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Are you converting or killing your leads? 28 April, 2009

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Dead Cities by Mugley on Flickr

With the next Demand Generation Summit just a couple of days away, one question to ask is once you’ve got the leads, then what?

For classic B2B sales this often ends up in a conversation around the hand-off process to sales and closed loop marketing. But just as important a question is: is your website playing its part?

Over on Conversion Rate Experts they have an excellent article of the worst offenders when it comes to killing a lead stone dead. These include:

  • The ’empty cart’ button positioned where you’d expect the ‘submit’ button
  • The ‘too easy to click’ button (or hover state) where you have to have the precision of a ninja to select what you need
  • Session expiries (I’m glad this one is on because it sends me postal)

It’s a great article and they are also looking for submissions for a hall of shame.

Image by Mugley on Flickr

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Agile marketing (or why the plan is never the plan) 20 March, 2009

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From Flickr Creative Commons

From Flickr Creative Commons

There’s a comment that gets made about military strategy that goes something like: when the war starts the first thing to go out of the window is the plan.

While in marketing no one is generally in danger of dying (at least not in the kind I do), the principle is a pretty sound one. If, like me, you’ve sat in any number of planning and strategy sessions, you can quickly get the idea that the future is being mapped in front of your eyes. First this will happen, then that, then that… It’s quite seductive.

But, of course, the world doesn’t work that way. As soon as you do X, your competitors will simultaneously do Y and the whole damn market will do Z. At around this point, all that future-gazing slideware doesn’t look quite so certain anymore.

Of course, this is a problem the military had to overcome some time back (primarily in the wake of the carnage during World War I). The result was an approach that spent a long time determining the overall objectives (the ‘commander’s intent’) and which left precise tactics to officers in the field who were empowered to adapt to changing circumstances as long as they kept moving towards that overall intent.

The approach was then further refined (primarily by US Air Force Colonel John Boyd) to focus on the ability to make very fast, very adaptable decisions (within a ‘decision loop’) that would outmanoeuvre the opposition.

It’s a principle that, I believe, is critical for today’s marketers. You will never be in possession of perfect visibility. Events will never pan out exactly how you envisage them. That’s just life.

The key is to have a robust, defensible ‘commander’s intent’ and to look at strategy more from the perspective of if X then Y rather than first X then Y. And finally, to never be wedded to any one set of tactics – if traditional media isn’t working, shift to social media, if that isn’t working try face-to-face. Better still try multiple approaches in a low-cost way and let the fittest survive and thrive. In doing so, you can create a  living strategy that can react and adapt to changing circumstances while they are changing and while there is time to make a difference in the market.

From sites to blogs to Twitter to… 23 February, 2009

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twitter_logo_125x29Admittedly, I’ve come a bit late to the whole Twitter thing (and I’ve always tried to be such an early adopter – well, ok, BMX bikes passed me by too – and don’t tell anyone but I’m not on FaceBook).

As it stands, a whole week in, I can kind of see the attraction of Twitter. Essentially, it allows me to get a quick thought out without writing a whole blog post. Of course there’s also the ability to stay in vicarious touch with other people – either those I know or those I’ve heard of. But really it’s a time thing.

It’s interesting to note that at one time putting your personal thoughts ‘out there’ meant creating a website (well, there was a bit of a period pre-internet but let’s skip past that one). Updating was a pain and not exactly conducive to a dynamic, real time experience.

More recently came blogging which made publishing the content of your head way, way easier. Everybody waded in, writing lots, updating regularly. Until life and work got in the way and the posts began appearing at more sedate intervals.

Now, with the imposition of the 140 character limit, dashing off a quick thought is, well, pretty quick. It’ll be interesting to see how this latest phenomenon affects the volume of blog posts. Will people increasingly take the quick and easy over the considered? We’ll see.

Of course, this makes me wonder about what comes next. Micro-tweeting with a 20 character limit? Emoticons only? Only time will tell.

What’s your problem? 18 February, 2009

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ninjaIt is perhaps staggeringly unsurprising that most marketers and their agencies spend most of their time in search of solutions for their brands.

After all, we all want to get to the right answer as soon as humanly possible (if not sooner). It also provides the satisfaction of actually doing (and be seen to be doing) something, anything – quick, unleash the marketing ninjas (if only there really were marketing ninjas).

The trouble is – this is kind of dumb.

It’s far better to spend quality time (as much as you can spare) really understanding what the problem is. The real problem, not just the one you think it is. The strange thing is when you do, quite often the real problem is quite different than the one you thought it was.

