Saturday, February 9, 2013

When Online Forms Shut Out Leads

I just stopped cold in my tracks in someone's lead-generation funnel.

I was on a software website that provided very high-level info and lots of interesting claims about effectiveness.

Okay, I was hooked, but I needed more information.

I clicked through what promised to be a "self-guided tour" - an online demo of the software. Oh, goodie! I can't wait.

But then - a form - with 16 fields for me to fill out (including "best time of day to contact"). And the submit button read "Request Demonstration."

Uhhh - no.

I definitely wasn't planning on talking to Headset Bob about a product I still don't know enough about. Slow your roll, playah, as the kids used to say.

Yes, we marketing and sales types want to get our hands on leads, but providing clear information about a product/service is one of the best ways to pre-qualify your leads. Let me decided if your product is worth my time and money. If it is, I'll ask for more info and even risk a phone call with Headset Bob. But until then, why would you want to waste your time following up with every form-fill lead before they even know your offering?

Cart before the horse much?

Moral of the story: Don't "form" me out of viewing your online demo. When I'm looking for information about your product or service offering, now is not the time to gather intel on me. Now is the time to give me the info about your company that I want.

Let's get started in some trust-building, shall we? By the time you DO get my info, I'm a hot lead.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Top 10 All-Time Google Search Terms
What Are We Looking For?

Google's analytics for its own search users reveal some unsurprising results when it comes to what we all have been googling from 2004 until now (November 2011). There is, however, another way to assess these top 10 terms people use in their Google searches, and how those Google searches relate to our deeper motivations and desires.

#1. Facebook
The number one Google search term was our good friend Facebook. People crave connectedness with others, and the internet has allowed socia media sites like Facebook take over as the online version of the coffee klatch. Relatedness is a primary need for hominoids, including internet users.

#2. lyrics
Ever get a song in your head, and it drives you nuts, because you only know three words, but you absolutely need to sing it in the shower? Like millions of others, you may google the song title, including the key search term "lyrics" to find out the words to that pesky song. Googling lyrics is poor man's karaoke.

The lyrics search at #2 indicates that we value music, and digital music sales (think digital formats like .mp3s and online music stores like iTunes) has exploded worldwide more than 500% from 2006 to 2011. Remember when you $15 for a new CD that had tracks you didn't even like? At least the CDs had the lyrics printed right in the case insert.

#3. you
Yes, "you." This reveals how people use query terms when they search for how-to advice to specific problems. For example, "how do you do a good presentation?" is the way modern English users ask for general instructions, instead of the more formal "how does one..."

The internet and social media are informal and personal forums. If you've been in an online chat forum, you'll understand what I mean when I say that formal English is a handicap in the land of lmao, j/k,and ty - imho.

At a deeper level, the use of the informal "you" versus the formal "one" reinforces the idea that we crave relatedness. But is it ironic that we're seeking it from our computers?

#4. yahoo and #6 google
Searching for the search engines. I've done that: I've googled Yahoo! and I've yahooed Google. I must admit I've never msn'd or foxfired anything, though. What a noob.

#5. youtube
Actress Jennifer Connelly once said, "You don't want to get rid of your experiences, because they're your experiences - good or bad - and you need them, but it would be great if they weren't on the video shelf!”

In the case of Youtube, the "video shelf" is an online forum of millions of videos of people slipping on ice, making their dogs say funny things, and, of course, rick rolling. Video is the next best thing to being there in person - or even better than being there thanks to editing software.

By the way ("BTW" for you chat pros), as of this post, the number one Youtube video of all time is...

Jusin Bieber's song "Baby." This tells me that there a lot of pre-teen girls using the internet.

#7. my
Similar to #3 above ("you"), the search term "my" can be part of a query such as "how do I get my cat to stop waking me up" or a disambiguative search such as "my space."

#8. games
According to Pew Research, 53% of all young adults (18-29) go online simply to kill time. No longer must we resort to furtively playing solitaire at work while there is an internet-ful of online gaming sites that can jazz up the time normally reserved for forwarding spreadsheets and answering customer phone calls.

In fact, 15% of Americans play online games according to Nielsen. This doesn't include the millions of people playing console games, like the PlayStation or the xbox.

