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The next generation of wireless technology will offer new consumer and business applications, with near real-time connectivity.
In the last decade, 4G wireless technology has become the standard for many mobile consumers around the world.
This material applies to companies of every size and vertical.
I cover both introductory and advanced B2B and B2C tactics. Marketers of every skill level will encounter new material.
Unfortunately, this handbook is dry — because in-depth growth is technical. So I recommend bookmarking this and reading pages as they're relevant to your work.
It's important you learn growth hacking before deciding which idea to work on.
It will save you years of going down the wrong path. You should start by assessing whether your idea is actually suited for profitable and scalable user acquisition.
In this handbook, you'll learn which ad channels you can expect to succeed for your business, and how to increase customer purchase rates.
When you're done reading this, if you can’t foresee these strategies working for the startup idea you're considering, you should consider scrapping your idea.
It's critical that managers know what growth marketing entails so they can facilitate it.
Don't treat growth like a black box powered by your engineering and marketing departments. It's your most important business function.
This handbook helps you prioritize growth marketing projects based on their likely profitability and ease of implementation. Plus, it sheds light on a growth marketer's skill set so you can effectively assess hiring candidates.
(Many companies unknowingly hire “growth experts” who are brand marketers experienced only in creating brand voice and generating buzz. Unfortunately, brand marketers often lack knowledge of user acquisition and conversion optimization. This handbook will help you avoid unintentionally hiring them.)
Growth hacking is simply data-driven revenue maximization.
Growth "hacking" is actually a silly term. (It also goes by performance marketing and growth marketing.) I use it because it helps this handbook rank higher in Google.
Practice what you preach.
In reality, growth is not a series of "hacks." It's a rigorous methodology consisting of experimenting, collecting data, and leveraging human psychology. All in pursuit of directly maximizing revenue — not raising brand awareness or generating buzz.
Growth marketing (which is how I will now refer to the discipline) differs from traditionally undisciplined marketing in that growth marketing focuses on clearly measurable and directly profitable marketing initiatives.
For example, growth rarely concerns itself with billboards, radio ads, conferences, and other difficult to measure channels. (Try attributing a customer to the billboard they saw before signing up. Try doing it when you have multiple billboards in a city.)
Growth leverages the scale and immediacy of the Internet to start small and discover how to make customer acquisition measurable and therefore capable of being proven financially viable.
Growth marketing accomplishes its objective by continually optimizing every step of the customer's journey.
This journey includes the ads they see, the website they later interact with, and the product they ultimately buy and engage with.
In other words, growth marketing involves three key disciplines:
Growth marketers must be familiar with all three disciplines. Or, at minimum, your team of growth marketers must collectively address these disciplines.
However, that knowledge alone is not enough to be successful. They must also possess a few unique skills.
To competently span the three disciplines, a growth marketer must be:
Let’s elaborate on that last point. Resourceful entails being aggressively proactive:
This handbook will help establish the disciplines of creativity and resourcefulness.
Counterintuitively, "brand marketing" is typically ineffective at actually shaping your brand. Plus I've already mentioned it's not effective for growth marketing.
So, what is it good for? Keeping your message consistent and self-censored.
But most companies don't need to exercise this restraint early on. Because long-term public perception is more so the result of having a product people love. Consumer love begets organic brand building via word-of-mouth, and word-of-mouth supersedes the messaging your company pushes through brand marketing.
So before you hire a brand marketer, hire another product manager to make your product more enjoyable to use. And by extension more beloved.
When you're a mature company, consider hiring a brand marketer to maintain the aesthetic and tonal consistency of your marketing. This will help you stay singular and differentiated if you're in a crowded market.
But, before then, brand marketers typically slow growth marketing with arbitrary constraints. Consider how if brand marketing dictates that all marketing materials must have red backgrounds with white text, growth marketers won't feel empowered to experiment with different ad designs to uncover what the data says is the best aesthetic to encourage ad clicks that lead to purchases.
Before you dive into this handbook, I want you to develop an intuition for which growth tactics are likely to succeed for your company.
To do this, I must first introduce the growth funnel: the journey the customer takes while interacting with your advertising and your product. These are the steps:
Growth marketers know how these steps interrelate. For example, to spend marketing dollars efficiently, steps later in the funnel should be optimized first. Consider how when Engagement performs better, every dollar spent on Acquisition goes further.
So let's introduce each step.
(It's fine if some steps don't apply to your product.)
An acquisition "channel" is a place you source potential customers from. For example, ads, content marketing, and sales are all acquisition channels.
Channels separate into two broad categories:
This handbook teaches the most popular paid channel: Ads.
When visitors are intrigued by what you're offering (either on your website or in-person), some of them "convert" into registered users or paying customers.
"Conversion events" are the business-critical events along your product's growth funnel. For example, a website visitor may first convert into a registered user. Then, after using your app for a while, they might then convert into a paying customer.
So far, we've acquired users and converted them into registered users. But we also need them to engage with us if they're going to ultimately pay us.
So, when a visitor converts into a user, handhold them through your product experience so they become an educated user. Educated users are more likely to become engaged, repeat purchasers.
This handbook teaches engagement through User Onboarding.
