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  • What are the characteristics of the customer today in the B2B environment?

    The IoD West Surrey Branch sales forum held its second meeting on Thursday 16th July at the Y Centre in Guildford and the topic of discussion was ‘The Customer’.

    In brief we wanted to try and describe what today’s customer looks like and what he expects. Some very interesting information was presented by Hugh Stafford-Smith of SABA (7) Consulting who was the facilitator of the meeting.

    Like the March Hare, top executives have not got the time; they are under time constraints to produce and therefore what was acceptable many years ago in educating the sales person as to what the company did and the issues it faces are in the main no longer valid. The decision maker expects the sales person to be versed in what the company does, the issues it faces in that particular sector of the market and explain what remedies might be applied to help the customer with the issues he or she are facing. Forget the cosy chat about how ‘in this company we do this and then we do that’. No time!

    ‘If you do not know what we do, how we do it, the challenges we face, and the solutions to those challenges you can offer with proof that they have worked before’, I’m not interested.’

    The statement above is slightly exaggerated but its basic message is not wrong. Why has it come about? Well, the shortcoming of sales persons taking up considerable amount of time and then selling products and/or services that did not fulfil the client’s requirements is the major issue.

    We now have the buyer or the procurement manager that controls the situation so that decision maker’s time is not wasted. But, is the decision maker’s objectives the same as the buyer’s objectives. They can be out of sync with the buyer trying to minimise expenditure and the decision maker trying to get a product that works for the company. The best solution is when it is relatively low cost and fulfils the needs of those that need it. Can we guarantee that latter will be paid lip service in place of the economy drive?

    The meeting ended on how do you get to the decision maker in this day and age?

    Answers on a postcard please!

    To be continued…………….

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  • Coaching for Companies, Teams and Individuals with The Company Coach

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    Having helped work on the revamp of the Company Coach website and having known for a few years one of the principal drivers behind a company that specialises in helping individuals and organisations perform better in communication, education, leadership etc it is great to announce that ‘The Company Coach’ have not only rebranded and made over their website but is also offering some quality advice and information on the new Company Coach blog.

    Sally and Peter Kleyn head up an impressive team that helps fuse in depth sales and management principles with an impressive array of scientific process tools and diagnostic abilities (Check out sections on Psychometric testing and SAVi verbal analysis systems). In business since 1991 The Company Coach, or White House Training and Distribution Limited, as it was formerly known have expanded from offering sales training to incorporate management and leadership training in various areas including telesales, customer service, change management etc.

    The Company Coach offer training and advice for boards of directors, trustees and senior management as well as group coaching. Their client portfolio is quite impressive offering services to companies in a variety of sectors. I for one am looking forward to reading some quality advice on business practices from Peter, Sally and the rest of the Company Coach team in the near future.

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  • Don't Let Your Web Designer Use mailto Tags

    The first thing I look for whenever I appraise a colleagues work is the presence of a mailto tag.  Whilst they are useful and at times necessary so as to be able to provide the user with a quick and easy method of emailling you directly, it is also a very quick way of adding an email address in a SPAM database. 

    SPAMBots are programs that crawl the web looking for websites with visible email addresses (predominantly email addresses within mailto tags).  They literally 'harvest' anything they find: addresses are added to databases, emails are sent, inboxes overflow.

    To check whether mailto tags have been included on your website, navigate to a page you now has a visible email address and carry out the following steps:

    Internet Explorer users:

    • Right Click and choose 'View Source'
    • Press Ctrl + F - this will present you with the 'Find' dialog box
    • Type in the following:
      • href="mailto:

    Firefox users:

    • Right Click and choose 'View Page Source'
    • Press Ctrl + F - this will present you with the 'Find' dialog box
    • Type in the following:
      • href="mailto:

    There are a variety of ways of displaying an email address on a website and protecting it at the same time. By not using mailto tags there is still no guarantee that an email address won't be added to a SPAM database: your email address could be manually added to a database by someone looking around your website.

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  • Why Should Businesses Automate Parts of Their Sales Process?

    Following the e-shot and blog post last week about TaskCentre for CRM I thought I would follow up and show an example of why businesses should use automation in their sales process. In this short video I show an example of using TaskCentre to automate a simple information processing task such as receiving an enquiry from a website.

    Automation is by no means the panacea of business practice, you can’t automate absolutely everything… but think on it, if you were to go through every process and activity that has to happen to create and maintain a sale you may go through hundreds of activities, junctions, forks and cycles within that process. If there is a causation link that can be measured through the sales process, you will know that missing out any of those links may hamper or at worst destroy the probability of succeeding. Some tasks cannot be automated such as meeting a client, or talking to a prospect on the phone but many can be and by alleviating the pressure to fulfil those tasks you give the sales person or manager the most precious thing – the ability to concentrate on more important things; namely prospecting and selling.

