowledge are an unbeatable combination. We see this during the discovery process we run before website design or coding get underway.

As we seek out input from a wide range of stakeholders, we get an incredible range of perspectives, from the marketing team, as you’d expect, but also from top-level executives, as well as entry-level customer-facing employees.

An outside perspective alone wouldn’t provide any great value, but when combined with great insights from the inside team, the outcomes are incredibly powerful. The outside expert may not add any new thinking; they simply help the internal team view the insights they themselves have from another angle.

These three paths — inside knowledge only, outside perspective, and the two working together — should all be considered as you address your everyday marketing tasks, as well as the thorny issues we all face from time to time. Putting the right kind of team together is an important part of crafting the best solution.

How to Keep Your Website Designs From Becoming Hot (Visual) Messes

Your CMS should support your website design by allowing content editors the control they need without unfettered access to the site’s look and feel.

Put 10 graphic designers in a room and they’ll have 50 stories about beautiful website designs they launched that looked just awful six months or a year later.

That’s the double-edged sword of modern content management systems. A CMS gives content managers a tremendous amount of control. Used wisely, that control can help make a website even more effective as a marketing tool over time.,

Without forethought and planning, though, marketing effectiveness plummets as brand identity is lost and the site’s message is muddied by design inconsistencies and outright errors. Here are some ideas on ways to short-circuit that decay.

Plan for Distributed Control

It won’t always be you and your development team with tight control of the site and its content. In most organizations, a broader team is going to be invited to participate. And even on smaller teams, staff turnover is nearly always inevitable. New faces can mean new priorities.

To keep those new faces from wreaking havoc, even accidentally, coordinate between the coding team and the design team during discovery to define what content elements should be automatically styled and laid out on the front end.

For example, your team page is likely to see a fair amount of change as team members come and go or are promoted. If you create automatically styled fields for name, title, credentials and bio/personal statement, you won’t find a mish-mash of colors and fonts, as people neglect to refer to your style guide or website user’s guide.

Don’t forget to define parameters for headshots, either. A formal headshot will look out of place on a grid of more casual shots and vice versa. An incorrectly sized photo can wreck the grid layout entirely.

Plan for Exceptions

Narrowing the possibilities for errors due to inattention to lack of knowledge also means introducing some measure of inflexibility. That can create problems, if the site is made too difficult to use and incapable of adapting to changing circumstances.

For example, on the team page example above, you may have a type of employee who has professional credentials, as well as titles. A checkbox could allow content editors to activate the “Credentials” field when necessary. The positive action required to use the field makes it less likely that it be used inappropriately than if the field is always available.

Make sure the marketing team is part of the planning conversation so they can identify likely exceptions to the rules you’re creating and options can be built in.

Automate Styling

Assumed in the work above is that the fields you create for different pieces of content are styled automatically. Do not give content editors control of WYSIWYG or code-based editors except for long-form content where they will likely need control over bold, italics, bullet points, etc. Otherwise, any edits they make will override the styling you’ve set site-wide and result in that mish-mash we want to avoid.

Make Staying on Message Easy

This isn’t just about fonts and colors. Anyone who has access to your website’s administrative dashboard should also have access to and be familiar with your branding guidelines and the website user guide.

The branding guidelines will help keep everyone on the same track in those areas of the site where more flexibility is needed. Don’t forget to include guidelines on stock image usage. That’s an area that is often not addressed and one where many content editors may lack experience.

The user guide will provide information on how the site is intended to be used and how they can best prepare new content to work within the system you’ve designed.

Plan for Evolving Needs

Understand that the site you build today will not be the site you need tomorrow. That’s not a knock against websites or digital marketing or technology more broadly. That’s just the nature of business (and marketing) in a fast-paced world.

Budget for quarterly reviews of the site and yearly updates. Or, adopt a message-driven approach and budget for incremental updates on an ongoing basis. That can be easier to do from a budget standpoint and can make your marketing even more effective. You’re effectively shortening the cycle between updates.

Most importantly, let people know this matters. Someone will always choose expedience over effort, at some point; but if you make the process easier, your systems will win more often.

And that’s important, because this is not just about skin-deep beauty. It’s about keeping your site’s marketing effectiveness high.

website designs secondary

How Brands Can Align Content Marketing With Sales

If your sales team doesn’t like the leads your marketing team is sending them, you should be inviting those marketing folks to sit in on sales calls to help them create the right content marketing programs.

If your sales team doesn’t like the leads your marketing team is sending them, you should be inviting those marketing folks to sit in on sales calls to help them create the right content marketing programs.

It’s not news that sales teams and marketers think differently and, uh, occasionally disagree. Your chances of completely eliminating those clashes are pretty slim, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get the two teams to work together more effectively. One way to do this is to encourage your sales team to invite their marketing counterparts out on sales calls with them. Here’s what they might learn.

