It’s time to stop dabbling and get serious

Fractional Marketing - Cultivate Social Stop Dabbling

When you’re struggling to grow your business, effective marketing is one of the most efficient ways to get it back up and on its feet. But you can’t always afford to hire an experienced marketing specialist because, frankly, people are expensive. Plus, one person may not have all of the skill sets and experience required to provide you the level of marketing you need.

So, you remain mired in a world where you’re “kind of” marketing by doing it yourself. Actually, you’re just dabbling and are stuck in a trap of weak branding, lukewarm leads and dwindling sales.

There’s a simple and clever solution to this common problem: Fractional marketing – hiring an agency on a part-time basis to develop and implement a powerful marketing strategy for you. This part-time agency can act as a catalyst to kick-start your firm’s growth.

The real problem

Your customers have changed the way they buy. They prefer to do their own product and vendor research and don’t want to talk to a salesperson until just before the sale. As a result, they’re not responding to traditional sales strategies.

In today’s world, educational marketing (better known as content marketing) has emerged as a proven strategy for building trusted relationships with prospective buyers that lead to sales. Helpful, educational content acts like a magnet to attract prospects who are in the early stages of buying. By becoming a trusted subject matter expert in your industry, prospective buyers will naturally tend to gravitate to your company.

It’s a struggle to keep up

Developing high value, informative and engaging content on a regular basis has become more complex and time-consuming. Creating ebooks, white papers, blog posts, direct mail campaigns and videos takes time – time you probably don’t have.

Also note that:

  • The number of channels you can use to communicate with your target audiences has exploded during the last decade. Which ones should you focus upon? Which should you ignore?
  • The volume of content that you must compete against has also increased exponentially. In other words, it’s getting harder and harder to get and keep your target audience’s attention.
  • Marketers must deploy high-quality content to multiple platforms, including mobile – and soon, voice-activated platforms.
  • In order to achieve adequate visibility with buyers, most organizations must invest in paid promotion on social media channels and must also cultivate influencer networks. These tactics add even more complexity to the mix!

Now that content marketing is the preferred strategy for attracting and engaging audiences, the competition for experienced marketing strategists and creators is like a shark feeding frenzy. The best people are significantly more expensive, because demand has far outstripped supply. Even if you’re lucky enough to hire a really smart marketing person, you may have problems retaining him or her.

The solution: A part-time agency partnership

For the cost of a single employee, who has a limited skill set, a digital agency can work on your marketing priorities for a set number of hours per month. You get access to an entire team, with its diverse talents – everything from content writers and SEO people to web developers.

There are numerous other benefits to hiring a part-time marketing firm. They include:

  • You gain a valuable outside perspective on your business challenges and opportunities, as well as some new ideas to solve them.
  • The agency can develop and execute marketing and sales support strategies.
  • The agency brings best practices and proven tactics it can apply to your marketing challenge.
  • The agency can act as a catalyst to jump-start an effective, results-driven marketing program.

When does all of this make sense?

A part-time agency isn’t a panacea. But for certain situations, it’s incredibly efficient and effective. Here are four situations where it works really well:

  • When the business needs to step up its marketing game, but can’t support the hiring of a full-time person.
  • Situations where an outside marketing strategy perspective is needed.
  • When a firm needs a repeatable process to drive growth.
  • When a company needs smarter-than-ever marketing that supports your salespeople, so they can compete effectively.

What does a fractional agency relationship look like?

Typically, the agency begins engagement by conducting research to understand the challenges the client is facing. It conducts interviews with key customers and customer-facing executives within the organization.

From this information, the agency team develops a marketing strategy that is focused on creating the right message and distributing it at the right time via the right channels to influence customer behavior. As soon as you and your new marketing team are in agreement on the strategy and tactics, the agency team will begin implementing the plan – freeing you to concentrate on higher-value tasks.

Can your company benefit from some marketing oomph?