Your revenue per customer can be maximized through reducing your costs, improving your conversion rates, optimizing your pricing, and up/cross-selling other products.
This is a fascinating topic, but unfortunately pricing and cross-selling are outside the scope of this handbook.
You need to make your product so good that customers do your selling for you. It's the most cost-effective way to scale your business in the long-term.
Thankfully, you don’t need to be a viral consumer app to accomplish this. Many B2B companies grow (albeit slowly) exclusively through word-of-mouth.
This handbook teaches referrals at the bottom of the User Onboarding page.
The growth funnel's linearity — for example, going from A to Z — doesn't need to constrain a user's journey toward conversion.
Their journey may in practice consist of repeatedly looping from A (advertising) to F (e.g. in-app engagement) before they reach Z, which is where paid conversion occurs.
For example, if a user fails to Engage with your app, you might send them an educational email paired with ads pointing to your content marketing. You can do this repeatedly until they're served the right content that propels them to the next step.
I call this the Retargeting Loop. (I'll talk more about retargeting later.)
Here's another loop: the Ecommerce Re-purchase Loop. In it, a user first goes from A to Z. Meaning, they bought your product. Afterward, you then email them a steep coupon to compel them to purchase yet again.
In other words, you're getting them to repeat steps B to Z. (A is skipped because they already know who you are.)
If you can trigger this loop repeatedly, you have a sound business model. And if you repeat this loop on autopilot, you're said to have a subscription business.
The key takeaways are:
This handbook focuses on user acquisition and conversion, so strategies for re-engagement and subscriptions are not covered. But I want you to know they exist.
This guide focuses on the first two steps of the funnel: Acquisition and Conversion.
So let's introduce the cold reality of acquisition.
Most companies never get paid acquisition channels to work. If they did, more companies would be successful.
Specifically, most companies are unable to profitably acquire paying users through ad networks such as Facebook Ads, Instagram Ads, and Google AdWords.
If they do get one or more of these channels to work, it's a holy grail if paired with strong word-of-mouth: Paid channels let you scale big and fast while (unpaid) customer referrals reduce the average cost of customer acquisition.
Why is paid difficult to make work? Here's the criteria that determine success:
To succeed with ads, your product must cross a threshold for all three criteria:
You won't definitively know whether your product crosses these thresholds until you've spent a statistically significant amount of money on each ad channel. This is often around $1,000-$2,000 USD per channel.
(On the Ad Channels page, I'll walk you through each.)
If you fail to pass these three thresholds and ad channels are therefore not viable, you'll instead be relying on word-of-mouth, content marketing, PR, sales, and other unpaid channels that cost less per customer acquisition.
That's completely fine. Succeeding at paid acquisition isn't a necessity. It's just helpful because it lets you scale easily. And the only other easy channel to scale is virality. So if you can't make either work, you're in for a longer growth journey.
Here's the success criteria for the four most effective unpaid channels:
Even companies that do get ad channels to work don't often get them working at scale for more than a few months.
Eventually, audiences may saturate and diminishing returns can kill profitability. So, you should plant seeds for other channels to succeed in the long-term:
We're ready to introduce the minimum viable growth plan everyone should pursue.
With our growth plan in hand, we're missing one thing: What my experience running growth for 20+ companies suggests is the best tactic for your business model.
If you sell to consumers:
If you sell to businesses:
Instead of searching for senior growth marketers to hire, empower your existing team to be better at growth. Get as good at growth as me and my agency.
That's what Bell Curve Training does: It shares the processes behind how Bell Curve — the agency that's grown some of the largest ecommerce and B2B SaaS companies — does growth effectively.
How training works:
Click here to see which growth topics we teach.
Today I’m going to show you exactly how to do an SEO audit.
In fact, this is the same process that’s helped me grow my organic traffic 74.8% over the last year.
And I should point something out:
This is a non-technical site audit.
So if you’re not super technical (like me), you’ll love the simple steps in this guide.
Let’s get started.
Type site:yourwebsite.com into Google.
This will show you how many pages Google has indexed:
If this number is higher than you thought, you’re not alone.
Most sites have 50% MORE indexed pages than they should.
(I call these extra pages “Zombie Pages”)
As it turns out, deleting Zombie Pages can get you A LOT more organic traffic.
For example, Sean from Proven deleted over 9k Zombie Pages from his site…
…which helped boost his Google traffic by nearly 50%:
Why does this work so well?
Well, Google has said that they prefer sites with a small amount of high-quality pages.
And when you delete Zombie Pages, you give Google what it wants.
Pro Tip: Deleting Zombie Pages also makes the rest of this SEO audit MUCH easier. Fewer pages=fewer problems
With that, here are the most common types of Zombie Pages:
Which leads us to our second step…
Mobile SEO is more important than ever.
First off, 60% of Google searches are now from mobile devices.
Second, Google just started using a Mobile-First Algorithm.
This means that Google now uses the mobile version of your site for mobile AND desktop searches.
The question is:
How do you know if your site is mobile-friendly?
Just pop your site into the tool…
…and you’ll see whether or not Google considers your site optimized for mobile devices.
Did you know it’s possible to have different versions of your site indexed in Google?
