We’re sharpening the focus of content here on Beyond Startup to better help you, second stage entrepreneurs, connect to the resources you need for growth. Now you can chose what content is most important to you:
- Stay tuned to Beyond Startup for advice on all things entrepreneurial.
- For inspiration specifically for your marketing and sales — subscribe to my new weekly marketing tips blog at catherinejuon.com.
What to expect next week:
- On Beyond Startup: Dave Haviland gives your SWOT more swagger.
- In marketing tips, learn how “Buy now!” trigger finger is hurting your sales, and what to do about it.
Subscribe now, and we’ll chat more later. Happy 4th!
P.S. Check out last weeks marketing blog on sharpening your story, including info on a SE Michigan workshop designed to improve your story and increase your sales.
When I was running an company that was in the middle of growing from 10 to 20 people, there were plenty of times it seemed like there ought to be someone I could talk to that could provide some helpful been there / done that kind of direction.
Except that we had “outgrown” much of the incubator / economic development / small business administration kind of support that was geared to startups, and well, we never found the perfect fit with consultants. (That irony is not lost on me, now that I’m in the business of doing consulting!) This is not to say that we didn’t get some great advice for which I am still grateful, it just didn’t always seem to “fit” the culture/company we wanted to create.
Enter the book “Small Giants: Companies that Chose to be Great, not Big” by Bo Burlingham. Reading it was a breath of fresh air. It was incredibly encouraging to read the stories of several companies choosing to beat to a different drum, and still managing to be very successful. It also helped to be familiar with one of the companies, our hometown Zingerman’s. It made the book more meaningful than a bunch of abstract case studies, having experienced the culture and success of one of the companies first hand.
All this made deciding to go to the first Small Giants gathering a proverbial no-brainer. And I’ve been to almost every gathering since, from Washington DC to Germany and San Francisco. Now that they’re practically going to be in my backyard (Chicago), ironically I don’t have the same need to be there. But maybe you do, and that’s why I’m writing today.
As a second stage business owner / operations person, my job was to figure out how to get from here to there. I’m not a big fan of re-inventing the wheel, but some days it felt like we were. When the traditional b-school stuff doesn’t seem to fit, what else can you do?
Go hang out with other Small Giants.
You’ll meet the guy, Bo, who wrote the book and figured out that there are common threads between Small Giants. You’ll meet the guy, Paul, whose passion brought people with a Small Giants mindset from all over the globe together. You’ll meet other people in very similar situations, struggling with similar issues, and you’ll have chances to brainstorm and help each other. Chance are, you’ll make some great new friends along the way.
Of course, there are plenty of less expensive opportunities that don’t require travel to make new friends and swap stories, so here’s why I kept going back. Every year, I left the Small Giants Summit inspired with new things to try. Things that were new to me, but already working in other, quite similar, companies. Along with an open invitation to pick up the phone if I ran into further questions along the way. No more reinventing the wheel. And that, well, that was priceless. If the book Small Giants resonates with you, I promise you you’ll get your ROI on this conference.
Sign up before July 7th for early bird pricing – and save $150 with the code “SGPeer”. See the full schedule and register here: Small Giants Summit.
And say “Hi” to Bo and Paul for me when you’re there!
Find out if HubSpot is your silver bullet at the Ann Arbor HubSpot User Group meeting on the evening of June 24th. I’ll share the key to transforming your online marketing, and (spoiler alert!) it doesn’t require HubSpot, or even $1 from your over-burdened marketing budget.
I know it’s easy to get lost in the ever-changing sea of tools designed to help with your online marketing, and even easier to get bogged down in the daily grind. With all that churn going on, it’s not unusual to catch your breath at some point and wonder – where should I really be investing my time? What would make the most impact?
We’ll answer those questions and more at the Ann Arbor HubSpot User Group meeting, which will be held from 5:30-7:00 pm at The Whole Brain Group office at 315 E. Eisenhower Pkwy, Suite 300, in Ann Arbor.
Please register if you plan to attend – space is limited.
See you there!
If there was one metric I could take out of Google Analytics, it would be Bounce Rate. I am quite certain it has sent more people down fruitless rabbit holes than most other metrics combined.
Bounce Rate is simply not useful when you’re just getting started optimizing your online marketing. Yet “How do I fix my bounce rate?” or “Should I worry about my bounce rate?” are two of the most eternal questions in online marketing.
Granted, I don’t fault anyone who asks, because the system is practically designed to elicit those very questions:
- Bounce Rates are usually quite high,
- A high bounce rate evokes a visceral reaction as being “bad”
- Google has featured the stat as one of only 4 key numbers on the Google Analytics login page.
Considering those factors, t’s quite logical to conclude that Bounce Rate is something that needs to be worked on. My advice? Don’t. If I were making a list of 100 things to work on in your online marketing, it wouldn’t even make the list at 101. Try thinking about it this way:“Whatever will be, will be. Bounce Rate is irrelevant. It’s all about Conversion Rate.”
