Category Archives: Marketing

Finding B2B Clients: 4 Strategies We Use

Getting more clientsAs a B2B sales and marketing agency, we are often asked how VA Partners finds new customers. Here are four tactics we use on an on-going basis to build a funnel of potential clients.

1. Use Inbound Marketing

Using a mix of blogs, white papers, email newsletters, website content, social media and SEO, we have built a great inbound lead generation process at VA Partners. We generate close to 60 inbound leads every month, qualify all our leads and then add them to the sales effort.

2. Be a Leader in the Local Startup Space

VA Partners has been in business since 2006 and since that time we have worked hard to build relationships with many well respected organizations. This has led to monthly speaking opportunities, mentoring opportunities, and leading peer-to-peer sessions. This is not a one-time effort, but an ongoing and consistent pursuit.

3. Network and Attend Events

The team is regularly at startup or small business events through the Toronto and GTA region, including KW, Halton and Hamilton. This has been a great way to meet prospects and potential partners.

4. Look for Sales Triggers on Social Media

Social media is a wonderful tool for growing firms. Every member of our team has a strong presence on social media. One of the great opportunities from a sales effort is finding sales triggers that can then be acted upon quickly. Early this year we signed a new B2B customer and also helped a client close a customer through a conversation that started on Twitter and Linkedin. Both of these opportunities closed in less than a month.

What strategies does your business use to find new clients?

Need help getting started with sales? Download our free Introduction to Startup Sales white paper to learn about researching prospects, using LinkedIn for sales and handling sales objections.

When is the Best Time to Tweet?

According to Twitter, over 500 million tweets are sent every day. With such a large volume of updates, how can you increase the chances that your company’s tweets are reaching your followers?

Here are two free online tools to accurately identify when your Twitter followers are online. For optimal engagement, experiment with scheduling your tweets during the more active times of the day.

1. SocialBro

Social Bro is a free Twitter analytics tool that lets you explore the demographics of your Twitter followers as well as search for new followers. To determine what time to tweet, use the Best time to tweet tool found under Tools > Best time to tweet. This report will display graphs of when your followers are most online by the day of the week, and by the hour of the day.

SocialBro best time to tweet

From the charts of our VA Partners Twitter account, you can see that during the week our followers are most active on Wednesday, followed by Tuesday and Thursday. During the day, our followers are most active around noon and early to late afternoon.

SocialBro - best time to tweet by day of the week SocialBro - best time to tweet by hour

To analyze your own Twitter account, download the free Social Bro extension for Google Chrome, or visit SocialBro for a free trial. The free version allows you to analyze up to 100 users.

2. Tweriod

Similar to Social Bro, Tweriod analyzes your followers’ online activity to determine how many of your followers are online during different days of the week and different times of the day. Based on an analysis for 1,000 of VA Partners’ followers, on weekdays, the most followers are online later in the afternoon, peaking at around 5pm. On weekends, the online activity of VA Partners’ followers is the highest between 12pm and 6pm.

Tweriod - hourly graph for online followers, weekdays Tweriod - hourly graph for online followers, weekends

Recommendation

Use Social Bro and Tweriod to determine when your Twitter followers are online. Based on the results, try scheduling your tweets during the days and times you have the most followers online.

How are you currently deciding when to tweet? Do you know of other Twitter tools that help you determine the best time to tweet?

To learn more about how to grow your business with B2B sales or startup marketing, contact us at Venture Accelerator Partners or download one of our free B2B sales & marketing white papers.

How to use storytelling to build your startup’s brand

Unsurprisingly, entrepreneurs tend to be busy people.

In the hustle and bustle of a startup environment, finding the time to focus on brand building can be a challenge. But the simple truth is that startup branding matters.

A startup’s brand is the space it is able to rent in their customers’ or prospects’ minds. It’s their reputation. It’s a promise. Often times, it’s why a startup wins with a customer or prospect.

Especially as a new business without much of (if any) a proven track record, a great brand can be the difference between “not interested” and “I want to learn more”.

