Archive for June, 2010

Business Blogging – Do You Have What It Takes?

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Though blogging provides significant business benefits (e.g. increasing a firm’s credibility and visibility in search), developing a blog isn’t the right move for every organization. The web is littered with abandoned blogs; according to Technorati, only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs it tracks have been updated in the past four months, and just 50,000 to 100,000 blogs generate most of the page views. To illustrate these figures visually:

Most Blog Traffic Goes to the Top Tier of Blogs

That’s a lot of writers trying to join a very small club. How do you get there? To make a blog really worthwhile—to join that elite 0.08% of successful blogs—requires (at least) the following six characteristics.

Curiosity. Successful business bloggers are interested in and knowledgeable about much more than just their own products and/or services. They study the bigger picture, keep up on trends, understand their customers’ issues and enjoy learning and sharing industry knowledge.

Passion. This is what makes a blog not just informative, but interesting. It brings life to the writing. It’s also a prerequisite for the persistence needed to keep writing, and making it interesting, long enough for the blog to really start getting traction and succeeding.

Organized thought. Whether you are sharing information primarily through writing, audio (podcasting) or video blogging, it all starts with the ability to tell a story, weave a narrative, or present an idea in an organized and coherent fashion.

Social skills. What separates blogs from other forms of writing (white papers, articles, e-books, etc.) is the interactivity–blogs are meant to be conversations, not monologues. Good bloggers are social creatures; they link to other bloggers, write copy that attracts links, leave relevant comments on other blogs, respond to comments on their own blogs, and interact with other bloggers through other social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter. The result is that other blogs and social networking sites become productive sources of blog traffic, as well as being helpful for search.

Patience. Even if you use best practices for a successful blog launch, building traffic still takes time. Why? The three primary sources of traffic to any website are direct visits, referrals (links) from other websites, and search. When a blog is new to the world, it doesn’t have high awareness to draw a lot of direct traffic, high credibility to attract links, or loads of content for search engines to index. It takes time to build that. Many bloggers fail at this point because they get discouraged and abandon their blogs. Many others succeed simply by being too stubborn to quit.

Commitment. To be successful, a blog must be continually updated and constantly promoted. This isn’t a “toe in the water” exercise (unless your plan is to join the 94.4% of abandoned blogs that unattractively litter the online landscape). Blogging is wasted effort unless you are willing to put in the time, even (especially) in the early ramp-up days when traffic seems disappointingly low, even when a post falls flat with readers, even when you expect tons of comments and get only a few (or none).

Blogging isn’t for everyone. But for those with passion, curiosity and determination, they can pay off by showcasing your company’s expertise, building its brand image and enhancing its search visibility in ways no ordinary corporate website can.

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How Consultants Who Aren’t “Natural Born Sellers” Can Still Sell Successfully

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Guest post from the editors of RainToday.com.

Oily. Smarmy. Phony. Mendacious. Two-Faced…

Right or wrong, these words are often associated with salespeople. They are also the first words that come to mind for many consultants (along with images of the overly aggressive, overly slick, walking sales cliché) when they are told they need to sell.

While being salesy is ill-advised for almost any sales rep, it is particularly bad for consultants.

Buyers of products often say, “I don’t like the sales rep, but I can tune her out for the next few minutes and simply evaluate her product against the competition.”

Buyers of consulting evaluate the sellers. Why? The seller is often the service provider. The relationship does not end when the sale is completed – it is just beginning. Thus, the foundation of trust set up between the buyer and seller in the sales process is of paramount importance.

There is Nothing Wrong with Selling

Quite the contrary, the act of selling, when done well, adds a significant amount of value. A well-planned sales conversation can help even sophisticated buyers make smarter decisions.

And, you can be effective without sounding like a used car salesman. You can and should sell with high integrity, and high success, and do it without snake oil tactics.

In fact, we’re going to let you in on a little secret: you can apply the same skills that make you a great consultant to help you succeed in selling—all you need to do is sharpen them to apply them effectively.

