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The Sales Team Dos and Don’ts for Creating Content

The Sales Team Dos and Don’ts for Creating Content written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

Content creation falls squarely in the domain of your marketing team, right? Yes, it’s true that marketers set strategy and create the content that supports that vision. But no team is an island, and in reality, it’s the sales team that is out there interacting with prospects and customers each and every day.

Your sales team should feel empowered to share and create content for your business. Here’s how you get them involved in the process, and the dos and don’ts for making the system work.

Do: Ask for Their Input

Your marketing team might be the wordsmiths of the group, but your sales team are the boots on the ground. They’re out there talking to prospects every day. They hear the same questions, hesitations, and sticking points over and over again.

When creating your content, you want to be sure that you’re proving to prospects that your business is the best one out there to solve their problems. The sales team understands better than anyone what those problems are, and how to communicate your solution.

You should be turning to them for advice and input. They’re the people who can point the marketing team in the right direction and help them create the type of content that will be most meaningful and helpful for your audience.

Do: Create a Process for Gathering Their Ideas

Your sales team have their own impressive skill set, but marketing writing is not necessarily part of it. In order to gather their input, don’t ask them to think like a marketer. Make it easy for them to share what they hear in their role as a salesperson.

Consider putting together a worksheet that asks them some basic questions. What are the top three questions they hear from prospects? Do they hear similar reactions across the board to pricing and specific products? What kind of content do they wish they had available to them as part of their sales arsenal?

Gathering responses to these questions will help your marketing team understand and meet the sales team’s needs.

Do: Provide Them with Content Extras

Salespeople are dealing with prospects and existing customers who are at all different stages of the marketing hourglass. Whether they’re speaking with a prospect who wants more information or a return customer who’s thinking about referring a friend, it’s helpful for them to have unique content to share, that goes above and beyond what’s available on your website.

These prospects and customers are already speaking with your sales team—they’ve proven that they have a high level of interest in what your business is offering. Why not go the extra mile and dazzle them with a content upgrade that the Average Joe scanning your website won’t be able to access?

Providing the sales team with content like ebooks, checklists, or templates that can enhance the customer experience at any stage of their journey will help them to establish a deeper sense of trust with the prospect or customer, which can help them close the sale in the long run.

Don’t: Leave Them to Their Own Devices on Social Media

Social media is a great tool for salespeople to use. It can help them generate conversions, but only if they’re using it properly. Again, the sales team are not marketing experts. It’s up to your marketing people to share best practices and make sure that the sales team is using their social media profiles to greatest effect.

While the marketing team creates the social media persona and posts for the brand, salespeople can cultivate their own followings and voice on social channels. Encouraging them to use hashtags effectively, tag the company in relevant posts, and incorporate video into their posts are great ways to help them drive sales. For more on the specifics of how to use social media as a part of the sales process, check out this webinar.

Do: Establish Brand Guidelines and Provide Templates

The sales team shouldn’t feel afraid to take ownership of sharing company messaging. After all, they’re not going to turn to the marketing team to write every email and script out every phone call they have with a prospect.

However, your marketing team has worked hard to create a brand identity, complete with a set voice and look, and you want to be sure that any content your sales team does create is working in harmony with the marketing team’s strategy.

That’s why it’s helpful for your marketing team to provide salespeople with brand guidelines and templates. What are the approved color palette and fonts for marketing materials? How do you want sales pitch decks to look?

Providing a style guide can help salespeople stay on the right track when communicating with prospects. Your marketing team should also put together a template for the types of communications your sales team will use regularly (and that includes things as complex as pitch decks and as simple as the formatting for their email signature line).

Part of building trust in your brand is establishing consistency in the way you communicate. Prospects and customers might not realize it consciously, but when they’re getting materials from a brand that are all over the map in terms of appearance and tone, some distrust might start to creep in. That’s the last thing you want for your business, so you must provide your sales team with the tools they need to put their best, most consistent foot forward.

Your marketing team might own the content creation process, but your sales team is a valuable asset in establishing and executing their approach. Making sure that their input is collected and considered, and providing them with the guidance to confidently communicate with prospects is the key to creating effective, trustworthy content for your brand.

The Ultimate Guide to Publishing

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be an author.

People are open to new ideas, readers are consuming content through a variety of media, and traditional publishers no longer stand in the way of releasing a new title.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever considered publishing a book. (Mine is raised right now, too.) Now, keep your hand up if you know how to publish a book. * … slowly lowers hand*

Publishing a book has always been one of those mysterious, cryptic processes reserved for the uber-famous or uber-rich. Books just seem to appear on the bookstore shelves … but they’ve got to come from somewhere, right?

Right. Nowadays, they come from multiple sources, which is good news for those of us who aren’t uber-famous or uber-rich. Regardless of your status, income, hometown, or connections, you (yes, you!) can publish a book.

All you need is a great idea, an even better sense of perseverance and patience, and this guide. Keep reading to learn more about publishing or use the chapter links below to skip ahead.

The publishing industry hasn’t always been so diverse and accessible, though. From the very early days of cave walls, clay tablets and papyrus to the modern era of eBooks, the publishing industry has undergone many major changes.

Here are some highlights.

