10 Raw Truths About Cold Calling

Please, not cold calling. We hate it. Cold calling is frustrating and scary. No one will talk to you. Those that will talk are known to change their minds and ghost you, instead of following through with what they promised. Cold calling is a tummy ache.

But nevertheless, selling is always part of the program for start-up founders, business owners and Freelance consultants and that means you can’t avoid cold calling. Every so often you have to hunt down some business because when the ship you hoped would come is not on the horizon, cold calling is the most reliable way to generate revenue.  Moreover, cold calling is much less expensive and time-consuming than dressing up and going to a networking event, hoping to meet your Next Big Client.

Life is about managing expectations and I’m happy to share in this post the real deal about cold calling.  My purpose is to make your cold-calling campaigns more profitable and less frustrating. The data presented is based on 3,025 B2B cold calls made in one month, from a prospect list of 600.

  1. You’ll make an average of 17 calls before reaching a live person. 50% of calls go to voice mail; don’t bother to leave a message, it will not be returned.
  2. 3,025 calls resulted in 178 conversations (6%) and led to 18 follow-up meetings (10% of conversations).
  3. Develop a high-quality prospect list that provides the names and contact info of senior executives. CEOs, VPs and Directors are more likely to answer the phone and they can approve the funding of a sale or project.
  4. Prepare a script for the call to remind yourself of selling points, how to handle  anticipated objections, pricing, or whatever else you need to remember (you don’t have to read from it).
  5.  Present an unambiguous and simply stated purpose for making the call. Your product or service must be able to solve a problem for the prospect, or make/save the company money.
  6. Smile when you get someone on the telephone. Your smile will give you confidence and that confidence will be reflected in your voice and ensure that you project a positive attitude.
  7. Be (reasonably) enthusiastic, persistent and polite when you speak with your prospect. Don’t talk too fast. Relax.
  8. Ask for a meeting; you are more likely to close a sale in person.
  9. Don’t call during lunch time (11:45 AM – 1:30 PM); otherwise, the time of day doesn’t seem to matter.
  10. Call on minor holidays. Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day can find senior executives in the office for part of the day, to catch up on work while distractions are few.

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

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Factors to Include When Planning to Launch a Business

In a recent 7 day span, I was invited to judge two pitch contests for entrepreneurs who had successfully completed a 13-week business plan writing workshop presented by a woman-centric business incubator and business development center that has operated in New England for 25 years (and is also an SBA affiliate). The entrepreneurs were either in start-up or scaling (i.e., expansion) mode.

I was excited to be a judge and privileged to meet nearly two dozen forward-thinking, focused, resourceful and determined women who expect nothing less than success and are taking decisive steps to bring it about. Based on the business concept pitches I heard, I encourage those who are evaluating whether to launch a business venture to include the following information:

  • Name and describe your product or service and the problem(s) it will solve
  • Identify your best customer groups and explain why those customers will pay for your product or service
  • Identify your primary competitors, list the competitive advantages that your product/ service possesses and explain why customers will prefer your offerings
  • Create a business model that outlines how you’ll acquire customers, where and how the product/service will be delivered and how the business will make money
  • Explain why you are qualified to make the proposed business successful
  • Develop a business strategy and marketing plan that includes:
    • sales and distribution strategy
    • pricing strategy
    • product positioning strategy
    • branding strategy
    • content marketing strategy strategies
    • social media strategy
    • PR and advertising strategy
  • Detail the business pre-launch and launch (start-up) costs
  • If investors or borrowing will sought, present a (realistic) break-even analysis and 24 month revenue projections (P & L and cash-flow)
  • Detail the potential investor return and the loan payback schedule

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Launch of the Hubble Space Telescope April 24, 1990

Full Frontal LinkedIn

For B2B firms, Freelance consultants and corporate or not-for-profit professionals, LinkedIn is the preferred social media platform because it is strictly business. Members create a profile that is essentially an expanded resume. There are opportunities to receive recommendations from colleagues with whom one has worked. One can create and upload a SlideShare presentation to provide an overview of company products and services and describe how they benefit customers.

A portfolio that showcases examples of one’s best work can be created and uploaded.  The company blog and/or newsletter can be added to the profile and all connections will receive notice of publishings. If that’s not enough, LinkedIn ProFinder helps to match prospective clients with Freelancers in search of project work (I’ve had a couple of almosts but no contract yet, after 6-8 months of sporadic follow-up to prospect inquiries).

There are those members who claim to make money directly from their LinkedIn connections (other than the ProFinder feature), but I don’t know anyone who’s done so. Still, LinkedIn seems to be a worthwhile investment.  I think presence on the site lends legitimacy and I suspect that prospective clients who are evaluating whether to hire a Freelancer (me!) for a project visit the LinkedIn profile as an element of due diligence.

