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Why SaaS Software Companies Fail with Free Trial Approaches

By | June 16, 2015

We have all seen it before. Our search online to find a SaaS software solution that will make our life, workplace, shopping or anything we hope to do – better. Then we find something to potentially fill that gap in our lives. The next logical step we take before deciding and committing budget to make a purchase is to do a little research.

We are told that this technology software is the EASIEST on the market. It is so SIMPLE. Try it for 30 days and you will feel so completely comfortable with your experience, that paying a monthly recurring fee will be a no-brainer. In fact, you will have no sales people or customer experience reps bug you because “you can do this on your own.”

I’ve been duped before by this, and so have you (just admit it, even if just to yourself). It seems like such a great idea. Then I log-in for the first time with your custom, temporary password. And all of a sudden, I have no idea what I am looking at or what I should do first. If only I could call someone and get an answer. Of course, on the Contact Us page, there is just a form that I will receive a reply from someone in the next 48 business hours.

Three days pass, I look at my calendar and remember that I have this free trial and will tinker with it during lunch. Five days pass, I have completely forgotten about this software. 25 days pass and I receive an email that my Free Trial is about to expire. I forgot what this is and check the spam button.

And with that… the potential sale to me based on ease and simplicity is six feet under – sales suicide.

Technology Marketing Strategies: Why Simple & Easy Equals Lazy

Now, does pushing Easy & Simple as true differentiators make sense? Not only are these qualities vague, but pretty much it is an outright lie. For instance, I received an iPod shuffle back in my early days as a Cavs season ticket holder – thanks Dan Gilbert. I do not have many Apple products in my life; basically this was the first since I plotted points or played The Oregon Trail on an Apple IIe in grade school.

So just the one circle button was fairly intuitive, but what happened when my light started flashing and having different colors? Why could I not charge it from the computer at my girlfriend’s house like I did at mine?

Yep, even the simplest design needs to provide guidance and instruction. For proof, you can see the screen shots of the instructions I received with my Shuffle. Now, to learn that I could only charge/sync from the computer where my iTunes resided did require deeper research. Even that flustered me.

shuffle2 shuffle1

But Apple did provide some basic help, a concept many SaaS companies omit online whether due to lack of insight, funding or just arrogance that their solution is that straightforward. News flash, it seems simple because you have created and dealt with that solution every day!

SaaS marketers need to be sure they respect the process that someone new to the product has a learning curve.

Here are helpful hints to include in you SaaS marketing strategy, which will make the Free Trial process more viable by encouraging deeper prospect engagement in the trial period and motivating them to convert to a paying customer.

  • Demonstrate clear value propositions to the user. Identify with their pain points, and specifically outline how they will be resolved. Motivation from the initial thought to pursue a Free Trial is so valuable.
  • Provide a personal contact for someone to lean on during the Free Trial period – a coach that can help guide them through getting familiar with the software and integrating it into the prospects normal workflow. Without adoption, everything fails!
  • Let users reference a video gallery that shows mini-tutorials of how to get the basics set-up during the free trial.
  • Allow for a button or view where the prospect can populate with sample data to really get a feel for how the software would work for them and their needs.
  • List out an FAQ guide that can both be accessible from the site and in a printable format like a PDF that can easily be printed out for easy reference on the go.
  • Conduct email campaigns that provide insights and helpful hints throughout the entire course of the Free Trial experience. This is a perfect opportunity to highlight any of the other offerings mentioned in the above bullet points. If you have a real CSR or sales person interacting with your free trial user, that customer experience just gained brownie points, knowing there is peace of mind for future questions that arise after the purchase.

Putting in the hard work to really define the value proposition, differentiators and solved pain points for the customer early on will pay dividends when it comes time for conversions and revenue. If the potential customer feels secure and confident they can use your SaaS solution, as well as knowing there is help if needed, the connections and customer loyalty you build will be invaluable.

Interested in more blogs on SaaS marketing strategy? Learn why taking risks and losing fast is better than taking it slow for technology marketers.

