Collaborating With Sales for Sales

I presented the Bottoms-Up Marketing webinar a couple weeks ago, and following the event found the same question had been submitted by a number of attendees. The question? How does a marketer get sales to follow up with leads? I came away feeling I had done a poor job of helping the audience to understand, it’s not

I presented the Bottoms-Up Marketing webinar a couple weeks ago, and following the event found the same question had been submitted by a number of attendees. The question? How does a marketer get sales to follow up with leads? I came away feeling I had done a poor job of helping the audience to understand, it’s not, “how do you get sales to do what you want?” it’s “how do you give sales something they want to work with?”

The premise of bottom-up marketing is that we marketers are only half the equation. Yes, our skills and expertise are critical to the campaign design and architecting process. But for the sales funnel requiring a closer, we must turn to the experience of our sales and CSR teams to understand the traditional process our business has used to convert leads to customers.

When a marketer asks the question, “How do I make sales do their job?” I immediately know this is an organization where marketing and closers are firmly pitted against one another and conversations and collaboration are a thing of the past—if they ever were. It’s a terrible question and says much about how you see yourself and your department in the sales funnel. If this is you, prepare yourself for a chewing out.

Resolution of discourse comes only where there is conversation and compromise.

Identifying prospects and warming leads without the input of the very people who close those leads is like writing a script without considering the audience. Oh sure, you can do it, but how many people from your audience will buy a ticket to your next event if you write only for yourself?

We marketers know better than to act as an audience (focus group) of one. Our job is to develop content for our mass audience. The people within our business with the best understanding of our audience is the closing team. Our closers, be that sales, CSRs, or another department, has a front-row seat to what our customers need, want, and require, and you would do well to pay attention.

Stop wondering how you can manipulate your sales team and start involving them.

At the very beginning—when you are brainstorming your next campaign—start at the bottom of the sales funnel by meeting with your closers to get their insight on crafting a digitized version of their warming process. You will not be able to duplicate all of their functions—and as they are people who bring unique personalities to the closing process, you shouldn’t try—but ask your sales team about resources and processes and contribute where you can. Move the easy rocks—use nurture emails to provide instantaneous responses for form completions while setting the stage for a sales call, provide links to videos, enroll them in a demo—do the rote work that capitalizes on your automated-campaign processes.

Our closers excel in so many areas we marketers guess, struggle, test and analyze—all in a never-ending effort to learn more about:

  • Finding prospects
  • Distilling prospects to leads
  • Determining which leads are qualified leads
  • Nurturing leads through the sales funnel
  • Converting leads to customers

Take the short cut. Your closers already have a great deal of this insight and are usually willing to impart at least some of it to you.

Look at it from their point of view: If you were in sales and the marketing department was delivering you qualified/hot leads, wouldn’t you rather process those than start anew with a cold call? Of course you would. So do they.

So how do you make the closers do their job and close the sales you give them? Invite them to participate—from the bottom up.

It’s All About Ranking

The decision-making process is really all about ranking. As a marketer, to whom should you be talking first? What product should you offer through what channel? As a businessperson, whom should you hire among all the candidates? As an investor, what stocks or bonds should you purchase? As a vacationer, where should you visit first?

The decision-making process is really all about ranking. As a marketer, to whom should you be talking first? What product should you offer through what channel? As a businessperson, whom should you hire among all the candidates? As an investor, what stocks or bonds should you purchase? As a vacationer, where should you visit first?

Yes, “choice” is the keyword in all of these questions. And if you picked Paris over other places as an answer to the last question, you just made a choice based on some ranking order in your mind. The world is big, and there could have been many factors that contributed to that decision, such as culture, art, cuisine, attractions, weather, hotels, airlines, prices, deals, distance, convenience, language, etc., and I am pretty sure that not all factors carried the same weight for you. For example, if you put more weight on “cuisine,” I can see why London would lose a few points to Paris in that ranking order.

As a citizen, for whom should I vote? That’s the choice based on your ranking among candidates, too. Call me overly analytical (and I am), but I see the difference in political stances as differences in “weights” for many political (and sometimes not-so-political) factors, such as economy, foreign policy, defense, education, tax policy, entitlement programs, environmental issues, social issues, religious views, local policies, etc. Every voter puts different weights on these factors, and the sum of them becomes the score for each candidate in their minds. No one thinks that education is not important, but among all these factors, how much weight should it receive? Well, that is different for everybody; hence, the political differences.

I didn’t bring this up to start a political debate, but rather to point out that the decision-making process is based on ranking, and the ranking scores are made of many factors with different weights. And that is how the statistical models are designed in a nutshell (so, that means the models are “nuts”?). Analysts call those factors “independent variables,” which describe the target.

In my past columns, I talked about the importance of statistical models in the age of Big Data (refer to “Why Model?”), and why marketing databases must be “model-ready” (refer to “Chicken or the Egg? Data or Analytics?”). Now let’s dig a little deeper into the design of the “model-ready” marketing databases. And surprise! That is also all about “ranking.”

Let’s step back into the marketing world, where folks are not easily offended by the subject matter. If I give a spreadsheet that contains thousands of leads for your business, you wouldn’t be able to tell easily which ones are the “Glengarry Glen Ross” leads that came from Downtown, along with those infamous steak knives. What choice would you have then? Call everyone on the list? I guess you can start picking names out of a hat. If you think a little more about it, you may filter the list by the first name, as they may reflect the decade in which they were born. Or start calling folks who live in towns that sound affluent. Heck, you can start calling them in alphabetical order, but the point is that you would “sort” the list somehow.

