Series Posts: Beyond

Introducing Benchmark CRM Director of Product Development Paul Rijnders

Introducing Benchmark CRM Director of Product Development Paul Rijnders

Beyond • July 6, 2018

My office is across the hall from the Director of Product Development for CRM, Paul Rijnders. We talk almost daily and have at least one meeting together every week. However, I still hadn’t had a chance to talk to him about the entire development process for Benchmark CRM. Sure, we heard bits and pieces along the way, but this was a unique opportunity for Daniel and me. You see, Paul is a bit of a unicorn here at Benchmark (except that we feel like we’ve got a few of them). His work ethic, determination and round-the-clock schedule are often marveled at by all of us. So, we had to try and figure out what magic elixir he has that lets him do it all. If you’re curious about CRM, what goes into the development of a new product or how to work with an international team, this episode is for you. A short pencil is better than a long memory any day. That’s where I see CRM coming into play. You may have 100 customers, you may have 10 customers, you may have 1,000 customers. Invariably, you’re going to talk to them and that data that makes up those previous conversations and previous touchpoints all your interactions, your customers are going to expect you to remember that. Even as a person, human to human, they’re going to want you to remember various facts about your life. Or even if they don’t want you to remember that, the fact that you do is going to help your relationship, because they’re going to think, ‘Oh wow. This person cares about me. They know me.’ 2:02 - What is CRM? 7:22 - The importance of good organization of data 10:30 - Going back to the beginning of the development process of Benchmark CRM 15:42 - Keeping around the clock hours with an international development team while having infant twins and another kid at home 21:28 - Communication lessons from working with a remote international team 24:40 - Overcoming challenges in the development process


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Time-Based Email Marketing: A Smarter Approach to Boost Customer Engagement

