Category Archives: Marketing

Five Elements of Actionable Communications

All communications, from individual letters to large-scale campaigns, need to consider five key elements to ensure success

Effective Communication

“Your job is not to just SEND the communication, it is to ensure the message is acted upon”. Those were the words I heard from a mentor early in my career, and they have stuck with me ever since. When my manager told me this, he was effectively saying that my attempt at messaging was only about halfway there. My message was good, but it did not achieve the desired result – enacting change on the recipient’s part. Without the corresponding desired action part – the message is a failure. The marketing equivalent of a tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it.

The desired result of all communication is to enact some form of change. Get someone to buy the soap, remember the appointment, visit the Web site, etc. Often it is just to get the recipient interested enough to ask for more information. This holds true whether the communication is a one-to-one personal communication, or a targeted e-mail blast to thousands of recipients. In all cases, you are expecting the recipient to be changed in some way as a result of the communication.

I commonly say – “There is no “FYI” in marketing/communication”. You are not looking for people to do the “virtual head nod” and just acknowledge your communication. That won’t pay the bills. You need to have them in a position to act on it.  Their action ultimately should trickle down into dollars.

When crafting the communication ask yourself the following Five questions.

  1. Is the communication relevant to the recipient? (Targeting)
  2. Do I have a clear “call to action”? (Purpose)
  3. Is my communication reaching the recipient in a situation that allows them to take action? (Setting)
  4. Is my message being presented to the recipient at the proper time for them to take action? (Timing)
  5. Am I prepared to process the recipients subsequent action (Infrastructure)

Before you rush to get the message out the door, double check it.  Ask yourself these questions to increase your chances of success.

Effective Selling:  Guide Don’t Push

Resist the temptation to “impress the customer” with what you can do.  Don’t force solutions, the key to effective selling is understanding real customer challenges.

Part of effective selling is being enthusiastic. To grow your sales, you need to be genuinely excited to share what you have to offer. Your enthusiasm needs to be kept in check, however. Don’t let your excitement (look what we can do) dominate your customer meetings.   Get back to the basics.  Asking questions, being a good listener, and discovering true customer needs.

Effective Selling - Solving Problems
Note: The absence of “Jump to Conclusions” in the graphic

I just heard a story in which a rep was in a customer meeting, along with her manager and a corporate representative. The rep told the story of how the executives just could not wait to “impress” the customer with all of the things they could do for him. Basically “look what we can do!”  Ignoring the customer’s true needs, these executives laid out a plan of how they would deploy various tactics to make things better for him. The only problem: The customer did not perceive these as challenges! The sales team skipped the key element of listening (i.e. empathizing) and jumped right to a conclusion. These sales executives were effectively designing a solution for a problem that did not exist. This can be a terrible mistake.  Sometimes these things in your customer’s world are in fact developed and implemented by the customer themselves.  They may in fact be proud of their own solution.  Framing that same situation as a “problem” is along the lines of calling their kids ugly!  The customer ultimately described this situation as “The Circus Coming to Town”.

It is absolutely true that your role in sales sometimes requires you to “peel the onion”.  You may need to reveal challenges that are not readily apparent. There will be times when the customer needs some help uncovering their challenges (and perhaps admitting them!). But keep a lookout for signals to identify where you are treading on thin ice.  You will get cues as to whether you are entering a “protected” realm.  In these cases, trying to “solve” this “problem” will only lead to resistance, and push the customer further away.

Keep asking questions, try to reveal the pain points but don’t get hung up with too much “look what we can do“.  You are working to gain your customer’s trust as a solutions provider, not becoming their “knight in shining armor”.

Guide the customer, do not “push” them.  It is a subtle but important distinction that will impact your results (and income!).


New Marketing Campaign? Strive to “Fail Quickly”

Marketing Campaign - Fail QuicklyTo Succeed Faster, Consider Embracing Failure

No one builds a marketing campaign to fail, right? While you certainly don’t want to fail intentionally, it is the failure itself that often paves the way to future success. Think of small failures as progress, not as setbacks. Thomas Edison “failed” 10,000 times before he hit on the right combination of elements for the first light bulb. When asked about his “failures” he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. Edison knew that each failed attempt brought him one step closer to success.

