Author Archives: Chuck Sink

Online Marketing Best Practices: What’s Best for You?

Best practices in marketing vary from customer to customer.

Whenever you hear or read the phrase, “marketing best practices” think of it as a series of tactics that have worked well for a collection of businesses at a recent point in time in a specific industry.

In my own industry, digital marketing, I’ve been seeing a saturation of self-marketing that looks dangerously similar among competing firms. It tends to focus on selling a defined process that includes Web Design, SEO, SEM, Social Media, Email and lead generation/sales funnels. The very same process tends to be applied to very different companies so effectiveness varies from one client to another.

I recently made the mistake of referring to my company’s approach to website development as a “best practice.” While we can be the best website services choice for many businesses, calling ours the “best practice” excludes too many other possibilities influenced by dynamic marketing factors such as vertical industries, culture, demographics, technologies, innovations and trends.

Coming full circle, this is why I love our own approach to website design, development and maintenance. It lets those who know their markets best (our clients) better control the messages and their targeted online distribution.

Best-for-Brand Practice

It would probably be better to call our web development methodology a “best-for-brand practice.” Your website should be designed and maintained around your brand – your audience preferences and their preferred business style. It’s all based on user experience (UX).

Does every business want their website to function as a lead generation machine or a sales funnel? Clearly, the answer is no, yet so many digital marketing agencies seem to push this model as THE best practice in online marketing.

Before you decide on the best-for-brand website development approach for your own company, ask some basic sales questions:

  • Are you selective concerning the new customers your firm wants to attract?
  • Do you want qualified leads to call your phone number so you can better guide them?
  • Do customers require product demos with multi-phase sales cycles?
  • Is your product or service easy to order online?
  • Should prospects download your content and subscribe to news & events? Why?
  • Are you looking for more Social Media interaction? How will that help you?
  • Do you need a steady stream of inbound leads to keep an inside sales team busy and productive?

Each of these and other sales & service needs can benefit from a strategically compatible website design and maintenance plan that caters to audience preferences. Our advice is to carefully consider the nuances that make your brand and customer experience one-of-a-kind and design a customized User Experience around it.

If now or in the future, you are thinking about your company’s next move regarding its website, we invite you to our new Website Services Page to learn about a fresh air approach to managing your website and online marketing campaigns.

Website Maintenance Maintains Business Credibility

Choose a website hosting plan that actually works hard for your business!

Your website has parts that will break or expire and cause communication problems, just like your car’s parts will eventually break or malfunction and cause transportation problems. If you have a website for any length of time, you’ve surely experienced a utility malfunction, broken page link or even a complete outage. Panic can set in when that happens, especially in a marketing or sales-driven company. You can begin to imagine people visiting your site and leaving with the impression that your company’s act isn’t really together.

Listen up! The technology overlords of the Internet don’t particularly like websites that aren’t cared for, which clutter up the data universe with a bunch of old, static and irrelevant content. And, they have ways of punishing those sites!

FACT:  You do not know the identity of your website visitors unless they give it to you by opting-in to an offer; filling out a form. That means potential customers, perhaps big ones, are examining your online offerings and possibly getting frustrated with their experience when your site lacks an adequate maintenance program… and you won’t even know about the lost opportunities.

FACT:  Without a professionally managed program of itemized, ongoing technical maintenance and content updates, your website will suffer lower search results and diminished user experience. Some browsers such as Google Chrome might even flash a warning screen cautioning visitors before entering what they deem could be a malware prone or unsafe website.

Does your website have an SSL Security Certificate yet? If not, visitors are already being warned about entering it.

BEST PRACTICE: Put your website on a managed hosting and maintenance plan instead of a basic hosting plan. A fully managed website maintenance plan costs more than basic hosting and it’s more than worth the difference! You avoid disruptions in sales and workflows caused by malfunctioning web pages. Search bots “see” a secure and well-built, mobile-friendly site to crawl and properly index content for searchers of your products & services.

So, what do want your website to do?

Here are the two main service options available:

1. With a low cost basic hosting plan, you can at least have an online presence where people can find you by your own domain name or URL. However, without having and complying with the terms of an SSL Security Certificate, visitors may be warned before entering. Hopefully, your site would be mobile responsive by now, had someone paid attention to evolving standards several years ago and kept your site up to acceptable standards.

