e-Commerce Insights

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.  Just because everything is different, doesn’t mean that anything has changed.  Way back in the middle of the 20th century, business owners and advertising/marketing specialists learned through experience that the response rate to advertising campaigns, known today in the internet age as the conversion rate, is about 3%.  When you distribute a marketing flier in a chosen geography to announce a new business, for example, either by door to door leafleting or through a mailing, you can expect that 3% or so of the recipients will show up and buy at some point.

In the internet age, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube will announce the grand opening.  The business owner will spend several thousand dollars to launch a website that’s e-commerce ready, with a user-friendly and secure payment system and reliable shipping.  Social media accounts are created, text and photos begin the digital marketing campaign.  According to Statista, U.S. retail B2C e-commerce sales in 2017 were approximately $409,208,000 and 2018 retail B2C e-commerce sales have been projected to reach or exceed $461,582,000.

That’s all to the good, but recent research indicates that the internet age has only barely advanced the original direct marketing response rate.  E-commerce sales conversion rates are about 4%, meaning that 96% of your website visitors do not buy.  Your website may be able to attract customers from all over the world, but no matter.  Whether your customers are down the street or in Amsterdam, aided by technology or looking at a flier that was left in the entrance of their apartment building, only a handful will respond to your advertising outreach.

The offline (i.e., in person) sales conversion rate is much more favorable, estimated at 30%. Why such a big gap between online and offline purchasing? Consumer behavior researchers note that trust is integral to making a purchase online or offline, but I’ve not seen research on why trust develops at a much greater rate in offline shopping. I suppose it can be attributed to seeing is believing?

There is another factor as well, one that seems to be overlooked when the discrepancy between online and offline sales conversion rates are compared and that is, the in-store sales help.  The good ones can lead a customer down the garden path with a nice smile, a warm greeting, knowledge of the merchandise and the ability to answer questions and reassure.  Good sales help are integral to generating revenue for the store.

Derrick Neufeld, Associate Professor of Information Systems at Western University’s Ivey Business School in Ontario, Canada and Mahdi Roghanizad, Assistant Professor at Huron University College also at Western University in Ontario, Canada, designed an experiment to study motivating factors in 245 research subjects and learn what might influence online purchases, from facts about secure online payments to the website’s font sizes and colors.  The research subjects were asked to visit the website of a bookstore in Australia that had been in business for 17 years and with whom none of them had previously known or patronized and to then make some buying decisions.

Neufeld and Roghanizad found, surprisingly, that objective information about privacy and secure payment systems have less influence on purchasing than do subjective factors in website design that signal trust.  Online purchases from an unknown entity, in particular, involve risk and potential customers rely more on subjective clues that communicate trust, such as “professionalism” and aesthetics, to make themselves feel comfortable enough to put their money down.

So how might you use this information to support online purchases from your company website? It sounds as if you’d be advised to work with a very talented web designer who understands both the aesthetic and technical aspects of the craft.  The e-commerce focused website must have attractive page layouts and fonts, expert product photography (and maybe a video, too), colors that psychologists have determined will appeal to customers who are known to buy your B2C product and a good overall flow to the website pages.  I recommend that even if it’s a second-tier priority, include a line that verifies the security and privacy of customer financial information.

Think of your e-commerce store in the way that proprietors of bricks and mortar locations do and create an experience that communicates the best that your brand has to offer.  Make your website an attractive, welcoming environment that offers quality merchandise, intuitive navigation and excellent customer service.  Make shopping a satisfying experience, as it is meant to be.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Custom tailoring at Lagu Hong Kong Tailor in Hong Kong, China (2012)

Advertisements

Finally Figuring Out Social Media

Consider, if you will, that you are using all of your company’s social media platforms like a naïve amateur, no matter how long you’ve been active on Facebook or how quickly you jumped onto Twitter and Instagram.  Chances are you do not have a realistic definition of social media marketing campaign success.  You cannot demonstrate meaningful ROI for the strategies you’ve employed.

The fact of the matter is, you are using the wrong measurements to document social media marketing campaign success.  You have been misled and you are confused.  Followers, shares, comments and likes are widely considered the gold standard social media metrics, but does that “engagement” correlate with or generate sales revenue and referrals? Let’s lift the curtain and sort this out.

