5 Lessons Learned from a Content Audit

Keep. Throw. Donate.

If you’ve ever moved, you’re likely familiar with these three words. Moving is a perfect time to clear out clutter and start fresh at your new place. Your favorite pair of hiking boots? Keep. A paper from your first college English course? Throw. That old smoothie machine? Donate.



A website redesign project often starts in a similar way – with a content audit. What content can be used word-for-word? Repurposed? Or completely scrapped?

Here are five lessons I learned while doing a content audit for a recent website redesign.

Lesson #1: Define your overall goals before you start.
When starting a content audit, think about your end-goal. Are you hoping to improve your conversion rate, keyword ranking or site rank? Maybe you need to re-align with your brand personas. Perhaps you’re tasked with adapting to a different site structure. By thinking about your goals first, the more helpful your content audit will be when it’s time to write.

Lesson #2: Spreadsheets are your friend.
Many writers have a hate-hate relationship with Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets and the rest of the cell-centric crowd of applications. While most of us are comfortable with their word processing counterparts, a content audit should be carried out in some sort of spreadsheet application. Many content analysis tools even start the spreadsheet for you (see Lesson #3).



Lesson #3: Use a tool to help with inventory.
Most content audits begin with a content inventory. (Read about the differences here.) While a content inventory can be time-consuming, many tools are available to make the process easier. We used Content Analysis Tool (CAT). Others include URL ProfilerScreaming Frog, or even Google Analytics.

Lesson #4: Don’t forget extra content that isn’t on a webpage.
In the depths of a content audit, it’s easy to overlook content that doesn’t reside on a webpage. Consider auditing your lead nurture emails, product PDFs, sales intranets and even social media channels. Don’t forget SEO elements like meta descriptions, title tags and alt tags. They all might contain helpful content you might want to include on your redesigned site.

Lesson #5: Rank every bit of content.
One of the most valuable outputs of a content audit is the ability to differentiate the good, the bad and the ugly content. Develop a ranking system that works for you, and stick to it. A couple examples might include:

  • Quality: A-F grades, numerical (e.g., 1-10) or other ways (e.g., current, relevant, appropriate)
  • Action: Keep as-is, update or delete

Using a consistent ranking method will help you when it comes to content outlines and writing processes.

Remember, just like moving, a content audit is hardly the most enjoyable part of the website redesign process. But after you’ve completed it, you’ll find yourself one step closer to where you want to be.

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If you were given no more than a tenth of a second to make an impression on a customer or prospect, would you able to make a good impression?

According to Princeton psychologists, that’s how long it takes to form a first impression. And on top of that, researchers estimate consumers see over 300 ads per day and are becoming blind to banner ads. So how can a marketer break through?

  1. Tell Your Story. A story that is truthful, relevant, helpful and original, has the power to break through and leave an everlasting impression. No other medium allows you to touch the soul of the viewer like video can, moving people with sound and imagery. One of my favorite recent examples was Sundog’s “1 Millionth Loader” campaign in partnership with Bobcat Company. It’s a real, emotional story that could not be more authentic. Watch below to see the winner’s passion for the brand, passed down through generations.

  2. Communicate Effectively. When planning video production, expect to create multiple versions and split your time equally – spending 50% on creative strategy and 50% on media channel strategy. For example, with our “1 Millionth Loader” campaign above, several shorter videos lead up to the big reveal. Even though the final video was over 6 minutes long, views on Facebook and YouTube were very high. So before you begin production or buying any media, ask yourself these questions:
    1. How will the video support your marketing goals?
    2. Who will benefit from this video?
    3. How can it become more relevant? Tip: Think about personas, channel content and journeys.
    4. Where will it run (e.g., geographically, channel specifications, device options)?
    5. How long will it run?
    6. What type of placements will be used (e.g., pre-roll, mid-roll, post-roll, in-display, mobile, apps, social)?
    7. Where is it in the customer journey? In other words, what’s the next step you want viewers to take?
    8. How many total versions will be needed?
    9. Is this a series or one-time execution?
    10. How will you measure the success?

    The answers to these questions pave the way to produce your video effectively – and deliver it at the right place, at the right time, to the right people.