Your motto in this should be the Buddhist mantra:

Don’t just do something, sit there

Now let me pause for a moment to make one thing absolutely clear: I’m not saying we should all sit around inspecting our navels while the market goes whistling past. Speed is still of the essence. Fortune favours the agile. And analysis paralysis won’t get you anywhere.

But… if I had just just an hour to come up with a solution, I’d prefer to spend 40 minutes of it getting to the bottom of the real problem (and probably another 10 minutes redefining it) than to have a whole hour with a pad and a marker.

Imagine reading your newspaper… ON YOUR COMPUTER! 10 February, 2009

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Unbelievable I know. But check out the video below to get a glimpse of a future where you’ll be able to use a computer-based ‘system’ to access and read the news (well the future as seen from 1981 anyway).

I love the quote by one of the newspaper guys, “We don’t expect to make any money.”

Also, check out the home user’s modem with the rubber cups to put the phone handset into – the first modem I ever used was almost identical to this.

Those were the days.

Source: NOTCOT

IDC’s recipe for selling IT in 2009 6 February, 2009

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IDC has made a new report available on Slideshare: Selling in 2009: 10 Ways to find, Win and Keep the Money (embedded below). It takes a long hard look at the year ahead and what it means for IT companies wanting to survive and thrive in the year ahead. It is predominantly US-based but many of the recommendations are just as valid in Europe (though the timing may be out by six months or so).

While it gives a slightly mixed picture of just what tech companies are up against, there are some clear take-outs for sales and marketing people. It makes some pretty plausible, pretty harsh predictions, including:

  1. Selling strategies that worked last year will not work in 2009
  2. Companies that significantly reduce their sales and marketing investments in 2009 will be gone by mid 2010
  3. Companies that blame their lack of selling on the economy will also fail by mid 2010
  4. Sales organisations will be asked to do more with less (no news there)
  5. Companies that shift headcount to inside sales will provide similar levels of customer touch at lower cost…and driver higher customer satisfaction
  6. Sales organisations that bolster dedicated investments in lead quality and demand generation will be rewarded with significantly higher sales productivity

There’s more in the report but that gives a fair indication.

It’s interesting that over 60% of respondents feel as confident or more confident about the prospects for sales in the next six months versus the last six months. IDC themselves project revenues on the whole as either staying flat or increasing moderately (although the more commodity end of the hardware market doesn’t look so pretty).

The scariest thing in there for me is the continuing lack of alignment between marketing and sales. On hardly any measure did respondents rate their alignment at over 50%. Fortunately, the one area that rated (slightly) over the midway mark is demand generation as this will be a critical factor in the coming year or two.

At Banner, we’ve seen the rapid change of focus into demand generation activities in the last six months. Our timely partnership with Eloqua has certainly paid off as has the succession of people we’ve sent on training as we’ve recently seen a shift into multiple projects involving content creation, sales enablement, demand generation and lead nuture.

While these could simply be a sign of the times, I personally believe that these kinds of programmes will form the bedrock for the majority of technology companies’ activities for some considerable time to come. And while this may be driven by necesity right now, in the long term it could pay huge dividends for technology companies that get it right.

Are these the best business books of all time? 5 February, 2009

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135659489_a1ffd4ceb6ChangeThis has been inviting people to nominate their top business books, (the ones that actually made a difference rather than the ones you picked up in an airport and didn’t get past chapter four). Now, in a delightfully post-modern twist, there’s going to be a book about the books – The 100 Best Business Books of All Time. You can see the list of those that made it here.

All the usual suspects are there Good to Great, In Search of Excellence, Tipping Point, Getting Things Done (which I own and have never finished to my wife’s constant amusement). It’s a good list.

The ones that I would have nominated that are already in include: Flow by the fantastically named Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, A New Brand World by Scott Bedbury, the brilliant Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie and The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley.

Ones I would add:

  • The Art of Possibility by Benjamin and Ros Zander – my all time favourite and one of the few I return to again and again. Particularly relevant just now it gives an uplifting view of living, working and managing today.
  • Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath – the best storytelling book I’ve come across with some real practical insights that I use time and again.
  • Unstuck by Keith Yamashita and Sandra Spataro – great, quick fire ways of thinking yourself out of problems.
  • Slideology by Nancy Duarte – the best book on presentation design ever by a long, long way.
  • How Customers Think by Gerald Zaltman – a complete eye-opener that clearly demonstrates that there is no such thing as a rational decision.
  • We, Me, Them and It by John Simmons – the best book on writing for business (all his other books are pretty damn good too).