Now, if the list came with some other valuable information, such as income, age, gender, education level, socio-economic status, housing type, number of children, etc., you may be able to pick and choose by which variables you would use to sort the list. You may start calling the high income folks first. Not all product sales are positively related to income, but it is an easy way to start the process. Then, you would throw in other variables to break the ties in rich areas. I don’t know what you’re selling, but maybe, you would want folks who live in a single-family house with kids. And sometimes, your “gut” feeling may lead you to the right place. But only sometimes. And only when the size of the list is not in millions.

If the list was not for prospecting calls, but for a CRM application where you also need to analyze past transaction and interaction history, the list of the factors (or variables) that you need to consider would be literally nauseating. Imagine the list contains all kinds of dollars, dates, products, channels and other related numbers and figures in a seemingly endless series of columns. You’d have to scroll to the right for quite some time just to see what’s included in the chart.

In situations like that, how nice would it be if some analyst threw in just two model scores for responsiveness to your product and the potential value of each customer, for example? The analysts may have considered hundreds (or thousands) of variables to derive such scores for you, and all you need to know is that the higher the score, the more likely the lead will be responsive or have higher potential values. For your convenience, the analyst may have converted all those numbers with many decimal places into easy to understand 1-10 or 1-20 scales. That would be nice, wouldn’t it be? Now you can just start calling the folks in the model group No. 1.

But let me throw in a curveball here. Let’s go back to the list with all those transaction data attached, but without the model scores. You may say, “Hey, that’s OK, because I’ve been doing alright without any help from a statistician so far, and I’ll just use the past dollar amount as their primary value and sort the list by it.” And that is a fine plan, in many cases. Then, when you look deeper into the list, you find out there are multiple entries for the same name all over the place. How can you sort the list of leads if the list is not even on an individual level? Welcome to the world of relational databases, where every transaction deserves an entry in a table.

Relational databases are optimized to store every transaction and retrieve them efficiently. In a relational database, tables are connected by match keys, and many times, tables are connected in what we call “1-to-many” relationships. Imagine a shopping basket. There is a buyer, and we need to record the buyer’s ID number, name, address, account number, status, etc. Each buyer may have multiple transactions, and for each transaction, we now have to record the date, dollar amount, payment method, etc. Further, if the buyer put multiple items in a shopping basket, that transaction, in turn, is in yet another 1-to-many relationship to the item table. You see, in order to record everything that just happened, this relational structure is very useful. If you are the person who has to create the shipping package, yes, you need to know all the item details, transaction value and the buyer’s information, including the shipping and billing address. Database designers love this completeness so much, they even call this structure the “normal” state.

But the trouble with the relational structure is that each line is describing transactions or items, not the buyers. Sure, one can “filter” people out by interrogating every line in the transaction table, say “Select buyers who had any transaction over $100 in past 12 months.” That is what I call rudimentary filtering, but once we start asking complex questions such as, “What is the buyer’s average transaction amount for past 12 months in the outdoor sports category, and what is the overall future value of the customers through online channels?” then you will need what we call “Buyer-centric” portraits, not transaction or item-centric records. Better yet, if I ask you to rank every customer in the order of such future value, well, good luck doing that when all the tables are describing transactions, not people. That would be exactly like the case where you have multiple lines for one individual when you need to sort the leads from high value to low.

So, how do we remedy this? We need to summarize the database on an individual level, if you would like to sort the leads on an individual level. If the goal is to rank households, email addresses, companies, business sites or products, then the summarization should be done on those levels, too. Now, database designers call it the “de-normalization” process, and the tables tend to get “wide” along that process, but that is the necessary step in order to rank the entities properly.

Now, the starting point in all the summarizations is proper identification numbers for those levels. It won’t be possible to summarize any table on a household level without a reliable household ID. One may think that such things are given, but I would have to disagree. I’ve seen so many so-called “state of the art” (another cliché that makes me nauseous) databases that do not have consistent IDs of any kind. If your database managers say they are using “plain name” or “email address” fields for matching or summarization, be afraid. Be very afraid. As a starter, you know how many email addresses one person may have. To add to that, consider how many people move around each year.

Things get worse in regard to ranking by model scores when it comes to “unstructured” databases. We see more and more of those, as the data sources are getting into uncharted territories, and the size of the databases is growing exponentially. There, all these bits and pieces of data are sitting on mysterious “clouds” as entries on their own. Here again, it is one thing to select or filter based on collected data, but ranking based on some statistical modeling is simply not possible in such a structure (or lack thereof). Just ask the database managers how many 24-month active customers they really have, considering a great many people move in that time period and change their addresses, creating multiple entries. If you get an answer like “2 million-ish,” well, that’s another scary moment. (Refer to “Cheat Sheet: Is Your Database Marketing Ready?”)

In order to develop models using variables that are descriptors of customers, not transactions, we must convert those relational or unstructured data into the structure that match the level by which you would like to rank the records. Even temporarily. As the size of databases are getting bigger and bigger and the storage is getting cheaper and cheaper, I’d say that the temporary time period could be, well, indefinite. And because the word “data-mart” is overused and confusing to many, let me just call that place the “Analytical Sandbox.” Sandboxes are fun, and yes, all kinds of fun stuff for marketers and analysts happen there.