  • 1456: The Gutenberg Press publishes the first book ever: the Bible.
  • 1776: Common Sense is written and self-published by Thomas Paine. He sold over 100,000 copies within three months.
  • 1800s: The Penny Press arrives in the U.S., making newspapers and news accessible for a penny. Since more people can consume news for less (versus just the rich), letters to the editor increase.
  • 1940-1970: The first eBook is published, although historians disagree on which one was truly first.
  • 2000s: Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter emerge, as does blogging. Instead of sending letters to the editor, the masses take to blogging to share their voice and opinions.
  • 2007: Print on-demand gains traction. Amazon releases Kindle.
  • 2009: Self-published titles surge to double the amount of traditionally published titles.
  • 2011: eBook sales surpass printed books for the first time in history.

As for 2018, this year has seen an increase in traditional and indie bookstore sales. Audiobooks have also become the fastest growth area in self-publishing. Lastly, most authors are opting to become hybrid authors — meaning they make their books available in both traditional and electronic formats. How do they do this? Keep reading to find out.

What’s the Difference Between Traditional and Self-Publishing?

So, we’ve referenced traditional and self-publishing (or indie publishing) multiple times so far. What do these processes mean? How are they similar and different?

Traditional publishing refers to the process of working with an agent and/or publishing house to edit, release, and market a book. Despite the lack of creative control given to authors in the traditional publishing process, once a publisher purchases a manuscript, they assume all financial risk with selling your book. New authors with little to no audience or follower base might choose to publish traditionally.

On the other hand, self-publishing is when authors assume all creative and financial control of the publishing process. They choose which independent agents, editors, designers, and distributors to work with, and they assume all or most financial risk associated with putting their book out. Experienced authors or people with a large audience (from a blog or social media) might choose to self-publish.

In the next section, we’ll discuss how to publish books via these different processes. Before we dive in, though, let’s define a few other popular terms in the publishing world.

What Does a Literary Agent Do?

A literary agent is similar to a celebrity or sports agent. They act as a liaison between the talent (the author) and anyone who could profit from or work with the talent. Literary agents typically work with authors to pitch and secure contracts with publishers. They also represent authors if their book is sold to film producers or studios.

Traditionally, literary agents are paid a percentage of any book sales negotiated on behalf of their client. How do agents benefit authors? Outside of making sales, literary authors connect their client’s work to publishers, negotiate contracts, ensure royalty payments, mitigate problems, and provide invaluable guidance and mentorship throughout the publishing process. Agents can also help new authors gain recognition and traction in the publishing world.

Authors secure an agent through a process called querying. (We cover this below.)

What Does a Publisher Do?

Book publishers assume all responsibility of getting a book published. With a team of editors, designers, and marketers, publishers do everything (short of writing the book) in order to bring it to market.

Some publishers specialize in a certain type of writing, whether fiction, non-fiction, or a specific genre. Also, depending on its size, a publisher might employ editors to manage the manuscript within each of those categories, thus diversifying the books and authors they represent.

Authors typically secure a publisher through their agent, as most big publishing houses don’t accept unrepresented works. Some smaller publishers accept work directly from authors, though. (We discuss this next.)

Top Publishing Companies

The following publishing houses publish the most books (and control over 60% of U.S. book revenue) and require agent representation to be considered for publication.

  1. Hachette
  2. Simon & Schuster
  3. Penguin Random House
  4. HarperCollins
  5. Macmillan

Now that we’ve covered the basics of the publishing industry, let’s talk about how to get a book from the pages of your word processor to the shelf of your favorite bookstore.

How to Publish a Book

Because there are so many ways to publish a book nowadays, the “path to published” isn’t a straight line. There are many factors that can change the direction of that path — or put you on a new one entirely — such as book genre, literary agency (or lack thereof), traditional vs. self-publication, print vs. electronic publication … and the list goes on.

Preparing Your Book

The first step in publishing a book can be both the easiest and hardest step in the entire process — writing it. But before you dive in, you must ask yourself: What kind of book are you writing?

  • If you’re writing a novel or memoir, you should finish your manuscript before approaching agents or starting the self-publishing process. Regardless of which publishing route you’re taking, make your manuscript the best content you’ve ever written. Hire a proofreader. Attend writing critique groups. Complete a few extra drafts. This will make it 1) more likely to get picked up by an agent or 2) sell well if self-published.
  • If you’re writing a non-fiction book, a book proposal should suffice. Consider this a business plan for your book — a document that includes what you’d write about, why it would sell well, any competing manuscripts, and more. (If you’re self-publishing, follow the guidelines for a fiction book. In that case, you’d go straight to the press, so the manuscript would need to be complete.)

Publishing Your Book

This step is where the publishing process could take you in a few different directions. Below, we break it up into two main “paths”, per se.

Traditional Publishing

If you choose the traditional publishing route, you’ll need to either work with an agent or directly with a publisher. In today’s market, the vast majority of books acquired by the top publishing houses (mentioned above) are represented by agents. Imagine walking into a Hollywood audition without representation … that’s kind of like pitching a brand new book to a major publishing house. Literary agents help bridge that gap.

If you aren’t interested in agency, you can work directly with a publisher — albeit a smaller, lesser known one. Thankfully, in today’s publishing world, there’s a good fit for every author and his or her work. It just takes some research.

Here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of where to find agents and publishers.

If you don’t feel like doing your own research, you can also hire help through services like Copy Write Consultants. For a fee, they’ll research agents and publishers and curate a customized, genre-specific list. They also review your queries and proposals.

Pitching an Agent or Publisher

Once you’ve found the agents and/or publishers you’re interested in, it’s time to compile a query letter and pitch your work. Querying is sending an unsolicited proposal for representation, typically including an outline, synopsis, or first few chapters of a new manuscript. From that point, the agent or publisher can either reject or accept the query.