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4 Types of Metrics Every Sales & Marketing Team Should Use

By | May 28, 2015

With all of the new sales and marketing technology solutions, obtaining analytics, reporting and key metrics for senior management often becomes cumbersome and sometimes impossible. When we work with clients (and even internally together), it is a common misunderstanding that the data is non-existent or inaccessible. The answer lies in knowing what to ask, using the appropriate tools, and becoming familiar with the high-level categories of analytics that exist for most sales and marketing teams.

At Fathom, we typically refer to 4 impactful metrics for sales and marketing teams:

marketing metrics

Let’s define each metric conceptually:

  1. Marketing Prospects
    These are marketing leads that are not ready for sales. At this point, we may not even have names or contact information. The marketing prospects may simply be visitors on our site we are tracking via cookies. It may be a very old list of contacts or newly purchased list of email addresses and/or phone numbers with possibly inaccurate or outdated information that the marketing team wishes to nurture and attract via marketing outreach efforts. If the nurture is successful, we proceed to our second metric: Marketing conversions.
  2. Marketing Conversions
    When a vague, sometimes unavailable marketing prospect finally completes an action showing heavy interest in or motivation towards learning more about our services, company, or other sales opportunities, the action taken by the marketing prospect dictates the marketing conversion metric. Examples of conversion actions taken are: downloading whitepapers, requesting demos, pricing requests, or completing web forms.
  3. Sales Prospects
    Marketing conversions are usually handed off to sales representatives for persistent follow-up, prospecting, and consultation when they are “sales-ready” prospects. The goal is to convert sales prospects to a closed-won sale. In terms of healthcare, this may be candidates for health insurance, Medicare, or potential patients asking to learn more about carriers, benefits, and coverage. In education, this may be high school graduates applying to universities and colleges. In manufacturing, this may be tire dealers looking to find tire manufacturers and additional distribution channels. Eventually, the goal is to close the sales prospects, which brings us to our last metric … sales conversions.
  4. Sales Conversions
    Sales conversions are sales prospects that eventually purchased something. The “sale was closed,” or, the “student was acquired,” or, the “hospital’s heart center acquired a patient” are indicating terms of a sales conversion metric. This is the most difficult metric to link back to the beginning of the sales funnel (the marketing prospect metric in #1) and why it’s important to utilize customer relationship management (CRM) tools like Salesforce. CRM tools not only report on sales conversion metrics (#4) but all previous metrics (#1-3). CRMs focus on the person throughout time rather than strictly sales. It tracks historical activities, engagement, previous sales, conversations, etc. Finally, in CRMs (like Salesforce), data and analytics can be found in one place, in real time, across any mobile device.

Let’s define each metric in a real-life situation:

  1. Marketing Prospects
    John goes to Google and types in “Salesforce consulting services in Cleveland.” Google has “Fathom” show up at the top of their screen via “paid search,” which is a budgeted marketing initiative. John goes to Fathom’s website and pokes around, reading about the company and their Salesforce consulting services until he is directed to a “contact us” form.
  2. Marketing Conversions
    John fills out the “contact us” form and states that he would like to speak with a consultant about the kinds of Salesforce services we provide.
  3. Sales Prospects
    A Fathom Salesforce consulting sales rep calls John, explains our services, and provides an in-depth demo later in the week. A statement of work is drafted and sent to John.
  4. Sales Conversions
    John signs the contract and work begins. John’s information resides in Fathom’s CRM Salesforce solution, which attributes all of his historical activity, including the “purchase” of services, back to the original way in which he was found by Fathom (paid search). So, if John purchased a $50,000 deal with Fathom’s Salesforce consulting team and Fathom spent $100,000 on paid search for the year, this deal alone provided a 50% return on Fathom’s paid search for the year!

More than half of getting what you want is communicating it clearly. In understanding and clearly stating these four kinds of metrics repetitiously with your sales and marketing teams, insightful analytics are easier to obtain more quickly, in less time. Focus on defining goals inter-departmentally rather than strictly within your own department. In this way, processes will be streamlined and even consolidated in one solution—like a CRM—with more powerful, real-time analytics.

If you have any questions about these 4 metrics or would like to discuss metrics you currently use or would like to use, please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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For deeper insights and ‘how-to’ guides, please visit SalesQuants, our educational resource on Salesforce and sales automation.

