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Follow up fearlessly with this guide

sales follow-up best practicesIf you have a good system in place for following up with your prospects, you’re already ahead of most salespeople. According to Hubspot and the LinkedIn Sales Solutions blog, 80 percent of sales occur during or after the fifth point of contact between seller and buyer. Unfortunately, Hubspot finds that 44 percent of salespeople give up after just one contact attempt. Only 10 percent of sellers make three or more contacts, according to LinkedIn.

Clearly, lack of a good follow-up system can lose a lot of revenue. Since buyers do business with those they trust, building familiarity through simple repetition can result in a relationship and, ultimately, future sales. But even if a sale never occurs, you still cheat yourself by not following up. To get in touch with a prospect is to train yourself. Thus, following up is beneficial regardless of outcome.

What are the logistics of following up?

It’s important to follow up with your prospects at least five times in order to see significant returns. The maximal benefit comes from using as many channels as possible, but since it may not always be appropriate to text or send fruit baskets to your prospects, phone and email suffice. The typical recommendation is three calls and two emails – with an email coming after both the first and third phone calls. Because busy prospects aren’t always at their desks, you may also want to leave messages so they know you called.

By the same token, you don’t want to come off as overbearing or, worse, annoying. One way to stay on your prospect’s positive side is to space your follow-ups a few days apart to give them some breathing room. Not only does this keep you from seeming intrusive, but it also stretches out the period of time where the prospect can expect to hear from you.

What to do once you’re on the phone

Of course, you may as well not follow up at all if you don’t know what you want to get out of it. Determine your goals for contacting a prospect – and you should have more than one so more calls are successful. Say, for instance, your primary goal is to set an appointment. If that doesn’t work out, having a secondary goal – such as signing your prospect up for a newsletter, sending an email, or scheduling a firm time for another follow-up – comes in handy for keeping you on their radar.

Relatedly, you should understand the value of your product or service to your prospect, because that’s what you need to communicate to them. It’s important to be able to explain what your product or service is and what its features are. More importantly, how can it help? This is where sellers have the opportunity to be educators, particularly if the prospect doesn’t see a need for the product or service at first. This approach builds trust, and we do business with those we trust.

How do you build trust with your prospects? Let us know in the comments.

Infographics 101

how to use infographics

The basics about why they work, what they are, and how to use them.

Why to use them

  1. We process images much faster than text.
    It makes sense, doesn’t it? Imagine a world where all the road signs looked the same, but had different messages. Stop. Deer crossing. Yield. School zone. How effective would these signs be in keeping traffic informed at the speed of travel?
  2. Images are engaging.
    We humans are wired as visual creatures. Don’t get me wrong, copywriters – I love a well-written piece. But when it comes to getting me to click something to get to that great tidbit of writing, there’s nothing like a compelling visual.
  3. Visuals aid memory.
    Think about your first experiences with reading. A is for…apple, right? When it comes to memorizing data, visuals are a key strategy. That works unintentionally, too. When it comes to getting your clients to remember you, a good visual can be a key aid.

What they are

An infographic is a graphic used to convey information. Seems obvious, right? Regardless, this term is used loosely to describe a wide variety of graphics. Here are a few key features we look for to define an image as an infographic.

  1. The pictures do the heavy lifting.
    Infographics do often have text. However, the best ones don’t rely on text to do most of the communication. Keep the text short and sweet, and let the pictures do the talking.
  2. There’s a clear message.
    Can you get the main theme of the message in three to five seconds? Congratulations, you have an infographic. No? Maybe you have a really cool graphic. But it’s not an infographic.
  3. It’s cohesive and concise.
    Infographics tend to cover a single topic. Think of them as 30-second commercial spots. You’re not going to cover the history of your business, the work you do, and your founder’s backstory; it’s too much. Instead, you’re going to make a single, very compelling statement about your business, and back it up with some relevant facts.

What they aren’t

Infographics are not well-designed flyers. They’re not sell sheets, or white papers. There are compelling reasons to have those, too. But these things aren’t the kind of shareable, hard-hitting, visual data-drivers that infographics are. Don’t ask for an infographic and expect it to contain a full page of text!

How to use them

Infographics can be a great addition to your marketing toolbox. Whether you are looking for compelling social media content, shareable blog visuals, or handy reference guides, an infographic can make a great contribution to your communication plan.

How do you use infographics? Let us know in the comments below.

