Category Archives: Best Practices

3 steps for effective selling

Business development techniquesThe traditional and incorrect view of the sales process as an underhanded, manipulative set of techniques for cajoling a prospect into spending too much money is outdated, with many thought leaders making only a general suggestion for salespeople to act like consultants. I think this suggestion is a little too general. Instead, an actionable goal is to make prospects feel comfortable about spending money on solutions.

Before the internet, salespeople had the advantage in most transactions. Prospects had few options for finding information about companies, and getting their hands on it could be costly.

Now, prospects can see what competing companies are doing differently. Sales thought leaders, including Hubspot and SalesHacker, recommend that salespeople act like educators and consultants to establish trust with prospects.

Being helpful is a good start, but how can salespeople drive future sales?

Map it

Prospects can find plenty of information about a company’s products and services online, but they may not know enough about the company’s industry to determine what information is most applicable to their needs. As a result, they may feel overwhelmed and confused, and hesitate to spend money.

They need help from sales reps. For example, when I’m talking with prospective clients, they sometimes reference a small aspect of what The Simons Group offers, as if that’s all we do. I clear up the misunderstanding, making it easier for them to learn more later. Education helps foster trust with prospects and increases the chance they’ll buy products and services in the future.

Don’t rush

Every salesperson wants to close sales now, but every prospect wants to buy when ready. Some companies frame this contradiction as a game, implying that salespeople and prospects are facing off. In reality, prospects don’t want to inconvenience you, but they also don’t want to make potentially wrong decisions.

Make sure that prospects are willing to spend money. Salespeople should consider how productive were their conversations with prospective clients. When prospects become less active, that may be a signal to move on.

Make sure it fits

When solutions don’t fit with a prospect’s needs, don’t push it. Otherwise, it could jeopardize trust. When they realize they’ve been manipulated, they’ll be upset and possibly walk. If they do come back, they (rightfully) won’t trust the salespeople they were dealing with.

Instead, salespeople should be upfront when they can’t help prospective clients. Prospects will appreciate the honesty and, perhaps, see sales in a more positive light. That could open the door to future sales.

What has your experience been with the sales process? Let us know in the comments.

Never underestimate the power of must-click calls to action


must-click lead generationDoes this sound familiar?

You’ve poured time and energy into creating quality content and a beautiful-looking website, but no one is engaging with you or your company.

Crickets …

The problem may be that you don’t have clear goals for your content. Vague plans to “build awareness,” “engage customers” and “crush the competition” are as thin as cotton candy and impossible to measure. If you’re not sure what you’d like people to do when they visit your site, they’ll have no reason to stick around and interact with you.

Do you want to build an e-newsletter mailing list; get more prospects to sign up for product demos; expand your audience for webinars; or increase sales of your e-book? These are examples of solid, achievable goals. Now, you can ask for what you want. Read on for tips you can use right away:

  1. Make it compelling with a clear benefit.

To create an irresistible offer – also known as a call to action – think beyond “download,” “submit” and “click here.” Consider what motivates people to follow through. Would you respond to “Register for Our WordPress Class” or “Yes, I Want Exclusive Access to Insider WordPress Tips and Tricks?”

The first offer is boring and doesn’t give people any reason to sign up. Everyone wants to know what they’re going to get if they register. The second example is enticing because it suggests a rewarding, positive experience for those who take the class. It also hints that people will learn tips they might not get anywhere else.

Here are some compelling examples:

  • “Show Me How to Write a Killer Blog Post”
  • “Learn the Secrets to Successful Marketing”
  • “Do Less and Get More Work Done”
  • “Get Pro Tips for Doubling My Sales in Two Weeks”
  1. Write in first person.

Using “I” and “my” is effective because it’s makes a connection with people and helps them envision results. Instead of writing “Get Your Free E-Book,” write “Send Me My Free E-Book.” The easiest way to create first-person calls to action is to finish this sentence: I want to ___________.

