Archive for June, 2019

Not Everyone Loves Networking But LinkedIn is a Gold Mine for B2B

June 25th, 2019 by Dean Troth

Not every business owner loves networking. Nor are they all on LinkedIn. However, in this blog post, I argue that LinkedIn is a gold mine of opportunities particularly for B2B.

In B2B relationships are vital. The business owner getting out into the business community and meeting people is how we bring in leads and opportunities. Some see LinkedIn not as a networking opportunity but a waste of time, full of picture-perfect professionals with hyped up qualifications and over embellished achievements, trying to fast-forward their careers, rather than serious business people. Others feel that the only time they hear from anyone on LinkedIn is when they are being sold to. However, for business owners and those in business development, LinkedIn is full of new business opportunities, more than any other platform or forum, online or off.

Although there are obviously employees using LinkedIn as a tool to advance their careers, and sales people who don’t take the time to know you or add value, we have found it to be a very useful tool for business owners in building credibility as an expert, and generating genuine conversations that lead to meaningful relationships with people who want to do business i.e. your ideal client or customer.

People are built for relationships. People do business with people they know, like and trust. Sure, business is business, but business is never impersonal. If you look at your business revenue using a pie graph, chances are that a large proportion of your business has come from clients with whom you or someone in your team has a solid trusting relationship.

Networking is nothing new. In the past, networking happened mostly through ‘word of mouth’, conferences and at ‘real world’ industry networking events. You attended these events when you could. But how comfortable were you?

LinkedIn Outreach for growing your business

If you are like me, some events were fantastic business opportunities. You had lots of positive conversations, met a load of interesting people and collected a handful of business cards. You followed up three or four for a meeting over coffee, that led to new business opportunities. But these events were rare. At other events you didn’t meet anyone. You were late or tired, so stayed back, in the corner, and spoke to the three or four people you already knew well. You got home late. There was no real benefit to you or your business in being there. And thinking back you, realise that whether you made five new contacts that led to profitable business deals or none, it was pretty close to random.

LinkedIn removes the random
With over half a billion business people on the platform, and growing rapidly particularly in the last few years, LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network by far. This means that most people you would like to do business with are spending time on LinkedIn.

We have seen that LinkedIn helps business owners have meaningful conversations, with people they haven’t met yet, like never before. Instead of walking up to a complete stranger and hoping there is some way you can connect and hoping there may be mutual benefit in knowing one another, in LinkedIn you can make sure you are approaching the right people, and know how you can add value to them, up front.

Should I accept a connection request?
I’ve had business owners ask me whether they should accept invitations from people they have ‘never met’. I like to think about the answer to the question this way: “If you were at a business networking event and someone you hadn’t met before tried to strike up a conversation with you and then offered you a business card, would you ignore them and walk away or would you engage in a conversation, accept their card, and spend a little bit of time to find out who they are and what they do?”

Of course, if you approach people via LinkedIn in a way that isn’t attempting to have a real conversation, then you will likely not get very far … just like at a physical networking event.

Imagine LinkedIn as your own, ongoing private networking event

Regardless of dates or times, or busy calendars and pre-commitments, 99% of people are always available to make it to your LinkedIn event! Depending on your personality type, you can choose the size of your event: to have 125, 25, 5 or 2 people in the room at once. The biggest difference is that you get to choose who is in the room and which companies are represented. They all receive a personal invitation from you. But it doesn’t take months to organize. It only takes minutes on each. You choose the time and date that’s convenient for you to engage, and the people you contact can respond when they are free as well.

Even better, you get to choose the topic of conversation and you get to research the people you’re speaking with and take your time to develop your ‘pitch’ or ‘spiel’ before they even say ‘Hello’ or swap business cards.

All the pressure is removed. You’re totally in control.

So where to start?
We recommend you start by having a company page and that you and everyone in your business is associated with, which has a professionally written LinkedIn profile. Your profile needs to contain far more than a basic outline of your CV. You should put more effort into crafting your headline, summary piece and seeking recommendations than you would ordinarily put into your resume.

