Tuesday, August 26, 2008

10 Ways to Improve Your Conversion Rate

By Jay Bower, President of Crossbow Group

Ok, you got your prospect to raise his hand. Now comes the hard part: turning him into a customer. Here are 10 ways to address the challenge in the age of accountability.
  1. Acknowledge leads instantaneously and personally. In the age of the nanosecond and Instant Messaging, if you wait even days to follow up a lead, forget about it. Swiftness counts when you’re in a competitive situation. And make sure your “Thanks for your interest” has a real person’s name on it – people buy from other people more readily than they buy from corporations.

  2. Let your lead generation programs do more qualifying of prospects. First, the more you target your audience, the more qualified your leads will be, and the higher your conversion rates. The kind of offer you make is a qualifier in itself. If you make it too good, you’ll attract prospects that will never convert. White Papers (and other “editorial” incentives) usually generate the right kind of response. You can ask certain questions of new prospects to qualify them without turning off the lead faucet.

  3. Develop segment- and offer-specific landing pages. If you segment your lead generation advertising, carrying that segmentation through to the landing page will improve conversion results dramatically. Using the landing page to remind CFOs of the particular advantage of your service to them, to acknowledge the offer again in specific terms, and to point the way to the most relevant pages on your web site harnesses the personalization power of technology.

  4. Deliver more than prospects expect to receive. The way you handle leads – from generating them, through nurturing, to conversion – tells prospects how they can expect to be treated as customers. Go overboard, especially for your best prospects. Courier material instead of putting it into the mail. Add an extra (but relevant) White Paper they didn’t request. Give them a particular insight about their industry or about a competitor.

  5. Engage in a lot of testing. Most testing in lead programs involves the first step – getting people to respond. But testing after they respond can have as big an impact on the success of your program. You will want to look at the communication channels – mail, email, and phone – and when to use each. Offers for taking the next step should be evaluated. You can even look at testing how many “next steps” there should be.

  6. Increase your product’s or service’s relevance as the conversion process unfolds. Even if you segment your lead generation efforts, at the beginning of the process you often have to treat prospects en masse. It is only when you begin to learn about the prospect’s unique needs that you can begin tailoring lead nurturing and moving toward a one-to-one relationship. As you discover new information about prospects, communicate additional ways your product or service is relevant.

  7. Align systems and inform personnel. Make sure your phone reps and sales people know how leads come in, where they’re housed, how they’re scored and how to use CRM and/or SFM systems like Salesforce.com and Siebel. Let your entire organization know your historical conversation rates and current expectations. Get senior sales and marketing management to buy into new target.

  8. Develop a lead scoring system and marketing communications streams consistent with opportunity potential and sales coverage. Not all leads are equal in value. If you model or profile how certain prospect segments converted to customers in the past, you can apply this model to current leads. “A” prospects may get six conversion efforts, including two high impact direct mail packages and two phone calls; “C” prospects might get only one or two efforts executed at minimal cost and maybe even through “Autorespond” technology. By focusing on best prospects, conversion rates will rise.

  9. Invest as much in conversion creative as you do for lead generation. You’ve spent a lot of money to get the horse to water. Make sure your creative persuades them to drink. Generating leads requires less persuasion than converting them because you can employ powerful offers to get prospects to raise their hands.

  10. Provide short questionnaires to determine leads’ BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timing) score. As prospects become more trusting and more invested in the sales process, they are more willing to answer questions and provide information. Based on the answers, build follow-on communications consistent with their level of interest.

One last thing to consider: using an outside resource with expertise in your market or with your specific need. Your costs may increase short term, but I’d bet your cost per sale will decrease significantly if you’ve chosen well.

Jay has broad strategic and implementation experience in relationship/continuity marketing and e-commerce. He's led strategic and tactical engagements with over 250 companies ranging from Fortune 500 multinationals to start-ups. He has been quoted in USA Today, Fortune, and BusinessWeek. Jay is a published author, having co-written The Official Guide to One-Write Plus (Amazon sales rank 2,362,943!) He has a B.A. in Philosophy from Colgate University, an M.B.A. from The Stern School of Business, NYU, and completed the e-B2B Program at Harvard Business School. Jay can be contacted at jbower@crossbowgroup.com or 203-222-1645.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tap Into Inbound Inquiries To Insure Relevance Of Outbound Campaigns

We all know that things have changed -- buyers, not companies, are in charge and marketers are on the hook to play to customers' terms. And the terms that customers dictate require marketers to be prepared for being helpful with inbound inquiries to satisfy and persuade their prospects. That requires not only things like online search engine marketing to be found when customers are looking. It also requires multichannel customer analytics and intelligent systems to present the next best (i.e. relevant) offers on the spot while customers are inquiring by phone or still browsing the web site.

