Brooke Souza

LinkedIn: Build Your Network to Grow Your Business

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Before you click “Connect” on that prospect’s LinkedIn profile, be sure your company page and profile are fully optimized. Both are first impressions of your brand that a prospect will look at before deciding whether or not to engage. If you haven’t taken this important step, read this recent blog post to get up-to-speed.

With those two items checked off your list, you can now start focusing on building your LinkedIn network. While 500+ connections is a common goal, quality is definitely more important than quantity. If done properly, your LinkedIn network can become a strategic source of referrals and introductions that boosts your brand and credibility.

Let’s first talk about how to increase your connections. Here are 5 ways that will resonate across industries.

  1. Start with who you know. Connect with your current and previous colleagues, as well as classmates and existing clients.
  2. Starting to work with a new client? Add all key contacts to your network.
  3. Now that you’re connected to those key contacts, search their networks for 3 – 5 other individuals (per contact) at companies with which you’d like to do business.
  4. When celebrating a win with a client or wrapping up a successful project, ask for introductions to those 3 – 5 individuals. If you do that for 3 contacts, you’ve got 9 – 15 qualified leads.
  5. Attend a successful industry event or conference? Connect with contacts you met.

Now that you’ve got a network of connections, how are you going to leverage them?

  • Share updates from your company’s LinkedIn page when there is a new post to build awareness of your brand.
  • Check your LinkedIn newsfeed on a weekly basis to see what your connections are posting and engage with their content by liking or providing comments. This will keep you and your brand top-of-mind so when a need arises, they recall your organization above others.
  • Scan your connections’ networks on a quarterly basis to see if they have any new connections you’d like to be introduced to.

As with any outreach, especially when it comes to prospecting, take the time to send personalized InMails and invitations. As for anyone who’s set up an introduction for you or made a recommendation, don’t forget to return the favor!

The Ultimate Guide to Executing Your Next Webinar

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You’ve decided to host a webinar. Now what? Webinars can be highly effective in the B2B space for building brand credibility, developing thought leadership, and getting in front of many interested leads at once and at a low cost. So how do you get the most out of your next webinar? Have a solid plan that takes you from preparation to follow-up.

Know what you’re working towards.

  • What are your goals? Advancing warm lead in the sales pipeline, promoting thought leadership and brand awareness, and establishing your brand as an authority in the space are just a few examples.
  • What are your quantifiable objectives? According to Confertel, .5% – 1% of those invited will register, and about 40% of those who register will actually attend. So start with your end goal and work backwards.

Iron out the logistics.

  • Who’s your audience? This can include all leads in the pipeline, warm leads who haven’t converted, and new contacts who may not yet be familiar with your brand.
  • When will it be? Midweek at 10 AM or 1 PM typically work best, but consider when your audience is most available.
  • How long will it last? While some will recommend 60 – 90 minutes, we suggest 45 – 60 minutes (before attendees starting losing interest).
  • What’s your topic? It should be educational rather than sales-driven. Attendees shouldn’t feel like they’re sitting through your sales pitch.
  • What platform are you using? GoToWebinar and WebEx are common platforms.
  • Who’s owning what? Identify a key speaker(s) and host/moderator. Assign roles for who’s building out content and who’s responsible for day-of-webinar technical tasks like moving slides, running polls, etc.
  • Will you have polls, Q&A time, and/or a survey? All of these components add value. A couple quick polls during the webinar can keep attendees engaged. 10 minutes of Q&A at the end allows attendees to ask their most relevant questions and provides you the opportunity to connect responses with your product, service, and/or relevant experience. A short survey gathers immediate attendee feedback while it’s top-of-mind.
  • How will folks register? Most webinar platforms allow you to customize a registration landing page. Include what attendees will learn, as well the presenter’s bio and headshot to build credibility. For every promotional channel, use a unique tracking URL so you can later determine effective and ineffective channels.

Plan your marketing efforts.

Promotions should go into full effect 4 weeks before the webinar, which means you’ll need to plan the details 8 weeks in advance. This can include:

  • Linked banner image on your homepage
  • Linked image or text in everyone’s email signature
  • Multiple posts across your company and team members’ social media networks
  • Paid search ads
  • Remarketing ads
  • Display ads on relevant, popular websites in your space
  • Drip emails through your marketing automation platform or email service provider to existing leads and targeted purchased lists
  • Personal emails and calls to warm leads from the sales team

Be sure to suppress new registrations from promotional emails and calls.

Send reminders.

Beyond the confirmation email your platform deploys after registration, send 2 reminder emails leading up to the webinar: 24 hours prior and 1 hour prior to start time.

Build your content.

Remember: content should be educational, not salesy. Kick off with a hook that will resonate with your audience like a story that exemplifies their most common pain point. Slides should be visually engaging, using graphs to convey quantifiable data and minimizing the amount of text used.

