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Total Expert Raises $20 Million In Series B Funding To Fuel Growth

Total Expert has raised $20 million in Series B funding. The round was led by Emergence Capital with participation from Rally Ventures and Arthur Ventures, bringing Total Expert’s total funding to $34 million.

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“We started Total Expert to ensure banks and lenders stay ahead of how customers expect to communicate, shop, and manage their financial lives in the digital/social era,” said Joe Welu founder and chief executive officer at Total Expert. “People expect digital simplicity and real human relationships, and financial services companies too often lose these relationships when they don’t engage with personalized, automated communication as people go from awareness to lead to transaction. We solve this using data to drive each customer’s journey toward a relevant transaction, then manage each customer relationship for life.”

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Customer relationship management (CRM) is one piece of a complex marketing automation software puzzle. For banks and lenders to grow sales while protecting consumers from unfair and deceptive messages, CRM software isn’t enough. They must have a full Marketing Operating System (MOS) to easily create and track every tweet, text, email, postcard, etc., from first send to closed transaction, and every communication must be polished and personalized whether a customer is just starting to research a mortgage or they’re a years-long relationship who may now be ready to open new credit and deposit accounts for their teenagers.

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Total Expert created the MOS in 2012 to address these complex needs and began with mortgage, the most technical and highly-regulated sector of consumer finance. The company already powers marketing and revenue growth for 10% of $2 trillion per year U.S. mortgage industry, and since 2016, it has multiplied it’s customer base seven times, which includes eight of America’s top 15 lenders like U.S. Bank, loanDepot and Guaranteed Rate. Total Expert has also quadrupled in size to 162 employees since then, and is the fastest growing software company in its hometown of Minneapolis.

“We saw a massive opportunity in the MOS software category to turn marketing into a revenue center for lending, banking, wealth management, and insurance companies,” said Joseph Floyd, partner at Emergence Capital. “Financial services software requires specialized expertise to allow large sales forces to deploy creative, compliant marketing across all channels, and this is the DNA of Total Expert’s product, brand and vision. Their team of engineers, data scientists, designers and financial services veterans puts them in a rare position to modernize how financial institutions acquire, manage and grow customer relationships.”

With the new capital, Total Expert will accelerate marketing innovation in banking and lending, and also begin expanding into insurance and wealth management in America and around the world.

Reach Your Target Market

Jeff Grover rightly asserts that “starting a business can seem daunting, albeit exciting, but it doesn’t happen all at once – nor should it” in his recent article published in Forbes entitled “Three Things You Can Do To Identify Your Target Market Today.” He goes on to note that as productivity expert and author David Allen has been quoted as saying, “You don’t actually do a project; you can only do action steps related to it.”

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I have found that determining a target market is an important “project” that requires time, resources, a supportive network and extensive market research. However, this process is much more manageable when viewed as a series of actionable items.

Whether your product or service is new or you’re improving a current issue in your field, here are three actionable steps you can take today to identify your target market.

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1.) Use basic keyword research tools to pinpoint top queries.

Data mined from highly specified queries will inform you of what drives your competitors’ organic traffic. Keyword research data will help you regardless, but especially if you plan to use online marketing strategies. This information can also be useful for established businesses, as they create and share content online.

First, begin your research with a generic phrase or keyword for your target market. This will establish who your primary audience is, what questions they are asking and what solutions they expect.

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Once you’ve entered your keyword or phrase into Google Search, take note of all the top auto-suggestions as well as which companies rank in the search engine results page (SERP). Determine who your main competition is and what kind of products and services they provide. Not only will this information give you valuable insight into your competition in the field, but it will also allow you to find where there are gaps in services or product efficiency.

Utilize Google’s free AdWords Keyword Planner to guide your preliminary research. According to the 2017 Google Economic Impact report, companies make an average of $2 in revenue for every $1 they spend on AdWords. Investing in such tools can increase profit and expand your company outreach.

Factoring in keyword research prior to starting your business will put you ahead of the game. Beyond the technical aspect of search engine optimization (SEO) benefits, these tools can help you determine the intent and problems of potential customers searching for answers.

2.) Gather anecdotal data from your personal network.

A newly formed business relies heavily on engaging with actual customers. It is one thing to enter in queries and get a general picture of your target audience, but it doesn’t help if you can’t attract their attention in the real world.

Send out a survey on social media or through email asking some fundamental questions about your business idea and the problem it solves. Using your Google Search query as your guide, and ask questions like these:

>>What solutions or resources are currently available to you?

