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The Seven Steps to Marketing Success – How to Build a Marketing System

Marketing Podcast with John Jantsch on Building a Marketing System

The key to an effective marketing approach is creating a marketing system. This is Duct Tape Marketing’s point of view and our key differentiator. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the seven steps you must undertake to build a successful marketing system for your business.

1. Focus on Strategy Before Tactics

The first step to creating a successful marketing system is to know who your ideal customer is, and what their core problems are. If you don’t understand the value that your business can bring to each engagement, it’s nearly impossible to select the tactics you should use to reach your audience.

When you understand the ideal customer and create the narrowest definition possible for who that is, you can then connect what you’re offering to solving the customers’ problems. This makes your approach not just about your products and services, but about your promise to solve those problems. If you don’t take the time to understand your ideal customer, there’s no way to build a marketing strategy that will speak to them.

2. Guide the Customer Journey – The Marketing Hourglass

Because of the internet, the way people buy today is largely out of your hands. They have so many places to do research, ask networks, find out about you, and discover the products and services to solve their problems before they ever contact a company.

The customer journey comes into play at Duct Tape Marketing with something called the marketing hourglass. The hourglass has seven stages: know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat, and refer. These stages represent the logical behavior in buying that many of your customers want to take. Your job is to help them move through those stages sequentially.

Your first step is to understand how somebody would come to know about a company like yours. Likely, they’d turn to a search engine or they’d ask a friend. At these early stages, they know they have a problem, but they haven’t yet concluded how they’re going to solve it. Marketing at this stage needs to show that you understand their pain points and that you might have the right solution for them. From there, you need to establish trust in your brand and perhaps even give them a way to try you. When they do finally buy, that experience must be excellent in order to create repeat business. Not only that, but happy customers will also generate referrals.

All marketing efforts must be built around the concept of the marketing hourglass. When you understand how your customers buy and what they’re expecting to achieve at each stage, you’re able to build a marketing plan that exceeds their expectations along the way and creates happy, lifelong customers.

3. Make Content the Voice of Strategy

Content is not just a tactic, it is the voice of strategy. You have made a promise to solve a problem for your customers; you now need to be ready to meet people where they are (search engines, social media, etc.) and generate enough valuable content to dominate in those arenas.

We use something called content hubs to outshine in search and to create content that is valuable to read, find, and share. This content must also meet customers at every stage of their journey, from know and like all the way through to referrals.

4. Create a Total Online Presence

Even if you do the majority of your business offline and in person, in today’s world, you must have a total online presence. The internet is where people go to have an experience with marketing, to understand a company, and to do research. When someone refers you to their friend, the friend turns to a search engine or your website to learn what other people are saying about you and to see if you actually solve the problem that they have.

No matter what kind of business you run, you need to be tackling all the elements of online marketing. This includes social media, search engine optimization, content, website, and email marketing. All of these pieces must work together as an integrated whole.

5. Build a Reliable Flow of Leads

Leads are the lifeblood of getting your business going, and so you have to find a predictable way to generate enough leads to grow your business. There are numerous channels through which to generate leads, and again, integration is key.

Sales, content, advertising, networking, and online and offline events all play a role. There is no one way to generate leads; the key is in finding the three or four channels that you can consistently mine and establishing a process to develop leads through those channels.

6. Make Lead Conversion Your X Factor

Lead conversion must be your multiplier. The key here is to focus on all forms of lead conversion. Obviously someone buying your product or service for the first time is a conversion, but what about signing up for an ebook, registering for an online course, getting a free evaluation, or making an appointment? Those are all conversion activities.

You need to map the experience of each of your leads and clients so you can be sure that they’re having a great experience throughout. This is how you create repeat business and reactive those clients who have been lost. Once you begin tracking customer experiences, you then need to measure these activities. When you understand customers’ behavior, you can create better experiences; even if that only increases each conversion activity by one or two percent, that has a huge impact on the business overall.

7. Live By the Calendar

When you’re developing a system, you have to have a plan. It doesn’t have to be long-term—focusing on three to four important priorities for the quarter is ideal. From there, you can break those priorities down into activities and projects so that you can plan the quarter and not expend energy chasing the next new thing.

You have to have fewer priories, and you have to make marketing a habit. It has to be something that you do daily. You have to build meetings with the appropriate people to make sure that you’re moving those priorities along. Once you establish that habit, you should start documenting your processes. From there, you can decide what tasks you can delegate, either by adding more staff or outsourcing to others.

The reality is that marketing never ends—it’s a cycle. Once you go through the seven steps and build your marketing system, you want to constantly be reviewing, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and changing your approach accordingly.

Like this show? Click on over and give us a review on iTunes, please!

build trust

How to Build Trust With Your Audience

In my content, I often refer to the customer journey, or what I like to call The Marketing Hourglass, which includes the following stages: Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat and Refer.

All of these stages are important for moving customers closer to the sale (and beyond), but today I really want to focus on the Trust component of the journey as there are so many businesses who are lacking in this area.

The fact of the matter is, we’ll buy products we like, but we’ll rarely commit to an organization unless we trust them.

There are a ton of simple things a company can do to build this trust, they just aren’t always aware of what those things are, so let’s cover a few here.