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Redesigning Websites (and Writing) for the People

By | April 7, 2015

Lincoln_AbrahamMy colleagues and I have been looking at a lot of different B2B websites recently, mostly in the marketing and advertising industry. Why? Fathom is in the process of redesigning its website, and we’re getting inspiration from all sorts of places.

One thing we’re trying really hard to note is what not to do. In that spirit, the most revealing part of this journey to date has been understanding the full ramifications of user-centered design. You see, the temptation for all companies (Fathom included) is to talk to the world about themselves from only their perspective. The trouble with a predominantly company-first perspective is that …

1.) It doesn’t necessarily represent the customers’ perspective.

2.) It leaves companies prone to exaggeration, narcissism and chest-thumping.

Anyone see a problem here?

It’s called apathy. Customers just don’t care about what the business thinks of itself. In the B2B environment, they just want you solve their problems. Worse, talking too much about yourself (as a company) makes you look pushy … and not focused on customers. It’s alienating. It erodes trust. And trust is what B2B users fundamentally need in order to feel comfortable enough to do business with you.

These ideas are not original. In fact, they’ve been established for years and supported by qualitative user research—namely, “B2B Website Usability: Design Guidelines for Converting Business Users into Leads and Customers” (by Hoa Loranger, Chris Nodder and Jakob Nielsen). Below is a reprinted excerpt of this report’s empirical evidence that summarizes what B2B sites must do to have an edge on competitors:

  • Present information from the customer’s viewpoint.
  • Clearly state what the company does, and what it can do for its customers.
  • Address any doubt people might have about doing business with the company.
  • Be informational and straightforward.
  • Present the company as sincere, trustworthy, and an expert in the business.

Redesigning website language

This report’s implications for language usage are significant. From a writer’s perspective, let’s pick these guidelines apart starting with the first:

Present information from the customer’s viewpoint.

Translation:  Right there a writer should notice a customer’s viewpoint requires a customer’s language. Write in their terms, not yours. I don’t care how important you think your fancy terms are, if they’re not terms your customers are familiar with, you’re going to sound pompous. Not to mention, you might fail to show up for general-term searches that customers are using to find companies like yours.

Clearly state what the company does, and what it can do for its customers.

Translation: Be clear and objective. Use plain language in classic style. State company capabilities in everyday terms. (Note: Everyday doesn’t necessarily mean least common denominator, but it does mean most broadly understood.) Understand the difference between hazy and sharp.

Be informational and straightforward.

Translation: “Just the facts, m’am.” Leave the market-ese and jargon at home. Give people what they need to know in the terms they understand (see previous points).

Now you should have no doubts.

With this knowledge at hand, is your current B2B website adhering to user standards? How well would it pass a test of the 5 bullet points from the authoritative Norman Nielsen Group report? If it fails in any of these areas, you may not need to tackle a full redesign, but you will have some work to do.

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What Buying a Car Taught Me About Customer Experience

By | March 2, 2015

Subaru

My new ride, just before it became covered in wintry Cleveland mush and road salt.

Marketers, take note: I just bought a car. Well, that’s not important to you. What’s important is how I came to this decision as a consumer, which I think everybody can learn something from. Wait, you’re saying, my audience is other businessesthis doesn’t apply to me. Oh, but it does! Who makes the purchasing decisions at companies? Chances are, it’s a human being. And just like purchasing a car for an individual, purchasing a service contract or piece of equipment for a business is often a significant investment, one that requires care, evaluation and a process.

So, what was my situation? The day after totaling my car courtesy of black ice and a flip onto a snowy highway median (I’m fine, thankfully), I found myself in the market for a new car. While I went into the dealer with a desperate need, I wasn’t a desperate buyer. First off, word-of-mouth (and the fact my dad was my driver) brought me to a particular dealer and salesperson: A man at the Bedford Auto Mile who had recently sold no fewer than 5 cars of a particular make to family or friends of mine in the past 6 months. Consider I hadn’t even met him yet, but already knew his reputation and more importantly, the reputation of cars he sold for satisfying the needs of particularly discriminating buyers (trust me, you can’t hustle my dad and don’t even think about messing with my youngest sister). Lesson 1: Reputation and social proof go a long way.