Whether it's Call of Duty or Farmville, we use games to replicate the adrenaline rushes that our ancestors faced when they left their caves for the morning commute to the watering hole. Games have built-in rewards systems, power-ups, and status-building ranking systems. This fulfills another of needs to achieve standing within our social groups, even if only virtually.

#9. weather
If we need to leave home, it's nice to know whether to bring an umbrella. This is perhaps the most obviously practical result from the top 10 Google search terms of all time.

#10. news
Have you ever opened a browser screen with the full intention of checking the weather or finding the lyrics to Justin Bieber's "Baby" song only to find yourself reading the fascinating story of the surfer and the shark?

We are getting more of our news from the internet. For the 79% of Americans who are online, the internet ranks as a top source of information, and nearly half of adults use mobile devices to get local news, according to Pew Research. The number one internet news site is Yahoo! News according to ebiz.

We've always wanted to know what is going on around us; it's a primal need to increase our sense of certainty. News can provide us important information about events to which we may need to react. Or it simply can satisfy our weird fascination with pandas eating cake.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Good Morning as Manipulation: Establishing Certainty Before Noon

Over my next posts, I will address how the brain's predictable need for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness (embodied in the SCARF model) affects its reactions to sales and marketing communications.

Can you guess what is the most commonly used opening line for presentations occurring before noon?
“Good morning,” of course, delivered with varying levels of energy and inflection.

It is perhaps the safest opening line we can use, instead of risking an interesting, attention-grabbing, riveting opening, we often fall back to a hallway greeting to launch our presentations for multimillion-dollar projects.

But why?
Expressing a common greeting, which is generally followed by introduction of the presenters' names and credentials, plays to a predictable human need, the need for certainty.

“Good morning” is a safe opening because, unless it is said after noon, it is true. It is neutral. It provides a high level of certainty that, in a presentation, we are not getting off on the wrong foot. But whose certainty benefits the most by this?

The speaker's.
The speaker is all nerves and worried about how their presentation makes or breaks the deal. Saying “good morning” is a small form of manipulation that pretends at friendliness, stalls for time, tries to develop accord with the audience on a fleeting reference to the socially accepted way of time telling.

In short, good morning plays it safe.

A professor in one of my early communications course made a strong statement. “All communication is manipulation.”
I remember being very uncomfortable with that supposition, in part because the word “manipulation” is laden with negative connotations: brainwashing, coercion, selfishness. I've come to realize, however, that even my hallway “good morning” greetings to coworkers are, in fact, manipulation.
While not an effort at some Machiavellian power play, even a simple greeting is meant to cultivate an awareness of my presence. It provides a gauge of my temperament. It encourages a like response. Further, the absence of a verbal greeting itself can communicate a statement: I'm in a foul mood; I'm very busy; I'm not feeling well. The unexpressed greeting is also a communication meant to manipulate, whether it's “stay away” or “ask me how I'm doing.”
When an audience of purchasing decision makers hears six groups of presenters, each vying for an important project, each qualified to deliver the contract, each acknowledging that is sometime after midnight but before noon, and that is “good,” none of the groups has differentiated itself out of the chute. Immediately the decision makers in the audience must decide which team wished them a good morning most sincerely, most enthusiastically.
I'm being facetious, of course.
Would your audience be offended if you didn't wish them a good morning? Would they crumple up their score sheets if you, instead, used your very first words to hook their attention?
Of course not. Delivering a great presentation instead of playing it safe proves to your audience that you've done your homework, that you're passionate about your topic, and that you care about your audience.
Now that is a good morning they'll remember.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Are You Gambling with the Marketing Budget on Sales Proposals?

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a one-size-fits-all trick to beating the house with your competitive sales proposals – one that would work each and every time you need to submit a proposal to your customer?
If it was that simple, there wouldn't be a thousand dog-eared used sales books at the local Half Price Books store, assuring readers of sure-fire sales techniques at fire-sale prices.
Here are two quick thoughts about effective proposals that minimize the gambling.

Good Customer Relationships Stack the Deck

This is rule #1.

By the time you receive an RFP, ideally you already have a relationship with the customer. They have told you what their needs are, what their budget looks like, and what their concerns are. They even like you and want to do business with you.

That is the ideal, of course.

