Monthly Archives: May 2009

What is a lead?

In my interactions with prospects and clients about online marketing; it is inevitable at some point that the word “lead” will be in the conversation, or likely the focus of the conversation. Typically it will be used in the context of “lead generation”; statements like – I’m in interested in generating leads or we’re looking for more leads or how many leads can we generate if we work with you etc…

In the 10+ years of conversations I’ve had on this topic, I’ve learned the hard way that the first thing I absolutely have to do is get on the same page as my client / prospect as to what their definition of lead is. Simple common definition issues can really create problems or expectation issues down the road; or even kill the sale altogether.

What I’ve found is most times when folks say lead in the context of online– what they really mean is sales lead, or transactional leads (RFPs, RFIs or RFQs). That might seem obvious – but in order to talk about marketing strategies and tactics and program recommendations, I need to know if someone either cares or places value on earlier stage leads (see my blog post on understanding the buying process online).

If someone is focused only on the tail end of the buying process online (either intentionally or ignorantly) – I need to understand why. It could be they are resource constrained; and therefore unable to follow-up appropriately and nurture early stage leads or they’ve just never thought the whole issue through, to no fault of their own. Hopefully, I’ll gain a chance educate them on the importance and opportunities missed and potentially help them work through resource issues or internal constraints.

Depending on the specifics of that discussion; the topics of “lead nurturing”, “lead qualification” and “lead scoring (what makes one lead better than another)” often come up as well; making the entire conversation so much more meaningful in the long run by engaging me in more aspects of their business and putting me in a stronger position to really integrate my recommendation into their current (or future) business practices.

 So back to the topic at hand – what are the common factors in my definition of a “lead” – regardless of the stage?

Well in my experience; early stage and late stage leads should all have the following information in common:

  • Contact Information: Enough so you can either nurture it further through “re-marketing” efforts (follow-up tactics) or so you can figure out who in your sales organization should get it for more immediate follow-up. E-mail address at a minimum; but add in full name and mailing address and perhaps even a phone number or fax and now you have the ultimate in contact information with multiple options and means for follow-up.
  • Demographic Information: At a minimum, you should know the company the individual is from and hopefully their industry focus and job role; which can help you determine their potential application and can set both the tone and manner of your follow-up.
  • Category of Interest: What is it that they are looking for or at? Are they downloading a white paper? Looking for more information on a specific product? Asking for Pricing? Or are they just curious about your company? Again; this will help set the tone and manner of your follow-up sales, re-marketing or drip-marketing efforts.

 That’s it….you get these three pieces of information; and you have yourself a lead.

 To determine the qualification of that lead; e.g. is this  a “transactional” lead or other sales lead vs. perhaps an earlier one – there is a slew of additional information you might need; some of that information can be gleamed through lead-qualification processes that will be a subject for future blog posts, but through these processes you can ask questions focused on:

  • Preferred Means of Contact
  • Timing
  • Budget Availability / Influence / Ability
  • Level of Interest
  • Competitor Options under Consideration etc.

If you are still struggling to get on the same page as either your vendors or even internally about what makes an online lead a lead and how important it is to place value on early stage vs. just focusing on late stage leads; take the discussion out of the context of online and take it offline, use a tradeshow analogy.

When someone registers to attend a tradeshow you are exhibiting at…are they a lead? In most people’s opinion; at best they are a suspect.

How about when that individual actually shows up at the exhibition hall? Probably not; perhaps still a suspect…maybe a prospect.

How about when they begin to flip through the directory that features your company or they start to walk down the aisle where you have a booth and signage?  Getting closer…but still not a lead?

How about when they stop and read your signage or view your booth and display…if even at a cautious distance? Warmer still…

How about when they drop a business card in the bowl or hand you their badge for scanning? For most folks…this is a lead now, everything that happened before then held little to no value.

Is this right the way to view lead generation? Am I fairly evaluating my trade show experience or even maximizing my trade show investment by only counting those cards I acquired or badges I’ve scanned?

The truth is – my prospect was a potential lead the moment they registered to attend the show itself. The person was an early stage lead for sure, but they were curious enough about my industry to register to attend a show that I felt appropriate to exhibit at. In a perfect world, if I could market and nurture that individual along from the beginning, I would have “bettered my chances” of them being among those who dropped their card or had their badge scanned vs. waiting for them to discover me on their own.

