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Reverse Chronology: Planning Customer Experiences That Convert

time-machineEvery customer wants a happy ending.  For them that happy ending looks like a delightful buying experience followed by a purchase that meets their needs and exceeds their expectations.  As a business you want happy endings too.  And if you’re smart, you want the exact same happy endings your customers do. However, many smart marketers at good companies have reason enough to question this premise.

 The Buyer Legends process will ensure that you can plan, execute, and optimize as many happy endings as possible.

When planning a customer experience it seems the logical place to start is at the beginning of the experience. But when you start there you are presented with unlimited opportunities to get you to the end, that is unwieldy. The beginning is also the point where you and the customer are the most disconnected.  The most effective way to plan your customer experience is by starting at the happy ending and working your way backwards.  It is reverse engineering a successful customer experience.

In my last article I gave you the ins and out of the pre-mortem, now we move on to the next step, the reverse chronology outline.  In this part of the process you will be required to list every detailed step of your customers buying journey as well as their decision making processes along the way.

Most customer experiences are not planned, and to the extent that they are, they are typically some sort of conversion or sales funnel with the steps the customer must take plotted out in linear fashion. Rarely do real sales scenarios occur in this neat progression.  In addition, the sales/conversion funnel metaphor is broken, it seems to assume that some sort of natural force like gravity is pulling your customers from the top to the bottom.  Instead of gravity, what your customer needs is persuasive momentum to move her forward in the buying process.  Persuasive momentum unlike gravity, is not a given or a constant.  That’s why, when done properly, your reverse chronology will infuse persuasive momentum into every step of your customers journey.  It will also take into account any friction in the buying process and help engineer ways to reduce and smooth it out.

What is a Reverse Chronology Outline

 From the Buyer Legends book

Outline the story using reverse chronology; start from the end of the story and work backwards. This reverse chronology process will:

  1. Ensure your legend ends in success.
  2. Emphasize cause-and-effect more effectively than forward chronology, as it will be harder to “fake” or rely upon momentum. Simply by thinking backwards you will naturally be more thorough in defining the actions and reasoning why your customer has taken each step on their journey.
  3. Allow you to see and consider alternate, branching paths from your Pre-Mortem list and build in whatever interventions and detours might be needed.

You will want to reverse chronologies for each persona you have. I’ll be writing about personas in more depth in a future article.

As You Begin Writing Your Reverse Chronology

The first questions you must answer to get started is, what do you want the end of the story to be?  I encourage you, if possible, to go a bit further than the mere act of the customer completing the transaction.  Start with the customer being delighted with the product they just bought and work backwards from there.

To begin you simply list the steps the customer is taking, and why they are taking those steps.  And of course, start at that happy ending, and work backwards.

The mere fact that you are writing this backwards will stimulate a different perspective as you begin to imagine the event/thoughts/feeling that must occur to propel the customer to step you previously outlined.  Often times you may list some of the major events and realize that you missed something in between, in that case just go back in and fill in the details

Details matter here.  In fiction, you can selectively skip some of the mundane details and in an instant your main character who was on Riverboat on the Mississippi  is now in Cleveland wearing a sombrero with no details on how he got there.  You can’t skip how he got there in your reverse chronology, every detail must be accounted for. Without those details you’ll lose your ability to measure and optimize your Buyer Legends.

Often times we’ve seen clients neglect listing the reasons why customers are taking action and only list the actions themselves.  This is a gigantic mistake.  Transferring the understanding  of the  customer’s mindset and intent to the entire team is critical to the Buyer Legends process, and if you don’t list it in the reverse chronology, that intent won’t make it into the Buyer Legend itself. That will cripple your execution.

Every step of the outline is either a cause or effect in the story.  To get a better idea of how to think about how your outline reads watch a video Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park fame explain the difference between a bad and good story.  What you’ll learn is why “and then” vs “therefore” and/or “But”  make the difference between a good and bad reverse chronology. Buyer journeys are rarely a linear progression.

Your pre-mortem plays a key role in informing steps in your outline.  Imagine how to overcome these problems and then weave them into your outline.  As you work backwards you will find natural and common sense places where these items will seem to fit.  Before you know it you are creating relevant and exciting steps that will enhance your customer’s experience.

Two Reverse Chronology Examples

We crafted two reverse chronologies one is e commerce and the other lead gen, notice how the above elements are present and how we used them.