It’s time to think about social media marketing in the way you do traditional marketing campaigns, including advertising and sales strategies, and apply the same expectations.  Social media campaigns are marketing campaigns, too, and not a stand-alone entity.  Please shift your social media marketing goals and objectives to what is tangible and measurable and bring real value to your customers and organization.  Various social media platforms can take a credible supporting role in the following marketing goals, for example:

  • Raising brand awareness
  • New product or service launch
  • Lead generation
  • Increasing sales
  • Special events promotion
  • Facilitating and/or improving customer service
  • Obtaining donations (not-for-profit sector)
  • Recruiting volunteers (not-for-profit sector)

Once you’ve identified your marketing goals, determine which platforms seem most suitable for your message and which will reach the selected target market groups.  Then, select the content—blog, tweeted updates, YouTube videos, Instagram photos, announcements on Facebook, for example—that will most effectively communicate your message and resonate with your target markets.

Be aware that unlike traditional marketing methods, which fly at 30,000 feet, social media outreach is an ongoing conversation and the best way to attract and retain visitors and followers who might convert into your customers and referrers is to get personal.  Use social media to speak directly to your audience.  Answer questions that will help to familiarize them with your products and services and understand their features, advantages and benefits.  Display visual images of your brand and what it stands for. Include audiovisuals that let influencers give testimonials.  Solve problems, deliver timely information.  Be a cool and helpful friend.

To help you schedule and manage the integration of multi-platform social media campaigns and ongoing outreach across various departments in a larger business organization, investigate Buffer and Hootesuite, or other social media management services.

Now, to measure the effectiveness of your campaigns.  On your own, you can record selected Key Performance Indicators that immediately precede your revised social media strategies.  In six months and then again in 12 months, revisit those KPIs.  Additionally, Google Analytics is a useful tool to sort through social media activity on all of your channels and report on engagement that leads to a sale processed on the company website, event registrations, signs-ups to receive your blog or newsletter, not-for-profit organization fundraising donations received and requests for additional product or service information, for example.

When you approach social media marketing campaigns correctly, you can receive lots of actionable information.  But in order to receive information that will make a difference in you company’s bottom line, you need to ask the right questions and apply the right metrics.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Teletype operator (circa 1941-1945) courtesy of the National Archives           Teletype technology allowed typed messages to be transmitted electronically from point to point to a single or multiple recipients, including sent and received messages. The teletypewriter evolved through many upgrades, starting in 1835 and it was adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration in 1938.  Essentially, teletype was early email.

Cash-Flow Therapy

So many businesses in the U.S. are undercapitalized; insufficient cash-flow is a factor in the demise of many ventures that might otherwise succeed.  Cash is king, it is often said, and the wise business owner will do what is necessary to maintain adequate cash-flow in his/her organization.

Make friends with the basic three financial documents and learn to use them as analytical tools.  They exist to enable your success and they will signal you when corrective action must be taken.

Monitor the top line of your company’s Income Statement (sales revenue/ billable hours).  Observe the ebb and flow of the accounts receivable (who owes your business money) and payable (to whom you owe money) on your Balance Sheet.  Make note of the beginning and ending cash balances on your Cash-Flow Statement.  Also on the Cash-Flow Statement, notice the cash sales (representing billable hours payments received as checks, for example) and the operating expenses.

Seasonal variations in billable hours/ sales can potentially exacerbate cash-flow problems if that is an issue in your business (the Christmas to New Year’s slowdown, for example) and pop-up emergency expenses can do the same.  Unfortunately, the outcome for Freelance consultants or other business owners can be a cash deficit, an especially unwelcome state of affairs in a month that involves holiday expenses.

But the primary cause of cash-flow woes is usually a result of persistently insufficient billable hours for services rendered or product sales, perhaps secondary to an anemic client list.

Former Wall Street Journal Assistant Editor Serenity Gibbons points out that if you  struggle to generate enough at the top line, you’re probably facing one of the following challenges:

  • The optimum target clients have not been reached by your marketing campaigns, or the message doesn’t address their priorities or aspirations.
  • The product/ service has limited value to the target clients, or your offerings are overwhelmed by dominant competitors.
  • The product/ service is perceived as too expensive for the value delivered.

It’s time to take control and consider what can be done over the short and long-term to correct the problem.  Do some homework and discover the basic challenges, concerns and goals (as defined by their respective industries) that would motivate your prospective clients and guide their decisions.  Determine why they’re doing business with your competitors and not you.  Moreover, make sure that you are pursuing the best target markets for your products/ services.

