Saturday, 31 March 2012 20:01

You’ve Got Leads. Now What?

Companies invest great amounts of time, effort and capital on building the right website to resonate with their target customers and convert those targets into leads for the business.  “Building and marketing a great website that generates volumes of leads often comes with the next-level challenge of efficiently managing those leads to quickly convert to sales,” advises says Kevin Hourigan, president and CEO of Web design, Web development and online marketing agency, Bayshore Solutions.

Smart Business spoke with Hourigan about how to connect the right technologies to effectively manage your leads and close sales faster.

What are the critical elements I need to manage my lead to sale process?

Standing alone, a business website typically processes a new lead from a quote request or a contact form submission by sending an email alert to someone, and perhaps storing those form submissions in the administrative back end of the website. Unless a lot of detailed, accurate and disciplined manual documentation is maintained about each lead, the ability to track them through to the sale and see key metrics such as best performing lead sources, campaigns, etc. is lost. Critical business decisions could then be made based on faulty information and opinion. The technology exists today to eliminate this risk, at investment levels that accommodate most sizes of businesses.

In order to stay competitive in today’s business climate, intelligence needs to be exchanged between marketing and sales that streamlines the progress of leads through your sales funnel and enables more, better and faster closed sales.  The way to enable this is by integrating your website with a Customer Relations Management (CRM) system and a Marketing Automation platform.

What does CRM and marketing automation do?

A CRM system is your repository of collected, and real-time information on all leads, customers and contacts related to your business. It acts as your marketing and sales process database and can categorize and segment your contacts on a wide variety of items for use in reporting, and grouping for specific action. CRM Systems can be proprietary and stored within a business’s IT infrastructure, or accessed via the ‘Cloud’ through a variety of providers. CRM can focus only on sales process aspects, or expand to cover end to end (marketing and lead gen through invoicing and collections) functions.

Each business applies customization to a CRM to serve their unique needs and procedures. In addition to housing your valuable prospect and client information and serving it up as needed, data from your CRM gives you objective insights to your marketing, sales and business performance.

Marketing automation grew out of campaign and email marketing beginnings, and has become the current standard of best practices. Today, enlisting just an email sending tool without using the advanced features of marketing automation is like driving blindfolded on a busy interstate: Your chances of getting to your destination (customer acquisition) without wrecking your brand integrity are extremely slim. The missing piece that marketing automation provides is the live, real time ‘sight’ into the ongoing actions of the target audiences interacting with your business.

Marketing automation allows you to communicate, evaluate and accelerate your leads through your sales funnel. Email (and even print) communications to your audiences with customized, relevant information, triggered from their ongoing behaviors are efficiently managed using marketing automation. This integration enables specific and more effective lead nurturing without requiring large amounts of time and staff that a stand-alone tool would.

Further, lead qualification and scoring is greatly enhanced with marketing automation’s ability to monitor your audiences’ ongoing interaction with your website. Specific characteristics and actions can be ‘scored’ to identify buying-stage and readiness for sales contact. Alerts and workflows can be triggered at any number of points in this progression. An immediate feedback stream of all this data to your CRM and to your marketing and sales team is a key benefit of marketing automation. They now know who is reading your messaging and can prioritize their responses based on the content you are sending that they are engaging with.

How does this integration help me sell better and faster?

In an integrated system, leads generated from your online properties are automatically fed into your CRM, with critical marketing data attached including: lead source, campaign info, keywords used, where the lead came from online, etc. Leads generated through outbound sales can also be entered directly into the CRM for a real-time and holistic view of your business’s sales pipeline. Live dashboards and reports on key performance indictors can be accessed immediately to assist sales management and communication.

The initially gathered data is augmented through your marketing automation platform with each lead’s specific ongoing engagement with your company including: web pages visited over time, emails received, opened and clicked on, articles and other content consumed, conversations and in-person touch points documented on the path of that lead becoming a customer. Post-sale relationship information is also kept including proposals presented, closed or lost – and why. This enables data-driven evaluation of sales initiatives, campaigns and tactics.

Consistent lead ‘scoring’ and tracking can trigger appropriate workflows and responses within your organization. Your sales reps can be alerted immediately of a lead’s sales conversation readiness in their specific area or product of interest. Sales can then intelligently focus on those ‘warmer’ leads, while marketing continues to nurture leads that are in earlier buy cycle stages and separate unqualified and non leads to maintain branding integrity, and save sales reps from activities that waste time and cause frustration.

An integrated lead management system of your website, CRM and marketing automation puts your sales team in position to connect with the right leads at the right time with the right information, thus closing sales faster, more easily and more often.

<< For a snapshot of Bayshore Solutions Web marketing methodology, visit: http://www.bayshoresolutions.com/about-bayshore-solutions/methodology.aspx

Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or http://www.BayshoreSolutions.com.

Published in Florida
Wednesday, 29 February 2012 19:02

How much for a good website?

There is a wide variety of opinion on what makes a solid business website, and what a business should expect to pay for one. “The evolving formats and functionalities in a Web presence can parallel a businesses’ growth from a small start up to a mega-corporation,” says Kevin Hourigan, President and CEO of Web design, Web development and online marketing agency, Bayshore Solutions, “A business’ needs will drive the complexity required for its website, and the budget to support it. But the key question to ask is ‘What is it costing your business to not have a web presence on par with the expectations of your target customers?’”

Smart Business spoke with Kevin about how to right-size your website expectations for your Web budget.

How much do I really need to spend on my website?

The real question to ask is: “What could the ‘right’ website produce over and above my current website.  If the answer is anything more that what you currently have, then you need to ensure that your website is developed in a manner that delivers the right digital results to help your business succeed now and as your business grows.

What’s the difference between a $10, $25k and a $50K website?

In a nutshell, as a price point on a website increases, so does feature functionality, control and strategic readiness.  Features include user interface items like site search, navigation options, applications integration to CRM, inventory management, marketing automation platforms, etc., financial transactions processing, and capacity for content variety (images, sound, video, downloads, etc.).

Control items include how easy it is to access and edit your website and interface with the information flow it holds. Hosting and IT access, a web content management system (CRM), SEO access, and data collection and export or synchronization with integrated applications are examples of these.

Strategic readiness of a website includes: dedicated aesthetics that enhance your brand, SEO friendliness of the site structure, interconnectivity with your other marketing initiatives, and flexibility of your website to scale as your business needs develop (for example:  if you need it to, can the site handle 10 orders in May, 10 thousand in June and 10 million by July?).

There are many relatively lower price point “template” website packages that a business can use, but this will be within a specific set of limited parameters in all of the above areas.  For small business start-ups these often might be a good initial choice for a first website.    With their low costs, they are affordable for small businesses and can act as a “billboard” for their company in its initial start up stage.

As companies grow, so do their customers’ expectations of the businesses’ Web presence. These expectations call for an online experience well beyond what most templates can cater to.   This is where companies must rely on specific, design elements exclusive to a brand, more dedicated control of technology, and the ability to access, edit and scale become necessary as a business grows.   At this point the templated web designs become like a toddler sized suit on a teenager.  They just cannot give your business the best fit or professional presentation.  Some businesses take time to reach this need-level. Others, in order to compete, need to accommodate an enterprise scale with their first website.

As your business grows and needs more than an elementary web design, the investment required increases in order to support custom programming, allow ecommerce and application integration, ensure the level of professionalism in user-interface and administrative functionality, as well as offer the features and integrity of a higher caliber website.  It is not uncommon for a website that is developed for enterprise business results to require a starting investment in the tens of thousands to multiples of six figures.