Marketers often set out to try to construct a “perfect” marketing campaign— (with all of the associated time and money spent developing), only to discover that it doesn’t remotely match expectations when it actually goes live. The thrill of the launch is often quickly met with extreme disappointment. Those same marketers are faced with not only the poor performance of the campaign itself, but also the extra time and money spent on it. Worst of all, the window of opportunity may have closed, with customers often moving on to something else while marketers keep working away in their ivory tower.

There’s a better way, but it involves a different mindset. You need to embrace failure—failing quickly and more often. Why? Because the quick failures allow you to realign strategies and get you much closer to success. A dynamic campaign with a responsive feedback mechanism allows you to make necessary adjustments on an ongoing basis. The feedback you get on these less-than-perfect early efforts makes it possible to make real progress quickly, making valuable changes that your customers will respond to.

So, how do build a marketing campaign to fail (succeed faster)?

  1. Build your campaign in “chunks”.  Deploy in phases which will make adjustments easier (and faster).
  2. Start with a concept test and get quick feedback.  There’s no reason to build a whole campaign around a concept that doesn’t engage your customers.
  3. Act on your feedback as quickly as possible. Your feedback system must gather your metrics and present them to the development team for analysis and next actions.
  4. Tweak the effort Now that you know what your customers like and what they don’t, time to make some quick adjustments.
  5. “Rinse and repeat”. Re-deploy it, get feedback, and make more changes.

The faster your campaign fails, the faster you can get to work on improving it, and turning it into something that your customers will respond to.

When you are developing your new marketing campaign, Don’t try to be perfect—it takes too long and you’ll end up missing your window!

Digital Project Planning: Beware The “Magic Wand” Syndrome

The “Technology Challenged” Often Think The Technology Itself Can Make Up For Poor Project PlanningDigital Magic Wand - you still need proper project planning

There is a fairly prevalent situation that occurs in which technology savvy team members are asked to transform a half-baked idea/concept into some digital solution.  Unfortunately the non-technology folks are under the false impression that the technology itself (like a magic wand) will correct poor planning, faulty assumptions/bad logic etc.  This can cause strife and lead to friction among team members.

How do you combat this problem?   There are a few simple things you can do that help minimize (not prevent) this from occurring:

  • Require that a “project sponsor” be assigned to the business side of the project.

It is key that the project has one main sponsor who is the lead and has overall responsibility for project success.  If one is not evident, ask that one be appointed before moving forward.  The sponsor is vital because you will need a “go to” person for various circumstances and without one lead you are subjected to group decision-making which is ill-advised.

  • Start the project planning process with a “concepts discussion” meeting with project sponsor.

Prior to the formal requirements gathering, it is beneficial to get an “elevator pitch” from the sponsor that basically answers the question “what are we trying to do here?”. It is surprising how often the sponsor cannot clearly put into words the concepts of what they are looking to accomplish.  If the sponsor can’t do this – the project is doomed from the start.  Send them back to think it through and schedule another meeting when their thoughts have matured.

  • Ask the project sponsor many questions up front (in writing if possible).

This may sound quite obvious, but it is surprising how often this does not happen.  It is a crucial error to “get started” on a project without complete understanding of the requirements/framework.  Make sure the sponsor understands that pre-planning is necessary and the project will not start until sufficient background information is obtained.What you are seeking is a commitment on the part of the project sponsor to provide adequate background prior to starting the project.  Just like you wouldn’t ask a builder to start work on your dream house without plans – same applies here.

Here are a few starter questions:

Who is going to be using this digital tool?  How will they access/find it? What do you expect them to accomplish by using it?  (If dynamic, who is going to be responsible for maintaining the data that feeds it?

  • Don’t fall into the trap of estimating timelines too early.

Eager project sponsors will try to solicit a time commitment for the project, well before the requirements gathering is in full swing.  If asked for a completion date before the requirements are complete, there is a very simple answer to the inevitable question “When will it be done?” The proper response “I cannot tell you when until we know “what” it is and “how” we will build it.

While you cannot immunize your team from getting involved in misdirected projects, proper due-diligence on the font end can help minimize the number of times you have to re-group and restart the project.

Proper project planning prevents poor performance!


Customer Experience Issues? You Are Not Alone!