>>How satisfied are you with available products or services?

>>How would you go about finding the information you need?

>>Describe your ideal product or service in this market.

>>Under what circumstances would you use such a product/service, and how much would you pay for it?

Take the responses from your survey and weigh each suggestion carefully. Will any of the ideas take more time or money to accommodate? Will you have to compromise goals or morals? How will these suggestions fit into your business plan or model?

Family, friends, acquaintances and strangers will all have ideas regarding what would work best, and the more diverse insights you can obtain, the better. Keep in mind that the most valuable input is from those who are both highly interested and able to buy the product or service you propose.

3.) Identify commonalities and research pain points.

Though not comprehensive, the information gathered from the above steps can pinpoint demographic or value-based similarities among those most interested in the problem you’re tackling.

Look at the queries generated from your preliminary searches. Do the related terms seem to resonate with a particular life stage, occupation, physical condition or geographical area? Of the email or survey responses, is there a certain gender, age, hobby or income level that unites the enthusiastic survey responders?

Pursue each common thread by learning more about that particular commonality. For example, if your product or service seems to appeal to do-it-yourselfers (DIYers), consider subscribing to Make: magazine to read more about what they value. If your business plan solves a problem primarily plaguing baby boomers, arrange an informal focus group with your friends in that age group to discuss those issues in more depth.

Almost every industry has outlets for information and conversation. Join these communities to begin a mutually beneficial exchange of value between your ideas (eventually your business) and your target market.

Down the road, you may decide to pursue generational market research, which explores age as well as social, economic and psychological factors, and/or cohort marketing research, which studies groups of people who underwent similar experiences during their formative years.

Regardless of the similarities shared by your target market, keep in mind that many consumers don’t want their personal characteristics or habits rigidly categorized, preferring to feel unique and cared for in a personal way.

The remainder of David Allen’s well-known quote reassures: “When enough of the right action steps have been taken, some situation will have been created that matches your initial picture of the outcome closely enough that you can call it ‘done.’”

Certainly, a company’s market research is never done, but initial target market research initiatives can provide personal momentum and bring you close enough to your target to warrant measures that are more expansive (and expensive).

By taking simple steps today toward identifying your target market, you’ll rapidly approach the bullseye of an audience that both desperately wants and has the ability to pay for your product or service.

About The Author

Michael Hammond

Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

A Lesson On Leadership

The world is focused with gratitude on the incredible underwater rescue of 12 youth soccer players and their 25-year-old coach from a submerged cave in Thailand.

The lead divers who found the team were expert civilian cave divers from Great Britain, whose story is amazing on their own. But it’s also no surprise that the Thai Navy SEALs oversaw the whole operation.

The Thai Navy SEALs trace their history back 50 years, when they were established with the assistance of the precursor of the U.S. Navy SEALs. (There are also U.S. Navy SEAL-inspired units in other countries, including South Korea and the Philippines.)

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With the incredible news that all the members of the team and their coach have been rescued, Bill Murphy Jr. shares seven key, Navy SEAL-inspired tenets to keep in mind to tackle any supposedly impossible challenge in his article entitled “Want to Succeed Against Incredible Odds? 7 Things to Learn From the Navy SEALs,” Every mortgage executive can take a lesson from these tips.

1.) Refuse to believe.

This is the opposite of what you’d think, right? That believing leads to achieving?

In this case, it was about refusing to believe it was an impossible mission, as many others were saying, or even that it would be a success if even some of the boys were rescued.

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2.) Self-sacrifice.

Near the top of this list, we need to recognize that one retired Thai Navy SEAL gave his life in this effort. Everyone involved risked it happening to them, too.

Saman Kunan was 38 years old, an avid trail runner and cycler. He’s being hailed as a national hero in Thailand.

3.) Physical toughness.

We heard a lot about potential technological rescues. Would it be possible to drill down and reach the boys? Even Elon Musk showed up with a quickly built mini-submarine.

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But in the end, it came down to tough, physically fit people who made the grueling multi-hour underwater journey, over and over. I can’t help but see a connection back to the World War II frogmen, who sometimes went into battle with just swim trunks, flippers, a mask, and a knife.

4.) Mental toughness.

I’ve never been anywhere near Navy SEAL training. People who’ve been through it say that while physical toughness is important, mental toughness is far more crucial.

Admiral Bill McRaven, the Navy SEAL who commanded the operation to get Osama bin Laden, talks about how some of the toughest SEALs he knew were a group of physically small men called the Munchkin Crew, who simply “out-paddled, out-ran, and out-swam all the other boat crews.”

