Sunday, 29 November 2009

Dialogue Marketing for Financial Services

This week I thought, "Enough with the theory and background explanations, lets share a real world example". So that is what we are going to do, work through how technology can assist somebody in, say, the financial services industry.

We all know about the financial services industry; it is much like the pre-owned car industry for the most part. You are faced with high pressure sales people, who palm themselves off as financial advisors. Everytime you hear from one of these guys, it is usually over dinner, or when you least want to hear from them. What is more, they have one purpose in mind; to sell you another product, and then, poof, not to be heard from again.

I have rarely dealt with the same financial advisor twice.

So the relationship appears lopsided, or asymetric. Now I know I am generalising. There are some excellent advisors out there, but for the most part that is not what people experience.

As a professional advisor, you have the opposing problem. How do you manage to prospect successfully when the perception people have is a poor one? All you want to do is be given the opportunity to show what you are capable of, but you need to secure an appointment first. How do you do this?

Surely there must be a way to finesse both sides of a strained relationship; where everybody gets what they want?

The answer is a resounding yes.

Imagine not having an advisor breathing down your neck. Imagine being able to have your situation assessed in private, and yet at the same time being provided with information that is valuable to you; like how much you may need to save each month.

But at the same time, imagine being the advisor, where you don't have to face telephonic rejection daily, yet are still able to engage in a dialogue; where you can still offer a valuable service, and at the same time be notified of potential opportunities.

This "win-win" situation can be accomplished with some imagination and the use of Dialogue Marketing. So without spoiling the fun, watch the video to see what is possible.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Alternatives To A Newsletter .... Demystifying The Mystified

My recent post on the newsletter being dead, begs the question; "What is a better alternative?"

Well the buzz, seemingly all over the place, is social media; and social implies a buddy buddy symbiosis, a relationship. But let's be frank here, you are running a business. It is all about marketing and profit maximisation. You don't want to get so caught up in being your customer's best mate, that you forget your marketing. Everything needs to be viewed through the marketing lens. Anything else is disingenuous, so don't pretend. I urge you to read a recent article on "What Is Relationship Marketing?" Let the gurus pontificate on about the wonders of social media, but until the business case is solid, and proven, don't panic.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's seperate some of the wheat from the chaff.

Newsletters are becoming redundant for a number of reasons, but this doesn't mean that you shouldn't be communicating with your customers. Of course you should. But are newsletters relevant to existing customers? Perhaps in a slower repeat sales cycle business, they are, in order to keep your brand "top of the mind"; otherwise messages triggered by customer/company interactions, or the lack thereof, are much more relevant.

As an acquisition tool, I don't know. To send a newsletter is to presume a relationship. That isn't a good idea. Smaller, value added articles are more relevant; and if written correctly, they give you a reason to engage a prospect repeatedly, thereby priming them to transact with you. Remember, we recently discussed developing a communication strategy, to engage a prospect multiple times.

For the most part, newsletters are painstakingly planned, designed and delivered via email. This is usually in one of two ways, either a well designed and graphically intense html email, or as a well designed pdf document as an attachment to an email. But once they are delivered, that is it. Either the client reads or discards it. Unless you created an online archive of past newsletters, there is no way potential customers (or prospects) can view these. Also, because these communications take place outside of the internet, they aren't indexed by the major search engines, and therefore are lost. If you are one of the "enlightened" few that happen to have an online archive, unless you invest in a website content management package, you have to rely on outside help to maintain the website, a costly exercise and another hassle to think about.

The Use of Blogs

But now we have blogs, which are basically web pages where the content can be easily updated and maintained yourself. They are very easy to set up, and can be linked to your website. Today it makes sense to reduce your newsletter to a few bite sized articles, and to regularly post these to your blog. The benefits are that the content is very quickly indexed by the search engines, thus attracting interest outside of your normal mailing list. So instead of the painstaking effort to develop a regular newsletter, you simply build an archive of blog articles. This makes your emails more deliverable, as they aren't loaded with html graphics or attachments, and you simply provide a link to the relevant blog articles.

Also, newsletters tend to be blasted out to everybody on a mailing list. It is rare that businesses segment their mailing lists properly, so it is not unusual for email recipients to receive irrelevant mail at inappropriate points in the sales cycle, with potentially damaging effects. In other words, the content is not determined by the recipient. With an archive of blog articles, it is relatively easy to set up a Sequence™ of email messages, each linked to a relevant blog article. So new contacts entering your mailing list, with disparate needs, will trigger the despatch of emails with links to relevant articles, as determined by the recipient.

So the use of a blog is definitely a great idea, and superior to the use of newsletters. What is more, you can update your blog postings to facebook, LinkedIN and Twitter (and probably a hundred others), but these aren't a huge imperative just yet. A good idea would be to include an "Add This" button to your blog, allowing any visitors to share your articles via a myriad social media outlets.