    Check out the video on how TaskCentre can help in sales process automation.

    Sales Process Automation With TaskCentre

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  • Business Process Management For CRM with TaskCentre

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    Our latest e-shot to go out to our customers focuses on our latest offering with relation to Business Process Management for CRM and discusses the massive power that companies can have automating key processes within their business cycle to maximise efficiency and keep the flow of business going.

    TaskCentre is a great engine to use in setting up and automating processes. It runs in the background and can be set up to perform any amount of detailed activities in response to certain scenarios. Let me give you a scenario where process becomes so important. A lead comes in to your business, it gets taken by a call operative and that lead needs to be assigned to a sales person. That sales person needs notifying either at convenience or straight away (that sales person might be in the office or out at a meeting). That sales person then needs to follow up that lead within a certain time limit. Following up leads is crucial for any business so if, for any reason, that lead isn’t followed up you might like that sales person to be reminded of that obligation.

    An Overview of TaskCentre That is a simple scenario but you may be able to count perhaps 5 or 6 links in the process that are critical to the efficiency of dealing with that lead… and we haven’t even got into dealing with the lead itself yet. But, let’s get back to this scenario. In core areas of this process you may have a system like TaskCentre that monitors this information as it goes through the system and make sure it follows the correct path. For instance, the operative could input that sales lead when first called into their CRM system which TaskCentre might automatically assign to a specific sales person and could notify that sales person directly by SMS message or email (depending on the urgency). TaskCentre can then monitor that lead and if it hasn’t been followed up can notify that sales person, say 4/8 hrs later. You could go a step further and set up TaskCentre to escalate this lead even further – your sales person may be ill and so if that sales lead hasn’t been followed up 8 hrs after that initial call – the sales manager is notified and he can then assign the sales lead to another.

    Now think of other processes within your business from lead to sale to delivery and to service. Information changes hands between departments, personnel, systems, managers, partners, developers, sales people, and above all the customer. Think of all of those links in the chain that need to be maintained to keep that initial sales lead on the true course to its rightful place in your business. That is how TaskCentre helps your business by keeping that information flowing.

    taskcentre_downloads.jpgDownload the latest PDF's on TaskCentre to find out more or watch the Overview of TaskCentre video.

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  • How To Measure The Success Of An Email Campaign

    Last week in Email Campaign Terminology Explained I explained the various key phrases and words that are used when discussing email campaigns. This week I will look at email campaigns at a more personal level and as a result the way to measure the success of any campaign.

    There are a variety of schools of thought as to what constitutes a successful campaign: some will measure it by the open rate (this will vary based on the nature of the eShot you sent), some will measure it based on click through rate (this will vary based on the time the recipient has at the moment of receiving your eShot – furthermore some users are savvy enough not to click on a link within an eShot as they assume they will be tracked), some will measure it based on the Return On Investment (ROI) that the eShot generates (this is harder to track but in effect does give you an absolute monetary value for how successful a campaign has been). Personally, whilst all these are good measures of an email campaign I prefer to treat eShots as a way of keeping your client/potential customer informed. In my opinion it should not be treated as a selling exercise, as in my experience few eShots, in the Business To Business (B2B) arena, have yielded immediate sales. Even when major players in the Business To Consumer (B2C) send out their emails notifying customers, it is with the aim of keeping people up-to-date: should their interest be aroused, then all the better.

    We have one client that unbeknown to us, whilst we had been sending him eShot after eShot, had been storing them in a folder on his computer. After a period of time of watching the stats it soon became clear, as someone was accessing graphics and content for an eShot that was months old. Then came a phone call: the gentleman, who is now a good client, had been watching our email campaigns and had had his interest aroused by the content of the very first one he had ever received, however as he had received it during the peak season of his business, was unable to action anything. Half a year later he made the phone and as they say, the rest is history. Email campaigns should be treated as awareness campaigns.

    Society is changing and so are the mediums that we use to keep in contact. People are running as fast as they can in an effort to keep still, therefore you need to employ a medium which is not too invasive*. People do not necessary have the time to talk on the phone and sometimes when you call a potential customer (stress on the word potential) the first thought that will go through that person’s mind is “how did they get hold of my details” causing them to adopt an antagonistic, oppositional stance before the conversation has even started.

