Archive for May, 2009

Leads and prospects and customers, oh my!

(Sung to “If I only had a brain” from the Wizard of Oz)
I’d could use my time much better, create a great newsletter
And plant some prospect seeds,
I could share our comp’ny vision
Help them make a ‘buy’ decision
If I only had some leads.

Yes, it’s another original adaption from yours truly. I’m willing to take full credit because, heck, nobody else wants to claim that crap as their own.

I’ve noticed a lot of people using the terms lead, prospect, and customer interchangeably, so I thought I’d take today to explain the differences between them. Once you speak the language, and understand the differences, it makes a lot more sense. It is also another way for me to build the kumbaya bridge between sales and marketing. Here we go:

  • Suspect – not a generally used term, but a suspect is defined as a person that may be in the market for the types of products and services your company (and your competition) produces. Is is essentially a superset of all your potential customers. You may not know who they are, and they may not know who you are, but they are out there, waiting to be discovered. You need to connect with suspects, or have them connect with you, in order to convert them into leads.
  • Lead – this is someone who is in the market for the types of products and services your company produces. They may specifically know about your company, you may know who they are, or both. They have expressed either a specific or general interest, and have provided contact information about themselves. Depending on their needs, budgets, and timelines, leads are traditionally classified as cold, warm, and hot.
  • Prospect – defined as a lead who has passed the initial qualification (in other words, they are a real person who exists) and is currently being engaged in some way, depending on their needs. In sales/CRM terms, if an ‘estimate’ or ‘opportunity’ is created for a lead, the lead becomes a prospect. The level of contact a prospect receives ranges from an occasional email or phone call to an in-person demo or pilot project.
  • Customer – occurs when a prospect makes a purchase decision. Once a company receives money (or, in sales/CRM terms, a ‘sales transaction’) from prospects for their products and services, those prospects are officially converted into customers. Bring the money, honey.

I’m taking some badly needed vacation time this week, so I won’t be writing any blog entries until next Monday. Until then, have a great week, thank you for your continued support and comments, and we’ll start fresh on Monday. Hasta luego.

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May 31, 2009 at 11:30 pm Leave a comment

What are the characteristics of a great website?

Aximum Marketing's home page
We all have our favorite websites. But what actually makes a website great? Here are my criteria – I’d love to hear your ideas as well:

  1. Visual appeal. The web can act as the great equalizer. Small companies can look big and legitimate with a quality website. Conversely, large companies that have lousy websites can appear distracted and amateur. There’s no substitute for giving a good first impression.
  2. Powerful messages that speak to your customer’s needs. Nobody likes a long-winded talker. Unless you have an information-based website (like Amazon, which provides full reviews of products, etc.), resist the temptation of generating massive amounts of information, especially on the home page. Keep it short, sharp, and targeted, with a predefined objective (see “Lily pad” marketing for more information on objective-based marketing strategies).
  3. Success stories. Providing case studies of your accomplishments have several benefits. You can demonstrate how effectively your company works with customers, provide concrete examples of success using metrics, share experiences with prominent customers to gain legitimacy and credibility, and strengthen the persuasion process through the use of similar customers in similar industries.
  4. Social Networking. Whether it’s a blog (like this WordPress blog), Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, or social bookmarking, you cannot deny the impact of social networking on today’s marketing strategies. Customers now have an expectation of two-way communication, and social networking facilitates symbiotic connections between a company and its audience.
  5. Logical lead generation paths. It’s frustrating when you have to bounce all over a website to find what you want. A well-designed site understands its target audience and develops well-defined, clearly stated communication paths with the proper Calls To Action (CTA). Typical CTAs are filling out a form, downloading a white paper, signing up for a webinar, contacting a salesperson, and purchasing a product through your ecommerce function.
  6. Just the right amount of “wow” for your audience. Know they audience. If your products and services cater to accountants, don’t use bells and whistles that you’d use for, say, a teenage gamer audience. It’ll just turn them off and make them think you don’t understand them. I bet those accountants would love a virtual Dilbert experience, or a flash-based GAAP search tool.
  7. Web 2.0 look and feel. This means many things to many people. To me, Web 2.0 means dimensional or reflective graphics, modest use of Flash, “push button” navigation (like the simplicity of Redbox’s navigation), and the use of negative (white) space to add airiness.

What do you think? Are there other characteristics that are important for creating a great website?