Accepting the query involves requesting a full manuscript … which is why it’s handy to have your whole book completed before reaching out to agents or publishers.

Note: Beware of con-artists posing as agents. Reputable agents never ask for a fee to read your manuscript; they only make money if they sell your book. Visit Preditors & Editors to check agent ratings and reviews.

Signing and Working with an Agent or Publisher

Next, if an agent or publishing house extends a contract, it’s time to sign. Take a moment to research the agent or publishing house by reviewing their past clients and books. Overall, trust your gut. You’ll work closely with this person and/or publisher and share your most intimate ideas and thoughts with them (in the form of your book). Be comfortable with your choice.

Let’s say you sign with an agent. Here’s what that process would look like.

  1. You’ll work with him or her to review your manuscript, but at this point, you’ll likely only be making minor changes in preparation to pitch a publisher. These changes might include word count, book organization, or any big-picture plot holes. Remember, the book is still yours — you don’t have to change anything you don’t want to.
  2. Once you’re both happy with your manuscript, your agent will take it to various publishers. At this point, the fate of your book is out of your hands … which is why it’s important to sign with an agent you trust. If a publisher is interested, they’ll offer to purchase and publish your manuscript, and you’ll sign it over.
  3. Upon purchase, the publishing house will assign its own editor to your book. You’ll work alongside them to continue to tweak and revise the copy, as well as establish the book design, cover art, publishing date, and marketing strategy (which we’ll delve into next). The publisher will have its own team for these tasks, but you’ll likely still be involved.

Now, let’s rewind and say you sign directly with a publisher. This process looks pretty similar, except you’d simply skip to Step 3.

Self-Publishing

Okay. Let’s change directions and explore the self-publishing path. In the previous section, we discussed self-publishing and ePublishing, and we’ll expand more on these below.

First, here are the most common self-publishing methods:

  • Independently self-publishing, which means hiring freelance or consulting help as-needed and working directly with retailers and distributors
  • Hiring a self-publishing service company, which is akin to working with a publisher

For the sake of equipping you with everything you need to know about publishing, we’re going to dedicate this section to the first method. But before we move on, let’s explore the second … just in case you’re interested.

Hiring a company to self-publish your book is very similar to working with a publisher, except they typically charge an upfront fee, retain no rights to your work, and pass along 100% of your sales. While this method sounds like a great deal, it’s important to note that the best and most notable companies charge upwards of $20,000 … per manuscript. So, if you have a ton of money and no interest in being involved, this might be the move for you.

Here are a few reputable self-publishing service companies:

Now, let’s talk about the first method: self-publishing completely on your own.

This method gives you complete control over your book’s design, editorial process, and quality. Today that’s made easy by the myriad of freelance and independent editors, illustrators, book designers, and marketing professionals that work in this specific market.

The first thing to determine when self-publishing is whether you’d like to publish your manuscript as a print or digital book. This will determine how you prepare your manuscript and who you hire to help you.

Print Publishing

Print production can be done in one of two ways: print on-demand or traditional printing. Print on-demand is printing your book one at a time, as it’s ordered. Traditional printing is typically how major publishing houses produce their books, and to follow this method, you typically have to commit to (at least) 1,000 copies.

Which option is best for you? Ask yourself these questions:

  • How do I plan to sell my book?
  • Where will my audience discover and buy my book?
  • What is my budget like?

Print on-demand is a great option for authors who plan to sell primarily online, such as through a website or Amazon. Traditional printing might be a good fit for an author who has speaking engagements or plans to make in-person sales. If you’re looking to stock your book in bookstores, it’s best to wait for a purchase order or sales contract before investing in a traditional print run.

As for your budget, print on-demand can increase your per-unit cost (and retail price), but if you’re working with a small budget, print on-demand decreases the financial risk associated with publishing. On the other hand, if you’re confident you’ll be able to sell your printed books, traditional printing might be worth the bulk cost … with printing and shipping, it’ll likely be at least $2,000.

Preparing Your Print Manuscript

Traditional publishers have a slew of professionals who take your Microsoft Word manuscript and turn it into a gorgeous book. As a self-publisher, that process is on you.

Before taking your book to print, it must look like a traditional book. Tools like Book Design Templates can help you organize and design the inside of your manuscript. For the cover design, you can use tools like Canva (if you’re looking for a DIY approach) or hire a professional designer. At this stage, you should also consider your author biography and any positive reviews you’d like to put on the cover.

ePublishing

ePublishing isn’t a synonym for self-publishing, but rather one way self-published authors might distributetheir work. ePublishers aren’t publishers; they don’t assume responsibility for the quality or organization of your work, and they don’t assume any rights.

They’re merely distributors or retailers — such as an electronic bookstore or library — that take a portion of the proceeds from book sales. The below image is an example of the retailer fees by price point.

publishing-1

Source

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is a popular ePublishing option offered through Amazon. KDP is considered an ePub retailer, on which authors can sell their books. KDP doesn’t work with authors beforehand; they simply provide a portal through which readers can find and purchase books.

Preparing Your eBook Manuscript

If you opt to self-publish digitally, you’ll need to tweak your manuscript. This process is similar to preparing your manuscript for print, except you’ll need to add another step: converting your file to an ePub format.

Here are the most common formats:

  • EPUB, a standard format for eBooks. You can’t export an EPUB file from a Word document, but you can save your Word document as a text (.txt) file and convert and format it using a special software.
  • MOBI, the ideal format for Amazon Kindle (although EPUB files work, too).

