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Why now's the time to implement your Christmas strategy

September 28, 2015 by Marketing Donut contributor

Why now's the time to implement your Christmas strategy{{}}It's time to start planning for Christmas and there are six key areas that business owners need to focus on: internal communications, audience segmentation, attribution, email targeting, display advertising, and affiliates.

Peak planning board

Set up a cross-departmental "peak planning board" so that everyone in the business understands their role in the build-up to Christmas. It is especially important for marketing and fulfilment teams to be in constant contact as seasonal campaigns and promotions must be supported to allow the supply of high-demand items. Marketing teams can also help drive stock movement by creating promotions for items that are lagging behind in sales.

Segmentation

Businesses need a deep understanding of shopper behaviour in the build-up to Christmas so they can segment and target their marketing effectively. Using insights from previous years, it is possible to identify the frequency and value of a customer's purchases, whether they buy from you throughout the year or only at Christmas, or whether the type of purchase they make changes at Christmas. This information will help you determine the level of personalisation and the type of marketing message to apply to different customers.

Attribution

Advanced attribution takes account of every touchpoint; every device, platform or channel used by the customer during the buying journey. And it can provide valuable insight into customer behaviour. It allows you to measure return on investment for individual channels and campaigns in near to real-time, which in turn opens up opportunities to adjust campaigns and divert resources on-the-fly to support successful channels.

Email

The upturn in online spending in the build-up to Christmas brings an increased risk of basket abandonment as customers save products they see for comparison or purchase later. It is important to have a clear strategy in place for following up on abandoned baskets and incomplete purchases – including when to start offering discounts or other perks to entice shoppers back to their basket on your site. Consider shortening your usual timeline for this follow-up, particularly as Christmas gets closer. Email-based discounting campaigns can also be useful for implementing "contingency plan" campaigns in the event that revenue targets are not being met. 

Display

Competition for advertising space during the build-up to Christmas is intense and the early bird catches the worm. High-impact display advertising formats such as home page takeovers, billboards, pushdowns and skins get snapped up quickly – especially on sites with high prestige or traffic volumes. Seasonal campaigns should be planned and space booked in September, to run from November. This means that advert design and copywriting needs to be finalised by September.

It is important to think not only about special days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but also about the January sales period. These slots also get filled up very fast by premium publishers.

Affiliates

Partnering with affiliates can be an effective way to increase the reach and penetration of your marketing campaigns; something that's vital to customer acquisition at Christmas when so many voices are competing to be heard by the same audience. To ensure maximum impact from your Christmas campaigns, you should begin working on partnership agreements with affiliates from September, so that they go live from November.

The popularity of online shopping in the run-up to Christmas increases every year and Black Friday has intensified and extended this period of heightened demand. This trend isn't going anywhere; retailers must act now to ensure they are adequately prepared.

Copyright © 2015 Luke Griffiths, general manager of eBay Enterprise Marketing Solutions — EMEA.

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How to grow your business when you've hit a brick wall

September 22, 2015 by Mike Southon

How to grow your business when you've hit a brick wall{{}}Sooner or later, all businesses hit a brick wall. For entrepreneurs, it is a tough but salutary experience when they realise that the main obstacle to growing their business is, in fact, themselves.

It takes significant gumption to start and then bootstrap a business. You live from hand to mouth, go for any scrap of business you can and use your instincts to make tactical, rather than strategic decisions.

Once the business model is proven, then the enterprise takes on a completely different aspect. The focus is then on doing the same thing over and over again, rather than constantly changing direction by trying new ideas.

Each potential client should be judged on profitability and internal systems should be put in place to keep costs down. Any mistakes learned along the way should be studied and not repeated.

The only thing that differentiates outwardly similar businesses is the quality of the delivery people within it. It is a hard lesson to learn that the people who were the best performers in the opportunistic early days may not be the right people to deal with more systematic and bureaucratic clients.

The Richard Branson way

For the entrepreneur themselves, it is important that they learn to delegate. Every successful entrepreneur, from Sir Richard Branson downward, explains that the biggest factor in their success was their ability to hire people better then themselves, and to let them get on with it.

All of these factors involve some serious soul-searching for the entrepreneur. They need to have a mentor who has experience of going through this phase, who knows them well, can spot their weaknesses and provide impartial advice on the right way forward.

The most effective mentoring I have myself provided over the last ten years has been for people going through this difficult development phase, typically from 25 to 35 people. I use psychometric testing, not to try and change the entrepreneur, but to help them to understand their own strengths and weaknesses.

These sessions can involve some significant soul-searching; but once they break through this barrier the path to future prosperity and happiness is clear.

Copyright © Mike Southon 2015. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.

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Three ways to outperform your online rivals

September 14, 2015 by Marketing Donut contributor

Three ways to outperform your online rivals{{}}Are you worried that your online competitors are stealing customers from your business?

If so, you're not alone. In our recent survey, 46% of businesses told us this was their greatest fear. Another 27% were worried that competitors' prices were lower; 18% reported concerns that their competitors have better marketing.

But business is competition, so how can your company gain the advantage? 

