Define: “Sender’s Remorse”

(Asking for a friend)

Of course, we all care how others are doing, but do we adapt our communications to effectively show it, or take action to help?  Content marketing tone-deafness seems rife these days. We see it in ill-timed marketing messages that bulldoze ahead without a pause, failing to consider the New Normal (illness, hardship, coping with change). We see it in new, well-meaning website banners expressing empathy, but whose placement or wording may appear like decal art, not resonant or reflective of any response or change in marketing, sales and service practices.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Need
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need (click to enlarge)

People are bouncing up and down all over the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid (see graphic) like never before: one day, on top of the world; next day, pinned under it. One reader summed it this way: “In November, we were all psyched about the top 2020 tech trends; yesterday I was psyched just to swap a loaf of bread for a bag of carrots”.

The New Business Opportunity: Listen

The new business opportunity is, in a word: Listen. Next: demonstrate by your own actions that you actually listened. Stop selling, start serving. Each individual customer and prospect is processing information differently. The famed buying funnel, which really always was more of a tornado anyway, is now spinning up – or down – a bit more frantically. Your challenge is to check in frequently to be sure you are doing what customers and buyers need which, incidentally, could also be just what you need too. The two are not mutually exclusive, but the timing is everything.

Here, in priority order, are some things we are doing in these New Normal times to help us avoid Sender’s Remorse, including client feedback and the results we are seeing.

Four Tactics to Avoid Sender’s Remorse

Here are some tactics to consider adopting, accompanied with a few stories about how we did it, and the results we saw.

1. Listen to what customers need urgently now.  Listening intently helps you lean away from the instinct to put messages out there, and lean more toward interpreting others’ needs.  This positions you better to offer solutions that your audiences will value under their circumstances.   For example, if you have a “sympathy” banner statement on your website, consider replacing those sincere words with a demonstration of sincere action. Maybe your customer needs to get fuller benefit from a purchase they already made. Help them do that. It’s part of your support arrangement, isn’t it? If not, make it so. Consider prioritizing the most relevant product / service categories. Give something away at first, so people can evaluate whether it fits their most pressing need. A “freemium” model might work here; just be in it for the long haul, and extend free trials beyond the customary 90 days, to accommodate the distraction and drawn-out decision processes that now typify buying decisions.

What we did: I sent a personal email to each key client executive expressing understanding with the current situation and offering to completely scrap, modify, or at least revisit our current projects and agreements, to change it up according to their most urgent needs.  Every single one of them emphatically stated they want to talk about continuing the relationship, happy to discuss any needed change. We were thus able to re-prioritize our work based on those client updates. Instead of sitting around wondering, our direct engagement has helped us confidently move forward productively.

2. Make things more convenient.  Improve access to your support and service. People are feeling abandoned enough; don’t add to the frustration. Be the oasis, be the rock. Listen and respond. Consider adding new or more convenient payment, delivery, service, redemption and return methods. Form new partnerships to support your efforts here.  Staff up your Chat bot hours.

What we did: Please skip to that answer under #3 below.

3. Educate or train for a small fee.  Everyone needs to learn new things to adapt to new realities. Is there some expertise or body of knowledge you possess that could be offered to clients, or the general public? Consider what you can offer that could also help people manage through rapid change.

What we did: Understanding the new Work from Home trend, we began doing free webconferencing user training for clients (Zoom, Webex, GoToMeeting, etc.), who enthusiastically accepted the offer. Two surprising results came our way. Firstly, we got better acquainted with more client-side Users who are newly working from home.  Their first-person feedback and dialogue really helped us to better understand the needs of that broader user group. Secondly, we were referred by some of our customers to other organizations to deliver the same videoconferencing training, and those new contacts are happily paying us to do it.  Result: we have a new service offering, and an easy and natural way to introduce to our other main product and services offerings.

How can you apply this? Maybe your graphic design, legal or product management skills would benefit your customers; offer to train them. Start an “each one teach one” trend. Give it a brand name and maybe a hashtag. Make it a new service.  Make it a new product category. Do what’s needed now.

4. Redefine loyalty. Get customer input to determine what values have changed, and how. Get ahead of the Next Normal: videoconferencing, e-commerce, sustainability, etc. Increased public interest and concern about these topics could be matched or mitigated by your knowledge, your content, and your approach to sharing it.

Watch out for “Tone-deaf” Humor.  Even professional humorists can get humor wrong. Consider maybe not leading with a joke that could be construed in bad taste which, of course, is highly subjective. To repeat Tactic #1 above: First, check in with people, listen, and gain some perspective. Only then can you determine what, if any, type of humor or irony may be appropriate and appreciated.

