A Look into Microsoft’s Data-Driven Approach to Improving Sales

Orbon Alija/Getty Images

Companies are beginning to utilize their employees’ behavioral data — generally known as people analytics — to better understand and improve their sales operations, with strong results. Microsoft, where we work, is no exception, and B2B sales is one of the areas where we are seeing the most value. Our findings, and the ways we came to them, can be useful to other sales organizations looking to make internal changes of this type or optimize how their salespeople relate to customers.

In mid-2017, we executed a major redesign of our sales organization in response to what our customers needed from us, and to better align our selling approach with cloud services sales model (in this model, customers pay based on usage versus a traditional fixed licensing deal). We knew we needed a fast and effective transition to the new model without dropping the ball with our customers, but the undertaking was daunting and the stakes were high: With a complex sales organization of 20,000-plus salespeople covering large enterprises to small business customer segments, and spanning 100 countries, it was important to see how these changes impacted our customer collaboration and partnerships. We needed to get answers to some of our biggest questions, including:

Are we spending enough time with our most important customers? Are new hires ramping up and collaborating with customers as quickly as expected? Are they growing their internal and customer networks? Are salespeople collaborating with one another effectively? How is all this impacting our customers’ own business success?

Our hunt for answers started by using our own Workplace Analytics product to aggregate de-identified calendar and email metadata for thousands of enterprise salespeople. We then combined that with organizational and customer relationship management data to determine how the people selling via the cloud sales model were collaborating with their internal teams, customers, and partners. The next step was to correlate sales outcomes with these behaviors to identify the patterns that correlated with better results. These analyses were done in part to help us through a massive transformation and in part to better align us in responding to our customers’ needs and expectations. To date, the analyses revealed several actionable insights, which we came to with the help of our colleagues Ben Boatman, Chris Moss, Gabriel Zhou, Jared Baker, and Fabio Correa.

1. Networks are vital — and a reorg could destabilize them. One of the first things we learned is that salespeople with larger, more inclusive networks tended to have better outcomes. This is consistent with a number of other similar studies. Based on this finding, we initiated a program to coach our sales teams to focus on efficiently building and growing their internal and external networks. By looking at network size relative to tenure within the company, we were further able to establish that it typically takes roughly 12 months for most people to build these networks.

This underpins the importance of stability in roles over that time period, and beyond. It also left us concerned that the reorganization was forcing the salesforce to rebuild their networks from scratch, which could be costly and sub-optimal for our customers. To mitigate this cost, we rolled out programs to emphasize manager coaching and invested in facilitating rapid network growth for new hires.

2. We engage very differently with high-growth accounts. Another key aspect of the re-org was to ensure continued growth of our business and the right level of engagement with customers. Looking at the amount of time teams spent interacting with each of their accounts, as well as the number of individual contacts they were connecting with, allowed us to identify statistically significant differences in how teams engaged with the different account segments. On average, teams engaged with twice the number of customer contacts in our higher growth accounts, and collaborated double the amount of time with these customers as compared to lower growth accounts.

To make sure this wasn’t just a one-time anomaly, we also confirmed that this pattern was consistent month over month. Correlation vs causation is always an open question with an initial finding like this: are the accounts higher growth because we spend more time with them? Or do we spend more time with them because they are higher growth? Deeper analysis showed that investing more time and energy into partnering with some of these lower growth accounts could improve them. As a result, we adjusted our sales coverage models to enable more face time with these previously underserved customers.

3. Relationship investments correlate with customer satisfaction. It was important that the new sales model also drives happier customers and partners. Therefore, our next step was to look for patterns associated with customer satisfaction. We found that customer satisfaction is directly correlated with customer collaboration time (email and meetings) across all Microsoft roles and teams engaging with customers, including product engineering and marketing teams.

In the enterprise segment specifically, satisfied customers are the ones we spend the most time with and the least satisfied are the ones we barely keep in touch with. This and other findings encouraged our sales leaders to revamp internal business processes such as business reviews and forecasting meetings to be more efficient. We also reduced the number of enterprise accounts per seller to allow for more customer interaction. This enabled our sales teams to spend more time building and maintaining relationships across their entire account portfolios. We also observed behavioral differences in different countries — some use email more frequently than others, for example U.S. and Canada sellers directly schedule meetings with customers through Outlook, while in Japan customer meetings are more formal and scheduled via executive assistants. This confirmed our understanding of various cultural norms and collaboration patterns which was an important input to our analysis.

4. Customer satisfaction (and churn) can be predicted. As part of our ongoing organizational efforts to better understand our customers, one of our teams built a machine learning model that uses more than 100 features to predict customer satisfaction. We worked closely with this team to add the behavioral data about collaboration we gathered into the model. After our analysis, we discovered that collaboration became the top feature in predicting customer satisfaction, and helped increase the accuracy of the model from 78% to 93%.

Being able to predict satisfaction of each of our customers at any given time with this level of accuracy was a groundbreaking discovery for us. Further, having a deeper understanding of how our team’s interactions influence customer satisfaction by segment has huge upsides: it enables us to intervene in time to change high-risk customers into low-risk ones, and to offer new opportunities to highly satisfied customers. Our ability to predict customer satisfaction with this level of accuracy will help us keep an ongoing pulse on our transformation and intervene in a timely manner to ensure customer satisfaction at all times.

What’s next. Our goal is to arm each seller with these four insights on an ongoing basis, setting them up to be as successful as possible in creating value for our customers. We are currently testing a prototype in which a customized and automated email is sent monthly to each seller to help guide them toward behaviors that drive higher outcomes. Importantly, the data sent to each seller is set up for their eyes only; to protect everyone’s privacy and retain trust in the system, no one else, not even upper management, can see anyone else’s data.

Salespeople are provided the following every month:

Predicted satisfaction scores for their customers Reminders to connect with customers they’ve lost touch with Internal and external network size in comparison with benchmarks in their local areas Recommendations on how to grow their customer networks through LinkedIn Sales Navigator Time spent with each of their customers as compared to addressable market Top internal collaborators and reminders to connect with other sales roles that are also working with their customers

We believe this information will empower our sellers with nudges and recommendations that are simple, actionable, and effective. Early reactions are extremely positive. If we continue do our jobs well, our sellers will be empowered to be as successful as possible, and will get better and increasingly connected to customers over time.

We also learned a few things along the way that were critical in helping us shape the story and vision to drive business impact.

Executive sponsorship is critical, and we couldn’t have gotten our analysis off the ground without it. Their support helped us get the right level of visibility for continuous analysis and digging deeper, which ultimately got us to something more meaningful and actionable. Investment in business analyst, data science, and data engineering talent was essential. It takes a real commitment to unlock and operationalize the most powerful insights, and it takes a lot of people to do it. We believe bringing the right people onboard is worth it. Freeing data from silos and cross-team collaboration was key to our success. As for any analytics project, we needed to source data from multiple sources across the company to correlate behaviors with sales outcomes. Without this, our efforts would be fruitless.

