Tuesday, November 27, 2012

3 Steps to Better Lead Qualification for Marketers

Lead qualification is a skill only a few marketers seem to have mastered.  While seeking higher volume returns on their efforts, marketing campaigns become a numbers game where more is better. Like ice cream - more leads are only better temporarily.  Too much ice cream makes you fat and slows you down.  Trust me. I love ice cream.  Too many leads can have the same impact - especially too many of the wrong leads.

My first job after college was in sales - disguised as admissions - for a business skills/secretarial school.  My role was to go into high schools and deliver presentations on interviewing skills, writing resumes and choosing a career.  For this service, high schools allowed us to spend 5 minutes pitching the school, and have each student fill out a card with contact information.  Then we were supposed to throw the whole batch of cards at our telemarketing team to call that evening.

 Lead Qualification is More Important than Lead Generation
This whole process didn't make sense to me.  So I experimented.  I began asking students when filling out the cards to put a star on top of the card if they thought that the school I represented was something they were considering as a next step after high school graduation.  Each day I would bring in my stack of 150+ cards and put those that had a star on them at the top of the pile.  I would give them to one specific telemarketer who I trained in my system.  Her goal was to reach each of the stars and schedule them for an interview with me.  It didn't matter to me if she called any of the others - though she often had plenty of time to shake one or two additional appointments from my cards.

Within a year, I had tripled enrollments from my territory.  The telemarketers prioritized my leads.  I didn't waste their time calling leads that would never convert.  They had more success. They made more money.  Because I was considerate of their time - they always scheduled the most qualified interviews with me, and didn't waste my time.  I got better bonuses.

Over the next year I got more sophisticated and would leave 5 minutes at the end of class to allow students who were truly interested to gather as a smaller group and ask questions. I took notes and passed these on to the telemarketer.  Things like "money is a concern" or "no one in the family has ever gone beyond high school" or "parents really want this student to go to a 4 year school."  Then I began to develop strategies for common concerns.  We had a degree program that allowed you to transfer credits to a 4 year school and sometimes that was very helpful to parents who were having trouble convincing a student they should attend college at all.  Scholarships and financial aid were available through the school, but I would also contact the high school to find out what kind of options they had to support students in pursuit of higher education.  At the time, many schools had scholarship dollars available specifically targeted to students pursuing secretarial skills.  I helped students connect to these opportunities.  I had lots of extra time to do this because I wasn't spending time with students with no real interest in the school.

I also started spending more time where the right students spent their time.  When I visited high school, I visited classrooms with lots of students who would never be pursuing this type of education.  But there were many clubs and organizations that catered to this type of student.  So I became a judge at Distributive Education conferences or a speaker for Future Secretaries organizations.  I also spoke to groups of women who after raising families were ready to rejoin the workforce and needed to develop skills to make a successful transition.  This was a better use of my time than to spend hours speaking to classrooms full of ivy-bound students who took a couple of business courses to help with future term papers.

Gamification in 1985
Later I developed a game for students.  It was a board game and would take them from their first interview with me right through graduation - with lots of stops along the way - from meeting with financial aid, to high school graduation, to the day they sent in their enrollment fee, to their first job interview through the school's placement office, equipped with all the skills the school would help them develop over 1 or 2 years, to their first paycheck.    It worked.  What I gave them was a project plan with all the steps defined for their success.  I continued to place more students in the school than any other recruiter.  But more importantly, these were the right students.  They were the students who chose this path on their own. My job was only to help coach them through the steps to achieve their own dreams.  It wasn't selling. It was enabling them to get what they wanted.  They became the ideal graduates.  Loyal, happy customers provide many referrals.

Sales Enablement Means "Don't Waste the Valuable Time of Your Sales Force"
I was fortunate to experience marketing and sales in a single job early in my career.  It taught me that as marketers, our role is to enable our sales force to enable our future customers to realize their goals and become happy and loyal.  To be successful, you need to do 3 things:

1.  Identify the places you find the right prospects and spend your time there.
2.  Provide potential prospects with a clear call-to-action that further qualifies them by being specific and screens out the wrong prospects.
3. Provide the paths to enable your sales people to enable your prospects to become happy customers.