PDFs work, too, although they’re not recommended as they are difficult to convert.

If this process intimidates you, companies like Draft2Digital or eBookPartnership can help. But if your manuscript is mostly text, you should be able to handle conversion and formatting on your own.

In terms of cover art, eBook covers will likely be seen in black and white, grayscale, color, high-resolution, low-resolution, thumbnail size, or full size … just to name a few. Digital books sales can take place on desktops, mobile devices, and in all resolutions. Because of this, it may be best to hire a designer who specializes in these formats.

Distributing and Marketing Your Book

So, we’ve talked about how to prepare and publish your book, both traditionally and as a self-published author. At this stage, you’d likely have one of the following:

  • A printed book as produced by a traditional publisher (with or without an agent)
  • A printed book as produced by print on-demand or a traditional printer
  • A digital book manuscript

With the hard part behind you and one of these in-hand (or on your computer), you’re now ready to distribute, market, and sell your book.

Note: If you’re working with a traditional publishing house, they’ll handle most of the marketing and distribution. That’s what your contract entails, after all. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help promote your book, too. Apply some of the self-publishing tips below to maximize your book sales.

For self-published print books, the main success factors are your book quality and your cover. (That’s why the majority of this article is dedicated to preparing and publishing your book.) The main factors for eBooks include pricing (which should be similar to or a little less than your competition) and its positioning on Amazon or other digital bookstores. While you can’t quite control this, you can optimize your marketing description, author bio, cover design, and other components to ensure your book is seen by more people.

There’s one factor that drives success for both print and digital books: audience involvement and visibility. This includes giveaways, reviews, contests, and drumming up interest before the publish date. Authors — especially self-published authors — should have a website, a blog, and social media (for starters) through which they can attract followers and promote their book. Loyalty is an incredibly strong motivator for books sales.

Writer Jane Friedman shares this advice on her blog: “You’ll be far more attractive to a publisher if they believe you’ll be an active marketer and promoter of your book. If you come to the table with media savvy or an established platform (audience or readership), you’ll have an easier time getting that first deal. [Also,] don’t go looking for a publishing deal because you need the authority or platform that a book can give you. Rather, you must already have the platform and authority, and thus be qualified to write a book. YOU bring the audience to the publisher, not the reverse.”

The same goes for self-publishers. Your audience is critical for marketing and selling a book … which brings us to our next section: publishing tips in 2018.

Tips for Publishing in 2018

The publishing world has changed drastically, especially in the last 20 years. Outside of self-publishing, ePublishing, and audiobooks, what else is new? What are some tips for modern-day publishing? Keep reading to find out.

Crowdsource Your Book

Crowdsourcing isn’t reserved for fancy backpacks or new technology. Self-published authors can thrive there, too. Not only does crowdsourcing provide you with an advance of cash that can help with upfront editorial or printing costs, but it can also create a unique audience of people who are both fiscally and emotionally invested in the creation of your book.

It also builds a sense of exclusivity as your supporters are the only ones who’d receive your book … at least in the beginning. Services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo can help host a “pre-book tour” that raises funds and a following.

Start With an eBook, Then Print

Is this your very first book? Well, maybe you should take this guide one step at a time. Given the lower financial and physical commitment of publishing an eBook, many first-time authors use that process as a springboard into the world of authorship.

Publishing an eBook allows you to get your work out there while building up a readership and garnering name recognition. Then, when you’re (hopefully) ready to publish your second book, your readers can anticipate a digital and hard copy.

Better Yet, Start With a Blog

Let’s take a step back. If this is your very first book, and you have yet to write a word much less attract an audience, it may be more realistic to start with a blog. Blogging is completely risk- and cost-free yet attracts a readership and following via email and social media. Once you drum up enough attention, then you can dive into writing a book … with the confidence that your audience will want to read that, too.

Look Local

Just like coffeeshops love supporting local farmers and art galleries love supporting local artists, indie and independent bookstores love supporting local authors. Selling books written by local authors attracts, well, local customers and celebrates the community that the shop is a part of.

Local bookstores (like coffeeshops) are community hotspots — they support the community, sponsor local programs, sell unique content (not found at national chains), and host events. When pitching to a local bookstore, consider how your book supports their mission as said hotspot and how selling your book might bring other locals there, too.

Over to You

From querying an agent to working with an indie book cover designer, there are a myriad of players in the wild world of publishing. No longer are book jacket biographies reserved for the rich, famous, or uber-successful. Anyone and everyone can publish their thoughts and ideas — including you — and this guide can help you do so.

Model for Marketing Maturity, Stage Two: Grow

Model for Marketing Maturity, Stage Two: Grow written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

Marketing Podcast with John Jantsch on the Model for Marketing Maturity, Stage 2: Grow

This is the second episode in our three-part series on the Model for Marketing Maturity. Want to learn more? Check out Stage 1: Build.

The idea behind the marketing maturity model is that every business needs to begin by building the foundation for their marketing. Once they’ve built a solid foundation, they can start to grow and later ignite, or amplify, their marketing approach.

Website, content, social media, SEO, and email marketing are the primary five channels. In grow, now that we’ve built those foundational elements, we can add on paid lead generation, sales enablement, and customer experience.

1. Grow Your Website

In the build phase, you established a modern website. It has a clear promise and is mobile-friendly. Now is the time for you to add your business’s story. Incorporate your customer into the experience. Create segments so that visitors feel like the story you’re telling is speaking directly to them.

