Tom Levers

Building a new Sales Territory in a Start-Up Company?

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, MARKETING, Sales by Tom Levers on March 28, 2011

Ramping up a new territory can be both exciting and overwhelming. Exciting because everything is new and you get a fresh start; overwhelming because there is so much to accomplish, often with unknown goals and expectations.

 It is really the difference between Chess and Checkers… or in current video game terms “Angry Birds” vs “Age of Empires”.

Basically, any game of reaction… make a move, and you react in the best way that you know how. On the other hand, plan moves way ahead of time. The best chess players will already know what options are open to them eleven or even twelve moves ahead of time. They think ahead about as many possible contingencies, and plan accordingly. Consultative sales management professionals are like chess players, not checkers players. Specific situations have been planned for many possible outcomes. They never simply react. Before working with a client, they have tried to anticipate many of the potential scenarios that could play out and have a course of action planned for each . This is also the approach needed build a new  territory. 

As a sales professional striving to be the best that you can be, you always need to be mindful of two types of strategies: General, and Specific Strategy.

General Strategy – You need to have a broad strategic plan. The first step to forming this strategy will be to ask yourself what type of sales professional you would like to be. Once, you have formulated the answer to these questions, you will be better equipped to develop a coherent sales plan that addresses these concerns. You now know what you want, but you still need to figure out how to get there. What types of activities are you taking part in that are helping you to achieve your goals? What types are not? Examine every sales habit that you have developed, and open it up to scrutiny.  

Specific Strategy – Having a general strategy is essential, but it should not be so rigid as to become inflexible. Be able to adjust your strategy to meet the specific challenges of each client and each territory. No two sales engagements will happen in the exact same way, so you need to be able to think on your feet. Always try to imagine every possible path that a deal could take, and have an explicit plan mapped out ahead of time for each one. This way you will never be surprised. 

There are 3 key steps .

1. Build a time and territory management plan. Starting out with a new territory is going to seem huge and overwhelming. There will be new opportunities everywhere and naturally you will want to tackle them all at once. Without a plan though, you will waste countless hours.  Failing to set up a time and territory plan in advance is the single biggest mistake salespeople make when starting a new territory. There is no right or wrong way to do this and I advise you to get someone to help you so you get a different perspective. What works best for me is to divide my territory into 4 quadrants – 1 for each day of the week. (I save the 5th day for office work and unexpected opportunities.) Then set your prospecting and appointment schedule up to coincide with these days and develop the self-discipline to stick with the plan. Avoid the temptation to run from one side of your territory to the other chasing “hot” prospects, calmly approaching your quadrants.

 2. Understand what you have. You have no guaranty that the territory you are given has the value assigned and expected since no one else has ever worked it in this specific situation. So come at everything with skepticism and take nothing for granted. If you ascertain the value of your territory independently from past predictions and experiences you will make it possible to establish realistic goals.There is nothing more valuable in your sales tool box than your prospect database. Take time every afternoon to update your CRM with new prospects, call notes, and next steps. Be religious about this and do not end the day until this task is done. Keeping your prospect database up to date is about seeing the big picture and setting yourself up for success in the future. It is about making sure the investment you make today pays off tomorrow.

3. Do a little bit every dayThere is a children’s riddle that asks, “What the best way to eat an elephant?” The answer of course is one bite at a time. You can’t do everything at once. It will take months to fully ramp up. But when you consistently and systematically do a little bit of the right things every day you will be amazed at how these activities build on themselves. Soon you will see the results in your territory grow.

Summary

Be a Chess Player! Today, tomorrow and throughout your career. Keep your funnel full and anticipate rather than react. When it comes down to it, the most important element of any sales strategy, is short or long term preparedness. The more thoroughly you are prepared for each sales day and each situation, the better you will perform. The best way to do this is by continually documenting your plan and then execute, while at the same time striving for improvement by continually thinking beyound the immediate reaction.

 

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Generating business with newsletters… easier than it looks!

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, DEMAND GENERATION, MARKETING by Tom Levers on January 30, 2011

                                                                                                                                                    Email newsletters are a great way to get people to think of you first. But only if you do it right!

  • How do you ensure your e-newsletter is the one people look forward too?

  • How do you ensure your e-newsletter carries impact and influence?  

Many marketers want to do a newsletter but often it is an overwhelming task. I recently tackled this project with a release of my first company newsletter to the Microsoft Global Field Organization and our System Center Partners and potential Alliance Partners.

 See Click Here To Read BridgeWays Newsletter

 When designing and writing this newsletter I continually referenced these guidelines:

 1.      Avoid overly ambitious newsletter programs – requiring many people, more time, and money than the marketing budget can comfortably invest. Disappointment is certain to result when you bite off more than you can chew.

2.      Keep your audience in mind, always know your topic and know your audience and make an effort to learn and write about what is relevant and important to them!

 3.      Choose a distinctive, benefit-oriented title – newsletter success begins with the nameplate, the stylized treatment of your newsletter’s title that appears on the front page of each issue. Your newsletter’s title should serve as an icon, or visual symbol, signaling the content of your newsletter. A title consisting of a few short words is better than one containing several long words. Short titles and words permit the use of a large type size. Instead of a long title, consider breaking the title of your newsletter into two parts; a short, key word set in a large type size supported by a longer subtitle set in a smaller type size which amplifies its meaning.

 4.      Choose the right margins and column layout – white space is the least-expensive ways you can make your newsletters more attractive and easier to read… or use stock photos to add a finish professional look. White space begins with generous margins. Always provide sufficient “breathing room” at the tops and bottoms of your pages. If you are using a three-column layout, omit text from the first column and devote it to photos, pull-quotes and short topics. If you plan to include a lot of photographs in your newsletter, include a scholar’s margin, a narrow column along the outside edge of each page. This builds white space into each page and provides space for a variety of different-sized photographs. Small photographs can fit entirely within the scholar’s margin; other photographs can extend into it from the adjacent text columns.

 5.      Be consistent – Choose a single typeface for all of your headlines and limit headlines to two sizes. Use one size for headlines of primary importance; another, smaller, size for headlines of lesser importance. This adds visual variety to your page and helps readers quickly identify the most important topics, yet avoids a disorganized image. Make your headlines stand out by choosing a typeface that forms a strong visual contrast with adjacent body copy. For example, use sans serif headlines (i.e. Helvetica) to introduce body copy set in a serif typeface (like Times Roman).

 6.      Insert frequent subheads – subheads add visual interest to your articles and make them easier to read by breaking long expanses of text into manageable, bite-sized chunks. Each subhead provides readers with a convenient entry point into your article. Readers are likely to skim your subheads and begin reading when they encounter something that attracts their interest. Often the best result is from setting subheads in the same typeface used in the headlines, only smaller. Using the same typeface for headlines and subheads simplifies and unifies your document. Place more space above subheads than below them. This emphasizes the break between the previous topic and the next topic.

 7.      Make body copy as easy to read as possible – body copy should be as transparent as possible. In most cases, this is achieved by using a typeface, one that doesn’t draw undue attention to itself. This allows the message to emerge. Whenever possible, choose a familiar serif typeface. Numerous studies have shown that serif typefaces (like Garamond, Palatino, and Times Roman) are easier to read than sans serif typefaces (like Helvetica). This is because the serifs guide the reader’s eyes along from letter to letter. Consider setting body copy text flush-left/ragged-right. Flush-left alignment is characterized by equal word spacing and lines of unequal line length. This creates interesting pools of white space at the end of each line which further opens-up each line. The equal word spacing of flush-left/ragged-right type allows readers to establish a rhythm, making their job easier. Always hyphenated flush-left/ragged-right text, however, to avoid extremely short lines followed by very long lines or lines that form diagonals or other shapes along the right margin.

 8.      Choose the right punctuation and spacing – prospective clients will gauge your professionalism and ability to satisfy their needs by the way you handle subtle details like punctuation and spacing. Avoid hitting the space bar twice after periods at the ends of sentences, as this creates distracting gaps—especially noticeable with justified text. Likewise, avoid hitting the Enter or Return key twice after paragraphs, as this creates distracting horizontal bands of white space between paragraphs. Instead, use your Paragraph formatting command to add Space After equal to one and one-half lines of text.

 9.      Align visuals with column boundaries – avoid photographs that columns into adjacent columns. This creates text wraps, narrow columns characterized by awkward word spacing and excessive hyphenation. Aligning photographs with column boundaries emphasizes the structure of your newsletter and makes it easier to read.

 10.   Use color with restraint – exercise restraint when adding a second color. Concentrate color in a few key locations, such as the background of your nameplate or your firm’s logo. Color often works best as a background element, rather than as a foreground element (i.e. text.) Avoid using a different color for each issue. This often confuses readers, (destroying issue-to-issue unity and familiarity), makes your job harder and increases printing costs. The different text and visuals on the front cover of each issue should be enough to differentiate each issue.

 11.   Detail your newsletter – detail your newsletter by going through it (use someone else to proof if you’re the creator), line by line, making 🙂 sure that simple errors haven’t crept in.

 12.   Simplify your design – strive for simplicity. Eliminate unnecessary boxes, borders and rules. Use a single headline typeface and type size throughout your headline and avoid the temptation to use too much bold or italics within your body copy. Clutter detracts from your message. Every change in typography, color or layout detracts from your reader’s ability to concentrate on your message.