We’ve invested a lot of time and resources in building out our behavioral data capabilities, and they’re already generating tremendous value. However, we believe we are still in the very early phases of uncovering what’s possible. We have a long way to go, but so far, our transformation is working. Pushing the envelope on behavioral analytics has been a key ingredient to our success, and hopefully our insights can help your salespeople, too.  

Alexander Graham Bell once noted that “the inventor … looks upon the world and is not contented with things as they are.” I could say the same of most business leaders I’ve met. With rare exception, they’re not satisfied with the status quo and are driven to innovate and change.

And yet that drive for innovation fails to reach most people on their team — at least not in a way that employees can act on. 58% of knowledge workers say they’re so swamped with tasks that they don’t have time to think beyond their daily to-do list, according to Workfront’s State of Work report. And the average knowledge worker says they spend just 40% of their time doing the job they were hired to do.

This isn’t a new issue, either. We’ve been surveying workers for five years, and the response remains consistent: workers are so busy with distractions that they don’t have time to focus on their primary job, much less invent the future.

Why do we let this happen? If I were the CFO of a manufacturing company and was asked by the board for my manufacturing capacity utilization and I said I didn’t know or that it was only 40%, I’d probably get released to ‘pursue other opportunities.’ And yet many executives who employ knowledge workers accept that there’s no choice but to fly blind and keep putting their people in a work environment that results in them devoting less than half their time to their real work.

That’s crazy. Digital technology should be freeing us up to be more innovative and productive. Instead our technology leads to over communication, a glut of distractions, and the tyranny of the urgent. At the same time, the complexity of modern business causes today’s leaders to struggle to get insight into what’s happening across their company.

What we’re talking about here is a digital work crisis. We’re over-instrumented, yet underserved. We’ve become so real-time we don’t have real time.

Some people look at this digital work crisis and say we will solve it by embracing incremental change and stretching existing platforms to do more than they were made for. So far, this approach has only failed. You can see this in research that found companies spending $1.3T on digital transformation, 70% of which will not achieve their stated objectives. Fortune 500 companies that stuck to antiquated approaches are not just suffering — they are vanishing.

A new generation of leaders know that confronting the digital work crisis isn’t just about surviving. It’s about learning to thrive by embracing a new way to work — an operating model that combines cultural changes and digital technologies in an integrated, well-planned approach to improve revenue, customer experience, and cost.

When it comes to cultural changes, this new model of work requires less hierarchy and more empathy. As I write in Done Right: How Tomorrow’s Top Leaders Get Work Done, the more a leader trusts their team to solve problems, the more their employees will own solutions and invest in securing successful outcomes. This approach gives people freedom to make mistakes and believe that they come to work to do their best. It’s about empowering people to speak their minds and then really listening to the wisdom in the room. In an era as complicated as today, no single leader can possibly have all the answers.

For instance, at Workfront we use a collaborative approach to identify our key initiatives. One way we do this is by gathering teams together and handing each person a stack of sticky notes. Then we set a timer for two minutes and ask everyone to write down one idea per sticky note that might help us accomplish our primary goal. At that point, each person sticks their notes to the wall in random order. We then divide into two teams and invite each team to take half the sticky notes off the wall and group them into four to six clusters or themes.

Every time I’ve done this I’ve found that one or more of the clusters are very similar across the two teams. These clusters become our key initiatives for accomplishing our primary goal. Since these key initiatives arise from the wisdom in the room, they come with team buy-in from the outset, making our chances of innovation and success far more likely.

This new model of work is also built on a system of record that tracks all activity across an organization, provides accurate reporting on what’s happening at each level, and integrates with the myriad of software tools used in an enterprise. Just as businesses use a financial system of record such as SAP, a customer system of record such as Salesforce, and an HR system of record such as Workday, they also use an operational system of record to conquer their digital work crisis. This way they bust down work silos, spend less time in useless status meetings, and free up time to innovate.

No leader today would say they want people to work more and accomplish less. But that’s exactly what’s happening with knowledge work around the globe. Unless today’s leaders figure out a way to successfully navigate their digital work crisis, they’ll be stuck with a workforce that doesn’t have time to innovate. And that’s a shame, because work matters. With an operating model that includes cultural changes and an operational system of record, modern leaders can overcome the digital work crisis and release a team that is able to do their best work.

To learn more click here.



Anthony Lee/Getty Images

As a leader, much of what you do is relatively forgettable. We don’t mean to insult, but your routine actions on routine days are experienced by your direct reports as, well, routine.

But for non-routine days — the days when you are under the gun, feeling the heat, or pushed to your limits — how you respond under the pressure makes an indelible impression on the people around you. Our latest research shows that your temperament in these crucial moments has a tremendous impact on your team’s performance.

When the hammer comes down, are you calm, collected, candid, curious, direct, and willing to listen? That would be ideal, wouldn’t it? Or would your direct reports describe you as upset, angry, closed-minded, rejecting, or even devious?

We asked more than 1,300 people in an online survey to describe their leader’s style under stress and the impact of that behavior on their work. We found that a large majority of managers and leaders buckle under pressure. Specifically, respondents reported that, when under pressure:

53% of leaders are more closed-minded and controlling than open and curious. 45% are more upset and emotional than calm and in control. 45% ignore or reject rather than listen or seek to understand. 43% are more angry and heated than cool and collected. 37% avoid or sidestep rather than be direct and unambiguous. 30% are more devious and deceitful than candid and honest.

One executive we worked with was adamant and deliberate about creating a fun and supportive atmosphere where his team felt safe to try new things. He saw his role as supporting people and developing talent. And yet, to his surprise, most of his team labelled him a “jerk.” As we described a time when his team found him to be extra “jerky,” he said, “I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking I’m some sort of hypocrite. But I’m not. Ninety-five percent of the time, I’m the fun, supportive guy I’ve described. It’s only five percent of the time when I lose my temper or forget what I should be doing and I say stupid things like that. Those statements are not an accurate reflection of who I am.”

And while his team agreed he was great 95 percent of time, this non-routine behavior left a lasting impression. His team felt it was those few moments — the five percent of moments when stakes were high, and the heat was on — that revealed the truth about who he really is.

And there’s more to the story. The research found that when leaders buckle under pressure, it doesn’t just hurt their influence, it also hurts their teams. Respondents said that when their leader clams up or blows up under pressure, their team members have lower morale; are more likely to miss deadlines, budgets, and quality standards; and act in ways that drive customers away.

Our research reinforced this. One out of three leaders were seen by their direct reports as someone who can’t talk or engage in dialogue when the stakes grow high. And when leaders fail to practice effective dialogue under stress, their team members are more likely to consider leaving their job than teams managed by someone who can stay in dialogue when stressed. Team members are also more likely to shut down and stop participating, less likely to go above and beyond in their responsibilities, more likely to be frustrated and angry, and more likely to complain.