You also want to address additional technical concerns. Your website must be HTTPS secure. This is something that Google is taking note of, and those visiting your site on a Chrome browser now see a big “Not Secure” warning next to your URL if you haven’t switched to HTTPS (more on how to do that here).

Your website must also load quickly. Not only is this an important element in the customer experience, Google will also punish you in search rankings if your site loads slowly. Not sure where you stack up? You can check your site’s load times for both desktop and mobile with the PageSpeed Insights tool.

2. Get the Most Out of Your Content

Once you’ve begun the process of creating content, you want to use it as a lead generation tool. In the grow phase, the focus should switch from getting traffic to winning conversions.

In the build phase, you established a site with a review funnel, video, and core pages. The next step is to create hub pages.

Hub pages are the best way to create a content asset for your website. The pages bring together all of your relevant information on a given topic all under one roof, and so readers love them and Google rewards them in their rankings.

3. Grow Your Email List

Hub pages have an additional benefit. Once you’ve proven your thought leadership and expertise on the hub topic page, you can marry these hub pages with content upgrades. Visitors will be convinced by both the quality and quantity of information on these pages that you are the subject matter expert, and so they’ll feel there’s a good reason to give you their email address in exchange for more information.

Once you have obtained their email address and captured, you can begin to nurture your relationship with them through effective email campaigns.

3. On- and Off-Page SEO

In the build phase, you established your Google My Business page, ensured that data directories were all correct, and included descriptive, keyword-rich title tags and meta descriptions for all pages of your website.

As part of the grow phase, the first step is to master Google Search Console. This free tool from Google gives you remarkable insight into how and why people are coming to your website.

You also want to begin thinking about SEO beyond the bounds of your own website. How can you get other people to link to your content? Guest posts are a great place to start. Reaching out to relevant thought leaders in your industry and offering to write for their blogs (and asking them to contribute to yours) is a way to build up a network of external links—not to mention meaningful business connections.

Refreshing and updating your existing content is another part of the equation. For your evergreen content, what can you do to keep it relevant? Is there updated information that will keep this content useful for readers finding it today for the first time? Can you add new links that will enhance its usefulness and boost SEO?

4. Social Media Engagement and Outreach

Once you’ve established your social media presence, branded it, and have started posting content, you want to begin thinking about generating engagement. This is about asking questions that get your followers involved and start a conversation. It’s also time to think strategically about how to get people to like and share your content.

Media outreach can be a part of this next phase of social media as well. Are there publications in your area that you can share your content with? This will open you up to their established readership base, and introduce your name to new people who might be interested in what you do. Reaching out to influencers in the industry is another part of outreach. How can you get those who already have the attention of your ideal prospects talking about your products or services?

The key to expanding on the strategy you established during the build phase is doing it in a logical order. This chart provides an overview for the three stages of the marketing maturity model, and how you can begin to expand your existing channels and add new ones as you move through each stage.

Now that you’ve progressed to the grow phase, it’s time to add the following channels:

  • Paid Lead Generation
  • Sales Enablement
  • Customer Experience

Once you have the foundational assets down, you can use these assets to generate leads and get sales conversations going.

1. Paid Lead Generation

Paid lead generation is about advertising on social media and search engines. I’ve written before about best practices for Facebook and Google ads, but this is also the phase where you should begin boosting your existing content on social media.

This is precisely why paid lead generation isn’t introduced until the grow phase. You can’t boost content that doesn’t exist, and you don’t want to begin spending money to generate leads if you don’t have a solid foundation of content, reviews, and trust elements for them to look to. Spending money to drive prospects to a bare-bones website will not generate leads and may, in fact, scare people off. Prospects need to have a clear sense of what they’re supposed to get out of your website once they arrive there.

2. Sales Enablement

The first step of sales enablement is looking to establish strategic partnerships. Are there other business owners that you can network with to generate leads for your business? These partnerships are great because they’re mutually beneficial: you get access to their existing network, and vice versa. For more on how to establish a strong network of strategic partners, check out this post.

This is also the phase where you should introduce what I like to call the discovery process. Someone visits your website, clicks your ad, or gives your business a call—now what? How do you know if they’re a good fit for you, and if they’re someone you want to work with? In this phase, you want to build a concrete process around what you do when someone expresses interest in your business.

3. Customer Experience

The build phase was about generating reviews, the grow phase is about responding to them. How you respond to reviews is a critical part of the customer experience, not just for the reviewer, but for any other customers who may happen upon the review in the future. And in fact, your responses to reviews, when handled properly, can become a great form of content that business owners often overlook.

You also want to build a structured onboarding process for new customers. Marketing is about so much more than just getting the sale; it’s about keeping an existing customer happy and coming back for more. Once you acquire a customer, what happens? What does their welcome kit look like? How do you set expectations moving forward?

The build phase was focused on the fundamentals. The grow phase was about adding components onto those essential channels, plus introducing three new channels to the mix. Once you build these areas out, you have a well-oiled marketing machine. There is, of course, still fine tuning and tweaking to be done, but this establishes a strong basis for all marketing moving forward.

In the final episode on the model for marketing maturity, we’ll cover the ignite phase, where you build even further on these channels and introduce new tools to automate and strengthen your approach.

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This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Klaviyo. If you’re looking to grow your business there is only one way: by building real, quality customer relationships. That’s where Klaviyo comes in.

