One of my early roles in direct selling had me selling business form printing. Back then, it was all dot matrix, tractor-fed invoices with holes either side, all with multiple copies that were ‘bash printed’ on loud machines that sat inside noise-proofed rooms. Remember that? Well, selling boxes and boxes of that type of printing was my life for nearly 3 years.

The business I worked for was based in South Auckland. It was a reasonably sized operation, with three equal-share directors, half a dozen production staff, the same number of sales and customer services staff, and a new Japanese printer that had an insatiable appetite for printing that us sales people had to ‘feed’ with new work.

The owners’ ideas of marketing weren’t that complex. Give them a golf course, a new prospect and half a day walking the greens and they usually ended up with a nice, fat, juicy, new order. They schmoozed their way into owning nice new Daimlers and were very comfortably off, thank you very much. However, for us lowly ranked sales people, our marketing process was somewhat different.

We didn’t have the freedom of an expense account. No, we were tossed out of the office each morning at 8.30am sharp and told to “bring in some orders – fast.” Our prior sales training was equally succinct – “Go knock on some doors.”

So, being the young and enthusiastic sales people that we were, that’s what we did. We would park ourselves in the middle of our part of Auckland, grab our binder of samples and walk the streets looking for someone willing to listen to us. Occasionally luck would have it and we would meet with the actual person responsible for purchasing business forms. Then we had a couple of minutes to put forward our case before being turfed back onto the street. Very, very occasionally we found someone who had just run out of forms and needed an urgent quote. And there were the ‘blue moon’ experiences when all the planets aligned and you actually walked away with an order.

Once one of the directors back at base learnt of your success you were usually met with them beaming by our desk telling you “See – I told you it works – just knock on enough doors and the orders will flow in.” Well, Clive was right – sort of.

It was just that there wasn’t enough time in the working week for me to knock on all the doors I needed to make the sales budget they had set to keep that Ninja printing machine fully satiated. But I was not lacking in enthusiasm, so out I would go again. It took me a few years before I sat down, did the numbers and realized the hopelessness of the situation.

Looking back, it was all a lesson in having unrealistic expectations of your market. Our methods of targeting were not that bad. Back then, nearly all the businesses that we approached would have had a printer in the back room somewhere churning through the forms we provided. Nevertheless, expecting to talk to the purchasing person and convince them to place an order at the exact time we turned up unannounced was asking too much.

You would imagine that most businesses would have moved on from such door-to-door, cold-marketing promotion like this. Those ‘No Hawkers’ signs you see pasted on the windows of offices must have put paid to this a long time ago. However, while it may have become a thing of the past for direct selling, it is still a method we frequently see people use when looking at ways of promoting their website.

For instance, their web pages may be full of great content on their product or service. There may even be the occasional case study or two and details of the type of customers they work best with. But the only way prospects can register their interest in learning more is the regular form hiding on the Contact Us page, just sitting there ready for what the website owner hopes will be a multitude of visitors filling it in. But they don’t.

Again, it’s another example of an unrealistic expectation. Yes, there may be the very occasional person who completes the form – just like that purchasing person who needed business forms at exactly the same time I walked into their reception. But, as a proportion of the total number of valid prospects visiting your website, the amount will be very low. That’s why a website set up for optimal lead generation activities will have a multitude of ways prospects can show their interest – reports, newsletters, free reviews – all built to match whichever stage of interest the prospect may be in.

Deciding what to offer can be a challenge. However, reviewing the information requirements a prospect may have as they track through your sales funnel can provide a few prompts. For instance, it is useful to understand the core problems that drive prospects to start their search for your service and then the factors they consider when reviewing any competing alternatives.

Being able to capture their attention and then successfully influence prospects at the early stages of the buying process can prove to be a real competitive advantage for any business. Obviously there are more buyers at this stage and, by enticing them to join your lead nurturing system instead of your competitors and if you can create a close bond with them, then they can effectively be ‘removed’ from the market.

Recently, I have been working with a few clients who want to increase their marketing focus here. And, just by chance, in each case our ability to attract prospects into the top of their lead generation funnel relies on our ability to persuade prospects to change their point of view. This is never an easy task.

Most marketing material will point you towards growing and emphasizing an existing view a prospect has rather than taking the hard road of trying to get them to change their view. However, while it is hard, it is not impossible. And if you are successful and end up being the one who ‘helped’ them realise the advantages that come from this change of view then you can be well positioned to capitalize on the commercial benefits that may flow on.

Just to prove a point that it is not an impossible task, here are a few situations where I see a prospect viewpoint either in the process of altering or having already been altered. Take the purchase of domestic airline travel in New Zealand for example. I would hazard a guess that a year ago the key parameters people used to establish value when purchasing domestic flights were the cost of the ticket and the convenience of the flight time. I for one used to load up both the Air New Zealand and Qantas websites within my web browser and see which met the sweet spot to get me down and back for my next trip to Wellington. Frequently, I would fly down with one airline and back with the other – or, if I was fortunate, one took me on the complete journey. It was a simple method that I used for years. Then Jetstar came along.

I flew with them for the first time this month. Before I flew, I did the usual and brought their site up with Air New Zealand’s and used the same parameters. This time Air New Zealand’s pricing made the difference between the two just too big for me NOT to try the new airline.

So, other than having to drive to the airport in the dark of the early morning to get the flight, all was fine and I made it to my first early meeting in a less than tropical capital. Then I arrived back at Wellington airport an hour before my 6.45pm departure time to see on the screens that my flight was delayed to 8.00pm.

They had sent me four text messages to ensure I made it to the gate on time going down and coming back but nothing to tell me of the delay. I was not a happy camper.

So I walked up to the Pacific Blue counter, whose flight was leaving at 6.40pm, and asked if they could get me back to Auckland before my children went to sleep. Yes, they could, for a price that was probably twice what Jetstar was going to charge – but I went. On the way, I handed in my ticket to the Jetstar counter just to help them out; there were no apologies for the late flight, I might add.

