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The Best Place to Invest Your Marketing Dollar

Budgets for marketing are always tight, but these last few years, well, they’ve been stretched beyond tight.

marketing budgetSo, how do you decide where to invest the little money you have. Traditional thinking points towards advertising and other ways to make the phone ring, get more traffic to the site, but I say there are lots of low cost and next to free ways to do that and the real payoff is in conversion. It’s amazing how much money is wasted generating leads that go nowhere. If you are generating a decent amount of leads, but only converting 5% to customers, ask yourself what it would take to get that conversion number to 10%. It might not take much at all and you would double your business. Wouldn’t that be worth your time, money and energy.

My guess is you actually don’t need any more leads, in fact, cut out the non qualified ones and you could probably double your business with less leads than you have today if you focused more of your energy on lead conversion. It’s the first place I go to fix a business when asked.

Here’s your plan of attack for greater lead conversion

Get metrics – figure out where you are today – use Google Analytics and pick up Avinash Kaushik’s book Web Analytics 2.0 to find a host of tools and techniques that will help you better understand all of your online and offline conversion numbers. Understand these four variables and go to work on improving them: 1) % of leads converted 2) Average $ amount per customer/transaction 3) Average number of transactions with each customer 4) Cost to generate a customer

Get better – Do some usability and multi-variant testing on your web pages using tools like Crazy Egg, UserTesting.com, and Google Website Optimizer to find out how to change them to get higher conversions. Pick up Tim Ash’s book Landing Page Optimization or better yet consider hiring a page optimization firm like Ash’s Site Tuners to help you increase the interaction, engagement and conversion from all of your web pages.

Get a process – Create scripted process that allows you to qualify, nurture, convert, transact and repeat with each lead that comes into view. Know what everyone in the organization is going to do with a lead to move them to the next step, present your unique value proposition, make an offer and thrill them after they agree to purchase. Have set, documented and scripted approaches for all to follow and follow them. Here’s a hint though: Don’t simply copy what everyone else in your industry does. Use your conversion process as a differentiator. Create an intentional interruption and be prepared to show why your way of doing it is a benefit. Invest whatever it takes in time and resources to get this right and continue to tweak it.

Get training – Not everyone comes out of the womb selling. For some it’s hard and sales training is often a great investment. But that doesn’t mean you have to come off as the stereotypical schmoozer sales person to be effective. Effective sales training is often a matter of creating some patterns and processes that make you a better listener, more authentic, and better prepared to demonstrate you understand the problem a prospect is experiencing rather than simply having an answer. I for one think books like Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play or Go-Givers Sell More are more relevant in today’s relationship selling world than the “close them or die” approaches of the past.

Image credit: stuartpilbrow

The 5 Personalities Every Successful Website Must Employ

split personalityLaunching a successful website is no easy task. There are many practical and technical details to assemble and implement and many business and marketing objectives to consider. Generally speaking, there is no one person, such as a web designer, who can pull this job off. Worse yet, the business owner turned do-it-yourself web site creator, even armed with a simple site creation tool, almost always lacks the split personality traits required to view the project properly.

A successful website launch, regardless of size or budget, must involve these five personalities to some degree or another. You can think of these as phases in the creation of your site or actual tasks done by specific providers, either way you must address them all.

1) Strategist

This is the strategy before tactics applied to your website. Most folks want to go to design first, but a design that’s not informed by your business strategy is, at best, a nice bit of eye candy. Do yourself, and anyone involved in designing your site, a favor and try to get a handle on all of the things you want your web site to do for you. Do you have major segments or markets to consider, do you have divisions of products and services, do you have a content strategy, are you trying to sell, educate or create leads? In an effort to make your site as effective as possible it’s essential that you focus on one overriding strategy and filter your content and design decisions based on that. A website that’s confusing or even ambiguous will generally lead to no action.

I’ll introduce the other personalities needed for this lesson below, but it’s safe to say that while there is an order to this almost all parties will collaborate and circle back into the process from time to time. The marketer, for example, should be fully present for strategy decisions to offer some thoughts on what keywords and phrases should make up the primary content focus.

2) Designer

A great design is one that allows your strategy, brand and content to be presented in a way that makes it pleasing, supports the elements and image of the brand, and moves the visitor effortlessly to the information and results thought through in your strategy sessions.