Know your audience

I sure hope you’re not getting sick of me talking about this topic because I’m not going to stop any time soon. The best way to gain a person’s trust is to show you truly understand who they are and what it is that they’re experiencing. In order to best alleviate their problems and concerns with your expertise, you need to do your research to uncover who they are.

A few ways to get to know your audience include:

  • Reading past emails with customers and identify trends
  • Talk to your sales and support teams who have the greatest insight into what your customers are going through
  • Read reviews
  • Be observant on social media platforms and forums
  • Interview current customers

The more research you do, the better off you’ll be. It may be time-consuming, but it’s worth it.

Create content

Creating content shouldn’t come as a shock as content should be at the core of everything you do when it comes to marketing and attracting people to your business. To build trust with content, you must be helpful, educational, and consistent. You want people to be able to depend on you for the information they’re looking for.

Get a solid understanding of their pain points and write content that addresses those problems. Understand what your audience’s intent is and speak to it.

The one thing I want to stress is that you don’t want to sell using content in the trust phase. This is not the time for that. This is the phase where they are simply trying to get to know you and are doing their research to ensure you’d be the right choice. Selling during this phase won’t work because they often simply aren’t ready to buy. It could actually turn many people away.

When it comes to actually creating your content, whether it’s written, a video, a podcast, or any other format you’re focusing on, be conversational and personal. Your audience wants to read/see/hear something they can relate to. Develop the content as though you’re creating it for a single person. It will help you personalize it even more than if you were writing for a group of people.

Other writing tips to keep in mind include:

  • Keep paragraphs and sentences short (and video for that matter) so that people will actually consume the content.
  • Use rhetorical questions to make them feel like they are a part of the conversation.
  • When possible, avoid industry jargon.

Last, but certainly not least, use your content to tell a story. Storytelling will help you connect with your audience and show them the human side of your business. The ability to tell a person why your business does what it does through a story and how you illustrate it for their benefit is key.

Keep in mind, your audience needs to see themselves in the story which starts with their challenges, problems, and issues that they don’t know how to solve.

Use your website

To build trust, your website must make a good first impression, and to do so, be sure it includes the following:

  • A promise –  You need to make your audience a promise that will solve their problems.
  • A sub-promise – A sub promise is the trust factor and social proof that a company offers.
  • A clear call to action (CTA) – CTAs help to guide people through the customer journey and advise them on next steps.
  • Contact information – Consider using a little personality as well to make your audience want to contact you even more!
  • Visual branding – Integration of strategy, messaging, positioning, and brand is important is so important for a business to build trust.
  • Video – Video allows you to give people a real sense of who you are, what you stand for, and let people hear your story.
  • A list of problems – Identify the problems you solve and make it easy for website visitors to see them.
  • Show trust, proof, and authoritative elements, including quotes, client logos, association badges, client results, case studies, media recognition, and awards. These really are like currency in the trust phase.
  • Updated content – Show that you care about your own business and publish new content regularly.
  • Optimize for mobile – This should be a top priority of yours for a number of reasons, including trust building.
  • Show your personality – This will help to establish an emotional connection with your audience which will make them more likely to trust you.

Establish relationships

As mentioned above, the more you are able to establish relationships with your audience, the more likely they’ll be to trust you. A few tips to do this include:

  • Be empathetic and show that you care
  • Be responsive
  • Be genuinely interested in what they have to say
  • Be yourself
  • Be transparent
  • Ensure the communication you have with your audience is a clear two-way street

Bottom line? Be human.

General tips for building authority and credibility

In addition to my points above, there are a few general tips to keep in mind when establishing trust that I’ve listed below:

  • Build up your online reviews and testimonials. Work to improve them not only on your website, Google My Business listings, and social media but also on relevant industry sites (Houzz for interior decorator reviews, for example).
  • Know your unique point of difference. Show what separates you from the competition and make it clear for anybody who comes in contact with your business.
  • Understand your brand identity. Along with understanding your point of difference, you need to know your company’s voice and personality. This will help to humanize your business and establish those connections.
  • Go above and beyond.  Under promise and over deliver and don’t make promises you can’t keep.
  • Be predictable. If you were watching my content creation like a hawk, you’d know that I publish a post on Duct Tape Marketing every Tuesday, a post on the Duct Marketing Consultant Network site every Wednesday, a podcast episode every Wednesday or Thursday, a Consultant Tools post every Friday, and a Weekend Favs post every Saturday. Why? Because at this point people expect it. They trust I will give them useful content throughout the week which holds me accountable to give it to them. Remember, you want people to depend on you for the information they need, so you need to do your best to give it to them.

At the end of the day, in order to get people closer to the purchase, you need to get them to trust you, so do everything you can to help them do just that.

What trust-building tactics are you implementing that have worked for your business?

Need more tips on search engine optimization? Check out our entire Guide to SEO. For more on website design, check out our Small Business Guide to Website Design.

marketing hourglass

The Marketing Framework That is a Must For Your Business

Traditionally, the marketing and sales funnel had the approach of taking a large target group and getting a few clients out of it (i.e. the funnel analogy).

Of course, the funnel concept won’t ever go away, but about ten years ago I defined what I think is still a much better approach – I call it the Marketing Hourglass.