For example, here are 4 different versions of the same site:
To me and you, they’re pretty much the same.
But not to Google.
And unless you redirect these versions properly, Google will consider them completely separate websites.
Fortunately, this is easy to check… and fix.
Just type each of the 4 different versions into your browser.
They should all end up on the same URL:
In my case, the “WWW” version of my site redirects to backlinko.com.
And when someone visits the HTTP version of my site, they get redirected to the HTTPS version.
If a version of your site isn’t redirecting properly, no worries.
Just 301 redirect it to the version you want to use.
Then, move onto step #4.
And they recently rolled out a new update that makes speed even MORE important.
Here’s how to get your site to load REALLY fast:
First, clean up your site’s HTML code.
You can easily find problems with your code with PageSpeed Insights.
Pro Tip: Don’t just analyze your homepage. Test 2-3 internal pages too. I’m talking about blog posts, service pages, and category pages.
Second, run a speed test.
This type of test actually loads your page… and lets you know about bottlenecks that slow things down.
Third, crunch your images.
Huge images can bring your site speed to a screeching halt.
That’s why I recommend compressing your images with a platform like Kraken.
Pro Tip: Upgrade your hosting. If you spend $10 per month on hosting, don’t expect fast loading times. A few years back I switched from a budget host to $200/month premium hosting. And the speed difference was INSANE.
Next, it’s time to find web pages that Google isn’t indexing.
To do that, fire up the good ol’ Google Search Console.
The “Index Coverage” report shows you a list of pages that they can’t index for some reason.
As you can see, Backlinko is error free.
All good right?
To double check everything is A-OK, I recommend a free SEO tool called Screaming Frog.
Screaming Frog crawls your site the same way Google would. And it lets you know about pages that it can’t access.
(For example, if you’re accidentally blocking a page with your robots.txt file… or the page has a noindex tag).
So if you find a page that’s blocked, double check that it’s meant to be blocked.
For example, we paginate comments here at Backlinko.
And I don’t want Google to index every single comment page. So we throw a noindex tag on those pages.
In this case, the pages that are blocked are meant to be blocked.
And once you’ve confirmed that Google can access all of the pages you want them to access, it’s time to…
Now it’s time to see how much organic traffic you’re getting.
To do that, head over to Google Analytics.
Then, go to Acquisition >> All Traffic >> Channels.
Hit “Organic Search”.
And you’ll see exactly how many people visited your site from search engines last month.
Next, set the dates to the last 6-8 months.
And you’ll see whether or not your organic traffic is trending in the right direction:
As you can see, my organic traffic has gradually increased over the last few months.
If your organic traffic is flat (or declining), no worries.
The goal in this step is just to see where you’re at.
Things should start to improve once you finish this SEO audit.
On-page SEO is HUGE.
You probably don’t have time to optimize every page on your site.
Fortunately, you don’t have to.
Here’s what to do instead:
First, identify your 5 most important pages.
These can be pages that:
I recently published a massive guide to using BuzzSumo.
Besides the basics (like including my keyword in my title tag), I didn’t do much to optimize this page.
And because it’s already on the first page for my target keyword…
…it has a good chance of cracking the top 5.
Then, optimize your page with the strategies in this video.
If you’re REALLY pressed for time and don’t have time to implement everything from the video, focus on these 5 strategies:
Once those strategies are in place, let’s dive right into step #8:
Now it’s time to start tracking your rankings in the SERPs.
There are a million rank tracking tools out there.
But to me, the best out there is SEMrush.
SEMrush is awesome because it doesn’t just track the keywords you give it.
(Although it does that too)
What’s cool about SEMrush is that it automatically finds keywords that you rank for.
There’s no doubt about it:
Backlinks are still REALLY important.
In fact, our study of 1 million search results found that backlinks correlate with rankings more than any other factor.
And now it’s time to analyze your backlink profile.
First, enter your homepage into a backlink analysis tool.
And you’ll get a report on your links:
Then, check out referring domains and Domain Authority.
Referring domains = the number of sites linking to you.
Don’t sweat the exact number too much. You’re just benchmarking where you’re at.
You also want to take a look at your Domain Authority.
Every tool has its own name for “Domain Authority”.
(For example, Ahrefs calls it “Domain Rating”)
But the idea is the same:
Domain Authority tells you how much authority your site has… based on a combination of the quantity AND quality of your backlinks.
Finally, look for toxic links.
To do that, check out the most common anchor text in your link profile:
If you see a lot of branded anchor text (like “Backlinko” and “Backlinko.com”), you’re good.
Fortunately, that’s the case with my link profile:
But if you notice lots of keyword-rich anchor text (like “SEO blog” and “SEO training company”), that’s a sign of a toxic link profile.
Here’s an example of a link profile with spammy anchor text:
And if you want to dig deeper, take a look at some of your backlinks.
Most of your backlinks should come from REAL websites.
For example, you can see that most of my links come from blogs and news sites that write about digital marketing and SEO.
(Which is good)
But if you notice that most of your links are from shady sites, you might want to disavow those links.
Pro Tip: Spammy links are a normal part of any link profile. So don’t stress if you see a few shady links
A few years back Google stated that they don’t “lose sleep” over broken links.