As a Consultant You Already Have Many Skills You Need to Be Great at Sales

Here are four ways you can apply consulting skills to your selling process:

1. Sell as You Serve: Many consultants who have never sold think the purpose of selling is to part someone from their money at any cost. They believe that to be successful at selling, consultants must leave their values and everyday personalities at the door and adopt a sleazy persona and voice, one that would naturally say something like, “What’s it gonna take to get you into this shiny, red, pre-owned sports car today, ma’am?”

Nothing is further from the truth. The best rainmakers bring in new clients because they are no different when they sell their services than when they deliver their services.

Great consultants create better futures for their clients that the clients didn’t know were possible.

The best rainmakers meet mutually-set expectations over and over again, building trust, relationships, and confidence. The best rainmakers are ethical at all times.

The skills that make you a great consultant can make you a great rainmaker. Sales is about helping clients and prospects find solutions that solve their problems and help them succeed.

2. Sell to Need: Great consultants are masters at uncovering clients’ goals and challenges and helping them to make the changes necessary for success.

Great rainmakers are no different. However, many consultants feel uncomfortable making connections, uncovering needs, and working closely with people they don’t yet know well. Too often the first conversations go awry when they don’t need to.

The same skills you use to get to the root of your clients’ problems and develop solutions to help them meet their goals are the ones you can use to uncover prospects’ needs and propose winning solutions. You just need to recognize what you need to do and bring these skills out at the right time and in the right way.

3. Communicate the Value: Great consultants understand the value they provide to clients. They craft compelling solutions based on their clients’ unique needs, and communicate that value to clients clearly and articulately.

Selling is no different. You must learn to lead discussions that influence direction and outcomes, and you must advocate your services and communicate your value. Just like when you advocate new ideas to your clients when you work with them, you must be persuasive, confidence inspiring, and empathetic all at the same time when you sell to them.

4. Plan for Success: It’s been said that if you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will get you there.

Great consultants have a clear process that they follow. Each project has a specific objective, timeframe, budget, and resource allocation. Rainmaking is no different. Like consulting, selling is a process, and it’s waiting for you to master it.

Make the Transition from Consultant to Rainmaker

To help you figure out what that selling process should look like and to make the transition from consultant to rainmaker, we’ve written a free 27-page report, Selling Consulting Services: Forget Everything You Know About Sales and Begin to Sell Without Selling.

This report will give you a proven process you can use to start bringing in more new business now. Plus, you’ll learn:

  • • How to avoid being “salesy” (which will actually lead to more sales)
  • • A proven process that will get you started bringing in more new business today
  • • How to uncover the full set of your clients’ needs (most sales advice only gives you half the story)
  • • Whether or not cold calling is dead
  • • The best kept secret in leading successful sales conversations

Download the Selling Consulting Services free report now.

Disclosure: As a consultant whose expertise is in helping clients with online marketing, social media and SEO — not selling — I know how difficult this can be for service providers. While RainToday.com has offered to pay me a small commission for anyone who signs up for their training program, I wouldn’t have published this post if I didn’t believe that this is an excellent program for talented but sales-challenged consultants.

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Corporate Websites vs. Blogs – Similar Goals, but Very Different Tools

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

While most businesses today have websites, the majority still don’t have blogs. While blogging isn’t right for every business, it does offer compelling benefits. Though the ultimate objective of either a website or blog is ultimately to drive increased sales, the two platforms have fundamentally distinct characteristics. Here are six key differences between business blogs and websites.

Website: static content
Blog: frequently updated content

Other than a few select areas (e.g., company news, upcoming events, prices), depending on the type of business, most of the content on your website stays pretty much the same for a long time. You don’t update your product features every day, the descriptions of your services stay pretty much the same, your hours of operation don’t change, your address doesn’t change unless you move the business (an infrequent event for most enterprises), and your “about the company” is only revised when major developments occur. Blogs, on the other hand, are updated frequently – generally one or more times weekly – with fresh content. The search engines have always favored fresh content, particularly Google with its latest Caffeine release. Certainly standard websites can rank well in search, but a blog provides an extra SEO kick and is more powerful at driving repeat visits.

Corporate Blogs vs. WebsitesWebsite: formal / professional tone
Blog: informal / conversational tone

For a variety of reasons, web copy generally reads more like official corporate communications, while blog copy seems more like someone just telling what he or she really thinks. One reason is the editing and review process; web copy often gets written, then reviewed by subject matter experts, then reviewed by management, then reviewed by upper management, then reviewed by legal, then proofread, then glanced over and fine-tuned once more before publishing. Each blog post, on the other hand, is usually written by one person on a tight deadline.