Many people look at this like decorating a space, but the best interior designers will tell you that usability is key to good design. People may not even notice the drapes or colors, although they will notice them subconsciously for good or bad, but they will notice if something seems out of place or if they can’t find the bathroom.

99 Designs and Crowdspring are great places to take your strategy and find a designer

3) Developer

Another key to a successful web site is functionality. There are many ways to integrate widgets, plug-ins, communities, ratings, subscription, comments, customer portals, and membership only sections to increase engagement and usability. Successful web sites employ the right mix of these added features to enhance the overall experience without making a site look like a Christmas tree decorated by a six year old.

The developer personality should also be in charge of the under the hood code. Standards compliant (See WC3) code, search engine friendly code, and a fast loading site are all very important, but too often get little consideration from the marketer or the designer. I guess this is a good place to make my common pitch for WordPress software. It comes out of the box with beautiful code and a host of add-ons to extend the functionality.

Elance and Guru.com have long been places to find freelance programmers, but increasingly people are turning to sites like LinkedIn and Twitter get specific recommendations.

4) User

No matter how brilliant your strategy, design and code appear to be, it’s the web site visitor that determines success of failure. It is very easy to fall slowly in love with what you have developed, but the visitor may only take a second or two to determine if your site has what they are looking for. Get your site in front of actual and target customers through low cost usability tools like UserTesting.com or by creating A/B tests in Google Website Optimizer so you can test and tweak your site and how people actually use and interact with it.

While your site is still in beta you should also consider this phase the place to bug fix, proofread and link check. Spellr.us will check spelling for up to 100 pages for free. Using Google’s Webmaster Tools or LinkSleuth on a PC/ Integrity on a Mac you can track down broken links throughout your website.

5) Marketer

Ah, last but not least, how are you going to get people to this site? As stated above the marketer is involved in all phases to some degree, but is ultimately unleashed for good when the site is live.

The marketer must keep the content and SEO plans moving forward, network for links, analyze the traffic and user patterns (the programmer added Google Analytics for the marketer to lean on) capture lead data, drive more traffic, manage PPC, and create and test campaign specific landing pages.

The marketer is also ideally suited to orchestrate the integration of the organization’s social media strategy and the impact is has on website objectives as well as all of the elements of offline activity that further leads to the successful use of the website as a business building tool.

In my opinion, these considerations must be planned and managed by the owner of the site. Even if some or all of the actual work is delegated, you, the business owner and marketer, must drive the collaboration of these five personalities in order to create a tool that will mesh with your overall business strategies. Don’t expect to hire someone and let them create your website. You can’t abdicate this important tool. If manage the multiple disciplines you are more likely to get a result that will serve your needs.

Image credit: Alcino

5 Ways to Guarantee Your Marketing Works

usertestingMarketing can, at times, be part art, part science, part intuition. Toss into that the fact that traditional market research produces results that are often misleading and sometimes flat out wrong because people don’t tell the truth in the traditional survey or focus group setting. It’s not that they are bad people, it’s that they don’t really know what makes them buy one thing over another. (Check out Buyology and my interview with author Martin Lindstrom for more on this.)

So, what’s a business owner, one’s who is constantly chasing the next brilliant marketing, product or service innovation, to do. Well, you can guess, consult a marketing guru or you can prove that you are indeed a marketing genius by testing every idea in the real world. (Marketing geniuses go with whatever wins the test, otherwise known as proof, and that’s the real genius part.)

Direct marketers have always been great testers, but I’m suggesting that even the smallest of businesses can test just about everything they do and practically guarantee better business and marketing decisions using a few simple tools.

Below are five ways to use some form of testing to make better decisions.

1) Google AdWords

Google’s fabulously popular advertising tool is actually one of the greatest test beds ever created. Any business write ads, bid on keywords and have those ads shown to prospects searching for something. The key though is that you can write multiple ads and have Google rotate showing the ads while recording which one gets clicked on the most. If you want to test a headline or even a product idea, you can have some incredible research from prospects, showing real intent, in a matter of hours for less than $50. I’ve used this method for years as a way to test ad copy that I might use in a print ad. Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Workweek told me he used this method when deciding on the title of his mega-best seller.

