SMstudy : Your Way Up

When you leave the sales floor, where do you want to go?

Some people will just head to the lounge for a cup of coffee, but others will advance to new positions in marketing and management. What will make the difference?

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education began finding ways to encourage, facilitate and fund student participation in “alternative certifications.” As America and the global community moves to meet the needs of twenty-first century business, this is seen as a move to help training schools and companies that prepare students for professional certifications. The move is toward certified professionals that business and industry can trust.

There are many certifications available to programmers, project managers, automobile mechanics and more. Now there are certifications designed for professionals in sales and marketing. These certifications and complementary training come from VMEdu, Inc., the global training company that has trained more than 400,000 students worldwide. Through its association with SMstudy it offers a range of certifications in six Aspects based on the six most common and often distinct career fields related to Sales and Marketing.

For those who want to move into helping companies develop plans for making their products and services dominate the marketplace, SMstudy offers four certifications in Marketing Strategy. SMstudy says that marketing strategy makes the difference between startups that last beyond the start and those that falter a few steps down the track. These certifications lead to management-level careers and opportunities.

For those who have the desire to harness the power of the Internet and social media, SMstudy offers certifications in Digital Marketing.

And for those who like to know the inner workings of what makes people buy what they buy, there’s a path from a Marketing Research Associate certification to Marketing Research Expert.

Training and certifications are also available in Corporate Sales, Retail Marketing and Branding and Advertising.

More than 30 percent of the American workforce and similar percentages worldwide are involved in sales and marketing either directly or indirectly. It is an exciting field that drives every industry, business and profession. Training and certification organizations such as SMstudy can help retail clerks become sale professionals.

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Marketing for a Flat World

Thomas Friedman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author made a strong case for the democratization of the global marketplace in his 2005 book, The World is Flat. Friedman named ten factors that had contributed to the leveling of the world’s economic playing field. One of the most important noted by Friedman was the advent of the Internet and its unprecedented opportunities for connection. In many ways, modern-day marketing is a microcosm of Friedman’s “flat world” where a similar “leveling” of has occurred.

At one time (not so long ago), traditional media outlets, such as print publications and radio/TV stations received the lion’s share of all marketing dollars. They were the only game in town able to reach large swaths of potential consumers and, therefore, enjoyed a special place in the marketing hierarchy. Ad space was limited in each of these traditional marketing channels and in turn, the cost of ad space (or time) was pricey. So pricey, in fact, that it often discouraged or prevented smaller companies from participating. But, as we know, this is no longer the case.

Compare our current media “ecosystem” to 20, or even 10 years ago, and it becomes clear that as the Internet has grown, so have less expensive, more diverse channels for marketing distribution, opening up the opportunities for smaller outfits to compete with larger companies. All these new Internet-enabled marketing options that have led to the democratization of marketing can be called fragmented new age marketing.

According to SMstudy’s Digital Marketing, fragmented new age marketing supports new, small brands with much smaller budgets and it also allows for more direct targeted marketing.

The book explains that “while mass media marketing is less targeted and primarily focused on affecting emotional attitudes about the brand, new-age marketing is data-driven and focused on driving specific calls to action.”

Fragmented new age marketing allows for traditional avenues, but also includes newer channels such as websites, mobile and social media and within those categories there are numerous economical marketing options. Regardless of company size or limited budgets, there’s some form of new-age marketing that is within reach. And most likely, there’s numerous avenues available even if the budget is nearly $0. For example, online ad networks such as Google, Yahoo! Search and Microsoft AdCenter often offer promo codes that reducing their costs to as low as $25.

In addition, there are a variety of ways to approach marketing in the digital age that are not only free, but break through the limitations of traditional media and allows for greater public engagement. Many relying on creativity and a more open, responsive and organic approach such as connecting with topic bloggers or forging relationships with experts.

As author David Albert notes, “There are many ways to position yourself as an expert: guest blogging, participating on Q&A sites like,, LinkedIn Group Discussions, etc.”

Fragmented new age marketing recognizes that today’s marketing is, in a sense, open source, offering the ability to grow and build on marketing ideas and opportunities made possible through technology. And now with the demise of the high cost of doing business, the only limitations are the limits of the creative collective. A more democratic global “marketing-place” is here!


“Top 10 Tactics To Marketing Your Startup Launch With $0”, David Albert, Junw 2, 2014

The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First History, Thomas Friedman. 2005

SMstudy Guide ®, Digital Marketing, Pg. 8

Instagram: Picture Perfect and Ad Friendly

Three years after Facebook purchased the immensely popular photo-sharing social network Instagram, it was officially opened up to all advertisers in the summer of 2015. This was a highly-anticipated and long-awaited social media channel for marketers, because let’s face it, with more than 400 million users per month, Instagram is quite the catch. And although it’s still very young and not everyone has tested the image-centric waters, recent feedback suggests it’s going swimmingly.

