A Marketer's Review: Bill C-27, the Electronic Commerce Protection Act

Sigh. Today I want to spend a little time housekeeping. Canada is about to pass its own anti-spam legislation, and it may have some implications for you Canadian marketers.

The new legislation will be known as ECPA (Electronic Commerce and Protection Act). No real surprises, given that anti-Spam legislation is nothing new around the globe. What is a surprise, though, is that Canada has chosen to go the opt-in route, unlike the USA CAN-SPAM legislation, which is opt-out. Although this could make the legislation more effective, it also makes me nervous, given Canada's proclivity to over-burden industry with onerous requirements, and in so doing, stifle entrepreneurship.

Like all good things in life, they always have to be ruined by the spoilers; in this case the nasty spammers of the world. And I use the word nasty with intent. Hard core spam is like pornography, you know it when you see it. But many legitimate marketing emails can also be defined as spam, since spam is ultimately defined by the recipient; and it is these emails that concern me. There are those pious genuises that will claim that this issue is content and timing related. Perhaps, except that what works today doesn't always work tomorrow.

A few years ago some of us had telemarketing Do Not Call Lists (DNCL) imposed upon us; and again, because of some spoilers. This has had the effect of reducing those annoying calls during dinner. It is hoped that anti-spam legislation will have the same effect. We'll see; and if it does, do you think the corporates and the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) will lower their filters? I doubt it.

Legitimate and professional email marketing efforts incorporate many things; unsubscribe functionality, bounce management, blacklist monitoring, whitelisting, opt-in, opt-out, message design, personalised from addresses, privacy clauses, accurate subject lines, relevant content, metrics and more; all in an effort to get into an inbox.

The majority of service providers already include most, if not all, of these functions. However, much of problem lies with the marketers; the users of the email platforms. Email marketing, traditionally, has always been seen as a cheap marketing tool. So some marketers may have been careless in its application. That being said, a lot of that has changed and let's not lose sight of the fact that the bulk of email traffic is illegitimate, hard core spam.

So what is my point?

My point is that good email practice has to become a given, and is increasingly moving in that direction. Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. Remember to focus on the real enemy, the hard core elusive culprits. In the same breath; it is high time that email marketing was taken seriously, and probably outsourced to those professionals that stay abreast of the industry best practices.

To state my case; I applaud any efforts to minimise hard core spam BUT, and there always is a BUT. It is unlikely to reduce the levels of illegitimate spam, given that spammers can operate from anywhere on the planet, with many tools at their disposal, and seemingly with impunity. I hope it isn't the legitimate marketer, that is going to be brow beaten.

Legitimate marketers are going to carry a burden. Your ability to prospect targeted individuals will be severely curtailed, like with the DNCL, and this is potentially a business killer. Also, you will have difficulty implementing a win-back strategy too, if it falls outside a certain time period (Well, actually no difficulty. You simply can't do it). In all liklihood, I can see the day, in the not too distant future, where it is virtually impossible to prospect via email, fax or telephone. Who knows how a new business will be expected to generate awareness? Social media? I don't think so.

So it may end up being a case of wanting to pass legislation to protect consumers from the "most dangerous and damaging forms of spam", but which has an alternative, undesired effect. Personally, I think we need to move in the direction of IP Reputation services.

Download a printable copy of this article.

Don't Discount - Learn How To Get Your Price

This week I was pondering price objections, since we are all occasionally confronted with these; namely that our products or services are pricey in comparison to other competitors. Of course this necessitates painstakingly explaining the differences. So what is it that gets consumers to determine a "fair price"?

It's quite straightforward. Consider yourself, when you go shopping. Small, insignificant purchases, don't require you to make a value judgement. But larger purchases usually have you more involved; and what tends to happen is that you place a subjective "price" on the product or service.

If the price is below your "established price", you perceive the product to have value, and you need very little coaxing to purchase. Think of a new computer; you determine that a computer with the features you require is probably worth $500.00. If you walk into the store and find this at $350.00, you will feel that you found a "bargain", and vice versa.