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May 28, 2009 at 1:30 am Leave a comment

Mr. Bean vs. Martha Stewart

mr_bean_martha_stewart

Mr. Bean vs. Martha Stewart
or Don’t Try Marketing Without A Net

I always admired how Michael Jordan made the game of basketball look so easy. No one could stop him, and he seemed to score at will. He’s only an inch taller than me (I’m 6’5”), so if he can do it, why can’t I? How hard can it be?

How dumb can I be?

Obviously, MJ lived life on a different plane of existence on the basketball court. Because he was so fundamentally sound, and so fully committed to being the best, he made a very difficult skill set look effortless. Similarly, marketing may look like it’s easy to do, but people who try it realize it’s a lot harder than they thought. Here’s a true story that nicely demonstrates this point.

I recently worked with a client who had launched a new software product and wanted to use an upcoming trade show to create a “wow” idea that would draw people into his booth. The software product is intended to automate and standardize classroom instruction for school teachers. His initial thought was to develop a creative concept highlighting how to do it wrong vs. how to do it right, then show how his product facilitates doing it the right way. Not a bad idea in theory, but following through on his idea would have been tantamount to career suicide for him. Here’s the concept in a nutshell:

  • The unorganized planner (the kind of person that did not use the new software) was like Mr. Bean, who is constantly scattered, manic, and ultimate ineffective.
  • The organized planner (presumably the kind of person that did use the company’s new software) was like Martha Stewart, who is considered highly organized, always in control, and extremely effective.
  • Drive home this concept by hiring a Martha Stewart impersonator and have her deliver the company’s presentation in full Stewart-esque persona.

Taking into consideration that 3/4 of the client’s audience is female, and that this very evolved audience would consider it an insult to equate their professional responsibilities with domestic matters like baking and crafts, my client was driving towards the end of the cliff and continuing to step on the gas pedal. He needed a dose of reality, and thankfully he was receptive enough to scrap his idea entirely and allowed me to develop a different concept. The idea we went with was a huge success, and helped the company exceed the pre-determined trade show ROI.

The lesson to learn with this story is that marketing is actually pretty hard, and it’s definitely in your best interests to utilize a marketing professional. We marketers can see things from the customer’s perspective, and our experiences help us to determine the differences between boring, interesting, and downright nutty. Just like Jordan, we can hit those clutch 3-pointers at the buzzer.

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May 27, 2009 at 1:25 am Leave a comment

Success is not defined as the absence of failure

Recessions can bring out the best in people. I know many successful entrepreneurs that started their businesses during recessions, and they said it’s the best decision they ever made. Some have developed companies that generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Admittedly, though, a lot of those people say their companies are surviving, but not thriving. Many will chalk it up to the economy, or changes in the marketplace, or the cost of raw materials, or increased competition. Some of these factors may be true, but after consulting for several of them I realize that there are reasons why they haven’t achieved the level of success they wanted. Here are some of those reasons:

  1. Not knowing your limitations. We cannot know everything, nor can we do everything. Realize that you have a well-honed set of core skills, and focus your efforts to take advantage of them. Here’s an analogy that all you baseball fans will instantly understand: have you ever seen a National League pitcher try to swing a bat? It’s one of the more painful sights you’ll ever see, because it’s beyond the pitcher’s limitations. Let your batters do the batting for you while you focus on your pitching.
  2. Not understanding the difference between market sizing and market segmentation. In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew. You can read all about this from my previous blog entry on the subject. Business is hard enough without trying to conquer the whole world all at once.
  3. Not seeking help from experts. Whether it’s a marketing company like Aximum Marketing, or a full-time employee, recognizing the need for a particular skill that your company doesn’t have is not a sign of weakness or ignorance. Not only can experts give great advice and a different point of view, but they can free you to do what you do best. Again, whether you buy a piece of equipment, or office space, or specialized experts, they will all maximize your return on investment.
  4. Not avoiding the temptation to act in haste. It’s easy to get ‘happy feet’ when you’re not achieving the results you want. However, it will be best to fully think it through before pulling the trigger. Having fellow experts (see #3 above) can act as sounding boards, enabling you to make better decisions.
  5. Not understanding that marketing is an investment, rather than a cost. “I can’t afford to spend money on marketing right now.” If I had a nickel for every time I heard this, I’d have a boatload of nickels. I’ve spoken to many clients who initially look at marketing as a cost, but after I help them focus on their goals and run some numbers with them, they soon realize that all quality marketing activities have an expected, measurable, positive ROI. If you could invest $100 on marketing activities, and receive $1,000 in revenue, how much would you be willing to invest? Every penny you can get your hands on? That’s the beauty of an investment.