2. With a managed hosting and maintenance plan, your website would be searchable for your prospects’ & customers’ keyword queries about your product or service, not just your domain name. Your web service provider would have already alerted you to and installed SSL security certification on your site, especially if you have any contact forms or user portals. Years ago, they would have had your site complying with mobile-friendly (responsive design) standards giving mobile device users a seamless and high-quality mobile web experience before some of your competitors were even aware of the responsive design best practice. Every link would work as redirects are taken care of upon the first warning signal. Real human beings constantly work on the back and front ends of your website to make sure it’s optimized for speed, search and user experience.  Design and functionality plugins are always updated to the latest versions. Malware is constantly scanned for, isolated and removed. And get this: You can call them and talk with them on the phone whenever you need to! Sounds like best practices for online marketing doesn’t it?

My colleagues and I cannot stress enough the importance of maintaining SEO and website competitiveness today, and it’s only getting more intense out there! If you have any questions about website maintenance plans and how they can help improve your business, feel free to contact us online or call 603-345-7223.

Marketing Automation automates what you feed it!

Marketing Automation requires effort and for some, it’s well worth it!

Marketing Automation (MA) works amazingly well when careful planning and diligence are behind it. But caution: you cannot throw money at a third party professional, sit back and expect MA to generate qualified leads. Building an effective marketing automation platform requires an investment in staff time as well as funding to implement the campaigns.

The work is required on two fronts: data management and content development. Unless you invest the time and tedium necessary to capture, build and manage customer data, all the best technology won’t help you. You also need to focus on the quality of your content and calls to action: writing, design, photography, video… PRODUCTION! That cost is always there because you need strong, relevant messages to compete in the digital marketplace.

So, if you have to put so much into it, does Marketing Automation really offer a lot of value in return? Yes, especially if you use it as designed: a tool for “smart” and efficient content distribution.  The automation part kicks in to help boost campaign results by distributing content based on known audience preferences – all stemming from their actual behavior. But first, you need to pull people to your content; get them to navigate your website and take action on your landing pages.

Marketing Automation “turbocharges” well-produced content.

You can set up the most powerful and sophisticated MA system available but if you write and produce gobbledygook content with lousy graphics, your visitors will shrug and move on. If your landing pages don’t convert, MA is a complete waste of your time, resources and money.  Without conversions, i.e. qualified inbound leads with authentic inquiries or direct online sales, you may as well just start randomly cold calling prospects. You’ll probably sell more that way!

Getting anyone to take action requires that you persuade them through a series of emotional and logical appeals. When you apply the AIDA method of persuasion, you’ll have an ideal guide for writing your messages. It helps convince your prospects to decide that your solution is right for them. So what exactly is AIDA?

AIDA simply stands for Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. There you have the universal progression of thought processes leading to a decision to act. Breaking it down further…

Attention:  How do you grab someone’s attention? Call them by name if you can or else “shout” something valuable to their known persona. This can be a perfectly relevant subject line, headline or maybe a 3-second audio/video clip.

Interest:  Once you have their attention, signal that your information is relevant to them. Apply it directly to their needs and aspirations.

Desire:  What’s really valuable to your target audience? What’s in it for them? How will your solution make life and business better? Tell a compelling story. Paint a picture of success or pleasure with words and images.

Action:  The only thing that really matters in your campaigns is, do your visitors and prospects take the desired action in response to the messages? Do they ultimately purchase? Show them clearly what to do. Offer personal assistance or an incentive to sign up, make the appointment or buy!

Keep marketing technology “right-sized” for your business.

It’s easy to lose sight of marketing fundamentals with so much emphasis on new tactical technologies. For many small and even some medium enterprise businesses, an effective marketing program can be accomplished with a website, an active blog, an email marketing platform and 2 or 3 social media pages. If using a CRM, it’s crucial to promptly feed the database (manually if needed) with inbound web leads emailed to a salesperson and/or saved in the forms capture database. Then your sales team can better fulfill their roles to advance relationships, follow up and close more deals.

