Don’t You Want Me, Business ?

Posted on October 22, 2008. Filed under: Business, Sales, Social Media | Tags: , , , , |

Please Call Us

I have been trying to find a web hosting company to move this blog to.  You would think that would be fairly straightforward.  I have certain criteria, like a wordpress install included in the webspace, reasonably priced etc. but nothing too difficult or demanding.

In the past two weeks I have visited several web hosting companies that offer the services I am looking for.  I found their “contact us” page and filled out the required form, including details of what I am looking for and explaining that I would like to do this quite soon.  Of the three companies that I contacted, not one has responded with anything more than an automated email telling me that they will be in touch very soon but that if I would like a faster response I can call them at 1800……

Let me get this straight, you are a web based company, you have a contact us form on your website and you want me to phone you to get your attention long enough for me to do business with you?  I have that correct don’t I?  You have the technology to setup an auto-responder for the mailbox that your form posts to, you have the financial resources to have someone answering phones but you can’t answer you own email?  I am going to do business with you why?

Closing Down

Experian states that 4,798 businesses failed in the first quarter of 2008 up 8.5% on the same quarter previous year.  The media abounds with stories of businesses failing, of the economic downturn that we are all experiencing and yet I can’t seem to give my business to anyone.

Anyone in business development will tell you that it is between 5 & 10 times harder to acquire a new customer than it is to service an existing customer, so why, if you have a customer knocking on your door asking to do business with you would you completely ignore them?

Real Recession?

This makes me ask the question, is the recession real?  Is it conveniently timed to coincide with the election?  They say that two things that are guaranteed to get votes is to have a war or have a financial crisis.  Seems we have a war but that isnt really getting the attention it once was, so now we need a financial crisis to focus people on voting for change.

Or perhaps certain industries are immune to the recession, I would have thought that web hosting falls into the data center industry which is one of the country’s biggest users of energy, with rising energy prices I would assume their cost base has risen.  Of course my evidence is all anecdotal but given that this has happened with not one, not two but three companies over a three week period it seems that I am either being boycotted by the web hosting industry or I am experiencing something that is common to that industry and quite likely others too. As Thomas Edison said “What you are will show in what you do” a lack of follow through to a sales inquiry really doesn’t give me confidence that your customer service is going to be what I am looking for.

If you have had a similar experience please share it with me, maybe we can use Social Media to get these companies to take note of the sales opportunities they are missing.

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White Papers: Don’t make them Sales Brochures

Posted on October 12, 2008. Filed under: Business, Marketing, Sales | Tags: , , , |

Many businesses are turning to White Papers as part of their Marketing communication strategy. Unfortunately many of them seem to have the wrong idea about what constitutes a White Paper. For a large number of companies it seems that their White Papers are really extended sales brochures. As Steve Hoffman writes in a recent Marketing Profs White Paper, “White papers are not marketing collateral,” he says. “They complement marketing collateral.”, He goes on to state ” A ‘white paper’ that actively markets your company to readers is nothing more than a long, wordy brochure.”

However, many companies just don’t seem to understand this and continue to produce White Papers that truly don’t meet this criteria. Lets examine the reasons why a company would engage in the creation of a White Paper.

  1. The intention to position their company as Subject Matter Experts with regard to a particular service, product or technology
  2. To differentiate themselves from their competitors by sharing knowledge
  3. To drive traffic and/or leads to their website
  4. To reinforce or create an impression with prospects and clients that they are a trusted voice in their industry
  5. To introduce a new concept, solution or technology to the market

These are not by any means the only reason why a company would seek to publish a White Paper but they certainly constitute the most popular reasons. Now given that a company is going to commit time, money and resources to this endeavor with the hopes of meeting at least one, if not more of the aims above then it would seem reasonable that some consideration of the readership, both intended and unintended would be considered.

However, that seems to be the last thing that companies consider when setting out on this path. They start and end with a focus on selling their product and in doing so hamstring their endeavor before it has even started.

Lets examine a typical White Paper from cover to cover and review how so many companies are producing them and make suggestions about how they can do them better.

The cover – Often produced as an after thought, this is where the trouble starts. A large Logo emblazoned on the front of the White Paper, immediately announcing that this is the product of a particular company. Then a title that also includes the company name, e.g. “ABC’s Solution to your Problem”. A reader seeing this has already put up their anti-sales barriers, that’s if they even bother to go any further. Given that most companies ask you to complete a short info form before you can download a White Paper, the reader is now feeling cheated, they have given out their email address and name and possibly other information on the pretext of being given some valuable information, only to find that they are in fact going to be sold to.