Now, I really want Jetstar to succeed – more competition on the Auckland-Wellington service can only be a good thing. So, being the good consumer I am, I filled in a complaint form on the website to see what they had to say. An email came back a week later telling me they had received my note. Nothing else since.

This has now meant that my (and I imagine a few other domestic travelers) buying parameters have changed. Yes there’s price and there’s also schedule timing, but now it’s about making that schedule too. The problem is that there is no ‘information’ that I can find that will help me gauge whether this will happen. So what do I do? Well, because I don’t like random events I can’t control – see the later article on pancake making – I will pay the premium and fly Air New Zealand.

The advent of Jetstar is obviously recent and the ramifications of them entering the market and possibly altering people’s buying thinking in the process are just early suppositions by me. But what about a multimillion dollar market that was created – and by chance is now in slow decline – just by prospects changing their views on how to buy a service? I think the home mortgage market is a good example of this.

It used to be that you went to your Bank Manager and asked for a home loan – please. I remember doing this exact thing at the Countrywide Bank branch (remember them?) in Remuera when Claire and I were looking to buy our first house. Interest rates were in the mid twenties and we had just managed to get together our 20% deposit to fund our $107,000 unit – and they still turned us down!

Back then nobody talked about the interest cost of the loan – it was something hidden away in those big, scary loan documents you had to sign. So while Countrywide said no, ASB Bank said yes (we’ve been with them ever since) and we took the advice of the Bank Manager on what type of mortgage we needed and how long the loan should go for.

Then Mortgage Brokers came along. They told us that it perhaps wasn’t a good idea to have as your only source of advice the person who would lose the most from any reduction you made to the rather massive interest costs associated with your loan. And that maybe there were more options available to you than the two or fewer mortgage structures that the Bank Manager had told you were available. Hey – and even this very complicated fix – perhaps you could save tens of thousands of dollars simply by PAYING THIS LOAN OFF EVERY OTHER WEEK INSTEAD OF MONTHLY.

All that made people change their thinking on who was best to manage their mortgage purchase and the Mortgage Broker industry was started and made many a person very wealthy. That was while the banks allowed reasonably sizable loan commissions to flow through and the lending market remained quite liquid.

As I mentioned before, we have a few ‘prospect mind-changing’ projects we are working with customers on, too. One of them relates to the commonly held belief that the Best Before dates printed on foodstuffs are an accurate gauge of the quality degradation the food will go through over time. Now, some food product does decline quite quickly after a certain date – but that’s usually shown with a Use By date on the product – something quite different from a Best Before date. In a lot of cases, product that has passed its Best Before date is still good enough for consumption. But people still look at the Best Before date on the foods in their pantry shelves and throw it out, thinking it is not in a fit state for consumption. But that is changing.

The promotion of foodstuffs that have passed their Best Before date is a multi-million dollar industry in the UK and US markets. Our recent new client, Reduced to Clear, is the local leader in this space (www.reducedtoclear.co.nz) . We started working together last month. Just visit either of their shops in Auckland or Wellington and you will see they are full of dated product as well as people of all demographics enjoying the savings this brings.

Another example is the work we are doing with a long-standing client (they have the claim to fame of being Permission’s first ever client) Assess Systems (www.assess.co.nz). Rob and his team help companies put in place a reliable method of hiring the best people from all those looking during the timeframe the vacancy is open. Part of their work hinges on the need to run personality style assessments to ensure that candidates are the best fit for the job on offer.

Talk to any employer who has hired a ‘horror’ employee and they are usually already pre-sold on any pre-screening methods just so they don’t experience it all again. Unfortunately, the rest believe that they are good enough managers to be able to pick the duds from the stars. Well, it’s a clinically proven fact that this is impossible to do with any level of reliability. So Rob’s task is to gently persuade prospects through the adept use of information that there are a bundle of character traits that they will NEVER pick up with the usual ‘across the desk’ discussion.

How Rob does this is by showing the prospect ‘new information’. It’s a nice way to help people give themselves a reason to change their view without feeling too threatened in the process. That’s why any mortgage broker worth their salt would present a range of colourful graphs that exposed the massive interest savings their clients had made through using them for the better buying of mortgage debt. And for Reduced to Clear, once you have tasted a Best Before dated piece of Cadbury’s chocolate and realized there is no difference – well, your pantry will be forever stocked with all the nice but nutritionally wrong types of food.

Now, while samples of chocolate are quite difficult to distribute from a collection of HTML web pages, new information in the form of reports, interviews and case studies is a breeze. Have them all sitting behind a prospect registration form that allows you to ‘drip nurture’ them with a sequence of email messages and you are set.

So, to wrap this up. Walking the streets of East Tamaki looking for new business form printing work was a great example of having unrealistic expectations of promotional activity. Likewise, owning a website that comes with just a Contact Us page is also a problem. Yes, it will get the occasional person filling it in who wants exactly what you offer when they arrive. But it misses out on those who are interested but not yet ready to buy.

By adding a selection of information pieces for prospects to register for, or even just download, you broaden out your prospect audience. If this is done properly then you are able to ‘remove’ prospects from the buying market. However, in some more complex buying situations the prospect has to change their previous thinking before you can get them to move down your sales funnel. This requires some subtle manoeuvring to keep all egos intact. If this is the case, then being the provider of ‘new information’ is a good way to gently nurture this change in thinking and to get the prospect to move forward all without having you leave your office and go door knocking.

My client said this as he slid the sales statistics for the previous month and the last year across the table to me. It made for impressive reading. Their e-commerce website was leaping forward in double digit growth in what looked like a monthly sequence. They had sold more in the last month than most Kiwi companies would aspire to do in a year. But in reality, for me, it was a sign of bad news ahead.

Bad because we had failed to explain to him how our management efforts had translated into the surge in sales he was now experiencing. Personally, I hate mysteries like this. I would much rather know exactly why something is or isn’t working. Then, once understood, I can repeat the good stuff and alter the bad.