As of October, two months following the API launch, Nanigans, a company at the vanguard of advertising technology for in-house marketing, reported that 31 percent of all advertisers using their company’s ad automation software were spending marketing dollars on Instagram.

With user engagement second only to Facebook, Instagram is considered by Nanigans and other digital marketers as a necessary component of any social media marketing strategy, but some changes may be required.  As marketers move in to the unique Instagram environment, adaptations may be necessary to the existing look and function of ads.

Instagram currently offers three options for advertisements; photo, video and carousel, and they’ve done a nice job explaining what they offer and how they can help businesses on their information page …

With Instagram advertising in mind, some things to consider are…

1. It’s a visual medium, so bring the goods, or go home. Gorgeous images, interesting videos, highly polished or insanely cool, Instagram is the marketing channel where creativity can and should run wild and where special attention should be given to the aesthetics of the advertisement.

2. Tiny URLs, not just for Twitter anymore. Unfortunately, Google analytics does not track traffic generated from Instagram. Create customized short links in order to track the flow of traffic being driven by the Instagram ad. is a great resource for customizing a short link that can then be tracked.

3. Hop on and share the ride. Improve exposure through sponsored posts on peer feeds. Posting sponsored content on an Instagram account that is relevant and shares a similar demographic can yield wide exposure. This can also be done by including trending hashtags with Instagram ads/posts. The Instagram explore feature allows users to easily search for trending hashtags, so you can serve up biggie-sized exposure by simply adding a trending hashtag to an ad/post. According to Richard Lazazzera, content strategist at Shopify and founder of A Better Lemonade Stand, Instagram is currently the cheapest CPM (cost per thousand impressions) of any ad platform, so it’s worth participating and sharing.

4. And finally (and as always), bring them into the funnel. Once an ad has managed to capture attention and perhaps even a “follow”, it’s time to consider the next step in bringing a customer deeper into the marketing funnel. One of the best (and easiest) ways to accomplish this is to ask for an email address. Whether it’s a newsletter or additional relevant content a company is offering, opportunities for snagging an email address can create marketing success. A direct contact, such as an email address, allows for direct communication, which can be more personal and meaningful for both the customer and company.

Find additional posts on sales and marketing at


Instagram Advertising Benchmark Report 2015, Nanagins.

13 Instagram Marketing Tips from the Experts, July 22, 2015. Cindy King, Social Media Examiner.

Going Native

Native advertising has been around for a patch now. “Pay-to-play” content began appearing in newspapers (and later over the airwave) as early as the 1910s. Native ads, as noted by the SMstudy® Guide, “blend in with their surroundings” and “are promotional pieces attempting to look like the material to which they are adjacent.”

So, native ads, compared to “regular” ads, feel a lot like editorials, but are in fact ads dressed up to look like legitimate editorial content and all that that denotes, in particular, “free of influence.”

For much of their existence, at least from the news/editorial camp, native ads have been the harbinger of the breach in the ever-threatened levy between editorial and advertising. In addition, they were met with a fair degree of criticism for their deceptive nature. Deceptive because, by its core definition, native advertising is “a form of advertising that matches and blends in with the medium it appears on. Ads use the same form as the content contained in the medium,” according to author Vishveshwar Jatain, and when done well, it should cause no “disruption” in the reader or viewers experience and blend in such a way as to “dupe” them.

Criticism of native advertising has lessened over the years and native ads are, in fact, seeing a rebirth in our current digital landscape. This isn’t the first time native advertising has morphed to fit in with new technologies. At every step, it has adapted, whether it be radio, television and now…the Internet. Darwin would be impressed.

But simply adapting to a new environment doesn’t necessarily account for its renaissance. For this, we need to delve into the huge financial hit the news media took when the public caught on to the idea of “free” online news. While for many of us a great boon, free online news has led to a drastic decline in subscribership. Pile on the abundance of virtual advertising space currently available (compared to the finite space of a newspaper) and we begin to understand the severely limping revenue streams news outlets are wading in. This financial pinch (stranglehold) experienced in the news media landscape led to a shocking reduction in funds for 1. paying journalists and 2. paying for resources so journalists could do their jobs. For a peek into the harsh takedown of news media in the mid-2000s, visit paper cuts, a site that tracked layoffs and buyouts at U.S. newspapers between 2007-2012.