If you use this approach you will use your time more wisely, enable your sales force to convert leads to customers, and have a greater impact on your company's bottom line.

I'll try to write a future post on how this applies to social media.  I've seen social media practitioners get all excited about how many people took a call-to-action on a tweet that included a celebrity name. The celebrity had no connection with their target audience.  So, are people interested in the celebrity really leads? Wouldn't it have been better to have a fraction of those people who have a genuine interest in the product as responses?

How do you enable your sales force to convert more leads to happy customers?  Would love you to share your experience here so we can all learn from it.

Now off to Portland for me.  I am attending the Maine Internet Marketing Meetup.

Monday, November 19, 2012

6 Steps to Writing Great Titles to Help Readers Find Your Content

Writing a great title is arguably the most important part of content optimization.  You must make it obvious to your target audience that they will benefit from your content, or you will not ever get them to your call-to-action.

Whether you are write blog posts, articles, tweets, email, or post videos, photos, or presentations there are 6 criteria that, when used correctly, result in 4X improvement in views to your content.  With 4X the views you end up with more people to convert and - if you write titles correctly - more of the right people engaged with your content. I observe and test the characteristics of high and low performing blog posts.   In doing this, I hypothesized and tested some criteria that, when followed, showed an average of 4X higher page views than when the criteria were not present in a title.

The 6 steps are: 

  1. Customer problem focus
  2. Customer relevance
  3. Customer keyword
  4. Time-to-value proposition
  5. Specificity
  6. Use of a number when appropriate 

Step 1: Customer Problem Focus

If you were searching for tips on dental hygiene, which post would you be more likely to click on? 

  1. Big Smile Company has the Best Toothpaste for your Dental Health
  2. 5 Tips for Better Dental Checkups

If Big Smile Company wants you to read what they write, they would be much wiser to create a post with a title like #2.  At the bottom of that post or even somewhere within it they can include something like "Big Smile Company's toothpaste was named by the Big Dental Association to be the most effective at preventing tooth decay. Try some!"   They could even include a link to a coupon and to their website.  They will be more likely to have readers take them up on their offer when they can get people to open the content in the first place, by providing something of immediate value and including an offer to deeper engagement.

What does this mean for you?  There's more available content than ever before. You are competing for attention.  Help your customer identify with your content by relating it to what they are searching for.  If they want content about your company they will go right to your website and look up what they need.   When they search Google or thumb through Twitter feeds on a smart phone, they are more likely to read content relevant to a problem they are having than they are to read what you want to tell them.  Start with the customer problem, help them begin to solve it, and then they might stick around to find out how you can help solve their problem further with your products or services.
Step 2: Customer Relevance

Expanding on the Big Smile Company example above, let’s suppose the toothpaste is for people who have sensitive teeth.  We need to get that into the title, too.  Because if you have sensitive teeth and can choose between the following titles, which would you choose?

  1. 5 Tips for Better Dental Checkups
  2. 5 Tips for Better Dental Checkups for People with Sensitive Teeth

That's relevance.  What that will do is help to assure the people who read your post are more likely to benefit from the offer. That approach will improve your conversion rate, too.  Plus, it assures that the right customer, your target audience, will prioritize your post over the other search results on dental hygiene.

Personas are another good way to provide relevance.  If you consider the different audiences you are trying to reach and segment your content to reach each of them, you will help them connect to your content.  Here are a few examples of personas the Big Smile Company may want to address and how to reach them:

  • 3 Critical Tips Dental Hygienists Can Use to Improve Patient Dental Health
  • A Dentist's Guide to Treating Sensitive Teeth
  • Parents: 4 Ways to Help Your Children Develop Good Oral Hygiene

Each of these titles provides relevance both by addressing the persona and providing relevant information each persona might find within the post.  These titles signal the right audience and provide relevance to the specific customer it tries to address.

