Fishing offers a great analogy for marketing, communicating, and growing your business, and provides valuable marketing lessons. Patience, knowledge, and working smart are the best ways to put a fish on your plate for dinner, and to add more customers to your growing client list.
You can’t catch fish if you don’t have a line in the water. Fish don’t just jump in the boat. All lines in the water. Businesses that operate with a “build it and they will come” mentality won’t reach potential.
The bigger the bait, the bigger the fish. If you’re up for catching the big fish, do what’s necessary in your industry to attract them and land them.
Just because you can see a fish doesn’t mean you can catch it. You know they’re there. But unless you can engage, then nothing happens. Know what you need to use to pull them in.
You can use sonar, technology, and the most expensive gear to be successful. Or you can use a hook tied to kite string with a corn nibblet on the end. The simple approach might be less sophisticated, but not necessarily less successful. Understand what works best for you.
Does your outbound communications tell your unique story, and allow you to differentiate and stand apart from your competition? So how do you stand out in your highly competitive marketplace?
True differentiation happens when you weave what’s important to your business into the very fabric of your company, and clearly communicate that outward. In time, it will become what you’re known for, and will create the level of differentiation you need to be a standout provider.
Tell your story before you list your product’s features.
When marketing to K-12, the timeframe from Thanksgiving through New Years can be a challenging time to get the attention of educators and it’s hard to stay productive. So what do K-12 marketers do when our outbound calendars are lean?
Retool the website.
Your website is the living, breathing, and very public billboard for your company. Lift up the hood and take a good long look at it, and adjust where necessary. Are you leading with how you address the market’s pain points? Is your content fully up-to-date, and accessible? More on web presences here.
Develop more content.
Content development defines your SEO, so make sure you’re developing an ongoing stream of important information to help you get found, and to show how important your offering is once that happens. This is time consuming, so now’s the time. Also, don’t neglect your offline content (aka sales sheets, one-sheets, and brochures). Offline content helps your sales and distribution channels, so now’s the time to make sure yours is finely honed. Read more on content marketing for K-12 here.
Make a video.
If you don’t use videos, odds are you should. They’re great for communicating to your busy, multitasking, “I don’t have time to read this” audience. Despite the fact they’re only 90 seconds or so, they take significant time to make a great one, so start right now and get if ready for January.
Talk with sales.
Marketing should be talking with sales. A lot. Few in the company have a better grasp on how the marketplace is responding to company and product messages like the sales team. Go retro, pick up the phone, and bend an ear. More importantly, do your best listening and let your ear get bent. More on marketing and sales interactions here.
Talk with customer service.
Customer service can give marketers great information on what customers love — and what they don’t love so much.
Revamp the outbound schedule for Jan-April.
Odds are, you’ve learned a lot from the results of your Aug-Nov work. Revisit the remaining school year deployment calendar, and fine-tune as needed. More on timing the K-12 cycle here.
Structure, clean, and organize your lists.
Lists are your lifeblood. Make sure yours are clean, well-organized, and segmented according to usage needs. Now’s a great time for doing just that. Read more about lists here.
Do something different.
Nothing is as detrimental to ongoing growth as a rigid and ceaseless diet of status quo. Change that, and change that quickly. How about reallocating 15% of your budget to do something entirely new? You can only think out of the box if you get yourself, well, out of the box. Read more about embracing change here.
Pricing a product or service “right” is among the most difficult decisions that any company makes. Pricing is a choice, and one that carries enormous ramifications. The “right” price is highly subjective but essential to achieve your business goals. Don’t slap a price on your product and see what happens. Think long and hard about it. Then think again. Here are 7 reasons why:
Your pricing strategy should support your overall business objectives.
Price is a HUGE differentiator. And sometimes the only differentiator.
Price defines your brand.
Price defines your customer.
Price will alter your business operations.
Price will affect the way you market and sell your product.
Your market can be incredible price sensitive. Or not. Do you know which?
Hopefully your company has well-defined processes to develop and collect qualified contacts, leads, customers, and anyone in your target market with whom you want to communicate. If not, now’s the time.
Prospect and customer list development and management goes right up among the most important business development projects you can undertake. Just as with social media, your outbound communications will be wasted if the network you’ve built isn’t relevant and qualified.
I’ve heard “but we get all our lists from outside providers” as a rationale for weak or non-existent contact lists. Outside providers will give you lists of cold leads. That’s a great place to start.
It’s a 1,000 mile journey from cold lead to customer.
It’s frequently a long and costly journey to convert a cold lead to a customer. Seems like common sense, but the warmer the lead going in, the easier that conversion becomes.