Firms Slow in Delivering Better Customer Experiences

Bad Customer Experience

The concept of “good customer experience” has been around for a long time.  Those of us involved in sales and marketing know the common phrases:  “Customers first”  . . . “The customer is always right . . . .”  “100% satisfaction guaranteed!”  Just because we say these words does not mean we actually live up to them.  Case in point – a fast food chain you may have heard of . . .

In a recent Wall Street Journal article we discover that bad customer experience can disrupt even simplest of businesses – fast food/McDonald’s.

In reading this article you will find yourself saying “is that really true – REALLY??”  How can companies run like this?

Here are a couple of examples:

  • “The new leadership team has decided to focus on customer satisfaction as a real driver for us to build the brand and build sales . . .” – It makes one ponder:  Was the old management team living in a cave?
  • “We have got to be the leader in guest satisfaction . . .”  Profound thinking for sure!
  • Top customer complaint:  “rude or unprofessional employees”
  • In drive-through service, McDonald’s averaged 188.83 seconds, Wendy’s clocked in at 129.75 seconds.  In other words, you wait almost 50% longer at McDonald’s.

OK – I am done picking on McDonald’s.  Their struggles do allow us to discuss the importance of customer experience.  There is a gap between what firms say they want to do – and in reality what it actually happening.  I spoke to a Gartner Research analyst today – and she told me that 70% of key executives they have surveyed named “improved customer experience” ad a top 5 priority at their firms.  So why does this disparity exist?  Firms know it is important, yet great customer experiences are rare indeed.

I have an explanation for the disparity.  There is an old saying “talk is cheap, whiskey costs money”.  It is easy to talk customer experience – you may even have an executive use the acronym CXM.  Does not necessarily mean they are committed though.  It just sounds good and play well in meetings, press releases, etc.  TRUE CXM requires commitment.  Commitment to technology.  Commitment to human resources to manage the technology.  Commitment to change archaic processes at your company.  Committed to move forward with CXM even in the face of pushback by “the old guard”.

Improving Customer Experience Requires Company-Wide Commitment

Want to get better CXM at your firm.  Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself:  Are we COMMITTED?  If the answer is not a definitive YES – then don’t waste your time.  It will not happen without a top to bottom, company wide full blown commitment.

Listening Skills in Selling

When you read articles or hear discussions on communication skills, the focus is on the content (the words).  Be concise, maintain interest, avoid cliché’s, etc.  In my view the most important element to good communication is often left out:  good listening skills.Listening Skills

I got a call today from a gentlemen who represented a consulting firm.  He of course is trying to sell his firm’s services.  Generally I am not very fond of cold calls, but I had a few minutes and I gave him a shot.  WHAT A MISTAKE!  This guy’s listening skills were non-existent.  He asked me a question about our future plans, and I started discussing (very briefly) our plans for the remainder of the year and to start 2014.  He interrupted me mid-sentence and started talking about his firm.  I did not get to finish my thought, and It was rude that he did not allow me to finish my answer.

I am sure most intelligent business people out there would state that they believe proper listening skills are important.  But do you actually practice good listening skills?  Here are a few things you can do to make sure you are doing a good job of listening:

  • Keep in mind – you are trying to gain information about the prospect.  You gain information by asking questions and getting answers, not by making statements.  Avoid chest-thumping!
  • Ask open-ended questions.  This will engage the prospect, and hopefully they will reveal some information that you can use to take the conversation deeper.
  •  Employ follow-up questions based on the answers you obtain.  It is often when you get the most valuable information, and it signals to the other party that you are actively engaged in the conversation.  They will know their answers are important and registering with you.

 Good listening skills start with asking good questions!

The Importance of Data Curation

A curator at a museum is responsible for the acquisition, care, and in some cases the removal of items from the museum’s collection.  Data curation is a similar concept, but instead of museum pieces the data curator is responsible for the data used for marketing efforts.  With good data curation, amazing things can be accomplished.  Sometimes so good it is a little scary.  With bad data curation, let’s just say that can be scary also.

A classic example of good data curation (combined with excellent execution) is the Target case in which the data archived and utilized was incredibly good.  So good, in fact, that the Target data people had figured out that a teenage girl was pregnant.  Even before her father knew.  Based on the types of products purchased by the girl, Target was able to determine that the girl was pregnant.  From the Forbes article:

. . . .So Target started sending coupons for baby items to customers according to their pregnancy scores. Duhigg shares an anecdote — so good that it sounds made up — that conveys how eerily accurate the targeting is. An angry man went into a Target outside of Minneapolis, demanding to talk to a manager:

The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.