Step 3: Customer Keyword

If your blog post about dental hygiene has great content such as tips for when to floss and includes an embedded video to demonstrate the right angle to hold the toothbrush, you will be tempted to let everyone knows that Big Smile Company came up with this really great content.  Let your content do the talking for you and leave the company out of the title.  Choose keywords based on customer relevancy vs. company relevancy.

Which would you be more likely to view?

  1. Big Smile Company's Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth Brings You 5 Steps to Better Dental Checkups
  2. 5 Steps to Better Dental Checkups for People with Sensitive Teeth
If the title includes so much about the company and the specific toothpaste customers might think it is an advertisement.  I love my DVR.  I don't usually choose to watch ads except for Super Bowl Sunday when I might see something fun.  If I look at a web page and things flash at me or include a company name, my eyes have learned to avoid those items while I try to look for valuable information.  Marketers might like ads.  Not everyone shares that curiosity, particularly when they are at work and are busy. And not when there are so many content options available to them as digital communications channels now enable.

Maybe you hope that Big Smile Company is a frequently used keyword in search.  More likely, though, your potential customer is searching for something relevant to their problem.  If they wanted Big Smile Company, they would likely want to search and find your website and products rather than read your blog post about brushing and flossing. Your blog post is to attract those people whose problems you can solve but who aren’t necessarily looking for your company to solve them.  Your call-to-action can help them find your company and products as a solution to their problem.

Is the second title perfect?  It may need customer keyword tuning.  You can go to Google Adwords and look for relevant terms that people are searching for. Maybe there is a comparable term for Dental Checkups with less competition but not much less use.  Maybe that’s Dental Visits or Dental Hygiene. Using a tool like Google Adwords helps you find the best customer keywords.

If you use the words your customers are searching for rather than your brand name, your content will find its way into the right, most relevant search results. Strike a balance between search volume and competition.  Only use search terms that are a natural fit for what you are writing about.

Step 4: Time Value Proposition

This may be the most important criteria.  For videos or other content requiring more of a time investment it is by far the most important criteria. 

What is time value proposition?  Most readers, including you, calculate this without even knowing it.  There are triggers that tell us if content could be time consuming but not give us the answers we seek.  But sometimes we are willing to view content that appears a little less relevant if there are clues that it won’t be a big time suck. Other times, we will invest more time to content we perceive as having higher value and greater relevance to our needs.  You do this every day when you go to your email inbox.  Each of us has different ideas of what will have value based on our needs or the job we do.

Imagine being new at your job in content creation at The Big Smile Company.  Your job is to know what all the departments are doing and find great stories to tell for the company.  On your first day, you receive 500 emails.  You’ll never get through all of them.  So which of the following emails would you prioritize to read?

  • Update from the floss team
  • Floss Monthly Email: November, 2012
  • Today's 5 Top Stories About Floss

You may not be sure what #1 is about.  #2 might take a really long time to dig through, and content that could be a month old is potentially stale.  But #3 gives you subtle cues that this content is timely, relevant, valuable, and it provides a way for you to estimate your own time investment.  The fact they tell you there are 5 stories suggests to you that they have organized their thoughts and that the content might be easy to scan.  They have prioritized it for you.  The other titles might have the exact same content inside, or even more relevant content. The other titles do not let you know, before you open the content, that they have respected your time.

Time Value Propositions are important in all your communications.  If you master the art of time value proposition you will see improvements in engagement, not only in views to content that you title, but to your emails (from subject lines) and tweets.

When your customer scrolls through search results, blog posts or videos or twitter, your content will stand out if you provide a balance between value and time investment.
Think about the scales of justice.  If you have content that will be timely to consume, you have to have a killer value proposition to balance that scale.  If you have content with less of a value proposition, you need to provide signals that it will be very quick for your reader/viewer to digest.

