7 Digital Marketing Trends That Are Transforming Business

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The drivers of change are complex and interwoven in the world of digital marketing.

The trends are not islands but together amplify and accelerate the way we market and grow our businesses. Mobile phones made social networks even more viral and powerful and their inbuilt cameras just added more content in what was already a noisy online world.

Faster and cheaper wi-fi and telecommunication networks made broadband an essential utility that is now demanded just like electricity. This development allowed video to move from the desktop to the mobile and everywhere.

Complexity and even faster change are the norm.

So what digital marketing trends are driving change and what can we do about it?

1. The growing concentration of revenue and power

There are many platforms, apps and tools that we all use to create, control and market our brands.

But as the trend towards paid digital advertising accelerates Google and Facebook are becoming in effect a duopoly. Google and Facebook between them share 90% of the growth.

Image source: digitalcontentnext.org

This year the total spend of $83 billion in digital advertising will be dominated by the two big players. And Google is projected to achieve 40.7% of US digital ad revenues this year (double Facebook’s share)

Google will continue to dominate search advertising with an estimated $28.55 billion of spend in 2017 and Facebook will dominate display with a projected $16.33 billion in 2017 while Google’s will be only $5.24 billion.

The rest including Twitter, Yahoo and other players will pick up the crumbs.

This dominance of revenue will then allow the duopoly to snap up more social networks, startups and technology companies that fit into its growth strategies and continue to concentrate power.

We have already seen this with Facebook buying Instagram, WhatsApp and the virtual reality company OculusRift.

This concentration of power is also creating other problems.

Reduction in trust

Trust is a big factor in who and what we believe. Marketing is no different.

Facebook has recently reported that its video metrics were inflated and YouTube (Google) has been running questionable ads next to brand content.

The rise of fake news, alternate truth and the domination of the walled gardens of Facebook and Google who are reluctant to provide transparency on their data is also reducing trust in the data reporting.

2. Marketing automation is now essential

The rise of social networks humanized the web.

Playing online was no longer just the domain of the geeks. It was nice and simple. You tweeted or published a Facebook post. You created content and built organic distribution by growing your followers on the social networks.

But it has become complex.

More social networks, complex digital advertising options and more types of content.

More networks

Despite the concentration of power there are still a lot of social networks to play with and new ones are still popping up. Mastodon.social is a grass roots bootstrapped alternative to Twitter that stuck its head up just 6 months ago. But has proven so popular that it been temporarily closed to new users until it builds out a more robust infrastructure.

More content

The types of content and media you need to master has gone way past the simple analog formats of print, radio and television. Now we have Interactive infographics, GIF’s and augmented reality media just to name a few.

What does all this “more” mean?

More tools…..or better ones?

The options within digital technology have also exploded and the number of technology tools just for marketing have been estimated at over 4,000.

But the only way to manage the rising complexity is with marketing automation. There are many options and just choosing is hard.

  1. There are the platforms that aim to be “all in one” tools – Marketo, Hubspot, Infusionsoft are just a few that can assist you in scaling your digital marketing.
  2. Then there are even tools for growing your social network followers with automation. These includeSocial Quant for Twitter and SociallyRich for Instagram
  3. There are tools for automating the moderation of comments. Big digital publishers like TechCrunch need automation to moderate comments at scale and technology likeBrandBastion provide the tech. to do that accurately –

Marketing automation is still just in its early phases and this next trend is where it starts to get interesting.

3. The rise of artificial intelligence

The rise of “AI” is a term that frightens some people and excites others.

The scary part is often seen as people losing their jobs to machines or even taking over the world and replacing humans. The good piece that others are embracing is taking away the drone work that de-humanizes workers. Artificial intelligence is becoming a necessity to enhance and scale repetitive and boring human tasks.

The rise of the robots has been predicted since we watched HAL in “Space Odyssey 2001” in what was another world in 1968. In the decades since we have seen the emergence of the personal computer, the internet, social networks and the mobile smart phone.

The intersection of these technologies is changing entertainment, business and our lives.

Social and mobile are obsessive technologies that have made us all publishers. We are now all video creators, selfie photo producers and writers that share by the billions every hour.

Why we need “machines”

The content explosion is overwhelming.

As the data volume has increased exponentially, the scale of the noise means that making sense of it needs artificial intelligence and machines with big powerful processors. Humans will need the machines to cope and make sense of the complexity and barrage of noise. This means we will “need” artificial intelligence marketing.

Artificial Intelligence Marketing can be distilled into 3 steps. Collect, reason and act.

  1. Collect: There is so much data that humans can no longer cope with the volume and we need computers to collate and collect it
  2. Reason: Making sense of the data and gain insights needs “AI” to perform it at scale
  3. Act: Then to need to use that insights to create messaging and content that influences the buying decision

The benefits of AI for marketers

According to a survey by Demand Base the top benefits that marketers see for using and applying artificial intelligence include increased insights, analysis and prospect identification.