While I’m wide open to changing my views with evidence, it’s currently my opinion that Marketing Automation is a tool best suited for large organizations with multi-faceted products and multiple target audiences. Most small businesses probably don’t need it, at least not yet. Forms code from many low-cost Email Service Providers can be embedded on landing pages and generate auto-responder emails with drip campaigns.

The automatic segmentation of leads and ad retargeting based on site visitors’ behavior can be very powerful for large sales organizations and professional service firms. To remain competitive today, most big companies need the qualifying, segmenting and lead funneling capabilities of a robust CRM integrated with a Marketing Automation platform. Think Salesforce & Pardot or Pipedrive & Sharpspring.

Whatever you do to modernize your marketing efforts with technology, remember that, to cite my friend and former colleague Gary O’Neil, “You cannot move people unless you touch them.”

Word of mouth or word of millions?

One of my valued colleagues tweeted out a provocative blog post that got my juices flowing and here I paraphrase the essence of it:

Forget your friends’ advice. Just Google it!

Do you need a certain product or service about which you know little? If so, Google wants you to ignore your friends and pay attention to their search engine instead.

When it comes to seeking referrals, do your friends have the best resources to help you find what you need? In many cases, yes, in other cases, maybe and in still others, no! When your friends and family come up dry, there’s one place to go; the Internet.

Let the numbers work for you!

Chances are, most of your friends and associates don’t have the right experience or enough knowledge about your industry to make fully informed referrals. It’s even more likely that your current customers and friends don’t associate with enough prospective clients to feed you enough referrals to sustain and grow your business.

Person to person word of mouth still has a lot of business influence but in a hyper-competitive, digitally enabled marketplace like we have today, you need a strong internet search presence to validate verbal claims by individuals. Even if you get a good personal referral, your prospect will go online to check you out before calling. You can be sure they’ll Google you first. What shows up when they do? This is the simplest and one of the best SEO tests you can do.

Google yourself now!

 

 

Go ahead, Google yourself! What’s in the first few positions on the first page? Is it your content or someone else’s who shares a name? Is your own website or LinkedIn Profile in one of the top positions? If you do show up on the first page, is the information favorable and complimentary or could it raise questions about how well positioned you are in your industry?

Creating a favorable and growth-oriented presence that is searchable on the Internet is a sustainability imperative today, even if you’re still chugging along on word of mouth. At some point soon, if not already, the default action of most people will be “I’ll just Google it…” instead of “I’ll just ask Larry…”

The Formula for More Business with Less Stress

Stay relevant, better yet, indispensable!

I tend to worry a little about business in the summer. I know myself and I know human nature. Summer in New Hampshire is like paradise if you’re an outdoorsman. The calls of the lakes, mountains, golf courses and beaches pull us from our office chairs on beautiful afternoons and sometimes even weekday mornings…

If this summer has taught me anything, it’s that you can maintain strong marketing and sales activity even when you or your shop gets very busy with customer demands. Okay, maybe I’ve been short a newsletter or two in the last couple of months but I’ve managed to maintain rigorous social media marketing and networking activity along with a little paid advertising. The best part is that outdoor summer fun hasn’t been compromised and business goal benchmarks are right on track. Steady growth is being maintained instead of the common peaks and valleys many companies experience in a typical marketing/selling cycle.

The Sales Yoyo

A common marketing/selling cycle looks something like this: Business is slow so new business with current and new clients becomes the top priority. The sales team revs up prospecting, follow up and closing activities while marketing scrapes together the resources for a campaign surge and executes it. Lo and behold, a few months later the shop or office is humming! It’s all hands on deck to satisfy customers’ needs and keep them happy. Meanwhile, salespeople become a bit complacent, enjoying the recent business surge and marketing resources are shifted to help meet other administrative costs. The inevitable business slowdown follows from the lack of new business prospecting and reduced marketing communications. The anxiety of drying revenues starts this stressful up-and-down cycle all over again…

Steady as She Goes…

Steady, manageable business growth results from maintaining good value delivery to current customers and keeping firm consistency in your core messaging to your target audience. It’s not so much about the volume or frequency of impressions as it is about your messages themselves. Avoid the temptations to shift your messages toward perceived new opportunities. Stick with your core values – the business value that you can confidently promise to your customers as well as the human and cultural values that you and your team share and bring to work every day.