Abandon Those Email Attachments

As regards attachments (newsletters or other), don't do it unless it cannot be helped. Attachments tend to be virus red flags, and often result in your message being deleted; at best you affect your email deliverability. A better option is to use a third party file hosting company, like Calameo or Scribd. Then you insert a link in your email. This way, your email recipient can safely view your email, and then elect to download the documents if necessary. By way of an example, a client of ours, in collaboration with a wine distributor, recently hosted a wine tasting event. He wanted to send out a comprehensive program as an attachment, explaining, inter alia, how to buy tickets, what was on offer and where the event would be held. We hosted the attachment elsewhere, and placed a link in the despatched email. Not only did this ensure a higher deliverability rate, but we were also able to view how many people diverted to the attachment.

So, not only is it easier to use a blog, and place links to the relevant articles, but the public nature of a blog will expand your network of interested contacts. Of course, all of this needs to work in conjunction with a well thought out communication strategy, unless the foolhardy blasting of links to your blog articles is your thing. For assistance on establishing your blog and building a customised Sequence™ of messages, that will trigger messages based on recipient determined choices, contact Dialogue Marketing.

Download a printable version here.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Newsletter Is Dead ..... Let It Go Already

Okay, maybe not dead, but it definitely has lost its shine. You wouldn't say so though. I can hardly go to a website these days without being invited to join their mailing list. Now building a database is a business imperative; don't get me wrong. But what is so compelling about wanting to read your verbose newsletter?

In the early days, say 1995, not many people were into newsletters. So it offered a differential advantage to the early adopters, and was a way of delivering company news, with some really neat graphics.

Problem is, the newsletter became ubiquitous. Every schmo has one; and that's okay, as long as it isn't your only or primary method of keeping in touch with your clients.

I spend a fair amount of time going to networking events, and they are all very similar. You usually meet the same ever so accomplished, ever so successful, ever so on top of everything kinda person. Cool.

Now, as soon as I explain how technology can enhance your efforts at relationship marketing, you can see the thought process, "Ah, email and newsletters".

What is even more enlightening, is what happens after these events. Invariably you get plugged into a standard email newsletter system, and you get bombarded with meaningless junk, not even remotely connected to your interests, until you unsubscribe. It's like, hello, there is a disconnect here.

Okay, I appreciate that people just don't know that there is a better way. The pathway isn't clear, and it seems so complex compared to a simple newsletter.

So what went wrong?

They Are Boring

Newsletters aren't about the customer; they are about the company. They are generally self-promoting screeds, with mostly useless information. Aside from telling your clients that Susie or Johnny was promoted, or blabbing on about some amazing promotion, there is very rarely anything in it for the customer.

They Treat All Customers As Equal

This is a noble cause in politics, but not in business. Today you can personalise a newsletter, by being clever and inserting a customers name and a few other personal details; but this isn't really identifying the customer as an individual. Essentially everbody gets the some monthly blast.

They Don't Build Relationships

Think about your relationships; there is a lot of give and take, or interpersonal exchanges. They aren't all one way traffic. How can a relationship be forged if you aren't getting to know your clients or prospects any better, where the only information dispensed is yours, and where you determine when to communicate?

They Are A Waste of Resources

Have you ever tried to consistently publish a newsletter? Many have, and I get requests for them all the time. They are time consuming; customised newsletter templates are expensive to design; they are notoriously difficult to get delivered; and continually finding compelling content is a nightmare. My experience is that generally most newsletter efforts become dormant, only to be revived when a quick promotion needs to be conducted.

You could be fooled into believing otherwise, though. There are lots of email service providers, all offering free generic templates and easy terms. The issue isn't them; it is you. You have been lulled into thinking that this is the silver bullet. It isn't. You need to have a clear communication strategy, and this needs to move away from message blasting, and towards timely, personalised and targeted communications, using many of the mediums available to you.

They Never Get Read

We all have a problem with inbox clutter. As we sort through our daily emails, we scan for key identifiers, like names or subject lines. When we get a newsletter, it is sometimes a nice to have, but we usually save it, hoping to return later and read in leisure. But that rarely happens, because the next tsunami of emails has arrived. So your email package may be telling you that read rates are high, but hey, nobody is really reading.

So what now?

My next article will cover some really neat, easy and effective new ways of communicating, that can handsomely compliment a newsletter, or better yet, replace it all together.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Do You Expect To Close On Your First Contact?

Are you one of those business people that believes that every encounter with a prospect requires you to close a sale; regardless of whether you have uncovered a need?


Interesting, because I still encounter businesses everyday that use aggressive sales techniques to do business. I guess they don't bother with niceties, such as retention marketing; nor do they have a long term business vision.