Some examples of showing respect for a reader's time are listed below.  When customers see titles with these triggers, they know that you have done your best to organize the content into easy to consume chunks and they will be more willing to trade their time to absorb it. These triggers give readers a subconscious way put the time and value on opposite ends of the scale and determine if this is a must read or time bleed.

  • 3 Tips to Save/Avoid/Improve
  • 5 Steps to Better/Stronger/Faster
  • Pros and Cons/Guide to/How to
  • 3 Minutes to Improve/Increase/Learn
  • Increase Your X using 1 Easy Tool
  • Learn to Save X in 5 Minutes (or 5 Easy Steps)
Step 5: Specificity

Specificity looks a lot like Relevance and a little like Time Value Proposition.  But there are enough differences that Specificity is important to call out separately.  It acts like a second check for both of those criteria and potentially fills some gaps.  Here’s what it looks like:

  1. Weight Loss: Take the Steps You Need to Succeed
  2. Weight Loss: 5 Steps to Losing Baby Weight after Pregnancy
In both examples, “weight loss” is a relevant keyword and “steps” offers some time value indicator.  But in example #2 the specificity achieved by adding “baby weight” and “after pregnancy” lets the real target audience know this content is relevant to them.  Specifying the number of steps “5” helps improve the time value proposition.  

You don't want your title to be too broad.  Specificity increases relevancy and makes your content the right content for the right audience.  It helps them find you.  Here's an example likely to be relevant to those of you developing content.  If you were to see the three titles below appear in a search result, which would you choose to read?  Wouldn't you be disappointed to view #1 and find that it is all about improving how fast your web pages load? Specificity is what will get you to the right content for you.  And it will help you get the right readers to the content you publish.

  1. 3 ways to improve your website
  2. 3 ways to improve content on your website
  3. 3 ways to improve call-to-action conversion on your website

I recommend that you review once for Relevance, once for Time Value Proposition, and then again for Specificity.  See how close you can get your title for your true target audience.  If 20 people turn away and just 1 reads, you will already know you have the right one. The others will respect you for not wasting their time. Just watch your conversion rate improve.

 Step 6: Use of a Number

Search engines love them. They often indicate organization of thoughts.  Digits take up less space than the words that represent them. That’s all.

 Follow my blog (here to the left) or follow me on twitter @deniseburns to keep informed of my latest tips for optimizing your content.  

Do you need me to optimize for you or teach your team to optimize?  Check out my LinkedIn Profile – I’m available.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why Do You Tweet? 6 Strategies for More Effective Tweets

Sometimes we are so eager to share information we just tweet.  Or something someone else posts is of interest to us and as content curators we share with our audience because we hope they will find it relevant.

How often do you audit your Twitter account?

  • Do you have too few followers, but lots of tweets?  This is a problem with Reach
  • Do you have plenty of followers, but not many re-tweets or mentions?  This is a problem with Influence.
  • Are you not tweeting enough to keep a following interested?  This is a problem with Frequency.
  • Do you only tweet when you want people to act?  This is a problem with Relationship.
  • Are you not getting anyone to click on your links?  This is a problem with Engagement and Conversion.
 I've identified 6 primary objectives for tweeting, and included some strategies you can apply to crafting tweets to meet each objective.

1.  Drive Traffic to Content (engage and convert):  Make sure your tweet includes a time/value proposition. What value will you be providing your reader for their investment in time.  If you are doing this and still not getting people to click, maybe the time/value balance is out of whack - too much time investment perceived for too little value.  Also consider where you place your link within the tweet. I have observed that when the link is at the end of the tweet, you are more likely to get high re-tweets but lower clicks.  Consider putting your link closer to the beginning of the tweet.  Also, make sure your selfish calls to action are limited to 1 in 4 tweets.  3 in 4 tweets can include links, but 2 of those must be generous links retweeting or sharing for others.

