IT marketing strategies: Your end-to-end guide

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Today, more and more B2B IT providers understand that marketing can make or break a product. And there's no doubt about it - good marketing is digital. Whether you’re selling an IT solution, a managed service or a reseller license, your digital presence is the most important tool in your arsenal to set yourself aside from the competition and drive sales.

B2B inbound marketing is a crowded field. It’s more difficult than ever to find that unique brand message that can drive an all-important conversion. So, what’s the solution? With end-to-end IT marketing strategies, you can create a clear pathway through digital content that will support and encourage a conversion.

Easily said, less easily achieved 

There’s a lot of information online about how to create content, drive sales, use your CRM, write personas and much, much more. But if you’re trying to create a marketing strategy that supports customers from first awareness right through their customer journey, it can be difficult to understand how these different IT marketing strategies link together to create a bigger picture.

Good B2B marketing isn’t simply about creating a great piece of content. It’s about identifying the customer you need to target that content towards, allowing them to easily find it, directing them to explore further, then supporting and guiding them towards a conversion. It’s also about using the information you acquired through the process to create a sustainable and positive relationship with the converted client. Creating that journey isn’t easy – but it’s the key to standing out in a crowded sellers’ market.

On this page, we chart a journey through planning to conversion that will allow B2B IT marketers to improve the quality of their marketing, sales and conversion cycles.Whether you’re planning an entire strategy, or simply improving a small part of something wider, this is everything you’ll need to know to succeed with your IT marketing strategies.

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1. IT marketing challenges in 2020

IT marketing challenges in 2020

In the 21st century, marketing isn’t easy. Customers have never been more diverse – and buying has never been more democratised. There’s so much choice and competition in every sector that marketers have a tough job on their hands standing out from the crowd. This is just one in a range of IT marketing challenges that make a successful digital presence more difficult to achieve than ever before.

In the IT world, however, the challenge is even harder. That’s because the average IT buyer has specific needs, challenges, and pain points that must be addressed. As well as this, the complexity of the technology being marketed creates a whole new level of difficulty.

Luckily, IT marketing strategies have never been more advanced or effective as they are today. That’s because modern day digital marketing practices are uniquely tailored towards the sceptical IT buyer – since they specialise in educating users and building trust. The rise of effective and targeted digital marketing material has been among the most noticeable IT marketing trends.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s plain sailing for B2B IT providers. Challenges still remain – and effective digital IT marketing must address these if it hopes to target the right audience. In many ways, the recent success of the inbound approach has in itself created new IT marketing challenges. That’s because the more B2B IT marketers that join the inbound bandwagon, the more difficult it is for any one of those to stand out from the crowd.   

1.1 The most important IT marketing challenges

Today, there are four main IT marketing challenges that B2B IT marketers should seek to navigate if they want to stand out from the crowd and achieve their marketing goals.

  • Senior management

Managers and C-suite officials might have the best interests of the company at heart – but they’re rarely marketing experts. And since the managerial ranks of a company are often populated by more experienced employees, they’re less likely to be experts in the recent inbound marketing innovations. For someone who cut their teeth in the era of traditional ad-based marketing, the ‘educate first, sell second’ focus of more modern practices can be a difficult pill to swallow.

Getting management buy-in and managing their expectations is one of the most difficult parts of B2B marketing. The trick to doing this successfully is being up front about the challenges and realities of the sector. There’s no point selling digital marketing as the hot new way to generate leads in seconds because you’ll end up looking pretty silly when results take longer to materialise.

  • Finding the right audience

For most marketers, particularly in the B2C sector, it’s enough to simply target your marketing material towards ‘those who are interested in buying your services’. In the B2B world, and even more so in the IT world, the situation is much more complicated. B2B IT audiences are hyper specific. Marketing must be tailored not just to a particular business in a specific sector, but down to the individual decision-maker in that landscape.

Most B2B IT companies will find there are several different buyers within a company that might make purchasing decisions. This includes the C-suite officials, HR managers, line of business managers, or IT staff. Each of these workers will have different priorities that marketing material should aim to isolate and target. This is easier said than done. To achieve this, IT marketers need to define these different buyers, flesh out their needs and pain points, and carefully aim different pieces of marketing towards them. Jump to our section on personas for more detail on this process.

  • Turning coding into marketing

Almost by definition, technology is complicated. The challenge for marketers, then, is to turn these incredibly technical concepts into simple, digestible language that wins people over and drives sales. Easier said than done.

It can be easy to get bogged down in listing endless features; talking about how your solution has the best package of integrations, customisations, or mobile compatibility on the market. These all have their place. But to be effective, you need to drill through the noise. That means referring back to your personas and user information and identifying the specific user’s problems that your software or service addresses. The key to translating your coding into good marketing is to explain how your product achieves that, using simple, accessible language.

  • Creating an end-to-end customer journey

As we mentioned earlier, B2B buyers are more likely to take time over a decision, knowing they’re answerable to other people in the company for the decisions they make.

When considering the complex nature of IT services, this is even more likely to be the case. Buyers want to do their research, and technology isn’t simple. That’s why IT marketing trends for some time have been moving towards content that’s more targeted, but can also act as part of a larger, more thorough digital strategy.

The challenge for the B2B marketer is to allow customers the space to complete this research in their own time, without risking losing a valuable lead in the process. The best way to do that is to create a clear and structured user journey that progresses from awareness (via social and paid media), through content, case studies, and in-person conversations. The customer journey should then continue as the lead becomes a client, allowing marketers to promote new products and services, assess satisfaction over time, and approach happy clients for accreditation, testimonials and case studies.

These four IT marketing challenges represent a helpful overview of the difficulties that modern day marketers face. But to construct comprehensive end-to-end IT marketing strategies, there’s plenty more that you need to know. In the remaining sections, we’ll discuss and outline how to plan, create, execute and measure your marketing plan for IT services.  