Test!

Simply put and for obvious reasons: do at least one run-through with all involved parties.

Keep the conversation going.

Just because the webinar must end doesn’t mean your conversation should. Thank attendees by sending them a follow-up email with the recorded webinar for their reference. Similarly, send a “We missed you!” email with the recording to those who registered but didn’t make it. Over the following couple weeks, drip another two emails with content relevant to the webinar topic, then add all who registered as subscribers to your prospecting drip campaign or eNewsletter.

Warm leads should get 1-on-1 attention with personalized follow-up via phone and email.

How to Get Results from Your Sales Team

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A lack of structure and process going into your sales force means a lack of results coming out of it. To run an effective, sales-driven organization, you must set team members up for success and hold them accountable.

Set the sales team up for success in two key ways: assets and trainings.

Assets build credibility for your company and will serve as tools that the sales team can leverage leading up to, during, and following meetings. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask, “What would I need to know or want to see before purchasing?” The answer can vary depending on your business. To name a few:

  • Case studies and client testimonial videos to prove the company’s past successes
  • White papers to establish the company as a trusted expert and key opinion leader (KOL) in the industry
  • Infographics to clearly communicate complex offerings and results
  • iPad-compatible pitch deck to guide the conversation during a sales meeting

Outside of industry-mandated certifications and classes, trainings for your sales force should be recurring (ideally once per month) and cover a multitude of topics, including:

  • Messaging, specifically how the team should be speaking about the company and its products
  • How team members should be spending their days (e.g. 15% of time researching new leads, 30% contacting new leads, 30% nurturing existing leads, and 25% at in-person sales meetings)
  • The multiple points of contact that each team member should be making with a lead (e.g. calls, emails, direct mailers, in-person meetings) and the timing of those touchpoints
  • Effective upselling and/or cross-selling techniques
  • Accurate tracking of all leads and customers, especially if there’s an opportunity for repeat business

Set clear performance metrics and hold the team accountable.

With the proper tools and trainings in place, set key performance indicators and communicate them to the team. A customer relationship management (CRM) system is the best medium for tracking these metrics. If a CRM isn’t in place, a collaborative Google spreadsheet can suffice. At minimum, the information to track for each lead should include:

  • Contact information (first and last name, address, telephone number, and email address)
  • Referral source
  • Number of contact attempts made
  • Next contact attempt date
  • Date of each contact attempt and received response
  • Meeting date
  • Status in the sales pipeline
  • Sale amount

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly: hold the team accountable. If there’s no one responsible for running the team as a unified sales force, then performance metrics won’t be reached. Appoint someone with a sales-oriented mindset as the sales manager or team lead. In addition to holding the abovementioned trainings and ensuring that metrics tracking is taking place, the team lead should hold weekly meetings for team members to report on individual metrics and hot leads from the previous week, as well as share key wins and learning points.

Unlimited choices with a limited budget: Implement the right tactics to build brand awareness

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You want to grow your business and build bran awareness. You have countless channels to choose from, infinite sales representatives banging down your door with the “perfect solution,” and limited resources. So, where do you focus your efforts?

While there’s no one-size-fits-all marketing mix, tactics generally fall into two buckets: Brand awareness and direct response. But before you can decide which type will be best to promote your product or service, you must first identify a clear goal.

If your goal is to reach as many prospective consumers as possible and familiarize them with your brand, so it’s top-of-mind for future purchases, then brand awareness tactics will be at the core of your efforts. These initiatives are generally less targeted, aim to increase visibility in front of a wider audience, and take longer to yield measurable results. Here are a few common brand awareness tactics:

  • Television
  • Radio
  • Print publications
  • PR
  • Content marketing (blogs, video, case studies, white papers, infographics)
  • Trade shows, conferences and events
  • Webinars
  • Digital display
  • Non-paid social media (organic posts)

On the opposite side of the coin, if your goal is generating leads and driving immediate results, resources should be allocated to direct response tactics. These initiatives get in front of targeted prospects during their time of need or peaked interest; include a clear, strong call-to-action encouraging prospects to act; and are easily trackable and quantifiable. Below are some popular direct response tactics:

  • Paid search
  • SEO
  • Email marketing / marketing automation
  • Direct mail
  • Calling campaigns

It’s true that brand awareness and direct response initiatives work to accomplish different objectives, but they don’t need to work in isolation of each other. Many organizations opt for a hybrid tactical model –informing general consumers that the brand exists while encouraging others to buy. Learn from other companies but recognize that their path may not be right for your business. To optimize your time and marketing dollars, define the goal for growing your business before deciding how you’ll do it.