Example #1 eCommerce

  1. Feeling proud Jenny takes a picture of her new bag and posts it on Facebook and Pinterest (Notice how she shares her happy ending with friends?)
  2. Jenny removes the backpack from the box, she thinks is it’s even more impressive than the website picture showed.
  3. Jenny opens the shipping box with relative ease
  4. As Jenny arrives home she sees the package on her front door, It must have arrived a few days before the website estimated, she hadn’t been tracking the shipment. (The company likes to beat estimated shipping times as much as possible)
  5. A few hours later, Jenny receives the shipping notification
  6. Jenny receives the order confirmation, she checks it and flags the email for easy reference
  7. She feels comfortable everything is correct, Jenny places the order. She can’t wait for her bag to arrive.
  8. As Jenny arrives on the final screen of the checkout, she double checks the  product and all her information, she is thankful there is a zoomable thumbnail
  9. Jenny enters her billing and shipping information, taking note of point of action assurances and secure checkout(The Pre-mortem suggested that Jenny is nervous about identity theft)
  10. Jenny clicks around on the site a bit more but decides there is nothing else she needs or wants and clicks the checkout button
  11. Jenny adds the backpack to her cart
  12. Jenny watches a video of someone demonstrating the bag and all it’s features and benefits. (Notice how we are creating opportunities for creative to produce relevant content that will directly impact sales)
  13. Jenny looks at all the gallery of photos for the back, and gets a sense of all the compartments. There are also several models that are wearing the backpack and this gives her
  14. She also notices free shipping for items of $100, the backpack she is purchasing qualifies
  15. Jenny sees that this particular bag comes in the exact color/design she likes
  16. She reads the description thoroughly, and notices the price while still a little pricier than her last backpack, but it still seems like a value.
  17. She clicks on a link in the article that takes her to the product page of that backpack
  18. As she reads the article she becomes intrigued by one style backpack in particular
  19. Jenny finds an article from a major tech magazine “Reader’s Choice, Best Laptop Backpacks”
  20. Jenny does a Google search, “best laptop backpacks 2015”

Example #1 B2B SaaS

  1. He is excited to start scouting locations and using IdealSpot.com
  2. Mark fills out a form that asks for his name and email and password, he clicks Join and creates an IdealSpot account.  (This is a conversion point that will be measured)
  3. Marks sees that his privacy will be protected.
  4. He clicks on the Get Started button, it explains to him the cost of each report, that he is setting up an account that will allow him to enter potential locations and request as many or as few reports as needed. He does not need a credit card right now.
  5. Mark is sold and wants to try IdealSpot. Still believing the pricing is too good to be true Mark reads a section on the pricing page that explains how big data and learning algorithms dramatically reduce the cost of research allowing them to offer high value analysis and disruptive prices.
  6. Mark wants to get a sense of a track record and he goes to the Success Stories page and reads a handful of stories from Ideal Spot clients who are having early success, he realizes that IdealSpot is a startup and their long term track record is not as established as it could be, but the low introductory price of $197 removes this barrier in his mind.  (As a start-up their lack of undocumented long term success with their service is non-existent, and the pre-mortem identified this as a potential problem)
  7. Mark reads about the algorithm and how the data is loaded for each location, and how the the clientele used to predict success are chosen based on competitors and his type of business.  He see this is similar, even superior to the methods used by much more expensive location research alternatives. This information is exactly what Mark needed to hear about IdealSpot. (Notice how we are explaining his mind set as he moves through the outline)
  8. Mark clicks through to the the IdealSpot.com “How Does it Work” page.
  9. He reads about how big data is able to spot success patterns.  It explains that  most location analyses “hits the wall”  when people become involved (and consultants like Buxton) and spend time and money collecting piles of data, but then have no way to relate it to success or failure of their business, and this is where big data and learning algorithms inject science into the process by mining through the data to pick out those patterns of success or failure and the key factors driving those patterns. The algorithms act without human bias; they start from scratch and come up with a model that is unique for each business and based purely on results.
  10. Mark clicks on a link to a re-targeted blog post while he is on Linked in, the subject line “How Science and Big Data Are Changing the Ways Businesses Choose New Locations.
  11. Mark, who is familiar with similar services and has spend tens of thousands on this type of research had looked into IdealSpot, he went to the website but didn’t get past the first page.  His concern is that it will be just a whole bunch of computer collated data with very little holistic insight into his needs as a business.  In other words it sounds too automated to be of real world use. (Mark is solution aware, see below)

 What else you learn from a reverse chronology

You can see in these reverse chronologies also provide a list of content that needs to be created.  Even more the reverse chronology also reflects items from the pre-mortem and that often identifies a need for powerful content that most companies haven’t even considered. This is a powerful Content Marketing planning technique.

Your reverse chronology is the girder and frame of your Buyer Legend.  The more time you spend on details here, the less time you will spend on execution cycles.  This is also the step that takes major decisions about the customer experience out of the hands of low level employees and places them on stakeholders themselves. It also helps to keep it out of the HIPPOs hands as well.

The Reverse Chronology also begins to document the actions you anticipate your customers to take, so we are beginning to build-in an accountability structure that can be measured and optimized.

Other things to consider in your Reverse Chronology

Not to make things more complex, but it is helpful to keep in mind both buying stage and the complexity of the sale you are trying to make.

Five Buying Stages

You have to realize that every customer is different and his level of awareness will also be different. The amount of persuasion your customers need will depend on their level of awareness. According to famous direct response copywriter, Gene Schwartz, there are five levels of awareness (as described in his book Breakthrough Advertising) –

  1. The Most Aware: Customer is fully aware on the product, only wants to know the ‘deal’.
  2. Product-Aware: Customer knows what you sell but unsure if it’s right for him.
  3. Solution-Aware: Customer knows what results he wants, not sure if your product can provide him that.
  4. Problem-Aware: Customer realizes his problem area but doesn’t have the solution.
  5. Completely Unaware: Customer has no knowledge but has his own opinion and identity.

Four Elements of Sales Complexity

Understanding the  complexity of your sale is critical to your understanding of what the customer needs along their buying journey.

I. Knowledge-  How difficult is it for folks to understand the nature of your product or service, or the procedures for buying?