Now’s the time to stop “dabbling” and get serious about marketing your company. Hiring a fractional marketing agency may be the solution and could put you on the road to greater revenues.

If you aren’t selling, do you need a secure site?

Need A Secure Site

 

You may have heard about TLS or “Transport Layer Security” (also commonly referred to as SSL), a security protocol that ensures communications between your website and server are encrypted and can’t be intercepted. With big companies reporting data breaches seemingly daily (everyone from Facebook to Target to Verizon at this point), it’s no wonder your customers are increasingly concerned their sensitive data is secure.

But if you’re not really selling directly through your website, do you need to go HTTPS? The short answer is YES. Here’s why…

Why you need a secure site

It’s no secret Google has made security a top priority over the past several years. Part of this process includes a focus on making sure websites accessed through Google (so, pretty much all websites) are secure. Thus, in 2014, Google introduced an initiative called “HTTPS Everywhere.”

While this HTTPS protocol isn’t mandatory (yet), not going HTTPS will increasingly affect your customers’ ability to gain access to and interact with your website.

If your site doesn’t have a TSL/SSL certificate installed, your customers may receive a warning, letting them know your site isn’t secure. This will come in the form of a notice (a red triangle with an exclamation point) in the URL bar as they search, if they use the popular Chrome browser. Since Chrome users account for 53.9% of the browser market worldwide with 2 billion installs, chances are high your customers are using it as their primary window to the web. While they can still access your site, the warning is certainly off-putting, causing your prospects to navigate away from your site before you’ve even had a chance to impress them.

The decision to add TLS to your site is one to undertake with care. While it’s not a major site overhaul, it IS a process that requires IT expertise and careful implementation, especially when handling sensitive information.

Does every business need a secure site?

If you sell products and take credit card information on your site, then you absolutely need to move to HTTPS ASAP. You may not need it for all pages on your site, however. You could simply opt to install a security certificate for your storefront and checkout. If you use a third-party payment processor (like PayPal, Square or Cash App) you may not require TLS as urgently, since you aren’t directly accessing customer’s payment information, but it should still be a priority.

Other times you need a secure site? If your website requires membership access. For example, if customers subscribe or log in to their accounts with a username and password. You also need to keep customer data safe if they’re including any sort of personal information on your site. This might include photos, reviews, reservations, endorsements, their business name, GPS location…or any other personal data you might be storing on your site.

The only time an SSL/TLS is optional is if your website is a straightforward, information-only site. Do customers simply visit your site to read your blog? Do they only access your site to find information about your services and hours? In this case, the security protocol is optional for the time being. However, due to the increasing chance of your readership encountering a browser or security software warning and the fact that HTTPS protocol will soon be required by Google and other entities, we still recommended moving to HTTPS.

The positives of using a security certificate on your website include:

  • Protecting customers’ sensitive data
  • Reassuring customers that your site is safe (no warning on Chrome or elsewhere)
  • Your business appears up-to-date and tech-savvy

How painful is the switch to HTTPS?

In most cases, making the switch to HTTPS and installing the security certificate is relatively painless. There are steps your webmaster should take to properly implement HTTPS, including setting up proper redirects (301s) and canonicals, ensuring all of your internal links transition, protecting social sharing data (if needed), and more.

These aren’t challenging problems for an experienced web developer but there are enough variables that implementation should be handled by a trained expert to save you headaches and heartaches down the road.

To make the switch, you’re looking at a small yearly cost to purchase the certificate (typically under $100, depending on the size of your business site). Plus the cost for an experienced webmaster to spend a few hours setting up and ensuing the site transition was successful. Be aware there can be issues that could arise during the switch, but for the most part, it’s a relatively easy project for a trained expert.

At the end of the day, updating your site to an HTTPS probably won’t make a huge difference in your search traffic or customer response—right now. Your biggest draw, as always, comes from great, relevant, customer-centric, regularly updated content.