The difference between reality and perception leads to a performance gap. This is the principle upon which a blowout sale works; pricing is so ridiculously low that transactions take place regardless of whether the customer has a definitive need or not. In other words the item is so cheap that the consumer doesn't think about the purchase, because his risk has been reduced. A performance gap can be either positive or negative.

A pricing benchmark is usually derived by loosely using a larger market participant as a benchmark. The problem is that this participant may be a market maker, in other words they have influenced the market to see things their way. It is logical to want to influence the market to the extent that your product offering is considered the standard by which everything is measured. But this may not suit your customer's reality; they just don't know it. Remember this maxim:


In the case of a pricing objection, this will mean probing the prospect for the objection, and overcoming that by demonstrating your product or service benefits. In other words, comparing apples with apples.

In the earlier scenario this usually means focussing the prospects attention on his needs, and then highlighting the benefits of owning your product. This will usually get the prospect to stop measuring you relative to a competing product, and will justify your pricing.

Now, in a face-to-face sales environment, this is relatively easy to do, although seldom done properly. But what do you do when your prospect hasn't even displayed an interest in transacting yet?

You will recall our chat on Lead Nurturing and Closing A Sale, where we emphasised that it will invariably take more than one contact to secure a sale, and that this requires you to nurture your leads.

A large part of this nurturing process must focus on the benefits of using your product or service. Only through repeated emphasis, and guiding a prospect through a process of discovery designed to uncover needs, can you position yourself apart from your perceived competitors. And this positioning is achieved through the use of dialogue, in the form of closed probes, where you uncover a prospects needs and respond with appropriate satisfiers. All of this can be achieved automatically.

An alternative, instead of using a dynamic, prospect driven process, is to anticipate what many of the objections may be, and to provide a static solution on your website or blog, in the form of FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions).

Your ultimate objective is to create a positive performance gap, where significant value is realised, by having the perceived benefits far exceed the price that you have determined. In order to do this requires you to present your offering in a way that allows you to differentiate yourself, by focussing on your strengths; those areas that give you a competitive advantage. There is no point competing with the large discount operators, on the basis of their price or their features.

Dialogue Marketing: Keeping Email Marketing Efforts Effective

There are so many Email Service Providers (ESP), that the product has almost become a commodity, where only price is the issue.

At the same time, a lot of businesses already have some form of email campaign or other. And in the midst of all of this we have email recipient fatigue, with declining read rates, reduced click throughs, increased unsubscribes, and all around reduced effectiveness.

What now?

Well, for starters, it never was about the technology. The technology was, and is, only a facilitator. The technology is almost at the point where you can expect a certain minimum, like CAN-SPAM compliance, unsubscribe and bounce functionality, auto-responders, customised fields, and such like. So now it is up to you.

Email was never the panacea, or the silver bullet. Like everything else, it boils down to your strategy.

The Strategy Centres Around Dialogue

You cannot rely on mass email alone, and expect to simply blast out message after message, expecting business to come flooding in. If you did expect that, then you clearly still believe in the Tooth Fairy too. Even segment, batch and blast has lost its shine.

You can only reverse the trend through dialogue. Yes, two-way communication. But you will surprised how many people don't get it, are too lazy to get it, too arrogant to listen or are just stupid. I have repeatedly explained the process to many businesses, only to have them email me their standard monthly newsletter, or their standard monthly specials. Sigh.

However, email marketing is still the most effective marketing tool available, but it cannot operate in a vacuum. You have to combine it with other mediums and strategies, incorporating fax, voice, sms, web, blogs and snail mail.

You have to engage in conversations, and you have to nurture your contacts to the next stage, whatever that may be. All of this requires a well devised communications strategy that dictates when and how to deploy these instruments.

Establish Some Goals

The goals are obvious, establish how many phases there are to the sales cycle, and then design a communication strategy for each phase. Use a combination of communication mediums, and create opportunities to communicate with your contact within each phase. Use these opportunities to re-affirm your relationship, and to gather information. This gathered information should advance your awareness of the contact, and should, in turn, lead to new opportunities to communicate.

