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Archive for May, 2009

Ask Steve Chazin to share ROI metrics on his first venture into e-book publishing and his response takes on an almost sing-song, Twelve Days of Christmas cadence:

A hundred thousand downloads. Nine speaking invites. Seven newspaper articles. Five actual speaking gigs. Two TV appearances. One pending TV show. And several offers of full-time employment.

Chazin's eight-page blockbuster e-book

Chazin's eight-page blockbuster

Chazin, in other words, is a walking, talking advertisement for the potential of well-crafted, value-adding content to propel its author — be it an individual, or an organization — into a higher orbit of brand recognition and business opportunity. 

How’d he do it? We’ll get to that shortly. First, some background.

 

Author Notes
A self-described “Renaissance man,” Chazin holds a master’s in electrical engineering from Princeton University. He’s currently CMO at Dimdim.com, which he describes as a “Web. 3.0 software start up aiming to change the way the world meets online.”

In the later ’90s, Chazin held marketing, sales and engineering positions at Apple. He counts himself among those who helped put the company on a return path to profitability after Apple had lost some of its product mojo and financial momentum earlier that decade.

Post-Apple, working as marketing VP for an early-stage tech firm, Chazin found himself at odds with the company founder. The two did not see eye to eye on the value of, and proper approach to, marketing.

“He is a true engineer,” Chazin explains. “And he saw marketing as the thing you do three weeks before you launch a new product. Very tactical.”

Unable to change the boss’ mind, Chazin in 2007 decided to write, in e-book form, marketing and branding lessons he’d distilled from his time at Apple. “I was really writing it for him (his boss),” he says. “To get him to step back and look at the bigger picture — the role that great marketing can have.”

Before long, Chazin began to see another, more intriguing reason for writing and promoting the e-book: To crack open new career opportunities.

Steve Chazin

Steve Chazin

Chazin wrote during his daily commute by bus and train between his New Hampshire home and Boston office. On Sept. 7, 2007, he published a blog post and, with it, MarketingApple: 5 Secrets of the World’s Best Marketing Machine. If you’d like to be download 100,001, visit Chazin’s blog.

 

Success Steps
What takeaways can Chazin offer from his experience? Here are some steps he took:

  • Develop a jargon-free news release. Taking advice from Web marketing consultant and author David Meerman Scott (who he’d hired earlier to advise his employer on marketing), Chazin developed a news release describing and promoting the book. In the release, he took pains to avoid terms such as “revolutionary” and “groundbreaking,” the sort of corporate gobbledygook against which Scott has been a vocal crusader.
  • Circulate the release to a targeted list of bloggers. Chazin researched and pinpointed about 100, including some who blog about all things Apple, and others who focus on marketing and brand. He e-mailed each a copy of the release, along with a link to the e-book (note he did not attach the book itself).
         To build his blogger list, Chazin searched Google and also Technorati, where he looked for those with high authority levels. When he found a blogger who he thought might resonate to the book, he’d check their blogroll to find other potential targets.
  • Be direct and demure. In his e-mail to bloggers, Chazin says his tone was “very simple, very conversational. Like a blog post would be. ‘Just want you to know I’m sort of joining the ranks. I’d value your feedback on this.’ I didn’t ask for an endorsement or a link. Just, ‘Hey, thought you might be interested in this.'”
  • Mini PR campaign. The day after sending an e-mail to the bloggers, Chazin distributed his “very short, very direct” news release on PR Newswire. He also had a PR firm issue a media alert, making it known he was available for comment on stories regarding Apple, social media, Web 2.0 and related topics.
  • Give design and format their due. Content and subject matter are critical, of course, but Chazin says devoting attention to design and format issues — copy length, color scheme, cover — also pays. He focused on keeping copy short (eight pages) and took time to get the color and layout feeling crisp and clean. 
         He incorporated just a slice of the Apple logo on the cover, giving the book a sophisticated feel — much like the brand identity of its subject. After he signed up with Typepad to build a blog around the e-book, he took care to make the two — blog and book — look like design extensions of one another.
  • Organic SEO. Because his e-book and blog are peppered with “marketing” and “Apple,” Chazin says he’s risen steadily in search rankings that incorporate those words, especially at times when Apple itself isn’t making news. Incidentally, he says the number of Google search results for his name has quintupled since he launched the e-book and blog.

“It just started escalating,” Chazin says. “Somebody would read it, they would blog about  it, recommed it to their friend. Somebody took it and converted into an e-paper and posted it to a SlideShare, where it got 5,000 or more views within a couple of days. Pretty soon, it was generating its own momentum.”

Interestingly, Chazin did not make use of social media beyond blogs. “I wasn’t that plugged in at the time,” he says. “This was in the days before Twitter, and Facebook didn’t have their application. So my social network was pretty much focused to LinkedIn and a blog that I’d never posted to until that day.”