It borrows from the funnel shape but turns it on its head after the purchase to help intentionally account for the idea of creating a remarkable customer experience.

However, the buyer behavior has changed significantly in recent years. In fact, according to a CEB survey, 57% of a typical purchase decision is made before a customer even talks to a supplier. If they decide they have a problem, they’ll go out and proactively try to find a solution.

If you’re not getting found in that state of the customer journey, you’re in real trouble.

In the same survey mentioned above, they found that 53% of those surveyed claimed that the sales experience itself was one of the greatest contributing factors in continued loyalty to the brand.

Knowing this is why I developed the Marketing Hourglass as a tool that can help you create the picture for your client’s overall marketing strategy. In my opinion, it’s a more holistic and increasingly effective approach in the “era of the customer” we live in today.

Instead of creating demand, our job is to really organize behavior, and I believe this behavior falls into the following seven stages:

Know 

One of the best ways to become known is through organic search. Keep advertising in mind during this phase as well and use content to spark interest.

Creating a process that makes it easy for current customers to refer the business is also a great way to generate awareness with new prospects.

Like 

Once a prospect has been attracted to your site, you must give them reasons to come back and like your business. An eNewsletter is an example of a tremendous content tool for nurturing leads during this phase as it allows you to demonstrate expertise, knowledge, resources, and experience over time.

Trust 

Reviews, success stories, and client testimonials are your golden tickets in this phase. The ability to tell why your organization does what it does in stories that illustrate purpose in action is perhaps the key trust building content piece of the puzzle.

Try 

This is a phase that many people skip, but it can be the easiest way to move people to buy. This stage is basically an audition and it’s where you need to deliver more than anyone could possibly consider doing for a free or low-cost version of what you sell.

In this stage, offer ebooks, webinars, and other information-focused content. Consider offering free evaluations or trials here as well.

Buy 

In this phase, you must be able to show real results. Keep in mind, the total customer experience is measured by the end result, not the build-up to the sale. Keep the customer experience high. Exceed their expectations and surprise them.

Create content that acts as a new customer kit. Consider creating quick start guides, in-depth user manuals, and customer support communities as well.

Repeat 

Ensure your clients receive and understand the value of doing business with you. Don’t wait for them to call you when they need something, stay top of mind through educational content.

Consider creating a results review process where you help your client measure the results they are actually getting by working with you.

Refer 

The Marketing Hourglass journey is ultimately about turning happy clients into referral clients by creating a great experience.

Start this phase by documenting your referral process. Create tools that make it easy for you to teach your biggest fans and strategic partners how to refer you.

marketing hourglass

For people who have come to know about your business, you essentially need to walk with them all the way down the path to where they become your biggest fan.

Mapping customer touchpoints

You can use this framework to build an overall strategy and launch a product or campaign. By doing this, you’ll start to find flexibility where anytime somebody comes to you, you can fill in the gaps with the stage above to truly help them out.

Everybody’s business has these stages, they may just not be addressing them all and that’s what you need to point out.

Take a look at the ways that your business comes into contact with your customers and prospects. Some of the touchpoints may be planned and scripted, and some may not. Some happen by accident, while some simply don’t happen at all (i.e. are people successfully make it from marketing to sales). Touchpoints can include:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Enrollment
  • Service
  • Education
  • Follow-up
  • Finance

Understanding the journey

Once you map the touchpoints, you need to have a conversation about:

  • Customer goals
  • Customer touchpoints
  • Customer questions
  • Projects

You may only be paying attention when somebody is trying to buy and a lot of times people have to be nurtured and trust your before you can even attempt to help them solve a problem. This element is important, but it’s often hard for people to wrap their minds around because many are used to just focusing on the sale.

In order to effectively build a Marketing Hourglass, you must fully understand the questions your prospects are asking themselves before they are aware that your solution exists.

It’s helpful to just brainstorm around the seven stages.

Constructing the hourglass

With an understanding of the customer’s touchpoints and journey, you can start to fill in the logical stages of your hourglass with the discoveries you found, which will lead to a greater experience.

By taking the marketing hourglass approach and giving equal attention to building trust and delivering a remarkable experience, you set your business up to create the kind of momentum that comes from an end to end customer journey.

Want my advice? Take the time to fully understand this tool, as it is something you will return to over and over again.

If you liked this post, check out our Ultimate Guide to Small Business Marketing Strategy.

customer journey

How to Develop Content for Every Stage of the Customer Journey

For marketers, it’s nearly impossible to get through a day without hearing about or discussing content in one way or another. As the core of your strategy, you can not view content as a bunch of one-off projects. The creation of it needs to come out of one comprehensive strategy.

Because it is such an important piece of the marketing puzzle these days, it needs to be incorporated in every phase of the customer journey. While people often split this journey into three phases, Awareness, Consideration, and Content, I believe there is a bit more to it than that, which is why I’ve developed the Marketing Hourglass which consists of seven stages: Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat, and Refer. These phases will get a person from their first encounter with your business and then past your point of purchase where they not only turn into a customer but a loyal fan and advocate for your business.

As a person moves through the customer journey, you must hit them with content throughout the process to keep them engaged with your business, and the best way to do this is to match the content you’d like to develop with the various phases of the Marketing Hourglass.