What do they need to know? Your persuasive process must eliminate the friction generated by confusion or lack of knowledge. Knowledge dimensions for the buying decision can differ based on who is doing the buying: is the customer buying for herself (she will be the end user) or is she buying on behalf of another (as in the case of a purchasing agent)? The knowledge assumptions and language – especially jargon – that work for one may be totally inappropriate for the other.

II. Need- How urgent is the need for your product or service?

How fast are folks likely to make their decisions to buy? Will the need be satisfied by a one-time purchase (either impulsive or momentous) or is the need on-going? Folks might be willing to compromise their thoroughness for a casual one-time deal. But if that one-time deal is something like a house, or if they are choosing a long-term relationship to satisfy an on-going need, things get significantly more complicated.

III. Risk. How risky, especially with respect to issues of finance or self esteem, is the sale?

While price may not be an ultimate decision factor in a purchase (for many, safety and trust trump price), increasing financial risk necessitates a more intricate persuasive structure. Risk may also be associated with compromises to health, as when individuals or medical professionals have to make treatment choices. Or even, for that matter, when someone simply evaluates the safety of an herbal remedy.

IV. Consensus. Just how many people do you have to persuade?

An individual? An individual and her significant other? Several end-users and heads-of-department? Your ability to understand who is involved in the decision-making process allows you to provide copy and content that appropriately informs, reassures and persuades.

How many reverse chronologies do I need to write?

Finally, as you use Buyer Legends to plan customer experiences you will quickly find that you can envision so many more reverse chronologies especially when you consider all the ways and places a customer can touch your brand.  As a good rule of thumb start with your major channels, optimize them, and then get to smaller ones.

We encourage you to try this for yourself, but if you need help , please let us know.

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P.S. This is the second in a series of Buyer Legends Recipe Posts, please sign up to our newsletter for updates.

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Recipes For Practical Customer Experience Design & Optimization #CRO #UX #CX

miseenplaceIf I gave you a recipe some of you would be thrilled and others not so much. You can cook a gourmet meal that will have your taste buds fox trotting. I know that to be true. When it comes to food there are alternative ways to acquire a great meal. However, when cooking up great customer experiences there are no alternatives. If you want customers to to tell the only story that matters, why they love your company, you’ll have to learn how.

Have you ever followed a recipe only to find that you aren’t ready for the third step? I have. The results? Frustration and a poor meal. A few years ago it was takeout or starve, but now, I love to cook. I credit mise en place, that’s French for having having everything in its place as you cook, for my conversion from takeout king to aspiring chef. Mise en place is a small amount of effort expended up front that actually saves me tons of time and guarantees tasty dishes.

The Buyer Legend process is like a recipe for designing great customer experiences. You can use Buyer Legends to define and improve your content marketing, social marketing, search marketing, conversion rate optimization and thereby improve your communications, execution and revenues. You just need to follow the recipe. We’ve published a basic Buyer Legend recipe  but I’ll be adding more detail in this series.

I’ve been training clients and staff in the Eisenbergs’ processes’ for over a decade, Let me show you how to prepare mise en place for the Buyer Legends process.  This is the first in a series of articles that will address each major step of the Buyer Legends process.

Pre-mortem because it is the antidote to Murphy’s Law 

First we’ll explore the most impactful step of the process, the pre-mortem. Some of our largest conversion wins over the last two decades ever were the result of our clients going through the pre-mortem exercise.  Murphy’s law states that everything that can go wrong usually will and a pre-mortem will help you spot previously invisible problems in your current customer experience as well as plan against future problems. But the pre-mortem step is not for the faint hearted as it may show you things about your precious baby that are not as attractive as you wanted to believe.  The only thing that makes a pre-mortem more powerful is by doing a pre-mortem on a persona by persona and then scenario/ campaign by scenario basis. Read the first Buyer Legend Recipe Post here...

Reverse chronology because it explains conversions

Assuming you have a product or service worth buying then you and your customers have the same goal.  You want to sell and they want to buy. That’s why when you are planning a customer experience it is always best to start at the end point and work your way backwards to the beginning.  This step requires you to get very specific about how and why every decision and action needs to be taken in the buying journey.  It’s specificity also makes this step important to measuring and optimizing your customer experience when you finally implement it. Your Buyer Legend isn’t fiction so every detail must be accounted for, not only that but you must create persuasive momentum at every step. Read it here.

Persuasive momentum because there’s no such thing as a sales funnel

Your customer isn’t truly in a funnel. There’s no gravity compelling them through your experience like there is in a real funnel. There is only the customer’s motivation and your understanding of that motivation to create persuasive momentum. Persuasive momentum is the progressive decision making process that aligns the customer’s goals with our own business goals. I’ll show you the three step test that will insure your customers’ experiences are always relevant, valuable and compelling. Read it here.

Personas because their motivations become your action plan

Personas are a common marketing tool, but their value is often misunderstood. Simply put, personas should inform you about exactly what you need to be doing. Personas can be elaborate constructs based on reams of research and data, or they can be constructed quickly with data and information at hand, but as long as they are directionally accurate reflections of a segment of your customer they can be powerful tools that will guide your Buyer Legends processes. I will be discussing how to construct ad-hoc personas as well as help you evaluate and if needed fix your current personas if you have them. Read it here.