Image source: Forbes.com 

How is it it being used?

Where is this artificial intelligence being used that maybe you don’t even notice?

  • Tagging of friends on Facebook with facial recognition
  • Deep learning technology that is woven into Facebook’s suggestions, Newsfeed algorithms and trending topics
  • LinkedIn uses “AI” to provide better job matching between business and candidate
  • Pinterest uses the intelligence of the robots to boost image recognition and search
  • News stories created by robots and humans: Washington Post is using an “intelligent, automated storytelling agent,” which they affectionately refer to as Heliograf. This smart technology scales  the creation of accurate news stories to meet the 24/7 news cycle. This was used toreport the 2016 Rio Olympic games

And this is just scratching the surface. Econsultancy.com lists 15 other examples of artificial intelligence in marketing.

Expect to see more of these technologies and trends emerge in digital marketing automation tools and beyond.

4. Paid digital marketing is now a necessary evil

Digital marketing has never been truly free. But social networks gave us a taste of that for a few short years. We all piled in and when Facebook reduced its free and organic reach in the newsfeed to single digits the crowd complained.

When most of us discovered digital marketing the only option to pay for attention was banner ads on websites. Yahoo was one of the big players then. That was about it. It was the 1990’s.

In early 2000’s the rise of Google led to a new digital advertising option. Search advertising.

This was a way to make money that offered rivers of gold as it was cheap to advertise online. But then Google changed the rules and increased the rates. Does that sound familiar to the big “F”?

It’s a 2 horse race

The concentration of revenue and the ownership of platforms means that advertising options maybe complex but still concentrated. Up starts like Snapchat are trying to muscle in after going public. But it has some major challenges to make any sizeable dent on the two giant incumbents of Facebook and Google.

This graphic from eMarketer shows the challenge it faces.

Today the rules of the game means that you need to either have the skills within your company or find a good partner.

5. Live video keeps booming

Live streaming video is maybe the hottest trend in digital marketing right now.

One of the first social networks to offer this was Google+. Google Hangouts was a great part of the platform.

But Meerkat was maybe the first live streaming video app that captured our consciousness. Then it was Periscope and then Blab. Only one of those survives and that is because it has a rich uncle called “Twitter”.

But when Facebook “Live” was launched in 2015 to a limited audience of celebrities the game changed.

But why use live streaming?

Mark Zuckerberg has suggested that people watch live streams 300% longer and comment 10 times more than regular videos. In marketing terms, more engagement is gold.

Image source: Digiday.com

But “Live” video is great except when you have people sharing video streams of consciousness that are not worth watching. More content doesn’t mean better quality. My Facebook news feed is full of it.

6. The rise and rise of algorithms

Google’s algorithms were the first taste of the machines controlling what content you saw in search results. Then when Facebook reduced organic reach the intrusion of algorithms that filtered what we saw in Newsfeeds.

But today we are also seeing the application of algorithms and filtering to the email inbox. Marketing emails are often going to the promotions tab in your Gmail account.

Digital marketers will need to keep on top of this to ensure they are optimizing content that rises above the search engine, social network and email filters.

The battle of beating the algorithms will continue.

7. Influencer marketing takes center stage

The social web gave rise to global topic tribes.

Bloggers created content on fashion, food and thousands of other niche passions. They also built loyal followers and advocates on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. They constructed credibility and trust built on authentic content.

Image source: Twitter

As the noise increases online and reaching your target customer gets harder because of content clutter the influencer and thought leaders who have built reach globally are the new niche gatekeepers.

Brands are now paying to reach their admirers and devotees.

But there is a bigger challenge

The rise of an Internet of apps (not websites).

Most of us are used to a digital world where you created content on your own website and then drove traffic and converted them into readers or customers. The Internet of apps is a huge fundamental shift that you can’t ignore.

According the New York Times the transition from an Internet of websites to an Internet of mobile apps and social platforms, and Facebook in particular, is no longer coming.  It is here.

It is a systemic change that is leaving many publishers (and businesses) unsure of how they will make money from their online assets.

Scott Rosenberg, a co-founder of Salon sums up my fear in this one sentence.

“With each turn of the screw, people began to realize, viscerally, that this is what it feels like to not be in control of your destiny,” 

One of the most exciting things about social media when I discovered it in 2008 was that it was the democratization of publishing and marketing.  I no longer needed to pay media moguls or the gatekeepers. That was empowering.

But the internet of apps is happening.

Buzzfeed was receiving 504 million visitors a month and in 2016 it had dropped to 471 million. But what has happened is that it has moved its content strategy to other sites. Where it receives over 7 billion visits and views.

What does this mean?

