Tag Archives: #marketing

Should Marketing Automation Customers be Pre-Qualified?

dead duckFor decades, the ONLY way to produce any type of printed material – ranging from sales & marketing brochures, to annual reports and informational flyers – involved a multi-step, time / people-intensive, costly process requiring a copywriter, graphic designer, a typesetter and a printing press.

That longstanding production method was made obsolete over a 5-year period, with development of “What You See Is What You Get” screen technology, combined with the invention of laser printers and graphic design software such as PagerMaker.

Introduction of this new technology called “Desktop Publishing” rocked the business world. It not only changed how companies produced printed materials; it also changed who was responsible for producing them. And that created a different problem.

Armed with Desktop Publishing, many companies failed to grasp that their new technology could not replace professional skills such as graphic design, copywriting, branding and marketing required to produce effective print materials. In the hands of people lacking those communications skills, desktop publishers generated materials that, at best, were ineffective, and often hurt their company’s brand reputation and sales efforts.

The error of many desktop publishers? Believing that the new technology was a plug & play solution, rather than a tool to make people more effective.

Fast-Forward to Marketing Automation: History Repeats Itself

Most marketers understand the evolution of Marketing Automation technology. In a nutshell: legacy sales management software (CRM systems), combined with the emergence of email and social media platforms, have provided marketers with new ways to reach and influence target audiences directly and indirectly.

That capability, bolstered by access to data regarding customers and their online behavior, has led to a proliferation of technology companies peddling a mind-boggling array of Marketing Automation platforms intended to increase consistency and precision during every stage of the customer journey.

The reality, however, is that the Marketing Automation industry has a failure rate of 60%*; not because of its potential, but because of the inability of end-users to harness the technology properly.

The error of many companies using Marketing Automation? Believing that this technology is a plug & play solution, rather than a tool to make people more effective. Déjà vu.

Can Marketing Automation Save Itself from Extinction?

To operate a motor vehicle, you need to possess some basic knowledge of proper behavior as a vehicle operator. You must also pass a skills test, to demonstrate your ability to apply the rules of the road; to use the technology in a responsible manner.

As an industry, Marketing Automation is in trouble for that reason. More than half (and likely many more) of the operators of Marketing Automation products are likely unqualified to use them. They lack a basic understanding of marketing fundamentals, and put their companies at financial and reputational risk by using the technology in an irresponsible manner.

Using the automotive analogy, too many marketers are attempting to drive an 18-wheel tractor trailer through busy, narrow city streets without knowing how to shift the rig’s gears or apply the brakes, and lacking side-view mirrors. So when they eventually crash the vehicle, or give up the keys because they can’t out of first gear…they will attribute their failure to the truck’s manufacturer, not to themselves.

With a significant failure rate, and despite the rosy outlook from vendors and consultants, fewer customers will be lining up for Marketing Automation. (Watch for industry consolidation as major players fight for their share of a shrinking market.)

So how does Marketing Automation save itself from extinction? Here’s a highly improbable solution: Require that prospective customers are pre-qualified to purchase your product. Demand proof that would-be customers understand marketing fundamentals, and can demonstrate the potential to succeed (and to become loyal, enthusiastic brand ambassadors) by proper application of your product. Customers who don’t measure up…can be referred to competitors.

Qualification Standards for a Marketing Automation License

Here’s a list of basic skills that Marketing Automation providers might require of prospective customers, in advance of a sale:

·     Know Who Your Customers Are – Many companies have only a fuzzy understanding of their target markets, or know why those customers should buy from them.

·     Work from a Written Marketing Plan – Here’s the acid test: if your marketing plan is not written down, then you don’t really have a plan…because there’s no accountability.

·     Create Effective Public-Facing Assets – Most websites are outdated, unappealing and incompatible with mobile devices. LinkedIn is also an important due diligence tool, but most companies display a hodge-podge of personal profiles, and demonstrate no consistency in how the company is described in those profiles.

·     Build Database Discipline – If a company lacks the internal discipline to collect and keep current its own database of clients, prospects and referral sources, how can it benefit from an automated system that requires that raw material?

·     Produce Exceptional Content – If a company can’t or won’t consistently produce relevant, interesting, non-self-serving content, then Marketing Automation will fail. Garbage out, garbage in.

·     Align Marketing & Sales – This is the toughest hurdle, because it’s cultural. Sales and marketing professionals must agree up front on lead generation goals and processes, and demonstrate mutual respect for each other’s roles.

·     Leverage Online & Offline Analytics – In addition to having access to online performance metrics, companies need to talk directly to customers and prospects on a regular basis, to ensure a connection between marketing strategy and business outcomes.

There’s no expectation that any company peddling Marketing Automation would ever apply any pre-conditions to a sale. And despite best efforts to educate and support customers, the industry’s failure rate is likely to increase as a result of the customer shortcomings reflected in this laundry list of prerequisites.

And if the history of the marketing function serves as a guide, there’s no expectation that companies will ever stop trying to make marketing a science. Or that marketers will stop wanting technology to provide easy solutions to a business discipline that will always require lots of human thinking, and lots of human creativity and effort.

