Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Five Reasons Why Focusing Exclusively on SEM Can Obliterate Your Sales

(NOTE:  this is an extended version of an article that I wrote for

Search engine marketing offers a fantastic opportunity to reach prospective new customers of your company’s products or services.  Not only can you accurately target potential buyers based on their Google, Bing, and Yahoo search patterns, you can also gain insightful metrics to inform your SEM methodology, improve its ROI, and generate better results.

Unfortunately, many marketing execs rely too heavily on SEM, and some even make it the lone centerpiece of their department’s’ overall strategy.  By taking this path, they’re doing their organizations a huge disservice by not including a multimedia content creation plan in their marketing mixes.

I’ve found that content pieces that address the needs, goals, and challenges of prospective B2B or B2C customers - such as optimized press releases about company innovations; news stories in reputable media outlets; gated podcasts and white papers; and articles about timely topics that are written by company executives and placed in key industry news sites - are more enduring than SEM, less expensive to produce, and actually ramp up the value of SEM campaigns.

When queried as to why they’re prioritizing SEM at the exclusion of other tools, marketing execs with whom I’ve spoken have told me it’s because that’s what their competitors are doing, and they don’t want to be left behind.  This follow-the-pack mentality has five dangerous drawbacks that can negatively affect your company’s sales and marketing efforts:

  1. SEM can be expensive - One marketing director for a company with service locations around the U.S. told me that he spends at least $150,000 per month on SEM.  This outlay represents his primary ongoing marketing expenditure, and his competitors spend similar amounts on their own SEM programs.  His recurring SEM cost eats up the bulk of his company’s marketing budget.
  2. SEM doesn’t guarantee sales - While the above mentioned marketing director’s SEM-generated lead flow has been acceptable, his company’s sales have been soft, and he can’t understand why.
  3. SEM doesn't differentiate your organization from your competition - If all of your competitors are spending solely and heavily on SEM, there’s no way for any one company to stand out from the group, and there’s no way for prospective customers to determine which company’s offerings best address their goals, needs, and challenges.
  4. SEM doesn't create virality, shareability, or bookmarking - Your prospective customers don’t "like", tweet, save, share, or print the search engine ads that they see.  Once your ads disappear from the screen, their utility is gone.
  5. SEM doesn't help sales teams to finalize business deals with prospective customers - While SEM may help to drive leads and prospects to your door, it doesn’t give you the tools to help close sales.

The above limitations of SEM can be successfully reversed, and the potency of your SEM can be dramatically empowered, if a multimedia content creation program is added to your marketing strategy.  Here’s why:

  1. Multimedia content creation (MCC) is affordable - Whether it’s done internally or by hiring an outside consultant, the design and implementation of MCC can have a price tag that’s a fraction of your monthly SEM spend.
  2. MCC helps to build sales opportunities - By creating a vast online inventory of clear, concise, and convincing content that explains how your company’s products or services deliver the exact results that customers are looking for, MCC makes it possible for leads and prospects to begin buyers’ journeys that are inspired by their SEM discoveries about your company.
  3. MCC differentiates your organization from your competition - Having a wide array of easily findable customer-focused press releases about your company’s developments; news stories about your company in influential media outlets; and case studies/success stories about the efficacy of your company’s offerings will quickly set you apart from the pack.
  4. MCC creates virality, shareability, and bookmarking - By distributing your content on your company’s website, across social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), and via third party sites, it will be "liked", tweeted, saved, shared, and printed by the prospective customers who you’re targeting.  This ubiquity will add credibility to, and distinguish, the messaging of your SEM campaign.
  5. MCC helps sales teams to finalize business deals with prospective customers - In my experience, MCC has been the secret weapon to help sales pros close new business:  it provides compelling evidence that your company’s unique value proposition and brand promises are consistently delivered.  SEM may encourage your prospective customers to raise their hands, but MCC will be the “deal maker” that gets them to open their wallets.

While SEM can be a powerful component of your marketing strategy, the decision to view it as the only component that’s worth pursuing will degrade your company’s profitability.  To convert search engine-driven leads into sales and also achieve an unassailable edge over your competitors, enhance your company’s SEM with an accompanying MCC approach.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Six Simple Marketing Lessons that Education Reformers Continue to Ignore

If the true motivation behind the education reform movement has been to implement solutions that are “what’s best for kids”, then why have ed reform results in traditional public schools in Newark, Nashville, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New Orleans, New York state, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, and elsewhere been so tumultuous, ineffective, and harmful?

The answer lies in the fact that the marketing of the ed reformers’ ideas, the implementation of these ideas, and the ideas themselves have been deeply flawed.  If, as the reformers claim, they’ve sought to bring a disciplined business model to public education, they should have borrowed time tested wisdom from successful organizations as a guide to vet their experimental theories.  Instead, and unfortunately for the kids in the school districts where their destructively disruptive edicts have been implemented, the reformers’ corporate approach has the hallmarks of a hand-scrawled, Red Bull-stained business plan from a flailing Web 1.0 startup, rather than a coherent and sensible strategy from a profitable, top tier company.