Success is most assuredly not defined as the absence of failure. We all work hard, and we deserve to maximize the reward for the effort we put forth. If you avoid the five pitfalls listed above (and I’m sure there are many others you can think of), you’ll unleash your potential and take your business to new heights, whether it’s a startup, a small business, or a multinational corporation. Aximum has some great success stories that illustrate this point very well, and we’ll be happy to help you thrive, too.

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May 26, 2009 at 1:42 am Leave a comment

The true meaning of Memorial Day

Today is Monday, May 25th, and we in the United States are observing Memorial Day. We have been blessed with freedom, happiness, compassion, and the ability to defend ourselves and our allies against enemies around the world. In our cynical lives, it’s easy to forget what’s important, and almost impossible to believe that those who serve in the military are willing to sacrifice something for the benefit of people they don’t know. Indeed, many have offered the ultimate sacrifice — their lives — to give us and our posterity a future full of hope, optimism, and opportunity. For the 1.2 million Americans who have given their lives in defense of our country since 1775, and to the many millions of our fallen allies who have stood with us shoulder-to-shoulder…

We salute you
We honor you
We thank you

25 years ago, then-President Ronald Reagan stood on the cliffs of Pointe-du-Hoc, France, where U.S. Ranger Assault Groups met the occupying Nazi forces head-on during the first wave of D-Day 40 years earlier. He gave an incredibly elegant oration to the surviving Rangers, and to their brothers-in-arms who didn’t make it. Reagan encapsulates the true meaning of Memorial Day with this moving tribute, and helps us remember that freedom isn’t free.


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May 25, 2009 at 1:06 am Leave a comment

How do you define a hot lead?

“If you ain’t dialin’, I ain’t smilin’.”

“Fill the pipeline and sort it out later.”

“All leads are good leads.”

We’ve heard them all before. Most people (and seemingly all of my past bosses) equate number of leads with quality of leads. Go to a trade show, have a giveaway contest in the booth, collect 3,000 leads, and consider the show an unparalleled success. Unfortunately, once the smoke clears and the afterglow of the show has passed, you soon realize that those 3,000 leads were nothing more than “trick or treaters” looking for a freebie to take back home. After spending six months chasing down all 3,000 leads, you discover that only 35 of them are actual revenue-generating customers, and only half of them are ready to make a purchase decision. In the end, you’ve spent $100,000 on a trade show that netted 12 customers and generated $150,000 in sales. Take into consideration all the efforts to get the booth ready, manning the booth, and time that the salespeople were out of the field, and suddenly you find yourself in a conversation with your manager about cutting back the number of shows your company attends next year.

The problem, of course, is not the show. Rather, it’s the way you pre-define prospects, leads, and customers. For every marketing program — whether it’s a trade show, advertising campaign, webinar, etc.— you need to have a game plan before, during, and after the event. You need to take the time to fully understand the customers, the needs of those customers, the sales process (see my “Lily pad” marketing entry for more info on nurturing a prospect into a customer), the messages that will resonate with customers in a differentiating manner, and the most effective medium with which to communicate. Complicated? Absolutely, but not on the rocket science level. Effective? Without a doubt.

I’ve helped many companies and clients with their lead generation needs (here’s a success story from my website), so if you’re looking for someone to help you, give me a shout.

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May 22, 2009 at 12:32 pm 5 comments

Lead generation success story

Here’s a great case study of a recent Aximum Marketing client that needed to develop processes for the effective generation of qualified leads. In summary:

A medium-sized, privately owned organization had experienced high growth over the past couple of years, but had recently fallen on hard times. Their lack of understanding regarding systematic marketing/sales processes has increased the number of unqualified leads (and subsequent tail-chasing by the sales team) while drastically reducing the number of qualified leads and revenue opportunities. Consequently, many of its long-time sales champions had left the company, and the exodus continued as their financial results further deteriorated. In addition, the company’s website was in desperate need for a transformation from mid-90’s information source to 21st century lead generation machine.

They needed to

  1. Fill the pipeline with qualified leads
  2. Develop systematic, automated eMarketing programs to nurture leads for sales teams and motivate prospects to buy
  3. In the face of constantly encroaching competition, increase awareness for the company within their industry and measure results from those activities
  4. Create a better, stronger, more universal messaging strategy for marketing, sales, and all customer-facing teams

Read all the details, as well as my other success stories, and contact me if you’d like to increase qualified leads for your company.

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May 21, 2009 at 6:44 am Leave a comment

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