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Why Outbound Marketing Has Never Been More Effective

The rallying cry of inbound and content marketers everywhere is that outbound marketing, you know, things like advertising, cold calling and overt promotion are evil.

omnimarketing

photo credit: The Eggplant via photopin cc

The theory is that if you put enough high quality content out there, the right people will find you. And, both in theory and in fact, this is happening.

The funny thing about evolution, however, is that it never really stops.

As marketers and the customers they aim to attract fully embraced inbound marketing, the sales function had to change with it. The most effective sales professionals today practice inbound selling and collaborate as much as close.

As marketers and the customers they aim to attract fully embraced inbound marketing, outbound marketing became more effective.

Now, before you get out the pitchforks and start skewering, let me explain.

Before inbound marketers built libraries of educational content to lean on in their inbound marketing efforts, most outbound approaches simply shouted buy, buy, buy – and that’s the part that turned everyone off.

But now, smart marketers are using their content assets, married with outbound tactics, to attract leads with a more palatable read, read, read or download, download, download!

An add on Facebook, promoting a popular free eBook, highly targeted to people who have shown a real interest in this precise kind of content, is an effective use of inbound and outbound tactics.

Smart sales professionals are using effective network mining techniques combined with content assets to turn what we used to refer to as cold calls into very effective smart calls.

A sales professional, mining social networks and listening for very specific requests for information can offer up a free eBook or video training turning a something cold into something smart.

Once you build an inbound marketing approach and find that this approach attracts and converts the right customers, you can effectively expand and amplify it through other channels. While being found is nice, it can also be quite limiting.

If you want to grow your marketing reach and create greater marketing velocity use your content assets to go find even more of the right customer.

Now, understand, I’m not suggesting a return to the “shout from the rooftops to anyone that will listen days,” those days are gone forever. What I am suggesting is that you use the tools at your disposal to narrowly target prospects and invite them to find your valuable, education based content.

I’ve been promoting this approach for a number of years now and it has become even more effective as social media participation and behavior grows. In fact, the ability to target, learn, access and engage through social networks has made this integrated view the most effective approach possible.

Marketers love to name new strategies and tactics so I think I’ll take a stab at coining a term to describe what I see as the latest evolution of sorts.

Inbound marketing + inbound selling + social media + outbound marketing = Omnimarketing.

I believe that smart, balanced Omnimarketing is the way forward.

There is no “either or”, “one way is better than another”, “this way is cheaper than another” approach that can effectively leverage every opportunity available today.

The Omnimarketing formula looks something like this.

  • Build a content strategy that attracts the right customer and builds trust. Test, tweak, add and subtract until you find the right customer conversion journey and experience.
  • Work to understand everything you can about the prospects and customers your inbound approach is attracting.
  • Get your sales teams to move deeply into social networks to understand even more about the needs and challenges of the customers your marketing is attracting.
  • Let your salespeople start leveraging and personalizing content assets to turn up and make smart calls.
  • Now start building a narrowly targeted advertising approach that brings even greater numbers of leads into your content or Marketing Hourglass.
  • Continue to test, tweak and refine your outbound efforts based on actual conversations and conversions that move through your Omnimarketing approach.
  • Re-engage your customers to measure results and enable referrals.

Ominmarketing works because first and foremost it’s based on the way that people want to buy today and once you understand that you can add the element of control that targeted outbound marketing brings.

3 Social SEO Tweaks Every Business Should Make

SEO, Content and Social Media are so tightly wound together these days that business owners and marketers need to grab every little advantage they can to wring the most out of their efforts in each area.

Most of the major social networks have created ways to help content producers enhance the sharing of their content on their respective networks by making it easier and more beneficial to share.

Today I would like to discuss three, what I’m calling Social SEO, Tweaks that site owners should take. While they involve three specific social networks – Twitter, Google+ and Facebook -  they are all drawn from the increasingly useful, almost standard, Facebook Open Graph Protocol. (Don’t worry you don’t really need to know what that is, but if you want to know, here’s more in on OG)

Essentially what Open Graph does is allow you to insert meta data in a web page or blog post that turns that content into a social object of sorts. So now when someone tweets a link to your awesome blog post you have control over how things like an image, description and link are displayed.