Klaviyo helps you build meaningful relationships by listening and understanding cues from your customers, allowing you to easily turn that information into valuable marketing messages.

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How To Solve The Five Most Common Social Media Problems

Deploying social media as part of your overall digital marketing mix can be an important way to build brand awareness, attract new customers, and sell more products. However, every now and then, a few tweaks might need to be made to the way you are using social media. Here’s a brief guide to solving the most common social media problems.

#1: Your content ranks low in search

Ranking high in Google search results is the goal of any digital marketer, since appearing on the first page of search results is the key to getting more organic traffic. So what if your content still is not showing up on top of search results? The answer might be reviewing which SEO keywords you are using for your content, and checking to see whether they are realistic or not for your business. Check out your social media pages, and see what terms and words are appearing most frequently – this will often give you a good idea of which keywords you should be using.

#2: Your customers aren’t talking about you on social media

One common problem faced by many brands is a lack of engagement across social media. You might be producing stellar content, but nobody is liking it, commenting on it, or sharing it. One solution to this problem might be re-thinking the types of content you are posting on each social media platform. For example, if long-form video updates are not performing well on Facebook, it might be time to shift to shorter video posts that can be easily digested.

#3: You aren’t reaching the “right” audience

You might have thousands of fans or followers, but what if you are failing to attract a certain demographic? The solution to this problem usually involves more time “listening” on social media, and less time “talking” on social media. So, if you are not already using social media monitoring tools, now is the time to start. See where conversations are taking place across social media, and look for ways to insert your brand into those conversations.

#4: People have the wrong perceptions of your brand

Here’s another common problem: people are talking about your brand, but in the wrong way. You can use subtle approaches here, such as inserting specific hashtags on any social media post that can suggest a certain perspective. And you should also take time to adjust the tone of your posts. If you are trying to portray a light, youthful energy around your brand, you need to talk the way young millennials actually talk (and not the way you think they talk).

#5: Other brands are getting all the attention

No matter how much content you post on social media, it might seem like your rivals and competitors are always getting more likes and more shares. This might be a good time to take a closer look at which platforms they are using, and what type of content seems to be resonating the most with their fans. It could be the case, for example, that they are simply better at cross-promoting their content, so that a new Instagram photo is instantaneously shared across multiple different social platforms.

Final thought

All of these challenges are actually opportunities. Now is the time to explore how you can use new social media tools to deliver on your core business goals. By becoming smarter about how you use social media, you can build your brand awareness, get your message out, and have fans spreading your story across different social platforms.

The post How To Solve The Five Most Common Social Media Problems appeared first on Social Media Explorer.

What do you look for an investment? How long should a founder be without salary? And other Q&A

Dear readers,

I recently hosted an AMA on Quora where folks asked a bunch of really fantastic questions. Thanks to Adam D’Angelo and Alecia/Adrienne for getting this set up.

Wanted to share a couple of the most upvoted answers below:

  • What do you look for in an investment?
  • How long should a founder be without salary?
  • What distribution channels should a new consumer internet startup consider in 2019?
  • What investment have you made that is the most out there?
  • Which commonly-discussed growth metrics in consumer tech businesses are the most meaningless and/or misleading?
  • What is your advice for startup CEOs?

Enjoy!

Andrew

 

1. What do you look for in an investment?

This one is hard to answer generically — it’s easy to say, great team! Or big market! Or technology differentiation! Or something generic like that. However, being in venture capital is about being in the “exceptions” business.

There were hundreds of mobile photo apps prior to Instagram and Snapchat, and they would have been money-losing investments. Same for social networks before Facebook, or there were more than a dozen investor-backed search engines before Google.

My job is to find the exception to the rule, and pick an individual company that will stand out, and I don’t have to be bullish about an entire category of companies. In practice, this happens also because individually, I’m focused on doing 2–3 investments per year, and don’t have the capacity to, say, invest in every single company working on XYZ.

All of that said, beyond the obvious things (team, market, product, etc.) there are a few things that make me lean into understanding a company, in particular.

First, it’s interesting when a startup using a new platform or a new technology in a clever way. For example, Instagram Stories and Snap Stories are a huge new short-form video format, and an app that might interact with these stories in an interesting way might be compelling. Or because esports is so huge, if someone builds on the idea that perhaps games content could be streamable-first, then that’s intriguing too. Taking advantage of a new technology helps answer the “Why now?” question and explains why it’s a fresh opportunity that should be tried. If your new startup could have been built 15 years ago, perhaps the idea’s already been tried and just isn’t that good.

Second, technology changes constantly but people stay the same. And their motivations — in particular, to spend time with friends, to date, to be able to earn more, to find better work over their careers, to take care of their pets, etc., etc. — also stay constant over time. So when a new startup purports to create new consumer behavior, I’m sometimes skeptical. But if a product allows people to tap into a pre-existing motivation but in a new, fresh way, then I’m interested.

Third, I like to see a strong insight around how the product will grow. For example, it’s important if a new video streaming startup, for instance, has deep relationships with the YouTube/Instagram influencer community to get it off the ground. Or if a new workplace collaboration tool is built to tap into calendars and be inherently viral through cal invites. The reason for this is that we are in an interesting era of new technology products where in general building the technology is not all that hard. Startups typically don’t fail because of technology issues, given open source, AWS, lots of collaboration tools, a network of smart people, etc., etc. This used to be the case decades ago, but these days, startups fail because they don’t get traction in the market. As a result, I like to see something clever and insightful in how the product will get off the ground — especially if it’s driven by viral growth, or some form of organic, as opposed to paid marketing.