Example: A construction company that’s expanding its green building division creates an in-depth report about how green buildings save money in the long term. The firm offers the report on its website in exchange for collecting prospects’ names and email addresses. As a prospect, “I want to” get the report. The call to action could be, “I Want to Save Money. Send My Free Report.”

Other options that are also in first person include:

  • “Get My Free Green Building Report.” (I want to get my free report.)
  • “Get Instant Access to My Report.” (I want to see my report now.)
  • “Discover How to Save on My Green Building.” (I want to save money.)
  1. Make your offer time-sensitive.

Creating a sense of urgency motivates people to act. Incorporate words such as “now” and “today,” or give deadlines for faster responses. Letting prospects know that you have a limited quantity of something can help drive procrastinators to buy.

One caveat: Be honest. If you discount a webinar by 50 percent for people who register within 24 hours, and then repost the same offer three days later, you’ll be perceived as deceptive and untrustworthy. Any profit you generated during the “fire” sale will go up in smoke with your company’s reputation.

Here are some examples of urgent offers:

  • “Start My Free Trial Today”
  • “Give Me Access Now”
  • “Yes, Sign Me Up Right Away”
  1. Keep it simple.

While it might be tempting to dangle multiple offers on a single Web page, you’ll run the risk of overwhelming prospects and they’ll click off before signing up. Stick with one or two calls to action and lead them to the main offer that ties back to your No. 1 goal.

A page that asks people to register for a demo, sign up for classes and subscribe to an e-newsletter is distracting and ineffective. By limiting their choices, you’ll make it easier for them to reach a decision and follow through.

  1. Use bright, easy-to-read buttons.

Vibrant, high-contrast call-to-action buttons are eye-catching and inspire action. If you Google “best colors for calls to action,” you’ll see many opinions and few solid answers. Big orange buttons seem to be popular among marketers, but they’re certainly not the only option.

  1. Test, test, test.

The best way to evaluate what works and what doesn’t in your calls to action is to test them. Try different messages, images, offers, colors and designs until you find the winning combination that gets the most responses. Small changes can make a big difference in how people react to your content.

Last, but not least

Following these steps will help you transform your offers into lead magnets. Keep in mind, however, that your content and offers need to benefit prospects. Share insider tips, industry news they won’t find anywhere else, product how-tos, and other helpful resources. Creating effective calls to action will come naturally if you provide valuable (not sales-y) content.

What approach do you take with your calls to action? Let us know in the comments.

Writing for a financial audience? 3 tips to nail the delivery

writing for a financial audienceWhen it comes to creating impactful financial writing, subject matter expertise is a great start. Solid marketing chops and a well-crafted editorial plan help, too. But what about the content itself? Here are three quick tips to enhance your financial communications.

  1. Know your audience

As fellow copywriter Dave Argentar wrote in his recent blog post, high-quality content is approachable and tailored to a specific audience. In financial writing, this often comes down to pinpointing your reader’s level of financial sophistication.

An institutional investment professional will likely know the relationship between the Fed and interest rates, so you could forego any drawn-out explanation. Keep your reader engaged and get straight to the point. But writing for a wider consumer audience is a different story, and assumptions about knowledge can be dangerous. Take a hint from The Wall Street Journal: When describing fluctuations in the bond market, the publication always notes that yields move inversely to prices.

This concept also spills into the area of compliance. Is the content subject to FINRA’s rules on communications with the public? If so, you’ll need to maintain a fair and balanced tone and omit any performance predictions.

  1. Incorporate meaningful charts …

If you have a lot of data to discuss, charts can help to simplify the delivery. Best practices for charts and graphs include:

  • Be clear: Label all axes, clarify the units of measure and use colors strategically.
  • Draw conclusions: The title of the chart and/or the adjacent commentary should draw an obvious conclusion. For example, a chart titled, “U.S. Dollar Correlation to Gold at All-Time High” is more constructive than one titled, “U.S. Dollar Index Daily Correlations to Gold, 1970-2016.”
  • Make it skimmable: Trends should pop out at a glance.
  • Be selective: If a chart doesn’t advance your argument or provide necessary context, consider removing it. The same thinking applies to elements within a chart. Is it beneficial to show data all the way back to 1970, or will it just add noise?
  1. … But don’t weigh the prose down with too many numbers

It can be tempting to rely heavily on numbers in financial writing, but try to exercise restraint in the main paragraphs and chunks of prose. Too much data will frustrate—and probably bore—your reader.

