When You Fail, Don’t Blame Data Scientists First — or Models

The first step in analytics should be “formulating a question,” not data-crunching. I can even argue formulating the question is so difficult and critical, that it is the deciding factor dividing analysts into seasoned data scientists and junior number-crunchers.

Last month, I talked about ways marketing automation projects go south (refer to “Why Many Marketing Automation Projects Go South”). This time, let’s be more specific about modeling, which is an essential element in converting mounds of data into actionable solutions to challenges.

Without modeling, all automation efforts would remain at the level of rudimentary rules. And that is one of the fastest routes to automate wrong processes, leading to disappointing results in the name of marketing automation.

Nonetheless, when statistically sound models are employed, users to tend to blame the models first when the results are less than satisfactory. As a consultant, I often get called in when clients suspect the model performance. More often than not, however, I find that the model in question was the only thing that was done correctly in a series of long processes from data manipulation and target setting to model scoring and deployment. I guess it is just easier to blame some black box, but most errors happen before and after modeling.

A model is nothing but an algorithmic expression measuring likelihood of an object resembling — or not resembling — the target. As in, “I don’t know for sure, but that household is very likely to purchase high-end home electronics products,” only based on the information that we get to have. Or on a larger scale, “How many top-line TV sets over 65 inches will we sell during the Christmas shopping season this year?” Again, only based on past sales history, current marcom spending, some campaign results, and a few other factors — like seasonality and virality rate.

These are made-up examples, of course, but I tried to make them as specific and realistic as possible here. Because when people think that a model went wrong, often it is because a wrong question was asked in the first place. Those “dumb” algorithms, unfortunately, only provide answers to specific questions. If a wrong question is presented? The result would seem off, too.

That is why the first step in analytics should be “formulating a question,” not data-crunching. Jumping into a data lake — or any other form of data depository, for that matter — without a clear definition of goals and specific targets is often a shortcut to demise of the initiative itself. Imagine a case where one starts building a house without a blueprint. Just as a house is not a random pile of building materials, a model is not an arbitrary combination raw data.

I can even argue formulating the question is so difficult and critical, that it is the deciding factor dividing analysts into seasoned data scientists and junior number-crunchers. Defining proper problem statements is challenging, because:

  • business goals are often far from perfectly constructed logical statements, and
  • available data are mostly likely incomplete or inadequate for advanced analytics.

Basically, good data players must be able to translate all those wishful marketing goals into mathematical expressions, only using the data handed to them. Such skill is far beyond knowledge in regression models or machine learning.

That is why we must follow these specific steps for data-based solutioning:

data scientists use this roadmap
Credit: Stephen H. Yu
  1. Formulating Questions: Again, this is the most critical step of all. What are the immediate issues and pain points? For what type of marketing functions, and in what context? How will the solution be applied and how will they be used by whom, through what channel? What are the specific domains where the solution is needed? I will share more details on how to ask these questions later in this series, but having a specific set of goals must be the first step. Without proper goal-setting, one can’t even define success criteria against which the results would be measured.
  2. Data Discovery: It is useless to dream up a solution with data that are not even available. So, what is available, and what kind of shape are they in? Check the inventory of transaction history; third-party data, such as demographic and geo-demographic data; campaign history and response data (often not in one place); user interaction data; survey data; marcom spending and budget; product information, etc. Now, dig through everything, but don’t waste time trying to salvage everything, either. Depending on the goal, some data may not even be necessary. Too many projects get stuck right here, not moving forward an inch. The goal isn’t having a perfect data depository — CDP, Data Lake, or whatever — but providing answers to questions posed in Step 1.
  3. Data Transformation: You will find that most data sources are NOT “analytics-ready,” no matter how clean and organized they may seem (there are often NOT well-organized, either). Disparate data sources must be merged and consolidated, inconsistent data must be standardized and categorized, different levels of information must be summarized onto the level of prediction (e.g., product, email, individual, or household levels), and intelligent predictors must be methodically created. Otherwise, the modelers would spend majority of their time fixing and massaging the data. I often call this step creating an “Analytics Sandbox,” where all “necessary” data are in pristine condition, ready for any type of advanced analytics.
  4. Analytics/Model Development: This is where algorithms are created, considering all available data. This is the highlight of this analytics journey, and key to proper marketing automation. Ironically, this is the easiest part to automate, in comparison to previous steps and post-analytics steps. But only if the right questions — and right targets — are clearly defined, and data are ready for this critical step. This is why one shouldn’t just blame the models or modelers when the results aren’t good enough. There is no magic algorithm that can save ill-defined goals and unusable messy data.
  5. Knowledge Share: The models may be built, but the game isn’t over yet. It is one thing to develop algorithms with a few hundred thousand record samples, and it’s quite another to apply them to millions of live data records. There are many things that can go wrong here. Even slight differences in data values, categorization rules, or even missing data ratio will make well-developed models render ineffective. There are good reasons why many vendors charge high prices for model scoring. Once the scoring is done and proven correct, resultant model scores must be shared with all relevant systems, through which decisions are made and campaigns are deployed.
  6. Application of Insights: Just because model scores are available, it doesn’t mean that decision-makers and campaign managers will use them. They may not even know that such things are available to them; or, even if they do, they may not know how to use them. For instance, let’s say that there is a score for “likely to respond to emails with no discount offer” (to weed out habitual bargain-seekers) for millions of individuals. What do those scores mean? The lower the better, or the higher the better? If 10 is the best score, is seven good enough? What if we need to mail to the whole universe? Can we differentiate offers, depending on other model scores — such as, “likely to respond to free-shipping offers”? Do we even have enough creative materials to do something like that? Without proper applications, no amount of mathematical work will seem useful. This is why someone in charge of data and analytics must serve as an “evangelist of analytics,” continually educating and convincing the end-users.
  7. Impact Analysis: Now, one must ask the ultimate question, “Did it work?” And “If it did, what elements worked (and didn’t work)?” Like all scientific approaches, marketing analytics and applications are about small successes and improvements, with continual hypothesizing and learning from past trials and mistakes. I’m sure you remember the age-old term “Closed-loop” marketing. All data and analytics solutions must be seen as continuous efforts, not some one-off thing that you try once or twice and forget about. No solution will just double your revenue overnight; that is more like a wishful thinking than a data-based solution.

As you can see, there are many “before” and “after” steps around modeling and algorithmic solutioning. This is why one should not just blame the data scientist when things don’t work out as expected, and why even casual users must be aware of basic ins and outs of analytics. Users must understand that they should not employ models or solutions outside of their original design specifications, either. There simply is no way to provide answers to illogical questions, now or in the future.

The Question Is the Answer

This question and answer format has come to SEO as the featured snippet. These snippets, generated automatically by Google from the organic results, provide users quick answers to their questions. Sample questions that trigger a snippet are: “best chicken and dumplings recipe,” “what to wear to a funeral,” “how to remove a tick” and “when to use a semicolon.”

Unknown peopleFans of the long-running TV show “Jeopardy!” know that contestants must state their answers in the form of a question. Having watched this show many times over the years, it is startling over how many domains of knowledge answers can be stated as questions.

This question and answer format has come to SEO as the featured snippet. These snippets, generated automatically by Google from the organic results, provide users quick answers to their questions. Sample questions that trigger a snippet are: “best chicken and dumplings recipe,” “what to wear to a funeral,” “how to remove a tick” and “when to use a semicolon.” The featured answer snippet includes a direct link to the source and shows up above any of the other organic results. For the SEO, this is new ground to capture.

To be the featured snippet is to achieve a rank 0, so to speak. Is there an advantage to attaining this? How is it accomplished?

Why Have These Featured Snippets Proliferated?

As users migrate to mobile devices with smaller screens, search is changing to meet their needs. Gone is the user sitting at a desktop plowing through link after link for information on “how to remove a tick?” Chances are, the searcher is out on a hike or walking in the lawn and realizes that one of these disease-bearing insects has grabbed onto their body. A quick search on an ever-present phone will yield accurate instructions for the removal.

The rapid growth of voice activated search through Siri, Alexa and Cortana has brought a more conversational tone to search. “Siri, find me the best chicken and dumplings recipe?” These devices will continue to improve and so, too, must search. User behavior will demand it.