For example, within two weeks of moving to California, my family and I made a plethora of purchases to make ourselves at home. Yet, in our case, the telemarketers that were haunting our new phone number as soon as it got connected missed out on the opportunity of selling to us. From the moment when our Internet connection became live, we went researching online to make our buying decisions. At that point, the dialog was in our hands and any ads that we saw were relevant to our search and we were likely to click on them. As long as we believed that it was our own idea to do so, we were highly motivated, for example, to examine car financing options.

Although buyers are not listening when you talk, they have become more information hungry than ever in their research for buying decisions. This constitutes a great opportunity for those marketers who know how to be at the ready with the right information at the right time.

Another interesting shift is that while markets are increasingly concerned with their multi-channel strategies (as they should be), they also need to be aware that buyers do not think in terms of channel, rather the convenient way of accomplishing our goal. After all the product research my family did online during our shopping spree, we left most websites without completing a purchase.

For example, after narrowing down our choice of car make and model, the exact car and financing option that we picked was still sold to us the old-fashioned way—namely offline, and by a friendly sales person at the dealership. Of course, the opposite happened too. When we found products of interest in stores, we used comparison-shopping engines to find better prices online.

Marketers should take advantage of all inbound interactions to deliver the best offer, rather than just outbound messaging. If an offer doesn't work, they should have that next best (i.e. relevant) offer ready to present, regardless of which channel the interaction came through. And, most of all, because the buyer is in charge, marketers not only should, but need to focus on being helpful, not just on selling.

Akin Arikan is director of internet marketing at Unica Corp. and author of the recently published book, "Multichannel Marketing: Metrics and Methods for On and Offline Success."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

M2O: Matching Market & Media To The Right Offer Accelerates The Pipeline

By Dan McDade, President, PointClear

Ah, Saturday. An early game of tennis, some family time, maybe a power nap with the fragrant promise of the choice T-bone you’ve been waiting to grill tempting you onward through the day. Sun starts to sink, you saunter out to pre-heat the gas grill to searing readiness. Turning the knob, you get…nothing. The bolt especially designed to secure the fuel line has vanished.

You vaguely recall tossing the extra one provided by the manufacturer into an overflowing box of miscellaneous fasteners you keep in the basement. Unearthing it, you are faced with at least 158 shiny, seemingly identical bolts – but only one will work. It’s getting dark, you’re getting hungry, and the longed-for explosion of chargrilled beef taste is slipping further away, buried in 157 indistinguishable bits of metal that aren’t quite right.

Now you know how your sales team feels.

The very best of them are unwaveringly focused on the end result. They visualize that steak, they hunger to sink their teeth into as big a bite as they possibly can, they know just how high the heat should be, just when to grab the meat off the grate and slap it down on the plate, sizzling and perfect. If you give them one bolt, or even three or four, they’ll test them and turn them, find the one that works, hook up that gas and turn up the flames.

If you give them 158, they’ll throw out the box and start looking around for another way to cook.

This is exactly what happens with typical lead generation. Even in an eroded U.S. economy that makes finding juicy deals harder and harder, about 94 percent of generated leads are not pursued by internal sales organizations. Pared-down sales organizations, reduced to their best performers and eager to close, are frustrated by the very thing that marketers are rewarded for: a mountain of leads. Rather than sort through a motley group of prospects – some not qualified, others not sales ready – they abandon all but the most obvious and substitute their own, usually less successful, prospecting.

Lead Generation Becomes Lead Honing
With most companies being forced to do more with fewer resources, figuring out which leads will cut to the chase fastest becomes someone else’s problem. Marketing has done its job in initiating interest, sales converts the most interested to revenue, but who takes the existing market curiosity, sharpens it by exposing underlying pressure points, whets interest over repeated contact and files away the unqualified prospects to point sales to the most potent opportunities? A trusted prospecting partner who understands the market, the way to approach it and the messages that resonate most with prospective customers across the spectrum of purchase-readiness.

We use a discipline called M2O – Market, Media and Offer –to pinpoint a client’s best prospects, build familiarity with their organization and need and use that intelligence to craft messaging that directly targets their state of readiness. Those simple, sound practices often get lost between a large-scale marketing campaign and the immediate pressure to close in a sales pitch. But they are key to reaping the most revenue from both efforts.

Market? What Market?
Many marketers, reluctant to miss any avenue of opportunity, define their target as broadly as possible and in so doing miss the chance to convincingly address the most potent prospects. A typical example is a company that perceives its target market to be the Fortune 500, when the most likely purchasers are actually a much smaller audience within that group. Companies that are quicker to see the value proposition of a client’s product, whether due to immediate business pains or because they are looking to enhance their own capabilities, are readier to respond at higher levels than others, so it makes sense to identify those segments and market to them specifically. Others, though still qualified, may be more hesitant and require different touch strategies and messaging before their sales potential can mature. They are still good sources of revenue, though, and if left behind in the rush to close will most likely end up directing that revenue to a competitor. Recognizing and nurturing their potential is crucial to pipeline development, future revenue and market share.