Read your draft aloud. If key points are getting lost in a sea of numbers, consider cutting where you can and rephrasing elsewhere. Smooth out the flow by swapping in “decade” for “10 years” or “more than doubled” for “an increase of 102.8%.”

For more advice about writing clear and direct financial content, check out “Economical Writing” by Deirdre N. McCloskey.

What tips do you have for connecting with financial audiences? Let us know in the comments below.

Track these 3 email marketing metrics

marketing analyticsAnalytics are an important tool in email marketing because they reveal how effective your campaigns are. While it’s easy for me to say that a heavy investment in marketing will yield more revenue for your company, analytics are the data-driven proof. And if things go wrong, analytics can help you determine what didn’t work.

For example, a key aspect of a marketing automation campaign is that you target leads who have opted in to access your gated content. If these people unsubscribe from your campaign, you can review and tweak your messaging to see if that helps.

Before you can review your email marketing analytics, you need to know what you’re looking for. Click-through rate, bounce rate, and unsubscribes are three key metrics to scrutinize. They’ll help you determine if your campaigns are worth the investment.

Click-through rate

One of the most important metrics in email marketing, the click-through rate is the percentage of recipients who clicked on one or more links. It’s based on the total number of people who opened your email. For example, a 30 percent click-through rate would mean that for every 10 people who opened your campaign, three people clicked on at least one link.

Using this metric, you can see how many people are engaging with your content each time you send an email.

Bounce rate

The bounce rate is the number of emails from your list that couldn’t be delivered. Sometimes, it means that recipients’ email providers marked your campaign as spam. Other reasons for bounces include full mail boxes and server issues.

You might want to try resending once more, but don’t keep doing it if the addresses bounce again. Internet service providers look at bounce rates with a wary eye. You don’t want to be reported as a spammer.

Unsubscribe rate

The unsubscribe rate shows you how many people unsubscribed from your email list for a specific campaign. Depending on where you got your email list, this number could be high. Purchased lists often result in high unsubscribe rates as do old lists that include people you haven’t communicated with regularly.

Make it count 

If you create targeted, timely, and valuable content that benefits your subscribers, your email campaigns should do well. They’ll want to hear from you – and keep reading. That should help your delivery rates and your bottom line.

What have you learned from your email marketing metrics? Let us know in the comments below.

Coding: important + invisible

The unseen best practices in coding and why they matter.

web development process

Design is all about the stuff you can see – the clean flow of information, the pretty pictures, the right choice of colors to inspire your audience. No way. Give me Times New Roman and #000 (black)/#fff (white) any day.

So, this is probably why I never made the design team.

Instead, I work on the structure that supports those designs, and helps them respond to different devices and load in your browser window – whichever one you choose to use. Any code I write needs to be written for flexibility, so you’re not boxed in later on in your site’s lifespan. It must be updateable, efficient, and able to respond to a myriad of user possibilities with relative grace.

The most important coding efforts are the ones you can’t see. So today, I want to highlight a few best practices that I use when coding here at The Simons Group, and why they matter to your project.

Version Control

What It Is:

Version control allows us to take snapshots of the project code so we can see exactly what’s changing over time. It also makes it very easy for me to share my code and work on it collaboratively with other developers.

Why It Matters:

We’re always looking for ways to be more efficient while we’re on the clock. Having sound version control practices in place dramatically reduces troubleshooting time by illuminating precise changes and creating several points in history we can easily roll back to as needed. It can also help to quickly recover in the case of a new update causing a compatibility issue.

DRY Coding

What it is:

DRY stands for Don’t Repeat Yourself. DRY coding means you’ve taken time to think about what you’re going to do with the code, and organized things into a clean bundle. For example, if you have a single primary color in the site, you’ve stored that as a variable (using a language like SASS) so that you call it once instead of writing it out everywhere.