 

3 Steady Lead Sources to Optimize Marketing Automation Efforts

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You have a marketing automation platform in place, but the ROI you expected isn’t there. You’re continually reaching out to the same leads and struggling to get new ones into the pipeline.

If this scenario reads all-too-familiar, here are three ways to optimize the effectiveness of your marketing automation platform by having steady sources of inbound leads.

 

  1. Place high-quality content behind lead capture forms.

Build pieces of industry-leading content – such as a white papers and case studies – and place each behind a form on the website, allowing you to capture the information of leads who download the content. Once the website form is submitted, the lead’s information gets fed into the marketing automation platform, as well as a CRM (customer relationship management system) if integrated.

  1. Acquire attendee lists from events.

Beyond an email signup sheet at your booth or table, make the most of the trade shows and conferences you’re attending where there are qualified leads. Dependent upon your participation level, event organizers will often provide attendee contact information upon request, including first and last name, company, position, and email address.

Following the event, enter those individuals into your CRM or marketing automation database, and follow up with attendees easily through an “It was nice meeting you at <insert event name here>!” campaign.

  1. Hold virtual webinars.

Webinars are an easy, cost effective way to reach prospects, especially if your target audience is geographically dispersed. Hold webinars for leads with an aligned interest. For example, if your company manufactures red, white, and blue widgets, hold separate webinars for each vertical – ensuring that content is focused solely on what the audience cares about, common pain points and solutions, etc.

When a lead submits the web form to register, contact information automatically gets fed into the marketing automation platform, as well as the CRM if applicable. Beyond webinar-specific campaigns, future drips can be targeted since you’ll know which vertical the lead is interested in.

From Vendor to Partner: 3 Tips for Crossing the Threshold

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At the end of the day ─ once the meeting is over, the deliverable is submitted, and the pop-up fire is extinguished ─ what makes you different from your client’s other vendors?

We could start with the very word itself: vendor. Does your client consider you to be someone who sells a product or service in a transactional manner, or have you become a partner ─ an entrenched and necessary extension of your client’s internal team?

In today’s ultra-competitive B2B market, being a vendor may get clients, but being a partner retains clients.

1.    Know the space.

Subscribe to your client’s eNewsletter, a few competitor emails, and industry publications so you stay in the know. Create Google Alerts on the name of your client’s organization and key contacts. This knowledge will better equip you for client interactions, as well as provide insight into their world and context around projects.

Share quality content: a relevant industry article along with key takeaways that resonated with you or a congratulatory hand-written card to the CFO on a recent promotion.

2.    Have a conversation.

With busy schedules and clients who prefer brevity, it can be easy to start a meeting by diving right into the project at hand. Before talking shop, ask how business is going, how their weekend was, or if they have any big plans for the upcoming holiday. Get to know your contacts as people.

Beyond inquiring, take notes on their responses ─ from birthdays and favorite vacation spots to pets and kids’ names. Add important dates to your calendar so you remember to send a personalized note, and instead of generically asking about the past weekend, ask specifically “Did you do anything fun with <insert kids’ names here>?”

9 times out of 10, your contact’s posture will relax and expression will soften.

3.    Think outside of the box.

Beyond what your clients verbally say, what are their other cues telling you? Here’s an example.

Regardless of your meeting time, your client always has a hot coffee in hand. The morning of a meeting, your client emails that she’s running behind and may be late to the office. Since you’re prepping at a nearby coffee shop and know her affinity for caffeine, you respond by asking if you can bring her a coffee to which she graciously and eagerly accepts.

Before the meeting even begins, you’ve already put a smile on her face.

The common thread in these relationship building tips is twofold. Listening ─ whether to the external landscape, responses, or preferences ─ is no longer enough. We must then take that acquired knowledge and turn it into action. This takes time, a willingness to think and act outside of scope, and deliberate effort.

Messaging: A Key Building Block to Driving New Business

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Would you run an open house before the house is built? Or put up walls before the foundation is laid? Similarly, you shouldn’t start promoting your brand until a powerful, distinctive message is in place and communicated throughout your organization.

Many of today’s business executives want results yesterday and are eager to get the word out there, even before messaging is defined. The result? A diluted brand that carries little meaning, delivers minimal impact, and often confuses audiences.

Hone your message.

The first step in building a solid brand is to create a clear, consistent message and bring it to fruition in a tangible way. This can take the form of a succinct brand positioning document ─ typically one or two pages that includes a brand positioning statement and key talking points ─ or a more comprehensive multi-page core messaging document ─ that includes a unique selling proposition, elevator pitch, benefits, audiences, and segmented messaging among other pieces.