If you maintain consistency in your marketing and sales messages (with complete integrity), you’ll tend to attract new business that fits well and that you can better manage. Your clients will know they made the best choice. At some point, you may find yourself with a list of clients whose business you chose to accept rather than chase after and potentially scare away.

So, having a solid message strategy in place, go ahead and enjoy another beautiful-day break while it’s mid-August, and don’t worry about that extra social media campaign you were going to work on. Plenty of business will be there when you get back!

Change your words to grow your business!

If you confidently walk away from price competition then you’re probably a better communicator than your competitors. While they talk about how great their quality and service are, you’re already “rolling up your sleeves” with them and pointing out how you will help change their business and improve their lives.

There’s nothing new about emphasizing the value you provide over the list of features and benefits your competitors will promise to match. This is sales 101 which, in actuality, is practiced by a minority of salespeople, marketing directors and business owners. Most of them still talk about “our people” and “our in-house capabilities” and “our superior customer service” when dealing with prospective customers. This is totally understandable and the natural “go-to” position. While people, capabilities and service might all be great, they can all be duplicated so price becomes the most important factor in choosing a vendor. You need to shift your language from your greatness to their goals being fulfilled!

Change your language from describing your products, services and key features to illustrating the marked improvements your customers’ experience. You will help them improve their services, please their customers, gain more new customers, save more money, better engage their employees, increase profits and bolster sustainability, to name a few strong talking points.

Go ahead and try this at home!

I’ve developed a simple exercise to help you shift your language and change your business for the better. By way of example, you will easily figure out how to make your marketing communications and sales scripts work much better.  Instead of making you busier with more quote requests and sales haggling, your messages will attract prospects who already feel they want to work with you. Your words will paint a much prettier picture of them in the future and they will want to go there.

Let’s examine two different industry examples of my Value Proposition Exercise. One is for contract manufacturers and the other for Accounting Firms – CPAs. On the left are common product and service features and on the right are their corresponding values to the customer. Care to guess which set of words works better in sales and marketing?

Fully contemplate the question asked and then compare how you would want your customers and prospects to think of you.

 

The difference in commodity (scarcity) thinking and value (abundance) thinking is plain to anyone. When you have conversations with prospective customers in the “language of love” instead of the language of “me too,” you’ll notice that prospects will more often close the deal themselves instead of you fighting for the order.

I urge you to try this exercise for your own unique business. If you struggle for the right concepts and words, feel free to contact me. I’m happy to assist you in building a more powerful brand identity to better distinguish the unique value you bring to the table.

God Calls the Shots – A miraculous startup story

By Chuck Sink

Former Employee Photo

In massive debt with no money in the bank (except maybe $400 or so to my name), my boss walked in with an envelope in his hand meaning that it was time to pack up my office. We both tried hard for a year & a half to make it work but on that day, we simply shook hands amicably and wished each other well.

So there I was — no job, no money, a hefty mortgage, consumer debt, 2 cars, and 3 kids in college with a fourth heading there soon enough.

It was a big relief! I wasn’t worried – a miracle.

I felt excitement and freedom. I wouldn’t have to work in a job I hated anymore. “The money problem will handle itself,” God’s whisper told me. I had a pretty good business network, my own email newsletter with almost 2,000 contacts, and about 25 years of sales experience.

Now for the real test!

Could I start up a business with heavy debt, no revenue stream, no capital and still make ends meet in my dire situation? My faith in God kicked in and seemed to remove all rational financial thinking from the equation. It was as if I was offered a reprieve from the laws of mathematics. I wasn’t even interested in job hunting even though my sales background was highly marketable.

My mind seemed to focus only on this: I am self-employed now and I’m going to start making some phone calls immediately.

I prayed. Then I contacted several friendly contacts in my network that afternoon and explained my situation – I am for hire as an accomplished writer of advertising, editorial and web content. One of the contacts (the one with whom I was least acquainted) promised me contract freelance work at an attractive hourly rate. In less than a week, his company gave me almost as much work as I wanted to take on and it lasted for several months.