Write a Buyer Legend because the only story that matters is your customers’ story

This is the step when you actually pull out your pots, grab a spatula and fire up your burners.  I will tell you all the ingredients to include so you can have them at the ready. This is the step where all your previous work begins to pay off and when you’re done you will have an action plan that can be distributed, implemented, tested, and optimized.  A Buyer Legend is where the rubber meets the road. Read it here.

Measurement because if analysts cannot tell the stories and business people cannot measure the stories then the strategy isn’t truly aligned with customers’ needs.

Your Buyer Legend isn’t fiction, it’s not for fun or for entertainment, or even for creative fulfillment.  This is business, and anything important to a businesses success should be measurable and accountable.  Buyer Legends are both and I will give you a primer on measuring, optimizing, rinsing, and repeating. Read it here.

The Buyer Legend process orchestrates your best efforts and reconciles them to the needs of your customers so you can create profitable customer experiences.  If you want to become even more legendary at using this process I challenge you to follow this recipe series. I look forward to your feedback, questions, and hearing your success stories.

This series is now complete. Please visit all six posts.

As always, we encourage you to try Buyer Legends for yourself, but if you need help, please let us know.

 

 

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The Pre-Mortem As Antidote To Murphy’s Law

murphy__s_law_by_cutty_sark
Things go wrong.  Murphy of Murphy’s law fame says so. In fact Murphy goes further by stating that whatever can go wrong will. It’s my experience that Murphy is usually right. So I am not taking a faith leap to tell you that right now things are going wrong with your customer experience.

And some of those things are costing you, costing you dearly.

Some of those things are obvious, and you are likely trying to fix them. Other things, not so much. And that is where your biggest opportunities for improvement exist. As well as opportunities to plan against them in the future.

Let me introduce you to the pre-mortem, the antidote to Murphy’s Law.

Gary Klein of the Harvard Business Review writes

A premortem is the hypothetical opposite of a postmortem. A postmortem in a medical setting allows health professionals and the family to learn what caused a patient’s death. Everyone benefits except, of course, the patient. A premortem in a business setting comes at the beginning of a project rather than the end, so that the project can be improved rather than autopsied. Unlike a typical critiquing session, in which project team members are asked what might go wrong, the premortem operates on the assumption that the “patient” has died, and so asks what did go wrong. The team members’ task is to generate plausible reasons for the project’s failure.

In our book, Buyer Legends: The Executive Storyteller’s Guide, we describe the pre-mortem process as it relates to the Buyer Legends process.

  • Begin by having your Team imagine that the customer has completed her (or his) buying journey and either didn’t buy at all, didn’t buy what you sell (in favor of an alternative solution), or bought from a competitor. Now ask yourselves:

    • What went wrong that led to these outcomes?Your intuitions about the most likely bad outcomes and most likely causes will be more insightful than you may think.
    • This process will give your team permission to voice doubts or fears about your brand’s interaction with customers that they might not otherwise feel safe in doing.
  • For every wrong turn, missed opportunity, or bump that could derail the customer’s successful journey, take time to imagine how that process would most likely play out. For instance, how would this detail-oriented customer react if a major detail about your product is left out of their journey or if that detail was hard to find? What would that look and feel like, and at what point would that frustration or anxiety actually derail the sale?

  • Now think up fixes, resolutions, and workarounds for each failure point. The point to the pre-mortem exercise is to give you insight into problems that exist in your current buying paths, so that you can then use it to immunize your conversion funnel from common (and not so common) mistakes that will keep your customer from closing the deal. Understanding these will help you write a more realistic and helpful Buyer Legend when you move onto the next step of Reverse Chronology.

The reality is that most companies lose more sales every day than they make, and we have stated in the past that if you are converting less than 15% you need to evaluate what is broken in your customer experience, get to the bottom of what is going wrong, and plan to get it right.  That is why, hands down, the pre-mortem step is the most impactful step of the entire Buyer Legends process.  In fact, rarely does this exercise fail to produce at least one a-ha moment for our clients.  When you imagine the sale is already dead it frees up all the mental energy that you used to try and get the sale and points it at all the potential pitfalls and problems in your experience.  A pre-mortem is powerful optimization technique but also imagine how powerful it is when you are designing a new customer experience from scratch.

After you perform your pre-mortem you will likely end up with a long list of potential proof of Murphy’s law, but not everything on your list is equal.  Some thing are worth your effort some are not.  In my work with clients we often use Eisenberg’s Hierarchy of Optimization to separate the more pressing issues from the tinier ones.  First sort the list of problems into the follow categories.

Functional. Does this product/service do what the prospect needs? How easy is it for a prospect to determine this?

Accessible. Can she access it? What are the barriers to her ability to realize the need? Is it affordable, reasonable, and findable?

Usable. Is it user-friendly? Are there obstacles?

Intuitive. Does the sales process/Web site feel intuitive and natural based on her buying preferences? Is she forced to endure unnatural buying modalities to realize her need?

Persuasive. Does she want it? Does she truly understand if it fills her need or solves her problem? Is her expectation reasonable? Will she be delighted?

eisenberg-graphic-1

Once they are sorted simply work your way up the pyramid.  Again, remember not every problem is in search of a solution, and you should focus on the problems that are likely to impact the most customers, and problems that you can actually fix. Analytics can also confirm some of the problems you identified exist and give you an indication of which ones are causing you the most grief.