A leader’s brash communication style also has a domino effect on team morale and psyche. One employee of a large multinational company told us that his direct leaders were terrible in high-stakes conversations, and the more he tried to speak up and engage, the more verbally violent his leaders became. He and his front-line colleagues grew increasingly silent. It was so bad that people adopted the attitude: “They pay me just enough not to leave, and I work just hard enough for them not to fire me.” They also adopted the saying, “$1000/week for hide and seek.” It wasn’t that they were just a little disengaged; they deliberately avoided management, contributed as little as they could get away with, and picked up their check at the end of each week.

Our research reinforced this. One out of three leaders were seen by their direct reports as someone who can’t talk or engage in dialogue when the stakes grow high. And when leaders fail to practice effective dialogue under stress, their team members are more likely to consider leaving their job than teams managed by someone who can stay in dialogue when stressed. Team members are also more likely to shut down and stop participating, less likely to go above and beyond in their responsibilities, more likely to be frustrated and angry, and more likely to complain.

You and Your Team Series Communication
How to Work with a Bad Listener
Rebecca Knight 8 Ways to Get a Difficult Conversation Back on Track
Monique Valcour Stop Trying to Sound Smart When You’re Writing
Liane Davey

Let’s walk through an example to see how a few simple skills can help a leader be at their best even when the pressure is on. Imagine you’ve just come from a meeting with a customer, your boss, and your boss’s boss – and it didn’t go well. You thought your company’s agreement with the customer stipulated a 15-day order delivery. But that wasn’t what the contract actually specified. The timeframe was 10 days so you and your team have been missing the mark every time. Your boss and her boss were embarrassed and angry and as they left the meeting, put the onus on you to fix the situation ASAP. Now, you have to go back to your team, including the contract officer who originally misunderstood the contract, and get them to put in the evening and weekend work it will require to meet this week’s deadlines.

Determine what you really want. You’re humiliated and angry and you blame your contracting officer for the mistake. But before you allow your emotions to take over, stop and ask yourself, “What is it I really want long term, for myself, for the contracting officer, and for the team?” The answer to this question becomes your North Star, the purpose that guides your actions. In the moment, you might feel like proving to the contracting officer that you’re angry, but is that productive over the long term? Instead, focus on a positive destination like “Showing my best self” or “Making sure the team understands my appreciation for the sacrifice I’m going to ask them to make,” for example. Challenge your story. It would be easy to make the contracting officer the villain. Not only does it sound plausible, but it would also make you blameless — a victim, even. You would feel justified in your anger. However, the best leaders challenge their stories. So you could ask, “Why might a rational, reasonable, and decent person make the mistake that she made?” and “What role did I have in allowing her mistake to go unnoticed and uncorrected?” These questions move us from angry judge to curious problem solver, and make us far more effective as leaders. Start with facts. When we’re angry, we lead with our emotions, instead of with the facts. Skilled leaders tamp down the temptation to level accusations, and gather the facts. Specifically, focus on what you expected: the commitments, standards, policies, or targets that were missed. Then, add what you observed: the specific actions with dates, times, places, and circumstances as necessary. Don’t add your conclusions, opinions, or judgments. Because facts are neutral and verifiable, they become the common ground for problem solving. Create safety. When you’re under pressure with your job or reputation on the line, how do you light a fire under your team without showing them your anger? Can you get your team to put in the overtime you’ll need from them without threatening them? The short answer is yes. Our study showed that teams work harder and more effectively if a boss doesn’t lose their temper with them. So you don’t have to threaten. Share your positive intent by saying something like, “This is not about blaming, it’s about fixing. I want us to focus on how we can solve our immediate problem. Then we can circle back to find ways to prevent it from happening again.” By framing your intent, you get your team focused on what they need to do, and not on how they are being mistreated.

When the heat turns up at work, most of us aren’t at our best. If you’ve lost your temper in the past, be easy on yourself. You may do it again. But don’t be discouraged – or complacent. Ask yourself, “When it matters most, who am I?” While it isn’t easy to step up to your best self under pressure, it is incredibly important. These are defining moments for you and for your team.

Steve Bronstein/Getty Images

After the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, many companies had to urgently decide whether to attend Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative, a global business conference scheduled to take place just days after news of Khashoggi’s killing broke.

Questions like this involving issues like politics, human rights, or equality often present themselves sooner or later for any business operating in global markets. “I’ve had at least five instances where decisions like that had to be made,” the longtime CEO of Tupperware, Rick Goings, told me. The examples sound familiar: South Africa during Apartheid, China after the Tiananmen protests, Venezuela since the Chavez era, Egypt during and after the Arab Spring, and parts of Mexico today.

Over the course of the last few decades, multinationals have entered and left “frontier markets” like Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, Vietnam, Myanmar, and others. How did they, and how can they, make decisions about entering or leaving these markets, knowing it is never certain when a political, financial, or diplomatic crisis will happen?

Keep a long term focus 

A decision based on short-term financial or legal motives alone is destined to end in problems. It doesn’t matter whether that short-term motive is to make profits or to avoid losses, to follow sanctions or to evade them.

First, consider short-term profits and sanctions, and the cautionary tale of French bank BNP Paribas. According to Reuters reporting, until a few years ago the bank operated in Sudan, a country whose government was under U.S. sanctions for its “continued support for international terrorism, ongoing efforts to destabilize neighboring governments, and human rights violations – in particular with respect to the conflict in Darfur.” To do business in such an environment, as in many other places struck by unrest and turmoil, could still be profitable. According to the Manhattan District Attorney, who later investigated the bank’s practices there for violating U.S. sanctions, that was also the reason why BNP Paribas continued operating in the East African nation: it made financial sense. The compass that was guiding the bank was a financial one.

But that focus on short-term profit was short-sighted – even on purely financial terms. In the case of dealing with Sudanese authorities, BNP Paribas never really made a clear-cut choice when sanctions hit. It continued to operate in the country, even as international pressure on the Sudanese government mounted. It cost the bank dearly: in 2014, the investigating U.S. attorney slapped the bank with a record fine of nearly $9 billion, partially for its dealings in Sudan, partially for its activities in other countries facing U.S. sanctions, like Iran. Its short-term motives led to deep losses.

Leaving a country in order to prevent short-term financial losses isn’t a panacea either. The companies that know this best are those who have been around for a long time, like 152-year-old Nestle. “Financial criteria are very important,” Nestle Chairman Paul Bulcke told me, “but it doesn’t mean financial results today.” The company was and remains present in troubled markets like Cuba, Myanmar, Syria, and Venezuela. In the latter it has “no financial reasons” to be present, Bulcke said. “But Venezuela has been important to us and will one day make a comeback. People continue to eat. Our allegiance is to them. They remember the companies that left, and those that stayed. If you add the perspective of time, it’s not that dumb to stay. It’s an investment.”