LinkedIn users

According to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions Blog, of the 500 million LinkedIn profile owners, 61 million are senior-level influencers and 24.5 million are in decision-making positions.  Millennials are also well-represented on LinkedIn. Globally, 87 million members are Millennial generation and 11 million are in decision-making positions.

Content Marketing

LinkedIn’s Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn  reports that LinkedIn is the top choice for B2B content marketing and that every week, LinkedIn content is viewed 9 billion times. While 94% of B2B marketers (including Freelancers) use LikedIn to distribute content, 89% use Twitter, 77% use Facebook, 77% use YouTube and 61% use Google + for B2B content distribution. Surprisingly, only 3 million LinkedIn members post content once a week or more.

When marketing executives (i.e., the Freelancer’s prospective clients) were asked their choice sites to search for relevant, high-quality B2B content, 91% voted for LinkedIn, blowing away Twitter (29%) and Facebook (27%). Decision-makers who have the authority to green-light projects and send billable hours your way trust LinkedIn.  How-to posts and lists receive the best reader response, according to OKDork.com.

About 45% of LinkedIn article readers are managers, directors, vice presidents and C-suite dwellers. Have you published articles in legitimate media outlets, or written white papers or case studies? If so, upload examples of your writing to your profile, since nearly half of LinkedIn article readers are senior level decision-makers. Furthermore, OKDork.com investigated LinkedIn viral posts and discovered that the sweet spot for content length is 1900 words. Don’t shy away from long-form content.

In your articles, be certain to include images (photos, graphs, charts); eight images emerged as the magic number.  Yet videos do not impress LinkedIn readers as they do visitors to other platforms and OKDork.com recommends that article writers avoid videos.

I’ve made this blog available to my LinkedIn connections for the 10 years of its existence and I’ve gained followers and regular readers as a result. Get busy, people! If you think about it, you’ll find that you have relevant content to share with your community every two or three weeks, at least.

As mentioned earlier, LinkedIn encourages members to take advantage of SlideShare as a storytelling and sales tool. According to TechCrunch, 70 million LinkedIn members visit SlideShare each month and 18 million pieces of content have been uploaded (does that mean there are 18 million SlideShare presentations on LinkedIn? I guess so.)

I have a SlideShare presentation that was uploaded some time ago and it’s a good way to tell the story of your company, or to detail why, when and how customers can benefit from using your products or services. But LinkedIn won’t allow edits to existing presentations and it’s aggravating.  I’d like to do an update.

Lead generation 

When tallying B2B leads generated by social media, LinkedIn outperforms all contenders, with 80% of B2B leads derived from LinkedIn and only 13% through Twitter and 7% through Facebook. Moreover, HubSpot reports that LinkedIn produces the highest visitor-to-lead conversion rate of all platforms, 2.74%, almost three times higher than Facebook, which produces a 0.77% visitor-to-lead conversion rate, and Twitter, which clocks in with a 0.69% visitor-to-lead rate.

In short, LinkedIn delivers more prospects who are more willing to do business.  The ultimate validation is that 65% of B2B companies have acquired a customer through LinkedIn (I’m still waiting. I should go back to ProFinder ASAP, because I do receive bidding invitations).

So here is my call-to-action. You’ve read the post (thank you!) and I hope you are inspired to step up your LinkedIn activity. It’s OK to start small. Do you have a profile photo? Add a photo and attract 21 times more profile views and receive 36 times more messages. I added a new photo today.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: John Pilkington (2006) Loading salt at the Taoudenni salt mines in northern Mali, 400 miles north of Timbuktu and approaching the Algerian border. The mines have operated since at least the 1500s.

Ask Better Questions

“Be a good listener,” Dale Carnegie advised in his 1936 classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. “Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering.”  Effectively asking questions is a big part of a leader’s job. Good decision-making is based on information we obtain by asking the right questions. Making a sale, including handling objections, is also supported by effective questioning.

Many of us hesitate to ask questions, unfortunately. Sometimes it’s because we don’t want to be perceived as intrusive. Other times,  we worry that our questions may be viewed as silly and make us appear incompetent.  On the other hand, one might assume that more information is not necessary.  In every instance, an opportunity to obtain valuable information is lost.

Alison Woods Brooks, an Assistant Professor at the Harvard Business School who teaches Negotiation and is affiliated with the Behavioral Insights Group and Leslie K. John, Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, understand that effective questioning is a skill that can be honed to make our conversations more productive.