This emergence of the internet of apps and platforms, has some big implications and challenges for marketers.

New growth avenues had to be found for views and readers. According to Buzzfeed,  it is about a “Network Integration Strategy”. Pushing content out to other hubs like Snapchat, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

Their strategy is now one of “Creating” (people making stuff), publishing to their websites, uploaded to apps and distributed on multiple social channels. Then they keep measuring and iterating from the big data.

So is Mark Zuckerberg becoming the new gatekeeper?

What should you do?

Here are the top things you need to do to master marketing in a world of constant change.

  1. Hire geeks that can read the data that allows you to keep iterating and adapting.
  2. Keep an eye on tools that use artificial intelligence.
  3. Master efficient paid digital advertising. Don’t pay for advertising unless you can measure it.
  4. Use automation to scale and manage the complexity.
  5. Keep learning. Continuous education is essential.
  6. Experiment and then implement what works.
  7. Stand out by telling stories.

So…….strap yourself in and keep creating, evolving, pivoting and reinventing. There is no other option.

10 Ways Small Retailers Can Build a Successful Supply Chain of the Future

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We are about to enter a new era of supply and demand but a number of global supply chains are not well equipped to face it. Although they are capable of handling high-volume, stable production at the present time, this may not suffice in the future. There awaits a perennial stream of worries for supply chains as a result of the impending complexity and uncertainty in global business.

About two-thirds of consumers take to online shopping at least once a week. However, only 19% of the top retailers can effectively manage the omni-channel demand. The biggest challenges faced by these retailers lie in transportation and logistics.

Hence, in order to thrive in this fast evolving business scenario, retailers must consider the following steps to derive more from the supply chains in the days to come.

With more and more consumers resorting to online shopping, retailers are under constant pressure to deliver a more effective service. To be able to do that, they must know the exact whereabouts of all things all the time.

1. Managing inventory

Retailers are always struggling to strike a balance between supply and the unpredictable consumer behavior. These two make it more difficult for retailers to bring together supply and demand. A cloud-based supply chain network will allow retailers to keep a track on the inventory and changes in demands. It will also enable the retailers to handle demand fluctuations and seasonal trends.

2. Employing RFID and source tagging to track stock levels

Retailers can use a source tagging program to better manage the supply chain right from the moment the product is deployed from the warehouse of the manufacturer. Source tagging will help take informed business decisions by creating awareness and providing information about the location and volume of merchandize available at all the channels. For example, it is possible to continuously keep a check on the warehouse stock levels and replenish it whenever the sensors perceive a near out of stock condition.

3. Use free shipping as an incentive

It has been found that free shipping of products purchased online has a major role to play in boosting e-commerce. Nearly 90% of consumers said that they would purchase again if products are shipped to them for free. However, many retailers have set timelines too long or the free shipping threshold way too high for the consumers to reach. Retailers should take into consideration the need to improve process in areas like order margins. Also, investing in technologies that support automated distribution options can help.

4. Integrate faster shipping into logistics

Retailers are constantly trying to upgrade their logistics model to integrate faster shipping options for their consumers. 70% of consumers opt for two-day shipping, a large number of whom have used Amazon services. There are also retailers who offer same-day delivery services. Partnering with on-demand delivery services can help retailers deliver goods to their consumers effectively and within a short time.

5. Organize a smooth online return

Consumers are more likely to prefer an online store that has a smooth return policy in place for its products. Of the many processes that have led consumers to abandon a brand, a difficult return policy of a purchased item is one. However, 58% of the consumers said they would be shopping online more if the processes were simpler. Hence, in order to attract more customers to online shopping retailers must make sure that they have the analytic databases and inventory required to provide free return.

6. Make habitual online shoppers shop more

It has been seen that those who shop more often than others can be persuaded to buy more by providing them with easier ordering and delivery options. These online shoppers who shop at least twice a week are likely to be persuaded more by one-day or two day shipping services.

7. Faster delivery by drones

As some of the major retailers are constantly attempting to outdo each other in terms of faster and more effective delivery services, the drone technology assumes precedence. It is soon going to become one of the most convenient and preferred modes of delivery in the future with 79% of the consumers likely to opt for drones for one-day deliveries and 73% willing to shell out more money for it.

8. Engage in B2B e-procurement networks

Companies can benefit in a number of ways by partaking in B2B e-procurement networks. They can foresee possible disruptions in the supply chain and take adequate measures. It is important for businesses to have a complete knowledge of their supply chains and not just their own suppliers.

9. Ensure co-operation between marketing and supply chain teams

In order to launch a promotion, retailers need to ensure that the marketing and the supply chains are in sync. If the supply chain team is made aware of an upcoming promotion beforehand they can prevent the shortage of products by pre determining how much product is required and how it will be shipped.