Here are the definitions I’m using. A cold lead is contacted by you without knowledge of their level of interest. They are part of the demographic that should theoretically want your widget, but they haven’t shown any sign. A warm lead has established a level of interaction with your company – requested information from you, downloaded some e-material, asked to be put on your mailing list. A hot lead is raring to go, already in the sales funnel, and the likelihood of a transaction happening is good.
Conferences are notorious for producing cold leads. That’s not the fault of the conference or its attendees, but rather of the lead-collection practices of the participating companies. If your lead generation consists of collecting business cards for a raffle, then don’t be surprised when you don’t get customers from the lead pile. Those folks are hunters of free stuff and not qualified to be your customers. A better way to work conferences? Ask for someone’s time. Have them sit for a product demonstration. If they’re willing to devote 15-20 minutes to you, then they have demonstrated interest. Interest = warm lead.
Break some rules.
Without question, you should be creating outbound marketing initiatives and communicating with your prospects on a routine basis. Define routine as best suits your business. And don’t follow conventional wisdom. That results in conventional results, not the stellar performance we seek. For sake of example, mobile food trucks might be tweeting their whereabouts every hour and that might not be frequent enough. For some businesses, contacting your list every two or three weeks might be too much. Use your judgment, and closely monitor your unsubscribes to see if you’re seeing spikes.
Ask questions of your data, then segment accordingly.
This may seem obvious, but if a description of your ideal customer is principals of elementary schools in underperforming, highly-funded surburban fringe areas in the Southwest, then your contact list better be segmented to allow you to get to that specific criteria. Particularly in education, there are many roles and levels of influence, and each state has different purchasing practices. So if you can’t currently segment, figure out how to make that happen. It’s essential for a successful marketing program.
Good lists are a tremendous benefit for companies. So the list of last month’s newsletter sign-ups that reside on Mary’s laptop – and only on Mary’s laptop — doesn’t do anyone else any good. So create a process for list storage and make sure those who will benefit – that’s you sales and marketing – have proper access.
Only qualified leads need apply.
Remember, prospect lists are a garbage-in, garbage out proposition. So you’re in a much better position if you add warm leads only. Otherwise, your hard working sales and marketing team will be doing nothing but cold-calling, which is difficult, thankless, and costly in both time and money.
Jettison the deadbeats.
Warm leads that are contacted over time without advancement define themselves as cold leads. Make sure you’re pulling out non-responders from your list so you’re not wasting both time and money.
Home-grown prospect lists married with a strong outbound marketing program is a great way to outpace your competition and sell to your potential. Remember, if you’re not actively creating and deploying outbound marketing then the assumption is your product sells itself. And you know that the real world just doesn’t work that way.
As I post this, it’s mid-August. We escape the remaining dog days at the pool, the beach, and maybe even in air-conditioned offices. But if you market products or services to K-12 education, then now’s the time to build awareness. Now’s when you announce to the market who you are, why you’re special, and what makes your products so amazing.
Since K-12 education mostly purchases on a school year cycle, the marketing work done now for most products and services feed into the 2014-15 year that culminates in a summertime purchase. So right now, you’re firmly on the launching pad of your entire sales year.
So the clock is ticking. Loudly. You’ve got until mid-November to work past introductions and into the range of familiarity. That’s because in January, your core marketplace – K-12 school districts – are entering into the “Consideration, Trial, and Purchase” phase. So are you ready?
If so, here’s what you’ve got at your disposal:
An Outbound Plan
An integrated approach is key, since the best plans won’t tie themselves to a single outbound mechanism. We put a lot of weight on email marketing these days. Part of the problem with that is so does your competition, so prospecting lists are overused. While email communications should be a strong arrow in your quiver, an email only strategy might leave you lean in the leads department. Augment email with other viable direct-contact techniques.
An Inbound Plan
We hear a lot about inbound these days, but rest assured it’s not a fad. Inbound marketing programs build highly qualified leads, critical for smart business acquisition and to kick your outbound email campaigns into overdrive. By creating great content and making sure that it’s discoverable, you’re developing your potential customer base in an unassuming way. Tie together your inbound and outbound tactical approaches for best results.
A Wickedly Good Sales Presentation
If you have a strong sales channel, now’s the time to tweak the sales presentation to make sure it’s incorporating your most recent positioning and accurately represents your product offerings. A more modular approach to a sales presentation is always the way to go. It allows the right flexibility so your sales team can be nimble during the range of sales situations they’re likely to encounter.
A Top-Notch Web Presence
It’s the first place that your market will go when exploring the pros and cons of signing on as a customer. The money you invest in a quality website loaded with great content is money well-spent. Without a doubt, it’s the face of your business. The more that face is friendly, current, and loaded with customer-facing content that shows you understand and can help solve the biggest problems out there, the easier closing business becomes.