Start by considering these questions:

  • What is your company story?
  • What is your mission?
  • What is your vision?
  • What does your brand offer (e.g. products, services)?
  • Why should someone buy from you?
  • How do you deliver value?
  • Why do you do what you do?
  • How many distinct audiences do you have?
  • If multiple audiences, should messaging be segmented and targeted to each?

Once finalized, this fundamental document will serve as resource for employees, as well as a reference point from which all external marketing initiatives should be created.

Speak with a unified voice.

Imagine asking five different employees what your organization does and getting five different answers in return. While not ideal, it’s a fairly common scenario. To avoid this, share final messaging with your team to ensure that everyone is consistent in the way they communicate your brand to the marketplace. Make it personal by bringing the team together in one gathering rather than sending an ineffective group email. Your employees are your brand ambassadors, so you should equip them with the knowledge and tools in an engaging way.

Some ideas for sharing your new messaging with employees:

  • Distribute the messaging document to existing employees and incorporate it into the employee on-boarding process.
  • Create a visually appealing employee brand card (4” x 6” or 5” x 7”) that includes your tagline, mission, vision, value proposition, and elevator pitch.
  • Build a short video (consider Animoto, an online video software) comprised of your new messaging and photos of the team.

Effective Email Marketing: 6 Steps to Getting out of Your Subscribers’ Trash

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Whether your company is in the B2B or B2C market, a global distribution manufacturer or the neighborhood deli, the goal of email marketing remains the same: to generate leads. Not only does a well-crafted email allow you to be top-of-mind with prospects, it also provides an opportunity to stay in front of loyal customers. A sound email list includes subscribers who have shown an interest in the products or services you offer by opting in. The key is to craft emails effectively so subscribers will go from deleting or casually skimming to taking action.

1.       KISS with your subject line.

Keep it short and sweet. Research performed by Retention Science shows that 6 – 10 word subject lines performed best with a 21% open rate, and subject lines with the recipient’s first name earned higher open rates by 2.6% compared to those that did not. Subjects that communicate benefits (e.g. “free delivery”), content (e.g. “news”) or frequency (e.g. “weekly”) earned above average open rates. Learn more about which words warrant the best metrics by industry in Adestra’s 2013 Subject Line Analysis Report.

2.       Provide value with engaging content.

What do your prospective and existing customers care about? Their time is limited so your content should be concise and relevant. How-to guides and tips are tools subscribers can utilize immediately. Highlighting a customer (with permission, of course) or featuring a recent work (e.g. new website that just went live) is an effective way to showcase your capabilities, products and/or services. A small “fun fact” section can provide subscribers a more intimate view of your company and build a connection.  For example, “Did you know that 63% of our employees own dogs? Our loyal companions keep us grounded!”

3.       Include compelling images.

Engaging content does not end with your copy. Use bright, crisp images that are relevant, consistent with your brand and support your message. Do not pull photos from an online image search. This could have legal implications and subscribers will recognize that your visuals are generic and lack-luster. If necessary, consider stock imagery which typically costs between $25 and $100 per photo (try Shutterstock or iStockphoto). You’ll own the image(s) which can make the investment worth it. Having trouble deciding which images to use? Ask yourself this, “If I could only communicate my brand and message through images, which ones would I use?”

4.       Employ a strong call-to-action.

As obvious as it sounds, even the most well-composed email will leave subscribers wondering what to do next if it lacks a call-to-action (CTA). Think of your email as a conversation starter in which you invite recipients to interact, and be clear and concise about (1) how you want your subscribers to act and (2) the benefits of acting. Aside from lead generation, what are your main objectives? If you want to build credibility and be seen as a key opinion leader, then “Download our recent whitepaper to learn the 10 Marketing Objectives Every CEO Should Ask” would be a suitable CTA. If you’re trying to build your social media presence, “Like us on Facebook to get our daily 20-minute recipes” would be effective.

5.       Use responsive design.

Whether designing an email from scratch or modifying a pre-made template, use responsive design. This means that your email will adjust and display differently according to the viewing device (desktop monitor, laptop, tablet or phone). Yesmail’s Q1 2014 email benchmark report states that over half of email opens are on a mobile device. Of these mobile opens, templates with responsive design warranted a 21% higher click-to-open rate than those without it. Looking for a free or affordably priced template that can be used with most email service providers? Check out this list from Mashable.

6.       When in doubt: test.

So you’ve narrowed it down to 2 subject lines and don’t know which will warrant a better open rate? Use both. Split testing, or A/B testing, is a controlled experiment comparing two variants. Some email service providers offer this feature. If yours isn’t one of them, perform your own A/B test by randomly splitting your subscriber list in half and scheduling two campaigns (all email components the same except for the one piece you’re testing) to deploy simultaneously (if possible so that day/time isn’t another variable). Last step: compare the metrics. Results may not be conclusive when self-testing, but you might be able to make a directional inference.