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2. How to create an IT services marketing plan

How to create an IT services marketing plan

When a B2B customer identifies a potential solution, there's a good chance a few key factors are on their mind:

• Does this solution do what I need it to?

• Is it worth the price?

• Is there another solution that does it better or cheaper?

If you want to successfully identify how to sell managed IT services and software solutions, you’ll need to define the answers to these questions. That requires a little bit of research before you put any words to a page.

In marketing, preparation is everything. There’s no point shouting about how great your product is if you’re discussing the wrong features with the wrong people. You need to understand who your audience is and what they’re looking for from your products or services. Vitally, you also need to do some competitor research, so you can understand exactly what similar companies are selling, how their products differ from your own, and how you market yours against them.

2.1 Competitor research

Competitor research is a vital part of discovering how you’re going to position yourself. Without it, you risk marketing the same products in the same way as everyone else – and getting drowned out by the noise.

The first step involves requires identifying your competitors. There are plenty of sophisticated tools out there to help with this, but a lot of the time a simple Google search will suffice. After all, that’s how customers are most likely to find your marketing. Use Google Trends or Keyword Planner to identify popular search terms, then run these through Google to identify who is best ranking for them. Alternatively, if you don’t mind paying for a premium service, a number of tools like Moz and SEMRush will crawl your website or your competitors’ to deduce what keywords the website is ranking for.

Once you’ve done that, it’s helpful to complete a thorough analysis of their strengths and weaknesses. These questions are a useful guide to get you started:

  • What is the unique selling point of the product?

  • Which buyers are they targeting?

  • How effective is the content strategy and website design?

  • What content types and channels are they using?

  • What messaging are they using to promote their product?

Once you’ve got the answer to these questions, the next thing you need to ask yourself is ‘how can I do this better?’. That’s the key to understanding how to sell managed IT services and will provide you with the important basis for a unique and successful IT services marketing plan.  

2.2 Customer research & personas

The next step is to identify your own customers. This should involve information you currently hold on existing customers, as well as identifying potential customers and markets to target. You should ask yourself who they are, what position they hold in their company, as well as what their priorities and pain points might be. It can be helpful to get in touch with existing customers for this, perhaps offering a discount in exchange for help and guidance.

The goal here is to flesh out this customer research into a series of personas, which can be defined as ‘fictional representations of your ideal customers’. Give your character a name, a job title, and consider the reasons why they’d be interested in your product. Then, flesh out the ‘pain points’ - the reasons they’d be reluctant to purchase, and consider how you’ll address this.

Ideally, you’ll want a persona for three or four of your most frequent customers. With these in mind, you can then effectively tailor the marketing material you create to the needs and pain points of your personas.  

2.3 Value proposition

A value proposition should take the information you’ve learned across competitor and customer research, and create some messaging based on it. It outlines the basis for all the consumer facing marketing material that you’ll produce from here onwards - across your various IT marketing strategies. The value proposition should define how you’ll stand out from the competition and address the pain points of your ideal customers. Then, you need to ask yourself:

  • What messages will you use to target your customer?

  •  What language will attract them?

  • What content will most appeal to them?

This is the document that sets out the fundamental basics of your IT services marketing plan and provides the cornerstone upon which the rest of your campaign can be built.

Once this research in place, you’ll be ready to think about creating the content that will make up your strategy.

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3. Creating a B2B buyer journey

IT marketing strategies

Once you’ve completed your market research and defined your messaging, it’s time to develop a content plan. This requires some consideration of the marketing material you’ll create, how that’ll be targeted and how different pieces of content will work towards a larger B2B content strategy. For managed service providers and software vendors, it’s particularly vital that content can contribute to a clearly defined customer journey. For all the reasons we outlined earlier, B2B buyers want to take time over their decisions and have all the facts at hand. When creating your B2B buyer journey, it’s your job to guide them through this process.

3.1 The buyer journey

When creating your B2B content strategy, it’s important to consider where your customer is – as well as who they are. There’s no point creating a great product page if the reader isn’t ready for that kind of information.

People often think of a buyer’s journey as a linear timeline, beginning with awareness and ending in a sale. If this is the basis for your B2B buyer journey, you’re missing a trick. An effective journey should be considered more of a cycle than a line – the relationship doesn’t end with a sale. Effective marketers understand the value of their existing customers, both to help advocate their services to new leads, and upmarket new services outside of their current package. When you take these factors into account, the B2B buyer’s journey begins to look a bit different.

Let’s consider a fictional example. Tim is an IT manager who needs some help from a managed service provider to help maintain and optimise his IT systems. The B2B buyer journey he goes through looks a little like this:

IT marketing strategies

By the time he’s reached the last stage of the journey, Tim is helping to create content that can reassure new customers in the first two stages. And thus, the circle of B2B marketing continues. The challenge for B2B marketers is to create the content that will convince Tim to progress through the B2B buyer journey at each individual stage.

This is where the content strategy comes in. It’s vital that before creating any marketing material, you plan out a customer journey that will allow Tim to progress seamlessly from prospect to advocate. To do this, you need to target different types of content to his needs and pain points - as they change over time.

3.2 Planning the B2B content strategy

Different pieces of content lend themselves to different stages in the buyer’s journey. So, the next step in developing your content marketing plan is to identify which content to create. Here are some ideas.

1. Paid media

Paid media is helpful for targeting users in the early stages of the buyer’s journey, making that first point of contact and encouraging users to access further information and content. Paid media is generally good for getting a short term initial push to a campaign that can be supported by other media later down the line.

2. Organic media

Organic content, such as social media on Twitter and LinkedIn, is good for increasing awareness and attracting potential leads. It generally works better on a long term basis, since it takes time to build an effective organic presence.