Handily enough, one of the other four stats featured on your Google Analytics home page is Goal Conversion Rate. Perhaps because this number defaults to “0”, and isn’t named something that “sounds bad” like “bounce”, it gets virtually no attention. [Usability friends, take note – Google Analytics could use a hand here.]
Ultimately, online marketing exists to help make sales. You make more sales when you maximize the micro-transactions that lead up to the sale. The key to maximizing the micro-transactions is measuring them; then taking action to improve the numbers.“Get your conversion rates to rock, and sales will follow.”
The funny thing is, you’d be surprised how many otherwise successful companies haven’t yet bothered to do their conversion rate homework. Lucky for you if they’re in your industry – you just found a way to level up – and maybe even get ahead.
Hopefully you’re sufficiently intrigued, because it will take some work to get the system of measurement set up, and even more work to optimize it. Fortunately, Glenn Gabe wrote a nice article in Search Engine Journal summarizing the steps here: A beginner’s guide to conversion goals in Google Analytics.
Glenn walks you through what to measure in Lesson 1, various goal types in Lesson 2 (Hint: the only one you need to start with is Event Tracking) and touches on analysis in lesson 3. While I’d take a slightly different approach in analysis (his is more of a list of what’s possible vs. how to approach analysis), Lessons 1 & 2 are solid.
As with so much of online marketing, half the battle is knowing what’s important. Even if you never logged into Google Analytics again, going through the process of setting up Conversion Goals will be a useful exercise. Once you understand what people come to your site to do, and turn your focus to helping them achieve their goals as easily as possible, you’re well on the road to online marketing success.
Happy Goal Tracking!
Do you need salesforce.com? Probably not.
For 9 out of 10 businesses I talk to, salesforce.com is “too much club”. Yet it has become so ubiquitous that many small businesses feel obligated to adopt it. The process usually goes something like this:
Someone speaks very highly of salesforce.com (or has used it in another context) + it’s a “known entity” + it’s easy to sign up = Viola! Simple, quick decision on which Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to adopt.
Generally, that’s a reasonable formula – I’m a firm believer that one of the best tests for how something works comes from the experience of similar companies. However, this is one of those cases that is the exception to the rule. I’ve watched enough companies experience enough pain to be compelled to start my own public service campaign about “right-sizing your CRM”. Here’s why.
A CRM that is “too much club” causes all sorts of issues, the most problematic of which seems like it would be cost, but really it’s the complexity that kills you slowly. Suffice it say that salesforce.com does a great job of making it sound like it can do everything under the sun – and it basically can – with enough elbow-grease, IT know-how, upgrades, and add-ons.
On the other hand, what are some good cases for using salesforce.com? The #1 reason to use salesforce.com: If you truly have a sales force. In other words, it’s really designed for larger teams of sales people. Many startups and second stage companies don’t have a Sales Manager and a Sales Team – more often, the sales “team” is a single sales person supported by technicians and others as needed. In these cases, salesforce.com is typically too much club.
Choosing the “right-size” CRM in those situations means selecting for a couple of things:
- Something simple, that actually gets used, and doesn’t get in the way of getting things done.
- Something inexpensive, so you can invest the bulk of your marketing funds in reaching out to customers and growing your business.
If not salesforce.com, then what? Glad you asked. There are a dizzying array of CRMs out there, and I don’t claim to know them all. However, I have played with enough different CRM systems to have a couple of favorites.
Zoho will look familiar to anyone that has used Salesforce.com – it’s a very close cousin. Why do I like it? It meets both my criteria: simple and cheap. It had only 6 “tabs” (much like salesforce.com only had 3 when I first started using it 15 years ago) and it’s FREE for the basic team edition which includes 3 people. You can export data if needs change and you truly need a more sophisticated system later, so it’s not an irrevocable decision. It does have a few quirks, though I am willing to forgive them for something that’s free and provides a simple and clean pipeline view.
Membrain is the option I’d recommend for companies who need more full-featured functionality along the lines of salesforce.com. It’s typically more expensive than salesforce.com if you’ve only got a few users, as you pay up front for configuration. However, it’s worth including as it does a few key things that salesforce.com does not. In particular, Membrain has built in sales automation that ensures the important stuff gets followed up on (you set the criteria) and that unqualified opportunities are automatically left out of the pipeline.
Membrain is also smart about reporting, giving the company a better picture of what opportunities are “real”, while also giving salespeople more time to spend doing sales because they’re not doing busy-work to make reports turn out right. Some of the value this software provides is a little bit sneakier – all that automation is possible because the configuration process forces decision about what criteria is/isn’t qualified, and what actions should be happening during the sales process. Often, one of the things causing issues within sales is a lack of clarity, which tools have a habit of making worse instead of better. Membrain may be the exception to that rule – in a good way.
