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By nature, entrepreneurs and marketers tend to be optimistic folks. But let’s face it, despite our great marketing ideas and positive outlook; things don’t always work out as planned. Over the next few posts I’m going to briefly address what I believe are the top reasons why marketing results don’t always live up to expectations, and what you can do to avoid these pitfalls. So let’s jump in to this week’s post with Pitfall number 1:
Lack of a Clear Unique Selling Proposition (USP)?
Wait. If you’re inclined to skip this topic because you feel like it’s just marketing jargon, please don’t. From my experience, this is a game changer. You see, a properly crafted unique selling proposition forms the foundation of your entire go-to-market strategy. It drives every single part of the marketing and sales process. If you have clarity around your unique selling proposition, marketing and selling can feel downright easy. If you lack clarity in your unique selling proposition, sales and marketing can feel like you’re walking uphill both ways.
What is a Unique Selling Proposition?
Simply put, it’s what sets you apart from your competitors. Why should someone buy from you instead of your competitors? If YOU don’t clearly know the answer to this question, then I will 100% guarantee your prospects don’t know the answer. This is a big problem that will lead to losing business over and over and over again. You’re just one of the masses.
That doesn’t mean your product or service has to be one-of-a-kind. Few are. Just look at the number of pizza chains, daycare facilities, law firms, website design firms, and business consulting firms that exist. It does mean, however, you need to differentiate yourself in some way – maybe it’s your overall philosophy, your level of customer service, your highly specialized expertise or experience, your pricing model, etc.
Let me give you a couple examples you’re already familiar with:
Walmart is the place to go for the lowest price. (that’s maybe or maybe not be true for everything, but that is the USP that’s been drilled into our psyche since most of us were toddlers)
Subway is a healthy alternative to other fast food chains. (it depends on what you order, but again, this is a USP we all hear on a daily basis)
Yes, these are companies with huge marketing budgets, but the USP is not about the spend. Let me give you another example. This is from one of my clients who owns a daycare and private elementary franchise in the Orlando, FL area.
StarChild Academy offers the strongest academic preschool and private elementary school programs in Central Florida. (That about sums it up right? If you want your child to have the most advanced academic experience in the area, this is your place!)
A Great USP Means You Can’t Be All Things To All People.
Walmart clearly isn’t going after folks who prefer shopping at Neiman Marcus… and that’s “OK” (assuming you’d be “OK” with doing 473 billion in net sales!). They are not trying to be all things to all people. Your business is no different. Many small business owners are hesitant to take a stand and carve out a market niche, fearing they’ll be limiting sales opportunities – when in fact, the opposite is true in almost all cases. While your message may not resonate with all people, in cases where it does resonate, you have an immediate competitive advantage.
Don’t be afraid to take a stand and carve out a niche, just like WalMart, Subway,and StarChild Academy. Your business will be better for it.
How To Identify Your Unique Selling Proposition
Before providing a few tips, my general recommendation is to have an external marketing consultant help you with this, whether that’s me or someone else. It’s not because we’re smarter or that we know your business better than you – that’s definitely NOT the case. It’s because a true objective, outside view of the situation is an absolute requirement to nailing down your unique selling proposition. In many cases, leaders within the business are actually “too close” to the product/service/company to take a 100% objective view. The goal here is to view the situation just like a brand new prospect would see it. A good marketing pro will be in a better position to view things from the outside, deliver candid feedback, and start you down the right path. If you want more details or pricing info, visit Higgins Marketing Group’s Unique Selling Proposition page.
Here are a few tips to help you hone in on your Unique Selling Proposition…
Why did your current customers choose you? Why do they stay?
There is no substitute for talking with your current customers. Often you’ll be surprised by what you hear. You might think they selected you because of your software’s great new data export feature, when in fact it was because you were the only company that offered a 30-day money back guarantee. If a customer has been with you a good while, ask them the direct question… why do you stay? Maybe you’re easy-to-work with, maybe your customer service team jumps through hoops, maybe you update your products on a frequent basis. Any of these might begin to form the foundation of a great unique selling proposition. Talk to your customers!
Is there a guarantee you’d be willing to offer that you competitors won’t?
Guarantees are powerful. It shows you’re confident in your offering and that you’re prepared to stand behind it if a customer is not satisfied. For your prospect, it makes you stand out from the crowd, it reduces their risk and makes it easier for them to say “yes.” Again, this makes some business owners a bit nervous. Is there a chance you’ll need to refund some money? Sure. But what could a strong guarantee mean in gaining customers you never would have landed?
Are there unique and tangible results that can be highlighted by your customers?