Finally, consider the case of a company that adheres strictly to sanctions, but immediately re-enters a country when those sanctions end. The problem with this short-term legalistic approach is that sanctions come and go, but the underlying problems may remain. Cuba, Libya, Iran, and Myanmar in recent times saw sanctions come and go (and in some cases, come back again). A company can’t simply treat a sanction regime as a traffic light. If sanctions are dropped for diplomatic or geopolitical reasons but the beliefs or values of a country’s leaders haven’t changed, issues may surface again. A company’s presence may then backfire. More on that below.

Which decision factors provide a better “true north,” then? Here are a few tried and tested methods, that worked for companies in the past.

First, Do No Harm 

For business executives with a medical background, the Latin maxim “Primum non nocere” will be a well-known and non-negotiable rule. It can be of great help in deciding whether to enter or leave a country facing difficulties as well. For a consumer goods company, it might be easier to see in the Sudan example above why staying in the country despite selective sanctions on the government could be the right decision. All else being equal, a multinational producing milk, bread, or cereals might want to stay in business in a country with a corrupt or authoritarian regime to ensure the population continues having access to food. The alternative — leaving and therefore not supplying those things — may cause more harm to the population.

One country where this equation is particularly relevant today is Venezuela. The country, ever tighter in the grip of a government that erodes human rights guarantees and arbitrarily arrests opponents, has nationalized many companies, and seen many more leave. But consumer goods companies like Polar, Nestle, and Johnson & Johnson so far clung to their presence there, even if they increasingly must cut back production. “We have a connection with the consumers, not the government” Nestle Chairman Bulcke told us. “As long as we can serve them, we do that.” The same is true for Tupperware, CEO Rick Goings said: “If you see how much weight people lost on average, my first concern is: how do we not abandon them? We had to come up with lower priced product, and source locally, but we never left them.” That could be a good “true north” argument for others, too.

Who Benefits?

A second Latin phrase that can offer respite to business executives face with an ambiguous situation is “Cui Bono,” or “Who stands to gain?” In judicial matters, this question is considered to help determine who may have committed a crime. Business leaders providing services that benefit both a suffering population and a profiteering government could ask themselves this question, too. Weighing the interests of both their clients and the government, who stands to gain from us being here, and who stands to lose? If a Swiss engineering company is contracted in a junta-led Myanmar to advise on building a dam that provides electricity to hundreds of thousands of families, should it accept, because it benefits the population? Or should it decline, because the dam benefits the military junta? In this case, the company in question decided to move forward.

For U.S. companies in Myanmar, the dilemma didn’t pose itself for a long time, as there had long been sanctions on the Burmese government. But when opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi came to power, the sanctions were gradually lifted, and companies could enter the “final frontier”. In 2013, executives from large tech companies, including Google, Cisco, Microsoft and Intel hopped on a trip organized by USAID. That same year, my own organization, the World Economic Forum, organized a major international meeting in Nay Pyi Taw, a city north of Yangon. But even if the largest government and international organizations greenlight a country, it’s important to make your own assessment about who benefits from your entry. Those that did not got a wake-up call this year. Suu Kyi, a heroine of human rights just years before, herself came under fire for the military and government intervention in the Rakhine state. One of the companies that came under scrutiny because of the events was Facebook. Members of the military were believed to have used to platform to spread hatred under the population. The claim is that they benefited from Facebook’s presence, and used it as a weapon against the Rohingya population.

Why Are You There?

A third reflection companies could make in assessing difficult markets, is what their “raison d’etre” is. For a profit-seeking company, profitability should at least be a theoretical possibility when they open a new foreign subsidiary. In a country whose currency in a given year is in free fall, like Argentina’s and Turkey’s this year, it may be non-sensical for a company that is not yet active there to make a large dollar-denominated investment to start operations. Similarly, while consumer goods companies may have a reason to stay in crisis-ridden countries like Venezuela, service firms may no longer see the point of being there. “We left Venezuela. There was no business there for us, and no future,” Patrick De Maeseneire said. He is the CEO of Jacobs Holding, a Swiss long-term investment firm, but talked about Adecco, the largest HR services firm in the world, which he previously led. “Our clients had left, and our leadership – mostly expats – went to Colombia.”

The raison d’etre can also differ per industry. For a services firm, De Maeseneire said, the calculation is different than for a manufacturer: services firms have fewer fixed assets to look after, and their clients often are fellow multinationals. They themselves leave when a crisis strikes. Conversely, companies with long term assets, like factories or buildings, may have an even stronger incentive to stay in troubled markets, but equally should think twice before entering a market.

But when circumstances change and the reason to operate returns, a company should also not hesitate too long to enter. “The first mover has an enormous advantage in growth markets,” De Maeseneire said. “You can capture market share and put up a barrier to entry for others.” When he was CEO of Barry-Callebaut, the world’s largest chocolate producer, he often was among the first to build a factory in Russia, China, and certain countries in Latin America and Africa, like Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, and Ghana. With the network of private schools he currently looks after for Jacobs Holding, he equally eyes expansion in emerging markets. “You have to dare to invest,” he said. “We’re in it for the long run. You have to learn to deal with volatility. Business survives politics, fortunately.”

What Are Your Values?

Finally, consider your own and your company’s values, and the priorities you put on each of them. That can be helpful in case a snap decision needs to be made about new events that need responding or emerging crises. Nestle got in such an emergency situation when its plant producing Maggi Bouillon in Syria was bombed and burned down in 2013. As a consequence, the company was forced to shut down its operations in the country. “If we cannot guarantee the safety of our employees, or the quality of our products, we cannot continue to function,” Bulcke told us. In other words, safety and quality is a red line for Nestle. He applied the rule in Congo as well, where he was forced to shut down a factory that he had himself opened many years earlier. But even when the company ceases operations it tries not to cut ties with a country all together. Nestle keeps some 100 people on the payroll in Syria, for example. “Our pain limit is high, and I’m proud of that” Bulcke said, referring to the company’s preparedness to accept short-term financial losses. “We respect ourselves, the other, and the future. Those are our values.”

Others go even a step further. As an executive at Avon in the South Pacific, and later as CEO of Tupperware, Rick Goings decided to remain active in countries that were seen in the West as flaunting human rights. To reconcile this ambiguity, Goings was both principled and pragmatic. In Apartheid South Africa, Tupperware decided to apply the Sullivan Principles, a set of corporate social responsibility rules aimed at putting pressure on the government to end Apartheid, while allowing the company to not “exit and abandon”. “The majority of our salesforce and workforce was black. If we left the country in protest, we took the food off their table, he said” In China, he followed a more pragmatic logic. “I lobbied Congress for Chinese membership of the World Trade Organization,” he said. “It later earned me the Marco Polo Award in Beijing, a rare honor for a foreigner. But because of my lobbying, I was able to protest [the government’s actions on democracy] directly rather than having to abandon.”