10 reasons to appreciate a kick-ass editor

How editors transform contentEveryone needs an outstanding editor. Even those writers who have years of experience and the skills to match need fresh eyes on their copy. Great editors find and question holes, ensure stories flow logically, make dull copy shine, trim flab, erase errors, and work with writers to help them improve.

For many writers, the devil is in the details. They may not recognize that using five words instead of 50 in a paragraph can pack a powerful punch or that alliteration like the ps in this paragraph put pizzazz in ordinary prose. Editors do – and they often make magic.

Let’s explore 10 ways editors transform content. They:

  1. Create a smooth reading experience. Content should flow logically. It should have a strong beginning and end, answer readers’ questions, have clean transitions for each paragraph, and tie everything together in a nice package.
  2. Banish bloat. Unnecessary words are a distraction. Cutting them makes content direct and readable. Start by deleting “very” and “really.” Really, it’s OK. Another tip: Don’t start sentences with “There are.” It’s weak and lazy. Make every word count.
  3. Power up wishy-washy. A strong, confident writing voice instills trust. Starting sentences with “I believe” and “I think we need to,” is a power stealer. Delete these and the message will be clear.
  4. Vaporize redundancies. The Department of Redundancy Department gives editors plenty to do. Examples include “at the present time” and “the end result.”
  5. Boycott buzzwords and jargon. Content should be accessible and understandable. Don’t try to fluff up writing with big, important-sounding words and industry terms. No one will read it.
  6. Pummel passive voice. Active voice is clear and concise, while passive voice is impersonal and adds unnecessary words. Passive voice also makes the subject ambiguous. “It was heard by Susan that a companywide audit was scheduled.” Who scheduled the audit?
  7. Fact-check. Trust but verify. Dates, names and places are examples of the content editors target.
  8. Plug holes. Weak writing leaves unanswered questions and frustrates readers. Holes can range from a click-bait headline that doesn’t tie back to the content to a story that trails off without resolution.
  9. Spice it up. Varying sentence length and punctuation is one way editors put the sparkle in ho-hum content. Other tricks of the trade: incorporating long and short paragraphs, substituting power words for weak words, and making dull headlines shiny.
  10. Polish until its professional. Grammar, punctuation, spelling and style errors will burn a writer’s reputation faster than using alternative facts. Writers often miss these, especially when they’ve read their copy 10 times.

An amazing editor is behind every piece of effective content. Whether they work on websites, e-books, blog posts, case studies, email campaigns, articles, brochures, postcards, or other initiatives, editors make content the best it can be.

Have you worked with an editor? How did it help your content? Share your experience in the comments.

What will content marketing look like in 2022?

The future of content marketingA five-year time frame is an eternity in digital marketing. In 2012, content marketing was uncharted territory for many businesses. They were investing heavily in social media, but the idea of a holistic content marketing plan was relatively new.

Fast-forward to 2017, and nearly 90 percent of B2B marketers use content marketing as a foundational piece of their marketing strategy, according to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), the go-to source for all things related to the art and science of content marketing. CMI also found that most B2B marketers now use at least 13 content marketing tactics, from blog articles and landing pages to short-form video, white papers and more.

The proliferation of content over the past five years begs the question, What will content marketing look like in another five years? Here are a few possibilities.

A 180 to brevity

Currently, blog writing is trending toward longer reads of 1,500 words or more, largely for search engine optimization. A bigger piece has more keywords organically and improves topic relevance, which Google uses to separate keyword-stuffed articles from meaningful, well-written content.

Long-form content will always have its place in search engine optimization and among highly engaged readers. The reality, however, is that the human attention span is literally shorter than that of goldfish. We’re at eight seconds; they’re at nine. Since Google updates its algorithms constantly, it seems to be a safe bet that quality short-form content will rise to the top of search results eventually.

Faces

Content marketing, for all intents and purposes, is synonymous with branded content. We look to our favorite brands to produce content that speaks to us, and the ones who “get” content marketing know how to deliver time and time again. The brand value of content will never go away, but we’re also seeing executives aim for for thought leadership on LinkedIn and online publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg and Entrepreneur.

Small to midsize business owners are increasingly seeking ghostwritten content – material that someone writes for another person. I wouldn’t be surprised to see executives from big brands start to seek bylines on a regular basis, too. Thought leadership content is the ultimate soft sell, because it puts a face to the business that produces the content, and speaks more about challenges and solutions than products and services.