Still, pretty soon Chazin was getting calls from reporters, event planners, students asking to quote him in their research papers, and potential employers. The rest? E-book history.

Some bonus tips from Chazin:

  • Keep it simple. “With design I focused on keeping it easy on the eyes. And boil it down. In my case, there wasn’t really a call to action except apply these principles to your own business — or hire me.”
  • Make it actionable. “What do you want your prospect, your buyer, to do next? In my case, it was contact me, which is why I put my phone number and e-mail address in there.”
  • Be modest. “If you’re trying to come across as a thought expert, but you come across as arrogant, people don’t feel they can relate to you. So, in whatever business, I think it’s important to show humility.”
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I’m e-mailing this post from a BlackBerry. That’s probably no great shakes by most bloggers’ standards, but not bad for a guy who typed Newswriting 101 stories on an IBM Selectric back in the day.

Count this as one small example of the always-on, to-and-from-virtually- anywhere nature of Internet-enabled communications.

Here’s another:

While attending the Custom Publishing Council’s annual Content Conference earlier this year, I stood in the back of the ballroom during one session and did a quick headcount. Fifty-seven people seated for the session. Of those, at least 11 (that I could see) were Web-connected and typing away on laptops.

For all I could tell, untold others were sneaking an occasional peek at one Web-enabled handheld device or another. And it’s certain several in attendance were Twittering during sessions.

How do I know? One of the speakers at an afternoon session actually incorporated into his presentation some of the tweets that had gone back and forth during that day’s morning presentations.

Why am I telling you this?

This observation might be late in coming, but it struck me, counting all those “listeners” on their laptops — including several well-known bloggers — that we might have recently crossed a significant communications line when it comes to the possibilities speakers have to engage audiences.

The days when an emcee at an educational conference gets up and asks attendees to turn off their cell phones, pagers, etc. — those days might be coming to a close.

After all, with the proliferation of blogging, tweeting and Facebook updating, social media communicators could argue that it’s essential they keep their technologies on, and their communications capacity live, in real time,

In fact, speakers — and the people who write speeches and develop presentations — might want to start taking this into account, and even attempting to capitalize.

What if one of conference speakers had asked everyone who was Web connected to go to a particular site, or click on a specific tool, animation, case study or widget?

Or what if a speaker had asked everyone with a Twitter account to submit their 140-character opinion regarding a thought-provoking opening question? And then, late in the speech, read some of the salient tweets?

And what if that speaker told those who weren’t Web connected to get up and go look over the shoulder of their nearest Web-connected neighbor?

Sound like a recipe for chaos? Maybe.

But it might also have made that particular speech or session the most memorable and provocative of the conference.

It appears, more and more, that business-event audiences will be coming to conferences loaded for real-time, Web-enabled communication and social networking.

Rather than insist they shut down and listen, maybe a speaker’s goal should be to turn them on to something new, remarkable and interactive.

What do you think? Any thoughts or experiences you’d like to share on how speakers can leverage an audience’s Web connectivity as an advantage?

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carlin_dvd_frontThe late, great George Carlin was one of my favorite comedians. Carlin died last year at age 71. At least for me, no comic before or since has combined intelligence, facility with language and offbeat insight into humanity’s flaws and foibles with quite his flair.

According to Wikipedia, Carlin was a five-time Grammy winner, the first person to host Saturday Night Live, and is ranked second, behind Richard Pryor, on Comedy Central’s list of all-time list comic greats.

So what does Carlin have to do with creating and delivering communications to support your sales force?

Seven words.

 

Words to the Wise
Noteworthy in Carlin’s legacy is a routine he crafted around “Seven Dirty Words.” The routine became central to a U.S. Supreme Court case in which, by the slimmest of margins, the court upheld government’s right to regulate “indecent” material broadcast over public airwaves.

Now, to be clear, I don’t plan to restate Carlin’s seven words here. And using rough language routinely is not likely to get your sales force far.

But it strikes me there’s a string of seven words that, if able to be stated by more sales reps, would unlock fresh opportunities to be nimble and strategic in how they approach and communicate with customers.

These same seven words would allow marketing communicators to be more immediate, efficient and versatile in how they deliver content to sales — and ultimately to buyers and specifiers.

And, unlike Carlin’s seven, which you could argue are in fairly common use, these seven are considerably underutilized in day-to-day selling.

So, what are these seven magical sales-support words?

 

Let me show you on the Internet.

 
Acceptable variants would be  “Let me show you what I mean,” or “Let me show you how it works,” with the Web as an eventual destination implied.

If the conversation were happening by phone, the seven words might be, “Have you got Internet access right now?” If a rep bumped into someone in a hallway or lobby, the seven words might be: “Can we go back to your desk?”

