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What the Local Customer Service Ecosystem Looks Like in 2019

Posted by MiriamEllis

Everything your brand does in the new year should support just one goal: better local customer service.

Does this sound too simple? Doesn’t marketing brim with a thousand different tasks? Of course — but if the goal of each initiative isn’t to serve the customer better, it’s time for a change of business heart. By putting customers, and their problems, at the absolute center of your brand’s strategy, your enterprise will continuously return to this heart of the matter, this heart of commerce.

What is local customer service in 2019?

It’s so much more than the face-to-face interactions of one staffer with one shopper. Rather, it’s a commitment to becoming an always-on resource that is accessible to people whenever, wherever and however they need it. A Google rep was recently quoted as saying that 46% of searches have a local intent. Mobile search, combined with desktop and various forms of ambient search, have established the local web as man’s other best friend, the constant companion that’s ever ready to serve.

Let’s position your brand to become that faithful helper by establishing the local customer service ecosystem:

Your Key to the Local Customer Service Ecosystem

At the heart sits the local customer, who wants to know:

  • Who can help them, who likes or dislikes a business, who’s behind a brand, who’s the best, cheapest, fastest, closest, etc.
  • What the answer is to their question, what product/service solves their problems, what businesses are nearby, what it’s like there, what policies protect them, what’s the phone number, the website URL, the email address, etc.
  • Where a business is located, where to find parking, where something is manufactured or grown, etc.
  • When a business is open, when sales or events are, when busiest times are, when to purchase specific products/services or book an appointment, etc.
  • Why a business is the best choice based on specific factors, why a business was founded, why people like/dislike a business, etc.
  • How to get to the business by car/bike/on foot, how to learn/do/buy something, how to contact the right person or department, how to make a complaint or leave feedback, how the business supports the community, etc.

Your always-on customer service solves all of these problems with a combination of all of the following:

In-store

Good customer service looks like:

  • A publicly accessible brand policy that protects the rights and defends the dignity of both employees and consumers.
  • Well-trained phone staff with good language skills, equipped to answer FAQs and escalate problems they can’t solve. Sufficient staff to minimize hold-times.
  • Well-trained consumer-facing staff, well-versed in policy, products and services. Sufficient staff to be easily-accessible by customers.
  • In-store signage (including after-hours messaging) that guides consumers towards voicing complaints in person, reducing negative reviews.
  • In-store signage/messaging that promotes aspects of the business that are most beneficial to the community. (philanthropy, environmental stewardship, etc.) to promote loyalty and word-of-mouth.
  • Cleanliness, orderliness and fast resolution of broken fixtures and related issues.
  • Equal access to all facilities with an emphasis on maximum consumer comfort and convenience.
  • Support of payment forms most popular with local customers (cash, check, digital, etc.), security of payment processes, and minimization of billing mistakes/hassles.
  • Correctly posted, consistent hours of operation, reducing inconvenience. Clear messaging regarding special hours/closures.
  • A brand culture that rewards employees who wisely use their own initiative to solve customers’ problems.

Website

Good customer service looks like:

  • Content that solves people’s problems as conveniently and thoroughly as possible in language that they speak. Everything you publish (home, about, contact, local landing pages, etc.) should pass the test of consumer usefulness.
  • Equal access to content, regardless of device.
  • Easily accessible contact information, including name, address, phone number, fax, email, text, driving directions, maps and hours of operation.
  • Signals of trustworthiness, such as reviews, licenses, accreditations, affiliations, and basic website security.
  • Signals of benefit, including community involvement, philanthropy, environmental protections, etc.
  • Click-to-call phone numbers.
  • Clear policies that outline the rights of the consumer and the brand.

Organic SERPs

Good customer service looks like:

  • Management of the first few pages of the organic SERPs to ensure that basic information on them is accurate. This includes structured citations on local business directories, unstructured citations on blog posts, news sites, top 10 lists, review sites, etc. It can also include featured snippets.
  • Management also includes monitoring of the SERPs for highly-ranked content that cites problems others are having with the brand. If these problems can be addressed and resolved, the next step is outreach to the publisher to demonstrate that the problem has been addressed.