  3. Boost Your Relevancy.
    The power of video combined with the right channel can open new doors and maximize your ROI. Know which channels are most relevant to your personas, and create custom videos that fit. When finalizing your marketing plan, consider timing within the customer journey, too.
  4. Create Higher Brand Recall.
    Since video appeals to multiple senses with images, movement and sound, it can make both emotions – and engagement – soar. With the right creative execution, emotional impact will carry a viewer’s attention beyond that initial tenth of a second, leading to higher brand recall. Higher recall can mean less frequency is needed in the media plan, too. As a marketer, keep that in mind when weighing the cost-benefit of paying a higher CPC or CPM for video over other tactics in the mix.
  5. Video Is Everywhere.
    TV continues to be one of the highest rankers of media consumption (and marketing spend). But video ads have more options beyond the constraints of traditional screen and programming patterns.

    Video can be used for social channels. Online display networks. Local online publishers. Paid search. Outdoor screens. The list goes on and on. Mobile is changing viewing habits, and based on Nielsen’s Total Audience Report Q4 2014, engagement is even higher with video on mobile devices.

    Video on Demand (VOD) is also rapidly on the rise. As VOD consumption grows, so do video ad opportunities. At the end of 2014, 41% of U.S. homes had access to VOD (Nielsen). And even though some providers of online TV programming do not allow ads, new networks are expanding online programming options as we speak – offering unique opportunities in syndicated, live and original programming.


    So what’s the lesson in it all? To remain competitive, consider adding video to your marketing mix. Whether you want to inform, differentiate your brand, entertain, or share a story, it’s one of the most effective tools at your fingertips – and it’s growing by the minute.

    Remember, your prospects and customers are busy. If you only get a sliver of their time, use the power of video to make it count.

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A picture is worth a thousand words. In advertising, you have to catch your viewers’ attention in a split second. With more than 300 million photos uploaded to Facebook alone every day, the images in your marketing efforts need to stand out in a sea of visual clutter that your customers are drowning in every day.

Too often, selecting or producing photography that effectively communicates your messaging becomes an afterthought. The images in every campaign should be carefully chosen to:

  • Match the characteristics of your brand.
  • Speak to your target audience.
  • Show your product in an interesting way.
  • Convey an emotion that you want the audience to feel about your product or service.


So where do you start?

  1. Trust a professional.
    The old adage is true – you get what you pay for. Whether you’re showing your products in action or setting up a scene with actors for a specific campaign, a professionally trained photographer has the expertise to put your brand in the best light – both figuratively and literally.

    Creating the right conceptual layout, right lighting and post-production editing can transform your idea from just “ok” to evoke a powerful response.

  2. Have a plan.
    With that being said, this is a partnership – even with a professional. Planning is a fundamental step that shouldn’t ever be overlooked. You should have a clear and concise direction to discuss with a photographer, so that you will not be surprised at the end of a shoot.
  3. Make your products, props and placement authentic.
    Including packaging or logos can be very useful for creating brand recognition across all of your communication channels, but make sure you are choosing the right props and atmosphere to hold your concept together – even if literal brand design elements are not present.
  4. Say “action” – and mean it.
    When advertising a product, photograph it in its working setting to convey the feeling you want your buyers to have. For example, an action shot of a Bobcat skid-steer loader on a jobsite – stirring up dirt and dust – will convey more than a picture of a machine in a showroom ever could. Besides showcasing the power and capabilities of the product, it creates an immediate mood and mental story, before your viewer reads a single word.
  5. Keep your target audience in mind.
    Content strategy applies to photos – not just copy. Whether you’re choosing stock photos or shooting custom photography for a campaign, always think about your audience. Marketing to a younger tech-savvy audience? Cultural references may impact your product placement, or post-production editing could pump up the energy in your images. Speaking to an older generation? You may want to keep your photos less edgy and more approachable.
  6. Avoid using video stills.
    Repurposing has its place. But it also has its limits. Although you may be tempted to use stills from video footage at a commercial shoot, avoid using these images for print or web purposes. They typically don’t have high enough quality resolution for printing and resizing, but more importantly, they lack the visual perspective and composition to be the best possible photos to execute your campaign. Keep in mind that photographers carefully set up the scene and remove visual clutter – like buildings, people, signs or other products – so the focus stays on your specific product.