10. Splintering traditional supply chains

In order to meet the challenges related to optimizing supply chains companies can break their traditional monolithic supply chains into smaller ones. This will help them save money, handle complexity and serve the customers better.

By managing the supply chain better it is possible to bring a larger number of consumers into the online shopping community. Besides variety, low prices and good quality, it is also necessary to maintain an effective supply chain to meet the needs of the consumers more efficiently.

5 Signals to Evaluate to Test the Value of Your Brand

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Brands are people first. Customers are people too, so customers tend to take their relationship with a brand personally. Thus it’s not a surprise that people love their favorite smartphone brand, cringe when you mention their cable company, or even hate the mention of a particular bank.

Startups, as well as every existing business, need to realize that this brand perception is becoming more and more driven by their relationships with customers, as well as feedback from other customer brand relationships, made visible on social media and Internet websites like Yelp and Foursquare. Proving the new model today are sites like Patagonia and Zappos.

According to Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske, in their classic book “The Human Brand,” humans are very perceptive, from early survival evolution, and make quick judgments about other people’s intents toward them (warmth), and the capability of carrying out intents (competence). Thus your brand (people) needs to project both warmth and competence, for loyalty today.

But how do you know if your brand is projecting warmth and competence to your customers? Here are some key signals, outlined by Malone and Fiske, which I believe every startup founder and business leader should evaluate in their own business to see if their brand is positive:

  1. The loyalty test. For loyal customers, a business has to first demonstrate genuine warmth, concern, and commitment. Selling to loyal customers is 3 to 10 times cheaper than acquiring new customers. Go beyond loyalty expectations, and you can turn loyal customers into passionate advocates who actively recommend your company to others.
  2. The principle of worthy intentions. This principle is a relationship building strategy that involves attracting and keeping customers by consistently putting their best interests ahead of those of your company or brand. Competence alone won’t ensure loyalty. Only the emotional connections of worthy intentions has the power to change minds.
  3. The price of progress. Faceless commerce these days leads to a focus on discounts. Discounts are viewed as less-than-worthy intentions, and do not buy loyal customers. Every website must offer more than one-way commerce and discounts. It must also offer interactive relationships, and warmth and competence, through worthy intentions.
  4. Take us to your leader. Customers today have a primal desire to judge brands by the people behind the brand, most notably the CEO. Customers look for transformational rather than transactional leaders, who inspire employees to exert the extra effort on customers’ behalf. Leaders need to come out from behind their curtain.
  5. Show your true colors. Mistakes and crises are a golden loyalty opportunity. We are apt to forgive when we feel empathy for an offending partner. Customers watch and judge whether people or profits come first. A brand spokesperson can show worthy intentions, or can deflect blame and take a narrower more self-serving view.

Today’s business market exists in the renaissance of relationships. Perception is reality, and businesses can no longer hide behind their brand. Transactions move faster and mistakes happen faster, with customers able to watch for warmth and competence, or no worthy intentions. Here are key imperatives, sanctioned by Malone, Fisk, and myself, to keep you on the right track:

  • Become more self-aware. On-going self-awareness is a crucial competency of every brand and every business leader. Don’t be afraid to ask customers the direct questions – do you see us as warm and trustworthy, as well as competent and capable? Then listen with an open mind and genuine interest, and be willing and able to change.
  • Embrace significant change. Change is now the norm, so no change over a period of time is actually moving backward. Companies and brands must shift from a mentality of control, defensiveness, and unresponsiveness to one that is more open to understanding how they are perceived, and to adopt change as a good thing, rather than a problem.
  • Fundamentally shift priorities. Lasting change requires a sincere examination and adjustment of the goals and priorities that have led companies astray in the first place. Sustained success in the future will require companies to dramatically shift their emphasis from short-term shareholder value to shared value for multiple stakeholders.

Overall, your customers now have near-instantaneous power to hold companies and brands accountable for their words and actions. That power will continue to grow in the years ahead. Is your brand ready to flourish in that environment, or highly at-risk for any slight misstep?

5 Safety Must-Haves for Small Business Owners

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Small business owners have a lot to think about: keeping investors happy, establishing a solid business plan, onboarding new employees, and more. With so much going on, security may not seem like the biggest priority. Whether you have an office building or you work from home, however, theft and vandalism can be devastating for a small business. Luckily, there are some simple things you can do to keep you, your inventory and your employees safe. Here are five security upgrades you should consider for your small business.

Install an Alarm System

If you already have an alarm system through your building or property manager, go ahead and skip this one. If you don’t have some sort of alarm system installed, however, add this to your to-do list, ASAP! Between your inventory, money and important documents, there are many things you need to protect in your office. An alarm system will make sure these things stay safe when you’re not there. Based on a study from UNC Charlotte, approximately 83 percent of burglars surveyed said they would first try to determine if an alarm was present, and 60 percent of burglars said they would find a new target if they discovered an alarm.