Time-Based Email Marketing: A Smarter Approach to Boost Customer Engagement

Beyond • July 3, 2018

The latest statistics shared by Statista suggest that in 2017, there are around 3.7 billion email users worldwide, and the population is likely to grow into a massive number of 4.1 billion by 2021. That explains why businesses are investing so much in their email marketing campaigns, even though a considerable portion of the population claims that email is dead. Interestingly, the US has invested around 2.07 billion USD in email marketing in 2014, which is expected to grow by another billion dollars by 2019, as reported by Statista. And now that the average ROI for email marketing is ticking at astonishing 3800 percent ($38 return for each dollar invested), the business owners require no other excuse to invest in email marketing campaigns. Challenges in the Field of Email Marketing Despite all those enticing details, one cannot deny the fact that it is getting harder with time to engage more customers using the traditional way of email marketing. Just think about it. An average person receives over 100 emails a day, and most of them check their inboxes only 4-5 times in the entire day. Feeding your customers with multiple emails isn\'t going to help if your emails get buried under the other emails. There are several elements that you need to consider in order to improve the open rates of your email, and the timing of the email remains at the top of that list. Personalized emails are useful` But if they are not delivered at the right time, their purpose is lost. Time-based email marketing is not only going to improve open-rates, but they will also ensure a fewer number of unsubscribes. What is GDPR and How is it Going To Change Everything? According to Hubspot, 78 percent of the users unsubscribe an email because the brand was sending them too many emails. And now that the regulations like GDPR are being introduced, businesses can no longer afford to lose their subscribers. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has made it mandatory for the email marketers in the EU countries to collect freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous consent (Article 32) from the consumers, with effect from May 25, 2018. It simply means, the companies now can engage with only those customers who have given their explicit permission to be engaged in marketing strategies. Also, the companies now need to present “legitimate reasons” why they need consumer data. The marketers in the EU countries have already started to make significant changes in their strategies to adapt to these new regulations, and they are trying their best to avoid unsubscribes since fetching data from the new customers have become way difficult than earlier. If your business is not based in any of the EU countries, you may not have to deal with that issue, but since everyone has become sensitive about personal data, soon other countries will also follow the same. So it is better if you start focusing on the time-based approach for your email marketing campaigns, instead of relying on the conventional way of email marketing. How To Adopt Time-Based Email Marketing To Improve Customer Engagement? If you are wondering how time-based email marketing can improve your customer engagement or how you can adopt this new approach, you don’t need to look any further. Here is your answer: Act When the Time is Right If you want to increase your customer engagement, you need to acknowledge the right time to approach them. A recent study, which analyzed more than 1.4 billion marketing emails, has shown that consumers are more likely to engage in marketing communications at the beginning of the week. As per the study, Tuesday evening is the best time to engage customers with email marketing. During the time 5 PM to 6:30 PM, customers are more receptive, and the number of unsubscribes are also less. However, you may need to work on the composition of the email to ensure the effort does not go in vain. If you send the email right on time, but it fails to impress the recipient, the chances of unsubscriptions may increase. Here’s what you should do: Use Short and Catchy Subject Lines The subject and the first few words of the mail are crucial for attracting the reader. Keep the Email Content Short and To the Point The readers usually skip the emails that are too long. Here’s an example: These little tricks are already known to most of the email marketers. However, now you need to focus on your timing as well. Acknowledge the Demographics The concept of personalized content has proven itself useful in maintaining customer engagement, but a marketer needs to consider certain elements like the age, gender and geographical location of the audience, as well as how these elements affect the engagement rate of consumers with the particular brand. A study conducted by SmartFocus suggests that the email engagement of men is more immediate compared to women, receiving the message. For male audiences, the best time to engage is between 4 PM and 5:30 PM, while women typically engage between 8 PM and 9:30 PM. Pro tip: You can segment your email list based on the factors like demographics, geographical locations as well as website browsing behavior. Sending the targeted emails on the perfect time improves the chances of customer engagement. Create Different Strategies for Each Age Groups As per the study by SmartFocus, young adults (18 to 30 years old) who are working, prefer to engage in email communications during the morning and late afternoons. On the other hand, the older people prefer the time 11 AM to 12 PM and 2 PM to 3 PM. While sending the emails, make sure the content compatible for mobile use. Most of the people access their emails on the phone. Not just the millennials, but the generation X and even the baby boomers are using smartphones to access the emails. So optimizing the email for mobile can be useful in engaging the consumers of all age-group. Know Your Consumers With the introduction of GDPR, the power is shifting towards the consumers, and now to keep them engaged through email marketing, you need to consider their email habits while working on the personalized content. As an email marketer, you need to focus your marketing efforts based on the preferences of your consumers. In the wake of GDPR, this may be the best way to reduce the risk of unsubscribes while keeping the existing customers engaged. As mentioned previously, personalization has given the businesses positive results, but now they need to focus on the timing as well. Perhaps, learning the emailing habits of your subscribers as well as their preferences may help you strategize a better email marketing strategy. Most experts are suggesting that customized content sent at the right time can be the key to success for the brands, and if an organization truly understands its audiences, the regulations like the GDPR will provide more opportunity than setbacks.


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Energized By Grid Modernization Engineer Tirthak Saha

Energized By Grid Modernization Engineer Tirthak Saha

Beyond • June 22, 2018

When preparing to interview Tirthak Saha, we saw him say in an interview that he’d once been called “tictac.” However, by the end of the interview with us, he admitted he hoped his work would make him the household name that Elon Musk is today. I gotta say after talking to him for a while, I believe him. Besides being so good at his job as a Grid Modernization Engineer that he was recognized on the Forbes 30 under 30, he proved more than adept at breaking down the jargon-y barriers to entry for understanding what he does. We could have peppered him with questions all day long. At 26, he’s already worked with NASA on satellites inspired by origami, and he is the Co-Founder and Chair of the Innovation Advocacy Network for American Electric Power. Not all heroes wear capes, but if Tirthak did, he would probably pull it off. I’m just very arrogant, right. You have to turn that self-arrogance into something positive. Into what people call drive. My biggest fear, to date actually, is to die without having left a positive legacy. I don’t care if it’s three people or three hundred people talking about me after I die, but I want them to say he left the planet better than he found it. If it is significantly better, that’s even better. It doesn’t matter what the magnitude of the thing I do in my life is. It matters that it’s in the right direction. And when you have that sort of a mindset, you never stop pushing, right? Because you’re always unsure. Have I done enough to be on the right side of the books? 1:50 - What it means to be a Grid Modernization Engineer 6:11 - Innovation through partnerships and cooperation versus competition 14:58 - On how to dream big enough 32:15 - Whether working in his space has left him hopeful or fearful for the future  