The old adage of knowing that 50% of your marketing spend is working but not knowing which 50% it is may sit well with offline marketing. But, as anyone with experience in this sector will know, any work in online marketing brings with it the opportunity to easily track and analyze its results – both good and bad.

While we had been very efficient at emailing him his monthly reports that told him where these nuggets of success lay, we had been remiss in ensuring he had taken the time to review them and see for himself the parts that were making the most gains.

So we cranked up the projector, put his Google Analytics account on the wall in front of us and I took him through the story of why his sales spreadsheet was growing each month. There is always a reason, once you know where to look for it.

Human nature is such that a website’s poor performance is usually more of a motivator for website owners to start digging into their analytics. When business is good, however, there doesn’t seem to be the same desire. So, whereas our reports get pored over during the early stages of working with a client, once things get under way and results start to flow through, then the attention they receive tends to slide.

Anyway, back to this client’s situation. Usually there are a few things that are working in unison that together provide a strong lift in performance. This case was no different.

The Google AdWords account we had inherited when we started managing the account had received some updates, which pointed to some of the success. AdGroups that contained twenty plus keywords had been broken down into ones that now had one or two keyword phrases. This had allowed the ads we used to now better reflect the search term the prospect was using – the result – a bump in click-through rate. But this wasn’t the only benefit.

Each ad could now point directly to the exact product page in their e-commerce , unlike before when the clicker was taken to the category page and then tasked with finding the product in the text navigation options. I always imagine that we have a finite amount of prospect attention to use and while before we used some up as they navigated to the correct page, now this was saved and allowed to focus on the product itself, which translated in a good lift in sales conversions.

Fortunately, their website had been built by a developer who knew some things about search engine optimization. Each product page was set up to allow Google and the like to trawl through it and have a strong chance of correctly indexing it. The only issue was that, while the site’s good navigation structure had helped the search engines find some of the site’s pages, there were not enough inbound links to give them reason enough to index all that was available. So, while they should have had say 10,000 pages in the index, they were sitting on a low figure of 6000.

A recent piece of work we had completed to grow the number of good inbound links to the site had prompted the search engines to come visiting again, bite a bit more off and index another 1250 pages. Since these pages were already content optimized, this allowed products that were previously hidden from the search results to start to appear and get clicked and be bought.

Both of these factors were made apparent when we compared the site’s traffic, month on month, and looked at the gains that were coming through. Google AdWords was pushing gradually forward as our ad group dissection started to create some momentum and warrant its effort. Likewise, our organic search volumes from Google were also increasing as keywords started to show for results where they had once remained hidden – all resulting in a nice flow-on effect of raising sales from this channel.

So, it was all there in their Google Analytics account ready to be revealed to those who wanted to go looking. But I realise that as parts of a business start to perform well the natural reaction is to take the focus off these areas and reapply it to business areas that are still struggling. However, it’s something I wouldn’t recommend. The data is all there to tell you why things are happening as they are – go get it and take the mystery away from your success.

These are a couple of bad news stories that fortunately finish with happy endings and with some lessons for you. For these two new clients, March was not a good month, with each of them going through their own online marketing horror story. Fortunately, we were able to be the knights in shiny web-page armour and helped remove them as quickly as we could from the proverbial smelly stuff.

I’ll start with the worst of the two stories.

It began with the client engaging an individual on a retainer basis to help them as their online lead generation consultant. They selected this person as they had some good experience in the industry and they were also a personal friend, whom they had worked with in a prior business.

This new consultant was tasked with looking after the whole lead generation process from attracting web traffic to converting it into leads on the client’s site. The client was new to all things online so the consultant was pretty much left to their own devices. They managed the Google AdWords and Analytics account and even the system they used to collect and respond to leads. All this started to get some action as their work started to bear fruit.

As the client knew very little, the consultant chose to initiate the new account set-up process with the main vendors involved – namely Google and the lead capture software vendor. During this process, he passed subsidiary login details to the client but retained the master level account status.

Each month the client received a small report about what was going on – attached to this was a steadily growing account for the consultant’s services. The client then asked questions about what was happening and why the fees were heading north but nothing was forthcoming. The lead flow was a trickle compared with what they expected and because of this the cost per lead was a problem and not commercially viable. So they started looking further afield for advice.

They came to us during this stage of the process. As is normal for clients arriving at this stage, we offered to complete a general audit of their existing lead generation efforts. We were supplied the necessary account login details and a description of their desired objectives, and then kicked this process off.

During this assessment work we registered as leads onto their website – just to see how easy it was and to look at the messages that were being sent out. We did the same for their email newsletter sign up – in fact, for every conversion option on their website we filled in our details and sat back to experience their prospect promotion.

On first glance, it all looked quite good. Yes, there were some issues with the form design and the amount of data they were collecting (too much too early) but overall things looked reasonable. That was until the existing supplier noticed our contact details in the leads coming in. They were not happy.

Of course the client was fine during all this – they wanted some ‘warts and all’ feedback on how their website was performing. But what they didn’t expect was how the existing consultant would react.

Within a few moments of the consultant finding out that we were involved they a) shut down the client’s access to their website; b) changed the master passwords on the client’s Google AdWords and Google Analytics account and, to finish it all, c) altered the passwords for the lead capture system so all the client’s leads were now hidden to them. Nice.

The client only found this out when she noticed that it had been a few days since a sales lead had come through. And when she tried to login to her website to load up a newsletter, she found to her dismay that her access details were being denied.

Needless to say, when she contacted the consultant asking what was happening she received a barrage of complaints about why Permission were involved at all, and what right did we have to look around ‘their’ work (which, I might add, the client had already paid for in full).

Quite quickly, things became very heated and relationships fell apart. The client called me late one afternoon telling me what had happened and I couldn’t believe their story. Within minutes we had a plan to wrest back control of the site – our first priority. Fortunately, she did own the domain and the hosting account. Passwords to both these were quickly changed and then we got into doing some rather devious things to break into the site’s content management system to reset the password. Once this was achieved we focused on capturing the leads that were still flowing in.