Avoiding Sender’s Remorse: the final edit step

If you’ve adopted the four steps above, you’ve probably gotten better acquainted with your clients. Next, start a content theme focused on client stories, with your client as the hero. Resist the temptation to sell, but by all means provide sidebar links to your own newly adapted products, services and support programs: free training, relaxed trial periods, whatever works for them and you, based on your new listening campaign.  Send a test email to your own internal review team, but consider including your client (story hero)on that test message too.  Make them part of your review process, even if only for a cursory “okay” response.  In addition to ensuring a more satisfactory result, you can give clients a more intimate glimpse and appreciation for the rigor of your effort to get things right. Oh, and incidentally, it also shows once again that your are demonstrating that you listened.

Over to You.

How are you adapting to the new normal? Are you now in closer contact with customers? What can you easily do to adapt and deliver on their needs? Love to hear your Comments and stories.

References and Resources

How Marketing Leaders Can Manage Coronavirus and Plan for the Future (McKinsey)

Content as a Service (nDash)

Show You Care How Audiences are Doing (Content Marketing Institute)  

The Bright Side of COVID-19: Seven Opportunities of the Current Pandemic  (Forbes) 

Remote Work: It’s a Thing Now

 

Why Blogging Works: Influence and Reciprocity

Once more, with feeling.  Blogging is just about the best way to influence buyers and build loyalty.  Here’s why.

Why blogging works - highfive for reciprocityIn re-reading the book “Webs of Influence” by Nathalie Nahai lately, just to refresh on some principles of User Experience, I am once again appreciating the depth to which she lays out the basic human principles behind online influence. Side note: I really like that Ms. Nahai highlights a “Make This Work for You” segment in each book section (multiples in each chapter) where she outlines a real world use case, bringing her writings beyond the realm of theory and science and into the world of practical use for you and me.

Triggering Social Obligations

In her book, Ms. Nahai quotes social psychologist Robert Cialdini’s statement “There is an obligation to give, an obligation to receive, and an obligation to repay” in human society,  explaining that the easiest way to initiate reciprocity is to begin by offering a gift.  At any dance party, are you waiting for someone else to make that first move?   Be that first mover.  Your gift can, of course, be a blog article, where you offer free advice to your audience.  Importantly, Ms. Nahai mentions that the gift you offer must actually be something of value. Upshot: skip the listicle theme and the pleas to “like” your content, and just offer authoritative, helpful content.

Gift Ideas that Build Reciprocity

If you’re not yet an active blogger, other gift ideas might include a free Skype session or Webinar, a free eBook or PDF, a special Subscriber benefit such as access to exclusive premium-value content, or a concession or compromise such as a discount on published prices in exchange for deeper insight or other value.

Online Presence Establishes Credibility

By now you probably know that diligent people check out your online presence (LinkedIn, website, social media accounts) before they decide to send work your way.  By offering a free Resources page on this blog, as well as making blog articles searchable by topic, we establish credibility and facilitate the reference check process, building confidence in our clients’ decision to select us to help them.

All of this may sound obvious, but bear in mind that closing the loop of reciprocity begins and ends with you.  It begins with acknowledging when a prospect or customer has visited your blog, downloaded free content or some such action.  It continues when you thank them personally – not just an auto-reply.  It continues in the dialogue toward helping them solve their challenge, whether or not they buy.  If they buy, good; if they don’t, they still may become a referral source, a colleague, and perhaps even a friend.

Case in Point: Closing the Sale

We recently were hired by a financial services firm to help with a combined website content refresh, social channel buildout, and CRM transformation project. Closing the sale was easier because they acknowledged they had received substantial value just from our blog articles and from a handful of conversations where we discussed the practical application of our knowledge to their set of challenges. In essence, the Discovery phase of the engagement, for which we typically charge a fee, had already been substantially accomplished through that preliminary dialogue and resource exchange.  When we pointed out this concession, the Prospect agreed about the value they had already received, as well as their comfort with the progress of that dialogue and their assurance that we present a wise choice. Reference check: done. Confidence: assured. Deal: done. Bam.

Accelerating Sales through Reciprocity

In preparing for the coming year, our team reviewed our own CRM reports, looking at the Sources of client revenue, analyzing the specific events that helped advance dealflow to successful sales.  We found a high correspondence between deal closure and the Reciprocity loop that involved prospects accessing our online content, combined with our follow-through in highlighting value already delivered before asking for the sale.  In situations where the reciprocity relationship was rather more tenuous, the client interactions seemed marked by more tentative, hard negotiations.  In deals where the Reciprocity was high, we also saw a greater incidence of multi-year client relationships.  This is the year we build on making Reciprocity a standard, repeatable process.