Broken links are bad for user experience… which CAN hurt your SEO.
(More on that later)
With that, here’s how to fix broken links on your site:
First, find broken pages on your site that Google can’t index.
You can find this info in the Google Search Console’s “Index Report”.
I stay on top of broken links, so I’m in the clear.
Here’s what you’ll see if your pages are giving Google 404 errors:
Sometimes you deleted pages for a reason (for example: you deleted a bunch of Zombie Pages).
If so, you don’t need to do anything. Google will eventually stop reporting these broken pages as problems.
But if Google can’t access a page that you want to rank, you obviously want to get that page back up ASAP.
Next, use a tool to find broken internal and external links.
You can use Ahrefs…
…or a free tool like Broken Link Check.
Now it’s time to spy on your competitors.
Here’s how to do it:
First, find your competitors’ best keywords.
You can easily find this info using SEMrush…
Needless to say, these make GREAT keywords to target.
Second, check out the pages that are ranking for those terms.
Then, figure out what those pages have in common. That way, you know what type of content works best in your niche.
For example, if you look at some of my highest-ranking pages…
…you’ll notice that my content:
Finally, see who links to those pages.
To do that, pop a URL into Ahrefs.
And take a look at the links pointing to that page.
This tells you who the influencers in your niche are. That way, you can start to build relationships with them.
(Which will come in handy when you get started with link building)
Back in step #7 you SEO-optimized 5 of your most important pages.
And now it’s time to make the content on those pages 10x better.
To rank in 2018, your content needs to kick butt.
With that, here’s how to make those pages 10x better:
1. VERY short intros.
No one wants to read long winded introductions like these:
Instead, keep your intros short and sweet:
2. Small paragraphs.
People don’t read online. They skim.
And small paragraphs help skimmers consume your content better.
3. Lots of subheaders.
Subheaders help break up your content into digestible chunks.
Use them early and often.
4. Use visuals, images and video
Multimedia makes your content MUCH more compelling.
(Plus, visuals help people learn and understand)
For example, in this SEO checklist post, I use lots of images:
And because my content is easy to read and understand, the average user spends 05:08 on that page:
RankBrain is Google’s new AI algorithm.
Unlike the old Google, RankBrain measures how users interact with your site.
To rank in Google today, you need to optimize for UX Signals.
In other words, your content needs to make users happy.
When you do, Google’s going to give you a HUGE rankings boost.
A while back I noticed that this post on my site wasn’t ranking that well.
(It was hovering between the 10th and 15th spots for my target keyword: “SEO Campaign”)
And when I looked at my content, I realized why…
My content didn’t give people searching for “SEO campaign” what they wanted.
Instead of steps, they got a case study of ONE specific strategy:
My post also had lots of outdated screenshots:
Because my content wasn’t optimized for UX signals, Google buried it.
So I decided to overhaul the entire post.
In the end, I had a piece of up-to-date content that was a PERFECT fit for someone searching for “SEO campaign”:
Sure enough, because my content is designed to make Google searchers happy, my page quickly went from #15 to the #4 spot in Google.
And it recently hit the #1 spot:
Your site architecture is simple:
It’s how the pages on your site are organized.
As it turns out, your website architecture is REALLY important for SEO.
First, site architecture helps search engines find and index all of your pages.
When your site’s architecture is a big ol’ mess, Google’s gonna have trouble finding all of your pages:
But when your site architecture links your pages together, Google can easily find and index your entire site.
Second, architecture tells Google which pages on your site are most important.
In general, the closer a page is to your homepage, the more important it is.
The question is:
How should your site’s architecture look?
Well, I know I said that this SEO audit wasn’t going to be super technical.
So I’m going to keep this super duper simple…
You want to keep your site architecture flat.
In other words, not like this:
Instead, you want it to look like this:
Or put another way:
It shouldn’t take more than 3 clicks to go from your homepage to any page on your site.
In some cases, you’ll need a developer to completely overhaul your site’s navigation.
But you can also just add internal links to different pages…
…and add links to the sidebar:
As long as users can reach any of your pages in 3 clicks or less, you’re good.
Google recently said that your title tag and meta descriptions are “easy wins”.
And I’d have to agree.
ESPECIALLY when it comes to fixing duplicate titles and descriptions.
Fortunately, you can easily find duplicate metas in the Google Search Console.
Just head over to Search Appearance → HTML Improvements.
And you’ll get a list of duplicate metas:
In my case, I have 8 pages with the same description:
These are all different pages of my blog feed (which aren’t indexed anyway). So it’s no big deal.
But if important pages on your site have duplicate meta tags, I recommend rewriting them ASAP.
The last step of this SEO audit is to publish a piece of content using The Skyscraper Technique.
It helps Google quickly find and index all of the changes you just made.
For example, look at the spike in “Pages crawled per day” whenever I publish something popular:
And this video will show you exactly how to execute the Skyscraper Technique process:
But as a quick recap, here’s how it works…
First, check out the top 10 results for a keyword that you want to rank for.
For example, I recently published a piece of content called: “27 Ways to Increase Website Traffic in 2018”.
Before I wrote a single word, I analyzed the first page for keywords like “how to get more traffic”:
The content I found was pretty good. But nothing special.