We had the client quickly set up a new lead capture account and then ‘plumbed’ the conversion forms in to this and set up the auto-response emails as best we could. Next up was changing her Google accounts.

As luck would have it during the early stages of the review I had taken a copy of their Google AdWords account so I could best show them what was broken. This proved very helpful later on but first we had to establish a new Google Analytics account, set up all the necessary goals and then overlay this onto the new linked AdWords account. Having my copy made this last step achievable and took a few minutes as opposed to the days of work we would have faced if we had to start from scratch.

Yes, the client had ‘lost’ all their historical website analytics data and, more importantly, the leads that had not been sent through before things blew up, but at least they had wrestled back control.

So here are the three lessons you can take away from my Horror Story No 1.

Lesson No 1 – Own your Google AdWords and Google Analytics account. Each of these tools allows you to easily ‘invite’ (and de-invite if you want) others to help you manage your work. Add to this list any other application, especially a lead capture and responding tool.

All Permission clients have the master status on their accounts, with us having the necessary access to manage the content that sits within them. So they ‘own’ their Google AdWords account, their Analytics account, and any other account type we need to get their lead generation system into shape.

As an aside, only a few days after this event I was introduced to a small team within a major High street financial institution who had their advertising agency manage their Google AdWords advertising. Only recently, they found out that this agency had chosen to sub-contract another online agency (without their knowledge) to manage this work for them. Not only does this raise some rather serious ethical issues, heaven knows what will happen to any of the great marketing data that is being collated as a result of this campaign.

Lesson No 2 – At the outset of any lead generation project, set clear objectives on what the project is to achieve. These should highlight specific results you want your consultant to deliver on. Remember those rather vague responses that were attached to their invoice? There would have been a lot more transparency if both parties knew the exact results that were expected. For instance, an expected lead count per month, or maybe a search ranking figure for a certain keyword, or even a cost per lead rate from all Google AdWords traffic – all of these are good objectives.

Lesson No 3 – Treat the management of your sales leads with the same respect you would the management of your hard-earned cash. In reality they reflect your future ability to create the latter. So would you let someone else manage your cash within a process that wasn’t transparent to all? Now, I know that there are a few who have lost millions of dollars only recently by allowing this to happen to them, but you’re smarter than that – aren’t you?

Horror Story No 2

As I mentioned before, this one is relatively mild compared with the previous story BUT, again, it’s a story that I had to have confirmed before I believed it actually happened. It involves a website, a developer, a client – and a dispute.

I know there are a lot of website developers out there who are good, honest people who create sites that their clients absolutely love. I’m sure of it. Fortunately, we know of a few, so when someone needs a site created we pass their details on knowing that there’s a very good chance a happy story will be the result.

But, saying all this, you would be surprised to know how many people walk through our doors with a website build story that is full of strife. Missed deadlines, poor design and all with lots of promise coupled with a paucity of delivery are just some of the stories we hear. So it was not a surprise when this client came to us with a tale of something similar.

It had all started out well – it usually does, or it doesn’t start 🙂 . Then there was a change of staff at the web design company and the ‘client facing’ person was off on maternity leave, which left the technical guru behind them to take control of the project. This staff change coincided with all future ‘client to developer’ communication now being via email. From then until now there was not one phone call made to the client. Now this is some achievement as their project went on for 2–3 months.

Email is great, but it still can’t replace the need to talk to someone sometimes and, while it wasn’t the only reason, it didn’t help matters, and the website build started to head off the tracks and into a dark place where the project just drags on – and on. This is the space where everyone involved just wants to get the project resolved as quickly as possible.

This generally means that along the way things are missed and the original scope is lost in the build process as the job gets handed from developer to developer. No surprises that this happened here and things that were expected by the client failed to materialize and what did arrive wasn’t expected. As were the contents of the final bill, which were a fair bit different from what was quoted – not a lot mind you, just enough to make it worth an email from the client. And that’s when things became rather inflamed.

The tirade that came back to the client from the developer was extreme to say the least. Things had obviously been boiling up for a while and the questioning of the account was the final straw. Apparently, the email message went on for pages (I never saw the original) but it was the final paragraphs that had the real punch. They were to the effect that if the account was not settled by a set time then the site would be taken down and not re-instated until the funds had been collected. Nice #2.

So the client had no choice but to pay the bill but, within a few minutes, was on the phone to me to see how they could extricate themselves from the situation.

Now I realise that, as a supplier, the developer has to guard themselves against customers asking them to do work and then not paying – so they need some recourse. But still, to threaten this when all the customer is doing is questioning the account? This doesn’t bode well for a mutually satisfying future relationship.

Anyway, we needed to know more before we could get this client moving again. First up was the subject of intellectual property. Who owned what – specifically to do with the site’s content and its content management system? I had the client go back and check the terms and conditions the supplier had sent them before starting the project. Guess what – there weren’t any.

Then they somehow had to gently find out if they could move the site to a different hosting account – one that they could own – as a short-term step to wrest back control. This is not a subject that is easy to broach AFTER a project has started but, nevertheless, they are making progress. The developer is playing difficult but the client is making slow, steady progress. And, yes, in the wings is a nice tame developer we have introduced them to who is able to manage things once the move takes place.

So what are the three lessons with this one?

Lesson No 1 – It’s true, only the paranoid survive. This is the title of a great business book by Andy Grove, the then CEO of Intel – but also a good mind state to be in – even if just for a short time before you start that next website build. Then you can ask yourself questions like – what happens if we end up in a dispute – who will arbitrate it? What documents show clearly who owns what? How do we protect all the work we put into this project? It doesn’t need to get into small 6 point type and fill three pages – but if you want to fall back on it then have your lawyer look over it and ask your developer to agree to it. And if they offer terms and conditions to you, check through that 6 point type to see what answers they have to questions like these.