Performing a simple pre-mortem should be a common business practice, but the Buyer Legends process turns it up a notch.  A pre-mortem when used in conjunction with personas (I’ll cover these in more detail soon) will uncover more specific problems and allow you to address the unique problems that exist in more than one customer segment.

Be warned, the pre-mortem is not for those that like to play peek-a-boo. If you like to pretend that the only problems that exist are the ones that you can see then skip over the pre-mortem.  This is not an exercise for anyone that wants to hear the that their not so attractive baby is a supermodel.

We encourage you to try this for yourself, but if you need help , please let us know.

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P.S. This is the first in a series of Buyer Legends Recipe Posts, please sign up to our newsletter for updates.

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7 Tips To Boost Your About Us Page’s Performance

About_Us picDoes an About Us page really matter? You might think it matters more for B2C than B2B or vice versa. Carly insists that it does matter. We met Carly almost seven years ago when she was a Marketing Manager at a company we were consulting. We want to tell you the story she told us, after reaching out to thank us, about how a valuable relationship might never have started but for the content of a single page. Her company’s revised About Us page was launched despite concerns of the very private and exceedingly practical founder of her company.

Carly’s About Us story retold as a Buyer Legend

Carly is a wicked-smart, tenacious VP of Lead Generation for a mid-sized B2B SaaS provider.  Carly’s no-nonsense approach to lead-gen has increased leads by ~30% since she took over in October 2013. Apart from the About Us page, Carly has redesigned the lead form, rewritten the product description, and worked with her ad agency on optimizing traffic. Carly also pushed through significant changes to the Home page, with copy targeted to entrepreneurs like Will.

Will is a diligent and savvy entrepreneur, shopping for the exact solution that Carly’s company sells. There were several strong competitors and Will collected all the data he needs. He narrowed down his choices to Carly’s company and the larger, more-established market leader.

Will likes both options. The market leader’s pricing is comparable, but has a slightly more robust feature set. Yet, he knows from user reviews and his co-founder’s experience, that the workflow is hard to master. Carly’s company solution has what everyone agrees is a more intuitive user interface and a magically simple workflow. It is also easier to deploy. However, it has fewer features, some of which might be useful in the future. Will is more-or-less comfortable that those are features he doesn’t need. From a cost-benefit perspective, Will thinks it’s a wash.

Will’s technical co-founder agrees that for their needs both solutions will do the job. However, he is more comfortable with the more established competitor’s technology. He implemented that solution at his last two companies and even though it seems to be a lot more work, it’s the devil he knows.

Carly’s company has a radically different approach to everything. If what they claim is true, not only will there be less work setting it up, but his team will use it. Will knows that hard-to-use tool sets require more training and are hardly used.

Will visits the market leader’s About Us page. It looks like most About Us pages. There is a generic-sounding mission statement, some stiff head shots of the executive team, Board members, and investors, along with all their credentials. It has a timeline and a list of awards. It was, as About Us pages usually are, perfunctory.

When Carly instructed her copywriter to tell the company’s story, it was to tell it through the eyes of the founder. The founder bootstrapped the company, putting every penny he had at risk. He had no investors because he wanted to build a special kind of company that led with its values without interference. The founder is disturbingly passionate, almost possessed by details. In fact, Carly chose to join this company over a higher-paying offer because, after interviewing with him, she recognized how rabidly committed he was to customers and how that commitment permeated the company culture.

How Will made his decision

When Will visited Carly’s About Us page he found information about the entire customer-facing staff. There weren’t just lists of professional credentials, but fun bios reflecting their personalities and style. There were pictures and videos that captured the mood and feel of the company. It made this company, selling a highly-technical B2B solution, sound fun and likeable.

That page tipped the balance for Will. The market leader’s page was stiff and corporate, exactly what made him leave his previous job. Carly’s company was inviting and human, and seemed a lot like his own company. Will felt sure that the company’s values would insure that they delivered. All other things being equal, Will finally had enough confidence to make the decision. The only company he called was Carly’s.

Carly won another lead, and then a sale, and Will has become an outspoken advocate for them. Will was so impressed with the About Us page that he contacted the CEO and shared his experience and asked if Carly would offer him advice about how to build a better About US page. She asked us to update our most popular ClickZ column about how to best create one, and you’re reading the update.

Not everyone will care. But for those who do …

Of course, not every prospective customer will visit your About Us page, but if it was the only thing standing between you and a lead or a sale, would it keep them in your funnel? Could it even win you the sale?

The About Us page is the most undervalued page on most websites. While it rarely closes a sale, it can provide a valuable assist. It is the one place where you are allowed to talk about yourself. Every click on the About Us page is someone asking you to tell them about you.  Make the most of it.

Even if you sell something boring, maybe especially if you sell something boring, it doesn’t mean your About Us page should be boring. More than anything, your About Us page is the place to show customers who you are and what your company values.

Seven tips to create an About Us page that makes a difference

You might not use all of the seven tips but don’t skip the seventh tip. We encourage you to start with a Buyer Legend.