The Analytical Sandbox is where samples are created for model development, actual models are built, models are scored for every record—no matter how many there are—without hiccups; targets are easily sorted and selected by model scores; reports are created in meaningful and consistent ways (consistency is even more important than sheer accuracy in what we do), and analytical language such as SAS, SPSS or R are spoken without being frowned up by other computing folks. Here, analysts will spend their time pondering upon target definitions and methodologies, not about database structures and incomplete data fields. Have you heard about a fancy term called “in-database scoring”? This is where that happens, too.

And what comes out of the Analytical Sandbox and back into the world of relational database or unstructured databases—IT folks often ask this question—is going to be very simple. Instead of having to move mountains of data back and forth, all the variables will be in forms of model scores, providing answers to marketing questions, without any missing values (by definition, every record can be scored by models). While the scores are packing tons of information in them, the sizes could be as small as a couple bytes or even less. Even if you carry over a few hundred affinity scores for 100 million people (or any other types of entities), I wouldn’t call the resultant file large, as it would be as small as a few video files, really.

In my future columns, I will explain how to create model-ready (and human-ready) variables using all kinds of numeric, character or free-form data. In Exhibit A, you will see what we call traditional analytical activities colored in dark blue on the right-hand side. In order to make those processes really hum, we must follow all the steps that are on the left-hand side of that big cylinder in the middle. Preventing garbage-in-garbage-out situations from happening, this is where all the data get collected in uniform fashion, properly converted, edited and standardized by uniform rules, categorized based on preset meta-tables, consolidated with consistent IDs, summarized to desired levels, and meaningful variables are created for more advanced analytics.

Even more than statistical methodologies, consistent and creative variables in form of “descriptors” of the target audience make or break the marketing plan. Many people think that purchasing expensive analytical software will provide all the answers. But lest we forget, fancy software only answers the right-hand side of Exhibit A, not all of it. Creating a consistent template for all useful information in a uniform fashion is the key to maximizing the power of analytics. If you look into any modeling bakeoff in the industry, you will see that the differences in methodologies are measured in fractions. Conversely, inconsistent and incomplete data create disasters in real world. And in many cases, companies can’t even attempt advanced analytics while sitting on mountains of data, due to structural inadequacies.

I firmly believe the Big Data movement should be about

  1. getting rid of the noise, and
  2. providing simple answers to decision-makers.

Bragging about the size and the speed element alone will not bring us to the next level, which is to “humanize” the data. At the end of the day (another cliché that I hate), it is all about supporting the decision-making processes, and the decision-making process is all about ranking different options. So, in the interest of keeping it simple, let’s start by creating an analytical haven where all those rankings become easy, in case you think that the sandbox is too juvenile.

What Is Social Selling and Where Do I Start?

Don’t let the hype about B-to-B social selling deceive you. Buyers have not reinvented the buying process. It has simply become a non-linear one. What is new are the sexy tools. However, using LinkedIn, Google+, blogging and YouTube effectively when prospecting isn’t sexy. It’s just a better process. Is social selling a revolution? No, it’s merely a chance for sales prospecting EVO-lution.

Don’t let the hype about B-to-B social selling deceive you. Buyers have not reinvented the buying process. It has simply become a non-linear one. What is new are the sexy tools. However, using LinkedIn, Google+, blogging and YouTube effectively when prospecting isn’t sexy. It’s just a better process.

Is social selling a revolution? No, it’s merely a chance for sales prospecting EVO-lution.

So let’s roll up our sleeves and discover: What is social selling and how are sellers generating more leads, faster? What is the process your sales team should be applying?

Social Selling Is a System
Let’s grip the wheel, firmly. Revolutions bring about change that make things easier or better. Has social media made your life easier lately? Are you getting more leads and closing them faster?

I rest my case!

Effective social selling is a system. Systems are not sexy.

A system is a repeatable process with a predictable outcome. Input goes in, certain things happen and out pops a result.

Social Prospecting: New but not Complex
The prospecting piece of social selling is mostly about:

  1. Getting buyers to respond and qualify faster, more often, and
  2. Turning response into dialogue that leads to a sale—faster, more easily

If anything is new about this process it’s the role direct response marketing techniques play. For example, social media copywriting is catching on.

The process today’s best social sellers are using generates leads faster by helping customers:

  • believe there is a better way (via short-form social content)
  • realize they just found part of it (using longer-form content) and
  • act—taking a first step toward what they want (giving you a lead)

Engagement and Trust Are not the Goals
Will you agree with me that engagement is not your sellers’ goal? Engagement is the beginning of a process. It’s a chance for front line reps and dealers to create response—and deeper conversation about a transaction.

If not, engagement is a chronic waste of your reps’ and dealers’ time.

I know “experts” insist that being trusted is a strategy. But it’s not.

It is the output of a successful prospecting strategy!

Increased trust is a sign your sellers are applying the process effectively. It’s not a goal!

As a small B-to-B business owner myself, I know what gets you paid. It’s not engagement. It’s not your image or personal brand.

You or your boss measures performance based on leads.