Email

Good customer service looks like:

  • Accessible email addresses for customers seeking support and fast responses to queries.
  • Opt-in email marketing in the form of newsletters and special offers.

Reviews

Good customer service looks like:

  • Accuracy of basic business information on major review platforms.
  • Professional and fast responses to both positive and negative reviews, with the core goal of helping and retaining customers by acknowledging their voices and solving their problems.
  • Sentiment analysis of reviews by location to identify emerging problems at specific branches for troubleshooting and resolution.
  • Monitoring of reviews for spam and reporting it where possible.
  • Avoidance of any form of review spam on the part of the brand.
  • Where allowed, guiding valued customers to leave reviews to let the greater community know about the existence and quality of your brand.

Links

Good customer service looks like:

  • Linking out to third-party resources of genuine use to customers.
  • Pursuit of inbound links from relevant sites that expand customers’ picture of what’s available in the place they live, enriching their experience.

Tech

Good customer service looks like:

  • Website usability and accessibility for users of all abilities and on all browsers and devices (ADA compliance, mobile-friendliness, load speed, architecture, etc.)
  • Apps, tools and widgets that improve customers’ experience.
  • Brand accessibility on social platforms most favored by customers.
  • Analytics that provide insight without trespassing on customers’ comfort or right to privacy.

Social

Good customer service looks like:

  • Brand accessibility on social platforms most favored by customers.
  • Social monitoring of the brand name to identify and resolve complaints, as well as to acknowledge praise.
  • Participation for the sake of community involvement as opposed to exploitation. Sharing instead of selling.
  • Advocacy for social platforms to improve their standards of transparency and their commitment to protections for consumers and brands.

Google My Business

Good customer service looks like:

  • Embrace of all elements of Google’s local features (Google My Business listings, Knowledge Panels, Maps, etc.) that create convenience and accessibility for consumers.
  • Ongoing monitoring for accuracy of basic information.
  • Brand avoidance of spam, and also, reporting of spam to protect consumers.
  • Advocacy for Google to improve its standards as a source of community information, including accountability for misinformation on their platform, and basic protections for both brands and consumers.

Customers’ Problems are Yours to Solve

“$ 41 billion is lost each year by US companies following a bad customer experience.”
-
New Voice Media

When customers don’t know where something is, how something works, when they can do something, who or what can help them, or why they should choose one option over another, your brand can recognize that they are having a problem. It could be as small a problem as where to buy a gift or as large a problem as seeking legal assistance after their home has been damaged in a disaster.

With the Internet never farther away than fingertips or voices, people have become habituated to turning to it with most of their problems, hour by hour, year by year. Recognition of quests for help may have been simpler just a few decades ago when customers were limited to writing letters, picking up phones, or walking into stores to say, “I have a need.” Now, competitive local enterprises have to expand their view to include customer problems that play out all over the web with new expectations of immediacy.

Unfortunately, brands are struggling with this, and we can sum up common barriers to modern customer service in 3 ways:

1) Brand Self-Absorption

“I’ve gotta have my Pops,” frets a boy in an extreme (and, frankly, off-putting) example in which people behave as though addicted to products. TV ads are rife with the wishfulness of marketers pretending that consumers sing and dance at the mere idea of possessing cars, soda, and soap. Meanwhile, real people stand at a distance watching the song and dance, perhaps amused sometimes, but aware that what’s on-screen isn’t them.

“We’re awesome,” reads too much content on the web, with a brand-centric, self-congratulatory focus. At the other end of the spectrum, web pages sit stuffed with meaningless keywords or almost no text as all, as though there aren’t human beings trying to communicate on either side of the screen.