  1. Let customers see a more human side of your company.  Become more likable by including individual information and personal interest. Include fun blurbs and pictures of life around the office. Dropbox created a montage of its employees. While hovering over the pics, you are presented with fun personal facts about the employees.
    1. Choose the voice of your About Us page. Here are some ideas that can help:
      1. What is the overall emotional stance that your company has towards its industry/market?
      2. If your company were an actual person, who would it be?
      3. Is there a favorite quote you or the people in your company have?
      4. Is there one particular moment in the life of your company that would capture its essence in a nutshell?
      5. Do certain words or phrases keep popping up in your daily conversations, your salespeople’s sales calls, your blog posts, etc.
      6. Use the verbiage your customers use. Mine your live chat logs, emails, customer service calls, in-site search, and especially customer product reviews, if you have them.
      7. As an exercise, do a “25 Random Things About Our Company”. Then, pull out the nuggets and insert them into your About Us page. Or leave the whole list as a link or tab from your About Us page.
      8. Make sure your voice on the About Us page is consistent with the rest of the site. Yes, you can afford to be a little more conversational and personal/passionate, but the overall writing style should be consistent.
  2. Tell your company’s story. The story of why it exists and about the people behind it. Include links to the social profiles of team members.
    1. One way to do this is to use a company history timeline. It is a great way to highlight achievements without braggadocio. Check out how Moz and Canva do this.
  3. Connect people to your leadership.
    1. Humans are attracted to humans, so why do so few sites include photos of company employees? Mail Chimp does an exceptional job at this.
    2. Reflect your company’s passion. Cranberry shares their passion for News and PR Marketing.
    3. Take it easy on the sales pitch and instead give your, and your company’s, story. Miles & Co, a SMB marketing agency, uses their About Us page to highlight their values and demonstrate how those values will benefit their clients.
  4. Reflect your company’s personality. If you’re a fun company, your “About Us” page should be fun. Please don’t try to be fun if you’re not. Just be yourselves. Reiterate your company’s competence and desire to serve customers. Notice how New Relic embraces their inner geek.
  5. Many About Us pages seem like a copy-and-paste job from AboutUs.com. Thinking any old creative will do, will not do. The vast majority of About Us pages are simply boring, stiff, and tightly-clenched pages. Put some thought into how yours is uniquely yours. Marketo’s About Us page is professional but not full of corporate drivel. Instead, Marketo makes a powerful statement about who they are and what they do.
  6. Let the customer inside your company.
    1. I highly recommend the use of video to show off your human side. Of course, it’s important to tell us what you do, but put that content on another page. When visitors click on About Us, they want to know about you.
    2. Reiterate your company’s competence to serve the customers by using all the above tools. Zappos does a masterful job of explaining their company values and their dedication to customers. Google’s About Us page is just plain inspirational.
  7. How to start: Writing a great About Us page is an exercise in empathy, and a Buyer Legend is a great place to start. You’ll need to put yourself in your customers’ place, take their perspective, and reflect back to them what matters most to them about you. Here is a recipe for creating a Buyer Legend.

When you write a Buyer Legend, remember that it is not the story you tell your customers; that’s just promotion. Buyer Legends are stories told from the point of view of your customers; because your brand isn’t what you say it is, but what your customers say it is. A Buyer Legend is designed to create and improve the interactions your customers have with every touch point of your brand, from the boardroom to the stockroom.

Buyer Legends are stories about your customers and their buying journey, and your About Us page gives you a chance to tell your story to the customer more powerfully from their perspective.

Would you like your customers to tell better stories about you than you do about yourself?  Start planning your About us page with this Buyer Legends recipe. Buyer Legends a simple business process that helps you create a customer-centered, data-driven customer experience design that is supported by narrative.

We encourage you to try this for yourself, but if you need help, please let us know. .

 

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Recipe For Buyer Legends (takes ~2 hours)

The Buyer Legends book is your best guide to creating a quick Buyer Legend. There are even more in-depth instructions in our posts that you’ll find in the Recipes For Practical Customer Experience & Optimization.Design series.

What you’ll need to write a Buyer Legend:

You can prove to yourself how powerful Buyer Legends are in under two hours.

The 5 step Buyer Legend process:

  1. Select your perspective – remember that deeper insights produce better results
  2. Perform a pre-mortem – remember Murphy’s Law, if something can go wrong it will so plan for what might go wrong
  3. Outline the story backwards – this forces the why of the previous chronological step and it helps you measure the steps afterwards
  4. Draft the Buyer Legend – the better the story the more money you’ll make by improving execution, communications and testing
  5. Execute – improve, rinse and repeat

The 10 essential ingredients of a Buyer Legend:

  1. The personas
  2. The persona’s purpose & objective
  3. The persona’s rationale
  4. The persona’s key decisions
  5. A pre-mortem for the persona’s buying journey
  6. The persona’s drama (emotional struggles)
  7. A reverse chronology of the persona’s buying journey
  8. The persona’s constraints & considerations
  9. The persona’s reasonable alternatives
  10. Measurement of the Buyer Legend in the real world

Making the Buyer Legend remarkable:

Please keep in mind that Word-of-mouth is triggered only when your customer experiences something far beyond what was expected, for better or for worse. Slightly exceeding their expectations just won’t do it. So incorporate the remarkable into your customer experience.