 13.   Look for reader feedback, always – talk with a new sampling of readers after each issue. Do a formal readership survey on a regular basis. Track what’s happening. Why work on the newsletter if it is NOT achieving the objective.

 14.   Remember that your list is everything so cherish and respect it – make sure you know exactly whom you’re sending your email newsletter too. You can divide the target audience into categories (segmentation), and decide on what approach to take with regard to each of these categories.

 Conclusion – You can improve your newsletter’s ability to generate new business by establishing realistic goals and working as efficiently as possible. Newsletters demonstrate value that solves the day-to-day problems of readers, helps them stay on top of industry trends, and saves time by distilling practical information such as real-world best practices and industry advances from many sources. Newsletters can very easily become customers’ and partners trusted information source on specific business problems. Trust helps you to position your company as a credible source, which in turn retains your customers, and alliances.

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Software Partner Relationships + Customer Transactions = Success

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, Sales by Tom Levers on October 15, 2010

WHY ALLIANCES ARE NOT EASY

The stability of an alliance depends on how well the “partners” work together… that’s right it is a relationship. Often relationships depend on maturity and their rational application of reason during changing internal and external conditions. It is the willingness to renegotiate the “bargain of circumstances” that creates longevity in a partner relationship.

It is NOT Surprising a large number of alliances never live up to their expectation

A successful alliance requires real “in-the-trenches” discussions around the business and individual sales transactions… not merely an  exchange of product and pre-sales when the transaction reveals itself.  Unless each partner places a high value on the skills, resources, products and contributions each brings to the alliance with a commitment to a win-win outcome, one party will not create the needed importance to the Partners original success criteria.

Ask yourself… is your organization in a one-sided Partnerships ?

A 1999 study by Accenture, a global business consulting organization, revealed that 61 percent of alliances were either outright failures or “limping along”.  In 2004, McKinsey & Company estimated that the overall success rate of alliances was around 50 percent, based on whether the alliance achieved the stated objectives.
Many alliances are dissolved after a few years. The high “divorce rate” among partners often are attributed to some of these reasons:
  1. clash of executives,
  2. poor execution on one side of the relationship,
  3. changing conditions making the original reason obsolete,
  4. new or more attractive business/technology into market ecosystem,
  5. no market demand,
  6. and finally competitive change.

Partners are not always built for offensive reasons.

Many alliances are built early where an ecosystem exists to help a company reduce competitive disadvantages quickly… enhancing reach, capabilities, rapid delivery and awareness.
THE VULNERABILITY OF ALLIANCE  PARTNERSHIPS
The “Achilles Heel” is that each is not willing  to exclusively rely on the partners essential expertise and capabilities to deliver strong business value. To be a market leader (and perhaps even a serious market contender), a company must ultimately understand its “Core Capabilities” to develop and own as it’s capabilities… and what not to develop as “Core Capabilities”. This is pivotal to protecting competitiveness and build success with Alliances and Partnerships. Moreover, some alliances hold only limited potential… because the partner guards its skills and expertise.
DELIVER BUSINESS SOLUTIONS NOT JUST “TECH” SOLUTIONS
Another big driver to “partner relationships” is to impact “transactions” to not just using “Tech” alone”. It will  not win sales transactions and often gets discredited in a techonly senerio. Pure techie brilliance gets undone by vendor ignorance/arrogance about the client’s business needs & people needs – or by the client’s own limitations or tech ignorance. Therefore another test of a “partner” may be that the vendor has demonstrated, by delivering business solutions NOT just IT solutions, that they understand and support your strategy & your culture – and will “raise a flag” if your own people’s actions appear to conflict with either strategy or culture.

Joint Marketing Promotion Means More Than Money

Another key area of Partnerships is joint marketing. This is driven around sales of each partner, the availability of MDF (Market Development Funds), objective of relationship by each party. The objective must be individualized. For example Leads – Relationships are always enhanced when Leads are viewed as a balance sheet. How many leads are given or received… and how many leads are jointly closed? If either Partner expends too much effort with no results the relationship will sour. The key is to review joint business objectives,strategy and tactics on a frequent basis (ie. if leads, installation, support  are considered an important KPI by one partner  the 2nd partner must define its expected return for delivering these KPIs.)

Conclusion

Alliances between companies, whether they are from different parts of the world, or right next door… are a key component to life in business today. Alliances  range from no more than a fleeting transaction where both parties have a temporary need, to a  prelude to a full merger of companies’, technologies, and capabilities. Whatever the nature of business alliances, being a good partner is dictated by the relationship between its employees and is a key corporate asset.  In the global economy, a well-developed ability to create and sustain fruitful alliances gives companies a significant competitive perspective that is a key component  to a complete business strategy.

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Rumors of Facebook?

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, MARKETING by Tom Levers on September 25, 2010

Wikipedia and SEO is just common sense!

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT by Tom Levers on September 5, 2010

I don’t really trust what I read on Wikipedia, but then again, often it ranks first on my search requests. I do know thatGoogle and Wikipedia are both well aware that Wikipedia is some of the most valuable SEO real estate due to both raw popularity, and Google’s tendency to up-rank Wikipedia pages .

Wikipedia links are now nofollow links, meaning they don’t grant authority (or “link juice”) to sites that link to them. If you give it a little thought however, you’ll soon realize that this doesn’t actually make much of a difference, provided you go about using Wikipedia intelligently. Here’s how to successfully use Wikipedia for your marketing:

Realize that Views Matter: In other words, even if there’s no link juice going around, the fact that real people look at Wikipedia articles and click through links matters. Not only does this mean more traffic, but your links may be picked up by sources that do provide link authority.

Remember Wikipedia Mirrors and Scrape Sites: There are plenty of Wikipedia mirrors that do grant link juice. Wikipedia’s Creative Commons License allows this. Once your content and links are harvested, they suddenly gain multiple links. Some mirrors are actually decently ranked and trafficked, too.

Be Picky With Articles: First of all, don’t just swing by and add a barely relevant link to a high PageRank article. Wikipedia volunteers and bots will kill those right away. If your link actually makes sense, it’s not going to get removed. Plus, more niche pages aren’t subject to the same competition as major pages are, but they still benefit from a rank boost – that’s where those annoying stubs at first place come from.

Edit Skillfully: When you dig in, perform a significant, competent edit to the entry. You should add genuine value to the article’s raw text. This means you have to do some independent research, but you have an excellent resource at hand: your client. If your client knows his business, you know how to add to the article you’re linking him to. Your edit should be well-written, featuring unique text, and should conform to Wikipedia’s style guide.

Link Generously: It’s not all about you, you, you! When you add links to the article, add resources besides your client. This signifies your good intentions and is better for the article. You can even link to relevant competitors – but of course, their content won’t be quite as optimized to fit hand in glove with the article.

Chain Link to the Client: I have to admit I thought of keeping this last bit to myself because it’s worked out so well for me in the past. Yes, Wikipedia links have the nofollow attribute, making them useless for direct link juice. To get by this,set up an offsite blog. We put some quality content there and used it as the link target, while it linked back to our client’s site. As a result, the client experienced constant inbound traffic from a site able to grant link authority, and the blog got a decent rank too, thanks to a combination of social bookmarking and backlinks from third party Wikipedia mirrors.

Now if you read between the lines of above, one thing jumps out: Many of the tips for SEO-ing Wikipedia are in line with being a decent Wikipedia “citizen.” Market by adding value to articles and everybody wins.

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Mobile Apps and the Contrariness of a Serial Software Company Guy

Some contrarian takeaways…

  • Only 28% of the most successful public software companies reached $50 million in annual sales in 6 years or less.
  • 50% of these companies took 9 or more years to reach $50m in revenue.
  • Microsoft took 8 years to reach $50 million in sales; Oracle took 10.
  • “Traditional consumer PC software is dead.” Apparently, the only question mark is how long it will take for customers and vendors to realize.
  • Mobile phone applications “will be as big if not bigger than Cloud Applications”

Consider the still burgeoning world of mobile apps.

One reason there is even more Mobile App growth potential is it can be a Marketing Tactic. You could compare Mobile App development more to Website development  with new Social Networks like Twitter or Facebook rather  than Application Development. There is the front-end (Gui with Marketing Objective) and the back-end ( functionality with Value Proposition).

How to build and distribute an app for marketing is very different than simply asserting that an app is a good idea. Brand building is first and very different than traditional App development. Developing a strategy for executing app distribution around the right demographic breakdown of smartphone users IE. iPhone (Consumer), Droid (???), Blackberry (B2B) does not happen by accident.

When to use a mobile Web microsite vs an app is important. Knowing when a more easily produced and developmentally sound hybrid app is the best approach to achieve marketing objectives requires an understanding of how the process works, not just that the process is important.

Here are the essential tactics that the right mobile strategy/tactics can help guide marketers through:
  •  
    • Basic marketing experience in Consumer (Advertising, Premiums, POS)  or B2B  (Thought Leadership, ROI positioning, Trial/Demo Best Practices)
    • Segmentation and message targeting – and knowing the software that is best as it moves across mobile tactics .
    • SMS – bi-directional, targeting and personalization principles must be applied here in full force.
    • Mobile Web trends, its accessibility, and its universality. Also, tricks like software that recognizes the device accessing the mobile Web page, then renders to the device.
    • Development of apps, hybrid apps, and when apps are – and when they are not – the right approach.
    • The role of video on a mobile device.