Here’s a idea… maybe your unique value proposition is based on the fact you actually deliver results! Sounds like a basic thing, but I bet most of your competitors are primarily pitching their products, not the results that real customers are experiencing. By making your existing customers a central part of your ongoing marketing, you are elevating yourself from the ranks of all your competitors pitching product features. Over time, this becomes a strong unique selling proposition that is implicit in everything your prospects see and hear about your company… you have raving customers who are willing to share their experiences, they are pointing to specific business results that demonstrate the utility of your offering. What better way to be seen as unique!
What are the masses doing?
This one is more of a signal about what to avoid. In most markets, there comes a time when what WAS once unique, is no longer unique. It may seem like every website you visit for a product or service all say the same thing… “we’re easy to use, we’ve got great service, we’re affordable”. If this sounds like your market, don’t add to the noise. Don’t be just another company leading with these things. No question ease-of-use, customer service, and price are all important to the prospect, but don’t lead with this. Push yourself to identify something truly unique that you can lead with (in order to open the door with your prospect), then build value around the “less unique” aspects as a secondary objective. Remember, people expect your product to be easy to use and they expect you to offer good service. Even though these things may truly be differentiators for your company, it can be a hard case to make when everyone is saying the same thing.
In part 1 of this series, I discussed the importance of finding your unique voice. Great marketing really does start there. If you missed it, make sure and read my post on identifying your unique selling proposition.
In part 2 of the pitfall series, let’s turn our attention to a big problem. It’s a problem I see with well over 80% of clients (not exaggerating a bit). What’s the problem? – Marketing messages that are WAY TOO COMPLEX. It’s an easy trap to fall into – and worst of all, most clients have no idea they’ve even fallen into the trap! It’s the classic case of being too close to the issue… not “seeing the forest for the trees.”
Before we address why it happens and what we can do about it, let’s take a quick second to discuss why simplicity and clarity are so important to marketing. People write entire books on this topic, but I’m just going to boil it down to a quick example for this post. Imagine you’re the CEO of a construction business and you’re looking for a good accounting firm. You visit two websites. Here’s is the headline copy on each homepage…
Welcome to ABC Company. Through our specialized construction accounting expertise and the team mentality of our staff, we help you optimize your company’s tax strategies through thorough analysis, detailed planning, and proper execution.
Let us tend to the “heavy lifting” when it comes to your accounting needs!
Not sure about you, but I’ll probably quickly bail from website 1. As the CEO of a construction company, the LAST thing I need is more complexity – and these guys want to take me deep into the weeds right away – I’m GONE. Website 2, on the other hand, hits me at a gut level. I quickly get it. I’d like to at least spend a few more seconds to see what they’re all about.
So Why Do We Over Complicate Things?
I think there are three primary reasons…
THE EXPERTISE TRAP: When it comes to small business marketing, the “brains behind the operation” is usually heavily involved in generating content (website copy, brochures, whitepapers, etc.). Often this is the CEO and/or senior leaders in the company. The good news is that these folks usually know the market, the business and the company’s products inside and out. The bad news is they’re usually not skilled marketers. Subject-matter-experts and marketers are two very different animals.
What’s the result of having subject-matter-experts driving the marketing content? It’s marketing that is very company and product focused – marketing that is quick to dive into all the details – marketing that tends to be more COMPANY focused rather than PROSPECT focused. What seems to be a very simple concept or value proposition to the subject-matter-expert within the company, is often a confusing heap of words to the prospect. It’s not the case 100% of the time, but more often than not.
THE BUZZWORD TRAP: If you want to make sure you overcomplicate your message (and at the same time, sound just like all your competitors), this is the way to do it! Don’t assume all your prospects use, understand, or appreciate all the industry speak.
I was in the HR industry for many years. One of the terms I always thought was just plain awful was “human capital.” I can’t tell you how many vendors helped their clients “fully leverage their most important asset – their human capital.” What the %^$# does that even mean!???? If you’re going to help me reduce my employee turnover, just tell me that! If you’re going to help my sales people sell more stuff, just tell me that. Ughhh…
THE FEATURE DUMP TRAP: This is a classic pitfall. The features of your product or service are important. There’s no debating that. However, resist the urge to lead with this. You’re first priority in marketing should always be to get your prospect’s attention. What’s the most effective way to make this happen? It’s by focusing on the END GAME – what your product will actually achieve for the prospect. Introducing features before you’ve set the “value hook” is a sure fire way to loose potential customers!
So How Do I Simplify My Marketing Messages?
I’m pretty passionate about this topic, and it’s a theme that underscores a lot of what I share personally with clients, and publically on my blog. If you need help in this area, I’d encourage you to take 2 seconds to subscribe to my blog.
For today though, I want to leave you with a real simple tip. If you always keep this top of mind, you’ll be in good shape. I call it the 5th Grader Test.