There are four ways you can be remarkable:

  1. Architectural – the way it is built is remarkable, think about how beautiful Apple’s packaging and products are
  2. Kinetic – when the performance is exceptional, think about how Google dominates search by providing relevant search rrsults
  3. Generosity – the way you exceed customers expectations with unexpected add ons or large portion sizes
  4. Identity – the way you build a connection so that people think of you as part of their tribe

With Buyer Legends you will:

  • Improve communications. Your whole team will “get it”, they will see and understand the bigger picture.
  • Improve execution. You will turn big directives into purposeful and more effective actions
  • Improve testing. You will understand how to plan and implement more effective tests
  • Make more money. You will see improved conversion rates that make the up-front planning worth the time and effort

We encourage you and highly recommend that you try this yourself, but if you need help, please let us know.

 

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Accountability Means You Win Big or Try Again

accountability1Marie, the VP of Marketing, predicts that she can increase conversions to sales by at least 40 percent. She wants to conduct a series of disruptive experiments that make everyone nervous. Scott, the VP of Sales, is especially on edge. The lead-to-contract rate is already a respectable 7.1 percent for this not-so-new marketing technology B2B SaaS. If Marie is right, it’s a homerun. But if she’s wrong, Scott is predicting a debacle on an epic scale.

You’re in charge. Would you give her the green light?  Please continue reading this post on the Salesforce blog

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Heroes Don’t Play It Safe: A Customer-Centric Case Study

Timberland_Stewart_Whitney

Stewart Whitney, Brand President of Timberland

What is the difference between foolhardy and courageous? It’s like the difference between arrogance and confidence; it’s all in the results. Stewart Whitney, Brand President of Timberland, is both courageous and confident. After all, who dares to cut products, eliminate a discount pricing strategy and raise prices across an entire product line when growth is the goal?

Timberland announces a change

Timberland’s management shakeup didn’t seem extraordinary or even unusual. When Patrik Frisk, the new Coalition President of Outdoor Americas for VF (NYSE: VFC), said “To empower the significant growth ahead for the Timberland® brand, we need to connect with our end consumer from head to toe,” it sounded an awful lot like the same old same old.  Appointing Stewart Whitney Brand President was part of the plan to grow revenues by $1.4 billion during the next five years. Timberland’s management expected total revenues to reach $3.1 billion by the end of 2019, representing growth of 13% per year.

The Timberland® brand, a wholly owned subsidiary of VF Corporation, is best known for it’s rugged and fashionable high top yellow leather boots. It was a successful and long established footwear and apparel company whose sales were spectacularly flat.  When Whitney took the helm he might have tried to lift sales by deploying as many non-boat rocking tactics as possible.  Instead, Whitney decided to blow up the brand, to cut products, eliminate a discount pricing strategy and raise prices across an entire product line.

Things are going to change around here

No department was untouched. Timberland’s product designers were ejected from their comfort zone and asked to create new ambitious product lines and styles. Marketing was tasked with revamping the company’s entire global marketing and messaging.  The wholesale division had to sell jittery retailers on a leaner product line with dramatically less SKUs.  Retail and ecommerce eliminated their discount pricing strategy essentially raising prices across the entire product line. Whitney was tilting full speed ahead, at the risk of becoming either a business legend or becoming an exemplary failure.

In our work we often see how difficult the smallest change can be to execute, but Whitney was making deep foundational changes to a brand that didn’t seem broken to most observers inside and outside the company.

Whitney, no doubt, had to contend with the guardians of the company’s status quo. Surely they came out in full force challenging every move, trumpeting the company’s past successes and provoking insomnia and hand wringing amongst their colleagues.  He communicated with the board of directors, the executive team, employees, partners, distributors and retailers about his vision. You may imagine some calling him a maverick, while others called him nuts.

Courage and confidence are fueled by data

It wasn’t just Whitney’s courage that fueled the brand makeover, it was data.  While you could point to any of the changes he was driving as radical, the most significant change Whitney made was to steer Timberland away from being a product-driven company and towards becoming a data-driven company.

Whitney bet the company on it’s customer data and with Timberland posting a 15% increase in year over year sales in 2014, the bet seems to be paying off.  In the Washington Post Sarah Halzack writes about the origin of this success:

“…the cornerstone of the comeback has been a two-year customer study in which it collected data from 18,000 people across eight countries. In analyzing the trove of responses, Timberland was able to diagnose its problems and to zero in on its ideal customer — an urban dweller with a casual interest in the outdoors.”

What is just as remarkable as Whitney’s courage to lead foundational change in an already good organization was his commitment to understanding customer data rather than simply collecting and referencing it.  Far too often execs and marketers cherry pick the data that reinforces their own self-inflicted perspective. Other companies collect data, yet as we wrote about in Tesco’s case , a myopic reading of the data leads to disastrous corporate decisions. Whitney and his team read the customer’s story in the data.  And armed with that narrative he is transforming Timberland from a good brand to more exciting and relevant one.

Armed with a customer-centric narrative

The narrative started with their ideal customer. They named her the “outdoor lifestyler’:

“They’re definitely connected to the outdoors, but in a more casual, everyday way,” Davey said. “They care about the outdoors, but they also care about style. It was really important to them to look right for the occasion.”

The outdoor lifestyler, in other words, is a city dweller who goes for a casual afternoon hike or someone who leaves her house in the morning not knowing if she’s going to spend her afternoon at the park or at the movies. It’s someone who wants versatile clothes that blend in rather than stand out.”