The two offer guidance on the best type of questions to ask, tone of voice to use, the sequence of questions and how to frame the questions.  The best approach for a given situation depends on the goals of those in conversation.  Is the discussion  cooperative (e.g., relationship-building or accomplishing a task together) or  competitive (the parties seek to uncover sensitive information from each other or serve their own interests), or some combination of both? Brooks and her research team employed human coding and machine learning to identify four types of questions:

  • Introductory questions (“How are you?”)
  • Mirror questions (“I’m fine. How are you?”)
  • Full-switch questions (change the topic entirely)
  •  Follow-up questions (solicit more information)

Follow-up

Although each question type flows naturally in conversation, follow-up questions have special power. Follow-up questions signal to your conversation partner that you are listening, that you care and that you want to know more. People interacting with a conversation partner who asks lots of follow-up questions tend to feel respected and heard. According to Leslie K. John, “Most people don’t grasp that asking a lot of questions unlocks learning and improves interpersonal bonding.” Plus, follow-up questions don’t require much thought or preparation and usually come naturally to the questioner.

Yet be advised that no one likes to feel interrogated. Furthermore, closed-end questions tend to yield one-word answers. Open-ended questions counteract that effect and for that reason, they can be particularly useful in uncovering information or learning something new. In fact, they are wellsprings of innovation—which is often the result of finding the hidden, unexpected answer that no one has thought of before.

Sequencing

If the goal is to build relationships, opening with less sensitive questions and escalating slowly seems to be most effective.  In a set of studies (the results of which went viral following a write-up in the “Modern Love” column in the New York Times), psychologist Arthur Aron recruited strangers to come to the lab, paired them up and gave them a list of questions.  Participants were told to work their way through the list, starting with relatively shallow inquiries and progressing to more self-revelatory ones, such as “What is your biggest regret?”

Pairs in the control group were asked simply to interact with each other. The pairs who followed the prescribed structure liked each other more than the control pairs. This effect is so strong that it has been formalized in a task called “the relationship closeness induction,” a tool used by researchers to build a sense of connection among the participants.

Tone

People are more forthcoming when you ask questions in a casual way, rather than in a terse, official tone. In general, an overly formal tone is likely to inhibit people’s willingness to share information.

Group dynamics

Conversational dynamics can change profoundly depending on whether you’re chatting one-on-one with someone or talking in a group. Not only is the willingness to answer questions impacted by the presence of others, but members of a group tend to follow one anothers lead. In a meeting or group setting, it takes only a few closed-off people for questions to lose their probing power.  Conversely, if even one person starts to open up on a topic, the rest of the group is likely to follow suit.

Art of the response

Conversation is a dance, a mutual push-and-pull. Just as the way we ask questions can facilitate trust and the sharing of information so, too, can the way we answer them. Answering questions requires making a choice about where to fall on a continuum between privacy and transparency.  How should I answer this question? Assuming that I answer, how forthcoming can I afford to be? What should one do when asked a question that, if answered truthfully, might reveal a less-than-flattering information, or put one in a disadvantaged strategic position?

Each end of the spectrum—fully opaque and fully transparent—has benefits and pitfalls.  In negotiations, withholding sensitive information (e.g., that your alternatives are weak) can help you secure better outcomes. At the same time, transparency is an essential part of building meaningful connections. Even in a negotiation context, transparency can lead to value-creating deals; by sharing information, participants can identify elements that are relatively unimportant to one party but important to the other—the foundation of a win-win outcome.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: The Dating Game, 1965- 1973 (ABC-TV)

 

 

Making Social Media Work for B2B Companies

Hello everyone, I’m happy to return to posting after an unexpected break! An important project demanded my full attention. Apologies.

When a prospective client speaks with me about developing a plan to optimize the use of B2B social media, I ask ask that s/he name a goal or two. Most say the goal is to increase sales. Next, we talk about the difference between goals and outcomes and I tend to consider generating revenue as an outcome and not a goal. I do consider nurturing a robust sales / marketing pipeline to be a goal and I’ve found that a reasonable approach to B2B social media is to use the resource for lead generation that continually fills the pipeline with prospects.

Other uses for B2B social media include new product or service announcements, brand awareness and enhancement and relationship- building that consists of inviting customers to take a behind-the-scenes look at your organization. YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter can play a role when your company launches a new product or service.  If you’re able, create a 5- 10 minute video so that you and key team members can personally introduce the product and make the case for why it’s useful and which customers will be the best fit.  Post your video to the company website plus social media accounts.

Instagram is ideal for brand enhancement and awareness if your business can be expressed well in visuals.  Through well-composed and lighted photos, business leaders can create a narrative that reinforces product positioning, supports the pricing strategy, touts competitive advantages, introduces a new product, or portrays the company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility through involvement in community or philanthropic events (that you’ve documented with three or four action shots).

