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Sales success begins and ends with engagement

Having success in sales isn’t done with any magic bullet, so we asked an expert to tell us how they oversee success in a meaningful way.

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We all know we’re supposed to “close,” but how?

We’ve all been to a conference, a team meeting, read an article, or attended a webinar that told us that sales is all about engagement. But if you’re selling jewelry and have expanded to six distribution centers, for example, you as a founder can’t exactly tweet every person that ever buys something or call them and talk about their hobbies and families.

So how exactly do you “engage,” and what does that mean for non-conslutants that rely on someone hitting a “buy” button? Kurt Bilafer, Global VP of Sales & Success at WePay outlines below in his own words, exactly how sales success begins and ends with engagement. We’re featuring his thoughts because as a 20-year sales veteran, he has experience as the Global VP of Sales at SAP, was SAP North America’s VP, and spent a year with PricewaterhouseCoopers to rebuild their SAP National Practice – he bleeds sales wisdom, you guys.

My metric for success: Engagement

As a sales leader, my professional life is filled with quotas, metrics and dashboards. But if I had to pick just one thing I’m optimizing for, it would be engagement. Why? Because I’ve learned that engagement is the leading indicator for success with whatever else you’re optimizing to achieve.

Early in my career, I was always optimizing for percentage of quota attained, which is a typical sales metric and usually tied to your compensation. Although I wasn’t insightful enough at the time to recognize it, my level of engagement with a prospect was usually a good indicator of the likelihood of making a sale. If a prospect was asking questions, working through their process, showing increased understanding and asking more questions, those were all signs of engagement. It took me a while to see the value of that.

Optimizing to quota

Optimizing to quota worked fine when I was an individual contributor, but as I moved into management and got further removed from the nuts and bolts of the sales cycle and engaging with customers every day, I had to figure out a way to influence the members of my team to make their number. So, I focused on optimizing for influence, working one on one with people to get them up and running and performing at a high level and hitting their quotas.

That worked fine when I was managing a team reporting directly to me.   As I evolved into more startup-fixit-turnaround specialist I had to shift gears again. Now I was working in matrixed organizations with distributed teams of hundreds of people who didn’t report directly to me. I had to evangelize new processes and programs, organizational changes and strategy shifts. I had to reach a lot of people I’d never be able to meet personally, let alone learn all of their names. To lead effectively, I had to influence the people who would influence them.

When you’re bringing change to an organization, everyone has to work through his or her process. With big, distributed teams, you don’t get to see people and work with them as often. It could take six to nine months to see whether my influence was having an impact. I needed to know much sooner than that whether my message was getting through, and whether people were buying in and working through their process. That’s when I started focusing on engagement. I increased my presence on social media and started blogging as a way to amplify myself and stay engaged even when I couldn’t be there physically. This helped me quickly capture feedback, learn, evolve and improve my message and approach.

Measuring engagement

Engagement can be difficult to measure, but there are ways to do it. One of the ways I’ve done it is by surveying my team. I ask, “On a scale from 1 to 10, how well do you understand the objectives?” Then, “On a scale from 1 to 10, do you understand how you can contribute to these objectives?” and then, “On a scale from 1 to 10, do you think these objectives are achievable objectives?”

Engagement scorecards such as these are a key component of my strategy management efforts, helping me determine where to spend more time reinforcing messages or giving examples.

I also look to see how many people have actually embraced whatever it is we’re doing and are executing on it independently. For example, if I’m implementing a new sales process, one of the ways I measure engagement is how many people are actually leveraging the new sales process.

I do that by doing a deep dive analysis on individual deals to determine if people are actually following all the steps, or they’re just doing it the old way and putting lipstick on a pig to position it differently.

I might also look at how many opportunities the team had to present, what the audience turnout was, the kind of the press or analyst coverage we were getting, and activity on social media.

The loudest actions

Those are all qualitative assessments. But to me, actions speak louder.

In sales there’s an expression, “coin operated salespeople.” It speaks to the fact that the most sales people get compensated on is achieving their revenue quota, and as long as the “new thing” is tied to their revenue quota, they’ll embrace whatever the message of the day is. But even quota attainment can hide lack of engagement, especially in a larger organization, and eventually lack of engagement becomes a problem.

So, I look for signs of engagement every day. Are people participating in meetings and contributing and asking questions? Are they changing behaviors? Am I hearing success stories?