If you’re hesitant about installing an alarm because you think it will be costly, rest assured; there are some fantastic, budget-friendly wireless alarm systems. Instead of installing an entire system and paying installation and maintenance fees (like traditional alarm systems), you can purchase the components you need and have them up and running in a matter of minutes. A wireless alarm system is an easy, inexpensive way to boost your security.

Note: Make sure you display alarm stickers and decals so it’s clear that there is an alarm system in your office.

Use Security Cameras

Security cameras outside your office can deter potential burglars. If your camera is visible, an intruder may not want to risk getting caught on video. If you have a hidden security camera, you will have video proof if theft, damage or vandalism occur. You can also use a security camera inside your office, if you want to keep a watchful eye on employees when you’re not at work.

Depending on the features, security cameras can cost anywhere from $90 to $400, but you don’t necessarily need all the bells and whistles; even a less-expensive security camera can do the trick to boost your safety. If you don’t want to shell out the money, consider installing a fake security camera. Dummy cameras cost less and are still effective.

“Studies show the mere presence of security cameras and/or fake cameras decreases crimes of opportunity,” according to security experts at The Home Security Superstore. “Simply installing a false security alarm or a fake security camera could save you thousands of dollars or even save your life.”

Upgrade Your Locks

Take a look at the current lock on your door. If you have the pre-installed, standard locks the building put in place, they may be easy to pick or not strong enough to withstand forced entry.

There are several options if you want to upgrade your locks. A double-cylinder deadbolt is a great option because it requires a key to unlock from the outside and lock from the inside. A burglar can’t break your window and twist your lock by hand. A mortise lock is another good choice because it’s built to withstand force and combines a standard door lock and a deadbolt in the same unit.

You may also want to consider swapping your current lock for a smart lock. You can get smart locks with digital keypads, so you can use an access code instead of a key. Some smart locks sync to your phone, which gives you remote access. A smart lock may be the way to go if you have careless employees who lose their keys or forget to lock up when they leave.

Note: Make sure to check with your rental or property manager before you do any manual labor on your locks or doors.

Use Security Lighting

The majority of burglars like to work in the dark so they have a place to hide. Security lighting, which includes motion sensors and timer lights, take away a burglar’s sense of security. Motion-activated lights outside your business can scare burglars away because there’s a greater risk of being spotted or caught. Timer lights, inside or outside your office, are also a valuable safety tool.

Thieves prefer to hit unoccupied homes or businesses. If you have lights and electronics on a timer, a potential intruder won’t know for sure if someone is inside. There are several different options for security lighting, you can definitely find lights that fit your needs and your budget.

Upgrade Your Online Security

You may not have a large IT team for your business, but you definitely need to take a vested interest in your cyber security. Business transactions take place online and your user data is also stored online. If your website or email is hacked the results could be devastating: you could lose money and customers.

Small business owners used to believe they were exempt from cyber criminals and hackers, but in some cases, small businesses are an even more enticing target. “Smaller companies are attractive because they tend to have weaker online security,” according to John Brandon from Inc. “They’re also doing more business than ever online via cloud services that don’t use strong encryption technology. To a hacker, that translates into reams of sensitive data behind a door with an easy lock to pick.”

At the very least, your business should have anti-virus software, a secure firewall, data encryption, two-factor authentication and unique, strong passwords for all your accounts. You should also educate your employees about cyber threats and phishing scams. While it’s important to have these things in place, you should hire a knowledgeable IT professional to get your systems up and running or find a cyber security company to help you lockdown your online accounts. Remember, it’s your responsibility to protect your customers’ personal information.

Now that your business is up and running, it’s important to do what you can to protect your investment. Even minor security upgrades can make a big difference. Prioritize safety upgrades and give yourself peace of mind that your business is safe.

Author: Maile Proctor is a professional blogger and content editor. She writes on health and fitness, family and lifestyle, business, education and more. Maile earned her Bachelor’s in Broadcast Journalism from Chapman University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking in San Diego, California. Follow Maile on Twitter @maile_proctor.

Making B2B More Like B2C Sales?

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I read a terrific article by Tiffani Bova, “6 Tips For Selling In The Age Of The Connected Consumer.” There’s a lot I agree with, but one point stood out, Make B2B More Like B2C.

I don’t disagree, in fact, there are huge amounts we can learn from B2C, particularly in the areas of personalization, customer experience, and ease of doing business. We also see many of the trends in B2C leading B2B. For example, B2C customers have leveraged digital channels in far more powerful ways than in B2B, but B2B is slowly emulating many of the practices (just read any of the 100’s of blogs on customers self educating and how far through the sales process customers get without sales people.)