3. eBooks and whitepapers

eBooks and whitepapers are detailed outlines of your product or service, and why a customer should consider it against the competition. Customers will generally access them during the research and assessment stages, when they’ve already identified your business as a prospect and want to further explore their options.

4. Blogs

Blogs fulfil a similar function as eBooks and whitepapers, but in more specific cases. If you’re looking to expand on specific users, features or industries for your product, the blog is the form for you. These will also be invaluable to customers in the second, third and fourth stages of the buyer’s journey. Blogs can also be a good way of marketing further services to existing customers in the later stages of the buyer’s journey.

5. Case studies

Case studies are even more specific than the content you’d put in a blog. Using a real life example of an existing customer, you can tell the story of how your services or products have been used in practice. The case study is useful for customers in the third or fourth stages of the marketing journey, who are aware of your services, but want to explore further and accredit your marketing messages.

6. Email marketing

Email marketing is uniquely qualified to target customers at any stage in the marketing journey. Since messages can be sent directly to individual customers, they can be microtargeted to their needs and pain points.

These are the main types of content that should influence the B2B content strategy you create. Of course, there’s much more to it than this – and if you want to get even further into the details and complexities of creating a content marketing plan, take a look at our recent eBook: A fool-proof guide to content marketing.

But if all you’re looking to do at this stage is put together the fundamental bones of a campaign, this information should stand you in good stead to get started.

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4. How to convert leads into clients

IT marketing strategies

The goal of IT marketing strategies is to generate leads – preferably high quality and lots of them. But finding leads is only half the story. If you want to turn that potential into business, you need a clear process that will allow you to convert leads into clients.

Essentially, this involves encouraging your readers to move along to the next step in the customer journey – all the way to conversion. There are several ways you can do this:

4.1 Traffic vs. value

Marketers often mistakenly think that to get more leads, all they need is more website traffic. That’s easy enough in theory – most people can generate a bit of website traffic with some decent SEO strategies and a paid media campaign. But if 98% of those people read your content and then leave your website, you won’t increase your lead generation by much. That’s why it’s more important to turn to conversion rate optimisation (CRO). This involves increasing the percentage of people that move on to the next stage in the customer journey.

Creating a B2B sales funnel is a long-established way of identifying how effectively traffic flows through your website, from the first contact to conversion. It maps a route to conversion through the content you create, assigning specific pieces of content to each stage in the marketing journey - from awareness to conversion.

What’s the value of this? The logic follows that by mapping the ideal process that your customer should take, you can more accurately assess and optimise how many do make that journey. And if your website analytics tell you that successful leads are arriving to conversion via a different route, that gives you the information you need to improve your funnel and the content that forms it.

Let’s take a look at a sample B2B sales funnel based on the first four stages of the customer journey that we outlined in the last section.

IT marketing strategies

This is designed to be a very basic outline. In reality, there’s a whole range of different types of content that could contribute to each stage of the process. And on an individual level, the journey will undoubtedly be more complex, with viewers progressing back and forth between various types of content before making a conversion.

Once you’ve identified the customer journey your prospects should be taking, it’s time to decide how well they’re doing it.

It’s at this point in the process that many people consider whether it’d be better to create the content they need in house or look for some expert help from an external agency. As a specialist external agency for B2B marketing companies, we’ve got a lot of ideas about how we can craft a winning content strategy that drives readers where you want them to go. Check out our services if you want to find out more.

4.2 Where are your customers going?

Most of the decisions you make when optimising your conversion rates depend on knowing a bit more about your website visitors:

  • How many people are viewing your website?

  • How many view individual pages?

  • Where are people travelling to from those pages?

  • Which pages are readers leaving your website from?

  • Where are they arriving on your website from?

This crucial information will allow you to understand how effective the flow of traffic is between constituent stages in your customer journey. Luckily, almost anybody can access this data for free with Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is a big repository of data about how people interact with your website. This includes everything you need to know about how effectively users are progressing through your website.

One particular Google Analytics feature allows you to visualize where readers are travelling to and from between pages on your website. This is called the User Flow, and it looks a little bit like this:

IT marketing strategies

The different pages can be customised based on your requirements. For example, you can create a different pillar for each piece of content you think should lead to conversion or contact, allowing you to easily see how effectively you’re achieving that.

As well as this, you can also set up goals in Google Analytics that allow you to isolate and measure specific metrics, such as the amount of users that progress from one page to the next, and track overall conversions. Once you’ve got that information, the next step is to optimise, optimise, optimise.

4.3 How to convert leads into clients - step by step

We’ve covered why it’s important to optimise your conversion rate, and how to decide where optimisation is needed. Now, we’ll consider how to go about optimising those pages, CTAs, emails and social posts. If you’re a savvy marketer looking to get the most possible leads out of the content you produce, there are a few options open to you:

  • Creating content campaigns

Step one involves ensuring the route you want people to take is a desirable one. Think about your average customer for a moment; they want to find out more about your product or service before getting in touch with you, preferably through content that addresses their pain points in increasing levels of detail. It’s important to ensure that the information you’re drawing them towards is relevant and elaborates on what you’ve already told them. Make sure the next stage you draw your readers towards is going to deliver value.

  • Leverage high performing pages

Consider the following situation: You’re setting up a short campaign to drive interest in a promotion or product. Perhaps you’re offering a discount on the latest upgrade to your SaaS solution. The content you’ve produced for this campaign is ranking well - but perhaps not performing well. One way to boost focused traffic to your new content is by drawing attention to it from existing high-performing pages. The best example of this is a homepage, where many of your visitors will end up at one point or another. Consider creating some banners or CTAs that draw attention to your new content, and direct traffic through your B2B sales funnel.