Why it matters:

Again – efficiency is key. Say in two years, your company goes through a rebrand and changes its color from #273758 (medium blue) to # 010825 (dark blue). Think of how simple and seamless this change is if you only need to make it in one place.

It matters to browsers, too. Speed matters, down to milliseconds, whether you’re going for search engine ranking or user experience. Sites with WET (write everything twice) or CRY (constantly repeating yourself) coding create redundancy, which leads to larger page sizes and longer loading times.

Development Tools

What they are:

Sometimes the magic lies in good runtime libraries and package managers (like Node.js, Bower) that help developers quickly add in new features, code snippets, and extensions that can be used in the site immediately.

Sometimes it’s in the setup – using a fast local development environment like Vagrant, or a tool like Browser Sync to improve coding efficiency. Or the right text editor to code (my favorite is Atom) and sync flawlessly with your version control program.

Why they matter:

Coding is like woodworking – part skill and part tools. Having the right suite of development tools at hand, and being versed in using them appropriately, is the hallmark of an experienced developer. Tools might enable functionality, or just make development time more meaningful.

The beauty in efficient coding lies beneath the surface.

So don’t ask me to help you understand which colors work well together. Instead, call me when you need a coding ninja, silent, swift and dangerous with a pair of {brackets}.

How do you use coding to support web design? Tell us about it in the comments?

Now, show ’em you know ’em

show-your-audience_featured-image2So you’ve read Dave’s great overview of writing content for your intended audience? Fantastic. But shhh … lean in close. I have a secret for you:

It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.

Along with engaging content, quality design is a key way to show your audience that you understand what they want and need. Good design will help you put your audience at ease, get them straight to the information they seek, and help you close the deal.

Here are four simple ways to use design to show ‘em you know ‘em:

1. Say it with a pretty picture.

Choosing the right imagery for your brand is as important as crafting your copy. While your content will convey the facts, information and core message you want your readers to internalize, on-point imagery will convey the feeling to back up and enhance your words. Let’s look at a client example:

supporting content with design

Ahhh. That’s nice, isn’t it? Don’t you feel relaxed just looking at this scene? That’s by design, so to speak. JMG’s imagery evokes sweeping, natural vistas and serene leisure activities. Why? JMG is a financial planning firm. The firm’s clients are working hard and putting their hard-earned money in the the firm’s hands, so they can retire one day and enjoy the fruits of the firm’s wise financial management. Put your trust in JMG, the image says, and we’ll put you on the right path.

2. Say it right away.

Good design involves more than just colors and imagery. Sure, who doesn’t love a great font? But when it comes to finding what you need – especially on a website – layout is your user experience bread and butter. Web audiences have a notoriously short attention span, which is why designers focus on ways to attract and hold audience attention.

We think about the F-shaped scanning pattern people use.

We think about how to design compelling and attractive service boxes (or a great call to action) that peeks just above the (infamous) fold.

We want the audience to know immediately that they have landed on a site that has just the thing they need – whether information, products, help or all of the above.

3. Say it by association.

Use design to help persuade. Let your reader know, loud and clear:

Customers just like you already trust us. Respected organizations trust us.


respected logos attract customersadd visual value





Trust badges can be visual seals or logos of organizations you belong to, review sites or customers you’ve worked with. They’re designed to inspire trust by association to another prestigious organization.

4. Say it again.

Design should reinforce the written message.

Let me repeat that.

Design should reinforce the written message.

Your message should be crafted carefully from your audience’s point of view. Inspirational, accessible and exactly where your reader needed it to be. Make it easy for them to see that you already have just the thing they need. Make it clear that you are a trusted resource, and say it more than once.

You want your audience to know that you understand them; that you’ve thought about what they need and want. Now, show ‘em you know ‘em.

How do you show your audience you know ’em? Tell us in the comments.

Manage your next project like a pro

project management tipsWhether you’re putting the finishing touches on a great site design or seeing leads stream in from an email campaign, the end of a successful project feels great. What’s not always so great? The middle. Poorly defined expectations, sparring stakeholders and blown deadlines can derail the best of marketing intentions – and lead to unhappy clients.