Instagram and YouTube can support relationship-building by enabling behind-the-scenes looks into your organization, whether in still photos or videos. Maybe you might want to show how team members unwind on late Friday afternoons, or the celebration of a team member’s work anniversary or birthday?

In the meantime, we can revisit the sales/ marketing funnel that we discussed a few weeks ago and understand how to effectively measure the impact of your B2B social media strategies through easily accessed social media and website metrics.

ToFu: Top of Funnel

Awareness takes place at this stage and a reasonable goal for the business is to expand name recognition and reach. Your newsletter, blog, or social media platform presence will be the likely draws, but keyword and voice searches could also bring interested parties to your door. It’s useful to measure your company’s reach and a good KPI (Key Performance Index) is the number of readers or visitors to each platform plus your website.

MoFu: Middle of Funnel

Casual “day-trippers” to your website or social media accounts at this level have either dismissed you or begun to demonstrate trust and commitment.  Make your content click-bait with a provocative headline that makes readers want to know more and provide content that fulfills the promise. Engagement takes place here and I think it’s safe to call this group qualified leads. Visitors will step it up and follow your blog, subscribe to your newsletter or become a fan. Your ebook is downloaded and they’re reading your case studies.

Useful KPIs include website clicks, time visitors spend on pages, following of embedded links, the number of fans and followers, positive reviews, comments, shares and “likes.”

BoFu: Bottom of Funnel

Leads at this stage of the funnel are looking to confirm details and finalize the decision of whether to do business.  Your prospect is ready to buy, but there’s no guarantee that s/he will buy from you.  Grease the wheels and present an inviting call-to-action that encourages the next step.  A Contact Us form on your website or Facebook Fan page makes a good call-to-action, as it signals a prospect’s desire for more than general information.  The offer of a free 30 minute consultation that can be scheduled by way of a phone call, SMS, or email should appear on the landing page of your website.

A time-sensitive special offer can make a difference. Try offering a tantalizing (and inexpensive to provide) upgrade or add-on to what the prospect has indicated s/he would like to purchase.  Free or discounted installation or a free product trial are also effective. The number of inquiries initiated to discuss your products or services, as well as the conversion rate of those inquiries, are the most relevant KPIs.

It’s useful for company leaders to remember that relationship – building is an integral ingredient of the recipe to reap benefits from social media. Too many business leaders want to dive into lead-gen, but your audience will have no desire to download your ebook until they know who you are and feel they can trust your expertise. Social media success is not an overnight sensation, it is a process that takes some time.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Julia Child on the set of The French Chef  (PBS) in 1964

Finally, A Social Media Strategy for Your B2B Company

Social Media has a B2B image problem.  Business owners, Freelancers and owners / leaders of B2B companies are for the most part able to recognize the effectiveness of Social Media marketing in the B2C realm, but many still don’t see Social Media platforms as resonating with B2B buyers, despite its pervasive use across most customer demographic groups in the U.S.

Yet numerous studies have demonstrated that the various Social Media platforms can quickly and effectively increase brand awareness and generate leads for B2B and B2C companies.  Moreover, once a Social Media strategy is developed, it’s relatively easy to implement and monitor. Consider the following statistics, courtesy of the 2019 Global Digital Report prepared by We Are Social, a top-tier digital marketing firm:

  • 76% of Americans who are on the Internet use Social Media
  • Social Media (inbound marketing) has a 100% higher lead-to-close rate than traditional marketing (outbound marketing)
  • 45% of business owners/ marketers have acquired customers through LinkedIn
  • 43% of B2B companies on Facebook report generating leads as a result
  • Brands that are on Twitter generate 2x as many leads than those who are not
  • 66% of business owners/ marketers see lead generation benefits with Social Media by putting in as little as six hours/ week

Where to start

Perhaps the simplest way to generate B2B leads with Social Media is to optimize your business page profile on the platform you decide to use.  Your business must be visible. Include a link to the company website, along with links to your blog and/or newsletter. Make your value proposition obvious and devise a compelling call-to-action that indicates to prospective customers how they can learn more about your product or service.  “Enter your email here and receive a free ebook that teaches B2B leaders how to use five Social Media platforms.

Facebook

  • Call-to-Action Button: Facebook gives business pages the option to include a call-to-action button. The seven options include Book Now, Contact Us, Use App, Play Game, Shop Now, Sign Up and Watch Video. You can send the link to a page on your business website. Here’s how you can entice browsers to get familiar with your products or services with a free offer, such as a 30 minute consultation, or a free trial of an online service.
  • About Page: Facebook provides businesses a place to list their address, phone number, hours of operation and a brief summary of their business. Be sure to complete all this information. Not only is it helpful to visitors, but also boosts the pages SEO value.

