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Seven ways to improve your sales proposals

September 01, 2015 by Andy Bounds

Seven ways to improve your sales proposals{{}}Persuading people to do what you want is hard; especially if you aren't there to do it – which happens when someone has asked you to submit a written proposal.

Here are seven quick ways to make your proposals more persuasive:

  1. Agree your solution before writing it.
  2. Agree the layout before writing it.
  3. Agree the follow-up before writing it.
  4. Ensure your titles engage ("Our proposal" doesn't).
  5. Ensure your emails impress.
  6. Include a timeline.
  7. Make it easy to read.

1. Agree your solution before writing it

You are more persuasive than any piece of paper could ever be. So, don't rely on your proposal to do your selling for you. Instead, make your proposals a confirmation, not an exploration.

In other words, agree your proposed solution verbally during your meetings with your prospect. Then use your proposal to confirm with her what you've already agreed.

This is much better than using your proposal to explore possibilities you haven't discussed with her yet. (A good check: you should be able to write "as discussed" before every sentence in your proposal).

Benefits: it's more likely to work; it's much quicker to write.

2. Agree the layout before writing it

It's also important to agree with her what you'll write in the proposal. If you don't, you're guessing what she wants to read. And you'll be wrong. You'll write too much. And it'll take ages to think what to put in there. And, even then, she won't read much of it.

To bring this up in your meeting, simply say "I don't want to bore you by sending irrelevant information. So let's agree what the headings of the proposal will be".

How can she possibly refuse? She isn't going to say: "It's ok - be irrelevant".

Benefits: it's much quicker to write; she's more likely to open it instantly, because it contains exactly what she asked for.

3. Agree the follow-up before writing it

If you've ever written a proposal, you'll have experienced the Black Hole of Doom that many proposals fall into. You send it. You don't hear back. You then worry - do you chase (and maybe annoy her) or wait (and feel powerless)?

The simplest way to resolve this: agree before sending it when you'll speak afterwards. Something like "So, I'll confirm what we've agreed in a proposal for you. When shall we speak again, to discuss it?"

Benefits: you keep momentum high; no Black Hole of Doom.

4. Ensure your titles impress

Most proposal titles are dull - "Our proposal" and the like. And the section titles can also be dull – "About us", "Our experience", "Our track record"…

But titles drive everything. They're a document's first impression. So they have to draw the reader in. You know this to be true – after all, if this wasn't the case, every article in every newspaper would have the title "More news".

For the title of your proposal, include her number one priority. So, if it's to increase market share in Belgium, call it "Proposal: how we'll increase your market share in Belgium".

For the sections, think what she'll find most interesting in that section, and put that in the title.

For example, I recently helped a large IT company win a £multi-million contract with a customer that wanted to improve their competitive advantage. We changed one section's title from "Our cutting-edge IT" to "How our cutting-edge IT will transform your competitive advantage" – much more interesting to the client.

Benefits: great first impression; the prospect reads everything.

5. Ensure your emails impress

If you email your proposal, she'll have read lots of things before even looking at it. Ensure they all impress:

Covering email title: Not just "Your proposal". Instead, something like "As discussed: our proposal about increasing your market share in Belgium".

Covering email: Make it short; after all, you want her to open the proposal. But it must be well written and benefits-rich; plus remind her of the follow-up you've already agreed.

Your attachment: The attachment file name will probably be similar to your email title. This is much better than a proposal file name I saw recently – "Proposal TS000625April15".

Benefits: great first impression (plus, you don't undo all the good work you've done so far.)

6. Include a timeline

When people buy, they want certainty. So, help her visualise how things will go. Timelines work really well for this. They clearly show who is doing what, by when. And that, the sooner she agrees to go ahead, what will happen immediately. Always good for building pace.

Benefits: clarity of offering; injects pace into the process as she sees what she'll get the minute she says yes.

7. Make it easy to read

I know you think she'll print out your proposal, turn off her email, put the phone on divert, go into her favourite room with a cup of tea and devour it over many hours…
But she won't.

It will be a skim-read, where she's searching for the content she's most interested in.

So, it must be easy to read quickly:

  • Short paragraphs – four lines maximum;
  • Short sentences.
  • Short phrases/words. So turn things like "prior to the commencement of" to "before".

None of these seven approaches take more time than you currently spend on proposals. In fact, most reduce it.

So, seven ways to write better proposals… and in less time. Good for the customer; good for you.

Copyright © 2015 Andy Bounds, communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.

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Podcast: how I grew Prezzybox in a highly-competitive market

August 27, 2015 by John McGarvey

Prezzybox logo{{}}You might think that the year 2000 was a bad time to start an internet business. After all, that was the year the dot-com bubble burst, and investment in online companies dried up

But the crash didn't destroy every internet business. Take Prezzybox. This online gift retailer launched in September 2000, by founder Zak Edwards and a small team.