A second issue is an administrative one that plagues many Freelancers—-we fail to invoice in a timely and regularly scheduled fashion.  Help your clients to take you seriously and treat you like a “real” business by invoicing when promised. Take measures to improve the odds of getting paid on time and in full.  I’ve lived through this challenge and can report that with a small amount of discipline, it can be overcome.

Third, watch your operating (fixed) and sales related (variable) expenses.  How much are you spending to generate sales revenues/ billable hours? Limit what must get dropped into accounts payable and expand what drops into accounts receivable.

There are usually ways to stem the tide of cash-flow problems, that is, if you take action early enough.  You might start with revisiting your pricing strategy.  Ensure that your pricing reflects the value of your product/ service; that your prices are comparable to what competitors in your area charge for similar services/ products; and that you charge close to the maximum of what clients expect to pay for what you offer. Do some in-depth pricing research, using GSA MOBIS, the federal contract system, as a benchmark.  http://gsa.federalschedules.com/industries/gsa-mobis-consulting-pss-874/

Another useful tactic that serves as a band-aid for cash-flow glitches that are more inconvenient than problematic is your business credit line.  While you’re still able to pay bills on time and have a respectable credit score, investigate obtaining a business credit card through your bank.

Resist the temptation to charge business expenses to your personal credit cards!  Keep business and personal expenses separate and get your arms around the spending in each sector.  Furthermore, a business credit card usually has a much higher credit limit than a personal line and that allows you to more easily make investments in your business and earn cash back and points as you do.

Finally, if inflated business expenses, whether fixed or variable, play a major role in your cash-flow problems, then you will have some decisions to make (re: the selling expenses) and negotiating to do (re: the operating).  If you regularly pay on time expenses for inventory purchases, credit cards, or insurance, for example, get on the phone and ask for lower interest rates or a lower premium.  If variable expenses seem high, reconsider how much you must spend on marketing, advertising, sales and client entertaining.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Baccarat at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, NV, with Frank Sinatra (in black tie) as the card dealer (1959)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Baccarat at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, NV with Frank Sinatra (in bow tie) dealing the cards (1959)

Marketing Meets Sales: Selling to Inbound Marketing Callers

Inbound Marketing matters, to your top line revenue and your client list.  Other than “selling” Girl Scout cookies to Mommy and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, there’s no better sales opportunity than a prospect who dials your number and asks about what you sell.  Do not even think about flubbing this.  But without simple yet skillfully designed response guidelines, you are in danger of dropping the ball.

Inbound Marketing begins when a prospective customer who either met you somewhere or was referred to you by someone finds the motivation to contact you and ask if you might answer a couple of questions about your products or services.  Consider that outreach to be your Hollywood screen test and close-up.  If you want to call yourself a business person, then you will learn to confidently and competently handle Inbound Marketing calls (or emails) and emerge with an appointment to meet the caller in person to discuss specifics.

Let’s start with some basic observations about your marketing plan, the carefully choreographed activities that you implement to inform potential customers about your products and services.   Marketing can be divided into two types:

  1. Outbound Marketing, which encompasses traditional, time-tested marketing strategies and tactics such as advertising, networking, speaking engagements, teaching, writing a book, sponsoring a community or business event, nonprofit board service and other activities that broadcast your business brand and marketing message “outward” to the public.
  2. Inbound Marketing, which consists of activities designed to encourage potential customers to develop a level of interest and interaction with your company that “pulls,” i.e., persuades, them to do business with your company as a result of the trust and confidence developed through the ongoing engagement.  Online activities play a dominant role in Inbound Marketing, including social media, newsletters and blogs.  The Inbound Marketing audience is self-selected, as there is always the ability to opt-out of the communication and theoretically this cohort is more likely to do business.

The purpose of creating and executing an Outbound Marketing strategy is to generate Inbound Marketing inquiries by potential customers.  If your business fails to encourage Inbound Marketing,  your venture most likely will not achieve the financial success that you would like.  Inbound Marketing is where the money is made.

