Feb 212013
 
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In fact, I’ll even help you.

Curating other peoples’ content is one of the best ways to build your own social media brand. Content curation, if done well, communicates several attractive qualities about you:

a) You know who the cool kids are.
b) You’re not afraid to put your opinions on display.This is a very early painting
c) You’re magnanimous (like a boss!) So you’re secure enough in who you are to acknowledge others’ contributions to the conversation.

Like anything else in social media — or life — there are better and worse ways to curate content. For a look at something that — in my opinion, at least — leans toward “better,” here’s a tweet I curated today (we can discuss curating Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook content some other time).

First, the original tweet:

Now, if we just wanted to “phone in” our curated content, we could just click that little Retweet button, couldn’t we? Or we could do slightly better and copy-paste an “old school” retweet along these lines:

RT @FileXpress Eliminating Insecure and Unreliable File Transfer with FileXpress [New #video] http://bit.ly/13gvOzx #MFT

To be fair, sometimes a quick retweet is all we have time for. And sometimes the original tweet/content is so good, it deserves a straight pass-through. But if the opportunity to curate is there, and we have the time, we take it. Because we aren’t mindless automatons, are we?** No, we’re not. We’re human beings. We’re original. We have something to say. We have value to add. So we consider following the pro tips* below.

  1. Links that appear closer to the start of the tweet are more likely to be clicked. No, I don’t know why they are more likely to be clicked. They just are.
  2.  

  3. Editorialize when you curate. Insert an opinionated/arresting/ironic/funny comment to give your retweet some pop. Separate your editorial comments from the content being curated with a familiar symbol. My personal favorite is this: }
  4.  

  5. Trim text down to the minimum, while keeping it readable to English speakers. Leave as much as 25 to 40 characters of “RT space,” if you can. This lets others get a word in if they decide to RT your RT. Note: it’s ok to neuter the meaning of the original headline (a little) in the process of making this extra space. After all, this is the Internet. Truthiness before truth!

 
Here’s an example of how I used these tips in my curated tweet:

 

* Use of the term “pro tip” is not meant to imply that I am an actual professional. In fact, I’m willing to bet a large sum that you can share a curation tip or two of your own in the comments section. Care to take that bet?

** If you had to think about that question, it’s ok. And it proves you’re not a mindless automaton.

Jun 062012
 
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In a letter to potential shareholders included in Facebook’s pre-IPO S-1 filing, CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote this:

We hope to improve how people connect to businesses and the economy. We think a more open and connected world will help create a stronger economy with more authentic businesses that build better products and services.”

2_t-zuckerberg_apOn reading this, I was struck by Zuckerberg’s use of the word “authentic” to describe businesses. This adjective is more often applied to people than to companies. For a person, being inauthentic means failing to be yourself, which often leads to failing other people. For people who want to succeed in life, being authentic is considered a best practice. Yes, one can still achieve success by fooling some of the people some of the time. Even the un-fooled have learned to tolerate this fact. But it’s the “real McCoys” and “straight shooters” who earn our enduring respect.

Can the same be said of companies? Do straight-shooting companies also win in the marketplace? We could debate that question all day. But regardless of the current “truth,” Zuckerberg believes that in the future, authenticity will be a source of competitive advantage for companies.

These days, it’s easy to notice when companies fail their customers, employees, or shareholders. Would a more authentic business be less likely to let its stakeholders down? If so, the Authentic Business may become the new standard of excellence, due to the favorable business outcomes a commitment to authenticity creates.

And we’ll soon be tearing down cubicle walls.
And we’ll throw the cubicle walls into a burning forge.
And the burning forge will operate 24/7,

giving rise to a large new army of…

…Business Authenticity Consultants!

[I know that won’t actually happen. But do you think it could work as a Super Bowl ad?]

Ok, back here in our world, this leaves me with two (other) questions:

1. What does it mean for a business to be authentic?
2. How can companies use social media platforms, today, to become more authentic?