5.) Training, training, training.

You’ve heard about U.S. Navy SEAL training. Other countries with SEAL-inspired forces have similarly insane regimens. It all goes back to sweating on the training field to minimize bleeding on the battlefield.

It’s easier to believe things are possible when you’ve done similar things in training before.

6.) Tactical patience.

There’s a big difference between inaction and what we might call “tactical patience.” The former leads to failure, but the latter can lead to success.

The example here would be the decision not to try to wait out the monsoon season for months to get the boys out (as had been suggested), but instead to bring the boys out in small groups over a matter of days.

7.) Practice humility.

The Thai Navy SEALs were the first to try to make it into the cave, and they coordinated the rescue. But they also demonstrated something else: the humility to step back and ask for help from a group of foreign civilians, who had special skills the SEALs didn’t.

The world now knows the names John Volanthen and Rick Stanton, an IT specialist and a retired firefighter by trade, who have been described as “the best cave divers on the planet, nicknamed the “The A Team.”

As former Navy SEAL and author Leif Babin puts it: “No leader has it all figured out. You can’t rely on yourself. You’ve got to rely on other people, so you’ve got to ask for help, you’ve got to empower the team, and you’ve got to accept constructive criticism.”

About The Author

Michael Hammond

Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

Looking For Investment Money?

A lot of startups and mainstay mortgage technology companies are looking for investors. But how do you attract them? Look to other companies that have been successful and follow their lead.

In the article entitled “Best Pitch Decks: The Early Stage Pitch Decks Of The Hottest Funded Startups” by Alejandro Cremades, he talks about how to create a winning pitch deck that gets your startup funded. Whether you are still at seed stage, or are preparing for a follow up series of funding, a lot of your success is riding on a few slides.

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So, let’s take a look at the early stage pitch decks from some of the hottest companies that have successfully raised big money, and see what we can learn from them.

Uber

Uber has a nice sleek and clean pitch deck, as you’d expect. The deck dives deep into the detail of vehicle types and mile per gallon, all plans that seem to have been left behind after the company got funded. It’s a reminder not to box yourself in with specific strategies and tactics you’ll almost inevitably take a detour on later.

Dollars raised so far: $22B across 18 fundraising rounds

Number of slides in deck: 25

Early investors included: First Round, Benchmark, and Menlo Ventures.

Of special note: At the time Uber created this deck in 2008 it projected the overall market being worth $4.2B annually. It has raised over 5x that in funding.

In May 2018 Uber’s CEO said the company was on track to go IPO in 2019.

WeWork

WeWork may prove to be one of the most underrated companies from its early days. Going beyond simply providing co-working space the company is now in the residential apartment market and education.

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Dollars raised so far: $1.7B

Number of slides in deck: 37

Recent valuation: $20B

Early investors included: Benchmark

Of special note: SEC filings showed that WeWork owed $18B in rent as April 2018

Tinder

For a startup banking on looks to generate big profits (with a little help from gamification) Tinder’s early pitch deck seems to be a bit of an eyesore. Though with 8 billion matches reportedly made on the site so far, it’s a hot app people seem to be addicted to.

Number of slides in deck: 10

Recent valuation: $3B+

Sub-Organization of Match Group

Of special note: The company was originally named Match Box

Snapchat

Their deck was a little meaty and heavy on text for what snap stands for as an app. Yet, the company has undeniably appeared to be one of the fastest growing and an app best loved by celebrities.

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Dollars raised so far: $4.6B+

Number of slides in deck: 14

Early investors included: Lightspeed, Benchmark, IVP.

Of special note: Kylie Jenner is credited with knocking out $1.3B in Snap market value following a negative Tweet about Snap’s new redesign.

Buzzfeed

This deck was used when Buzzfeed had just 700k unique monthly views. Many of which were likely to clickbait content, which the company later took down as it attempted to become a more serious news source.

Dollars raised so far: $500M+

Number of slides in deck: 21

Recent valuation: $1.7B

Early investors included: Hearst, RRE, NEA, and Andreessen Horowitz.

Of special note: Buzzfeed shows off an extensive list of team members in this deck, yet, notes all content at the time was handled by just 2 editors, with a monthly burn rate of $60k.

Foursquare

We don’t hear much about Foursquare anymore, but the founders certainly deserve credit for leveraging its deck into millions of dollars.

Dollars raised so far: $155M+

Number of slides in deck: 15

Recent valuation: $600M+

Early investors included: Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures.