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*Editor’s Note: Admittedly, the 60% failure rate statistic that’s found online may be outdated, and tough to defend, in terms of research rigor. (For starters, how many companies are eager to admit a costly failure?) It’s certainly a statistic that raises the hackles of Marketing Automation companies.

To justify this article’s premise: here’s a more recent and credible insight from eMarketer into how highly companies rank Marketing Automation, which may reflect their level of success with that technology. It also raises other, perhaps more troubling issues, such as why “Social Media Analytics” is ranked so highly.

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Skip the Marketing Plan. Try this “Easy-Bake” Recipe Instead.

betty-crockerThe first question we ask prospective clients is, “Do you have a Marketing Plan?”

Most prospects sheepishly acknowledge that they don’t have a formal Marketing Plan. This group earns big points with us for honesty.

Some less forthright prospects will claim they do have a Marketing Plan, but when asked to show it to us, this group responds with, “Our plan isn’t written down,” or “It’s being updated,” which really means that they don’t have a plan.

There are several good and bad reasons why companies (of all sizes) don’t create a Marketing Plan. Those spoken and unspoken reasons include:

·     It’s too much work to create and maintain a Marketing Plan.

·     We had a Marketing Plan once, and it just sat in a 3-ring binder on the shelf.

·     Senior management doesn’t understand marketing. Why confuse them more?

·     It’s easier to just keep trying different marketing tactics, to see what works.

After decades of watching companies either earnestly struggle to create a Marketing Plan, or strenuously avoid creating one, we recently had an epiphany. We realized that most companies should SKIP the Marketing Plan altogether.

Here’s why: The ratio of companies without (versus with) a Marketing Plan will never change. So rather than badgering and shaming the “No Marketing Plan” companies, we should help them focus exclusively on the critical components of marketing that will help them succeed. We call this process the “Easy-Bake Marketing Cake Recipe.”

In Betty Crocker fashion, here are step-by-step directions for creating an Easy-Bake Marketing Cake for your company…completely devoid of all marketing jargon:

The Strategic Ingredients

Step 1: Determine why customers should buy your product / service. This seemingly simple goal – to understand what’s special about your company – is the most essential element of marketing strategy. Many companies either don’t have a clue, or have an unfounded / unrealistic viewpoint on why people should do business with them. You need to nail this step.

Step 2: Learn why customers are buying from your competitors. To gain a reliable answer to the Step 1 question, you need to possess a thorough understanding of the competitive landscape. The most successful marketers know everything about (and closely monitor) current competitors, to gain insight into why customers buy from them. They also work to anticipate new competitors, and explore potential customer solutions that could disrupt the entire category.

Step 3: Learn what your customers want and don’t want. If you’re not having a continuous, two-way conversation with current, prospective and former customers, then you are flying by the seat of your pants, marketing-wise. And you can’t rely exclusively on surveys to gain that market intelligence. Pick up the phone and talk to decision-makers at least once a quarter to really understand what they think and what they need.

The Practical Ingredients

Step 1: Define what your marketing resources are. Marketing requires money and people. Work backwards to build a marketing strategy. First decide what resources are available to invest, and then determine what strategies / tactics you can afford to apply properly and consistently. Having an “open budget” for marketing makes you a target for the latest gimmick, and is a sure way to waste a boatload of money.

Step 2: Put your sales process under the microscope. Marketing is not a religion. To justify its existence as a corporate function, marketing must help produce tangible business outcomes. Most marketing activity should be related to sales…and the sales function requires close scrutiny in advance of any marketing investment. If your sales process is broken (or non-existent), then your marketing will likely yield nothing of value.

           Step 3: Define exactly what you want your marketing to achieve. Your marketing goals should be directly or indirectly connected to activity that drives revenue. If that revenue connection is fuzzy, or based largely on wishful thinking, then either refine or eliminate the weak strategies and tactics. Be ruthless in your evaluation of all marketing activity at all times.

The Tactical Ingredients

Step 1: Select one effective direct marketing tactic. Most email solicitations go unread, with good reason: they are self-serving, poorly written and lack a compelling rationale for people to respond. But because the email marketing bar is so low, there is plenty of opportunity to stand out from the crowd. There’s also a big opportunity to leverage traditional snail mail, largely because marketers have abandoned that channel in lemming-like fashion.

Step 2: Select one smart content marketing tactic. The objective is to showcase your company’s intellectual capital (which is very different from a sales pitch), either through respected print / electronic media sources or social media, primarily to gain online visibility for that content. The 2016 marketing reality is this: If potential clients can’t find you by searching online, then you are not in the game. If you prefer to stick with the “We’re a relationship business, and don’t need an online brand presence.” marketing approach, then please let me know. I would like to short your stock.

Step 3: Select one consistent tactic to keep in touch with clients, prospects and referral sources. With so much media noise and competition, and because you can never know when people will be ready to engage, it’s important to remind decision-makers that your company is ready to help them. Quarterly communication is sufficient, and will avoid being viewed as a pest. Standard “all about us” newsletters are boring, so provide content that’s meaningful and of interest to your readers.