I’d welcome your thoughts (on question 1, question 2, or my Super Bowl ad concept/nightmare)  in the comments section.

Mar 302012
 
Mar 212012
 
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The team down at Austin-based Marketing Automation Software guide Falconry Group Marketing Automation Blog Postasked for my commentary on one of their blog posts. I’ve been meaning to write about this topic anyway. So I’m happy to oblige.

Before I start, bear with me on a couple of points:

1) I’m going to make one or two contextual jumps from marketing automation to the general (mis)use of automation in our culture.

2) I may get a little “aggro” about this stuff. Now, I rarely launch into angry screeds on this blog. I’m more of a blue-sky, happy-talk, it-will-all-work-out-in-the-end marketer. So if I offend anyone, please give me a get-out-of-jail-free pass this one time. Or give me hell in the comments section. :)

Ok. End of preamble.

Justin Gray, CEO of LeadMD, posted this gem last week: Marketing Automation ROI: Myths and Facts

Gray nicely summarizes the soaring hopes and earthbound realities companies experience when deploying marketing automation (MA) software. And he outlines several smart strategies marketers can adopt to increase their odds of success.

Gray’s straight talk is refreshing. Because much of the chatter in the MA space is influenced by MA software vendors. In the past, I have been critical of these vendors’ marketing and sales practices. I also believe that (some of) these vendors are (partly) responsible for the unrealistic expectations Gray notes in his piece.

But responsibility and blame are two different things. As Bono once sang, “If you need someone to blame // Throw a rock in the air you’ll hit someone guilty.”

The MA software vendors operate in a highly competitive, fast-growing space. In reality, they are only doing what they feel is required to grow revenues and create shareholder value. So I’m simultaneously aware (I’m a Gemini – it’s what I do) that these criticisms (a) are pointless, and (b) ignore a much larger reality in our culture.

Folks, we have got to put down the automation crack-pipe. It is killing us.

No, this is not yet another Quixotic lament about the quickening pace of technological change. I love everything that technology does to benefit humanity. But I H-A-T-E to see it used to de-humanize human relationships.

A poorly designed sales process is far from the worst offender. There are many others, like political robocalling, commercial robotexting, robo-foreclosures, and [insert your example here].

And now here’s THIS ridiculous news story, which befouled my laptop screen yesterday morning.

“Employers ask job seekers for Facebook passwords”

Yes, I realize the story isn’t about a failure of automation. But if “give us your login” becomes a mainstream hiring practice, you know there’d be an app for that!

The request to inspect an applicant’s Facebook account is a symptom of the same disease that we (wrongly) treat with marketing automation software. That disease is the belief that we can insulate our corporate and personal assets from the unpredictable nature of human relationships.

The truth is this: recruiting — like marketing, sales, management, or anything else in business — is like life itself. It involves uncertainty and risk. And, natural disasters aside, most of that randomness involves other people.

People – dang them! – don’t always do what we want them to do. So we build and operate systems to help us understand their behavior. But no machine can out-human a human in anticipating, and tending to, another human’s changing needs. That day may come. But even then, it won’t come cheap. This is why we attract, hire, and retain great recruiters, marketers, salespeople, and managers. And we outfit them, when necessary, with labor-saving software.

This topic relates closely to the name of our business: The Falconry Group.

The falcon and falconer in our logo are like any two people in the business world. We each have different talents (or talons) and abilities. We all have our own stuff going on. And we’d all like to believe that we don’t really need each other to survive.

On some days, in some ways, we’re right about that. And if a poorly designed business process pushes us together against our will, a broken wing or a clawed-out eye can be the result!

But sometimes, like the trend line in our logo, we choose to work together. And when we commit the time and resources to do it right, the results are, predictably, amazing.

Mar 072012
 
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social media failA few years ago I moderated a webinar for a San Francisco B2B media company called Tippit, now Ziff-Davis B2B Focus. The presenter was Tippit’s CEO Scott Albro. Scott said something on that webinar I’ve repeated (always with attribution!) many times since.