So let’s keep your social prospecting approach practical: Attention, engagement and a simple, repeatable way to create response more often. These are the components of an effective social selling system.

Why You Don’t Need a Social Selling Strategy

“What’s your social selling strategy?” I hear it all the time.
“You need one,” the experts insist.

But I say no, in most cases. Here’s why: Listen to what the experts say. Pay attention to what they say goes into a social selling strategy. Hint: It’s nothing new!

Yet we keep hearing “experts” claim listening is a new idea—or how we must get trusted to earn the sale.

So I give you permission to fire your social selling consultant or sales person if this is the best they can do.

What’s Your Telephone Strategy?
Not convinced? Consider how we don’t have B-to-B telephone strategies for prospecting. We have systems, approaches to applying the tool effectively. What defines our success in tele-prospecting?

Listening to customers? Nope. That’s the entry fee.

Trust? Nope. That’s the outcome we desire.

Success when dialing-for-dollars is based on if your system works—or not.

“You didn’t need a telephone strategy when the telephone was invented,” says sales productivity coach Philippe le Baron of LB4G Consulting.

“You learned how to use the new tool … to reach out to people you could never have dreamed of reaching … and get a face-to-face meeting with the ones who qualified.”

Today, tele-prospecting success has little to do with phone technology. It has everything to do with your telephone speaking technique—your conversational system.

Just the same, you don’t need a social media strategy today. You need a practical, repeatable process to increase sellers’ effectiveness (productivity) and make their output more predictable … using social media platforms.

Systems work for you. You don’t work for systems!

So don’t let gurus trick you into feeling like a laggard. Don’t let me catch you throwing money at sales trainers claiming buyers are fundamentally revolutionizing the way they buy. Focus on ways to:

  1. Get buyers to respond and qualify faster, more often, and
  2. Turn response into dialogue that leads to a sale—faster, more easily

Good luck. Let me know how I can help!

5 Important Email Tips for Converting Prospects to Customers

The harder you make it for your prospects to become customers, the fewer will. Most marketers agree that lead generation and lead conversion are the bedrocks of their efforts. As you scrutinize your internal process to convert prospects to customers, remember that, in order to consistently convert, you must at least

(Editor’s Note: This is a preview of Cyndie’s presentation on the upcoming webinar “Email for Customer Acquisition: 5 Great Ways to Expand Your List, and Your Profits!,” with Yeva Roberts of Standard Register, airing Jan. 28 at 2 p.m. EST. Register here to watch the rest live tomorrow, or catch it on-demand starting Jan. 29.)

The harder you make it for your prospects to become customers, the fewer will.

Most marketers agree that lead generation and lead conversion are the bedrocks of their efforts. As you scrutinize your internal process to convert prospects to customers, remember that, in order to consistently convert, you must at least:

  • Provide a clear, concise path to becoming a customer.
  • Enable your prospect to become a customer.
  • Resolve any concerns your prospect has about becoming a customer.

1. Be Timely, Relevant and Easy
Conversion begins at the moment of acquisition—waiting to engage is the kiss of death if you hope to hold the attention of your new prospect. We humans have very short memories—and attention spans—and marketers who allow the opportunity for one to forget a recent engagement will be saddled with lower retention and conversion rates over the customer’s lifecycle.

Your first touch to new prospects must be prompt and direct as you remind the recipient of how the relationship began and, ideally, lay out the path for becoming a highly valued customer. Using email, converting prospects to leads can be quite easy, and when you group likeminded prospects into segments, you can also create highly relevant content appropriate for this audience.

When relevant content is bolstered by personalization, your messaging can transcend a timid first step and become a flat stone skipping through sales ripples reducing necessary touches to a simple few.

Tracking clicked links and buttons within your email will enable you to appropriately respond to engagement with auto-responders recognizing specific engagement activities. Auto-responders are unique tools for reminding prospects they engaged with your brand and helping them resume the process if they’ve become distracted along the way.

2. Provide High-value Content
Inbound marketing represents one of the most successful approaches to converting prospects to leads, leads to subscribers, and subscribers to customers. Your content should be well-written and professionally designed while establishing your brand as an expert.

Your e-books, slide decks, videos, webcasts, demos and the like must be honest and forthright in order to establish your credibility, and should not shy away from areas where your competitors have you bested. Recognizing and addressing these areas will foster trust and help you to build upon these new, budding relationships.

When you post inbound content to your website, you will drive repeat visits; visits that naturally develop, deepen and nurture the relationship to the next stage.

Inbound content such as blogs, videos and online tools also extend the time of visit, and this is an important metric that contributes to your search-engine optimization effort.

Though content at your site is important for this reason and others, resist the urge to keep your content to yourself. Create partnerships with companies that will post your content or choose apps such as SlideShare, YouTube or edocr.com to syndicate your content beyond your own reach. Requiring a form submission to download your content will result in capturing some leads, but you will benefit far more from unrestricted content that is shared liberally.

3. Convey Urgency and Scarcity
Certainly not news to most seasoned marketers, urgency and exclusivity still motivate prospects to act more quickly. Procrastination is a sales killer, so text within your email reminding the recipient of how few widgets remain or how few days to buy the widget remains can dispel bouts of procrastination that grip many of us at one time or another.

Positioning your offer as time-sensitive, quantity-bound or event-based will boost your conversions, but lack of instructions for how to take advantage of your offer can easily negate the benefit gained.