As a project manager at The Simons Group, my job is to make sure our work stays on track, on time and on budget. We’ve learned what works and what doesn’t, developing a repeatable process that keeps everyone on the ball. If you’re tired of hearing “When is this due?” and “Why didn’t anyone tell me that?,” here are a few strategies to strengthen your project management game.

4 pro tips to keep projects on track

  1. Define your scope. Does that new logo need to include a tagline? How many concepts will you deliver? Will you present your work on a conference call or in person? Setting clear expectations upfront helps you avoid budget-busting scope creep and miscommunication with clients about deliverables.
  2. Name your stakeholders. This includes everyone performing the work, as well as the people who will approve it. Assign specific responsibilities to each person, from writing content to sourcing photos. If it’s a client-facing project, determine which company members will be involved in the review process and loop in everyone from the start. There’s nothing worse than preparing to launch a new site, only to find out the CFO thinks the home page is “too green.”
  3. Get techy. Project management tools are a lifesaver for companies with complex projects or a lot of projects to handle (or both, like us!). The Simons Group invested in one earlier this year, and it’s already paid for itself by cutting way down on the time we spend hunting through emails. Some platforms come with extras like time tracking, CRMs and accounting features, while others just offer the basics. Either way, you’ll be able to assign workers to tasks, set deadlines and see progress at a glance.
  4. Consolidate feedback. Everyone’s got an opinion – but when they all chime in separately, those opinions take forever to sift through, adding time and expense to your project. If multiple people at your client’s company will be reviewing work, encourage them to establish one point person to share feedback. Ideally, that person should smooth over internal squabbles and present the consensus. It’s not helpful to hear that Tom thinks “Chief Marketing Officer” should be capitalized in the middle of a sentence, but Bob doesn’t. (By the way, Bob’s right.)

How do you keep your projects on track? Let us know in the comments below.

Communication cues that can make or break a meeting

The workplace has embraced the digital world wholeheartedly. With email, Google chat and video calls all at our fingertips, in-person meetings can seem unnecessary. When your co-workers roll their eyes on their way to the conference room, it’s likely because those team meetings aren’t actually productive. It’s easy for a big group of people to get off track and spend valuable time spinning their wheels, instead of connecting in a meaningful, productive way.

meeting communication and productivity

But that doesn’t mean the traditional meeting is a lost cause. Some things that are understood easily during face-to-face interaction can get lost in digital translation. In-person meetings still have significance in the workplace, but how useful that time actually is depends on how you and your team communicate across the conference table.

Verbal communication

If you’re in charge, start off with a quick summary of the agenda before diving in to the meat of the meeting. Verbal confirmation of the agenda makes sure everyone is on the same page and decreases the risk of going off track.

Everyone, leaders and participants alike, should remember that every meeting is an opportunity to demonstrate professionalism. Speak clearly and carefully. You can be passionate and persuasive without being aggressive or loud.

Speaking is just half of the verbal communication equation, however. The other half – perhaps even more important – is listening. Truly productive meetings require that participants actively listen and respond to one another. If you stop talking only to continue as if no one else had any input, your meeting will be a waste of everyone’s time.

Nonverbal communication

Much of what is lost during email threads is out in the open in meetings. Tone of voice, eye contact and body language all matter.

When leading or presenting in a meeting, try to be aware of your entire presentation – not just your talking points. Are you speaking to engage your listeners or droning on in a monotone? Are you making eye contact or looking at your feet? Are you using your hands while you speak or crossing your arms? Your team members will notice these nonverbal cues, consciously or not. Speak in a positive voice, make eye contact with everyone and try to convey open interest with your body language.

Not everyone thrives on speaking in a group, but even making small changes to how presenters communicate can improve the productivity of every meeting.

Do you have any advice for making the most out of meetings? Let us know in the comments.

Are you guilty of lazy marketing?

lazy marketingI have a confession.