“Who cares?” is the message untrained employees, neglected shopping environments, and disregarded requests for assistance send when real-world locations open doors but appear to put customer experience as their lowest priority. I’ve catalogued some of my most disheartening customer service interludes and I know you’ve had them, too.

Sometimes, brands get so lost in boardrooms, it’s all they can think of to put in their million-dollar ad campaigns, forgetting that most of their customers don’t live in that world.

One of the first lightbulb moments in the history of online content marketing was the we-you shift. Instead of writing, “We’re here, isn’t that great?”, we began writing, “You’re here and your problem can be solved.” This is the simple but elegant evolution that brands, on the whole, need to experience.

2) Ethical Deficits

Sometimes, customers aren’t lost because a brand is too inwardly focused, but rather, because its executives lack the vision to sustain an ethical business model. Every brand is tasked with succeeding, but it takes civic-minded, customer-centric leadership to avoid the abuses we are seeing at the highest echelons of the business world right now. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, and similar majors have repeatedly failed to put people over profits, resulting in:

  • Scandals
  • Lawsuits
  • Fines
  • Boycotts
  • Loss of consumer trust
  • Employee loss of pride in company culture

At a local business level, and in a grand understatement, it isn’t good customer service when a company deceives or harms the public. Brands, large and small, want to earn the right of integration into the lives of their customers as chosen resources. Large enterprises seeking local customers need leadership that can envision itself in the setting of a single small community, where dishonest practices impact real lives and could lead to permanent closure. Loss of trust should never be an acceptable part of economies of scale.

The internet has put customers, staffers, and media all on the same channels. Ethical leadership is the key ingredient to building a sustainable business model in which all stakeholders take pride.

3) Lack of Strategy

Happily, many brands genuinely do want to face outward and possess the ethics to treat people well. They may simply lack a complete strategy for covering all the bases that make up a satisfying experience. Small local businesses may find lack of time or resources a bar to the necessary education, and structure at enterprises may make it difficult to get buy-in for the fine details of customer service initiatives. Priorities and budgets may get skewed away from customers instead of toward them.

The TL;DR of this entire post is that modern customer service means solving customers’ problems by being wherever they are when they seek solutions. Beyond that, a combination of sufficient, well-trained staff (both online and off) and the type of automation provided by tools that manage local business listings, reviews and social listening are success factors most brands can implement.

Reach Out…

We’ve talked about some negative patterns that can either distance brands from customers, or cause customers to distance themselves due to loss of trust. What’s the good news?

Every single employee of every local brand in the US already knows what good customer service feels like, because all of us are customers.

There’s no mystery or magic here. Your CEO, your devs, sales team, and everyone else in your organization already know by experience what it feels like to be treated well or poorly.

And they already know what it’s like when they see themselves reflected in a store location or on a screen.

Earlier, I cited an old TV spot in which actors were paid to act out the fantasy of a brand. Let’s reach back in time again and watch a similar-era commercial in which actors are paid to role play genuine consumer problems – in this case, a family that wants to keep in touch with a member who is away from home:

The TV family may not look identical to yours, but their featured problem – wanting to keep close to a distant loved one – is one most people can relate to. This 5-year ad campaign won every award in sight, and the key to it is that consumers could recognize themselves on the screen and this act of recognition engaged their emotions.

Yes, a service is being sold (long distance calling), but the selling is being done by putting customers in the starring roles and solving their problems. That’s what good customer service does, and in 2019, if your brand can parlay this mindset into all of the mediums via which people now seek help, your own “reach out and touch someone” goals are well on their way to success.

Loyal Service Sparks Consumer Loyalty

“Acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to twenty times more expensive than retaining an existing one.”
Harvard Business Review

“Loyal customers are worth up to ten times as much as their first purchase.”
White House Office of Consumer Affairs

I want to close here with a note on loyalty. With a single customer representing up to 10x the value of their first purchase, earning a devoted clientele is the very best inspiration for dedication to improving customer service.