Remember, photography in advertising can be a powerful vehicle – when it is creatively thought out and integrated throughout your campaign. But using the wrong images may make a great concept lose its value. So whatever your budget or resources may be, keep these tips in mind to get the right images every time – and push your brand off the page and into your customers’ minds.

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Bringing your customer journey to life isn’t easy. It’s a big job, and it requires a big picture strategy for everything from digital marketing to integration.

While the work itself is complex, we’re always looking for ways to make it simple for our clients. And after attending Salesforce Connections in New York City last week, we’re excited about new advancements in technology that will help enhance and streamline the customer journey on a global scale.

Wondering what’s in store? Here’s a quick recap of the conference, including the top tech, tips and takeaways.

Recap: Salesforce Connections 2015
The Salesforce Marketing Cloud keynote kicked off with Scott McCorkle, who shared a simple truth: customers don’t care if their interactions with you are sales-related or service-related. They just expect you to meet them on their individual journeys – and immediately understand their context and their needs. That kind of 1:1 connection is considered the new “demographic.”

New Marketing Cloud Announcements
To help support the new frontier of personalization, the Next Generation of the Marketing Cloud was revealed. It includes upgrades and new features for:

  • Email
    • Increasing performance 50%
  • Journey Builder
    • Easier-to-create journeys
    • Ability to connect journeys with already existing lists and data extensions
  • Advertising with Active Audiences
    • CRM data connects to the advertising platform – which all automatically connects to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more

The end goal? All of these enhancements are designed to make it easier to understand and analyze the customer journey.

Featured Stories from Top Clients
Showing Salesforce tools in action, use cases from McDonalds, Precor, Mattel, Room and Board and Alex and Ani were shared to illustrate key stages of customer success, including:

  1. Acquisition
  2. Selling
  3. Onboarding
  4. Engagement
  5. Advocacy

Personally, I found Mattel’s story particularly interesting. While Mattel makes some of the greatest toys in the world, their challenge is digitizing toys to keep them relevant to their customers. While Mattel is developing several programs, their Hot Wheels journey was featured at the conference.

Each attendee had a Hot Wheels package on their chair with a QR code. Once the code was scanned, the Hot Wheels car was connected to a mobile app through a series of simple steps, and the attendee could race that car on a game called Hot Wheels Showdown. It’s moved the Hot Wheels experience to be more than racing the kitchen floor. Now children (and adults) can choose from several racetracks on the mobile app. The idea literally creates a new playing field for Hot Wheels. And the goal is simple:

Physical Product (Hot Wheel Car) +
Digital Experience (Hot Wheels App)—> Higher Adoption of Toys

So What’s the Biggest Takeaway of the Conference?
In a nutshell, Connections 2015 reinforced that customer expectations have changed. This shift is not coming. It is already here. The next move for organizations is adopting a new way of thinking and shifting their strategies. Because the future isn’t just about targeting customers – it’s about meeting them.

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Haven’t read Top 5 Tips for Improving Online Forms yet? Start there.

Now back for more? Check out the handy tips below.

  1. Highlight optional fields instead of required fields.Why?
    In a perfect world, all fields on your form would be required. Why would you collect information you didn’t need? In our imperfect reality, the majority of fields on your form should be required. But marking all of them creates clutter and decreases comprehension speed. In fact, a recent article on Formulatemade a great point that logins don’t indicate required fields, and those are actually the forms we fill in most frequently.


    • This one is worth repeating from my earlier post: Review existing forms and remove whatever you can. If the data collected is not currently being used, remove it.
    • At the top of the form, include “(optional)” after the form title to illustrate how you will mark non-required fields.
    • After a field label, include “(optional)” just like you promised. Either one of the examples below will work well.
      Optional form field example
  2. If this is a first point of contact, do not ask for a phone number unless it’s a necessity.

    Many people are online filling out forms for a reason. They don’t want to make (or receive) a phone call. Yes, it might be faster and more personal, but many of us just don’t care. Interacting with other humans is unpredictable. (Frankly, I go miles out of my way to avoid phone calls – and I’m a people person!)