Because the protocol is being widely accepted as the standard, just about every social network is adopting ways to implement it. So now when someone pins your awesome product a rich description, link to your shopping cart, price and even availability are all transported with the pin to display in Pinterest.

Okay, back to the tweaks I think you should explore first if this topic in new to you.

Facebook Open Graph

Since this is the foundation for all three of the plays I’m suggesting, let’s start here. The good news is that for WordPress users, plugins have been built that make all the coding aspects of these tactics very, very simple. I recommend that every WordPress Site owner install the WordPress SEO Plugin by Yoast. This plugin not only handles most of the important on page SEO factors for bloggers, it also has a tab to instantly create the Facebook Open Graph settings as well as the Twitter and Google+ settings I’ll discuss in greater detail below. The NextGen Open Graph plugin is another good one for this topic.

If you are using either plugin mentioned above simply follow the instructions. The thing I like most about this feature is that it gives far greater control over what content shows up with your posts in the status updates on Facebook. I’ve always viewed the description tag as way to advertise why someone might want to click through and read and with this setting you get total control over that.

By using the featured image setting in WordPress you also get to control what image is viewed with your posts. It can be a single image, like I use in this post, or it can be any other image you choose to mark as featured, whether it shows in the post or not. Again, total control!

For non WordPress folks you can read the Facebook Open Graph implementation instructions here.

Twitter Cards

About a year ago Twitter added something called Twitter Cards that use a mix of OG and Twitter only tags to allow Tweets and RTs to be much richer.

The implementation is pretty straightforward and the documentation pretty useful. Once you’ve set the meta data up on your site or page you do have to get validated and approved for the card types you wish to use. Simply go to the validator and click on the validate and approve tab and put in the URL for blog post. The tool will check for the OG code and allow you to submit. Twitter says it takes 2-4 weeks for approval, but when I submitted it took about 5 minutes. Once again, plugins make this a snap.

Below you can see the difference the addition of the Twitter Card makes both on the Twitter site and in the Twitter app.

 

Google Authorship

I’ve written a lot about Google Authorship because I think it’s a biggie. You’ve probably seen search results like those in the image below. Google allows content producers to link their site and Google+ profile to content they produce. This includes content you write on your site and content you contribute to other sites. Simply add all the sites your contribute to in your Google+ profile to get this additional feature started. (It may takes months to actually start showing up in search, so do it today!)

Not only does this create a more compelling view of your content in search, it allows Google to connect ownership and authority to the content – two good things I think!

Google Authorship
Content from Duct Tape Marketing highlighted by Google Authorship

Google Authorship on Entrepreneur
Here’s content I wrote for Entrepreneur also highlighted by Google Authorship

The Yoast plugin mentioned above handles this one but you must have a Google+ profile to link to and it’s a good idea to signup and validate authorship with Google+

Another nice tool for validating your sharing code on  your site is the KnowEm Social Media Optimizer.

Overachievers might want to also check out the instructions for adding Pinterest specific meta data as well.

Are You Prepared for the Google Reader Shutdown?

As has been widely reported, Google Reader is shutting down July 1, 2013. Now, in typical Google fashion, no one really knows what will actually happen on the that date, but as I it see you have about three choices if you are to continue to consistently consume blog content.

Google ChromeScreenSnapz004

Move to a new RSS reader

There are actually many options for moving your existing RSS subscriptions to another setup that can pretty much make the change a non event and may even turn up some enhancements.

The first step is to export your current subscriptions out of Google Reader so that you have a file you can import to other services. A number of other RSS readers have built this feature in and can do it automatically once you grant access.

Here’s how to export your data from Google Reader as an OPML file.

1. Sign into Google Reader account and go to the Settings in the upper right corner. It looks like this:
Google reader settings

2. Navigate to Import/Export tab. At the bottom, under “Export your information,” click the link “Download your data through Takeout.”