Initially run from a borrowed office with a bright orange wall, the company has since grown to have an annual turnover of £5m. In a highly-competitive sector, that's no mean feat.

Website eCommerce MasterPlan recently interviewed Zak for their regular podcast. During the half-hour discussion, he explains how the business got started, reveals his favourite online tools, and gives essential advice for anyone who's running - or thinking of starting - an ecommerce business. Listen now:

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Are we in danger of oversharing?

August 24, 2015 by Amir Jirbandey

Are we in danger of oversharing?{{}}Some might say we live in a world of oversharing. You can find just about anything on your social feed - from what your friend ate for lunch to a video of a squirrel getting drunk on fermented pumpkin. We share unique content (like this blog post) and we share frequently because we're positively reinforced with "favorites", "likes" or an increase of new followers. It becomes a cycle, a lifestyle.

But does this trend carry over to email marketing? Just what is social sharing in email and how effective is it?

Mixed reviews

If you've researched social sharing in the past, you may have seen mixed results across studies. One recent study showed that including links to share on social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter generated a 115% higher CTR (click-through-rate) than emails without an option to share.

But another study, by MarketingSherpa, suggests that social sharing buttons are not as effective.

So should we or shouldn't we add social buttons? The answer is that it depends on both your audience and the content that's being shared.

Know your audience

Always have your audience and your end goal in mind. Producing highly relevant, quality content will always be the best motivator for customers to share.

On the flip side, social sharing buttons can eat away at traffic or conversions if you aren't careful. If the goal of the email is to increase blog traffic, you may want to consider having social sharing buttons that directly promote the highlighted blog post.

Or, if you're aiming to drive sign-ups through social, provide a direct link to the landing page for users to share.

Having users refer your product to a friend is much more organic, with the added value of social proof. In return, it guarantees that you're able to attract those with similar interests to your most engaged customers.

Additionally, if you're simply looking to drive exposure on social, you can consider adding "Follow Us" buttons instead. I use these in my own email campaigns and have seen 20% of click-throughs attributed to social media follows.

So always have a specific ask and work to integrate all parts of the email towards that one goal.

Getting social with it

There are a few ways to add social sharing buttons into your email.

Most template editors allow you to drag and drop in pre-made social sharing buttons. For a more customised approach, you can code your own button. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have documentation with pre-made code you can use.

Twitter's Tweet Button allows you to craft a personalised message for your contact list to share. The Facebook button may be a little bit trickier for the non-developer to pick up, but is also highly customisable.

Social sharing buttons have the potential to be highly impactful,providing a high ROI for the time it takes to create and integrate them into your email templates.

Copyright © 2015 Amir Jirbandeyis marketing lead UK at Mailjet.

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What to expect from the next Panda update

August 18, 2015 by Marketing Donut contributor

What to expect from the next Panda update{{}}After some sites have been seeing ranking fluctuations, speculation is starting to build about a potential new Panda update from Google.

We're certainly intrigued as to what a new Panda update could mean for small businesses and content marketers. From what we have learned, it seems that the update will be less of a quality penalisation (which we have previously seen) and more of a quality assessment, where Google is re-assessing what it sees as good and bad ranking factors and encouraging sites to up the quality of the content on their site.

It is expected that Google will:

  1. Attribute more ranking power to detailed content.
  2. Attribute more ranking power to universally relevant content.

What does this mean for small business marketing?

The new update highlights the need for truly valuable content; content that is useful, relevant and engaging for the target audience. Now is the time to really focus on and invest in creating high quality content.

There are two top-level actions you can take as the owner or manager of your business:

  1. When creating new content, focus on making sure that it is relevant and targeted at your audience, but most importantly, that it is highly detailed.
  2. Revisit old content to improve its value to the target audience using the same guidelines mentioned above.

What next?

After speaking with a contact at Google, we've learned that Google wants online marketing to be an even more integrated part of a company's marketing function, where online marketers and SEO experts work together to devise strategies and produce content that is highly detailed and relevant to their audiences.

But Google is also aware that many digital marketers don't have long-term content plans and that one-hit-wonder content ideas don't build on a wider digital marketing strategy.

The Panda update will affect a wide range of business types, it's not just content aggregators that are going to be affected by the update.

How will the next Google update affect you?

Consider how the update may impact your business and industry. Are you selling a service? Ensure that all of your services are represented throughout your site with well-written service descriptions and structured supporting content.

Are you selling a product? Think about your product pages – are they well-written? Product descriptions should be unique to your site and have strong levels of information, if they don't, then you may see drops in rankings.

We believe that Google's strong focus on content is going to continue well into the future. If the search giant is going to retain their very large market share, then they need to continue to provide the highest quality search results. Meanwhile, business owners must invest in an effective online marketing strategy, regardless of algorithm updates.

Copyright © 2015 James Taylor of Impression. This blog originally appeared on the Impression website.