Mapping the Customer Journey

When it comes to the customer journey, it’s important that you don’t get ahead of yourself. I often see small businesses trying to convince prospects that they can solve their problems before they even know they have one.

In order to map out your customer journey, you must understand who your audience is, and I mean really understand their wants, needs and pain points, as well as the types of questions they’d ask themselves before they even seek a solution like yours.

You must be aware of what your customer’s journey looks like in order to develop content for each stage of it. To help you do so, I’ve described the stages below as well as recommended content to go along with each stage to help you brainstorm what would work best for your business.

Know

The Know stage is the phase where people first become aware of your business, and it’s your job to put a piece of content out there that get’s their attention.

Types of content:

  • Blog posts answering common client challenges (to help boost SEO)
  • Advertising (consider paid search and paid social) promoting content upgrades to boost lead conversion
  • Presentations at speaking engagements
  • Social media

Like

Once you attract a person to your website, you enter the second stage of the Marketing Hourglass: Like. At this point, you need to give them reasons to keep wanting more and move towards gaining permission to continue the conversation.

Types of content:

  • eNewsletters for lead nurturing and to demonstrate expertise, knowledge, and resources over time
  • Blog content around specific topics
  • Social media
  • Webinars
  • White papers

Trust

I believe Trust is the most important step but arguably the most tedious and time-consuming. Building trust is a marathon, not a sprint. The more a person trusts you and your company, the more likely they’ll be to buy from you.

Types of content:

  • Reviews
  • Success stories
  • Client testimonials
  • Webinars
  • Ebooks
  • Custom presentations
  • How tos
  • Client readiness packets
  • Proposal documents
  • Customer-generated videos
  • Case studies

Try

If you’ve built trust to the point where people begin wondering how your solution might work for them, it’s time to enter the Try stage of the hourglass. Try is a phase that many people skip due to the desire to leap rather than lead, however, I think it’s the easiest phase to move people to the purchase.

Here, the content needs to represent a sample of the end result. By creating content in this phase that demonstrates how much better your product or service is than the competition, you can differentiate your business.

Types of content:

  • Ebooks
  • Online or offline seminars
  • Webinars
  • Workshops
  • Audits
  • Evaluations
  • Video demos
  • FAQs

Buy

This is the step all businesses want, but you must look at it as just another stepping stone to growing your list of thrilled customers (who become brand advocates). For this stage, the focus is maintaining a good experience for the prospect. In order to continue to deliver a remarkable customer experience, you’ve got to continue to educate through content.

Types of content:

  • New customer kits
  • Quick start guides
  • Customer stories
  • User manuals

Repeat

To keep customers coming back time and time again, don’t wait for them to call you. You need to stay top of mind, and a great way to do this is to provide them with high-level content.

One of the best ways to get repeat business is to make sure your customers understand the value they receive by doing business with you. In the Repeat phase, you need to consider adding a results review process as well as additional upsell and cross sell touchpoints.

Types of content:

  • Start an auto responder series that provides education on additional solutions
  • Handwritten notes for no reason
  • Send press clippings systematically
  • Customer-only newsletters

Refer

The whole point of the Marketing Hourglass is to turn happy clients into referral clients. To do this, you must build processes and campaigns that make it easy for your brand champions to refer your business.

Types of content:

  • eBooks, videos, or gift certificates that your customers and strategic partners can co-brand and distribute
  • Feature your client stories in your marketing materials
  • Create a hot 100 prospect list and share it with clients for introductions

Keep in mind, you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to content development. You can repurpose old content (i.e. turning educational videos into written blog posts) and you can even optimize and re-publish previous well-performing content to give it new life.

Creating content can be time-consuming, but by mapping it out along with certain themes and the customer journey, your life will become much easier.

What types of content do you find helpful in each stage of the journey?

If you liked this post, check out our Guide to Content Marketing for Small Business.

Customer Journey Through The Tourney

Happy March, everyone! It is my favorite time of year. Spring weather is here, and March Madness is just around the corner.

While many of us are focusing on buzzer beaters and bracket busters, business owners should be focused on improving the way their businesses get their customers to Know, Like, Try, Buy, Repeat and Refer their product. We call this the customer journey, and we visualize it with a tool called the Marketing Hourglass.

But ignoring basketball this month is easier said than done, I thought I might visualize the customer journey a different way – through the lens of a college basketball fan.

First Four – Know

The First Four is the official kick-off to March Madness, and it begins the Wednesday before the first weekend of the main tournament. This may be the first time you have heard of any of these teams, let alone watch them play. This would mirror the first time a customer encounters your business.

While you watch these early games, be aware of all of the ways new customers may encounter your business for the first time, and imagine different ways to reach more people.

Second Round – Like

The next step is to get this customer to like your business. New fans of basketball teams begin to like the team if they know enough about them to correctly predict a second-round upset.

For your business, you must strive to give potential customers great first impressions. Think about all of those customer touch-points in the previous round. Are there ways to improve the experience to create better impressions?

Third Round – Trust

Getting your customers to trust you is an important step towards turning them into paying customers. The Cinderella team you have been following earns your trust by winning another game. Not only are you rooting for them, but you are starting to believe they have a chance to win it all.

