How to Tell if Your Storytelling Strategy Is a Dud

What do potential and existing customers care about more in your business: Your culture, history of your company, how funny or “human” you are, or your ability to solve problems in innovative ways that help them create distinctive market position and grow? Reality check: Your clients rarely base decisions on starting or continuing to do business based on your corporate culture, attitude, style or personality.

What do potential and existing customers care about more in your business: Your culture, history of your company, how funny or “human” you are, or your ability to solve problems in innovative ways that help them create distinctive market position and grow?

Customers Care Less About Your Story
Reality check: Your clients rarely base decisions on starting or continuing to do business based on your corporate culture, attitude, style or personality.

They care more about their own problems or goals.

That’s why smart B-to-B marketers are asking themselves a tough new question in 2013-to make sure their storytelling strategies actually drive sales.

“If customers make purchase decisions based on how well we solve problems for clients, why is our social media strategy focused on stories and image?”

Connect Stories to Your Selling Process
Telling prospects “I can solve your problem” through a story is weak as compared to the other three-part option:

  1. Getting their attention with a good story;
  2. helping them make better decisions, learn a new skill, avoid dangerous risks and;
  3. doing this in ways that build confidence in themselves, trust in your brand and result in a sales lead.

In my own experience, success starts happening more when I resist telling prospects all about my company’s “unique story,” or those of my clients’.

Instead, I’m connecting my stories to a simple process, a nurturing program. The more I’m promising prospective customers a cure for an expressed pain, and taking them on a journey toward the remedy, the more they’re identifying themselves as leads and transacting with me.

The difference is distinct: Telling disconnected stories that create images versus proving you’re worth consideration by creating micro-successes with prospects. This is the way to start leading prospects toward (or away from) the larger solutions we’re selling.

Here’s How to Get Started
Let’s say you’re using LinkedIn for sales prospecting. When participating in LinkedIn group discussions ask yourself, “How can I get prospects to take an action based on what I know they want?”

Think of a shortcut, a smarter way of achieving a goal or avoiding a risk you can share. Solve a problem for them. But do it in a way that provokes an action-gets readers to more deeply explore the thought you just provoked.

In return you’ll earn a chance at getting their permission to take them on a journey to a better place … to continue a very focused, purpose-driven digital conversation that ultimately you can relate to whatever it is you sell.

If you do this, you’ll have a much easier way figuring out how to create a social media sales strategy that creates sales for you! You’ll be generating B-to-B leads with social media more effectively.

Lights, Camera, Action: Video Helps You Stay in Touch With Customers

One problem that plagues B-to-B sales and marketing is coming up with relevant, timely messages for nurturing customer relationships. A territory-based sales rep may be trying to keep in touch with hundreds of contacts at a time, but struggles to find a steady supply of good-quality reasons to use to reach out—without being a pest. I recently ran across a particularly compelling solution to this problem: Personalized email that links to entertaining, but useful, videos.

One problem that plagues B-to-B sales and marketing is coming up with relevant, timely messages for nurturing customer relationships. A territory-based sales rep may be trying to keep in touch with hundreds of contacts at a time, but struggles to find a steady supply of good-quality reasons to use to reach out—without being a pest. I recently ran across a particularly compelling solution to this problem: Personalized email that links to entertaining, but useful, videos.

Here’s where I ran across this: Glenn Diehl, owner of the New York distributor of Skyline Exhibits, has a team of eight sales people selling custom trade show exhibits and portable displays to marketers and trade show managers in New York City and several northern counties. Diehl came up with a program whereby his reps can send to their contact lists emails embedded with a link to an informative video created by Mike Mraz, a trade show marketing expert with a creative knack for video production.

Mraz was already producing his “Today’s Trade Show Minute” videos every three weeks as a way to promote his own consulting and training services. His arrangement with Diehl includes access to fresh “Minute” videos twice a month, plus a custom landing page with a personal introduction from each rep.

Here’s a sample email (see the first image in the media player to the right) from Skyline rep Al Mercuro, who was the first at SkylineNY to adopt the program and make it part of his regular customer outreach. The cover note is in plain text, inviting customers to have a look at the latest “Minute” video.

Customers who click through find themselves at Mercuro’s dedicated landing page, which includes his friendly face, a short message, the “Today’s Trade Show Minute” video and a call to action (see the second image in the media player to the right).

There are three reasons why I like this program:

  1. The content is fresh, lively and relevant to both the recipient and the sales objective of the vendor. The videos deliver a useful trade show success tip in only 60 seconds.
  2. Outsourcing the video content to a third party like Mike Mraz ensures an ongoing supply of new material for Skyline’s customer communications. The relentless challenge of creating new content is one of the most common impediments (PDF) to long-term communications success for B-to-B marketers.
  3. The program is managed by marketing, but goes out over the name of the sales rep, providing tangible help in relationship building with the rep’s key contacts.