Look, we would all like our prospects to transact with us, the first time they hear from us, but that ain't gonna happen. It is unrealistic to expect your prospects to all be primed, and ready to buy, unless you have one helluva "must have" product.

Consider these statistics for a moment.

48% of sales people never follow up with a prospect.

25% of sales people make a second contact, then stop.

12% of sales people only make three contacts, then stop.

10% of sales people make more than three contacts.

2% of sales are made on the first contact.

3% of sales are made on the second contact.

5% of sales are made on the third contact.

10% of sales are made on the fourth contact.

80% of sales are made on the fifth to twelfth contact.

I don't know if these statistics are from a valid study, or whether they have been derived from experience. The point is that it usually takes much more than one contact to close a sale. Think about it, how often have you been contacted multiple times to secure a sale? Very rarely. Even more important, how often have you been contacted by a salesperson you have done business with in the past? Almost never. Prime examples are the auto industry and the financial services sector. Both are reknowned for their high customer churn.

Yet if you analyse the top sales performers, you will notice a common thread, tenacity and perseverance. These stars know that it takes multiple contacts to secure a sale, and they have developed unique processes to cater for this.

In marketing this is commonly referred to as the "Law of 29", where it is anticipated that a prospect may have to view your marketing message 29 times before they transact. This may be excessive, however if we view the above statistics we see that 80 percent of sales are concluded after anywhere between 5 and 12 contacts. The number isn't important, except to grasp that you need to have a strategy to deal with multiple contacts.

So don't go splash some money on a one time advert. It is a waste. Rather develop an ongoing strategy, where you use a low cost, interactive technology to coax your prospect towards a sale. Why use technology you ask? Well it becomes an impossible task to manage a growing list of prospects, each with different communication requirements and needs.

By the way, I say interactive because unless you are gathering information, and responding accordingly, you will never be able to determine when your prospect has a need.

So, in a nutshell, expect to contact your prospects multiple times. Develop a series of messages, what I call a Sequence™, that are timed and triggered (more on this later). Use multiple mediums, instead of a repetitive and tedious one-way newsletter e.g. fax, sms, snail mail, cards, website and phone calls. But also know when enough is enough; I reckon if you haven't closed the sale after somewhere between 5 and 12 contacts, you probably aren't. So pick a cut-off, say 10 contacts, then call it a day with that prospect.

Profit Generation Through Dialogue Marketing

I know, my articles don't seem to follow a particular order. These are largely determined by events at work and/or reflect the workings of a disorganised mind. This article dovetails with a more detailed piece I wrote, which is available for download here.

Using the power of new technology isn't just about mass email, which is essentially an unsophisticated acquisition tactic. It is far more involved, personalised and interactive; and can greatly improve your ability to develop strategies for both customer acquisition and retention; not to mention enhance your profitability prospects. This is a brief discussion to put retention and acquisition into perspective.

Marketing continues to be the sum of all business activities involved in the transfer of goods and/or services, from the producer to the consumer.

Traditionally, marketing has been primarily outwardly focussed, namely on the acquisition of new consumers. So if you look at the diagram, that would mean that the efforts were mainly expended on acquiring grey dots.

More recently marketing has evolved to emphasise an inward focus too, namely the retention of existing consumers; or to put it simply, expending an effort to keep your coloured dots.

This has come about as a result of the cost advantages of retention versus acquisition. Moreover, in a fiercely competitive and increasingly fragmented market place, new "virgin" customers are not in abundance, with consumers becoming increasingly savvy.

Fortunately with the advent of new technologies both the tasks of acquisition and
retention can be easily and affordably facilitated. In fact, the new technologies allow your marketing strategies to become an omnipresent, personalised, 24/7 tool to keep your brand “top of the mind”, instead of the mass marketing, traditional mediums of yesteryear.

Marketing Acquisition

Marketing continues to perform the function of acquiring new consumers. Aside from the usual mass marketing approaches, this usually involves progressing a lead from suspect, through prospect, to first time consumer. This “lead nurturing” is easily enhanced through the use of new technology.

For a more detailed discussion of how technology can assist your acquisition efforts, click here.

Marketing Retention

Without proper care, any first-time customer, repeat customer, client, or advocate can become inactive or lost, causing the company substantial losses in sales and profit. In fact, your customers are constantly in a state of flux. It is up to you to determine what your loss rate will be. Of course you could take the "who cares" attitude, and continue to concentrate on acquisition; but at what cost?


There is no doubt that traditional marketing remains vital; what has happened is that the emphasis has shifted from the transaction to the relationship. In this context relationship does not refer to a deep, meaningful, interpersonal connection; rather it refers to a customer’s purchase history.

Of course during the acquisition stage there is no history. Here the objective is to get a prospect to make the transition to customer, in other words you coax the grey dots towards the funnel. Even those dots that do not become customers, should be nurtured until they become ready, given that it usually takes multiple contacts before a prospect is ready to transact.