It all points back to the buy cycle (again, see my earlier posts). While evaluating marketing options and strategies, it’s important to remember that customer conversions (new sales) are the outcome of multiple influences over time.

From a sales & marketing perspective, being discovered as early in the process as possible is critical; as the impressions and results from the first few exposures and searches create the baseline criteria that the buyer will use to compare all options under consideration as final selection and purchase timeframes gets closer.

As always, I hope this post at least triggered some thought if not discussion.

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Lead Follow-Up: Tone and Manner are Important

I spend a lot of time discussing the importance of following up on leads with my clients; but probably not an equal amount of time discussing “how” to approach them – which is just as important, if not more so.

Good quote from this NYT article reinforces that  – “Tone and manner are important. The message should be something like, ‘Oops, was there a problem? Can we help?,’ versus an out-and-out hard sell, which will just wind everyone up.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/business/17digi.html?_r=1&em

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Writing Effective Newsletter Copy; Part III – Link and Landing Page Strategy

You’ve chosen a headline and you’ve written your copy – now you need to decide where to where to send a reader once they click.

Depending on the sponsorship you’re writing for, you’ll likely have at least one hyperlink and perhaps more.  The intent of the link is to allow you to provide additional/expanded content beyond what appears in the newsletter itself once you’ve captured an individual’s interest. If you are primarily interested in driving overall web traffic and visibility for content that already exists on your website or a micro-site; the links should go directly to those sites and your expectation for the sponsorship should be one of targeted exposure and traffic.  When electing to send readers to a landing page, give consideration to your copy flowing seamlessly from your text ad to your website, consider the same voice and same message but with lots more information. Help the reader fill in the gaps – and then some by providing the technical information that wasn’t relevant to provide until now. Use the landing page to educate your target audience about everything you can do for them – all the while seizing the opportunity to politely nudge and nurture them towards ultimately becoming a customer. Provide plenty of ancillary links to even more detail and above all else, make it clear, plain and easy how to contact you should they want more information – have phone numbers, email addresses or contact forms clearly accessible and visible on all pages. Remember, the potential customer is increasing their interest with you – don’t abandon the opportunity to increase their potential to interact with you. If you elect to focus your ad on a specific product you offer, give careful consideration to the mindset of the individual who just clicked on your ad; chances are they are specifically expecting to get more detail on that product itself by clicking on a link in the ad. If you instead send them to your company homepage or to a comprehensive pdf catalog of all your products; you may have succeeded in enticing them enough to click, but you ultimately may lose the interest and the momentum you were gaining with this individual. When bringing attention to a link in your copy, be sure to use what we refer to as “kicker words” to serve as both a teaser and a heads-up to the reader that there is lots more information available if they take further action and click or contact you. For example, use the words “for details…” or “for technical specs…” or “for more information…”

Hope this information is helpful and best of luck with turning your newsletter sponsorships into tangible ROI for you.

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Writing Effective E-Newsletter Copy – Part II: The Adcopy

Last week we introduced the topic of how to write effective ad copy; and we started by focusing on the basics and the headline for your ad. Today we’ll talk about the copy of the ad itself.

Depending on the sponsorship level and type you are writing for, you may have anywhere from a few words of text to perhaps more than 100 words of text to work with; but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should use them all. Remember, your e-newsletter sponsorship is essentially “an ad for an ad”; you don’t need to say much – say just enough to prompt interest to warrant a click, either now or in a future need situation for the reader. Be straightforward and succinct with your message, and if you can do so in fewer words of text than you are allotted; do it! You can also experiment with less text in order to use white space effectively to make your ad ‘stand out’.

Therefore, copy should, first and foremost, hold your readers’ interest. Boring copy or lengthy descriptions of your products can overwhelm your readers and actually turn away potential customers. Instead, think like a customer. When you are writing descriptions of your products or offerings, try to ask yourself these questions:

What challenges are they facing, and how can your products make their lives easier?

For example, if you are selling a software product that automates everyday tasks, position this in terms of the benefit to the user. Rather than highlighting the “task automation” aspect, talk about how much time it can save. “Task automation” is abstract and vaguely technical, but everyone understands “time savings.”

