Wednesday, June 17, 2009

B2B E-mail Marketing 101: How to Ensure Success

For small and mid-sized businesses, e-mail marketing is one of the most valuable and economical tools available. It's direct, it's inexpensive, and it's rapidly deployable. But how you go about crafting an email campaign can make all the difference between success and failure. One of the most important things you can do when preparing a campaign is to put yourself in your customers' shoes.

First, you need to ask yourself "Exactly what kind of information do my clients or prospects actually want?" What will attract their attention and get them to actually open and read — and hopefully act on — your e-mail campaign? What can you offer them that will be of real value to them? It's important to think of email as a fairly intimate mechanism for engaging with your prospects or clients. Any successful campaign will involve a well-designed series of communications that is designed to take them through an extended conversation, rather than just a series of unrelated, uncoordinated messages. Email addresses for your clients — and especially your prospects — are a valuable resource, and the best way to lose access to them is to abuse them. When we don't give sufficient thought to the messages we send, you can almost be assured of getting "unsubscribes" and, ultimately, the loss of that prospect or client. And, as we all know, it's much easier — and less costly — to maintain an existing client than it is to acquire a new one.

So, content is crucial. If it's not meaningful to your target audience, you'll lose their attention, and possibly their business. Stuck for ideas...? Here are a couple of ideas, just to get you started:

Highlight an Existing Client — When you get positive feedback from a client, reach out to them and ask if it would be O.K. for you you to highlight them on your website and in e-mail campaigns. Nothing sells better than success, and prospects are always looking to validate their purchase decisions.

Provide Useful Tips or Market Insight — As an expert in what you do, your knowledge can be extremely useful to your audience. These can be tips on how to make better use of your product or sewrvice offering, or they can be insights into the current state of your marketplace. You don't necessarily want to "sell" in these messages, you just want to demonstrate that you have market expertise that can prove useful to your prospective clients. They'll make the sales connection on their own, and they won't feel like they're being spammed.

Announce Upcoming Events — Got an industry event or trade show coming up? Announce it, and be sure to include a link to the event. If you'll be exhibiting, provide your booth location and on-site contact info. If you're just attending an event, let your audience know if you'll be available for meetings or general networking. And, if an event has already passed, highlight photos of you with clients or industry figures.

As you can see, ideas for content are limited only by your imagination. You can include sales promos, or even industry news. And once you’ve identified the types of content you'll be using, you can begin preparing the actual emailing, building your e-mail list and creating an email template that properly reflects your brand image. There are several ways to approach this, starting with using Microsoft Outlook as your basic foundation, to stand-alone email software packages, all the way to hosted email management solutions, which can range from simple (inexpensive) to complex (expensive.) Unfortunately, a serious discussion of the merits of each method is well beyond the intent of this article.

Finally, it's a good idea to send out a preliminary e-mail in which you introduce yourself and establish expectations about what type of information your subscribers can expect to receive, and the frequency with which they'll be receiving it. Encourage an ongoing conversation by asking for feedback. This will not only engage your customers, but their suggestions and feedback can also help you improve and better target future campaigns.

The next step is to draft an e-mail marketing plan for the entire year. Look at the calendar from the perspective of your customer, being aware of significant industry events that might be of interest to them. Map-out topics and promotions that can help you reach them with pertinent information at the "right" time, throught the year. The time you spend in front-end planning will greatly improve the performance of your campaigns, while ensuring that your audience receives information that is both relevant and timely.

When it's time to push-out your campaign, be sure to do a couple of "test" emailings, to your personal email account, and to family members or friends. Check against not only your "Office" email client, but also against web-mail clients like Yahoo or G-Mail, to be certain that everything looks the way you've intended. Make sure that any included graphics show up where they're supposed to. Proofread, then proofread again. And be sure to proof your "Subject Line," as well. Then, make sure that any included links function properly.

Lastly, be sure to include an obvious "Opt-Out" mechanism on your email, even if it's a simple "Reply with UNSUBSCRIBE in the Message Header" link. There will typically be some folks who — while appreciating your company as a resource — prefer not to receive unsolicited email promotions, and it is vitally important that you respect their wishes.