At the same time, we saw the rise of content marketing (related to the decline of news outlet’s ability to provide quality content? Perhaps a topic for another blog). Based on current research and data, we, the people, are overwhelmingly fond of content marketing, but only if it provides relevant, valuable information. We’re fond even when we know it’s an ad!

And even though the concept of deception and the potential breach of the great wall dividing adverts and editorial is still a thorn in the side of ethically-fierce news folk,  native advertising is back in action and is a natural ally of content marketing.

Whatever the reservations of some legacy news outlets to native adverts, some sites don’t suffer the same ethical hemming and hawing. In fact, some have found very innovative ways to pro-actively manage the content marketing that appears on their sites.

Forbes, under the leadership of Lewis Dvorkin, has created a department called BrandVoice (originally AdVoice) to focus on the content needs of its advertisers. Headed by Forbes Media chief revenue officer, Meredith Levien, BrandVoice is a division of Forbes completely separate from the editorial staff. BrandVoice has hired editors, reporters, designers, and so on in order to offer high-quality content to its advertisers. And business is booming. In fact, Levien sites BrandVoice as the main factor for the company’s high revenue in 2012, a five-year best.

Other outlets who have embraced native advertising are Buzzfeed and The Onion, the 34-year-old satirical news outlet. Onion Labs, a division of Onion Inc., offers its top-notch writers to advertisers for content development with the added bonus of extreme hilarity.

From the Onion Labs web page:

“Onion, Inc. has perfected influencing some of the hardest to reach audiences in the world, through intelligent, insightful and often hilarious content.

Through our content services division, Onion Labs, we offer that influence to brands. We’ve combined the greatest comedy and pop culture writers in the world with some of the most decorated advertising minds in the business.

Onion Labs works with each client to understand the brand’s strategic goals, then builds custom content solutions that are distributed through both Onion, Inc. and client channels.”

And as the good word spreads (a recent Pew Research report notes a major uptick in investment, in 2012, ads rose 38.9%, to $1.56 billion following a 56.1% increase in 2011), other outlets are testing the waters as well, including Hearst, Time and Conde Nast.

So, all signs point to content marketing channeled through native advertising as a direction worthy of investigation, at least from a marketing standpoint…however, maybe not the sort of investigation diehard journos would like to see.

For more on sales and marketing, visit


“Native Advertising Shows Great Potential, But Blurs Editorial Lines,” Mediashift, Terry Thornton. April 2, 2013.

Onion Labs,

Native Advertising Summit: Beyond Church and State

The Ultimate Guide to Native Advertising, Joe Pulizzi, Jan. 7, 2014.

“Native Advertising is Not Content Marketing,” Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute, Aug. 25, 2015.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, The State of the News Media 2013: An Annual Report on American Journalism.

“Native Advertising: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know,” Vishveshwar Jatain, Go Native or Go Home, Aug. 7, 2015.

All About Customer Advisory Boards

A Customer Advisory Board (CAB) or Customer Advisory Council is a representative customer group comprising senior stakeholders who convene periodically to validate product features, the marketing plan, and the strategic direction of the company to ensure these align with customers and the market. The company uses the information gathered at these meetings to realign business priorities and formulate strategy.

CABs meet on a periodic basis, typically two or three times per year. Some companies choose to meet more or less frequently, depending on need. However, it is challenging to have frequent customer councils as participation at these events is often voluntary, and participants are usually constrained by time. Also, the time and resources taken to accomplish and follow through with changes discussed in the customer councils often do not allow for more frequent meetings.

A physical meeting is the most popular format for customer councils. Other formats used by companies include tele-conferences, video conferences, and online CABs. Using these formats can help reduce time and money spent on travel and can result in increased participation levels. However, while they are more convenient, these formats are not always as effective as face-to-face meetings.

Key Functions of CABs

Some of the important uses of CABs are as follows:

  • Validating ideas for new features or new products
  • Providing valuable insights into how customers are using the products
  • Prioritizing features and identifying the most important ones on which to focus
  • Assisting in understanding how the products fare against alternatives in the market
  • Helping in designing the next generation of products which customers may adopt in future
  • Assisting in retaining key customers
  • Increasing revenue opportunities within the existing customer base

A key distinction between a CAB and a focus group is that the members of a CAB are carefully chosen senior members of management from client organizations, unlike product users in the case of focus groups.