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The Importance of Having A Strong Brand in Email Marketing Campaigns

The Importance of Having A Strong Brand in Email Marketing Campaigns

Beyond • June 15, 2018

Imagine: you wake up tomorrow morning ready to start a new great day. You check the email and see two new letters: a letter from Apple, Pepsi or, well, let us say Nike, and a letter from a company you’ve never heard of. Which letter you’re more likely to open? The “branded” or a “no-name” one? The answer is obvious. The letters from well-known brands have a significant advantage when it comes to grabbing the customers’ attention. That’s how the magic of a strong brand works. Luckily for entrepreneurs, the customers’ behavior is predictable and controllable. And a strong band can become a powerful tool helping business people to increase the profits. This post is aimed to show you several ways of turning the brand into an email marketing booster. How Brand Identity Influences Your Email Marketing Campaigns 1. Increases credibility People tend to base their decisions on trust. Only the company that managed to earn the audience’s trust dominates the market. So the greater number of customers knows you, your products, and services the higher efficiency your e-marketing campaigns will have. The trick is that people you send emails to don’t necessarily have to be your customers. They just have to be aware of your company. The power of the brand and the word of the mouth will do the rest. It works like this: “Oh, a letter from Benchmark Email. Hmmm… Sally told me it helped her create an outstanding custom email template for the recent campaign. Let’s see, maybe it can do something for me as well.” If you’re a burgeoning entrepreneur and your company doesn’t have an established brand yet be ready to see lower open rates. But the numbers will grow as your brand becomes more popular and credible. 2. Improves the ROI If your band is strong enough the brand name itself becomes the greatest attraction. A new product from a famous brand always provokes a market insanity. Remember what happens when the new iPhone or the new Yeezys come out? People may not even need the new phone or another pair of shoes but they will buy the product because of a brand loyalty. Of course, not many companies out there have a brand as strong as Apple or Adidas but that’s totally fine! As long as you keep investing time and efforts in your brand the e-marketing campaigns will become more and more effective.  As they say, branding is the reason you buy something and marketing is the reason you think of buying something. So use the benefits the brand loyalty can bring to your email marketing campaigns. The stronger your brand becomes, the more people are aware of it, the higher number of potential customers will not only open your marketing emails but will also accept your offer. Sure, at first you may have to attract the audience with something alluring like “2 for 1 special” or time-sensitive discount coupons but as time goes by the brand will do the same work increasing your open rates and ROI. 3. Helps you stand out One of the main problems the modern marketers confront is that the great number of the offerings from the rival companies have a similar set of features and roughly the same level of quality. Even the e-marketing templates the competitors use may be identical (as they appeal to the same audience). In this case, only the brand values your company stands on will help you stick out. For example, the cosmetics brand Lush has numerous competitors offering hair and body care products. Many of them use natural ingredients and try to be as customer-friendly as possible. But only Lush is well-known as a “green brand”. This company has spent years building up unique eco-friendly practices and now the word “Lush” is a synonym for “cruelty-free brand”, “all-natural brand”, and “eco-conscious brand”. Every little detail from products’ packaging to shops’ interiors are well thought. No Lush’s competitor has an image like that. A post shared by Lush Cosmetics North America (@lushcosmetics) on Apr 1, 2018 at 1:42pm PDT Be like Lush. Stay true to the chosen brand values and they will make your products, services, and marketing campaigns noticeable and appreciated. 