By applying market intelligence and finely-defined segmentation strategies, we have been successful in increasing sales performance while actually reducing marketing costs.

Reaching Out – The Right Way
Marketing campaigns can establish brand image without the prospect sensing a direct touch from the marketer. Sales calls can be insistent enough to irritate. Good lead honing falls somewhere between the two – enough contact to engage but enough space to respect the demands on a busy prospect.

The trick is knowing how to balance the contacts between both timing and type of outreach. Mixed media programs that use a combination of quality outbound calls, voicemail messages, email and direct mail, optimally scheduled for greatest effect, are the most effective use of marketing dollars. Every day, a large percentage of leads are abandoned by sales simply because the prospect did not respond to a few, single channel contact attempts. Sales people generally do not have the time or patience to make the multiple touches, which can run from as few as eight to as many as thirty, to identify, qualify and nurture prospects to a point of sales-readiness. Even immediate-need opportunities can take as many as a dozen attempts by sales to become effectively engaged.

A multi-touch strategy also allows the prospect to be contacted in his or her preferred manner. Most busy decision-makers are not willing or able to arbitrarily pre-empt their business day to respond to a telephone sales contact, but can reply to an email or voicemail at their convenience and schedule a time for follow up. Some prefer the anonymity of email, others are more comfortable with the personal appeal of voicemail. A combination, properly timed and executed, opens all channels of communication and thereby opens opportunities.

What Can You Say to Convince the Prospect?
As little as possible. Effective salespeople know that good prospects sell themselves by talking about their particular business challenges, opportunities on the horizon, and emerging issues that will affect business goals. Asking the right questions and then listening carefully to direct further discussion uncovers pain points that are most likely to motivate purchase. When the prospect’s needs are understood and can be matched to the benefits of a client’s product, the sales nurturing process is leap-frogged ahead. Testing messages and offers such as guarantees, discounts and extended financing within market sub-sections can result in powerful learning and increase campaign results dramatically.

What remains imperative is that contacts, whether direct or remote, be made in a professional manner, in accordance with best practices gleaned through market experience. Most of the time, these contacts will establish the prospect’s first active impression of the company, and the person making the contact must be assured, professional, approachable and credible. This won’t happen by accident. Training, constant coaching, a proven process and a thorough knowledge of the client’s offer are crucial to developing trust, interest and purchase interest. In addition, results should be constantly reviewed to assess the best strategies for each client, each product and each target segment.

Our clients have found that a prospect pool enticed by marketing and honed by the M2O process delivers leads that need their product, fit their qualifying parameters, are favorably pre-disposed to their brand and are ready to be sold. The sales teams, armed with precise business information on the prospects’ pains and priorities, are ready to sell.

The gas catches, the grate sears, and the meat sizzles. Slice off a big piece and bite down.

Dan McDade is the president of PointClear, a business-to-business sales and marketing services firm. Their industry focused solutions provide clients with high quality sales opportunities, effective market coverage and valuable market intelligence. PointClear clients include Ingenix, SGI, Microsoft and two of the world’s largest consultancies. Dan can be reached directly at dan.mcdade@pointclear.com or via phone at 678-533-2722.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The First Word On Tracking Last Touch Attribution

By Guy Powell, Principal & Senior Consultant, DemandROMI

Have marketers been measuring effectiveness all wrong? Has measuring lead source been all wrong all this time? Should we stop asking our leads where they heard about our offer? Uh oh.

There is a new marketing concept entering marketers’ vernacular called last touch attribution which is supposed to help get a handle on improving the measurement of marketing effectiveness. The fun part of this term is that it is both right and wrong at the same time. It can help marketers make the right decisions or, if applied incorrectly, the wrong decisions. Let’s see how.

Marketers must allocate funds between media channels, choosing the right investments to select one media over another. Those that have the best return should receive more investment; those with lower returns should receive less investment.

The problem that marketers have is how to measure the true effect of each media given complex, dynamic marketing environments. Many marketers often use last touch attribution to apply the entire weight of a specific customer response to one media. However, this approach ignores all prior touches and all concurrent touches by other media. It is also often improperly measured by asking prospects where they heard about the promotion or the brand.
Let’s dig deeper
Last touch attribution refers to how to measure customer response to a specific marketing activity. Here are a few examples illustrating some of the flaws of last touch attribution:

  1. If, for example, we send out 1,000,000 direct mail pieces and 1.25% of the recipients respond, then the direct attribution from that direct mail piece, ignoring all other touches, is 12,500. But what if this was the third and last in a series of three direct mail pieces that were sent out where the redemption rates were 1.1%, 1.7%, 1.25%, respectively. Did the earlier two drops have any impact on the response rate of the 3rd drop?