The focus needs to be on the return you are expecting for your web investment.   If your website and the results it brings are strategic to your business, then that website needs to be developed, maintained and supported accordingly.

How can I get the most for my money with my business website?

Here is a quick checklist of things to look for and consider when shopping for a website design or development partner:

  • First and foremost, determine your goals and results expectations of your website.  Use these in a measurable way to gage the promises and the performance of potential and ongoing web partners.
  • Use an experienced professional. Relatives and friends that aren’t tenured web professionals typically don’t deliver the results your business needs.
  • Ask for Case Studies. Portfolio examples alone of ‘Wow’ imagery and impressive visual design are one thing.  Tangible improved results to the business are the true measure of great design.
  • Ask what ongoing SEO-readiness is part of their normal website build process.  Are they aligned to building a site equipped for you to market it successfully after it is launched?
  • Ask for details on website hosting requirements and access. What are the downtime risks and recovery processes?
  • See a live demo of the site’s administrative editing and access proposed by potential web partners. How easy and quickly can you (not them) make changes, and what kinds of changes additions etc., can you make?
  • Compare apples to apples, and understand the options. This can be a complex process, and often a great approach is using a ‘consulting’ engagement to determine the best scope and needs for your website.  It can save you a lot down the road by helping you make fully informed decisions and asking the right questions at the start.

These insights will help you make the right-sized investment in your Web presence best suited to deliver ongoing success to your business.

<< For a snapshot of Bayshore Solutions Web marketing methodology, visit: http://www.bayshoresolutions.com/about-bayshore-solutions/methodology.aspx

Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or www.BayshoreSolutions.com.

Published in Florida
Tuesday, 31 January 2012 19:01

How "social" do you need to be?

If you have heard any of the buzz on the street lately, you are aware that social media is here to stay, and the businesses that leverage this channel and participate strategically can reap rewards. “While it is true of social media marketing today that, ‘if you’re not in, you’re out’,” says Kevin Hourigan, President and CEO of Web design, Web development and online marketing agency, Bayshore Solutions, “A very valid question is; how ’in’ do I need to be?”

Smart Business spoke with Hourigan about how to get the most out of social media, and what the right social moves are to achieve it.

What business results should I expect from social media?

The key to realizing a specific business’s ‘reward’ from social media, is defining and understanding your realistic expectations, finding your strategic fit, implementing the tactics that align, and taking a disciplined approach to daily social media activity.

Businesses need to understand that only in specific situations will social media tactics deliver straight-line results of leads and sales.  It is possible, but the circumstances required are not a viable reality for many businesses.  Indirect influence on leads and sales is where social media can be a key contributor to business growth.

Business results that social media is best poised to deliver include:

  • Brand reputation management – you can listen and act to guard your businesses.
  • Target market intelligence – trends in needs, uses and attitudes about your brand and can be learned by simply listening.  Participating in response can earn you customers.
  • SEO performance improvements for your website – Search engine algorithms now include social media engagement.  Linking, keyword and search results benefits are also outcomes of properly optimized social media.
  • Brand and expertise positioning – through many avenues to present your brand and offer expertise that feeds top of mind awareness and brand preference.
  • Influencer marketing – social media allows you to identify and align with key people online whose word of mouth (or word of keyboard) can exponentially motivate your target customers.
  • Crisis Management – An opportunity to quickly and broadly distribute messaging.
  • Public Relations – Social Media can be considered the Public Relations of the 21st Century.
  • Encouraging visits to your website – and eventual conversions.

The right social media strategy will be unique to every business. Developing this strategy involves the Marketing 101 exercise of knowing your target customers, discovering where they are online as well as who and what motivates them.  Once you have defined this, the right expectations, tactics, metrics, measurement tools, and workflows triggered from those metrics can be determined and selected for your social media strategic plan.

What are the must-do tactics in Social Media?

A 2011 Marketing Sherpa study cited the top three ‘most effective’ social media tactics as:

  • Optimizing social media sites to improve search engine rankings
  • Building one to one relationships with bloggers, and other social influencers
  • Moderating company branded social networks

Content marketing through social media (distribution, sharing, and commenting) were the other most effective tactics cited.  The lowest ranking ‘most effective’ tactic was outright advertising on social networks.

The best place to start is by establishing business profiles in the social networks relevant to your audience and strategy. These will most often include, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and content distribution and bookmarking sites like YouTube, StumbleUpon, SlideShare and Google Plus.

This is just the start.  You must commit to keeping these profiles updated, fresh and relevant.  The right timing of updates varies among businesses and social media, but not updating guarantees failure.  Relevant participation includes offering advice, insights, tips, expertise, response to comments and questions, special promotions, and exclusive values related to your business and your target customer.  Relevant, successful participation is rarely a continual barrage of outright or veiled sales pitches.

How much do I really need to put in to social media?

Just a few years ago, a big selling point for social media was, 'It’s essentially free!' This is a dangerous and false statement.  Social media is a marketing channel with unique but real 'costs' of participation.  You may not be paying for your profile or message space, but to be effective, social media requires resources of time and talent in developing, delivering, tracking, monitoring, responding appropriately and adjusting campaigns.

eMarketer’s 2011 study of forecasted investment in social media in the next three years showed: 87 percent of businesses plan to spend more than 5 percent of their digital marketing budget on social tactics, 55 percent of businesses plan to spend over 10 percent of their budget, and 28 percent will spend over 20 percent of their budget on social media tactics.  This reflects the investments in resources that are a reality of effective involvement in today’s social media arena.

Because the nature of social media is an open two way communication, just ‘broadcasting’ messages cannot be your entire strategy.  The ability to offer competent, prompt response and engagement is critical to social media success.  It can also affect the bottom-line success of a business, so you can’t entrust this to an intern.

A recent statistic by Conversocial illustrates this point by revealing that 88 percent of social media users interpreted a business’s action or inaction in responding to social media comments and inquiries as a reflection of their ‘true colors’ in customer service.  They further said that inaction would make them ‘somewhat less’ or ‘far less‘ likely to do business with that company.

Effective social media marketing requires strategy, expertise and dedication. Enlisting expert assistance to help develop and even implement your social media marketing strategy (either in-house or partnering for this expertise) can streamline the process and place you competently into the right social circles to help grow your business.

<< For a snapshot of Bayshore Solutions Web marketing methodology, visit: http://www.bayshoresolutions.com/about-bayshore-solutions/methodology.aspx

Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or www.BayshoreSolutions.com.

Published in Florida

You could say that Tim Westergren is a bit of an expert when it comes to managing feedback. As founder and chief strategy officer of Pandora Media Inc., which runs the streaming music web site Pandora.com, he’s elevated the business philosophy of “listen to your customers” to another level.

“Consumer feedback is a huge influencer on Pandora,” says Westergren, who helped develop the Music Genome Project technology that allows the site’s users to craft their own music radio stations using thumbs up or thumbs down feedback on suggested songs.

Considering that Pandora has never advertised itself any more than a bit of search engine marketing, the value of this influence couldn’t be more apparent. For all intensive purposes, the company has expanded almost entirely through word of mouth to 100 million registered users. Since it made its IPO offering in June, the company has also experienced at least triple-digit growth every quarter since.

“We have a saying at Pandora: ‘It’s the playlist stupid,’” Westergren says. “It’s as simple as that — making it a super easy, intuitive experience and nailing the music choices. That’s really the basis for Pandora’s success so far.”