Having said this, one thing about the 100 best list and the books on it – there is a danger with adopting such a canon of work that we fall into a sort of business and marketing orthodoxy. So, if I want permission marketing, I read Seth Godin. Presentations it’s Garr Reynolds. Viral it’s Malcolm Gladwell. While I love all these books, it’s really important that we regularly step outside the accepted canon (in fact outside business altogether) to find truly fresh, original thinking.

Too many theories (particularly in marketing) become established largely down to a catchy title and an engaging writing style without the evidence to back them up. As interesting and fun as this can be, it can also cost a whole heap of money for very little return.

Now, time to get back to our new Twitter-based campaign…

(Image by Butterflysha on Flickr)

How utterly cool is Prezi? 22 January, 2009

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It’s not too often I get completely wowed by a new piece of technology but Prezi has completely bowled me over.

In a nutshell, Prezi is a Flash-based presentation system that allows users to create incredibly dynamic presentations. Presentations where you can zoom in and out across a large area (no slides), create motion paths, embed images and video and do things that previously needed a pretty competent Flash developer and a whole chunk of time. It kicks traditional slideware way into touch.

And it is very, very easy.

Here’s a quick snapshot:

Prezi is currently in private beta but I got to spend a bit of time this afternoon playing with it. I took my recent writing academy deck (which you can see on Slideshare here) and put it into Prezi. You can see the result here (as long as I’ve got the sharing right) – simply click on the right arrow at the bottom right of the screen to move through the presentation).

While I’ve gone a bit zoom-tastic, consider this took just a couple of hours and required that I only had to watch a few 1 minute videos to work out how to do it. And I can download a final version of the presentation as a standalone file.

There are limitations in terms of fonts and colours at the moment (which the developers are working on) but even as it stands, it is very cool.

So there you go, zero to fanboy in a single afternoon.

Obama’s inaugural address – 2413 words of poetry 21 January, 2009

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OK, so I’m probably one of the few people in the world not to see the whole shebang live but reading the transcript in the paper today I was awestruck by the writing. It managed to be grand without being too grandiose. It felt fresh but still hit the right tone for a world-stage occasion.

There were some beautiful phrases:

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

And:

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions – who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

And:

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

Lovely stuff.

The speech uses many of the rhetorical rules and yet knows exactly when to break them for effect.

The papers are all counting up the most used words – the word ‘terror’ gets just a single mention for instance. Of course, online there are better ways of doing this using the likes of Wordle which produces this:

obama-inaugural-address

You can see the original (and make your own) here.

And for the word geeks out there, I’ve also done a quick mark-up of the speech itself to pull out some of the techniques I find interesting. You can download a PDF here.

Is this 2001 all over again? 20 January, 2009

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The Economist has an interesting (and reasonably uplifting) article comparing the bright shiny new recession of 2009 with the been there, done that tech crash of 2001.

In a nutshell, the article describes how in 2001 the technology industry ‘imploded’ going from 16% growth in 2000 to a 6% decline in 2001. In comparison, Forrester predicts IT spending to decline 3% in 2009 – and when currency weighting is taken into account this could actually mean an increase of 3%.

Now of course it would be a reckless person who breaks out the Champagne just yet. These are, after all, just predictions. But, so far, this time feels different from 2001. In that year, we had one of our best first quarters ever. Then, at the beginning of April, everything stopped. And I mean everything. Scary isn’t the word.

So far this year, and we are let’s face it not even out of January yet, we’re busy. Clients are kicking off new programmes that will see us remain pretty busy into the foreseeable future. Friends at other B2B agencies are reporting being pretty stacked too.

The Economist article points to the fact that last time round, IT companies had arguably oversold to the market (Millennium Bug anyone?) and helped inflate a bubble that then burst spectacularly. These days, IT departments are less prone to throwing money at problems and don’t have the reserves of kit to fall back on. As such, they need to keep investing to deliver against critical business requirements (which in places are becoming more critical by the day). The article quotes Mark Raskino of Gartner as saying ‘IT is certainly not sacrosanct, but fairly low on the list of things to cut.’

The winners in all this, according to the Economist, are likely to be the software as a service (SaaS) companies and open source software providers. I’d add in that green tech providers may also do well as long as they can communicate the cost benefits of going green over the perception that it is a nice to have luxury that boosts companies’ CSR activities.

We’ll see if the predictions hold true. So much depends on how long this ride will last for and how deep it will go. But, I’d maintain that technology is still one of the critical means for businesses to create a tangible competitive advantages. And the tech companies that stay the course, who demonstrate their relevance and who offer tangible benefits to customers (not simply hype and jargon) will come out strong in the innevitable upturn.