Website: broadcast
Blog: dialog

Website content is one-way, one-to-many communication. It’s like speaking with a microphone. Thanks to commenting, a blog is (at least potentially) more of a two-way conversation, like using a telephone. On your website, visitors are information consumers. On a blog, they can also be contributors.

Website: transactional
Blog: educational

Company websites are generally designed to get visitors to take some specific type of action: buy a product, download a white paper, call or email for more information, sign up for a newsletter, visit an establishment, do something usually designed to lead either directly or indirectly to a sale. Though blogs may also have calls to action, these tend to be more subtle. From a business standpoint, a blog is more like PR than marketing or sales; it’s purpose is generally to build credibility, enhance a firm’s brand and image, and establish a position of thought leadership and expertise.

Website: products and services
Blog: industry and customer issues

In terms of topics, a website is usually inward-looking; it provides information about a company, it’s products, services, unique value proposition, pricing, hours of operation, location, sales channel, partnerships and other information. A blog is more outward-facing. Posts deal with industry trends, observations, insights, and with issues important to customers. Such issues normally have some relationship to the company’s products and services of course, but the purpose isn’t specifically to market those offerings as much as to demonstrate knowledge of the industry and how to resolve dilemmas that clients and prospects may be facing.

Website: (almost) mandatory
Blog: not for everyone

Finally, websites have become essential for most businesses. Whether the question is about where to order pizza for dinner tonight or which enterprise software system to install – or almost anything in between – most people start by searching online. Few businesses can thrive without at least a basic website, and web-generated sales or leads are critical for many firms. Blogs on the other hand aren’t right, or necessary, for every business.  But where they do fit, they provide opportunities for search, communications and brand-building that go well beyond standard company websites.

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Five Benefits of Blogging for Business

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Blogging provides business executives and marketers with opportunities beyond and distinct from a typical company website. Because they are less formal, more interactive, and  focused on industry issues—as opposed to just the company’s offerings—they provide a forum that is viewed much differently by readers than a vendor website. Blogs are seen as key sources of information rather than just promotion. Blogs are also core to a successful social media marketing strategy.

Here are five key benefits of blogging for businesses.

Establish expertise and credibility. Winning the business, particularly in the b2b world, is usually about doing the best job of solving the customer’s problem. Your website is about your product or service, and the benefits it provides to buyers. Your blog is about something related but much larger: your expertise. If your offering is unique, your blog provides a platform for demonstrating your industry understanding and insights that led to your approach. Even more importantly, if your product or service is difficult to differentiate, a blog gives you a way to create differentiation via your knowledge. Expertise is a powerful differentiator; in commoditized markets, it may even be your only effective one.

Most Popular Blogging Platforms - Blogger, TypePad and WordPressBecome a resource. Following from the first benefit, establishing a position of expertise makes you a resource for industry influencers such as the media and other bloggers. You’re no longer just a source of information about your specific product / service / company, but also about bigger industry issues, trends and developments. This leads to coverage and quotes in a broader array of media, further enhancing the reputation of your blog and the image of your company as an industry leader.

Create a dialogue. Websites are one-way communication, a broadcast medium. I write about my stuff, you read it. Blogs in contrast are interactive: I take a position on an industry issue, you leave a comment, I respond, another reader chimes in with a follow-on comment, etc. Each post can potentially become a conversation, not just a monologue. That creates reader engagement, a deeper level of relationship than just passive information consumption.

Develop new relationships. Becoming an industry expert and resource, and creating dialogs, enables you to establish relationships with prospective customers, potential partners and other industry influencers that likely wouldn’t have happened otherwise. A blog lets you attract readers with your knowledge, interests, opinions and observations in a way your website can’t, expanding your circle of influence and business relationships.