4. Enhances the reputation Email marketing is one of the most effective marketing tools ever invented. It can get you sales and leads, it can get you basic recognition. But only branding can reinforce your business reputation and win you the audience’s hearts. Let’s say you’ve created your first startup and started promoting your product using e-marketing. It worked and you got a bunch of customers. But unfortunately the product wasn’t good enough and the clients didn’t really enjoy it. There are two ways to deal with the situation: either launch another marketing campaign and sell some more crappy products or fix the product and rebrand it. Sure, the first option will bring you some money. But it will also bury your reputation. On the other hand, rebranding is something that can turn a failure into a future success. Basically, your brand = your reputation. And a solid reputation has always been the greatest asset in any e-marketing campaign. The history knows many examples of successful rebranding. If even the well-known brands like Old Spice that have a reputation to put on stake could do it, the virgin entrepreneurs can do it too. Remember, just a decade ago, in the mid-2000s, Old Spice was an “old school” and “dad” brand. No young people particularly wanted to use it. Then a series of fun ads came out (who can forget a horse on the beach?!) and the brand’s sales went up. 5. Creates meaning Nowadays the business success is no longer about money. It’s not enough to offer the best quality-price ratio. The customers lean towards the companies and products that have a meaning, create a connection and actually make a difference. Only the strong brand can turn all of your marketing efforts into the meaningful ones. Then again, the meaning you’ll put in the marketing campaigns totally depends on your brand values and the message you’d like to convey. The great example of a meaningful marketing campaign is Nike’s “No excuses” featuring an athlete with disabilities. This commercial isn’t really selling anything. It inspires and makes you think. That’s how the brand creates a meaning. And it definitely works for any marketing channel possible (including email marketing). At this point you may think something like: “Well, that’s all great. But I’m a first-time entrepreneur with no experience in the brand establishment. The e-marketing campaigns I launch look nothing like Apple’s or Starbucks’. Should I give up on even trying?” Not at all! Just keep reading! How To Turn A “No Name” Email Into A “Branded” One Here are just a few most simple yet efficient recommended practices that will help you make your emails and e-marketing campaigns better. 1. Turn a milk-and-water template into your canvas Customizing an email template isn’t as hard as it seems. Start with adding your logo plus corporate colors and fonts. If you still haven’t worked on a brand identity fix that immediately. There are plenty of modern design tools that can help you out. Logo design is as important as any other business steps you take. The logo is your company’s face. This tiny picture will be everywhere: on your website, your products, ads, your emails, of course! The right combination of a logo design, corporate colors and fonts is the perfect basis for a strong brand identity (and that’s exactly what every entrepreneur needs). So make sure you have some “colors” to throw on your email template “canvas”. Remember, this step is vital. No business email without a company logo will look professional. 2. Keep the balance of text and images The “all text” emails not only look outdated they harm your marketing efficiency and kill the customers’ engagement. Don’t be afraid to add some visuals that will support your brand message. Choose the images that will make the audience feel good and secure, that will help to get to know your company or product and like it. On the other hand, the excessive use of “all pictures” emails isn’t good either. The high-resolution images may be hard to load on some smartphones. Plus the poor choice of visuals can make your emails look childish, empty, and unprofessional. Stick to a mix of text and images to keep the email trustworthy and good-looking. 3. Stay in touch All of the business emails (whether they’re marketing something or not) should always include the relevant contact info. And it’s not only “name + position + phone” combo in the bottom of a template. Add the website link, the clickable icons that will lead to your corporate social media profiles, a Skype ID to get in touch with you or your support team. The more options the customer has the more credible your email looks. 4. Choose the right tone The tone of your emails becomes even more important when it comes to e-marketing. When composing an email make sure the tone you’ve chosen fits the brand identity. The brand tone sets up the way you communicate with your audience. Is it fun and flirty? Strict and formal? Kind and approachable? Think about it before launching a marketing campaign and stay to true to the chosen tone during the whole communication process. 5. Get a professional-looking address The last but not least is your email address and a visible name. This might seem like a Sunday school truth but no email will look trustworthy if the address is something like secrethunter@yahoo.com and the sender’s name is John Doe. Just make sure this section of your email looks right. A Short and Not Boring Final Word The email marketing and banding will always go hand in hand. The stronger the one the better is another. Just don’t forget that building a brand is a process that you can start once but never can actually end. Experiment, stay positive and who knows, maybe in the nearest future you’ll see your company’s name as an example of “the greatest brand ever created.”