Trader Joe’s is a large chain that earns consistent mentions for its high standards of customer service. Being a local SEO, I turned to its Google reviews, looking at 5 locations in Northern California. I counted 225 instances of people exuberantly praising staff at just these 5 locations, using words like “Awesome, incredible, helpful, friendly, and fun!”. Moreover, reviewers continuously mentioned the brand as the only place they want to shop for groceries because they love it so much. It’s as close as you can get to a “gotta have my Pops” scenario, but it’s real.

How does Trader Joe’s pull this off? A study conducted by Temkin Group found that, “A customer’s emotional experience is the most significant driver of loyalty, especially when it comes to consumers recommending firms to their friends.” The cited article lists emotional connection and content, motivated employees who are empowered to go the extra mile as keys to why this chain was ranked second-highest in emotion ratings (a concept similar to Net Promoter Score). In a word, the Trader Joe’s customer service experience creates the right feelings, as this quick sentiment cloud of Google review analysis illustrates:

This brand has absolutely perfected the thrilling and lucrative art of creating loyal customers, making their review corpus read like a volume of love letters. The next move for this company – and for the local brands you market – is to “spread the love” across all points where a customer might seek to connect, both online and off.

It’s a kind of love when you ensure a customer isn’t misdirected by a wrong address on a local business listing or when you answer a negative review with the will to make things right. It’s a kind of love when a company blog is so helpful that its comments say, “You must be psychic! This is the exact problem I was trying to solve.” It’s a kind of love when a staff member is empowered to create such a good experience that a customer tells their mother, their son, their best friend to trust you brand.

Love, emotions, feelings — are we still talking about business here? Yes, because when you subtract the medium, the device, the screen, it’s two very human people on either side of every transaction.

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What Link Building Success Really Looks Like

Posted by mark-johnstone

A few weeks ago, a post was published entitled The SEO Myth of Going Viral. It referenced 8 pieces of content across 4 different sites that went viral and, most importantly for SEO, gained hundreds of linking root domains. I was the creative director on a lot of those campaigns while working as the VP of Creative at Distilled. Today, I’d like to add some important context and detail to the original post.

I actually agree with much of what it said. However, it’s based on the assumption that one big viral piece of content would result in a visible jump in rankings across the domain within about 3 months of the content being released. There are a few challenges with this as a basis for measuring success.

I wouldn’t advise setting your hopes on one big viral hit boosting your rankings across the domain. Not by itself. However, if that viral hit is part of ongoing link building efforts in which you build lots of links to lots of pieces of content, you can begin to see an upwards trend.

“Trend” is the important word here. If you’re looking for a dramatic step or jump as a direct result of one piece of viral content, this could cause you to overlook a positive trend in the right direction, and even tempt you to conclude that this form of content-based link building doesn’t work.

With regards to this type of link building and its impact on domain-wide rankings, I’d like to focus on the follow 4 points:

  1. How success really looks
  2. Why success looks like it does
  3. Other factors you need to consider
  4. How we can improve our approach

What successful link building really looks like

Simply Business was held up in the SEO myth post as an example of this kind of link building not working. I would argue the opposite, holding it up as an example of it working. So how can this be?

I believe it stems from a misunderstanding of what success looks like.

The post highlighted three of the most successful pieces of content Distilled created for Simply Business. However, focusing on those three pieces of content doesn’t provide the full picture. We didn’t make just three pieces of content; we made twenty-one. Here are the results of those pieces:

Note: Data missing for the first two pieces of content

That’s links from 1466 domains built to 19 pieces of content over a period of 3 years.

The myth in question is as follows:

Building lots of links to one piece of content will result in a jump in domain-wide rankings within a reasonable timeframe, e.g. 3 months.

Though this wasn’t the hypothesis explicitly stated at the start of the post, it was later clarified in a comment. However, that’s not necessarily how this works.

An accurate description of what works would be:

Building lots of links to lots of pieces of content sustainably, while taking other important factors into consideration, can result in an increase in domain-wide rankings over time.