No matter how innovative or complex your product or service might be, you MUST be able to boil it down to terms that any 5th grader can understand. Forget about the fact that your prospects might be college educated, might be physicians, or might literally be rocket scientists. You’re initial pitch must still hit them at a gut level – using words and phrasing that are easily comprehended by a bunch of 10 year olds.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? In practice though, it’s a lot more difficult than it sounds. You’ll be surprised at how hallenged you are by all the “baggage” you bring to the task of writing good marketing copy – your own expertise, your industry’s buzzwords, and your product’s great features! Resist the urge to go there in your initial pitch. Instead, think like a 5th grader!
This is part 3 of my 4-part series on common marketing pitfalls. In the previous posts, I’ve discussed how to identify your unique selling proposition and how to simplify your marketing messages. Be sure to check them out if you have a minute!
In part 3, let’s shift our attention to another pitfall I see all too often… a disjointed, unfocused approach to marketing.
For most small businesses, marketing has evolved slowly over the years. They’ve been largely influenced by what others say they should be doing (whether that’s a vendor encouraging them to use a specific software tool, or a friend saying they need to be on Facebook.)
Over time, what results is a patchwork of marketing tactics that becomes tough to manage and delivers a small fraction of the value (i.e., SALES) that it should. You know what it looks like… marketing becomes a collection of disjointed tactics:
- Sending an occasional email blast
- Running a print ad for a couple months in an local magazine or industry publication
- Starting a weekly blog… that quickly turns into a monthly blog… then a quarterly blog
- Creating social media profiles, but not having a longer term plan on how to promote them
- Submitting your website to a company that will get you on 1000 online directories
If any of this hits home, I’d encourage you to take a step back and reevaluate your current approach. It will take some time and effort, but your marketing will be much better for it. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Clearly Define Your Target (I mean REALLY define your target buyer)
You probably already have a good sense for who your customers are, but I’d like you to think about them more specifically: Are they clustered in a particular geography or industry? How old are they? Where do they meet (in person or online)? What business challenges keeps them up at night? What trends are they being impacted by?
Having a very clear sense of your buyer “personas” is a key step in helping you select the most effective marketing channels for your company. It will also help you create messaging and offers that are more likely to resonate.
2. Take Care of Your Marketing Foundation First.
When most people think of marketing, they think about getting the phone to ring, or getting more traffic to their websites. These things are important, but they’re also a great way to flush a lot of money down the drain if you haven’t tended to the foundation of your core messaging and website experience. I’d compare it to trying to sell your home by hosting an open house – but when potential buyers arrive, all they see is dusty furniture and dirty dishes.
Think about your visitor’s first impression of your website. Is it visually impactful? Can they fully understand what benefit you can provide in the first 5-10 seconds? If you answered “no” to these questions, my advice is to stop (or at least scale back) your promotion efforts immediately. Then start doing the work of dusting the furniture and doing the dishes!
3. It’s Not About Doing Everything.
Budget is always a factor when it comes to marketing. In many cases, the marketer with $100 dollars to spend will aim to spread this across 10 different tactics, investing just $10 in each tactic.
There are a couple problems with this. First, it almost always creates a situation where your individual marketing tactics are underfunded. As a result, we’re not giving them a fair chance to succeed. Second, it becomes a very tough strategy to manage – with 10 elements all competing for your time and attention.
What’s a better approach? Let’s take that same $100, and spread it across only our top 4 marketing tactics. This allows you to fund each tactic at an optimal level. It also allows you to go deep in managing/optimizing these efforts rather than being stretched too thin.
Great marketing is not about doing everything. It’s about doing a few things great. I really do believe this.
4. Go where the return on investment is.
This one is short and simple. As a good marketer, you owe it to yourself (and your company) to make sure every dollar spent is put to optimal use. Take some time to consider how each marketing tactic is contributing to revenue generation. Inevitably, you’ll find certain tactics consistently outperform others. These are the winners. Find ways to further optimize these tactics and consider making additional investments in them.
On the other hand, don’t be afraid to dump the tactics that really don’t seem to be achieving your objectives. Don’t feel compelled to stay with a losing strategy just because “that’s what your company has always done.” Your time and money are best spent on areas you know are producing a solid return on investment.
This is the final post of my four-part series on common small business marketing pitfalls. If you’d like to access the other topics in this series, you can access those here…
Today, I’d like to discuss a big missed opportunity for most businesses: Failure to nurture sales leads over the long-term.
If you talk with effective sales people, they’ll tell you they love getting a decisive “yes” or “no” answer from a prospect. Of course a “yes” means they just closed a deal. Everyone understands why that’s a positive. But effective sales people also don’t mind hearing “no” because it means there is closure. It means they can stop spending time with an unqualified prospect and move on to the next opportunity. It varies by business, but collectively, the prospects that provide a quick and decisive “yes” or “no” represent only about 30% of people.
So… here’s the question. What is your organization doing to nurture the other 70% – the 70% that have some level of interest, but they’re just not ready to pull the trigger right away? If you’re like many companies, the answer is NOT MUCH. These prospects all too often get put into a general pile of “tire kickers” while the sales folks move on to find the next quick win.