Google ChromeScreenSnapz005

Some of the services getting the most buzz currently are:

  • Feedly, another popular alternative, combines bookmarking with feed reading and sharing.
  • Feedbin – this very simple and very pleasing layout to reading RSS feeds costs $2/month and it’s the one I’ve chosen to use currently
  • NewsBlur is a simple interface that includes mobile apps and ability to share stories your find on popular sites such as Evernote.

In case you’re interested, here’s what I’ve done:

  • I created accounts in Feedly and Feedbin (a little redundancy online is a good thing)
  • Right now I currently use Feedbin for daily consumption because I use an iPhone app called ReederApp that uses my Feedbin subscriptions to give me a phone version – which is where I read most of my blog content (ReederApp is working on itegration with Feedly as well)
  • The ReederApp allows me to do lots of things with individual blog posts such as submit to Buffer, add to Delicious, Tweet or email directly from within my phone – I depend on this function as I share a lot of content in social media and this makes it very easy to do so.

Use it as a do over

Another approach is to forget your past subscriptions and simply sign up for an RSS reader you fancy and start subscribing to blogs based on where you are today.

I’ll admit, even with constant housekeeping there are some blogs in my reader that I don’t give much love.

You might consider taking the time to hand pick some new ones. (Although I do hope you consider continuing to read this blog!)

If this sounds appealing you can skip the export (although you may want to do it anyway just in case) and simply pick a new reader and start subscribing.

Change the way you read blogs

An entirely different option is to think otherwise about the content altogether. Instead of subscribing to any particular blogs you could subscribe to topics or rely on trusted friends to tell you what they are reading.

This can be a great way to stay laser focused on just the stuff that interests you and start building some “reading networks” in favor of reading destinations.

One service in particular that I think excels in this area is Newsle.

Newlse allows you to follow the reading activity of people in your social networks. It will identify influential people and what it calls famous people, but essentially you can follow anyone you want and create alerts. One might consider, for example, creating a list of major clients or important journalists and keeping tabs on what they are writing and tagging.

Frankly, I’m doing both – continuing to read RSS feeds and following curated lists on Newsle.

Why You Must Stop Selling Your Time

If you’re stuck in the rut of selling your time, do yourself a favor and grab this free eBook I’ve cosponsored with my friends from FreshBooks – Breaking the Time Barrier.

Very early on in my consulting career I learned an important lesson about time – You only have so much.

unlock the time barrier

photo credit: subcircle via photopin cc

I know that may seem like an obvious thing, but many businesses still base their pricing, and therefore their capacity to earn, on time calculations. You know, it takes me 10 hours to build this so that will be 10 X $75/hr.

When I provided consulting services this way I quickly filled up my capacity and essentially trapped my profit potential. After I had done this for a few years I started to raise my prices and a funny thing happened – I stayed just as busy.

Then one day a potential client called and said he heard that I was really good at getting companies featured in the local business journal. Instead of suggesting an hourly fee I told him that if I was successful the cost would be $2,500. At first he balked, but then he considered there really wasn’t any risk unless he got a result.

I hung up the phone and made one call to a journalist that I knew was looking for precisely this kind of story. I secured the interview and called my client back with the good news and an invoice. He said, “but wait, it apparently only took you 15 minutes to get me that story and you want me to pay you $2,500?”

I told him in fact it had taken me the better part of 10 years to be able to get him that story and that he was paying for the value of the result and not my time. He had no argument with that logic, paid the invoice and was thrilled with the result.

That was the day I knew I would spend the rest of my business life using value based pricing. I began to align all of my fees based on the results I knew I could deliver and took time off the table every time it crept into a client conversation. In the end clients don’t want your time, they want a result. When they become confident you can deliver that, they don’t really care how you do it.

The keys to embracing value based pricing

  • Understand that price is a function of perceived value – increase your or your product’s perceived value and you can increase the price. This is why best-selling authors can charge much more for speaking fees and why Apple can charge more for a phone.
  • You must have a clear point of differentiation – Your methodology, point of view, feature set, delivery, packaging, experience, training, design, etc. must set you so far apart from others that there is no way in which a prospect would consider using price as the lone comparison tool.
  • You must measure results – Once you start to appreciate that the work you do delivers tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in results to a client, you’ll get much more open about value based pricing. You must measure and review with your clients the actual results they get from working with you so that you can confidently begin to price and sell your work based on this knowledge and proof.

