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A Better Way To Do SEM

Owners of small to medium sized businesses, the backbone of our nation’s economy, have come to accept the poor level of service, quality, and results offered by most search engine marketing (SEM) companies today. I do not blame these business owners; they have always been forced to choose among something mediocre, something bad, and something awful. When these business owners hold their noses and sign an internet marketing agreement, they're gambling that a cookie cutter “solution” will work for them, and they are also committing to pay for it - regardless of results - typically for 6 months, a year, or in some cases, 3 years.

Among several examples of businesses in this predicament that come to mind is an auto dealership I recently met with. The dealer principal made it very clear that he was not satisfied with his current search engine marketing provider. Despite his dissatisfaction, he has stayed with them for over three years. In fact, he's so dissatisfied that he's been running a Google Adwords campaign himself to fill gaps in the PPC campaigns that his vendor set up, but seemingly can't be bothered to configure properly.

He has no idea whether his investment in this vendor's services is profitable, but until recently, he perceived this vendor to be the best alternative for managed SEM.

The results of a LeadLoop campaign do not hide out in gray areas like the results of most SEM platforms. All the leads from a LeadLoop campaign are clearly documented and the outcomes are unambiguous. Our clients know exactly how much business (revenue, profit, jobs, clients, etc.) is a direct result of their LeadLoop campaign. If a business owner sees that their LeadLoop campaign is profitable then they should probably decide to continue it and possibly to expand it. If it isn’t profitable, that business should stop paying for it. While it makes good business sense to advertise consistently over lengthy periods of time, it does NOT make sense to enter into a long-term contract for advertisement without the ability to measure its success. SnapGrow's LeadLoop has no long-term contracts so we need to prove profitability if we want to keep clients.

We're never in a situation where we continue to bill somebody for a service they're not satisfied with. I've worked in advertising for almost a decade, and until the launch of SnapGrow, I'd never been able to say that!

Different Audiences, Different Communication Styles

We had a meeting today with a technically savvy co-owner of a dental practice. Some preliminary research before our meeting revealed that he had good taste in vendors, and that he had taken deliberate steps to improve his ranking in both the traditional organic section of SERPs and the local section, but I wasn't sure how our discussion would go. While I regularly have the opportunity to discuss in detail the technical specifics of how SnapGrow's LeadLoop, EssentialOptimization, and RepBooster products work with friends and other members of the SnapGrow team, it is rare that I am called upon to do so with prospective customers. We geeked out so much that at one point during our conversation he commented that it must be tough to get most people to sign up because all this stuff is so complicated. I quickly responded "this is a weird meeting," because I realized our conversation was abnormally in-depth, and explaining the underlying concepts was bypassed in favor of reviewing the specifics of how things actually worked. We chuckled, and the conversation progressed. In case the suspense was killing you, yes, this prospective SnapGrow customer has become a CURRENT SnapGrow customer.

Anyway, today's meeting got me thinking about how I describe what SnapGrow does in very different ways, depending on my audience. Further, it made me wonder about the different messaging required to connect with different audiences via our web site, brochures, videos, or any relatively static media like that. Could these media explain SnapGrow in very simple terms to a prospective customer that just wants a basic understanding of the potential results our services can bring them, without alienating a very knowledgeable prospective client who wouldn't seriously consider signing up for something like SnapGrow if the specifics weren't explained in detail?

I'm not sure if there is a "correct" level of detail, precision, or simplicity to adopt, but as it currently stands, we're still small enough to personally explain everything in whatever level of technical detail our prospective and current customers want us to. One of the many challenges we will face as we grow is perfecting our ability to effectively communicate to a broader audience what it is that SnapGrow does, how it works, and how it can help them grow their business.

