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.

Great Content: The cure for the engineer’s marketing allergy

Content Allergy

How to speak that engineer marketing language

The first rule of marketing is know your audience. Find out what they want. Connect with them and show them how you will solve their problem like no one else. Reach your audience on a personal level. Get in their head.

Yet, for right-brained marketing creatives, getting inside the head of analytical engineers is like getting in the head of a calculator: challenging to impossible. To market to engineers, you must think like an engineer and speak their language. This leaves some marketers at a loss, running with fluffy, feel-good messages that ultimately fall flat or come off as less-than-credible.

When selling your technical product, your customer’s engineering team is comprised of critical decision influencers if not THE prime decision maker. No matter who ultimately ends up pulling the trigger, you need the engineers to buy-in if you want to grow your sales. Engineers play a vital role in the sales process—you’ve got to reach, connect and influence them to close the deal.

So, how the heck do you speak to engineers on their level? What makes an engineer tick?

Inside the head of an engineer

Engineers really are a different breed. The usual stereotype of a stubborn, analytical introvert probably comes to mind. While this picture may hold a grain of truth in certain cases, it’s important to let go of stereotypes and understand what really appeals to the mind (and heart) of an engineer.

You see, engineers undergo an extremely rigorous academic curriculum and their jobs demand they pay strong attention to detail. The adage “measure twice, cut once” refers to this trait. Engineers are even more valuable to their organizations for how they think, just as much as the skills they bring to the table.

But despite this specific way of detailed thinking, most engineers are extremely humble and even insecure about what they don’t know. Most are also self-aware enough to realize how much they don’t know. Engineers primarily rely on their own perspectives to make decisions, but they also know there is likely someone outside their immediate area of expertise (read: knowledgeable salesperson) who will further educate them about a product. That’s where YOU come in.

Appealing to engineers is key to marketing in the technical world

It’s the rigorous attention to detail and calculated decision-making that makes engineers so valuable during their company’s purchasing process. While typically not the final decision maker, 69% of engineers provide input into the buying decision, making a huge impact when it comes to closing a sale.

Clearly, winning this group of influencers for a technical product purchase is critical. But how do you market to engineers?

Being measured decision makers means engineers are naturally skeptical. They’re taught to question every message they hear and compare it with their own experience and knowledge. This careful way of thinking leads to innovation and progress—where engineers really excel!

Because of their skepticism, traditional marketing and advertising are unlikely to work with this consumer group. They rely on their acquired method of thinking, research and judgment to filter out irrelevant preliminary options before calling in the expert. Engineers don’t commit to buy until they’re completely comfortable with their understanding of a product. To appeal to technical experts, marketing itself must adapt and offer what the engineer craves the most: information-packed, relevant content.

The 2017 Smart Marketing for Engineers Research Report sheds light on engineers’ methods of learning about a product. Over 90% of engineers said they’re more likely to partner with a vendor who produces new and current content. Why? Because engineers love to be informed.

They want to learn before they commit to the purchase.

This means engineers do their research. They spend time reading up on your product, knowing the specs and compatibility with current equipment and understanding exactly how it works, often BEFORE they’re in your purview. If an engineer contacts you? Well, you know he or she has already done their homework.

Where do engineers go to research before they buy? The top 5 sources they turn to are:

Content Source % Surveyed Engineers’ Usage
Search Engines 43%
Supplier/vendor websites 37%
Online technical and trade publications 29%
Trade Shows 28%
Printed technical and trade publications 27%

From the table above, it’s clear that engineers prefer easy-to-access, powerful, informative technical information. Furthermore, 3 of the top 5 content sources are digital, signaling that engineers value convenience and expedience in accessing information.

After consuming enough content to provide sufficient confidence in the final few options, an engineer is happy to engage with a product expert. Though confident in their ability to sift the product offerings down, they seek affirmation to ensure the recommendation or purchase is the best choice. If they receive this validation, the salesperson will gain the engineer’s unwavering brand loyalty. Backed by individual research and external validation, engineers see no sensible need to conduct the exhaustive research effort again. When they’re ready to buy, they don’t hesitate.

When engineers are presented with direct, succinct and logical information, they’re ready to buy and the confidence they need to converge on a buying decision increases dramatically.

Valuable Content Chart

Engineers are willing to spend time reading mid- to long-form content, like case studies, e-books, books and whitepapers. How-to videos are also a great way to appeal to engineers, especially for those engineers between 25 and 35 years old.