My friend Mike McDerment, co-founder of FreshBooks, just completed a free eBook (with Donald Cowper) in which he chronicles the story of a web designer who comes to appreciate why he’s going broke selling his time vs. selling the results of his work. If you’re stuck in the time rut, do yourself a favor and grab this free eBook – Breaking the Time Barrier – How to Unlock Your True Earning Potential.

What If How You Sold Was as Important as What You Sold?

So, for starters, the title to this post poses a bit of a trick question because significant research suggests it is in fact a fact.

photo credit: dragonanswers via photopin cc

photo credit: dragonanswers via photopin cc

Buyers have become so adept at doing initial purchase research that they no longer need or have the patience for a sales presentation on the benefits of your widget. Ironically, this applies doubly for B2B, big ticket items where you might think a little face time would be a good thing.

A CEB study of more than 1,400 B2B customers across industries revealed that 57% of a typical purchase decision is made before a customer even talks to a supplier.

So, what does this spell for the typical sales and marketing professional? You better find a way to make your marketing as useful as your products. That’s right, sales and marketing is no longer about being found and providing educational information – those are still important, but today you better have prospects looking to you as an adviser, teacher, time saver, problem solver and guide on life’s journey or what’s the point.

I repeat – it’s not just your product or service that must perform – it’s your actual sales and marketing process that must provide these things as well.

This same CEB study also found that 53% of those surveyed claimed that the sales experience itself was one of the greatest contributing factors in continued loyalty to the brand.

The feeling is that most products, services, brands and even pricing are about the same, but the sales experience, or value, ease and insight delivered during the actual process of buying, was what tipped the scale.

Two recent books hit this theme pretty hard. Mitch Joel’s CTRL+ALT+DEL (Check out interview with Mitch Joel here) and Jay Baer’s Youtility (Ships June 27th – look for an upcoming interview Jay.) And of course CEB’s book derived from the extensive sales research cited in this post called The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. (Check out interview with Matthew Dixon here)

So, how do you make your sales process more useful?

Let’s say you were shopping for some running shoes. You search around and find a few sites that seem to specialize in the selection you are looking for and a couple even provide lots of information and reviews from other runners. But, you’re not sure which $150 pair of shoes are right and that’s enough money that you want to get it right.

So, you fire off a couple questions to sites that seem the most informational. One sends you back some specs from the manufacture and then Patton Gleason from OptimalRun.com sends you a personal video showing you all 3 shoes you were considering and telling you why, based on your needs, which one he suggests.

Now, you tell me – is that sales process useful?

And, the beauty of this kind of sales process is that it actually favors the little guy.

Here’s what some of his customers had to say – sounds like they found his sales process useful!

“It was amazing and so helpful and kind: I finally felt like someone was actually listening to me instead of just trying to rush me into making a purchase.”

“You’re too great – this is awesome that you answer with a personal video.”

“Thanks again so much for your help, it especially helps to be able to see the shoes other than just in photos.”

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the bar today. Creating marketing and sales insight that’s so useful people would be willing to pay to receive it.

So, what can you to create a much better buying experience in your business? What have you seen others do that you would like to share?

Solving the Most Frustrating Part of Marketing

I’ve spent the better part of the last 10 years telling any small business owner that would listen that marketing isn’t really that complicated.

What’s complicated and frustrating about marketing perhaps is how small business owners and those that work in the field of marketing think about it.

The Marketing HourglassMarketing is just a system and, operated as such, it isn’t any different from many of the other systems needed to run a business. A system creates control, a system guides priorities, a system creates process, a system generates accountability and a way to measure and win the game.

I developed my own view of “marketing as a system” after discovering that working with small business owners in the way I wanted wasn’t possible unless I was willing to change my view of marketing.