  • Calls to action

If you’re struggling to encourage readers towards the next stage in the customer journey, you can have another think about your CTAs. The traditional way of doing CTAs involves putting a link at the bottom of a piece of content. But often people skip over this or click off before they get to it. For this reason, many marketers have found success in improving their conversion rates by making these CTAs easier to see, with more eye-catching messages.

For instance, instead of writing a simple piece of text, why not create a banner or image that can catch the viewer’s eye? And consider moving the CTA higher up the page, perhaps integrated within the content so that viewers can access it sooner.

content marketing guide for B2B

  • Landing pages

Landing pages, by their very definition, are designed to attract attention and channel it in a specific direction. This could be towards a particular piece of content, a trial or demo, or a contact form. If you’re trying to get as much traffic as possible towards your latest content, creating landing pages is a great way of doing that.

Landing pages work because they’re simple and stand apart from the rest of your website - meaning they can rank well in Google, and viewers don’t get distracted and end up clicking elsewhere. Either they go to the place you want them to, or they leave – simple. If you want to improve your conversion rates, create some landing pages for your hero assets. With some SEO keywords and a little paid media, you should get the traffic jam up cleared in no time.

Including banners and links to the landing page from other parts of your website, social media and email communications is also a great way of focusing travel back in the right direction.

  • Email marketing

As we move into the later stages of your customer sales journey, email marketing becomes increasingly more important. Compared to other types of content, emails are unique in their ability to target customers right down to the individual. That makes it absolutely great for retrieving potential customers who have fallen off the customer journey. Consider, for example, if a user downloads an eBook or whitepaper, giving their contact details in order to do so, reads the content, and then doesn’t proceed any further. There’s every chance that they’ve found value in the content, gotten distracted and never got around to proceeding any further. With their content details, you can follow up and drive them back to a conversion-focused conversation with your sales staff. Email marketing is a key driver in ensuring you can convert leads into clients at a better rate than before.

  • A/B testing

A/B testing is a great way to test which messages work for your customer base, whether that’s landing pages, CTAs, social posts, or email newsletters. Finding the right language is a vital part of encouraging potential customers to take the next step in their journey. A/B testing allows you to find winning messages that will improve your conversion rates. This involves comparing two similar versions of the same email, newsletter or social post, and seeing which is most successful. Once you’ve found the most successful messages, you can focus your efforts on that, and use your learnings to improve your future content.

This is particularly successful in email marketing, where you can easily segment your marketing list at random. With webpages, it can be more difficult, but there are tools such as Google Optimise that allow you to create variations of the same page, which can be shown to different users at random.

If you're looking to convert leads into clients at a better rate, these methods should give you a great idea of how you can get started. Of course, no trick or tactic can substitute for good marketing and great content. But if you’ve got a coherent marketing strategy, good messaging, and a product with real value, then a little tweaking around the edges with CRO can make a real difference.

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5. How to get started selling to existing customers

B2B IT marketing

Of course, getting your leads to convert into clients is only one half of the customer journey. Effective marketers know that nurturing existing customers is as important as acquiring new ones. Too many companies take their existing customers for granted, only realising the perils of this approach once it’s too late. Selling to existing customers is just one part of getting the most out of your customer relations, but there’s plenty of other ways you can do this as well.

In this section, we’re going to discuss the final part of the IT marketing cycle: customer relationship management. Getting this right is the key to developing a marketing strategy that not only sells, but also sustains.

5.1 Customer relations: How and why?

If you’re not making customer relations an integral part of your IT marketing strategies, here are three good reasons to start.

  • Accreditation

As we mentioned in the first section, B2B buyers are considerate, deliberate and want to make sure that they’ve made the right decision when deciding whether to invest in a product or service. That’s why it’s so vital that you make the best use of existing satisfied customers to create case studies and testimonials that can reassure new customers that they’re about to make the right decision.

  • Contract renewal

At some point, the original contract you negotiated when your client converted is going to be up for renewal. When that happens, you’ll want to ensure the customer is in a position to enthusiastically renew. If not, you risk undoing the hard work you put in during the earlier stages of their journey.

  • Expanding services

If your client has downloaded your product or is using your managed service, they’re infinitely more likely than an unqualified lead to be interested in the rest of your offerings. This makes selling to existing customers an invaluable way of generating more business.

5.2 Selling to existing customers with a CRM

Over the last two decades, one type of tool has become an established way of allowing companies to better manage their customer relationships at every stage of their journey: customer relations management (CRM). Essentially, this is a large database that records every interaction made with a customer from anyone in your business. This includes responses to emails, customer service queries, contract details and much more. The idea is that when a client, customer or lead gets in touch with somebody from your business, staff members should be able to easily view and update the entire history of their interactions with the company.

CRMs come with the powerful potential to improve your customer relations. This remains the same whether you’re trying to upsell new products, manage difficult client relationships, or recruit advocates for case studies and testimonials. Let’s look at some of these in practice.

  • Client surveys

For any company, it’s vital to understand what your customers think of you. To do this, many companies circulate a regular survey for their existing customers. But with a CRM, you can take this information to the next level, by storing each individual clients’ responses, perhaps even ranking them on a satisfaction scale.

Compiling and storing this information in a centralized location provides a lot of opportunities to improve the customer experience and drive effective upselling. Most importantly, it allows you to identify which customers need more support and better customer service in order to improve your customer reputation and improve rates of the contract renewal. It could also be helpful to incentivise less satisfied customers to renew by targeting discounts on future contracts.

  • Upsell tactics: Using your CRM effectively

Selling to existing customers can be a profitable but risky game. Sending a blanket email to all your existing customers every time you want to market a new service can do more harm than good. If customers feel like they’re being spammed or excessively upsold to, your business relationship with them will likely suffer. For that reason, it’s important to target correspondences, so communications will be sent to those customers that are most likely to respond effectively. One of the most vital upsell tactics is knowing when not to market – as well as when to.