Of special note: Goes beyond basic positioning statements to use competitors as references more than once. It’s good to liken your startup to something investors already know, but be careful that you are actually differentiating yourself and show a need for what you are bringing to market.

Airbnb

Their pitch deck shows a great use of user testimonials and ‘use cases’ on one slide that are easy to understand. Interestingly this deck is far longer than the CEO’s famous one-page business plan to dominate the hospitality space.

Perhaps more amazing is that Airbnb has accomplished all this while technically being illegal, just as Uber was when it started out, and many of today’s cannabis startups were before recent legislation.

Dollars raised so far: $4.4B in thirteen funding rounds

Number of slides in deck: 13

Early investors included: Sequoia Capital, Greylock Partners, and Andreessen Horowitz.

Of special note: Airbnb did a great job of highlighting 3 value propositions or problems solved in one simple slide. A feat not normally recommended, unless you want to confuse potential investors.

Why talk about these pitch decks and companies? They all seem to have slide counts falling between 10 and 25 slides. Many of these companies original names changed after they got funded. Like UberCab, AirBed&Breakfast, or Match Box.

Don’t overlook the fact that most of these host companies were born in some of the toughest financial times our country has experienced (2008-2011). They’ve also continually raised money in 4 to 7, or more funding rounds.

None of these pitch decks are perfect, but they worked in conjunction with other factors, like getting in front of the right investors. As you will be able to find with the profiles of investors they onboarded, you will see that very early on they were able to convince top tier investors.

If you’re looking to get funded find the right investors, and with an even better deck you may raise more money, in less time and achieve even more.

About The Author

Michael Hammond

Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

Marketing Outlook: 5 Ways Merging Big Data, AI, And Blockchain Tech Is Rectifying The Marketing Gap

One of the biggest challenges marketers face today is customer acquisition and retention. The key to both acquiring new customers and retaining current customers is possessing the critical data that can help you, one, communicate effectively with the highest qualified contact possible and, two, further identify the needs of your current customers to foster long-term loyalty. Unfortunately, the today’s data industry is both far too complicated and highly fragmented, offering a confusing glut of choices that are overwhelming marketers who are in desperate need of this mission-critical information. The existing data marketing ecosystem of data and direct marketing list owners, managers and brokers is wildly inefficient and often ineffective, costing businesses untold millions in unnecessary time and money, and untold more in opportunity loss.

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Even so, given the fundamental truth that data is the backbone of both digital advertising and marketing and traditional direct marketing, marketers have just struggled along with what the market has been able to provide, for better or for worse. Global advertising revenue for 2017 was $591 billion with $209 billion of it dedicated to digital advertising. A conundrum as effective data sources are becoming even rarer as the need for—and actual dependency upon—data becomes more essential. The escalating demand for big data sources that provide quality and complete data has skyrocketed in today’s digital age.

Unfortunately, it’s the fundamental big data sources that have been the very crux of the problem for marketers. Today, an individual, entity or brand looking to acquire a specific data set will have to spend extensive time and resources locating sources that meet its target audience, negotiate costs, and establish privacy standards for the transferring of the data. This leads to a decrease in quality and data record duplication. These three challenges not only make it extremely cost prohibitive to identify and acquire the various parameters required to compile the exact dataset that is needed but, for small and medium sized businesses, it creates a actual barrier to enter the data marketplace.

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As problematic, attempting to generate revenue today from existing datasets brings its own unique set of challenges. The first is the time and money it takes to create data cards and collateral for the data owner to monetize. At the same time, they need to identify the right organization or marketplace with the widest reach—one that represents the highest demand for their data. The second major challenge is integrity and accountability. Data owners do not trust outside organizations to properly store, manage and monetize their data.

The last major concern surrounds the security of the storage environment. Data abuse and lack of transparency in the revenue share business model are underlying fears that will ultimately prevent a list owner from making his/her unique data set available for purchase.
So with all of problems running rampant in the big data industry, what is needed to put this key facet on course? Below are 5 reasons why merging big data, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology will revolutionize data-driven marketing worldwide, across all industries:

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Empowerment. A blockchain-based system empowers data source providers to monetize their data and better capitalize demand, allowing data source providers to access the large global marketplace. In the same way that eBay provides a marketplace for vendors of physical products, a blockchain-based digital marketplace can create growth potential for data source providers of all sizes, while also reducing barriers to entry into the industry.