Over to You

As fellow humans, how can we build better reciprocity into relationships to help one another discover and solve challenges?  Can we improve on the habit of acknowledging others’ contributions to our relationships?  As sales professionals, can you use your online presence to establish credibility, begin the Reciprocity loop, and close it with your own follow-through? Love to hear your comments and stories.

Cheers, ~Ed

Content and Event Marketing that Fills the Room

It’s all about the Value Exchange

In 2012 I co-developed and produced the North by North Shore (#NXNS) digital media event series, and proved a few content marketing concepts along the way.  Starting from zero in April, the program attracted a capacity, on-target audience in June – just 90 days – and attained an over 90% program satisfaction index, based on survey responses.   We repeated the event in September, with a few audience driven improvements, and again achieved that result.  Another success indicator: two-thirds of all event attendees paid less than full price to attend, driven by an assortment of social promotional programs that let each attendee run their own “friends and family” plan.  Anyone who says you can’t prove the ROI of social media…well, have them call.

How did I target various micro-audiences to get these results?  We could talk about the usual suspects like speakers, topics and location, but, speaking more broadly, I attribute the success of NXNS to the use of Choice Architecture and a Value Exchange framework  in guiding program and content development.  Now with two successful events in tow, we continue to engage our audiences to tune the program further to better address their challenges and learning needs:

  • SBO – small business owner
  • PRO – career professional, practitioner, specialist or solo-preneur
  • MSO – marketing services organization or consulting firm
  • CXO – senior executive

Understanding Motivation

We Content Marketers talk a lot about the buyer’s decision journey, the buyer persona, landing page optimization, and the like.  All of this seems to assume we are adept at understanding motivation and that we use this knowledge when we develop content. Frankly, considering the repeated high demand for relevant content, I thought it would be nice just to ask the question:  how good are you at building motivation into content?  Often a simple “buy” button just doesn’t cut it.   We’ve all felt a bit pushed at times by out-of-synch content.  Here’s how to fix it.

The Value Exchange Continuum

Value Exchange Continuum
The Value Exchange Continuum

I created this graphic to help decide what type of voice to use to appeal to different target audiences.  Executives, for example, act, think and decide differently than other audiences.  If you’ve developed a buyer persona or two to help you think about the frame of reference your micro-audiences are using when they encounter your content, then you are probably somewhat familiar with these concepts.

 Keeping it Real

It’s helpful from time to time to ask: What do you want?  What do you seek? What does any of us want out of life?  If you think those questions are unnecessarily broad or existential, consider this:  Neuromarketing experts suggest that up to 90% of decisions are made unconsciously, guided by our value frameworks.

This is a job for the Choice Architect, the User Experience (UX) practitioner.  These are great people to have on your team when you are designing a website, a sign, an event, a white paper, a presentation, or just about any type of audience-focused content.

Next up (You In?)

If you like the NXNS concept and want to participate, by all means use the handy links at the NXNS site to get started as a speaker, sponsor, media partner, attendee or content contributor.  Let me know some specific event or other opportunity you might have in mind.  And if you are interested in Sustainability topics, consider attending the Sustainable Network Summit, another new event series I am co-producing.

Your Take

Do you have a content development framework that guides your content creation?  Do you have an experienced Editor on your team who is tasked with hewing to a particular point of view or tone of voice that personifies your brand?   Love to hear your stories.  If you’d like to have this case study presented to your audience, contact us.

Cheers,

Ed

How Lead Nurturing Improves Sales

In your quest for sales, do you leverage the value of lead nurturing?

Sales leaders know that in the process of converting a raw Lead to a Prospect, and then to a real Opportunity, and ultimately to a Customer, there are often many nuances and inflection points in the conversation, with the result that the sales process is almost never linear.  Those nuances can include shifts in the Prospect’s priorities, needs, and role in the buying process.  These things must be verified repeatedly to detect changes in Prospect status and respond accordingly.  If you don’t frequently check them, your sales forecast becomes a fairy tale, and you won’t know where your next meal is coming from.   You could be ignoring imminent buyers or focusing too much on long-shot prospects, and not even know it.  Either way, you lose.  Lead Nurturing helps you keep on top of the changes.

Click here for a free, crowdsourced process guide to help improve your forecasting.

Recent Experience

A recent project we performed for Pluris Marketing, provider of OCDP (omni-channel dynamic profiling) solutions for large consumer marketing organizations, transformed from simply securing executive appointments to also nurturing leads, and illustrates how lead nurturing contributes value to the sales pipeline.