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Email Marketing that Gets Results … And Conversions

Email Marketing that Gets Results … And Conversions

Beyond • June 13, 2018

“What no one is telling you about hair loss.” “Hair loss products.” Which email subject line would motivate a hair loss sufferer to open? But how many opens can you expect with a subject line that sparks curiosity? You might be surprised. The Dinosaur is Not Extinct Email marketing is a dinosaur. At least that’s a common belief of business owners who prefer to spend their marketing dollars in other places. The reasons for the belief that email marketing is “dead” are as follows: People’s inboxes are stuffed. They scan through them and only open those that are from friends. Everything else they discard. Their mobile devices now segment emails based upon “priorities” and “promotions,” and the “promotions” are just not opened. Many now have two email accounts (or more)- one for work, one for personal communications, and one that they provide whenever they order something online. The last one is the one they never check, except to receive order or shipping confirmation. The reality is email is not “dead.” And it can be an amazing marketing tool, if it is done right. And therein lies the key: doing it right. But first, a few statistics that may surprise you, based upon a survey conducted by Kissmetrics: 66% of those surveyed stated they have made a purchase based upon an email offer 91% of respondents stated they check their email at least once a day 33+% stated that they opened the email based upon the subject line These stats paint a very different picture of email marketing, and it means that content marketers need to re-think their campaigns, if they have been reducing their email marketing. It can still be a powerful tool. The stats are only one part of the story, though. The question is, how do you craft emails so that you land in that segment that is opened and then acted upon. Here are 5 strategies and tips for doing it right: 1. Getting Recipients to Open Them This is 50% of the battle for marketers. Nothing happens until an email is opened by a target. There are two proven strategies, and they may work for you. The “From” Line: Rather than the company name, perhaps using your first name along with the company name may motivate and open. It makes it more personal and not like it was generated by some automated system. This is especially important if targets have subscribed to your emails/newsletter. That Critical Subject Line: Here is where you must be engaging. And certainly not spammy or like an aggressive salesperson. Promising to solve a problem or issue or answer a question will usually pique interest or curiosity. Consider using what are known as “power words” too. These are usually     adjectives (e.g., hysterical, hilarious, mind-blowing, etc.) There is a list published by Smart Blogger you should take a look at. Intrigue the reader by promising something really important or useful. You     know your target audience. What will they find important? Sometimes a “how to…” works well. “How to craft an amazing blog post in 30 minutes or less” would be a good subject line for a content marketer. Another good tactic is to ask the reader for help. A simple, “I need your help, please” or “I need your opinion.” This is a psychological strategy, because most people genuinely want to help others. The Opening Line: Here’s the thing about opening lines. At least a part of them usually show up in the subject line. (depending on the length of your subject title and browser). So, you have to consider these just as important, and you need to use the same tactics that you do for the subject title. And most mobile devices show part of that opening line. Here’s an example that demonstrates everything covered so far: Note: Matt did not put the name of his company in the “from” position – just his name. That’s probably because the recipient has subscribed to his newsletter or blog, and knows him by now. The subject title is engaging and intriguing, and the first line addresses an issue common with service providers – winning more clients. Don’t be afraid to be a little weird and funny in the title and opening line, as Matt Inglot was. You know your audience and their sense of humor. The only time you have to be a bit careful is when your emails are being translated into other languages for foreign targets. Marketers are increasingly targeting foreign-language speaking audiences, and it will be important that visuals and language are well-received and appropriate. 