The key to building a great brand as a startup? Telling great stories. In the 1980s, Apple set the bar by making the world think different. More recently, Facebook has helped people connect and share with the people in your life. And closer to home, Desire2Learn is helping transform the way the world learns.

 

Steve-Jobs-Think-Different

 

Here are 5 things to remember when thinking about your startup’s brand story.

  1. A Great Story Inspires At its core, your startup’s brand story should aim to inspire and convey a sense of purpose. By challenging consumers to ‘Think Different’, Apple was able to position itself and its targeted customers alongside some of history’s greatest thinkers and icons, such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, John Lennon and Albert Einstein.
  2. A Great Story Builds Relationships People value relationships. At the end of the day, everyone likes to be a part of something larger than themselves. A great startup brand story helps people to not just understand how you can solve a problem they have, but understand why you should be the one to solve it.
  3. A Great Story Is Targeted A great startup brand story must speak to a specific target market. As Seth Godin has written on his blog, “if you need to water down your story to appeal to everyone, it will appeal to no one. The most effective stories match the world view of a tiny audience—and then that tiny audience spreads the story.” Taking too broad an approach to sales and marketing is a common startup challenge – don’t let it spread to your brand story.
  4. A Great Story Is Personal As an entrepreneur, you need to be aware that your company’s brand story is, to a degree, an extension of your own. Apple’s Steve Jobs understood this better than most entrepreneurs. He was unique and so was (and still is) Apple. As an entrepreneur, one of the most important questions you need to answer to develop your brand story is “what’s my own story?”
  5. A Great Story Spreads Easily Make sure your story is short, easy to consume, easy to remember and easy to share. If you’re wondering what your brand story is, try answering these simple questions: why do you do what you do? What problems do you solve? Why are you the best company to solve them? Additionally, in a hyperconnected world, your target market can directly engage with your story, helping provide credibility and validating your story (also known as social proof).

Ultimately, storytelling is the key to building your startup’s brand because people connect with stories. Stories provide context. They are personal and command attention in ways that business-speak doesn’t. They are memorable and help build trust with your audience. From a sales perspective, you can’t ask for much more.

Like all entrepreneurs, you are undoubtedly passionate about what you do. Thinking about why you want to do it will ensure you have a great story to tell and not just a great product or service to sell.

Become a social media rockstar in 5 Easy Steps

Social media management is far from an easy job.

Being a great social media manager often means lots of effort and longer hours than you had expected. For entrepreneurs with already limited time, this can be a major problem. Thankfully, there are some great tools and strategies out there – many of them free – which can help you out.

Here’s a few tips that can make social media management a little easier.

1. What’s Your Social Media Strategy?

As with everything related to sales and marketing, you should always have a strategy. What you hope to accomplish and how you plan to achieve it will help you set the parameters for the work that lies ahead. When it comes to managing social media for a business, you need to create a detailed map and navigate your initiatives accordingly.

2. Content Calendar

This is your map of all your ideas and you should be following it closely. It will help you stay organized and keep you on top of all the different channels you may be looking after. Use a traditional calendar or an Excel spreadsheet to map out all the types of posts you want to make, on what channel, and when. Ideally, this will keep you posting regularly on all your social media platforms for all the targets in your strategy.

3. HootSuite

If you’re already on it, great! If not, HootSuite is a social media management system that allows users to preschedule posts, shorten links, and utilize basic analytics to see how well they’re doing. It will save you having to manually update your accounts at various times throughout the day, and can help you prepare for weekends and holidays when you still want to be active. There is a free and paid version depending on the amount you’re willing to allocate to the tool. We made the leap from Tweetdeck to HootSuite a year ago and haven’t looked back.

4. Twitter Lists

Twitter is one of the most commonly used social media platforms, whether you’re a B2B or B2C business. You’re likely following many great accounts that relate to your industry (at least you should be) that can provide you with great content. If you haven’t already, organize these accounts into groups and create lists for them. The next time you’re searching for new content on something in your industry, it will already be there and easy to find.