When Google first brought out the featured snippet, SEOs thought that it might be little more than a test or would only apply to certain types of information. It is not a test, and as “Jeopardy!” has shown us, a question and answer format can apply to many domains of information. Google has continued to expand the featured snippet with related snippets (headlined as — People also ask) that delve deeper into the topic at hand. Explore these, and you will find that layers and layers of instant information unspool before your eyes.

Is There an Advantage?

When the featured snippet first showed up on search pages, there were concerns that Google was seizing a site’s content, displaying it and removing the impetus for the user to come to the site. Experience has shown that the featured snippet provides an added impetus for the user to click through and get more information. It is as if the user has hit a rich vein of ore and wants dig out more quality information. Sites that are featured enjoy strong traffic generated by the snippets.

How to Be Featured?

How to be featured is the challenge. This is one of the many places where content and SEO must come together. It is dreaming to expect a page with little chance of ranking, mired in Page Four or Five of the search results, to magically pop up in the featured snippets for a competitive keyword question. However, a quick review of top-ranking pages — Page One or so — will give you some idea as to where potential lies. The next step is to generate questions that might fit with the pages. If your pages were built for users to find information, this task should, in fact, come quite easily.

  • Why did you build it?
  • Who did you build it for?
  • When do you expect users to find it?
  • How will they use the page?
  • What benefit will they glean from it?

As you may have noted, each of the phrases above is in the form of a question. It is not hard to generate questions. Then, make sure that the question and its attendant answer are infused into your content and watch the results.

How to Suck Less at Your Personal Pitch

The number one thing people want to talk about is themselves. When you facilitate this, you’ll be remembered because they enjoyed the conversation. Just remember: A good question prompts people to tell a story about themselves, in turn creating a deeper connection.

i am uniqueWhen you meet someone for the first time, the question “What do you do?” inevitably makes its way to the conversation. I don’t know about you, but I am not a fan of this question. It is not a great question to ask, nor is it fun to answer.

Let’s explore some reasons for why this question is not so great. “What do you do?” implies you are asking what someone does for a living. This makes people define themselves by how they earn a paycheck. What if they are in transition? What if they hate their job?

So you can see how this simple and common question can quickly make someone uncomfortable. Plus, you are not really getting to know that person.

Here are some alternative questions to ask instead:

  1. If you won the lottery what would you do?
  2. What are you passionate about?
  3. What do you like to do?
  4. What is your favorite thing that you own?
  5. How do you spend your days?
  6. What are you most excited about right now?
  7. What are you working on?
  8. What are you most proud of?
  9. What’s the number one item on your bucket list?
  10. What gets you up in the morning?

The number one thing people want to talk about is themselves. When you facilitate this, you’ll be remembered because they enjoyed the conversation. Just remember: A good question prompts people to tell a story about themselves, in turn creating a deeper connection.

Now let’s examine some ways to answer “What do you do?” because you will undoubtedly get that question. Do you say, “I’m a marketing manager” or “I work for ACME Corporation”? My guess is 95 percent of you answer with something along those lines.

Don’t let your work define you. How would you answer that question if you are currently between jobs? You might feel a little deflated when someone asks you that, especially if you haven’t given much thought into what you should answer.

What if you designed a different way of answering that question? What if you told a story? For example, I might answer that question with, “Right now I am really excited to be launching a new product that will help marketers manage their personal brand in only two minutes a day.”

It’s not true, but if that sounded interesting to you, let me know, and I may just start working on that.

To start to tell your story, think about these three things:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. How do you serve them or provide value?
  3. What results are achieved?

A Common Sales Email Tactic That Works Less and Less

They can be the kiss of death: Questions. True — I coach sellers who are using questions in cold email messages. Some are successful. But questions cut both ways. They can help, or hinder you. In most cases response rates are low — and for a very good reason.

4 Tips for Using Email for Acquisition and PromotionQuestions: They can be the kiss of death.

True — I coach sellers who are using questions in cold email messages, and some are successful. But questions cut both ways. They can help or hinder you.

In most cases questions yield low response rates — and for a very good reason.

Maybe you are using questions to break the ice. Well, you may be inadvertently encouraging buyers to delete based on the same principle.

Here’s why questions rarely work — and what to do instead.

Starting With a Question Rarely Works

Are your cold prospecting InMails/emails starting with a question? Have you tried using “Quick Question” as a subject line, and then asked your question?