What Do Prospects Really Care About?

One of the key data points for marketers is the critical questions that prospects ask about the sales team about your solution and how it relates to their problem. Marketers who are developing content marketing programs need to be absolutely certain that their material makes clear how you answer those critical questions. Hearing those questions straight from the horses mouth, so to speak, is likely to provide insights that hearing the same information filtered through the sales team’s own lens won’t.

Pain Points

Pain points are the next step as you drill down from the big picture critical questions to the nitty-gritty issues that your prospects feel every day. Your sales team can undoubtedly recite the top 10 pain points in their sleep. But, as above, familiarity may create missed opportunities. Marketers, hearing the information directly rather than through the sales team (and coming at the situation with content in mind, rather than closing), can find inspiration for new ways to connect the dots between prospects’ concerns and the solutions you offer.

Positioning

Marketing may also gain insights into how the sales team is positioning the firm’s products and services. Again, this is critical to the content they develop, as well as calls to action lead magnets. Any disconnect between what the prospect has learned from the marketing materials they’ve consumed and the message they get from the sales team can doom chances of conversion.

It’s also important for marketers to hear prospects at different points in their buying journey. Those who are ready to make a final decision will have much different concerns than prospects who are in touch with the sales team for the first time.

Ultimately these  “ride-alongs” are one more way that sales and marketing teams can communicate better, provide one another with the information to make everyone’s job easier, and get better results.

Advice for GenZ Marketing Job Seekers and Hiring Managers

If you’re looking to hire new graduates, learn who the best candidates are by networking with their college professors. My former partner, Jon Roska, brought the best and the brightest college grads into the agency every year by networking with professors at local universities.

There’s a story I tell to my students about getting their first job.

Former University of Pennsylvania President Judith Rodin was addressing the graduating class of 2003 and started a litany of the important things the graduates learned during their time at the university:

At Penn you learned this, at Penn you learned that, at Penn you learned this, at Penn you learned that, “but most importantly, at Penn you learned that it is not WHO you know, but rather WHOM you know.”

Grammatically correct, but also valuable advice for job seekers and hiring managers alike.

Advice for Job-Seekers

I encourage students to start their job networking while they’re still in school. Go to industry events. Meet people. Connect with people who can introduce you to prospective opportunities in their own firms, as well as in related companies. Build a strong network on LinkedIn and don’t be shy about using it to get introduced to job opportunities. When jobs become available, hiring managers are more likely to hire someone they already know, or someone who’s been referred by someone they know, rather than a stranger.

Advice for Marketing Team Hiring Managers

This advice applies to hiring managers, as well. If you’re looking to hire new graduates, learn who the best candidates are by networking with their college professors. My former partner, Jon Roska, brought the best and the brightest college grads into the agency every year by networking with professors at local universities. It was a win for everyone: the professors, the students and the agency.

Many colleges hold job fairs for their graduating seniors and invite prospective employers to set up shop and meet their graduating students. These events are a great way for students and managers to meet each other, but tapping into a network of teachers who have gotten to know which students are the best during a 15-week course is an excellent way to screen for the cream of the crop.

It’s all about whom you know.

Total Marketing: 3 Things You Must Understand About Omnichannel Today

Marketing today happens through a lot of different devices and channels, most of which marketers understand pretty well. But as the channels multiply and merge quicker and quicker, understanding the integrated marketing environment is less about putting the channels together than seeing them as one omnichannel whole. To succeed in that omnichannel, total marketing environment, there are three things all marketers must understand.

omnichannel, integrated marketingMarketing today happens through a lot of different devices and channels, most of which marketers understand pretty well. But as the channels multiply and merge quicker and quicker, understanding the integrated marketing environment is less about putting the channels together than seeing them as one omnichannel whole.

To succeed in that omnichannel, total marketing environment, there are three things all marketers must understand.

1. It Defies Channel Boundaries

Most marketers understand that different channels drive different kinds of customers and different sales. What’s different is — thanks to changing device technology and the emerging world of IoT — channels are morphing all the time without warning.

A great example is the emerging world of voice search. Phones have supported voice search for years, but only recently have people started using it in earnest. In fact, adoption only really picked up steam with the rise of keyboardless devices like wearables and smart speakers.

This trend shows no signs of stopping. ComScore estimates that 50 percent of search will be done via voice by 2020. According to Udayan Bose, founder of NetElixir, there are 10 million voice-first devices being developed today.

That means voice is going to continue to reshape how people search, skewing algorithms toward the simpler search strings used in voice search and shifting SEO away from a text-based interfaces to voice-based ones.

That kind of shift is happening all over marketing, and will keep happening at an accelerated rate. Our sister publication Dealerscope covers the consumer electronics industry, and they’ve already begun speculating about a future where augmented reality is the primary platform people use to interface with the digital world.

