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.

4 ways your LinkedIn strategy helps you reach more customers

LinkedIn Strategy

With so many social media options out there, it’s important to discern which are best for your business. Of all the social media platforms out there, LinkedIn has proven itself to be particularly favored by business people. If that’s where your customers hang out, a strong LinkedIn strategy will set your business apart.

Now it’s true, LinkedIn isn’t the platform for reaching every customer. LinkedIn has a more professional tone and personality, but this distinction is why LinkedIn is particularly perfect in many B2B applications.

While many marketers may have a one-track social media mind (Facebook! Facebook! Facebook!), it turns out your LinkedIn strategy shouldn’t go on the back burner or become an afterthought. In fact, 80% of B2B leads come from LinkedIn and 94% of B2B marketers use LinkedIn to distribute content.

Here are four ways your LinkedIn strategy will help you reach more customers.

1. Turn Customers into Advocates with Sharable Content

With shareable content, your customers go from patrons to fans and brand advocates. Marketers often think shareable content is just for Facebook, but the truth is, shareable content on LinkedIn gets you connected and noticed.

When considering shareable content, always weigh the value to current AND potential customers. Content like checklists, infographics, videos, and case studies are all popular sharing options. Content featuring company updates or important industry developments is newsworthy and also very helpful for attracting customers and giving them an easy method to spread the word.

While those cute kitten videos from other social media sites may not have a home on LinkedIn, posting high quality content that solves a problem for the audience in your industry will provide customers with an easy, shareable piece to pass on. Creating click-worthy, valuable, intriguing content should be a strong part of your LinkedIn strategy.

 

2. Generate Leads from Your Company Page

Your LinkedIn strategy helps you connect with more B2B leads right through your company’s profile page. It’s all about capturing your potential audience’s attention with great visuals and a compelling pitch right in your company description.

So many marketers ignore the opportunity to sway customers in their company profile language, instead opting for the typical yawn-inducing “about us” blurb. Think about the end goal and go for the conversion! If your customers miss your CTA in your description, hit them again with a clickable conversion-focused Recent Updates section.

Your company page on LinkedIn should explain what your brand will do for your customers. Target your audience with a complete, robust, eye catching LinkedIn profile page for your company.

 

3. Set Yourself Apart as an Industry Leader

If you aren’t using Linked to spread the word about your company, you’re missing out. LinkedIn offers a free tool for publishing long-form content right to your personal network. Best of all, the LinkedIn publishing platform (formerly known as Pulse and now known as “Follow Fresh Perspectives”), targets business professionals with similar interests so you show up in their newsfeed as well.

Sharing whitepapers and posts through LinkedIn is a great way to get your writing out there. If you have a blog on your company website, there’s no need to do twice the work, either. Simply paste in the first few paragraphs from your article and include a shareable link.

Posting about your knowledge establishes you as a leader in your industry. Rather than searching for your blog directly, customers and potential customers are more likely to click the link from the trusted source of LinkedIn. From there, they’ll be funneled to your website where you can really connect.

 

4. Give Your Sales Team a Professional Avenue to Connect with Leads

Your LinkedIn strategy should include a plan to stay regularly active and engaged on the platform. This means your sales team should become active members of LinkedIn groups, a great way to connect with and generate new leads.

Encourage your sales team to spend time in LinkedIn groups targeted to your industry and buyer personas. Take a look at the groups your existing customers (and your competitors) belong to and grow your search from there.

Before joining groups look at the size—your sales team should aim for groups that hit the sweet spot: not so big your message gets lost, but not so small the leads are limited. It’s also important to look at the rules of the group to ensure your sales team can share promotional content (some groups forbid any sales and promotion).

One important caveat when it comes to any social media strategy is to avoid “building your house on rented land.” In other words, always use your social media connections to drive your customers to your website and build connections on your own turf. Ultimately, your LinkedIn strategy should focus on driving traffic to you and building your list. LinkedIn should serve as a channel to get visitors to your website, where your company really shines!

4 innovative ideas to build your customer database

How to build your customer database…it’s a tough question that keeps many business owners up at night. You want to reach your customers and clientele on their level. You want to meet their needs, provide service that wows them, and keep them coming back for more.

But at the same time, many marketing managers worry about coming on too strong and getting too personal. You want to build a genuine relationship with your clients—not wear them down or come off as invasive.

While your key customers value their privacy, they also expect personalization—so many companies end up attempting a balancing act. Yet, most research shows customers willingly share information, provided they know it’s being used to create a positive experience.

Your best bet? Give customers opportunities to share information openly rather than staying quiet and waiting for data that will never come.

Here are four innovative ways to get your customers to open up: 

1. Conduct (short) surveys to capture details

Micro-surveys have become quite popular over the last few years. These quick surveys consist of less than five questions and are often conducted right at the point of sale. While they’re obviously effective for collecting customer satisfaction metrics in B2C settings such as retail, they’re ALSO a great way to capture metrics about your key buyers, even in B2B. But don’t get greedy—keep your surveys short. Measure overall satisfaction or let clients quickly assess one issue like delivery speed. If you want to collect a demographic metric, focus on one, such as company size or volume. Keeping it concise keeps your contact from feeling hassled.