Once you decide what the critical benefit points for your target customers are going to be, present the information in an accessible manner, use short sentences, bulleted lists, and other ways that don’t overwhelm readers. Instead of telling your customers about a product, use your copy to show them how it will work or how it can improve their work lives.

Here are two quick examples of ad copy for a manufacturer of “serial device server”; a serial device server translates data between communication formats, allowing an end-user to access, manage and configure remote facilities and equipment over the Internet from anywhere in the world.

Sample Copy A: Focus on the customer application:

“Ethernet has become the protocol of choice for industrial and commercial processes — so much so that a communications gap now exists between new and old systems.

For many faced with this dilemma, it could mean you are considering a costly replacement for perfectly good legacy equipment. However a better solution exists that will allow you close the communication gap with a serial device server from ABC Inc.

Serial Device Servers will save you time, resources, and most importantly, dollars on the bottom line. To learn more, download our complimentary white paper: “The Serial Revolution” or visit our website at…..

Sample Copy B: Focus on the product details:

“Serial Device Servers from ABC offer versatile socket operating modes, including TCP Server, TCP Client, UDP, and Real Com driver; additional features include:

  • 2- or 4-wire RS-485 with patented Automatic Data Direction Control (ADDC™) 
  • 10/100BaseTX (RJ45) or 100BaseFX (SC connector, Single/Multi mode)
  • Built-in Ethernet Cascading ports for easy wiring (RJ45 only)
  • Warning by relay output and E-mail

Learn more about ABC’s complete line of Serial Device Servers by visiting….”

See the difference?

Many marketers are too close to their own products to describe them effectively. Try to imagine that you are totally unfamiliar with your products or services — as many of your potential customers might be. Look at what you are offering through your customer’s eyes to gain a better insight as to how your products or offerings should be described. In Sample Copy B, the marketer’s extensive technical knowledge of the products is actually a hindrance for an e-newsletter ad. It appears as if ABC lost sight of the real world application that makes their products compelling or different, and how they benefit someone. It seems as if they think that the benefits are extremely obvious and need no description, but for someone who has never seen the product, they may not understand this as readily as the person writing the ad.

Later this week we’ll cover link strategy and landing page suggestions.

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Writing Effective E-Newsletter Copy – Part I: The Basics & The Headline

This next series of posts are written to specifically help you with creating effective ad copy.

Before we get into some specific considerations for your ad copy, there are a few important over-arching thoughts to keep in mind about your e-newsletter sponsorships.

First, your sponsorship is essentially “an ad for an ad”; the objective of your ad should not be to make a sale or tell a complete story by itself, but rather to get your prospect’s attention to want to learn more. How they’ll learn more is either through an immediate click to more information, or they’ll recall your name at a later date when the timing is more appropriate for them to learn more about you and your offerings.  The immediate click takes the form of web traffic while the targeted branding and exposure the e-newsletter provides creates the opportunity for the future click. It’s an unrealistic expectation for a single email ad to sell anybody on anything.

Secondly; the role your e-newsletter sponsorship is playing for you is that they are providing an early stage opportunity for you to influence your customer’s opinions, in many cases before they are even looking for a solution like you offer.

Finally, like all advertising – the best copy evolves over time. You should accept that you might make mistakes, so be prepared to test alternative creative, landing pages, headlines etc. for your campaign. Most importantly, take your time – don’t rush your copy to meet a deadline, solicit feedback from others and examine other ads that run in the e-newsletter you are placing your ad in.

With that introduction, let’s now get into some specific considerations for your ad.

 Part I: Ad Headline

Just as a successful email marketing message has a compelling subject heading to grab attention in a recipients inbox, your e-Newsletter ad needs a headline to hook the end-reader to read further and to click even further still. Avoid using jargon, whether it’s technical talk, corporate slang or industry buzzwords. You don’t need to impress readers with your technical mastery, focus on just giving them the facts in plain English. Instead of “jargon”, keep the focus on “what’s in it for them” and the headline should be tailored, where feasible, to the specific type of individual you are hoping to attract.

Let’s consider two examples.

