Thursday, September 29, 2005

Blogging for Business

Recently added to WebMarketCentral.com, the Web marketing portal, are three new pages providing Internet marketers with everything they need to know (for now) about creating and maintaining an effective business-related blog. I've compiled everything I know and was able to find about business blogging onto these three pages: Why Write a Blog for Business?, How to Create an Effective Business Blog, and Best Practices in Blog Marketing (how to promote your blog once it's built). Also included are links to some of the most helpful blogs devoted to business blogging, such as Business Blog Consulting and Why Marketers Should Blog.

A few samples:

A blog is a place where your employees can speak to customers and prospects in their own unique voices. It is a place to demonstrate the collected knowledge and expertise of your company (that is, your people). And, through comments, it is a place to have a conversation with your customers and prospects, informally and openly. Compared to other marketing media, a blog is closest to a (well-written and informative) newsletter, but easier, faster, cheaper, and with the benefit of interaction. (More)

Blogs are fast and easy to create. Anyone in your company with an interesting story to tell or knowledge to share can contribute. They are less formal than a newsletter. They are interactive. And they are loved by the media as well as by search engines. (More)

Use keywords and key phrases in your blog posts. Keep in mind that search engines like Google treat each post as a separately searchable page, so simply using one to three keywords or phrases in each post is sufficient to get your blog noticed. (More)

The navigation on the WMC site has also been improved, with new separate areas for the directory of Web marketing resources and online marketing knowledge.

I hope you find the new stuff useful.

*****

Terms: business blogging, blogging for business, business blog, marketing blog, Internet marketing resources, Web marketing directory, how to promote your Web site

The Web marketing strategy portal: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

Labels:


KudoSurf Me!
Add to Technorati Favorites
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
AddThis Feed Button

Saturday, September 24, 2005

WMC Interviews: Farrakh Azhar


I had the distinct pleasure this week of talking to Farrakh Azhar, founder and CEO of WebGreeter / LiveAdmins. While there are several companies that offer Web site chat software, WebGreeter is unique in offering both the software (hosted) and the operators who handle the chat sessions. In short, WebGreeter customers not only have no software to install, they also don't have to staff the Web chat function. Customers pay only for what "chat resources" they use, and still get all the advtanges of greeting prospects as they visit their sites: increased visit length, greater "stickiness," and ultimately higher conversion of visitors to customers.

WebMarketCentral (WMC) : What did you do before starting WebGreeter / Live Admins?

Farrakh Azhar (FA): I began my professional experience as a businessman, helping the family-business in Import/Export, Retail and Manufacturing. After graduating from Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in 1991, I started working for International Business Machines (IBM), assisting them in Data Networking and Operations. Later, I became a consultant and started designing, engineering and implementing large IT infrastructure projects for fortune 500 clients.

My consultancy experience increased by accepting assignments related to IT infrastructure projects with large IT bases such as Ameritech/SBC, People’s Gas (Gas Company of Chicago) Key Stone Steel Mill, The U.S. Military and Chicago Public Schools (one of the largest school systems in the U.S.).

I joined ABN AMRO in 1997 as a Project Manager in the Network Services Group and was promoted to Senior Project Manager and Systems Officer after six months.

I went on to help the bank develop project management lifecycles and processes in order to make the deliverables produced by the IT organization more market driven and cost effective, making products more attractive for the potential customers and enhancing the efficacy of the entire process. I also helped the bank build a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) team, service level management team, and a procurement team.

WMC: How, when and why did you get started in this business?

FA: It was while I working with Fortune 500's of Chicago develop and implement business and technical processes that I struck upon the idea on an online live service support team. So, I did some research, wrote an 80-page business plan, decided to start my own business, and started working on it. This, coupled with my process engineering background and business sense that I had acquired earlier, helped me with the execution on this business plan. It seemed like a logical progression at the time.

WMC: Who do you target, i.e. describe your ideal or typical client?