Sign-Up: Tree Service - Burlington, MA

Business Type: Tree Service
Business Location: Burlington, MA
Services Offered: Tree Removal, Tree Pruning, Tree Trimming, Stump Grinding, Storm Clean-Up
Sign-Up Date: 5/16/2011

This tree service company has a web site that ranks very well in the organic section of Google, made by our friend Rob with High Effect Design, a Facebook page with over 600 fans, and a presence on YouTube with multiple videos taken on job sites. Increasingly, they're getting their customers from the internet and from referrals, rather than from phone books, newspaper ads, and the other forms of advertising that the business was built upon.

They have been running their own AdWords campaign, using the home page as the landing page for all ads. Our approach is far better than this, and it is almost as if LeadLoop was built to generate phone call leads for tree removal jobs. This tree service will be able to listen to their calls and precisely measure the profit from their investment in LeadLoop. They treat customers well, so we're expecting to generate a lot of positive reviews from past customers that already actively write reviews online via RepBooster. Further, their EssentialOptimization campaign will aim to stretch their Google Places presence beyond Burlington into neighboring towns like Bedford, MA.

We're proud to welcome aboard our first tree service company to SnapGrow and we look forward to helping them book a lot of tree removal jobs.

Is This in the Best Interest of the Customer?

I printed up the above question, in all capital letters in the largest font that would fit on a single 8 1/2" x 11" piece of paper, and I posted it on our bulletin board before we signed up our first client.

This ugly print up asks a question that we try to ask ourselves before we make decisions that might impact our customers, or our future customers. This might sound more altruistic than capitalistic, but I assure you that we started SnapGrow with the goal of building a profitable and successful business. I believe that using the question - Is this in the best interest of the customer? - as the primary filter for decision making at SnapGrow will help us accomplish our goal for 2 reasons:

1) It Makes Decisions Easier

Decision making in startups is hard. We don't have the benefit of well-established jobs, with specific responsibilities, and minimum deliverables to hold ourselves to. We're all experienced professionals, but we are figuring some things out as we go along. Those who have started companies are likely familiar with this predicament. It is tremendously helpful to have this go-to question to ask ourselves when we're faced with important decisions.

Example A: Locking our customers into long-term contracts would help us project cash flow more accurately, but would that be in the best interest of the customer? No. So we structured everything from the amount of work required to launch campaigns to the wording of customer agreements around the idea that we wouldn't require our customers to commit to more than one month at a time. Choosing term-length was a potentially tough decision and we could have filled up many pages listing pros & cons and held several meetings discussing it at length before semi-confidently moving forward. Instead, we asked our big question, and the decision was made for us pretty much instantly.

Example B: Keeping all user names and passwords for accounts we create on behalf of our Essential Optimization clients might prevent some customers from canceling, but would doing so be in the best interest of the customer? No. So we never even considered going live with this offering without committing to provide user names and passwords for customers who decide to quit or pause Essential Optimization, so they could take over managing profiles we created on their own.

I could cite many other examples of how this go-to question eases decision making at SnapGrow, but I'd like to move onto the other reason we ask ourselves this question before making important decisions:

2) We Believe It Will Make Us Money

Saving time can be quite profitable in a startup, but the time saving benefits were addressed amply in reason #1. What I'm talking about is the value of good will. I'm referring to staying on good terms with all customers - past & present. Asking ourselves our go-to question means that seasonal businesses won't resent us for being forced to pay for and keep LeadLoop live during off-seasons in order to get their phone to ring during peak seasons. Relying on this question means that our satisfied clients will feel comfortable recommending us because they know we don't lock people into lengthy agreements, or make it difficult for people to take over managing their internet presence without us should they decide to cancel our services.

Simply put, building SnapGrow around what's in the best interest of our customers, rather than what's in the best short-term interest of our bottom line, makes us the opposite of most options available to small and mid-sized companies looking to generate more business from the internet. If you've ever purchased internet marketing from a phone book company, a large telco, or a churn-and-burn, hard-closing internet marketing company, you don't need me to elaborate. Sticking to our guiding question ensures that we won't forget our value system, and sticking to our value system will make us money in the long-term while making our clients happy they chose to do business with SnapGrow.