A weekly Google Hangout dedicated to discussing content marketing, search marketing, SEO and more.
Topic: How to Find the Right Solutions for Content Marketing and SEO
Creating a good customer experience requires that the platform or service provider helps to guide the discussion to ensure a positive partnership after the purchase has been made.
In this episode, we talk about the conversations and questions customers and tool or service providers should have before a purchasing decision is made.
Erin O’Brien, President & COO at GinzaMetrics
Karen Scates, Manager Marketing & PR
FULL VIDEO TRANSCRIPT
Karen: Hello and welcome to a special edition of FOUND Friday airing on Monday this week. I’m Karen.
Erin: And I’m Erin.
Karen: And this week we’re talking about the conversations we think folks need to have when they’re looking for tools to solve content marketing and SEO challenges. We’ve been talking about “how buyer beware or buyer be informed” has been the theme of making marketing intelligence or SEO tool decisions. Whose responsibility is it to make sure the platform is a right fit for the customer?
Erin: I feel like obviously the onuses on both parties to make sure that something is really the right fit for the customer. On one hand, obviously doing due diligence on the side of the buyer is really important because you know your specific needs, hopefully, and that’s why you’re looking for specific tool or service or solution. So I want to make that distinction, as well.
When you’re looking for something, it’s really important to think through a lot of different things and we’ve got some resources on how to pick the right marketing platform for you. But one of the important distinctions I want to make is the difference between picking a tool and picking a service and then picking something that encompasses all of those things. Maybe it is an agency solution that uses particular tools in order to accomplish goals. Maybe it’s just the tool itself and you have an in-house team that’s going to be using them or maybe it’s a service that’s going to do some things for you that’s kind of third party vendor and you just manage them directly. On the individual picking a tool side or looking for what you want, obviously you’re supposed to come with some of core requirements, some things that you’d like to have, some things that haven’t really worked well for you in the past, being able to think through those things.
The other side of that is on the actual provider themselves, whether it’s a tool, a platform or a specific agency or service provider, should know whether or not you’re a good fit for them and should be honest about that. It’s one of the things that I still really enjoy about having face-to-face interaction with all of our inbound new customers is that I can usually tell really well where we’ll be able to help and where we won’t and I try to be really up front. And if I don’t think that the platform is going to match very well with what somebody’s needs are, I try to steer them in the right direction, and that’s for a lot of reasons.
The biggest one is, it’s actually harder to bring people on who aren’t a right fit and then try to mold the tool or the agency or whatever to their needs when it’s not really a thing than it is to simply bring the right people on and then retain them. So you actually spend a lot more time in resources trying to make people happy who really probably shouldn’t been there in the first place.
There’s a big difference between bad fit and a stretch essentially like, “We’re kind of working on it and we’ll be there soon, so here’s what you can use of ours in the meantime and then in two months, three months we’ll be closer to what you’re looking for.” And a lot of times if that’s the case, discounts or trial periods or whatever might be involved but that should be very clearly stated up front to people in terms of what’s really capable now, what will be capable in the future, and how that impacts your immediate business goals.
Karen: I think that’s a good point that it’s beneficial to come in with your own set of, “Here are my challenges, here are my requirements, here’s what I’m trying to accomplish,” but also from the other end, the tool provider not over-promising or trying to fit that round pick into a square hole because ultimately they’re just going to end up with an unhappy customer.
Erin: Well, this is what I bring up with regards to people having really, really big sales teams that lead the organization and while we know that that’s a really common method, there are some things that you have to make sure that you put systems to checks and balances in. How many times in my career alone have I heard about sales promising something that engineering then has to go and build because it’s a really big sale or promising that the tool could do something that it couldn’t and then customer’s unhappy in a couple of months and leaves or tries to force account management or somebody to make something happen that shouldn’t have happen.