Are they reaching out to me directly to ask clarifying questions, or asking for help on deals?

Beyond that, I know I have engagement when I have people asking to update the sales presentations, taking time to write a blog post, or start being more active on social media. I know I really have it when I hear people evangelizing sharing the message themselves, in their own words.

It’s very rewarding to see that growth, and to know I’m impacting someone’s trajectory. And I know that they’re going to keep executing on the strategy after I leave the room because they’ve worked through their process and made the strategy their own. That’s the level of engagement you need for your team members to be successful, and for you to be successful as a leader.

#Engagement

Marti Trewe reports on business and technology news, chasing his passion for helping entrepreneurs and small businesses to stay well informed in the fast paced 140-character world. Marti rarely sleeps and thrives on reader news tips, especially about startups and big moves in leadership.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. FP Group

    May 15, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    “If a prospect was asking questions, working through their process, showing increased understanding and asking more questions, those were all signs of engagement.”

    Great point. This is an important, yet often-overlooked, facet of sales. When your potential customer is actively seeking your expertise, you’re doing something right.

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Business Marketing

Simple ways to improve your organic reach on Facebook

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Facebook continues to make businesses and pages pay to play, but businesses still have a shot of improving their organic reach, according to experts in the field.

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Facebook open on laptop with white desk and small potted plant, open to organic reach.

Facebook organic reach is not dead, but you will need to work harder to get eyes on your pages. Here’s a rundown of what experts are saying will help you reach your audience. Facebook is still the top social media platform that marketers use and where consumers tend to look for and follow brand pages. So don’t despair!

Those running Facebook business pages have been seeing ever diminishing returns on their effort at getting their content in front of their audiences and fans, especially since around 2016. Yet Facebook remains the #1 platform for building an audience. Once upon a time, Facebook was incredibly fertile soil to grow our entrepreneurial and creative gardens in, at little to no cost to us. Many businesses are seeing a drastic reduction in reach, meaning that a tiny percentage of people are seeing our posts, even among those who follow our pages.

Have you ever heard something like, “The first one’s always free; that’s how they get you”? This has long been a business philosophy to hook prospective customers, used by savvy marketers and drug dealers alike. Facebook went and took that to the next level, introducing an easy-to-use platform where almost anyone could find and engage with their target audiences of customers, fans, members, and more.

Of course, there had to be a reckoning, and now that Facebook has more than 2.6 billion active monthly users worldwide, they continue to change the rules. Consider the amount of users and the amount of posts being made, and it makes more sense that Facebook tries to narrow the audience for any single post to a reasonable chunk. Otherwise, our brains would explode (okay, my words, not an actual medical opinion). Really, you don’t need to reach everybody, because not everybody is interested in what you’re offering. You need to reach the right people who are going to engage and build a smaller, engaged loyal group of diehard customers.

Community is key
Here are some of the latest tips and best practices to increase organic reach in 2021, provided by Facebook pros. Mark Zuckerburg keeps bringing up the concept of community, and the algorithm favors engagement, not only on Facebook, but across platforms. Nobody wants products and services constantly jammed in their faces.

This is a conversation, not a one-way portal into your customers’ brains and wallets. A constant barrage of salesy content, urging people to buy buy buy, grows real tedious real fast. “If you build it, they will come.” Only instead of a baseball field in the middle of nowhere, work to build a community.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you creating conversations?
  • Are you using your platform to act as a resource and provide helpful or inside information in your niche or area of expertise?
  • Are you asking your audience what they want and would like to see more of from you?
  • Are you taking current events and trends into account, reacting to local/national/world news at all, and creating timely posts?
  • Are you using a variety of post types (photos, videos, links) and taking advantage of Facebook’s built in post tools?
  • Are you taking data into account for what content people are responding to favorably and when?
  • Do you ever invest in Facebook ads or boosted posts for important content or events?

Find the answer to these questions to reevaluate your strategy, work on promoting a dialogue with your audience, and ideally you will see more engagement on your pages, fruitful interactions that ultimately lead to loyal customers and bigger sales.

Create Conversations
Zuckerburg himself comes back to this point repeatedly in his regular updates on the state of all things Facebook and how the algorithm works, saying Facebook will “prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people.” Not every industry lends itself to deep thoughts, but it can be simple enough to engage your audience with community questions. People love giving their opinions or talking about a shared interest.