Write for Your Ideal Client Persona
Like every good website, your LinkedIn profile should not be written from your standpoint. It should be written from the perspective of your ideal client or customer. But that raises an interesting question – who precisely is your ideal client or customer? In fact, if you sell a variety of products / services, there are possibly different ideal clients for each one. In such a case, pick the most important persona and focus on that for your profile (posts can be written for the other personas – more about that in a moment).

For starters, you need to have a clear picture in mind of the attributes of this person. What industry and location are they are in? What companies do they work for? What interests and level of experience do they have? We call this a client or customer ‘persona’. It’s a word picture (and often stock photo) that describes their personality type, their external influences and needs and also their motivators and emotional state.

Personas help you to be more targeted in everything you write or produce – not just your LinkedIn profile or articles and videos you share but also on your website, your email newsletters, or even your proposals and marketing materials. The digital marketing team at Contactpoint can certainly help your company define your target personas and compelling content to address their needs.

Next you need to identify what specifically you and your company can do for the persona, that sets you apart from your competitors. This type of language will also hopefully position you as unique and a thought leader against the many other individuals and companies in your field or sector.

Prepare to Connect
Armed with a clear picture of your target market, you should identify how you can add value to the prospect, before they have engaged your services; often that will be by providing useful information. You likely will already have information assets available to share with people you contact via LinkedIn, if not, we can assist you to brainstorm ideas and prepare such content.

We recommend that you think from your ideal client’s viewpoint. How they would like to be approached? What they might need in order to understand your organisation? What would help them in their day to day role? How you could collaborate together for mutual benefit?

Think about how a conversation may transpire; offline and online won’t be that different.

Now that you are prepared, LinkedIn provides tools to make it easy to find relevant people that fit within the persona you have described.

  1. Connect with each person, including a tailored note to ensure that the conversation gets off on the right foot.
  2. Continue the conversation using the information and value you had previously prepared.
  3. Be on the ready to arrange a meeting by phone or in person to discuss how you can work together.

LinkedIn Outreach: A New Business Case Study
At Contactpoint, we’ve recently been helping a client to develop his network and grow his digital transformation business. He has deep expertise and decades of experience in digital transformation, particularly in the big data and analytics space. We started by helping him to improve his professional profile on LinkedIn, including a professional headshot, and a headline that positions him as a thought leader.

Next, we worked with our client to identify his ideal individual lead with his ideal client account and the problems they may be looking to solve. His ideal leads were senior IT executives, usually the CIO or CTO, within mid-cap companies (annual revenues of $100M to $1B) across three different sectors in Australia looking to move their data and application servers to the cloud on their road to big data analytics and the use of AI. Then we began to target and build lists to outreach to, whereby we used many of the sophisticated targeting tools available on LinkedIn Premium, to identify and then reach out to appropriate individuals.

Finally, we assisted in the creation of thought leadership papers that could be shared via LinkedIn messages or email to start to generate some high-level conversations. Like many business owners and professionals, our client started the journey feeling somewhat uncomfortable reaching out to people they had never spoken to in real life. After all, what would you talk about? How would you get them to engage?

We took the time to tease out ideas and carefully craft several statements to use in personalised outreach. Our approach is always ‘softly softly’, one-on-one, personalised and professional. We always seek to add value up-front. For this client we’ve been using the ‘research approach’, whereby each conversation contributes to a higher purpose or understanding (the last thing you want to appear is too ‘salesy’).

Regardless of where you’re starting from, Contactpoint can help you build or refine your profile. We also have the skills, experience and expertise in-house to write (or edit) articles that position you as a thought leader in your sector or field. We can assist you to reach out and connect with dozens, if not hundreds, of decision makers working for your ideal clients or customers.

Most people don’t like doing business with strangers. LinkedIn means those on your ideal client or customer list don’t have to be strangers any longer. You can start a private conversation, share people you know or things you have in common, then add value to them or help in their role. Hopefully this means you’re not strangers when you speak over the phone or meet up for coffee.

