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How to Make Strategy More Than a Nice Idea

Few things are more confusing to business owners and marketers than the idea of marketing strategy.

marketing strategy

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I think that’s due in part to simple misunderstanding by many who try to apply the concept, but it’s also due to the fact that strategy is very malleable – that is to say, it can be many things.

A very solid way to define business strategy is the effective use of resources to reach stated objectives. Perhaps a more tangible way to define marketing strategy would be the effective use of resources to create and communicate a valuable and profitable difference in the marketplace.

Either way you can see there’s lots of room for interpretation.

But, rather than debate the proper way to define what marketing strategy is, I would like to share how to develop it, bring it to life and give it a voice. No matter how perfectly you state your marketing strategy, if it doesn’t live firmly in the tactics you employ to develop customers it’s all for naught.

The act of driving strategy deeply into your marketing consists of three elements:

Determine a core point of difference – This is how you state why someone should hire you as opposed to someone else who says they do what you do. It’s your unique value proposition and it must be developed with a narrowly defined ideal client in mind.

I’ve written about this idea frequently and suggest you visit this post on ideal client and this post on core difference to get very specific how to instructions on this element.

Create an engagement framework – Strategy based engagement thinking forces you to push your core marketing strategy into every marketing activity. I’ve developed a very powerful tool for building this kind of framework called The Marketing Hourglass.

The Marketing Hourglass is a concept that asks you to create processes, products, campaigns and engagement aimed at logically moving prospects and customers through seven stages – Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat and Refer. By viewing each of these stages as a place to reinforce your core difference as well as deliver key information, you create the kind of engagement that leads to you most profitable clients.

Map content to strategy – Once you develop your core difference and outline your Marketing Hourglass it’s time to give your strategy voice. This is based done by mapping how you will communicate your core difference through content that creates awareness, educates, builds trust and converts.

You won’t necessarily create every tactical element involved in implementing these three steps, but the planning process involved in fully developing your organization’s marketing strategy must consider these elements as three parts of the strategy puzzle.

Changing the Social Channel

I’ve been asked to speak at three different social media related events over the next few months and in each case I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the future of social media.

But here’s the thing. I don’t plan to talk about social media – not much at least.

What I plan to talk about is the future of business as I see it, now that social behavior has infiltrated every aspect of our lives.

I plan to challenge the thinking that social networks are really channels and, in fact, make a case for things like clarity, culture, content and method as the most important channels of a social business.

And finally, I plan to introduce how a vibrant community, perhaps the highest objective of any business today, is built not through social media, but through the confluence of a specific set of socially assisted practices.

I’ve always been attracted to word confluence. It’s a word most commonly used to describe the point at which two rivers come together. My hometown, Kansas City, was founded at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers and the visual of these two powerful channels coming together, to form something even more potent, suggests the perfect metaphor for how community prospers and grows.

I believe that community can only form around a business when the focus of a business is on cultivating and merging the following six practices or what I would like to propose are the genuine channel opportunities.

The graphic below lays out this path of thinking. The first three channels are decidedly internal while the remaining three determine how a community experiences a business from an external view.

confluence of channels

Clarity

Clarity is something I wrote about extensively in my last book, The Commitment Engine. What I discovered is that most organizations that foster loyal and engaged communities also have a single-minded active purpose for why they exist. Quite often the reason that drives them has little do with the actual products and services. This is a crucial starting point and one that’s buried in any discussion about channels, but I think it’s the kindling that starts the community fire.

Culture

Culture, or lack of, is simply clarity, or lack of, amplified. With all the talk about authenticity in social circles, it’s easy to forget that you don’t make this up. People that are attracted to purpose join the cause and strengthen it. Without a set of beliefs and corresponding guiding principles clarity becomes directionless. If I am to stick to my river metaphor this would explain the formation of many an oxbow lake. (A lake like body of water formed when a river changes course leaving behind a standing body in the old channel.)

Method

This is probably the hardest element to explain but it’s the catalyst for the energy required to gain something that feels like momentum. Communities don’t generally form around, products, services or companies. They form around ideas, methodologies and processes that allow them to have something in common with others. To me this suggests the vital importance of creating and communicating “unique methods” and “points of view” that help people figure out how to think about their problems in ways that no one else is. When you can do this, and you give your way of thinking a name and set of steps, you create the potential for a shared language around an idea and that is fuel for creating a cause. All of a sudden you’ve given your staff and your customers a way to evangelize in a common tongue.

Content

This is the place where internal and external streams come together and alter each other’s path in essential ways. Content is essentially the story that communicates purpose, culture, trust and method to the outside world. It’s the tool that gives the community a growing voice, for good or bad, and it is how you build a body of work that ultimately communicates a much bigger story.