To hold up, the myth required a directly attributable jump in rankings and organic traffic within approximately 3 months of the release of each piece of content. So where was the bump? The anticipated reward for all those links?

No. The movement we’re looking for is here:

Not a jump, but a general trend. Up and to the right.

Below is a SEMRush graph from the original post, showing estimated organic traffic to the Simply Business site:

At first glance, the graph between 2012 and 2014 might look unremarkable, but that’s because the four large spikes on the right-hand side push the rest of the chart down, creating a flattening effect. There’s actually a 170% rise in traffic from June 2012 to June 2014. To see that more clearly, here’s the same data (up to June 2014) on a different scale:

Paints quite a different picture, don’t you think?

Okay, but what did this do for the company? Did they see an increase in rankings for valuable terms, or just terms related to the content itself?

Over the duration of these link building campaigns, Simply Business saw their most important keywords (“professional indemnity insurance” and “public liability insurance”) move from positions 3 to 1 and 3 to 2, respectively. While writing this post, I contacted Jasper Martens, former Head of Marketing and Communications at Simply Business, now VP of Marketing at PensionBee. Jasper told me:

“A position change from 3 to 1 on our top keyword meant a 15% increase in sales.”

That translates to money. A serious amount of it!

Simply Business also saw ranking improvements for other commercial terms, too. Here’s a small sample:

Note: This data was taken from a third-party tool, Sistrix. Data from third-party tools, as used both in this post and the original post, should be taken with a grain of salt. They don’t provide a totally accurate picture, but they can give you some indication of the direction of movement.

I notice Simply Business still ranks #1 today for some of their top commercial keywords, such as “professional indemnity insurance.” That’s pretty incredible in a market filled with some seriously big players, household UK names with familiar TV ads and much bigger budgets.

Why success looks like it does

I remember the first time I was responsible for a piece of content going viral. The social shares, traffic, and links were rolling in. This was it! Link building nirvana! I was sitting back waiting for the rankings, organic traffic, and revenue to follow.

That day didn’t come.

I was gutted. I felt robbed!

I’ve come to terms with it now. But at the time, it was a blow.

I assume most SEOs know it doesn’t work that way. But maybe they don’t. Maybe there’s an assumption that one big burst in links will result in a jump in rankings, as discussed in the original post. That’s the myth it was seeking to dispel. I get it. I’ve been there, too.

It doesn’t necessarily work that way. And, actually, it makes sense that it doesn’t.

  • In two of the examples, the sites in question had one big viral hit, gaining hundreds of linking root domains, but this on its own didn’t result in a boost in domain-wide rankings. That’s true.
  • Google would have pretty volatile search results if every time someone had a viral hit, they jumped up in the rankings for all their head terms.
  • But if a site continues to build lots of links regularly over time, like Simply Business did, Google might want that site to be weighted more favorably and worthy of ranking higher.

The Google algorithm is an incredibly complex equation. It’s tempting to think that you put links in and you get rankings out, and a big jump in one will correspond to a big jump in the other. But the math involved is far more complicated than that. It’s not that linear.

Other factors to consider

Link building alone won’t improve your rankings.

There are a number of other influential factors at play. At a high level, these include:

  1. A variety of on-site (and technical) SEO factors
  2. Algorithmic updates and penalties
  3. Changes to the SERPs, like the knowledge box and position of paid results
  4. Competitor activity

I’m not going to go into great detail here, but I wanted to mention that you need to consider these factors and more when reviewing the impact of link building on a site’s rankings.

Below is the graph from SearchMetrics for Concert Hotels, also via the original post. This is another site to which Distilled built a high volume of links.

As you can possibly tell from the large drop before Distilled started working with Concert Hotels, the site was suffering from an algorithmic penalty. We proceeded under the hypothesis that building high-quality links, alongside other on-site activity, would be important in the site’s recovery.