So it’s not really about seven specific words, but more to the underlying point:

The Web, surprisingly, is still a relatively untapped resource in how most organizations deliver sales support.  


The Net-Net of Effective Sales Support

Think about how much time, effort and resources go into getting reps equipped to deliver an effective, consistent message and presentation. The printed brochures, sell sheets and collateral systems. The PowerPoints. The lugging along of projectors, samples, flip charts and display boards.

Now ask yourself how much more empowering it would be if a rep, after an initial conversation, could simply go to any Internet-connected computer and explore — in a way tailored to the particular client — a treasure trove of customer-facing content. Information. Case studies. Research. Visualization tools. Calculators. And more.

Is this an argument for keeping your corporate Web site in a perpetual state of brochureware?

No. It’s about making relevant, value-adding, even inspirational content readily accessible online — either within a special section of your Web site, or on a separate, dedicated microsite.

Do that, with the right content, and no joke: You’ll notice customers and prospects smiling. And you’ll see more sales reps, more often, laughing all the way to the bank.

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Last week, when a discussion on LinkedIn essentially posed this question — “Social Media: All Hat, No Cattle?” — Texas author and blogger Stephen Manning was poised with a fresh-off-the-presses example of social media’s effectiveness.

Manning’s case study? A just-completed conference for writers hosted by DFW Writers’ Workshop, a non-profit association in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. dfwwwsitelogo

A DFWWW board member and past president, Manning serves as the association’s volunteer webmaster and resident social media strategist. A history buff, Manning has authored two books on World War II-related topics. By day, he’s webmaster for Cook Children’s Health Care System.

Manning says social media were directly responsible for helping DFWWW significantly outperform attendance goals and achieve profitability in the second year of its conference.

Last year, the two-day event attracted 144 attendees, including 110 paid (the rest, guest speakers and literary agents, were admitted free). For 2009, DFWWW set  a goal of 150 paid and wound up with 160 (a year-over-year increase of 45 percent).


A Social Media Trifecta
What drove the attendance surge? “In the past year we’ve become a lot more sophisticated about social networking,” Manning says. “A year and a half ago, only a very small percentage of members were on Facebook, and there were maybe two or three of us on Twitter. That’s changed a lot. We were a lot more aware of what we could accomplish with these tools.”

While DFWWW markets its conference heavily to current members via e-mail and during monthly meetings, Manning says Twitter, Facebook and blogging we’re essential to creating awareness and capturing registrations among non-members, including several from states outside of Texas.

How exactly did they do it? To hear Manning tell it, the approach was very straightforward. No deep, dark social media magic here. Consider:

  • Blogging. Frequent blog posts in weeks and months prior served to educate members and other blog visitors about the upcoming conference. Whether the post focused on another speaker recruited or an occasional countdown of days left until the event, “Every little excuse we would have an item on there,” Manning says. 
  • Twitter: The handful of experienced Twitterers among the membership were encouraged to answer “what are you doing?” with frequent tweets about the upcoming conference. Each tweet included the association’s URL
  • Facebook. Similarly, a few members of the conference planning committee regularly prodded attendees at the monthly meetings to add DFWWW membership to their profiles, put a mention of the upcoming conference in their Update fields, and mention the event in any “what’s new” kinds of messages added to their pages.”That’s something where you just basically have to ask 1,000 times and every once in a while somebody will go do it,” he says. Manning also took advantage of a widget that automatically generates tweets as a blog post is published, fast-cycling the process of keeping both channels regularly updated with conference news and promotion. DFWWW now has more than 400 followers on Twitter.


How Did You Hear About Us?

A survey of conference attendees bore out the fact that online social media, along with word of mouth from members, were the key to attendance gains.

Of 135 survey respondents, 55 heard about the conference because they are DFWWW members, while another 55 heard via the Internet (including Twitter and Facebook) and e-mail (Manning says they contacted a number of writers groups by e-mail, asking them to forward the news to their contacts, which he considers a form of social networking). Seventeen survey respondents heard about the conference through word of mouth.

By contrast, Manning says the association spent about $1,000 on a single, fractional-page ad in a national writer’s magazine, plus printing and distributing fliers to local book stores, libraries and coffee shops. By his calculation, only three people came to the conference as a result of these more traditional marketing efforts and channels.


Where’s the Beef?

Based on his experience promoting the 2009 DFWWW conference, Manning says the true power of social media comes in its ability to leverage the networks and connections of people who already have an affinity to your organization, brand, event — and through them reach fresh, high-potential prospects.

“Executives who are still asking ‘where’s the beef?’ are wasting time,” he says. “I think when you say that you are trying to treat these tools the same way you would treat a big media buy, traditional media.