The reality is we sometimes receive RFPs out of the blue from customers we've never met – or, worse, dig up the RFPs ourselves on those RFP websites. In those situations, ask yourself: does any of the competition have that ideal relationship already?
Think in terms of “positioning” in proposal world, too. If the competition is positioned, and if they capitalize on it by turning in the right solution for the right price, why would you bother to submit?

I hear some die-hard sales folks say, exasperatedly, “You can't win if you don't play.” They believe that the proposal playing field is level, that their proposal has as good a chance of winning as anybody's – even if they're not a known quantity to the potential customer.

These folks are lovable optimists unblemished by reality. The “you can't win if you don't play” defense is the same you might hear from those hoping to retire from their winnings on scratch-off tickets at the gas station. They're gambling, except they gamble with the marketing budget.

Encourage the proposal gamblers in your organization to get ahead of the next proposal by making some solid customer contacts, and just say no to RFPs where you are out-positioned.
Double Down on Customer Focus
Savvy sales and marketing pros know that customer-focused proposals boost hit rates, and for one simple reason: customer-focused proposals solve a customer's specific problem.

Having written and edited thousands of proposals over the past decade, and having seen what the competition submitted, I can say the tendency of most people new to the proposal world is to use the proposal to expound their company's legitimacy, for example: years in operation; number of employees; corporate charitable giving levels. Save that information for the “About Us” spot on your website.
This is typically followed by a cut-and-paste approach to the product/service offering, which often doesn't clearly and succinctly address the customer's needs, which is the reason your customer needs to receive proposals in the first place.

A proposal should be off the chain, not off the shelf.

A proposal is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with the customer. Talking about yourself and your one-size-fits-all capabilities instead of focusing on your customer's needs is a definite turn-off.

I will temper this post by acknowledging that are plenty of scenarios, especially in commodity proposals, where the opportunity to tailor a proposal is limited. However, it might be worth exploring whether there are opportunities to improve your proposals, thus differentiating yourself from competitors and possibly raising the bar for your marketplace.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

6 Simple Rules for Putting the Polish on Your Fellow Presenters

Rehearsals are stressful.

Presenters must remember their content and the transitions between speakers – all while remaining mindful of time constraints. Oftentimes these concerns take priority during rehearsal, but remember: how we say things is as important as what we say. Here are a few tips to help one another polish the mechanics of the team’s delivery.

1. Set the Expectation for Improvement
No one is perfect – especially under stress. The group should agree to provide honest and helpful feedback to one another in order to develop a polished group presentation.

2. The Player/Coach Mentality: Be Open to Coaching/Be Open to Coach
Let the group know you expect to receive personalized presentation feedback, and that you will be providing feedback to others. This is not about “getting personal”: this is about helping the team deliver the message clearly and effectively.

3. Positive Feedback/Positive Reinforcement
When coaching a presenter, start with positive feedback. “I liked your upbeat energy, but I think you were rushing some of your sentences.” Likewise, give positive reinforcement when presenters implement your coaching ideas: keep in mind some of the best coaching we can give is non-verbal positive cues: smiles, head nods, thumbs up, some quiet “nice jobs”, “looks good”, etc.

4. One thing at a time
Help your fellow presenters without overwhelming them. Suggest only one improvement at a time – things within the presenter’s control and, because rehearsal time is precious, only the most important items (for example, someone playing with the keys in their pocket might deserve more focus than if they say the occasional “umm”.)

The most common areas for improving presentation delivery fall into the following categories:

Energy level
  • Confident
  • Calm
  • Enthusiastic
Body Dynamics
  • Location (“center of attention”, easily seen by audience, not in projector light, etc.)
  • Never leave the podium/speaking space empty (departing speaker waits for new speaker to take center stage)
  • Choreographed transitions (new speaker is not upstaged by departing speaker)
  • Stance/Posture (feet planted, shoulder squared)
  • Hand gestures (appropriate to content – not random or nervous)
  • Facing the audience (as opposed to facing the screen/boards)

Facial expression

  • Eye contact
  • Smile
  • Facial variety appropriate to content and emotion
Vocal Dynamics
  • Warm tone (friendly, confident)
  • Clarity of speech (E-Nun-See-Ate)
  • Minimal vocal pauses (“ummms”, “uhhhs”, “you know”, etc.)
  • Appropriate rate of speech (not too fast, not too slow)
  • Appropriate volume (project without yelling)
  • Vocal variety (voice pitch and rhythm include variety for listener interest)
5. Follow Through
When coached on a specific improvement area, try to improve it immediately. Ask for feedback. “How’d I do with my pace – was that better?” If you don’t get it perfectly, don’t beat yourself up or draw attention to a mistake, keep going and just try to do it better the next time.