However, after three or four large link building successes without any corresponding uplift, we recommended to the client that we stop building links and shift all resources to focus on other activities.

As you’ll see at the end of the chart, there appears to be some positive movement happening. If and when the site fully recovers, we’ll never be able to tell exactly what contribution, if any, link building made to the site’s eventual rankings.

You can’t take the above as proof that link building doesn’t work. You have to consider the other factors that might be affecting a site’s performance.

How can we improve our approach?

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I actually agree with a lot of the points raised in the original post. In particular, there were some strong points made about the topical relevance of the content you create and the way in which the content sits within the site architecture.

Ideally, the content you create to gain links would be:

  • Topically relevant to what you do
  • Integrated into the site architecture to distribute link equity
  • Valuable in its own right (even if it weren’t for links and SEO)

This can be a challenge, though, especially in certain industries, and you might not hit the sweet spot every time.

But let’s look at them in turn.

Topical relevance

If you can create a piece of content that gains links and is closely relevant to your product and what you do for customers, that’s great. That’s the ideal.

To give you an example of this, Distilled created a career aptitude test for Rasmussen, a career-focused college in America. This page earned links from 156 linking root domains (according to the Majestic Historic Index), and the site continues to rank well and drive relevant search traffic to the site.

Another example would be Moz’s own Search Engine Ranking Factors. Building lots of links to that page will certainly drive relevant and valuable traffic to the Moz site, as well as contributing to the overall strength of the domain.

However, your content doesn’t have to be about your product, as long as it’s relevant to your audience. In the case of Simply Business, the core audience (small business owners) doesn’t care about insurance as much as it cares about growing its businesses. That’s why we created several guides to small business marketing, which also gained lots of links.

As Jasper Martens explains:

“Before I left Simply Business, the guides we created attracted 15,000 unique visits a month with a healthy CTR to sign-up and sales. It was very effective to move prospects down the funnel and make them sales-ready. It also attracted a lot of small business owners not looking for insurance right now.”

Integrating the content into the site architecture

Distilled often places content outside the main architecture of the site. I’ll accept this isn’t optimal, but just for context, let me explain the reasons behind it:

  1. It creates a more immersive and compelling experience. Consider how impactful New York Times’ Snowfall would have been if it had to sit inside the normal page layout.
  2. It prevents conflicts between the site’s code and the interactive content’s code. This can be particularly useful for organizations that have restrictive development cycles, making live edits on the site difficult to negotiate. It also helps reduce the time, cost, and frustration on both the client-side and agency-side.
  3. It looks less branded. If a page looks too commercial, it can deter publishers from linking.

While it worked for Simply Business, it would make sense, where you can, to pull these things into the normal site architecture to help distribute link equity further.

Content that’s valuable in its own right (even if it weren’t for links and SEO)

Google is always changing. What’s working now and what’s worked in the past won’t necessarily continue to be the case. The most future-proof way you can build links to your site is via activity that’s valuable in its own right — activities like PR, branding, and growing your audience online.

So where do we go from here?

Link building via content marketing campaigns can still make a positive impact to domain-wide rankings. However, it’s important to enter any link building campaign with realistic expectations. The results might not be as direct and immediate as you might hope.

You need to be in it for the long haul, and build links to a number of pieces of content over time before you’ll really see results. When looking for results, focus on overall trends, not month-to-month movements.

Remember that link building alone won’t solve your SEO. You need to make sure you take other on-site, technical, and algorithmic factors into consideration.

It’s always worth refining the way you’re building links. The closer the topics are aligned with your product or core audience’s interests, the more the content is integrated into your site’s architecture, and the more the content you’re creating is valuable for reasons beyond SEO, the better.

It’s not easy to manage that every time, but if you can, you’ll be in a good position to sustainably build links and improve your site’s rankings over time.

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Looks Like We Made It …

Image of Bizarro Comic

Well, dawn has broken on December 21.