Hope this helps with your CRM decision. Holler if you have any questions or want more specific examples!
As much as I love HubSpot, it is not a miracle cure. While this may sound blasphemous coming from someone who frequently preaches the wonders of HubSpot in marketing workshops and speaking engagements, I’ve come to realize that HubSpot sounds so cool, and so useful, and so amazing that it’s easy to believe implementing HubSpot will transform your marketing.
Alas, a successful implementation of HubSpot (one that brings you customers either directly, or as leads) takes a lot of groundwork. And I’ll bet you already know that, just as you know that it takes more than an weight-loss pill to shed pounds. Yet weight loss pills continue to fly off the shelves…
Likewise, even the savviest of marketers are susceptible to the enticing siren song of HubSpot. It’s an alluring proposition – with one big caveat: If your marketing model already works great, then yes, it’s reasonable to expect HubSpot to be additive and improve your results. On the other hand, if results aren’t where you want and you (essentially) move your existing marketing model into HubSpot, chances are you’ll be disappointed.
If you’re looking to improve sales and marketing (and who isn’t?!) the greatest value of HubSpot is likely as a “good excuse” to re-evaluate your approach. All the automation and other goodies HubSpot provides work their magic best once you are crystal clear about the big picture, and where HubSpot fits in.
Ideally, before implementing new marketing systems (HubSpot or anything else), you’ll establish these two big picture items:
- What are the overall strategic goals of the company, and what are the roles of marketing and sales in supporting those goals? What are the measurable goals you need to hit this year and each quarter to support those goals?
- Who is your customer, and how can you replicate the sales process to recruit more, similar customers? What can you do to reach more like-minded people and move them through a process – your online sales engine™ – that guides them to choose you and creates ease in your sales process?
Having watched hundreds of companies go through this process for nearly 20 years now, let me reassure you that is is truly ok if you look at those two items and realize there’s some work to do. It’s the rare company that has all those ducks already in a row – that’s often why marketing and sales are working so hard to gain traction. If all of these big pictures items were already in place, you likely wouldn’t be reading this article!
Tackling BOTH of these big picture items takes a big commitment, and is one that frankly few companies are deeply committed to. For those who are, truly amazing things can happen. If that kind of work doesn’t sound daunting to you, and you’re willing to explore that journey, here are a couple of places to start:
- Creating measurable goals that marketing and sales can support starts with a strong vision of the company’s future. With that in place, you can align the dots to reach the end goal. The Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) is the simplest, most clear way of creating and implementing that framework I’ve personally experienced.
- Understanding your customer is more complex than it seems. It’s easy to get caught up in what who we THINK the customer is and what they want and what gets them to buy. Steve Blank has some great thoughts on Customer Discovery, and another helpful resource I’ve recently come across is the Buyer Persona Institute. They offer a useful blog and downloadable ebooks free!
Happy to help if you run into any questions along the way. Good luck!
Personally, I found joining a mastermind group was the single most valuable investment I made in my business.
Personally, I found joining a mastermind group was the single most valuable investment I made in my business, so I’m excited to see that the Jackson Inventors Network (JIN) is holding a meeting on the topic tomorrow, April 22nd. It’s called “The Mastermind Group – creating your own personal Board of Directors”. It will be led by Steve Ward who founded and ran Micro-Plastics for 16 years.
As the Inventors Network describes this seminar on their website: “Let’s face it – inventing a product and trying to launch it is a daunting task – anyone who has ever tried knows the feeling that they need guidance and direction. No-one can effectively do it all. The focus of this presentation is on getting the inventor / entrepreneur to recognize and utilize resources within their existing lives that can become valuable trusted advisors necessary to keep them focused, on task and successful.”
Program begins at 6:30. Registration and more information via the Jackson Inventors Network.
For more articles on this topic see “Finding a Sounding Board.”
There are two tools I’m often recommending for blogs – WordPress and HubSpot. I recommend HubSpot in place of WordPress, or in addition to it, if you plan to automate sales by using a lead nurturing system.
Why would I want to create a system for nurturing prospects (aka leads), you ask? Let’s explore a few different angles in Q&A format.
Q: What do you mean by nurturing leads?
A: Most often, I am assisting companies with long sales cycles that typically close offline. Usually there is a lot of “spade work” involved in that type of sales process, and rarely are there enough people or time for the education and follow up desired – especially if the business is intending to scale. A lead nurturing system fills in the gaps, while adding automation and consistency to the sales process. As with all other aspects of online marketing, a system also allows for experimentation, measurement and improvement of the sales process.
Q: Our sales process is so personal / different every time — how could I possibly automate it?