On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”

It happens the other way also.  Bad data curation can alienate a customer in a heartbeat.  In case you have not figured it out yet, my name is Michael.  You can imagine my surprise when I saw this e-mail the other dat with the salutation “Dear Larry”.   Dear Larry!!

Bad Data Curation

!!  Sorry Teradata – but you lost me.  The irony here is this e-mail has the sub head “How to understand and use data to drive customer engagement”.  WOW!  The first question that came to my mind was “whether this just one off in some list.  I got Larry’s e-mail, Larry got Amy’s, Amy got Justin’s, etc.  Maybe everyone in their list had a bad “to” field.

Bad Data Curation Can Undermine Your Best Direct Marketing Efforts.

You can’t make mistakes like this folks!  There is no recovering from it.  Do yourself a GIANT favor and hire good data people, (or a skilled, reliable agency).  Either way, TEST and RETEST your e-mail blasts and other customized communications BEFORE you send them out.  Especially if you are soliciting business in the area of data management.

You can’t do good things with bad data!

Do You Know Your Readability Score?

The readability score of the content you write is one key to the effectiveness of your marketing materials.    A common measure of the readability of copy is the Flesch Readability Score.  You can check the score of your writing by using this link to a number of readability measures.Readability Score

The Flesch score is based on the average number of words per sentence.  In general, shorter sentences make content easier to read.  Long sentences can have the effect of “losing” readers as they struggle with digesting the content of each sentence.  While long sentences are effective for novels (i.e. Ernest Hemingway) they dont really work in sales and marketing copy.

Long sentences can interrupt the flow of your sales/marketing copy.

The best way to use the readability score metric is to check it AFTER you follow your regular copy writing process.  We covered the process in The Art of Persuasion post.  A recap is below:

The classic persuasive request is divided into four main steps:

  1. Get the target’s Attention
  2. Develop their Interest
  3. Create a Desire
  4. Include a Call to Action

So let’s say you have done your background work, and you have created your personas, employed the “Art of Persuasion” and you believe you have pretty good copy to publish.  Now you run it through the readability checker, and you get a relatively low score (less than 70).  You can leave it as is, or you can try to re-write the copy.  Think about breaking it into smaller sentences.  After you make your changes, try reading your copy out loud.  If you struggle reading it our loud (breathing mid sentence) it may indicate the need for a smaller sentence.

Remember, the ultimate goal is to  provide the reader (target) with a compelling reason to consume your content.  A great Flesch score wont help you if in general your content does not “ring the bell” for the reader.

Say It Visually – Use Infographics

Did you get all the way through your to do list today?  Spend as much time as you wanted with your family?  Got a good workout in?  Caught up on your reading?  OF COURSE NOT!  But don’t feel bad – none of the rest of us did either.  We all have too much to do and not enough time to do it.  Even the technology innovations that are supposed to make our lives simpler only seem to add to the problem.  The answer to all of this – unfortunately there is none.  We have to search for small victories.  Little things that help us and our colleagues become more efficient.  Save us a few minutes here and there.  Infographics are one of the tools you can use to help people save a little time.


Infographics Offer A Refreshing Way to Present A Lot of Information In A Short Period Of Time

Infographics are becoming more and more prominent and offer us an exciting way to present a lot of information in a concise, interesting manner.  Instead of the status quo of presenting page after page of routine, look-alike tables and graphs, infographics are the opposite.  Colorful, informative, and refreshing, infograhics allow the reader to absorb a large amount of information in a very short period of time.

To get a feel for variety of infographics that are out there – click here.

If you are in sales, infographics are a great way to stand out (at least for now) versus the competition.  Let’s assume you are putting a proposal together for a customer.  Your typical proposal includes charts, graphs, and other valuable bits of information.  If you take all of this and hand it over to an infographics desgner, the result will separate you from the competition.  Remember, with marketing you can either blend in or stand out.  If you always do your best to stand out, your results will be OUTSTANDING.

I suggest you do turn this over to a professional designer.  While there are packages out there to build your own, my experience is that the result is not as good as if you hand it over to a professional.  You can see the difference readily.  It will cost a little to get it done professionally, but the results are better and doing so will allow you to focus on driving the numbers, not in presenting them!