Tactically companies should be agnostic. Of course there are many other important tactical and strategic bits of understanding that will grow and change as technology and Smartphone users grow. Of course I would be remiss not to promote the manygreat Mobile Apps for Word Press see  http://en.support.wordpress.com/apps/

So the innovative marketer is already asking themselves “Is their an application that will enhance my products and my brand ?”

Partners Then or Now?

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, MARKETING by Tom Levers on June 13, 2010

As with most issues around “Partner Marketing Land” our story covers another medium —  Web Portals!

Back when Bewitched, and Trout and Ries were innovative in the marketing world… those who revolutionized marketing never imagined communities promoting and marketing for the company without asking. The allure of Social Marketing can not detract from classic marketing and fails when lulled to only use self service alone.

Partner marketing portals that expect participation have the same inherent problem as all “Social Media for Business sites” such as forums, social bookmarking, blogging, YouTube, twitter and social networking sites

The Results Then and Now

There is no longer an 80 /20 rule with Partner Marketing Participation, now partner portals suggest that for every 100 people online, one will actively initiate, create and participate with the portal content, ten will somewhat interact with it and the other 89 will just view it (also known as lurking in the Blog business).

Earlier metrics garnered from online partner community sites suggested that about 80% of the Partners marketing programs were utilized by 20% of the partners, but the growing move to generate on-demand marketing portals creates a different picture.

The Lesson

A website/Partner Portal must be sold (pushed) because a pull only effort using Partners that demand too much interaction and content review from users will see nine out of ten people just pass by.

Some massive Corporations and their Partner Alliance Sites recognize too much “Low Touch” self service participation from the prospects and their Partnerships . The result is worse than the old 80/20… it is now the 89/11 rule without working closely with the partner.


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Channel Partner Relationship Management

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, MARKETING by Tom Levers on June 6, 2010

Using the Cloud is key for your Partners – but your Channel Size, Partner Stage and Confidentiality Requirements Drive the type of Partner Portal you may need.

For the large mature partner organization there are many tools around Channel Partner Relationship Management. TreeHouse Interactive, is an enterprise class SaaS solution with ALL the bells and whistles. TreeHouse allows vendors to keep track of leads and opportunities along side their partners but also provides information to partners on their requirements and benefits, deal registration, and links to marketing automation.

TreeHouse while expensive, allows different navigation for different tiers of partners so your top tier partners are able to see the appropriate information for them but it is blocked to your lower tier partners. MDF and Co-op can be uploaded to the system from distribution partners and channel partners can then apply for MDF and get approved. Partners can also link to marketing automation like Salesforce.

The interface is very intuitive and the ability to assign leads to partners iseasy and efficient! Of course with such a great solution comes a price and TreeHouse wouldn’t be worthwhile if a vendor doesn’t have hundreds of partners with millions of revenue dollars.

Syndication allows relevant content to be pulled from a vendor’s website and displayed on the channel partners’ websites. There is usually a container page with the partners’ look and feel around the top and along the left side and the content is updated on a regular basis. Vendors get their product and value prop information relayed accurately up-to-date in hundreds of other sites and the Channel Partners are able to inform customers on their own sites without having to send them elsewhere. How many times has a partner’s site shown the old model or the current model with the wrong image or information!?

When I was at Business Layers / Computer Associates I evaluated a company called WebCollage to make this happen. I don’t know if they’ve changed their process at all but it was incredibly manual to the point where we had requests from partners in email and would then fax or email them to our client manager to initiate the service. SharedVue’s tool Syndic8 is completely automated. Partners can even login and change their current view of products or services shown on their website.

SharedVue also provides some lead generation and tracking tools (don’t think PRM but every little bit helps right?). Using their tool Communic8 vendors can provide traditional and new media tools so partners can launch campaigns and track them all on the SharedVue tools. Partners of course get worried if vendors can see their leads (more so with some vendors then with others) so SharedVue offers a way to turn the visibility on or off.

 There are more bells and whistles that I didn’t go into here including their specific new media features (webinars, SEM, and Google AdWords). I haven’t used WebCollage in 2 years but SharedVue is certainly more user friendly and robust than WC was back then.

Are their other systems people have seen and liked? I’d love to hear about them. Drop me an email. tlevers@comcast.net

Build ROI to Create “Urgency”

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, MARKETING, Sales by Tom Levers on May 28, 2010

ROI Creates Urgency

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” – Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943

At some point IBM learned Computers delivered ROI. Even when you can show convincing functional data about the magnitude of a business problem, it is not enough. The good CEO, consultant, sales person,  product manager also lights a fire, figuratively,  to move on the issue…. of ROI urgency.

This is why a product is “Hot”.

If your sales efforts are in question, take a critical look at your value proposition, presentation proposal, the demonstration… where is the ROI? If it’s pro feature-centric, generic and functional only (with regard to value delivery), it rarely lights a fire.

Prospects today are sitting on their scarce cash reserves and won’t pry open their checkbooks unless they recognize the following:

  1. their customer has a real business problem;
  2. this problem is one of their  top 3 concerns;
  3. you absolutely understand this problem;
  4. you possess a solution that will solve the problem; and,
  5. you can deliver the promised ROI

According to Forrester Vice President Ray Wang, who specializes in software ROI, a new investment in software makes sense if it does one of the following:

  1. Provides efficiency gains that reduce overhead or allow you to do more without adding resources;
  2. Puts you in compliance with legal or contractual requirements, decreases security risk or makes your technology compatible with that of your clients or customers;
  3. Supports a new strategic initiative (such as a customer loyalty program);
  4. Provides increased capacity or functionality to allow your business to grow.

Ask yourself… does your business prospect indicate that they “like” or “need” your product or service?

Many of the projects that get green-lighted are those that solve break/fix matters. Discretionary (aka nice to have) projects are the opportunities that never move or don’t get back to you, they are the ones that get deferred or shot down altogether.

Sometimes all a good service or software firm has to do is better understand the prospect and review the materiality or “heat” of the project .

The more your proposed project is seen as a break/fix necessity, the more likely it will get approved.

To learn how to create more ROI around your service or software product, send me an email. tlevers@comcast.net

Organizational Credibility and Sales

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, Sales by Tom Levers on May 19, 2010

In a recent study on reputation and its impact on the bottom line, it was concluded that companies with the best credibility get substantially more references, retain higher quality talent and partners, have better sales close ratios, can better defend negative press, and have a higher ability to attract investments.

The point is simple: When your company has built  a reputation on credibility, your sales people benefit from it. They don’t have the burden of having to “sell” the firm and themselves at every sales situation.

Credibility Makes a Difference

Research has indicated that many firms experience a 50 percent increase in new business with a positive jolt of credibility. Also, there is a drastic decline in sales and talent retention when the firm’s credibility takes a negative hit.

Credibility starts at the top. In the best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge, it explains why leadership is above all a relationship, with credibility as the cornerstone. They provide rich examples of real managers in action and reveal the six key disciplines and related practices that strengthen a leader’s capacity for developing and sustaining credibility.  A must read for those interested in integrating credibility best practices as a way of life.

Leaders establish principles concerning the way people (constituents, peers, colleagues, and customers alike) should be treated and the way goals should be pursued. They create standards of excellence and then set an example for others to follow.  It starts with:

1. Trust — confidence, consistency, integrity and authority,
2. Authenticity — real, sincere, informal, delivering as promised,
3. Transparency — open the doors and windows, be accessible and easy to discover, no secrets
4. Affirmation — playback, reinforcement, and the third-party conversation,
5. Listening — empathy, humility, putting out the welcome mat, and asking for and responding to feedback,
6. Responsiveness — speed, accuracy, correcting problems, responding to changes in the marketplace, and handling of complaints.

What is credibility worth?      Everything!

At the lowest level, it means your sales force will make more sales faster and with a higher average price. Then, your customers will accept higher level products more readily because they know it’s safe. Then, they will give you referrals and introductions to other firms. This cuts your marketing and sales expenses in both dollars and time.

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Rising to the Top in Sales

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, MARKETING by Tom Levers on May 7, 2010


We have all experienced it. A good sales person, often the best, becomes sales manager.   Principals and CSOs are often disappointed in the lack of results, and the sales managers are confused and frustrated with the lack of achievement of managing a team.

A variation on this theme usually produces even more angst.  A good sales person, without any real management experience, is hired from outside the company to fill a sales manager position.  When these decisions go bad, the hurt feelings, negative attitudes and difficult situations which result can be ugly.

Not that this is always the case.  Many CSOs and executives rose through the ranks in just this fashion, contributing exceptionally at every stage.  But, these cases are generally the exception, not the rule.

The rule is that few good sales people make good sales managers. Why is that?

At the Top

Consider the unique blend of strengths and aptitudes that often mark the character of an exceptional sales person.  Exceptional sales people often have very high standards for themselves and everyone around them.  They are highly focused on the customer, often to the determent of their relationships with their colleagues.  It’s not unusual for your star sales person to irritate and frustrate the people in the operational side of the business, with a brusque and demanding attitude.  After all, they think, I’m extending myself to take care of my customers, why shouldn’t I expect everyone else to do so also?