By staying attuned to the needs and interests of consumers and employees, Westergren has helped scale the business from start-up into a major public company with $138 million in revenue last year. Here’s how.

Know your audience

Pandora’s users have substantially shaped its evolution since the beginning. Perhaps the most obvious example is that fact that the web site was originally launched as a subscription only service.

“Not many people do know that because listeners ensured that it did not last long,” Westergren says. “We pivoted because they said, ‘This ain’t the way.’”

The site went free not long after.

With today’s technology, Westergren says it’s even easier to gain insights about who your customers are and what they want.

“You have a pretty intense feedback loop, which I think is becoming ever more true of all companies right now,” he says. “You have listeners who are much more participatory than they had been in the past.”

The company utilizes a combination of implicit and explicit user feedback to guide its direction. This involves monitoring how people are using the site — which features are gaining popularity and which are waning — as well as looking at feedback in the form of tens of thousands of monthly e-mails from listeners.

“That can influence the small things, little tweaks to the design, and that can affect big things like what large features we might want to add or a new domain we might want to go after,” Westergren says. “So we pay heed.”

An example is the company’s recent web site redesign, which was two years in the making and tested extensively with users before the September release. Some changes included removing the 40-hour listening cap for users, adding new “follow” and “shuffle” options and overhauling the design itself.

“When you do these things you have to get sort of a critical mass of feedback because otherwise you are just guessing at what the right answer is,” Westergren says. “So that’s a prerequisite for any significant change. We had a pretty good notion before this launched how it was going to impact our listening audience.”

If you have a large market opportunity, understanding your customer is even more critical if you want people to choose you over a competitor. Westergren’s strategy for differentiating the company from others with a similar business model — Spotify and Sirius XM Radio to name a few — is fairly simple, and it doesn’t rely on marketing.

It’s really by creating a product that they love,” he says. “Someone finds it, uses it and it solves a problem for them.

“If they love using it, they will be a long-term loyal listener and they will tell other people about it.”

As your customer base expands, resist the urge to be satisfied with past or current success.

“There’d be ways for us to kind of contract, and be more conservative and focus a lot more on near-term results, but we believe that the opportunity is big enough that it warrants a certain audacity,” Westergren says.

Maintaining consumer loyalty over time requires you to keep finding ways to serve your audience as their needs evolve.

“You need to really actively innovate, actively challenge yourself to maintain the pace and the velocity of innovation and effort that you have had in the previous years,” Westergren says.

That’s why the company’s innovations are driven by both customer feedback as well as the intuition of its leadership.

“It’s kind of a natural life cycle,” he says. “You feel it. You feel it in terms of your own disposition toward your product and you feel it from consumers.”

By investing heavily in its foundation via technology, talent and strategic business investments, the company is working to take advantage of the largest possible opportunity.

For example, several years ago the company’s growth accelerated sharply when it introduced its mobile application for smart phones and seized on consumer demand for mobile listening capabilities. Mobile now accounts for 70 percent of the company’s listening audience.

“I don’t think about the future in terms of obstacles anymore,” Westergren says. “I think it’s more about how do you prioritize the opportunities? That’s our challenge more than anything.”

Solidify your values

While there’s an immense amount of development that’s gone into getting the company to where it is now, Westergren says that all growth initiatives still fall under one primary area of focus: personalization.

Everything from redesigning the web platform to a higher performance HTML5 site to growing mobile offerings to expanding artist selections has worked in harmony with the goal of increasing the level of personalization for users. Westergren says that this is an area that the company has been singularly focused on for more than a decade.

“We’ve essentially been on this path for a long, long time,” he says. “That’s not only about the Music Genome Project and playlist station personalization capabilities. It’s also about streaming and structure. It’s about all of these deployments to multiple platforms on multiple operating systems in multiple environments.

“We’re the first company that’s really doing that at scale, and to me that is the promise of the web.”

As the company continues to hone the concept of personalization in new and exciting ways, Westergren also knows that amid all the change, he needs to make sure the company doesn’t stray from the core values that have helped it grow.

Staying close to your core doesn’t mean that your company’s not changing. Instead, having strong core values acts as a taproot for your business that helps the next generation of leaders and employees to be successful.

“There are lots of things that have to happen when you go from the early stage into a more mature stage,” Westergren says.

“You go through a period where you really need to clarify and codify the core of your company, who you are, why you are doing what you’re doing, your vision and so on – really cement that in such a way that as the company gets big and has more moving parts that you still have a nice, clear anchor vision for everybody to rally around.”

Westergren defines the company’s set of core capabilities as the areas where the company needs to be No. 1, and stay No. 1.

“So the challenge that we give ourselves constantly is ‘Are we meeting that?’” he says. “Are we really the best in the world at that? And if we’re not it’s sort of an all-hands-on deck response.”

This also goes for cultural values. A set of cultural guidelines called ‘Pandora Principles’ govern some of these fundamental areas for employees, ensuring that the company’s culture stays integral as more people come on board.

“It’s kind of like a manifesto,” he says.

“There are things like how do you want to treat each other as employees and what kinds of people do you want to work at your company and how do you want to communicate with each other. Each one of those areas benefits from having core values and principles.”

Develop future leaders

As the company has grown larger, Westergren’s ability to control its direction, even with the help of his management team, continues to get harder. So it has become even more essential to attract and to cultivate a new generation of leaders who can be empowered as new ambassadors of the culture, mission and vision. Doing that requires a successful mission and culture.

“There are two things that people look for in business: a mission that they can really get behind and get excited about, and a place that really values them, treats them well,” Westergren says.

The company’s mission, “enabling people to enjoy music they know and discover music they love,” is one that employees and consumers have naturally embraced.

“This is a product that listeners are deeply passionate about and that trickles down to everyone in the company,” Westergren says. “You know when you say, ‘I work at Pandora,’ somebody goes ‘I love Pandora’ or they are excited to hear that your work there because they love the product.”

However, while driving a unique mission is exciting for employees, that alone isn’t enough to keep people motivated to do more.

“I read somewhere recently that the best employee perk is giving people a place that they love to work,” Westergren says. “That’s kind of it right there.”

As a leader, facilitating a culture that encourages collaboration and avoids hierarchies gives people the freedom to contribute their ideas and run with them.

“So your role as a leader once you have them in the company is to help them do what they do,” Westergren says. “It’s not to control them. It’s not to micromanage them. It really starts with a place of trust.”

Trust covers everything from what level of supervision you give your people to what level of access to information that they have, which at Pandora is very transparent. It also means having faith that the talented people that you hire are going to do a good job. When you build a culture of trust, employees feel like they are part of the solution and want to step into more active roles.

“It’s not, ‘Oh, you solve this. I’m the employee and I’m looking to you to solve this problem,’” Westergren says. “They feel much more sense of ownership, where they want to know how they can help. They understand that things change, and they trust the same way that you trust them that you are doing the best job that you can.”

The team at Pandora has grown to 295 employees since 2005, and the company continues to build its bench of talent. Because people enjoy working there, they also tend to stick around, making it easier for the company to develop leaders internally.

“We have a long tenure in our team, and an unusually long tenure I think for a technology company,” Westergren says. “We’ve been able to grow that part of our company really successfully.”

As you develop the next level of leadership, you gain the latitude needed to keep up with constant change and fast growth.

“You need to stay very closely connected to your company,” Westergren says. “Don’t let layers insulate your leadership from what it’s like to be a line-level employee.

