There is one question that haunts every experienced marketing executive as it relates to spending money on demand generation: what is the optimal mix of demand gen marketing campaigns and if we have extra money to spend, where should we spend it and why? Lots of advanced marketing tools are available and new ones are released all the time. But none that I’ve seen exactly answer these questions and the reason is because optimizing your mix demand generation activities is just as difficult as optimizing your mix of personal investments (ie – stocks, bonds, real estate, CD’s, etc). So why not steal a concept from the investing world and apply it to marketing? I’m talking about Portfolio Theory.
Regardless of your ideal mix of demand generation programs, I’m willing to bet that most of them are designed to bring prospects to your website in the hopes of later converting them to a paying customer. It doesn’t matter if your solution is hardware or software and it doesn’t matter if your sales model is zero touch or requires full-blown field sales reps. The path to prospect conversion surely passes through your website at least 90% of the time.
If you agree, then also realize that even a perfect mix of demand generation programs can be totally destroyed if your website doesn’t do an effective job of facilitating conversion. In this context I’m using the word “conversion” in a generic sense because for some companies that might mean the prospect downloads a free trial while for other companies it might mean filling out a contact request form. But in all cases, I’m referring to the final desired action a prospect could take from the website along their path to becoming a paid customer.
Are you a SaaS company that has an icon like this on your website to promote a free trial offer to interested prospects? If so, once they start the free trial do you do anything specific during the trial period to “nurture” the prospect to increase the odds they convert to a paid customer? If not, this blog article is for you.
It is amazing how many companies have implemented some form of automated nurturing during the discovery and consideration phases of the lead generation cycle but don’t follow the same principles for free trial prospects. The free trial phase is often the very last activity performed by a prospect. To lose them unnecessarily by having them not convert to a paid license at the end of the trial is a real shame. Your mission in life should be to do everything possible to optimize free trial conversion rates. But if you’re a startup or early stage company, you probably don’t have the budget to hire personnel to reach out to these prospects during the trial phase. But even if you did have the budget, I don’t think a personal touch is the right approach. Most trial prospects absolutely hate being contacted by the vendor because they perceive it as invasive and excessive pressure. I even know of some software companies that expect their lead development reps to contact free trial prospects within 24 hours of initiating the trial. Don’t worry, there’s a very inexpensive and efficient approach to consider.
Business prospects are now accustomed to taking themselves through 60% of the sales journey (see related article titled “Prospects Take Themselves Through 60% of the Sales Journey“) but at some point they commonly need a legitimate interaction with the company. Videos are more personal and engaging than white papers and case studies and they are certainly are an important asset for customer acquisition. But what else can you do for those prospects that want more interaction than a video but less than a phone call. Invite them to a webinar (aka webcast).
Webinars are very easy to host using one of many online web services and invitations can be sent via email blast (you do have a database of prospect emails, right?) and promoted via social media (you do have a social media community, right?. The problem that is most commonly encountered is low attendance. Hosting the webinar involves mostly fixed costs, which means you will spend roughly the same whether you have 5 attendees or 105. Said a different way, your resulting cost per lead for each event is directly affected by the number of attendees you can gain.
You have a product that is ideally suited for a channel-based distribution strategy. But every time you approach a prospective channel partner, they expect you to already have landed some customers and already have an opportunity pipeline of deals to hand them. In other words, they are looking for traction and they probably also perceive risk with your value proposition, possibly because you’re at such an early stage or maybe because you’ve never done business in their country. So now you’re sort of stuck and don’t know where to go next to start building out your channel. I have an idea to try.
I recently heard Dr. Robert Wiltbank from Willamette University use this analogy and loved it so much I had to share it with others. Entrepreneurs are, by nature, very optimistic. It’s one of their core survival skills. But this often makes it hard for them to recognize signals of negative feedback. This applies to things like the success of their product and progress towards the business plan targets. But it also relates it to investor feedback while pursuing fundraising, customer feedback while pursuing a sale or vendor feedback while trying to secure a partnership. Experienced sales professionals are trained to listen for negative feedback and use various techniques to assess the real viability of the opportunity. But most co-founders aren’t experienced sales professionals and the techniques I’m referring to aren’t easily learned from a blog post or a book. I’ll explain further.
You’ll hear phrases like inbound marketing, digital marketing and Internet marketing used somewhat interchangeably. What is all this newfangled stuff? Prospects commonly take themselves through 60% or more of the sales journey (see related article titled “Prospects Take Themselves Through 60% of the Sales Journey“) and this “newfangled stuff” is what helps them find you and learn as much as needed about you.
Check out my other blog posts related to marketing here.
Customers of all types have an unbelievable amount of information with which to use to decide if they want to buy your product – and all without ever having to talk to your sales staff. In fact, their typical disdain for interacting with sales people is part of what drives this behavior. The other parts are efficiency (at least they assume it will be more efficient) and the opportunity to get more educated before making a decision. So what can you do about this phenomenon? Let’s explore.
Certain startups can only guess what type of sales model they will end up with once their ready-for-primetime product is released (watch my compilation video titled “Defining Your Sales Model“). We are now conditioned to use the Lean Startup (order book here) concept of a minimum viable product (MVP) when it comes to our offering. But why not extend this to the sales model as well? Lean Startup principles extend to all aspect of your business model but few use it beyond the product. The last thing you want to do in the early days of your company is overshoot your sales model with expensive hiring, tools and travel. Of course, companies with mobile apps or other offerings that clearly leverage an e-commerce model don’t need to worry about this unless they later identify extensions of their offering that carry a more traditional sales requirement.
I’ll use a crawl-walk-run analogy to demonstrate a Lean approach to refining your sales model. All steps along the way assume you are doing as much as efficiently possible to drive interested prospects to your website and making sure your site is properly enabling sales. Let’s explore further.
Regardless of your sales model, your website should be the #1 asset when it comes to enabling sales. It is commonly reported that prospects these days take themselves through 60% or more of the sales journey on their own (see related article titled “Prospects Take Themselves Through 60% of the Sales Journey“). And this is for moderately complex offerings that require interaction with a sales person at some point. E-commerce offerings obviously allow prospects to go completely through the sales and fulfillment cycle on their own. But in either case, your website plays a critical role in optimizing sales.
Sales reps are fairly expensive resources on average and field sales reps are very expensive. If your website doesn’t give prospects the information they need to determine if your offering is a fit for their needs, they will either bail out and search elsewhere or if you’re lucky they will proactively reach out to you with questions. But that requires involvement from your expensive sales resources. Instead, make sure your website has the appropriate content, navigation and functionality to get these same prospects all the information they need for their investigation so they can naturally engage you in the next step of the process. This might mean requesting contact from a sales person but depending on your business model it could also mean clicking to download a free trial or buying via e-commerce.
I don’t know who came up with this analogy but I’d love to thank him/her because it’s a perfect way to think about your offering and its value proposition. Is it a vitamin? In other words, does it create an opportunity for some improvement? Or is it an aspirin? In other words, does it solve a problem?
Both might sound like beneficial offerings, and they are. But there’s actually a big difference when it comes to buyer behaviors. Imagine you have $2 to spend and, for some reason, you need to spend it today. Someone presents you with a vitamin and an aspirin and they each cost, you guessed it, $2. Which do you choose? Well, if you don’t have a headache or other body pain, then you’ll probably go for the vitamin because of its preventative health benefits. But if you have even a slight headache you’ll take the aspirin without even thinking about it. I know, you could substitute a cancer prevention pill for the vitamin and even someone with a headache might go for preventative medicine. But are you offering a cancer prevention pill?