Previous month:
December 2009
Next month:
February 2010

January 2010

Pipeline marketing - going beyond AWeber part 2, the search

In part 1 of these series I explained why we felt the need to go "beyond AWeber".
If your (web)marketing strategy evolves, the need for a more flexible, compact and efficient tool comes quite quickly to the forefront in order to implement your also evolving tactics.

A chore shared

If you ever have been in the situation where you need a new software program you know it sometimes feels like trying to find that needle in a haystack: which of the so many programs around would suit your needs (now and at least for the coming 2 - 3 years) best? Fortunately I was not alone in this search, a good friend of mine also realised that in order to implement evolved strategies a better fitting CRM program was needed. And a chore shared between two persons who know each others talents well is a chore halved (or so we thought). It still took over 2 months before we made a final decision, both for the same program.

Parameters

We started with setting parameters for the new program. Although we both represent/own two completely different businesses:
one (me) a B2C business: retailer with mostly domestic clients and one B2B: accountancy/business consultancy/financial services (and more) can they still have the same parameters?
Well, both of us know (have come to realise) that informing prospects is the most effective way to convert them into clients, no matter if your business is B2C or B2B - it's the same principle.

The main parameters we set for the new software were:

  • online lead capture option (webforms)
  • auto-responder option
  • pipe-line structure (also known as funnel-process, "driving" leads down the pipe-line/funnel to become clients/returning clients)
  • online software
  • extended follow-up options (scheduling tasks, letters, meetings etc - besides email options)
  • customisable lay-out
  • flexible (customisable) segmentation of "lists"
  • no restrictions or limits on email messages (follow-up sequence or broadcast) or on contacts
  • reasonably priced (I hope you remember we are a one-man/one-woman business where "everything" happens in one - small - location. Your situation - multiple offices, people on the road - can require different parameters and therefore a different price-tag. Also remember that a software program like this should be considered an investment, not just a cost.)

The programs we researched:

The most obvious one to start at was Infusionsoft (US based), seemingly for many former AWeber users the next logical step. Not for us though, way too pricey and if you have to believe some it is rather complicated to handle and control all activities (note: last remark purely based on hear-say, we did not have a trial of the program ourselves).

We also found a newcomer: webCRM, UK based. This one - after a trial - soon showed it lacked many of the parameters we'd set and is more just an online CRM program. (Same functionality as the CRM program that comes with Mamut, our bookkeeping software). Does have a very good pipe-line structure though and at £ 30.00 (for 2 users) good value for money - if you are just looking for an online CRM program that is.

6a00d8341c660f53ef01287704c35a970c-pi

A LinkedIn query on the subject directed us to SalesForce (US and UK based) "the cloud computing" software. The possibility to combine it with other online programs, like Google Mail, and other "bespoke" applications sounded good. Once you find your way on their website - could be just me - it promises to tick all the boxes. However, on closer inspection it doesn't.
Both of us were invited for a Webinar and received log in details plus a phone number to call in for the "meeting" (together with 6 other potential SalesForce users, all with their own questions and areas of interest).

It soon turned out that the standard options in SalesForce focus much more on sales-departments (nice and elaborate graphs to track statistics on almost everything) than on marketing itself and if you needed something "simple" like autoresponder you had to add one of the "partner" applications (and most of these apps come with their own price). Getting a question in during the "meeting" was rather difficult, due IMHO to the number of others (and some you could hear sigh when a question was asked and answered that didn't relate to their business or circumstances). Not the best of experiences I must say.
Totting up all the none-standard applications to meet our parameters SalesForce increased tremendously in price (and then still wouldn't tick all the boxes).

The short-list: 2 programs

Beginning December our spirits were low - on the subject of finding the right program for us that is, normal business proceeded nicely. Then we were pointed in the direction of two "new" programs to check out and in the end these were the two that ended up on our shortlist. We decided to check out one each.

Mine, again through a LinkedIn query, was SalesNexus (US based).
The demo looked promising, and so did the video of one of the webinars. The minute you ask for a test-drive SalesNexus sends you a free report about the hidden costs of other programs (focussing their report on SalesForce and ACT!), which is quite interesting but.... I'll come back to that later.
After watching the Webinar video I signed up for a 30 day trial and had a better look around, asking many question by email in the process (which showed a stumble block we hadn't thought of before: the time difference between UK and USA. Effectively this means that any support you need is mainly restricted to the afternoons.)
There are many functions in SalesNexus I really liked, for instance the Library function (reminded me of ScreenSteps: write once, use in a multiple way) and the "look-up" function that keeps its search results until you decide you've done all you wanted to do at that moment. The principle of SalesNexus is based on: your business is unique so you need unique fields, unique activities, unique segmentation and you name it you can added/edit and customise it.