This overly simplistic, 9-step planning process is unlikely to gain the endorsement of the American Marketing Association. But for the vast majority of businesses who don’t have the time or interest to create a bona fide Marketing Plan, this “Easy-Bake Marketing Cake Recipe” should more than suffice.

Compared with some of the overly ambitious, non-productive Marketing Plans that we’ve seen over the years, it’s also likely to produce a much tastier outcome. Bon appetit.

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The Death of Rolodex Marketing

RolodexSurprisingly, a significant number of professional services firms continue to resist building online brand visibility as a business development strategy. The excuses we hear from them most often include:

“We’re in a relationship business.”

“New clients don’t find us by searching online.”

“Our business is driven exclusively by referrals.”

Although often it’s a waste of time to push back on their refusal to embrace online visibility, these are 3 reasons that we use to plant some seeds of doubt:

The Way People Make Decisions Has Changed Forever

In the pre-internet world, personal relationships, referrals and endorsements played a significant role in the decision-making process. Before making a decision about anything –buying a car, hiring a plumber, investing in a fund, and even sizing up a potential love interest – people communicated directly with friends, family and business associates, seeking their opinions and guidance. For generations, human interaction served as the primary validation process in decision-making.

Over the past 20 years, the internet has dramatically and permanently changed the way that people make decisions. Online research is rapidly replacing human interaction as the primary validation process in all decision-making. We check out Edmunds.com before we buy a car. We join Angie’s List to find a reliable plumber. We read Morningstar.com to gain insight into investment opportunities. We scan profiles on Match.com to evaluate candidates for a life-long relationship. Studies show that business buyers now complete up to 75% of their decision-making process online, in advance of contacting potential suppliers.

The most significant aspect of society’s rapid adoption of the internet is that we’ve raised nearly two generations of young people who have increasingly less direct social interaction with humans, and who rely almost exclusively on electronic devices to supply the information they need to make decisions about everything. Those generations are now starting their own companies, are moving into managerial positions, are raising families of their own…and are making personal, business and investment decisions that affect the fortunes of individual enterprises and the entire economy.

So if your company relies exclusively on personal relationships and referrals to drive engagements or revenue growth…it is living on borrowed time, as relationships become less personal; as human referrals are replaced by online content; and as lack of online transparency is viewed in a negative light by your friends, family and referral sources.

Referral Sources Require Nurturing and Validation

The Old Boy Network may not be dead yet, but it requires a far greater amount of effort to maintain it properly. Here’s why it makes sense to nurture your personal and business relationships through an online presence:

  • Referral sources have many choices. As strong as your relationships may be, peoples’ allegiances and motivations will always ebb and flow. A consistent online presence helps to drive top-of-mind awareness that keeps you high on their list.
  • Referral sources want to refer “safe choices.” Their personal reputation is always at risk when your contacts make a referral, and their comfort level is increased when their recommendation is validated by online content that is consistent with their opinion of you.

Notwithstanding how much time you invest in phone calls, lunches, conferences and rounds of golf, those Old Boy Network nurturing tactics simply cannot compete – in terms of consistency, market reach and “conversation” quality – with what online visibility offers. When it comes to business development, your Old Boy Network is becoming irrelevant.

Reliance on Rolodex Marketing is an Opportunity Loss

Regardless of the size of your Rolodex inventory of family, friends, club members, fraternity brothers, former business associates, vendors and clients…you will never scale your business, on a long-term basis, by relying exclusively on that group of people to drive business growth, either directly or indirectly.

Rolodex marketing may be a reliable way to jump start your firm, but it will fail to sustain momentum, simply because you will eventually overstay your welcome with those sources. Your contacts are a diminishing asset, in terms of business development.

Marketing to your existing contacts always makes sense, as a means to maintain awareness and to encourage engagement and referrals. But limiting your marketing strategy to this finite group is short-sighted at best, and represents a lost opportunity to establish awareness and generate interest among an unlimited universe of prospective customers.

So…If you’re a professional services firm that’s ready to sell the way that people buy; to take greater advantage of your referral sources; and to expand exponentially the volume of potential clients, there are three “bare essentials” of online visibility that include: maintaining a robust website, building a comprehensive presence on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, and consistently producing non-self-serving Thought Leadership content.

However…If you’re still not convinced, good luck with your Rolodex-based marketing strategy. If your firm is a “lifestyle” business, rather than a serious enterprise, your Rolodex may be all that you need…for now, anyway.

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The 2 Most Deadly Sins of B2B Marketing

deadly sinsThere are two major reasons why marketing is failing at your small- or medium-sized B2B firm:

You view marketing as business triage. Your company applies a collection of tactics (often labeled as a “marketing campaign”) only in response to a problem; typically involving the loss of a key client, or decline in revenue. When business is good, little or no time is invested in marketing. When business (inevitably) takes a dip, only then does marketing becomes a priority.

You expect marketing to deliver immediate results. Either because your company always views marketing on a “cause & effect” tactical basis, or because marketing triage must be applied quickly to revive an ailing company, the marketing function is given insufficient time to produce tangible results. It’s no surprise that marketing professionals have the shortest tenure of any corporate function in the asset management business.