4. Provide Instant Gratification
In email marketing, it’s key to first identify and then solve the customer’s problem—as quickly as possible. Your customers have come to expect and even demand instant gratification, not just in electronic platforms but physical as well. (It’s unbelievable that Amazon is currently testing same-day drone delivery and delivery before you’ve even ordered in order to meet such demands.) You must strive to deliver now.

In your emails, recognize that your clients want it now, and use words such as “instant,” “immediate,” and “now” as trigger words to put them in the buying mood. If your product doesn’t lend itself to being delivered via drone so they can get it now, offer an instant rebate or immediate download. By solving your customer’s problem more quickly than your competitor, you will be more likely to gain the coveted conversion.

As with urgency and scarcity, it’s imperative that you are clear on what steps must be taken in order to achieve instant gratification.

5. Test, Track and Tweak
Don’t guess at what it takes to reduce clicks and shorten your sales cycle, nor should you be a focus group of one. While your opinion about what works and what does not is important, you are not the customer. Use your opinion and expertise as the starting point for testing, but analytics must be used to prove or disprove your educated guesses.

As you begin to understand areas or components slowing your conversions, consider paths that provide information in a more compact and effective manner. Videos are a great solution and a preferred vehicle for many, but podcasts, self-running demos and other online options are also ideal for replacing overhead-heavy meetings, site visits and other person-to-person events.

There are myriad sales-funnel processes, but all can benefit from trusting relationships and consistent experiences. Your blast, drip and nurture emails should be professional, branded and graduated in order to nudge your constituents along. It’s important to remind your prospects why they should choose you—both explicitly and obscurely.

Marketing ROI in B-to-B: Why Is It So Hard, and What Can We Do About It?

The other day, I had the pleasure of discussing the challenges of marketing ROI with Jim Obermayer, CEO and executive director of the Sales Lead Management Association, on his Internet radio show. Our conversation got me thinking: Why is the Holy Grail of marketing ROI so tough to achieve in business markets? And what can we do about it?

The other day, I had the pleasure of discussing the challenges of marketing ROI with Jim Obermayer, CEO and executive director of the Sales Lead Management Association, on his Internet radio show. Our conversation got me thinking: Why is the Holy Grail of marketing ROI so tough to achieve in business markets? And what can we do about it?

The “why” part is pretty clear: Business buying cycles tend to be long, and involve multiple parties at either end. Marketers produce campaigns to generate an inquiry, and then qualify that interest with a series of outbound communications, and finally pass the qualified lead to a sales rep for follow up. From that point, it can take more than a year to close, and involve a slew of people on the customer side, from purchasing agents, to technical specifiers, to decision-makers.

The sales process is also complex, involving not only the face-to-face account rep, but sales engineers, inside sales people, and others who help get all the buyers’ questions answered, negotiate the terms, deliver, install and trouble-shoot the product, and whatever else needs to be done to satisfy the customer’s needs.

So, consider the difficulty of establishing the numbers that go into an ROI calculation in this kind of situation. Just to put a definition behind the concept: ROI, meaning return on investment, subtracts the marketing expense from the revenue generated, and then divides by the expense, resulting in a percentage that shows how much net return was produced by the investment.

But in this lengthy, multi-party, multi-touch selling situation, the “investment” part can be pretty tough to get at. Frankly, it’s a bit of a cost accounting nightmare, assigning an expense number to each sales and marketing touch that resulted in a particular closed deal. This brings up issues of variable versus fixed costs, marketing touch attribution—the list goes on and on.

Worse, the “return” part presents its own challenges. First problem is connecting a particular lead to a particular piece of revenue, which means carefully tracking a lead over its multi-month process toward closure.

Further, if a third-party distributor or agent is working the lead, it’s very likely that revenue results reporting is not part of the deal. With good reason: The distributor considers the relationship with the end-customer as his, and none of the manufacturer’s business. So the marketer who generated the lead often has no visibility into the associated revenue. Even if the deal was closed by a house rep, you’re looking at the endless squabble between sales and marketing about who gets the credit.

You can’t blame B-to-B marketers for throwing up their hands and relying on interim metrics like response rate and cost per lead. Especially when marketing staffers come and go, and may not even be in the job when the lead generated a while ago finally converts to a sale.

This is why I was so pleased at the arrival of the new book by Debbie Qaqish, The Rise of the Revenue Marketer, where she urges marketers to raise consciousness of their role in driving revenue results. “The revenue marketer uses the language of business,” she says. Examples of the metrics she recommends for revenue marketers include funnel velocity, sales conversion rates, pipeline revenue and campaign ROI.