I learned from Skyline’s sales and marketing team leader, Frank Cavaluzzi, that the program is scheduled for some fine tuning this year. Currently, it’s up the sales reps to take the initiative to send out the email. Cavaluzzi is planning to streamline the process, make it more automated, so it’s a bit easier for both sales and marketing to execute.

How about you? Are you seeing productive new ways to keep in touch with customers and prospects?

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

How to Know What to Blog—Always and Forever

How do I decide what to write about in my blog? What’s the right balance of “providing value” and my product/service? These are great questions and everyone is asking them. So here I am answering them. In doing so I’m demonstrating how I, myself, generate leads for my business. Sure, I’m about to provide you with value, but if this story is going to serve a business purpose I need to write it as part of a larger plan, a content marketing system designed to produce leads and sales.

How do I decide what to write about in my blog? What’s the right balance of “providing value” and my product/service? These are great questions and everyone is asking them. So here I am answering them. In doing so I’m demonstrating how I, myself, generate leads for my business. Sure, I’m about to provide you with value, but if this story is going to serve a business purpose I need to write it as part of a larger plan, a content marketing system designed to produce leads and sales.

And by the way, I like writing this stuff. I do it with pleasure and so can you, providing you take pride in serving your market.

Gotcha With the Headline
As you can see, my headline got your interest enough to earn your click. it was pithy, useful, unique and very specific to a pain you’re experiencing. So make sure your headlines on Twitter, your blogs—anywhere and everywhere—are the same.

The hands-down source for just about everything blogging is Brian Clark’s Copyblogger. At the end of this article I’ll give you a link to his Magnetic Headlines resource that will give you the practical knowledge, inspiration and motivation to write nothing but magnetic headlines.

It’s About the Problem, Not ‘Value’
Ok, so you’re still reading. Why? Probably because you think I have the cure for your pain. I effectively secured your attention and now am beginning to scratch an itch you have (your urge to find a better way to blog). Of course, I’ve also set your expectation and had better deliver! I’d better provide value.

My point is focus this: Focus on customers’ problems. It’s not about providing value. Providing value is a meaningless industry buzz term, folks. Functionally it’s a cop-out. Your success at lead-focused blogging (and keeping your sanity if not finding a bit of joy in your work) depends on addressing your customers’ problems in a systematic way.

The System
The best way to describe the system is this: Be an answer center for your customers. Good news! This is a familiar concept to many direct marketers. But those who aren’t traditionally “direct savvy” are getting in on the game too.

The idea of being an answer center for prospective and current customers isn’t new to Amanda Kinsella of Logan Services. It’s what this residential heating and air conditioning product and services company has been doing for many years offline—at home improvement shows, for instance.

What works in blogging is rooted in an old idea: trading answers to serious problems with customers for insight on their “state of need” as a way to nurture leads (not just relationships) to fruition. “Then we can be there when prospects need our products and services,” says Kinsella.

Think about it in terms of your business. Might you already be helping customers solve problems in ways that capture information on the prospect’s “state of need” in return? When you answer questions for customers do you ask them in ways that lead customers to asking more? This is the key.

The Purpose of ‘Providing Value’
Ms. Kinsella says hammering away at calls-to-action and constantly asking for the sale won’t work. Because it never has. It’s not very sociable. What will? A more traditional, familiar tactic: answering questions that are important to the prospect in ways that entice them to ask more.

That’s providing value, yes, but Logan Services always provides this information in return for insight on their prospect’s need—where they are in the purchase consideration process, for instance. These details always-always-always connect to a lead-nurturing process. That’s the purpose of providing value. Right? The trick is to answer questions in ways that prompt more questions.

One Simple Idea That Works
Put this idea of answering your customers most frequently asked questions (or FAQ’s) to work today. Make the questions your headlines and the answers your bait. Make the answers complete (valuable) but always leading to more questions.

Dangle a hook nearby (in the form of a call to action) for a “complete guide to” resource that requires email registration, for instance. But resist rolling into the office and asking, “How often should we post stories on our blog, and on what day is best to get re-tweeted?”

Be like Amanda. Ask a different question. “What problems do my customers need solved? What itches can I scratch for them today?”

“How can I measure the value of a blog subscriber? How much engagement on her blog or re-tweets on Twitter is needed to have a positive effect?” People like Amanda don’t know—and don’t care. Because they know it’s the wrong question.

Here’s that link to Copyblogger that I promised!

How Your Bank Can Generate Leads with Social Media

You are about to discover a step-by-step way to make social media increase share of customer wallet for your bank or credit union. Whether you’re a branch manager, a banking associate or corporate executive at a major institution, keep reading and I’ll give you the key to unlock success.

