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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.

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.

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.

Let’s Do This Right

Now is the time to think about holistic marketing. Why? We all know that the current mortgage market has its challenges. But that’s no reason to give up. Now is the time to hone your marketing so you are the company of choice.

In the article entitled “The Best of B2B Marketing Content: 10 Examples” written by Meghan Keaney Anderson, she says that many B2B marketers have seen B2C content at least once and asked, “Why do they get to have all the fun?” But the moments like the one we described above are the ones that remind us: B2B companies are just as passionate about their products as B2C companies are. And for every B2B product, there are even more B2B users out there looking for information, inspiration, and knowledge to provide them with solutions.

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So, what’s the point? No marketing, including content, is uninteresting if you look at it certain ways. Done right, B2B content marketing can certainly match — and sometimes, maybe even rival — the creativity and appeal of the best B2C ones. Here are some tips:

Remember Your Buyer’s Goals

When you’re dying to create truly unique, cutting-edge content, it’s easy to stray from your organization’s mission and focus. So, while it’s great to think outside of the box, use clever subject lines, or even write every email with an overarching humorous tone, keep it relevant and include the information that the people reading it signed up to receive in the first place. Then, keep it human.

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Educate Your Buyers

Think about the problems that your product or service already aims to solve for customers. Then, turn that into relevant content that’s going to both save time for and inform your audience, and make it easy for them to access it.

Grow With Your Buyers

When you begin to brainstorm and map out ideas for content, ask yourself, “Do I really understand my audience?” If you have any doubts as to how the idea will benefit or be useful to your audience, the answer might be “no” — and that’s okay. Like everything else, audiences (and people) evolve, so it’s okay to go back to the drawing board in instances like these for a refresh.

Diversify Your Channels

The Internet is only going to become more crowded. And as the human attention span dwindles, that makes it even more important to create content that engages and maintains your audience’s attention.

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So while we don’t recommend abandoning blogs completely, after all, written content is still vital to SEO, we do emphasize the importance of diversifying content formats. Marketers who incorporate video into their content strategies, for example, have seen 49% faster revenue growth than those who don’t. And remember that tip to “keep it human” we mentioned earlier? That’s a great thing about live video in particular, it can help portray brands (and their people) as candid and genuine.

Work With Thought Leaders

If you’ve ever wondered how to leverage the wealth of knowledge outside of your organization, and inside your professional network, here’s a great example.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to the entrepreneurs and leaders you’ve met, or simply just admire, to figure out how they can work with you to create content with teachable experiences that your audience will value. Sharing useful, relatable first-hand accounts conveys empathy, which helps to invoke trust among readers.

Publish Off-Domain Content

Take advantage of the availability of off-site content platforms. As my colleague, Sam Mallikarjunan, writes in “Why Medium Works,” it can take up to six months of consistent publishing on your company’s blog before it gains significant traction. (And we’re not discouraging that, stick with it, and find ways to supplement those efforts.) But off-site content diversifies your audience by engaging readers who might not have otherwise found your website.

Medium, for example, connects your content with the people most likely to read it. Plus, you’re creating a publication on a platform that comes with a built-in audience of at least 6.3 million users.

Incorporate Visual Content

Please, please, please don’t neglect to incorporate visuals into your content strategy. Of course, having a presence on visually-focused channels like Instagram and YouTube is vital, but when it comes to your written content, don’t afraid to use visuals there, as well. After all, articles with an image once every 75-100words got double the number of social shares than articles with fewer images.

But if you can also create content that aligns with the core of your product or service, that’s also great. For example, Wistia creates visual content technology, so it makes sense that it would have unique visual content. Identify what your business does particularly well, and then make the most use of the channel that best aligns with your strengths.

Tell Your Brand Story

Dig beneath the surface of the solutions your company provides. You offer solutions, but what is your process? What have you learned that makes you do what you do so well, and how did you get there?

Sure, topics like engineering might be traditionally “unsexy.” But when leveraged and communicated in a storytelling manner, they can make for remarkable content.

Challenge Your Buyers

It’s easy to feel limited by your medium as you create content, especially for a business audience who you’ve all agreed is comfortable with that medium.

But in order for content to convert readers and incite growth, it needs to occasionally disrupt its audience’s point of view. A company doesn’t work for its content; content works for its company. If you need to say something that a blog alone can’t, the business demands that you make it work, whether that means starting a YouTube channel or seeing how you can integrate an AR tool into your next ebook.

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.

Listen Up

When you think about it, a lot of times technology vendors sell lenders their technology based on features or functionality. And lenders try to sell borrowers with loan products. That’s not the right approach. Why? In most cases those items are not what really differentiate you as a technology provider or a lender.

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Conversely, what should be a differentiator for you should be your brand. In the article entitled “How Branding Can Help Your Customers Choose Your Business” written by Alex Schnee, he notes that when you are looking for new ways to encourage customers to find your business and be excited about what you do, you might need to take a look at how you are choosing to brand yourself. Branding might seem like something that you don’t really need to do in order to find success as a company, but you would be surprised to know how much it can end up helping you.