Even if you are starting with questions and having success, be advised: Potential buyers increasingly delete cold emails that start with questions, because they signal “terrible pitch ahead.”

Be careful — asking questions can sabotage you. Especially when the message within the template also:

  1. Takes longer than 30 seconds to read.
  2. Includes Web links or attachments.
  3. Presents a solution, rather than provoking the buyer to hit reply and talk about their problem.
  4. Asks a question that screams “lazy sales person asking me a dumb question.”

These are just a few characteristics working against you. The root cause of your cold email being deleted may be that silly question you are asking — the one you are asking to appear relevant. Trouble is, it’s a dead give-away.

It’s lazy. It’s like 95 percent of your competitors’ emails pouring into your buyers’ inbox: highly delete-able.

The Two Types of Questions

There are two flavors of questions appearing in email messages. Those that help the buyer think:

Delete this email! Rapido! Rapido!

or:

Hmmm…

It’s the “hmmm” we’re after.

There’s a lot of talk about making sure to “add value” in your email messages right? Well, questions can add value, though they’re tricky. The best way to use questions in a cold email is to encourage the reader to introspect and evaluate their own situation at this moment in time.

3 Great Ways to Pose a Question in Direct Mail (and 1 Note of Caution)

Sometimes you realize that something’s escaped your attention. Take the direct mail that I read. I’ve made lists, but not for mail that asks questions.

Sometimes, even when you think you’re a very detail-oriented person, you realize that there’s something else that’s escaped your attention. Take the direct mail that I read every day. I’ve made lists of all kinds of features that our Who’s Mailing What! database doesn’t capture, but I never started one for direct mail that asks questions effectively.

I could think of a few examples off the top of my head, almost all of them in teasers. But I had to do some serious digging through my file folders to begin to get a handle on what works well in creating reader involvement, and eventually, inspiring action. And although I’m not close to being done, here are some early observations on what I’ve found.

1. Appeal To Emotion

This is a no-brainer. It’s pretty common across all verticals to leverage one of the seven main copy drivers (guilt, flattery, anger, exclusivity, fear, greed and salvation).

Volvo mail

Here’s a postcard from Volvo that taps into fear of hitting a runner moving across the front of your vehicle. “Are your brakes ready?” it asks.  The promotion is for a multi-point brake inspection, so that your car is “ready for whatever comes your way.”

I have to mention this. A membership renewal effort from the Republican National Committee begins with a question that’s good at inspiring some guilt: “I don’t want to believe you’ve abandoned the Republican Party, but I have to ask … Have you given up?” This letter is a long-lived Grand Control, in the mail for over 15 years.

2. Make the Reader Curious

You have some information to provide about your product, your service, or your nonprofit. To attract the attention of the prospect, you can make them want to know more.

CROH_01This teaser question from Consumer Reports on Health, “Do you make these 10 common mistakes about your health?”, is a variation on one originally written by Max Sackheim for a mail order course more than 80 years ago: “Do You Make These Mistakes In English?” It’s been copied by lots of others, mostly unsuccessfully, over the decades.

Other examples:

“Why does my cat do that?”  —CatWatch
“Honey (and Vinegar) Can Do WHAT?” —FC&A Publishing
“Can these students save America’s national parks?” —Student Conservation Association

3. Make ‘Yes’ Easy

Good yes and no questions are a lot harder to formulate than you might think .You should avoid wording your question so that a weak “yes” or a flat-out “no” stops the prospect from reading further.

You want your question to be focused. You want it to be so cut-and-dried, so  rhetorical, so obvious that the reader buys in enthusiastically with a “yes,” and continues reading, and agreeing with your pitch.

WomensHealth_02This is a good example from a mailer for Women’s Health: “Want to look better naked?” Considering the audience, this is a leading question that works.

The bottom line is that questions should always be geared toward one goal: getting the prospective customer, member, or donor to seek the answers (or at least begin to) from the direct mail piece in front of them.

Are there good questions in direct mail that you like? Please feel free to share in the comments below.