My conclusions from this investigation:

  • Begin with a deep conversation with your finance counterparts to get at the best way for marketing to serve your company’s financial interests, like:
    • The right approach to assigning sales and marketing expense.
    • Whether to calculate returns based on net sales or on gross margin.
    • Decide which expenses are fixed and which are variable.
    • How to attribute the contribution of sales and marketing touches across the sales cycle.
    • Setting the ROI “hurdle rate” needed to support your company’s profitability goals.
  • Figure out where to get the revenue and expense data—not everything will be in your CRM system. Your finance counterparts should be help you source the data you need.
    • If a distribution channel party is a roadblock to revenue visibility, conduct a “did you buy” survey into accounts to which qualified leads were passed.
    • If the account-based revenue is captured internally, try supplementing your CRM system with data match-back to connect campaigns to sales, circumventing the arduous process of following a lead along its complex conversion process.
  • Set clear objectives for each marketing expenditure, so you know how to declare ROI success when you see it.
  • Get inspiration from The Rise of the Revenue Marketer, Debbie Qaqish’s innovative thinking on the role of marketing in B-to-B.
  • Get an education from Jim Lenskold’s 2003 classic, Marketing ROI: The Path to Campaign, Customer and Corporate Profitability.
  • If to many obstacles are in the way, fall back and rely on “activity-based” metrics like cost per inquiry and cost per qualified lead, which tend to be pretty easy to calculate, being mostly within the purview of marketing.

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

Why Engaging Passionately Fails Us (and What to Do Instead)

“The experts” claim passion is the key to a successful B-to-B business blogging strategy. They say results will come when you show customers you care in LinkedIn groups and give away your best advice. But this advice is misguided. Caring and giving are merely costs of entry. Process is the force multiplier. Process is at the heart of effective business blogging and using LinkedIn for lead generation.

“The experts” claim passion is the key to a successful B-to-B business blogging strategy. They say results will come when you show customers you care in LinkedIn groups and give away your best advice. But this advice is misguided. Caring and giving are merely costs of entry. Process is the force multiplier.

Process is at the heart of effective business blogging and using LinkedIn for lead generation.

So how can you make “the doing” of blogging and generating leads on LinkedIn systematic—yet free-flowing, enjoyable and effective?

In my experience and research, mixing passion with structured diligence is the answer. Creating a way to use technology that feels effortless and scales our time. Ok, let’s quickly explore what the heck that means and how to get going on it.

The Passion Myth
If all you do is “write from the soul,” pour your deepest passion into it and give away all your best advice what’s the result? I’ll tell you what the result was for me, for the longest time.

(Insert sound effect: crickets)

I suffered myself from investing time in having passionate monologues online. As an author and trainer, I spent years doing the research. What works at generating new business with a blog and LinkedIn is striking a balance between passion and process.

Ignore anyone who says or implies, “blog passionately and the results will come.”

No they won’t. And if they do it won’t be because of your passion.

Ok, ok. Nothing great ever materialized without passion. But creating sales on social media depends less on passion and more applying a systematic approach—out of habit.

Does that mean you need to suck all the fun and passion out of what you write? Heck no.

The Yin and Yang of Business Blogging
By striking a balance in your blogging you’ll discover a faster, easier, more enjoyable way to get leads and sales.

How can you make everything you do systematic yet enjoyable and effective? Have some yin for your yang.

In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang are complementary forces that only appear to be opposing each other. In reality, forces of nature work together. They form a whole greater than either separate part.

It’s the same with business blogs and LinkedIn lead generation strategies that create leads and sales.

What the Process Looks Like
When blogging or engaging inside LinkedIn Groups …

  1. Teach prospects how to reach goals in ways they can act on;
  2. create confidence in them and (in doing so) trust in you in ways that foster hunger for more success;
  3. ask for the lead and/or sale with a call-to-action that affirms a customer’s right to say ‘no thanks.’

Simple.

Plus, it leaves a LOT of room to find joy in writing—helping, teaching and guiding prospects. The process is flexible, not rigid.

This process lets you share your passion, helps prospects become more confident buyers and puts food on your table more reliably.

This proven, effective process gives customers miniature tastes of success … or “results in advance” of purchase. For example, it can help them determine the best fit for their situation. Or it can be structured to help prospects gain confidence—that what they want (what you sell) can actually happen for them on time, on budget and without pain.

Your success, and this process, is all about helping prospects become more confident buyers.

I apply it and, believe it or not, prospects often ask me for the sale. All because of confidence created in their abilities to achieve or improve. It’s what my free training (lead nurturing) program is all about.

Hang in There
Are you running out of patience with blogging, using LinkedIn for sales leads and social platforms in general? I was too. But then I discovered this simple, practical way to change things up, to get more of what I wanted from social media, faster and easier.

Now you have that way: A means to balance process with your passion, knowledge and ability to help prospects see their way through the weeds. What will you do with it?

7 Shopping Experience Tips to Make Holiday 2013 Your Best Ever

The holiday season is known as the time that makes or breaks companies dependent on seasonal sales. Competition is fierce. Already short attention spans are overstimulated with marketing messages, family demands and increased workloads. Breaking through the chaos requires more than super discounts and great copy. People expect a great shopping experience

The holiday season is known as the time that makes or breaks companies dependent on seasonal sales. Competition is fierce. Already short attention spans are overstimulated with marketing messages, family demands and increased workloads. Breaking through the chaos requires more than super discounts and great copy. People expect a great shopping experience.

Companies that want to win the holiday challenge start early, plan well and focus on the customer. They invest their resources in understanding what their customers want so they can deliver. Surprisingly, price is not the top priority when people choose brand loyalty. They care more about the experience than the discount.

This is really good news for companies that don’t have the negotiating power of big box stores. Instead of creating promotions that destroy profits, they can invest in programs that improve the shopping experience. There is one caveat: If your company has been participating in the “how low can we go” marketing strategy, you will have to retrain your customers. Once people have been trained to expect deep discounts, marketing that doesn’t include them won’t be as effective.