Not part of the original project scope, Lead Nurturing quickly grew in importance, for three reasons:

  • Establishing a dialogue with as many prospects as possible enabled us to train our ears to the “Voice of the Customer” so we could determine what value people derive from Puris’ solutions – in their own words – and tweak our campaign messaging to improve relevance.  In short, what you call yourself is often not as important as what your customer calls you.  Example: the phrase “Dynamic Profiling” is a term borrowed from a Prospect – not something Pluris dreamed up.
  • Nurturing leads enables us to captivate and sustain a broader, interested audience, improving our place in each prospect’s “Initial Consideration Set” of potential options when they decide they need a relevant solution.
  • The sheer number of “nurturables” far exceeded the number of immediate sales appointments generated under this project.  The number of nurturables alone caused our client to take notice of the opportunity.

Why Nurture Now

Certain human behavioral tendencies make it difficult to convert a new Lead to a current Prospect, let alone a sale:

1) Relevance – People typically perceive immediate needs as more relevant and more urgent than future problems.  No matter how relevant you think your offering is, your Lead’s opinion matters more.  You stand a far greater chance of converting a Lead to a Prospect if they view your solution as currently relevant.

2) Consequences – People tend to discount the importance and consequences of future events.  A distant goal or pain is less motivational than a current one, even if delay portends grave consequences.   Moreover, people tend to see future consequences – even grave ones – as less important with every year such action is delayed.  The farther into the future a need is projected, the less likely it will be perceived today as ever becoming important.

Surprise! Researchers Find Humans Illogical

Illustrating the Relevance and Consequences phenomena, Columbia University researchers found that the average person finds little difference between getting $250 now or $350 a year from now.   Imagine that!  You could opt to wait a year and earn 40% on a surefire outcome, or you could take the money now and forego the potential 40% greater financial benefit.  You don’t need to be Warren Buffet to know that no investment vehicle can guarantee you a 40% one-year return on principle just by delaying receipt, and yet most people queried would rather have the money now, consequences be damned.

Heavily discounting future benefits or consequences can greatly distort corporate thinking, behavior and beliefs.  As maddeningly illogical as human nature may it may seem, your appreciation of this phenomenon actually becomes your competitive advantage if you have a Lead Nurturing program that helps prospects learn, appreciate and promote the importance of your solution.

Lead Nurturing Includes Content Marketing

An effective Lead Nurturing program, including content marketing mapped to each prospect’s unique persona and information needs, enables you and your prospects to keep the discussion channel open and lively.  Rather than attempt to drive each prospect toward near-term action, you instead conduct periodic relevant communication, build productive relations, and assist prospects in evaluating your offerings, so that they can intelligently shift priorities toward considering and adopting your solution – perhaps even sooner than they expected, but in any case, willingly.  If done well, you can identify the “hand raisers” worthy of greater attention and likely to buy, and even determine their decision time frame.

Driving toward a sale too hard or too soon can be viewed by the Lead as pushy, inattentive and ignorant, and typically leads to a fall-off in response, inattention to your future communication attempts or, worse, unsubscribing from your feeds and possibly treating your ill-timed, irrelevant communication as unwanted spam.   We’d all like to believe that prospects discount our pushy, sales-y human failings and focus instead on the merits of our offering, but you are more likely to hold one another’s attention over the long term if you actually listen, check for understanding and nuanced changes, and respond accordingly with relevant information.

Patience Pays

In your eagerness to bring in more sales this calendar quarter, don’t risk alienating a next-quarter sale. The Leads you start to nurture today rarely move as quickly as you’d like, but a constructive, open dialogue helps you understand your relevance in the Prospect’s view so you can tune your messaging to match, while also giving them something to share within their own circles of influence to build consensus toward adopting your  solutions.

Patience and persistence pay, and lead nurturing is the currency.

 

 

 

Content Marketing: A Day in the Life

Keeping to the plan of openly sharing our playbooks with clients,  friends and followers, I’m hoping this overview of a typical Content Marketing routine helps you think about ways to be more productive and get better results.  For more Playbook tools, visit the Resources page and help yourself.  As usual, more links apppear below this article. Enjoy!

The following routine is – like most – idiosyncratic, but after some weeding and winnowing, I now have a handful of “go to” resources that work well for many situations. Your own results may vary, and certainly your own audience and goals will affect your choice of routine and toolset.  That said, here’s one routine.  Will it be the same a year from now?  Probably not.  Audience requirements change, tools evolve, and our “learning lab” approach reveals new findings every day.  How does yours compare?  Holla back, friends!