FA: Our business strategy has been to grow from smaller customers to larger ones, and therefore we have been targeting larger customer as we go along. Currently we are targeting customers with a large web presence in the retail space who can utilize both our customer service and sales support abilities.

WMC: What is your key differentiator (or differentiators), that is, what separates you from your competition?

FA: Well, we do not have much of a competition today in our space. But, we do have a bunch of businesses who are trying to sell software-only solutions. We are in the business of providing the human representatives who sit behind the computer screens all day long and greet every one who lands on our customer's website. This is what differentiates us from all the rest of the businesses associated with the Live Chat support space.

WMC: How do you market/promote your business?

FA: We use multiple marketing methods such as outbound call centers, email, search engine marketing (SEM), banners, PR, and last but not the least, word of mouth which has proven to be the foremost and best marketing strategy for us by far.

WMC: What’s the biggest or most important marketing lesson you’ve learned since you founded Live Admins?

FA: My biggest lesson learned was when I decided to put my staff on the phones and chat at the same time. We learned the hard way, that once you put a person on the chat, he/she can not work the phones. This is because, once you are on the phone, you cannot do anything else. Since then, we have had two different teams, one for chat support and one for phone support. I will urge other organizations who are thinking of implementing chat and phone support utilizing the same people to learn from our mistakes. Think through your call center processes before you do this; for the most part I recommend the two separate teams theory.

WMC: Anything else you’d like to add?

FA: Another lesson I learned was not to spend our marketing dollars on print media. I was spending huge amounts on print media and chamber of commerce-type networking which did not materialize for us at all. The reason: our customers are predominantly web-driven people who understood the web very well, and are most were getting their information from the web for most of their business and personal requirements.

Also you can get a clearer picture of the workings of our service from the following press release:


Web Greeters Offer Opportunity to Keep in Touch With Online Visitors

CHICAGO (May 5, 2005) – Online businesses are in a fierce competition to lure in visitors to their sites and turn those visitors to customers. Still, between 95 percent and 97 percent of them click away within two minutes.

A 3-year-old company in Chicagoland has come up with a simple but smashing solution: Web Greeters. Web Greeters offers Web site owners an opportunity to keep in touch with their online visitors in real time with real salespeople available on the Web site. The idea is not to wait for the visitor to click but to greet every qualified visitor and say: "Hello. I am the Web site greeter. How can I help?" before they end up on a competitor's Web site.

"After providing this service for the past three years and our extensive research before that, we found that most visitors who end up on a Web site by mistake leave within the first 30 to 40 seconds," said LiveAdmins CEO and founder Farrakh Azhar. "The rest would click away usually to a competitor's Web site within 2 minutes. Of the ones who stayed for 2 minutes, they can’t even remember which site they visited the next morning. Because of this knowledge, we greet the visitor first to engage them in a pleasant chat and to keep them on the site longer.

"Our service not only provides a software tool but also a small team of well-trained sales personnel allocated to each specific Web site operating from remote locations in Asian countries. These Web greeters help visitors browse through the site, provide information and answer queries.

"Apart from our research findings and the extensive training our operators go through, our operators also have real-time information about each visitor on screen such as from which site they are coming from, on which page of the Web site they are currently on, what they are reading and how long have they been here. All this information provided by our software helps our operators in their decision-making process while they greet each visitor individually to convert them into customers.

“During our three years of experience, we manage to keep between 10 percent and 35 percent of visitors on the site whereas without Web greeters only between 3 percent and 5 percent of visitors stay on a site for more than 2 minutes. That is a substantial increase in the conversion ratio with the help of Web greeters.

"We have also found out that the number of visitors willing to continue a chat with our greeters varies in different industries. The percentage for the least-likely industry comes to average 10 percent, which again is a substantial number.

"These percentages are indicative of visitors who not only willingly chat with our greeters but also trust them to leave their phone numbers along with e-mail addresses for further contact. In contrast, only about 3 percent of visitors leave their contact information on a site and that mostly is just an e-mail address.