“You give people responsibilities. You empower them. You compensate them properly. You give them a nice environment to be in. If you treat them well, they will reciprocate with effort and innovation and all sorts of contributions.”

How to reach: Pandora Media Inc., www.pandora.com or (510) 451-4100

Takeaways

  • Make decisions with a good understanding of your customer
  • Solidify your core mission and values
  • Develop the next generation of leadership

The Westergren File

Tim Westergren

Founder and CSO

Pandora Media Inc.

Born: Minneapolis, Minn.

Education: B.A. from Stanford University

Westergren on his management style: There are some unique things I can bring to this as a musician. Managing and operating a band can teach you a lot about how to operate a company believe it or not. So I think there are some really interesting insights that experience brings to this.

Westergren on how Pandora levels the playing field: I think one area that, to me, is particularly exciting is the impact that we are beginning to have on artists. Because of the way we analyze and recommend music, Pandora is a place that is a completely level playing field for musicians. So once your song gets added to the collection, we’re blind to popularity in recommending any given song on a playlist. We have over 900,000 songs in our collection and over 90 percent of those played last month.

What is your favorite station on Pandora?

That’s an unfair question to ask a musician. Actually, I’m pretty scattered in my tastes. I like all sorts for music. I’m a piano player so I’m somewhat partial to piano music, but I also really love a good melody. So I can listen to punk music or classical music or country music if it has a good melody. So I don’t really have a single spot that I sit on very long.

In 2011, Pandora:

  • Hit 100 million register users
  • Was the most downloaded free music application on Apple’s and Google’s app stores
  • Made its stock market debut with a market value of $2.6 billion
  • Reached its 10 billionth thumb rating. The song was a thumbs up for “Ridin’ Solo” by Jason Derulo.

Published in Northern California
Saturday, 31 December 2011 19:02

Online resolutions you should make for 2012

It’s the time of year when we reassess and make resolutions, and it’s a great time to set goals for growing your business. “Today’s reality is that the online space is the preeminent place where business research, communications and transactions occur, even for the most niche enterprises,”  says Kevin Hourigan, President and CEO of Web design, Web development and Internet marketing agency, Bayshore Solutions.

Smart Business spoke with Hourigan about the most important actions that companies should be taking to get to and stay on their “A-game” online.

What are the smartest online resolutions for my business this year?

There are many vital facets of a business’s online presence, initiatives and technologies that affect bottom-line outcomes. In truly effective enterprises, these are aligned, interconnected and coordinated. Here are 12 top areas to consider and act on to keep you in the game, and winning it, in 2012:

1. Plan Your Online Strategy

The first question to ask: Is your web presence and online activities strategic to your business?

If the answer is no, then you’re likely risking extinction. If the answer is yes, then what is your online strategy? You absolutely need one. Develop goals, a plan to reach them, and ways you will measure progress and success.

2. Invest in Your Growth

The web is significant to business success today and is often a core business asset. Competing successfully requires investment of time, talent and money. This investment in your growth can be cost-effective, but when done right, it is usually not cheap. Core business assets rarely are.

3. Conduct a Competitive Analysis

How does your website (and your brand online) stack up against your competition? There are many tools to that can help uncover this information.  Start by simply searching your brand name, products or services in any of the search engines (and social media platforms). What you find may be surprising, and may even lead you to re-define what you consider ‘the competition’.

4. Review Your Optimization

Online optimization best practices are always evolving. Now is a great time to initiate periodic reviews of: Are you leveraging the latest best practices? Are your current keywords still the best choices? Are you optimizing in a coordinated manner across all your online footprints (videos, blogs, platforms, profiles, content syndication)?

5. Web Designs Have a Shelf Life, Check Yours.

If your website design is over a few years old, not only is it likely to be functionally dated, but the visual and interactive presentation is likely to be perceived by visitors as ‘a step behind the times.’ Your web presence (on all platforms and profiles) is often your business’s first impression, and could be your last if the message it portrays is: ‘We’re not up to speed with the competition and the industry.’ Internet-users continue to grow more sophisticated in judging your professional credibility via the web. If your website design is more than three years old, it warrants a review.

6. Assess the Human Element

Conduct a usability study on your website and other online properties. This insight from real people compliments algorithmic analytics. It can help you see the forest for the trees and fine-tune your best online presentation.

7. Go Mobile

Offering a mobile website is no longer an option. Over 50 percent of internet users are accessing the web via a mobile device (including phones, iPads and tablets). Smart businesses will ensure their target audience can access them from any device. Really smart businesses will develop their mobile presence with the unique dynamics of mobile usability and mobile marketing best practices in mind.

8. Be Strategically Social

The correct social media strategy and engagement level is different for every business. Brand monitoring, reputation management and relationship building take a front seat to overt sales in this arena (other than placing paid ads in these media, which can be a great targeted opportunity). Examine your social media engagement to ensure you can listen and appropriately respond to your audience, and that you add real value to the group.

9. Critique Your Website Content

Ask a client or colleague to read through and critique your website. Was their experience and understanding what you meant for them? Content analysis and refinement is also essential when updating your website. Plan and prepare your content right alongside the design process so it is ready to make your best first impression at, not after, your website’s debut.

10. Use Content Marketing

Develop ways to regularly generate content (a blog and articles like this one are a great start). Then deploy this content in measurable and optimized ways both on and offline. Content is critical to differentiation and success in digital marketing.

11. Connect Your Integration Efficiencies

When you integrate web analytics, web content management systems (CMS), Customer Relations Management (CRM), and marketing automation, it enables quick, accurate insights to online performance metrics. It also creates the dynamic connection needed for nimble web and email marketing, lead nurturing, and sales process workflows. Time and money-saving integrations are a cornerstone of successful digital-age businesses.

12. Measure and Manage the Right Metrics

A myriad of tracking measures are available to scrutinize your online performance. A successful online campaign is not necessarily one that gets the most impressions, clicks or visits. Those that convert the most leads, receive qualified proposals and become sales are usually the true winners. Use your online strategy to define the goal of tactic, and select the best metric to indicate and benchmark that success. Whether you utilize in-house resources, or partner with experts, addressing these 12 online resolution areas will prime your business for success in this digital age.

For a snapshot of Bayshore Solutions Web marketing methodology, visit: http://www.BayshoreSolutions.com/method

Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or www.BayshoreSolutions.com.

Published in Florida
Wednesday, 30 November 2011 19:02

Who should own your website?

In every business’s growth plan, performance goals are set for specific business units with corresponding resource budgets allocated to support the plan. It used to be assumed that anything “tech” was under the purview of the IT department. So responsibility for building and maintaining the first corporate websites naturally evolved in the IT area.

“As digital tactics have become major channels in business marketing today, key ‘tech’ performance requirements have shifted,” says Kevin Hourigan, President and CEO of Web design, Web development and Internet marketing agency, Bayshore Solutions.  “A critical element in today’s business growth plan is to make sure resources, ‘ownership’ and accountabilities are properly aligned when it comes to your website.”

Smart Business spoke with Hourigan about how to align the accountability and ownership of your business website to bring your business its best results.

Who should 'own' my business website?

Companies excel when marketing generates leads and sales. Increasingly, this lead generation and customer acquisition is accomplished by leveraging the company website as a tool, a facilitator, or a direct driver of results.

Businesses that are not using their website to its fullest potential as a lead and sales generator are missing out.  It is only a matter of time before not addressing the situation will allow competitors to pass you by, and put you out of business.