“In social media, the people are the media.”

To the casual observer, social media can look like a cluttered landscape of tweets and likes and follower counts and Klout scores. But behind all of that are people building relationships with other people, doing favors, earning trust, conversing, relating, connecting, etc….

Social media strategies that produce real-world results – e.g., product purchases, event attendance or sponsorships, favorable reviews or inbound links — require time and a real human touch.

Sure, you can buy an automated tool that employs lots of gimmicks to rapidly increase your follower count. But nobody who is influential in social media is going to help your business succeed if your Tweet-stream contains a bunch of pithy quotes or random links, and is completely devoid of conversations with other PEOPLE.

Think of it like a cocktail party or networking event. The guy getting in everyone’s face selling a multi-level-marketing product might, just by sheer force of will, get 1 out of 100 people to “join his downline” at the event. But the other 99 will write him off as tacky and self-serving.

Please, for the love of humanity: DON’T BE THAT GUY.

Instead, be the guy (or gal) who makes solid connections with the 10-15 connectors and mavens at the party, and then follows up to help them with THEIR goals so you can ultimately achieve YOUR goals.

Check out the #2daysinseattle Twitter conversation. The Seattle visitors and convention bureau hired an agency to line up 30 influential tweeps to curate content, converse with people online, and build awareness of Seattle tourism options. Here’s the list of curators.

My point in sharing this example is not that you must hire an agency to line up 30 tweeps. [Depending on your resources and level of urgency, that may be either be a master stroke or a catastrophic fail.]

But it does help to illustrate how the game works. It requires humans who can use machines to talk to other humans. And eventually, when trust and influence are in place, some of those humans will be inspired to take actions that create commercial value for other humans.

Building that influence and trust requires time and people. And yes, it also requires investment.

Tell me I’m wrong about all this in the space below.  Or tell me that I’m partly right but missed a key point or two. Or tell me that I need to call my mother.

Aug 172011
 
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Part one of this series described the importance of minimizing friction and maximizing trust as you attract and manage leads.

Part two describes how these low-friction, high-trust* leads help you feed your beast.

* These adjectives are TLOTL equivalents of free-range, grass-fed, gluten-free, and no high fructose corn syrup.

Why Leads Matter, Reason #2: Leads have unique and valuable insights into how you can get more new business.

If you have an established business, you have customers, employees, vendors, shareholders, and tax authorities who need your attention. Every member of those groups has a commercial relationship with you. Those relationships come with obligations and expectations. Your reward for maintaining those relationships is… …you get to keep running your business. And truth be told, if you’re doing an AMAZING JOB of managing those relationships, you probably don’t need to worry too much about leads. They will seek you out and buy from you. And if they have to crawl through five miles of gravel just to join your exclusive club of happy customers, they will thank you for the privilege.

If you’ve reached this state of business bliss, leads are, understandably, an afterthought. If you’re a generous CEO, you might consider a kind gesture towards them. Perhaps free first aid kits.

But 99.9% percent of businesses don’t have these high-class problems. For those companies, existing commercial relationships consume nearly all their resources. Some growth occurs organically. But customers churn, prices flatten out, fixed costs stay fixed, while shareholders demand predictable, profitable growth.

This reality is why I’ve titled this series of posts, “Why Leads Matter.” If I ask a CEO how to define a lead, many will give a straight-forward answer like, “it’s the people who talk to Sales about buying our product.” That’s a good start, but it’s incomplete.

Like any living beast, your business must eat. You may have great hunters on your sales team. But they hunt leads. Leads feed your beast.

By definition, leads haven’t bought your product, yet. But they’re considering a purchase right now. And that makes them unique.

Your customers and past customers have already drunk your Kool-Aid. Focus group attendees will accept your $250 in exchange for two hours away from home and their opinion of your Kool-Aid in a simulated “I’m thirsty” scenario.

But your leads, right now, are accumulating a ton of information that is valuable to you.