Lesson No 2 – I was once told to never hold a credit card with the same bank I banked with. I assume the theory goes that if things get very tight financially and people are shutting accounts down left, right and centre then at least you have a piece of plastic with some credit on it to get you by. So I think the same should apply to your website hosting – that is, never host your site with the people who developed it. Some content management systems make this a challenge, but most allow it to work. Do this and you will never have some testy developer threaten to take down your site unless you pay their account.

Lesson No 3 – Generally, it takes more time to properly specify any creative work, like a website build, than the actual creative work will take. And this is one of the main reasons why so many web build projects head off the rails so quickly and so dramatically.

Most people entering into projects like this rely too much on what is said rather than what is written. So while email was the chosen mode of communication for a large part of this project – and this caused some issues – IF the project had been accurately specified at the start, it would have had a higher chance of survival.

As another aside, late last year I came across a person who does just this – specify websites for clients. He then goes a bit further and helps them engage suppliers to build them, too. Peter has been in the industry for ages, does a great job, charges reasonably for his services and guess what – his projects end in happy stories.

Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to engage Peter on their next project BUT time spent documenting what needs to be done and why – as if there was little chance of verbal communication – is time well invested.

So there you have it – two horror stories and six lessons that I hope you can learn from. All I can say is that I only hope that April doesn’t bring with it any more stories like these.

For some strange reason, memories of my old physics classes seem to crop up on a regular basis within these pages. I’ve prattled on about how explosive the experiments were and how all this work was underpinned with some solid ‘problem busting’ scientific thought. Both of which I have then gone on to apply as possible solutions to the problems businesses may be facing in a down economy.

From all this you could assume – quite incorrectly I might add – that I was a bit of swot when it came to science. But I wasn’t. I struggled like the rest of them and just managed to scrape through with a B pass for my Cambridge O Level end-of-year exams. Nevertheless, I fall back to this time for content because of the most basic of reasons – I enjoyed it. You see, as a lad I was probably the same weight I am now but a good half the height. A bit of a porker was I. So sports were never my thing, English was a struggle, languages were even worse, so science was for me.

So while I found it hard work it was the certainty of the results that really appealed. Complete the experiment in the right way – mix blue powder with hot water and ba boom – one large bright and very messy explosion for all to see. Follow the same steps and the same results occurred – every time for everyone that followed the same process. Repeatable results – yep, that seemed quite cool to me.

I thought engineering contained the same type of thinking, so on leaving school I joined up to be an apprentice technician engineer at a local factory. Then, after a fair bit of travel, a few career changes and a dabble with redundancy, I started this company in 2002. There’s been quite a bit of change along the way but the theme that underpins Permission – delivering repeatable results – is the same one that interested me as student while I worked through those experiments. Thankfully, there are no unexpected explosions this time.

Nevertheless, there are some areas we work within that create a bigger economic ‘bang’ for our client’s buck than others. However, ensuring our clients allow us to focus their efforts in this space can be a challenge. For example, while our customers come in various personality styles, they all seem to have a core desire to want more traffic to their website. It’s like an obsession for some. These people pour over their Google Analytics reports each Monday morning to see how far their traffic has risen since the week before. And if it hasn’t, then in comes an email to ask what is happening. We answer all these politely, but at the same time try to avert their laser-like focus onto another part of their site that could return them more for their consulting spend.

And what is that ideal focus point?

Website conversion.

Yes, I have talked about this before in the newsletter but this time I’m going back to one of my old physics lectures to illustrate my point about how improvements in this space can be so lucrative. Remember fulcrums and levers?

I think it was Archimedes who said “Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the earth with a lever”. Well, I don’t think we need to move a planet, just a website’s performance, so this should be a doddle in comparison.

To help me out here, please find to follow a simple image of a classic lever / fulcrum set-up – it has a rather skinny guy trying to lift a very heavy rock.

I’m going to add in two ingredients of any website – traffic and conversions – and then a nice expected outcome – cash. Now things are getting a bit more interesting.

Hopefully, most of you have your eyes transfixed on the rock, which represents a nice heavy pile of cash. This is good. If nothing else, it has distracted you from the hard work of the person with the cap – forcing down on the pole (creating website traffic). Things are a bit blurry but I’m sure he is grimacing as he struggles away. Now the amount of swearing that is going on with Mr Lifter will depend on how effective his fulcrum is – which in my little diagram is the conversion rate of the site.

This basic physics principle highlights a few very important things. Firstly, for those obsessed with just generating traffic to their website, you will notice that without any fulcrum in place no cash will be raised. Yep, absolutely nothing – nadda. Send progressively more traffic to a website that doesn’t convert and your results remain the same – zilch.

Secondly, the work of Mr Lifter would be a lot easier if he had a better fulcrum. He could in fact use less force (need less traffic) and still lift more (generate more cash) when compared with someone who had more traffic BUT a weaker fulcrum (poorer conversion rate). Hmm, do less work and achieve more. Sound like a plan?

So how does all this semi-theoretical physics mumbo jumbo translate into tasks you can put on your to-do list next week? Well, here’s a few to consider.

First off, let’s get stuck into the hard one – changing your mindset from focusing on traffic to driving up conversions. With some luck the image of the pile of cash being lifted upwards by Mr Lifter with relative ease should help. However, I realise that making the right changes to your website to improve conversion rates is anything but easy.

It takes time to set up experiments, even with Google’s free Website Optimiser product, and then patience to let enough conversions pile up so the results are valid. All this relies on a bit of methodical thinking and a strong self-image to know that, even with all this work, your changes could be proven to either have no positive impact or to actually reduce the conversion rate of your site.

But there is always a bright side. Doesn’t knowing what doesn’t work take you one step closer to knowing what does? (I think it was Thomas Edison who mentioned this after conducting thousands of failed experiments before he settled on the winning one.) And, like Edison, once you know what works well you can mine this success for ages. More on the economic power these results can provide you later.