Here are six Marketing 101 lessons that ed reformers should have followed when envisioning their policies and putting them into practice:

1. Update and improve what you’re selling.

Imagine if Apple’s iPhone 6s offered the exact same features and functionality as the original iPhone from 2007.  Going even further, imagine if all variations of the iPhone were replicas of first iPhone, and only their model numbers were changed.  Consumers would see through the ruse, and they’d take their business elsewhere.

Education reformers have been selling the exact same “model” since they introduced their offerings over 15 years ago.  Increasing high stakes standardized testing, demanding higher levels of teacher “accountability”, measuring the “effectiveness” of teachers and schools based on students’ test scores (and then firing teachers and closing schools based on those scores), extolling/exaggerating the “benefits” of no excuses charter schools while refusing to address their downsides, pushing digital learning (as a way of pushing out actual teaching), bashing teachers and their unions, seeking to remove teachers’ tenure protections, claiming that their “solutions” will close the achievement gap - it’s been the same rehashed stuff with no upgrades, revisions, or modifications of their tool kit (which, based on its inability to generate anything remotely close to iPhone-like enthusiasm, seems to be in perpetual beta mode).

If the ed reformers expect to achieve positive connections with their customers - which would be students, parents, and yes, teachers, since they’d be the ones who would be implementing the reforms - they need to head back to the lab, devise something new, test it, refine it, focus group it with their target customers, roll it out, and be willing to modify it based on feedback from the market.

2. Create market-specific versions of what you’re selling.

Starbucks recognizes that their customers’ tastes for coffee drinks vary tremendously in different regions of the world.  In their stores of Asia Pacific and Japan, customers can order a coffee jelly frappuccino, filled with boba-like jelly cubes made from brewed coffee.  In Peru, Starbucks sells a sweet frappe made from lĂșcuma, which is a sweet mango-like fruit that’s native to the country.  In India, Starbucks customers can enjoy an exclusive delicacy called Lemon Jazz Cheesecake.

Savvy companies with regional franchises or stores understand that the preferences, needs, and goals of consumers in every market are different, but this reality is lost on ed reformers.  From state to state and city to city, the reformers see all public school “problems” as being exactly the same.  To fix things, the ed reform toolkit is presented as a one-size-fits-all panacea for the complex challenges that the reformers say are irreparable by a “status quo” approach to public education.

In the view of American ed reformers, students, districts, schools, and teachers are identical from coast to coast - and therefore their turnkey “solutions” can work everywhere.  If the chief marketing officer for a national restaurant chain or retailer presented a rollout plan that refused to account for regional distinctions, the plan would collapse, and he/she would be fired.  Given the ed reformers’ long string of fails, a similar shake-up in their hierarchy - and modification of their methodology - is in order.

3. Don’t give your customers what you think they want, or what you want them to want.

Restaurant consultant Brandon O’Dell has found that one of the biggest mistakes that owners make is “offering customers what [they] think is good, instead of what the customer thinks is good”, which “is a surefire way to lose money in the restaurant business.”

To help business owners understand what their customers want, business consultant Evan Carmichael offers very specific advice:  “Have customers involved in your decision making process and have them help you guide your process.  Start talking to people.  Ask them about their problems and pain points.  You want people to give you feedback and tell you what’s helpful, what’s not, and what needs to be changed.”

To ed reformers, this fluid, customer-centric, bottom up system is anathema to their rigid, top down, universal recipe.

The reformers want us to be sold on the benefits that their trusty trick bag can bring, but by now, they should understand that it’s filled with stuff that they want us to want, and not what we truly want.  While they’d point to the innumerable astroturf groups that they fund as examples of grassroots approval of their agenda, they know, and we know, and they know that we know, that these endorsements aren’t legitimate and don’t represent the actual needs and goals of the majority of American parents, students, and teachers.

4. Don’t blame your customers if they're not buying what you’re selling. writer Ashtyn Douglas says that “blaming your customers is always a losing strategy.”  Marketing coach David Newman puts it even more bluntly in his Top 10 Nifty Excuses for Marketing Failure:

[If you’re not making sales and] you’re unwilling to make changes, get help, or innovate… then you suck at marketing… and ALL of these shortcomings are 100% your own damn fault.”

Ed reformers tend to blame everyone but themselves for the wide criticism and marketplace failures of their product line.  They scold teachers unions for misinforming parents, and they reprimand parents for listening to the unions and also for misunderstanding ed reform’s benefits.  Even former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan got in on the customer bashing when he blamed white suburban moms for their criticisms of the Common Core - the centerpiece of his divisive ed reform philosophy - by saying that the moms were upset that their children weren’t as brilliant as they thought.

Ironically, some of the biggest supporters of ed reform (and blamers of ed reform’s customers) are America’s top CEOs and financiers, who wouldn’t dare implement such off-putting tactics in their own organizations’ interactions with clients and buyers.  If these business pros insisted that the same successful sales and marketing best practices that their firms follow were also used by the ed reformers, the movement might possibly have achieved greater traction, support, and buy-in.

5. Listen to Bill Gates.

The Microsoft co-founder has offered valuable advice for professionals in all industries, including such aphorisms as:

·                     “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

·                     “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

·                     “Be humble and mindful in [your] actions and words. Seek and heed the counsel of outside voices.”