    So how do you measure the success of an email campaign: the answer is it is all very relative. You should aim for about a 20% open rate: some may be able to achieve as much as 30%, whilst some as little as 10%-15%. However, just because someone opens your email does not mean they will buy. So maybe measure it by the amount of traffic generated as a result of an eShot going out: the eShot I always advocate our clients sending is when they have their website redesigned. The cliché “curiosity killed the cat” is incredibly appropriate as people will visit the site just to see what has changed. However, just because they visited your site to see what is new does not mean they will buy. The one thing you can guarantee though, whether they have visited your site or just opened the eShot, as long as the message is clear, they will be aware.

    *Email can be one of the most invasive mediums there is, as discussed in How To Write A Striking, Captivating, Enticing Email Campaign Subject Line. Be aware of this and be careful: people will quickly become turned off and irritated. If the frequency of your emails are too much people will start off by reading the content and deleting your email, they will then very quickly resort to just reading the subject line and deleting your email, and then finally they will read the senders name and delete it straight away without having read any of the message what so ever. The one worse step would be for them to add you to their ‘Blocklist’: I terms this as being worse than allowing the email to land in their inbox and then delete it straight after reading the senders name because at least if it does land in their inbox they have to acknowledge who the eShot is from before deciding what to do. Sometimes people will delete everything that is in the ‘Junk Mail’ folder without even checking. With it arriving in their inbox they are still aware of your existence.

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  • BEWARE - FTP Hacking

    Be aware... recently we have noticed a rise in FTP hacking, successful brute force security hacks.  A number of sites, unfortunately the Nomis site as well as client sites and I imagine many others, were comprimised.

    FTP hacking, brute force security hacking, is where a hacker manages to guess your password and then obtain access to the raw files of your website: it conjures up images of a person tapping in "12345", then "54321", then "23456" etc., like in the movies, in fact it is a lot more sophisticated and can lead to problems such as Google blocking your site and advising visitors that the site contains malicious content - not very good PR. 

    The examples of FTP hacking that we have seen in pages show a line(s) of script that has been added to the html code which forwards the user onto another site or downloads malicious programmes.

    Ways to try and reduce the risk of FTP hacking:

    • Make your password as hard as possible to guess
      • Firstly check with your hosting company as to their password policy but where possible include the following:
        • Numbers
        • Letters
        • Symbols
        • Vary the case of letters -  use both uppercase and lowercase
    • If you do not need your FTP service, turn it off
      • Only have it turned on when you actually need it.

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  • Email Campaign Terminology Explained

    Before you can begin to interpret whether an email campaign has been successful or not it is necessary to understand what terms like "Hard Bounce", "Soft Bounce", "Opt In", "Opt Out" etc mean.

    The A-Z Glossary Of Email Campaign

    Blocklist
    A list of IP addresses suspected of sending SPAM

    Bounces
    Emails that are returned to you, as a result of an error such as the email address not being valid, the recipient’s inbox being full etc.

    Click Through Rate (CTR)
    This indicates how many times a link on an email has been clicked.

    Double Opt-In
    This is a process where a user signs up for a service and then, having received an email etc, is then required to confirm their subscription.

    Hard Bounce
    This is when an email is returned to you without it ever reaching the recipient. In cases like this is important to read the return message, as it will be returned with a message like "user unknown" or "host unknown". A hard bounce most often occurs because there is a problem with the recipient’s email address (misspelled etc.). You should unsubscribe hard bounces unless the error is obvious or easily corrected.

    Open Rate
    This indicates how many people have opened the email. The open rate will vary depending on the nature of the email and often the subject line, as discussed last week in How To Write A Striking, Captivating, Enticing Email Campaign Subject Line.

    Opt-In
    This is an action undertaken by the recipient where they choose to receive emails from you: they choose to add their email address to your email list for future campaigns.

    Opt-Out
    This is an action undertaken by the recipient where they choose to remove their email address from your email list, therefore unsubscribing from future campaigns.

    Permission-Based
    This is when people give their permission to be kept informed and to receive information from you. This happens as the result of recipients choosing to opt-in and being included in future campaigns.

    Phishing
    Something to beware of - this is where you receive an email which appears to be from a genuine trusted source but actually is someone trying to obtain sensitive confidential details from you.  Usually the scenario is somethign similar to the following:

    • You receive an email claiming to be from your bank, for example
    • It leads you to a page which looks identical to your banks website
    • You are then asked to disclose pin numbers, account numbers etc
      • Banks have a policy where they will not ask you for all your secuirty details in one go.  They will ask for the 1st 2nd and 4th number of say a 6 digit number to make it as hard as possible for anybody to obtain the whole 6 digit number.