In order to outperform your competitors, you'll need to think strategically about the differences between your business and theirs. Here are three steps you can take to make it easier.

1. Get to know your brand, reputation and customers

Your business is your brand - without a strong brand and a solid reputation, you'll find it much harder to convert and retain customers.

Check out online reviews to see what customers are saying about you. When customers give you a glowing five-star review, what do they praise the most? When they're unhappy, what are the most common complaints? Many customers feel more able to voice their opinions online than in person, so this is an excellent way to learn what customers really think of you.

Understand your brand's appeal from the customer's point of view - why do they buy from you instead of your competitors? Does the customer perspective align with your company's presentation of the brand?

Once you've explored opinions of your brand, get to know your customers' needs and desires:

  • What do they want from your product or service?
  • What do they want you to start doing?
  • What do they want you to stop doing?
  • What do they want you to continue doing?

One of the simplest ways to discover this information is to conduct a consumer survey.  As the majority of consumers use mobile devices, a mobile survey lets you reach them wherever they are and provides an easy way for them to respond.

2. Get to know your competition and their customers

It's important to keep track of what advertising and marketing tactics your main competitors use, from SEO and SEM to social networking and email marketing. Notice any changes in their approach so you can gain insight into their broader strategies.

Take the time to audit your competitors' online performance:

  • Do they rank well for the search keywords that your company targets?
  • Do they publish great content online on a regular basis?
  • Do they have an active following on social media?

Subscribe to your competitors' email marketing campaigns to see how they're using this channel. Use a non-corporate email address for this, to avoid flooding your business inbox with competitor marketing campaigns or tipping off your competitors about your research activities.

Now learn more about your competitors' customers (and how they could become your customers):

  • Keep track of comments left on your competitors' social media profiles, websites, review sites and blogs. Try to get a sense of your competitors' typical customer profiles.
  • Look for gaps you can exploit. Are your competitors lacking a service or product that your company can deliver?

3. Gain insight to inform your decisions

Guesswork won't give you the insight you need to make the right decisions, but accurate data will.

To obtain data on your customers and how they interact with your brand, consider using lead conversion software. This can track key metrics including: impressions compared to click-through rates; conversion rates of different customer segments; conversion rates of different landing page designs; and how your chosen metrics change with the time of day, the day of the week or even the seasons.

Copyright © 2015 Paul Liascos, managing director of ReachLocal UK.

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What makes a good strategic partner?

September 07, 2015 by Shweta Jhajharia

What makes a good strategic partner?{{}}A strategic alliance is a loose partnership between non-competing businesses that can add profit to each other's bottom lines. This calls for commitment rather than investment but the right partnership can pay serious dividends.

Since strategic alliances do not have the backing of a legal agreement, it usually requires time to build up the relationship. This involves regular reviews to refine and develop the agreement. In short, partnerships are long-term strategies that also require short-term activity.

In fact, the reason strategic alliances are so often neglected as a strategy is because of the level of dedication and commitment they require.

Your mindset is also important; you do not want to think of this as "getting" something from your alliance partner. There is a powerful concept used in the BNI networks that they call "givers gain". It's best to think about how it is that you can help your alliance partner first, then you can think about how that partner can potentially help you back. Your alliance will flow much more smoothly as a result.

What makes a good strategic alliance partner?

Just as you identify the characteristics of your target customers, you also need to draw up a picture of your ideal partner.

Start by considering other firms that supply your customer base. For instance, if you are a business-to-business company, potential partners could include stationery suppliers, accountants, lawyers, financial advisers, cleaning companies, business coaches and so on. If you are business-to-customer, think about other complementary retailers, service providers or local organisations.

Once you have a long list of potential suppliers, you need to whittle that down to the strongest contenders. Here's what to look for in a potential strategic alliance partner:

1. They have a similar audience

Their audience does not have to be exactly the same as yours, but it definitely should be a similar clientele. For example, if your target person is usually wealthy, then you want to target services that are more likely to have wealthy customers, such as financial advisors or high-end retail.

2. They are not your competitors

Your service should be adding value to their customers, not competing with their services. If your product is too similar to theirs, why should they want to help you promote yours when they can promote theirs? You will get the greatest benefit from those who have a distinct service from you but a similar audience.

3. They can give you access to new customers and prospects

Ideally, you want them to have a database of clients and/or prospects that you can easily access. It could work to your advantage if they are not making the most of their database. Imagine if you could offer to help them a) build their database and b) communicate with their prospects and customers with an offer in a positive way. That, in itself, is adding value to them straight away; but it also gives you access to new prospects.

4. They want to work with you

This is an important point. If the potential partner is already satisfied with their sales and marketing and they cannot see much value from you, you should probably move on. Qualify all your potential strategic alliances the same way you would your sales leads. If they are not as excited about the partnership as you are, then it probably will not work out in the long term. They may look like a good prospect but they are just not that into you.

5. They want something you can offer

You need to be able to offer something that they want from you. Within the core products that you offer, there should be something that is valuable to your partner's customers. If you can identify that, then in the long term you can be a giver. And, as we know, givers gain.

Copyright © 2015 Shweta Jhajharia, principal coach and founder of The London Coaching Group.

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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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