Much of the High Volume, High Velocity/Predictable Revenue models we see being implemented in XAAS companies are lifted directly from B2C, though seldom executed as artfully as in B2C. These companies package their marketing and sales engagement models around the individual or small work groups. As much as possible, they are focused on a simple, even transactional sale. All lessons learned from B2C.

But we have to recognize, in many cases there are real limitations to scaling our companies leveraging B2C models. There are serious limitations to how much of great B2C practice we can leverage in complex B2B sales. In fact, many of the XAAS companies are starting to recognize this—or even the high volume/high velocity models are in appropriate for their business and engaging their customers.

At the core of this challenge is how customers make decisions. In complex B2B sales, it’s—well—complex. Complex B2B sales involves more people in the process–both directly and indirectly. In B2C, we are typically dealing with a single decisionmaker (or a very small number). Complex B2B is a consensus buying process–involving, directly and indirectly, a large number of people.

Yes, we certainly can adapt some of the B2C practices in engaging each individual involved in the decisionmaking process. But, as illustrated in the Challenger Customer, things change—decisionmaking changes when those 6.8 people get together in making a buying decision. The behaviors, conversations, and organizational dynamics are different in consensus decisionmaking. B2C techniques, even our past B2B approaches fail in the new world of B2B buying.

As an example, just think of the number of conversations that are going on in these decisions. Within the buying group, there are 19.72 conversation paths between individuals (if we round to 7 people in the group it’s 21). Add a single sales person into the mix, and these individual conversation paths increase to 28, add a single competitive sales person and we are up to 56!

Then there are the group meetings–the challenge of aligning differing agendas, priorities, perceptions of the problems and issues. We know the majority of buying decisions end in No Decision Made–not because they can’t select a supplier, but because they can’t align their internal priorities, requirements, and buying/problem solving process.

Part of what drives the consensus buying process is the levels of risk, change management, and investments involved in complex decisionmaking. These are significantly different than in B2C buying decisions, as a result B2C approaches start to break down when we try to apply them in complex B2B situations.

Yes. there are a lot of things we can learn from the B2C world. At the same time, we have to be thoughtful about the differences.

5 Tips for Improving Online Materials Management

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You use an online portal for your brand material ordering to simplify and unify. But how can you ensure your portal is really helping you save time and money while at the same time, keeping an eye out for brand consistency? Here are some tips:

Lock in your brand specifications.

Set your online portal up to lock in your brand’s font, size, color, etc. so that your brand stays consistent. The more individuals with access to the portal, the more important this becomes. Small mistakes in your organization’s brand identity exaggerate over time, eventually diluting your brand equity.

Track your inventory.

Your online portal can hold virtually anything that can be printed. Expand your horizons beyond just letterhead, business cards, and envelopes. Add all of your marketing materials, from brochures to pitchbook and proposal covers. Set up your system to automatically track inventory, providing alerts when supplies are getting low.

Keep your orders flowing.

Try to order at minimum two to three times a month. People that order less frequently often forget all the ins and outs of how the order system works. While you’re there, check and see if there are any other materials you can add to the site? What about your brand brochures? Slip sheets?  Pocket folders? The more you put into your system, the easier they are to manage and the more cost efficient the process of ordering becomes.

Make sure you approve a proof.

Check the font, colors, and inspect carefully for typos. Your system should be set automatically to your brand requirements. But when you need something that falls outside the ‘standard,’ make sure you work with your vendor to accommodate this need at the outset. And, make sure you know what your window is for making a change to what you’ve submitted. In most cases, it’s 24 hours.

Add controls where you need them.

Do you want just one person to place all the orders? Or will there be multiple people per location/department? Do you want single or multi-level approvals? Do you want your system set up based on user, item, dollar value or other options? How will payment be made for the order? When your system is first set up, your vendor should review all of these decisions with you and configure these options into the system.

Online ordering can provide real benefits for both large and small organizations. It greatly reduces the emails, phone calls, back and forth that normally goes into ordering brand materials. It allows for real-time proofing. And gives you the luxury of managing your projects on your own time, at your own pace.

Why Every Small Business Owner Should Have a Mentor

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There’s one essential item you’re missing that’s key to your continued success. No, it’s not your business plan, mission statement or investors (though the latter may be necessary!). No matter where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, you can benefit from having a professional mentor.

If you’ve never had a mentor, you’re missing out on many valuable benefits, including advice, collaboration and support. Here are a few undeniable reasons to get a mentor and what you can do to find an effective one.

A Mentor Has Been Where You Are

Not everyone has opened their own business, made it past the critical five-year mark, and lived to tell the tale—perhaps you haven’t even reached that milestone yet. A mentor is someone who has had succeeded as an entrepreneur, and can share invaluable insight from their own experience.

They can also provide necessary support on the rocky road of being a business owner. While they won’t be able to shield you from every misstep or poor decision, they can give you more experience and insight than you could ever get from reading business books or articles.