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Our move to the cloud for operational tools

June 2nd, 2019 by Heather Maloney

We have at last completed our move to cloud technologies to support our operations. It’s a no-brainer that if you were setting up a new business today you would start out with cloud based tools for your core functions: financials, employee management, sales and marketing, and operations. However, when your business has been running for more than a few years (13 years in our case), moving to the cloud can be a very time consuming exercise and cause lots of disruption. So in the first place you have to actually decide to move to the cloud, and then you need to choose which set of tools from the myriad available. Finally, a careful plan of each technology change will be vital to ensuring the least amount of negative impact.

It is important to remember that “cloud” is not the same as “located on the internet”. For more about this, check out our previous blog post: Cloud does not equal the Internet.

Whilst Contactpoint doesn’t provide migration services for moving to the cloud (there are service providers dedicated to this task across the various functions listed above), we like to do these things for ourselves, and we are often asked for recommendations on which tools to choose. So this blog post will describe our technology choices, the reasons for those, and the benefits we expect to achieve now that we have moved.

In the early days of Contactpoint, there was no such thing as a cloud based financial package. Initially we were using MYOB, but after finding that expensive to add anything useful to, we moved to Xero. At the time, Xero was the most obvious choice – it had been created from the ground up for the cloud. This definitely makes a difference; it means you never have to put up with a piece of functionality or a way to do things that has to cater for both offline users and online.

We’ve been on Xero for over 8 years, and I am very happy with it. There are some things we can’t do inside Xero, and we needed to change a couple of processes, but on the whole is suits us very well. Mostly they have brought functions that we needed to use an external plugin to achieve – like payroll – into the Xero platform over this period of time. The one exception that affects us is the recent removal of employee expenses management, which is a tad annoying and will hopefully be reversed.

Businesses which have a heavy reliance on purchasing (inbound goods) will usually have a separate commercial / purchasing function. Contactpoint doesn’t, so I can’t comment on whether the purchasing function of Xero is extensive enough.

We benefit from having financials in the cloud because:

  1. Our accountant can access it online, and provide advice without us needing to send a data file around (which is of course immediately out of date).
  2. Updates are provided on a regular basis to ensure our compliance is easy. For example the enforcement of single touch payroll by the ATO, which took all of about 1/2 an hour to introduce into our processes, because Xero had already done the hard work for us.
  3. Integration with 3rd party systems, such as banks for automatic loading of bank statements, is easy due to the APIs that are available.

Employee Management
As mentioned above, we use the Xero payroll for the financial and compliance. Over the years, we have experimented with online tools for managing the growth of our employees, but we now tend to do this using our back office tools instead.

We benefit from payroll in the cloud because:

  • Employees have ready access to the details of their payslips, leave calendar, superannuation contributions, via a web browser.
  • Security around these systems is provided, as core to the platform.
  • Compliance functions, such as creating and sending our end of year payment summaries, and pay slips, take next to no time.

Sales and Marketing
Many of the technologies used by the sales and marketing functions of businesses are facilitated by the back-office operational systems. Cloud sales and marketing tools, which manage prospects, lead nurturing, and quoting, include tools such as Salesforce, Hubspot and Pipedrive.

Because of the use of our in-house built client management solution (see below) we currently use that to support our sales and marketing functions.

Of course, we also use many other tools for sales and marketing, including Enudge for email marketing, SEMrush for digital marketing analytics, and our marketing website.

For operations, from a technology point of view, it’s useful to separate that into back-office (documents, spreadsheets, email, calendar, communications – chat and phone for example) and core operations (whatever that is for your business whether manufacturing, distribution, or service delivery).

Because our back-office functions are closely tied into our core operations (managing digital projects for our clients), and our core operations have for the past 13 years been facilitated by an in-house built, online solution, this made our transition to the cloud more complex. I spent over a month analysing more than 50 available tools to replace our project management system, and needed to also weigh up the impact of each solution on our back-office solution. The outcome was a decision to keep our current project management solution because it contains far broader functionality than the tools appropriate to our business i.e. we could purchase a very expensive tool and get 95% of the features we currently have and perhaps a few additional useful features, but the costs are not justified. Importing our existing data from 13 years was also problematic, with most solutions saying whilst you *can* do this, it is not recommended.

