K-12 Marketers: How to Keep Productive Nov thru Jan

Be ProductiveWhen 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.

Valuable Original Content
Keep making content.

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.

 Content Photo:  Search Engine People Blog

7 Reasons Why Price Matters. A Lot.

Stack of BillsPricing 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?

Get the complete story 7 Reasons to Think Twice (or More) About Your Pricing Strategy. 

photo:  OTA

Your List: Your Business Lifeline

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.

Warm those cold leads.
Get your leads out of the cold.

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.

1,000 mile journey
The long way to get a 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.

Consolidate data.
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.

The K-12 Marketing ToolkitDownload the PDF The K-12 Marketing Toolkit: 11 Essential Components for more on having your business reach it’s potential in the K-12 marketplace.

Tree photo by  Domenico Salvagnin
Dusty road photo by Hadley Paul Garland 

Should You Blog for Business?

blogging workstation
Your blogging workstation.

It’s another in a line of naggingly tough questions.  What color to paint the house?  How can such a small toddler make such a big mess?  Should my business have a blog?

No easy answers.  But if you determine that it makes sense to take the plunge and become one with the blogosphere, the benefits can be significant.  Here are five reasons why you should:

1. Discoverability.
2. Develop a business persona.
3. Showcase your authority.
4. Provides a deep-dive into your varied business attributes.
5. Uses permission marketing.

So are you going to blog?  Read the complete Business2Community post on 5 Reasons to Blog for Business to learn more.

Now’s the Time to Build Awareness

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.

K-12 Purchasing Timeline
August is the launching pad for the entire year.

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 more on seasonality: Timing Outbound K-12 Marketing

Outbound Marketing to K-12 Education: Top-Down, Bottom-Up

A top-down, bottom-up market approach.
A top-down, bottom-up market approach.

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.

DM to K12 Ed CoverIf 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?
….and more.

Your Personality is Showing: Don’t Let Boring Messaging Kill Good Marketing

Einstein having fun
Your Personality is Showing.

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.

Still Relevant: Direct Mail Marketing to K-12 Education

Mailboxes
Emptier than they used to be.

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.

PostmarkOutside 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.

More resources.
If you’d like more information specifically on how to structure your own direct marketing program to K-12 education, download the free e-book on the subject from Insight29.

For more about direct mail in our digital world, read the Forbes piece.

 

The Recipe for K-12 Marketing Success

School BuildingIs there a single recipe for K-12 marketing success?

All businesses are different, and so are the nuances of what they need to do to succeed. But there are definitive foundational elements to building, maintaining, and running a top-flight company whose marketplace is K-12 education.

What follows is a list of what’s important to successfully do business in K-12. Or in any marketplace, for that matter. If you’re interested in more in-depth information, you’ll find it in The K-12 Marketing Toolkit, a 13-page PDF that’s available for free download. Or Direct Marketing to K-12 Education, a free 16-pager.

If it’s broke, fix it.
In my opinion, there’s nothing worse or more damaging to a business than repeating tired, vague tactics that don’t yield results. There’s a saying that they teach people learning fire safety: stop, drop, and roll. I’ll reapply the saying to further my point. Stop doing what isn’t working. Drop it like a bad habit. Roll out something different. And quickly. Make status quo thinking a four-letter word.

Make something, sell something.
It’s a simple statement, but a vitally important one. Product-driven companies focus on the “make-something” side, on occasion at the exclusion of the “sell-something” part of the business. Other companies will shortcut product development to speed a product to market. Not too good. Bake your marketing and selling into your company, just as you do for product development.

Master your channels.
Single one-offs aren’t going to get you very far, or create the groundswell you need to build awareness or sell. Coordinate your efforts so they become bigger and more impactful. Just doing more doesn’t mean success. Doing more of the right stuff means success.

Onward ho.
By the same token, your marketing should be a long, slow march. If you pay attention to your marketing efforts only on leap years, you’re going to find your business having some serious performance issues.

Time it right.
This is vitally important. Timing is everything when marketing products or services to K-12. Unless you’re tapping discretionary teacher spending, then you’re tapping school budget. And like immutable laws of physics, rules definitely apply for decision-making and spending. And even the most aggressive offer in the universe won’t change those cycles one bit.

Alway remember that keeping to the fundamentals is key. Start with a strong business plan. Always consider the path to market. Sell, sell, and then sell some more. Keep as lean as you can without hurting your operation, and in particular, your customer. Have great customer service and customer care. Understand cost structures. Recognize opportunities, and come to terms with barriers as they present themselves. Marketing and selling to K-12 isn’t easy, so go to school on the K-12 marketplace: know how difficult it is to navigate, and know what you need to do to have your voice stand out among the multitude of other voices.

Photo:  Buckyboot

Social Media & Caveman’s Fire: The Evolution of Social Media

FireAmong the leading questions I’m asked is “how do I best take advantage of social media for my business?” And there are good answers to that question. Creating content is one. Building relevant networks is another. But what I’m finding is that the real question I’m asked is “what the heck is social media, really? And please help me to make some sense of it!”

We once tamed fire. We learned how to best control it to do remarkable things like keep us warm and cook our food. While a dramatic analogy, social media is in some ways like the early interactions with fire. We know it has amazing potential. It can and already has opened new avenues and possibilities for worldwide communication. But how do we fully come to terms with it?

Though confusing for some, or maybe most, we’re exactly where social media should be right now. And like early fire, social media has untold benefits once we understand how to best use it.

Sit by the fire, relax, and read the full article at Business2Community.