Ultimately, each board, and each executive team will need to make its own set of principles and rules to decide whether and when to enter or leave turbulent markets. But the personal compass of decision makers matters. “We can’t live in Fantasyland. Profits matter,” Goings said, summarizing his views. “But you need to be able to look back, put your head on the pillow, and say: wow, this is a good thing we do.”

TheCrimsonMonkey/Getty Images

Bayer’s mission is “Science for a Better Life.” We want to enable discoveries to promote health and secure food supply. To achieve that goal, however, we must innovate not only in terms of science and R&D, but also in how we run our business. This means shifting the way we work so we’re able to match the pace of change happening in the wider world.  With more than 100,000 employees and 150 years of history, there is only so much we can learn from the usual Silicon Valley exemplars. “We cannot be like Google, but neither do we want to be,” says Kemal Malik, the board member responsible for innovation, “We need to plot our own path.”

Our solution – one transferable to other organizations pursuing innovation – has been to create an agile network of volunteer ambassadors and coaches throughout the company who have taken collective responsibility for making innovation happen and steering our organizational culture in the right direction.

The innovation agenda

The origins of our agile network can be traced back to an online idea forum called WeSolve that we launched in 2014 as a way of challenging Bayer employees to contribute solutions to specific technical or commercial problems. To help its implementation we appointed 40 WeSolve coaches: people from different offices around the world who were excited by the initiative and prepared to devote some discretionary time to it. Within 12 months, WeSolve had attracted 1,650 contributors and 23,000 Bayer employees had visited the site.

Its success confirmed the power of an informal network for shifting behaviors in our large company. So, in August 2015 we secured board approval to create an innovation committee of 14 top executives and a full-time innovation strategy team of five people, to orchestrate the portfolio of specific initiatives that would create a new way of innovating throughout the company. The first priority was to inspire people with stories of successful internal innovators at Bayer.  We then offered people the opportunity to learn new innovation methodologies and apply them to real business challenges. A third priority was to build more platforms like WeSolve, to help people collaborate and exchange information across the organization. Most importantly, cutting across all these initiatives, we created the network of senior and mid-level managers to connect and inspire people to get engaged in  innovation.

Building an agile network

In 2016, country and function heads were asked to identify innovation ambassadors for each of the markets we’re in: 80 people senior enough to connect innovation to strategy and make things happen. They then helped us identify innovation coaches who would be responsible for bringing ideas to life in their respective business units. More than 600 were selected. Inspired by John Kotter’s dual-operating structure model, we asked all of these employees to maintain their “day jobs” within the established hierarchy, while also using 5-10% of their time to  work on fast-cycle, informal innovation projects  across  silos.

We gave them a three-day on-boarding program – a broad overview of the agenda plus deep insight into one technique (Systematic Inventive Thinking) they could immediately use to support their colleagues. We also provided webinars and conference calls to explain our other offerings and to share learning. What do the innovation coaches actually do? One popular activity is the fast session – a short, structured workshop to address a specific problem.  A manager might be struggling with an overly complex process or a new digital competitor. The coach would quickly assemble a team of four to six people and, using tools from their training, create a simple workshop to address the problem.  In 2018, we counted more than 50,000 fast sessions across the company.  We put on a further advanced training course for highly active coaches (who have run at least ten fast sessions), and 49 have so far done gone to this extra level.

Innovation ambassadors, meanwhile, oversee the coaches, ensure that the initiatives in their respective countries are aligned with the priorities of Bayer’s senior leaders, and serve as cheerleaders for collaborative innovation.

Extending the network

By creating this volunteer network, we were able to make dramatic progress in developing other aspects of our innovation agenda.

For example, in 2017 we created the CATALYST fund, a combination of professional support (using Lean Startup principles) and money to explore larger business opportunities across the company.   By asking the innovation ambassadors, we were able to identify 120 specific challenges within two weeks. We put €50,000 behind 28 of them and by early 2018 we had three pilots: a new business model in animal healthcare, a digital solution for clinical operations, and a gamified education app.  We have also built on and reinforced the agile network through other activities, for example by getting them to run local innovation events, involving them in our open innovation funding platform, and our co-working Live Hubs in Boston, Berlin and Singapore.

The key point is the network has now reached a critical mass, making our job at the center much easier.  We have a waiting list of about 200 people who want to become innovation coaches. This allows us to be selective about who takes on the role. We get them involved informally at first and talk to their line managers to make sure they can add this work to their existing responsibilities.

We now have around 80 ambassadors and 700 coaches across 70 countries, and more than 80% are actively engaged, even though their innovation work is in goes beyond their official job. They in turn have mobilized others:  more than 5,000 people have taken part in innovation events, 5,000 have taken part in webinars and innovation training events, and more than 38,000 people are using Youniverse, the online hub for all our innovation activities.

Three key insights

Our experience in changing the way we work to hasten innovation has given us three key insights:

Innovation is a social activity, and connectivity is an asset. The image of the lone inventor is alluring, but almost always wrong.  Innovation actually happens in teams, in cross-functional workshops, and through the involvement of many.  It is also a highly contagious.  After we introduced the fast session concept, there were some countries where it took off, with fast sessions every week, and everyone wanting to get involved.   This happened not because of a central directive, but because of the energy and skills of a few key individuals.

The dual-speed model needs a new mindset.  The notion that people should spend 5- 15% off their time working on fast-cycle projects, while the rest of their work is conducted at a slower clock-speed, is attractive but requires a lot of adjustment. Fast-cycle work is about experimentation, tolerance of ambiguity, and openness to failure, and these qualities do not come naturally to those who have spent their entire working lives at Bayer.  This isn’t a challenge we have completely resolved. We are still working on defining the right metrics, putting the right leaders in place, and building the necessary level of understanding across the company.

Volunteers need to be refreshed and reinforced.  Now that we’ve built the agile network and created a portfolio of activities to support them, we move on to the next,  arguably  harder, step of institutionalizing the new behaviors across the company. For this to happen, we need to actively replenish our agile network. We’re heartened by the rising number of people signing up to get involved, but we’ll need to keep expanding the team to maintain its impact over time.

MIT Sloan Management Review

Brand managers are under intense pressure to personalize their marketing efforts. McKinsey calls data activation and personalization the heartbeat of modern marketing. Netflix is becoming a global giant by using machine learning to power personalization for customers.

But there’s a big danger to personalization as well. When done right, it can give managers unprecedented access to buyers at the right places and times. But done wrong, it can do long-term damage to any business. It can even destroy a brand.

Through the work of my company, Triggers, in boosting revenue for Fortune 100 companies, we’ve found leading brands struggling to turn personalization efforts into actual sales. In fact, the more they focus on hypersegmentation — breaking down their prospective buyers into smaller and smaller categories — the more they lose market share.