You are about to discover a step-by-step way to make social media increase share of customer wallet for your bank or credit union. Whether you’re a branch manager, a banking associate or corporate executive at a major institution, keep reading and I’ll give you the key to unlock success. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs can help you actually get customers to identify themselves as candidates for your most important products.

Skeptical? I don’t blame you. But think about it. How will it feel to know that everything you’re doing with social media will result in more leads? Let’s get going. Here are my best tips to help unlock the true potential of social media marketing in your institution.

Solve Problems & Answer Questions
Today’s most successful banks and credit unions are setting aside the technical and tactical aspects of social media and, first, focusing on solving customers’ and members problems. I talk about this problem-solving and behavior-focused approach more in my book, Off the Hook Marketing but, in essence, this requires having a focused plan.

Close examination of successful banks, like Wisconsin’s AnchorBank, reveals a key success principle: make everything you do with/on social media answer a burning question or solve a problem for customers in ways that drive behavior.

Scratch Customers’ Itches
For instance, you might use Facebook to spark a discussion among college students aimed on avoiding an increasing problem like personal bankruptcy. Telling true, horrific stories can be paired with sensible approaches—good credit management habits to form. Those sensible approaches can be leveraged into behavior in ways that connect customers’ problems to answers—your products.

But beware: they aren’t just answering questions or listening to customers using social media. They’re taking the time to capture insights on customers’ problems, fears and goals. They are finding what’s itching customers so they can scratch those itches.

Provoke Responses
Are your tweets, posts or updates designed to provoke a response, generate customer behavior? The fact is today’s most successful, socially-savvy banks and credit unions are using social media to provoke responses from customers.

For instance, when using Facebook it’s best to give customers a reason to think about something that’s important to them in a powerful new way—something that gives customers a reason to contact a banker. Why would a customer do that? So they can more clearly understand what you just provoked. Again, consider the prior example with college students.

Translate Need
Now I know this goes against what “the gurus” say but the key to success is avoiding “telling stories” with social media. Resist broadcasting stories; instead, structure interactions with customers in ways that prompt them to tell you about their pain points or financial goals. Once you have this knowledge, your goal is to prompt them to ask questions—that your products often answer.

And beware: don’t stop at informing customers and avoid entertaining them. Focus on purpose-driven interactions that are part of a dialogue—a translation process. Whenever appropriate, guide customers toward products they actually want and need.

That’s it. This is the best, most effective, step-by-step way to make social media increase share of customer wallet for your bank or credit union. Now go get ’em!

Timing Really Is Everything

The recent flaps over mailings sent out by Republican fundraisers reminded me of a rule put forth years ago by the late Dick Benson: “Direct mail should be scrupulously honest.” In case you don’t know, here’s the skinny. First, the use of the word “Census” on mailings by the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee led to Congressional passage of a bill last month that required new, clarifying language on the outer.

The recent flaps over mailings sent out by Republican fundraisers reminded me of a rule put forth years ago by the late Dick Benson: “Direct mail should be scrupulously honest.”

In case you don’t know, here’s the skinny. First, the use of the word “Census” on mailings by the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee led to Congressional passage of a bill last month that required new, clarifying language on the outer. Apparently, there had been some concern that people would mistake these efforts for the big Census Bureau mailing that was due to drop. Then, someone who actually had that complaint called the number on the RNC’s donation form, only to discover that it was for a phone sex line. Coming on the heels of news about lavish RNC spending, it’s been a tough few weeks for the party.

It’s easy to dismiss the second problem as merely a vendor mistake, one that appeared on only some of the mailings. It’s also easy to brush aside criticism of using “Census” on the outer. After all, it’s legal — it had passed muster with the USPS. And, it doesn’t really look like the Census mailer. It’s pretty obvious when opened that it’s just another issues poll, with leading questions, and a request for money. There’s nothing wrong with that, both parties have been mailing surveys for many years.

But it illustrates a bigger problem. A great national political party shouldn’t rely on a gimmick, like putting “Census”, or the IRS form — like “(2009) Return Enclosed” on the outer envelope to get someone to open it. Seriously, no one at the RNC thought this through, and saw this bad publicity coming? And, given how some of the Republican base feels about the Census, and especially, the IRS, it’s an especially puzzling choice of a teaser.

Twenty-five years ago, in the newsletter Who’s Mailing What!, Roger Craver wrote that to have a successful direct mail appeal, the “donors of principle,” the heart of any political organization, must be motivated by writing that conveys mission, selectivity, urgent need and effectiveness. The GOP was way ahead of the Democratic Party in this regard for decades, but as shown in the 2008 presidential race, not anymore. It’s going to be very interesting to see how both parties will energize the faithful in this election year.