Peeking out of my curtains, I see no zombie apocalypse, no Mayan-speaking vengeance deities, no vampires or trolls or angry visitors from other planets.

Granted, the day is still young, but I’m going to call it good.

So we made it.

After a very, very hard end of the year. A lot of extremely bad things happened, and most of us are still reeling a little.

But we’re still here. And once we’ve ordered a Gaping Void I survived the Mayan Apocalypse t-shirt, apparently we still have to make a living for the rest of our lives.

So what’s next?

Here are my thoughts and suggestions for some big themes for next year. Business is moving, and if we move with it, we can make amazing things happen.

Here’s how I see it.

1. Stop living someone else’s dream

These are strange times, unpredictable and fast-moving.

Which is stressful. But it also opens up tremendous opportunities.

Maybe 2013 is the year you entertain the idea that you don’t have to live anyone else’s idea of a “normal” life, or work at what you always thought was a “normal” job.

Maybe this is the year you start something of your own, or make the company you’re in now smarter and better.

There’s something you want to see more of in the world. This just might be the year you start taking your dream seriously.

2. Start singing with your own voice

The one thing the Internet doesn’t need is any more clones.

No more buzzword bingo. No more weak copycats. No more lame “me-too” content.

What we don’t have enough of yet is you. The best version of you — the smartest, most passionate stuff you have to offer. We’re waiting for that.

I’m not talking about throwing public tantrums in the name of “authenticity.” We have enough train wrecks to gawk at.

I’m talking about being honest enough to quit pretending you’re someone else, and to quit being nice at the expense of telling the truth. To recognize that you have something unique and valuable to offer.

Hone the hell out of that, and bring it forth.

3. Claim your authority

As Brian said yesterday, 2013 will be the year of the online writer. The coming content revolution needs an army of professional, serious wordsmiths who know how to create something special.

Are there plenty of companies who still don’t get it, who will try to get by with penny-a-page junk content?

Sure there are. And those companies will fall. Don’t worry about them.

Find the ones who know what they should be doing, but have no idea how to do it. They’re dying to make a connection with someone like you, someone who can write the words that will inspire their audience. We’ll be talking more next year about how you can find the clients who are hungry for smart, savvy writers.

4. Help someone

You know a lot. You might not always feel it, but you really get how the social web works, and you know the difference between good writing and lazy writing.

Are there people who know more than you do? Always.

Can you find some people who know a lot less than you do, who could really use your knowledge and abilities?

Always.

Go find those people and make yourself useful solving their problems. That’s the best foundation for any business.

5. Reject cynicism

You can be cool, or you can create something worth talking about. It’s hard to do both. (We’ll have to assume for the moment that you are not Steve Jobs.)

Turn away from companies or colleagues who think they can justify shady behavior by saying “It’s just business.” Business crumbles without trust and respect.

Turn away from the hipster crowd who are afraid to talk about anything that isn’t new and shiny. Being of real service means sifting through the noise to figure out what’s going to endure.

The ones who say it’s a dog eat dog world? Yeah, those are dogs. You don’t need them.

We’ll see you in 2013 …

As we often do, the Copyblogger team will be taking a brief break at the end of the year to enjoy some family time.

One of the things we do is get together with some laptops and pads of paper and a whole bunch of coffee and play around with interesting ideas we can implement in the upcoming year. I encourage you to do the same.

Hit your favorite coffee shop. Sketch out some ideas. Make them big or small, but make it something that excites you.

What could you do for a living in 2013 that would really turn your crank? That would genuinely be worth doing? Make a few days before the end of the year to sketch out a couple of crazy dreams.

And we’ll look for you on the flip side …

Post image from Bizarro Comics

About the Author: Sonia Simone is co-founder and CMO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

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What a Top-Notch Lead Management Program Looks Like

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Walk into any active sales room, and it’s easy to tell how time-intensive most sales operations are. To make the hours spent worthwhile, it’s important to ensure that your sales team is only talking to the most qualified leads. Lead management is a strategy and set of corresponding tools that help companies filter out unqualified leads and better understand the buying cycle of their good leads. When executed well, lead management makes your marketing team more effective, your sales team more precise, and your leads happier. Lead management programs vary from company to company, but here are several important components to consider. 