It’s not as bad as stealing coins from a blind man or cheating on a test, but it ranks high in the thou-shalt-not-commit-marketing-sins category.

Ready? Here goes …

I’ve let an occasional hackneyed phrase remain in my content marketing, even though it made my teeth itch. The reasons are complicated, but let’s just say it was unavoidable. Mea culpa!

The truth is that it’s hard to be creative and compelling 24/7. When you’re digging for engaging content that converts – let’s say you’re writing about screws and toggle bolts for a living – well, you might resort to using “innovative” and “leading edge” out of desperation.

You’re better off leaving cringe-worthy hype in your back pocket, however. How many times will your audience read tired platitudes like “world class” and “robust solution” before they bail on you to call 1-800-KILL-CLICHÉ?

Clients and prospects don’t care that your products and services are “best of breed.” They want to know how you’re going to solve their problems. They want to know that you understand their businesses and their challenges and that you’re the right person for the job. Share success stories and results.

For example, nobody cares that your firm provides premier shipping services that meet exacting industry requirements. But people will pay attention if you guarantee 24-hour delivery for all packages.

It seems like a no-brainer and yet websites, email and direct marketing are appallingly full of generic drivel.

Here’s how to fix it: Ask “why” for every benefit you think you provide. Let’s say you’re a yoga instructor who offers classes for pregnant women.

Why do the women hire you? Why do they need a yoga instructor?

You might say it’s because yoga will help them relax. Why do they need to relax?

Because they’re expecting. Is that a sufficient reason to pay you for hourly classes when they could put that money toward their kids’ college funds. Nope!

Why would they want to give up an hour every week? Is it because they want to bend like a pretzel?

Maybe it’s because they want to experience less pain during delivery and prenatal yoga will help them do that. Or maybe they want a gentle way of de-stressing between diaper changes. Could it be because they want to regain their pre-pregnancy shape faster?

Try again. Why would women want to take prenatal yoga classes?

Maybe it’s because they need “me” time before their lives are completely disrupted.

Or maybe it’s so they can regain their pre-baby shape back faster.

Or maybe it’s because they want to make friends with other pregnant women so they have someone to lean on when they’re sleep-deprived and need adult conversation.

Focusing on the benefits that your prospects and customers really want – not superficial fluff – will help keep them coming back for more.

Does your marketing address your customers’ desires? How could your messaging be more persuasive? Let us know in the comments below.


4 steps to creating attractive content

content, writing, marketingContent constantly clamors for attention. Everywhere you turn, a blog or “listicle” is trying to catch your eye and send some kind of message. With this much competition, how can you make sure your content stands out from the crowd?

Here are four quick tips to write content that your audience will actually read.

  1. Get to know your audience. This first tip seems like a no-brainer, but with the Internet at your fingertips it’s easy to assume you know what kind of content your target wants after a few quick searches. Instead, try actually talking to your audience – whether that means connecting with existing customers or potential clients. Simple conversations can uncover some great insights, such as pain points you can address with strategic, effective content.
  1. Put a game plan in place. After you’ve taken the time to know what your target group wants, you can figure out how to craft a piece of writing that delivers just that. Before you sit down to bang out a piece of content, however, ask yourself if you’re actually offering something of value. Does the content teach your audience something? Are you helping solve one of your audience’s problems? Create a plan around each piece of content to ensure it has a clear message that resonates with readers.
  1. Think about your format. Now you know what your readers want from a piece of content, but how do they want it? A great piece of content can go unread by the people it would benefit most if the format doesn’t appeal to them. For example, busy executives probably aren’t going to find the time to read a long narrative, but content delivered in quick, no-frills bullet points is really going to hit home.
  1. Find out how your audience likes to connect. Once you have a piece of content your audience will love, it’s up to you to deliver it. Experiment with the best ways to connect with your target group. Do they use social media? If so, what platform? Helpful tools like Twitter Analytics and Facebook Insights help you track audience engagement to find the platform that works best for you. If you’re still not sure, use Google Analytics to track what drives traffic to your website

Do you have any tried and true strategies for creating content that connects with your audience? Let us know in the comments.