Condensed metrics

With just about every business investing in content, the need for unimposing and easy-to-manage data is becoming apparent. While many marketers might suggest that data is the future of content marketing, I’m going to lean the other way and say we need less data. My prediction is that data-driven marketing will peak in the next few years, and then come back down to Earth. Analytics and content management platforms will become so overwhelming that marketers will eventually find their own comfort zones with just a handful of metrics that matter to them.

Social media is a perfect example of the type of shift I’ve described. When social first burst onto the scene, businesses were scrambling to jump on every single platform in existence. Now, most marketers hone their strategies on only a few social media platforms they have deemed to be the most effective.

Chime in!

“Five years from now” always makes for an interesting discussion. What do you think content marketing will look like in 2022? Tell us in the comments below.

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.

Who do you think you are?

authentic brand copywritingWhen I was in fourth grade, our teacher tasked us with writing our “autobiographies.” Given that a compelling and lengthy personal narrative is a rarity among 9-year-olds, she also told us to write a chapter about what we thought our futures would hold. I wrote that “I will be a linebacker for the Chicago Bears and will marry a blond-haired girl.” One out of two ain’t bad.

If I had the patience or discipline to embark on such an exercise today, with four more decades under my ever-expanding belt, it would certainly lead me to engage in some serious self-reflection about who I am and what common themes define my personal story beyond “Disneyland was super neat!”

Crafting your company’s content should involve similar introspection.

In a previous post, I asked, “Who do you think you’re talking to?” That is to say, you should consider your target audience’s perspective when developing your content. Who is likely reading this? What’s important to them? What do they know about your industry, company or product?

Now, it’s time to ask yourself “Who do you think you are?” Whether you’re writing website copy, a blog post, or any other marketing collateral, you should know who you are or at least how you wish to appear before typing a single word. Your business’ identity, core values and culture should play a big, if not defining, role in the tone and substance of your content.

How can content convey who you are beyond explicitly spelling it out? “We are a company that manufactures the highest-quality widgets at the lowest price.” Here are two tips that can help you incorporate your company’s personality in your marketing content:

  1. Do some navel-gazing.

You may already have given a great deal of thought to your corporate identity. Perhaps you have a company mission statement that conveys what you are all about and identifies your primary objectives. Maybe your branding is strong and clear. If so, it’s important to take the defining elements of that identity and carry it forward into your content. If you haven’t spent time being a little touchy-feely about who you are as a company, you should do some brainstorming alone or with core members of your team.

Ask yourself:

  • What five words or phrases describe my company?
  • Why did I go into business in the first place?
  • How do I want prospects and customers to feel about my company after they visit my website for the first time?
  1. Make sure your voice is your voice.

If I could somehow conjure up William Shakespeare to ghostwrite my autobiography, I wouldn’t do it. As brilliant and timeless as the Bard’s encapsulation of my life may be, it wouldn’t reflect who I am. His writing would sound incongruous and awkward compared with how I am or appear to others — at least until I start living my life in iambic pentameter.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have someone write your content, but your content should sound like you. Maybe not the you watching the Cubs in Game 7 of the World Series or the you stuck in traffic on the Kennedy, but the you in a meeting with a client or on the phone with a potential customer. If someone reads your website expecting one thing and then gets another when they start interacting with you, it can dilute your company identity and be off-putting.

It has been said that you can’t fake authenticity. Your marketing content shouldn’t try to do so, either.

How does your content convey your identity? 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.

Project spotlight: A fresh look for Morrisey

MorriseyOne of The Simons Group’s longtime clients, Morrisey Associates, debuted a brand-new look for its marketing materials earlier this year. I was fortunate enough to work with the healthcare software solutions company and the rest of our creative team to bring its vision to life. We’re pretty excited about the results at The Simons Group, and we think you’ll agree. Here’s a look inside the process.

The challenge

Morrisey had a significant collection of marketing materials, and some information was repeated in multiple pieces. Morrisey’s sales and marketing team decided to consolidate some of the collateral to avoid duplication and make it easier for prospects and customers to digest the information. Since The Simons Group was already redoing the materials, it was an ideal time for a design makeover. Morrisey’s existing materials were a few years old, and the company wanted its new collateral to look fresh, clean and modern.