The benefit of a CRM here is clear. Effective CRMs can be configured to automatically record how people respond to communications. This allows you to target marketing messages to those customers who have clicked on, responded to, or otherwise expressed an interest in your products or services. As well as this, you can use information from your customer satisfaction surveys to target messages to those customers who have already expressed satisfaction with their existing products or services.

  • Creating case studies

Creating case studies is a great way to encourage new prospects to become leads and for leads to convert into clients. Unlike most other types of content, they provide a real-world application of how your solution or services have helped real businesses. But finding the right client to approach for a case study can be difficult. You need to find a client whose problems and pain points reflect those of a particular target customer, so that the final case study can work as an effective piece of marketing material. As well as this, you need to find someone with enough good will to put their name to a piece of marketing material and offer the time required to help create it.

This is where your CRM information can help. Using information derived from customer surveys and past interactions with your company, you can effectively identify those clients that are more likely to agree. Additionally, by accessing information that the sales department inputted when the client was themselves a lead, you can identify the problems they faced when they were approaching conversion. This information allows you to identify which clients are likely to be both successful at and amenable to creating case study material.

A CRM is an enormously versatile tool, for both marketing and sales – and the potential applications are endless. It’s vital to understand and appreciate the value of this knowledge when identifying what your customers are looking for – and how you can provide it.

At Fifty Five and Five, we work every day to create this end-to-end marketing journey for our clients. We’ve learned that creating great marketing messages and supporting content is only the first step. If you want to stand out, you need to consider your customer’s context, situation and problems – and how you fit into that backdrop.

Creating effective IT marketing strategies is rarely easy, but it is worthwhile. If you can follow the steps we outline in this page, you’ll be well on your way to achieving that oft-spoken but rarely achieved phenomenon: Standing out from the crowd.


At Fifty Five and Five, we’re experts in creating dynamic IT marketing strategies that are unique, valuable and informative. Working with clients such as Microsoft, Nintex, MessageOps, and ShareGate, we know how to create a truly end-to-end, user-focused marketing journey that will drive up that all important conversion rate.
 

If you’ve made it all the way to this point, there’s a good chance you’re serious about creating about creating an end to end IT marketing plan that will generate those all-important leads. And if so, we want to help. Take a look through full package of digital marketing services for tech providers – and see what we can do for you.


Conquering the challenges of managing remote employees

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  • From all-on-prem to providing remote working
  • How we enabled our first remote employee
  • Proving remote working for our Seattle office
  • Managing remote teams: best practices

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More and more businesses are waking up to the possibilities of remote working, although few have gone as far as ‘all-remote’ like GitLab or adopted distributed teams as enthusiastically as Atlassian. The traditional model – having all your employees on site – is still prevalent - but we’re moving toward a landscape where, in order to find and retain talent, you have to accommodate your people when they need to relocate or be able to bring in new employees who work remotely from the start. And this comes with the many challenges of managing remote employees.

It’s no mean feat to make the shift in your business from having everyone on-premises to employing remote workers. I know that because I’ve done it myself. Well, ­­­­­‘done’ may not be entirely correct – like most things in life, it’s a work in progress. There are always new things to learn and improvements to be made. I’d like to share what I’ve learned during the journey with my own company, Fifty Five and Five.

Closing distances between people

Fifty Five and Five has grown a lot since we began in 2014 – both in terms of numbers and the geographical distance we cover. We’ve gone from a small group of talented people in London to having offices in Britain and the USA as well as numerous full-time, part-time and freelance team members spread across many different cities and countries.

Once upon a time, maintaining this kind of setup – and doing so productively – would have been like herding cats, but we overcome the challenges of managing remote employees through our culture and how communicate. And, of course, as a digital marketing agency, tech savvy and early adoption are deeply coded into our DNA. That means picking up the latest digital workplace tools and making the fullest and best use of them.

To start with, let’s look at the story of our very first remote worker:

Our woman in Oslo

Enrika has been a crucial part of our marketing team for many years now. She knows our business inside out and has become a big part of our marketing strategies, SEO projects, PPC campaigns and more. Enrika also runs our website and internal marketing – she’s probably the reason you’re reading this blog right now.

So, when she decided she wanted to move from London to Oslo in Norway but was keen to keep working for us, we were determined to make that happen. When you find talent of Enrika’s calibre, you hold on to it.

At that point, we were already using cloud services to store all our documents and other business data, so Enrika could – and can – always reach the information resources she needs to work. If we still kept everything on-prem, there’s no way we’d be able to provide that.

And, as keen adopters of Microsoft’s cloud-based productivity and collaboration tools, we’ve given her and everyone else the full Office 365 suite and made sure they’re using it effectively. That includes Microsoft Teams, with its indispensable set of video, voice and messaging functionality.

It’s been a year since her move, and Enrika’s success story spurred us on to provide more remote working opportunities – including our very first remote hire, who’s based on an entirely different continent.

The Seattle connection

When we decided to open an office in Seattle, so we could be closer to our North American clients, I knew was perfect to take the wheel. As our stateside Account Director, she grows and manages much of our US business, as our first point of contact for clients there and in many other countries worldwide.

Liz’s role demands close contact with clients in the USA and overseas, as well as with her colleagues in the London office. We knew we had to provide her and other workers abroad in the future with the same remote working foundation that enables Enrika to work remotely. But that in this case there were also new difficulties to be met.

For one thing, we needed to grapple with time zones. Oslo is only one hour ahead of London, which is pretty easy to manage. But London is eight hours ahead of Seattle, which increases the challenges of managing remote employees.

With such a geographical distance and time distance between us, we quickly discovered it could become difficult for everyone to work well together. We needed to prevent our people in the USA from feeling isolated and disconnected from our business and our culture.

To make sure everyone can work together, feel part of the same team and stay on the same page, Fifty Five and Five developed a set of principles for the whole company to adopt. These key pillars define how we should work, to make sure remote working really works.