When they become sales managers, they expect all of their sales people to be just as hard driving and achievement oriented as they were.  Unfortunately the reality is that most of their sales people don’t share the same degree of drive and perfectionism that they had.  If they did, they would have been promoted to sales manager.

That means that the sales manager often is frustrated with the performance and attitudes of his charges, and confused as to how to change them.

The exceptional sales person is often an independent character, who thrives in a climate where he can make his own decisions, determine his own call patterns, and spend time by himself.

Alas, he loses almost all of that when he is promoted to sales manager.  He’s expected to work a consistent, well defined work week, to spend a certain number of hours in the office, and to fulfill certain administrative functions.  The freedom to make his own decisions, to determine his own days, is gone.  So, he often struggles with how to adjust to this new work environment and still be productive.

Whereas before he was clearly and independently responsible for his results, now he must achieve his results through other people.  Too often, he defaults to a view of his job wherein he becomes the “super sales person,” taking over accounts, projects and sales calls from his less talented charges.  This creates frustration on all parts.

The exceptional sales person has the ability and propensity to see every situation optimistically, overlooking all the obstacles and concentrating on the potential in every account.  That is a necessary element to the sales personality.  Without it, he couldn’t weather all the rejection and frustration inherit in the sales job.

That personality strength which serves him well as a sales person, is however, a major obstacle to his success as a sales manager.  When it comes to hiring a new salesperson, he finds himself viewing every candidate through those same optimistic eyes.

Low Friction Sales… the way Customers Buy

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, MARKETING by Tom Levers on April 4, 2010

Sell the Way Customers Want to Buy

Smart companies are providing their prospects with much of the information they need to make a purchase decision when they need it… but true frictionless sales allows the customer to slide into using the product before they make a major investment. When we talk to businesses people they want to be communicated with, but on their own “just in time” terms. In general the business purchase process expects that a product need can be illustrated quickly, with no strings attached, and delivered through whatever best fits the least resistance for acquisition.

Low resistance can be free for now… but does not mean free forever!!!
The more you adapt and satisfy the way your customer wants to buy, the easier it is to close. The easier it is to close a sale, the easier to scale and the faster and more efficiently you can grow.

There are various grades and limitations of friction in different selling models… but there is always more than one methodology for success. So have you honestly evaluated if you are using the most efficient approach?

Don’t know? Well take a look internally. Are you insisting on touching the customer through the A to  Z steps. This often makes you over compensate with high upfront prices because you feel only a person can communicate value, like in the old non-internet methods of sales and marketing? Business selects products that are easy to learn about, easy to use, easy to evaluate… easy to sell. How does a heavy handed sales process make things easy?

The highest friction sale is very expensive upfront, and means you need to spend lots of money on marketing, trade shows, etc and large direct sales force of expensive reps pounding the pavement for months trying to close a large deal with an enterprise customer. Follow that with a 3 month implementation process to get the customer happy.

Here’s a better way to look down the frictionless funnel. Look at how others seemed to make sales frictionless.

No Barriers to Revenue
Remember… some of the largest telecommunications customers on earth, are prolific distributors of subsidized or free handsets, but they sell the services. And free or very inexpensive doesn’t mean no revenue, it means no barriers to revenue. Or how about Microsoft, selling Enterprise Licenses in the data center with an  “All You Can Eat” method of product availability. Need 500 new servers… no problem “we have an Enterprise Agreement ” , no barriers to revenue !

Limiting “Friction” can be applied throughout the selling process… just look at how your custmer buys, not how you learned to sell! This will reduce the pain for customers to adopt and use a product and consequently reduce the cost of sales and marketing to get a customer to generate revenue… then all is needed is to  leverage the product and your new found marketshare.

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Whats the Business Value of Social Media

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, MARKETING, PUBLIC RELATIONS by Tom Levers on January 19, 2010

To many organizations are setting up Twitter, Facebook, Company Blogs without a clear plan. Its not done with Advertising, Direct Response, or Public Relations, and Social Media should not be any different? So here is what you need to ask yourself to succeed.

If questions below are not asked before employees are encouraged to tap social networking sites they can fritter away hours, or worse. Their lack luster commentaries can spill company secrets or harm corporate and partners relationships. Skeptics can draw from plenty of examples of social media experiments run amok.

What’s Your Pitch?
Can you describe what your company does in 120 characters or less? Most companies can not. With all the communications ability we have, our attention span is shorter.

Because the number of people we connect with each day forces us to edit our communication. We cannot have fully formed conversations with dozens of people every day and still have time to write, eat, sleep, drive, play games on our iPhone, complain about the housing market, and look at multiple media formats.

Also, the interconnected nature of communication today makes long-form communication less necessary. When I talk to my friends on the phone, it’s usually a pretty quick conversation. Not because I don’t like my friends, but because they already know much of what’s going on in my life via text message, Twitter, Facebook, email and other short-form missives.

As individuals, we know this is true, and we see how it impacts our daily life. Yet as businesspeople, we can do a better job.

What’s the Type of Result You Want?
What type of program is this? Awareness, Lead Generation, or Loyalty?

What Type of Relationship Do You Have and Want with Your Audience?
What does your audience know about you today? Nothing… to an advocate. Pick segments to focus upon, but make sure they are adjacent on this scale. It’s too confusing to have a strategy that targets advocates AND people that have never heard of you. That would be two strategies, not one.

How Does Your Audience Use Social Media?
Using the Forrester Social Technographics Ladder see http://blogs.forrester.com/groundswell/2007/04/forresters_new_.html , understand how your target audience (as defined by gender, age, and geography) uses social media. If your audience skews older, you may not want to engage in a lot of “make a video” contests, since that segment indexes low on the “Creator” scale.

What’s Your One Thing?
What’s the soul of your brand. What’s the one thing – and it’s not features and benefits. Volvo = Safety. Apple = Innovation. Disney = Magic. What’s on the other side of your = sign? Brand anthropology, and have an agency help you find your one thing.

How Will You Be Human?
Social media is about people, not logos. How will you let down your guard? If you’re a small company, congratulations, this should be pretty easy. If you’re a big company, how can you act small again?

How Will You Measure Success?
Lots of ways to measure social media success, so make sure you determine your key metrics BEFORE you get started. I recommend picking three solid metrics to track. Appropriate metrics differ based on what your objective is for the program.

Focus on what you can actually measure. Unless you have a unlimited budget, enormous resources and extremely sophisticated data management capabilities, you aren’t going to be able to capture and measure every bit of data that comes your way. While some of you may be able to implement fairly impressive measurement practices over the next few weeks and months, most will find that much of the data you wish you could capture, plot and analyze will be beyond your reach. Don’t panic. Measure what you can, make the most of it, and don’t worry too much about what you aren’t able to measure yet. Your ROI analysis will require a little more art than science, but that’s okay. As you will soon see, certain key metrics should give you a pretty good idea of the effectiveness of what you are doing.

Financial outcomes are the most basic metrics. Opportunity sales funnel metrics. No interpretation or estimation required. The most obvious is of course sales performance and prospect generation. So get yourself some sales data.

Along a timeline, your sales data when it comes to analyzing the impact that your activities is having on your sales knowing whether revenue deltas are coming from Yield, Frequency or Reach is pretty important.

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Methods of Understanding in Sales

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, DEMAND GENERATION, MARKETING, PUBLIC RELATIONS by Tom Levers on December 17, 2009

Selling is one of the classic and obvious domains where changing minds is a core skill.

The skills that are part of every rainmaker can be applied by the novice if they internalize methods of understanding…  where determining motivations and distinguishing the buying behaviours of individuals who hold the keys to selling services or product can facilitate building relationships and creating partnerships to become the vehicle for providing mutual value.

Techniques that are not genuine to your personality yet imply you must follow, like mirroring and matching techniques, body language, etc were considered progressive for connecting with prospects and customers twenty years ago. Now each person when using methods of understanding can be themselves, while improving the sales process with a new power to better understand the factors in your customers making a decision.

Methods of understanding…. is a collection  of tools for thinking.

In my previous article I covered that we all instinctively lean toward some approaches rather than others, but the key to applying the principles is to internalize the different constructs, so everyone can appreciate the influences on better communication. The first four types were:

  • Attribution – we need to attribute cause, that supports our ego.
  • Constructivism – we use constructs as perceptual categories.
  • Framing – mental combinations that affect perception.
  • Schema – structure to organize and interpret the world.

Now lets finish with the final four:

  • Personal Constructs – constructs represent understanding.
  • Symbolic Interaction  – we derive meaning around symbols.
  • Objectification –  we simplify complex things into concrete images.
  • Story Models – most marketers instinctively piece together complex situations into stories to build understanding.

 

Personal Constructs

People develop internal models of reality, called constructs in order to understand and explain the world around them in the same way that scientists develop theories. Like scientists, they develop these constructs based on observation and experimentation. Constructs thus start as unstable conjecture, changing and stabilizing as more experience and proof is gained.

Constructs are often defined by words, but can also be non-verbal and hard to explain, such as the feeling you get when your football team just won the championship.