Most importantly, working with a mentor may be a critical factor in the longevity of your business as well. According to a 2014 survey, “70 percent of small business owners that receive mentoring survive for five years or more, double the rate of those who do not receive mentoring.”

They Can Give Honest Insight and Feedback

When running a business from the ground level of your company, it can be difficult to see the big picture. You have a narrow focus instead of a zoomed-out perspective that can provide a more honest look at what’s working and what needs to change. A mentor wants you to succeed and has the ability to give you that honest and long-view perspective. He or she can analyze what’s working well and what needs to change from an outside perspective—which is critical.

“A mentor is responsible for being honest and telling you like it is,” says Heather Huhman from glassdoor. “Your mentor’s job isn’t to tear your confidence down, but they should help you learn appropriate business behavior by giving you an opportunity for self-examination and growth.”

A Mentor Will Encourage You to Take (Necessary) Risks

You’ve already used your savings and got investors to open your business, how could you possibly need to take more risks? Well, if you want to succeed, you need to push past your comfort zone and do something to stand out from your competitors. This doesn’t mean you should be irrational and spend frivolously, but you should seize opportunities for growth or advancement.

In a 2016 survey of one thousand Americans, 31 percent of respondents said personal failure, including financial loss and unemployment, was their biggest fear. This fear of failure can (and likely will) hold you back as a business owner. A mentor, on the other hand, can help mitigate this fear, giving advice about when to take risks and where to be conservative.

“Smart small-business owners know that having an advantage like a mentor can be crucial in staying ahead of the market, and, in some cases, out of bankruptcy,” says John Rampton from Inc. “Look for the helping hand of a mentor to open your mind to new ideas, your address book to new contacts, and your business to new opportunities.”

They Can Help You Build Your Network

Even small business owners need a strong network. Your mentor can introduce you to investors, business partners, employees and potential customers. If he or she is well-respected in your industry, you’ll already have an in with their network. This makes it easier to form strong, beneficial relationships. Just because you run your own business, doesn’t mean you don’t need a strong team of professional colleagues.

The Question Remains: How do I find a mentor?

Before you can find a mentor, you need to know the necessary qualifications of a good one. They should…:

  • Be in the same industry, or one similar.
  • Have previous success running a business (preferably more than one).
  • Have a large network of business professionals.
  • Be honest and open, and willing to challenge you to learn, grow and succeed.

The best place to start looking is your own, current network. Do you know an entrepreneur or current or former business owner who inspires you? Find out more about their experience and email or reach out via LinkedIn for an initial meeting. You want to make sure this person has the necessary qualifications and the time and desire before you ask for their mentorship.

There are great online resources to help you find the right mentor as well. SCORE is a nonprofit association that helps small businesses through education and mentorship. You can use their online community to find an in-person or online mentor. You can also look into trade or professional associations or a business development center.

Find someone you admire who can help you make the most of your business. A mentor will cost you nothing and will be the best decision you’ve ever made for your professional growth and your business.

Author: Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and is currently a full-time writer and content marketing consultant. She’s written for Forbes, Manta, Lifehack and more. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07 and connect on LinkedIn.

Make a Phone Call! Expect Return Calls!

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With the Smartphone and texting revolution, many distributors do not want to make an actual phone call.

A real live talking phone call seems almost totally a thing of the past.

Make A Phone Call!

Reaching out to your client using every available resource including a phone call will ensure that your relationship continues and hopefully generates sales or a show date.

Leave a voicemail and expect a call back because you will get them!

Change Your Beliefs About Making A Call

Change your beliefs about using the calling feature of the phone:

Belief: “No one picks up the phone anymore.”

Actually, about 1 out of 5 people pick up the phone when it rings. The other people are busy and aren’t available to talk.

This statistic is exactly the same today as it was 12 years ago when I began having great success in my business by making phone calls.

Belief: “No one returns my call when I leave a message.”

In reality, a few people WILL return your call especially when you leave a GREAT voicemail message! Definitely it is the exception these days. A text after the VM message will improve the call back rate though!

Sometimes it is better if they do not call back….

If they call you back in the middle of dinner with your family, you won’t be prepared to have a successful phone conversation. You may want to consider telling them in your message that you will be calling back and when. They can expect your call and increase the odds that they pick up.

Belief: “If I make phone calls at the ‘right time,’ more people will answer the phone.

The best time to make calls is about you – not about the people you are calling.

The best time to make a call is on the days and times you want to book shows and appointments.

For example, if you want to have shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, make your phone calls on those evenings until your calendar is booked.

Leave a message today and chances are they will pick up next time.

With all the techie aspects of life a simple conversation can be rewarding for both parties!