For most businesses, website results expectations have transitioned from the IT realm to the marketing realm.  If you are expecting marketing to deliver web business results, then marketing has to have the ownership to enable their accountability

How does IT technical expertise contribute?

The technical knowledge and skill base of IT and Marketing professionals is still an “apples and oranges” type of scenario. However, the skill sets of today’s digital marketers and IT professionals are closer than in the past, such that they can coexist, communicate and complement each other on the same corporate team, in pursuit of the same company goals: leads, sales and growth. Most marketers are not tech experts.  IT professionals aren’t typically marketing experts.  However, because of the very technical nature of digital marketing, a good relationship between IT and marketing needs to exist to ensure successful web results.

Marketing will be best at the dynamic and continuous iterations of market messaging, content and design that drives digital channels including online advertising, web page optimization, content marketing, and social media marketing and integration.  An essential tool to enable your marketers to “market” your website is a Content Management System (CMS). This tool facilitates quick and easy messaging, styling, and implementation of proper coding for tracking, analytics and user experience functionality.

IT is best positioned to set up and deploy the infrastructure of your business website to help it optimally deliver the results that marketing (and you) expect to gain from it. IT support for a business website is often essential in implementing the recommendations of webmaster tools and other website monitoring discoveries. These include implementing ongoing redirects that avert SEO error penalties in the search engines, preventing hacking attacks and spamming to your site, and seamless handling of website stress loads (like ensuring the bandwidth to allow thousands of holiday shoppers to purchase through your website shopping cart simultaneously.)

How do I bring this all together?

Unfortunately, I have seen marketing and IT divisions within organizations that are non-communicative and even adversarial. A common factor I see in these instances is a perspective of territorial resources, misaligned expectations and communication barriers.

I have also seen many examples of great collaboration between IT and Marketing arms of a business that uncover opportunities for educating each other on the dynamics of their respective specialties, and discover ways to implement better, track better, interpret metrics better and produce much greater business results though best utilizing each other’s talents.

Executive clarification of the lines of responsibility, creation of the resources to fulfill that responsibility and enabling the means for cross-functional communication with IT and Marketing will improve your business results.  Often a business may find that it is not able to quickly or economically accommodate the time or staff necessary to synergize IT and marketing with respect to driving website results. This is where partnering with a firm that specializes in digital marketing (and is fluent in the technical language involved) can alleviate overhead costs and streamline the integration of technology and marketing that brings next-level business results from your website.

In my experience, I have seen that businesses who are getting the best web results have assigned website accountability to marketing, and have forged a synergistic relationship between marketing and IT.  This relationship allows IT to help evaluate, set up and implement the tools that marketing needs to produce great results.  It also alleviates a burden on IT to keep up with the constant flux of digital market dynamics and focus on the IT infrastructure central to the business.  Most importantly, the relationship provides for the communication and cross training that assures mutual understanding of each team’s processes and contribution to the company’s goals.

Assigning responsibility and resources for website presence and performance to your marketing team will free up your IT team to better focus on the infrastructure management items that are mission critical to operating your business.   A healthy IT-Marketing relationship and the right tools for the job will allow your marketing experts to use the best digital marketing techniques to grow your business.

<< For a snapshot of Bayshore Solutions Web marketing methodology, visit: http://www.BayshoreSolutions.com/method

Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or www.BayshoreSolutions.com.

Published in Florida

Techniques for optimized search engine marketing make a quantum leap every year. As more media appears on the web, customers have many more ways to find out about competing products and services, and the search engine optimization (SEO) methods required to keep your business in front of customers online become more complex.

“The cost of not strategically executing SEO is loss of significant business to your company and to the gain of your competition,” says Kevin Hourigan, President and CEO of Web design, Web development and Internet marketing agencyBayshore Solutions.

Smart Business spoke with Kevin about the critical items your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plan should address in order to stay ahead of your competition.

What SEO Items are 'Must-Haves?'

Every business website that wants to capture customers needs to be relevant for what those customers are searching for when they 'Google' about a need or question they have. This starts with 'On-page SEO' which includes: selecting and implementing the right keywords, placing the proper meta-data in the code that supports them, and communicating the right on-page message that addresses these keywords and entices your potential customer to convert to the next step.

It is very important to clearly understand your keywords and have a strategy around them. Anyone posing as an SEO expert can advertise and achieve impressive No. 1 rank for your exact brand name or a niche keyword phrase, but are enough targeted potential customers searching the Web using this phrase? You want to be found for competitive keywords that bring you real business prospects. This is where SEO gets competitive, and where the true experts are separated from the rest.

When I’ve optimized my website, then what?

You must have solid keywords and on-page follow through optimization. Today this is a given for any business website.  High performance websites optimize well beyond keywords and meta-data. They pay specific attention to functionality, linking, social, local and mobile interconnectivity with SEO. Here are some strategic moves in these areas that you should consider to keep your business competitive and growing in our online world:

Functionality:

Really thinking through your website’s functionality is key. Industry statistics claim that for every extra 'click' of the mouse you require of a potential customer on your website, you lose one third of your audience.  I would suggest that your website strategy operates under a 'One strike and you’re out' search mentality.

Search engines like Google and Bing actively index and rank your website on how relevant it is to searchers. Although your keywords may exist in all the right places, if people consistently don’t find what they search for when they click to your site, search engines will quickly attune to this and drop your ranking accordingly.

Another case I saw of a strategic SEO functionality mistake was with an auto dealer who had built up considerable search engine disrespect, from the good intention of trying to run a clean online inventory. When a specific car listed on their site was sold out, they simply deleted its web page. In effect, all the search engine links they had built around these pages would take searchers to an ugly error screen, rather than closing the loop and presenting a page where the customer could see similar or same-model cars the dealer did have available. While the Inventory systems were able to be accurate, they were inadvertently damaging their reputation and results with the search engines.

Links:

Search engines have made no secret that links from reputable websites to your website can add great weight to your site’s chances of top search engine results. Links that bring targeted visits back to your website are the driving reason for businesses to engage in content marketing, social media marketing, affiliate marketing and most advanced online tactics. There are standard best practices for obtaining and implementing these links and then there are 'best-performance' practices. Do you have specific strategies for getting the best possible SEO benefit from your link building efforts?

Social-Local-Mobile:

There are many social, bookmarking, reviews and reference networks that connect people to relevant information. Search engines are giving increasing attention and credit to these new media and the influence they have with your potential customers. Last year local listings, social media and real time search results (like Twitter feeds) gained prominent real estate placement on the first page of search results. This increased pressure for SEO efforts to show businesses in the top 5 results to often be visible on the first page.

Recently, Bing partnered with Facebook to show how much your friends 'Like' websites shown in their search results. Google introduced their own crowd-sourced review function with their 'Plus-One' program. Implementing social and local online initiatives with an understanding of your SEO keywords and strategy will help these channels be effective traffic drivers to your website. This approach also can detect trending changes in the market that indicate needed keyword changes.  Siloed SEO, social media and local online marketing strategies, lose this critical synergy. How do your strategies in these areas connect with each other?

Search engines are increasingly detecting and refining the results they present to mobile devices. Mobile search optimization and mobile advertising fulfillment require a focus on not just meeting the mobile visitors current needs but presenting an easy path for your business’s best outcome (like mobile-accessed specials and reasons to keep clients in your store as they are doing mobile research a product’s UPC barcode there). This can often mean separate SEO tactics to support your mobile audiences. Industry sources forecast that mobile will overtake desktop Internet access in the next few years. Does your SEO strategy put you on top of or rolling under this next wave?