Intended Ambiguity Demystified

While driving through a small Midwestern town on a recent road trip, we came upon a sign in front of a business that mystified me. There were three words posted on the marquee, and they didn’t make sense. As I tried to decipher the ambiguity of what they meant, my curiosity spun as I tried to resolve the meaning of “Hot Loaded Italian” …

Intended Ambiguitiy Exemplified
Intended Ambiguity Exemplified: Win what? And from whom? And why did you draw a computer mouse to illustrate a contest?

While driving through a small Midwestern town on a recent road trip, we came upon a sign in front of a business that mystified me. There were three words posted on the marquee, and they didn’t make sense. As I tried to decipher the ambiguity of what they meant, my curiosity spun as I tried to resolve the meaning of “Hot Loaded Italian.”

Hmm. Hot loaded Italian … what? As we neared the sign, we could see it was in front of an Arby’s restaurant which offered more context. At least now we could assume “Hot loaded Italian” was a sandwich instead of someone who was beautiful (or angry), intoxicated (or packing heat) and from Italy (or of Italian heritage).

Intended ambiguity may, at first glance, seem like an oxymoron. But, let’s dig deeper to explore how it can work for you.

“Intended ambiguity,” stimulating “unresolved curiosity,” is a powerful headline and subject line copywriting technique. Why? Because it arouses thought, curiosity and questions, the mind spins until the question is resolved with an answer. And that draws your reader in.

By using a few words that aren’t a complete thought, but tantalizing in what they suggest, you create an air of mystery and hook your reader into wanting to know more.

If you’re a dog lover, here’s another intended ambiguity puzzler:

“Dogs Indoors at Risk”

The unresolved curiosity here? Dogs, presumably inside a home or apartment, are at risk of … what? Sleeping?

Then there are emojis in email subject lines that can also create a sense of unresolved curiosity. As I was writing this column, an email came in saying:

“We’re making improvements that we think you’ll ♥”

At first glance, I missed the emoji heart, thinking the sender erred and left off a word. But there was unresolved curiosity with the use of the emoji.

Then there are ambiguous unresolved claims.

“We’re ahead 30 percent.”

Thirty percent ahead of what? We hear claims like this in political campaign speeches all the time these days. The claim hits us, the mind either spins for a moment wondering “30 percent of what?” or accepts the statement and moves on to keep up with the rest of speech.

Intended ambiguity can be a strategic copywriting tool. Use it for headlines and email subject lines to stimulate unresolved curiosity and the irresistible urge for the reader to pause and want to learn more. But, be careful—there’s a fine line between drawing readers in with ambiguous words creating unresolved curiosity, and repelling them through simple vagueness or borderline deception.

(Looking for tips about how to attract more customers? Download my free seven-step guide to help you align your messaging with how the primitive mind thinks. It’s titled “When You Need More Customers, This Is What You Do.” Or get all the details in my new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code” available at the DirectMarketingIQ bookstore.)

Stimulate Sales by Answering 4 Key Questions

When was the last time you performed a quick marketing check-up? Generations and attitudes continually change. A unique selling proposition from a decade ago may no longer resonate. Past customers, prime and ready for your product today, may have been overlooked in your marketing and sales plan.

When was the last time you performed a quick marketing check-up? Generations and attitudes continually change. A unique selling proposition from a decade ago may no longer resonate. Past customers, prime and ready for your product today, may have been overlooked in your marketing and sales plan.

Recently I had lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in a while. He was desperate for some ideas to stimulate leads for his business. That conversation reminded me that we all need a check-up from time-to-time about how we’re approaching marketing. The outcome is captured in these four questions that you, too, should ask yourself:

  1. Do you have a good feel for the persona your audience? After the conversation with my friend, he came to realize that most of his market now comes from the millennial generation. He was still thinking and marketing like a baby boomer and realized his dated materials probably weren’t being seen. With each passing day the millennial generation is becoming a larger influence. They are starting jobs, buying houses, and making the purchases that 20- and 30-year-olds naturally do. On the business-to-business side, these younger people are taking over key business responsibilities from an older generation. Don’t look dated and use the media channel your market frequents!
  1. Is your position, or unique selling proposition, clear? Does it pop out in just 8 seconds (the average attention span these days)? With even less time to grab attention, your USP must be easy to digest in just seconds.
  1. Do you leverage sales from your raving fans? My friend, who’s in the real estate business, has the names and address of over 1,700 past buyers. But he hasn’t contacted them in years, thinking they likely weren’t in the market for his services. But they might be now. And they certainly can be good for referrals to family and friends. Are you reaching out to past customers?
  1. Do you think just having a website is going to deliver leads? You have to drive traffic, probably more today than ever before. If you aren’t emailing past customers with a link to a landing page, using content marketing, search engine marketing or retargeting to bring people to your website, your traffic will suffer. People search online differently today than they did only a decade ago. Social media is now a significant way people get news. People search for educational content or reviews.