6. Coaching in the Moment
Ideally, you can rehearse multiple times and provide critique notes for each presenter at the end of a run-through. However, when rehearsals are limited to only one or two run-throughs, the team may need to provide feedback on critical issues (“slow down”, “plant your feet”, etc.) during the rehearsal. It’s not ideal, but it is an efficient tactic when time is short.

Thanks to Mike Scott for his input on this post.

Mike is Executive Vice President & General Manager for Dale Carnegie Training Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Mike leads the client delivery and operational efforts of the third largest Dale Carnegie franchise in the world.

He is a certified Dale Carnegie Course, High Impact Presentations and Corporate Solutions trainer. Over the last year, Mike has led training projects with Lawson, Universal Hospital Services, Johnson & Condon, Prudential, Ryan Companies, Medtronic, Cargill, Thomson Reuters, Egan, Short Elliott Hendrickson, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Michael Foods, and Pentair Technical Products. Mike is currently ranked among the top 35 trainers in North America.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

My Cup of Past Experience Runneth Over

The word redundant is the present participle of the Latin verb redundare, which means “to overflow”. There are times when overflow is good, like when your coffers overflow with money. Then there are times when an overflow is bad, like when red wine flows over your glass onto white shag carpeting.

This may come as a surprise to 99.2% of you based on my “extensive” research: the redundant phrase past experience is well entrenched within the English-speaking world.

I googled the phrase past experience, and retrieved 395 million results.

When I added the word “redundant” to my Boolean search, I turned up only 34,300 results.

That tells me that the majority of people using this phrase aren’t aware of that they are using an extra word (“past”) when the word “experience” would stand very well on its own. Only .000008% of English speakers recognize the redundancy.

Examples abound (at least 395 million, apparently), but the top result from the 395 million results came from Science Daily: Past Experience Is Invaluable For Complex Decision Making – and they’re scientists, which is a tribute to this redundancy’s insidious nature.

As I blogged in my Enough Said post, today’s reader tends to have a shorter attention span, so, as writers, we need to present ideas clearly and efficiently.

My advice is to make the phrase “past experience” a thing of the past. The only exception that springs to mind for me is if we were having a mind-altering (or simply convoluted) conversation about our future selves, and we needed to differentiate between experiences gained in the past versus those we have yet to experience.

I invite you to add your thoughts in the comments about any other exceptions that come to mind.

Friday, January 14, 2011

11 Q & A Tips to Keep You in Control

How you manage the question-and-answer period following your presentation can be as important as the presentation itself. How we handle questions win or loses sales, builds or destroys careers, and bolsters or undermines public confidence.

During your presentation, you maintained control over your voice, body, and visuals. How do you maintain control during the question period?

Here are eleven tips to help you keep control during Q&A from professional presentation coach and trainer, Mike Scott from Dale Carnegie Training.

  1. Start Strong. So many presenters set up their Q & A period with “Are there any questions?” Often the response is silence, which frequently leads to the presenter wrapping up the presentation with a low-energy, unimpressive closing statement like, “thanks ”. Start strong! Let the audience know you are still “in charge” while transitioning into the question period by saying:

    “We have ten minutes for questions. Who has the first question?”

    In this case, the presenter starts with an assumptive, confident, “bring it on” mentality that positions them as a credible, confident presenter.

  2. Keep Back-Up Questions at the Ready. A lack of questions from your audience can seem to slow the effectiveness of your presentation, but you are a confident presenter! If your audience doesn’t have any questions, have a few questions up your sleeve.

    “One question I’m frequently asked is…”

    “You might wonder about…”

    If the audience has no questions, it doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t interested. Sometimes people just need a few minutes to think. “Back-pocket questions” help presenters give listeners a minute to think of questions. In addition, it is a great way to emphasize an important point or to introduce overlooked content.