SEO needs to be connected to every aspect of your marketing online. When all tactics are working in synch with your Web strategy and with each other, your business is primed for optimal results in leads, sales and growth.

For a snapshot of Bayshore Solutions Web marketing methodology, click to: www.BayshoreSolutions.com/method.

Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or www.BayshoreSolutions.com.

Published in Florida

As a business makes its debut in online marketing, it is immediately presented with an alphabet soup of choices in channels and media. “All businesses are after bottom-line results, and depending on the competitive landscape they face, different online tactics will have different effectiveness in delivering those results.” says Kevin Hourigan, President and CEO of Web design, Web development and Internet marketing agency, Bayshore Solutions. “Implementing the right initiatives can make the difference between creating a marketing expense or achieving a return on marketing investment.”

Smart Business spoke with Kevin about how to evaluate Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Paid Search, or Pay-Per-Click (PPC) online advertising to get the best mileage from your marketing efforts and dollars.

How do I choose the right approach?

First things first—create goals and a timeline. Define what results you expect and when you expect to achieve them. Are you aiming to boost sales during a holiday season or to double your online leads year-over-year?

Once you have a clear list of goals and a timeline for them, do some competitive research. Look at your competitors and review their strategy. Simply “Googling” the product or services keywords will help illustrate who and where your competitors are on the web.  There are a number of tools available (such as Keyword Spy and Spy Fu) to see if they’re running PPC ads and which keywords they’re bidding on.  Browse their websites to understand which keywords they’re optimizing for.

Then do some Keyword research on these and similar relevant terms. This will give you a gage of the online competitiveness you will face and an estimated cost per lead. Comparing this with your average sale and margin data will help you make decisions about the right Internet marketing strategy including a more accurate budget for achieving the results you expect.

Finally, before structuring your web tactics, you’ll need to Create an Online Marketing Plan. Now that you’ve done the homework on your specific business and competitive situation, you can better select the right tactics to leverage in your plan.

How will I know if PPC or SEO is the better choice?

Comparing pay-per-click (PPC) advertising with search engine optimization (SEO) is an “apples vs. oranges” scenario.  Both are a type of online tactical “fruit” and depending on your situation, one may be easier to pick or better match your taste.  PPC and SEO are similar in their logistics of selecting keywords, optimizing website pages and measuring conversions, but they are each unique in specific ways.

PPC is like renting a house while SEO is like paying into a mortgage.  Paid Search can be a quick and easy way to land traffic and generate leads and sales, but it only works for as long as you fund it with ad-spend. Much like owning a home, SEO is a commitment and a long-term investment of time and effort to build your website’s organic search engine “equity” of strength to attract traffic.

Real estate professionals suggest that when purchasing a home, you should be willing to live there for at least 5 years. While implementing proper SEO doesn’t take 5 years to reap results, it is not instant (like PPC can be).  It is not uncommon that it can take 6 months or more to build the SEO strength needed to sustain a high-performance business website.

Matching these attributes to your web marketing goals as well as your business requirements of urgency, resources and skills will guide your strategic decision for which tactics to deploy.

What situations indicate SEO or PPC?

Implementing an SEO strategy has several benefits and should be executed to advance goals of:

  • Brand positioning
  • Long term positioning
  • Increasing visitors
  • Ranking higher in search engines organic results
  • Increasing the number of keywords driving traffic to your site

Once a website begins ranking “Organically” via SEO, it should continue to do so, with proper maintenance measures. SEO is an ongoing effort that needs attention to maintain relevance and competitive strength. Hiring or partnering with a search engine optimization expert will decrease the time you spend on this tactic, as well as provide the most profitable ROI.

PPC ads are a short term infusion solution. You’ll get results more quickly than with SEO methods but paid search has a hard-cost that you may not be willing to incur over the long haul. Unlike SEO, which can take months before ranking on the first page, PPC immediately offers the option to rank at the top for the right price.

PPC campaigns are great for:

  • Seasonal campaigns
  • Special offers and promotions
  • New product launches
  • Geo targeting

Investing in PPC advertising can be a very effective strategy for generating results from your site. But take into consideration that the investment includes ad spend in addition to the cost of an experienced PPC professional either in-house or an external partner to manage it correctly for best performance.

For many businesses the optimal strategy is a blend of both tactics.  PPC can be effectively used up front, while the strength of your SEO is building.  When SEO results show this established presence, it is common to find that dialing down the PPC tactic somewhat can provide more cost effective leads and sales. Ongoing experience will also reveal which keywords are better organic versus paid search investments for your business.

Your online marketing plan may include both PPC and SEO.  Knowing how each contributes to your goals and best compliments your specific situation will help you strike the right balance for powerful and cost effective online marketing.

For a snapshot of Bayshore Solutions Web marketing methodology, click to: http://www.bayshoresolutions.com/Method.

Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or http://www.bayshoresolutions.com.

Published in Florida
Sunday, 31 July 2011 20:01

Kendra Ramirez; Social Media Strategy

It’s no secret that strong recruiting is essential when it comes to identifying and attracting high-quality job candidates. But in today’s world, what is the best way to recruit and what kinds of resources are available that will give you top results?

Once you have a solid recruiting and employment branding strategy in place, social media can be extremely beneficial in augmenting your efforts. Consider starting with LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogging. The following are some effective methods for strengthening your recruiting strategy and employment branding using these popular social media tools.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the most professional of all of the social networking sites and it has more than 100 million users. The median age of LinkedIn users is 41, and the average user has 60 connections. There are several features in LinkedIn that can be used for successful recruiting and employment branding including; Jobs, Groups, Events, Search, LinkedIn Ads and the Recruiting Solutions link at the bottom of the home page.

Twitter

Twitter has more than 150 million users and adds about 6 million new users per month. The median age of a Twitter user is 35 years old and the average user has 70 followers. Many companies are successfully using Twitter to boost their recruiting efforts. Your company can use it to interact with potential recruits, post job openings and provide informational tweets for your followers.

While many people think of Twitter as one site (Twitter.com), there are actually multiple Twitter-related sites and tools available to assist you in your recruiting efforts, such as search.twitter.com and Twellow.com. You can also use hashtags to categorize tweets by typing “#” in front of a category name. For example: #city, such as #Cincinnati, the city where you are recruiting; #skill set such as #sales. In addition, targeted chats for job seekers and recruiters are held every day on a variety of topics in Twitter.

Facebook

Facebook has more than 600 million users, and on any given day, 50 percent of its users log in. Facebook’s median age is 31 and its average user has 130 friends and is connected to 80 community pages, groups or events. To help support your recruiting and employment branding strategies, consider creating a Facebook business page. This can be a valuable extension to your website because it gives you the ability to engage and interact with your community and post job openings on your page. To build a Facebook business page, visit www.facebook.com/pages and click the “Create Page” button.

YouTube

YouTube has 2 billion views per day, and 24 hours of video is uploaded every minute. One way that you could consider YouTube in your recruiting efforts is to create a video to entice potential candidates, help them learn about your culture and share mentoring stories about your organization. You don’t need a full video production in order to post a video on YouTube — it is completely acceptable to use a Flip video camera to capture your story. However, be sure that the video length is two minutes or less.

Blog

Don’t forget to post your exciting job opportunity in your company blog. This also allows the reader to share the job posting with others.

One of our clients used these tools to hire more than 40 people last year saving them more than $200,000 in recruiting fees and job board postings. We use them for all of our job opportunities as well and have never posted a job on a career board.