5. A Clipping Service

Finding great content to share can become a time consuming challenge. What are known as clipping services can help. They can provide you with all the relevant information that fits a defined category of keywords. Three services come to mind: Google Alerts, TrendSpottr and Mention. These clipping services will automatically email you content that fits your criteria so you’re always in the loop. They can also act as a great tool for media monitoring!

If you’d like to learn more easy ways you can solve your social media management challenges, feel free to reach out to me.

How to make social selling easier for your sales team

According to HubSpot, 56% of B2B marketers are planning to increase their social media spend in 2013. But what does the customer-facing sales team think? Do they see the value of social media for sales?

Despite the fact that ‘social selling’ is a pretty popular concept right now, there still seems to be a good chunk of salespeople out there that remain reluctant to embrace business to business social media as a sales tool. Why is this?

In a business world where the average buyer is now 70% of the way through the decision-making process before they even engage with a sales rep, it’s just crazy to ignore the potential of social media on the buying process.

At its core, marketing is about education and influence, and marketers should view the task of onboarding their sales teams no differently than any other campaign they run. As marketers, we need to do a better job of selling B2B social media to sales. And since we all know salespeople love quantifiable benefits, here’s a few statistics that should help your case.

Here are 4 ways that marketers can make social media easier for sales teams:

  • Social Media Training & Onboarding Getting started with social media can seem daunting at first, especially for salespeople in traditional industries. This step is all about change management. Marketers need to provide both initial training sessions and ongoing support to salespeople as required.  As a best practice, every onboarding session should provide the sales team with a 360-degree view of social selling, starting with why social matters and culminating with account set-up and industry best practices. Who should salespeople follow? What keywords should they target? What tools should they use to monitor chatter? How should they engage? What should they avoid doing?
  • Set Objectives Setting objectives for the sales team is a great way to make social stick. However, trying to boil the ocean is the quickest way to fail. When setting objectives for social media, start small. Set weekly, monthly, or quarterly activity goals for sales reps that escalate over time.  Measuring shares, posts, likes, RTs, and followers is a great place to start for a new user. Over time, you can shift these activity-based objectives into goal-based objectives, such as inbound leads and booked meetings.
  • Develop Easy to Follow Processes Marketers must develop easy-to-follow business to business social media processes that can be easily integrated into a salespersons average day. For example, a daily LinkedIn company page update or tweets from the corporate account followed with an email reminder can help keep social selling top of mind for busy salespeople.
  • Work With Sales to Identify Content Opportunities Here lies the true opportunity for marketers. By creating a strong feedback loop with front-line salespeople, marketers can gain insight into what prospects really care about, what works and what doesn’t. Involving sales in this process can not only increase the accuracy of the information, but also help to establish a sustainable content program in the long-run.

Ultimately, integrating social media into the business to business sales process should be a key objective of forward-thinking startups and growing B2B organizations. If you’re a marketer looking for help getting your sales team onboard with business to business social media, I’d love to talk about your challenges. Feel free to reach out to me at any time.

Combining Content Marketing, SEO and Social Media to Generate More Inbound Leads

Historically, marketing has always been thought of as a cost-centre. But thanks to the phenomenal rise of inbound marketing and marketing analytics tools, marketers are now able to take credit for the lead generation they are responsible for.

As of 2013, 60% of companies have integrated some form of inbound marketing into their marketing strategy. While there are many moving parts to an inbound marketing program, here are three tactics all startups should emphasize to create an online lead generation machine.