If it’s time to evaluate your business and marketing approach, ask yourself these questions. With adjustments and updates in what you’re doing, you stand a better chance to stimulate your sales.

The 1 Simple Way to Sell via Your Webinar

Want to sell with your webinar? Actually go for the close at the end or generate an appointment for your reps to follow-up immediately? Stop wasting the audience’s time with blather about your speaker.

Want to sell with your webinar? Actually go for the close at the end or generate an appointment for your reps to follow-up immediately? Stop wasting the audience’s time with blather about your speaker.

Ok, it will take more I admit. The rest can be done by getting to the point fast and helping your buyer become attracted to the idea of talking more about the itch your speaker just scratched. Here’s a three-step process to getting that done.

You Have the Email but not a Lead
The word webinar itself has a negative connotation. At best it is something your prospects attend while they check email and put out any number of fires. You might argue, “Sure, Molander, but I have the prospects’ email.”

True. But you don’t have them on the way to becoming a lead. You blew it. How? By wasting every single moment from “go.”

It’s time for tough love about your Webinar and the lousy leads it’s sending to sales. Of course, I’ll also offer three simple steps to help produce Webinars that spark customers’ curiosity in what your solution can do for them.

No. 1: Avoid all Introductions Like the Plague
“I find the need to hear the presenters personal story for 10-20 minutes a huge turn off,” says sales coach, Iain Swanson of UK-based Kolzers. “In most cases I have literally switched off and missed the content of the call.”

Enough said. And let’s face it. You’ve probably done the same. Or perhaps you make it habit to join the webinar late in an effort to avoid the irrelevant blather.

This time-wasting tradition needs to stop. Right now. How? NO introductions.

Your potential buyer isn’t attending the webinar to hear about the backgrounds or experiences of the presenter. Nor what the sponsor does, for whom or how well.

They’re there for one reason: To take from you. They want as much as they can get, for free, as possible. Why? They’re human.

Let them take. Let them gorge.

Just structure the way you release the information. Copywrite it. Yes, copywrite it. Scripted? Yes but only for the pros. If you come off as canned you can kiss the leads goodbye.

Start by canning your introduction. Shock your audience by immediately getting to the point. They’ve already qualified the speaker. They’re there, after all.

Brighten their day. Surprise them. Make them think, “WOW, he/she just skipped the boring introduction stuff!”

This is how to sell using Webinars. Trust me, it works.

No. 2: Promise Viewers Something They Don’t Already Know—Then Deliver It Fast, Clearly
Start your webinar by telling prospects, “You’re about to hear information that you probably don’t already know.” Then, follow the Golden Rule of communication. What if prospects already know most of what you’re about to tell them?

You’ve designed the webinar to fail. Just like a whitepaper that looks sharp but is worthless, your Webinar must contain useful information and new know-how, tips or knowledge. If it does not contain enough new information you will not hold the audience.

Build in useful, actionable and fresh information and present it according to the Golden Rule:

  • Tell them what you’re about to tell them (the main insight, short-cut, better way or remedy)
  • Tell them the “better way” (at a high level, yet specific)
  • Tell them what you just told them (come back and remind of the main point)

This approach serves the most essential goal: Getting customers clear on your message. Without clarity your webinar will fail.

Remember the last time you were clear—really clear—on something? Remember how you felt?

Remember the sense of confidence that came with your “ah-ha moment?” You might also recall a feeling of wanting to know more—wanting to have more clarity, more confidence. That’s what we’re after.

That’s your webinar’s job: get buyers crystal clear, confident in themselves and trusting you.

No. 3: Help Them to Want to Know More
When is the last time you attended a Webinar and learned something new? Think about a time when the presenter gave you everything they promised they would at the beginning of the presentation—and more. Did you want more from them? Were you ready to act on that impulse?