Managing remote teams: best practices

1.   Automatic sharing

So that nobody misses anything or gets left out, everything has to be shared with everyone, all the time. All internal meetings are captured on video in Teams, recorded and stored, along with any notes, in our cloud-based information repository. Anyone can access them and catch up.

That includes our weekly Learn and Share sessions, which provide a vital part of our collective knowledge and skills base. Enrika, Liz and others have already presented Learn and Share sessions attended by people in both offices via video chat. As well as knowledge-sharing, these sessions are also a great way to bring everyone together and get us all engaged.

We also use dedicated Teams channels to share useful and interesting articles, and other handy links. And our Thank You channel ensures that praise and credit are given in a public forum without having to resort to a formal all-company email. It fosters a culture of encouragement and unity – everyone appreciates getting a shoutout at the end of a long project and seeing their colleagues’ hard work being recognized.

We’re making it fundamental to Fifty Five and Five’s company culture that this kind of sharing happens automatically, in a way we can all benefit from – not just the ones within earshot.

2.   Document everything

With our roots in content marketing, we’ve always known the power of written communication. But the challenges of managing remote workers mean we’ve had to double down on developing that skillset and strive to communicate in writing even more effectively.

Now, we’re committed to writing down and recording knowledge rather than relying on verbal explanations. Setting things down in words means they can be shared, referred to later and – crucially – not simply forgotten as soon as they’re heard. This also extends to our processes – instead of just on-the-job-training, we are now much more thorough in documenting our processes and making this documentation available.

This mindset means information that’s useful to everyone isn’t as likely to be automatically siloed in need-to-know access limitations, which only need to be applied to sensitive data. Instead of top-down control of documents, they’re open for access and editing by anyone in the company, so they can contribute and increase their own knowledge. And that means we can all understand our projects and our clients better and work more effectively for them.

When building up your internal knowledge repository, tools like OneNote and Notion can be invaluable. We write up the notes of every meeting and make them available like this, with a central index, so all team members everywhere can find answers to their questions and get to grips with new projects and accounts easily

3.   Asynchronous and synchronous comms

I think of all this as asynchronous communication: a more inclusive, multi-directional way to communicate that can be less linear and limited than traditional synchronous (real-time) communication such as face to face or phone calls. Both kinds have their place in modern business and need to be harnessed properly.

Real-time, synchronous communication, whether it’s in person or via Microsoft Teams, will always be needed. A two-way exchange in real time allows the participants to expand and direct the conversation in the moment, asking important questions as they occur. But now this can all be easily recorded and shared. We’ll often record client meetings (after asking their permission, of course) so that we can refer back to that recording and share it to help other team members. This is synchronous and asynchronous communication used together to achieve the best possible results.

A great asynchronous communication tool we use is Asana. Accessed via your web browser or an intuitive mobile app, Asana helps us to stay on top of our individual tasks and priorities, as well as managing and tracking projects. As soon as one member has finished playing their part in a task, the next person is alerted so they can take over. We all check on our task lists and calendars regularly, and Asana has become firmly embedded in our processes and communications. I can’t recommend it enough – it really works. Our project manager Alessandra would agree, as the company’s resident Asana evangelist/superfan.

Something else we’ve introduced more recently is the ‘employee user manual’. We each write one, available for everyone to read, explaining how we like to work and our preferred methods of communication (e.g. some prefer Teams chats, some may prefer a phone call). This has given us an insight to the different ways that our co-workers like to operate, and it’s really helped us all to communicate more effectively.

4.   Always think about how you speak

Although written communication has some advantages over spoken, it also has weaknesses. With a lack of visual cues such as expression, or vocal tone of voice, nuance can be lost and responses can be misinterpreted, seem cold or even rude.

Luckily, the ‘consumer-grade enterprise comms experience’ of Microsoft Teams includes emojis to put the smiles back into text-based communication. But I think it’s also important that we promote positive communication in general within Fifty Five and Five’s company culture.

We always assume positive intent, as well as assuming a lack of knowledge (‘crossed wires’) on the part of the other person instead of intentional negativity: ‘ignorance before malice’. And, where such misunderstandings do occur, a colleague is only a Teams video call away, which is sure to clear everything up.

 

Use everything available and set up to win

In conclusion, if there’s anything I’ve learned from the challenges of managing remote employees, it’s that it’s relied on three things: the right tools, the right approach and the right attitude. They’re all important, but often it’s the last one that makes the biggest difference. You, your people and your business itself need a can-do attitude if you want to make remote working really work.

If you’d like some help making your communications more effective, get in touch with the team at Fifty Five and Five today.


How to hire the right people for your company

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  • Tips for hiring the right team members
  • Why hiring the right people is important
  • The most common reasons companies don't end up with the hire they intended

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A whole array of technologies are being shouted from the rooftops as the key to unlocking the potential of your company. Artificial intelligencesocial media, big data and cloud computing... the list goes on and on. But you can’t forget those that hold these keys—your people! You need to hire the right people.  

People are the most important aspect of your company, responsible for how you operate, how you present yourself to clients and customers, and ultimately how successful you are. When it comes to hiring the right people in your company, look for those with similar values and work ethics while diversifying the workplace in terms of gender, ethnicity, and skillsets. 

You need to create a cohesive workplace but also identify what every employee can bring on an individual levelAnd it can be a tricky balancing act. In this post, we’ll explore the importance of hiring the right people for your company and throw in some tips to help you out.  

Why hiring the right people is important

As companies grow, it can be increasingly difficult to put enough focus on the hiring process. But if you let your search for talent dip, it can have serious consequences for the business.   

Financial implications

The numbers surrounding bad hires and their associated costs are quite startling. report from the Recruitment and Employment Federation found that 85% of HR decision-makers in UK businesses admit their organisation has made a bad hire, and that a worker with a salary of around £42,000 could cost a business more than £132,000.  