  • Content Marketing A comprehensive content strategy should lie at the heart of your lead generation efforts. As social media examiner points out, the average marketer now uses an average of 12 content marketing tactics. Hosting a range of content on your digital properties can help convert them from static pages to conversation hubs. When considering content conversion, providing an opportunity for prospects to give you more information is important, but don’t turn your readers off by requiring them to convert for everything. Your content should lie along a ‘cost-conversion scale’, with lower effort content like blogs and infographics on the free side, and higher effort content like white papers and ebooks  requiring an act of conversion.
  • SEO The good news about a well-developed content marketing strategy is that it will help make finding your business online easier for customers and prospects.  For example, according to HubSpot, companies that blog tend to generate 97% more inbound links. And as noted by LeapLab, SEO now delivers 14% of marketers’ total leads. Here’s a great search engine optimization kit from HubSpot to “help you understand the search landscape, optimize your website, get found by qualified prospects, and convert higher percentages of them to leads and paying customers.”
  • Social Media You can create great content and optimize it for search engines, but your lead generation machine won’t be complete without social media. As HubSpot noted in their 2012 State of Inbound Marketing report, social media has a 100% higher lead-to-close rate than outbound marketing. And at Venture Accelerator Partners for example, Twitter and LinkedIn alone now account for well over 40% of our referral traffic.

As with any marketing program, your lead generation machine won’t be successful if you aren’t constantly monitoring, analyzing and adapting your efforts. The key to generating inbound leads is great content. Without it, your SEO and social media efforts won’t be as useful. If you’re interested in finding out more about how to generate inbound leads or inbound marketing, feel free to connect with me at any time.

Six STEPPS to Creating Contagious Marketing Content

What do hundred-dollar cheesesteaks, a golf ball destroying blender and a phone booth with a trick door have to do with creating great B2B marketing content?

In his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger uses each of these viral marketing sensations to help explore the question of why some products, ideas and behaviours succeed while others fail (a question at the heart of all marketing). While there isn’t a formula to ensure your B2B marketing content will be widely shared, there are six key ingredients that make up a recipe for contagious content. Collectively, Berger calls these the STEPPS.

  • Social Currency According to Berger, social currency manifests when “people share things that make them look good to others.” If you’ve never heard of New York bar Please Don’t Tell, you’ll want to check this out. From a B2B perspective, you can create social currency by delivering information that will make prospects look good when they share it with others, such as members of the C-Suite, managers, or colleagues.
  • Triggers Triggers are “stimuli that prompt people to think about related things.” When thinking about triggers for B2B marketing content, carefully consider context. Successful B2B marketing content is designed for every prospect’s unique environment, situation and business problem, helping to make things personal and keep the brand top of mind.
  • Emotion B2B marketing is often thought of as less personal, but B2B marketing content can still be rooted in emotion. However, as the book notes, content that is physiologically arousing (such as anger or excitement) tends to outperform content that evokes other types of emotion. From a B2B perspective, focus on highlighting core paint points and intimating how your expertise can solve a problem like increasing revenue, decreasing costs, improving productivity or decreasing risk.
  • Public As highlighted in the book, the late great Steve Jobs understood better than most that observability matters (hence why the Apple logo faces outwards on the top of its laptops). Designing your B2B marketing content so that it’s powerful enough to stand alone and leave a lasting impression is crucial. People tend to imitate and share because the choices of others help provide information, known as “social proof”. A great way to lend social credibility to your content is to include brief case study features that highlights the successes of your customer base.
  • Practical Value The simple idea here is that people like to help others and are more than willing to spread great content of practical value. Be sure to keep your B2B marketing content concise yet detailed, and remember to “package your knowledge and expertise so that people can easily pass it on.”
  • Stories Embedding B2B marketing content into stories can help to turn virality valuable. Stories, like ancient Greek tales, help to carry information in ways that straight content can’t. Focus on building Trojan Horses by embedding your content into a greater storytelling narrative that relates to the stage of the buying process your content is targeting.

The STEPPS framework is a good tool for B2B marketers to validate and develop marketing content ideas. If you’d like to understand more about marketing strategy and tactics, or need help developing great B2B marketing content, feel free to reach out to me.

The pros and cons of early adopters

Anyone who’s studied startup marketing or is trying to grow a startup knows about the adoption cycle and the potential of ‘early adopters’. This blog post will share with you some of the key highlights of a recent LeanCoffeeTO meetup on how to maximize the value of your early adopters. It will also touch on the pitfalls to watch out for, since early adopters present both challenges and opportunities.