  • The Alternative – Move your logo – if you must in fact include your logo on the front page, and I am by no means supporting that, to a greatly reduced size to the bottom of the front page, precede it with “Sponsored by” or “Provided by”. In place of the Logo put a title that fairly represents the content of the paper, it doesn’t have to be bland, it can be catchy but it must most importantly be relevant and should not under any circumstances include the company name. Make sure that the author(s) names are on the front page so that people have some sense of who wrote the paper, include their position or expertise.

The content – Having opened the White Paper the reader is then told how they are going to read in this paper that ABC’s solution is the only one they need to consider. They are told how not considering ABC’s solution will in fact lead them into dire straits, financial ruin, or end their career. That everyone who is anyone in the industry is already using this solution and that only buyers who truly lack vision would be considering anything else. This may seem extreme but I can honestly say I have seen just these tactics used in what was supposed to be a White Paper. Using fear or other “sales” tactics in a White Paper not only doesn’t work, its completely inappropriate for the medium. Using unsupported claims is also pointless, again these leave the reader feeling that they have downloaded a sales brochure and are unlikely to get any useful information from this paper.

  • The Alternative – Make the content compelling. Tell a story, that doesn’t mean fictionalize it, it means have a narrative thread that runs throughout the paper. Lead the reader through your arguments with facts that support your position. Where possible cite studies or quote industry figures that agree with and support your position. Use images where appropriate, but not so many that the paper becomes more like a graphic novel than a White Paper. Leave out any mention of your company. This is the hardest pill for most companies to swallow. “How will the reader know about us”, they ask. We’ll get to the part where you get to pitch, but it isn’t in the body of the White Paper. Provide some proprietary information, give the reader something that they would have to have paid for to get normally. Perhaps its from a study that is only available by subscription (be sure to source it properly) or perhaps its from the companies own data. Many companies fear doing this – “what if our competitors get this information?”, what if they do? Obviously don’t include something that would remove your competitive edge, but revealing some information, even if it goes to your competitors is more likely to strengthen your position than weaken it. So where does the pitch go ? At the very back of the paper, separate page, separate heading, so that it is clearly not part of the paper. A heading like “About the Sponsors” gives the reader a clear indication that this is the pitch part, it gives them the opportunity to read it or not, but it also allows them to clearly delineate in their minds the meat of the paper and the sales pitch, which is more likely to have them read the pitch because after all, you have given them something useful, now they are more likely to give you something back – their time.

The Readership – just because the paper was written with a specific reader in mind, new prospects, existing customers etc. doesn’t mean that is who will read it. White Papers are used by a variety of sources, competitors, market researchers, journalists, and yes new prospects and existing customers. If a White Paper reads like a sales brochure, provides no new information, doesn’t offer a genuine insight and relevant data to a reader how does this meet the defined objectives? Will a company be seen as an industry subject matter expert, will it drive new prospects to a website, will existing customers think of the company as a trusted industry voice, will journalists or market researchers think of them when they next need a quote about the industry?

As a recap, avoid selling in a white paper at all costs, make the body engaging, provide facts that the reader can use, be subtle about the branding of white papers and keep in mind the wider audience that you might reach however unintentionally.

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Case Studies: Are you getting the most from them?

Posted on October 12, 2008. Filed under: Business, Marketing | Tags: , , , , |

 Case studies are one of the most effective marketing tools that an organization can use. However, they are often under utilized. Quite often generated as a request from the sales department or as part of an addition to the “Customers” or “Clients” page on a website, there are many more uses for this communication media.

As part of the sales process they can be used to actively overcome objections and as “instant” references. Placed on a website they provide a passive information experience that can provide assurance to a potential customer that they are, in fact, at the right place.   
So why send customers brochures, why not send them that great story, something that they can relate to and will remember. The Technical Buying and Media Consumption Survey, 2007 reported that 67% of recipients of Case Studies used them as part of their buying decision process.
It also provides your sales force with a completely different approach. Instead of contacting prospects and asking if they can send product information. They can ask if they can send them the success story of a customer. It allows for an easier follow up call, “What did you think of how customer ABC used the product to solve that problem?”
It is also a great way to maintain contact with prospects for your sales force. Now they have a reason to send something to them. Beyond this, why not use it as a press release? Instead of the usual press release that is all about you, now you are telling a story, which makes for great material for any editor looking to include interesting information in an article, or just as the basis for a story.

Why not convert it to PowerPoint? Now your speakers have a dynamic element for their next presentation, and the take-away handout – yes you guessed it, your case study.

If you are already in the habit of maintaining contact with your existing and potential customers through the use of newsletter or ezines, then your case study just became a compelling article that will have people reading, and once you have them reading you can promote other services, products or information.

As you can see, case studies can be a dynamic tool in your marketing toolbox. Don’t limit their use to just the sales department. Maximize how you use them; after all you have a great story to tell, so tell it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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