One of the big reasons that we don’t do sales teams here and that we prefer to just have you talk to somebody that really knows the platform, what it’s currently capable of doing isn’t compensated based on getting you to use it. That’s not how it works. And I think that when you’re compensated based on getting somebody to use something, you are likely to push the boundaries of that stretch a little bit further or you’re likely to shorten the timeline that really might take because you’ll say, “Oh, this thing is actually six months out. But I’ll say it’s three months out, I’ll get them in the door, and get them hooked. And then at the three-month mark I’ll say, ‘Oh we got to got a delay. It will only be another month.’ Then I’ll keep doing that until it’s ready.” Meanwhile that has real impact on the person who agreed to use the tool based on the pre-determined timeline. So yeah, I think that’s a really big portion of understanding what it is that you’re really looking for.
Karen: Ultimately, you want those brand evangelists. You don’t want people out there going, “Oh my God! These people are so unresponsive and they promise and don’t perform.” So that’s a good point.
There are some common questions that we get from prospect during demos or trial periods, and so let’s spend some time addressing those and talk about what people should expect from the tool provider. One of the most common questions we get is: how does the demo count compare to the actual platform?
Erin: This is different for everybody, different scenarios. For me, for Ginza, the trial account and the platform have two major differences. One is typically going to be volume or scale, so you get fewer keywords, fewer competitors, things like that in the trial account naturally because we don’t want you to populate half a million keywords in an enterprise or the data into a trial. The other thing that may be a little bit different is just a few small feature parity things.
So for the most part, we include all core features inside of the trial account. A few things that aren’t included in there right now are some local tools, some discovery tools, a few things that are just not even things that people usually use unless asked for anyway. So that’s the difference there. I want to talk about trials a little bit. I have a rant on this somewhat prepared, so I’m going to use now as my time to do it.
I really believe that free trials are kind of a dangerous situation – free trials specifically. Paid trials usually fine. The problem with free trials to me is that it implies a lot of things. It doesn’t really give the person who’s doing the trial a lot of skin in the game. They don’t have a reason to go log in, constantly they’re not paying anything for it, they’re not losing anything if they don’t end up using it, and they often feel like if it doesn’t work right now, they’ll just come back and do the same thing again in a few months. It also implies that it doesn’t cost us anything to process all this data or to onboard you or to account manage you through the setup process or anything, and it’s not to say that we don’t mind doing that for eventual customers but it is to say that there is a cost associated with the processing, storage, and analysis of all this information and there’s also a cost associated with managing your account.
Now what this means is, let’s say for every ten trials one person becomes a customer, because we had to spend the money dealing with the nine others, eventually a lot of times those cost get passed on to you the actual final user because all these other people wanted free trials. So if we didn’t do free trials as a thing, the end cost of the monthly payment or however payment systems work for everybody’s individual vendors, might be lower. So if you really consider that, maybe that’s not a trade-off you’re willing to make, maybe it is depending on how much you really like to try out different vendors.
I think that the other thing that’s frustrating about free trials is it’s really not a thing in most industries like software is one of the few things I can think of where somebody thinks that they should just get to use something for a month or two and have all this stuff and then leave. You can’t do that with a car. You can’t do that with food. You can’t do that with most anything where you can just use it for some extended period of time, actually use it and then give it back and say no.
So the problem, too, is that now what happens is vendors will compete based on the length of free trial. So, while smaller vendors who may be really great and have a lot of good things going on, can’t afford to give away two months of free product, larger vendors can a lot of times. So what happens is these larger vendors stay really large and keep upping prices and that’s why they’re so expensive and they can offer these free trials but they’re passing cost down to the user eventually. The actual customers are paying for this.
That’s really important to remember when you’re talking about what your expectations of a free trial may be. My personal preference is that instead of free trials, what you would do is you would just say, “Hey, there’s no yearly contract for the first 90 days. That gives you a chance to try out the platform and check it out and get involved.” Maybe it’s half price. Maybe it’s some other discount to reduce cost. But I think that expecting to pay for the level of service that you’re getting both at kind of data level as well as at an account management level ensures that everybody goes into it feeling like they’re on the up and up.