"To visitors who decline to chat, our greeters are trained to say: 'Thanks for coming to our Web site. If you need any help, feel free to click on the button and I'll be here to help.'

"We have found that between 20 percent and 30 percent of the visitors who initially decline to chat but continue browsing by themselves end up clicking for the online help once they have settled into the site. It was also found that the response was much better if the look and feel of the chat window was customized to integrate with the Website design.

"When we asked the owners what they felt was the best feature of the service, most said that the best part of the service is that it is provided for 12 hours, which spans working hours across all time zones in the U.S. Our business is kept open even during off hours of the day with a polite and professional salesperson who gives the visitor a feeling that we care while generating many more qualified leads.

"We're the most experienced company in the area of implementing chat-based Web site customer service and sales support. We have put in a lot of research and effort into learning what to say, how to say it, when to say it and when to throw a smiling face to ease difficult moods. We found that between 25 percent and 30 percent of second-time visitors ask to talk to the same live agent they chatted with before, which is proof of Web greeters building relationships with customers to benefit the sites.”

The service becomes very affordable as compared to phone-based call center services since live Web greeters can have multiple conversations simultaneously. This enables the Web site owners to greet and get in touch with many more visitors for much less and even during late and off hours of the day.

A testimonial from one of our satisfied customer sums it all: “We are very happy with the service," said Verne Harnish, a member of Gazelles. "The key point you need to make is that having a Web site without a Web greeter is like having a store without any people in it. I couldn’t imagine walking into Nordstrom and just wandering around while hoping to find something and then purchasing it. While some people might like this, I like to walk up to a person, tell them what I’m looking for and have them take me right to where it is.”

More testimonials are available online here: http://www.webgreeter.com. You can view a TV interview with Azhar here: http://www.liveadmins.com/newcltv.htm. A list of present customers can be made available on request.


To view this document online please go to : http://www.eprairie.com/releases/viewrelease.asp?postID=407


*****

Terms: online chat, chat software, search engine marketing, SEM, Web Greeter, WebGreeter, Live Admins, LiveAdmins

The e-commerce portal: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

Labels:


KudoSurf Me!
Add to Technorati Favorites
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
AddThis Feed Button

Monday, September 19, 2005

One Company That "Gets" the Web -- And One That Doesn't

While doing some Web strategy consulting work recently for a large office products company, I evaluated several competitors' Web sites. One site -- Avery.com -- stood out not only as the best in the industry, but as an example of creativity and utility uncommon in any industry. Another competitor -- MeadWestvaco -- unfortunately for them, served as a prime counter-example (or perhaps an example of how to do almost everything wrong). I have no association with either of these companies, and my comments are intended to be illustrative and constructively critical rather than disparaging.

Avery is a company that really "gets" the Web, and it shows throughout their site. It has all of the basics one would expect, such as full e-commerce capability and a newsletter aimed at their target market, office managers. A nice touch is that all past issues of the newsletter are kept online in a searchable archive. Even more impressive, back issues are searchable by section, topic or specific issue; and most are available in both HTML (better for online reading) and PDF (better for printing) format.

In the Photo ID section, the "Three Ways to Buy" feature simplifies this process (online, by phone, or using an online form to contact an Avery representative).

The “Ideas” section shows Avery products in use for specific business and home projects (e.g. “Give thoughtful client gifts”). Their “Advanced Search…Office Products” feature is very useful – it enables visitors to select exactly what areas of the site they want to search (site-wide, products, ideas or software).

Avery has a large selection of clever and creative “product demos” done in Flash – these show the features and advantages of each product. For example, here’s one for Printable Hanging File Tabs. This is very cool.

Possibly the coolest feature on the site, however, is rather than merely providing templates or downloadable software, they have a feature called “Avery Print." You simply select which Avery product you’d like to print – for example, 1/3-cut filing labels – click “Next,” personalize a design, enter your text for the labels, review your labels, then print them. Complete instructions and troubleshooting help are provided. You can even save projects on their site for later re-use or modification. This is way ahead of their competition.