Presence

There are many access points to a business and its offerings. Social media has certainly increased that number and perhaps simultaneously diluted it, but know this; your story must unfold in a total presence online and off. You must open up access points in social networks, email, advertising, and PR. You must create a culture of listening and responding. You must facilitate and collaborate at every turn. People will discover and join your community in ways that you’ll never consider on paper. Sometimes initiation is simply a matter of being there.

Touchpoints

I have written numerous times about something I call The Marketing Hourglass. For me all the intention of the above channels is lost if you don’t also plan a logical way to move members of the community to act, buy and refer others. The framework above helps engage and attract members to your community, but you still must draw the map that allows them to engage at the highest possible level. This is how you turn a community into a direct revenue stream, but it’s also how you allow members to sort, sift and determine their roles. A community member that doesn’t purchase can, and quite often does, influence other. By creating levels of engagement you allow your community members to define the role that makes sense in their world and cultivate the complete ecosystem needed to foster complete community.

For now I’ve only scratched the surface of the implications of this line of thinking and certainly each convergent stream I’ve described will require its own action plan. It is, however, thinking about channels and communities in this big picture view that will allow you create the vision for a socially enabled business.

The 6 Disciplines of the New Sales Professional

The art of selling has evolved tremendously over the last few years. This is in large part because markets have immediate and deep access to the kind of information once delivered as a primary function of the selling process.

sales disciplines

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Selling has always required dexterity, and successful sales professionals have always practiced this, but today’s sales environment demands that a sales professional also develop and practice disciplines more closely aligned with traditional marketing and customer service practices in addition to becoming an educator in the sales process.

Today’s sales superstars attract, teach, convert, serve and measure while developing an individual brand that stands for trust and expertise.

The following six disciplines make up the necessary traits of the new sales professional.

1) Community building

In the past all the focus was given to the prospect, the one most likely to buy today. Today’s sales professional understands that the larger community dictates ultimate success. By focusing a great deal of attention on “educating” decision makers at every level, building strategic networks and referral partners, and connecting people in ways that lead to no direct benefit, value is created. Delivering value to a growing community is your number one job.

2) Lead defining

Instead of sitting back and waiting for company defined leads to “request more information,” today’s sales professional understands how to define and attract ideal leads often challenging the assumed notions sent up by the marketing department. By narrowly defining what makes an ideal lead, a sales professional can create processes for both finding and standing out with this narrow group. Lead defining can be done across demographics, but it is done most profitably when you can define a behavior that is unique. For example, skeptics often make great leads when understood. What uncommon notion can you challenge when it comes to defining your ideal prospect?

3) Difference making

Markets are often very attracted to companies that stand for something greater than a group of products. Sales professionals can benefit by connecting with their own passion and purpose and using that as part of their story. Getting crystal clear on your own value proposition as well as that of your organization is how you create leverage in a highly competitive sales environment. What difference can you actually make in the lives of your clients?

4) Channel guiding

The concept of the sales funnel is so limiting in today’s sales environment that we need to replace if with something far more representative of the entire picture. Think of moving prospects through a logical set of 7 channels – know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat and refer – the sales and marketing hourglass. When you create sales and marketing processes designed to guide prospects logically down this path, future lead generation becomes the natural outcome of a happy customer.

5) Reputation building

Let’s face it, all things being even we prefer to do business with people we know, like and trust. In today’s online world trust building means something entirely different than it once did – or at the very least it means something much more expansive. Today’s sales professional must build an online and offline reputation in much the same way as one thinks about building a brand. When a prospect is considering a purchase the reputation of a sales representative for delivering value and the social proof that lends to this reputation is increasingly crucial.

6) Inbound attracting

Teaching sells today. Today’s sales professional attracts leads, community and opportunities by publishing educational content. While some marketing departments and sales managers might object to the very idea of this, sales professionals often have far greater insight into the actual world and challenges of the clients they serve and can raise their level of perceived value and expertise by addressing the questions, problems and challenges through blogging, curating and speaking. What sales professional would you choose when you did a search? One with a nice LinkedIn profile or the one that shows up in a search with Google Authorship authority for the very challenge you hope to address?

These disciplines can be taught, but the traits needed to multitask in this manner are not the same ones associated with the typical outgoing salesperson. The ability to relate to a client is essential, but the ability to write, analyze, network, share, speak and measure may be found in a different make up altogether.

How To Build a Business People Want To Refer

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Don Campbell – Enjoy!

What if - instead of relying on expensive paid ad campaigns and direct sales, your business thrived on referrals from happy customers?