2. The Email Body One of the things we know about today’s consumer and Internet user. He likes to browse and “snack” on stuff, and that includes emails. He doesn’t want to spend a lot of time reading. And you don’t have a lot of time to garner his attention either. So, get to the point quickly. You may want some type of greeting, but don’t use the old “Hi there…my name is...” – boring. Address the recipient by name, and open with something to bring the reader “closer” to you personally. “If you’re like me, you…” Now they are identifying with you – always a good thing. Then get on with the point of the email. Are you running a sale? Are you giving some valuable “how to” information? Your goal is to provide value to the reader – how will what you are offering improve their lives in some way? Example: Look at this email from Pizza Hut: It’s primarily visual – always a good thing, especially for mobile users. And the text speaks to the “value” of what is being offered, as well as a problem solved – easy way to take care of a Saturday night get together with friends. Enough said! Keep it simple. Don’t overload with any irrelevant stuff. You can also refer them to a blog post or website page with a link for more detail. Use very short paragraphs, with the point of that paragraph in the first line. Sometimes asking a question as an opening sentence is effective, because it motivates them to find the answer in the sentences that follow. “Do you know what really causes bag under your eyes?” Doing this helps keep you on track too. Example: FreshBooks offers a solution for professionals who bill by the hour and need to keep track of that billing on the go. Note, the first paragraph explains the whole point simply in one short paragraph. There is a link for the reader to learn more about the product. And the additional value of having a support team on call is an added benefit. 3. The Closing – You Need to “Nail It” This is the part of the email with your CTA and where the reader makes a decision – to move to the next step toward a purchase; to access a page on your site with product details, to download something, or to subscribe to your newsletter. And speaking of newsletters, they can be a big part of email campaigns, if they are done right. If you struggle with how to create a newsletter, subscribe to some yourself and see how those marketers engage readers. You will find many of the same tactics that you are reading here. Example: Here’s a holiday email newsletter from Apple. It provides gift ideas and CTA’s to “shop now,” “Reserve a gift,” and “Learn More.” The main point in the closing is to be clear about what you want them to do and tell them exactly how to do that. “Click here to get all of the product details.” “Click here to register for the workshop.” Urgency is Important: From a psychological standpoint, it’s a good idea to create some urgency in your closing. Fear of missing out (FOMO) tends to make people act. “Click here to register for the workshop – there are 7 spaces left.” If you are offering a special, set a deadline for its expiration. Example: Look at the FOMO CTA from Disney World on Ice promoters. The CAT is to “book Now” with a promo code to use. And this is the recipients “last chance to secure seats…for less.” 4. When to Send Emails Hubspot did a study on the best open rates based on day of the week and time of day. Here is what the study found: Tuesday is the best day of the week to send emails. This makes sense. People’s Mondays tend to be busy and they tend to ignore or delete if their inboxes are too full. The best time of the day to send emails is the two hours between 10:00 a.m. and 12 noon, with a slight peak at 11:00 a.m. 5. Follow-Up So, someone has opened your email. Now, what can you do to move them along? If you are using the right tools, and of course you are, you know who is opening and when they are doing that. Here are the tactics that work well: Send out targeted emails to the “opens.” If you have a phone number, call instead. Ask if they have any questions about your product/service Provide more value regularly. If you have created an e-book, for example, send an email with a free download link; offer special pricing on a product they have been looking at; send an article that was written by news media about your product or service. The point is to keep the door open always. If a target has opened one of your emails, that person is a definite lead. Following up fast and then at spaced intervals after that will keep the relationship going. The target may not be ready to buy yet, but when he is, your brand will be foremost in his mind. 6. A/B Testing This goes without saying. Try several different subject titles for the same email and track the open rates. Use this information as you craft subject titles going forward. Conclusion Email marketing does still matter. What’s more, it is one of the most cost-effective marketing campaign strategies, especially given all of the free tools out there to target, segment, and track. If you have abandoned email marketing for other strategies, keep those other strategies, but use these tactics to initiate an email campaign. What do you have to lose?


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