When constructs are challenged or incomplete the result is emotional states such as anxiety, confusion, anger and fear.

Constructs are often polar in that they have opposites (and are hence dichotomous). Thus the construct of good implies another of bad. Polar constructs create one another: thus ‘good’ cannot exist without ‘bad’.

Although we share the idea of constructs through words (ie Good and Bad), the detail of constructs are particular to the individual and hence are called personal constructs.

Constructs that are important to the person are core constructs, while others are called peripheral constructs.

Constructs may be expanded to accommodate new ideas or constricted to become more. An example would be ownership of an idea. I look at how the executive talks about a business division that they originally came from and consider him more focused on improving that group. All of these are constructs that I have created or learned in order to explain the behaviour of those I have met.

Using it

Listen to people. Hear the constructs they use. They will be amazed at how much you understand them. You can also lead them in building new constructs.

Defending

When you are building new ideas, consider where these have come from. Was there a conversation with an influential other person involved?

 

Symbolic Interaction  

People act based on symbolic meanings they find within any given situation. Thus interact with the symbols, forming relationships around them. The goals of our interactions with one another are to create shared meaning.

Language, math, selling methodologies are itself a symbolic form, which is used to anchor meanings to the symbols.

Key aspects are:

  • We act toward others based on the meaning that those other people have for us.
  • Meaning is created in the interactions we have with other people in sharing our interpretations of symbols.
  • Meanings are modified through an interpretive process whereby we first internally create meaning, then check it externally and with other people.
  • We develop our self-concepts through interaction with others.
  • We are influenced by culture and social processes, such as social norms.
  • Our social structures are worked out through the social interactions with others.

Using it

Pay attention to the symbols within the persuasive context and utilize them. You can place the symbols there. How people interpret them includes how you interpret them. 

Defending

Pay attention to the symbols within the persuasive context and notice how they are affecting what happens.

 

Objectification

Complex ideas are, almost by definition, difficult to understand. To help us make sense of them, we turn them into concrete images. There are three processes by which objectification is done:

  • Ontologizing gives an idea physical properties, for example by using close metaphors like the ‘mind as a computer’.
  • Figuration turns the ideas into pictures or images, for example traffic ‘jams’.
  • Personification turns the idea into a person. For example, a genius as Einstein.

The term ‘objectification’ or depersonification is also used to describe the way we treat other people as objects, in particular the way men can treat women as sex ‘objects’. By reducing other people to things, it permits us to treat them with less care and human concern, bypassing our values around this subject.

This car is like a thoroughbred race-horse. Just imagine thundering up the roads, with trees and houses flying by. People will think you are Michael Schumacher.

In war, effort is often put into depersonifying the other side, thus legitimizing and even encouraging killing them.

Using it

Explain your ideas through analogous or metaphorical things, pictures or people.

Defending

Just because the other person can explain their ideas clearly, it does not mean they are good ideas.

Story Models

One way in which we explain the world around us is to create stories about it. In particular when we are face with complex situations, we will pick out what seems to be key elements and then turn these into a story.  

For example people were shown a movie of a trial. They found that in order to make sense of the wealth of detail, the participants constructed stories about what happened. 

In another experiment, they found that when evidence was given in an order which made the story easy to construct, the participants were more likely to construct the same story. When the evidence was in story order, 78% of participants found the defendant guilty. Yet when the evidence was out of order, only 31% voted for the guilty verdict.

A common technique for remembering a complex list of unrelated information is to weave them together into a story.

Using it

Help the other person understand your case by presenting it as a logical story, pausing to emphasize and repeat the key points you want them to remember and include in their remembered interpretation. 

Defending

Just because the other person presents a nice story, it does not mean it is true.

Conclusion

The trained sales person learns the process of selling from their training courses in Relationship or Consultive Selling, Strategic Selling, Customer Centered Selling, Spin Selling, Platform Selling, and Scientific Selling… but none will better educate you on understanding people, how they think, and their motivations.

These techniques, when internalized will allow you to objectively recognize a “No Decision” earlier in the selling process, as well as, allow you to better understand yourself and how you “make or react to decisions” in your every day business and personal life.

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Sales and Methods of Understanding

LightBulb“Methods of Understanding” will get what you need done in your business.

No matter if it is working to build a “Company Culture”, or becoming a sales “Rain Maker”, or “Marketing Positioner” of the next Widget… you will get further if you apply the toolkit of how individuals use “Methods to Understand”.

You may know Sales Methodologies, but the “Rain Maker” applies Systems of Understanding. Most natural “Rain Makers” unknowingly identify how others are using these various types of Understanding Methods, they just identify these throughout all aspects of their lives… without even knowing they are using them. By identifying what individuals use when they try to understand can enlighten the situation. 

WARNING! This is not for everyone. Some people are so locked into their individual method that if you are a “hammer” everything looks like a “nail”! The “Rain Maker”, the “Corporate Motivator”, and the  “Customer Requirement Aggregator” ” all must identify which “Methods of Understanding” is being used and how to adapt to it. 

We all instinctively lean toward some of these approaches rather than others, but the key to applying these principles  is to internalize the different constructs so we can better communicate. The different types are:

  • Attribution – we need to attribute cause, that supports our ego.
  • Constructivism – we use constructs as perceptual categories.
  • Framing – mental combinations that affect perception.
  • Schema – structure to organize and interpret the world.
  • Personal Constructs – constructs represent understanding.
  • Symbolic Interaction  – we derive meaning around symbols.
  • Objectification –  we simplify complex things into concrete images.
  • Story Models – We piece together complex situations into stories to build understanding.

Lets first cover the first four in this article and try to identify after reading how you and others are using them in your professional and personal life.

 

Attribution

We all have a need to explain the world, both to ourselves and to other people, attributing cause to the events around us. This gives us a greater sense of control. When explaining behaviour, it can affect the standing of people within a group (especially ourselves).

FaceWhen another person has erred, we will often use internal attribution, saying it is due to internal factors. When we have erred, we will more likely use external attribution, attributing causes to situational factors rather than blaming ourselves. We will take credit, due to the good business skills that were applied. And vice versa. We will attribute the successes of competitive rivals to external ‘advantages’. 

When a football team wins, supporters say ‘we won’. But when the team loses, the supporters say ‘they lost’. Our attributions are also significantly driven by our emotional and motivational drives. Blaming other people and avoiding personal recrimination is a very real self-serving attributions. We will also make attributions to defend what we perceive as attacks. We will point to injustice in an unfair world. 

In practice, we often tend to go through a two-step process, where we start with an automatic internal attribution, followed by a slower consideration of whether an external attribution is more appropriate. Key to this is, if we are hurrying or are distracted, we may not get to this second step. This makes internal attribution more likely than external attribution.
Example of Use: I have no support and no budget there for I cannot do a good job.

Using it: Beware of being a complainer (i.e. making internal attributions about the situation). Also beware of making excuses (external attributions) that lead you to repeat mistakes and leads to Cognitive Dissonance in others when they are making internal attributions about you.

Defending: Watch out for people making untrue attributions.

Constructivism

We try to make sense of the world by making use of constructs, which are perceptual categories that we use when evaluating things.

People who have many different and abstract constructs have greater flexibility in understanding the world and are cognitively complex, whilst others are cognitively simple. Cognitively complex people are better able to accept both complex and inconsistent messages. They also have a greater need to understand things and will question deeply anything that is new to them. However, once persuaded, they stay persuaded and are less likely to change their minds as their new constructs will support the argument.

Example: Some people have a construct about being fat that says fat people are lazy and greedy. Others may perceive it as a medical condition. 

Using it: Help cognitively complex people to build new constructs that support your argument. Do not bother with this detail for the cognitively simple.

Defending: Do not let others take charge when building new constructs.

Framing

A frame is the combination of beliefs, values, attitudes, mental models, and so on which we use to perceive a situation. We effectively look through this frame in the way we would look through tinted spectacles. The frame significantly effects how we infer meaning and hence understand the situation.

Example: I see a holiday in the hills as an opportunity for outdoor exercise. My friend sees is as a chance for a quiet read. My son sees it as a long period of boredom.

Using it: Change elements of a person’s frame (reframing) and hence how they view the world). This is a powerful persuasive technique. 

Being able to see things through many frames yourself gives you a broader perspective and able to understand more of how others think.

Defending: When people ask you to look at something from another viewpoint, be aware that there are many viewpoints, many of which are valid and legitimate. 

ShoesSchema

A schema is a mental structure

Schemas are also self-sustaining, and will persist even in the face of disconfirming evidence. This is because if something does not match the schema, such as evidence against it, it is ignored. Some schema are easier to change than others, and some people are more open about changing any of their schemas than other people. Schemas are also known as mental models, concepts, mental representations and knowledge structures(although definitions are different–for example some define mental models as modeling cause-effect only).

Schemas affect what we notice, how we interpret things and how we make decisions and act. They act like filters, accentuating and downplaying various elements. We use them to classify things, such as when we ‘pigeon-hole’ people. They also help us forecast, predicting what will happen. We even remember and recall things via schemas, using them to ‘encode’ memories.