That’s the promise of a book I read a few months ago that profoundly changed my business – The Referral Engine.

Customer service has always been important for my company Expand2Web. But reading this book made me realize something very important. Although we were getting referrals from our customers naturally, we weren’t really leveraging our heavy – and expensive – investment in customer service.

We weren’t setting expectations about referrals early in the sales process, we weren’t making it easy for people to refer us to others, and we weren’t ASKING for referrals, even though most of our customers are happy to give them!

The Referral Engine gave us a structure to leverage that investment in customer service and provide more value to our customers at the same time.

Following one of the exercises in the book, we mapped out every customer interaction to see how we could offer a truly exceptional experience, and build it in a way that customer referrals would flow naturally.

For our business, here’s what it looks like:

Customer Interaction Touchpoints

Customer Interaction Touchpoints for Expand2Web

As you can see from the map above, there are many ways we interact with our customers. Even more than we realized at first.

When you think about it, you start interacting with potential customer the first time they experience your brand, or land on your website. These interactions continue into pre-sales questions, the purchase process, support, and even beyond.

Our Referral Action Plan for Expand2Web:

Based on our map, here are a few of the things we did to improve our customer experience and encourage referrals:

1) We started setting expectations with potential customers early.

Before a customer even buys our product, we started setting expectations that we would ask them for a referral (when we deliver on our promise).

On the sales pages and other pages about our products, we explain that our mission is to make them so happy and successful they will want to tell their friends and co-workers about us.

This has the dual purpose of setting expectations that we are committed to their success and happiness, and that we will ask them for a referral once we’ve delivered on that promise.

2) We created a “Customer Welcome Kit” that welcomes every new customer, and helps them succeed.

Another excellent suggestion from the book was to create a customer welcome kit. We followed this advice and created a customer download area so that each customer could log in and get 24/7 access to the latest version of our software, our support, and step-by-step training guides.

3) We added some unexpected bonuses for our customers in the customer welcome area.

For example, we found that the biggest issue for many of our small business customers was learning how to do things in WordPress. So we licensed a series of 20 short WordPress tutorial videos and included them free to our customers.

We are also experimenting with other “surprises” for our customers, like written thank you notes and gifts, and other fun ways to let them know we care about them and their success.

4) We now ASK for referrals at key points in the customer relationship, and make it safe and easy for customers to refer us to their friends and family.

We’re learning the crucial points to ask for referrals, and how to do that in a way that our customers feel safe and want to refer us.

For example, in the book, John points out that there are key times in your customer interactions that are best for asking for referrals. Strangely, right after a support request is one of them. That wasn’t obvious to me at first. Now we’re working on ways to politely ask for referrals from our customers in a risk free way, and to make it easy for them.

Benefits For Us *And* Our Customers

This is a process that we are continually refining and improving. But already it has helped our business tremendously in four ways:

  1. An improved customer experience. Our new customer checkout experience and welcome kit has led to more happy customers, and lots of nice comments from them.
  2. A better product. By reaching out to customers in this way, we get better feedback that goes right back into making our product better. We’ve had several new releases based on insights and feedback from customers, and have another one coming out shortly that has some fantastic new capabilities driven by customer feedback.
  3. Better relationships. Not being a natural salesperson, it was hard for me to ASK customers for a referral. But asking for their help has led to deeper relationships with many customers that I never would have had before. It turns out many people welcome the discussion, and are very willing to help. They feel more vested in what we do and want us to succeed!
  4. Increased referrals. All of this has already increased sales for us in a significant way. I can see how continuing to improve and refine this process will lead to even more sales and help our customers get more value from our products and training.

Our mission now is to continue improving this process by creating an ever more compelling customer experience, from pre-sales through support, and making it easier for our customers to refer us to their family and friends.

Whenever we have to make a decision on where to spend our marketing dollars, this takes precedence. Referrals are now the primary marketing vehicle for us, and best way to grow our business.

What about you – do you have a system for asking your customers for referrals? If so, what has worked for you? If not, what are you waiting for?

Don CampbellDon Campbell lives with his family in San Jose California and is President of Expand2Web. His company provides tools and training to help businesses succeed online.

7 Questions That Keep You Locked In On Growth

Do you know what’s one of the big problems for small business owners and entrepreneurs? Having too many answers.

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In fact, they often have so many ideas, notions and answers, they can’t stay focused on any one thing long enough to know if it’s THE answer.

For many entrepreneurs the constant storm of ideas and answers is a trait, for others it’s an affliction.

Experience tells me however that having the right answers isn’t nearly as valuable as focusing on the right questions.