Nevertheless, there is sometimes a short cut to conversion rate improvement. This has you looking out for other conversion choices – think other fulcrums – for your website to lever more cash from your visitors. For instance, an e-commerce website that achieves a credible 3.5% conversion rate still has 96.5% of its visitors leaving without buying. Now, I would guess that not all of this group are totally disinterested in what the website offers – it’s just that they weren’t ready to buy just when they visited.

But 15% could be keen enough to join a newsletter list. And a further 5% may well be in love with the brand so much that they would join the site’s fan page on Facebook. So to 3.5% of core sales conversions we can now add another 20% of additional ‘contact conversions’, realising that not all of those will buy now, but a high percentage could be persuaded to buy later.

A recent conversation I had with a prospect during one of our introductory online marketing performance review sessions highlighted this exact same issue. Their website offered a small range of products via a very simple e-commerce offer. Buying these items and contacting them for assistance were the only two conversion options the site offered. What’s more, their target market was proven to devour any information they were offered on the subject area. Add to this the fact that their product offered a novel twist to solve this very common problem, coupled with a great story behind it – and there were opportunities abound to offer an email newsletter of sorts and gather many more conversions from the traffic that was currently leaving the site.

Offering information is a great option to backfill a website’s conversion choices. Some industries / products make this strategy an easy one to exploit. But even for those that may struggle there are occasionally opportunities that arise to turn a relatively dry subject into something that many are keen to learn more about. For instance, if you run an accountancy practice, the latest changes to New Zealand’s GST and PAYE rates are an actual goldmine of opportunity. Used properly, information on these subject areas is an ideal way to engage with both prospects and existing clients. I recently sat in on a presentation from one practice that took us through the GST changes from start to end in a very practical and informative manner. I had never heard of this business before I was invited, but now if I was looking for a new accountant then they would be close to the top of my list. But have I seen dozens of accountants offering complimentary courses on the changes to reap the value of this opportunity? Nope – hardly any.

Which leads me nicely back to the subject of seizing every opportunity to make your conversion rate fulcrum work as hard as it can. The numbers can be very compelling – e-commerce websites especially can reap huge gains from relatively small improvements. For instance, say you own an e-commerce website that receives 8000 unique visitors per month and converts 2.5% of this traffic with an average sale value of $80. All you need to do is move this up 0.5% and your revenue per month increases by over $3000 – for every month going forward. That’s over $100,000 in extra revenue over three years.

Getting to grips with numbers like these can be a good way to help galvanise yourself into action. This month’s customer conference call included a section where I presented an interactive PDF document that should help many. By using this you can manipulate your own visitor numbers and conversion rates to see how sensitive each of them is to your overall financial results. As a customer you would have received a copy of this document.

I suggest you spend a few moments plugging in your own details to see what they show. You should be pleasantly surprised how much extra cash your website can raise just by applying some small changes to your fulcrum of conversion. Now that should replace any grimace with a nice smile.

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This week I was amazed to read that the US Air force has more pilots training to fly Drones than regular piloted aircraft. Over the last 10 years they have gone from flying less than 50 unmanned aircraft to now having over 700 Drones in service.

Earlier in the month I picked up on the video of our own Kiwi Drone in action. This time it was a $500 device purchased from a High Street store that, when properly configured, was flown into a bent and buckled Christchurch church building to assess its damage. (If you’re interested in seeing the footage, you can find the link here: www.tinyurl.com/parrot-drone-chch)

Here at Permission we’ve been testing out some Drone-like technology ourselves. No, don’t fret. There’s no need to look skyward. This is not something that will hover overhead in a menacing way. Nope, it’s sitting nicely and quietly and innocently on a few customer websites we manage – just checking what their visitors do when they next drop by.

It’s part of our “Grow Conversions – Website Optimisation” module. This module is there to do one thing and one thing only – to increase the conversion rate of your website. In its current form it has been running for a few years now and has produced some sizable jumps in performance for those that have opted to “take it on”.

And I don’t use the term “taking it on” lightly. Because, when it comes to the number and types of changes that will need to be made to your website as a result of the findings from this module, there is no stone left unturned. Altered images, re-written content, restructured navigation, complete new landing pages, and even the grandaddy of them all – replacing a whole site design. Some or all of these together have been foisted upon clients.

Imagine if you could sit behind your prospect and peer over their shoulder as they move through your website, page by page. And by doing so, notice along the way what they click on, how far they scroll down your page or even which parts of your form they have trouble completing. Well, our small but very smart Drone does all this and captures the results, replaying them to us in a series of online recordings. It works just like magic.

One of the really smart things is that there’s nothing the visitor needs to download and install for all this to happen. Clients need to make a quick update to the HTML code on our their website and bingo, the recordings begin. Then all that’s left for us to do is sit back and try not to look at the recordings before we have enough to draw some sensible conclusions. That’s the hard bit. It can get a bit addictive – looking at what the last visitor did. Nevertheless, once a week or so has passed then we can dig in and see what we have.

Here’s just a few of the things that we frequently pick up during this stage.

People clicking on things that you didn’t expect them to. The technology tracks every mouse click and boy do some people click a lot. Fortunately, there’s a way we can look at this data in an aggregate form. Then we see the trends of people clicking on pictures, faces, headings and everything else that in most cases doesn’t have anything behind them. Pictures are a classic case. Small thumbnail photos that are repeatedly clicked on reveal the visitors’ simple attempts to make them bigger. So what do we do? We give them what they want and we make them bigger plus, if we are able to, we add a few more snaps in.

People struggling to fill in forms. It’s well known that the more information you ask people to provide the lower your conversion rate will be. But what bits can you leave out? To you every field is really necessary and none can be dropped off. Nevertheless, looking at the way people complete the form can provide some insight into the problems they grapple with here.