Community questions can be fun, lively, and create fun interaction between your audience and the business. A simple This or That question posted on one of the background color templates can get the conversation started. If people don’t have to invest a lot of time to answer, then great! Depending on the industry, these can be easy one-offs: Red wine or white? Beach vacation or mountains? TikTok or Reels? Mac or PC? Harley Davidson hogs or Kawasaki crotch rockets? Early bird or night owl?

Hot takes, unpopular opinions, are another way to get people chatting. I’m not espousing trying to stir up controversy here, unless that is appropriate for your business, but people get emotional as all get out for something as simple as pineapple on pizza or beans in chili. What’s a popular or common opinion in your field? How can you introduce a hot take to get people chatting? For an entrepreneurial page, you could put out a hot take on a cluttered desk, or making lists, or standing desks.

Sure, these conversations may start out superficial, but who knows? When people begin interacting on your page more, they begin seeing more that you post, and that’s when you can introduce something a little weightier, asking them to share their expertise or advice on a relevant topic.

Become a resource
Whether your business is a science journal, digital marketing, interior designing, or a Texas Hill Country resort, your business and your audience is unique. Real estate agencies have become good at this, so we’ll use them as an example. If you are selling or leasing properties in Austin or San Francisco, sell the area. Don’t only post the properties you’re selling or agent profiles. Post those, yes, but also post industry news and local attractions.

When people are interested in moving to a new city or a new neighborhood or investing in opening a business there, they need to know why the area is attractive. What is the business climate? What are the financial perks associated with living there? What is the area known for (local restaurants, live music hiking trails, swimming holes, no traffic)? Has the area made a list for quality of life, affordability, great job prospects in X industry? Sharing blogs, articles, infographics, videos, and photos highlighting any of these can help your page serve the interests of your target audience. This is a good thing.

Ask your audience
This is a simple tip for keeping things closer to your audience’s interests, helping you identify areas where your page may be lacking–and opportunities for growth, and keeping the conversation going. Be careful not to overuse this one, but it’s an important tool.

  • Try a simple question, such as “What would you like to see more of on this page?”
  • Create a poll, which is much faster to answer, and helps you narrow answers down to what you really want to know.
  • Similar to the community questions, ask them to share something that has helped them. A classic example would be “What is the best entrepreneurial advice anyone has even given you?” Or “Please share some tips to fight procrastination.” Or “What is the top time-saving tool you use in your business (or for scheduling)?” Having your page followers (and hopefully others) chat with each other this way is helpful for them and for your organic reach.

Take current events and trends into account
This one’s simple: Read the room. This goes both ways. If there is renewed interest in, say, downtown lofts or sea shanty dances on TikTok, can you use this momentary heat to bring interest to your page? On the other hand, if there is a natural disaster, tragedy, or financial crash that has caused great suffering in an area? That’s a good moment to review your scheduled posts and delete or postpone anything that could be unintentionally triggering or offensive.

Some types of businesses are better suited to jumping on the latest trend. Do you have a bar or restaurant with a fairly young, social media savvy crowd? Go ahead, Photoshop that Bernie-Sanders-in-mittens image sitting on your patio (only if you can do it as the trend is hitting). Are you targeting an area that has recently been hit by extended power outages? I’m sorry to tell you, but this is not the time to promote that popup restaurant where diners experience eating in the dark.

Mix it up and use native Facebook tools
Of course you want to stay on brand, but please don’t get caught in a rut where all of your posts are one type. Consistency is one thing, but beware that this doesn’t turn into monotony. Assess where you can change things up. Add photos, videos, links to relevant blogs and articles, or community questions. Different people respond differently to different types of input. Use all the tools at your disposal to generate interest, draw people in, and get them reacting to and engaging with your page.

Facebook and all social media platforms have built in tools. They want you to use them. Often, this is a Facebook effort to capitalize on a similar, competing app. Trust me when I say, you will get brownie points (higher reach) when you take the time to use these native tools. Facebook Watch, Facebook Live, Facebook Stories, even using a background color template from the Facebook options, are all ways to show Facebook you’re paying attention and want to optimize the tools they are giving you.

Use provided data
You need to be able to look for patterns, evaluate the factors that made a particular post popular, and know when your customers and followers are likely to see your page and interact with it. Facebook provides a number of insights in the platform, but there are numerous external marketing tools you can purchase or sometimes use for free (depending on how many pages and platforms you are running, and how in-depth you want your data to be).