Usually at the stage where I am seeing companies, one of the big things I’m evaluating for is “it works!” I usually look at their growth metrics, cohort charts, acquisition mix, engagement data, etc., and try to make sure that it’s sticky now and will remain so over time. Once I validate this, then I move onto some of the bigger qualitative questions like the ones above — what’s the trick that makes it grow? Why now? What new technology does it exploit? What classic human motivation does it tap into?

And finally, I want to reiterate that it’s all about finding the exceptions. You can spend as much time as you want analyzing a space, but it’s just about picking the individual startup you like most.

[PS. Here’s also a deck I published a few months back that is the more visual, longer-form answer to this question]

 

2. How long should a founder be without salary?

I’m a believer in free markets, and also in thinking long-term.

When founders first get their company off the ground, they often take risk and go without salary. However, as soon as they raise a real amount of money — either from institutional seed funds, a large group of friends/family, or with a VC — I think the founders should pay themselves basically market rate (within reason)

The reason for this, especially if there are cofounders, is that starting a company is already hard enough. Your customers are leaving you, recruiting is hard, employees will occasionally quit. It’s hard to think long term, about all of this when you’re worried about your paycheck.

If on top of all of this stress, the founders are paying themselves way below market, to the point where they are burning their savings, that’s just not a good thing. It creates a lot of stress, and unwanted behavior from the perspective of an investor.

Obviously if there’s a case where the founders were highly compensated before and it would impact the runway, OK, then great, there’s an opportunity to trade off a longer runway by capping the cash compensation. If the team wants to do that, great.

But in general, I believe in market rates for everyone, including the founders and the employees, within reason.

[PS. I tweeted this out and my friend Suhail Doshi responded with a pretty cool rule of thumb:

My rule of thumb is…
– seed funding: what you’d pay your lowest paid employee
– when you’re growing a bit: your lowest paid engineer
– scaling: mid level engineer
– successful: market for ceo pay
– not growing: cut back to your previous comp until you are / helps survive

This is pretty great. Thanks Suhail!]

 

3. What distribution channels should a new consumer internet startup consider in 2019?

First, let me start with the negative. It’s been said (and written) that we are kind of in a funky consumer internet winter, compared to 2007 when we had the Facebook platform and the iOS/Android platforms and so on. As a result, the conclusion is that there’s a general industry malaise and everything sucks and we should all go home, etc., etc.

It’s my conclusion that this is a vastly overhyped POV about consumer.

Last year, when Fortnite went from zero to 200M+ users, how could you not be excited about consumer tech? Or where we see Kylie Jenner built a multi-hundred million dollar revenue stream selling stuff on Instagram? Or you have a content creator like Ryan, the kid that makes unboxing videos, generating $20M+ per year?

There’s a lot of exciting opportunities out there. In my first few months at a16z, I met hundreds of companies in my first 3 months. Hundreds! There’s a lot of innovation and entrepreneurs out there trying to do great things.

Yes, it’s true that you can’t just build well-designed social photo apps and still expect to succeed. You have to do something different, and evolve with the time. But IMHO there are still fantastic opportunities.

OK, now going past the preamble and answering the question directly:

The best distribution channels for your startup are the ones that only make sense for your product to use — meaning it’s proprietary, and people can’t just tap into the same channel right away. The problem with Facebook ads as a channel, for instance, is that if you’re a mattress startup buying ads, you’re not just competing against all the other mattress companies but you’re also competing with the cool new protein shake company. Contrast that to Dropbox, which has primarily grown using shared folders inside the workplace — they own that channel, and the only others who could compete on that are folks who have some kind of shared folder functionality. The performance of the channel is unlikely to degrade over time via competition because it’s proprietary.

If you agree, then the obvious question is, if I’m a startup looking for a proprietary channel, which one do I use? That’s hard to answer generically, so I won’t attempt to do so. However, the better observation is that if you are starting a brand new company, then you have the opportunity to both pick the idea — and have a hypothesis about product/market fit — as well as to pick its growth strategy at the same time. If you can think about both at its inception, then you can start thinking about a proprietary channel from day 1.

I think this is not the answer the person who wrote the question wanted to hear, so let me also try to give some more trend-driven ideas too.

I like video. There’s a lot of video being created and consumed, and I like the idea of a “video-native” product that is designed to create a lot of video as part of user engagement. Or create a lot of opportunities for streaming.

I like social data in the workplace. If you are building a workplace collaboration tool, whether it’s horizontal like Slack or more vertical like Figma, most of the files and systems you touch understand who all the users are inside the company. In particular, the calendar is a very rich data asset full of people and their relationships, and I feel that’s underleveraged by startups seeking to grow. I love the pattern of putting, say, ZOOM links, inside of calendar requests, and think more startups might end up finding opportunities to do the same.

I also like “in-real-life virality.” If you walk around and see a bunch of lime green scooters, and people are using them, then you will want to try it too. Magically, no customer acquisition cost! Or if you see people walking around playing Pokemon Go, then you might want to try it also, since they are out and about, and enjoying it so much. I think this is an underrated channel.

 

4. What investment have you made that is the most out there?

One day I was in the Mission district of San Francisco, and saw a huge line of people. I wondered what they were waiting for, and naturally, the curiosity got the best of me and I got in line too. As I looked around in line, I read the sign for the place. There was a huge aardvark icon, and lettering that said BOBA GUYS.

