For starters, don’t make it a discussion about your hourly rate.
In a tough economy, marketing agencies, consultants and freelancers face a daily battle against having their talent and intellectual capital commoditized. I saw this happen early in my career.
In the 1990s I worked for a B2B direct marketing agency that did very well. We had several long term accounts with Fortune 100 companies. We did many ongoing customer relationship programs for them that generated profitable sales over periods of 5-10 years.
We also had a few kinks in the business model that made me uncomfortable.
At that time it was still fairly common for an agency to land full-service business. We were fortunate enough to be one of them. Over time, we got too comfortable with the margins from printing, mailing and fulfillment services while selling creative and strategy services near cost.
Related: The triage marketing death trap
On top of that, the sales model for new business gave away strategy. We would present a complete marketing program, with all the research, analysis and creative rationale at the proposal stage. Many times I would walk away from those presentations thinking, “We’ve given them the whole strategy. They could take the plan, thank us, and then do it themselves.”
When economic hardship hit our biggest client, this came back to haunt us.
In response, they implemented a centralized procurement policy to cut costs. They unbundled all of the printing, mailing and fulfillment services from our programs, pulling them in-house. The body blows didn’t stop there.
Since we had been giving away the strategy work, it showed no value on their ledgers. Eventually we devolved from a full-service agency to a creative vendor. Party over.
I remembered that lesson years later when I became an independent consultant. I resolved to never give away the strategy or creative ideas in a marketing proposal. Instead, I use a proposal format that sells the plan and value I bring. It’s much more than a one-page cost estimate, though. Check out this slide deck to see what I mean.
7 steps to proving your value to prospective clients
Including these seven components in your marketing proposal helps to steer the discussion to how you will help solve a business problem rather than how much you cost. It follows a logical flow that more often than not gets the client to say, “Yes, let’s work together.”
Here’s how it flows:
1. THE OVERVIEW
The overview is a high level summary that tells the client (I’m using the assumptive close, here) you understand their business challenges. And it states the problem you will be solving together.
2. THE OBJECTIVES
Sometimes I refer to these as “starter objectives” to get the conversation started. The goal is to get written agreement on specific outcomes and how they will be measured. For more on writing smart objectives see this post. Everything that follows is based on the objectives, so getting agreement on them is most critical.
Related: When execution beats strategy
3. SCOPE OF WORK
This part details the specific work you will be doing, and when appropriate, what is not included.
4. WORK PROCESS
Here is where you explain the steps you will take to complete the work and identify all the parties and responsibilities required to make them happen.
5. COST ESTIMATES
Now it makes sense to show the estimated costs. They are based on work process, which is based on the scope of work, which is based on the objectives. This gives a value basis and strategic rationale to the costs. Discussions about the budget can be focused on scope rather than your hourly rate.
6. WORKING AGREEMENT
The purpose of the working agreement is to establish the legal aspects of working together before they become an issue midway into the project. It covers cost estimates, ownership of work, confidentiality, payment for services and other elements of doing business together. Addressing this up front shows you are a professional.
7. BIO/ABOUT US
This is the place to end on a positive note. Don’t make it fluffy boilerplate propaganda. Direct your narrative to the skills, knowledge and experience you have specific to the industry and the assignment.
Getting to ‘YES’
The important thing to remember is the proposal is not the marketing plan. It is a discussion tool to set and manage the expectations for the project. And it is a tool to help you establish the value of the strategy and work you bring. It is your best bet for getting to ‘yes.’
Tell me what you think.
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Many online marketers view a call-to-action (CTA) primarily as the trigger for generating leads to insert into their sales funnel.
But there’s much more.
Traditional methods for qualifying leads focus on bringing them into your sales process, i.e. the funnel. The interactive nature of inbound marketing renders this only partially effective. There is far greater opportunity in aligning your sales process to the prospect’s decision process and where they are in it.
This has a direct impact on your overall CTA messages and approach.
CTA persuasion vs. engagement
A CTA designed to drive traffic to your landing page focuses heavily on persuasion triggers. This is needed to capture a lead for the top of the sales funnel.
However, once your lead enters the funnel, your focus needs to shift to engaging with them in a way that is relevant to their decision-making needs. Think of this as nurturing triggers. Bringing your content, offers and CTA into alignment with those needs will build higher engagement and higher conversions.
Planning for this level of interaction helps your visitor establish confidence in their decision and trust in your ability to deliver solutions and value.
