Paul Graham of Y Combinator has written an excellent post called Do Things that Don’t Scale. I think it’s one of the most important posts of the year. The gist of the post is:
Actually startups take off because the founders make them take off. There may be a handful that just grew by themselves, but usually it takes some sort of push to get them going. A good metaphor would be the cranks that car engines had before they got electric starters. Once the engine was going, it would keep going, but there was a separate and laborious process to get it going.
That’s a powerful idea for a few different reasons. First, Paul’s right – achieving success in a handful of areas, even if it requires serious effort, can have a transformative impact on a business (and not just startups). Second, it’s a really accessible recommendation because just about everyone I know is capable of doing things that don’t scale. Third, I’m a fan of contrarian ideas as a competitive differentiator in business and this is definitely a contrarian idea.
This is particularly true when it comes to building relationships with people who can help make your company successful. Of course you can build relationships with lots of different people. Examples include your employees, investors, and influencers. But in my mind, the relationships that you build with your customers are the most important. That’s why the first thing I thought of when reading Paul’s post is that we should do things that don’t scale with our customers.
Over the last few years, we’ve spent tens of thousands of hours working with hundreds of different marketers. When you spend this much time with people in a certain role, one of the more interesting things you can do is try to determine the skills that make someone successful in that role. This is particularly interesting for the field of marketing simply because marketing has changed so much in the last decade. While successful marketers can exhibit a wide variety of traits, we’ve identified 11 marketing skills that really stand out today.
The buyer-centric company puts the buyer at the center of everything it does. While understanding the buyer can make just about everything a company does better, buyer research usually has the biggest impact on sales and marketing. A deep understanding of the buyer can and should be the foundation of the sales and marketing team’s process, key activities, organization, metrics, content, communications, and technology. It’s a simple, but powerful strategy that can transform a company’s ability to achieve its revenue objectives.
That’s because buyer research that helps companies understand who the buyer is, what they want, and how they make decisions has the potential to improve a variety of metrics in the revenue chain. Some of these metrics include improved conversion rates, shorter sales cycles, and larger average order sizes.
A few weeks ago, we wrote a post, How Images Drive Conversions: 15 Ways Images Can Improve Conversion Rates, that described how marketers can use images to increase conversion rates. This presentation is based on that post and summarizes the 15 tips contained in the original post as well as some additional examples that highlight how marketers can put these techniques into practice. While images are an afterthought for many marketers, it’s important to remember that many studies show that images have a significant impact on various conversion points associated with things like landing pages, product catalogs, and emails.
Webinars are an essential part of any content marketing and demand generation program. One question I always get about webinars is: if buyers are so busy, how does anyone have the time to sit through an hour long webinar? Loren MacDonald from Silverpop once wrote a brilliant answer to this question: “Many people view webinars as an hour of free consulting and training”. Webinars allow organizations to open a classroom for an hour and provide valuable, interactive content to their prospects and customers. As such, they are a very effective tool for driving customer engagement. They also tend to convert at a high rate because there is a deadline to register. With written content, people can “get to it when they have time”. With webinars, people who want to attend will make sure they register in a timely fashion.
One of the most profound changes in sales and marketing in recent years is the idea that companies should focus on engaging customers more than selling products. A big part of the customer engagement movement involves using various communication techniques to create a meaningful relationship where the customer values you and your company, independent of what you’re selling.
There’s been some analysis on a handful of techniques that can drive engagement. Popular examples include social media, storytelling, and content marketing. But most of this analysis has focused on tactical execution, as opposed to how knowing what the customer really wants (read: the customer’s psychology) can help you drive engagement.
Robin Dreeke has written a book called It’s Not All About Me. It’s a primer on how to use ten different communication skills to build rapport with people. Dreeke is the head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program and his recommendations are based on a good understanding of evolutionary and social psychology, as well as years of experience in the field.