Next, publish content that’s 5x better than what you found.
I took things up a notch with my post.
I included lots of detailed steps:
And techniques that are working RIGHT NOW:
Finally, it’s time to promote your post.
This part is key.
When Google sees a flood of people (and links) coming to your site, they say: “This site is blowing UP. We need to send Googlebot there right now.”
(Like I mentioned earlier, this helps Google quickly process all of the changes you made to your site).
In my case, I sent out a newsletter to my email subscribers:
And promoted it on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter:
Internal linking is one of the most underrated SEO strategies on the planet.
The question is:
How do you internal link the right way?
Make sure you link to high-priority pages as much as possible.
You can see all of your site’s internal links in the GSC.
Go to Search Traffic → Internal Links.
And you’ll see the pages on your site that get the most internal link love.
I tried to keep this SEO audit process as non-techy as possible.
But if you want to dig deeper into your technical SEO, I highly recommend using an SEO audit tool.
Which tools do I recommend?
Actually, I use and recommend two.
The first is Seobility.
Unlike most audit tools, Seobility is VERY easy to use. Plus, the reports are simple to understand and take action on.
Even though SEMrush is mostly known as a keyword research tool, it has a surprisingly in-depth site audit feature.
Featured Snippets can DRAMATICALLY increase your organic traffic.
For example, a while back I got this page to show up in the Featured Snippet spot.
And organic traffic to that page shot up like a rocketship:
How do you get your content in the Featured Snippet spot?
This guide (and study) has you covered.
To sum up the guide, to show up in the Featured Snippet, you need to…
That’s about it ????
Now It’s Your Turn
That’s it for this SEO audit process.
And now I’d like to hear from you:
Do you have any questions about this process?
Or maybe you have a cool tip that I didn’t include here.
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.
In the hyper-competitive SaaS world, no matter how high your growth is, if you are unable to control your churn rate, it is difficult for your company to sustain. Having high growth along with high churn rate is like filling a leaky bucket. Though you may feel you will be able to fill the bucket, eventually you will realise that it is impossible and you have just wasted water. Similarly, if you don’t manage your churn rate, you will fall into a trap and eventually end up wasting resources.
According to Sixteen Ventures, customers who aren’t fully engaged after 90 days don’t stay customers very long. This means that if your customer has a poor onboarding experience, s/he is likely to churn in the first 30-90 days. So, even though your sales reps might be closing deals you might still be losing money because of customer churn.
Onboarding is helping your customer get to value by using your product. You need to guide your client on how to use the product so that they get used to the product and eventually gain value from it.
This is where we all go WRONG! We don’t need to train the customers on all the features. We need to train customers on only those features that help them get to their specific value. Value here would be the primary reason why s/he bought the product in the first place.
Different customers buy the same product for different reasons.
Now, the value for each customer can be different since their goals need not be the same. Different customers buy the same product for different reasons. So, it is crucial that you understand why each of your customers has bought your product. Accordingly, we need to tailor the onboarding steps depending on those different use cases.
For example, if you sell a CRM for sales folks, customers can buy your product for different reasons. Someone may want better forecast and reporting. Another one may want to improve their response time. A third person may want to enable a distributed sales team. Ideally, the number of onboarding processes should be equal to the number of different use cases.
If you have not come up with different use cases based on customer personas, I’d urge you to do it immediately before you read this further.
Once you know what value your customers are looking for, you need to find the shortest path to help them reach their goals as soon as possible. Hence, we need to ensure that each feature that we train our customer on is crucial to reach the goal.
The faster we meet the needs of our customer, the lower the chance of customer churn. But this does not mean that we should only focus on the time-bound completion of tasks. The focus should always be on the customer getting the value for which they had bought the product. We have to ensure that not only does s/he achieve the product milestones but s/he is also able to solve the original problem.
Here’s a customer onboarding framework template that you can use to build an effective customer onboarding process.
Now let’s take a look at the key factors which will help in designing a customer onboarding framework for B2B SaaS.
To help the customers achieve the milestones do you use an automated or personalized path? Here is the trick that will help you decide which path to follow.
Depending on the Average Revenue Per Account (ARPA) we can have two segments:
It will not make economic sense to give personalized services.
For example, if you have a marketing automation tool, you can give her/him an instruction manual or a demo video on how to use the product. Since, the product is straightforward, the client can follow the instructions and start deriving value.
However, if you hire a team to train the clients on using the product, it would take up a lot of resources and time.
Hence, you need to automate the onboarding process if your ARPA is less than $1K.
Let’s take the example of an enterprise CRM software. Each customer will want to solve different problems. Customer A might want to solve forecasting revenue whereas Customer B might be looking to improve response times.
You need to discuss with the client and understand his/her requirements and then use an onboarding process as per the use case. You also need to make appropriate customizations to deliver value to the customer.
But what if your ARPA is between $1K and $100K? Here, you need to take the hybrid approach, i.e., the best of both worlds.
Automate every step. But when the flow is broken, provide personalized services to complete the process.
The customers can follow the easy steps themselves. But when they get stuck, a customer success manager can guide them to overcome the hurdle. After that, the customers can again follow the instructions on their own. So, you need to hire few Customer Success Managers (CSMs) who will only help the customers when required.