A: Sales automation benefits from a deep understanding of who your customers are, and why they buy. Quite commonly, businesses are so busy growing and adapting that they don’t have the opportunity to to stop and reflect on exactly how their products and services fit in the marketplace. This is where the process of Customer Discovery comes in, ala Steve Blank. That’s the subject for a different blog post, though generally speaking you can think of Customer Discovery as a process designed to find the most easily replicable sales and understand what primary factors went into a prospects decision to buy. The automation process then capitalizes on these learnings.
Q: How do I automate the sales process?
A: Understanding who your prospects are allows you to create targeted “workflows” (i.e. a series of communications) for each type of prospect. Lets say you are recruiting students to a college. In that case, you have several different types of audiences: students, parents, and guidance counselors to name a few. And as you can imagine, the primary messages each of those audiences wants to hear are quite different. While that may seem obvious, few businesses in any industry are taking full advantage of tools like HubSpot to carefully craft online marketing campaigns deeply targeted to each audience – leaving room for companies who do to gain competitive advantage.
Q: What’s a workflow?
A: A workflow in HubSpot is a simply a series of emails that you schedule to be delivered over a period of time. The emails are designed to provide the information your prospects need as best as you can anticipate them, based on your Customer Discovery research. Prospects “enter” a workflow by “triggering” criteria you set, such as filling out a contact form. The trick is getting that contact form filled out in the first place. The good news is, many companies aren’t doing this yet, leaving plenty of opportunity for you.
Lets pretend I’m a student searching for the “best business degree in the midwest” on Google. (You can follow along by trying the same search and see what happens.) Personally, I’m besieged by ads to “speak to an enrollment coach now!” “request info!” “learn more!” and “enroll now!” However, the search I made was very early in the sales process (aka “Top of Funnel”), and I am not even close to being ready to be coached through enrollment, or to enroll now. (Seems kind of obvious when you look at it with a different lens, doesn’t it?) What I’m trying to do is compare different colleges, and not a single ad responded with “download a comparison of the best business degrees”. So I’ll wind up clicking on the US News Rankings link instead, and every one of those advertisers just lost the opportunity to start a conversation with me.
How could that example have ended differently?
1) Reflect the search query in your ad, such as “compare the best business degrees in the midwest”. 2) Create a custom page on your website (a landing page) that offers the comparison. 3) Offer something of value. Perhaps your custom page has an interactive tool. Perhaps you offer a downloadable guide (with your branding on it, of course.) By offering something of value, you create an opportunity to collect an email. 4) Once you have an email, you can “get to know each other” over time using a carefully crafted workflow. (HubSpot is smart enough to ask different profile questions every time a prospect returns to your site, building a profile over time – the subject for yet another future blog post!) 5) Answer the call when the prospect calls you, ready to take the next step.
In the end, the goal of sales automation with HubSpot is to make your phone ring. When your prospects already “know” you by the time they call, it will be different than the calls you’re receiving now. You’ll be answering late stage questions (at the “Bottom of the Funnel”) about how to engage your company, or how to buy Product X, because the prospect is already educated and ready to buy.
Here’s hoping this helps you get your phone ringing!
Funny things happen in live presentations. I’ve been surprised many times by how shocked a business owner is to see the results of a search for their company name that I’m realizing this step is so basic, it’s often overlooked. Have you checked lately what Google has to say about your brand? If not, you might want to take a peek…
One of the surprises is created by Google’s “new” Knowledge Graph (launched in May 2012). For brand searches, the Knowledge Graph compiles information about your company and typically displays a big “box” on the right hand side of a search results page. Information within the box includes pictures, location, hours, reviews, etc.
If what shows up in the box isn’t what you’d choose, the good news is you can update the information by clicking on the “Are you the business owner?” link immediately below the box.
If you’re a new business and no box shows up at all, then your first step is to sign up for a Google Places page.
In both cases, you’ll be able to update business information, share photos, make special offers, and respond to reviews.
Once you’ve updated the information in the Knowledge Graph that dominates the first page of results for your company, then it’s time to take a look at what else shows up. Some typical things you’ll want to clean up:
- “Dead” social media accounts. Social Media accounts tend to show up near the top of results, and it’s not great for your brand if it hasn’t been updated in months – or years. If you’re not going to use it, close it. You may want to preserve the brand name (so poachers don’t grab it) by posting a “goodbye” message (rather than closing the account) by inviting potential customers to contact you IRL (In Real Life) in a way that fits your brand.
- Other companies using your brand name. Yes this happens – and depending on how they’re using it, whether it’s legal or not. At the very least, it’s good to be aware and be able to take action if need be.
- Results that just don’t “fit” your brand name. If the types of results showing up aren’t what you’d like to see as the face of your brand, it’s a good signal that it’s time to do some more deliberate work on your online presence to emphasize what you DO want to be your brand image.
Have fun with Google Places and getting your brand image where you want it to be!