On the other end of the spectrum is MeadWestvaco. I’ve never seen a large company Web site, and rarely even a small company Web site, this incredibly awful. They still use frames, for example, which are highly navigation- and search-engine-unfriendly.

The logo in the upper left corner of the site leads to a separate corporate site rather than to the MeadWestvaco home page, which would be standard navigation practice.

They offer free clipart -- but the selection is extremely limited. Their templates apparently don't support versions of Microsoft Word newer than Word 2000 (PC) or Word 98 (Mac). They also offer two free applications for download, called KwikFill and EzEnvelope -- but the site offers no explanation of what these applications do, how they work, or what they are compatible with, just a "download" button.

The copyright date on this page is 2000, and the company’s history abruptly ends in 2001.

Although the site lists products (catalog items) on pages like this one, it provides absolutely no information about how or where to purchase their products. Maybe you should click that shopping basket graphic on the left? (Whoops, sorry, forgot about the frames; from that last link, you'll have to go back to the home page to see the shopping cart.) Nope, that tells you that your cart is empty and sends you back to the catalog!

MeadWestvaco’s sister sites are a bit better, but not much. AtAGlance.com offers e-commerce functionality, but when I clicked on the first product in the “Expanding Files” product line, the site gave me this message: “OUT OF STOCK We're sorry, this product is currently out of stock and there are no substitutes available at this time. Note: Color is determined at time of shipment. We cannot accept requests for specific colors.” The product comes in different colors, but I can’t tell them which color I want??!! In fact, when I first visited this site, three of the four products listed in this category were out of stock. Hmmm…try a different category? How about Folders / Portfolios? Two of the first three products in that category were also listed as out of stock.

In the “Where to Find Our Products” section on the At-A-Glance site, they list retail stores that carry their products – but they don’t link to any of their sites online, so you can’t immediately check the retailers’ Web sites for availability of any of the products listed as out of stock on the At-A-Glance site. Are you a business purchaser looking for a dealer? The site doesn’t list dealers on their site, but gives you a link to “email us” for dealer information – unfortunately, this is a dead link.

What would you expect to find in the “What’s New” section of the site – the latest company news perhaps? Nope, it just shows a photo and description of a new product – but no way to order the product from this page!

In the FAQ section on the At-A-Glance site, under “Why isn’t the Mead product I’m looking for on your Web site?”, one answer is that some products can be found on Mead.com. However, when you visit the Mead site, and click on “Shop,” the link takes you…back to the At-A-Glance site. Ouch.

Some companies get this stuff, and some don't; in short order, the latter are likely to have their lunch eaten by the former.

*****

Terms: web site design, web strategy, e-commerce best practices

The Web marketing and e-commerce portal: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

Labels:


KudoSurf Me!
Add to Technorati Favorites
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
AddThis Feed Button

Sunday, September 11, 2005

WMC Interviews: Albert Maruggi


This week, I had the chance to sit down with Albert Maruggi, principal of St. Paul-based marketing agency Provident Partners (and huge baseball fan). His agency assists companies in a variety of industries in all areas of marketing, with particular expertise in PR, events management, integrated marketing and podcasting.

WebMarketCentral (WMC): What did you do before founding Provident Partners?

Albert Maruggi (AM): Worked in radio for a number of years. I was a television reporter and anchor. I also shot and edited video for news stations. I was a political reporter who made the jump to being a press secretary for a Member of Congress. From there I became Press Secretary for the Republican National Committee and then held public affairs management positions in the Bush '41 Administration.

WMC: How, when and why did Provident Partners get started?

AM: When I could not get my flight from LA to MN on September 11, 2001 I drove back home. I did a lot of thinking on that trip and I made two promises, 1) take my family on vacation to southern Utah, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. 2) Start a marketing firm that was a full service outsourcing asset to midsize companies, those between $20 and $150 million in annual revenues.