The hard truth is that very few B2B business owners either understand the marketing function, or have the discipline to design, implement, measure and adhere to a consistent marketing approach that builds brand equity and market engagement over a sustained period.

To establish the infrastructure and internal culture necessary for the marketing discipline to succeed, we offer the following simple path:

  • Create a Written Marketing Plan. This need not be in a 3-inch binder; a two-page document is often sufficient. Include goals, strategies, responsibilities, timelines, budgets and ways to measure results. Without a Marketing Plan you’ll waste lots of time and money. And unless it’s a written document, you won’t have commitment or accountability.
  • Gain Senior Level Commitment. The honcho in corner office (which might be you) must understand, endorse and support the Marketing Plan. This involves more than lip service. If your Plan isn’t properly staffed and funded at the outset, there’s no real commitment to marketing.
  • Do a Few Things Very Well.Your marketing success will be based on the quality and effectiveness of a limited number of strategies / tactics. Firms sometimes go overboard, thinking there’s a correlation between the size of its marketing investment and business results. But less is usually more, in terms of marketing ROI.
  • Build and Nurture your Database.Direct and easy access to your company’s clients, prospects, referral sources and opinion leaders is essential. Without an email pipeline, the marketing value of the content you create is close to zero. If your firm’s thought leadership simply sits on its website or social media, you’re missing the opportunity to build relationships with people in your target audiences.
  • Create Meaningful Content. Self-serving, long-winded white papers and research reports have very limited appeal. Generate content that validates your company’s intellectual capital, that’s easy to read, and focuses on timely topics that people have a genuine interest in.
  • Drive Top-of-Mind Awareness. To be included on the short list of candidates for an assignment or sale, you need to build awareness with key decision-makers. To accomplish that goal, share your content directly with target audiences on a quarterly basis. (More frequently than that, and you may be viewed as a pest.)

Most importantly – with apologies to Glengarry Glen Ross – B2B firms must commit to:

A…..Always

B…..Be

M….Marketing

…for the discipline to be effective. Otherwise, the traditional short-term, hair-on-fire approach to business development will keep your company from ever reaching its full potential, regardless of its quality or reputation.

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Why Your Law Firm Blog Doesn’t Make the Phone Ring

PhoneOldYou can gain reliable insight into the current state of law firm blogging from two recent market research studies:

  • According to the ABA’s Legal Technology Report, less than 1/3 of all law firms have a blog, and most of those are large firms. More importantly, of those firms that blog, only 1/3 are able to associate their blogging with new business; the other 2/3rds either can’t, or are unsure of any new business connection.
  • According to the State of Digital & Content Marketing Survey – produced by the management consulting firm, Zeughauser Group – in-house legal counsel are reading blogs less frequently, and valuing blog content less highly than they did 3 years ago. And nearly 1/3 of CLOs do not read blogs at all.

Clearly, all of the hours devoted to blogging, at some of the nation’s largest and smartest law firms, does not appear to be time well spent…if the goal of a blog and other forms of content marketing is to generate new business.

If there’s a disconnect between your firm’s blogging and new clients related to your posts, here are 10 possible reasons why:

Your blog topics are boring.

Avoid topics that have been (or are likely to be) covered by other firms, or topics that may be considered old news by the time your post is published. Select blog topics that are of immediate or continuing interest to your target audiences, and cover them in a unique manner.

Your headlines don’t grab attention.

With less than a few seconds to grab a potential reader’s attention, headlines are the most critical element of a blog post. Invest the time necessary to write a snappy headline that addresses the “What’s in this for me?” question.

There’s too much legal-speak.

Everyone knows you’re a lawyer, and a blog is not the proper platform to display your brief writing expertise. In fact, legalese is probably the #1 reason why people are not reading your blog posts. Write in clear, simple prose that can be understood by people without a law degree.

Your posts are too long.

You’re competing for eyeballs and attention against all types of online and offline content, as well as human distractions. You need to state your case in fewer than 750 words. Fewer than 500 words is even better. Make your point, and leave them wanting more.

You don’t provide an interesting point of view.

People read blog posts to gain insights and opinions. If you’re simply presenting facts, your posts are probably a snooze-fest. The potential for you to make your blog a marketing device lies in your ability to present provocative, unique or contrarian viewpoints. Be a thought leader; not a news service.

You have no blogging strategy.

If you’re selecting blog post topics on a random or opportunistic basis, then you’re lost in Tactic  Land. Create a simple plan that identifies key blog topics related to your firm’s value proposition (why people should hire you), and integrate those topics into an editorial calendar to ensure that you cover those topics over 6 months or a year.

You don’t blog consistently.

A blog’s marketing function is to drive top-of-mind awareness with your clients, prospects and referral sources. If you are not generating original content with some regularity, probably at least once a month, then don’t bother blogging at all.

Your blog content is not optimized.

For people to locate your blog content online, it needs to contain (hidden) coded title tags and meta tags based on key words and phrases related to your blog topic. If you’re publishing your posts on a platform with a user-friendly Content Management System, you can add this coding yourself. If you don’t want to be bothered, get someone who understands Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to do it for you. Skipping this step will greatly limit potential readership.