Transparency. A blockchain approach provides data providers with full transparency, traceability and auditability, overcoming many of the hurdles data providers currently face in the existing marketplace. Anyone who has operated in the big data space knows that duplicate data, false data, and questionable sourcing are unfortunate industry truths. However, a blockchain-based approach provides complete transparency, allowing buyers to see where the data has been and where it came from prior to purchasing.

Confidence. A more transparent vetting and grading system for data will improve confidence building between the end user and data sources. Currently, most data purchases are practically blind transactions, whereby buyers won’t really know what kind of data they’re receiving until they actually buy it, because no vendor would ever reveal the data prior to money changing hands. Once you have the data, it’s then up to you to determine its quality but by then the money has been spent. Rather than this archaic process leaving much to be desired, having a 3rd party scoring system improves quality and increases trust in the marketplace, facilitating more transactions and leading to overall higher levels of confidence in the industry as a whole. Giving business and consumers quality and verified data that’s vetted and scored externally allows for the reduction, if not elimination, of false or outdated data—a significant problem currently plaguing the industry.

Simplification. By simplifying and aggregating world data transactions into a single point of sale, the result will be an “Amazon” like marketplace, where economies of scale and data aggregation will facilitate a smoother, cleaner and simply better checkout process; creating more data trade worldwide. Giving end users a simplified, easy-to-use and robust interface with a quick and secure payment system between the business or individual and data sources is a requisite means toward this end.

Artificial Intelligence. “Smart Indexing” Engines are now utilizing predictive analytics (a type of artificial intelligence using data analysis and machine learning) for “Confidence Scoring” to provide continual real-time accurate data. Based on immediate business conditions, this will allow for record sets that can be a single individual that matches all parameters or millions of records that match desired parameters.

Ultimately, democratizing big data levels the data playing field by providing the most comprehensive marketing data solution to all businesses and individuals. It will provide a robust interface between the business or individual and the data sources. The backend systems will ensure full confidence in data quality for the end user as well as transactional finality for the data providers.

About The Author

Adam Mittelberg

Adam Mittelberg is Chief Marketing Officer of DataBlockChain.io, a Media Direct, Inc.-partner company at the forefront of democratizing big data and leveling the data playing field. He oversees the most comprehensive marketing data solution available to all businesses and individuals featuring a robust interface between users and data sources and transparent backend system ensuring data quality, confidence and transactional finality. He may be reached at www.datablockchain.io.

You Need To Know About SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) seems pretty straightforward. You pick a few keywords, and voilà! Your page is optimized for SEO, right? Not yet.

Many people understand the basic principles of SEO, but a lot has changed in the last decade, according to Rachel Leist, in her article entitled “The Definition of SEO in 100 Words or Less.”

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She concludes that the SEO that we know and love today is not the same SEO that we knew and loved (or hated) 10 years ago. And that’s why SEO is something marketers should continue to define, and redefine. Here’s a brief definition in under 100 words:

SEO stands for search engine optimization, that much has stayed the same. It refers to techniques that help your website rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs). This makes your website more visible to people who are looking for solutions that your brand, product, or service can provide via search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing.

What hasn’t stayed the same are the techniques we use to improve our rankings. This has everything to do with the search algorithms that these companies constantly change.

SEO works by optimizing a website’s pages, conducting keyword research, and earning inbound links. You can generally see results of SEO efforts once the webpage has been crawled and indexed by a search engine.

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Looking deeper: There are a ton of ways to improve the SEO of your site pages, though. Search engines look for elements including title tags, keywords, image tags, internal link structure, and inbound links (also known as backlinks). And that’s just to name a few.

Search engines also look at site structure and design, visitor behavior, and other external, off-site factors to determine how highly ranked your site should be in their SERPs.

Organic search refers to someone conducting a search through a search engine and clicking on a non-paid result. Organic search is a search marketing channel that can be used as part of inbound marketing to increase website traffic.

Looking deeper: In present-day SEO, you can’t simply include as many keywords as possible to reach the people who are searching for you. In fact, this will actually hurt your website’s SEO because search engines will recognize it as keyword stuffing, or the act of including keywords specifically to rank for that keyword, rather than to answer a person’s question.

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Nowadays, you should use your keywords in your content in a way that doesn’t feel unnatural or forced. There isn’t a magic number, it all depends on the length of your keyword and article, but if you feel like you’re forcing it, it’s better to ignore it and continue writing naturally.

An SEO marketing strategy is a comprehensive plan to get more visitors to your website through search engines. Successful SEO includes on-page strategies, which use intent-based keywords; and off-page strategies, which earn inbound links from other websites.