Posting willy nilly is not the most effective way to be. Decide what data is useful to you and make time to study it, and be willing to make changes to your content strategy based on the data. Like many other aspects of marketing, expanding your organic reach is a mixture of art and science, a balancing act of intuition and cold, hard numbers. Use them.

Consider paying to play
I know, I know, this story is about organic and not paid reach, but the fact is strategically paying for a Facebook ad or boosting a post to highlight a launch, event, special deal, or other important news will bring more people to your page. If the other tips, tools, and best practices referred to here are in place, once they find your page, you have the ability to keep their attention through organic means.

Keep on truckin’
These tips should help you expand your page’s organic reach. More importantly, they should help you build and support a community, earn loyal followers and customers, and generate positive buzz about your business. Keep working on becoming a resource and sharing helpful information. Have fun with it and experiment with new media and types of posts. Know yourself. Know your audience.

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Business Marketing

Buffer’s four-day workweek experiment: Boost or bust?

(BUSINESS MARKETING) After trying out a four-day workweek last year, Buffer is moving forward with the format going into 2021, citing increase in productivity and work-life balance.

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Man working in office with headphones on, making use of flexible four-day workweek.

The typical five-day workweek is a thing of the past for Buffer, at least for now. The company has decided to implement a four-day workweek for the “foreseeable future.”

Last year, the company surveyed its employees to see how they are dealing with the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic and the anxiety and stress that came along with it. They soon learned employees didn’t always feel comfortable or like they could take time off.

Employees felt guilty for taking PTO while trying to meet deadlines. Juggling work and suddenly becoming a daycare worker and teacher for their children at the same time was stressful. So, Buffer looked for a solution to help give employees more time and flexibility to get adjusted to their new routines.

Four-Day Workweek Trials

In May, Buffer started the four-day workweek one-month trial to focus on teammates’ well-being. “This four-day workweek period is about well-being, mental health, and placing us as humans and our families first,” said Buffer CEO and co-founder Joel Gascoigne in a company blog post.

“It’s about being able to pick a good time to go and do the groceries, now that it’s a significantly larger task. It’s about parents having more time with kids now that they’re having to take on their education. This isn’t about us trying to get the same productivity in fewer days,” Gascoigne said.

Buffer’s one-month trial proved to be successful. Survey data from before and after the trial showed higher autonomy and lower stress levels. In addition, employee anecdotal stories showed an increase in worker happiness.

With positive results, Buffer turned the trial into a long-term pilot through the end of 2020. This time, the trial would focus on Buffer’s long-term success.

“In order to truly evaluate whether a four-day workweek can be a success long-term, we need to measure productivity as well as individual well-being,” wrote Director of People Courtney Seiter. “Teammate well-being was our end goal for May. Whether that continues, and equally importantly, whether it translates into customer and company results, will be an exciting hypothesis to test.”

Trial Results

Company Productivity
Buffer’s shorter workweek trials showed employees felt they had a better work-life balance without compromising work productivity. According to the company’s survey data, almost 34% of employees felt more productive, about 60% felt equally as productive, and only less than 7% of employees felt less productive.

However, just saying productivity is higher isn’t proof. To make sure the numbers added up, managers were asked about their team’s productivity. Engineering managers reported that a decrease in total coding days didn’t show a decrease in output. Instead, there was a significant output increase for product teams, and Infrastructure and Mobile saw their output double.

The Customer Advocacy team, however, did see a decline in output. Customer service is dependent on customer unpredictability so this makes sense. Still, the survey showed about 85% to 90% of employees felt as productive as they would have been in a five-day workweek. Customers just had to wait slightly longer to receive replies to their inquiries.

Employee Well-Being
With more time and control of their schedules, Buffer’s survey shows an increase in individual autonomy and decreased stress levels reported by employees. And, the general work happiness for the entire company has been consistent throughout 2020.

What’s in store for 2021?

Based on positive employee feedback and promising company results, Buffer decided it will continue the company-wide four-day workweek this year.

“The four-day work week resulted in sustained productivity levels and a better sense of work-life balance. These were the exact results we’d hoped to see, and they helped us challenge the notion that we need to work the typical ‘nine-to-five,’ five days a week,” wrote Team Engagement Manager Nicole Miller.

The four-day workweek will continue in 2021, but the company will also be implementing adjustments based on the pilot results.