An Inbound Marketing call can lead to billable hours or a sale that makes your month, or leave you kicking yourself because you mishandled an objection or forgot to ask an important question.  Let’s see how you can design successful response guidelines.  Grant Cardone, selling skills guru and author of If You’re Not First, You’re Last: Sales Strategies to Dominate Your Market (2010), breaks down his very useful Inbound Marketing call technique:

Greeting

How you welcome the prospect who has chosen to reach out to you, rather than your competitor, is all-important.  Ace the first impression by answering the telephone politely at all times, no matter how annoyed you are by other matters.  When you realize that you’ve been gifted with a prospective customer’s call, i.e., an Inbound Marketing call, slide into character by smiling as you speak and adding a (realistic) dose of enthusiasm to your voice.  Smiling as you talk and imagining that the prospect is in the room with you has been demonstrated to make selling over the phone more successful. Give your name, title and a cheerful, helpful attitude to your caller.

Facts

“Who am I speaking with, please?” Obtaining the name of the caller is an easy Step One of the trust-building that is the foundation of every sale.  Grant Cardone recommends that you resist the temptation to ask for more information because if the caller is really interested, s/he will happily volunteer that information to enable the sale. What you DO want to learn early on is what prompted the call:

  • What the caller would like to know about what you sell and how that information  relates to what s/he would like to achieve or resolve?
  • Which, if any, product or service has been used regarding the issue before and what was the outcome?  Why does the caller want to investigate something else?
  •  Determine the timeline and any deadline “Do you need to make a decision today, or this week?”

Objections 

As you discuss the features and benefits of the product or service that may provide the solution that your caller needs an objection may abruptly spring up and make your caller suddenly lose confidence.  Objections can be skillfully handled through a method I learned many years ago, called “Feel, Felt, Found:”

“I understand why you might feel this issue (or perceived shortcoming) might prevent you from achieving results.  There have been a few others who at first felt this situation could possibly become a problem.  Over the years, my staff and I have found that when you (make this adjustment, or whatever), it’s possible to bring about the results that you want.  Does that sound reasonable to you?”

To help you organize your thoughts during any part of your unexpected Inbound Marketing call, Grant Cardone suggests that you press the hold button to give yourself 30 seconds or so to plan a response.  Making certain that you are able to successfully handle an objection seems to me like the right time to hit the hold button!

Appointment

While you might get lucky and sell your Inbound Marketing caller on the first contact, chances are your prospect will require more information to develop adequate trust in you and your company and make him/her feel confident enough to close the deal.  Suggest to your prospect that you would be happy to come to his/her office to discuss how your customized product or service solutions can benefit his/her organization and its business goals (alternatively, the caller can come to your office).

“Since you don’t need to make a decision immediately, it would seem to make sense for us to sit down together for an hour and discuss what you need, your short and long-term goals and how I can customize a solution for you that respects your budget and time line.  What does your schedule look like? What is your company name and address and what is your call back number and email?”

Happy New Year and thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Doris Day (left) and Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk (1959)                          Directed by Michael Gordon for Universal Pictures

 

 

 

How B2B Clients Do Business Now

Keeping up with the evolving mind-set and practices of your current and prospective clients has long been a challenge for Freelance consultants and continues to be so in the “new economy.”  Signing a good client is not easy, what with the penchant for not spending money being all the rage.  We Freelancers can prosper only by staying one step ahead of the client, always positioned to neutralize the temptation to keep a project in-house or let it languish and eventually die.  Knowledge is power and we need strategies that will turn on the spigot and pour out billable hours.  Here are trends that B2B products and services purchasers are following now.

They do research

A recent survey of employees who make B2B purchases for their organizations was conducted by the global consulting firm Accenture and showed that 94% of purchasers (that is, your clients and prospects) research possible solutions for business needs in advance, to learn about the options, availability and pricing of solutions and to save time and money.  By the time Freelance consultants and other vendors are approached, the hoped-for client has done most of the upfont legwork. S/he already has a good idea of what might be provided by service professionals like you and your competitors and maybe even knows what a reasonable ballpark figure for your services might be.

The entrepreneur and marketing expert Danny Wong, co-founder of the online men’s apparel company Blank Label, recommends that Freelancers acknowledge the elephant in the room and simply ask your prospect about research that may have been done and what you might be able to verify or clarify. Don’t ignore the tsunami of information.  Ride the wave and earn respect for your candor and knowledge of client behavior.

They’re skeptical

Unfortunately, some sales “professionals” and unsavory Freelancers have been known to misrepresent that which they sell.  As a result, many B2B purchasers prefer to buy online and bypass you and me.  The practice was confirmed recently by Forrester Research, in a survey that found that nearly 60% of B2B purchasers preferred to buy independently, without the assistance of a salesperson.