Don’t make this mistake! There is significant sales potential within this group of prospects; you just need to know how to nurture them without exhausting your limited sales resources.
Basically, you need to find a way to put these prospects on auto-pilot. By that, I mean finding a way to stay connected and establish a relationship over time through frequent communication and adding value. Over time, you can expect some percentage of these prospects to “raise their hand” and let you know they’re now ready to buy (or at least have a serious buying conversation). This is what lead nurturing is all about.
No question, when it’s executed well, LEAD NURTURING WORKS.
So here are five ways to ensure your lead nurturing is on the right track…
1) You Need to Leverage Technology (but not just any technology)
The key to successful lead nurturing is treating each prospect appropriately for where they’re at in the marketing cycle. So that often means hundreds or thousands of individual prospects each at a unique step in the process – and requiring a unique email communication. Don’t even think about managing this through an Excel spreadsheet and manual emails. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Email management systems get you a bit closer. Many offer the ability to create “DRIP” email campaigns – essentially “enrolling” prospects into a series of email communications, with each prospect being managed on their own unique timeline. It’s a step in the right direction, but it still doesn’t support truly personalized lead nurturing.
To really optimize your lead nurturing efforts, look for a good marketing automation system. Why a marketing automation system versus simple DRIP campaigns? The big difference lies in activity tracking and the triggering of actions based on certain rules. Here are a couple quick examples:
- monitoring the email links a prospect is clicking on, and then automatically serving up future content that is tailored to their specific interests,
- allowing your prospects to indicate a preference for email frequency, and then automatically changing frequency based on those preferences,
- based on specific actions a prospect takes, follow-up tasks can be immediately assigned to your sales team.
There are several solid tools out there, but I think the top choice for small business is Infusionsoft. It handles all our marketing automation at Higgins Marketing Group and I love it.
2) Be Personal
Yes, you need to use technology, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be impersonal. Highly effective lead nurturing is personal. You’re trying to establish a relationship, so make sure the tone of your emails are friendly and professional… not stuffy or corporate.
Another important way to be more personal is through segmentation. Make sure you are not treating all your prospects the same. Segment your prospect lists based on their preferences and behaviors.
Let’s say you are marketing for an online bike store. A prospect, Marie Smith, download a white paper on the “Top Triathlon Bikes of 2015”? You’d want to “tag/segment” Marie in your database as having interest in Triathlon bikes. Then… you should start sending her content related to triathlon bikes and gear. Don’t treat all your prospects the same. Don’t keep sending Marie emails about beach cruisers.
3) It’s About Providing Value, Not Over-Pitching
The fastest way to get prospects to opt out of your emails is to be in their face, pitching your product. Yes, the ultimate goal is to turn prospects into customers, but rushing the process will only hurt your efforts.
I often ask clients to envision their prospects getting into a chilly pool. If you’re there to push them in, their body immediately reacts to the chilly water and they jump out! (You just lost your chance to do business with them.) What if, on the other hand, you let them ease their way into to pool slowly – allowing them a chance to acclimate to the water… and get comfortable. That’s good lead nurturing.
So how do you do it? Keep the 4:1 ratio in mind.
For every 4 value-add emails you send, you “earn the right” to send one promotion email.
If your value-to-promo ratio starts getting too heavy on the promo side, you risk losing good prospects.
4) Execute When It’s GO TIME!
Quick true story… a few months back I was investigating some niche software providers to support Higgins Marketing Group. One company immediately put me into a lead nurturing sequence as a result of downloading an online resource.
It was really good content. So good that they gained my trust and I decided to reach out to them to request pricing information.
What do you think happened? The lead nurturing emails kept coming, but no call, no pricing. I tried a second time to reach out. The lead nurturing emails kept coming, no call, no pricing. Honestly, it still pisses me off just to write about it! Seriously it’s a huge pet peeve of mine, but I know most prospects feel the same way.
There’s not much more I need to say here. If you’re going through all the work to nurture your leads, make sure you’re responsive when one of those prospects raises their hand and wants to interact with an actual human!
5) Don’t Forget to Remove Your New Clients
There is nothing quite as bad: You close the deal with one of the prospects you’ve been nurturing, but you fail to remove them from your lead nurturing sequence.
John just bought your great new software, yet he keeps getting emails asking him to buy your GREAT NEW SOFTWARE! If John wasn’t aware he was part of an automated email sequence before, he sure is now. Not a good thing! Make sure you remove your new customers from all prospect oriented email sequences.
(As an aside, I highly encourage clients to use email automation to remain connected to their customers, but that messaging should be entirely different. A topic for another day.)
I’m sure you have been exposed to one or more of these as well! With a little planning, thought and a good automated solution, these can all be avoided.