Nov 13, 2001
SUMMARY: Direct mail is out. Full-page, 4-color, space ads in general business magazines are out. That 20x20 trade show booth teeming with minions in your company t-shirt is out. And while email marketing is less expensive, you probably can't find enough tightly targeted lists, so that's out too.
So what's in? What marketing tactics can you actually use now to make your sales goals, which will satisfy the CFO's belt-tightening measures?
Judy Schramm of JMR Consulting has been helping little B-to-B software companies compete directly with the big-budget boys since 1994. She's really passionate about testing low-cost, high-impact methods to market online.
So, we asked her which online marketing tactics every business marketer should be using now for great (cheap) sales and sales leads. Schramm had three, proven, suggestions:
#1 Improve Your Site's Selling Power With a Quick Phone Survey
You don't need a fancier site. You may actually need a simpler one. Prospects and customers don't care about pictures, or press releases, or Flash openings. They also don't care about your other products or services that aren't directly applicable to their needs, so don't make them weed through your site looking for the right thing.
Your best bet is to identify exactly who your primary marketplace is for each product/service, and then direct them from your home page to a site section that contains in-depth information written to directly address their specific sales concerns.
Identify these sales concerns -- which will end up being your key copy blocks -- by doing a quick phone survey to current customers. (Schramm recommends you hire a low-cost outsider, such as a marketing consultant who can put in a quick 20 hours for you, because customers will often speak more freely to a 3rd party.)
Have this person call the list, without leaving messages, until they get a live human being. She notes, "If you call at the end of the day - around 6pm - lots of times you'll reach important people. Ask them if they can speak for 10-15 minutes." Best questions:
- How does product/service make your life easier?
- What do you do with it?
- Why do you need it?
- What would you say to a friend who was interested in it, who had a problem similar to yours?
While interviews conducted this way aren't statistically significant, they may be better than traditional written surveys because people who have time to answer a survey may not reflect your best prospects. Schramm explains, "Talking to a dozen people will give you a really good feel. You know you've talked to enough when you start to hear the same answers over and over again."
The targeted site copy that you write based on these results -- using some of the same phrasing that customers themselves use to describe how your product solves their problems -- will be far more powerful than a fancy $100,000 site redesign (or an "about us" corporate mission statement.)
#2 Gain Attention and Authority by Planting Articles Online
Schramm explains, "With print, radio and TV, you're trying to convince other people [reporters] to talk about your product. The Internet has really changed PR. You can write articles about your product that have every bit the look and feel as though somebody else did, and then position them on portals. Every industry has one, and some as has many as a dozen. For example some trade associations have extremely active sites that are looking for content."
Just because lots of sites and email newsletters are looking for great content, doesn't mean you can plant a "crappy" article in them. (Even if it's accepted for publication, readers can smell obvious sales copy a mile off, and it won’t do you any good.)
Instead, use your articles to replace some of the educational work your sales reps used to do during the typical sales cycle as they taught prospects about problems, solutions, trends and options. Schramm adds, "If you provide the content, you're framing the discussion. And you gain a ton of credibility positioning yourself as an expert."
Again, your best bet is use 3rd party to write your articles for you, so they appear to be "real editorial" and thus far more valuable than a sales pitch. Check the bylines in related trade magazines for freelancer writers' names and email addresses. General business writers get about $50 an hour, highly technical writers make $100-150 an hour. The first few articles will take longer than later ones as your writer gets up to speed in your market and offerings.
Also, don't pre-write an article and then shop it around. Your best bet is to examine the trade newsletters and sites so you can see what types of articles each writes, and then pitch the managing editor an idea or two in a short email. This is also a task an experienced freelancer should be great at. Yes, if you are lucky enough to land a regular column, you can use a freelancer to "ghost" for your CEO.
If you are posting articles at your own Web site, be sure to optimize each article so search engines pick it up. 85% of people still use search engines when they have to solve or problem, or are looking to buy something.
(Note: if you sell marketing, advertising and/or PR-related tech or services, check out MarketingSherpa's MarketingtoWebMarketers.com which explains how to pitch an article to a different journalist every week.)
#3 Close More Sales With Inexpensive Web Conferencing
Schramm notes, "One of my clients is getting a 60% close rate on demos they do using Web conferencing. Demos used to take a couple of days of travel - they'd send a sales guy to the site. Now they've stopped that. They get on the Internet for an hour with the prospect and then either they have the sale or they don't."
In fact, across all of her clients Schramm says most are getting about a 20% higher close ratio on sales demos made online versus the old-fashioned in-person pitch!
Her tips to do effective sales demos:
- Don't try to do voice over the Internet (voice over IP) even if your vendor says you can with their system. There are still too many glitches. Use a conference call.
- Just like your Web site, the simpler you can keep your Web conference pitch the better. "There are a ton of bells and whistles. Don't use them. Don't use animation in your PowerPoint, you don't need a stamp by every point to show it's been made, you don't need the curser to underline things. You need to be very clear and to the point. Like talking to people who's native language is not English."
- When picking a Web conferencing vendor, don't use one that requires the users to download anything. "People are so nervous about viruses, and there are all kinds of firewall problems. You don't want to spend your hour convincing people to download a tiny applet. Plus, analysts and press will NOT download stuff. You're cutting off part of your market if you require a download."
- Use more than one person to make the presentation so there are two voices -- preferably a male and a female. It helps to stop people's attention from wandering off. "They just got an email, they can see the phone light ringing … you have to work harder to maintain interest."
- Instant surveys are also a great tactic to maintain interest if more than one person on the prospect side is attending.
Depending on the Web conferencing service you go with costs generally range around $100-200 per session. While that may sound expensive, it's generally a heck of a lot cheaper than sending a sales team to pitch in person.
Editor's Note: Schram really hopes you don't contact her as a result of this article. She did the interview as a favor to us because she's a MarketingSherpa fan. But, she says, "I'm just swamped with business. I'm not taking on new clients now. Even if I were, I only talk to people by client-referral." Sorry.