Wong points out that demonstrating expertise, as well as an appreciation and respect for the prospect’s goals and situation, confers to you credibility and helps you to earn their trust, an essential process when competing for assignments and sales.  They won’t do the deal if they don’t trust you and why should they?

No matter how desperate you are for billable hours, don’t rush the deal.  Take the time to understand what is needed and how your products and services can help or for that matter, if they can’t  help.  Avoid being perceived as an aggressive salesperson.  Do present yourself as a trustworthy adviser who wants to make the prospect look smart to his/her superiors and other colleagues.

They’re in no hurry

No, it’s not your imagination that closing a deal is taking longer than it used to.  Another study showed that the length of the average B2B sales cycle has increased by 22% over the past five years.  While the prospect is working the worry beads, Mr. Wong recommends that you do what you can to stay at top of mind and try to keep the project from falling into oblivion.  A Freelancer’s main competitor is not one of our rivals, it’s the client’s inertia.

Send information that can support (and speed up) the decision-making, but don’t overwhelm—curate.  Inquire about a timeline and deadline for the project and suggest what might be a reasonable starting time.

They trust the advice of anonymous “peers”

So do you and that’s why you research hotels and restaurants on Trip Advisor and Yelp and search for a contractor on Angie’s List.  Accenture reports that almost 25% of B2B purchasers make their decisions based almost entirely on information gleaned from online “social” rating sites.

If your Freelancing skill is one that would send prospects to Angie’s List or a neighborhood blog, attempt to establish a presence on those sites and build credibility that will help you get hired.  LinkedIn and Facebook could be helpful once a trusted source has referred a prospective client to you and then your online presence is researched before you get the call.  Nevertheless, create a good profile on your chosen social media sites and make yourself look knowledgeable and trustworthy.

They appreciate relevant content marketing

The longer buying cycle gives the advantage to Freelancers who produce long form content—a monthly newsletter, a weekly blog, case studies and other white papers that appear on your website, videos, infographics, or podcasts—that may grab the attention of prospects.  A FAQs page added to your website that details how to do business with you could  be helpful. Impartial and instructive content is what content marketing is all about. Produce your own and position yourself as an expert who is qualified to get the job done.

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukkah,

Kim

When “No” Is the Best Answer

“No” can be the starting point of the biggest sale of your career. Experienced and successful sales professionals know that “No” should not be confused with “Never”. “No” can mean that this is not the time to ask for the sale. “No” can mean that you are talking to the wrong person. After doing some homework to verify who can impact the sale and give the green light (that could involve more than one person), you may ask to speak with the real decision-maker, who will advocate for you and also re-allocate the budget if necessary, and you will strike it rich.

Rejection is a part of life and it is most certainly part of sales and entrepreneurship. Rejection is a challenge. In Mandarin Chinese, the same character represents crisis and opportunity. Resilient people — and I know that you are resilient, or you would not be a Freelance consultant — use a crisis to:

  • Re-examine the proposed value-added of your product or service
  • Reevaluate the competitive landscape
  • Refine your sales pitch
  • Re-engineer yourself to become more competitive
  • Re-approach that rejecting client and others as well
“No” can make us improve ourselves and become more relevant to prospective clients, now armed with a better message and better value proposition, or perhaps even an upgraded or more specifically tailored service or product. Try these tactics the next time rejection rattles you:
Listen
While it is a natural response to counter prospect objections, one would be advised to listen well. Is that prospect doing you the enormous favor of telling you how to re-shape, re-position or at least better describe your product or service?  Try to curb the reflexive defensiveness that every human has and listen with an open mind. What weaknesses are being pointed out to you?
Objections are not always rooted in misunderstanding or hostility. Learning the ways in which your product or service does not measure up is the most valuable information that can be presented to you.  After giving your perspective on the merits of the offering in question,  honor the client’s perspective as you do yourself  a favor and ask more questions about the preferred outcomes and what changes would perhaps be helpful.
Analyze
The negative feedback that you receive is just one person’s opinion or the report of a single experience.  Nevertheless, listen and do your best to be objective about what has been revealed to you. Some or all of the negative report may be accurate.  Separate the probably relevant aspects from what may be unreasonable or unfixable. Here begins your list of action items.
Adjust
After you’ve heard the complaints, thank your prospect for his/her candor. Hearing the truth is always a good thing, even when it hurts. On the spot, think of improvements or adjustments that can be made quickly and inexpensively (If it appears that might be possible). Has the prospect made suggestions that you can incorporate?
Reassess
After you’ve reviewed what transpired a couple of times, you may decide that revisions need to be made in your services or products; business model; operations process; sales distribution; quality control; or marketing message. Before institution any permanent changes, do speak with other clients and assess their experiences when doing business with you. Are you hearing similar complaints,  or wish-list type of suggestions that clients had not previously revealed to you?
If common themes emerge, then changes are definitely in order. Draw up a list of recommended upgrades or alterations so that you can take the full measure of what needs to change. Which changes be made quickly? Which can be expected to have the greatest impact on customer satisfaction or billable hours?  Create a budget and time-table and then prioritize the tasks and if budget allows, perform first those that will have the greatest potential for positive impact.
Freelance consultants, entrepreneurs and sales professionals will face rejection for the entirety of our careers. In order to withstand the ongoing assault,  we must believe in ourselves, in our abilities and in our products and services. Yet over-confidence is not useful and is not a true indicator of resilience.  The ability to hear and accept occasionally painful truths and the courage to re-vamp, re-group, move on and succeed are the attributes that distinguish the winners among us.
Thanks for reading,
Kim

Business Model = Profit Engine

Hatching an idea for a business involves much more than inspiration.  Your entrepreneurial idea must also include a strategy for making the idea profitable. That strategy is known as the business model. The function of a business is to provide products and/or services that help clients solve their business or consumer needs.  In addition, your business must work for you  and generate a reliable and abundant revenue stream from which you derive your annual income.

Before we go any further, let’s clarify the meanings of business model  and business plan.  Your business plan  is a document in which you describe the mission of your business; the target customers; the marketplace and competitive environment in which it will operate; its marketing, financial and operations plans; and the legal structure it will be given.

Your business model  will detail how the venture will attain and sustain profitability. The cornerstone of a good business model is a competitive analysis, which will help you verify target markets (customer groups) and establish your expected value-added in the presence of enterprises that offer similar products and services.

The primary element of your competitive analysis is customer knowledge, something that regulars to these posts know that I encourage frequently.  Information-gathering is a vital and ongoing business function.  James King, Director of the New York (state) Small Business Development Center, notes that “…customer purchasing patterns change rather rapidly and if you’re not ahead of your customers, you’re not making sales.”  Along with your selection of products and services to provide and customer acquisition strategies, operational aspects — that is, the process of how your products or services will be delivered — must meet the often fluid expectations of customers and will therefore figure into your venture’s business model.

Once you’ve developed a proposed business model, find a trusted potential customer or business owner or colleague and ask for a review.  Discovering and closing immediately obvious gaps is something you’ll want to do before your business is up and running.

King recommends that aspiring entrepreneurs “Sit down with someone who doesn’t have a vested interest and ask that person to poke holes in your model. If they do a good job, you’re going to be better prepared for any eventuality. The more risk you can eliminate, the higher the probability that you’re going to be successful.”

One is advised to revisit the business plan and business model every couple of years, or at least when changes in your industry, local business environment or technology have the potential to impact your sales revenue or how your do business. This practice will also give you the benefit of reviewing your projections as regards expected vs. actual target customers and allow you to refine planning for growth and expansion, as you create strategies for sustainable business success.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Marketing Metrics That Matter

Every business that aims to be sustainable must engage in some level of marketing activity, whether traditional marketing that utilizes retro resources such as press releases and print ads or content marketing, that makes use of social media, blogging and the like. But the benefits and ROI of marketing campaigns are often devilishly difficult to evaluate. How does anyone know what the organization is really getting from the marketing campaigns (and budget) and what is the value of whatever that might be? Furthermore, what are the outcomes that matter in marketing? Let’s ponder the benefits that marketing campaigns have the potential to generate.

Since recent data is available, we’ll focus on content marketing. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 85% of B2B and B2C organizations participate in content marketing, yet only 21% of those who devise content marketing strategies are able to measure the ROI. Among the elements that marketing execs usually design their strategies to influence are:

  • Brand awareness and loyalty
  • Customer engagement
  • Lead generation
  • Referrals
  • Sales
  • Up-selling

Before campaign focus decisions are made, it is advisable to select which of the above elements—may we call them objectives?—that your organization would like to impact. To make those calculations, one must understand the value and expected ROI of the chosen objectives. They are not of equal value.