Example #1:

Let’s use a fictional software company, called XY, and they publish a software product designed to help companies better manage and schedule maintenance requirements for their manufacturing machines and assets, the software is titled XY:EAM. The specific target job role that XY is looking to attract is someone in a management or supervisory role, ideally with the responsibility of overseeing maintenance processes. Knowing this – what would an effective ad headline read like?

 Let’s compare two headline variations:

 Sample A: “Decrease unscheduled equipment downtime right from your desktop.”

Sample B: “XY: Worldwide leader in enterprise asset management (EAM) software”

Which one fits our suggested guidelines of focusing on “what in it for them” without utilizing technical talk, corporate slang and jargon? It would seem like Sample Headline A has a bit of an edge to gain a prospect’s attention, especially those faced with a similar business challenge of dealing with unscheduled equipment downtime, whereas Sample Headline B has more of a corporate branding intent to associate the EAM acronym with the company, which isn’t the intent of XY’s campaign.

Example #2:

Let’s use a well-known manufacturer of motors and drives, one of the top names in a very “crowded” industry, for example purposes, the fictional company name is “Core Motion”. Because of the competitive nature of the motor’s industry; new application-specific product releases and product improvements are a very common way to increase or even maintain market share. With “Core Motion’s” most recent e-newsletter campaign, they are trying to drive interest and awareness for recent improvements to an award-winning line of motors and drives for washdown-duty applications, such as food and beverage processing.

Knowing this – what would an effective ad headline read like?

Let’s once again compare two variations:

Sample A: “Core Motion: Best Washdown Motors Getting Even Better”

Sample B: “Washdown motors built specifically for your harshest applications”

 Which sample headline accomplishes Core Motion’s objective?

 This is a great example of why we strongly urge trying different headlines for your contracted insertions, as selecting the most compelling headline between these two isn’t as easy as our first example. However, it would seem that once again, Sample Headline A would trigger the curiosity required to turn an e-newsletter browser into a “Core Motion” ad reader.  We would typically recommend avoiding the use of subjective words like “best” in a headline, but in this example – “Core Motion” has the proof to back it up due to this ad focusing on the release of innovations that improve upon their award winning ‘best in class’ line of products. Additionally, Sample Headline A is leveraging the existing market leading brand strength for their “Core Motion” name that will create instant recognition among readers. Sample Headline B wouldn’t necessarily be a bad option either; but it appears to be more appropriate copy for a lesser-known brand trying to break into harsh application markets.

Coming up in next week’s post – the ad copy itself.

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Understanding the Buying Process Online, Part IV: Consideration & Comparison

In this continuing series of posts, we’ve explored the online buying process from a sales & marketing perspective. In previous posts we’ve reviewed the various phases of the buying process including initial discovery through creating curiosity and awareness as well as how to get in front of those individuals already engaged in specific research and search activities.

In part IV; we’ll talk about the third phase of the buying process – consideration & comparison. This is the phase where your potential customer has completed most of their informational searches and research and is in the process of comparing various options.

Buy-Cycle Phase 3. Consideration & Comparison

At this stage, your potential customers have completed most of their informational searches and research and are now considering specific options, including your company. This is the prime opportunity for your company to differentiate themselves from the perceived comparable alternatives also under consideration. The customer is likely considering specific information from each alternative supplier related to specifications, cost, brands, and how the products or services make them feel in general. The reality is; most individuals online are trying to narrow and compare similar features first before they look for what makes one product different (better or worse) than the other. Websites that make this “comparison” easier like industrial directories, specialized search engines and online buyers guide play an increasing role for potential customers at this stage. Publishers of these resources recognize that end-users are looking for easier ways to compare suppliers and offerings side-by-side. Since a potential customer is starting to compare finer details and information; the information you subsequently make available via your website or information published on these resources becomes increasingly important. It’s also important at this stage for you to build trust that you should be the vendor they ultimately select. Hopefully as the potential customer first discovered you, you’ve captured the prospects’ contact information (or an email address at a minimum). Now it’s time to put it to use as part of a nurture campaign; which is essentially the continuation of the education process by providing value to your prospective clients, typically via email. Your goal is to keep the lines of communications open and one of the most effective ways to continue communicating with your prospects is with an email follow-up campaign. There are several “best demonstrated practice” resources available online for setting up a lead nurturing program; but they all have in common a desire to continue to reinforce that you know how to provide value to your customers and should be the vendor they ultimate decide to purchase from. Once they are considering and comparing you as a potential vendor; you want to make sure the information you are providing give them the specific detail that helps them fill in the gaps. You can do that by providing access to the technical information that may not have been relevant until now. You are basically seizing the opportunity to politely nudge and nurture them towards ultimately becoming a customer of yours. For example; as they go deeper into website; provide plenty of ancillary links to even more detail about not only your product line or solutions, but value-add services and client case studies.