 

Instagram

B2B leaders/ owners must first understand that marketing on Instagram is less about selling the benefits of your products and services and more about establishing deeper connections with people, including industry thought-leaders and prospective clients.

Instagram is a channel where building and maintaining awareness of your brand needs to come before lead generation.  Unlike Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, where you can drive traffic to your site, think of Instagram as a way to grab the attention of industry influencers and prospective clients at a time when they’re not really in ‘work mode’.  When they’re not in ‘work mode’ they’re not going to be clicking links, they’re not going to be interested in being ‘sold to’.  This is your chance to seamlessly inject your brand values into their Instagram feed so it doesn’t look out of place amongst the B2Cs, friends and co-workers they also follow on Instagram.

The key to leveraging Instagram as a marketing tool for B2B buyers is to not think of it as a marketing tool at all.  Instead, think about Instagram as a way to tell your story as part of a larger online marketing strategy.

Instagram will help you to demonstrate your company’s commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility when you include three or four photos of you and your team participating in spring clean-up, or fall planting of tulip bulbs, in a public park.  You can show the celebration of a team member’s baby shower. You can even show the team sharing beer and wine and celebrating that a big project deadline was successfully met.

LinkedIn:

  • Images: As with both Facebook and Twitter, your profile and banner images can have a big impact on the success of your page. Make your profile image some recognizable variation of your company logo and be sure to mirror your header image with current marketing initiatives.
  • SEO: LinkedIn company profiles are often indexed by search engines. Be sure that the first few lines of your company description are compelling and contain your target keywords, as this text will often be used as Google’s preview text. LinkedIn users can browse the platform using keywords, meaning that this optimization will help get more eyes on your profile within the platform.
  • Showcase Pages: LinkedIn offers the ability to create separate pages to showcase products or examples of your work, such as writing. These pages live at the top of your profile in prime page real estate. Use these to help out with your lead generation efforts.

 

Twitter

  • Bio: Twitter marketing expert, Madalyn Sklar recommends that “Your bio should be compelling and inviting. Don’t be cutesy or funny. Your profile should paint your story in 160 characters and encourage me to want to learn more about you.”
  • Profile/Header Images: For most B2B organizations, your Twitter profile image should be some variation of your logo — consider color, size, and how it will look on different devices. Your image, more than your handle, is what your followers will come to recognize you for, so it’s important to keep it consistent. Your header image, on the other hand, should be changed fairly regularly to match your marketing initiatives. Running an important event? Holding a webinar? Promoting a new product? This should be reflected in your banner image.
  • Pinned Tweet: Twitter allows you to pin important tweets to the top of your feed so they don’t get lost among your other tweets. If your goal is lead generation, this tweet should contain a call-to-action and a link to your website. Consider pinning a tweet about exclusive content, a free trial, or a special product discount.
  • Open Your DMs: Make sure your Direct Messages are open to the public. That way, if customers or prospects have questions, they can come to you directly. Prepare responses to common questions ahead of time.
  • Hashtags: Studies show that tweets with hashtags generate twice the engagement as tweets without. But be careful, because too many hashtags can resemble spam. Your marketing team should develop a strategy around which hashtags to use and how often. Soon your followers, customers and prospects will catch on and use these hashtags, too.

That’s all for today. Go to work on this and we’ll pick up the thread next week.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Hussey’s Horse Auction (1926) at the Bonhay Cattle Market. Exeter, UK

Ramp Up Your Customer Service Protocols

Identifying competitive advantages for your business can be a real challenge. You probably have a fine product and service line, but how can you distinguish your company from the pack and rise to the top in the minds of customers? As product features and price are not necessarily the determining factors that they once were.  In response, business leaders and owns have turned to the customer experience to build competitive advantages and brand loyalty that are the bedrock of sustainable long-term success.

Before we go any further, let’s define the term customer experience.  The customer experience is your customers’ perception of how your company treats them. These perceptions affect their behaviors and build memories and feelings to drive their loyalty. In other words: if they like you and continue to like you, they are going to do business with you and recommend your business to the others.  Why should business owners and leaders invest time to map out the customer experience and improve it at every touch point?