Looking deeper: Before you create a new site page or blog post, you’ll probably be thinking about how to incorporate your keywords into your post. That’s alright, but it shouldn’t be your only focus, or even your primary focus. Whenever you create content, your focus should be on the intent of your audience, not how many times you can include a keyword (whether it’s long tail or short tail) in your content.

Organic traffic is unpaid traffic that comes from search engines such as Google or Bing. Paid search marketing does not increase your organic traffic numbers, but you can optimize your website using inbound marketing software to gain more visitors.

Looking deeper: One of the biggest changes in the last decade is the way other user behaviors shape the SERPs a user sees on search engines. And today, social media can have a big impact on your organic traffic trend line. Even just a few years ago, it didn’t make a difference who was finding your content through social search. But now SEO takes into account tweets, retweets, Google+ authorship, and other social signals.

Social search also prioritizes content and people that are connected to you. That could mean through a Facebook friend, Twitter follower, or connection through another social network. Sometimes social search will even prioritize content that has been shared by an influencer. Social search understands that you may be interested in content that your network feels is important to share, and therefore it’ll often get surfaced to you.

This all means when you’re thinking about your SEO strategy, you need to think about how your social media strategy fits into the puzzle, too.

Direct traffic consists of website visitors that come to your website by typing the URL into their browser, rather than coming from another website, a search engine, or social media.

Looking deeper: Think of search engine optimization as “search experience optimization.” It’s not just important for your users to find your website, it’s important for them to stay on your website, interact with your content, and come back later. Direct traffic doesn’t just increase your “page authority” in the eyes of Google; it creates more opportunities to turn someone, who first discovered you organically, into a customer.

SEO actually takes into account whether or not your visitors are staying on your website and engaging with other content. If you rank well for a keyword and attract a visitor who isn’t relevant, it won’t actually help your website.

Think about your visitors and the content they are looking for more than how many people you can attract to your website.

SEO is important because it helps people find information and discover pages on the world wide web. SEO is especially important for businesses as it ensures they’re answering their audience’s biggest questions on search engines, while driving traffic to their products and services.

Looking deeper: In the past, SEO success was measured by whether or not you were ranked high on the first page of Google. But even if you ranked well for a term, does that actually mean you’re going to see results?

Not always. You might rank really well for terms that aren’t ideal for your business. So you appear high on search engines, get a ton of traffic, but then your website visitors realize your company isn’t what they were looking for. You don’t convert customers from this traffic, and ranking high for this particular keyword is essentially fruitless.

Also, you don’t necessarily need to be in the top three slots to be successful. In fact, if you rank well on subsequent pages, you may still have a high click-through-rate. That’s great news for marketers who can’t seem to bring pages into those top slots or off the second page.

We said it before and we’ll say it again: The amount of traffic to your page is less important than how qualified that traffic is.

SEO can cost between $100 and $500 per month if you do it yourself with a keyword research tool. It can cost between $75 and $150 per hour for a consultant, and up to $10,000 per month if you hire a full-service marketing agency. Small businesses generally spend less on SEO than big brands, but they can still get the same or better results if they focus on SEO and align with experts that can help them along.

About The Author

Michael Hammond

Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

Don’t Slack Off Now

It’s tempting to slack off during the dog days of summer, but content marketing doesn’t take a vacation. If you want top dog results, the time to assess your efforts is now.

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According to John Hall, in his article “This Is the Perfect Time of Year to Assess Your Content,” summer is the perfect time to kick back, hang at the pool, and leave behind any worries you might have about the future of marketing.

Even if your audience members take time off for travel of their own, summer doesn’t mean you get a free pass on your content. While you keep doing what you’re doing and just wait for the next budget cycle to make any real changes to your content strategy, your competitors are building their brands and climbing to the top of your audiences’ minds.

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Content is a dynamic part of your marketing strategy. You’re going to need to check up on your performance and make tweaks to your plan more than once a year, and summer is a great time to assess your efforts and correct course if you need to.

By now, you should have at least a full quarter’s worth of data on your content marketing strategy to review. You should know how close you are to achieving the goals you set and which areas have presented the biggest challenges so far.

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Not only do you have enough usable data, but you also have a competitive advantage when it comes to getting your content published.

Online editors across industries and niches need more contributed content in June, July, and August than almost any other time of year. You can meet editors’ needs, engage your audience members, and contribute to your goals, all at the same time, if your strategy is set up correctly.

And if those aren’t reasons enough to keep up with your content and assess your plan, ask yourself: Would you rather know whether your content is effective now or when it’s budget time and you don’t have the results you need to lock in those dollars?