Driven by logic, engineers use the power of information to educate themselves about a buying decision. Due to their pragmatic method of thinking, the input provided by engineers is sought out and highly valued by final decision maker. Developing marketing strategies to target this unique influential group is critical to success. If you want to sell a technical product, you should be marketing to engineers.

Engineers want and expect informative content. The data shows investing in well-researched, carefully crafted, long-form content has a high likelihood of return when targeted at engineers. Instead of traditional marketing methods with flash, humor and emotional appeals, engineers need a more technical marketing meal.

Engineers also tend to stick with solutions that work. Rather than reinventing the wheel, they’re busy working bigger and better inventions. For you, this means that when you’ve won over an engineer, you’ve got a customer who will stick with you for the long haul. Business owners are smart to reach out to this technical audience to win the race for their initial and repeated brand loyalty.

So, the real question is:

How much informative and educational content is your company providing to appeal to your engineering targets? Time to get started creating better content for engineers. First step, develop your content marketing strategy. Let’s chat

Online Personalization 101: WHAT it is, WHY You Need to Use it & HOW to Get Started

 
online personalization photographingtravisYou see it all day, every day. You open your inbox and there it is: your name in the subject line. You get home from work after a busy day, kick up your feet and flip on Netflix—and there it is again: your name. You sign into Facebook and you see an ad pointing you to a website you recently visited.

Coincidence? Never.

WHAT is Online Personalization?

The aforementioned examples are all instances of online personalization (sometimes called content personalization). BusinessDictionary defines online personalization as “tailoring the presentation of a website’s content to match a specific user’s instructions or preferences.” This form of custom-tailored marketing is achieved by collecting data about prospects and customers, then using that data to tweak online experiences to perfection.

WHY You Should Care About Online Personalization

Online personalization has become a key part of digital marketing strategies. As humans, we crave customized experiences. A study from the University of Texas at Austin attributes this to our desire for control. Google searches 30 trillion pages, 100 billion times a month. 60 hours of video is uploaded every minute on YouTube. More than 30 billion pieces of content are shared each month on Facebook.

Get the point? There’s A LOT of content out there! Online personalization helps you break through the noise and improve your marketing ROI.

HubSpot reported:

  • Personalized emails improve clickthrough rates by 14% and conversion rates by 10%.
  • In-house marketers who personalize web experiences (who are also able to quantify that improvement) see a 19% uplift in sales, on average.
  • 40% of consumers buy more from retailers who personalize the shopping experience across channels.
  • Leads nurtured with targeted content produce a 20% increase in sales opportunities.

And the list goes on. Hey, online personalization works!

HOW to Get Started with Online Personalization

Not every business can be a giganto expert at online personalization like Amazon.com (constantly pulling data and signals to personalize their users’ shopping experiences). However, there are a few basic things you can do to hop aboard the online personalization train, today.
 

1. Segment Your Email Marketing

Online personalization in email marketing is one of the most cost-efficient methods. Don’t always send the same email to everyone on your list. Break your lists down into various segments and tweak your messages accordingly.

Examples:

You’re in the staffing business and you work with companies looking to fill positions in marketing and IT.

  • Segment out the companies that have a need to fill marketing positions into one list. Then, send a monthly email featuring your top marketing candidates.
  • Likewise, create a separate segment for companies looking to fill IT positions. Send a separate monthly email featuring your top IT candidates to this list.

Sending a monthly e-newsletter? Most email marketing software (like MailChimp and Constant Contact) offer the option to insert a ‘receiver name’ field. Use it!
 

2. Segment Your Social Media

Facebook uses data in ad targeting that’s fairly easy to implement. Let’s say you offer computer repair services to small- and medium-sized businesses and you’re only able to offer those services within 50 miles of Brookfield, Wisconsin. You’re not going to want to run a Facebook ad that will be seen by everyone and anyone in the entire United States. Determine what your target audience looks like and set up your ad accordingly.

Here’s what your targeting might look like…

online personalization

Online personalization is not only a great way to break through the marketing noise and improve your marketing ROI—it’s also a really fun way to get creative with how you market to your audience! Give it a shot and you’ll be amazed at the results.

Need some help getting started with online personalization? Contact Cultivate Communications.

 


Image “Hello My Name Is” courtesy of Flickr user Travis Wise licensed under CC by 2.0.