  3. Reframe and Unload Questions. Reframe questions to demonstrate that you listen and understand AND to remove “loaded language” from questions. Summarize the question: do not parrot it word for word.

    “The question is…”

    If the question is hostile, this is a great first step in beginning to defuse the confrontation and demonstrate our control and poise to the audience.

  4. Empathize. After reframing, transition with empathy language that demonstrates you are on the asker’s side, looking out for their interests, etc.

    Question: How would you handle a project that requires a lot of public involvement?

    Answer: The question is about our approach to public involvement. [REFRAMED QUESTION] The City needs to make sure that its residents are informed every step of the way [EMPATHY] and our approach is to…

    Our rule of thumb is “less is best”. Remember to keep your answers simple and back up your answers with evidence.

  5. Bite Your Tongue. If you are in a group presentation, fight the urge to “add-on” comments. Often we find the comments added by another presenter do not necessarily add value. In some cases, they actually take away our colleagues’ credibility and communicate a lack of teamwork. In the event a colleague said something glaringly wrong, then, yes, add a comment, but always ask yourself “Is what I’m about to say going to add valuable information?”

  6. Good News Sandwich. If you encounter a hostile question, use the “Good News Sandwich” to respond. Just as the name implies, there are three layers: the two “slices of bread” are the good news, and the “filling” is a difficult or potentially contentious point.

    PART 1: The Good News is that…

    PART 2: While it is true that…

    PART 3: Let me just say….

    Hostile Question: Your firm dropped the ball on the last project. How could you blow the budget so badly?

    Good News Sandwich Answer. The question is about staying on budget. [REFRAME QUESTION WITHOUT LOADED WORDS]. The good news is that of our last 10 projects, 9 of them actually came in under budget. While it is true that the last project experienced a series of change orders because of some very difficult environmental conditions, let me just say that as we moved into the latter stages of that project, we actually trimmed costs enough to come in at only 2% over budget, still well under the industry average and well below the contingency amount.

    Remember even if you have a the perfect answer using the good news sandwich but deliver the answer with a mean-spirited tone or body language our audience might not hear us. They may interpret the tone and body language as a negative, affecting our ability to communicate our overall message. In fact, since we can probably anticipate 75 – 80% of the hostile questions we’ll receive, we’d highly recommend practicing handling hostile Q & A with a colleague and ask for feedback on your body language and tone.

  7. Finish and Move On. Maintain the control as you move between questions by asking:
    “Who has the next question?”

    This approach “closes” the previous response so that you can address new questions.

  8. Maintain Momentum. While it might seem polite to conclude the previous response by asking the audience member if your response answered the question, this can lead to an open-ended (and sometimes hostile) forum. Since you are interested in maintaining control during Q&A, we recommend avoiding the “Did I answer your question?”

  9. Address the Entire Audience. Respond to questions to the whole audience – not just the question asker. If you address the entire audience, you will be less likely to find yourself in a “running conversation” with particular individuals in the audience, which not only slows down the session, it can also make the rest of your audience feel excluded.

  10. Wrap it Up. When time is running out, demonstrate that you are sensitive to time.
    “We have time for one more question. Who has the last question?”

  11. End Strong! Close with a restatement of your presentation’s main point and call to action.
    In closing, selecting our company will give you the technical expertise and available team members to meet your schedule objectives while delivering an award-winning project.
    Most presenters simply wrap up Q & A with “Thanks for the questions.” Let’s remember, the Q & A might have gotten way off topic or could have ended with a hostile question. We need to bring the presentation in for a close with our final closing comment and ensure the audience leaves thinking about our message.

Thanks to Mike Scott. Mike is Executive Vice President & General Manager for Dale Carnegie Training Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Mike leads the client delivery and operational efforts of the third largest Dale Carnegie franchise in the world.

He is a certified Dale Carnegie Course, High Impact Presentations and Corporate Solutions trainer. Over the last year, Mike has led training projects with Lawson, Universal Hospital Services, Johnson & Condon, Prudential, Ryan Companies, Medtronic, Cargill, Thomson Reuters, Egan, Short Elliott Hendrickson, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Michael Foods, and Pentair Technical Products. Mike is currently ranked among the top 35 trainers in North America.