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Opportunity: The Mirror Image of a Customer

The ever changing market trends and varying demands of customers have propelled companies to think out of the box and foray into market each time with new, updated or upgraded offerings that would outplay its rival products/services. In an attempt to capitalize on market, companies deploy numerous instruments and analytics to measure their efficacy level in several aspects of business. The latest being what we call “Opportunity Analysis”. As marketing professionals say “every non customer is an opportunity and it remains an opportunity till he/she becomes your customer.” So basically every customer as well as non-customer is opportunities. So if a casual conversation converts into sales conversation and that ultimately turns into a lead and further a customer/client, it’s called winning a customer and vice versa.

Customer win/loss analysis is a process of understanding why sales opportunities are either won or lost. A careful win/loss analysis is a cost-effective and less time-consuming tool to understand how customers perceive value. The perceived value by different customers is the deciding factor whether you win a customer or lose.  While customer need analysis is the most basic arena where sales people are often taught upon, but marketers argue it is not always the need that gives rise to a sale.

The process for win/loss analysis starts after a sales opportunity has been won or lost. A meeting is held with important stakeholders and includes the sales, product, account management, and customer service team members. After this meeting, the win/loss analysis interviewer must know the details of how the lead was generated, the events that took place during the sales process, and the product or products discussed. Customer interviews also need to be scheduled immediately after the opportunity has been won or lost to ensure maximum recall from customers about their experience in the sales process.

Here comes the customer feedback which is of utmost importance as the resultant responses devise the sales strategy for future. The customer feedback may be collected regarding customer perception in the areas such as

  • Performance of the corporate sales team: Company must know what role its trump cards played in the sales process. After all corporate sales team is the interface between customer and the company and loopholes in the same might result in downfall of future sales.
  • Marketing materials: Here the focus in on marketing assets that the company has. Feedback on the same helps in improving quality of Marketing Assets, Company has to offer.
  • Sales process: Feedback on the sales process is the stepping stone for future sales strategy. Profiling, generating leads, presentation, negotiation are some of the major areas where customer feedback counts a lot.
  • Product features: Customer feedback on product features informs seller analyze the product’s sales value proposition and whether seller needs to reposition the product with additional features or continue the existing one with regular up gradation.
  • Comparison with competition: This is something where the customer’s feedback drives the marketing strategy experts contrive better action plan to deal with competitors.
  • Pricing: Negative customer feedback on pricing can only be partially side-lined if the company is offering optimum value in comparison to its competitors at a given price and the product has some unique sales value proposition (e.g. i Phone). But if the customers feel availability of another product with same features and utilities at a cheaper price, then it is nothing less than a warning bell for the seller.

Customers change and so does their perception and demand. It’s important for sellers to consider each potential customer as an opportunity.

“To learn more about Customer Win/Loss analysis and related analytics, visit “”.

What you did not know about web analytics

Online businesses, or businesses that have websites, generally use some sort of tool to track analytics, but most of the time these businesses haven’t maximized the potential of web analytics. Analytics aren’t just to see how many people have visited your site. Companies must delve into the world of analytics and utilize all of the benefits that come from properly deciphering an analytics report in order to decrease bounce rates and increase sales.

According to Digital Marketing, book 2 of the SMstudy Guide®, a basic definition for analytics, is “to evaluate and better understand the value and impact of available digital channels and digital marketing activities. Web analytics involves the collection, measurement, analysis, and reporting of web data for the purposes of understanding and optimizing web usage. Analyzing such data helps a company to assess and improve the effectiveness of its website.”

You can use analytics reports to track web traffic in order to determine where and how to invest marketing time and dollars. Ask yourself, “Is your traffic coming from other websites (referrals), social media or search engines (paid/organic)?” says Mike Wolfe, CEO of WAM Enterprises, a digital marketing agency. “Knowing where traffic comes from can help you understand where to invest more time and money to increase traffic.”

You can also view a visitor’s location; information that can help to build a campaign to target a specific audience. This information is helpful to determine specific geographical regions that are not showing interest in your website. A marketing team can then generate a plan to create interest in those regions. Discounts, special deals, and incentives are great ways to increase engagement and reach disengaged target areas.

It is important to know where people enter your site and where they leave it. The analytics report will show what keywords people used and the search engine that led them to your website. The report also shows how long the person was on your website and what page they exited from. This can be helpful to determine which pages are causing people to lose interest. Once this information is found, a company can update the pages to be more engaging and interesting. The report also includes where the customers go when they leave a website, so you can see what competitors are taking your business and why.

As stated in Digital Marketing, “Web analytics also enables a company to assess the effectiveness of specific mobile marketing campaigns and channels, including mobile advertising, mobile search marketing, and traditional desktop channels, and identify those that appeal to the target audience and work best for the business.”

With the help of web analytics companies can create a website that fits the consumer’s needs in order to maximize reach, reputation, and relationship with their potential or current customers.

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