Marketing for the holiday season needs to start now to optimize your return. Connections have to be established between your company and the people who will buy your products or services. If you already have good customer relations, focus on making them better. If your relationships need improving, focus on fixing them. The things you do today make selling easier tomorrow. To get started:

  1. Think lifetime value when creating the shopping experience. Most marketing plans focus on sales for specific campaigns instead of looking at the long term value of loyal customers. This can create an environment where hit-and-run customers generate revenue while reducing profitability. By the time the problem is recognized, it may be too late to save the company.
  2. Walk in your customers’ shoes to find the pain points. The easier and more enjoyable you make the shopping experience, the less people care about the price. Test every marketing channel to see how easy it is to understand and navigate the buying process. When you have finished, watch someone who doesn’t normally shop your business test it. Fix everything that needs it.
  3. Integrate channels for efficiency and effectiveness. Consistent messaging and the ability to cross channels with ease provide quality branding and keep people engaged. Find ways to make the channels work together where they leverage strengths in one to offset weaknesses in others.
  4. Optimize communication to insure exposure and accessibility. Email deliverability, copy effectiveness, website usability and social media engagement can be optimized to maximize the return. Paying attention to the details makes the difference between a good communication and a great one.
  5. Educate visitors on products and processes. People that understand the products your company offers and how to use them tend to buy more. Create content that teaches the best ways to use products and services. Your prospects will convert and customers will keep coming back.
  6. Simplify Everything. Making the buying decision and purchasing process simple endears people to your company. Life is complicated. Shopping with your company shouldn’t be.
  7. Target to provide the right offer at the right time. Part of the simplification process is making it easy for people to buy what they need with minimal effort. Targeting people with the right message based on their behavior improves the shopping experience.

Why Is Customer Loyalty So Hard to Get? And How Can You Get It Now?

Companies like Apple, Coca-Cola and Harley Davidson must have a secret formula. Customer loyalty for them goes beyond the norm. Calling the people who buy their products “customers” doesn’t do justice. “Raving fans” is a much better description. Billions of dollars are spent every year on customer relationship management in an effort to inspire loyalty. Reward programs are implemented and abandoned when the cost to maintain exceeds the return. Loyalty is hard to get and easy to lose.

Companies like Apple, Coca-Cola and Harley Davidson must have a secret formula. Customer loyalty for them goes beyond the norm. Calling the people who buy their products “customers” doesn’t do justice. “Raving fans” is a much better description.

Billions of dollars are spent every year on customer relationship management in an effort to inspire loyalty. Reward programs are implemented and abandoned when the cost to maintain exceeds the return. Loyalty is hard to get and easy to lose. This is why the companies that have it guard their brand image with a vengeance.

The benefits of good customer/company relationships are well known. When people feel connected to a company, they become lifetime customers and advocates for the brand. Some companies naturally attract loyalty because of their product appeal and exclusivity. The rest have to earn it.

Earning loyalty begins with understanding relationships between customers and companies. Loyalty is hard to get because companies are focusing on the wrong things when they try to build relationships with their customers. Transactional and service relationships are the only type that people want with companies. All of the talk in social media about anything deeper is fantasy. Trying to connect with people beyond fulfilling their needs and expectations is a waste of resources.

Social media is one of many channels that companies use to communicate with customers and prospects. It is an excellent way to share information about the company, products and events and interact with people. It is not a replacement for taking care of the basics that provide the foundation for loyalty. Trying to shortcut the loyalty process by creating viral content is ineffective. If you want an interactive social presence, start with the fundamentals that are endearing to customers.

People want simple and easy more than anything else. Life is complicated and short. They do not want to invest time in the buying process. Simplifying the buying decision and making it easy to purchase, return and resolve issues will do more to create loyalty and increase revenue than anything else. Multiple channels and a variety of tools are available that provide economical and efficient methods to improve the shopping and service experience. To fast-track loyalty for your company:

  • Clean House: Review every process, procedure and policy to insure it is necessary and as efficient as possible. The shorter the paths from initial contact to purchase and problem to resolution, the better. It makes it easy for customers and economical for you.
  • Improve FAQ’s: Answer questions before they are asked. Sometimes this means you have to anticipate the questions because people don’t always know what they need to ask. Including the questions that should be asked in the FAQ’s improves trust and reduces resistance.
  • Supercharge Emails: Add service emails to your marketing mix. Service emails educate and inform customers and prospects so they know what’s happening and how to interact with your company. Educated customers are happier and easier to serve.
  • Offer Self-Service: People don’t really want to talk to your company representatives. They find it easier to solve their own problems when possible. Providing self-service opportunities pleases customers and reduces operating costs.
  • Invite Feedback: Your customers are the best source of information on how to improve your business. Invite them to share their thoughts and make the process as easy as possible. Be sure to always respond with gratitude and information on how the suggestions will be used. It gives ownership and connects people to your company.
  • Do It Yourself: Before expecting your customers and prospects to do anything, try it yourself first. If you developed the process and cannot be objective, ask someone outside the company to do it with you watching. The pain points are quickly identified when this is done.