2. Work with micro-influencers who click with your audience

Micro-influencers (those with a social media audience of under 5000 followers) are also great promoters of your brand, especially seeing as 85% of consumers trust peer recommendations over traditional ads. This same approach works for B2B sales as well. Campaigns driven by micro-influencers show 60% higher engagement. For a much lower cost than a “celebrity endorsement,” an influencer will share your products or services with their enthusiastic and loyal peer supporters—many of whom share commonalities you can use for segmentation as you build your customer database.

3. Offer subscribing customers incentives

Can you give your top clients access to exclusive notifications? Bonus content? New products or services before they’re otherwise publicized? If you want to collect customer data by sharing a weekly newsletter or another piece of content, then give them exclusive access or extra incentives for handing over their information. Customers respond well to value-driven opt-in incentives: a series of demonstration videos, a printable maintenance schedule, an easy reference guide. Don’t offer a one-time opt-in to trade for their email address and contact information and then forget about the relationship. Use communication, incentives, bonuses and exclusive opportunities as a method for building that ongoing relationship and discovering more about your clients.

4. Provide easy signups to build your customer database

How easy is it for your clients to share their data with you? When your customers visit your website or place a job order, are they given a clear, easy way to sign up for future communication? It may seem like a no-brainer, but many businesses skip this critical step. Clients may visit your website one time, but if you want to build repeat business, create a clear, obvious, easy method for capturing those leads. Customers spend under a minute on a website (sometimes far less time), so don’t miss out on a chance to build a connection.

If you want to build your customer database, it’s important to focus on building your relationships. When you’ve forged a strong bond with your clients, built loyalty, and offered them incentives, they’ll keep on comin’ back for more.

Generational marketing: How to market to Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers

There’s a lot of buzz about generational marketing and a LOT of overgeneralized advice when it comes to targeting your ideal audience:

  • Millennials love Snapchat!
  • Baby Boomers are steadfast and drawn in by reliability!
  • Generation X is cynical and always looking for a bargain!

Making heads or tails of the generational differences and similarities (let alone coming up with a marketing strategy) can leave any marketer scratching their head, regardless of their own generational viewpoint. It’s a challenge to identify the common traits amongst your audience and to know what they want.

Most businesses simply focus on marketing trends and follow the next big idea. At best, they concentrate on their ideal segment and target their marketing efforts there, because, well—it’s hard to be everything to everyone.

But if you don’t understand generational marketing, you may not be reaching all of your ideal audience members…and you could be missing out on connecting with potential leads.

What is Generational Marketing (and Why is it Important)?

At the heart of it, generational marketing is a marketing approach that segments the population by the time period they were born. Each person (and thus each generation) is powerfully shaped by world events, trends and developments occurring when they come of age. Think of the Vietnam War and what it means to Baby Boomers compared to what 9/11 means to Millennials.

The three main generations that make up today’s adult consumer base are:

  • Baby Boomers (born 1945 – 1964)
  • Generation X (1965 – approximately 1982)
  • Millennials (approximately 1983 – 1998)

The importance of each generation plays into marketing because whether Baby Boomer, Gen X or Millennials—that generational influence shapes the values and communication styles of the consumer. At the core of marketing strategy are demographics: data and information about your customers.

Using that data to connect with your target audience is what gives you a marketing advantage.

After researching your customer, you may discover your target customer fits solidly in one demographic, but for most businesses, the target is spread across several generations. This means you must learn to craft your marketing message to each generation in a way that resonates with them.

Understanding Cross-Generational Marketing

If we examine the generational spread, we see 30% of the overall market is made up of Millennials, 27% Generation X and 30% Baby Boomers (the youngest Generation Y and the older Silent Generation comprise the difference).

Essentially, if you don’t use strategic marketing to all three of the main groups, you could end up missing out on a third or more of the consumer base! For most businesses, that’s a scary prospect.

Now, maybe your target audience is very specific. For example, let’s imagine your business designs children’s lunchboxes—the perfect product for parents of elementary school kids! It seems logical your demographic is between age 25-45: Millennials and the tail end of Generation X.

Your marketing efforts are focused on the young parent—how to add convenience and simplicity to their lives. Knowing your demographic, Millennials are tech-savvy and primarily swayed by influence of their peers, you might reach out to Influencers: bloggers and Pinterest-loving moms, and perhaps focus your social media efforts on Snapchat and Instagram. Knowing Generation X seeks discounts and coupons, you may throw in a coupon deal or a BOGO sale.

BUT, a closer look at your demographics might surprise you. 2.7 million grandparents are raising their grandchildren (a steady 7% increase since 2009). If you don’t include strategies to reach those Baby Boomer grandparents in your lunchbox marketing efforts, you’re missing a big audience!