Five Tips for Better Presentations

There are few things as deadly as a poorly-conceived business presentation. We've all sat through more than a few, so you know exactly what I'm talking about. So why, then, do we persist in making the same mistakes on our own presentations? Here are 5 simple rules to follow that can help you make your next presentation much more effective:
  1. What's Your Point? — Before you even begin working on your Powerpoint deck, you need to ask yourself "What is the One Main Point I want to get across to my audience?" If you can't answer that question, then you probably aren't ready to even give a presentation. You presentation should start with this ONE Main Point, and each section or slide should essentially provide support for this One Main Point.
  2. The "Jerry Maguire" Rule, a.k.a. "You Had Me at Hello" — Your audience will decide whether or not they like you (and your presentation) within the first 10 seconds, so you need to be completely ready to go, when it's time. Don't be fumbling with a microphone, or fussing with your laptop, while folks are waiting for you to start. Stand tall, make eye contact throughout the room, smile, and be confident. You should know your first three slides cold, and be totally prepared to speak about them without having to look at them. That will help you feel more relaxed, and will help set the tone for a successful presentation.
  3. Repetition is Your Friend — Remember that One Main Point you're trying to get across? You need to make certain that your audience does, too. Even during the most compelling of presentations (you know, like the ones Steve Jobs gives), your audience's minds will wander. So don't be shy about repeating your main point or supporting argument. It's like that old, three-step adage: "Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em; Tell 'em; and lastly, Tell 'em what you've just told them..." YOU know your material. You need to be sure that, when you're done, that your audience knows it, too!
  4. Include Audience Participation — Folks who make pre-packaged cake mixes figured this one out a long time ago. You know that Duncan Hines could have easily used powdered eggs in their cake mix, but they chose not to. They understood the power of having the "baker" contribute to the recipe and "create" the end product. You can do the same with your audience, by including leading questions and facilitated exercises within your presentation. Every time you involve an audience member, you bring them a little closer to accepting — and supporting — your point of view.
  5. Deliver With Passion — Remember when you were a little kid, and a grown-up would read you a story from a book...? The uncle who read to you with an excited, animated voice is the one who got your attention! Bring that kind of passion to your presentation. Get out your old copy of "The Cat in the Hat," and record yourself reading it aloud. THAT is the kind of excitement you need to bring to your presentation. Because if YOU can't get excited about what you're saying, how can you expect your audience to get excited...? This, of course, really starts with the words themselves. So, when you're writing your presentation, think about that 10-year-old inner child, and try to bring that kind of excitement to your writing. And don't forget non-verbal cues and body language, all of which go a long way to creating a presentation that's memorable, long after it was given!
There are many other valuable ideas to consider when preparing your presentations, notably minimizing the amount of information that appears on each slide (It's a slide, not a book!), and having a script that doesn't just read what's already on the slide. But the five points listed above have been extremely useful to me in creating succesful presentations, and I hope that they'll be useful to you, as well!

Social Media Marketing: Where's the Value?

As companies look for cost-effective ways to market in the down economy, many are experimenting with social media campaigns, employing a host of tools, from YouTube videos to blogs to applications on Facebook and Twitter. But it begs the question: Is Social Media Marketing actually paying off for marketers, and how can you measure ROI? While proponents of Social Media Marketing point to increased brand awareness, and — to some degree — more concise targeting, few are willing to go out on a limb and attribute any significant revenue growth directly to their Social Media marketing initiatives.

Social Marketing Initiatives Grow, In Spite of Lack of Useful Metrics

Still, according a report prepared for eMarketer by research firm Aberdeen Group, 21% of best-in-class companies plan to boost their social media marketing budgets by more than 25% this year, in spite of the fact that Aberdeen's research also showed that 39% of companies found it somewhat difficult to measure the impact of social media, and 20% said it was very difficult to measure.

So where does that leave you? Aberdeen and eMarketer believe that by 2013, an estimated 52% of all Internet users will be regular visitors to social networking sites. No matter how you slice it, that's a significant number of users, and many of them will be potential targets for your product or service. The steady stream of updates and news from "friends" are becoming a weekly — or even daily — habit for many people. That stickiness is good news for social network providers. The bad news is that — sticky or not — social networks are still struggling to develop workable revenue models.

"Yes" to Facebook and LinkedIn; But a Definitive "Maybe" to Twitter

To date, the more established social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook have gotten most of the attention, and, among business users, Facebook seems to have gotten the most traction. But a lot of attention has been paid of late to microblogging service Twitter, with celebrities and even politicians (using "ghost-Twitterers"), entrepreneurs, business leaders and everyday users apparently flocking to the service in large numbers, generating lots of attention and activity. Twitter enables the distribution of web-wide messages, called "Tweets," consisting of 140 characters or less, to "followers" and to other social networking sites like Facebook. The initial response to the service has been strong, and eMarketer projects that the number of Twitter users will jump from 6 million U.S.-based users in 2008 to over 18.1 million in 2010. However, Nielsen vp of research David Martin suggests that the retention rate of new Twitter account holders is not particularly strong, and that as the novelty wears off, Twitter use may well drop dramatically. Given that sites like MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn already provide a Twitter-like short messaging system through their "Status Update" functionality, many who have signed-on to Twitter have suggested that Twitter may have actually taken a step backward, in creating a web service that offers only a "Status Update" function.

Social Network Marketing Initiatives CAN Lead to New Opportunities

All things considered, Social Networking as a whole has gotten some serious traction, and savvy marketers are including it in their overall marketing mix. For many B2B tech marketers with big-ticket, complex sales and long sales cycles, there is a pronounced need to influence and to build rapport, with both clients and prospects. In this environment, creating demand is really about building relationships, and about establishing you and your organization as a valuable resource and a trusted advisor. Participating in social networks is just one way in which you can accomplish these goals. Your social network marketing initiatives don't need to be enormous, in order to increase awareness of your product or service, and to create additional channels of communication. Use networks like Facebook and LinkedIn to provide information and advice; to pose leading questions; to promote events (both traditional and web-based); and to build alliances and partnerships.

As always, be sure to provide a simple means for other participants to reach you, and even consider providing specific "landing pages," where necessary. And remember to track exactly where your leads are coming from (and what they're responding to), so that you can fine-tune your initiatives for the next go-round!
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