LA to Denver 13 hours, Denver to St. Paul 12 hours – One speeding ticket in Golden, Colorado. Speed 100, empathic officer priceless. I got off with a considerably reduced fine as opposed to being hauled into the pokey.

The reasons for starting the company were simple: as a VP of marketing for a $70 million company I knew I had two internal customers. The VP of Sales who would say “Where are my leads?” and the CEO who would say “Do more with less.”

I believe that a VP of marketing can outsource the experts he or she needs to get specific objectives met and then not carry that overhead. I see disturbing trends in marketing technology such as web development, Flash etc, that should make every marketer quake in their boots. An internal marketing lead has a difficult time juggling company objectives, politics, travel let alone new technologies, channel marketing, and PR.

Our profession is in transition and you must demonstrate value every day.

WMC: Who is your ideal or typical client?

AM: We are best suited for companies that have a limited marketing staff or a VP of Sales and Marketing. This situation best utilizes the four core expertise areas of Provident Partners; those being, creative ideas, public relations, lead generation, and multi-media production. We think creatively about the big picture and execute flawlessly over the details.

Our typical client has marketing or single project budget of between $50,000 to $100,000. For that they must expand brand ID, generate leads, secure media coverage, and have a better than average appreciation for public relations.

WMC: What are your key differentiators? What sets you apart from your competition?

AM: We have a unique mix of national talent and industry knowledge in technology, manufacturing, and professional services. We have, bar none, the best service record of any firm in our space. Our clients are all referenceable. I tested as an ENTP on Myers-Briggs. That means I hate letting anyone down. Our clients use this trait to their advantage.

WMC: How do you market/promote your business?

AM: Podcasting, advertising, email newsletters, media coverage, direct mail, webcasts, and calling. Or yes, there’s the secret weapon that we use too, but if I include it in this question I’d have to kill you. You understand right?

WMC: Absolutely, we'll just move on. What's the biggest or most important marketing lesson you've learned since starting Provident Partners?

AM: Never assume people know you or have heard about you. Always talk about your clients and never you. You mean nothing, your clients and their success means everything to your prospect.

WMC: Anything else you'd like to add?

AM: Two eggs, a stick of butter, two cups of brownie mix, stir, pour in pan, lick spoon, repeat.

*****

Terms: Provident Partners, marketing agency, ad agency, podcasting

The Web marketing and e-commerce portal: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

Labels:


KudoSurf Me!
Add to Technorati Favorites
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
AddThis Feed Button

Friday, September 09, 2005

New Blog Friends for WMC

Marketing is about relationships. And one of my favorite aspects of blogging is "meeting" new people across the marketing blog space. Over the last couple of weeks I've had the pleasure of exchanging emails with several prominent bloggers, all of whom have made me smarter.

David Wolfe at Ageless Marketing
Many bloggers provide tips, which are very helpful. David, however, provides something even more valuable – wisdom. David shares a lifetime of experience on topics such as branding, consumer advertising and earning customer trust.

Sarah Eaton at BeTuitive
Both Sarah and her blog are delightful. Her specialties are email marketing and uncommon observations. A highly useful feature of her blog is the topical category listing.

John Moore at Brand Autopsy
A brilliant, visual and wide-ranging blog on branding. Highly recommended for anyone interested entertaining commentary on consumer and business branding, from a brilliant and eclectic mind.

Michael Smock at Maneuver Marketing Communique
There are marketers who are effervescent, artsy and hyper-creative – and then there’s Michael Smock. Not content to cuddle customers, he concentrates on crushing competition (don’t tell ME I can’t alliterate). He blasts bad marketing. He uses war metaphors and predator imagery. As I am currently working on a Blue Ocean consulting project, I found his commentary on the book particularly compelling.

Ankesh Kothari at Marketing eYe
A remarkable blog which ranges from big thoughts (life, philanthropy) to simple yet effective marketing ideas. I like his suggestions so much that I borrowed a couple for the Best Practices in Blog Marketing page on web marketing portal WebMarketCentral.