When you can focus on creating priorities through a framework of customer focused questions, the answers you need in order to create growth, or for that matter, strategy, campaigns and internal processes, will magically present and order themselves.

Below are seven questions that can help organize your priorities and create the answers you need to keep locked in on growth.

1) How will people learn about our value proposition?

Creating and communicating just how your business is different from everyone else that “says they do what you do” is job number one. As you plan for growth you must know this difference and you must chart all the ways you will get it in front of ideal prospects.

This typically takes the form of advertising, public relations, referrals and partnerships.

2) What will make them want to know more?

It’s not enough to run an ad and think this will build the kind of trust needed to make a purchase. You must have an entire education pipeline in place so that a prospect can wade in and learn and experience how you’re different.

Often this step is achieved through content such as blog posts and eBooks.

3) What will lead them to give us permission to share our story?

This question really gets to the heart of the trust issue every business faces. The right to tell your story, what really makes you unique, is something that’s earned. This is also the place where your reputation is measured. Prospects that have come to this point are interested in what you do, now they need to learn how you do it in a way that corresponds with their values and beliefs.

Often, reputation management, reviews, SEO, content and customer stories make or break this element.

4) How can we offer proof that they can get the result they desire?

It’s not enough to simply make a promise these days. You must find ways to offer substantial proof that you can deliver a result. Case studies and customer testimonials are a great place to start, but nothing beats a real life experience.

This is the place where trial offers, evaluations, workshops or freemium versions of what you do can allow people to sample your brilliance in a lower risk form in order to make the decision to make a full purchase more easily.

5) How can we make the buying experience fun, effective and convenient?

Once someone says yes you need to go to work on reselling them and making the experience they received in the sales and marketing phase of the relationship just as good in the customer aspect of the relationship.

One of the best ways to initiate this is through a formal new customer orientation process that includes education and information coupled with some sort of surprise. It’s incredible how often attention to this question leads to referrals and word of mouth buzz.

6) What can we do to measure and ensure our customer gets the result they expected and more?

Sometimes, through no fault of our own, a customer doesn’t get the result they had hoped for. There can be many reasons for this, but focusing on building a process of measurement is crucial. This allows you to fix any lingering issues, but it also allows you to celebrate the value you bring to most customers and use that as both proof and validation for raising your prices.

Create a results review process and make it part of your growth plan.

7) What will lead every customer to talk about us to their friends, neighbors and colleagues?

This question could go on the front end of this post as one of the best ways to improve your business is to begin every client relationship with a referral in mind. At the very least, you must start to think in terms of moments of truth, or touch points where you plant the seed for referrals.

One of my favorite places to do this is during the lead conversion or sales process. Tell every prospect that you know they are going to be so thrilled with the work you do with them that they will want to tell others how they can receive this kind of valuable experience as well.

Now, astute Duct Tape Marketing readers might recognize the logical path of these questions as a perfect match for the more visual representation of marketing that I call The Marketing Hourglass. (You can download a free eBook on this concept here)

Follow the Logical Path to Marketing Success

As I’ve stated countless times marketing is a process of getting people with a need to know, like and trust you. It’s a bit like the traditional Russian Matryoshka nested dolls – you open up one and that leads you the next step and the next step and the next.

The key is creating a series of logical steps so that people take small steps along the path rather than asking them to make giant leaps.

I’ve used a metaphor I call The Marketing Hourglass to lay out the step in the path – know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat and refer. These seven steps when outlined for small business owners, seem to bring the entire concept of a marketing system into much greater focus.

Today I would like to outline what these steps might actually look like from a tactical standpoint for a typical B2B service business.

Know

This is the act of creating awareness so while it sometimes starts with a referral received, it’s often the act of putting something out there that gets the attention of your prospect.

Know tactics – AdWords ad promoting free eBook that is related to your service offering but doesn’t sell anything directly, blog posts answering common client challenges amplified in social media, Facebook promoted posts for free eBook, LinkedIn Answers geared towards blog posts and free eBook content.

Like

In this step you must move towards gaining permission to continue a conversation. The key here is your email capture activities.

Like tactics – Create landing pages for specific networks, create eBook landing page with autoresponder that delivers even more information related to eBook or other eBooks, offer weekly newsletter to all who download eBook.

Trust

Trust is perhaps the most important step and yet it’s not one you can simply manufacture through one or two tactics – it’s comes together through a collection of things.

Trust tactics – consistently deliver your newsletter, educate – don’t promote, get backlinks from reputable websites, participate on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter by sharing great information and helping others find what they want, consistently write educational blog content, stimulate reviews on sites like Google+, LinkedIn and Yelp, submit press releases to online distribution sites such as PRWeb and find industry or local publications that accept contributed content.