What I quickly discovered was it’s a two-way street. Marketing consultants are often frustrated because they have no system or methodology they can apply over and over again and small business owners are frustrated because there’s no logical way to buy marketing services from people pitching the idea of the week.

I had a large ad agency professional approach me recently and tell me about trying to help several of his family members find some marketing help for their startup. Because he had spent most of his life in six and seven digit budget land he was appalled at how hard it was to find help that made sense for this startup.

And that’s precisely the work I’ve been engaged in for over a decade – putting an end to marketing frustration – both on the part of marketing consultants and coaches and on the part of the tens of thousands of small business owners that have adopted some version of this systems approach to marketing.

For some the concept of a system for marketing seems so still and uncreative, but for me a system is how you Save YourSelf Time Energy and Money – corny, I know, but something we all need a little more of!

I’ve built a marketing system that gives relief to frustrated marketing consultants by way of the Duct Tape Marketing Network and provides real results for small business owners through the Duct Tape Marketing System.

Below is a very brief description of the elements of a marketing system

1) Strategy before tactics – create a narrowly defined strategy first

This is without a doubt the most crucial step. Strategy must come before any tactics. Until you can narrowly define your ideal client and uncover or create some way your business is both unique and remarkable you’ll compete on price and struggle to build any sense of momentum. More on this . . .

2) Build your Marketing Hourglass – A marketing focused business model

The next step involves what I call The Marketing Hourglass. This simple process asks you to view your business and discover how you will move your ideal prospects down the path of know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat and refer. The beauty of this thinking is that it puts the focus on the end – a happy customer, willing to buy more and tell others. Get that part right and you’ll never need to worry about lead generation in the same way again. More on this . . .

3) Become a publishing engine – Your content become the voice of strategy

Almost every element of the Marketing Hourglass relies on some form of intentional content to operate properly. In this step business owners create their content plan with some very specific objectives in mind. More content is not the answer. The right content, delivered to the right person, at the right time is the answer. More on this . . .

4) Build a total online and offline presence – Integration is the key to success

Integration is what makes social media work. It’s what makes email marketing work and it’s what drives effective advertising. Until you view your online and offline presence as one integrated whole you’ll continue to fall prey to the idea of the week. Any decision on what to do on Facebook comes with content, SEO, email and advertising implications as well. View it that way and you’ll never wonder about ROI again. More on this . . .

5) Build a lead generation machine – Lead momentum comes from multiple streams of lead generation

Lead generation is a game of trust, context and repetition. Advertising, public relations and referral generation built around an effective marketing strategy is the secret to creating the right awareness with the right prospects. More on this . . .

6) Lead conversion is a system – Lead conversion as a repeatable sales process and customer experience

The thing about an effective marketing system, such as the one described above, is that it eliminates the need to sell – at least in the traditional sense of the word. When you educate, build trust and create engagement all that’s left to do is show prospects how they can get the result you’ve shown them. More on this . . .

7) Live by the calendar – You’re never done, simply operate the system over and over again

Once you build the various elements of your marketing system you must map it out on a calendar, test, analyze, tweak and improve it continuously. For some, simply carving out the time to create new processes and putting in the effort to develop new marketing behaviors must become a habit before any progress can be made. It’s a long-term game, you’re never done, just deal with it every day. More on this . . .

I’ve taken every element of this system and turned it into an online course that any business can apply to build a marketing system. Each element is presented in step-by-step lessons that include video, workbooks, worksheets, examples and resources. We continue to work on it and improve it and add to it as new tools and tactics arise.

Once you gain access to the Duct Tape Marketing System you’ll be able to visit each lesson over and over again as you perfect your system and even use our materials to train and guide your marketing staff.

You can find complete details here.

7 Ways to Attract Lots of High Quality Links in the Age of Authority

Links back to your site from other sites give Google a potentially important signal – “Hey, I’m a human being and I think this is good stuff.” – that’s something Google can’t do with a spider and even better if the site in question is already known to Google as a trusted source.

Google

photo credit: dolescum via photopin cc

Links have always been important, but in the past it was just about getting lots of them. The “more is more” approach led to gaming and buying and other unnatural types of acts.