  1.  Improves customer retention (by 42%, according to some reports)
  2. Improves customer satisfaction (by 33%)
  3. Enhances cross-selling and up-selling opportunities (by 32%)

A 2013 Deloitte survey showed that 62% of companies now rank the customer experience as a competitive differentiator. They are coming around to understand that what customers really want from your organization is help solving their problem. They want to hear what other customers were able to achieve by using your solution. They want to understand the value and benefits your products promise to deliver, not just the product itself.  The Temkin Group,  a customer experience research and consulting firm, in 2018 found that:

  • 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience
  • 73% of buyers point to customer experience as an important factor in purchasing decisions
  • 65% of buyers find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than great advertising

 

Excellent customer service means you fix your problems without the customer knowing the problem.  There is no reason for customers ever to see the back of the house problems. Never put that burden on a customer. Customer service also demands a timely response as well as empathy. Customer service also includes mobile, since 52% of customers will not return if they have a negative mobile experience with your organization.

A Harvard Business Review study found that customers are seven times more likely to buy a product when their calls are returned within one hour. In addition to speed and customization, you must handle comments with empathy. “I’m sorry,” is a powerful phrase that can repair a bad experience. Everyone wants to be heard, appreciated and respected. Empathy is free and should be a minimum requirement for any employee that interfaces with a customer.

Customer journey maps include every touchpoint and examine frustration points and areas that create satisfaction. Using internal and external marketing data you can look for gaps between what the customer expects at each step and what the customer experiences. Establish a voice-of-the-customer program, which is a formal process and procedure to solicit feedback and share it across the entire organization to all relevant employees.

From the top down, your organizational culture should encourage all employees to appreciate and respond to customer feedback. Through sharing and by using reputation management software, you can analyze data and can implement actionable goals. Continually look for ways for your organization to improve and continue to become more customer-focused.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: L’here du The. by Albert Lynch (1851 – 1912)

 

Email Writing Perfected

Now that you’ve completed your business plan, you’re ready to put it in motion. Here’s the guide that will make sure you know how to get your entrepreneurial groove on! In Be Your Own Boss, Part 2: The Implementation and Beyond, you’ll learn to recognize the strengths or weaknesses in your proposed business model and develop an effective customer acquisition plan. You’ll get insight into what you should consider when choosing the right legal entity for your venture. Learn to implement savvy marketing, branding and social media strategies, get real about business financing options and build a solid financial strategy that will sustain your dream. Thursdays April 18 & 25 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Register here.

Every day, the typical professionally employed adult sends and receives an avalanche of emails. In response, dozens of articles that address the challenge of email management have appeared in business targeted media outlets. Those articles are all somewhat helpful but my feeling is, when emails are effectively written fewer of them are written, because writers express themselves clearly and recipients understand how to respond.

As luck would have it, an amazing and highly organized polymath named Kabir Seghal, who is a U.S. Navy veteran, former Vice President at J.P. Morgan, Grammy Award-winning producer (Afro-Latin Jazz) and author of seven books in both the children and adult genres including Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How its History Has Shaped Us (2015) has stepped up to guide mere mortals in the fine art of email writing. Seghal applies lessons he learned while in the military when advising us on how to write the ideal email communication.

Subject line

Subject lines are crucial. They can determine when or even if your email is opened. The wrong subject line can result in your email being ignored or deleted. A powerful subject line communicates the purpose of the email and the action the writer would like the recipient to take. A sampling of subject line verbs include:

Action                                 Meet

Decision                             Request

FYI                                      Sign

ACTION:  The recipient must do something, usually within a certain time frame.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         frame.

DECISION: A decision must be made by the recipient, or a decision that impacts the recipient has been made.

FYI: For Your Information messages keep the recipient in the loop. Action is not required (choice of the recipient).

MEET: Consult your calendar and reserve time.

REQUEST: The writer seeks approval or permission from the recipient.

SIGN: The recipient must read and sign a document and return it with a certain time frame.

Bottom line up front (BLUF)

Begin the body of the email with a short statement that concisely answers Who, What, When, Where and Why to explain the purpose of your email and what you’d like the recipient to do. The BLUF distills the message and allows the recipient to easily digest the information you share and how s/he will be impacted. Seghal suggests that the writer lead with the heading Bottom Line to call attention to your email’s core messages.

Active voice

Seghal recommends that we use the active, rather than passive, voice when composing emails. It’s important to be clear about who has or is taking action, or who will be required to take action (and when) and the impact of that action.

Cut to the chase

Short emails are preferred by military personnel, but sometimes longer communications are unavoidable. Should your email exceed three paragraphs, follow-up your Bottom Line (BLUF) statement with bullet points, so the recipient can quickly focus on critical information.  Rather than adding files as attachments to the email, embed hyperlinks to the files and enable faster access.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Typist, circa 1930s.

