Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Agility is Key in a Down Market

Weathering an economic downturn won't be accomplished by a "business as usual" attitude. You will need to be quicker to respond to the market, and will need to take advantage of the full arsenal of Web 2.0 tools (email, web, social media, CRM, etc.), all working in tandem to create demand and generate revenue. You need to aggressively manage sales and marketing activities, and evaluate metrics in shorter periods -- say, every two weeks, monthly, and quarterly -- adjusting and refining your planning as new information becomes available. The idea is to compress the sales cycle, improve accuracy of forecasting, and, ultimately, increase revenue. Measuring your sales velocity is key to this. Sales velocity is a real-time measurement of the speed of your sales cycle. Important metrics to watch for determining your sales velocity are:
  • Length of sales cycle
  • Number of sales per cycle
  • Revenue per sale
  • Sales volume (total number of opportunities per cycle divided by percentage of conversions per sale)
Once you've arrived at your sales velocity, you should be focusing on actively monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine which tactical levers to tweak, in order to maximize effectiveness. Here, key marketing metrics to monitor include web initiatives, email, and direct response, as well as sales metrics like sales by lead source, win/loss rations, and customer gains and losses. Monitor these frequently, and be prepared to make ongoing adjustments. Do it pro-actively, rather than reactively, and watch your conversions rise.

Some Easy Tips for Enhancing Your Website

Businesses live or die by their websites. But even the most savvy businesses don't always understand how to make them more effective, and wind up spending inordinate amounts of money of redesigns, Flash animations, and the kind of "gee whiz" functionality that might look impressive but really does nothing to enhance -- and is frequently harmful to -- conversion rates. What folks should be focusing on is ways to make it easier for visitors to find what they're looking for, and make it easier to convert them from visitors into paying customers. Seems fairly obvious, doesn't it? But a surprising number of businesses just don't get it. So, here's a collection of some easy (and cheap) to implement tips that can provide an immediate -- and measurable -- return on your online marketing investment.

  1. Understand the Language Your Audience is Using. As a simple example, in the software business, some folks might use the term programmers, while others use the term engineers. Since you're not really sure which term might be used in searches, consider including both. That way, you don't have to be worried about which term is preferred by your prospective site visitor, and you won't lose out on prospective opportunities because of a simple linguistic concern.
  2. Optimize Your Copy, Titles, and "Alt" Labels to Improve Natural Search Results.  This is really low-hanging fruit, and doesn't involve engaging a whole cadre of programmers.  Make sure that your headlines and subheads, as well as Alt tags utilize keywords that your intended audience will be searching on. Consider including a glossary of those terms elsewhere on the site, to improve orgaic search rankings.
  3. Make it Easy for Visitors to Reach You. This is another one that seems painfully obvious, but once again, a lot of businesses don't take full advantage of it.  You want to ensure that folks who already want to engage with you can do so easily. This means, simplifying the check-out (or even the "Contact Us") process by using clear language, eliminating superflous content or images, and ensuring that a "call to action" -- whether it be an "Order Now" link or just a "Contact Us" button -- is available on not only your main navigation, but also at the end of every page of significant content about your product or service. A simple "Learn more about we can help you to (fill in the blank)" link puts your call to action right in front of your site visitor, at the very moment when they're most likely to want to engage with you. Make it easy for them to do so!
  4. Tell Your Visitors Where They Are on Your Site.  Adding cues makes it easier for a visitor to navigate through your site. Let's day that they've reached your site as a result of a search, and landed on a third- or fourth-level page. By including "breadcrumbs" or other hierarchical links, this enables users to immediately determine exactly where they are on your site, and helps them to quickly find the content they came for.
  5. Use Consistent and Persistent Navigation. Surprisingly, I recently came across a relatively "new" site for an established software development company that had no consistent navigation. Once you left the home page, a completely different navigation scheme ensued for each section. It was virtually impossible to figure out where you were, and while a lot of the site content was very informative, finding it was next to impossible. And because of the unnecessarily complex site architecture, it was extremely difficult to make even minor updates to the site. Of course, this site was done "in-house," by otherwise-talented programmers, albeit with limited User Interface experience, and directed by one of the partners, who really had no clue what he was doing, but insisted vehemently on doing things "his" way. Not surprisingly, they're on their third iteration of the site in as many years, and each iteration has been progressively worse than the previous one. Don't let this happen to you!

    There are MANY resources currently available on the web to help you learn about best practices in site navigation, and you owe it to yourself to take advantage of them, and ensure that your site developers -- whether out-sourced or in-house -- are actually utilizing them. There's nothing worse than getting someone to your site, then losing them because they can't find what they came for!
  6. Flash: Use it Where it Makes Sense, or Don't Use it At All. Flash is cool. Everyone knows that. Those great animations make your site look lively and encourage interaction. But did you know that using Flash in your navigation scheme actually reduces your ability to be found in web searches? The problem is that search engine "spiders" can not read text embedded in Flash files, at all. The links contained within a Flash .swf wrapper are not at all accessible to spiders, so you are automatically excluding important page content from being indexed by the major search engines. There are workarounds, but they involve creating an alternate version of your code, which means more work both to create and maintain. Not really a viable solution.