2. Grow Your Reach:  Move your link to the end of the tweet.  Consider using "Please Retweet" but avoid over-using it.  I would not use it more than 5% of the time.  So select the content with the highest value to your intended audience.  Spell out "Retweet"instead of " RT."  The results will be worth it.

3. Increase Your Influence:  You need to get mentioned.  Engage your audience. Ask their opinions.  Ask for feedback.  Ask for examples.  They will be more likely to mention you. This is also a good strategy for improving your reach.  When you are mentioned, their followers will see you and see the conversation taking place. They may decide to be part of that conversation and follow you.

4.  Network:  Are you looking to initiate new relationships?  Retweet people who don't follow you. And be sure to thank people who retweet or mention you.

5. Develop Relationships: If you look at the people who you follow and those that are following you, and you don't know who they are or what they are about, you need to do some more work.  Relationships are about 2-way communication and that means listening.  Spend time to scroll through tweets and develop an understanding of your following and those you follow. Then, interact!  Retweet them. Mention them. Thank them for the same. Mention them when you pass on content you truly believe they will be interested in based on earlier discussions (not content that you want them to be interested in - rather content that made you think of them)

6. Strengthen Relationships:  In his book It's Not Just Who You Know,  Tommy Spaulding  talks about "reactive syndrome" in today's business world where networking doesn't move beyond immediate need.  But he reflects on the strongest benchmarks of his success came from helping others.  I strongly recommend this book for all social media practitioners.  It captures not only the importance of building meaningful relationships, but strategies to enhance your relationship-building abilities.  That's what Social Media is all about.   Social Media increases your opportunity and ability to provide good service to customers, because you want to help them. That's what relationships are all about -  having people's best interest at heart, not when you need them - but when you have an opportunity to serve them.

Can you think of other strategies for tweets that may be missing from this post?  Please share them here in comments so we can all benefit from your expertise.  Follow/Subscribe to my posts for more Twitter and other social best practices to come.

Want to hire me to analyze and make strategic recommendations for your social media programs?  Check out Denise Burns on LinkedIn.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Social Media: You Might Be Listening. Are You Hearing?

I went to dinner with a bunch of my Mom's friends Saturday night .  They were here in Kennebunk for a "Quilters Weekend" and I really enjoy my visit with them each year.  We went to a couple of craft fairs and then had dinner at Lucas on 9.

These ladies are amazing.  Each of them has a project they are working on, often to help others. One of them makes fantastic hats for women who lose hair to cancer, another makes wonderful blankets to send home with newborns to needy families.  They make quilts to donate to charity raffles.  Each of them has different gifts but they have a common giant heart.

They are also retired.  Their ears aren't what they once were.  Here's a snip of conversation I caught from the table Saturday night.

Person A: The waitress is very busy.
Person B: Yes she's very pretty
Person C: It is! Very pretty in here with all the lights.

This made me think of the listening we do with Social Media.  There are multiple tools that help us listen- Radian6, Crimson Hexagon, eCairn and more.

But it really takes a human to validate accuracy and ensure that we hear the messages.

I've often heard "can't all this be automated?"  The answer is yes - and no.  We can automate the process of identifying conversations.  We can automate the categorizing of those conversations. 

But hearing and participating in or responding to conversations requires human intervention, judgement, and action.

The most interesting of the tools to me is one that I have not yet used but recently saw a demonstration set up by Kathleen Fetters, a Chief Listening Officer I have partnered with on several projects.

Crimson Hexagon allows  human intervention to teach the algorithmic intelligence how to understand and interpret your customers and your business. But the human will always be needed for interpretation at some level.

Think about categorizing certain words.  The word "sick" means "in poor health" to the quilting ladies.  Friday night I had dinner with my kids. To them, "sick" means "awesome!" 

Relationships fuel business.  Two-way communication fuels relationships.  Do you really want to completely automate something so critical to your business?  Use automation to improve your listening - absolutely.  But remember that communication is about relationships.  And relationships are between people.