4 Steps to Creating a Big-Picture Customer Touch Plan

 
If you don’t have a customer touch plan, you’re not alone. We’ve run across quite a few small business owners who weren’t even familiar with the phrase—yet, a customer touch plan is one of the most effective marketing tools for small businesses.

Let’s start with a no-frills definition…

What Is a Customer Touch Plan?

“Touch points” are every contact you have with your customer, whether online, in person, on the phone, by direct mail, via email, on social media—or any other potential contact point. Every time your brand gets on prospect or customer radar, that’s a touch point.

A customer touch plan consists of the deliberate efforts you employ to create those touch points. To communicate with your customers, you create those moments—they’re opportunities to get your customer thinking about your brand, your products, or your company.

Your touch plan may include:

  • Distribution of digital, TV, or physical marketing materials and ads—this can include both content marketing and direct mail
  • Employee contact with customers (customer service, billing, sales, management, security, help desk, etc.)
  • Website visits, downloads or emails
  • Social media/promotion/shares

Opportunities for customer touch points come along frequently, but taking advantage of every possible opportunity can be both overkill and creepy. Your customer touch plan should be carefully crafted and designed to be personal, but not intrusive.
 
customer touch plan

Step 1: Gather Your Customer Data

You probably already have a wealth of customer data at your fingertips. Most people are connected by their email address to social media accounts that will yield location, birth date, age, gender, and other personal details. Other handy details include past purchases, reasons that customer has contacted your company, and what type of device they use to access your website.

Data-driven marketing is all the rage—and for good reason: it works. Therefore, your first step is to consolidate and organize your customer data. If you’re not using customer relationship management (CRM) or other project management software to manage your customer interactions, it’s time to adopt and adapt.

Step 2: Use Your Customer Data

With data in hand, you can decide when you want to contact your customer, plus the best channel to use to reach that customer with a personal message.

Data-Based Customer Touch Point Ideas:

  • Send a greeting or special offer on your customer’s birthday. If you really want to stand out, send them a present. What would get your attention more? A computer-generated birthday postcard or a product sample? If you don’t sell goods, how about something really unusual, like a small box of chocolates with a real card? Great customer service is about going the extra mile.
  • When a subscription is set to expire, treat it as a new sale. Send your potential repeat customer updated information, current offers, and whatever you would send to a new customer who is deciding to buy. Win their continued loyalty. Sadly, most companies take loyal customers for granted—but repeat customers are your hidden GOLDMINE.
  • Location-based touches might include references to local sport teams or local events.

Step 3: Interact on Social Media

These days social media IS customer service, so be hyper-responsive, don’t skimp on the details, and don’t leave social media management to your inexperienced intern.

Your social media plan should include interactive content such as polls, surveys, and answers to comments. Document your social media engagement (here’s where that CRM comes in handy again) and look for the types of engagement your customers best respond to.

Step 4: Follow-up

When should you follow up? Almost every single time: whether it’s new sales, customer service issues, mailings, surveys, or social media. The goal is to ensure your customers are satisfied with your response. Put an internal process in place to ensure every interaction receives a prompt and thoughtful follow-up. Be sure to take notes so everyone in your organization knows each customer’s current status.

………

Your main objective: Build a customer touch plan strategy.

After you’ve explored all these steps in-depth, go back to square one and create a customer touch plan strategy that incorporates all of these elements, but be sure it’s tailored to your business and to your customers. Keep your strategy flexible—you’re going to be adjusting it over time based on what works…and what doesn’t work.

Over time, as you craft a more refined customer touch plan strategy, you’ll be loading your CRM with great information you can use to better understand your customers, which will also help you craft a more targeted marketing plan. As your customer data becomes more refined and personal, you’ll be able to confidently reduce your random marketing efforts and send only highly targeted campaigns. The goal of an effective customer touch plan is to make your customers feel appreciated, not hammered with spam.

Questions? Let us know in the comments!
 

Branding, Content, and the Sales Pitch: Finding the Right Balance

 
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The temptation to hammer your audience with a peppy sales pitch when you’re trying to write content can be hard to overcome. Marketers are supposed to market, right? So why shouldn’t we be screaming Buy! Buy! Buy! like freakshow carnival barkers?

Oh, wait, that’s actually the answer. Yikes.

Aggressiveness is out. Instead of demanding action from your customers, you have to give them answers to entice your customers to come to you. What you use to attract them determines the quality and longevity of your relationship.