For back-office functions, we selected Microsoft Office 365. This was the final step in our move to the cloud, and which we have moved to over a period of 6 months. The choice of back-office solution was really a toss up between Office 365 and GSuite (Google’s alternative). In the end, Office 365 provided the most extensive set of features for all our needs, even though some areas aren’t quite as good as GSuite. The costs were very similar between the two solutions.

Our back-office functions were previously delivered by:
– iiNet for Hosted Exchange Email.
– local installs of Microsoft Office for Excel, Word, Powerpoint and Outlook.
– DropBox for cloud-based file storage. We moved away from having a physical internal file server about 2 years ago to give us greater storage capacity, flexibility and reduce risk.
– Slack for internal chat communications (a more recent addition which helped to reduce email volumes and increase collaboration).
– 3CX for VoIP function (cloud based telephone system) which also included a mobile app so that internal calls could be picked up remotely on mobile.

Office 365 replaces all of the above via the following components:
– Outlook Email
– Office 365 versions of Excel, Word, Powerpoint and Outlook – we also install these locally, and of course they are updated free of any additional charge.
– Microsoft Sharepoint provides cloud-based file storage. We were paying for ~1.2Tb of data storage through DropBox. After moving all our files (and a wee bit of cleanup on the way), our file storage is now around 250Mb. A significant part of that space reduction was due to the way that DropBox counts storage usage i.e. we never had anywhere near 1.2Tb of our own files.
– Microsoft Teams for chat.
– Microsoft Skype for Business for VoIP function (cloud based telephone system). Whilst this is more expensive than the 3CX system, the quality of the voice is better than the fully cloud 3CX system we had moved to when we moved office and went 100% wireless. Previously we had an internal PC for our VoIP system.

We benefit from back-office in the cloud because:

  • No cost to purchase upgrades to office software.
  • Cost reduction – DropBox alone was costing us >$300 per month, and was not providing the collaborative tools that are afforded by Office 365. iiNet was costing ~$100 per month to support all the email accounts required by our team. Add to that the cost of Slack and 3CX (annual maintenance + monthly costs), and the outcome was a ~20% net reduction of monthly costs.
  • Security around these systems is provided as core to the platform and managed through one tool. Reducing the number of environments makes it easier to control security.
  • Quicker to scale up as we grow employee numbers.
  • Better collaboration functionality. Whilst DropBox facilitates collaboration through DropBox Paper, this is separate to the file storage area, so it wasn’t really practical to use. Now multiple team members can work real time on editing documents, presentations and spreadsheets – way better than email these items around to the team and then one person collating the outcome. Using Skype for Business provides access to video calls with our clients without needing to invest in a separate tool.
  • Improved voice quality with our phone system.
  • Telephone System Management. Having the phone system integrated with our back-office system (Skype users are also Microsoft Teams users) makes management of communications that much easier.

Core Operations

As mentioned above, our core operational system remains our in-house built online client area. This facilitates a broad range of tasks across our organisation, including standard processes, project management, ad-hoc client requests (tickets), work prioritisation, prospect management and much more. Office 365 provides some of these tools through Microsoft Teams, so it could be tempting to move some functions into that environment, however having as many of the components of our current operational system in the one location is more important. Microsoft Teams is also a little immature with regard to its project team functionality, although it appears they are committed to enhancing it significantly in the short – medium term.

Our core operational system is regularly enhanced to meet our ongoing needs and to better support the services we provide our clients. Moving to Office 365 meant that we had to remove pre-existing integrations with Slack and DropBox, so we will be investigating re-introducing these functions through integrations with Office 365.

We also use numerous other cloud systems in the course of our operations including Figma – cloud based design tool, SEMrush and Google Analytics – cloud based digital marketing analytics tools, BitBucket – cloud based version control for software, TimeDoctor – cloud based time tracking solution, KeeperSecurity – another Microsoft solution for managing client credentials, and more. It is unlikely that all of the operational tools our business requires will ever be provided within the one system, so having a solution like ours which can be easily integrated with other online tools via APIs is very important.

Now that we have completed the move of our back-office systems to the cloud, we will be exploring additional integrations between the various cloud solutions mentioned above and Office 365. We expect these opportunities will also increase over time.

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