In many companies, the onboarding process is taken care of by the sales, marketing or even the product team. The onboarding experience is a major factor of customer churn and the sole aim of success managers is to reduce churn. While sales, marketing and the product team have other important tasks, that is not the case for customer success managers. So, the onboarding process should be handled by the customer success managers.
If the CSM trains the customer during the onboarding process, s/he understands the exact problems that the customer is trying to solve. After onboarding, if the customer faces any difficulty, the CSM can understand the context and help the client. In the end, this will help to retain and even upsell to the customer.
If the onboarding process is quite complex and elaborate, you may need a dedicated onboarding team which works as a part of the customer success team.
However, if you have an automated onboarding process, you need to have a strong support team. When the customers get stuck or if they have any doubts, they are going to raise a ticket which would have to be handled by customer support.
Onboarding duration depends on several things. The onboarding duration should not be too short as then the customer will not properly understand on how to use the product. And if it’s too long, then you are wasting precious time. As a rule of thumb, as the complexity increases, the onboarding duration increases.
If your product has the following features, you should have a short onboarding duration of 0-45 days.
Simple: Is your product self-explanatory and easy to use? Can your customer follow the steps effortlessly and start to gain value without needing any help? If yes, then your product is simple to use.
Single User: Your product is designed to be used by a single person instead of multiple people with different skills.
Buyer = User: If the buyer is going to use the product the decision making process is trouble free and fast. S/he can herself/himself decide whether to buy the product or not without asking for too many permissions.
Out of the box: As soon as you purchase the product, you can follow the instructions and start using the product. Neither the company nor the customer has to make any changes/configuration in the system to use the product.
Tool: Your product is designed to solve specific problems of the customers. Different use cases to solve some other problems cannot be added later.
~ Zero effort to value: The company has to put in negligible effort to help the customers get value. The customer can follow the instructions easily and solve pain points.
Whereas, if your product has the following features, you should have a longer onboarding duration of 45-90 days.
Complex: Your product is complicated and needs elaborate instructions along with proper onboarding process.
Large team, multi-department: Your product is used by various people from different departments.
Multiple stakeholders: Since the product is expensive and will be used by a large team from different departments, buying decision needs to be approved by several people.
Customizable: The product can be customized as per the specific needs of the customer.
Platform: It is a complete platform and hence can be used for various use cases.
Effort to value: The client needs to put in a fair amount of work before the customer can derive any value. S/he may have to configure the server and then onboard the customer so that the customer can start using the product.
Evaluating your onboarding framework using wrong metrics is a critical mistake. You may think that you have done a good job. But when your customers churn due to poor onboarding experience, it would be too late and you already will be in a lot of trouble. Below are some of the metrics that you should use to evaluate your customer onboarding framework:
Is the customer using all the features that you have trained him/her on or only using some specific features? If the customer is using all the required features, the product adoption is high. If the customer is only using certain features, the product adoption is low and you need to guide the customer again.
Time spent on the product
How much time is the customer exactly spending on the product? If the user has not logged in since last 14 days, either s/he is facing some roadblocks or s/he feels he is not getting any value from the product. This customer is highly likely to churn. Hence you need to contact her/him to understand his situation.
At the end of the day, it is the values that the customer has gained from the product that actually matters. Make sure that the customer is getting the value by following the shortest path.
Number of active users
If the customer has bought the product to be used by multiple employees but only a few of them are using it, there is a problem which needs attention.
Understanding the buyer’s use case
Since the sales representative converts a lead to a customer, they know the exact reason why the customer has bought your product.
Sales representatives need to tell the CSM the exact pain point the customer is trying to solve. So, the customer success team can follow an onboarding process which will help get the customer to value in the shortest time.
Passing the trust by making a warm introduction with success managers
The sales representative will already have a relationship with the customer due to her/his frequent interactions. So, s/he can introduce the CSM to the customer. Also, s/he can make sure both of them are on the same page regarding the value that the customer desires by using the product.
Feedback from the customer at the end of onboarding
This step is extremely important. At the end of the onboarding process, the sales representative should take feedback from the customer regarding what worked for them and what all can be improved.
We cannot be perfect but we can always learn from the mistakes. What better way to learn from our mistakes than from our customers? Also, it is important to ask whether the customer has got the value that the sales rep had promised at the start, or not.
Bring in the creative side for the right messaging
The marketing team knows exactly what works since they are in charge of bringing in the leads. Hence, the marketing team can help in writing effective and to the point emails and other written form communication that needs to be sent during the onboarding process.
Enable data-driven side of A/B testing
The marketing team already has a huge amount of data and knows which process is likely to work. That experience can help in designing a better onboarding experience.
Enable scale, especially useful when automating
If you are using an automated process for onboarding your customers where almost all the instructions will be in the form of mails, blogs, forums (writing) or videos. The marketing team has experience working at scale. They can help in making the onboarding process simple and fruitful for the customers.
So, before designing an onboarding process always see through the eyes of the customer and keep the customer at the heart of the solution. The aim of the onboarding process should be to train the customers on the required features so that s/he can derive value as soon as possible. This will help you in increasing the Life Time Value (LTV) of the customer which will ultimately lead to higher revenue.