But...
Chunky, slow, and hidden costs here too. SalesNexus comes in two Editions: Standard and Pro (compared here).

6a00d8341c660f53ef01287704c35e970c-pi

But then somewhere on their website I stumbled on another Edition: Pro Plus (the comparison data sheet is hidden deep down the website, I had to ask SalesNexus support for the link when I could not find it again) The Pro Plus is the Pro with extras but for the lead capture function you're presented with another annual fee.
Now don't get me wrong, during our "quest" we discovered this happen quite often: a price for the basics and than a price per add-on so you can even customise your own program and decide if the additionals are worth the extra money.
Here it was a let down, "pot and kettle" came to mind.

Pity really, because the program ticked many boxes and although the autorespond option was only able to email out one email (and not a sequence of automated follow-up messages) I was rather impressed by it. Specially when I was informed that the auto responder would be improved later on (Q2 2010).

And the winner is....

6a00d8341c660f53ef01287704c350970c-pi

In the meantime my friend Richard C had further investigated shortlist number 2: Octane HQ "Fuel your Sales" (UK based). In Ed Rivis latest book "E-Mail Marketing Dynamite" this program was mentioned too, but with the side-note it was a "download" program (running on your own pc) and not an "online" program, so we had discarded it at first.
However, as we learned in December, between the moment of writing and the launch of Ed's book, J-Media (the owner of Octane HQ) had made the decision to turn it into an online program after al with also a change in the price structure. So we had a look after al. Well, Richard first.

And reported back with enthusiasm - of course at the same time I'd gotten excited about SalesNexus!

Octane HQ is more focused on marketing to enhance sales in contrast of most of the "cloud" programs we'd seen where marketing is sometimes only an after thought. The banner on the simple website ends with: Put your marketing on autopilot and grow your sales!
Richard was convinced that if I only agreed to a one-on-one webinar with one of the team members of Octane I would be won over too. And so a Go-to-meeting (with the owner!) was arranged quickly and the fun started: show me what you got, does it do what I want it to do and try to impress me. He and it did.

Nothing fancy in the program, just logical and effectiveness combined - with style. When I discovered that the "creator" Dave had also been a big fan of AWeber I understood why it felt both familiar and even more as the next most logical step to take once you realise AWeber can only do so much for your pipe-line marketing.

Let's tick the boxes:

  • online lead capture option (webforms) - tick
  • auto-responder option - tick
  • pipe-line structure - tick
  • online software - tick
  • extended follow-up options - big tick and then some
  • customisable lay-out - tick
  • flexible (customisable) segmentation of "lists" - big tick and then some
  • no restrictions or limits on email messages (follow-up sequence or broadcast) or on contacts - tick
  • reasonably priced - tick

And as extra bonus I was promised they would create a kind of email parser like AWeber has with Paypal (using the Octane HQ autoresponder option as "delivery vehicle" for your digital products).

The day after the over 1 hour lasting "webinar" Richard and I shared notes and started to realise that our quest had ended. He did the honours of informing Octane HQ they had gained two new and eager clients and that was that.

Well, not quite.
That was the moment the work of implementing the evolved strategies and tactics really started. Which will be revealed in part 3.

6a00d8341c660f53ef0120a8019b79970b-pi

Pipeline marketing - going beyond AWeber, part 1

cute little dog with fluffy snowy paws as result of pipeline marketing tactics

Yesterday I received this cute snowy picture from a contact on one of our wood flooring email lists:

His little dog Molly had managed to add snow-bracelets to her little paws - first time she'd encountered snow.

Now I hear you ask: how on earth is this cute little dog related to wooden flooring?
It's not. It is however related to our new - improved - pipeline marketing strategy and tactics: being able to make the structured (email) marketing much more worthwhile, relevant, anticipated and personal (wrap).

Using the internet to market your business I've come to realise goes in leaps and bounds, evolving your system and methods as you go (or as you discover better tools). Looking at our own business we went from

  • bcc'ing a text email to our contacts - then a small list - using our own daily email software
  • through Groupmail5 (free) - individual sent emails with some html but still using our own daily email software- when our list of contacts grew,
  • to AWeber autoresponder.

AWeber enabled us not just to "bulk" email - in the best meaning of the word, one email sent out to a multitude of contacts who had all given their permission to be emailed by us - but also to email a sequence of relevant emails per subject (segmentation).