DiffusionOfInnovation

Here are 3 ways to maximize the value of early adopters:

  • Allow Early Adopters to Guide Development Early adopters can often find new and unexpected ways to use your product. Attracting early adopters and being open to how early they interact with your offering will help guide your product or services development.
  • Collect Feedback to Improve Your Offerings Early adopters can help identify or confirm why your solution offers value for end users. Early adopters may even offer ideas on what could be added, removed or changed to improve the value proposition. Be sure to put this valuable information to use to refine your offering and bolster its chances of success. For added insight, consider validating your sales and marketing plan by meeting potential customers.
  • Target Specific Thought Leaders Getting thought leaders from your target industry onboard can be a great way to fuel your growth, add credibility, and quickly expand, as though leaders satisfied with your solution can be a great source of promotion. Consider popular posters on industry related forums, bloggers, and prominent social media users when deciding whose influence you’d like to leverage.

Here are 3 things to watch out for when attracting early adopters:

  • Avoid Attracting People Who Will “Adopt Anything Early” It’s great to attract new users, but attracting the right early adopters is they key to success. You can promote your offerings to specific, well-suited groups or forums, or offer a closed beta to help control who is allowed to be an early adopter. Doing so can help you ensure the opportunity to collect meaningful feedback from the right demographics.
  • Temper Early Adopter Feedback Early adopters may be overly excited by the idea of “new” and might provide you with an inaccurate evaluation of your solution. Temper the feedback of overzealous early adopters and, when possible, try to meet face to face in order to find the most meaningful feedback. Watch for early adopters that can identify both the positive and the negative qualities of your product or service. They are the ones most likely to offer some of the most valuable feedback.
  • Be Mindful of the Implications of Big Users The idea to take on a big user is certainly an attractive one. However, it can often come with a few often overlooked pitfalls, as big users often have big demands. Whether their demands stem from specific requirements on your systems, time, production capacities, or whether they are based on special customization or development that they want to see, when considering going after big users make sure you have the resources in place to accommodate the size of their needs.

Attracting early adopters can be an exciting time for any startup. Apply these tips to grow with confidence by getting the most out of your early adopters while avoiding overlooked obstacles and easy-to-make mistakes.

Interview with Chris Farias of KITESTRING

KITESTRING (@KITESTRING) multiplies creativity with strategic thinking for resonating branding results. Creative Director Chris Farias (@ChrisPaulFarias) talks about KITESTRING, branding, Hamilton and the upcoming The Right Angle event being put on by KITESTRING on May 21st.

 

chrisfariasTell me about yourself and KITESTRING.

My name is Chris Farias and I am both Creative Director and partner at KITESTRING. We’re an agency comprised of strategists and creative inventors who solve brand equations.

 

Why did KITESTRING rebrand itself recently?

The agency is now in its sixth year, and just like the world around us, we’ve changed a lot in that time. The evolution of our brand reflects the caliber of work our team is creating for our clients.

 

What happened to Ben?

His internship came to an end and he moved on to a career in theatre. He came to visit recently and told us he was working with Hammer Entertainment on a production of Avenue Q. You can find out more by visiting: http://www.kitestring.ca/social/blog/community/ben-follows-his-dreams-and-hits-stage

 

What is The Right Angle?

The Right Angle is a KITESTRING event focused on strategies to help communicators and business owners engage in the conversation on social media. Attendees will learn from experts in the field how to manage your message online, protect your brand image, and problem-solve with confidence and creativity.

 

therightangle

 

Why should web, mobile, and video game companies in particular care about social media management?

It’s up to innovative businesses to lead the way in terms of adopting and understanding new technology. Web, mobile and video game companies need to lead by example. If you’re positioned as a knowledgeable expert, your clients are more likely to follow suit.

 

What are you most hoping participants take away from The Right Angle?

We’ve noticed a big shift in attitudes about the relevance of social media in the eyes of regional organizational leaders. Leading up to this shift, we were often asked in a presentation or workshop, “Why is social media relevant?”