The following day, a guy I sold a website to a few years before called my cell – out of the blue – and asked what I was doing. He said that he needed a part time marketing manager; someone to ramp up a digital marketing program. This “guy” happened to own a large manufacturing company. We started doing project work together at first which later led to a good paying p/t contract position that lasted nearly a year.

Back to that first week, yet another opportunity came knocking. I got a LinkedIn connection request from some guy I met once who formerly sold software. He happened to own an architectural rendering and web design business in an early startup phase. He wanted to meet a content writer in the area. We met for coffee and he hired me for a project on the spot. Additionally that week, I was randomly interviewed by brand storyteller Dan Freund on the street and gained some welcomed online video exposure.

Faith with works is unstoppable!

A month or so later, I acquired my first “retainer” client who needed someone to manage weekly social media postings. Then another monthly fee-based client came on board that included a now popular home remodeling blog. Lots of small projects started to fill in the gaps between serving the steadier clients and handling all the other time-consuming requirements of running a business such as accounting, marketing and sales. Frustratingly, even with revenue slowly growing, the income side of the ledger never seemed to be enough to keep up with debt and mounting expenses.

Some days I would look at all the bills due, the bank account and the receivables and just think “this is clearly impossible!” Adding up the bank balances and any receivables wouldn’t even come close to covering all the bills due.

At that point, I would just drop to my knees, put everything in God’s hands and press on with the work in front of me for that one day and not worry about tomorrow. I can count at least 6 of these occasions. In every single case, within a day or two, money – just enough – would become available to cover the immediate need. In a couple of instances, it came as the result of confiding in friends and humbly asking for some help. In a few others, it was from taking on even more debt. But several times during my most dire financial predicaments, a new business project came out of nowhere with a client who was happy to write a check on the spot.

Somehow, defying every rational prediction, I remained current with all of my debts and bill payments. Quite miraculously, I always had barely enough to satisfy all the relentless financial obligations of a relatively big family but only for that given day.

At a couple of business low points, I reconsidered the job market but had to think long and hard about it. I enjoy serving clients and growing a business far more than selling the services of someone else and hoping they can deliver. If I’m going to be held accountable for my work, I want to have a say in how it gets done. In my experience, clients tend to be much better bosses to work with!

Gaining Traction

As I refused to give up my entrepreneurship, clients started pulling me into additional kinds of services like website design, SEO, advertising, blog management, social media and email marketing. This unplanned evolution of my company into a marketing services firm was extremely welcomed and has allowed the business to be more profitable and grow well beyond what I could accomplish as a one-man freelancer. I was even asked to teach business communications at my Alma Mater University and have found teaching on the side to be very rewarding.

Nowadays, revenue is steady and has been continually growing, opening new avenues to expanding services. Among the best things to happen over the last 6 years has been teaming up with some wonderful associates. Today, most of our clients hire us for ongoing marketing communications and pay monthly service fees. It’s a great business model that keeps us accountable to each other. Our clients are all doing great and the business is growing nicely this year.

An Attitude of…

Seeing things through the lens of gratitude, even during the most difficult times, can summon a spirit that will help you make better decisions and act in productive ways that you found difficult in the past.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to you for being in this audience. Becoming a business owner was made possible in large part from your responses to this blog and our semi-monthly newsletter publication that we’ve managed to keep going for over a decade now.

Thank you very much for staying connected with Chuck Sink Link!

Big news to whom? What do your emails really say?

Email marketing works very well, except when it doesn’t.

Let’s explore the fascinating scientific phenomena that make emails practically delete themselves. It still seems to befuddle a lot of marketers out there.

mobile-email-marketing

One of the easiest things to do is make people delete your email immediately, with or without opening it. Simply disappoint them with irrelevant content. That’s all. There’s literally nothing to it… nothing worthwhile in the content that genuinely relates to audience needs.

I’m a big fan of email newsletters. Can you tell? I like reading or skimming newsletters from companies I follow in my network. I’ve learned quite a lot from some of them and done business with a few. I’m never annoyed when people who’ve snagged my email address add me to their email lists. I always take a look if I know who the sender is. You can never predict what legitimate organizations might inform you of, and it’s easy to unsubscribe from any email service provider if you don’t want more to come.