 

How to Target Content Marketing

Now that you’ve completed your business plan, you’re ready to put it in motion. Here’s the guide that will make sure you know how to get your entrepreneurial groove on! In Be Your Own Boss, Part 2: The Implementation and Beyond, you’ll learn to recognize the strengths or weaknesses in your proposed business model and develop an effective customer acquisition plan. You’ll get insight into what you should consider when choosing the right legal entity for your venture. Learn to implement savvy marketing, branding and social media strategies, get real about business financing options and build a solid financial strategy that will sustain your dream. Thursdays April 18 & 25 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Register here.

Content marketing continues to be an effective Inbound Marketing strategy for Freelancers and other business leaders who seek to interest and engage potential clients, nurture relationships with current clients, demonstrate an understanding of client concerns and generate leads that have a healthy possibility to convert to sales.

Yet according to sales and marketing experts, fewer than 50% of those who claim to be evaluating a product or service purchase are ready to buy. Therefore, the job of business leaders/ owners and Freelancers is to move prospects through the buyer’s journey, also known as the sales funnel, and toward the sale.

Recall if you will the shape of a funnel—wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. The shape of a funnel reflects to the buyer’s journey.  Early in the search for a solution, would-be clients search for information. Many are window shoppers. Others are more serious. They explore options, compare prices, clarify their needs and confirm their budgets. Eventually the most serious shoppers become fewer in number as they acknowledge their must-haves and narrow their choices down to a short list of sellers (i.e., businesses).  Only a relative handful buy make a purchase. 

Let’s examine the typical buyer’s journey and understand how inbound marketing can function to encourage the sale along the way.

Tofu: Top of Funnel 

This stage signals awareness and potential prospects are searching for information.  Content here will cast a wide net, to attract the attention of all those who are searching for insights, opinions, research and other data in their early stage and education process. Just as you may scan rating sites such as Yelp or Trip Advisor when searching for a hotel or restaurant, Tofu tier leads get familiar with your products and services through your blog, newsletter and social media postings.  It’s too early to present a call-to-action appeal, which could be a turn-off at this point. In general, the value of Tofu leads is low.

Nevertheless, your objective is to peel off the most promising leads and move them into the next tier.  Achieve this aim when you offer a 15 minute free consultation, announce a podcast or webinar in which you’ll be featured to discuss a topic relevant to your typical clients, or extend an invitation to download an e-book that you’ve written, gratis. Those who register for these extras are making a commitment, to an extent, to your business.  Furthermore, they must share their name and email contact as they register. They will progress to Mofu.

MoFu: Middle of Funnel 

You now have a qualified lead. The prospect is real and has acknowledged that a problem that must be solved in the near term.  Your prospect must evaluate  which of the available solutions might be the best fit?

Content at this tier must continue to educate, but the approach will become more specific, to position your company as capable and trustworthy, prepared to deliver the right solutions and solve problems.  Here, content explains why your solution and approach to problem-solving are the best fit. Examples of your ability to understand client concerns and priorities, as well as provide the best solution, can be illustrated in white papers, case studies, or (video) testimonials.

This tier is often considered the most critical because prospects will either agree to move forward and approve the sale or decide you’re not the one based on the information  presented.  Demonstrate expertise, establish trust and build relationships here.  Flash the power of your brand by dropping the names of a marquis client or two.

On the other hand, if it becomes apparent that you are not the best fit for a client, be upfront and make that known. You always want to provide the optimum customer experience that leads to good word of mouth and avoids churn (see last week’s post).

BoFu: Bottom of Funnel

Here is where the buyer confirms his/her decision to do business with your organization and the actual sales process can begin.  According to research featured in Forbes Magazine in 2013, many prospects get 60% – 70%  through the buyer’s journey before they care to speak with a sales representative.

There may be no content offered at this stage, but time-sensitive special offers can make a big difference.  Your prospect is ready to buy but there is still no guarantee that s/he will buy from you.  Here you give a little nudge, a sweetener, as you present your call-to-action, at last.

Depending on whether your business is B2B or B2C, tangible product or intangible service, you may offer a modest discount to buy now (or within 24 hours).  You might offer a tantalizing (and inexpensive to provide) upgrade or add-on to what the prospect has indicated s/he would like to purchase.  Free or discounted installation and a free trial are also effective.  Art galleries have been known to allow serious prospects to take an artwork home so that they can live with it for 10 days.

Inbound Marketing is lots more work than tried-and-true Outbound Marketing, where you scrape together some money and place an advertisement or two in target publications, or distribute flyers in certain zip codes, and hope for the best. Outbound Marketing still works, but Inbound Marketing is how to highly target your marketing campaigns and receive the highest ROI.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: A 13th century Ottoman (Turkish) horseman draws his bow. Artist unknown.