Karen: I wonder if that’s where that sandbox account came from because then they can just set up this sort of fake account and nobody’s really inputting information. But the problem is if you are using that kind of a trial, you’re not really seeing how it’s going to react with your data.
Erin: Yeah. Sandbox accounts I think are kind of weird. I feel like access to a sandbox account is kind of the same as looking through videos or feature walkthroughs on a site similar because it isn’t your data and it may be for a completely different type of industry. And if it’s not relevant to you, it may not make as much sense and context. For a lot of people, they really need to see and understand their own data, how that actually works with them.
I think that doing trials is a really great thing. I just think that this free trial war that I’ve seen happen over the years where it’s like, “We’ll do one week of free trial,” “Well, we’ll do two.” Now it’s “We’ll do six months of free trial.” But when you actually do decide to use the platform, it’s going to cost you a million dollars a month to make up for all the free people that we’ve given the stuff to who eventually pays for that.
Karen: That’s got to be coming out of those sales teams too because giving away the platform doesn’t cost them anything but they get the commission on the final sale.
On that same topic, how long before I can see results? They may be talking about trial account or an actual account. Is there a difference?
Erin: I really think that this depends heavily on how your platform is set up and it’s a good question to ask at the beginning. You’re supposed to be asking, “When will I see results?” because you may have expectations that aren’t reality.
One of the things to consider is, specifically in the case of SEO, if somebody is doing daily or weekly processing and have you asked them. Maybe you’re talking to somebody who does daily by default like we do, but we would actually reduce your rate if you only want to get weekly because that’s less work on our end. But there’s also this concept of if you’re using something that does results weekly, it usually takes at least a day or two to get things in there and set up. And then what’s going to happen is over the course of 30 days, you’re only going have four data points. So for you to actually get a lot of data, it’s going to take you a number of months to do that.
One of the reasons that we talk about why it’s so important to do daily tracking and daily fetching is that over the course of a month, you’ve got 30 data points and that is significantly more than four. Essentially, we’re talking about making real marketing decisions or real search decisions based on this.
When we’re talking about actual ramp-up time, too, that’s also really important. Because it’s not just ramp up of how long does it take the platform to get your data in there and actually start doing something with it but it’s how long does it take you to actually learn to use the platform well enough to use it? How intuitive is it? How many training tools are there? Who’s going to help you with the onboarding? What does that process look like if you’re talking about a service provider? What information are they going to need from you and how long is that going to take them to actually learn it and process it specifically in the cases of agencies?
One of the reasons people hate switching agencies is because you actually have to make that migration and get all that knowledge from all these people who have been working with your organization [14:01 inaudible] this whole new group of people who are then expected to perform. And a lot of people have all these big agency turnovers because you’re not performing fast enough. For most of them, they’ll say it usually takes a couple of months to really spool up. The problem is they won’t tell customers that. Sometimes they’ll say, “We can be ready to hit the ground running. We’ve worked with other people in your industry and we’re totally on top of it.”
I get that that’s a really cool thing to say but the fact of the matter is, even if you worked with both Ford and Honda, they’re fundamentally different organizations even though they build the same product. So saying you worked on Ford does not mean that you’re going to be ready tomorrow morning to hit the ground running with Honda and saying that I think is dangerous in expectation setting across the board.
Karen: In terms of results, we often get the question: what can I expect in terms of output?
Erin: This is really funny because it depends on when this question happens. If somebody asks this question and says, “Hey, what can I expect in terms of output?” after they’ve done the demo. I’m usually concerned that we didn’t really go through the demo and do our due diligence because it means we spent 30 minutes, an hour, however long on the phone going through things and then hopefully outputs were discussed at that point especially in terms of needs.