However, providing customers with the peace of mind that comes from a secure, certified site is worth the effort. Beginning June 2018, Google will mark all HTTP sites as “not secure” with the release of Chrome 68. If you’re looking for motivation to transition your site, now’s the time. Keep your customers data secure and the internet safer for all!

Speed up your sales cycle

Speed Up 1200x628

 

If you align your sales and marketing teams, they become an unstoppable force. Marketing influences how people think and feel, building and nurturing relationships—and relationships drive sales. Period. Your sales team spends 80% of their time with the 20% of the customers who are ready to listen. Your marketing team, on the other hand, spends their time building and nurturing that other 80% of your customer base—getting them ready to open up.

If sales are the finish line, marketing is the marathon. Many forget marketing is a long-game strategy. In fact, only 15% of businesses see their marketing teams as primary revenue drivers and yet, without your marketing team, you’re losing the opportunity to influence and grow potential customers into loyal fans and advocates of your brand. It’s all about building long-term relationships.

Smart business owners understand it’s vital to align marketing and sales strategies so both teams understand their objectives and keep each other apprised on initiatives. Both teams should work together to connect with and benefit the customer. Here’s how…

Step 1: Build a Unified Team Culture

Sales and marketing can’t exist as two separate or misaligned entities. While for many small businesses they’re interconnected pieces of the same department, sales and marketing might still often feel like two separate teams playing different games.

It’s important to align marketing and sales teams so they’re working together to speed up the sales cycle. This starts from the beginning. From the moment you onboard a new team member, they should be immersed in your company culture. Take time in your hiring process to discover team members who aren’t only right for the task at hand, but the right fit for the company. Seek team players who are passionate about seeing things from the customer’s perspective.

Encourage everyone to have a good time and get to know each other. Don’t underestimate the importance of office get-togethers and activities. Your sales team needs the valuable information only the marketing team can provide. Your marketing team needs to understand the goals of the sales team, so they’re driving toward the right outcome. Sales teams share customer pain points with marketing, the marketing team address those pain points to drive sales.

Help your team build solid connections. Like those motivational posters say: it’s all about teamwork.

Step 2: Solidify Your Marketing-to-Sales Information Pipeline

Formalize and solidify your marketing-to-sales handoff process. Only 24% of companies formalize their marketing-sales handoffs, but companies who establish clear, shared responsibilities between marketing and sales see strong improvements in their inbound ROI.

This sales-marketing misalignment almost always comes from a lack of communication. Nearly half of sales professionals name “communication breakdown” as a huge problem between sales and marketing teams. Provide plenty of opportunities for teams to share and exchange info—conducting a monthly standing meeting is a great way for teams to keep each other in the loop.

Remember sales is all about closing the deal and getting to the finish line. Marketing is the marathon: walking through customer strategy in their shoes—cozying up and getting to know them well; delving into the mind of your customer. Your marketing team understands the demographics of your customer base: who they are and what they need. They understand how to influence the way they think, and how to nurture the relationship (thus, speeding up the sales cycle). Can you think of anything more vital for your sales team to know?

Step 3: Create Opportunities to Listen & Work Together

In one survey of over 1,000 U.S. sales and marketing specialists, two-thirds of salespeople believed marketers were wasting their time. With awareness building, promotion and branding activities, of course it’s important to keep an eye on your bottom line. But marketing tactics aren’t just in place to give everyone “warm feel-good fuzzies.” Sales-team buy-in comes when they realize the value of marketing. Customers who aren’t ready for cold calls, may still listen to marketing. Marketing is all about building long-term customer relationships—opening the customer up to listen to sales. This value should be clear to your sales team.

Bring your sales and marketing teams together on every project, right from the get-go to foster strong communication. Marketing can help sales build their customer relationships. Your sales team has valuable insights from their customer interactions on the front lines. Coordinate your campaigns with your sales team and ensure they’re aware of every promotion and special offer so they can sweeten the pot. Your marketing team should help your sales team look GOOD to the customer. Give them what they need to know.