Turning this around requires a perspective shift: Brands must focus on what makes their customers alike — not on what makes them different.

Two Kinds of Personalization

To understand the danger, it’s important to start off with a discussion about what personalization in marketing is. While it can be implemented in myriad ways, personalization generally refers to a strategy for leveraging data analysis and tools “to deliver individualized messages and product offerings to current or prospective customers.” A Wharton study put it this way: “Personalization is when the firm decides, usually based on previously collected customer data, what marketing mix is suitable for the individual.”

What exactly do those messages — or that “mix” — consist of? One type of personalization is purely tactical. In this way, personalization can be a great tool. With the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning, brands can discover who, when, where, and how to reach buyers and prospective buyers.

Does John like to do his shopping online immediately after finishing a jog? Will a 10% discount offer today make Mary more likely to buy the shoes she searched for yesterday? Will sending Margaret a new chicken recipe make her more likely to purchase barbecue sauce? By all means, use this data to reach out to prospects at the perfect times on the right platforms.

But don’t try to personalize what your brand stands for — or why someone should buy it. For example, don’t tell Mary that your new line of footwear was designed to go along with dress clothes at corporate events, don’t tell John that the line is best for jogging, and don’t tell Margaret that it’s designed to be worn like slippers around the house.

The Universality of Brands

No matter who your customers are and where they fall into any demographic category, their motivations for choosing your product over that of your competitors are almost always the same. This is what we’ve discovered through more than 20 years of exploring the subconscious drivers of customers’ purchase decisions.

According to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of purchasing decisions take place in the subconscious mind. At Triggers, we’ve dug into what’s inside the subconscious of buyers and competitive buyers of hundreds of brands. We discovered that every brand has a network of associations and memories. And these brand networks are remarkably similar among those who buy the product — regardless of age, background, or experience.

Take the office productivity applications market, for example. Our analysis found that IT buyers who use Microsoft Office 365 have a host of positive associations with the brand. Users tend to describe the product line with descriptors like robust, professional, proven, effective, corporate, and good for big companies. There were few, if any, negative associations with the product line — and interestingly, these webs of associations were virtually identical from one Office 365 user to the next.

Microsoft Office users also had consistent takes on Google’s competitive offering, G Suite. They associate it with creativity and document sharing, but they also consider it unproven, young, only good for small companies, and, perhaps most damaging of all, not enterprise ready. The common positive understanding of Microsoft and similar negative perceptions of its competition are what make Microsoft a strong brand.

Since Microsoft users have similar mental barriers about G Suite, there’s no reason for Google to send them different messages. The key to driving growth is to send them content that overcomes these barriers. Getting the same message out there will accelerate the shift in perception that Google needs to achieve.

When our clients have followed this prescription, they’ve grown and swiped market share from large, dominant leaders in their categories.

Resisting Technology

As artificial intelligence and automation tools are becoming more commonplace for marketers, the lure of using these for personalization can be powerful. The idea of offering every individual customer unique messaging can entice brand managers everywhere. But simply having the capability to personalize messages doesn’t mean they should be personalized.

Brands build their identity and grow faster with a cohesive message that delivers the same positive associations with the brand to as many consumers as possible across different platforms. It really all goes back to the age-old idea of trying to be all things to all people — once a brand starts to do this, it falls into a trap that experts warn about. Instead of diluting your brand identity through an endless pursuit of personalization, take time to understand your customers and what they value — as these data points often turn out to be priceless.

Send and Deliver: Constant Contact Shares How to Get the Most Out of Your Email Marketing

While there are a wide range of marketing channels businesses can use to connect with current, and potential, customers, few are as advantageous as email. Whether it is to try and increase sales, or simply boost your brand image, email marketing provides businesses of all sizes with an easy outlet for reaching their target audience. 

Part of the popularity of email marketing is that nearly everyone now has at least one email account that they check regularly. Research shows that 99 percent of consumers check their email on a daily basis, with the average user checking it across devices and locations at least 20 times per day. 

Editor's note: Looking for an email marketing solution? Fill out the below questionnaire to be connected with vendors that can help.


In addition, the return on investment is significantly higher than many other marketing tools. Data shows that email marketing has a $40 return on investment, compared to just $22.24 for SEO, $19.72 for internet display ads, and $2 for banner ads. 

As the general manager for email marketing software provider Constant Contact, Jonathan Kateman has seen the benefits that come from targeting customers via email. In his current role at Constant Contact, Kateman is responsible for the company's business strategy and its advancement and execution. 

We recently had the chance to speak with Kateman about email marketing and how businesses can use it to their advantage. In addition, we were able to ask him some rapid-fire questions about technology, his career and advice he has received over the years. [Interested in email marketing services? Check out our best picks.] 

Q. If you are just getting started with email marketing, where should you begin? 

A. If you're serious about email marketing, you should work with an email marketing service provider. It's the only way a small business can leverage email marketing automation and segmentation to effectively deliver messages to large groups of contacts. 

Businesses also benefit from the professionally designed email templates, email list growth tools and tracking features that help determine if the email campaigns are having the desired effect. 

Q. What are some the best ways to build up your email marketing list? 

A. Most businesses have some existing contacts to start an email list. From customers that you already have a relationship with, to business contacts you email with on a regular basis, to supportive family and friends. If you are starting from scratch, you can start by adding an online sign-up form to your website and encourage your social media followers and loyal customers to sign-up or use a sign-up form on your Facebook business page. 

Facebook Lead Ads are a great way to find new customers by targeting people who are likely to want to know more about your business. Constant Contact integrates with Facebook Lead Ads so users can automatically import new leads to their email lists and send an automated welcome email. It's an easy, targeted and affordable way to grow your list.   

Of course, once you grow your list you need to segment it so you can send the most relevant information to your contacts. 

Q. How do you know if your campaign is successful? 

A. Email marketing doesn't end with a send. You will want to track your open rate, click-through rate, and unsubscribe rates, working to improve them over time. If you want to see real results from your email marketing, you need a strong understanding of how each email performs so you can make improvements and learn more about your customers and subscribers. 

Spending a few minutes in your email reports will tell you valuable information like who opened your email, who clicked on specific links, and what information was the most interesting to your readers. 

Q. How often do you recommend sending emails to your subscribers? 

A. There's no hard and fast rule. It's really a matter of looking at your metrics so you can learn from what you've already done. Looking at the past performance of your emails will help you determine what's working and can also shine a light on any problem areas that exist. The next step is to put a schedule together that will help you reach your business goals. 

With an email marketing platform, you often get autoresponder functionality, making it easy to set up an email series for similar customers, like contacts in the same area or customers who attended an event, and even segment contacts based on the content they click to create more targeted lists and send more relevant emails. 