Like the team working hard for an upset, show your customers you are working hard to earn their trust, and they’ll start to believe in your business.

Sweet 16 – Try

Say your favorite new team has made it past the first weekend of the tournament. Games are now stand-alone, so more people are watching and cheering for every team. This is the first time a new fan can truly feel like a fan, a part of this team’s community.

The same goes for your business. Give your customers an experience to try and show them the value of your product. If they like what they experience, they will take the plunge and buy your product.

Elite Eight – Buy

Now it comes time for your customer to buy your product. During the tournament, this may be the stage when a new fan buys a t-shirt or some other memorabilia from the now improbable Elite Eight run.

For businesses, some of you may think this is the ultimate goal. It isn’t. You want to now shift your focus to turning these customers into continuing business.

Final Four – Repeat

Not every team makes it to the Final Four, just like your customers don’t always become repeat customers. The thrill of your chosen team making the Final Four is your reward for your support so far. Win or lose, this is exciting enough you’ll likely want to experience it again in the future. Your business is no different. Reward your customers for their business with great customer service or continued support, and they’ll keep coming back.

National Championship – Refer

This is the biggest step a customer can take for your business. Customers that continually refer your business to their family and friends are the best for the long term viability of your company. For the basketball team, win or lose in the national championship game, you’ll be telling your friends you were there to see their run to the final, and they should be fans too.

Referrals are the culmination of all of the steps that came before, and it is the championship trophy you should be seeking for your business.

Alex-Boyer-Photo-150x150-e1420769709443Alex Boyer is a Community Manager and Content Ninja for Duct Tape Marketing. You can connect with him on Twitter @AlexBoyerKC

4 How to Create the Perfect Customer Journey

photo credit: Reloj.cp via photopin (license)

photo credit: Reloj.cp via photopin (license)

The Marketing Hourglass is a powerful tool to map out your marketing efforts in a way that makes sense to everyone in your organization. Most marketers view the customer experience as a funnel, but we at Duct Tape Marketing know that the customer experience ideally goes beyond the point of sale.

Mapping it out in this way has helped many small businesses think about and improve upon their method of guiding customers. Having a game plan for your customers to know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat, and refer you is necessary to ensure your customers are taken care of across all levels of the customer journey.

Keeping tabs on how your brand is represented within the Hourglass mindset is equally important.   Follow the steps below to conduct your own Marketing Hourglass Brand Audit: 

Before you get started on the Marketing Hourglass:

Step 1: Define and sketch the makeup and personality of your ideal clients

Step 2: Discover your perfect value proposition

Step 3: Brainstorm and document your vision and goals

Step 4: Create your brand personality that represents your culture statement

Step 5: Outline branding guidelines – ie colors, fonts, images, etc.

Step 6: Create a brand positioning statement including all the elements above

Once you complete the brand positioning statement, run through the following questions of the Hourglass to ensure your brand is consistent across all stages.  These questions are meant to get you started thinking through each stage. You may want to add more questions in as you go through the process.

Know

–       Do your ads communicate the brand positioning statement? Do they target and connect with your ideal clients?

–       Do your social media accounts have consistent images and messages?  Are they promoted on your website?

–       Are your guest post contributions targeted towards your ideal clients audience base?

–       Are your keywords consistent and focused on monthly themes?

–       Are your local directories complete with your core difference and branding guidelines?

–       Do you have a systemized plan to handle all referrals that come in?

Like

–       Do your print assets include your core message and brand personality?

–       Is your website consistent to your brand positioning statement and your writing style guide?

–       Do your logo and company name represent your brand positioning?

–       Do your business cards include your core difference?

–       Are your email signatures and tag lines consistent across your entire team?

–       Is your vision documented on your website for your ideal clients to relate to?

–       Is your website mobile responsive?

Trust

–       Are your newsletters consistent with your website branding?  Does the newsletter go out on a regular basis and include valuable content for your audience?  Is there an opt-in incentive for your newsletter?

–       Are your email campaigns consistent with you branding guidelines?

–       Do you follow monthly themes on your blog to establish your company as an expert on focused topics?

–       Do you regularly promote and monitor review sites?

Try

–       What is your free or trial offering?  How do you encourage people to sign up for the free trial?

–       Is your follow up for the free trial consistent with your brand positioning?

–       Do your PowerPoint presentations match your website branding?

Buy

–       What is your starter offering?

–       What is your core offering?

–       What is your members-only offering?

–       Do your contracts and invoices match your brand positioning statement?

–       Do you have a detailed new customer kit once someone signs on as a customer?  If so, does this follow your brand positioning?

Repeat

–       What are your add-ons to increase value?

–       What is your “make it easy to switch” offering?

–       What is your surprise gift to encourage repeat customers?

–       Do you have a targeted process to upsell to your current clients?

Refer

–       What are our strategic partner pairings?

–       How do you encourage your current customers to refer?  Do you share your ideal client personas?

–       Does your incentive for referrals tie in your branding and/or culture in some way?

The point of the hourglass metaphor is to get you thinking not only about how to generate and close deals but how to create the best possible experience as part of the plan.