    Soft Bounce
    This is when an email you sent reaches its recipient as a result of it being forwarded by a systems administrator, redirecting all 'wrongly' delivered emails.

    Spoofing
    This is where the sender changes the display name of their email address so that it looks like it came from someone else: for example in the Phishing example above, the scammer sending out the original email, intended to trap the receipient, would 'spoof' by changing the disply name to the name of a bank.

    Unique Opens
    This is different to the open rate as it is disregards someone opening an email if their have already being registered as having opened it.  This gives you a greater indication as to how many individual people have opened your email as opposed to the open rate which tells you how many times your email has been opened regardless of who carried out the action.

    Whitelist
    A 'Whitelist' or safe sender list is a list of addresses that a user has deemed as being allowed to send him/her emails. Sometimes emails get branded as SPAM and delivered into 'Junk Mail' folders as a result of the content of the email, as discussed three weeks ago in How To Deal With Email SPAM Filters.  This can be prevented by adding the sender's email address to your 'Whitelist', safe sender list.

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  • How To Write A Striking, Captivating, Enticing Email Campaign Subject Line

    The majority of any preparation time, in terms of an email campaign, is often spent on the content and message of the email itself, yet people forget that the first thing that is read is actually the subject line: the subject line needs to strike a blow, to captivate the recipient, to entice them to read further. The subject line can literally make or break the success of your campaign.

    So what is the magic formula? Well unfortunately there isn't one. There are, however, a handful of tips to bear in mind.

    First The Tips

    There are a variety of approaches your subject line can adopt:

    • The subject line can be treated like a news headline – "'Product X’ is now available with new features and benefits for users"
    • You can be mysterious (not too mysterious mind) enough to arouse a persons curiosity – "Find out the secrets behind a successful email campaign"
    • Alternatively make it clear to the reader what benefits they will receive by reading the rest of the email, not just the subject line – "See how to design a successful email campaign with the perfect subject line"

    Once you have decided the approach that is appropriate for you then start to think what would make you open an email. Think about the emails that are received on a daily basis:

    • "Make money during these hard times"
    • "Check this out!"
    • "You’ve just won a prize"

    Would you open any of them?

    Pay Attention

    In this day and age where everyone is running around trying to secure their future, attention spans are severely limited: if you don’t grab someone immediately then the chance that they will read on is doubtful. When designing a subject line you should look to have the most important elements of it within the first 50-75 characters.

    You Are Human & So Is Your Recipient

    ALWAYS put yourself in the shoes of your intended recipient. Ask yourself how you would receive the email that you are about to send:

    • Would you read on?
    • Do you see any benefit from reading on?
      • Any indication as to what you may learn?
    • Are you selling or educating?
      • Bear in mind that email is very invasive and therefore people will not always appreciate being sold to

    Test the subject line on colleagues: ask them what the first thing that is triggered in their minds.

    Baton Down The Hatches – Incoming SPAM Email Attack

    An email address is like your home address: imagine the amount of SPAM coming through your letterbox. Furthermore, people are personally attached to their email addresses. An invasion of your 'Inbox' provokes the same kind of emotion as an invasion of your home with various direct mail messages. Therefore, proceed with caution. Email by nature is very invasive: it is pretty much immediate and pretty much 'in your face'. As a result you need to provoke a positive, rather than a negative emotion. One way of doing this is seeking to educate the recipient, to be thought provoking, to strike a chord with the recipient rather than being pushy and trying aggressively to sell to the recipient. Email is already pushy and invasive enough. The idea of educating and communicating with the recipient as opposed to selling to the recipient should never be overlooked.

    Our Friends The SPAM Filters

    Probably the most annoying, as discussed in the blog post of two weeks ago, is the consideration you should extend to SPAM filters. Always be aware of SPAM filters. It could be the difference between your email being read or simply being permanently deleted along with the rest of the contents of a persons 'Junk Mail' folder. Always keep in mind that certain phrases both within the subject line of any email as well as the body of it can trigger a SPAM filter.

    The Final Word - TEST

    Once again, as I have stress in my previous blog posts, it is imperative to test: fail to plan, plan to fail. If you don't test you can never be sure how they are being received, if they are being received at all: whilst you can get an overview by viewing various statistics immediately after a campaign has been sent, at that point it is too late. The campaign has already been sent and if it doesn't have the desired effect, consider that strike one. You will be granted very few strikes before a user, by default, deletes any email coming from you which they considers to be marketing.

    Remember the first, well maybe the second element of your email campaign that any recipient sees and reads is the subject line.