How so? Well, they’re:

  • researching the overall market (analyst reports, research briefs, etc)
  • listening to consultants, resellers, and others knowledgeable in your category
  • talking to salespeople **
  • looking at web sites, advertisements, and promotional offers **
  • receiving email and direct mail, attending webinars, viewing infographics **
  • participating in social media conversations**

** yours and your competitors’

The wisdom of this crowd can’t be overestimated. You could easily pay someone $100K per year to know your market as well as your leads. Maybe you already do. If so, ask them to show you how your leads are being heard in your product, marketing, sales, and operations plans. Remember, these are people who have given you (some of) their attention. They deserve (some of) yours.

Yes, this is my dog (The Mighty Quinn) when he was a puppy. No, I didn’t stage this pic. Please don’t report me to PETA.

One more nice thing about leads: you’ve already paid for them. Whether you’ve spent $100 or $100 million to bring leads to your door, they’re here now.

Short-term revenue is an ideal way to exchange value with your leads. But it’s far from the only way.

Listen to your leads.

Then feed them to your beast.

Aug 102011
 
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b2b marketing leads

I think leads are important.

[I know. Shocking.]

In fact I think the topic of leads is important enough to warrant at least 10-15 uninterrupted minutes of a CEO’s time each week.

As the owner of two small businesses, I know that’s expensive time. Leads are worth it.

In each of my next three posts, I offer a new reason why.

Why Leads Matter, Reason #1: Leads mark the key moment in time when previously invisible and anonymous people trust your brand enough to voluntarily “de-cloak.”

Why do they de-cloak? Do they do it because they’re ready to buy?

Sometimes they are. But at this point, probably not. They may buy later, if they still trust your brand and value your products. Right now, they just want information you have that (they believe) will be useful to them. So they volunteer information they have that (you believe) will be useful to you. And they would like this exchange to be frictionless.

What does “frictionless” mean to your leads in this context? It means that when they “buy” your product information with their contact information, they get what they pay for. Nothing less, and nothing more. If you promise people who fill out your registration form a free buyer’s comparison guide, give them a good one, and promptly. But don’t follow that up with an encore of three promotional emails per week until death-or-the-unsubscribe-link-do-you-part. And don’t tell your sales team to call blitz that group of people. Doing that may yield a few sales (that you might’ve won anyway), but it will leave a poor impression on the 90%-plus of your leads who don’t return your sales reps’ calls.

let's put an end to keyboard rage...

This kind of silent damage to your brand usually goes unreported. Your leads are too busy and polite to complain about it. But it only takes one disgruntled ex-lead to, in a fit of keyboard rage, flame your brand to 5000 Twitter followers, and their 5000 followers, and so on…. The choices only get worse from there, e.g., cease-and-desist letters, public mea culpas that distract your staff, etc…

Let’s not use the lead management process to mass produce disgruntled ex-leads. A poorly designed process won’t mass-produce revenue. In fact it might mass-reduce revenue. Instead, let’s help buyers get information with minimal friction, and then optimize the process to book more new customers.

When we remove friction we make room for trust. Trust, as you may have noticed, is a bit of a scarce resource these days. But real trust, which can only be earned and never bought, is a powerful thing. Trust attracts new visitors to your web site. Trust converts visitors to leads and leads to customers. And over time, trust makes customers into loyal fans who refer their peers and help you attract more visitors to your web site, and so on….

Image credit: Graur Razvan Ionut

Apr 092011
 
Video thumbnail for youtube video Smart social media – 5 ways KLM gets it right
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A friend in Amsterdam shared this video on Facebook today, and I was inspired to spin it here on the TLOTL blog. It struck me as a potential “beginning of the end” in the tedious debate of the question: is social media dead?