Prospect Intelligence

For B2B companies, lead management should actually begin before a lead ever fills out a form. Individual website visitors who are still in the browsing stage can actually tell you a great deal about what content is attracting them to your company. By using prospect tracking software, which reports on the IP address associated with site visitors, you can understand which types of companies are visiting your site. Connecting company activity on your site with a certain type of content or topic can help you better prepare your sales team for when a lead from that company later converts on your site.   

Lead Intelligence

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When someone converts on your website by completing a form or downloading a piece of content, the relationship with that lead begins. By using analytics to keep tabs of the content leads view and the interactions they have with your company, you can build a more relevant, personalized experience for each lead. Lead intelligence begins by developing a profile for your lead with the information provided and creating a place to store all future interactions and data on that lead. After you have that profile created, you can begin to segment your leads based on their interests and send emails and other communications that are targeted and relevant to them.

Lead Scoring

The good news about inbound marketing is that it can attract high volumes of leads. The challenge then becomes, how do you separate the good, quality leads from the people who are just looking around? That’s where lead scoring comes in. With lead scoring, you can attach values to each of your leads based on their professional information and the behavior they’ve displayed on your website.  Get started by meeting with your sales team and coming to an agreement about what makes a quality lead. What types of pages viewed or content downloaded indicate that the lead is getting close to a decision point?  What lead activities do you want to prioritize? After you’ve come to an agreement on quality indicators, you can use a lead scoring app like HubSpot’s Lead Grader to assign custom scores to each activity so your most qualified leads float to the top.

Customer Relationship Management

Another key component of successful lead management is the integration of your marketing software and your customer relationship management (CRM) software. Too often, there is a divide between marketing efforts and the revenue that those efforts drive. Connecting your marketing software to your CRM system enables you to bridge that gap and get a complete view of your marketing funnel, from the campaigns and channels that first brought customers into to your company to their most recent point of sale. Marketers call this kind of end-to-end view “closed-loop reporting.” Closed-loop reporting can help you understand which marketing efforts resulted in actual purchases so you know how to invest your marketing budget more strategically. To get started, make sure you have a marketing platform and a CRM system that have the ability to integrate through APIs.  

Lead Nurturing

Lead nurturing is all about understanding the nuances of your leads’ timing and needs. email circleBasic lead nurturing involves a tightly connected series of emails with a coherent purpose and an abundance of useful, relevant content. Lead nurturing campaigns are typically kicked off in a scheduled cadence after someone takes a specific action on your site, like requesting a trial or signing up for a webinar, and they reflect the action taken. Alternately, behavior-based lead nurturing, often called marketing automation, enables a company to trigger communications based on real-time customer behavior. 

According to Forrester Research, companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost. Warming leads up over time through helpful, educational emails will help them get to a decision point more quickly. To set up your first lead nurturing campaign, think about the typical buying cycle of your leads. Design related emails that address the goals of each of these stages (for example: education, comparison shopping, cost-assessment). Remember, lead nurturing emails should be designed to help your leads, not push an immediate sale. Use a lead nurturing program to time these communications appropriately throughout the buying cycle. 

The Complete Picture

Customer relationships take time. Research from Gleanster suggests that even when it comes to qualified leads, more than 50% aren’t ready to buy on the day they first convert on your site. You’ve put a lot of work into attracting leads, and often, it’s how you manage them after the conversion that will determine if your time was well spent. The power of lead management comes in adapting your communications to reflect a comprehensive understanding of your leads’ needs and timeline so that when you hand them over to your sales team, all parties are informed and ready to move forward.

To learn more about how to get started with lead management, download our free ebook, Lead Management Made Simple.

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