You don’t merchandize your blog content.

Another way to increase readership of your blog is by re-purposing its content, in whole or part, in places where it’s likely to be seen. For starters, they should be published on LinkedIn, both on your personal profile (as a long-form blog post), and as an “Update” on your law firm’s corporate LinkedIn page. Posting it on Twitter also makes sense if you (or your firm) have a reasonable number of Twitter followers.

You don’t drive traffic to your blog.

Unlike “Field of Dreams,” simply having a blog does not guarantee that any readers (particularly potential clients) will ever benefit from your intellectual capital. You need to promote your blog posts, individually and collectively. As a first step, every quarter send your database of contacts (hopefully you have this) a nicely designed email featuring 2 or 3 of your best recent blog posts, with an “In case you missed this” cover note.

Here’s the silver lining in all these reasons why your blog isn’t generating new clients: according to the Zeughauser Group survey, 74 percent of in-house counsel said that they find law firm blogs valuable.

So if it’s done correctly, your blog can and will deliver a meaningful marketing ROI. In most cases, this means working smarter, and not necessarily harder, on your law firm blog.

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Facing the #1 B2B Deal-Killer: “Do You Have Any Clients Just Like Me?”

In new business development efforts, B2B firms of all types are often challenged by prospective clients with this question: “Do you have any experience working for companies in my industry?”

Very often, the answer to that question can be a deal-killer for B2B firms without an appropriate client list or some other means to demonstrate industry-specific credentials.

Lacking the proper “just like me” credentials, some firms will argue that the skills and experience they currently possess can be applied across all types of industries. And although this may be true, that response typically fails to convince the prospect, and can even backfire. Because most companies believe their situation and the challenges they face are unique, suggesting otherwise usually will end the sales process.

Short of a firm merger or hiring an individual with the experience in a targeted industry, there are a few ways that professional services firms can gain business outside of the constraints of their current industry credentials. For example:

  • Recast Your Value Proposition: Take an inventory of your firm’s experience and capabilities, and identify those elements that are likely to address the current needs and opportunities of the industry you’re seeking to break into. By re-casting your public facing materials, or creating new marketing collateral and thought leadership that’s focused on your target industry, you can establish a baseline level of credibility that serves to offset the lack of actual client work in that field.
  • Seek Expertise in Individuals: Your firm may not possess the desired industry credentials, but some of your employees might. Ask all of your associates if their professional experience includes work either for or with companies in a targeted industry, and “borrow” those credentials, with their permission. Prospects often don’t care where your firm has gained the requisite industry knowledge, as long as they are confident that it exists.
  • Engage Freelance Talent: There are plenty of freelance practitioners with deep credentials in your target industry who are willing to lend their credibility and expertise to help make a sale, if they stand to benefit from the transaction. This is also a way to test the business potential of a new industry vertical without hiring an employee.
  • Earn Your Credentials: If you’re serious about breaking into a new industry, you’ll need to become a student of what makes it tick: the economics, the core issues, the competitive landscape, and how it is currently being serviced by your peers. This means following trade journals; reading relevant books and academic research; attending leading conferences and trade shows; studying the opinions of its thought leaders; talking to people who are considered “experts” in that field; and contributing comments and questions in relevant online / offline industry platforms. Chances are that this work will eventually generate insights, discussions and relationships that foster tangible business engagements in that industry.

What’s important to remember is that, regardless of the target industry, your credentials are only one part of the sales process. Once you overcome the “clients just like me” hurdle, the prospect will be more interested in how you intend to address their specific problem or opportunity. And that’s where you should work to direct the conversation.

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What Your Doctor Can Teach You About Business Growth

For many decades, physicians have been taught the “3 A’s” of a sound medical practice. They are the 3 qualities that their patients will value most highly, in rank order of importance:

  1. Affability
  2. Accessibility
  3. Ability

Regardless of whether your professional field is medicine, law, technology or finance, that same ranking applies to how you are valued by clients, particularly in B2B businesses.

For better or worse, your clients judge you (or your firm) primarily on a personal, visceral basis. First, they must like you (“Affability”), and be confident in your commitment to them (“Accessibility.”)  Your actual performance (“Ability”) will always be judged by clients on a relative basis, compared with their own knowledge of your craft, their past experience with other providers, the career risks involved in making a change, etc.

This ranking priority may seem illogical to a lawyer, fund manager or a physician whose view of the world is built on measurable evidence and tangible outcomes. But this apparent anomaly in client sentiment is supported by many real life examples. Insurance companies report that doctors who admit their mistakes and apologize to patients are rarely sued. Successful stock brokers report that they seldom lose clients for poor portfolio performance, if they are quick to explain why it happened and what’s being done about it.

Although client communication is at least as important as actual performance in most service businesses, companies seldom give that task the attention it deserves.