Harry Joiner at Marketing Headhunter
An executive recruiter in the marketing arena (explains the blog title), Harry expounds on topics like key marketing skills, people moves, and new opportunities. He’s smart, direct, and well worth the read.

Laura Ries at the Origin of Brands Blog
Co-author with her father, Al, of popular marketing books such as The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR and The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding (my personal favorite), Laura brings the same intelligence, sensibility and fluent style to her blog. This is an entertaining must-read for anyone in consumer/retail marketing.

Terms: Blue Ocean Strategy, marketing blogs, web marketing portal

The portal for Web marketing and e-commerce: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

Labels:


KudoSurf Me!
Add to Technorati Favorites
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
AddThis Feed Button

Friday, September 02, 2005

Big Brother Really IS Watching You

While this is not a political blog, government actions that specifically affect online marketing or e-commerce are fair game. Several states have recently begun sending nasty letters to taxpayers who purchased tobacco products online from several e-retailers, including eSmokes.com.

How did they obtain information on these customers? This issue is about far more than the perils or expense of smoking; these actions have the potential to affect anyone and everyone involved in online marketing or e-commerce, anyone who buys or sells anything online. Do you sell products online? Are you absolutely positively certain that you comply with EVERY state and federal tax statute enacted in the last 100 years? Ever purchased anything online, maybe a book or CD, perhaps some jewelry, say back in 2001? Are you certain that the online retailer paid all appropriate taxes on your purchase? Disturbing? Absolutely. Please read on.

First, the state actions: the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on this activity in late July of this year, although for some mysterious reason the articles can no longer be found on their site. I was able to track down one of the articles here. Minnesota, among other states, is apparently using a dusty 60-year-old law called the Jenkins Act, originally enacted to combat cross-border cigarette smuggling by the Mafia, to bypass the normal channels of obtaining evidence and simply demand that legal, private companies in other states simply throw open their customer records to state investigators. This law may run afoul of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, not to mention Indian tribal sovereignty.

There are several problems here. First, no state has any more right to search through your online purchasing records than they do to break down your door and search your home. There needs to be evidence of a crime, probable cause to believe that you were involved in it, and a warrant granted by a judge before the state can legally search your online history or your home. Several states have therefore violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches. The Jenkins Act itself may be an unconstitutional violation of the Tenth Amendment.

Second, if the online retailers were acting illegally, isn't it logical to prosecute them? To use an offline analogy, if the proprietor of a local retailer in your neighborhood, let's call it John's Bait Shop and Beauty Supply, decided to increase his profits by simply failing to pay sales taxes to his state, that would be clearly be illegal. The state would no doubt pursue John in this case. However, it is inconceivable, unless the state not only knew but could prove that John's customers were in on this activity, that the state would track down John's customers for payment of back taxes.

Minnesota, along with Michigan and at least 10 other states, have violated the Constitution in their pursuit of higher revenues; even more disturbing than the fact that online retailers have been forced to throw open their confidential customer information is that the major credit card companies are also exposing their records (which means of course, your records). And Minnesota "intends to work with the U.S. Postal Service and commercial transportation companies to monitor cigarette deliveries to residential addresses." So Big Brother is now searching your mail and FedEx packages as well.

Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle is one of the few sane politicians fighting this practice.

The state of Minnesota, along with the other participating states, apparently believe that it is fine to violate the Constitution in their pursuit of revenue. They've violated the privacy of their citizens. They've violated certainly the spirit, if not the letter, of the Internet Tax Freedom Act. Worst of all, however, they have violated the trust of the entire e-commerce marketplace.

To the long list of nefarious cretins intent on stealing your private online information -- hackers, spammers, perpetrators of fraud -- we can now add state revenue officials. They want your money. They won't stop with tobacco users. Express your outrage. And watch your back.

Labels:


KudoSurf Me!
Add to Technorati Favorites
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
AddThis Feed Button

eXTReMe Tracker