Marketers spend $33B a year on market research. It’s a huge number that’s driven by marketing’s never-ending quest to understand what the customer really wants. It goes without saying that companies that understand and deliver exactly what the customer wants across product development, marketing, sales, and customer service have a distinct advantage. Marketers have always understood this. So why is that so few marketers are able gather customer insights that truly impact the business?
The short answer is that traditional market research is broken. The long answer is that traditional market research makes gathering high quality customer insights really hard. Legacy research techniques are expensive and time consuming and make it difficult to have meaningful conversations with prospects and customers. When forced to make the seemingly inevitable tradeoff between quality and cost, many marketers have opted for the low cost, low quality option. In this world, market research becomes a perfunctory exercise – something that simply doesn’t impact the company’s performance. In fact, many marketing organizations just get out of the research game all together, choosing instead to treat the market research function as something that’s meant to keep third party analysts and thought leaders happy.
Everyone’s a publisher now. It’s one of the most common refrains you’ll hear in the world of content marketing. And it’s true. A couple of years ago, one of the bosses of content marketing, Joe Chernov, told me, “We all have the means to be a publisher now. There’s been a massive disintermediation between somebody who wants to publish and an audience to reach. You don’t have to go to a printing press anymore. You can publish on a blog. You can publish on Twitter. Technology has enabled brands to do this wherein the past it was relegated to only the biggest companies.”
The vendor-as-publisher concept is a powerful one, but acting like a publisher is a lot harder than saying you’re a publisher. One of the more common questions our clients ask us is: “how do we scale our content marketing program”? It’s another way of asking “how do we act like a publisher”? A recent study by the Content Marketing Institute highlights the problem. When asked to identify their top content marketing challenge, marketers cited three primary issues:
1. Producing high quality content – 41% of respondents
2. Producing enough content – 20% of respondents
3. Producing content on a limited budget – 18% of respondents
This data highlights what you might call content marketing’s perfect storm: how can marketers create high quality content at scale with a limited budget?
One of the most important factors in creating a scalable, repeatable revenue machine is sales and marketing alignment. In aligned organizations, sales and marketing are working together in a coordinated effort to achieve the ultimate goal: revenue. There is compelling data that highlights the effectiveness of aligned organizations:
- Organizations with tightly-aligned sales and marketing had 36% higher customer retention rates and achieved 38% higher sales win rates – MarketingProfs
- Companies with dynamic, adaptable sales and marketing processes had an average of 10% more of their sales people on quota – CSO Insights
- Aligned organizations achieved an average of 32% annual revenue growth while less aligned companies reported an average 7% decline in revenue – Forrester Research
- B2B organizations with tightly aligned sales and marketing operations achieved 24% faster growth and 27% faster profit growth over a three year period – Sirius Decisions
Despite these statistics and years of emphasis, sales and marketing alignment continues to be a struggle. The good news is that there is a desire to change. The biggest impetus for this new mind-set has come from sales. Sales now realizes that buying behavior has changed and marketing now must own a significant portion of the buying process. A recent Sirius Decisions poll
of 300 sales leaders highlights this: “The top third of the sales cycle has gone away. Salespeople believe that the beginning of the traditional sales process has evaporated and that buyers are self-servicing their needs instead of engaging with salespeople.” Sales needs marketing now more than ever.
Pop ups are making a comeback. That’s somewhat surprising news given that the pop up had been relegated to the underbelly of the internet after a run as one of the internet’s more dominant forms of advertising. The pop up peak came a little over ten years ago when the number of pop ups served grew from 1.2 billion in January 2002 to 4.9 billion in September 2002. At about the same time, a Gartner study revealed that 78% of people found pop ups to be “very annoying”. As a result, most credible websites eliminated pop ups from their ad inventory, in spite of the excellent conversion rates they offered to advertisers.
The resurgence in pop ups is still about conversions, but for many marketers, today’s pop up is less of an advertisement and more of a feature that’s integrated into a website. As a result, pop ups are able to strike more of a balance between achieving high conversion rates and offering a good experience to the visitor.
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