But for firms that understand the business impact of client communication, and have made a commitment to pay more than lip service to the discipline, the most significant challenges involve:

  • Finding the proper communication frequency, channels and content
  • Cutting through the vast amount of information that clients receive each day
  • Applying tactics that reinforce their firm’s value proposition and differentiation

Here are a four ways to improve your firm’s client communication strategy:

Stop Guessing About What Clients Think: One of the most obvious yet overlooked ways to maintain and strengthen communication with clients is to ask them for their opinion. Legendary New York City Mayor Ed Koch constantly asked his constituents, “How am I doing?” And it was more than a political gimmick, as Koch always listened to their responses, and applied what he learned to improve his performance and reputation.

You can measure client sentiment on an informal basis, similar to Ed Koch; but you’re more likely to yield meaningful results if you conduct a formal survey either online and / or by telephone. Online platforms like surveymonkey.com make it easy to design, conduct and evaluate a client opinion survey. You can conduct phone interviews yourself, or engage a 3rd party.

There’s a widely used survey methodology that yield “Net Promoter Scores,” designed to measure client loyalty; but for most small firms, you really only need to ask three questions: 1. Are we meeting your expectations? 2. If not, why not?  3. How else can we add value to our relationship?  The responses will likely provide some basis on which you can measure client sentiment and make beneficial changes. But the intrinsic marketing value of any opinion survey – regardless of the questions or response rates – is that it lets clients know you care about them.

Consistency and Speed of Communication Matter: The cornerstone of your client communication strategy should involve regularly scheduled contact; ideally on a quarterly basis, and provide content that’s of genuine interest to them.  This does not include your performance / activity reports; news that touts your firm’s “Best of [fill in the blank] Award;” its 4 recently hired employees; or the results of last month’s employee 5k mud run. It should include viewpoints and guidance that’s not self-serving, and helps your clients to succeed. For scheduled contact, consistency also matters. Using floor broker lingo, this is a “Fill or Kill” decision, so either commit to scheduled client outreach, or don’t start a program.

Your firm should also be prepared, on an opportunistic basis, to communicate with its clients when there is some (internal or external) material event that may cause them to be confused, concerned or excited. This is a critical part of what “accessibility” means: that you’re always thinking of your client’s welfare. Whether it’s a 500-point drop in the Dow Industrials, or a new scientific discovery related to their business, you need to reach out to your clients – by email, phone, text, snail mail – as soon as possible to deliver the (bad or good) news. Ideally, you’ll also be in a position to help them avoid, adjust to or benefit from the information you provide.

Personalize Your Client Communications: Small firms have a significant marketing advantage, because it doesn’t take very much effort or expense to add a personal touch to their communications with clients. For starters, your firm should know and track personal information of key individuals, including their birthday, spouse / partner’s name, children’s names and ages, hobbies, favorite sports teams, etc. No detail is unimportant. 

An old adage, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care,” rings true across all lines of business. The more information you have about the personal lives of your clients, the better prepared you’ll be to have conversations about what’s most important to them, and to find ways to reinforce your long-term relationships. Ask about their trip to Belize. Send them a handwritten note when their hockey team wins the Stanley Cup, or when their daughter gets accepted to law school. Send a box of cigars when they win their club’s golf tournament. Treat them to dinner at an upscale restaurant on their 10th wedding anniversary. As long as your efforts are genuine, clients will remember, appreciate and reciprocate in terms of loyalty.

Think Outside the Box during Holiday Season: In lemming-like fashion, around the holidays most companies will send out a greeting card purchased from an online catalogue, imprinted with the firm’s name. (Many companies don’t even bother to sign their card, or to add a personal message.) Holiday season conformity can provide a great opportunity to stand out from the crowd. For example, instead of sending out a holiday greeting in mid-December, consider sending a clever Happy Thanksgiving card, which won’t get lost in the pile of December’s cards, and will avoid offending anyone, based on their religious affiliation.

Another way to stand out is to forgo the traditional cocktail party or reception, where great expense and advance planning can all be for naught if bad weather or a competing event keeps your invited guests from attending. As an alternative, host a fancy catered luncheon for your client’s entire staff at their own office location during the holiday season, where you attend and hand out the egg nog or candy canes. Or avoid the holiday madness altogether, and around Memorial Day send your clients a beach chair, boogie board or cooler (all featuring your firm’s logo) to celebrate the beginning of the summer season.

The real secret sauce of client communication for any business is to manage the effort as an opportunity rather than a necessary evil. Or in the words of Dicky Fox, fictional mentor of Jerry Maguire, from the 1996 movie of the same name:

“The key to this business is personal relationships.”

Make that your own mission statement, and watch your business grow.

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Why Your B2B Marketing Isn’t Working

Inconsistency Kills Most B2B Marketing Strategies

Inconsistency Kills Most B2B Marketing Strategies

There are two major reasons why marketing is ineffective at B2B firms, regardless of size or industry:

  1. Marketing is viewed as triage. The company applies a collection of tactics (often labeled as a “marketing campaign”) only in response to a problem; typically involving the loss of a key client, or decline in revenue. When business is good, little or no time is invested in marketing. When business (inevitably) takes a dip, marketing becomes a priority. This classic behavior is depicted in the “Sales / Service Volatility Curve” chart above.
  2. Marketing is expected to deliver immediate results. Either because the company views marketing on a cause & effect tactical basis, or because marketing triage must quickly revive an ailing company, the marketing function is given little time to produce tangible results. It’s no surprise that Chief Marketing Officers have the shortest tenure of any corporate function.