Give your best insights, tips or warnings away. Give away all of your best knowledge. All of it.

“But, Jeff, giving prospects my best advice for FREE will help them to do it without me!”

Doubtful. Be careful to not confuse customers qualifying you with what you perceive as their purchase intent.

The act of looking for answers does not always translate to customers’ wanting to do what you charge money for themselves. Even when it does “signal” a customer’s desire to do it themselves, what customers want can change.

You want to be there when it changes.

Most importantly you need to create a craving, deep inside your prospects. A desire to know more details about your big claim, better way, short-cut or system.

The only way to get prospects hungry for more of you is to attract them to the idea of talking to you. Attraction takes a reliable, effective system.

The idea is to structure (copywrite) the content you release in a way that makes asking more questions irresistible to your attendees. Yes, questions can be answered in Q&A. That’s fine. This builds trust and creates more intense curiosity in you—a hunger for more of what you can offer.

But only if you are careful about how you answer those questions.

To get started, present the answers or solutions clearly but in ways that provokes prospects’ curiosity. Answer questions always creates more questions about the details (relating to what you sell).

To create this hunger:

  • Make your words specific, filled with integrity, true and useful
  • Be action-oriented (make your answer clear and easily acted on)
  • But be incomplete (make a credible answer yet leave out most of the details)

Tee-Up Your Call to Action
The idea is to create hunger for a short-cut at the end of your webinar. In other words, the goal of this three-step process is to get prospects hungry for a faster, easier way to get all the details you just spent 40 minutes talking about.

This faster, easier way can be:

  • a lead generation offer
  • your product/service.

The idea is to present content that helps customers begin to desire your lead generation offer. Or at least be primed for the idea of taking action on it.

Making the pitch for viewers to buy at the end of your webinar? Help viewers see buying your product/service as a logical next step in the journey you just started with them.

Using this three-step process transforms what you sell from “something I need to think about buying some day” into “the obvious next step I should take right now.”

Your fee or price tag becomes a logical investment that “feels right, right now.”

Good luck!

Today’s B-to-B Marketing: It’s a Lot Like Shark Tank

As a marketer, I understand the challenge of reaching business decision makers like me in a fresh and meaningful way, but I will tell you that as a focus group of one, I despise the direction marketers seem to be headed:

As a marketer, I understand the challenge of reaching business decision makers like me in a fresh and meaningful way, but I will tell you that as a focus group of one, I despise the direction marketers seem to be headed:

  • My LinkedIn inbox is now overflowing with invitations to connect to people I don’t know and now choose NOT to connect to because I know they’re going to simply try and sell me something based on their job description/profile.
  • To download a whitepaper of interest requires me to complete a form that includes my phone number, which means dealing with unwanted calls from a bored sales rep.
  • My regular inbox is stuffed with offers from strangers that want to set up meetings, desperate attempts to sell me data from unknown sources, demands that I click links to view the video about revolutionary new technology that will “change the way I do business.”
  • If I express any interest at all in a product (attend a webinar, visit a tradeshow booth, download a spec sheet), I am relentlessly mobbed by emails and phone calls.

I get that sales folks have a job to do, so what’s the answer?

It’s called Lead Nurturing.

An organized and systematic way of building a relationship that will, over time, help turn a cold prospect into a warm prospect… and from a warm prospect into a hot prospect… and ultimately to a sale.

But excellence in lead nurturing seems to be a lost art form as I haven’t been exposed to many companies that are doing it—let alone doing it well.

Best practices suggest that the marketer try to ask just a few questions at the outset of the relationship to try and determine the prospects pain point (the reason for their download or visit to your website or tradeshow booth), and the role the individual plays in the purchase process (influencer, part of a decision making team, final decision maker).

Based on the answers to these and perhaps one or two other pertinent questions that would help you define your lead nurturing strategy (for example, industry or job title/function), leads should be scored and placed into an appropriate lead nurturing system that will help the marketer deliver ongoing content that will be most relevant to that prospect.

Best practices do NOT include asking questions about intent to purchase timeframes (God forbid you answer “in the near future” as that will guarantee an instant follow up call), budget size (really? Do you think I’ll reveal that I have earmarked$100K on a form?).