It's important to have a scheduled mailing that readers can depend on. For most businesses, this will be an email newsletter with updates and relevant news from your organization. But you'll probably need to reach out to your audience with more timely messages to help you reach your goals. 

For example, a restaurant that wants to fill tables each week may need to communicate on a weekly basis to share information about specials and let customers know about any special events. And a marketing consultant who wants to increase traffic to their website may have a weekly update, where they link people back to their company blog. Just be sure, as you experiment with different sending frequencies, to track your results by monitoring your email reports. 

Q. What is email automation and how does it benefit businesses? 

A. Email automation is a game-changer for small businesses, freeing up time typically spent on marketing to focus on other areas of their business. From automatically sending welcome emails to new email subscribers, to annual birthday and anniversary emails, to a continuous series of emails to contacts, automation helps a business deliver relevant information to the right audience at the right time. With Constant Contact, you can even schedule emails to automatically resend to non-openers using a new subject line. 

Q. What are the design elements all email marketing messages should contain? 

A. Branding is critical. A business needs to create a consistent look and feel throughout every customer interaction across a variety of platforms, from in-store to online. This can be a challenge for small businesses, but Constant Contact makes it an easy one-step process with branded templates. A user just has to enter the URL for their website or Facebook page, and our template builder pulls the logo, brand colors, and social media links into a couple of different template options to choose from. Of course, with half of email opens happening on a mobile device, it's also critical that your email templates are mobile-responsive. 

Q. Should small businesses have a different email marketing strategy than those of large enterprise organizations? 

A. An email marketing strategy should be driven by business goals, typically increasing revenue, regardless of the size of a company. And the fact is, affordable and intuitive automation and segmentation tools are leveling the playing field, so a small business budget can support a successful large-scale email marketing strategy. Email marketing is the great equalizer. 

Rapid Fire 

Q. What piece of technology could you not live without?

A. My Bose speaker. I have a rather loud voice, so I rely on the Bose speaker that I keep outside my office to ensure my conversations stay private. Plus, I get to listen to Bruce Springsteen and the Kinks in between meetings. 

Q. What is the best piece of career advice you have ever been given? 

A. Hire right. Great people are the most valuable asset a business can have. Smart and capable individuals who are passionate and motivated to solve a problem can accomplish anything. 

Q. What's the best book or blog you've read this year?

A. I may be partial but the best blog I've read is Constant Contact's Hints and Tips. It's an amazing resource for small businesses seeking marketing advice. 

Q. What's the biggest risk you've taken professionally? Did it pay off?

A. Earlier in my career, in a move that was very out of character for an individual focused on driving innovation, I arrived at a company that was having issues with its existing product set. I shifted significant focus from new product development to address customer problems that were emerging with the existing product line. As is often the case, focusing on our customers and their needs paid off. We resolved the product issues more quickly than expected with the focus put against it, and when an economic downturn followed, we grew our market share by 2 to 3 times due to the demand for our quality offerings.  

Q. As a leader, what's the biggest challenge you face?

A. As a general manager of a great business with many capable and innovative individuals, making sure we keep the organization aligned and focused on the needs of SMBs is the great challenge and opportunity we face. Success and growth can often lead to businesses becoming removed from the customers they are trying to serve. We prioritize making sure we remain closely connected with our customers and understand the challenges they are facing.  

3 Tips to Create and Market your Podcast

So you’ve decided to start a podcast. Like any production, it takes time, money and a lot of planning and persistence to pull off. Luckily, podcasts are on the rise today. In a report by Nielsen, 50 percent of all homes in the U.S. are podcast fans. That’s over 60 million homes!

There’s a lot of room to grow a loyal audience and create content that resonates with people all over the world. As audio and video continue to gain popularity, it’s no wonder more people are turning to podcasts to discuss different topics.

If you’re planning on starting a podcast, here’s what you have to do.

1. Plan out the fine details

No one said planning was fun. But it is necessary. Every aspect of your podcast should have a plan that guides and directs your vision as you move forward.

Some things you’ll want to tune out are:

Topics, themes, niches

Target audience

Long-term and short-term goals


How frequently you’ll create and air episodes

What will make you stand out, or a different angle you can use

How many episodes you'll create

The rough duration of each episode

If you’ll have guest speakers

The best way to stay on track of your podcasting schedule is to create a content, or editorial, calendar. Your brain won’t be able to remember every minute detail of your new adventure, so it’d do you good to write it down where you can see it every single day. Hang up a huge calendar on the wall, write down every single important thing you have to do that month and repeat for the following months.

As your podcast gains traction, keep up with the results. Things like the number of visitors, downloads, shares and engagement are all equally important to track so you know how your new business is doing. If you find numbers aren’t increasing, you need to figure out what can be done better.

2. Create and edit

If you’re just starting out, it’ll be tempting to buy the most expensive equipment, rent out the fanciest studio in town and completely splurge on your new endeavor. But if you’d rather be smart about it, you’ll want to start with the most cost-effective options. Once revenue comes in, you can think about upgrading all you want.

At the very least, you’ll need a computer with a built-in microphone, internet connection and a voice. If you’ve budgeted for a standalone microphone that produces better quality sound, look into USB microphones that connect directly to the Internet. Podcast Insights created an entire list of USB mics for podcasters based on affordability and performance. It’s worth looking into all your options so you get the best deal for what you want.

Make sure you’re creating content in a quiet environment with zero background noise. If people can’t understand what you’re saying, there’s no point to the podcast. Your audience can’t rely on anything but your voice, so make sure it’s audible with no static.

Next, you have to edit your audio. Depending on your budget, if you’re just starting out, you may want to use free editing software like Audacity to perfect your podcast.

3. Upload and promote

Next comes your promotion plan. It’s easy to create podcasts. It’s difficult to bring in loyal listeners week after week.

If you have a list of email subscribers, email them with a link to your podcast inviting them to listen along. Tell them why they’d want to, why it would interest them and encourage them to share it if they like it.

Make sure to use keywords when creating titles and subheadings for better SEO and increased traffic. Utilize social media and post links to your content on every platform. If you have guest speakers, tag them in your posts and encourage them to share it to their own socials.

Create a blog post explaining what the podcast is all about, when it’s going to air and what listeners can expect in the future. You can also create a new blog post for every new podcast episode so that your readers can skim a quick summary to see if they’d be interested.

It’s essential that the promotional step of your content marketing strategy isn’t left behind. Of course, creating stellar content is important, but if no one sees it, it’s as good as worthless. It’s getting that content in front of people that really matters. The more people see it, the more likely it’ll get shared and the better it will perform and succeed.

Wrapping up

Getting a podcast set up isn’t easy, but it isn’t too difficult either. You have to be ready to map out all the finer details before you get started and know what you want to get out of it. With enough research and planning, you could have the next greatest podcast. All you have to do is begin.