“You do not use these tools as just another way to mass market. You use them to target specific segments in an increasingly fragmented market. It’s a good way to reach people with common interests. Not large numbers of people, necessarily. But people who are very likely to have shared interests.”

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Straight up news: If your organization relies on an inside sales force to keep the pipeline full and leads nurtured, you’ll want to know about a new professional association just launched here in my home state of Minnesota.

The American Association of Inside Sales Professionals, born March 27, bills itself as the only organization of its kind “dedicated exclusively to advancing the profession of Inside Sales.”

Larry Reeves, COO of AA-ISP, estimates there are as many as 1 million professionals working in, or managing, inside sales organizations in the United States.  Reeves, along with AA-ISP founder and CEO Bob Perkins, hope to attract members by the thousands from that universe, including sales execs and managers, the inside reps themselves, plus sponsors interested in reaching inside sellers with products and services.

AA-ISP already owns an attractive, business-like Web presence, including a sprinkling of white papers, registration for an e-newsletter, and just-launched functionality for member forums.  Plans call for offering members leadership and career development, a jobs board, a speaker’s bureau, a marketplace for consulting services, plus educational conferences, Webinars and other networking and best-practices sharing opportunities.

AA-ISP also is developing online accreditation courses for inside sales pros. Among its early affiliations, it’s struck an alliance with The College of St. Catherine, a St. Paul liberal arts school which offers two bachelor’s degree programs in sales, one concentrated in business-to-business, the other healthcare.

Perkins, a sales executive at Merrill Corporation, was quoted in a news release announcing AA-ISP’s launch that not long ago “inside sales was perceived as annoying telemarketers or unsophisticated ‘order takers’ who smiled and dialed.

“Today,” he said, “inside sales is an integral part of many organizations’ overall sales strategy… It’s not unheard of for inside sales representatives to build and manage multi-million dollar accounts and close six-figure sales.”

The association’s first annual Leadership Summit is set for June 9-10 in Minneapolis.

For more info on any and all things inside sales and AA-ISP, call 800.604.7085, ext. 130, or e-mail info@aa-isp.org.

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It’s springtime, which means pothole repair season. Midwest road crews have shed plows and salt/sand spreaders and are now gearing staff and equipment for filling those car-crunching cracks and crevasses (at least in Minnesota, spelling and word choice intended).

All of which reminds me of an important way sales and marketing teams can collaborate powerfully. Especially at a time of year when many organizations are mid-plan, still well ahead of next year’s planning and budgeting cycle.

Start by asking yourself this question:

Are we serious about fixing potential potholes in our value proposition
and sales pipeline, or should we continue to patch them over?

My friend, Mike, asked himself this question a few years back. He’d just signed on as a product manager with a company that makes gizmos. Mike’s predecessor had convinced leadership (and they, in turn, convinced themselves) that their gizmo already enjoyed 80 percent market share. Based on that assumption, it was easy to justify why sales had been largely flat for a while.

Not a caretaker by nature, Mike sensed something was amiss. He struck a deal with the sales VP to enlist field reps as on-the-ground market researchers. Knowing the reps were motivated by money, Mike and the sales VP figured out a way to meaningfully reward the sellers for becoming temporary survey takers.

Mike developed a simple questionnaire, then asked the reps to pay a visit or make a call to their wholesaler customers. The survey asked two questions:

  • How many gizmos did you buy last year?
  • Who did you buy them from?

In other words, a fairly painless piece of research for reps and customers alike. But fairly painful, it turned out, for the company’s cozy assumptions. As results were tabulated, that solid 80 percent market share crumbled, pothole like, to about 50.

Then Mike developed a second, more detailed survey. This one asked questions about what distributors liked, and didn’t, about gizmos and the manufacturers that produce, sell and deliver them.

When Sales returned with those results, Mike was awash in customer insight and competitive intelligence. Enough to approach manufacturing and logistics for some suggested product and delivery tweaks. Enough to craft a more aggressive, differentiating message and marketing plan for the coming year.

It wasn’t long into that new year before Mike’s product-line revenues were clipping along at a 33 percent higher rate.

The takeaway: A product marketer and his sales colleagues decided to look more closely at the road they were travelling. They dared to wonder whether they might find potholes. And, upon finding some big ones, they decided to engineer a fix, instead of slapping on another patch.

Specifically, they recognized that:

  • Flat revenue means a plateau — but not necessarily a lofty one.
  • Any time sales and marketing can collaborate on knowing customers and the market better, that’s a great investment of time and effort.
  • It pays for marketers who inherit product lines and distribution channels to question assumptions (trust, but verify).

Got potholes in your pipeline? Cracks in the market position and brand perception you believe you enjoy?

If so, they might not be visible from headquarters. But you could very well spot them, and be able to repair them, by going on the road to talk with customers.

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