Where does this cost come from? You might have to pay for employee training if they turn out to be underqualifiedIf that doesn’t work, there are the costs associated with employee offboarding and onboarding if you need to start the process again 

A drain on employee morale

A workplace where every member of the organisation works in perfect harmony may be an idealistic one. Conflicts are bound to happen, but with the right people they won’t have a long-lasting negative impact. But bad hires can be a catalyst to a tense, disconnected and disengaged workplace. And spending time to correct the mistake of a bad hire can leave the rest of your team disheartened 

Decrease in productivity

If bad hires bring with them the potential to disengage the workforce, and it’s costing time and money to rectify their mistakes, you can be assured this will cause the productivity of workers and the overall business to fall 

Why do organisations hire the wrong people?

No company sets out with the intention of hiring the wrong person. We’ve identified the most common reasons companies don’t end up with the hire they intended, and how they can be avoided.  

• Hiring is outsourced

You shouldn't be outsourcing the hiring process to external recruiters. It can be tempting to, especially in large organizations, but recruiters don't know the personalities currently within your organization, or the ideal hire you have in mindWhile it does take more time to hire internally, you can see it as a time (and money) saver when you pit it against hiring the wrong person and having to restart the process.

If you feel like you have no other option but to outsource hiring, make sure you take the time to find recruiters that know your industry and understand the type of person you're looking for, as well as the role. 

• The pool of talent is too small

With uncertainty and instability around employment levels, it can make sense for companies to make their talent search quick and painless, fearing that the ‘best talent will get snapped up quickly. While candidates may not take long to find a new job, you should make sure your search is as broad as possible. Post on major job boards (online and offline) to attract as many potential candidates as possible, giving you the best chance to hire the right people for your company.  

• You exhibit a lack of patience

In the same vein as narrowing your talent search, not giving the process enough time can result in you taking someone who is not an ideal match for the role. Patience can be difficult principle to live by, especially if you feel like you need a new member of staff to start immediately. But you should give yourself as much time as possible to conduct the hiring process, so you can wait until the perfect hire finds you!  

5 tips for hiring the right people

People are the most important aspect to the business. So, we thought it would be good idea to get some first-hand insight from the leaders that have made Fifty Five and Five what it is today. Here’s their most important advice to help you hire the right people 

1. Avoiding unconscious bias

Chris Wright – Founder, Fifty Five and Five

When decision-making, our brain tends to try and make shortcuts to make us take on less decisions. This is objectively a good thing, but there’s a negative side, too. This can cause an unconscious bias to hire ‘the same type of people’ because you know it’s worked in the past. In a diverse workplace, everyone brings a uniqueness, whether in terms of background, culture, life or work experiences, and so on. I think diversity is vital to valuing people as individuals, rather than a ‘group of workers’, which will help the business grow naturally.

 

2. Onboarding and offboarding is vital

Aidan Danaher - Account Director, Fifty Five and FiveAidan Danaher

Try and put yourself in the shoes of a new hire. It's your first day in a totally new environment with new people. It can be overwhelming, particularly if you’re trying a completely new or different role, even more so if it’s your first ever job! As an employer, you can’t assume that new employees will know exactly what you expect of them. So, you want to get on the same page as quickly and clearly as possible. The right onboarding process can help new hires feel welcome and help them integrate into the workplace. Formal induction programmes exude professionalism but are also a great way for new hires to get the lay of the land. Communication is of course the key in this – weekly reviews are important as the new hire gets the hang of their role and can be extended to bi-weekly, monthly, and so on as time progresses.

 

3. Cast as wide a net as possible

Stephen Reilly, Head of Content, Fifty Five and FiveStephen Reilly

The employees you hire are crucial to your success. But finding the right ones is not always easy. You need to consider skills and experience, obviously. Yet, I think personality is an even bigger factor in how successful a new hire will be. You can always teach the right person the ropes. And that right person will have a positive long-term effect on the rest of the business. Cast your net wide. Don’t rely strictly on experience written in a CV. Look for a mix of candidates. Talk to as many as time will allow. Advertising job openings on the major online job boards has worked well for us at Fifty Five and Five, as you can get a wide and varied selection of candidates to choose from. The challenge is narrowing those set of candidates down until you find the perfect fit. Create a shortlist based on specific criteria. Use the face-to-face interview as well as you can – meeting people is where you’ll get the best idea of whether a candidate is right for your company.

 

4. Look for a strong culture fit   

Sophie Pallott – Digital Marketing Manager, Fifty Five and FiveSophie Pallott

I’ve noticed throughout my career that employees who can identify with their company and are a good culture fit tend to experience heightened job satisfaction and bring more to the business. You can have the most qualified candidate out there, but if they don’t feel connected to the needs and values of your company then work and morale may suffer. This isn’t to say that everyone you hire should be the same, rather that you should look for individuals who fit naturally with the nuances of your business.

 

5. Understand assessment criteria for the role  

Barnaby Ellis - Head of Creative, Fifty Five and FiveBarnaby Ellis

The key to hiring the right people is in having assessment criteria for the role and then mapping candidates’ answers against it. This way, you will remain consistent in your approach and you can compare the performance and competence of a wide range of interviewees. What’s more, having an interview assessment form makes it easy to compare notes with colleagues who may have interviewed other candidates for the same role.


effective content marketing

Effective Content Marketing: How to amplify your content

What is Content Amplification?

There’s only one problem with creating fantastic content, and that’s getting the right people to see it. Content amplification is a marketing term used to define the ways content can be amplified using online channels.

Marketers can often use template strategies and wait for results to appear to them instead of engineering their marketing to produce results for them. Truly effective content marketing (the key word here being ‘effective’) will generate leads and drive your business forward. But great content on its own isn’t always enough.