    • Ask for an email address. Most of us are happy to open a message after we submit a form. It’s often waiting in our inbox moments after we click “Send me more information” … nearly instant gratification! It’s also more cost effective for a business to send an email than to hire someone to make all of those calls.
    • If calling the people filling out your form has to be an option, make it just that – optional. Give people like me a choice to give you my phone number or an email address. I’m still not giving you my phone number, but I’m a lot less likely to abandon the form when there is an email option.
  3. Please don’t make me try to interpret those faded crooked letters and numbers.

    CAPTCHA is the name most people are familiar with for forcing us to try to read images with wacky letter/number combinations to prevent robots from submitting a form. These can be impossible for people with visual disabilities and even difficult for people with 20/20 vision.


  4. Figure out the form filler’s information based on known variables.

    The fewer fields on the form, the more likely it will be completed. Removing just one form field can increase conversions dramatically.


    • Are you asking for a ZIP or postal code and city?
      Then you can determine the state or province.
    • Did you ask for a coupon code?
      Then you had the opportunity to embed details about your audience when you sent out different codes to those audiences. Don’t ask for the information you already have. It takes more work up-front, but the ROI can be great.

    What are some other ways to determine user information? Leave a comment if you have an idea.

  5. Your form should be easy to fill out from any mobile device.

    Not to be harsh, but duh. Do I really have to say more? The use of mobile devices is not going to decrease anytime soon. People shop/research/participate in groups using tablets and phones all the time. So, unless you want to lose a large percentage of customers and viewers, make everything work smoothly on mobile.


      In addition to developing a fully responsive website, make sure you are doing the following:

    • Follow the tips from part one of this blog, particularly tips 1 and 3. Using a single column form means you are likely most of the way there!
    • Allow users to enter information they already have on their device by attaching a photo, using voice inputs, etc.
    • Use location information you can get from the device to pre-populate some geographical information being asked. This may not always be correct, but when it is, it can save a lot of time.
    • Allow people to paste copied information into fields.

Remember, by following these simple tips, you can dramatically improve your completion rates, conversions and ROI. Not to mention, you’ll create a positive experience for your users – and that’s the best way to keep your brand in top form.

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I have been around technology for a long time – just about as long as I can remember. Back when I started computing, the concept of user experience (UX) wasn’t even a thing. You knew the commands to tell your computer what to do. And if you didn’t know a specific one, you’d have a way of finding it. Soon after, graphical user interfaces (GUI) came to be, and UX became vital even before people really knew what to call it. Just like today, everybody was looking for the most pleasing way to present information – and trying to make every action a little easier.

Today technology evolves by the minute, but some truths don’t change. In fact, here are five lessons I’ve learned from UX over the years:

  1. Everyone is different. Not everyone is going to use an app or website the same way. While there are certain trends that humans as a whole tend to gravitate toward, there are no absolute certainties. I may expect a button to do one thing while someone else may expect it to do something entirely different. But you should maintain consistency within your site and take cues from top industry leaders.
  2. Listen to feedback. Again, users expect something to happen when they perform an action. Listen to their feedback, frustrations and sources of confusion. And if there is a lag time between when they click/tap/press and what happens next, they may assume something is wrong and become frustrated, too.
  3. Make it easy. I do a lot of software development, and developers hate repetitive tasks. Instead of spending hours doing one job, we’ll create code that does it for us. The reasons are pretty universal – people don’t like doing more work than necessary. They want the easy path to get to their destination. So if you can save a user two clicks to perform a frequent action, that creates a simpler user experience. And if you can remove the need for separate page loads, that user is going to be even happier. Case in point? One of my favorite examples is Amazon’s one-click ordering. They’ve made it super easy to shop and save the user a ton of time.
  4. Performance is key. Make it fast, and make it accurate. I love writing code that not only does what it is supposed to do, but does it quickly. These days, users expect everything to be as instant as a Google search. While it may not always be possible to emulate that kind of speed, do everything you can to make your app or website perform as fast as it can. Remember, your app or website is always going to be compared to industry leaders. If you users are waiting longer than expected, they are going to have a negative experience and may view your brand differently simply because of slow page loads. So if all else fails and you cannot speed up your page or app any further, mimic fast speeds by presenting the user with images or content that make it look like the page/app is doing something.
  5. Test, test, test. Just because that one feature worked in that one browser, on that one machine, it doesn’t mean it will work for all your users. Know your users and what devices and browsers/OSs they are using, and test on those devices in real world scenarios. Building a mobile app that depends on data? Make sure you know what happens when the user does not have access to a data network. Building an app that or site that relies on location? Give the user a way to set their location if it isn’t available. If you built an awesome desktop website, what happens if half of the users are mobile users? All of these different scenarios and contexts need to be considered when, not only designing, but testing and implementing your UX. It is a multi-device world today, and we need to be building the best products we can for each one.