Search engine visibility. Blogs are very powerful in terms of SEO for four reasons:

  • • Thought leadership: due to the difference in the nature of blog content versus vendor websites (thought leadership vs. promotional), search engines often give more authority to blogs.
  • • Blog-specific directories: while blogs are eligible for most of the same types of links as standard websites (e.g. directories, social bookmarketing sites, news sites, articles), blogs also have their own unique link opportunities through blog-specific directories and RSS feed syndication sites.
  • • Recency: blog content is typically updated much more frequently than commercial website content, providing an advantage in increasingly real-time search results.
  • • Link bait: again due to the informational rather than promotion nature of the content, blog posts are more likely to draw natural links (e.g. from news stories, articles and other blogs) than website content.

A blog isn’t right for every company (more about that idea in an upcoming post), but where feasible, they provide a powerful complement to standard websites with unique strengths for building a brand’s online presence and impact.

In Minnesota? Don’t miss the SCORE Social Media and Internet Marketing Boot Camp, Thursday, June 24 in Bloomington.

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SEM Mystery: The Case of the Missing Leads

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Originally published on the WebMarketCentral blog in December 2008.

It was 5:00 on a sultry, simmering Friday afternoon when she walked into the office. Trouble, spelled with a capital T, a capital R, and several other letters.

“Hello Sugar,” I said as I slipped a bottle out of the bottom drawer of my desk and poured myself a belt. “Care for a drink?”

“No thanks,” she responded as she wriggled herself down into a chair across the desk from me. “I’ve got to watch my figure.”

You and every poor slob on the street, I thought to myself.

“Mind if I don’t smoke?” she asked, pulling out a cigarette but not lighting it.

“Nah, don’t kill yourself,” I answered. This was Minnesota, the state where nothing is allowed. I was used to people not smoking in my office.

“I’ve got another job for you,” she purred.

I had figured as much. I’d done a job for Sugar a few months earlier. Government stuff, on AdWords. Went great. Door-busting CTRs, conversion rates as respectable as that lady always sitting in the front row at church, nice ROI.

“Sure,” I said, taking another sip of my drink. “Another government job?”

“No. Private sector this time.”

Well, that was fine. Government, enterprise, it was all business to me. Sugar explained the plan. Same product as before, only they’d made a few tweaks to optimize it for business use. Sweet new white paper to go along with it as well. No problem, I thought; knock out a keyword list, crank out a few ads, test a couple of different landing pages, keep an eye on things to weed out the bum search phrases and keep bids in line, piece of cake. I could do it in my sleep. Heck, a couple more drinks and I might have to.

“No sweat, Sugar,” I said. “Leave everything to me.”

Except things didn’t go quite as planned. Two months down the road, the AdWords campaign was in trouble. Trouble, spelled with a capital T, R, and those same other letters. Sure, the CTRs were decent, but the conversion rate was uglier than the business end of a sharpee. Nothing seemed to make the conversion budge either; I threw up new landing pages like condos in Shanghai, but lead production stayed stubbornly low.

Sugar wasn’t going to like this, and as the old saying goes, hell hath no fury like a woman with an underproducing SEM campaign. Or something like that.

So I downloaded a keyword report and went through it with a fine tooth comb. I tried running the numbers by campaign, by CTR, by landing page—everything seemed random. Finally I sorted all the keywords in the entire program alphabetically, and suddenly the columns lined up like a slot machine hitting the jackpot in Vegas. It seemed that everyone searching for a certain phrase, or variant of it, beginning with a letter of the alphabet that won’t be named here, was bailing out at a scandalous rate.

Why hadn’t we seen this sooner? Because we’d made a big mistake, thinking private sector yahoos would search for our offering using the same lingo as government schmucks. But it don’t work that way. Not in the city.

Once I’d cleaned out the unsuitable search terms, the campaign started humming like the V8 in my `66 Ford. I could breathe a sigh of relief, put my feet up on my desk, and pour myself another round.

She came strolling in again. “Hello Sugar.”

“Nice work,” she said. “But things were looking a little dicey there for a while. I thought you’d lost your touch. I didn’t think you had any more tricks up your sleeve. Thanks for proving me wrong.”

“No sweat, Sugar,” I tossed back. I know how to play good cop / bad cop with an AdWords report. I’ll talk nice to the analytical data set and buy it a few drinks, but if that don’t work, I’ll take it out back and knock it around until it gives up the answers. “It’s what I do.” That, and dodging bullets in the rough-and-tumble world of search engine marketing.

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