Sara HeadshotSara Jantsch is the Director of Community at Duct Tape Marketing.  She is also a Marketing Consultant and has a strong passion for working with small business owners.  Interested in developing your own Marketing Hourglass with the Duct Tape team?  Click here to learn why a Duct Tape Marketing plan my be perfect for your business. 

7 When Does a Customer Actually Become a Customer?

For most businesses a customer becomes a customer when they buy a product, sign a contract or agree to terms of a deal. But I wonder if that view of the journey to convert leads to sales misses the bigger reality.whencustomer

What if, just for conversation sake, you began to view someone looking into your services as a customer. Or, better still, someone  just beginning to talk about what they learned at your free workshop as a customer?

Now, it’s true, neither of the above “customers” has paid you a dime, but what if you began to run your entire business as though your job was not one of selling someone, but one of doing everything you could to build trust in those who expressed interest.

What if that group became customers in your mind at that point and you created tools and processes to start serving them right then and there?

What if instead of telling prospects how great you are, you demonstrated just what’s like to be a customer?

What if one of your primary marketing strategies was to make it very easy for people to try what you do?

What if you made your free content, workshops and evaluations more valuable than the paid offerings from most organizations?

Do you think that might create an environment where customers would sell themselves?

For example, my company sells marketing consulting services. By its very nature, it’s hard to explain, hard to buy and even harder at times to convince someone they need.

Due to that, we spend a great deal of time creating content and processes that simplify the service, package it in ways that are practical and explain exactly how to do everything we propose to do.

This focus on education is what builds community, enables sharing and initiates the process of trust building.

Once someone begins to consume the content to the point where they start asking if and how this might work for them, we focus on showing them.

Depending upon the need of the “customer” we offer an evaluation process guaranteed to provide them with solid, actionable steps, at no charge. Or, we offer to conduct a full fledged “Discovery” session with their entire Executive Team. We treat both of these offerings as though we are serving a customer and know that no matter the outcome, the customer will feel as though they received tremendous value.

This is an investment we are willing to make because it offers proof that we deliver and it keeps us focused on creating the most remarkable experience possible.

It’s worth noting that when we switched to providing a service over pitching a service our rate of conversion went from about 10% to 50%. While some of this can also be attributed to better education that led to more narrowly targeted prospects, a great deal is do to the significant mindset shift of when we view a customer a customer.

I’ve written often about this concept I call The Marketing Hourglass and the viewpoint described in this post is really just a manifestation of taking an end to end view of the customer journey that is the essence of the Hourglass concept. Obviously, the job is not over at this juncture, this is simply one of the stops on the path to creating a community of customer champions.

 

7 The Future of Marketing Is Organizing Behavior

I made the following statement in some social channels recently – “The future of marketing is less about demand creation and more about organizing behavior.”

The comment stirred quite a reaction. Many people fervently agreed while others simply wanted to know more. So, here’s what I mean by that statement.

The foundation of inbound marketing is based on the notion that people need to be drawn in to your marketing funnel by way of content – that you need to be found rather than go out hunting. And, while this has proven effective, many marketers simply interpret this to mean you create more demand by creating more content.

The problem with this thinking is that it’s really just the age old marketing funnel approach polished up with more information.

Today, marketing is about guiding a journey that the buyer wants to take rather than forcing them into the journey that fits our business model.

People don’t really need more information, they need insight, they need guidance and they need an experience that allows them to behave like they want to behave.

Over the years I’ve identified seven behaviors that most buyers desperately want to experience on their way to becoming loyal customers. Organizations that get this and create and organize opportunities for people to experience these behaviors at any point along the journey will win.

Buyers want to travel an often crooked path that allows them to:

  • Know – They want to give permission to the companies they want to know
  • Like – They want to learn to like and respect companies that might be addressing their needs in a way that makes sense to them
  • Trust – They want to see that their friends and others they relate to have come to trust certain organizations for a variety of reasons
  • Try – They want to be able to prove to themselves that buying from certain organization won’t make them look foolish
  • Buy – They want to discover that there are companies that make the buying experience as awesome as the marketing experience
  • Repeat – They want to develop ties to organizations they can count on and that allow them to forget about other options
  • Refer – They want to have such a remarkable experience with organizations that so exceed their expectations they are compelled to share with the world how smart they are

If organization are to address these behaviors, marketing, sales and service must participate as one in guiding the relationship. The traditional silo walls must come down. Sales must participate earlier in the buyer’s journey and stay later. Service must become more social and marketing must learn how to personalize content while bringing front line sales people into the creation of messaging and positioning.

Inbound marketing, outbound marketing, inbound selling and social service must overlap into every possible outpost on the buyer’s journey. Every marketing, sales and service initiative, process and campaign must be designed to organize the behavior the buyer desperately wants to experience.

hourglass functions

Use this grid to audit your own behavior and touchpoints looking for opportunities and gaps.

 

 

 

6 Why Your Competitors Are Winning

Most markets have competition. A competitor may come in the form of a highly visible organization down the street that hopes to attract the same customers as you, with essentially the same offerings, or it may come from a seemingly unrelated source vying from your customer’s limited resources – a plumber may lose business to an HVAC contractor when someone decides to upgrade the air conditioning unit over the hot water heater.

marketing hourglass

photo credit: Umberto Fistarol via photopin cc

Smart marketers employ some form of competitive research in an effort to better understand what products and services, pricing models and value propositions they are up against.