I’ve seen recordings where people struggle with an email address, or a time to call or even a phone number. As you watch their session you can almost hear them think, “Now which one is the best one to give them?” or “ What was our personal email address again?”. They type some details, then back space across it, then type some more in, backspace a bit more and then move away from the form – never to come back. So it pays to keep the fields you want down to a minimum.

Long pages with not enough emotional momentum gained at the top. One-page sales forms can be very effective. You take your visitor from the headline, right through to capturing the lead, without them having to leave your page. That’s the theory. For it to work you need to (a) capture your visitor’s attention with the headline, (b) transfer this attention into the early stages of your copy and finally, (c) have enough emotional pulling points in your words to ensure their attention moves through the complete length of your page. There’s a lot here that can go wrong.

The most common problem is the obvious one – people deciding not to scroll. I’ve seen recordings where the % of visitor attention plummets from 100% of visitor viewing at the top of the page to barely 10% after just one scroll length down. This points to a very poor connection between the headline and early copy. Even when the connection works you still see a drop – but nowhere as severe; plus, in the recordings you see people taking time to move down and back up the form as they read through in detail what you have written.

That’s just a few of the insights we have picked up over the last few months using this Drone-like technology. Yes, it takes some time to interpret the recordings. But the additional insight you gain from walking with your visitor as they move from page to page is truly something else.

Have a chat with us today if you would like to know more about this module.

As some of the regular readers of this newsletter will know, I did not start out as Facebook’s biggest fan. And to be fair, while I have softened my stance ever so slightly, I would hardly put myself in the rather crowded room of social media evangelists. There’s way too many uber-cool people in this space for me to feel comfortable.

I always thought that social media would really start to capture my attention when I could prove to myself that it was responsible for either my customers or, less importantly, myself gaining more customers. Well that time has come.

But first – a few very short notes on the basics of Facebook as I see them for non-social media people. Yep, the bits your teenage children will not tell you because the last thing they want is you on Facebook. Well it’s time to move over – oh yee of little faith in us grey-haired ones – now there’s some business to be done.

So, to start you need to set yourself up with a personal Facebook profile. You can’t set up your business without having one. Don’t worry, it’s easy and doesn’t require too much commitment. Just head over to the Facebook home page and register – share some of your details and you are done.

Now that you have a profile you can connect with others and ask them to be your “friends”. If they say yes, then everything you post on your “Wall” they will see within their “News Feed” and, likewise, all they post you will see in your “News Feed”.

So you can see some pics of this, below is an image of my News Feed.

When I took this snap, it included a note from my brother who lives in the UK and who had just landed in Lanzerote for a holiday – lucky him! Plus a short note from Allan Li – he used to work at Permission but has now moved to London and is working for a large corporate search optimisation company. Here is a picture of my “Wall” – that’s where I add my own new content.

This can be images, video or plain, ordinary text. You can comment on and “Like” your friends’ posts, videos and pictures.

I think the privacy settings in Facebook are adequate for most. You can configure these to limit your posts so they are just seen by your friends and not the friends of your friends.

Done this? Then you are now one of the many millions who are Facebook people. All that’s left to do is to set up a Page for your business. To start this just head over to http://www.facebook.com/pages/create and pick the option that best suits you.

Once this is registered you can invite people to “Like” your page and become your fans. When they do this they “should” see what you write on your page’s Wall within their News Feed. Now there’s a “should” there because if your posts get very little interaction (i.e no comments or likes for a reasonable period of time) then they are not shown up. So developing some interaction with your posts is important. More to come on this later.

But first let’s get back to adding in some content. This is simple – it’s done in exactly the same way as you update your personal Facebook profile. Just write, upload a photo, or even delve into the land of video. With a fan page you can control the ability for your Fans to write on your business page Wall, which may be a good or bad thing depending on how much interaction you want to get going.

So that’s it. It’s the basic basics, I know, but it moves you a bit further forward. Hopefully, you will start to appreciate that the overall goal here is to get your audience to “Like” your business page, love your content, engage with it because of this and, then, do what you want them to do.

Here are a few questions that all this may prompt.

Do I need a Facebook page to advertise on Facebook?

No you don’t. You can send Facebook advertising links to your usual website. You will see this traffic as from the Facebook domain within your Google Analytics account. And if you have goals set up – please tell me you do – then you will see its conversion rate.

How do I increase the number of people who “Like” my page?

It depends on your true goal. If it’s all about numbers and increasing them, then competitions, draws and vouchers are a few good ways. Your Fan count will grow – however, most will be there for the draws, vouchers and free stuff – no surprises there. Once this all goes, then there’s a good chance they will too. Whereas if you want to gather around your page a reasonable number of hopefully more engaged people then it’s all about delivering them a steady stream of content that they see as being valuable. When you think about it, the concept is very similar to growing an effective email newsletter list.

How do I get my own Facebook URL, e.g. www.facebook.com/permissionwebsitemarketing?

As I write this note, Facebook tells me you need a group of 25 people to “Like” you. Then you can follow the help screens in Facebook and they will show you how to register your details and pick your URL. Also, as of now, once this is set up you have to live with your choice – so pick carefully.

What are the basic mistakes I should avoid?

Here’s just three that quickly come to mind. First, starting off with a page instead of a plan. Knowing who you want to talk to, what you want to say and the desired outcomes of all this work are some basic things to include in your plan It doesn’t have to be pages and pages of closely typed, small font. One or two pages will suffice. Just enough to refer back to and re-energise yourself after you grind through writing your 50th post and are wondering – Why?

Second, starting the conversation on knowledge, tips and general value-building content and then switching tracks to focus on offers, promotions and super deals. They “Liked” you so they could receive what your Wall showed them when they dropped by. Keep on message to keep their “Like”. Yes, people can “Unlike” you.

Third, not feeding the beast. It doesn’t need to be an hourly task. Some get by with just adding new content each week and responding to feedback on a daily basis. Multiple week gaps between posts is probably not such a good thing.

What’s the least amount of time I can spend on this?