At the end of the day, when you align marketing and sales, they’re both about building relationships to speed up your sales cycle. Both teams support and work together with the customer in mind to ensure you’re always headed toward the right target. It’s a relationship of reciprocity. Keep your teams aligned and cohesive for great returns.

When the rubber hits the road

Rubber Hits Road

 

As the saying goes, the “rubber hits the road” at the point in time when a salesperson is in-front of a customer and moves to quickly communicate why they should buy. Salespeople need the right tools at their fingertips as they initiate relationships, build trust with customers and prospects, and when they close the sale.

Printed Materials Make Your Message Tangible

Your customers judge how sophisticated your company is based on the visual impact of your brochures and other sales materials – how they look, read and feel. Don’t be chinsey with the weight of the paper and the quality of the images in your brochure, because your customers will associate that quality with the quality of your company’s products and services.

Your Brochure’s Messaging

Crafting your messaging takes brain power. You need to spend some time developing a message that resonates with customers and is also relevant to their interests. Don’t rely on your brochure to show every item you sell. Instead, dig deep to understand exactly what it is that your customers are buying. Often your customers are buying something that you don’t even know you are selling. You might be pitching your products when it’s actually the company’s value they are buying. Ask yourself this question: Other than your product, what else does my company bring to the table that benefits the customer?

Remember, your brochure’s job is not to sell your products or services; that is your sales team’s job. A powerful brochure has messaging that speaks to solutions that solve your customer’s problem, and demonstates how your company is different than all of your competitors. What is your claim to fame?

A powerful brochure is memorable and will provide your customers with the information that is important to them.

How to create a powerful brochure:

The best way to understand how to create a powerful brochure is to look at a real-world example. This four-page capabilities brochure tells the story of HT Global Circuits.

 

1. The company’s focus is clearly declared, along with a bold claim that commands attention.

2. Notice you are not seeing a pile of circuit boards; instead, the main images are how you can use a pile of circuit boards.

3. A striking visual design captures the prospect’s attention.

4. Brief copy tells the firm’s story from a customer perspective, conveying empathy and understanding.

5. The background of this page subtly reinforces HT Global’s worldwide footprint.

6. This page focuses on HT Global’s capabilities and expertise. It’s a bit long but was necessary in this design. Bullet points with short sentences work better in most brochures.

7. This content also raises and overcomes several common customer objections.

Summary

  • Focus on the value your company delivers rather than just the products.
  • Show examples of your products in use or what the outcome is whenever possible.
  • Make it short, sweet and meaningful to the reader. Use bullet points and quality photos to tell your story.
  • Always have a call to action and direct people to your web site.

Marketing’s Secret Sauce: The Message

Secret Sauce VideoIf you’re looking for help in brand messaging, check out our 8-minute video presentation on  Marketing’s Secret Sauce. You’ll discover:

 

  • Why you must first focus on your brand message – not on the channels you’ll use to deliver it
  • Two key types of messages, and the critical role each one plays in your branding
  • Examples of companies that have powerfully positioned themselves in the minds of their customers using taglines and slogans
  • Three steps to develop a persuasive strategic brand message for your business

Try making your own eggnog this holiday…

Holiday Eggnog

Leave the pre-made eggnog on the grocery shelf… a top-notch, home-made eggnog is not much work.

Here’s how to make your own eggnog:

  1. Booze: Bourbon, brandy or rum are the typical choices. You don’t have to go expensive either beacuse the booze flavor is complimented by the flavor of the eggnog, so it all tastes great.
  2. Eggs: Pre-made eggnog (egg cream) may not have any eggs in it at all. Real eggnog contains eggs and the key is to buy them local and fresh if possible.
  3. Spices: The key spice in eggnog is nutmeg. Get it fresh ground from a spiece house or even consider grating it yourself. The store-bought stuff in a little can often has been sitting around for awhile and will not have the incredible aroma and taste of fresh nutmeg.
  4. Sugar: Don’t try and make eggnog a healthy drink by using a sugar substitute. Make your eggnog with real sugar but drink less of it to lower the calories. It will have a better taste based on how the sugar reacts with the other ingredients.