I refuse to waste pixels issuing birth or death notices for social media (or wade into questions of its citizenship for that matter). But if you are still monitoring social media’s vital signs, or if you just like watching videos, then watch the video. Then read my analysis. And whether you agree with me but think I missed a few points, or you think I’m hopelessly hopped up on social media Kool-Aid, I invite you to make your case in the comments section. [Hey, as long as you’re not a comment spammer or some other type of internet n’er-do-well, you can even launch an epic vitriolic screed against all forms of social media containing links back to your blog or Twitter page.]

Here’s my take on what this video and story does for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines:

  1. Launches a new Miami route with a dose of the fun a KLM passenger can have there. Message: when you fly KLM the transportation is part of the destination. And now one of the reasons you would go to Miami in the first place is one of the reasons you’ll consider flying KLM to get there.
  2. Targets a customer segment with a high expected lifetime value. If you’re a major airline in 2011, it’s nice to fill a seat. It’s reeaaally nice to fill it with young people who tend to travel in groups, probably don’t have kids or a spouse to think of, and spend disposable income on international leisure and entertainment. Seats filled (for 16-18 hours round trip!) with those kinds of passengers provide KLM with a captive audience who will buy drinks, meals, movies, and sign up for credit cards and loyalty programs.
  3. Connects a distinctive, generations-old brand with notions of youth, vitality, style, escape and adventure. These themes appeal to a wide cross-section of the traveling public, and indeed have been part of the air travel sales pitch to consumers for much of the last century.
  4. Shows KLM:
    a. Using social media. Period.
    b. Using social media to listen to customers, and not just to blast out special offers or manage the TV news cycle.
    c. Using social media to engage customers in profitable exchanges – “yes, we’ll gladly move the Miami route launch up one week, but you gotta get your raver friends to fill some seats.” I bet shareholders like that part of the story.
  5. Differentiates KLM as a company that rises above the B.S. — at a time when the dominant storylines in air travel are rising fares, nickel-and-dime surcharges, and (in America at least) TSA body scans, KLM is setting a Guinness World Record for the highest altitude dance party.  This is really smooth, and the nexus of content and context matters a lot here. How would we feel about this video if this were 1999 instead of 2011? In a world awash in post-Cold War, dot com, fin de siècle giddiness, a thumping, transatlantic, 30K-foot dance party would’ve looked terribly tacky and “me too.”

Leon Pals, a Rotterdam-based trendwatcher, posted on thenextweb.com that even if this video is just a clever concoction of KLM’s marketing department or creative agency, he enjoyed it as an example of effective social media. (Such sleight of hand would seem a needless risk for KLM, in my opinion.)

I would take Pals’ point further and say that even if some level of storyline manufacturing took place, this would only underscore social media’s value as a communications channel.

And BTW, let’s just take it as a given that all media is subject to misuse. We should move beyond moral outrage and accept that, at some level, we’re just going to have to figure out the difference between authentic and synthetic messaging. We can try to regulate and we should. And we can hope that those who think it’s ok to “pee in the pool” (I’m talking to you J.C.-Penny-and-or-the-agency-that-supposedly-acted-of-its-own-accord-to-employ-black-hat-SEO-practices-on-J.C.-Penny’s-behalf) will eventually be caught in the act, publicly shamed, and sent to the big house if necessary.

But in the meantime, we marketers have a job to do, and that is TO SELL. And whether or not J.C. Penny or anyone else is cheating is not our concern. What we need to do is tell great stories that inspire the right customer to engage our brands, and ultimately, buy our products. Well done KLM.

Dec 042010
 
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As I wrote in a previous post, not every company is ready or willing to do the heavy lifting that may be required to sustainably improve their inbound sales process. For some companies, it’s genuinely a case of “not ready.” For others, it’s really a case of “not willing” masquerading as “not ready.”

I completely understand “not ready.” As a business owner myself, I hate starting things that don’t get finished, or don’t get finished well. So as long as there’s a plan afoot to “get ready,” I never challenge “not ready” clients on their non-readiness.

The “not willing” prospect is a bit trickier. There are often deep-seated reasons why they resist making even simple changes. And rather than try to burrow under the surface to understand those reasons, I’ve learned to just keep these prospects in my “nurture” queue until they become willing and ready, or at least willing to get ready.