Content strategies rely on a lot of moving parts, and actually assessing your effectiveness can be challenging, especially if you don’t have anything to guide you through it.

To get started making changes that can impact your company for the rest of the year, follow these three tips:

1.) Retrace Your Steps

Go back to your original strategy and the goals you set. What metrics did you say you would track? How are you doing on that front so far?

Maybe your goal is lead generation. Did you meet your lead gen goal for the quarter? Or are you creating lots of content without seeing many leads? You could have seen good social shares this quarter and grown your Twitter following by 20 percent, but did your content actually help you reach the lead gen goal you set for it? Start by comparing your performance to the goal you want to reach.

2.) Diversify Your Content

Company blogs play a vital role in any content strategy, but if you lean on your blog to do all the work of a diverse content mix, it’ll be nearly impossible to see the results you want.

Content is a toolbox, and you have so many tools at your disposal: blog posts, sure, but also press mentions, email marketing, guest posts, and more. Your blog can’t do it all alone. Great content strategies use different types of content for different goals, so consider what you’ve tried so far and whether it’s actually working, then test adding new content deliverables to amplify your results.

3.) Stretch Your Work Further

Developing content is one thing, but using it properly is a whole other animal. Are you distributing your content and building links? Do you have a plan for how to go from content production to increased revenue or brand awareness? Do you have the tools you need to scale?

Don’t stop at content generation. Put in the work to expand the reach of your content. From paid amplification to email marketing to SEO audits, invest in your content to get the maximum return on your investment.

Marketers have a responsibility to keep an eye on their content’s performance all year, but summer is an especially good time to dig deep. Use the data you’ve collected, identify the gaps in your approach, and correct course for a more effective strategy throughout the rest of the year.

About The Author

Michael Hammond

Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

The Right Way To Win The Deal

Regardless of who you’re selling to, lenders, servicers or the borrower, you have to have a clear strategy and you have to execute. That’s essential. But even before that, famed consultant Jill Konrath challenges people in her article “The Experience of You” that you should start by asking yourself: Would you buy something from yourself?

Konrath goes further to say that you should imagine yourself as someone who’s always involved in the buying decision for your product/service. Here’s the scenario: You’re busy. Really busy. You’ve been in meetings all morning and by lunchtime you’re already two hours behind schedule.

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Grabbing a quick sandwich and chips at the vending machine, you sit down at your desk to try to catch up while you eat. Forty-two new emails sit in your inbox awaiting your response. A quick scan shows nothing requiring an immediate reply.

Checking voicemail, you hear that you have seven messages piled up. Since you’re expecting an important call, you’re forced to listen to each one. But your attention span is short. If the caller doesn’t pique your interest right away, they’re bleeped.

Right after lunch, you’re meeting with a salesperson that somehow managed to get on your calendar. You look at the work piled on your desk. There’s enough there to keep you busy for two weeks if you had nothing else to do but finish it.

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Your stomach wretches with the dread of another non-productive meeting. You have no patience for sellers who ask trite questions to which they should already know the answer.

You don’t want to hear about their products or service. Nor do you want to add any more complexity or change to what you’re already doing—even for just a short while. You can’t keep up as it is.

That’s the reality facing most buyers today.

If you’re like most sellers, your approach is creating your own problems. If you’ve been in sales for a long time, you’re likely using the same strategies and techniques you learned long ago. If you’re new to sales, you’re likely being trained on skills that worked just a few short years ago but are no longer effective.

Sales success today requires you to be distinct or face becoming extinct. In The Experience Economy, authors Pine and Gilmore write that future economic growth lies in the value of experiences and transformations. An interesting thought to ponder. What relevance could it possibly have for people who sell?

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The truth is that every interaction you have with prospective customers is either a positive or a negative experience—never neutral. If your prospect feels they received value from your interaction, you get a second chance. If not, you’re out.

Sharing information about your product or service contributes virtually nothing to the value equation. It’s assumed that you will say only good things about your offering.

Additionally, buyers perceive that what you sell is nearly identical to your competitors – whether you think it is or not. As far as they’re concerned, everything is a commodity or soon will be.

Rich and compelling experiences are created by sellers who recognize the shift that’s taken place in the market. They study their prospect’s business problems and goals. They constantly search for information that their prospects would find valuable.

When they talk with their prospects, they bring along ideas and insights into what’s happening in the marketplace, with their prospect’s customers or with their competitors. They challenge their customer’s paradigm of what it takes to be successful and get them thinking.