Promoting brand awareness and loyalty is a wonderful objective and if yours is a B2C operation, it is much easier to achieve. Can a typical B2B Freelancer who sells a service ever build a brand that is truly distinctive? Rarely, I will guess. Usually the brand is a cult of personality that a well-connected person has been lucky to attain, typically through family or  industry connections. Or maybe it’s the home town high school football hero who goes into business and benefits from his playing field reputation, subsequently known as his brand.

My experience indicates that the average B2B Freelancer should approach (personal) branding activities and brand awareness with a grain of salt. Keeping one’s name in play is an admirable ideal, but business is mostly garnered through referrals and not through the number of times that potential clients see your name.

About customer engagement — do you have the staffing to seduce those with too much time on their hands into bonding with Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook feeds from your organization? Beware the Pandora’s Box that customer engagement can become. Giving information and getting uncensored feedback is great. Ongoing dialogues with the bored or self-important are a waste of time that you cannot afford.

Lead generation keeps the sales pipeline filled, but what is the most effective marketing strategy for a service-providing Freelancer to influence that objective? As far as I’ve seen, viable leads are created face-to-face. Potential clients may read your blog or newsletter, watch you on YouTube or read your case studies, but they are highly unlikely to hire or refer you unless they meet you in person and even then, they prefer a personal endorsement of your work from a trusted source. Content marketing is not so effective here. Get on the teaching and speaking circuits to allow potential clients or referral sources to hear what you know and develop trust that can lead to some business.

After all is said and done, encouraging referrals, sales and up-selling must be the prime objectives of any marketing campaign and they are the only metrics worth measuring. The number of social media followers, website page views, newsletter sign-ups and blog post comments are vanity metrics and meaningless, because they do not correlate with revenue. Those people are just a bunch of hangers-on.

Successful marketing campaigns pave the way to revenue generation, meaning sales. Savvy marketing makes your operation look desirable and trustworthy and persuades those with money and motive to take a second look. Marketing messages can be used in sales presentations to continue the theme. A well-conceived marketing message will also open the door to up-selling and add-ons.

Referrals are a different animal, though, and for both B2B and B2C ventures are most directly impacted by your organization exceeding expectations and creating a cadre of satisfied customers who sing your praises to other potential clients.

In sum, B2B Freelancers can forget the vanity marketing objectives and focus on creating campaigns that enhance the perception of your expertise, along with the services that you provide. Marketing messages that address the usual client hot-buttons and position your business as the solution are the most effective. Nevertheless, word-of-mouth referrals are the best way to bring in business and that process is independent of marketing.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Trends That Will Drive B2B Going Forward in 2015

July 1 carried us into the last half of the year and we are advised to take a few moments to think about what our June 30 financial statements indicated. Are you pleased with your company’s first half performance? Is your enterprise positioned to have a profitable second half? Forbes Magazine business experts predict that as we enter the last two quarters of 2015, the following strategies will drive business.

Make selling about education

High-pressure or slippery sales techniques are out of vogue and destined to fail. Solution selling is the smart choice and consultative sales skills must be honed. Successful sales pitches are those that are delivered as a discussion of how your services or products will solve or avoid a problem for the customer. Customers will value your grasp of their situation and your expertise in describing the best solution. It’s salesperson as physician, as you diagnose and prescribe the treatment. Articulate the outcomes very well.

Marketing & sales hand in glove

Recent research done by Google showed that the average customer is more than half way through the buying decision process before seeking out a vendor. In other words, customers window shop. They spend time considering possible solutions first and then think about where those solutions can be obtained.

Micro-targeted marketing strategies are recommended to not only attract your ideal client groups, but also to weed out those who are unlikely to buy. As always, one must know the customer to understand why that individual has become a customer and know how to encourage repeat business going forward. Design marketing campaigns that define, speak to and pull in excellent prospects and avoid broad-brush marketing strategies that only entangle you into engaging with those who will waste your precious time.

Appropriately written and distributed content marketing along with traditional marketing techniques are how you persuade prospective customers to picture your products and services as credible solution possibilities. Consultative selling approaches that educate the customer as you tactfully assume the role of expert and confirm or refine the initial diagnosis of the problem, that is the client’s need. Obtain client agreement on the extent of the need and then recommend treatment options, that is the solutions, that your product or services will provide. Do that well and you will generate revenue.