Most sites when you’re looking at a platform or service provider should tell you what you can expect in terms of output. Whether what you’re looking for is raw data, which very few people are, looking for analytics and information that way, whether you’re looking for insights or recommendations – and this is what we talked about last week – or if what you’re looking for is something different, something customized, if it’s a specific type of reporting. These things should all be discussed up front and be made very clear. A lot of times people can do these customizations or provide you the specific outputs. It may cost more or it may take additional time or it may be part of a roadmap item. But you need to be really clear coming in instead of signing a contract agreeing and then saying, “Now I need all these reports to look this way,” or “Now I need you to export data looking this way.”
Obviously, every vendor expects some degree of that to happen over the course of time. Especially when you worked with people for years, their needs will change, their clients, and internal organizational needs will change. But going in, whatever it is you’re needing in the immediate future, you should put out there and you should make sure that it’s something that they’re either capable of doing right now or willing to do quickly because you’re going to be frustrated if you have to wait six months.
Karen: That’s a good point. How does who you’re talking to at the vendor’s organization change? How to determine if the tool is the right fit?
Erin: This goes back to the sales person conversation. It sounds like I’m bashing sales people and I’m really not. Maybe a little but I’m really not bashing sales people. What I’m really saying is depending on who you’re talking to, that person may have varying degrees of insight into the actual product roadmap. They may know what’s coming down the line or they may not. If you’re talking to someone who is commission-based, they are differently incentivized to talk to about timelines and feature parity or what it is you’re looking for, capabilities, versus also and depending on hierarchy. If you’re talking to a junior-level staffer who may know some things about the features and the product and everything that may not be higher up the food chain and know bigger company picture and strategy and structure. That may be a little different, as well.
Here at Ginza, we typically have somebody who is a company executive talk to most inbound customers depending on what’s going on and that’s because we want to make sure that we’re really matching up what it is that somebody is asking for with our capabilities and their needs. Not to say that that’s the only method for making good customer acquisitions happen, but it’s certainly something that I think has a lot of value. It’s obviously difficult to scale and a little bit of scheduling nightmare at times. But we still feel it’s really important – at least if you’re going to talk to somebody at the organization, we want you to be talking to someone who knows the product, knows how it’s built, knows what’s coming, and is comfortable saying, “No, this is probably not a right fit,” and doesn’t feel like there’s going to be any problem with letting you know that. We also are usually really happy to point somebody in the right direction.
Karen: In terms of making a right fit decision, at what stage should someone searching for platform consider pricing as a factor?
Erin: Immediately. You know what, I hate this so bad. Please don’t schedule a demo call, an hour-long demo call and you think you want to pay $10 for something and it costs $1000 and you just didn’t look. I can’t tell you how infuriating that is. It’s like a waste of everyone’s time. For the most part, pricing is directly there and if there’s not pricing and it says “ask for pricing or call for pricing,” it’s probably expensive. If you think it’s going to be $10, if it requires calling for pricing and doing a demo, it’s probably not $10.
Set that expectation a little bit. Do your due diligence. Look at the pricing of things before you set up calls. Why anyone would want to do a one-hour long demo with a tool that costs $1000 or more knowing that they’ll only have $100 or $10 or whatever to spend is beyond me. It’s also really hard on the vendor’s end because obviously you’re allocating resources to talk to someone.
It also means that you’re probably taking a lot more time to make a decision and you should because you haven’t really narrowed it down your options based on price. You’re just running around in circles a little bit. So, immediately. Immediately with the pricing.
Karen: I want to go back to what you were saying. What should someone looking to purchase a new platform expect? What are some good questions to ask about customizations?
Erin: That really depends on what your specific needs are. I would say that if you have a list of things that you’re doing a lot of manual work on right now, let’s say it’s reporting or data aggregation or the analysis of certain things, if those things are not immediately available on the platform, it’s important to ask if they can be or if there’s some other view or some other way to get this information because every dollar you’re spending on a platform or a service provider or whatever should be preventing you from spending it again internally.
If you’re trying to get all this information out of something and the platform is doing some analysis, you can ask it to do the analysis the way that you’re looking for. Or if it is capable of doing reporting and you just want the reporting to be structured differently or look slightly different then ask whether or not that’s possible because what you don’t want to do is pay for a platform that provides reporting and then do all your reporting internally still because that means maybe you’re not matched up very well with the platform. So when we’re talking about customizations, see how much that partner is willing to do to customize with you.