2) Google Website Optimizer

This free tool from Google allows you to test countless elements of a web page to see what gets the desired result. You simply create multiple versions of a web page, changing out an image, headline, call to action, or size of buy now button. Then you load the experiment into your Google Website Optimizer and let Google rotate the pages while keeping track of whatever the desired action is. You can test many variations at once, but keep in mind that the more variations the more traffic you will need to see a result. I’ve seen sites double the number of newsletter sign-ups, for example, by moving the sign-up form on the page or simply adding a more provocative headline. Now you can know for sure what works and keep testing to make it work better. Bryan Eisenberg’s Book – Always Be Testing – is a good place to learn the ins and out of this tool.

3) Marketing Board

This isn’t a technology tool as much as an idea. Go out there and find eight to ten folks in your community who could be convinced to help you grow your business. Clients, vendors, lenders, other small business owners all make great prospects for your board. The only real qualification is that they understand your market and they are motivated to help you.

Put a marketing plan in front of them, ask them to review it, comment, give suggestions on your marketing plans and materials and, most importantly promise them that you will accomplish a set list of marketing goals pertaining to the plan that you will give them an update at your next quarterly meeting.

Feed them some really good bagels or wine and send them home. Then get to work on revising and refining your marketing ideas based on their input and get ready for your next meeting.

4) User Testing

Web folks have been employing something called  usability testing for years. Essentially this is putting a prospect in front of your site and having them talk their way through navigating towards whatever your goal is. This is a very powerful, and frankly, necessary step for any web site to be truly successful. The problem for the typical small business is that it can also be rather expensive.  One inexpesnive online solution is usertesting.com For just under $100 you can get some tremendous feedback about the user experience of your web site.

Here’s how it works:

  • You sign up for user testing, specifying the  demographic profile of your target audience and how many user testers you want (one user costs $19, five users cost $95).
  • Users record their screen and voice as they use your website, speaking their thoughts as they browse.
  • You watch and listen to them use your site. Each user’s session – mouse movements, clicks, keystrokes, and spoken comments – is saved as a Flash video for you to watch.
  • You read their review and make improvements based on real-time experiences.

You could also apply a similar approach to marketing materials and product packaging.

5) Beta Launch

The software industry created the idea of launching products before they were finished, in a “beta” mode, with the notion that users would agree to provide input, bug fixes and feedback for the right to try it first or free.

You don’t need to be working on a web application to employ this powerful tactic. If you are creating a new product or service, why not build beta launches into your plan. By advertising a service, for example, as a test you can launch quicker, spend less getting going and gain insight and marketing research that can tell you

  • If there is a demand for your offering
  • If you’ve explained how to use it well enough
  • If you’ve got the right price
  • If you need to add or remove features
  • If test subjects get the desired outcome

In addition, this approach can create a bit of demand for a product or service from those early adopter types that like to play this role. If you create a product or service that’s a hit, you’ll also get needed testimonials, buzz and success stories from these early users. The community building and collaborative nature of this approach is something that I’ve seen a great demand for and something that social media participation has fostered as a bit of an expectation. It’s also a great way to get a product rolling. By giving the first buyers a chance to get a special price you build some momentum with the product or service.

I applied this approach to a recent product launch and I can’t tell you how much better the product became from the suggestions of a handful of early beta testers.

Image credit: Jose Kevo

Always Be Testing

Testing just might be the small business marketers greatest tool – and yet, so few take the time to do it at all. The arguments against robust testing are all but gone – cost is not a factor, lack of tools is not a factor and certainly the Internet has made information about testing readily available.

Always Be TestingBryan Eisenberg, author of Always Be Testing, visited with me about this very thing for a recent episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast.

Testing does not have to be an arduous task. You can easily use a free tool like Google Website Optimizer to test the effectiveness of one headline or offer from another. You can add Google Analytics to your web pages to get a better feel for how people view your pages. You can access the workforce of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or UserTesting.com and get usability testing done on your web pages.

There are more advanced tools such as Omniture’s SiteCatalyst, but as Bryan points out and I agree, figure out a bit about testing and what works with the free tools and then move up to more advanced power tools – it’s likely they will pay for themselves.

AT&TThis episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast is brought to you by att.com/onwardsmallbiz. Resources for the small business owner.

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