Summary: What causes good marketers to execute bad ABM and fall victim to the hype cycle (plus, how to avoid disappointment.)
I think we’ve hit peak hype with ABM.
These days, you can’t trip over a B2B marketer without hearing them talk about Account Based Marketing (ABM). Adoption is on the rise, and more vendors than ever have attached themselves to the term to take advantage of the fervor. Don’t get me wrong, in many ways this is great, and exactly the type of excitement we predicted and hoped for when founding Engagio. To-date we have brought hundreds of organizations onto our platform to experience the benefits of ABM.
But, excitement comes with a consequence.
Hype inevitably creates backlash. Recently, a post featuring the “ABM Hype Cycle” has made the rounds, illustrating the sharp and quick rise in excitement, and a fall into a “trough of disillusionment” when expectations aren’t met:
Gartner began using the Hype Cycle in the 90s, and it can be applied to any new technology that earns a groundswell of activity and growth. In the post, Steve Watt argues that the Hype Cycle doesn’t just work for technological adoption, it can also be applied to new business strategies such as ABM — and as I’ve often argued, ABM is NOT a technology category, it is a business strategy.
As a founder situated firmly in the midst of the ABM hype, I want to address this perceived letdown, and offer some strategies for avoiding the hype cycle entirely.
First thing’s first:
ABM is not a fad, it’s a fundamentally better way of doing business for high-value B2B sales and marketing. We know it works from the incredible success of Engagio customers, and from empirical studies proving ABM drives higher ROI than any other tactic for the vast majority of marketers.
But, ABM only works when it’s done right. The term may be everywhere right now, but few companies are really doing it optimally. Hype is causing some well-intentioned marketers to take shortcuts simply to “check the box” on ABM.
The danger is, ABM shortcuts are the fastest way to the “trough of disillusionment,” not to mention a huge waste of time, resources, and budget.
I get it — ABM done right is hard, and marketers are busy. Most CEOs don’t approach their CMO saying “do you want more budget and people to do this ABM thing?” So, it’s not surprising marketers take the easy path. But, it takes some real effort to work — and that’s the point. That’s what earns you the right to win business with high-value accounts.
Don’t forget, ABM is about identifying your highest-value target accounts, then finding creative ways to cut through the noise to engage with the right people. It’s about standing out. These executives aren’t raising their hands, as they do with inbound marketing. They haven’t expressed interest in you, as they do with lead-based demand generation.
To engage these buyers, you must delight, educate, and/or add value.
Or, as Watt recommends in his post, blow their minds!
B2B industries are more competitive today than ever before. They’re crowded, commoditized, noisy, and everybody is trying to knock on the same doors. Buyers are overwhelmed by this noise, and will immediately throw away anything uninteresting, hit “SPAM” on emails that smell like sales, and ignore your ads (no matter how targeted they may be).
We need to break through all that noise to be successful with ABM. The best way to do that is with customization.
We know from The Challenger Sale that the best B2B salespeople are able to teach their buyers, and tailor that teaching for each unique business. In addition, ITSMA studies show 75% of executives will read unsolicited marketing materials if relevant to their business, and 92% will pay attention to these materials even from providers they’ve not done business with before. But the key here is that it must be relevant — which means tailored to their business.
ABM requires high-value, customized, valuable touchpoints.
If you don’t find a way to stand out from all the noise, your ABM efforts won’t deliver on the promise and you’ll end up in the trough of disillusionment.
However, you can’t be super-customized for every account. You can’t blow the minds of every decision maker. Nobody has the resources for that. You need to make decisions as to where your energy goes, and where it doesn’t go. The whole point of ABM is that it’s an opportunity to focus more resources on the accounts that are the most valuable and the most meaningful.
That’s why target account selection is a critical step in ABM. But it’s not enough just to pick the accounts, since it’s unlikely that each target account is worth exactly the same value; you also need to put them into tiers.
ABM experts have long agreed that there are different styles ofABM. They’ve laid out three distinct ways that teams currently approach ABM. Here’s how we think about them at Engagio:
Each style of ABM should come with “entitlements”. Entitlements answer the question “what is the right amount of time, money and resources dedicated to each account in each style/tier of ABM?” The entitlements document the balance of investment in time and resources to target accounts, and serve as the service-level agreement (SLA) between marketing and sales as to who does what and when for each kind of account.
Once you’ve built alignment around your entitlements for each style, you’ll be able to determine how many accounts you can realistically support in each tier — which will inform your account selection process. Learn more about entitlements for account-based marketing here.
Programmatic ABM done wrong occurs when marketers use the same tactics as they would in lead-based demand generation, but just happen to send them to target accounts. This is just targeted demand generation in disguise. (Hint: if you’re still tracking leads and MQLs and not marketing qualified accounts / MQAs, you’re probably at risk of this. By definition, ABM requires account-centric metrics.)
It’s here that many fall into the trough of disillusionment with ABM.
So often when marketers say “I’m doing ABM,” what they’re really doing is running some ads and maybe sending some direct mail packages to target accounts. Too often, these packages don’t amount to much more than sending some generic SWAG, and the only follow-up is a generic lead nurture track. These generic tactics aren’t going to break through the noise and connect with executive decision makers at named accounts.