The harsh reality is: where a million voices shout for attention, making your own voice heard above the noise will either make or break your digital marketing strategy. This is where content amplification comes into play.

Key tips for amplifying content

1. Make it interactive

Bring content to life by making it fun and memorable.  Successful content amplification encourages the user to actively engage with your content.

2. Visualise the content

Make your content easier to consume by guiding your audience and encouraging them to share.

3. Capture the attention of your audience

Make users want to stick around for longer, in turn increasing dwell time and improving conversion rates.

4. Maximise your investment

Make the most of your existing resources – creating great content takes time.

Content amplification uses specific channels online to ‘amplify’ your content, beyond the organic posting on your blog. Examples of amplification channels include:

  • Facebook ads
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

Today, we’ll share some of our top tips on how to amplify your content to get the best results from those cleverly crafted pieces of content.

Let’s begin with asking:

Why is content amplification so important?

Content amplification does three major things:

  1. Expands your audience reach
  2. Establishes you as a trusted brand in your industry
  3. Creates new leads, opportunities and sales

Amplification helps to get your content seen by your intended audience at the right time, which could help you receive a higher return on investment. But without the extra leg work to really catapult your content, your marketing efforts could be wasted.

Tip 1: Shift the attention from you to your customers

Effective content marketing is like an invigorating conversation at a dinner party. It’s not the annoying guy in a tuxedo boasting about the heated seats in his two-seater coupé. It’s not fun when all someone ever does is talk about themselves, so don’t produce content that only talks about how great you are, this method might get you impressions, but it certainly won’t attract a loyal audience. What you really want to do is intrigue, discuss and debate with your audience – you want to engage them.

Ask not what your customers can do for you; ask what you can do for them

A customer-focused strategy will add value to your campaigns because you’re getting to know your audience and building trust with your customers which in turn encourages loyalty. You’re treating them like the wonderful individual that they are – and not just an email address in your database.

Where are your customers? How are they consuming content? And what platforms are they using?

Since the birth of Google, SEO marketers have scrambled to get high quality content to be discoverable in search engines and social media. Sure, you can pepper your blogs with keywords, but we want true engagement! We want effective content that adds value. The best place to start is in finding out what devices your customers are using and when your traffic is peaking, so you can tailor your content and calls-to-action to either mobile, app, web, etc. to make for a flawless user experience.

What motivates your customers to engage with your content?

Is it free incentives? Are they busy finance directors that love snackable content on the commute home? Do people look to you for expert knowledge of your industry? Find what people love about you and amplify it. You can measure trends in your content by click-rate or you can take a more qualitative approach and measure audience participation with posts, separating your influential content from the stagnant.

What topics drive the most engagement with your brand?

Before you can answer this question, you’ll need to perform some basic analysis of your content engagement levels. For instance, you can conduct a split test by posting a variety of content and measuring your website traffic before and after you post. Change the titles, change the structure and alter the tone to get an idea of what garners the most attention from your audience. ‘The future of’ titles tend to do especially well on LinkedIn, for example, as it’s a platform geared toward industry expertise and business trends. Once you know what peaks your audience’s interest, you can do more of it.

Want our best tips on how to improve your content marketing? Grab a copy of our fool-proof guide to content marketing.

Tip 2: Create a variety of content and split test

Variety is the spice of life and if you’re serving a buffet of content, a balanced diet is key. You don’t want to serve the same thing every day—that would be boring and predictable. Instead, save your big pieces of meaty content for when you know you’re going to receive peak interest. Likewise, serve regular dishes of content throughout the week. This will increase trust in your brand because you’re showing consistency, with a reliable stream of content.

On Friday’s, you could serve your audience a slice of chocolate cake because we all enjoy something fun to read and personality helps set you apart. This could be an informal creative piece or a chance to promote a new product. By constantly revolving your content, you’re keeping your audience alert and interested, which in turn generates loyal followers.

Weekends aren't off limits, either. Mobile content can be digested on the go and you can take advantage of weekends being a time where post rates slightly decrease as most businesses don’t tend to post as much. If you do post on the weekend it may get fewer impressions, but it’ll likely get a higher engagement rate, making it a great time to test bigger, heavier pieces of content.

Test, test, test!

Conducting A/B tests or split tests each week will greatly improve your engagement rates, as you’ll start to see what your audience actually respond to. And no detail is too trivial: for health insurers Humana, changing the micro-copy on a website button from “Get started now” to “Shop Medicare Plans”, achieved a 192% increase in clicks!

The most important thing to remember here is that, although we can estimate consumer behaviour trends, the ‘optimum time’ to post content is entirely unique to each business, as you will each have your own set of global customers with their own time-zones which will have an impact on what, where, and when you post.

Being strategic with your content plan will give you the upper hand over your competitors, as you’re essentially creating a heat map of when people engage with your brand.

Tip 3: Develop an employee advocacy programme

Word of mouth is perhaps the most effective form of advertising, probably because it’s the most truthful form of advertising and the hardest to manufacture. Which tells us two things: we trust things more when the people we like trust them, and we’re more likely to take recommendations from those we trust. Which is why when peers and colleagues share content it tends to go viral!

Want our best tips on how to improve your content marketing? Grab a copy of our fool-proof guide to effective content marketing.

A social media advocacy program (which is a fancy way of asking staff to share/like work-related content), will ignite your content from within! That’s exactly why there’s been a massive rise in employers encouraging employees to share content on social media.

For assistance, tools like Audiense and BuzzSumo will analyse, filter and present Twitter data to help you track your most influential advocates. The trick though is in deciphering how your employees use social media. They could be enthusiasts or inactives, thought- leaders or networkers. But once you establish their unique strengths, you’ll be equipped to nurture your ambassadors with a blend of training, tools and content to really make the magic happen.