But, often, that’s where it stops. The problem with focusing solely on “before” the sale elements is that it gives a limited view of reality. Website copy, pricing and promotions may not give a single clue as to why your competitors are routinely winning business over you.

In fact, studying a competitor from this vantage only, often leads to making the wrong decision in reaction to what you find – our competitor is running a sale, so we need to lower our price. Our competitor is offering a new service so we must react and copy the offering.

If you’re losing business to a competitor or can’t seem to grab any market share from their grasp, there’s a really good chance that they’re beating the dickens out of you through the things they do during and after the sale is made.

While you’ve focused on their SEO, social and direct mail lead generation offers you’ve totally missed the fact that they make buying from them a joy. They’ve removed all friction in the sales process and actually made it something valuable. They have a low-cost trial offering and a rock solid, no questions asked guarantee.

They’ve created a smooth orientation process that educates and sets proper expectations for each new customer. They continue to communicate and educate after the sale. They go back at a preset time and make sure a great result occurred. They find out what else needs to be done, how to do it better and how to collaborate more fully.

They surprise their customers on their birthday, send hand-written notes of appreciation, invite them to valuable education events, facilitate peer-to-peer networking events and introduce them to partners that can successfully add value in other areas.

I write often about something I call the Marketing Hourglass and it’s a framework that can be applied as a competitive research tool as well as business and promotional strategy.

The idea behind the Marketing Hourglass is that you look at your business and marketing efforts with an eye on logically guiding your prospects and customers on a journey through seven logical steps – know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat and refer.

Each step requires multiple forms of content, touchpoints, processes and even products and services as a way of doing business. (You can read more on the Marketing Hourglass here and here.)

Now, imagine if you applied this principle to your competitive research. Imagine if you went beyond their website and advertising and dug into their customer experience looking for all the little things that their customers just love. Imagine if you experienced what it was like to become their customer, what their follow-up looked and felt like, what they did that surprised and delighted you.

What if you applied the Marketing Hourglass to your competitors as well as your business?

The good news is you will likely find some gaps – places where they aren’t effectively guiding the customer journey. If this doesn’t help spotlight the places where you have extreme opportunity, I don’t know what will.

Now, a word of warning here – competitive research of this nature is not simply another invitation to copy your competitors – it’s your chance to see the impact that focusing on customer experience before, during and after the sale.

Once you get good at this way of thinking you can apply it to any business, regardless of industry, and discover the best marketing practices of leading businesses everywhere.

You can even apply this process to a prospective new business client as a way to better understand that prospect and the gaps in their processes that are holding them back.

Once you embrace this holistic view you can proactively initiate new processes, procedures and experiences that your competitors will find it very hard to mimic.

How to Deliver Extreme Value Through a Collaborative Sales Process

Today’s sales process must be bathed in collaboration.

The Sales HourglassThe idea of a “sales process” is not a new one, most sales people either figure something out that works and it become the de facto process for them or their organization hands down and trains around a specific method or moving a lead from inquiry to close.

A sales process is really little more than a standardized set of steps that are turned into a process in order to create consistency.

The most common approach goes something like this – a prospect demonstrates interest, the salesperson digs for pain, presents a solution, handles objections, proposes a purchase, wrestles with terms, handles more objections and goes in for the close.

Some firms have embraced a more “adaptive” approach, which centers around zeroing in on understanding and controlling the buying process itself – how a buying decision is made, what selection criteria is used, how benefits are quantified and, most importantly, how funding for the purchase is allocated.

An alternative to either of the approaches above is to be the organization or individual who defines the problem to begin with. Rather than winning the fight for “why choose us,” how about controlling the fight for “why choose anything.”

Entering the Marketing Hourglass

Over the course of the last decade I’ve championed a marketing process I call the Marketing Hourglass.

The basic concept is to broadly design your marketing initiatives with an eye on logically moving prospects and clients through seven stages: know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat and refer.

The Marketing Hourglass guides the prospect on a journey and creates the right opportunity – a prospect first comes to know about your firm or solution as an option and then moves, in many cases unguided, through a series of intentional steps provided to build like, or even belief, leading to the trust required to actually engage a firm.

Traditionally the middle of the hourglass – the try and buy phase – is where the sales team steps in. I believe one of the core responsibilities of sales professionals today is to insert themselves earlier and later in the buying process so they can personalize the journey before, during and after the sale.

The shape of the Hourglass actually draws upon this notion that the job of sales is much broader in the phases prior to and after a sale and only gets more narrowly focused during the try and buy phases required to make a sale.

At this point the individual sales professional must introduce a unique process I call the Sales Hourglass.

Introducing the Sales Hourglass

The Sales HourglassTM is a set path that a salesperson can operate in conjunction with marketing in an effort to help a prospect become engaged in the specific process of buying.

Think of the Sales Hourglass as your individual prospect playbook – The tool that will help you tailor your sales method for each client. One of the greatest benefits of a structured tool such as this is that it keeps you focused on the next step, even if that next step is the decision to pursue other opportunities.