If you haven’t used any of these social media sites for recruiting, you’re missing out on great opportunities to reach millions of people. Along with a social media strategy, these sites should become integral recruiting tools.

Kendra Ramirez is a social media strategist at Accelerated Business Results. Since 2005, she has helped hundreds of organizations successfully leverage social media for business growth. Reach her at Kendra.ramirez@acceleratedbr.com or (513) 615-3907.

Published in Cincinnati
Sunday, 31 July 2011 20:01

Creating a B2B social media strategy

Paul Furiga can get the attention of a business-to-business company’s CEO with a pretty alluring deal.

“I can get you to your 100 customers more often, more efficiently and with more fresh dialogue using social media than using any tool you can possibly imagine,” says the president and CEO of WordWrite Communications LLC, a Pittsburgh public relations agency. “How could they say no?”

Surprisingly, they do; the B2B market seems slow to embrace social media. Sure, business is moving online, acquainting corporate America with platforms from Facebook and Twitter to Yelp! and Foursquare. But when the best social media strategies and case studies seem to come from big consumer companies (ahem, Zappos), where do smaller B2B companies look for their social media guideposts?

Of course, some strategies are successful despite your structure, so mimicking some proven approaches from the big boys is a start. But the inherent differences between B2B and business-to-consumer companies necessitate that you tailor your strategy for your customers and goals.

“A $10 million B2C company, the average transaction size might be $100, so they are going to have 10,000 customers,” Furiga says. “The average $10 million B2B company might have 10 to 50 customers who are spending a heck of a lot more money on their average sale. For a B2C company, it’s all about how many followers you have and how much activity you get. For a B2B company, it’s not about quantity; it’s about quality — does your social media directly drive business results?”

Social media equips you with practically free tools to connect with each customer — and when you have 50 customers to their 10,000 consumers, that’s a definite advantage.

“B2B companies should be — and actually are, although you don’t see the trend yet — having much more success in social media,” Furiga says.

And here’s how.

Start with a hypothesis

Your first concern is probably something like, “Are business customers even using social media?”

It’s a valid question, and it’s the launch pad to creating your social media strategy.

“The first step is understanding: Are your customers there? Are they participating in those channels?” says Jennifer Horton, best practice consultant in the customer success and strategy group at Eloqua.

Eloqua, based in Vienna, Va., develops marketing automation and demand generation software to help companies “measure the digital body language of their buyer,” Horton says. The first step in that process is the same as any campaign.

“If you’re just getting started and you’re trying to understand, then let’s pick a hypothesis, i.e., ‘I think our customers are on Facebook,’” Horton says. “Then let’s prove that out or disprove it. We’ll get our Facebook page created, start to develop our fan base and use it to promote thought leadership content or upcoming events.”

To build that hypothesis, some of Eloqua’s clients use website analytics to identify which sources drive traffic to them. If they see significant volume through Facebook — which Eloqua found to be the top-referring social source of website traffic in a study of their entire client base — they dig deeper.

To prove a hypothesis, just like in a science experiment, you need research. Here, that comes from tracking what’s happening. Start with baby steps: Look at quantity before delving into quality.

“One of the places that a lot of people start is just understanding the total number of fans that they have or the total number of followers on a Twitter handle or the number of members that have signed up to receive e-mail updates,” Horton says. “Understanding your reach is definitely first and foremost. It gives you a good understanding of your potential to drive opportunities out of this group of people.”

Maybe people are already buzzing about your company, giving you a head start in building a fan base. But don’t forget about current customers on other platforms. Bring them with you, from newsletter subscriptions, e-mail opt-in lists and direct mail databases to the social space.

Then find ways to inject yourself into conversations, positioning your product or service as the answer to a question.

“Listening would be the first part of that, listening and understanding the topics that are being discussed, who’s participating in those conversations, and then identifying the appropriate response,” Horton says.

If they’re not talking about your specific company yet, back up and see what they’re saying about your industry or service. For example, Horton was on a Salesforce.com user group one morning when someone asked for a recommendation of an e-mail tool. Knowing Eloqua’s software would be a good fit, Horton alerted a sales rep for follow up.

“The companies that are doing (social media) well are … looking at ways of identifying where in the conversation in those social channels it makes sense for them to insert themselves and … providing a relevant and compelling offer to get them to continue the conversation that maybe started in a social community,” she says.

Continuing the conversation

When it comes to executing your social media strategy, forget what you know about marketing.

“For a lot of marketing conversations, there’s only one appropriate answer to the communication — and that is, ‘Buy,’” Furiga says. “The difference with social media is that it’s more about the conversations and the community. That’s why it’s cool for social media managers of consumer companies to just create an environment for people to hang out in. They are trying to keep people in the conversation, knowing that if they stay in the conversation, sooner or later they’ll buy.”

B2B companies, especially, have to strike a balance of building a community and directing it toward a sale. These goals go hand in hand, but different types of content point toward different ends.

Horton can’t jump in trying to sell Eloqua if people aren’t familiar with it. First, she must make Eloqua relevant to the conversation.

“If you think of ‘top of the funnel’ or brand awareness, we create content like infographics that are quick and interesting,” she says. “An infographic on the history of social media is enough to bring you into that Eloqua conversation.

“Now, for us to actually convince you why marketing automation software is a really powerful part of that story, it requires a different set of content: Why marketing automation? Why Eloqua versus our competition? A different type of content is used when the buyer is closer to purchase.”

Furiga goes even further to break down an effective content strategy encompassing industry generalities and company specifics alike. He calls it the rule of thirds.

“There’s a general guideline in social media, and that is: To have success in just about any channel, one-third — and no more than one-third — of your content is promotional,” he says. “One-third is news information (from your industry). Then the last third is the conversation — having a real dialogue with prospects and clients who have chosen to participate in your community.”

Generally, the overall social conversation leans toward sales and marketing. But you can’t just push yourself in front of prospects like an advertisement. Most B2B prospects are looking to social media for a demonstration of your expertise.

“B2B companies most often use social media to give potential customers a peek into what it’s like to work with them,” he says. “What do you know? What do you have to teach me? How can you help me? That’s where the whitepapers and the blogs and the free tools come from. More often than not, B2B companies are selling solutions, and the way you demonstrate your problem-solving capabilities is by having great supporting social media content.”

Educational tools like whitepapers, blogs, webinars and LinkedIn subject matter groups are effective for B2B prospecting. But those can be just as fun and engaging as consumer campaigns focused on games and viral videos.

Just look at Isilon Systems, an enterprise data storage company in Seattle. It brought in a magician to prank the IT department and created a video of him cutting a live Ethernet cord in the data center. Then, the company drove traffic back to their website by revealing there how the magician performed the trick.

“For both B2C and B2B companies, the ultimate goal is to have a continuing conversation,” Furiga says. “The difference is B2C social media can be all about hanging out online playing games, and that would be an OK ROI. For a B2B company, the fun is much more often directly connected to the business purpose. So a B2B social media strategy is going to focus on sharing intellectual capital, engaging prospects and pulling them deeper into a conversation that most often results in big dollar sales.”

Isilon’s videos engaged audiences with a magician’s secrets, but they also pointed to the business by urging viewers to safeguard their IT departments with the company’s solutions.

Content should be fun and creative if you want to grab attention in the fast-paced, sound bite based social environment. But for an offer to have any staying power, the content should also be relevant. You achieve this by taking the position of the problem solver.