I had heard of Boba Guys before, and remember that every time I saw one of their stores, I would skip it because the line was too long. Business was that good.

While waiting, I tried to google to figure out who their founders were. No luck. Eventually I found a Kickstarter page with some info, for a store they had opened near Union Square, and found their names. Just my luck, they were already following me on Twitter. I DM’d them, ordered my boba — hong kong style with pearls — and waited.

A week later, they replied. We met for lunch near Hayes Valley, and I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe I could invest money into this thing? Did I even want to? It’s just milk and tea, right? But so was Coca Cola, or Starbucks, or Blue Bottle.

To my surprise, both Andrew and Bin were fantastic. They had great consumer packaged goods experience, had worked at Timbuk2, and came with a 20-slide deck prepared. The deck had retail comps versus other high-end stores, financial projections, and more. It blew my mind. These were very obviously the most talented bubble tea store operators on the planet.

As a quick segue, I had been going to pitches for high-end restaurants with a few friends prior to that, but had never invested. Going to a restaurant pitch was extremely fun, as you went with a group of friends, met the chef, and they made the entire food menu and all the drinks too. You hung out and could invest after. But I never liked the model because it felt like it could never scale. It’d be a fun hobby, but it’d be hard to make money. But it helped prepare my mind for investing in retail, and a beverage play like Boba Guys.

Back to bubble tea, I realized after the pitch that although it wasn’t a tech company, I should figure out a way to invest. Andrew, Bin, and I had a great conversation — the first of many, and then I rallied some of my friends to put a syndicate together to invest.

The bonus to all of this is that I now have a Boba Guys Black Card. This is a special investor card that lets me get my daily bubble tea fix for free. It’s amazing, and the investment was worth it just for the bragging rights with that.

 

5. Which commonly-discussed growth metrics in consumer tech businesses are the most meaningless and/or misleading?

These are the obvious offenders:

  • Cumulative charts for anything. These can only go up and to the right
  • Registered users. Totally useless, although sometimes I like to ask about this as a ratio to active users to get a sense for how efficiently the user acquisition is happening
  • Any retention metrics that aren’t standardized into cohort curves. Sometimes people will give a single snapshot number, like a “3 months later, X% still use the app!” and that’s not that helpful
  • Install numbers, without signups or activated signups or something more meaningful
  • For marketplace companies, “revenue” that’s actually “gross bookings” or GMV. Or GMV that counts in weird things, like security deposits or one-time setup charges
  • ARR meaning, “annual revenue run rate” as opposed to “annual recurring revenue.” Please, let’s just stick to ARR for recurring, not run rate. Thanks.
  • Taking the peak revenue of any single day and annualizing it as the headline number
  • Unlabeled X and Y axes in charts
  • Cohort curves that are some complex subset of users that make the retention look better
  • Showing “CAC” that’s actually blended CAC, and when you just look at the Paid CAC, it’s way above LTV
  • Actually LTV. Because who really cares about the lifetime of a user — startups should just manage to margin earned by a customer you acquire over the first 6–12 months, not the lifetime. That’s how you will make your ad spend decisions
  • Any misleading ratios where the denominator and numerator are totally non-obvious. Stick to actives, please.
  • Active user definitions that are complicated (must have visited 3 sessions in the last week, and done one action out of a list of 5). It makes all the downstream calculations on retention, engagement, etc., misleading since you’re throwing away all the data for the less active users
  • If you have a desktop app, and web, and mobile, break down the metrics for all three. Don’t combine, please

There are many, many more… but that’s a quick start.

6. What is your advice for startup CEOs?

I have a lot of advice, but maybe I will share the top 10 that come into my head:

  1. You’re not doing this alone. You have friends, family, your investors, and employees rooting you on. Talk to them
  2. Everything seems like it sucks — metrics go up and down. Customers leave. An employee quits. Product/market fit could be a lot better. But this is how it feels even if it’s a rocket ship. Important to put into perspective
  3. Your job changes dramatically over time. Your first job is to build the machine — the product that attracts the customers, and generates the revenue. But eventually it turns into a job where you’re building the machine that builds the machine. It’s all about hiring, leading, managing, etc., etc. Prepare for this to feel weird when it transitions — especially spending 25%+ of your time hiring
  4. Everyone’s gotten very data-driven these days, which is great, but you should set your strategy, and then your metrics should follow. It’s to verify that your strategy is working — having a lot of dashboards is no substitute for strong product insight and strategy.
  5. Some people say to stay off Twitter and forget the distraction. I say the opposite – find interesting, knowledgeable people from social media, and DM them to meet in person. Stay outbound. Use it for recruiting, networking, fundraising and more.
  6. Raising money is a really, really important thing. It can feel like a great milestone, but it’s just the beginning.
  7. Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Things About Hard Things is the best book about being a CEO and managing your own psychology as you set out to do this crazy hard thing. It’s fantastic. Read and re-read it.
  8. Also read and re-read High Output Management by Andy Grove.
  9. Build long-term relationships with your employees, investors, and people in the ecosystem. Hopefully your startup thrives, but maybe it won’t — and you’ll still want to build a long-term network because there will be more to do in the future
  10. Don’t worry about generic startup advice — including lists like this one 🙂 Make sure you find advice that’s tailored to your startup’s stage, industry, and specific situation. Talk to experts who are willing to dig in. Lists like this are fun to read but there’s a big gap in applying them

OK that’s my first 10 🙂

The post What do you look for an investment? How long should a founder be without salary? And other Q&A appeared first on andrewchen.