You may be trying to get your company (or client) ready/willing to build a better inbound sales process. Here is a list I put together of positive outcomes they can expect, that may help them move them over, or through, the wall:

1) Zero waste – A healthy inbound sales process provides on-demand visibility into, and management of, rotting leads – i.e., inbound requests for contact from prospects that do not receive a response within a prescribed period of time. Lead rot is bad for everyone. It’s a crappy experience for the prospect, it erodes favorable brand perceptions (Hell hath no fury like the prospect ignored – especially if that prospect uses social media), and it’s a waste of the company’s money and time.

Amazingly, many companies have lead rot, know they have it, and simply choose to allow it to continue. Sales management may not want to admit that leads ever reach a rotten state. Or they may even believe that excess demand is evidence that they need more headcount. The marketing manager may choose not to shine a light on rotting leads for fear of being perceived as a scold. S/he may even view rotting leads as a convenient back-pocket example (to be used only under duress / management scrutiny) of how “I’ve done my job” supplying leads to sales. And to the chief executive or business owner, any spirited discussion of rotting leads may appear like petty sparring between marketing and sales, or a distraction from the more pressing matter of this period’s revenue. So discussion is tabled, or it never happens in the first place, and the waste goes on.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A good process can eliminate rotting leads, reduce friction between all the participants, and help drive this period’s revenue.

2) A simple signaling system – Companies that “get inbound” have dead-simple metrics, dashboards, and management tools that everyone can understand with minimal training. And they use these resources to optimize the process. For example, if the dashboard reveals a surplus of leads, they pursue one of several solutions: increase sales headcount, reduce marketing, or simply re-route the excess leads to under-utilized sales reps or channel partners. Conversely, if leads are temporarily in short supply, they can increase marketing spend, or optimize web creative or lead capture forms.

3) Transparency – Yes, it’s a buzzword that has unfortunately been tarnished by many of its non-practitioners. But it’s also the goose that lays the golden eggs in a great inbound sales process. When companies encourage sharing of vital information, the resulting flow of facts, data, analysis – and, heck, even some well-reasoned conjecture — helps make the system work better over time.

4) Better budgeting and forecasting – Companies that have a good handle on inbound marketing and sales are better able to invent their future than those that don’t. When we see the entire revenue factory from loading dock to shipping dock, we can be smarter about budgeting and planning.

For example, we can estimate the expected yield from marketing investments, in terms of leads and opportunities generated. We can then factor this data into the sales headcount budget. And now that we know where the leads are coming from, how many people will be working them, and how those people and leads should reasonably perform, we can estimate the revenues that will result, using past experience to forecast within a range of potential outcomes.

5) Tighter management of marketing spend – With a well-defined lead management system, marketing can compare lead generation investments against well-defined cost of acquisition benchmarks. This data can be used to periodically re-balance – similar to the way money managers rebalance IRAs and 529 College Funds — the marketing portfolio for optimal returns. Or it can be used to manage vendors and programs to lower cost and/or better performance.

6) Tighter management of sales resources – With better visibility into leading indicators, proactivity replaces reactivity. Sales management no longer has to wait for the end-of-period results to inform their decisions on staffing, territories, lead distribution, and other process changes.

7) Minimal friction for everyone – Prospects can evaluate vendors without feeling ignored or harassed by sales reps. Sales reps have their best leads and opportunities (in whatever way their company defines “best”) in front of them at all times, stack-ranked by lead score or other predictive indicator. Sales managers know how many leads and deals each rep is managing without having to conduct a Spanish Inquisition (no, not the comfy chair!!) with each sales rep. Executives can quickly assess risk / upside to the current next period’s sales forecast. Marketing and Finance can nimbly collaborate on near- and long-term priorities, from promotions and sales closing tools, to annual budgets and cost of acquisition models. And finally, the added visibility into the sales process helps Operations make better staffing and other decisions that affect bottom line results.