Now … What Are YOUR Biggest Lessons?
While there are more things to consider when building the best user experience, these are the biggest insights I’ve found in the context of my work. What are yours? If you have any other great lessons you have learned through UX, leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.

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It’s safe to say that the customer is the lifeblood of any business. Without customers buying your products or using your services, your business would cease to exist. That’s why it’s so important to engage with your customers and provide them with personal journeys tailored to their personas. And the best way to start? Use the platform preferred most by your customers.

Treat Mobile as the New Norm
From mobile apps to mobile web, we’re all using our mobile devices for everything – every day. It’s become like a Pavlovian response: if we need information of any kind, we pull out our phones and look to either a favorite app or the web to figure it out.

Start with 4 Key Questions
To engage your customers on their mobile devices, you need to be cognizant of their context. Ask yourself:

  1. What are your customers doing at that moment?
  2. Why are they doing it?
  3. Where are they?
  4. What information would be helpful?

If you know the answer to these questions, you can provide them with a mobile moment that’s delightful. And if you provide them with delightful moments designed for their context, they’ll be hooked. Your app or mobile site will be where those users turn the next time they need information. Plus, it will raise the opinion of your company to those customers. They’ll begin to wonder what else your company can do for them.

Take Advantage of More Tools & Features
Again, the key to providing these moments is understanding the context of your users. This can be done through journey mapping and using analytics to know where customers are on their personal journeys and tailor content to them accordingly.

You can also use the full power of mobile to incorporate elements like GPS and low-energy Bluetooth beacons for location services, accelerometer and gyroscope for knowing what your user is doing (e.g., biking, walking, driving, sleeping), and even Near Field Communication (NFC) for completing mobile payments. The possibilities are endless for providing your customer with a great mobile experience with these types of features.

Remember, context is key for engaging your customers on mobile and providing them with relevant information. This will provide unforgettable mobile moments that will boost your company’s image and promote repeat customers. There is so much power with mobile. Let’s use it!

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It’s time to align your digital marketing channels and devices with your marketing automation platform. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an “out of the box” solution to make this integration seamless? Unfortunately, it isn’t quite that easy. It takes thoughtful strategy, calculated decisions and a fair amount of work to make it successful.

Here are four key considerations that we define with our clients to help ensure the best possible integration:

  1. Customer
  2. Journey
  3. Information
  4. Channels
  1. Customer: What Do You Really Want to Know? When integrating your campaigns with marketing automation, the key driver is to help you, as a marketer, understand your customer better. Start by clearly defining what you want to know about your customer, so the interactions on your digital marketing channels – like your website, social media and display ads – capture the engagement metrics you are focused on. Then you can start to create a complete customer profile.
  2. Journey: Where Do You Start? With marketing automation advancing how marketers engage their customers, it’s more important than ever to define the actual buying journey. But it isn’t as easy as you might think. With B2B organizations, there is typically a matrix product and market structure. Mapping that journey across product lines and market industries can become overwhelming. The best way to get started is creating a primary customer journey. For each major product line or market, branch a new buying journey to account for the unique go-to-market strategy. When you are done, you will see the unique journeys that can now be built out in your marketing automation platform.
  3. Information: What Analytics & Insights Do You Need? There is a critical link between the information you gather from digital channels and devices, and data that comes from your marketing automation platforms. You’ll need to clearly define the metrics and marketing insights you’re seeking to align with your goals. Think of it in two ways:

    Show value

      – What results are you driving?

    Build understanding

      – What’s driving those results?
  4. Channels: How Do They Align?
    With the foundation of your customer profile defined, the buying journey mapped and a clear understanding of what information and insights you are seeking, now you can align your current and future digital marketing channels to the marketing automation workflows.