3 Unique Ways to Create Content Faster

Out of all the steps in a content marketing strategy, creating enough content in a timely manner is one of the most difficult parts. We live in a world where multiple distractions are normal and it can be challenging to work efficiently when so many time-wasting apps and websites exist.

Luckily, there are ways around this. Here are three things you can do to balance your work schedule to create content faster.

1. Create a swipe file

A swipe file is a collection of all the articles, blog posts, images, newsletters and other documents that you want to emulate. It’s not there so you can copy from it; rather, you use it to gain inspiration when your brain just isn’t functioning properly.

If you stumble across a blog post you think is really well written, save it to your swipe file. This can be something as simple as a folder on your desktop where all your favorite pieces are kept or saved to Google Drive.

The major advantage of having a swipe file is that it’s a bank of inspiration that’ll help you create content faster. It helps you brainstorm ideas or take an ordinary idea and explore it from a different angle.

When you’re feeling a slump in your content creation process and it’s taking you ages to finish a task, a look through your swipe file will get your creative juices flowing and help you come up with ideas quicker. 

2. Outsource work

No one likes to admit they don’t have the time or resources to complete every single task in their content marketing strategy by themselves, but it’s a very realistic situation many marketers face. Though many see their work as their baby, there’s no shame in admitting you don’t have the time to complete something before the deadline and reaching out for help.

Extra work on your shoulders means more stress and worse quality. You never want to sacrifice the quality of your content just because you personally can’t handle it alone. This is where freelancers and contractors are like gold for your business. Sites like Upwork and Linkedin ProFinder are great platforms for finding contacts who’d love to work with you and bring your ideas to life.

There are many benefits to outsourcing work:

Saving yourself time and money in the long run

Keeping content consistent

Maintaining quality

Increasing your ROI

Providing a job for someone else in their expert area

Remember, it’s about keeping the quality of your content sublime and reducing stress for faster results. So it’s important to admit which areas you lack resources, so that someone else can do it better and boost your ROI.

3. Go offline

What are the main distractions often faced when trying to get work done online? Basically everything on the internet.

It’s natural that we get too easily distracted by social media and other sites that get our attention. One minute, you’re opening up YouTube to watch a quick video about something you swear you’ll exit the second it’s over. One hour later, you’re asking yourself where the time has gone. What isn’t practical is doing nothing to block them from use while working.

Try limiting your distractions by installing a distraction blocker on your computer. This will remind you when you’re spending excess time on time-wasting sites. This helps make you more productive.

Moving forward

It may seem daunting trying to come up with quicker ways to create content. With all the technology we have today, it’s difficult to avoid distractions at some point in the work day, but this is inevitable. What’s important is to create strategies that block distractions but still work for you and keep your content full of quality. It takes a bit of playing around with, but there’s a method that works for everybody. You just have to find what works best for you. 

How to Create Evergreen Content that Boosts Traffic

Most content marketers are familiar with the idea of evergreen content. This content is considered cornerstone content for a website because it doesn’t have an expiration date. Much like the evergreen tree, it flourishes and grows throughout the years, regardless of the season.

You don’t have to be a content guru to see why this is beneficial to your business. Most content has a limited shelf time. If you’re publishing annual studies, it’s outdated the next year. Do you publish news articles? If so, no one cares much once fresh news breaks. 

Evergreen content is an excellent way to boost your website traffic because you’ll, at least in theory, get just as many views whether it’s July 2017 or December 2019.

We are going to take a look at how to create and cultivate evergreen content designed to boost your website traffic for years to come.

Create the Right Type of Content

The first thing you have to decide is what kind of evergreen content you want to publish on your website. There are quite a few different types to choose from, depending on your niche.

Typically, evergreen content consists of one of the following:

FAQs How-to Guides Product/Place Reviews Reference Guides

When you’re writing your content, think about questions your customers and readers may have when they stumble upon your article. This rule may sound like it would only apply to FAQs, but it actually applies to every single type of evergreen content listed.

Are you reviewing a hotel? Do they serve breakfast for every night you stay? What are the rooms like? How often are they full? These are all questions that might come up when a reader is searching for answers. Make sure you break down the process that goes into each topic and anticipate the questions that may come up prior to the reader’s search.

Choose High-Quality Keywords

Okay, so the time has come. You have a number of great topics in your mind. Time to start tirelessly cranking out content right? Wrong. Before you even think about creating evergreen content you have to research and choose high-quality keywords for your content.

Google’s algorithm is quite complex, but it’s the gold standard in search engine optimization. The search engine supergiant boasts that they are able to deliver quality content to users by finding content that

Analyzing search queries Matching relevant results Considering context Ranking useful pages

All of these points are important and connect in clear, and often nuanced ways. You have to pick keywords for your evergreen content that represent what people are searching for, it must be in the right context of their search in order to rank high, and your page has to be useful and functional for the search engine to consider ranking you high on the list.

How do you pick keywords?

Well, there are multiple tools to get you started. A good first step is to go to Google and start typing phrases popular with your niche. Google’s autofill feature will show some of the most popular and frequent searches. This information will give you a jumping off point.

Now, use a tool such as Alexa’s Keyword Difficulty Tool or Google’s own Keyword Planner, which allows you to enter in popular keywords and phrases for analysis. The results you get will help you determine whether or not you should use a keyword or phrase. Judge the popularity and competitiveness of each chosen word.

The key is to pick a word or phrase with a medium-high popularity and a medium-low competitiveness. Ideally, you want a high popularity, low competitive word or phrase.

Additional Optimization

Now that you have your topic and keywords, it’s time to think about additional ways you can optimize for high-traffic content.

One of the best ways to do this is by linking to other reputable sources. Most websites looking to make their way to the top of the page don’t do it alone. They link to content that fleshes out their points, gives further insight through research data or surveys, and overall provides more value to the piece.

You should also take this as an opportunity to add links to your own previously published content that relates to the topic at hand. For example, if you’ve written a piece about a certain aspect of the piece of evergreen content, link back to that page so readers can get a bigger picture and learn more information about the topic.

Share and Periodically Review Content

Once you have finished writing and prepping your content, it’s time to start sharing. Organic shares from your followers will boost traffic and help improve your ranking. You should make sure you hit all of your major social media accounts and affiliates. Make sure you keep adding your evergreen content to your social media schedule every couple months so that people get the chance to see your content at a time when it might be relevant to them.

Speaking of things you should be doing every couple months -- or at least twice a year -- is researching the topic you decided to write about to see if any new information has been released. Maybe a new tip or caveat has come to light that you can add to your piece. Note that this will also give you an additional chance to share your content again.

There’s no doubt that there are countless reasons for you to invest in writing evergreen content for your website. This type of content gets more views, increases your rank, and overall makes you appear reputable to a larger community.

Now it’s time to get out there and start creating your own evergreen content. Before long, you’ll have a rich, complex website with a range of valuable content for all of your readers.

No comments