I think, in an attempt to scale ABM, too many marketers have placed unrealistic expectations on programmatic tactics.
ABM is about saying no
As mentioned before, you can’t be customized for everybody, you don’t have the resources. That’s why programmatic tactics are so appealing, on the surface. It feels “scalable.” It appears to reach the largest possible audience. It casts a wide net. But, by relying on generic tactics we’re falling victim to the mindset of lead-based marketing. ABM is about fishing with spears, not nets.
To drive real account-based engagement, to stand out from all the noise, there are no shortcuts. It requires hard work, elbow grease, and the involvement of real, live, human beings. If you successfully close large deals, you know this to be true. Customization is not optional.
Let’s get real about ads.
As Michael Brenner said, “If content marketing is the hero of the modern marketing story, then banner ads are most certainly the villain.” Display ads carry an average CTR of 0.1%. In fact, you’re more likely to survive a plane crash, get into Harvard, or win the lottery, than have someone click on your banner ad.
I’m an executive. Personally, I can’t recall the last time I clicked on an ad.
Not to mention, display ads suffer serious issues including viewability, click fraud, bots, ad blockers, and viewer fatigue – not to mention the brand risk of having your ad show up on a site whose content you don’t agree with.
The account-based advertising platforms available today don’t allow for real customization or personalization beyond funnel stage and maybe industry. (Sticking the company name in the ad doesn’t count; that’s no better than saying “Dear [[FNAME]]” in an email.) By their very nature, ad networks force marketers into larger segments to have enough impressions – the opposite of the smaller, more targeted segments that ABM is all about.
In my opinion, ads are often the cause of the ABM trough of disillusionment.
ABM has become over-identified with advertising, and that’s a real disservice to the category.
When Ads Do Play a Role
Now, I’m NOT saying ads don’t work at all, and I’m NOT saying they don’t fit into an overall ABM strategy. They CAN work as part of an orchestrated campaign, especially if your goal is to increase awareness with a much broader set of people at a target account. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t rely on ads and feel confident that you’re “doing ABM” well. That requires a deeper ABM foundation and broader orchestration strategy.
Of course, don’t just take my word for it. We did some experiments at Engagio with integrated ABM plays in a campaign that included sending packages (two test versions) with valuable content and customized, handwritten notes for multiple target personas at key target accounts. For half the accounts, we also purchased advertising to see what incremental impact it had.
The results? Ads did provide a significant lift in web traffic from target accounts, but there was absolutely NO LIFT in our ability to get meetings with the right folks or to create opportunities at the accounts that had ads versus those that didn’t:
Ads provide awareness, but most marketers aren’t just trying to drive awareness with ABM. They’re trying to drive meaningful engagement, meetings, and sales opportunities.
Remember, ABM works when you do it right. But, so many companies fail with ad-only ABM strategies, and that trough gets bigger and bigger.
The ITSMA asked ABM practitioners of each style of ABM what specific tactics were most effective. The conclusion: no matter which style of ABM, the most effective tactics involve custom, human interactions.
Even in programmatic ABM, the tactics that work best are the ones that deliver customized value.
The conclusion is simple: you simply cannot remove human beings from the ABM equation if you want to deliver customized value.
I hope by now you agree that avoiding the trough of disillusionment means executing ABM correctly, and that means there’s no “easy button”. But while it can be tough, it’s certainly not impossible. Here are my recommended steps forward to start – or maybe recover – your ABM initiative:
ABM is not a year-long, painful, massive project that will derail your marketing organization. It certainly takes more time than ads do, but the rewards are worth it.
The most straightforward path to success starts by building your account foundation. Match leads to accounts (if you want to think with an account-centric lens, you need a single view of accounts), and begin to adopt concepts like MQAs, not MQLs. (Read the difference.)
Customization requires collaboration. As Watt’s hype cycle article says:
“New ways of going to market will require new ways of thinking, acting, and collaborating…. not enough that they sign off on it or otherwise passively agree. You need full, active co-ownership. Nothing less will create the conditions for real success.”
Book a recurring standup between someone on the Marketing team and Account Executives (and SDRs) to review target accounts and discuss ways to jointly go after them. Give Sales the insights they need into what’s happening with their accounts. (I don’t mean simple news alerts – I’m talking insight into cross-channel engagement.) Sales needs to know what marketing is doing, and what their accounts are doing.
Finally, put the tactics to work that are meant to work in ABM. Set up one-to-one meetings, create custom thought leadership, craft personalized emails, and drive executive engagement. Have a sales person, marketer, or member of your executive team take action at the right time, ensuring follow-up. Ads can play a role here, but they are not sufficient for meaningful engagement.
The Hype Cycle article made some great points.
One, in particular, was about setting the right expectations. If you go into ABM without realigning the organization’s expectations – you’re walking into a buzzsaw. Traditional, lead-based metrics focus on quantity. ABM focuses on quality.
Set the right expectations, and stop relying on programmatic tactics to deliver the value that truly customized ABM delivers. You’ll set your ABM initiative up for success – and avoid that dreaded trough entirely.