Why We Had to Kill Frank…

Imagine you live on a cul-de-sac in a quiet suburban neighborhood—that is, until a new neighbor moves in. You know it’s going to get ugly when a panel truck with an LED display offering a miracle health product pulls into the driveway.

But, being the good neighbor you are, you bake a nice casserole and go over to introduce yourself. Your new neighbor Frank tells you all about how you can earn money by selling his miracle product…and all about how the pyramid scheme works. You buy a jar of miraclestuff to be polite and excuse yourself.

The next morning, Frank is at your door. He hands you a single flower from his garden, invites himself to breakfast, and tells you more about the product and the pyramid. Frank doesn’t care what you want, he only cares about selling you so he can make more money.

You’re forced to choose your own adventure: You can either kill Frank or put your house on the market and move to Tucson.

Pushy, one-way relationships were common in the early days of the Web. Intrusive banner ads, aggressive popups, spammariffic emails…

The good news? Technology killed Frank. We’re all very happy about it.

Moving to Tucson

Marketers had to find something more effective than Frank InYourFace—and the growing popularity of blogging and social media provided the perfect vehicle. For the first time, business owners and marketers had a forum to talk about solutions, issues, and pain points…all things your customer is interested in. And it worked.

Don’t worry, you still get to brand your business and sell your product. It’s just a more organic process today. A good relationship involves trust and rapport. Understand your customer’s needs and provide answers. They will remember your brand. Loyalty is human nature.

Making an Impression

Consider what you want people to think of your brand. Do you want to be seen as a thought leader? A company concerned about sustainable products? The manufacturer of the best widget available on the market? The low-price leader?

If you build your content around your desired image, you reinforce your brand and company values with every piece of content—WITHOUT selling. Your website should be filled with quality information about you, your company culture, your products, and your customers. That’s your branding. Authentic reinforcement of your message.

The Selling Part

You’re going to have to cut to the chase and promote some sales copy, and you don’t have to betray the trust you’ve built to do so. Make it relevant and timely and your customers won’t want to hit you with a shovel.

3 softer-selling secrets:

  1. Get Personal. Even with all the changes in delivery, the basic principles of marketing still hold true. The amazing depth of information you can gather on customers and their behavior eliminates the guesswork. You can send an offer so personal and timely it’s hard to resist:

“Dear Elizabeth, Last year, you told us you loved the yellow duckie raincoat and matching umbrella for your 3-year-old daughter. It’s almost rainy season again, and we thought you might like our outstanding selection of Dora the Explorer raingear in just the right size. We even have a matching backpack! It’s all on sale this week. Oh, and while Dora is the best-selling choice for girls her age, we also have a big selection of alternative characters, prints and solids, all on sale right now.”

  1. Weave Your Selling Point into Valuable Advice. Basic Selling 101: Identify a pain point (like the coming rainy season in the example above) and offer a solution. Your content marketing goals aren’t just to sell an item, but to be so useful and full of great ideas that your customers will come back just for the edutainment.
  1. Ask for Opinions and Advice. Customers love to give input and to be heard, so don’t be afraid to ask—then make changes based on their answers.

Back to Frank

Imagine your new neighbor, Frank, moves in without fanfare. You take over a casserole, introduce yourself, and exchange pleasantries. He invites you over, grills steaks, and pours a few beers. You become friends.

Over the course of the friendship, Frank never asks you to become involved or tries to sell you product, but you do notice how healthy and energetic he is. You ask, and he tells you he likes to get plenty of rest and exercise, along with a healthy diet including a special supplement.

A few months later, a different friend mentions he’s looking for a side business, something he can really believe in. He mentions he’s been slowing down lately, feeling run down and tired. You find yourself telling him all about Frank. While you’re talking, you wonder if that supplement would make you feel as energetic as Frank feels. You decide to ask Frank if you can buy a bottle of his supplement.

That’s how content marketing works.

 
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Side Door Thinking: Learn the smart marketing tactics you need to truly engage with more customers.Stop banging on the front door of your customer’s mind …when the side door is wide open! Want to learn more about effective content marketing? Whether you decide to outsource content marketing or not, this eBook is chock-full of great information on content marketing. Download this FREE guide, Side Door Thinking, to discover how content marketing can help you ramp up your website and complete your marketing strategy.

You’ll learn how to:
  • Increase Your Referral Rate
  • Increase Your Social Media Reach
  • Leverage New Product Lines & Revenue Streams
  • Earn Your Customer’s Loyalty & Business
  • Position Yourself As An Industry Leader & Trusted Resource
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