Try

The try step is omitted by many in the desire to leap rather than lead.

Try tactics – create and deliver an online or in person seminar related to your eBook, create a free or low cost experience of your knowledge or expertise through an audit or evaluation, create an unheard of guarantee, create a try before your buy option, create a low cost version, write a book.

Buy

Obviously, this is the step we all want, but for me it’s just another stepping stone to the ultimate goal – a thoroughly thrilled customer.

Buy tactics – give more than promised, add a bonus, create a new customer kit, look for ways to get increase education for more than the buyer, make it easy to for buyer to sell the solution internally.

Repeat

For most businesses, long-term momentum only occurs when the customers acquired in year one buy more as new customers are acquired in year two. This step must be intentional and designed in the beginning as opposed to left to accidental whim.

Repeat tactics – create a results review process with every client, start an autorespoder series that provides education on additional solutions, write hand written notes for no reason, check in on LinkedIn with clients occasionally just to say hi, systematically send press clippings, create custom RSS feeds, create a client only newsletter, create mastermind and peer-2-peer client only groups.

Refer

100% referral from your client base is the goal of this system and while it won’t ever happen, if you begin with this result in mind, it’s more likely that a higher percentage of clients will refer.

Refer tactics – create a partner team and introduce them to your clients, sponsor a not for profit event and include your clients, create eBooks or gift certificates that your clients and cobrand and distribute, feature your client stories in your marketing materials, hold client appreciation events, create a hot 100 prospect list and share it with clients for introductions.

Obviously there are many things that come before the tactical implementation of your path, such as defining your ideal client you want to walk the path and communicating why your path is the perfect one to walk, but having an integrated set of tactics each with the goal of moving prospects and clients to the next stop along the way just makes marketing much easier.

How to Create the Total Customer Experience

For some time now I’ve been sharing a concept I call The Marketing HourglassTM. I truly believe it’s become the most significant thing I’ve contributed to the concept of marketing.

The Marketing Hourglass takes its cue from the long established marketing funnel, but what’s it is really all about is building trust and focusing on turning that trust into repeat business and referrals.

See, I firmly believe that a happy customer is your best tool when it comes to lead and referral generation and The Marketing Hourglass is all about shifting the focus to conversion and referral.

The central idea is an intentional plan to move people logically through the hourglass stages of know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat and refer. You do this by creating products, services, touchpoints and processes aimed at moving people to the next stage and next stage.

The interesting thing about this framework is that you can apply it globally to a business model, content plan or product launch equally.

I’ve assembled pretty much everything I’ve written on the use of this tool, including a full color infographic that you can use as a guide for creating the various elements of the hourglass application, into free eBook I’ve called – How to Build a Remarkable Business by Focusing On the Total Customer Experience.

Download your free copy here and the entire process of marketing will make so much more sense.

Begin With a Referral In Mind

A referral is the result a job well done, exceeded expectations and delivering an experience worth talking about. Most assume it happens after the fact, but I’m here to tell you it can happen consistently and predictably before the fact if you begin every decision you make with a referral in mind.

Sarah Korf via Flickr

My Grandmother was an old school, every stitch by hand, quilter. She made every one of her grandchildren and every one of her thirty plus great grandchildren a quilt. I remember asking her how she did it and she told me that she always just began with the end in mind. She would make hundreds and hundreds of decisions about where she was going because she had a single minded goal in her head.

Let me ask you this – What would need to change if you were to wake up tomorrow and proclaim that every single one of your clients would be so well cared for they would naturally refer their friends and colleagues? If a 100% referral rate was now your new standard of success, would that make you pause and reflect on just about every element of your business?

Would that make you think about how to over deliver as a design element of your products and services?

Would that make you think about ways to ensure your clients got the results promised?

Would that change the way you followed up 45 and 90 days after the sale?

Would it make you start introducing the idea of a referral during the sales process? Could you confidently assure a prospect that they would be so happy with the result of the purchase that they would want to refer – before they ever became a customer?

Would it make you reassess ways you build trust? Would it make you freely give away information and training that is better than what your competitors charged for?

Would it change how you more fully integrated social media, content and SEO? Yes, referrals happen because of what a referred prospect finds when they search.

Would it change your idea of what an ideal client looked like? Remember, one of the surest ways to generate referrals is to attract clients that fully appreciate your unique way of doing business.

So you see, referrals don’t just happen because of what you do after you have a satisfied client, they happen because of every thing you do before you even attempt to ask for the referral.

A referral happens most when you begin with the referral in mind.