For most teams, Fridays will be the default day off. For teams that aren’t project-based, their workweek will look slightly different. As an example, the Customer Advocacy team will follow a different schedule to avoid customer reply delays and ticket overflow. Each team member will still have a four-day workweek and need to meet their specific targets. They will just have a more flexible schedule.

Companies who follow this format understand that output expectations will be further defined by area and department level. Employees who aren’t meeting their performance objectives will have the option to choose a five-day workweek or might be asked to do so.

If needed, Fridays will also serve as an overflow workday to finish up a project. Of course, schedules will be evaluated quarterly to make sure productivity is continuing to thrive and employees are still satisfied.

But, Miller says Buffer is “establishing ambitious goals” that might “push the limits” of a four-day work week in 2021. With the world slowly starting to normalize, who knows when a four-day workweek might reach its conclusion.

“We aren’t sure that we’ll continue with the four-day workweeks forever, but for now, we’re going to stick with it as long as we are still able to hit our ambitious goals,” wrote Miller.

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Business Marketing

Should your content management system go headless?

(BUSINESS MARKETING) You may be familiar with your typical content management system, but had you heard of a ‘headless’ model? Let’s dig into it together.

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Person using content management system with hands on keyboard and small bit of desktop visible.

At some point, you have probably worked with a content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Drupal. If you haven’t already, you at least know that this computer software is used to manage website content.

But, have you ever heard of a headless content management system before? We didn’t. So, we set out to find out what it’s all about and how beneficial, or not, it can be for your company.

What is headless CMS?

Unlike your classic CMS, headless CMS is a back-end only content management system. It decouples where your content is stored and authored (body) from the front-end where your content is displayed (head).

This CMS isn’t tied to a particular output like a web page. Content is transmitted as data over an application programming interface (API). It’s a content repository that delivers content seamlessly to any device.

Benefits of Headless CMS

More versatile
Headless CMS isn’t your classic “monolithic” CMS so you aren’t constrained to an all-in-one system that might work for websites but not mobile devices.

Content is consumed by customers in more than one place now. Headless CMS provides a more versatile way to deliver multi-channel content to websites, Android and iOS apps, and even IoT (internet of things), like a smartwatch or in-store kiosk.

Businesses will benefit from this because only one back-end is needed to manage and publish content for different services and products.

No need for specialized developers
Developers aren’t tied to a specific programming language or framework. A developer can choose between using Javascript, PHP, Ruby, or any language they prefer.

If you already have a talented developer, you don’t have to scramble to find someone else who specializes in a specific system or language you are moving to. Your current developer can do the job for you in the best way they know-how.

Better Security
Security is important. Not being married to the front-end, headless CMS has a security advantage a regular CMS doesn’t. Usually, content provided to a headless CMS is read-only, and the admin portion lives on a different server and domain.

With the back-end detached from the presentation layer, there is a smaller target area to attack. Also, layers of code can be used to hide the content-delivering API making it safer than a traditional CMS.

Real-time collaboration
With two separate systems, content editors and web developers can work concurrently. This shortens a project’s timeline and helps get your product and services to market quicker. Also, content editors don’t have to spend more time creating the same content for each system. Designers and developers can take care of that.
Downsides of Headless CMS

As with anything, headless CMS isn’t perfect and isn’t for everyone. It has its disadvantages.

More technical
Little technical involvement is called for in a traditional CMS. As a result, the tool can be picked up quickly by almost anyone.

A deeper understanding of CMS, coding languages, and front-end technologies is needed when using headless CMS. You must have a developer that can build the web or app just for you.

Increased maintenance
With the body separated from the head, there are two systems to maintain. Implementation and maintenance could potentially become complex.

Bigger price tag
Building a system from scratch costs time and money. With a traditional CMS, there is one account, and, most likely, one payment. With headless CMS, you’ll have multiple payments for the CMS, a developer, and the infrastructure running your website or app.

Your custom CMS also isn’t coming from a pre-built content management system. All that hard work takes time (and patience) to get it done right.

Conclusion

Headless CMS lets you create a unique user experience and allow for cross-platform publishing, but it isn’t a one-size-fits-all content management system.

Before you jump ships, take inventory of all your content needs. Does your content need to be published on different platforms? Will a simple stand-alone website work for you? Only you can decide what works best with your business, but we hope this information helps.

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