Schemas have inferences and appear very often in the attribution of cause. The multiple necessary cause schema is one where we require at least two causes before a ‘fit’ to the schema is declared. Schemas are often shared within cultures, allowing short-cut communications. Every word is, in effect, a schema, as when you read it you receive a package of additional inferred information.

We tend to have favourite schema which we use often. When interpreting the world, we will try to use these first, going on to others if they do not sufficiently fit. 

Example: Some people dislike police because they have a schema of police as people who perceive everyone as guilty until proven innocent. Other people feel safe around police as their schemas are more about police as brave protectors. 

Using it: Find people’s schemas around the area of interest, then either create trust by utilizing their schema or reframe to change their schema.

Defending: Become more self-aware, knowing your own schemas and why there are useful for you. When people try to change them, you can then more rationally understand whether your or their schemas are better.

This is a lot to absorbs,  so look for these in your every day business or personal life and check back for the second part of this Article after I try this myself!

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Blogs – the DoDo Bird of SEO

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, DEMAND GENERATION, MARKETING, Partner alliances, PUBLIC RELATIONS, SEM by Tom Levers on September 30, 2009
The DoDo Bird of SEO

The DoDo Bird of SEO

Have you started a blog only to lose interest, or stop contributing  because no one is reading it?  What should you do differently?

There’s all sorts of  blogs and yet so many have content that is never read.  In fact, there are a tremendous number of business blogs that are not realizing much of their potential. Take this blog as an example.

Why? Because it is not optimized…. so focused on content creation that even though I know what to do… I do not use my own knowledge.

This is very much the same scenario that occurred with web sites  pre-and post tech bubble. I worked with lots of computer industry partners and I mean Lots of them. But afterthe largest management consulting sites got their site up and running, the traffic didn’t come by itself. So we optimized for search engines and that was the start of my SEO experience. Blogs can generate traffic without search engines, but WITH search engines it can be even better.

With blogs, there exist as many or more optimization opportunities to optimize as with a web site. The thing about internet marketing is that there is no “one right way” to solve a single problem. So much of the advice and commentary about content optimization for search engines at conferences and on blogs is tactical. While most blog software is more search engine friendly out of the box than many web sites, the opportunities for blog optimization are readily available. There is a long list of blog optimization tactics to employ.Why optimize your blog?

  • Increase rankings of the blog on BOTH regular search engines as well as blog/RSS search engines
  • Increase traffic to the blog from multiple sources such as social search and social bookmarking sites (del.icio.us, Digg, Furl or Blogmarks)

A blog is just a website that uses a content management system, so most standard SEO tactics apply. There are also optimization tactics specific to blogs.

Consider keywords when writing your blog post titles. Some blog software allows plugins that can suggest keywords. Otherwise, you can use Google Suggest or one of these free keyword suggestion tools: Digital Point, SEO Book or Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Keywords should NOT determine your content (unless it’s an AdSense blog).
Optimize the template. Make sure post titles appear in the title tag and append the title tag (hard code) with the most important phrase for your blog.

Neanderthal SEO for Blogs

Neanderthal SEO for Blogs

Also use the blog post title as the permalink. If you’re using keywords in the blog post title, then they will occur as anchor text in the permanent post link. While you’re at it, just make the post title a permalink.

Make it easy for your blog readers to subscribe and include RSS feed subscription buttons or “chicklets” in a side bar or on a dedicated Subscription Info page. Here’s a handy RSS Feed Button creation tool.

Optimize Categories. When you create categories for your blog, be sure to consider keywords in the titles. When you post, be sure to default to a general category that is relevant no matter what the post is about. Choose multiple categories on each post when appropriate.

Social bookmarking sites can be excellent sources of traffic to your blog, so be sure to make it easy for readers to bookmark your blog posts. You can do this by adding some code to your blog template for each of the major social bookmarking sites. Here’s a tool for social bookmarking links. Submit your blog to RSS and Blog directories. Also submit the blog to regular directories such as (DMOZ, JoeAnt, GoGuides, MSN Business Central, etc) that have categories for blogs.

There are many benefits to publishing a business blog and improved search engine visibility is one of the most popular.  It’s pretty common advice to hear: start a blog and the fresh content will attract links, improving your search results.  Such tactical advice can be very effective.

Unfortunately, the advice gets filtered and distorted, not unlike what happens in the game “telephone” kids play. Pretty soon one or more blogs are implemented for the sole purpose and expectation of improving search engine visibility and nothing else. At least nothing else that’s accountable.

What’s wrong with this picture?   Blogs started solely for SEO objectives will inevitably fail.

Here are a few reasons why:

1. Lack of planning and oversight – After the honeymoon of starting a blog wears off, those tasked with writing content often get distracted by their other responsibilities. Bit by bit, posts look less and less like keyword optimized web pages and sink back to the familiar writing styles common to public relations and corporate marketing. Gone are the keywords that consumers are searching on. Gone is the traffic that used to come from search engines.

If SEO efforts persist, they can get sloppy without ongoing oversight either by an outsite SEO consultant or an internal blog champion (more about that in our next post). Keyword usage in blog posts can become disparate or worse, evolve into a keyword stuffing exercise.

2. No passion for the topic – With over 100 million blogs indexed by Technorati, it’s a wonder what happened to the 90% or more than have been abandoned or that don’t post more often than every 4 months. It takes commitment, thought out ideas and a sincere interest in a topic to be able to blog about it on an ongoing basis over the long term.

Can you imagine watching a 30 minute TV show or 2 hour movie you’re not interested in? How long does that last? How about a job you’re not interested in? Do you really excel at it? Do you do the best job possible and and do you stick with it? No, no and no.

As a result, bloggers who are not personally interested in a topic will encounter blogger’s block quickly and with a shallow level of knowledge on what’s being blogged about, readers lose interest quickly and do not return, subscribe or link to RSS and Blog directories. Also submit to the regular directories such as  (DMOZ, JoeAnt, GoGuides, MSN Business Central)  

 

Blog Extinction

Blog Extinction

Ping the major RSS feed and Blog search engines each time you post. This can be configured with blog software such as Movable Type or WordPress to work automatically. If you’re using Blogger.com, then you can do this manually with Pingomatic or Pingoat.

Comments and Trackbacks – Be sure your blog software is configured to send a trackback ping to blogs that you cite within your posts. Pay attention to press releases distributed by PRWeb. If you cite a release, and ping the trackback link, the press release will in turn link to your blog. This is better for driving traffic than for link popularity.

Make useful comments on other blogs. Your name will be linked to the blog url that you enter. Do NOT make comments that offer no value to the blog post. Do NOT use keywords in the field for your name, use your name or blog name.

Offer RSS to Email. Almost 30% of blog traffic comes from readers that perfer to read blog posts via email. There are several free services available for this including: FeedBlitz , Squeet, Zookoda (this one is more for using blog posts as a weekly newsletter), RMail and Bloglet.

No matter how many optimization tactics you employ on a blog, there is no substitute for quality content. Blog optimization is only as effective as the quality and usefulness of the content you’re optimizing.

Here are some simple steps for managing blog content, long term:  Create a keyword glossary, much like you would for a website SEO project. Identify an editorial guide as well as post types and key topics. Assign a blog champion, someone that “owns” the success/failure of the blog. The blog champion will provide content and editorial oversight as well as recruit other contributors.

The blog champion performs another important function, feedback to the contributors. This goes beyond a simple “thank you” but may also include reporting on the number of comments on posts contributed, inbound links, increases in RSS subscribers and mentions of the blog post on other blogs. Providing individual as well as overall feedback to contributors helps them see what impact their efforts are making.

Socialize.Blogs are a big part of what makes up social media, so it’s important that bloggers are social for a successful blogging effort. A few of the ways blogs can be social include:

Wrap up For a successful business blogging effort that leverages search engine optimization, it’s important that the blog serves a functional purpose intented to help the business reach a particular goal. SEO is involved in order to extend the reach and “discoverability” of the blog.

Blog optimization is both a one time event with the templates but is also an ongoing process involving keyword glossaries that help determine post level keyword usage, internal anchor text and off site anchor text.  Running out of ideas and people to contribute to the blog can mean certain death, so be creative with content sourcing and formats. Listen to what blog readers respond to and give feedback on to guide editorial.

Blog software offers many social features. Use them! Grow a network that leverages the blog as resource and as a way to recognize contributors.  Monitor real time content opportunities as well as blog analytics so you can offer the kind of feedback that motivates continued contributions both from the C-Suite in the form of funding and from the B-Suite in the form of content and comments.

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Partner channels are conduits of communications

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, DEMAND GENERATION, MARKETING, Partner alliances by Tom Levers on September 15, 2009

BRAND PARTNERS
BRAND PARTNERS

By Tom Levers

Remember Hierarcial Marketing – where product design, price and promotion determine demand? This traditional model places communications alongside the other variables of the marketing mix.

With the Internet as a primary communication tactic and the Partner Alliance as a multiplyer of the direct sales organization, you may want to use a more Counter-Intuitive Marketing Model !

 

Business to business organizations have gotten creatively lazy to the idea of  tactical integration of communications messages. To rapidly deploy new products in the future they will have to embrace the idea of the strategy of vertical integration to take advantage of the new marketing methods for communications – ie. speaking with one voice from the CEO’s office right down to the sales and tech people is key to rapid product demand.