Individually or collectively, both of these circumstances drive the #1 reason why B2B marketing does not work:

INCONSISTENCY

The sad truth is that very few B2B firms either understand the marketing function, or have the discipline to design, implement, measure and stick with a marketing approach that builds brand equity and market engagement on a consistent basis.

As an alternative to changing careers, and to establish the infrastructure and internal culture necessary for the discipline to succeed, we offer marketers (and B2B business owners) the following simple path:

  • Create a Written Marketing Plan. Include goals, strategies, responsibilities, timelines, budgets and ways to measure results. Without a Marketing Plan you will not succeed. And unless it’s a written document, you do not have a Marketing Plan.
  • Gain Senior Level Commitment. The corner office must understand, endorse and support the Marketing Plan. The Plan must also be properly staffed and funded upfront.
  • Do a Few Things Very Well. Marketing’s success will be based on the quality and effectiveness of a limited number of strategies / tactics. Less is usually more.
  • Build and Nurture your Database. Direct and easy access to your company’s clients, prospects, referral sources and opinion leaders is essential. Without this pipeline, the marketing value of the content you create is close to zero.
  • Create Meaningful Content. Self-serving white papers and client case studies have very limited appeal. Generate content that validates your company’s intellectual capital, on topics that target audiences have a genuine interest in.
  • Drive Top-of-Mind Awareness. Leverage your thought leadership content by sharing it directly with target audiences on at least a quarterly basis. More importantly, use content to initiate two-way conversations that build relationships in advance of sales.
  • Connect with the Sales Force. There’s no better way to find if and how well your marketing strategies are working, or to gain an understanding of the marketplace.

Most importantly – with apologies to Glengarry Glen Ross – B2B firms must:

A…..Always

B…..Be

M…..Marketing

…for the discipline to be effective. Otherwise, the traditional short-term, hair-on-fire approach to marketing will keep your B2B firm from ever reaching its full potential.

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The Road to Hedge Fund Transparency: Marketing Essentials and Potential Pitfalls

To survive and prosper in a marketplace where transparency and trust are now valued by investors and promoted by regulators, hedge funds will be increasingly required to build a rational and risk-averse approach to external communication. Ideally, those plans will also avoid many of the non-productive tactics that marketers are known to promote.

Here’s a marketing roadmap designed to achieve that objective:

Build your brand strategy first. This internal discipline yields a unified view and clear expression of what your firm seeks to achieve for investors, how it addresses that goal, what makes it uniquely qualified for consideration, and why investors should select and trust your firm. An upfront articulation of the firm’s value proposition serves as the cornerstone of a written marketing plan that should include: tangible business goals, appropriate marketing strategies and tactics, calendarized activity, budgets and accountabilities. Any firm that operates without a formal plan (which should be simple, and not take months to create), eventually becomes a victim of “trust me it’s working” marketing. No plan = lots of wheel-spinning + no tangible business outcomes.

Create a bona fide website, not a proxy. In an online world, websites are the mother ship of market transparency. If a hedge fund is unwilling to provide on its website essential information related to its capabilities and credibility, then the firm is not really serious about market communication. Ideally, your website should express institutional values, explain investment processes, showcase human capital, provide examples of thought leadership and include inherent 3rd party endorsements. It’s not a sales pitch or report card. Your website will generate investor interest by allowing visitors to draw their own conclusions about the firm and its potential to help them achieve their goals.

Leverage your firm’s intellectual capital. Thought leadership – which is overused marketing jargon – is a strategy that leverages knowledge and ideas to engage target audiences. Effective thought leadership can involve a broad range of marketing tactics, but should always be designed to achieve measurable goals; not to simply have people think you’re smart. A hedge fund’s intellectual capital represents its most powerful market differentiator, and can be showcased without giving away any proprietary information or methodologies.

Harness the market reach of LinkedIn. LinkedIn has become an important due diligence tool for investors, intermediaries and the financial press. Most hedge funds understand this, and either provide a very basic firm profile, and / or allow its employees to post their personal profiles on LinkedIn. But to harness LinkedIn’s enormous market reach and professional clientele, hedge funds must establish a buttoned-up institutional persona that’s consistent with the firm’s (bona fide) website; ensure that its employees’ profiles enhance the firm’s brand positioning; and take full advantage of appropriate user groups on LinkedIn to raise brand visibility and display its thought leadership. 

Hold off on Twitter and other social media sites. Twitter can be a great information source, and most hedge funds should use it exclusively for that purpose: to listen rather than to speak. Few hedge funds have the time or social media sophistication to engage safely and consistently on Twitter, and the compliance risks are significant. Facebook is simply not an appropriate channel for hedge funds, and posting comments on independent blogs or online publications will not yield meaningful results.