“Social magnifies the basic rules of Marketing 101,” Horton says. “The No. 1 ‘do’ is to be helpful. So if someone’s asking a question, provide a relevant answer. Connect them with another person that might be able to answer their question. Social is online, but it’s definitely a human-to-human sort of relationship experience. Building relationships and developing conversations is what really, I think, drives the highest level of engagement in different social channels.”

[See more social media tips from Furiga's presentation, "Beyond Your Zappos Case Study: B2B Social Media for the Rest of Us," featured at the 2011 Public Relations Society of America Digital Impact Conference.]

Focus on conversions

To pinpoint what separates top social performers from the pack, Eloqua recently benchmarked its entire client base.

“Clients that are in the top-performing category are doing a very good job of tracking those things they put out in their social communities so they can understand which social sources are driving interested buyers back to their website,” Horton says.

Still, people have trouble uttering “social media” and “metrics” in the same sentence. How can you turn conversations into measurable conversions? It gets a little “squishy,” to use Furiga’s words.

“ROI in social media is like Jell-O for some people,” he says. “They can pick it up but they can’t really hold it. If that’s happening, then you’re not measuring the right things in your social media.

“It’s not just the number of followers or likes that you have; it’s the quality of the relationships that you create. Each company needs to determine its own metrics to define quality. It’s almost never how many followers you have; it’s almost always about driving toward something that you can count that affects the success of your business — it could be number of sales, number of whitepaper downloads, how many people comment on your Facebook page.”

Sure, you start with basics like number of followers. But now that you’ve given them content as bait, it’s time to find out who’s biting and why.

Start by identifying correlations. As your overall number of social followers increases, look for other trends on the upswing: How many visitors came to your website? How many of them opted in to your e-mail database or registered for your webinar?

“It may not necessarily be cause and effect — if we get 100,000 fans, we’re going to have X amount of leads,” Horton says. “But a lot of companies are starting to see that positive correlation: When we see an increase in the volume and the reach of our social channels, we have a correlating increase in how many Web form submissions we’re getting or how many qualified leads we’re passing over to sales.”

Once you understand general trends and how they’re related, take a closer look at conversions or who took the next step in your sales cycle — whether that’s downloading a whitepaper or contacting a sales rep.

“Of those opportunities where I placed a link back to my website, how many of those people took that next level of action?” she says. “Look at which social sources are driving the highest level of conversion, because that can give you a good indicator of how qualified those audience members are. You can have a very active social group with people that are highly interested but with no intent to purchase. If you can track it down to that point of conversion, you’ll get a better understanding of how close these people are to purchasing.”

For example, Horton helped a client track pay-per-click advertising across several keyword categories by setting up unique landing pages for each. By tracking form submissions, they identified two categories with the highest conversion rates. Then they realized that prospects searching one category converted to qualified sales opportunities within two weeks; the other took two months.

“That helped them inform how they should engage with those buyers,” Horton says. “People that were searching on that term actually had a line item in their budget, so they were a lot closer to purchase. Those were low-hanging fruit.

“The other category was taking a lot longer to convert. That allowed them to say, ‘Maybe we need a nurturing strategy with these individuals. Maybe we need to give them some more content to help them go through that evaluation process.’ Tracking that beyond the point of conversion starts to influence how you can communicate and engage with those buyers, based on where they are in their purchase process.”

Pinpointing buyers’ positions in the sales cycle can tell you when to leverage which social tools to lead them to a decision.

Maybe you’re still wary, convinced that the risks of social media outweigh the benefits. You think your customers aren’t on Twitter or worry that employees will post something inflammatory. Whatever your excuse, Furiga will tell you you’re wrong.

“Companies that don’t participate in the conversation are not stopping the conversation,” he says. “The conversation is out there. All you’re doing by not being part of it is making sure that your viewpoint is not represented. If you’re not part of the conversation, you can’t protect your reputation.

“I’m not going to say that every B2B company needs to be on every social media channel, but you shouldn’t reject it out of hand. You have to know what’s being said about your industry and your company. And if you’re willing to try one social media channel at a time, I believe you’ll be surprised at the success you can have.”

How to reach:WordWrite Communications LLC, (724) 935-7580 or www.wordwritepr.com. Follow @wordwritepr and @paulfuriga on Twitter.

How to reach: Eloqua, (866) 327-8764 or www.eloqua.com. Follow @eloqua and @jenhorton on Twitter, and read her blog posts here.

But wait — there's more. Read on for the sidebar section: How B2B customers use social media.

SIDEBAR: How B2B customers use social media

Before you purchase a new cell phone, you probably head online to inform your decision with reviews from fellow consumers. Business buyers are now doing the same; but with purchases of $100,000 instead of $100, the research is more thorough. Everyone involved in committee decisions is digging — many outside the sandbox of traditional information.

“If I work for a B2B industrial company and somebody approaches me about a new way to machine metal, and I try to explain to my boss how cool this is, eh, whatever. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t,” says Paul Furiga, president and CEO of WordWrite Communications LLC. “But if this company has a YouTube channel and they can literally show the difference, and I send my boss and all the other decision-makers the video, wow, is that powerful.”

James Rogers, vice president of marketing at Hoover’s Inc. in Austin, Texas, realized buyers were starting to layer social media with the business data they gathered from Hoover’s Dun & Bradstreet-powered website.

“We had a number of customers that were telling us they go to Hoover’s for the traditional business information like company, industry, people, size of the company, financials, news alerts, all those things,” he says. “Oftentimes, what they would do is alt-tab over to LinkedIn and then … try to identify the contacts and look up some of the information that we traditionally don’t capture within Hoover’s, such as their history and their subject matter expertise and areas of interest.”

After LinkedIn started hearing the same thing from its customers, the two companies entered a partnership in March to integrate their functionalities. Now, below Hoover’s traditional business information, you’ll find social media panes — attributed as such — offering more information on people and companies.

“Whether it’s (preparing for) a sales call, identifying leads, doing industry research, … customers are looking to purpose that information within their daily work streams,” Rogers says. “People want to view the social information in context with the more traditional business information.”

This partnership showcases the trend that, even in strictly business settings, social media is proving to be an important tool in purchasing decisions. In Rogers’ words, it’s gone mainstream.

“A lot of sales professionals are now recognizing that social media is not just about your family community or your personal interests,” he says. “Social media has information that’s relevant to business information, and there is value in correlating the social media content to business information. This social content has different context, so you have to give it the appropriate attribution.”

That context varies by buyer — social content can be more timely and relevant, but it’s also subjective because it’s not validated.

Furiga looks at the broad differences between traditional and social media information:

  • Speed: “Thanks to social media, I can get nearly instantaneous information on any person or any company in the world.”
  • Scope: “I just said ‘in the world’ — The Internet breaks barriers in terms of geography. In the old days, if I was a B2B company, I could only see as far as my geography would take me — meaning as far as a salesperson was willing to drive or as often as I was willing to go to a trade show. Now, I can literally search the world to make decisions.”
  • Transparency: “Most of us use a consumer ratings site to make restaurant or movie decisions. Now, I can get all kinds of great, transparent information about companies I might want to do business with, including testimonials.”

How to reach: Hoover’s Inc., (512) 374-4500 or www.hoovers.com. Follow @hoovers and @jamesc_rogers on Twitter.

How to reach:WordWrite Communications LLC, (724) 935-7580 or www.wordwritepr.com. Follow @wordwritepr and @paulfuriga on Twitter.

Published in Akron/Canton
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