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  • How To Design An eShot Template

    The theme for the past two weeks has been centred around eShots, email marketing campaigns and SPAM. This week I thought it appropriate to look at the design of the eShot - the look and feel of the email.

    The first thing to bear in mind is that an eShot should reflect the corporate brand: unfortunately it is all too easy for people to forget this in the pursuit of getting something done, and often getting something done quickly. There are a plethora of email template design systems, all ranging in price: some of them offer standard templates which can be used, free of charge, at the click of a button. The key points are free of charge and click of a button: nothing in life is free and Rome wasn't built in a day. In the past, on the SymVolli blog, we have discussed the idea of doing something on the cheap and it is important that you have taken time to implement a template that will reflect the companies image, rather than a generic one. Furthermore it is the aim of a marketing campaign to leave a positive lasting impression, rather than the impression that this eShot was generated by choosing a template from 1 of say 10 or 20.

    So you have now elected to have your template professionally designed: what do you need to look out for?

    The main consideration is what will be the first thing the user will see. Bear in mind that the first viewing of your eShot may well be via a preview pane: each preview pane will vary in height and width depending on the email client being used and the settings the user has chosen.  The ideal solution would be to place the most important element of you message so that it appears within the preview pane, enticing the user to double click and open the email, for further viewing, in a new window.

    Layout tips:

    • Make sure the key content is visible via the preview pane so as the user is enticed into double clicking rather than them having to double click
    • That your template is not too wide: although current industry standard for web pages may be 1024 x 768 it is best to eShot templates to at least half of that width so they appear clearly within a preview pane - bear in mind AOLs preview pane is as small as 194 pixels wide
    • Ensure that your corporate brand is clearly identifiable and that your company logo is visible - this will allow your recipient to disseminate  your email from the rest of the SPAM they receive on a daily basis

    One mistake that people often fall into is that they design their content using lots of images.  Whilst this has the advantage of allowing you to design potentially one of the most stunning eShots your recipient may ever take receipt of, it also has the potential to hide and hinder the transmission of your message. Due to various security measures etc. which have been put in place, the user is able to choose whether they want to download any graphics which are embedded in an email. As a result if you bury your message in images the user may choose not to download the images and therefore never read the message you are trying to communicate.

    Image tips:

    • DO NOT bury your entire message in images - the user may choose to never download the images and therefore never read your message
    • More images means more download time - more and more people are reading their emails on their phones and therefore the size of the email, in terms of kilobytes (KB) needs to be kept to a minimum - furthermore, regardless of what the user may be using to read the email (phone or computer) the bigger in size, the more download time is required, the longer it takes to properly display the whole email
    • Do not make your images so 'snazzy' that they detract from your message - use them to emphasise what you are trying to say not dominate what you are saying

    NB: Too many images and not enough text, as I discussed in last weeks blog post, runs the risk of your eShot being branded as SPAM.

    You have caught the recipients attention and they have decided to double click and open the email: the next trick is to get them to use your call to action, to download a PDF, to call you for further information etc. The call to action should be placed in a prominant position so as to always be in the users eye line.

    Text tips:

    • Do not waffle: quickly get to the point and stick to it. A users attention span is short lived - think how you react when you receive and email
      • Essays are meant for white papers and articles; not eShots 
    • Style keywords in bold so they immediately jump off the page and hopefully entice the user to read the whole email and pursue their interest further

    Bonus tips:

    • Where possible merge the recipients email address into the email (the best place for this is usually in the footer) -  this is purely for administrative purposes. Sometimes emails are forwarded on and when the user then asks to have the original email address removed from your future campaign lists, you then have a headache on your hands trying to track who you orginally sent it to.
    • Include a forward to a friend link - this will encourage people to share the eShot therefore allowing you to reach an audience that you are not even aware of
    • Always bear in mind anti-virus software - do not include javascript, Flash objects, ActiveX components as this is how viruses have been known to be transported and therefore elements of your eShot will be stripped out, if not entirely blocked due to the potential security risk

    And the legal stuff:

    You are required to include somewhere on your eShot the registered company number and the registered company address. You are also required to provide some form of a mechanism which allows users to unsubscribe from future campaigns.

    The Final Word - TEST

    You can never underestimate the value of testing an eShot prior to sending out to its intended audience.

    • Check to see that the eShot looks good - the first impression will be based on the subject line of the eShot, which is next weeks blog topic, and the look and feel of the eShot itself
    • Ensure all images have been correctly uploaded
    • Proof read - the last thing you want is to send out an eShot which looks like it has been designed and written in a matter of minutes without any care and attention

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