Lead nurturing programs should include:

  • Additional assets that can be distributed via email: Content can include a competitive review, an article that’s relevant to the prospects vertical industry, research findings, videos that demonstrate how a product works, etc. These should NOT be sales literature but rather help the company position itself as an expert in their field. This in turn, helps build credibility and trust (key components in a B-to-B purchase).
  • Invitations to webinars where a particular topic is explored. Webinars should include speakers from OUTSIDE the sponsoring organization to give the topic value and ensure the attendee isn’t just signing up for a sales pitch.
  • Invitations to breakfast or luncheon roundtable discussions: Bring in a speaker of interest and discuss a topic that is most relevant to your audience (especially if it’s industry specific).

Over the course of time, you’ll be able to ask additional questions / gain additional insights into your prospect pool that will help you become more familiar with them and the problem they’re trying to solve.

After all, don’t we all want to do business with people we know and like? The reality is, it is highly unlikely that I’m ready to buy after one simple download, so stop treating me like a piece of meat that has fallen into a tank full of hungry sharks.

Is Your Content Fresh, Frequent and Unique?

Today, your content plays a much larger role in getting top search results than ever before; therefore, it may be time to adjust your SEO content. In September 2013, Google unveiled Hummingbird, the single largest revamp of its basic search algorithm in more than 10 years. The intent of this major change was to improve the speed and precision of the processing. It was also designed to address the changes in searcher behavior as search volumes continue to shift from desktop computers to mobile devices.

Today, your content plays a much larger role in getting top search results than ever before; therefore, it may be time to adjust your SEO content. In September 2013, Google unveiled Hummingbird, the single largest revamp of its basic search algorithm in more than 10 years. The intent of this major change was to improve the speed and precision of the processing. It was also designed to address the changes in searcher behavior as search volumes continue to shift from desktop computers to mobile devices.

Hummingbird uses signals derived from the query and the user’s behavior to assist in delivering a result that quickly and precisely answers what the user really wants to find. When users search on mobile devices, they are frequently asking specific questions in conversational language: “Where is the nearest flower shop?” or “How many miles to … ?” Hummingbird was designed to address these natural language questions and provide specific and precise answers. To be found relevant, your content must address the needs of searchers for real information.

Although Hummingbird is expected to impact 90 percent of searches, many marketers are unaware of its influence on their search traffic. No significant shifts in Web traffic were reported worldwide after its launch. This is because the impact on most well-optimized sites was negligible. This should not be interpreted as a license to maintain the status quo on your search efforts. As users become more accustomed to receiving quality results from their conversational search queries, they will expect content that is honed to specifically address the questions that they form into queries.

To meet these expectations, your content should present answers to the types of questions that might be posed in a search query. It should be rich in useful information that is presented clearly. If you expect your content to appear near the top of the search results, it must meet these three criteria: fresh, frequent and unique. Over time, we can expect to see steadily improving search results for sites that understand and actualize these content requirements.

Fresh content does not necessarily mean that all of your content must be new. If you previously developed, as part of your search program, evergreen pieces, such as “frequently asked questions” or how-to articles, you should revisit them and check how long they have been on your site. Would they benefit from an update or a revision, or just a reformatting? For Google, fresh content is better than stale content. Just as no one really wants to read the stale magazines in the doctor’s waiting room; they don’t want the digital equivalent delivered in response to their search queries. Google obliges this by screening for the newest, freshest content. Now is the time to refresh those evergreen content pieces, even if you have not seen a negative shift in your search volumes. You may be able to capture additional visitors who are seeking answers to those questions that you have cleverly addressed.

Because frequency is another criterion used to evaluate the value of your content, you should be sure to have a schedule for adding more content and for refreshing older pieces. Take a lesson from the success of blog sites. Those with frequent posts of fresh content are rewarded with more search traffic than those with just a few stale posts. Consider how you might apply the same principles to content additions to your website.

Your content must also be unique—not just an aging chestnut. Avoid stale recitations or rehashes of information. Ask yourself: “Does this provide something that is new, unique—or is it just content for the sake of content?” For search success in the future, you will need to pay close attention to your content strategy and deliver fresh, frequent and unique content.