The YOU Attitude or the US Attitude?

A couple of recent emails from familiar firms hit my inbox last week. The subject lines were “Big News from…” and “News from…” Upon opening the “Big News…” one, I found that the news was really very small and mundane from my vantage point. The “News” could only be “Big” from an internal standpoint – to the owners and managers of the company. It was really just an announcement of something you would expect to hear from this company in any given month. They reported that they just accomplished something that they’re in business to do anyway, so the content was a bit of a letdown.

The “News from” email was mostly a long list of things this company would be expected to do. I’m sure there’s some value in the brand impressions, but how much engagement or response do newsletters like this generate? The answer is less than they could if they were instead using an audience-centered approach – taking on the “YOU Attitude.”

With an audience-centered approach, your subject line will resonate with relevance and more likely get an email opened. With a company-centered approach, your subject line will have little or nothing of value to the recipient. There’s really nothing in it for them. So take on the YOU Attitude and give your audience a compelling reason to engage! Instead of talking about YOUR accomplishments, talk about THEIR opportunities and what THEY value.

Relevance and Congruence

Your subject lines and content must not only be relevant, they must align so that your audience gets rewarded for opening your email. The reward can be as basic as breaking industry news, new & innovative technology or a simple email-marketing-relevancesolution to a nagging problem. It could even be a call for expertise – giving members of your audience a chance at being recognized for their professional knowledge, offering space in your newsletter or blog to give them direct access to your newsletter/blog community. Whatever it is, be relevant and relatable. Your audience should at least be able to identify with keywords in your subject lines and the general themes of your articles or promotions.

It’ fine to sprinkle employee and company news updates into your newsletters as long as that isn’t the main thrust of the content. In fact, people will be more likely to pay attention to your internal news once they see that you are a purveyor of worthwhile information.

The last thing you want your subject lines to do is promise “Big News” when upon opening your email, the recipient thinks “fake news” or “no news is good news.” When that happens, the unsubscribe link will be the most relevant section of your email.

All other metrics lead to this one.

Sometimes you read an article that hits so close to home you just need to chime in with your own spin. I came across one such article (from an email) this week. It had a great subject line which made me think, Okay, I’ll bite! It was well worth the click because this article (with accompanying video) by Greg Rollett completely simplified marketing metrics once and for all, at least as far as I understand “metrics.” What really are marketing metrics anyway, and why do they matter?

Metrics, as related to marketing, are units of measurement that might indicate the likelihood of a future sale.

Eureka! Mr. Rollett gave me the fodder for my own definition of marketing metrics that puts them in their proper place. Notice the words “might” and “future;” two words that executives hate when it comes to forecasting sales, especially in the short term.

Frankly, most of the metrics that marketers use to measure the success of their campaigns include some kind of feel-good engagement with the brand. It could be the number of social media followers, likes & shares, trackable website visits, clicks and content downloads. Being popular feels nice but how does it predict or influence real sales growth?

The only metrics that you should pay attention to are those proven to have the highest likelihood of sales conversions. For the vast majority of businesses, guess which marketing metric actually produces the highest number of sales conversions?  It’s the number of email subscriptions. Good old email!

The number of email subscribers syphoned from your advertising and online marketing campaigns is your most valuable metric because it has the highest likelihood of directly producing sales when strategically deployed. Email campaigns work better than any other form of marketing for most industries, especially in B2B.

The number of email subscribers is your most critical metric. Period! Why? Email converts more prospects into paying customers because subscribers opt in to get informed about your business. Some even want to hear about bargains and buying opportunities. What’s also great is that email service providers offer excellent tracking tools to easily measure conversions for every eblast campaign.

Hoping you would read this far, I’ve held off revealing the subject line that made me bite. It was a piece from Entrepreneur entitled: The Only Online Marketing Metric That Actually Matters. It’s a good subject line for me because I want to know what that metric is and the article validates my experience as an online marketer.

Find ways to build a bigger, better email subscriber list today and make sure you put it to good use with relevant, targeted campaigns.