Here are some ways you might want to reconsider your brand and the type of audience you are reaching.

Branding targets customers

Do you know exactly who you want to attract as a customer and why? It’s not always easy to describe your ideal client unless you’ve taken some time to brand yourself properly and to know what type of customer would be attracted to your product or service. By developing a brand, you’re taking the time to know who you are reaching and why, what your buyer’s habits are, and how you can best market to those who will deliver results.

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Branding creates a recognizable image

Most companies that do well are ones that stand out a bit from the crowd. Either they have taken the time to differentiate themselves from the competition in the market, or they are seen as the top competitor. When you can easily recognize a logo or a business model, then a company is already one step ahead in terms of marketing and being competitive on the market. Having a recognizable face as a business can bring in new customers because they are already aware of your reputation.

Branding can create your marketing strategy

If you’ve had trouble putting together a comprehensive marketing strategy for your business, then it might be time to consider whether you are getting the message across through your branding. Your strategy should be based around what you are trying to convey with your brand and the types of customers that you want to reach. This can mean investing in better content, advertising, and the use of social media in order to achieve what you want.

Branding can create reputation

Some of the biggest names in several industries do not necessarily create better products than their competitors, but they do have a reputation to rest on. When customers know what to expect from your business, you are creating a brand name that has a connotation of caring for clients. Consistency tends to be key when you want to develop a brand that customers feel like they can rely on. Reputation can either make or break a business, so it’s in every company’s best interest to foster a positive one and to take the time to use branding as a tool for creating a quality reputation that will last.

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Branding deserves time and effort and evaluation of how you can approach new customer. Because it is such an essential part of a business and how you choose to market yourself, sitting down and developing a strategy can go a long way toward creating repeat and consistent business in the long run.

At NexLevel Advisors, we help clients all the time with branding so they can succeed in this mortgage market. When you think about your brand, Laura Lake points out that there is a lot of confusion around branding in her article entitled “Learn Why Branding Is Important In Marketing.” If you think about it, there are multiple definitions, so what is branding? Decades ago branding was defined as a name, slogan, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of these elements that identify products or services of a company. The brand was identified of the elements that differentiated the goods and or service from the competition.

Today brand is a bit more complex, but even more important in today’s world of marketing.

It’s the perception that a consumer has when they hear or think of your company name, service or product. That being said the word “brand” or “branding” is a moving target and evolves with the behavior of consumers, I think of it as the mental picture of who you as a company represents to consumers, it’s influenced by the elements, words, and creativity that surround it.

What Should a Brand Do?

Branding is not only about getting your target market to select you over the competition but about getting your prospects to see you as the sole provider of a solution to their problem or need.

The objectives that a good brand will achieve include:

>>Clearly, delivers the message

>>Confirms your credibility

>>Emotionally connects your target prospects with your product and or service

>>Motivates the buyer to buy

>>Creates User Loyalty

To succeed in branding, you must understand the needs and wants of your customers and prospects.

A strong brand is invaluable as the battle for customers intensifies day by day. It’s important to spend time investing in researching, defining, and building your brand. After all, your brand is the source of a promise to your consumer.

Your brand is a foundational piece in your marketing communication and one you do not want to be without. Branding is strategic and marketing is tactical and what you use to get your brand in front of consumers. That’s why it carries a great deal of importance within a business or organization as well.

Brand serves as a guide to understanding the purpose of business objectives. It enables you to align a marketing plan with those objectives and fulfill the overarching strategy.

The effectiveness of brand doesn’t just happen before the purchase, but it’s also about the life of the brand of the experience it gives a consumer.

Did the product or service perform as expected? Was the quality as good as promised or better? How was the service experience? If you can get positive answers to these questions, you’ve created a loyal customer.

Branding can be confusing, so how do you know if your brand is strong enough to give you the internal and external value that you need in your marketing?

>>Does your brand relate to your target audience? Will they instantly “get it” without too much thought?

>>Does your brand share the uniqueness of what you offer and why it’s important?

>>Does it reflect the brand promise that you are making to who you are targeting as well as to your internal audience?

>>Does your brand reflect the values that you want to represent as a customer?

Let these questions serve as a guideline in the development of your brand.  If the answers are not clear you may want to return to the drawing board and refine the branding process.  A brand should be an instant “ah-ha” it should require very little thought and contemplation.

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.

Get Engagement

How do you win in the current mortgage market? You have to get your client and prospects engaged. How do you do that? Good content is one way.

In the article “These Master Copywriters Share How to Go From Being a Good Copywriter to a Great Consultant” written by Margo Aaron, she shares some tips. She first reports that The Copywriter Club is resurrecting the lost art of engagement by cultivating community online and off. Here’s how they’re doing it:

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Recently, Kira Hug and Rob Marsh have managed to do the impossible. They resurrected the lost art of engaged Facebook groups, launched a successful podcast, and cultivated a community of over seven thousand copywriters launching and growing businesses.