Here is the recipe, compliments of Derek Brown, a professional bartender in Baltimore that was adapted from a Gourmet Magazine article in 1945.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves 25 people, so cut down the ingredient amounts if you need or want less)

  • 2 dozen eggs
  • 1 (750 mL) bottle VS Cognac or other brandy
  • 16 oz. Jamaican rum
  • 2 lb powdered sugar
  • 3 qt. (96 oz.) whole milk
  • 1 qt. (32 oz.) heavy cream
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • glass punch bowl

PREPARATION:

Separate yolks from egg whites, set egg whites aside.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks until light and lemon-colored. While continuing to beat, add the brandy, rum, sugar, milk, heavy cream and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and nutmeg until they form stiff peaks. Fold the whites into the yolk mixture. Serve in punch cups.

Eggnog will last for weeks in the refrigerator, so this can be made ahead of any special event. Make sure to store it in a glass container – bottle preferred.

Raise your cup in a toast to home made eggnog this year!

 

Give your customers a big ol’ “bro hug!”

The Bro Hug

When you see an old friend, do you give them a handshake or a ‘bro hug’? Of course, if you’re under 30 years old, you give them a hug to let them know that you’ve missed them and you appreciate them. It’s more intimate than a traditional handshake.

What’s a ‘bro hug’? It’s a visible sign of an ongoing relationship. You give one to a close friend or family member, someone who you know fairly well. It also carries with it the implication that, “I’m on your side. I’ve got your back. You can count on me!”

Have you ever considered giving your customers and prospects a bro hug to show them how much they’re appreciated? I’m not suggesting that you literally hug them, but to do so in the way you communicate with them.

Think about it… many companies still do the functional equivalent of standing on a chair and shouting at their customers and prospects. They make very little attempt to maintain ongoing relationships with them, but instead focus on transactions – closing the sale. In today’s world of empowered customers, that antiquated model of communication is simply too formal and non-personal.

So, what’s a successful way to communicate?

Consistent, ongoing, helpful communication that builds a relationship and establishes trust over time. Content that educates, informs and inspires is an awesome example. This customer-centric style of communication improves the odds that when a prospect is ready to buy, he or she will consider your company first.

To solidify a back and forth dialogue with their valued audience, successful marketers arrange events: open houses, webinars and training sessions, or they use surveys and focus groups.

How can you reach out with both arms and give your target audience a big ‘ol bro hug? Here are several ideas:

  • Ask your audience for feedback regarding their needs on a regular basis. Look for opportunities to have one-on-one conversations and build relationships with them at industry events. Get them involved in contests, crowdsourcing campaigns and surveys.
Here’s a great example of communicating with your audience that John Deere engineered:
At a trade show, the global equipment giant debuted the “Chatterbox,” a portable structure styled to resemble a piece of heavy equipment where customers could “talk back” and really give a piece of their mind to the company. This strategy was wildly successful, and was followed with an extensive marketing campaign that proclaimed, “We listened to you. Here’s what we did with what you told us.”
  • Make it easy for your audience to ask questions. One of our clients has a website with an extensive knowledge center that is highly valued by its customers worldwide. One key to its success: A search form centered at the top of their web page, inviting interaction. Other companies add a live chat feature to their website, enabling potential customers to talk to a human being and get answers to their questions. It’s all about initiating dialogue!
  • Use a conversational style of writing and communication. It’s okay to be a little bit informal and conversational because it makes your audience feel like they’re dealing with real people who care – not a faceless brand.
  • Provide a consistent, ongoing and helpful stream of communication to your audience, focusing on their needs, preferences and aspirations – not on your company’s new product and service enhancements.

If you need help creating this type of customer-centric communication, please contact us. We’d love to chat with you.

(See how that works, bro?)