Price and value

According to Forbes, there are two competing forces at play in the 2015 marketplace. The first is increased downward pricing pressure on any product or service that is perceived to be a commodity. Those products and services are price dependent and will be acquired as cheaply as possible. The only ways to succeed when selling a commodity are to sell at the lowest price or deliver very efficiently to customers, that is make it convenient to buy.

Do whatever is possible to package and present your products and services in away that conveys their value to prospective customers. Additionally, Freelance purveyors of B2B services must demonstrate their expertise in a variety of ways: content marketing, case studies, webinars that feature you, teaching assignments, appearances on panels as speaker or moderator, or publishing a book. Demonstration of expertise is the number one marketing strategy in that it creates trust, enhances your perceived value and allows you to price accordingly.

An equally effective way to demonstrate your value is through customer testimonials and referrals. When those who have used your services or products recommend you to others, it is the highest compliment. Other than a 30 second ad during the Super Bowl, nothing is as effective as a personal recommendation or testimonial.

When customers consider you to be effective, knowledgeable, dependable and trustworthy, you can then command a premium (but not over-inflated) price for your products and services. Prospective customers must be assured that you will deliver the results, in full and on schedule. They must know that when they hire you, they’ll look smart to their boss and colleagues, because you are the very best.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Prospects and Tire-Kickers

Tire-kickers, those self-absorbed time-wasters who parachute into your life, present themselves as interested buyers, pepper you or your sales staff with questions, raise red-herring objections and then slide away without spending any money. Freelance consultants, business owners and sales professionals regularly contend with “prospects” whose mission in life, it seems, is to squander others’ valuable time. Tire-kickers feel completely entitled to mislead honest working people by feigning interest in products and services that they have no intention of purchasing any time soon.  They also get their jollies by inviting marketing consultants to meet for coffee and discuss projects that have neither official support nor budget.

Tire-kickers are the bane of a Freelancer’s existence.  A method to politely expose and dispose of them is a useful time management skill. Posing questions and raising objections while in the buying process is responsible behavior and all whose livelihoods depend upon making a sale welcome serious prospects, including those who do not buy at that time. How does one tell the difference between a tire-kicker and a prospective customer? It all starts with asking the right questions (but you knew that).

The Zero Pain Hypothesis developed by Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of Human Workplace, assumes that a caller has no need for what you sell and it is an effective template to follow. Keep your tone friendly and helpful throughout. You might be able to persuade the tire-kicker to either make a purchase in the near term, or make a referral to a colleague who has money and motive to do business with you now.

1.  Who?

To whom are you speaking? Get the name, title, company, phone number, email and location of the person who makes contact. Get qualifying info up front and begin to make that person commit to the buying process. Questions are cheerfully answered, but this is not a game, it is business. The job title can help you know whether this person is likely to be the decision-maker or key influencer.

2.  What and Why?

What is the product or service that is being investigated and why is it needed? What business imperative is a priority for the caller? If the caller can provide a logical reason for contacting you and/or describe what has been done that is not  working, then you probably have a genuine prospect. The counter-intuitive genius of the Zero Pain Hypothesis recommends that you offer up an inexpensive, maybe DIY alternative to your services. Tire-kickers should back off once told of a cheap and easy path to what they want. As well, tire-kickers will reveal themselves by their vague and evasive answers to your questions.

3.  When?

Assess the urgency. Is there a deadline for completing the project or making the purchase? If things are open-ended, then you are speaking with a tire-kicker. The Zero Pain Hypothesis recommends that if possible,  you recommend a “place-holder” alternative, an inexpensive band-aid that will help out for the short-term, since there is no defined timeline.

4.  Where?

Where is the organization in the buying process — early stage vendor list making, soliciting proposals, or close to finalizing the decision? Is your questioner the decision-maker and who else may need to weigh in? What is the budget? If the caller has a deadline and/or a budget, then you probably have a genuine prospect. If the caller’s budget does not meet your minimum, then refer back to the cheap alternative. Restate what the project or product means to the caller’s business. If something big is on the line, that person might be able to perceive the “pain” point that your qualifying questions encourage him/her to acknowledge and proceed to talk him/herself into increasing the budget and selling him/herself on the value of your services.

Thanks for reading,

Kim