Combat Customer Churn

If you’re ready to greenlight a business idea that you feel has money-making potential, then it’s time to create your road map to entrepreneurial success! Learn to build a Business Plan that will become both the foundation and launching pad for your exciting new venture. We’ll take a deep dive into all the ingredients of a basic Business Plan, including how to evaluate the profit-making potential of your business idea; define your ideal customer groups; evaluate competitors; develop a savvy marketing and social media plan; and build a solid financial strategy that will sustain your dream.  Thursdays March 28 & April 4 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Register here .

Every business owner works hard to add new customers to the company roster. Customer acquisition is a key component of an owner’s role, but attention must also be  paid to customer retention. It’s critical that business owners/ leaders develop a customer retention strategy for the organization—and implement it!

Depending on which study you believe and the industry you’re in, acquiring a new customer costs anywhere from 5 to 25 times more than the cost of retaining an existing customer.  Consider the time and resources utilized to recruit even one new customer, to say nothing of prospects whom you pursue and do not win.  It’s much more cost-effective and efficient to keep the customers you already have happy.

The phenomenon called churn refers to losing customers and the metric that measures the rate at which customers are lost, as compared to customers on the roster, is known as the customer churn rate. “Customer churn rate is a metric that measures the percentage of customers who end their relationship with a company in a particular period,” explains Jill Avery, senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School. The churn rate is measured during any month, quarter, or year, depending on the industry and the product or service that your company supplies.

In other words, if your business begins the quarter with 400 customers and ends with 380, the customer churn rate is 5%, since 20 of the 400 customers no longer do business with the company.  Avery goes on to say that many business owners/ leaders prefer to monitor and report churn rate’s opposite: customer retention rate, or how many customers remain. Both calculations tell the same story.

Changes in a company’s churn rate could signal that something is working well (if the number goes down) or needs addressing (if the number increases).  When you notice that an unexpected number (or percentage) of customers whom you’d expect to be more than just one-offs instead decline to do business at least intermittently, it’s time to take action and stanch the hemorrhage. The usual culprits are customer service failing,  products/ services that are not fulfilling customer expectations, or the presence of an aggressive competitor.

Churn is more than a metric to occasionally monitor. The future of your business depends on understanding why customers might leave and knowing what you can to do to retain those who may be ready to jump ship.  Avery advises that “Looking at churn rates by customer segment illuminates which types of customers are at risk and which types may need an intervention. It’s a nice simple metric that tells us a lot about when and how to interact with customers.”

Likewise, it’s important to study your customer acquisition channels. They don’t all yield equal results, so examine each to learn if customers coming through a specific channel have a higher churn rate than others.  Acquisition channels failing to deliver the best customers as you and your team define them will be discovered, so you can decide whether or not it’s worth continuing to fund that channel, or instead shift resources to channels that more consistently deliver the premium customers.

According to InsightSquared, a Boston marketing and sales analytics company, reducing customer churn by 5 % can increase profits by 25 % to 125 %. InsightSquared also found that 70 % of customers it polled leave not because of the product/ service purchased, but because of poor customer service. Further, 91 % of unhappy customers will not do business with your company again.

Other common issues to address include a lack of customer engagement or support, poor product-market fit and the user experience. It is essential to identify company weaknesses and shore up any products/ services that need to be better attuned to trends in market preferences, customer service protocols, or customer engagement that builds loyalty.

A mistake that business owners/ leaders make is to look at churn as simply a number, rather than as an indicator of customer behavior.  Questions to ask include:

  1. What is the company doing to cause customer turnover?
  2. What are customers doing or thinking that causes them to leave?
  3. How can we better manage customer relationships and diminish the churn?

That said, a high churn rate can be the result of poor customer acquisition efforts. “Many firms are attracting the wrong kinds of customers. We see this in industries that promote price heavily up front. They attract deal seekers who then leave quickly when they find a better deal with another company,” Avery says.

Finally, there is no standard acceptable churn metric. Avery cautions, “The truth is that what’s acceptable varies widely by business model and is largely dependent on how quickly and efficiently a company can acquire customers and how profitable customers are in the short and long-term. Some business models thrive despite high churn rates and others rely on low.”

Instead of fixating on a certain number, smart managers look at the churn rate of prior years and ask themselves what they might improve. “It’s really a metric that shows how well you’re managing your customer relationships, and you can usually always improve your performance in that area,” Avery says.

Before you assume you have a retention problem, consider whether the problem instead turns on customer acquisition.  Avery concludes, “Think about the customers you want to serve up front and focus on acquiring the right customers. The goal is to bring in and keep customers who you can provide value to and who are valuable to you.”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: 1950s, photographer and location unknown