Because of the increased importance of company-wide brand values in providing competitive advantage, marketing is becoming a way of delivering a communications strategy, rather than the other way round. 

In the “Traditional” model, communications starts with the company, and marketing becomes part of the ‘delivery mechanism’ for the communications strategy. It does not consider various conditional factors that determine primary and secondary forms of communications.

What are the implications of this vision of vertically-integrated marketing communications? Lets first understand the definition of Vertical Integration in general business… it is when a company expands its business into areas that are at different points of the same production path, ie the  Operating System Software company decides to make Software Utilities that it would normally need or the Auto company decides to go into the tire business.

An obvious marketing translation is the importance of integrating internal and external marketing communications. ie  All the employees are highly credible ambassadors to its external public – both in what they say to their communities and the service they provide to their customers. Both word of mouth and performance can be enhanced to the benefit of the organisation by sustained  internal marketing.

 A second implication of the strategic vertical marketing integration is the importance of developing partner channels as conduits of information, as well as , products and services.

Marketing frequently differentiates between ‘push’ and ‘pull’ strategies. ‘Push’ strategies ( direct selling) offer incentives to channels , pushing them towards the end user. ‘Pull’ strategies, on the other hand, use directed techniques ( advertising ) to stimulate demand in order to pull the product, or service, through the channels.pepsi_besser_lf29jun59

‘’Pull-“to find a need and satisfying it”, but Push -“create the awareness that a need exists”… metaphor rankles the old school traditionalist . 

Although Start-Up ventures have no product category established… no awareness of need, so if they have a need,  Vertically Integrated Marketing-“what is the fastest methods to get attention”  is the key driving communications tactics !

Push and pull strategies are not mutually exclusive. For example, a Trade Event directed solely at the end user will be seen by alliance partners, analysts, even competitors who validate and bolster their confidence in the category of product or service concerned.

While it is necessary to operationalise marketing communications strategy by combining a number of different disciplines and tactics, customers experience brands in their own terms. In order to communicate in a customer-centred way, organisations need to consider how their brand messages are received. 

The customer-centered communications methods can be broken down into ten (10) sources, but clearly there are infinate ways of a prospect hearing, seeing, or experiencing your brand. Public relations, word of mouth/tech, events, forms of media advertising,  sales promotion activity, internet searches, text messages, direct marketing, your direct sales, and finally alliance partners that can be extensive,  and only partially controllable.

The uncertainty of partners alliances makes it all the more important to think through brand contact points thoroughly, in order to gauge their potential implications. The key is to maintain that an organisation can improve its management of this process by a careful consideration of the different ways in which customers come into contact with the brand – offering a standardised  framework for action planning.

The traditional distinctions between push, pull and profile strategies  are giving way to ways of analysing and planning marketing communications which recognise the complexity of how customers receive messages.

Finding out how customers access marketing communications reveals their preferences in receiving information. As active recipients of brand messages, they can screen out the irrelevant and the inconvenient. Observing their preferences in this regard can be a source of genuine competitive advantage.

A way of improving your marketing is by improveing the singularity of your brand communications strategy…  from the point of view of the customer it will look as if your Brand is everywhere.
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Pro Bono Your Expertise

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, MARKETING by Tom Levers on May 3, 2009

will-code-for-htmlThere is a Shortage of Marketing and Software Professionals in the Non-Profit Arena

Nonprofit organizations could use more pro bono support during this deep recession, but neither charities nor corporations are taking the right steps to encourage more volunteer consulting,  cites the 2009 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey.

Nearly 40 percent of nonprofit leaders who responded to the survey said they will spend $50,000 or more on outside Marketing / eCom / Web Site development this year, but nearly a quarter of the respondents have no plans to use skilled volunteers or pro bono support in any capacity in 2009.

The survey was commissioned by Deloitte LLP, a consulting firm, and is based on online interviews with 300 corporate executives and 360 nonprofit executives. The charity leaders had previously applied for pro bono support from the Taproot Foundation, which promotes pro bono service by business professionals.

Aaron Hurst, the Taproot Foundation’s president and founder, said charity leaders typically think of pro bono services in the legal arena, but he noted that charities could save thousands of dollars by seeking skilled volunteers to help in other areas.

The organization’s Pro Bono Action Tank lists 76 types of pro bono projects, including developing a Web site, redesigning facilities, and creating a training program for employees.

If you are interested in learning more about Pro Bono Projects make a comment and I would be happy to direct you to many different organizations.

Evaluating Partner Alliance Opportunity

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, DEMAND GENERATION, MARKETING by Tom Levers on March 19, 2009
Partner Marketing

Partner Marketing

Recently a major management consulting firm delivered the final engagement  “Evaluating Partner Relationships”,these are some of the general conclusions.

Partners deliver new sources of revenue, and are the genesis of efficiency, speed and market share. Often large organizations have too many and the small have none.

The complexity of variables to facilitate relationships is daunting, but partnerships can validate a new  product or service. It is the “Divergent ” components of partners that influence the  “business natural selection” process.

There are  Six Indicators or factors that significantly impact the  success and failure of a Partnership outcome. These are:

New Partner Attractors – Sometimes partners get together because of hot topics (ie environmentalism), some because of market buzz (company success), others have “hot” technology (technical advantages), more have functional ability, and for some it is the quality of people.  The true attractor is if the Partnership delivers a  “new value” to the customer.

Technical Domain Competency – The more similar the area of domain the less divergent, the less dependent and the more an organization can rely on in-house expertise rather than the partner.  Because an organization has a strong internal technical resource the emphasis shouldn’t necessarily measure technical competency, but more important it is the experience of doing (i.e. the number of successful implementations completed or product sold), and how complex or amount of time the domain discipline requires, is really how domain competency is measured.

Professionalism – The more strategic a solution or the larger the account, the more likely the final customer will expect a high level of “Competency” and “Professionalism”. It is the combination of “Competency” and “Professionalism” or “Service Quality” that creates the reliability of the  product and ultimate service solution.

Other key values are localization, demand generation, and sales capabilities that allow their team to drive new “up-sell” and “cross-sell” opportunities. These new capabilities provide a reasons to engage with existing clients, and a new way to introduce yourself (a foot in the door) with a new client. This can be supported by:

Localization – Thinking locally, looking local, behaving like a local, while acting globally is the key. It provides client connectedness, capability relevance, and local resilience.

Demand Generation – Hot markets can create leads from the brand and be easily integrated into the existing corporate marketing, such as Webinares, Events, Case Studies, Thought Leadership, SEM (see SEM Channel Partner Methods ) and more. If a Partner Demand Generation capability is a Pull-through only relationship often a “Technology Alliance” (i.e.”Intel Inside”) exists.  So often when competitive products or services enter the market the functional differences may not retain as much value (ie. AMD shows up and the only customer difference is “No Sticker” on the PC). The Partner successes use this to strengthen divergence by delivering partner marketing programs and tactics that both Push and Pull interest.

The Sales Cycle – Partners will likely add “speed to market” and “new market opportunity ” when selling  a complete partner solution. Some brands have a huge opportunity leveraging existing sales organizations that utilize their partner sales stakeholders. By having a partner sales force that supports the different vertical disciplines and complete product solution throughout the end-user customer buying process, rapid growth can flourish. Establishing the combined partner sales process for different products and services across different kinds of markets improves touch points, cycle speed and probability.

Divergence defines a stronger Partner

This is why ideally the best outcome for a Partner Program is “all of the listed factors of divergence”. Understanding these principals ievaluating-alliance-partner-relationships2s key to creating a strong Partner / Brand. By putting together a business relationship that generates long-term Partner Alliances, the use of divergence outreach can differentiate when direct competition creates market confusion. When multiple vendors and sub brands start to appear, creating similar functional value. Building the right Partner organization can deliver the additional momentum and breadth to support confidence and expertise that sustains market leadership.

A non-proprietary summary of the final delivery of a “Partner Marketing ” Engagement, from a major Global Management Consulting Firm for their client.
*Over 50 partner interviews were conducted for this engagement. Applying Organizational Science principals of Divergence has been used to predict outcome by defining the qualitative metric  of “New” ability over the alliance “Interdependence” (N/I)  delivered. The quantitative component is composed of organizational “Quality” as a multiplier of the “Functional” execution that uses a fraction of “Market” size and forecast market potential (Q x F)/M. This is then built into an Input /Output engine to quantify the “Opportunity” potential of a Partner relationship.->

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The Design Science of Partner Business Development…

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, MARKETING by Tom Levers on February 26, 2009

partner-alliances6With the downturn in the business landscape the challenges for growth and profitability continue. Using partners and improving  existing alliances can:

Reduce marketing and sales costs;
Increase new markets;
Reduce cycle time;
Improve the quality of sales effectiveness.

No matter what the product  or service the key to designing a partner sales and marketing engine is to multiply results.

When Best-of-Breed Vendors have  good Business Partners they successfully grow.  These partnerships can  kick start the efficient cornerstone of new business growth through the creation of cost leadership, differentiation and focus.

With new business models emerging from the impact of the economy, and customer demand of higher value and lower cost solutions; companies must use better organizational best practices to find ways to deliver what customers want. Partner alliances help to turn an organizations isolated competitive challenge into a new business development opportunity.