    Here are some best practices to get you started:

      + For each of your digital marketing channels, tag the interaction with key attributes for your customer, journey and campaign to get the information and insights you need. Leading platforms like Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Pardot have this as built-in functionality. Another recommended approach is to leverage Google tag management as the connector with your marketing automation platform.
      + When you set up your journeys in the marketing automation platform, start with the channel as the first engagement point. Website forms will most likely be the first contact collection point, but the customer journey starts with the digital channel – and it’s important that the journey reflects that interaction.
      + As you plan your campaigns, start with your customer persona and map the touch points along the buying journey – including digital, mass media, social and mobile. Mapping this out out will help provide a consistent user experience once they enter your nurture campaigns.

    By starting with these four key steps, you’ll create a seamless experience for your customers. And your automated digital marketing strategy will think – and go far beyond – “out of the box.”

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And there are plenty of fish in the sea. The good news? There are more prospects than ever (about 7 billion, give or take). The bad news? There are more competitors than ever, too.

The old days of marketing were based on scarcity. When there were only a handful of products or services in a category, all you had to do was get more attention than your competitors.

Today the tables have turned. It takes more than being flashy to generate business – and that’s a good thing. Instead of just trying to be the hottest product on the block, marketing means getting to know your customers and catering to their wants and needs. What was once superficial advertising has transformed into genuine business-to-buyer relationships, based on mutual benefit.

Think of it like dating – you are trying to woo prospects and then turn a one-time customer into a life-long relationship. The key to creating that kind of loyalty? Content. The messages you choose, the channels you use and the timeliness of delivery play a pivotal role in attracting and retaining customers. In short, content is courtship.



  1. Pick up.
    While superficial awareness isn’t enough, brands still need to get noticed. It doesn’t have to be a flamboyant publicity stunt. It simply means putting your brand “out there” with clear intentions. Google Ads are the shining example of the era. Google painstakingly circumvents all the glamour of traditional advertising to provide searchers with concise, valuable information.

    Another example is subject lines of emails. There’s no imagery, nothing to pander to the lowest denominator. In fact, the more loud and flashy the subject line, the less likely it is to be opened.

  2. Listen.
    Good relationships are built on trust. Trust comes from sincerity. Sincerity comes through understanding. Understanding comes from listening.

    Your prospects are talking on social. Are you listening? Your prospects have a pattern of behavior online and on mobile. Are you picking up cues from this digital body language? The more you know about what your customers are saying and doing, the more you can offer the right information at the right time.

  3. Provide.
    Content is a gift. You wouldn’t bring flowers to a date who has a pollen allergy. If you don’t listen to your customers, you won’t know what they enjoy or can’t tolerate.

    Remember, selflessness goes a long way. Provide advice. Provide samples and options. Provide a way out for prospects who aren’t ready to commit. Provide multiple ways to reach you. Provide varying depths of information.

    Then wait, monitor and reflect. Nothing will turn off a prospect more than over-communication. For example, a friend of mine recently explored a company’s website, looking at basic products and pricing. Within 72 hours, she received 12 promotional emails. Yes, 12. (Needless to say a sale didn’t happen, and odds are a sale never will.)

    This is when listening matters most. Like dating, knowing when not to dominate the conversation is just as important as when to contribute. How long would you stay in a relationship where you couldn’t get a word in or worse, couldn’t get a little time to yourself? There has to be give and take.

  4. Persuade.
    At some point, you’ve got to seal the deal or be trapped in the business equivalent of the “friend zone.” Companies in the friend zone are used purely for information, advice and comparison shopping. How many times have you been to a bookstore to peruse the best-sellers only to order a copy from Amazon? Exactly.

    Persuading a customer to buy is a lot like leaning in for the first kiss. One, you have to know the prospect is interested. Two, the timing has to be right (that is, the customer needs to be ready to buy). Three, you have to work up the courage and ask for the sale. If you’ve followed the previous steps, the close should be a lot less intimidating. Content can help.

    Is there a limited-time offer? Is there an incentive for buying right now? Is it easy to navigate the check-out? A complicated check-out process is like having bad breath. You’re so close and then “Whoa! Blech!” Content should effortlessly and reassuringly guide the prospect to the end goal.