Karen: Shouldn’t there be some customizations that are standard within the platform, some flexibility within a platform to get things to look the way you want them to look?
Erin: We provide some standard customizations – I call them standard to us like white labeling. Everything in the platform can be white labeled – all your reports, the actual dashboard itself, all that is there. We do custom reporting where you can take modules from the platform and drag and drop and arrange them and customize the actual data that’s inside the modules. That’s doable for both the reporting and dashboard standpoint so you can create your own custom dashboard views and things like that. I think that those are important customizations that I feel are standard only because it makes actually things easier on everybody’s end.
On our end, it’s way easier because you don’t have to call us and we don’t have to go in there and manually do it on your end. It’s way easier because you can just do it on demand. You don’t have to wait for somebody. You can also play with it, which is cool. You can reconfigure things, take a look, be like, “I don’t like that. I’m just going to change it.” And it’s instantaneous so it feels like it [22:17 inaudible] time.
Karen: It seems like if you’re going for a bigger platform that there should be some flexibility within the platform and that you should be able to see things the way you want to see them and not necessarily change how you’re organization works to fit the platform.
Erin: It does seem that way but you’d be surprised.
Karen: Do you ever recommend hiring an SEO or digital marketing agency over investing on your own platform?
Erin: Yeah. I specifically recommend hiring the agencies that are using my platform. Agencies hired by Ginza – let me know. I’ll give you a list.
Obviously I do. I’ve told people that, too, on demo calls asking about bench depth. How many people do you have working on this? What exactly are you looking for? What is your budget? Sometimes if they tell me that they have a really big budget, the right choice for you might be an agency [23:13 inaudible] if you don’t have a lot of bench depth and instead of hiring one or two more people take the money that you would have paid them in salary and bring in an agency who has a huge team of people all dedicated to this and is already paying for platforms like Ginza. There are agencies that are using Ginza to power things but you can actually get what I’ll grudgingly say is probably a cheaper version of it because they’re using it for a lot of different clients and therefore likely have a ton of enterprise level integrations with it already and reduced rate, whatever that situation may be, but you’re also getting all of their knowledge about that.
So the times that I really like it when people use stuff in-house are when they have a big BI team who can also mess around with it, understand it, analyze the data when they’ve got folks who are really dedicated to being in the platform regularly. I hate it when somebody use [24:04 inaudible] like, “If you’re paying us, I’m not going to complain.” But I hate it when somebody is using the platform or paying for this whole platform and they’re not logging in regularly. That may mean it’s just not the right fit. Maybe you’re just using it for reporting and that’s cool, but the tool is so much more than that. It has all this insights and recommendations and all this other stuff in there. I would really want optimally for somebody who is going to dig around in there regularly to be using it. So if it’s not that, then maybe what you’re looking for is more of an agency provider or a different type of tool without shooting myself on the foot, right?
Karen: As we said in the beginning, it’s important to have the right fit and it’s important for the vendor to make sure that you’re the right fit. So I think shooting ourselves in the foot may be a way to make sure that only the people who really are going to get the most functionality out of this are going to use our platform and be happy. We just want happy customers.
Erin: It should be that way everywhere with agency providers as well. A lot of times you can just tell that something is not a good fit for your organization in terms of either capabilities or staffing type or structure, whatever the case may be. But everybody should be really up front with that. I know that sometimes that’s hard because what you’re really looking at is turning down revenue in order to say that this isn’t the right fit. But again, it really goes back to this idea of one really happy customer that stays with you for a long time and tells everybody how great you are is better than three not super happy people who pay you for a short period of time then tell everybody that they didn’t really like using you. That’s the end of that.
Karen: All right, I think that’s all the time we have for today. Be sure to respond. You can send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. You can always join us on Twitter at #FOUNDFriday. Until next week, we’ll see you later.