The Right Disposition
Hopefully July allowed for rest, relaxation, and some time to recoup. Because now comes crunch time, followed by the long-haul. And then it begins all over again! We serve an amazing, important, and at-times quirky marketplace. It takes a lot of work, but it’s always worth the effort. The rewards can certainly be amazing.
For those of you who are veterans of selling and marketing to K-12 education, you already know what a challenging market it is. It’s a place where purchasers, influencers, and users are a tangled and confusing jumble of business office staff, administrators in district offices and at the school site, and classroom educators. It’s a market that differs from state-to-state, and each district may have distinct practices that make it unique. And Common Core isn’t going to make it any easier.
For traditional K-12 educational selling, sales generally pursues district-wide or multi-school orders, what’s termed “top-down” sales. Their communications are to high-level administrators. Direct outbound marketing can add reach and awareness by focusing on school-based influencers – critical to a purchasing cycle within education– with a “bottom-up” strategy. It also establishes and reinforces key messages to both influencers and decision-makers, greatly increasing brand awareness and making the sales process work smoother.
Depending on product offering, smart direct outbound tactics can uncover sales opportunities that don’t require sales rep intervention. This frees rep time to pursue larger opportunities rather than chase smaller and less significant accounts. When marketing and sales works in a coordinated effort with this “top-down bottom-up” strategy, the potential for increased business is significant.
If K-12 is your marketplace, then download the free 16 page white paper Direct Marketing to K-12 Education: A Review. Topics include:
• The First 7 Steps: How to Initiate a Direct Marketing Program
• Will It Work for My K-12 Business?
• Who Should I Target?
• The Contact List: The Lifeblood of DM
• What’s Most Important in a Direct Marketing Initiative?
Regardless of what you market, from ball bearings to particle accelerators, you communicate with people, not companies. People don’t want to be talked at. Like you and me, people want to be talked to. We don’t want to hear another blatant sales pitch. We want to know that our needs are understood and can be met.
And we don’t want to be bored. Having a serious product in a serious marketplace does not mean you need to have dull and droning marketing. Boring = no interest = no sale. But, like most things in life, it’s just not that easy.
Read my Business2Community post for tips on personalizing your messaging and trim the blah blah blah from your writing.
Direct mail is very old. Like 150 years old. But sometimes, erroneously, old is viewed as irrelevant, especially in our hyper-speed, Mountain Dew fueled digital world.
For outbound, digital tactics have all but eclipsed direct mail marketing. And in many, many ways, that’s a great thing. Digital offers some enormous benefits, like speed to market, quick testing opportunities, and lower costs.
But the success of any outbound marketing program is based heavily on list quality and responsiveness. This is where outbound digital-only marketing plans suffer. Email lists are difficult to keep clean and relevant. We typically have at most two physical addresses, home and work. We have change-of-address forms to make sure our addressing information is up-to-date. But most of us have many email addresses. Old work addresses, unused email accounts (like gmail, yahoo) that are needed to take advantage of proprietary software. If someone is prospecting to those addresses we don’t actively monitor, the emails are getting through but aren’t getting read.
Another issue is that — and this is based on my own experience — most companies don’t work very hard at or know how to keep their email lists clean. Many times lists are scattered, reside far and wide within the organization, and are filled with questionable email addresses.
Outside of some retail catalogers, most companies are doing less direct mail, if any at all. The overall perception is that mail costs more; it’s more labor intensive; it takes too long to get out into the marketplace; and a very real issue….no one on staff really knows how to do it.
All are valid concerns. But I believe adding mail as part of an overall integrated outbound strategy when marketing to K-12 offers an opportunity to stand out, be noticed, and drive revenue. Here’s why:
Educators are a mail market.
Educators like mail. It’s a high visibility, low-interruption tactic. I’ve been sending mail to K-12 educators for 20 years. Many have specifically told me that this is what they do: they initially scan an offering and if there’s potential, they file the mail in their drawer. When budget time rolls around, they revisit their mail file and see what might fit their upcoming needs.
In-boxes are jammed. Mailboxes aren’t.
Since we’re heavily reliant on email marketing, educator’s in-boxes are overstuffed with offers. Since there’s less direct mail than there once was, mailboxes offer an opportunity to stand out.
Works well within the K-12 purchasing cycle.
If your product or service taps school budgets and is purchased on a school cycle, you’re sending lead generation messages in the fall, and move to order generation messages from January until May. But ordering typically doesn’t happen until the summer. When the purchasing season rolls around, an educator can put a sticky-note on a direct mail piece that says “order this for me please” and forward it to their business office for purchasing. Because of that, mail survives the rigid timing cycle much better than email.
In conclusion, direct mail shouldn’t replace your outbound email marketing strategies, but rather augment them. As part of an overall integrated outbound program, don’t dismiss mail until you test its merit.