During the retention stage you, and your customer, have a history. Hopefully it is a good one, and you can leverage off of it. Too few people do, and this is why so many customers defect to your competitors. You can implement some amazingly simple strategies that are effective at acknowledging the customer, creating a positive brand experience and reducing and post purchase cognitive dissonance. It is all about retaining your coloured dots; or at least slowing down the rate of attrition.

For a more detailed discussion, specifically how technology can help you (with examples), please click here.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

The Power of The First Paragraph

Recently I was engaged in putting a client through the paces of learning how to effectively use email to enhance his efforts at prospecting. The efforts included using an automated Dialogue Marketing solution to contact and filter his many prospects. What emerges out of the bottom (akin to a filter) should be qualified leads.

There are many key areas that need to be emphasised, with a medium like email. One of these is the first paragraph.

Assuming you have managed to deliver the email into your prospect's inbox, and that the formatting has remained intact, it is hoped that your first paragraph does the trick to get the prospect to take action. If it doesn't, you have lost an opportunity.

Source: The Direct Marketing Center

How do you start your letter, your brochure, your website or, for that matter, any other direct response piece?

Do you tell the prospect immediately what it is you’re trying to sell? Do you warm him up so he can understand why he needs your product or service? Do you get right into the sales pitch?

The direction of the first paragraph of your direct response piece depends on the theme you’ve chosen. That theme will dictate whether your lead paragraph will follow a particular creative approach or focus on your offer.

Once your lead paragraph is in harmony with your theme, the focus should shift to your warm-up. An ineffective warm-up will cripple a direct mail letter more than any other factor, resulting in a mediocre or losing letter.

Let me give you some illustrations...

In the following, you must read two or three paragraphs before you really get to the heart of what the piece is all about. These paragraphs cause tremendous drop-off in readership and develop a feeling of not just boredom, but confusion as to what the writer is trying to sell.

“As a homeowner, you know how maintenance costs are climbing every day. And in these days of tighter budgets, we don’t need to tell you that needed home maintenance is too often ignored in terms of priority dollars.”

“Despite international treaties designed to stop the use of drift nets in commercial tuna fishing, which results in the slaughter of many hundreds of dolphins each year, violations are still taking place. For an independent organization like ours to monitor and deter the use of drift nets, operation costs can be staggering.”

The three-paragraph rule in direct response states simply that with most sales pieces, you can cut off the first three paragraphs and start with the fourth.

Though this rule is a bit arbitrary, it tends to prove true when reviewing drafts from the majority of copywriters. The copywriter will warm up to the subject and his key, but the critical lead paragraph is buried further down in the fourth or fifth paragraph.

A great sales piece will get to the point right away. Your objective is to generate immediate interest.

A great sales piece will get to the point right away. Your objective is to demand and attract the interest of the reader. It is not to set the groundwork for understanding the piece; it’s to generate immediate interest in the theme that you have chosen.

Also, the beginning paragraph should be in the first person. A quick way to destroy a letter or other direct response piece is to talk in the third person or have a lot of “we’s” in the copy. To start a letter with “we” can cripple your response.

Here’s an example of a poorly constructed start:

“We are living in very precarious times. Bankruptcies and foreclosures are at an all-time high. Businesses are being liquidated in record numbers. And homelessness is on the increase. As a nation, we must come together to reverse these dangerous trends, but we will need your backing if we are to succeed.”

Conversely, beginning a letter with the word “you” immediately involves the prospect in the copy. A “you”-oriented letter speaks directly to the needs of the prospect.

Here in a nutshell are a few of the rules to follow in creating your first paragraph:

  1. Make it dramatic, interesting and directed to the right target audience. The focus is on the reader’s self-interest.
  2. Keep your paragraph short.
  3. Keep your sentences short.
  4. Keep your words short.
  5. Use “you” to involve the reader.
  6. Make your message come from one person, on a very personal basis, with the intent of building a one-on-one readership throughout the piece.
  7. In evaluating any sales letter, one of the first things you should do is look at the lead paragraph. Does it match the style and flavor of the six points listed above?

Below are a few first paragraphs I have recently used for my clients

Take a look at them to see how we have applied the rules:

Imagine raking in 58.84% average returns over 3 years when the S&P 500 is pulling 18.01%. Subscribers to Motley Fool Stock Advisor have done exactly that.

Malpractice premiums are outrageous! But at least they protect you from today’s out-of-control lawsuits, right? Not necessarily.

The fact is, your cost of living in California is a staggering 30% higher than other western states due to some of the heaviest taxation and regulation in the country.

Twenty-three years ago, I took a trip that I have regretted for life.

There is no dogmatic formula to a lead-in paragraph, but there is a similarity in style from the nation’s great copywriters. Your letters will produce better responses if you follow, rather than break, the rules.

Author: Craig Huey