The CTA decision funnel
Every click is a decision. It is one little step of faith and forward progress. Understanding the decision process helps you lead a visitor to resolution. Andrew Chak, author of Submit Now: Designing Persuasive Web Sites, breaks down the consumer decision-making cycle into five stages.
2. Recognition At this stage your visitor acknowledges a need. Your goal is to build motivation.
3. Research Your visitor begins searching for information and establishing criteria for evaluating options. The search can take two forms:
- Internal search, based on what they already know from personal experience
- External search, to build confidence in taking knowledgeable action
Your goal is to give them relevant information.
4. Evaluation At this stage your visitor narrows the field of options to identify the best solution and who is the most trustworthy provider. The evaluation is based on two attributes:
- Objective attributes such as cost and specifications
- Subjective attributes such as brand perception, loyalty and confidence
5. Purchase decision
Each stage of the decision process requires a unique CTA that leads your visitor through the points of resolution along the way. Each click represents a series of conversions building persuasive momentum that leads to the ultimate decision to purchase. To skip these micro-level actions is a mistake that will diminish your opportunity and your conversion rates.
Following the metrics at each point gives you a solid basis for testing your CTA and conversions. On testing and optimizing your CTA, marketing software leader Hubspot offers the following advice:
CTAs based on previous behavior are built by taking the information you know about your prospects and making educated guesses about what they want to see next. In this way, you engage them further with your assets and keep them on your website.
- Make your offer clear. Your offer should be either low commitment (i.e. free white paper, ebook, video) or high commitment (demo or sales consultation) depending on the stage in the decision-making process. It needs to give a benefit – a reason for your visitor to take the next action.
- Make it action-oriented. Invoke a sense of urgency leading with a verb. Tell your visitor what to do next.
- Make it stand out visually. Always place it above the fold on the page and incorporate design and color choices that make it the most prominent element on the page.
- Make it align with your content. The highest CTA click-through rates are attributed to ensuring you have logical context to the content your visitor sees or expects to see. For example, your About Us content will vary from your Product Info page. You also want to ensure your language and design elements are consistent from CTA to landing page.
Keeping your visitor’s decision-making process in mind will help you balance the optimum combination of persuasion and engagement to win their trust and confidence. And ultimately win their business.
SOUND OFF: Tell me what you think. How are you doing with your CTA conversions?
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Do you realize that if you are engaged in online marketing, you are a direct marketer?
Some may bristle at the notion of being associated with junk mail, buying prospect lists, telemarketing cold calls and other intrusive negatives linked to the direct marketing industry. But online marketing is the purest direct marketing medium ever created. It differs in its context, moving away from interruption/outbound communications to an inbound communication model.
But online marketing shares a definite kinship with direct marketing in its ability to communicate directly one-to-one with your audience. And it also requires motivating a response in order to be effective. That’s why successful online marketers have learned to incorporate classic direct marketing copywriting techniques into their content.
We are, after all, in the business of generating a response:
- Clicking a link to more information
- Clicking on a banner ad
- Opening an email
- Sharing and Liking content
- Getting comments or survey answers
- Placing, or adding to an order
Content that delivers value
The focus of online marketing has shifted to engaging with people who want to hear from you, rather than interrupting them. With that, it makes no sense to utilize direct marketing techniques to get a response if there is no payoff of value content for your audience. They will view it as a “click trick” and will abandon you with an unfavorable impression.
To succeed, content marketers have to arrive at the right balance of fascination and meaning. People are online to get answers or information that will enhance their life in some way. Your challenge is to find ways to draw them in from a mass of information options and then deliver on the promise of relevant value when they arrive.
Content that motivates response
You’ve probably given a lot of thought to the value proposition of your product or service. The other piece of your content marketing is building your message into one that will motivate your audience to respond while supporting your brand promise.
Here is where we can benefit from the direct marketers who came before us.
I have spent many years of my career in the direct marketing world. During that time I studied the best practices learned by the pioneers of the industry. The impressive thing about them is they tested and measured every element of a campaign to maximize response rates and ROI.
One of the first generation direct marketing greats was copywriter Dick Hodgson. He shared tested and tried methods in several books, most of which are no longer in print. Over the course of his career he compiled a comprehensive list of the human motivators that drive response.
While the communication channels have shifted from print media to online, these motivators still resonate with the people we are trying to influence today. I have found this list to be extremely helpful for creating appeals that move the response needle. If you are looking for some idea-starters to inspire your content marketing, this list will help you too.
SOUND OFF: Tell me what you think. Are there some others you’ve used successfully that should be added to the list?