  5. Stay Close.
    What happens after the sale is equally as important as what leads up to it. Staying close doesn’t mean jumping into promotional emails begging for the next sale, but it could mean offering complimentary products. Asking about the sale process. Sharing product tips. Or offering customer support for any questions.

    After-the-sale communications must always, always, include genuine appreciation. The customer needs to know he or she is not just another transaction. And they aren’t. With CRM tools, you should know your customer by name.

    Imagine that. The digital age has given us many benefits. For business, the greatest gift of all might be the ability to start a relationship with customers on a first-name basis. And if you treat content as courtship? Well, it just might lead to happily ever after.

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Choices can make us all feel like Goldilocks. One option is too big, another option is too small. Data integration can feel the same way. It’s hard to know what’s “just right” for your organization.

Wait – what exactly is data integration? It’s the combination of technical and business processes used to combine data from different sources into meaningful, valuable information. And it starts by defining where your data is coming from. Is the data in an existing database, spreadsheets or your CRM system? Are you picking the right data that is valuable enough to spend money moving it between systems? Which processes will get the job done?

There are a lot of questions involved. But what you’re really trying to do boils down to two things:

  1. Who is going to do the work?
    When choosing a partner, you usually have two options – internal or external. Do you have somebody at your company with the skills for the given data integration? Does a business analyst have experience with an off-the-shelf ETL tool? Do you have an internal developer with the bandwidth to develop a custom integration?If not, hire somebody externally with the experience to do the job right. With this route, you can also train internal resources for the next time the same type of project comes up.

    Your external options include:


    Independent Consultants

      – The price may typically be less, but there is also more risk that an individual consultant may move onto other projects – or may not be able to work with you in the future and re-use the knowledge gained about your business.

    Niche Consulting Companies

      – Can you find a smaller, maybe regional, consulting company with multiple people who specialize in what you are trying to do? This can give you a very personalized experience with a company that has multiple people to help complete your project.  This type of company will also be around to be a long-term partner who will intimately know your business. At Sundog, we fit into this category.

    Large Consulting Companies

      – These companies have thousands of consultants all across the globe. They will have a wide variety of people with varied experiences for a lot of large and complex jobs. The downside is you might not get the same team each time to develop partnerships with people who really know you and your business.
  2. What tools will get the job done?
    Now this question comes with a bit of “the chicken or the egg” debate. What comes first – the tool or the people using it? Ideally it’s better to pick the right tool, and then find the right people with the experience to use it. But sometimes you may have team members with experience using certain data migration tools, so you may need to start there.Now onto tools – from the simplest and least expensive to the most complex and expensive.  Here are some of the tools used most often in conjunction with Salesforce integrations:


    Apex Data Loader or Online Data Loading Wizards

        These free tools are the first tools used by most admins to populate data into Salesforce. They do the typical query, add, edit, delete, upsert (add/edit) options that you need a tool to do. You can even look at automating the Apex Data Loader once you get your process started:



    Jitterbit /Informatica/MuleSoft/Cast Iron

      These third-party ETL tools can solve most of your data integration needs. Once you pick one, you will probably stay with it so you do not have licenses for two products that mostly do the same thing. Free introductory versions give you some great point-and-click options for setting up your first simple integrations. Upgrade to the paid version to get powerful ETL options that allow for scheduled integrations and free your internal people from these data migration jobs.

    WebMethods/SAP PI

      These middleware tools provide powerful methods for larger organizations to move and transform critical data. But with this power comes a much higher cost. Message queuing functionality allows for scalability and mitigates downtime between integration points.

    Custom Integrations

      For simple point-to-point integration, don’t rule out a custom integration either. It’s not very difficult to create a .NET exe that will bring data, for example, from a SQL server database, transform it and then push it to a Salesforce database. This allows you to not pay for ongoing license costs, and it could leverage the knowledge of internal developers at your company, too.

Back to Goldilocks, there are a lot of choices in front of you. In the end, find somebody whom you can trust – somebody with the experience to give you good options on the right tools to solve your business challenges. Business processes will be built around your tools, and then you’ll have a re-usable set of partners, pieces and processes for your future data integration projects. And that’s no fairy tale.

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