    Bottom line? Flash works great for animating images, or adding interactivity within a page, say, for a demo or explainer. But for navigation? I strongly recommend against it. For simple animation of rollover buttons and such, Javascript or CSS is much preferable, and will allow all important parts of your website to be accessible to search engines, and, accordingly, to your intended audience. 
  7. Make Sure That All Key Functionality is On Your Home Page.  Make sure that all important functionality -- such as customer log-ins, "Contact Us" links, and special offers on products or services -- is front and center on your home page. Instead of making your users click a link to get to that functionality, make it easy for them to find it. For navigation, drop-down and flyout menus provide your site visitor with an easy way of drilling into your site with the fewest number of clicks or keystrokes. Exposing subcategories like this will help create more awareness of your offerings, providing cross-sell and up-sell opportunities that might otherwise go un-noticed.
Not every website investment pays big dividends, but the tips listed above can be very affordable and very effective. By understanding the business goals for your site, you can make intelligent decisions about how to increase your site's search visibility, and improve its clarity -- and effectiveness -- to visitors who actually hit the site!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Some Tips for Successful Copywriting

One of the biggest challenges for copywriters -- even professionals -- is knowing how to start. Brainstorming and outlines are, of course, incredibly useful tools, but for me, the most important thing is to try and understand the folks for whom your copy is intended. Because if you don't have a clear understanding of your intended audience, no amount of bullet points will save you!

Know who you're really writing for
This is especially true when it comes to writing about software or technology solutions. Typically, as a writer, you have several people feeding you information about the great new technology product or service that they want you to promote. There's the technologist, who is understandably proud of their efforts to bring all those zeros and ones together and assemble an attractive, functioning piece of software or web tools. There's the company owner, who is convinced that his technologists are smarter than any other technologists on the planet. And there's the owner's brother, who knows just about everything there is to know about writing... except how to actually do it. Taken all together, you've found yourself smack in the middle of several competing voices, all of whom may well have good points, but whose judgement is often clouded by their relative proximity to things.

Put yourself in the reader's shoes
What you, as the writer need to do, however, is to step back and try to imagine yourself as your intended reader, typically a prospective customer. In my business, the thing that resonates most with prospective and current customers is how focused we appear to be on helping them to solve their problems. Which means, not so much a focus on them as a prospective buyer, but more on how we can help them to solve challenges with their prospects or customers. So, you need to get deep into the minds of your prospects or customers, and gain some understanding of what their business challenges are... which means also getting into the minds of your customer's prospective customer, and identifying those pain points, as well. Once you've done that and have mapped-out this schema of interconnected challenges, then you can begin to see how your product or service can help them to address those respective pain points. Confusing, isn't it? But necessary.

Who's writing the check?
Next, you need to identify who is involved in the purchase decision for your product or service. For technology and services, there are typically several individuals who are influential. There a P&L owner or line-of-business manager, who is looking to impact some metrics, whether its decreasing cost, increasing revenue, generating a greater number of leads, or something like that. Then, there's usually a technology leader -- a CTO or a CIO -- who is suspicious of anything that was developed outside, or brought to his attention by a non-technical person. Lastly, is the end-user -- the employee(s) most likely to actually be using your technology or solution. As you can imagine, each of these individuals has their own (sometimes competing) agenda, and what is a benefit to one of them is not necessarily a benefit to all of them. Accordingly, you need to be able to identify a series of benefits for each of them, and communicate them clearly and succinctly.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? But I can tell you that when I discuss this with my clients, many are surprised, and have never thought of it in this way before.

Write for all of your audiences
This customer-centric approach to copywriting applies not just to technology marketing, but to virtually all types of marketing. No matter what you're selling, if you can build your marketing message from the prospective of each participant in the value chain, you'll wind up with a message that is much more clear, more compelling, and more effective. Of course, taking this kind of approach requires a little more effort at the front end -- you need to understand the needs of your prospective customers and their prospective customers, and figure a way to promote your product or service as a tool that can help them to be more efficient and effective. More work, for sure, but well worth the effort! 

Thankfully, there are lots of web resources that discuss copywriting in greater detail, and the time you spend researching will be time well spent. The Google is your friend...!

Welcome to the O&Y Tech Marketing Blog

Welcome to our technology marketing blog. We'll be discussing trends and best practices in strategic and tactical technology marketing and demand creation, primarily for use by small and mid-sized organizations.

We'll review traditional and "guerrilla" marketing tools, to help you realize the highest return on your marketing investments.

We'll also look at how you can successfully adapt the strategies and tactics from some of the largest and most successful companies, without spending a bundle on external resources.

And, we're looking to engage in some healthy debate over these topics, so I welcome your comments and suggestions!
Add to Technorati Favorites