Secondly, once I arrived, I expressed to my dad and the salesperson the minimum requirements I was looking for in a car. This automatically disqualified most models as excessive … OK, call me no-frills. Let’s just say I’m easy to please, but all-wheel drive was a priority given my previous night’s experience and Cleveland winters in general. Lesson 2: Determine the buyer’s minimum requirements, and don’t waste time talking about things beyond his/her likely interest. This narrowed the selection down to 2 models, one slightly bigger (and sturdier) than the other. As you might suspect, after crushing my previous vehicle (and living to tell about it), I opted for size/strength. From there the only question was: Do I want to drive the car off the lot or come back a couple days later?

So, the car was chosen, but what caused me to take the plunge to buy it right then and there vs. another dealer or another make with similar characteristics altogether? (Yes, I may have had a minor concussion from flipping my car the day before, but let’s leave that part out of it.) Customer service. From the salesman down, every person I came into contact with at the dealer had a great attitude. They were polite, welcoming, and appeared to be genuinely interested in why I was there and what my needs were. I could see their devotion to customer service reflected in their interactions with other customers, too. The entire place had a very pro-customer vibe to it. In short, the atmosphere—along with the recommendations of family/friends I trusted—made me comfortable enough to buy immediately. Lesson 3: Positive experiences with people representing your business make customers more likely to buy from you.

Buying a car obviously is a big investment, but like any investment, at some point you start envisioning the experience of using it over the long haul and what long-term value it will give you. At that point, the calculation is less about cost than it is about how much happiness, security and lack of hassle that purchase brings vs. the alternatives.

So, marketers, does any of this sound familiar? When all other things about your product or service are equal, create an exceptional customer experience, and customers will gladly give you their money … sometimes even sooner than you expect.

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Marketing Confessions: Numbers Sometimes Lie (Shh, Don’t Tell Anybody!)

By | January 21, 2015

confessionalLet’s talk investing. [Warning: The following is in no way intended to be construed as financial advice. Please consult a licensed financial advisor for your particular needs.]

I’m starting with a premise: Marketing is an investment. We’re all in agreement, right? Great … let’s carry on.

The vocabulary of investing includes terms like appreciation and depreciationassets and liabilities. In reality, marketing, just like exceptional customer service, is a potentially appreciating economic asset upon which investment is often not immediately measurable. Do it right, and its value—along with the value of your company—appreciates over time. Do it wrong, and its value depreciates, just like that of your company. For example, can you truly put a hard numerical value on the re-branding of your company or the refinement of a strategic mission? Probably not.  However, each of these marketing-dependent actions produces a long-term return, and when done right, can make the difference between a company’s growth and obsolescence. Put another way, What’s the cost of going out of business? If your re-branding allowed you to be on the right side of the success in a changing marketplace, then you picked a winner.

Do smart investors waste their money? Of course not, and none of the above is to give marketing a license to be wasteful … far from it. To the contrary, we can and should be mindful of costs, productivity and efficiency, especially when today’s technology allows marketers to be smarter than ever about avoiding wasteful spending. But in all the hype about automation, data, analytics and tracking, it’s easy to forget numbers sometimes don’t mean anything, to paraphrase data scientist Cathy O’Neil of Mathbabe.

If math can be meaningless, today’s data-happy marketer asks, “What do we turn to if the numbers aren’t helping us?” For starters: Creativity, vision, experimentation, old-fashioned “horse sense,” and traditional principles that have stood the test of time (e.g., rules of human-computer interaction, consumer psychology, persuasive language, good storytelling, the creation of emotional connections with customers). I’d argue that the skillful application of the previous by outstanding people is the true factor of marketing investment performance, more than any typical KPI (key performance indicator) like cost-per-click, conversion rate, lead volume, traffic or rankings.

On a related note, organizations that optimize the emotional connection with their customers outperform competitors by 26% in gross margin and 85% in sales growth (via The Gallup Organization). You like numbers? Show those numbers to your corporate accountants. And if nothing else, keep a level head about the potential and context of marketing’s role in the world … and don’t get lost in the numbers.

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If you still need data to support investments in marketing, read one of the most popular posts in this blog’s history: Digital Marketing ROI (How Much Does Digital Marketing Cost?).

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Photo courtesy of psyberartist via Flickr.

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