Finding Commonalities Between Generations—and Appreciating Their Differences

While you can’t be the perfect fit for every consumer, you CAN learn what appeals to each generation and use it to shape and diversify your strategy. In our example of marketing lunchboxes, a simple shift to include additional Facebook marketing could reach your grandparents. While we often think of Millennials as the tech experts, Baby Boomers are surprisingly comfortable with Facebook. The biggest pet-peeve of this generation? Feeling ignored or overlooked by Millennial-focused marketers!

Understanding that the Baby Boomer Generation values quality, so they’re willing to spend a little more on a product they feel is high-end and lasting may also help shape your strategy. All of the generations are now active online shoppers. Although you might not see Boomers oversharing their personal information on Facebook, rest assured, they’re on Facebook and it’s a good way to reach them.

Demographics are one of the most powerful tools in a marketer’s arsenal. Knowing who your customers are is the first step, but understanding what they want will help you take it deeper. Build a strong relationship with your customer by reaching them in a way that truly resonates with who they are and what they value.

Need more specifics? Want to take a deep dive into each generation and what they really want? Learn how to reach Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials too!

My Generation EbookAre you ready to know your audience better?

Download our free guide on Generational Marketing. We’ll show you how to market to Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers … sharing what you’ll need to know about marketing to each generation!

5 unexpected insights you can learn from competitor research

You can’t see the road ahead if you’re too focused on the rearview mirror. When it comes to learning from competitor research, many businesses adopt a “keep your eyes on your own paper” mentality.

Yet, we all know we can’t exist (or thrive) in an echo chamber. There are many valuable lessons your competitors can teach you. It’s not about letting competition derail your focus or dictate your company direction. One-upmanship is a surefire recipe for disaster and it’s a far better strategy to focus on what you do best.

But if you aren’t popping your head up every so often to look around, you might miss out on valuable insights and lessons from the competition. Here are five surprising insights you can learn from competitor research.

1. How to better serve your customers

At the end of the day, success is always, ALWAYS about who can serve the customers’ needs the best. The first lesson comes from looking at your own customers. Why did they choose you above the competition? If you can’t pinpoint the reason organically, don’t be afraid to ask! One-question micro surveys are becoming more and more common. They don’t feel intrusive but give great insight into your customers’ mindset.

Look at the customer experience your competition is offering as well—both online and offline. How are their customer reviews? What are they doing to walk their customers through the sales pipeline, wow them, and keep them coming back for more? Don’t mimic your competition but learn from them and discover what about their customer experience is working (and what you could do better).

2. Your own unique strengths

If your competition is big, your small company offers personalized experience. If your competition is innovative and trendy, you’re classic and reliable. Look at your competition and discover what’s unique about your company. How do you differ from your peers and how can you turn those differences into strengths?

Check out customer reviews and feedback. Look at their hiring practices and team positions they’re working to fill. Create a SWOT analysis to assess your own Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Don’t one-up the competition or attempt to outdo them at what they do well. Focus on your unique strengths and bypass them instead. It’s always easier to forge a different path than attempting to outrun someone on the same trail.

3. Gaps in the market

Create a gap analysis of your company’s performance and where you would like to be. Then look at your competitors and the market and do the same. Where are the customers who aren’t being served by you OR your competitors? What customer needs aren’t being met? Can you target this segment?

How do you find out the market gaps? Listen to your competition and learn from competitor research. When you attend an industry event, visit their booth. Listen to their presentation. Talk to your shared suppliers. In which areas do you overlap and which areas leave a big hole? Start finding ways to fill that niche.

4. How to boost your web presence

Your competitors can show you what you need to do to boost your web presence. Look at their social media posts. Visit their website. Search for them regularly. Pay attention to the online activities they do well and again, draw ideas from the gaps in their web presence.

Competitor search rankings (SERP) and analytics on keyword use can give you a huge insight into your competition’s online persona. If you share a common target audience, look at what’s clicking (and getting clicks). Do your competitors regularly update their blog? Does their team share informative video tutorials on social media? Are the CEO’s insightful posts the hot-tip on LinkedIn? Learn what’s working for them and then do your own unique version.

5. What mistakes you can avoid

It’s easy to learn from what your competition is doing right, but there are plenty of valuable lessons to extract from competition when situations go wrong. Typically, when one industry member runs into trouble, it’s a signal for their peers to start putting their ducks in a row. Fast growing startups looked at Uber’s missteps last year, and quickly tightened up their best practices.

Keep an eye on the press and buzz for your entire industry and your competition. Set up a Google Alert for news about your company, and also set one Google Alert up for each of your peers so you’re the first to know. When you see a horror story, use it as a cautionary tale. Don’t simply think, “thank goodness it’s not us,” but ensure there’s no way it could become you in the future.

You can learn some very valuable lessons from looking at your competition. Keep your eyes on the horizon but take off your blinders so you can see the 360-degree view. Don’t seek to compete with your peers. Instead, learn from them so you become even stronger.

Speed up your sales cycle

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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.