  2. Was there any value in building the brand for those customers that didn’t respond? There were 959,500 prospects that received the direct mail piece but didn’t respond. Will they be more likely to respond in the future when they receive the next ‘touch’?

  3. In a similar vein, let’s assume there is a monthly newsletter going out to existing customers. Every month based on the newsletter, 1,000 customers purchase something promoted in the newsletter. How do we count the value of all prior touches that the newsletter had on that one, eventual purchase?

  4. As part of a measurement study, respondents were asked where they heard about a promotion. Was it TV, the magazine ad or an ad they saw on the Internet? Can respondents accurately remember where they saw an ad or will they mi-attribute it to one media over another?

Referring back to cases 1 and 2 above for direct mail managers, their goal is to maximize the response across the campaign. In this case the average response rate was 1.35%. Through better creative concepts (but not more costly offers) if they could raise the response rate to 1.40%, then they would be seen to have increased their marketing effectiveness. (Hopefully this would lead to higher bonuses, as well.)

But what if during the second drop where the response rate was 1.7% there was a TV branding campaign running supporting some of this higher response? Who should get the credit for the increased response? Should the incremental response be attributed solely to TV and the actual response to direct mail be reduced to something less than 1.35%? Or, should the direct mail manager be given all of the credit, because in the end, those prospects responded to his/her direct mail piece?

I contend that both answers are correct. It depends on the business question. If the business question is to increase response to direct mail, then the direct mail manager took advantage of the TV campaign timing to increase overall response. When it comes to the direct mail manager managing the direct mail media, they made the right decision. On the other hand if the business question concerns the optimization of the allocation of media expenditures then the net effects of TV and direct mail must be considered. This will allow the marketing team to properly allocate investment between the two media types. As marketers we need to understand how we can use last touch attribution to make some decisions but not others. Last touch attribution allows marketing media managers to measure and improve the direct results of their marketing. It is not the right method to make allocation decisions across the marketing mix where many other factors may apply.

The Social Media Math
Now let’s take a practical example. This example has to do with a technical blog that is written by a software company’s VP of Engineering and domain expert. When he publishes a post on his blog, downloads of critical whitepapers relating to the blog can be directly attributable to the blog. The referring pages are tracked and downloads are determined and over the next week following the post, the company generates on average 1,000 downloads directly attributable to the blog. The actual number of downloads with the blog as the referring domain varies from 500 to 2,500 per post. Because of the complexity of the channel and the long sales cycle, measuring downloads is a good interim variable to measure success for many marketing activities. All well and good.

But the blog is also picked up by many other blogs, forums and newsletters. Over the following 3 weeks, downloads that are not directly attributable to the original blog are generated and represent, on average, another 2,500 downloads - an amplification factor of about 2.5. Now, many web marketers, using last touch attribution, would assume that each blog post from their VP of Engineering can drive on average 1,000 new downloads. However, the real number of downloads generated by the blog post is 3,500.

Which number is right? Both of them provide good information to help marketers improve their effectiveness. The direct response model is simple to measure and can provide a direct measurement of the effectiveness of the blog. On the one hand, the marketing manager must deliver as many responses as possible from their media activities, including the blog. These indirect effects must also be taken into account in order to improve marketing allocations. Should the marketer invest more in driving direct response from the blog or work with third party sites to drive indirect response and amplification?

With information on the amplification effect and where the increased responses are coming from the marketer can start to target specific third party sites to drive increased response. With the proper measurements and interpretations of those measurements, marketers can now determine whether to invest their time and effort in driving direct or indirect response.
Other Implications of Last Touch Attribution:

  • Last touch attribution can help marketing media managers (coupons, direct mail, web marketers and others) determine the direct results from their marketing efforts, ignoring all other concurrent, prior and brand touches. With this information, they can make better decisions to improve results from their direct marketing activities.

  • Last touch attribution provides misleading information for the indirect impact of marketing activities. Marketers must be very careful not to use the direct results in complex marketing environments. They may overweight some responses and underweight others leading to misallocations of marketing funds.

  • Last touch attribution ignores any brand value generated by touches not responded to. Only with a holistic approach taking into account both the short and long term, direct and indirect value of their marketing activities can marketers make the right decisions as it relates to the measurement of their success with their marketing activities.

  • Marketers must properly measure their response in order to make certain that the measured responses actually reflect the media causing the response.

About the author:
Guy Powell has over 20 years experience in senior level sales & marketing in the US and worldwide, both on the client and consulting sides. Through his DemandROMI consulting and training practice he has trained thousands of senior marketers throughout the world representing Trillions of dollars in revenue. Many of the participants also become consulting clients implement and improve their entire marketing culture. Guy has an upcoming book that will help marketers implement a new culture of marketing effectiveness in their organizations. You can sign up for more information at www.Marketing-Calculator.com.