Now we’re consistently being asked, “How do I make my brand relevant on social media?” I’m hoping participants leave with an idea about how to accomplish that for their brand.

 

Hamilton in particular seems to have really embraced social media, between the popularity of the #HamOnt hashtag and the relevant communications and business courses at McMaster. Why do you think this is, and are there ways our community should be taking advantage of this strength?

There is a groundswell of citizens doing some amazing things in support of their city within our community. Of course, engaging communications are a part of making these incredible ideas sprout into mini-movements. The reason for this is complex; the perfect storm of timing, economics, culture and spirit.

Last summer we did an experiential meets social campaign at Art Crawl involving a new hashtag. We were shocked by just how encouraging the flood of response was. Three years ago, doing a similar self-promo campaign at Supercrawl garnered completely different levels of engagement. It’s clear to us that this city is now ready for more.

 

hamont

 

What trends have you noticed lately in social media marketing and branding and where do you see it going next?

I don’t have a crystal ball (Although some days I wish I did!). So, it wouldn’t be prudent for me to guess what the future holds. What’s really got me excited about the industry lately is a turn towards elements of social good becoming a natural part of any organization’s marketing mix. When a brand can create a hybrid of social good, digital engagement and a relevant connection to the everyday lives of its target audience, that’s something to take notice of. These principles have been guiding a few of our newest campaign strategies for our top clients.

 

Some people in the tech / startup community believe that the best product development talent is in Waterloo, and that the best sales and marketing talent in Toronto. Google has followed this sort of model, with a development studio in Waterloo and advertising / sales in Toronto. I think it’s great for the different cities in Southern Ontario to specialize and have strengths, but it’s concerning to me when it leads to people thinking there is a magic wall that somehow stops world class product development from being done in Hamilton. Is there a similar concern for somebody working in creative branding?

Of course! That may be a tired perception, but that hasn’t stopped us from working with the region’s top health care, education and innovation technology clients. A lot of people are surprised to know that we’ve also created campaigns for international clients. KITESTRING has created a niche for itself, and more and more our location is being viewed as something that is in our favour.

 

Can “big league” world class marketing be done out of Hamilton?

Yes. We have a close-knit community of talented marketers in this city. We’re a fierce bunch who isn’t afraid to change the landscape for local organizations and make a name for ourselves beyond the 905 area code. It’s going to be our ability to support one another and be proud of one another’s successes that will define the next while in terms of local progress for our industry.

 

Has KITESTRING worked with any tech companies in particular?

We’ve collaborated with Innovation Factory, the local technology SME hub, on a really neat integrated campaign. The STARTOFF campaign was a contest for local Innovation Factory clients, which involved videogame themed digital engagement in collaboration with Orbital, and pop-up 8 bit art installations around the city. We also work with EllisDon, an innovative, international construction company, helping them to define a new software launch set for the summer of 2013.

 

startoff

 

How did that work out for them?

Innovation Factory’s campaign has come to a close, so I can share these results. Combined with the engagement campaign, STARTOFF’s digital execution in mobile, social and desktop online developments were explored by laptops and computers, by iPhone, Blackberry, Android smartphones, and had been accessed through 2913 social media buzz mentions on Twitter and 17,102 visits from Facebook.

 

Where do you see Hamilton in 5 years? 10 years?

I know I would like to see Hamilton become a more walkable city. It would be great to see more people living and working downtown. I’d love to see a Yogen Früz in walking distance from my house. That’s just me.

 

Hamilton has a lot of hidden gems. There’s different blogs and websites devoted to spotlighting them. What’s your favourite hidden Hamilton gem?

It’s hard to keep hidden gems a secret in Hamilton because of the widespread adoption of the #HamOnt hashtag on Twitter. I’m not complaining, it’s actually a good thing. I think a great hidden gem is the Ottawa Street strolling district. The Ottawa Street BIA is a client of mine and I love when I get to get down there for a visit. There are great restaurants, a farmers market, fabric and crafting outlets, antique stores and clothing boutiques.

 


Register for The Right Angle

 

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