This follows on from the last point. It really doesn’t have to be much. I would suggest that people asking for a response by posting or commenting on your Wall shouldn’t be left longer than the time you would take to return a phone message asking the same question. For some this would be half a day at most. And if you place some new content out there each week then this is a good start.

And finally – how much is this going to cost me?

This is the nice part. Setting up a page is free. Yep, nadda – nothing. Adding content to it may cost depending on who you get to write it. (Yes, we offer services for this at an affordable rate.) You may need someone (like us) to help customise some pages to welcome people to your page and entice them to hit the “Like” button. Or to create a page to host some video or other web page content. Fortunately, Facebook has built an environment that allows these changes in a reasonably open way so adding them is not that costly.

So there you have it. For some experienced Facebook people this content will be way too basic. But that’s fine, it wasn’t written for them anyway :). Nope, this should be enough to help the successful business owner who is considering Facebook to feel that little bit more confident about taking it on. Those teenagers can’t have all the fun and it pays to embarrass them on a frequent basis – just try and ask them to be your friend. I’ve a few stories there I can tell you. (“No Dad, that’s creepy.”)

And anyway, just let me know when your Facebook business page is ready. For reading this far, I’ll reward you with one shiny new “Like”.

One of the email marketing “silver bullet” questions I frequently get asked is – “When is the best day and time of day to send my next email campaign?” It’s a good one to ask. Just imagine all the wasted time and energy if a campaign bombs just because it was launched at the wrong time.

The common “consultant speak” answer to this is “when your audience are the most motivated to take the action you want”. No real insight there. The practical answer is “you will need to test – but it usually pays to steer clear of the very start and the very end of the week”. A better response; however, for one sizable market segment, this is still bad advice.

Want to know if you’re in this market segment? Just take a peek at your website stats.

Have a look at the visitor count graph below.

Now look at this one.

And if you are still with me – the last.

As you can see, the first two have very similar shapes even though they are from completely different companies – in even more different markets. However, the third graph has an entirely different shape from the first two. The only similarity between the three is that they are all from businesses based in Auckland – and they all work with Permission.

So what makes shape one and shape two look so similar? Well, before I answer this, have a look at this final graph to follow. (I promise there’s no more after this.)

As you can see, this is not from a website but from part of a research document from McGill University researcher, Debbie Moskowitz. This one tracks the energy levels individuals have during the week.

From her research, she has found that Monday is a great day for setting goals, organising and planning. Your energy levels are not fully back from a weekend off and these tasks are a nice fit for this space as you start to pick up speed. Whereas on Tuesday you are back into action at full steam. This is a day for taking on all those tough tasks that you have been putting off for too long. The head of steam of Tuesday carries across to Wednesday, another good day to crank into things that are really hard to do. By the time you hit Thursday, things start to slow down and energy levels begin to fade. Friday carries on this trend and after lunch is not the time to try anything too taxing.

Now, lets go back to those earlier website visitor charts and the question of why the first two are similar. Both businesses have one thing in common – they each sell their products direct to consumers and have predominantly female buyers. I’m not yet convinced that the gender skew is pushing these shapes to look the way they do. Nevertheless, in both, the early part of the week – especially Monday – is when things really start to happen.

This matches nicely with Debbie’s research. I’m taking a massive leap in logic by connecting the two but there could be a natural sequence of events playing out online. This is how it could run. During the last part of the weekend you think about what’s still on your to-do list. Perhaps you discuss it with your partner and both plan to get things underway on Monday. So you head to work and hit Google as your energy levels are still too low to do any serious work. You find what you are searching for and start browsing and picking. If time gets away on you then perhaps on Tuesday you could spare some extra time to tick this task off your list. But after that, well, then the week gets away on you and all the normal “stuff” that fills the days just takes over. That is until the weekend comes around and that “to-do” list rears its ugly head again.

The website traffic maps this behaviour. It rises sharply at the start of the week, then drops like a stone – only to come up again the following week. It’s a very choppy wave pattern. But what about the third graph? Why the stark difference between this one and the first two?

Well, this graph is from a business-to-business operation that sells a technical product that requires some careful consideration prior to purchase. This is normally a work-focused “to do” that has the whole week to be ticked off. Which means that demand rises slowly on Monday then sits up there at a relatively flat status – almost like a “table top” shape – before it gradually falls for the weekend.

So how does all this apply to your business?

Well, best you check out your website visitor graphs and see what shapes they are. Are your waves choppy or rolling with flat mid sections? If it’s the first of the two then it may pay to add these few things to your action list. (Best to nail them on Monday or Tuesday…)

Firstly, just realising that your website traffic does come in ragged weekly cycles and not flat, even streams is a good step in itself. Now you can see the need to grab as much early week traffic as you can. So if you are buying advertising – say from Google with their AdWords program – it may pay to front load your ad spend so that you free up as much budget as you can to capture the rise in early week traffic that your market presents.

Secondly, your copy may need a tweak or two. One of the great copy writers – Robert Collier – talked about entering the “conversations in their mind” of your prospects. Part of this conversation could include thoughts like “removing the task from my to-do list” or “taking the first step to getting this nailed” or maybe even ”finally making time to…” And, if you want to be really smart, you could split-test your website page so that the copy changes for those early weekdays to include text about “Starting the week with one less thing to do.”

Thirdly, don’t forget how this affects your other advertising channels too. So, placing radio advertising early on in the week rather than later would be well worth a test. The same would apply to any print media you may be running.

And finally, there’s the overall sales importance of those early days of the week. It’s a time when there’s a heightened chance that prospects are in a decision-making mindset. So releasing your email marketing on a Monday afternoon or a Tuesday morning to capture the energy here could be a good idea. And sales follow-up calls should be scheduled into this space.

It really all boils down to understanding and then capitalising on the changing energy levels of your prospect audience and how this affects your chance to present your wares online. Your website visitor graphs provide an insight into how yours operate. Why not check them out today and see what your shapes look like?