Manage press exposure selectively. Beneficial media exposure can provide valuable brand credibility. But this is a high-risk tactic because reporters have agendas, can make mistakes, and are not in business to make your firm look good. However, hedge funds should proactively seek media exposure through participation in targeted editorial opportunities – such as bylined articles, OpEd pieces and certain types of feature articles – if they provide total or nearly complete control over what’s published. Although guest spots on financial news channels such as CNBC can fuel the ego, these are high-risk opportunities that most hedge funds should avoid.

Unfortunately, most media coverage yields no marketing value, because it’s simply hung like a hunting trophy on a firm’s website. To benefit from the implied 3rd party endorsement, beneficial coverage must be properly integrated into the firm’s direct communication strategy with clients, prospects and referral sources.

Merchandise conference participation. Investor conferences are high-cost tactics that can be effective for hedge funds. But these events also yield low results because firms fail to properly re-purpose the related thought leadership they’ve produced; which can serve as raw material to influence target audiences that are much larger, and sometimes of higher value, than those in attendance at the conference. Doing all the heavy lifting (in terms of content preparation, travel, time away from office and home), but failing to benefit from that investment – both before or after the event itself – represents a tangible opportunity loss.

Forget advertising for now, and perhaps forever. Regulators have not made it easy for hedge funds to understand the rules of the new advertising game, so the industry is better off encouraging the very large players – with deep compliance muscle – to be the first ones on the field. But there are more significant reasons why most hedge funds should never include advertising in their marketing plans. Notably, institutional advertising is expensive, requires a long-term commitment to be effective, and is very difficult to measure or generate a market response. More importantly, at most hedge funds there is an extensive list of marketing strategies and tactics (for example, building an effective website) that should be addressed first, and that will provide a more meaningful return than advertising.

As market dynamics of the investment world drag hedge funds, however reluctantly, into the new era of transparency, there is some good news for those firms. Hedge funds have long demonstrated their ability to sustain a successful business enterprise without traditional marketing tactics. So any benefits that effective market communication might provide for them are very likely to result in incremental asset growth.

Additionally, because hedge funds do not currently depend on marketing for survival, they can act in a deliberate, strategic manner. Hedge funds have the luxury of being able to design and implement their marketing programs incrementally, and to focus on doing a limited number of things very well.

In that regard, other vertical industries may eventually point to hedge funds as examples of best practices in branding and marketing. But at the current rate of change, that’s unlikely to occur in our lifetimes.

 

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Research Integrity: The Achilles Heel of Content Marketing

The marketing profession has a reputation for sometimes using less than reliable market research to promote a point of view. And this marketer has been guilty of that sin.

Years ago, our insurance company client was introducing a new Directors & Officers liability insurance policy, and asked us to raise market awareness. With good intentions, but given no budget or time to perform proper market research, we interviewed a total of 6 corporate CEOs and board members to provide some validation to the underlying premise of our press release. The headline read: “Most Corporate Directors & Officers Believe They Are Not Protected Properly from Legal Risk.”

With very little expectation that a premise based on such shoddy research would qualify for exposure in the financial press, and dreading inquiries from journalists asking about our research methodology, the release went out. To our great surprise, we received no calls from reporters checking the facts, and the story was immediately picked up by two major wire services, and appeared as a news squib on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, followed by coverage in several business insurance trade publications.

Our client was overjoyed with the media exposure, but we felt less than honorable, and resolved that we would never use market research to promote a client’s product or service unless we believed the supporting methodology had sufficient rigor. And over the years we’ve lost work as a result.

Research integrity was an issue long before the internet became the platform for content marketing. Most often, your research-based news items would not be covered by respected media sources unless you ran the credibility gauntlet. Editors demanded your research methods and data, and had to be convinced that your study was objective and legitimate. Our very thin D&O liability research was a rare and risky exception…and perhaps a sign of things to come.

For well understood reasons, the “legitimate press” now has neither the manpower nor the time to dig deeply for validation of market research that supports content generated by organizations. The loss of this important filter, coupled with the explosion of online content, has created a marketing world in which sloppy, incomplete (and sometimes blatantly false) research generates news items that can go viral and become accepted wisdom. Pumping out content in volume has become far more important than creating high quality content that could withstand the scrutiny of a hard-nosed editor.

What this new world of content marketing means for individuals is simple: assume that all “research-based” information requires close scrutiny. Believe nothing at face value. If it’s important to your business strategy, or you intend to adopt the research to support your own point of view (or upcoming PowerPoint presentation), then you’ll need to become the hard-nosed editor who scrutinizes the original source; who looks at the sample size, respondents, questions asked, etc.; and who determines whether the research results legitimately support the conclusions.

What this new world of content integrity means to companies is more complex: assume that the “research-based” content that you produce is a reflection of your brand’s integrity. For the Marketing Department, this involves educating the corner office regarding the rigor, time and costs involved in market studies, surveys, research necessary to yield content worthy of customer-facing applications. For the corner office, this involves calculating whether the intended marketplace outcome is worth the necessary investment, and avoiding shortcuts.

Without the 4th Estate as the content gatekeeper, there is now far greater opportunity for companies to benefit from content marketing. And by not adopting the market research integrity standards that journalists long upheld, there are far more ways for companies to damage their brand through content marketing.

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