The Copywriter Club, or TCC as they’re known by insiders, has quickly grown into one of the most engaged communities of direct response copywriters on the Internet.

Recently, 75 of them gathered in a small room at Hotel 50 Bowery in Chinatown where they kicked off the first annual TCC IRL Event. The who’s-who of the copy world showed up to support the event, share copy secrets, and swap war stories on how to create copywriting success.

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Against their better judgment, Kira and Rob let some take a peek behind the curtain at what they created and share what was learned with you fine folks. Here’s what you missed at the TCC event in Manhattan.

For decades, copywriters have claimed you can find success by being the “hired gun” that jumps from client to client, beats the control, and collects royalties from her chateau in France. Turns out, that model doesn’t work anymore.

Speakers joked that a control barely lasts 14 minutes nowadays, where it used to last months. Today, it’s about being the entrepreneur, advisor, and expert inside of a client’s business, as much as it is about copy that converts.

Brian Kurtz, a “titan” of direct response, drove that point home when he reminded the crowd of the 40/40/20 rule. Forty percent of your success comes from your list, 40% comes from your offer, and 20% comes from your copy. Which is a particularly bold rule to underscore at a copy event.

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“Go to a list of people who REALLY want your offer with [expletive] copy and I bet you make a sale.” Mmmmhmm. The man knows a thing or two about sales.

There were also honest conversations about whether JV partnerships are worth it, when to raise your rates, why “not segmenting” is the biggest mistake you can make, what to do about lapsed list engagement, and lots of other nerdy fun DR copy things. Like these:

>>Copyhackers founder Joanna Wiebe reminded the crowd that “our job is to make them decide” after hitting us with the sobering statistic that 60% of sales are lost to apathy and indecision.

>>Talking Shrimp founder, Laura Belgray, warned attendees of the dangers of being the “drunk uncle” – the guy who shows up out-of-the-blue and asks for money.

>>Copy and content maven Hillary Weiss taught attendees why personal branding actually matters and has palpable business consequences. “Your business is what you do. Your branding is how you differentiate yourself from everyone else.”

>>Abbey Woodcock, copy and conversion whisperer proved that nailing a client’s “voice” is not a unicorn quality like I’ve always thought. Apparently, anyone can do it (and she showed attendees how).

>>Copy juggernaut Parris Lampropoulos took attendees back to the basics when he explained, “practice makes permanent, not perfect.” And advocated for a community or mentors who could provide feedback, course correction, and critiquing (the good kind. Not the fluffy kind).

While the content was solid, the best part of the conference was what happened between and after the presentations: The community.

The event brought together an incredible blend of beginners and masters bonded by their mutual affection for this obscure industry they’ve all arrived at by accident. The connections made and opportunities created at this event mirrored what Kira and Rob have successfully created online (only, it was IRL).

They curated dinners, encouraged joint lunches, and facilitated introductions that will no doubt launch careers, expand businesses, and foster a community of quality direct response copywriters for decades to come.

So, what’s the takeaway for the mortgage industry? You have to network in a meaningful way online and offline. Our industry loves LinkedIn. In fact, it’s where most Fortune 500 decision-makers and executives like to spend their spare time. The best part?

More often than not, they’re actually scrolling through actively looking for valuable content to read. There isn’t the same barrier you need to break down like on other social platforms like Facebook. They’re not there to find Buzzfeed quizzes, wedding photos, or memes. They’re looking for content that can change the way they do business, which is most definitely music to the ears of a B2B marketer.

According to Business Insider Intelligence, TechCrunch and Fortune, LinkedIn has officially crossed the half-billion user mark back in 2017. Since they were founded in 2002, they’ve continued to grow their user base year after year.

LinkedIn’s monthly active user based reached 260 million back in March 2017. That’s almost 2.5x the 106 million monthly active users last reported in 2016. This number comes from research conducted by web usage company Apptopia and has not been confirmed by LinkedIn.

Of those using the platform monthly, up to 40% are accessing it on a daily basis. If that is the case, that’s over 100 million professionals you could be targeting every single day. To make that even more excited, LinkedIn users typically use the platform to find relevant content, meaning they’ll be much more willing to check out what you’re sharing.

From a B2B perspective, the decision-makers you’re trying to reach are using LinkedIn. If you double down on your LinkedIn efforts, you’ll be able to target the right people in the place they like to spend their scrolling time.

Also, Mobile is booming and LinkedIn’s mobile user numbers reflect that. Their mobile user count is climbing every month, which only makes it easier to reach the people you’re trying to reach. Mobile makes it easier for a user to just open the app and scroll through, giving you more opportunities to reach them.

The big takeaway is that mortgage companies should utilize the services of experts to help them better engage clients and prospects, which for our industry in particular, should include a solid LinkedIn strategy.

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.