As with every tactic, if it works you want to improve on it - well, I do. We looked closer at all the possibilities AWeber could give us and found ways to optimise it as best as possible or as far as the program let us.
For instance:

  • we created an extended webform where visitors to our website could submit whole questions related to any subject of wooden flooring. We then answered them personally (using the "Subscriber Alert" in List settings to sent us an email, including the question whenever someone had confirmed they wanted an answer.)
  • We also introduced a "general list" (see my E-training on AWeber for more details on this) so that no matter to which lists (in our case which wood floor range leaflet was requested) all automagically also were added to the "general list" containing a sequence of emails with "general" information.

Our lists grew from 200 contacts at the start of using AWeber (Oct 07) to 2072 in December 2009 (around 20 - 30% of contacts were on more than 1 list, adding to the total). When you see your lists growing and you notice the effect on your turnover and profit while realising you pushed the program as far as possible you start to feel restricted - well I do.

Using AWeber is a great and cost-effective way to follow-up prospects/contacts and to stay in regular contact with clients, automation of this is great too but it is limited to email. How to follow-up in the same structured and effective way on

  • phone conversations,
  • "stand-alone" emails and request,
  • and even how to segment the email lists better so that prospects asking questions about maintenance didn't receive the same general information as those asking for advice on how to select a wood floor most suited to their circumstances and wishes.

We started to use a separate CRM program (part of our accounting software) to improve the follow-up on those other contacts/methods of conversations but that turned quickly in notes every where, double entries of contact details and no way of tracking what was working as stand alone or as combination of email, phone call and even letters. Plus segmentation on various subjects/interest was impossible without keeping even more manual lists.

The search for a more comprehensive package that could cover all was on (and took over 2 months, more about this in a later post).

Three weeks ago we started using our new "catch-all/automate most" online software program which still enables us to email a sequence of relevant information (personalised) per different wood floor type using the autoresponder option, still enables our website visitors to ask questions and receive personal advice for their problems but also triggers "automated" prompts to print and post follow-up letters (automagically merged with relevant details), to call a contact to offer more help or advice, to decide per contact which follow-up series has the most relevant information for them plus it tracks which campaign, follow-up series etc is most effective in generating sales (even after only 3 weeks we are starting to see results of our new tactics).

For instance and coming back to the cute little dog: his owner had submitted a question in regards of finishing a wood floor using our new "ask a question" webform. I received his question and replied with the best advice possible. Three days later our new software program prompted me to send a new email (custom email not an autoresponder) based on his original question and our first reply. That and the heavy snow fall we've been having lately resulted in a sharing of Winter stories and the picture of his dog, plus an ongoing conversation with him about solving his problem and what products we can supply him to help out.

Worthwhile, relevant, anticipated and personal. Automated? Yes and no, human interaction can be prompted - hence our new software system - but never set on auto-pilot, hence our new software system.

More post about this system and our evolving strategies and tactics in pipeline marketing will follow over the coming weeks/months. It's a new (ad)venture for us too, but one we're confident it will be as flexible as we need it/want it to be to grow our business further.


How did that happen?

20092010 And all of a sudden 2009 is gone, past, never to be returned to ever! 365 whole days just whooshed by it seems, where has a whole year gone?

Is it true that the older we get, the more quicker time seems to pass or is it true that "time flies when you're having fun?"

Anyway: HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I'd planned to write my regular recap of the year last week, but boy, even the last days of December seem to sped by at wrap-drive. So, very shortly then:

2009:

  • we are not allowed to complain about the apparent worst recession year (hard to complain when your business manages to grow 12.6%)
  • we further fined-tuned our email marketing efforts (and were featured in Ed Rivis latest book: Email Marketing Dynamite)
  • we launched our "Comprehensive Installation Guide" which turned out to be a great success, so this year (2010) we will turn the E-guide into a paperback version
  • we enjoyed a long and lovely summer in our lovely village
  • ....

Isn't it funny that even when looking back at 365 whole days it is hard to recall any specific moments? We just seemed to carry on and on, doing what we love doing and realising step by step, day by day what we had planned (hoped more likely due to the negative and pessimistic media noises) to do.

Sincerely hope you had a good year too and are, like is, full of confidence the first year of a brand new decade will be more than all right.
(New decade: is it truly already 10 years ago we moved - emigrated -to Kent?)

And this year we will go beyond my beloved AWeber - more about this "venture" later (if, no, when I find time to tell you about the new software application we have started to use for our "pipeline marketing").

What are your plans for this year, any significant changes planned? Any worries, happy tidings?