These “experiences” don’t just happen serendipitously. You have to immerse yourself in your prospect’s business, market segment, industry and more. You need to continually be asking, “How can I help my customers achieve their goals or solve their problems?”

As a person who sells, your job is to orchestrate this rich and compelling experience. You can’t leave it up to happenstance.

Authors Pine and Ginsmore further advocate that customers should pay for this “experience.” With that in mind, I’ll leave you with one final thought:

Would your prospects willingly pay $500 for an hour of your time?

Think about that each time you meet with a potential buyer and make it happen. Your competitors won’t stand a chance.

About The Author

Michael Hammond

Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.

Guaranteed Rate Rolls Out New Marketing Platform

Guaranteed Rate, one of the largest retail mortgage lenders in the United States, has chosen Total Expert as its strategic technology partner to deploy its new proprietary marketing operating system (MOS), named Red Arrow Connect.  The system is designed for the modern top producer, bringing together best-in-class marketing tools and existing industry leading technology, custom built by Guaranteed Rate’s in-house technology team.

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“As part of Guaranteed Rate’s commitment to leading the industry in innovation, we selected Total Expert as a partner who most closely aligns with our needs and vision for the future,” said Chief Operating Officer Nikolaos Athanasiou of Guaranteed Rate. “Total Expert demonstrated its ability to scale to our needs, allowing us to customize our existing best-in-class technology platform. This streamlines the process for our loan officers to make it easier to build their brand and generate more business.”

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Total Expert, the first modern enterprise sales and marketing technology platform built to meet the unique needs of mortgage lenders, banks and financial institutions, will empower Guaranteed Rate’s nearly 1,500 loan officers across the country to manage and communicate with their customers and referral partners, while maintaining company brand standards and regulatory requirements.

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“Guaranteed Rate has been recognized by numerous publications for being a leader in technology, which demonstrates the company’s ability to be agile and innovative – two words we use to describe Total Expert. We’re pleased that our shared vision has translated into a strong partnership,” said Joe Welu, founder and CEO of Total Expert.

About The Author

Tony Garritano

Tony Garritano is chairman and founder at PROGRESS in Lending Association. As a speaker Tony has worked hard to inform executives about how technology should be a tool used to further business objectives. For over 10 years he has worked as a journalist, researcher and speaker in the mortgage technology space. Starting this association was the next step for someone like Tony, who has dedicated his career to providing mortgage executives with the information needed to make informed technology decisions. He can be reached via e-mail at tony@progressinlending.com.

A Time To Listen

Many times we think we have all the answers, or at least that we know what we’re doing. However, it always helps to get some outside advice. In the article “The Power of an Outside Voice” by Jon Gordon, he shares a story about an interaction that he had with a top CEO.

The CEO said, “We brought you here to reinforce our message. Our folks get tired of hearing us say it but when it comes from an outside voice it’s new, fresh and exciting.”

Jon knew exactly what that CEO was talking about.

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Even though he is brought in to speak to some of the biggest names in sports and business his kids have little interest in hearing what he has to say.

Besides having his kids read his books and writing inspirational messages on whiteboards in their rooms, Jon resorted to outside voices to reinforce the message and principles he want to share with them.

Jon has found coaches, tutors, mentors, experts, etc. to encourage, coach, teach, push and bring out the best in his children.

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Jon also give his children books to read and shared inspiring YouTube videos and messages from role models such as Mo Isom, Daniel Rodriguez, Erwin McManus, Alexis Jones, Eric Thomas, Bailey Obrien and other inspirational people.

There’s something about the power of an outside voice and I want to encourage you to use outside voices to share and reinforce important principles and messages with your team at work and at home.

I will do all I can do to support you by continuing to write articles, give talks and provide even more free resources to be an outside voice for you and others. I know it’s my purpose and I’m glad to be of help.

NexLevel Advisors is a strategic business advisory firm that assists companies in growing their businesses more quickly and strategically than they could by themselves. We are passionate about taking your business and people to the next level by differentiating your company and its unique offerings.

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Our customized solutions help you to sell more, more frequently, to more people by clearly establishing your specific value propositions. This is where real world experience, strategy and execution deliver measurable results for your organization.

In the end, there are many outside voices out there and I encourage you to find the right people and resources to share with your work team and ask family members, neighbors, friends, teachers and mentors to encourage and teach your children and team at home. This philosophy is so great that it will help you with your work life and your home life.

There’s the power of an outside voice and you can start tapping into one today!

About The Author

Michael Hammond

Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.