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Tagged SEO, search, google | 1 comment

How to nail your in-store marketing in a small store

August 10, 2015 by Marketing Donut contributor

How to nail your in-store marketing in a small store{{}}Many independent retail businesses spend a significant amount of their budget on advertising to drive footfall into their store; but they miss out on potential sales because of poor store layout and a lack of in-store promotional materials.

In-store marketing has the power to turn prospects into converted customers and drive add-on sales. But where do you start?

Look in from the outside

Do you have any shop window space? Go outside your store and look in from the outside. If you were a passer-by would you be tempted to enter? Your window space is your most valuable piece of in-store advertising; think of it the same way you do your website homepage. You want to communicate your brand to passing trade; as well as using your products, a simple window cling can add colour or advertise a special offer.

Step inside

When you walk into your store, what's the first thing you see and where are your eyes drawn? Ideally your best sellers should be as near to the entrance as possible; you know these products sell well, they are a safe bet and the perfect introductory point. The entrance to your store should have a distinct space to give your customer time to orientate themselves, so position these products close to your entrance but don't over-crowd the space.

Watch and learn

Have you ever simply observed the way your customers move around your store? This can be insightful. Nine times out of ten, first time visitors are likely to pick up the first thing they see, it helps them familiarise themselves with their surroundings and your products. However this can be different dependent upon the store layout and product – take notes.

Identify opportunities

As a rule of thumb your high traffic areas tend to be the till point and fitting rooms (if you have them), so make the most of these areas. For example, if you're a clothing retailer try merchandising a wall next to the fitting room with jewellery and accessories. It will prompt your customers to consider whether they need something to match the item they plan on purchasing. At the till point customers have already made the decision to purchase an item and are in a purchasing frame of mind. This is why we tend to advertise lower value items here. Try placing a brightly coloured Dump Bin near your till point that advertises special offers.

Create a flow

No matter how small the space, you want to encourage people to move around. If you're a relatively small store you might have to use a free-flow layout. Instead of having defined aisles, the angles and corners of fixtures guide customers around your store. If space is tight you may find a free-standing display unit helpful, providing shelf space but with a relatively small footprint. You can brand these with your company logo, text and colours too.

Copyright © 2015 Mark Simpson, chairman of Simpson Group which runs the Shop4Pop website.

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How segmentation can seriously boost your marketing results

August 04, 2015 by Marketing Donut contributor

How segmentation can seriously boost your marketing resultsWe all know that when applying for jobs the same CV does not work for all the roles you might be applying for. To be successful you have to draw out specific experience and knowledge and tailor it to the job description to show that you meet the employer's needs.

Segmentation is pretty much the same. It's about aligning your products and services with a specific target audience so you appear more relevant to them.

It is the process of splitting customers into different, definable groups, within which customers with similar characteristics have similar needs. You might use segmentation to identify a group that would benefit from an existing product or you might create a new product or service to address the needs of an identified group.

In short, segmentation is good business practice and is about satisfying the customer's requirements. Meeting customer needs better than your rivals gives you competitive advantage.

Identifying target groups

To identify your segments you will need to find out more about your customers and their buying habits. This information will be very different depending whether you are selling to consumers (B2C) or other businesses (B2B). Whilst there will be some cross-over of criteria, such as location and frequency of purchase, you might also want to consider a number of other influences:

For B2C: Demographics, social class, age, personal life stage (married, retired etc), interests.

For B2B: Business size, usage rate, company turnover/revenue, business stage (ie start-up or mature business), internal purchasing process, key people.

The benefits of segmentation

Firstly, you will reduce your marketing costs by only targeting real prospects. The marketing will be more effective and will help build a relationship with the customer. In time you will create loyalty, boosting both customer retention, and advocacy.

For segmentation to be effective the target group must be distinct, tangible and accessible. Not all your customers and prospects will be at the same stage in the product lifecycle. New customers will have different needs from those who have been a customer for some time and know your product well – so your communication will need to be different.

By segmenting these groups, you can target your marketing more effectively. This might mean varying the content of emails, newsletter and offers that you send or even how often you get in touch.

Understanding their needs and habits will help improve your communication and timeliness. For example, a new customer may need more support as they start to use your product. Long-term customers may need greater incentives to stay loyal. You might want to consider how easy it is for them to switch suppliers and think about creating "stickiness" - incentives to stay.

Understanding your customers

It can be a good idea to carry out research to find out more about who your customers are and their buying habits. You may already have data stored that will give you an insight, such as sales records, or you might need to conduct a survey to find out more.

If you have a good CRM system you will be able to see how these groups and individuals have responded to previous campaigns. Did they open and click though on your last email campaign? Did they respond to a promotion?

Segmenting your database to activity level gives you real competitive advantage. And using a good email marketing system that integrates with your CRM will mean you can easily mail your database at an individual level, responding to the customer's needs.

This technology isn't just for the Amazons of this world – through cloud technology it is now easily affordable, or even free, for small businesses too.

Copyright © 2015 Helen Armour, marketing manager at Really Simple Systems.

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