The process

We’ve worked with Morrisey for a long time, so we’re familiar with the company’s design and style preferences. We created a couple of looks that were consistent with Morrisey’s branding and culture and presented them for review. Once the company chose its desired look, we went to work, creating:

  • A new style guide. This document establishes the framework for every Morrisey design, including colors, fonts and other style elements. We narrowed down the company’s palette to red, gray and black, eliminating some other colors they had used in the past to keep the look cohesive.
  • Simplified logos. The company was using multiple logos and wanted to streamline its brand identity. We created a simplified set of logos consistent with the new look to enhance brand recognition.
  • A design template. We created a template that would be flexible enough to work with different sizes, from a one-page sell sheet or an eight-page brochure.
  • New collateral. From brochures to trade show banners, we overhauled all of Morrisey’s collateral to reflect the new look. The new materials take a more visual approach, with less text and more white space for maximum readability. Morrisey had also made some structural changes to its enterprise software solutions and needed to update the graphics in the collateral. We changed the approach for these, making them more intuitive and reflective of the current systems.

The results 

Morrisey’s sales and marketing teams say they absolutely love the new materials. The company’s fresh, streamlined look gives the company a stronger brand identity and makes it easier for customers and prospects to recognize Morrisey at trade shows and other events. The company’s next big marketing project is a video about its Morrisey Practitioner Performance Reporting™ (MPPR™) solution, and we’ll be incorporating the company’s new look and feel into the finished product.

5 steps to making email marketing shine with video

lights-camera-action-1168523Videos are an up-and-coming channel for presenting content to customers. According to Cisco, video is projected to make up 67 percent of all fixed Internet traffic by 2017. Studies also show that customers will stay on a website longer if it features a video. So what does that mean for you? Video is increasingly becoming a must-have on your marketing plan.

Here are some tips for adding video to email:

  1. Start with content you already have. Many companies have videos in their wheel houses, whether it’s a product demo or an overview of the company. To make the most of your resources, start small and work your way up to include a dedicated video strategy for your marketing plan.
  2. Use the word “video” in the subject line, which tends to generate more clicks.
  3. Time your video email to coordinate with where your customer is in the sales process. If your goal is to sell the costumer on a new product, send them a video touting the product features. If your customer has already made a purchase, send a video email a day or two after the items have arrived that describes how to use the item or gives tips for cleaning it.
    4. Use a call to action in your video. Depending on your video and what type of customer it’s being sent to, your call to action can be as simple as a phone number or website.
    5. Send related content. If a prospect clicks on a video in an email, direct them to your website. Provide links to related videos on your site, and as the customer watches more content, you can get a better sense of what they’re interested in.

Videos engage customers by delivering relevant content that’s easy to digest, ultimately increasing awareness and revenue. Use your videos to generate leads by linking them to your email campaigns. While it takes some equipment and technical expertise to execute videos correctly, a professional marketing team can help you shine on screen.

Have you started incorporating more videos into your marketing? Tell us about it in the comments below.

 

3 keys to selling your big idea

light-bulb-1057035Last year, we discussed the importance of shaping your environment to foster innovative thinking. But what do you do once you’ve struck idea gold?

You can get exposure to peer leaders at local entrepreneurial tech hub 1871 and other “co-working spaces,” where small businesses and freelancers share office space to cut overhead costs and encourage collaboration. Annual competitions like RedEye’s Big Idea Awards and the Chicago Innovation Awards streamline the path to bigger and brighter things by offering mentorship and other support. Crowdsourcing sites can get the ball rolling on development. Or there’s always “Shark Tank.”

No matter which path you choose for your idea, at some point, you have to get someone else’s buy-in. You have to sell it.

Selling a big, bold innovative idea is all about good decision-making. Once you have a solid business plan to sell, start executing marketing moves. Here are three steps for selling your big idea:

  1. Highlight the benefits. Anyone who is going to invest time, money or energy into your idea wants to know exactly what it’s going to do for his primary interest. Financial investors want to know the hard numbers on the return on investment. Co-developers ready to build sweat equity need to get behind how the idea is going to improve the industry, the market or people’s lives. Get messaging in place so you’re always prepared to demonstrate the logical and emotional ways your idea will connect with everyone who touches it.
  2. Feel it out. Odds are that, if you’re the one who’s pitching, your personality is going to drive the idea’s brand. Focus on how you describe the primary benefits. Find people inside and outside of the industry so you can practice explaining your idea with different levels of technical understanding. If you’re comfortable and confident, it will be a lot easier for the idea’s value to show through.
  3. Get a “look.” If you’re starting from scratch on branding, keep it simple. Develop just a few leave-behinds that keep your idea top of mind for potential supporters. A unique logo or design can help, but don’t lose your core idea in materials that don’t match the overall presentation. Once you get to the point of formal presentations, simple consistency will keep your audience focused.

Do you have a plan for when creativity crosses into innovation? Let us know in the comments below.