The collection of meaningful data, and the creation of relevant communication opportunities will greatly reduce unsubscribes, and all the other myriad problems, but at the same time produce revenue producing opportunities.

The Key Ingredient

The magic is you. You have to be completely dedicated to your strategy, and once you implement, you have to persevere. I have seen too many businesses with fantastic communication strategies, the best of technologies BUT no will to support the vision.

Too many commentators and ESPs go on about the details, like dealing with bounces, or the subject line, or the correct time to dispatch a message. These are important, but too many assume complete competency on the part of the business. Without you engaging in the process, there can be no dialogue. So go on, you be the champion.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Using Dialogue To Nurture Your Leads

Related Articles:
Do You Expect To Close On Your First Contact?
Alternatives To A Newsletter .... Demystifying The Mystified

This week I was helping a prospective client establish a communication strategy to acquire new business. The process sometimes seems confusing, so I have taken this opportunity to explain it in more detail.

It is extraordinarily rare that a prospect is ready to purchase, when you happen to make contact. Assuming you have a market, of course; usually you will make contact with a prospect somewhere in the sales cycle, just not where you need them to be. This can be best described as harvesting green bananas; and may account for 95% of your leads.

What this means is that if you do not nurture this prospect, until they are ready to transact, chances are they will be lost to a competitor. It is suggested that 80% of marketing expenditure, on lead generation, goes to waste, due to lack of discipline and commitment.

So what to do?

Well, that is the point of meaningful dialogue. You need to engage prospects consistently, and through value-added exchanges. I intentionally use the word dialogue, and exchange. There is no point simply blasting out newsletters, or emails. All this does is create work for you, and you end up operating in a vacuum. You never become better informed as to the state of the prospect; and you could well be hurting your brand.

So the objective is to share information with the right people, and in so doing establish a relationship. Ultimately, the ongoing, timely sharing of information maintains a brand awareness, which leads (pun intended) to a transaction. Dialogue marketing is more than just having a salesperson call every so often, to find out if a prospect is "ready to buy yet."

It has been demonstrated that 69% of buyers are more inclined to transact, where a salesperson has assumed the role of advisor. This means that it is important for you to share knowledge, and educate your prospects. Forget the scripted sales pitches; the cheesy verses that interrupt my dinner. Become the trusted advisor that your prospect calls, when they are ready to transact.

But how to do it?

Here we are going to refer to my diagram, above.

You probably have a source of leads; this could be advertising, trade enquiries, seminars, trade shows, or any myriad of sources.

Make sure you add your website and blog, to those sources. But ensure that your website and blog provide the ability to collect prospect information. This information, together with information sources from other areas, should be fed into a centralised database.

Now, and this is where the confusion comes in, there is always a tendancy to want to blast off a message, telling the prospect everything you can do. This is wrong. If you tell them everything upfront, not only are you pressure selling, but you haven't shared any knowledge and you destroy your the opportunity to communicate in the future, without repeating yourself.

You need to nurture them; gently. You send a message which discusses a topic relevant to their situation (call this Dialogue 1). Included therein could be a link to a related blog article, where you can lay the subject out in more detail. An important part of the dialogue, is to include an online (or email embedded) survey. If the survey questions (never more than 3) are answered, these give you an insight into the state of the prospect, and may provide a selling opportunity.

So, if you have 5 key areas that could cause a prospect to transact, instead of mentioning all 5 upfront, you break them up into 5 or more seperate communications, which are dispatched at timed intervals. Each contact relates to one of the key areas, which is supported by a blog article and an online survey. Last week I discussed Dialogue Marketing for Financial Services; this was one example of a value-added exchange.

Any response by a prospect, that produces a selling opportunity, takes the prospect to a different database, and a new series of messages.

It is important to place yourself in your prospect's position, think through what is important to them, and then create a meaningful communication strategy.

And The Results?

Close ratios are higher, sales pipelines are stronger, brand awareness is stronger, customer retention is 50% higher, and nurtured prospects produce 250% more qualified sales leads, than unnurtured prospects.