Change your beliefs and make a phone call! It does work because everyone loves the personal connections that actually having a conversation elicits.

Use the calling feature of your phone to get business!

Do You Recycle?

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I admit it—I hate re-inventing the wheel. There’s nothing more debilitating to a To Do list than the belief that everything you do needs to be custom created. In this era of content creation, we all need to be brilliant recyclers.

There are several advantages of re-using copy/visuals throughout your marketing efforts. We all know that repetition is necessary when you’re trying to implant marketing messages into your audience’s consciousness. So using the exact same wording and visuals helps accelerate that process.

In addition, it allows you to focus on the strategic elements of your marketing and stop re-working the words. If you don’t like the words (or visuals) well enough to re-use them, then why are you using them at all?

Here’s the biggest misconception about recycling your marketing materials. You don’t want people to get bored or notice that you’re repeating yourself. With all due respect – you wish!

Unless you’re a marquee brand like Apple or Disney, no one is so mesmerized by your marketing efforts that they’re going to notice. Even if you recycle the content several times in a short period of time. No one is memorizing your content. But after awhile, your key points will stick. That’s the point, isn’t it?

Here are some ways to look at your existing content as a source for future content.

Your website: Oh, this is a treasure trove of content for your harvesting purposes. First, look at your website’s navigational headers. You can assume there’s a handful of blog posts, newsletter stories, direct mail letters etc. in each section of your website. Identify key messages in each section and expound on them for future content usage.

Your newsletter: Have you been producing newsletters for a while? Go back and find the evergreen articles that would still be helpful to your audience. Cherry pick the best ones and turn them into blog posts, social media status updates or emails to your best customers.

Your videos: Have you been smart enough to leverage videos in your marketing? Transcribe them (don’t have time? It’s cheap and easy to get it done) so you can re-purpose those pearls of wisdom. If they’re testimonials, those make great visual sound bites on social media and your website. If they’re how to videos, turn the content into blog posts or FAQs for your website.

Your owner’s manual/instructions: I know it’s not sexy but hopefully it’s written to be helpful. That’s great fodder for social media posts, website content, helpful direct mail pieces to recent purchasers and potential buyers.

Your speeches: These are a very strong source. Odds are, the content is pretty unique and only used for this one purpose. If you’re a typical speaker and use PowerPoint—you’ve got built in visuals and copy. Each key point belongs on your website at the very least. They probably will make excellent blog posts/newsletter articles or an entire direct mail series.

Remember that when you recycle, it doesn’t necessarily mean using the exact same copy in the same way. It’s certainly possible but you may have to change the length, add some set up to give the content a frame, or add details to add value. On the flip side, a piece of long content may need some pruning or it might make a great series, rather than a single piece.

When you start looking at your existing content, ask yourself if you could use it to create:

  • Ebooks
  • A Slideshare deck
  • Case studies
  • Pinterestboard or Instagram series
  • Blog posts
  • Infographics
  • Social media posts
  • Newsletter articles
  • Direct mail pieces
  • Podcasts

Look at your existing work as the building blocks for your future work. You’ll love the consistency, the time savings and new tools you can create when you recycle.

How the Right Technology Facilitates Working from Home

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Working from home might seem like a luxury, but in fact, it has serious benefits for both employees and employers. Plus, working from home is simple these days with cloud solutions that foster communication across cities, states, and the entire country.

TTI’s cloud software mobile app gives you this kind of ease in communication. No longer do you have to have a specialized “business phone” to communicate with colleagues; instead, you can use the app on your smartphone to receive communications from your work phone, make conference calls, and check your voicemail. Here, we’ll tell you how our cloud software app can simplify your life and make working from home possible.

Our app lets you send and receive communication using your business phone number.

One of the problems some people face when they work from home is that they don’t have dedicated business lines. As a solution, our app lets you use your business calling plan and business caller ID when calling clients or colleagues. This way, you’ll not only be identifiable as a professional from wherever you’re calling, but your clients will also have a business line at which to reach you.

Our app means your voicemail is available to you wherever you are.

Before working from home became so feasible, you had to access your voicemail on the phone where the voicemail was recorded. However, working from home makes it necessary to access your voicemail wherever you are. This is one of the benefits of our app—you can receive your messages wherever you are.

Our app is your virtual attendant in the cloud.

Another potential problem with working from home: staying on top of all your meetings, appointments, and project due dates in a mobile workspace. This problem is solved with our app’s virtual assistant, which helps you keep track of your schedule across several different devices.

Our app lets you conference with colleagues or clients.

Yet another problem solved with our app: with normal calling plans, conference calls are difficult. Not so with our app, which gives you conference calling functionality, allowing you to conduct the call either as its moderator or as an attendee. Further, our app gives you access to a shared contacts directory and your colleague’s extensions so you don’t have to dig before scheduling these conference calls.

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