A Deeper Dive into LinkedIn Leads and Sales Creation

The key to netting leads and sales using LinkedIn Groups is thinking differently about engagement and changing your habits—getting prospects off of social media and onto a lead nurturing program. In my last blog post I revealed the three-step process to making LinkedIn sell for you: Step 1: Create Content That Provokes; Step 2: Locate Qualified Discussions; and Step 3: Tease Prospects Into Action.

The key to netting leads and sales using LinkedIn Groups is thinking differently about engagement and changing your habits—getting prospects off of social media and onto a lead nurturing program. In my last blog post I revealed the three-step process to making LinkedIn sell for you:

  • Step 1: Create Content That Provokes
  • Step 2: Locate Qualified Discussions
  • Step 3: Tease Prospects Into Action

The Details: How I Did It
Now here’s how I’m generating leads and sales on LinkedIn Groups. I’m taking my best quotes from interviews I record—with subject matter experts—and chumming the water with them. If you want to catch fish you’ve got to attract the jumbos. Here’s one of the actual quotes I recently used:

“What social media does is allows access to buyers. [But] then the strategy is to take them off of the social media. Next you put them into a process. This is where we get into emotional-driven, direct response marketing routines … where they find you through relevant content via social media and you put them into a campaign. Dealers can leverage marketing automation technology to deliver more content that nurtures them along toward a sale.”

The other quote I placed told my target audience what they really want to hear: Success is about getting back to basics, that design (a value-added service that is being commoditized lately) still matters and how social media can be used to become known, liked and trusted in very practical ways if you focus on a simple, easy-to-do process.

Most importantly I provided no link to the content!

A Simple System to Get Sales
What did I do here really? I provoked my target market into contacting me. I already knew this approach works outside of social media and figured why not leverage LinkedIn Groups in a way that tempts group members to email me for more details or click over to my profile and then onward to my blog to acquire the knowledge? It worked.

So can you execute this same idea? Sure, you’ve got to trust that this will work but give it a shot. For me, the results rolled in: A dozen or so industry-specific leads and a handful of immediate sales. I love using LinkedIn for business leads because it’s so simple and time effective.

Again I followed a simple, practical system:

1. I created valuable content (answers to burning questions).

2. Monitored for people demonstrating need for it (in LinkedIn Groups).

3. Revealed answers in ways that created cravings for more of what I have to share (provoked interaction).

How many of you are doing the same? Surely there are more success stories out there. Let’s hear some!

1-Click Emails Make Sales and Donations Easy

Attention spans are getting shorter every day. Emails have nano-seconds to capture the recipients’ attention long enough to get them opened. Once open, the offer has to be compelling to move people into the buying process. Every click along the way provides an opportunity to abandon the process. Providing one-click links shortens the path from email receipt to order completion reducing opportunities for people to become distracted or change their mind.

When it comes to service, people prefer easy to exceptional. They want to complete their transactions and resolve any issues in the most efficient manner possible. According to a study by the “Harvard Business Review” and Corporate Executive Board, 57 percent of the people who called customer care departments tried to resolve their issues online before making the call. Customers who reported ease in making transactions were four times more likely to be loyal. This is good information for the service team, but how could it apply to the email marketing strategy?

Attention spans are getting shorter every day. Emails have nano-seconds to capture the recipients’ attention long enough to get them opened. Once open, the offer has to be compelling to move people into the buying process. Every click along the way provides an opportunity to abandon the process. Providing one-click links shortens the path from email receipt to order completion reducing opportunities for people to become distracted or change their mind.

The first image in the media player at right is an example of a one-click fundraising email for a political candidate. It began with a salutation followed by a short story and call to action. The email provides five suggested amounts and the option to donate another amount. A click sends the donor to a confirmation page (the second image) to confirm the donation or choose a different amount.

Amazon offers a similar process with their wish list click, which you can see in the third image in the media player. Instead of an option for the one-click buy, the recipient can add the item to a personal wish list. This is the next best thing to a buy because it provides additional information so the recipient can be better targeted for future promotions. The email is crafted to be personal and well-targeted. A brief look at the anatomy reveals:

  1. The recommendations are chosen specifically for the recipient. Having my name in the first line shows that it isn’t a phishing email.
  2. Personalizing the message increases responsiveness. The letter begins by asking if I am looking for something in the fountains department. I chuckled when I read it because they know for a fact that I was looking for an automatic watering bowl. Two weeks earlier I spent an hour searching their site for one.
  3. Clicking on the “Learn More” button opens the item page so you can review it in more depth. Interestingly, the first item presented in the email is the one where I spent the most time in my search.
  4. The “Wish List” button opens a confirmation page (the fourth image) to verify that you want the item added to your wish list.
  5. The item title is clickable. It opens the same page as the “Learn More” button.

The Amazon email provides multiple ways to enter the buying process. Adding a “1-Click” option to buy would make it even easier to complete the transaction.

Making things easier for your customers or donors may improve their responsiveness. Here are some tips for testing it:

  • Count the number of clicks required from the initial click-through link to completion of order. Redefine the path to eliminate any extraneous steps. (This should be done for every email.)
  • Provide enough details in the email for recipients to make a decision.
  • Follow Amazon’s lead and offer multiple options so people are choosing between more information and buy now instead of buy now or not at all.
  • When reviewing results pay close attention to where people are abandoning the buying process. Test different options to find the best ones for moving them forward.
  • Always provide a custom confirmation page.