Overview

Digital ink

In about an hour a day, two to five days a week, I create, share, comment and research interesting, relevant content among my online community of Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections, and several membership and nonprofit organizations I have joined or for whom I give presentations by invitation.  I perform versions of this process for clients who have outsourced their Chief Revenue Officer and content marketing roles.

Overarching Goals

Simply put, the goal of any content marketing effort should be twofold: Uptake and Intake.  Uptake refers to the echo effect of communities sharing and re-using original content.  Intake refers to the process of linking all content to intake processes – landing pages, email responders, mobile apps, microsites, interactive tools, events, documents, etc.

To fulfill those goals, it helps to have the following workout goals:

  • Cultivate an online voice
  • Generate original noteworthy content
  • Promote others’ noteworthy content
  • Link it all to intake processes for  generating business leads and monitoring/managing community dialogue
  • Continually explore tools and techniques that facilitate “scale-up” i.e. maximizing results of time and effort.
  • Link Content, Community and Conversion using a content mapping and planning tool like the one shown below.

Blog Routine

I write two articles per month for my two blogs. I write one article per week for each client blog I curate. When very busy, I let my own blogs lapse.

e-Zine Routine

FanFoundry Daily and SocialClimate Daily (Paper.li)
Weekly: Rotate the hour of publication each week to hit the 8 am and noon hours across US / EU  .

Daily: Browse articles matching my pre-set keywords; re-tweet articles from the source where possible; move tweeted articles “above the fold”.

Hootsuite

Daily: Review the handful of Twitter accounts I own, as well as those I curate for clients – Stream, Mentions, Re-tweets, keywords, client community dialogue, as well as personal friends and professional groups; Re-tweet relevant content (see Paper.li above and Alltop.com below); Post relevant original Tweets – an article link, a meeting note, a convo thread, etc.; schedule client promotional Tweets to occur in the 8 AM and noon hours across US / EU  time zones.

LinkedIn

Daily: Scan Profile for InMail, Visits, LinkedIn news, and Connection updates. Send notes to Connections with noteworthy Updates (new job, interesting article, etc.); respond to discussion threads, invitations and queries.

Semi-weekly: Visit Discussion Groups; post article links; comment where my expertise warrants; start a Discussion (usually a research question for my own or a client’s business).

Alltop (virtual “magazine rack” of noteworthy bloggers)

Review the blogs I follow for timely and relevant articles. Re-tweet them, and flag interesting ones to link at the end of my relevant blog articles.

Databases

Each week we add new contacts to our main CRM database, classifying them by source, organization, industry, and several other criteria.  Sorting on multiple criteria, we can usually find anywhere from a dozen to several thousand relevant audience members to whom we may email, Tweet or otherwise reach out and initiate or sustain conversations.
The database numbers around a hundred thousand, yet we are able to keep conversations personalized and theme-specific.  This generates significant inbound interest and keeps us touch with clients, partners, friends and prospects.  Shameless plug:  our lifetime average open, click and conversion rates exceed industry norms.

They say you can only have about 150 members in your personal network before things break down; you can easily triple that number – or more – with an effective CRM database, compelling content and mobile/social/email marketing.

R&D / Sharpening the Saw

I condense notes from interesting and relevant magazine subscriptions (Forbes, Fortune, Wired, AdAge, BtoB, etc.). I file them under appropriate topics (in a list of 20).  I update my portfolio of presentations with relevant statistical references from all sources.

I follow a handful of industry analyst heavyweights and key businesses.

I review my meeting notes and generate follow-up communications using my database, private email and, for larger audiences, email marketing software.  I review trending topics on Twitter etc. to determine best topics for timely articles.

Trending topics I cover for myself and my clients include: marketing automation, branding, campaign management, community building, content marketing, customer care, email marketing, event marketing, interactive design, marketing communications, marketing funnel, mobile marketing, prospecting / inside sales, public relations, sales pipeline management, sales training, SEO, social media, and sustainability. Additionally, I cover trending industry topics for my portfolio of clients.

Other Tools – Analytics, Plumbing, etc.

All of the above may seem like a full time job,  but couple of years of practice have transformed it to a daily one-hour process that we have adapted to suit many clients.  It is all facilitated by an array of tools.  You can find a reasonably updated listing of tools in the right sidebar.  They include CRM, analytics, and assorted utilities that help leverage channel data for better client results.  Examples: Klout, FollowerWonk, InMap, etc.

How does your routine compare?  Got any tips to share?  Holla back!

Thanks, and make it a great day.