Marketing Tactic Considerations:

Participation in directory products and programs that make it easier for end-users to compare similar suppliers should be a no-brainer if you are interested in reaching potential customers at this phase. Continued visibility in the search engines should also continue to be considered as well contextually-placed banner ads; provided these ads are placed alongside or with keyword or category search results to give your company a little extra visibility and differentiation among similar or related alternatives. As stated above; if you’ve been fortunate enough to gain earlier stage leads with contact information; using direct email nurture campaigns will increase your chances of ultimately securing a customer as well.

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Understanding the Buying Process Online, Part III: Specific Interest & Search

In part II of Understanding the Buying Process Online;  we reviewed from a sales & marketing perspective, the importance of being discovered as early in the buying process as possible. In that post we covered creating overall awarness, interest and even curiosity through push marketing online.

In part III; we’ll talk about the second phase of the buying process – specific interest and search. This is the phase where your potential customer is getting more proactive in their information research. We’ll also introduce more “pull” marketing tactics in addition to maintaining the “push” initiatives.

Buy-Cycle Phase 2: Specific Interest & Search

As potential customers “get serious” about their interest in a topic; they begin to become more proactive and specific in their research online and potentially more urgent in their need for relevant information or solutions. Various research studies, surveys and opinions indicate that b2b professionals go online first anywhere from 85-95% of the time they have a specific interest or need.

In most cases, their activity begins on a search engine (either a general search engine such as Google or Yahoo!, or a B2B search engine such as Globalspec, Business.com, Knowledgestorm etc.). The exact percent of individuals who use a search engine at this phase varies greatly from study to study; with ranges from 65 – 85%; however no study pegs this number at “100%”; meaning resources like industry portals, community sites, B2B sites and vendor websites are still the first choice option for some professionals; but search engines remain the choice of the majority.

As a result, at this stage most marketers put the emphasis of their online budgets against search engines. However, too often the “last click” from a search engine gets all the credit for ultimately creating a sale, even though the conversion was the outcome of multiple influences over time. A study by the Atlas Institute titled “How Overlap Impacts Reach, Frequency and Conversions,” asserts that 90 percent of the clients that converted were reached by placements other than the last ad seen, and that far too often the proper credit for the sale is inappropriately given to search. The study found that two out of three clients who eventually took a responsive action were reached by ads across multiple portal sites before actually going on to ultimately make a purchase. To understand how the credit for the sale is “unfairly” being attributed to Google; consider this “offline” analogy:

You’re headed to the supermarket to buy some food and on your way in you see the big sign in the window advertising Hamburger for $3.99 a pound. You need some anyway and it was on your “list” so you buy it. In the online world, which measures the last ad seen, that sign alone would be given credit for your purchases in the store. But it’s quite likely that you were going shopping in the first place because you saw something in the weekend circular that you wanted to buy or maybe you heard a radio ad or your spouse asked you etc. Under the last-ad-seen model, the circular ad is worth nothing and everything else far less than the ad for hamburger hanging in the storefront window. Using this analogy; you can see the danger of relying on the last ad seen as not all advertising is intended to be immediate direct response; and the same can be said for online advertising.

Marketing Tactic Considerations:

Based on the overwhelming use of search engines by potential customers in this phase; search engine campaigns (both paid and unpaid) should be considered to ensure you are visible when individuals are searching by keywords. You should also continue to consider

e-newsletter campaigns to targeted prospects and customers and targeted banner advertising on industry portals and b2b sites to ensure your message is getting in front of individuals using these resources to find solutions to their problems and answers to their research questions. These types of tactics are more often associated with the term “pull marketing”; as you are attempting to pull and attract “web surfers” to your website when they have a need vs. “pushing” your message to them and trying to stimulate a need.

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