There was a time when SEO folks and site owners seemed more concerned about getting links than producing anything worth actually linking to and visiting.

Recent changes in the Google algorithm addressed this aspect of their ranking system in dramatic fashion.

Links still matter, but the emphasis has been placed squarely on the quality and authority of links and not on numbers of links. You could see this coming with every new tweak and pronouncement from Google folks like Matt Cutts.

Link building in the age of authority has more in common with effective networking than some sort of magic SEO art.

Below are eight tactics I’ve employed to effectively build and continue to build high quality, relevant links.

One word of caution – none of these tactics supplant the need to be link worthy and none involve tricks of any kind. You draw high quality, relevant links the same way you develop networking relationships – by focusing on the needs of your link partners and your readers.

1) Snack size influence

One of the best ways to get some very high authority links (and this includes RT’s +1s and Likes from high authority folks as deemed by Google) is to publish quotes, advice and answers from influencers in your industry.

The above statement is pretty obvious of course, but the key to getting said content from influencers is to make it as easy as possible for them to provide it. Ask one question, for example, of a dozen people, publish the answers in a thought-provoking and link to each participant’s site.

Many times this approach can produce a very high quality, or at least interesting, piece of content that others, including your influential guests, may think worthy of linking to and socializing.

 

Here’s an example of this approach that produced multiple high quality links – How I Write and How I Decide What To Write

2) Guest content

I know you’ve heard lots of people talking about guest blogging and with reason – one of the highest quality links you can get is a link back to some page on your site from the body of a blog post on an influential blog. So, get over to Topsy and do a search on your key terms + guest and find yourself some great opportunities to draw links from your guest content

But, don’t forget two other potent variations on this theme – a) Ask others to write a post on your site. You can get some tremendous content and likely as not they will link to that content once it’s published. Here’s a guest post written by my friend Chris Brogan. He linked to this post from his various profiles.

 

b) Interview guests for a podcast – Authors love to do this around new book launches and many influential folks in your industry may want to do the same. Not always, but more often than not, your guest will link to this content. Last week my friend Lee Odden linked to the podcast interview he recently gave for the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast.

3) Promote an event

Events are another great way to draw links. If you host an in person workshop or even online seminar you can likely attract links by listing your event on local event pages, MeetUp and Eventful.

In some cases you can get some pretty terrific links from the event space – I hosted a free talk at the public library in my community and got some terrific high domain authority links from local media calendars and the library .org link

4) Repackage across mediums

I write lots of blog posts and speak frequently for organizations. Just about every word I write or speak is fair game to be repackaged into eBooks, turned into videos and pitched to media outlets in one form or another.

The net effect is that one piece of content might be a source of link generation in many ways. For example, here’s my library talk from above posted to YouTube.

Organizations love to share free eBooks. Here’s a very high influence link from PRWeb.com to one of my free eBooks.

5) Your partners

Yet another reason to work hard at establishing a formal strategic partner network. Last week I wrote about ways to use content for referrals and many of these ways involved linking opportunities.

In a way this is the updated version of the linking networks that were in vogue before Google slapped them down. The big difference is these should be, by virtue of how you build them, far more natural.

Over the years I’ve acquired links from HP, Dell, Microsoft and Sage Software through partnering efforts.

6) Build something useful

Want to know the easiest, fastest, more productive way to draw tons of links? Create a highly useful free tool and tell people about it. People love to find and share stuff that’s useful and, of course, even better if it’s free.

One of the most linked to pages on my site is for a free press release generator called Instant Press Release that I created years ago. The tool also generates hundreds of newsletter sign up each month even though I never do anything to promote it and you can’t even find it without searching for it.

And I wonder how many millions of people have shared tools like Hubspot’s Marketing Grader?

I know this one might be easier said than done, but this is so powerful it is worth investing in having something built.

7) Real world networks

What organizations do you belong to? What alumni directories publish links? What business groups? What non-profit committees?

These may not seem like great places to get high traffic links, but they can often be terribly industry relevant and carry high authority signals for Google. They still like .org and .edu domains.