2. It’s People-Focused, Not Conversion-focused

You’re starting to hear the buzzword people-based marketing — for example, Seth Garske wrote about people-based marketing in yesterday’s blog post — but this really predates that buzzword. In fact, people-based marketing, account-based marketing, personalization and AI are all moving in the same direction: Toward marketing that recognizes, respects and speaks directly to the individuals it is being sent to.

This is easiest to show in account-based marketing, which uses high-quality data and automation to send different marketing content to the right individuals within the target company. Yes, you do that to get to a conversion, but the activity focuses first on identifying with the individual recipients. It recognizes that understanding, even empathy, will lead to conversions.

Tomorrow, you can hear John Miller, one of the thought leaders on this marketing strategy, talk about the secret sauce for doing account-based marketing successfully.

3. It Takes a Total Marketing Team

Finally, as channels are being dissolved and people become the focus, executing omnichannel marketing is becoming very technically hard. It takes a total marketing team with many skills that have been underappreciated until now. 

Building that team takes a focus on marketing management and operations. The people who can make a lot of different things happen without degenerating into chaos become key swing players, like point guards in basketball who make the scoring happen. Having the right players around them is no different than assmebling a great basketball team (or football, if you’ve got that kind of budget).

All About Integrated Marketing

There’s one place you can learn about all of those topics and more, and it’s happening tomorrow: The All About Integrated Marketing Virtual Conference.

The show has sessions speaking about all of these topics and more! If total marketing is where you’re headed, click here to register today.

SEO: A Changed and Changing Discipline

SEO should play an important role in the marketing department; however, the death of SEO is frequently decried and its obituary written. This is because its role and fit in the overall marketing mix has changed and evolved. Once viewed as a technology play, organic search is often still considered the province of technicians, and is separated from the strategic marketing effort. Given that search often provides the tip of the spear for getting new business, this separation is a huge mistake. Today, SEO must be aligned with and guided by the overall marketing goals. This alignment can be best achieved when the SEO expert is part of the strategic marketing team.

SEO should play an important role in the marketing department; however, the death of SEO is frequently decried and its obituary written. This is because its role and fit in the overall marketing mix has changed and evolved. Once viewed as a technology play, organic search is often still considered the province of technicians, and is separated from the strategic marketing effort. Given that search often provides the tip of the spear for getting new business, this separation is a huge mistake. Today, SEO must be aligned with and guided by the overall marketing goals. This alignment can be best achieved when the SEO expert is part of the strategic marketing team.

SEO itself has changed. Once upon a time, SEO experts were characterized as techies focused on how to beat each new search engine algorithm change. As they say, that game is over. Google claims to have more than 200 ranking elements in play. No matter how good the SEO expert is, accurately determining all 200 elements and interpreting the valence given to each is in the realm of fantasy. Gone are the cat-and-mouse games. Today, SEO is real roll-up-the-sleeves marketing.

Technical SEO still exists, for a site must be found in the search indexes for it to drive traffic from search. Today, technical SEO experts are expected to identify what is preventing a site from being indexed. It may be as simple as a situation that I encountered where a site had been pushed live from the development environment with a robots.txt file still in place that directed search engines not to index the site. Once this block was removed, the site performed just fine. Most situations are far more complex. These are puzzles that require the SEO expert to review the site’s code and understand the total technical environment in which it runs. Given the complexity and technical depth required to do this, it is tempting to consider the SEO expert a technician, but this is just one area of SEO expertise. Today, some SEO experts do nothing but audit sites and troubleshoot what is creating problems.

Organic SEO experts are often characterized as keyword manipulation specialists. Once upon a time, this was a big part of the SEO toolkit. Today, as Google’s processing technology has shifted from keyword matching to a more sophisticated interpretation of the query and how it relates to the user’s intent, the SEO expert has had to look beyond keyword matching. Because Google no longer provides keyword data in the analytics, the SEO expert has to take a different approach. Searchers still use words in their queries, so keywords are far from gone as part of the discipline. Interpreting page and content relevancy are replacing the more simplistic keyword approaches. The SEO expert has evolved into an expert on online user intent: “What did the user really want to find with that query, and is the site relevant?”

With the explosive growth of social media and the realization that users value the opinions of peers more than marketers, the search engines have added elements to their algorithms that allow them to determine whether one site is more trusted and trustworthy than another. This is a potential game-changer, because bad reputation and negative customer ratings are not just an SEO problem. The SEO expert is expected to understand how to enhance the positive and deemphasize the negative. Poor reputation is a marketing problem.

Gone are the days of the SEO expert as just a technician and a traffic driver. Today’s SEO practitioner should be a valuable part of the total marketing team and a key player in the development of the marketing strategies and tactics that will lead the business to success. Is your SEO expert still waiting for an invitation?