Merely demonstrating the Sales Hourglass process to a prospect will allow you to stand out as it introduces valuable steps not often taken by traditional sales professionals. The Sales Hourglass process (no matter what you decide to call it) is in itself a valuable teaching tool. I believe that these steps actually demonstrate not only a better way to sell, but also a better way to buy.

The key difference between the two hourglass applications is that while the Marketing Hourglass is broadly cast at an ideal client persona or description, the Sales Hourglass is focused on an individual prospect or need and operated at this much more personal level.

Another core difference is that the journey through the Sales Hourglass must be based on the mutually agreed upon notion that you and the buyer are prepared to determine there is no journey to be had at all.

The logical steps along the Sales Hourglass are as follows: (I’ve placed the steps from the Marketing Hourglass in parenthesis along side each step to highlight the somewhat parallel paths.)

The Sales Hourglass7 Stages of the Sales Hourglass

Explore (Know) – The explore phase is, as it suggests, the place where you’ll conduct your own research such as discovering the elements of an organization’s community, constructing stakeholder maps and uncovering problems that you can make visible.

This step can be started in response to a sales request, but it must be conducted not simply in response, but as an opportunity to explore the best possible solution or path, even if it differs or contests the stated directive from a prospect.

Collaborate (Like) – The next step in the progression is to take what you’ve learned and assumed in the exploration state and start talking about innovations with a prospect.

At this point, you’re simply discussing higher-level ideas, but don’t be surprised if you start finding out things that your organization doesn’t want to hear. Things like I need your products to do X or why can’t anyone figure out how to solve Y? The good news is that simply asking for and receiving this kind of information will make you more valuable to your clients and to your organization.

The collaboration phase consists of sketching ideas and solutions that perhaps don’t exist anywhere as of yet and getting a prospect to think about how these ideas might impact their success. This process takes some guts because the best possible outcome may not be available through you, but I believe the long-term game is always served when you deliver value no matter what the package.

Design (Trust) – The next step is to take what you’ve learned while exploring and collaborating and begin to design a solution with your customer and with your company. I know this may actually sound ridiculous if you’ve come up in a world driven by a catalog and inventory levels, but winning in today’s sales environment takes creating custom solutions that reach beyond a set of specs and push customers to think beyond rigid solutions to employ new ways to use technology, social sharing and collaboration as innovations that move them forward.

Imagine if you changed your mindset from “sell what I have to sell” to “anything is possible” in terms of creating a successful customer journey? This is the ultimate trust building activity and changes the content of what you have to sell while certainly changing the context of the role of a salesperson.

Define (Try) – You’ve effectively crafted a solution with and for your prospect and the job now turns to defining how the solution will be structured, delivered, implemented and paid for. This is the closest thing there is to a proposal and given the careful execution of the preceding steps this is where the deal is inked. As the design of the solution was collaborative there is no closing involved – the customer essentially accepts a reality they helped to create.

This is not to suggest there won’t be a great deal more work to do. Perhaps the solution you co-created needs a sponsor to gain budget, perhaps many more stakeholders need to weigh in on and understand the implications of this new approach and even your primary contact may begin to question certain elements of the vision, but the beauty of this initial approach is that you’ve essentially distanced direct competitors from the mix.

Deliver (Buy) – In many organizations, once a deal is inked the salesperson’s job is done. Customer service, project teams or delivery experts take over. There are many practical and real reasons for this kind of hand-off, but I believe the true expansion of your value comes from staying very active with the client after the sale.

This may very well require extra time and effort on your part, but if you and your client started this journey you’re probably more equipped to make sure you either end up at the destination or take side trips that make sense.

At the very least, design, in conjunction with your marketing folks, an orientation process that allows you to elegantly move the process to other team members or departments.

If you want to build a reputation for delivering value you can’t ever abdicate the progress of the journey.

Measure (Repeat) – Quite often the value of a solution can’t be easily measured, and yet, it’s an essential element. The Sales Hourglass performance operates at a much higher level when you become obsessed with measuring, analyzing and communicating the value your customers receive.

There are many positive outcomes from taking this course. You can discover instances in which a client did not receive what they expected. See that these are addressed and your reputation for delivering value will soar. You can discover instances in which a client received extreme value. Just understanding the relationship between measurable value and cost will make you much more prepared to have confident discussions with prospects regarding pricing issues,

You can discover instances in which you client received exactly what they expected. Helping your client actualize these results reinforces the value of working with you, leads to additional positive contacts and opens the door for additional opportunities.

You must find a way to make a review of results part of your Sales Hourglass.

Engage (Refer) – It’s amazing how often sales professionals neglect to engage past customers until it’s time to reorder or time to review a contract. Frequently re-engaging customers through continued education and exploration is what leads to the discovering of new opportunities, new introduction and referrals.

The beauty of delivering such amazing value before, during and after the transaction is that you’ll be seen, not as a pesky salesperson checking in, but as a valued contributor or consultant.

The Sales Hourglass is a powerful sales methodology, but it does not need to be viewed as a process strictly employed the “sales” department. The Sales Hourglass is essentially a teaching process and is equally effective in the hands of business development, customer service, technical support and HR. In fact, many firms could benefit from using this methodology with internal stakeholders to create more collaborative buy in for things like new technology deployment and annual priority setting.