I started learning this when I worked for one of the first companies in the US to develop a 3 tier computer reseller organization. This company did not build the hardware and it did not build the application software… it made everything work! We allowed brand name hardware vendors to deliver unique niche vertical applications solutions… and make a lot of profit doing it. It was the partner model that was one of the keys to their rapid growth.

Now partner alliances are common. However, the number of partnerships publicly launched  has  recently fallen, typically due to poor execution. Some organizations just slap a partner program together and are not committed to the detailed execution required. Other partner organizations need to cut loose a partner participant because they achieved  their original objective. No matter what organization,  a successful partner organization needs best practices to guide their success. Many alliance organizations have developed a design criteria requirement definition for their strategic business development channel.

partner-strategies1These are only a few of the more important generic design criteria of any Partner Business Development effort:

1. Barriers to Build – Determine when communicating to the customer your value, that it is more economical and easier to achieve by creating an alliance than a direct marketing / sales effort. Typically partner alliances are developed when a partner has a service or domain expertise complementary to the need, or when there is little in-house knowledge of the final complete deliverable of product or service, or there is a high barrier to customer availability. ( i.e. Sometimes it takes too much time, expertise, and money for the prospect to be willing to talk to you, but they will talk to a partner.) Even when you have a strong direct marketing organization or strong service deliverable, multiple touch points around your customer make for a much stronger sales and service organization.

2. Choose the best partner – Look at how a potential partner would fit. Both companies must be able to enjoy short-term and long-term wins from the relationship. That’s the potential of the alliance. But executive and operating resources are the commitment for whether or not the partnership will succeed. Without these commitments, partnerships often fall apart.

3. Create a business plan. Key components include a clear view of the customer value proposition; realistic, shared goals; effective executive sponsor relationships; and investment tied to milestones and successes. Perhaps the most frequent mistake companies make is rushing out an announcement of a new alliance or partnership without having first done the due diligence needed to ensure success.

4. Act on the results – The business plan and alliance goals will determine what should be measured. Establishing up-front goals and mutually agreed-upon metrics for measuring progress, or lack thereof, are two critical success factors to ensure alliances drive top-line revenue for both companies. Track alliances’ success with detailed operational dashboards customized to reflect the specific business goals and metrics of each relationship. Values can include quantifiable data like market share gain and market acceleration, joint revenue/contribution, customer satisfaction, and new solutions launched but also qualitative metrics such as progress in standards efforts of mutual interest.

5. Know when to walk away – Partners must review the alliance in light of the established metrics and determine if it has been successful. Important at this stage is not to see alliance end-of-life as personal or business failure. Rather, this stage may even be a reflection of success – that the partnership has achieved its objectives – or a consequence of changed market conditions or business strategy on the part of one of the partners. It’s important to plan every bit as diligently for alliance end-of-life or transition as for alliance launch. Customers need to be protected. Relationships must be kept professional because there could be another joint opportunity waiting down the road.

6. Build best-in-class capabilities – Identify the skills needed, hiring the right people, building a solid partner management system, and having a strong commitment from the operations management team are all critical. The company has developed an in-house team that can rapidly design a customized curriculum for each new partner to get  up-to-speed on whatever knowledge they need, thus ensuring consistent, quality and service.

Alliance Partners Anticipate  Needs

The Bottom-Line Impact is that when executed correctly this key organizational business strategy delivers customer benefit and the partner organization continues to focus on their core competencies while extending its products and services to new markets.

“Best-of -Breed” solution Partners help to differentiate beyond the “Suite Vendor” or “Acquisition/Agregator” competitors.  The customer value that a high quality “Best-of-Breed” vendor delivers in focus, domain dicpline and customer commitment over the many “broad-brush” organizations privides depth that it can not deliver alone. Instead of the customer going out and trying to fit various solution pieces together, the well executed alliance partner organization uses it’s multiple stake holders to anticipate their customer needs better, resulting in increased sales and customer satisfaction.

Improving Your Website… a “Call To Action”

Posted in BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, DEMAND GENERATION, MARKETING, PUBLIC RELATIONS by Tom Levers on January 21, 2009

directionHow are you measuring your prospect activities when directed to your site?

From hits to clicks and page views to time-on-site, all of these issues are sorrounded by a myriad of ways to measure a website. But remember abandonment rates, they can measure both your efficiency and your effectiveness of the sites “Call To Action” (CTA) objectives.

There are many best practices used for improving the metrics of a site, but your real objective is to fill the sales funnel by getting a registration, requesting a white paper, running a  “cost justification wizard”,  downloading a trial… or any of the many other call to action tactics that increase the probability of the sale. It is imperative to measure each step or action, because its a prime indicator of where or what the Visitor has touched, and it might possibly be the reason they left your site.

Where an action is requested and not taken, we need to build baselines for improvement. No one in the B-to-B organization would accept not tracking and improving the sales processes (by measuring where and why the sales process stalled), you may want to consider the same importance to tracking and improving the abandonment of a “Call To Action”. Here site analytics software is key to improving your Demand Funnel, just as relationship management software is key to improving the Sales Funnel.

By monitoring Web Analytics Dashboards to measure the Demand Funnel you can identify and improve the  “Call to Action Metrics” by developing indicatwebsite-metricsors or KPIs of how to minimize the drop offs. The solution can typically be to modify the registration information required or remodel the page flow or navigation, but first you need to identify the areas to improve.

There are 2 ways to calculate Drop off rate:

The first calculation to take Drop off/Abandonment rate = (Visits of the current CTA Step-Visits of the previous CTA Step)/Visits of the First Conversion Step. This calculation takes into account the Homepage every time we calculate the drop off rate at every step. So in the Funnel, we notice 7000 visits are measured on the Products View (Step 2) and only 2000 Continue to registration which means that the calculation based on the formula would be (2000-7000)/10000 which would be -50% as it is loss.

The second calculation to calculate Drop off/Abandonment rate = (Visits of the current CTA Step-Visits of the previous CTA Step)/Visits of the Previous conversion Step. This calculation takes into account the previous “Call To Action” Step and the current “Call To Action”Step. As an Example In the Funnel, we notice 7000 visits are measured on the Products View  and only 2000 Continue to “Call to Action” which means that the calculation based on the formula would be (2000-7000)/7000 which would be -71%.

Using AB tests on the “Call To Action”  pages can immediately increase the amount of prospects you generate.

AB Testing is a way to test 2 variations of a page in order to determine which page is more successful in terms of pulling people towards a website goal. We split traffic on each page based on a defined proportion (50/50, 90/10). Usually the first step where there are most chances of convincing a user to buy something is the homepage as this is the page that defines a website in terms of visual appeal, product listing, ease of navigation, color scheme and even text. These things go a long way in generating a sense of trust in the users. For e.g. we have a website whose business model is selling books and there are 2 AB Test pages with the first page being the Control (original) having a discount offer banner on the top and the second page doesn’t have any discount offer banner but a slideshow listing the top selling books. We will then put tracking codes on both these pages and identify each page with a unique identifier in order to measure each page’s success. This success is usually measured in terms of the Conversion ratio which can be measured as: Visitors on the Conversion page/Visitors on the Test/Home Page. Some tools that can help you achieve AB Testing are Google Website Optimizer, Verster, SiteSpect and SplitAnalyzer.


Multivariate Testing is the second and the most efficient method to optimize your page. In this method, you don’t use multiple pages to determine a higher conversion rate but you do test the same page by changing the elements around. For example you can test headlines, colors, buttons and images on the same page by correlating each element with each other to find the best possible combination/element. The method used to achieve this is known as the Taguchi Method.This method takes into consideration the sample size and how long a test should run in order to have a clear winner. Google Website Optimizer uses this method to measure a multivariate test. This tool lets you view the various combinations and elements separately and then based on the Taguchi method decides the winner. All you need to do is add a tracking code on to your page and Google Website Optimizer will then split the traffic equally on each element separately.  Some other tools that can help you achieve multivariate Testing are Google Website Optimizer, Optimost, Memetrics, Verster,clouds Maxymiser and Omniture Test & Target.

After using the Taguchi method of page testing and based on the above formulas the result is counter intuitive. It may look like the first method generated a  better rate of abandonment. However, the second funnel is only considered in the respective CTA steps  and not Step 1 (Homepage) because Step 1 is entirely a separate user experience. As a result, the drop off rate should be calculated based on the 2nd CTA Step, as they are independent of the user experience on the other pages of a Funnel. These 2 pages alone can determine how to  improve the conversion rate at each step, as these are not based on the Homepage experience. As example. The Registration form design and involvement is totally different than what it is on the Homepage.

How Do You Measure Success?

Whether your site received 2 visitors or 2 million, that figure is pretty meaningless unless it’s improvement correlates with an increase in enquiries or sales. It’s simple, the yardstick for how the website is measured has changed as analytics scramble to reflect how actionable activities are generated.  Total minutes on a site has its own caveats and is more an awareness thought leadership metric, not a call to action measure. The reliance of marketers on their website becomes increasingly obvious. But with increased spending comes increased expectations; tracking results through basic measures such as click-through and PPC related areas won’t be sufficient. This is why focusing on measuring the various stages of the Demand Funnel and “Call to Action” is the true approach to improving the efficiency and quality of your website performance.