Most of the options above require real work, I realize that, but Google has said loud and clear that the days of buying links in farms are over. Keep creating great content, sharing great content, working on building your own authority and networking and links, the kind that won’t ever go out of fashion, will come.

How to Turn Your Best Customers Into a Growth Engine

I’ve said repeatedly that building a vibrant community is the most important objective of any business these days.

photo credit: Mourner via photopin cc

photo credit: Mourner via photopin cc

While this may sound like some social media laced feel good sentiment it’s actually quite practical.

Making your business customers, prospects, suppliers and partners feel like important members of a bigger community simply makes long-term business sense and is the key to long-term growth in ways that you not have even considered.

Many businesses get the idea treating customers in ways that make them want to return and refer, but you should also look at your best customers as collaboration partners able to help you formulate plans for growth.

Creating new products and services and making plans for growth is tricky adventures. Why not systematically involve your customers in every decision you make? Why not create new products and services with your customers? Why not include them in content creation and marketing campaigns?

Why not get your best customers to tell you what they need and then help you create, iterate and perfect it?

Below are five steps that can help you build systematic community involvement into your growth plans

Champion personas

The first step is to segment your business customers into personality types. Not every customer group is right for this approach and you may likely have completely different segments, such as B2B and B2C, and may need to build entirely different approaches for different segments.

Additionally, you’ll want to identify customers groups or types that are more open to this level of involvement. One of the best places to look is for customers that already refer or evangelize what you do. Can you identify them specifically or can you at least come up with a description of common characteristics?

These are what I refer to as you community champions. This is the first group to focus on as you try to expand your community reach.

Ongoing mining

Next you’ll want to dig in and figure out what this group might be lacking. This is sometimes a little tricky as if they really knew they probably would have told you by now, but I find that posing a series of questions around what they wish they had, what they can’t find or what doesn’t seem to work, even about your current offerings, is a good place to start.

After you do this you’ll want to audit your content, touchpoints and revenue streams in an effort to identify a handful of potential growth and involvement opportunities.

Many times you can find ways to involve your customers by simply creating content opportunities such as guest blogging, case studies and video testimonials.

Consider events you might create where your customers can do some of the education. Host peer-to-peer roundtables and let your customers facilitate discussions among prospects.

Consider additional revenue extensions where your champion customers could moderate other customer groups and help add ongoing value.

Innovation circles

Once you’ve established some working rapport with your community champions get them involved in helping you build, test and refine new offerings.

Create what I like to call innovation circles to use to build with your customers. Take rough product, service, packaging and pricing ideas to your circles and get feedback. Then with this feedback create a beta test group that agrees to help you get it right. Then use these testers as case studies and early evangelists for your now much improved offering.

You don’t have to stop here either. You can use this same approach for all of your marketing initiatives, copy and positioning.

Accountability tracking

The final piece is the glue that holds this entire approach together and keeps your community champions coming back for more.

You must create a way to religiously track the results your champions are getting from their relationship with your organization as well as their greater involvement in the community.

This just makes good business sense, but it will also help reinforce the value you bring to the table over and above the somewhat empty claims of good service and low pricing used by your competitors.

One of the best ways to build this into your community is through game mechanics. Create ways for your community champions to participate in contests. Get them to compete with each other. Teach them how to help each other through tangible acts such as linking swapping, sharing and guest posting.

Make the use of your progress and services something they must report and even incentivize them by creating awards for people who come up with new uses and best documented results.

Partner platform

One way to take this notion up a notch is to teach a group of strategic partners how to do the same and then start cross-pollinating your communities.

When you create a common language and process, such as “innovation circles,” you make it easier to teach the methodology and create even greater participation as you and your partners are promoting the same approach.

Imagine how much more value you can bring to your community by building this kind of best of class partner platform, Further imagine how interested potential partners will be to learn how you plan to shine the light on them throughout your vibrant customer community.

Your customer champions want to help you grow and, while making referrals is one powerful way to involve them, when you take a formal approach like the one described above you’ll not only make it easier for them to refer you, you’ll create a team of business partners eager to help you plan and grow.