It’s interesting to note that Gates is one of America’s most prominent financial supporters of charter schools and the Common Core - so, as with the CEOs and financiers discussed above, his marketplace acumen is obviously not guiding his ed reform pursuits.  If he had heeded his own business wisdom, he might have seen a better ROI on his billion dollar ed reform investments.

6. Make your customers fall in love with you.

The common sense tips of content marketing consultant Brian Honingman of Honingman Media are axiomatic, but his wise recommendations are just not the way the ed reformers prefer to roll:

·                     Treat your Customers Right

·                     Respect Your Customers

·                     Hear What Your Customers are Saying

·                     Treat a Customer Like a Valued Partner

·                     Build Trust

·                     Be Transparent

·                     Recognize Responsibility:  The Customer is Always Right

If ed reformers don’t understand why more of their target customers haven’t fallen in love with their strategy for school salvation, they shouldn’t be flummoxed:  the fact that they don’t integrate Honingman’s powerful maxims into their customer relationship management (CRM) is clear evidence that, as David Newman would say, they suck at marketing and their shortcomings are 100% their own damn faults.

The education reformers have billions at their disposal from interest groups, hedge funders, CEOs, and executives from Wall Street and Silicon Valley - all of whom passionately support the reformers’ positions.  This vast treasure is being used to buy influence with politicians, fund pro-ed reform astroturf groups, and (unsuccessfully) sway public opinion.  But unless the ed reformers implement the smart marketing and CRM guidance discussed above and adapt their agenda to the needs and goals of their target customers, they’ll continue to sell us aging, defective inventory that American parents, students, and teachers will continue to refuse to buy.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Hollywood Power Broker's Top 5 Sales Fails

Recently, the Hollywood gossip site Defamer posted an article about Mitch Grossbach, an agent at the powerful CAA talent agency in Los Angeles.  The article discusses how Grossbach is seeking to move his fashion representation team to another talent agency, and how he’s using a PowerPoint presentation entitled “Agency Expansion Opportunity” to explain why he should be hired.

According to Defamer, Grossbach is having a difficult time finding a new home for himself and his team, and a quick look at his sales presentation reveals why.

Whether your goal is to do business on Wilshire Boulevard, Wall Street, or Main Street, here are five of Grossbach’s mistakes that you should avoid in your own sales presentations:

1. Don’t be misleading.

In his presentation, Grossbach says that the largest deal that his team created at CAA was an “8-figure Creative Director renegotiation”.  Since agents are paid a commission of 10%, that would be a lot of revenue on one deal for CAA.  However, insiders know that the deal wasn’t paid in one lump upfront sum:  it was likely a multi-year deal with performance bonuses that, if the performance targets were achieved, would result in an 8-figure payday.  The actual upfront payment and guaranteed compensation were probably much lower then what Grossbach is purporting.

Avoid the inclusion of such murky hyperbole in your own presentations.  Don’t bend the truth or play loose with the facts about what your product or service can deliver:  a savvy prospect will see right through any misleading info and absolutely call you on it.  This will diminish your credibility and eliminate your chances of closing the deal.

2.  Don’t be confusing.

Grossbach claims that his fashion division at CAA “will be cash-flow positive and profitable this Fiscal year”.  If that’s true, why would CAA be willing to let him go?

In order for your presentation to be persuasive, make sure that the info you present is precise.  Don’t toss in any details which could create friction, hesitation, or indecision from the person who’s reading it.

3.  Don’t be vague.

Grossbach offers information about his accomplishments that’s written so loosely, it raises more questions than it answers.

Your presentation should be crafted to be clear and convincing with zero usage of industry lingo or jargon.  Prospective clients will pick up on any hazy generalities, superfluous fluff, or clichĂ© biz-speak, so don’t share ambiguous information that could possibly raise red flags.

4.  Don’t be unverifiable.

Grossbach promises that his team “is uniquely positioned to identify fashion industry deal flow prior to anyone else.”  It would be interesting to hear how Grossbach can confirm that bold proclamation.

All declarations in your presentation should be provable with facts, data, and examples.  Just because you say something doesn’t make it true or believable.  In terms of what you need to include in order to back up your assertions, if it takes you more than one sentence to make your case, then the assertion probably shouldn’t be used.

5.  Don't forget to include metrics and results.

If it’s your opinion against the opinion of a prospect, the prospect’s opinion usually wins.  But if it’s your data against the opinion of a prospect, the data tends to win the day.

Grossbach’s presentation didn’t offer much in the way of metrics or results, and the integrity of his information was suspect.

To maximize your presentation's reliability and credibility, incorporate as many measurable results and metrics as possible.  Did your product or service help a client to make money?  If so, how much?  Did what you're selling help to save a client money or increase productivity?  If so, by how much?  These kind of inarguable figures bulletproof your presentation, and make your product or service that much more desirable to a prospect.

Grossbach’s presentation may or may not win him a new home for his fashion team’s services.  But if the info that he pitched was more clear, concise, and convincing, he absolutely would have had a much better shot at landing a fab-ulous new gig.