Speaking to outdoor lifestylers would be a sizable departure from their current brand image. In the U.S. Timberland had developed hip-hop cred with rappers by naming the yellow boot “Timbs”.  While in other countries Timberland’s reputation was focused mostly on durability. Abandoning these messages probably looked like a tremendous risk. I’m sure the marketers pointed that out. It was that messaging that kept the lights on yet maintained their current, albeit flat, sales.

Raising prices to save the brand?

Timberland killed their discount pricing model:

Ryan Shadrin, vice president of retail and digital commerce for North America, said it was a scary decision to make but one that has ultimately helped profit margins. At first, Shadrin said, “It’s almost like dead tide. There’s just a point of this eerie quiet where you’re like, ‘Where did everybody go?’ It’s because they’re sort of waiting,” he said, to pounce on a promotion.

Eventually though, shoppers came off the wall when they realized the old promotional cadence was not coming back.

All the changes at Timberland, Shadrin said, “lifted the brand to where we can command those higher prices. The consumer is willing to pay it.”

The result is that profit margin is up 13%.

Results determine the difference between foolhardy and courageous

In business there is a big difference between knowing the right thing to do, and doing the right thing. Doing the right thing always takes courage but knowing the right thing to do requires that you understand your customers.  And the more committed you become to understanding your customer and focusing your company on delighting them the less actual courage you will need. That is the point where confidence replaces arrogance.

A legendary company must be customer-centered, practice data-driven customer experience design, and  manage by narrative. That is exactly what the Buyer Legends process  is designed to do.

So basic that it seems radical  

So why don’t more companies actually put their customers first?  We all know why. However, lets applaud the ones who do. We encourage you to read the entire Washington Post story to appreciate just how comprehensive the Timberland makeover was. Nevertheless, this strikes to the heart of why Whitney has been successful:

Timberland “could’ve followed the many brands that floundered in this changing retail environment, but if you look at all of their strategies holistically, they’re all developed with a steadfast focus on the consumer and innovation,” said Shilpa Rosenberry, senior director of consumer strategy and innovation at Daymon, a retail consultancy.

Timberland’s switch to a consumer-data-driven approach reflects a broader change in an industry where the power dynamics between retailer and customer have shifted to favor the shopper. Unprecedented access to pricing information and product reviews on the Web has made for smarter, more-informed buyers, and retailers are more focused than ever on catering to their high expectations. By letting consumers lead the way, Timberland has rebooted its brand.

Become the hero by turning your customer into the hero of your Buyer Legend

Stewart Whitney is a real-life business hero and not just because he virtually put his vital parts on a chopping block. Whitney is a hero because of his radical fairy-godfather-like commitment to delivering what his customers really want. That’s a winning combo, and one that makes for a happy ending to this story.

Do you have the courage and confidence to be this committed to your customers?

We hope you do.

We will be cheering for you.

And if you want assistance we, the Buyer Legends team, are ready to help you design and optimize a customer-centered, data-driven customer experience that is supported by narrative.

 

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Real Brand Storytelling: Mitch Joel Interviews Bryan Eisenberg for the Twist Image Podcast

spos_lowres_rgbWelcome to episode #446 of Six Pixels Of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast. I have known Bryan Eisenberg forever. Back when I first started publishing music  magazines on the Internet (in the mid-nineties), there were few people writing about the power of the Internet from a business and marketing perspective. There were message boards and email lists… and that’s where I first started reading the work of Bryan. Now, Bryan Eisenberg is the co-author (along with his brother, Jeffrey Eisenberg) of the bestselling books, Call to Action, Waiting For Your Cat to Bark? and Always Be Testing. We have also shared the stage on numerous occasions, because Bryan is a professional marketing keynote speaker as well. He’s done much than that. He is also the co-founder of the Web Analytics Association (now the Digital Analytics Association), serves as an advisory board member of Search Engine Strategies, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summitand several venture capital backed startup companies (like Bazaarvoice, Monetate,Nomi, TagMan, and more). Most recently, he launched a new startup called,IdealSpot, and a fascinating new book called, Buyer Legends – The Executive Storyteller’s Guide. Enjoy the conversation…

Here it is: Six Pixels Of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast – Episode #446 – Host: Mitch Joel.

  • Running time: 46:59.
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What A Used Car Salesman Can Teach You About Empathy

car-salesmanHe pushy pushed his way up towards the stage. I had just finished presenting the keynote at Driving Sales, an automotive dealers conference. He thrust out his hand and eagerly shook mine; saying “thanks … blah blah blah…. “ And then I heard him clearly “…too often I am obsessed with pushing customers through sales and I’m not helping them buy!” Really!?! That forced me to pay attention. I hope that he didn’t notice me picking my jaw up from the floor. It isn’t everyday that a car salesman genuinely expresses deep concern for a customer. Most of us would rather have a no anesthesia root canal than be escorted to the manager’s office in a car dealership.  … Please read the rest of this post at BryanEisenberg.com

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How To Test For What Matters

Gerald never imagined his 71 year old grandpa would be the one championing a shopping cart and checkout development initiative to both the CIO and the CFO. Gerald’s grandfather, Isaac, doesn’t carry a smartphone and handwrites notes on printed-for-him emails that he returns to his assistant. Isaac is the founder and CEO of a popular apparel catalog merchant that has been thriving for over forty years.

 [Names have been changed to protect our friend’s privacy. The images you’ll see are to illustrate the points]

 When Gerald was hired by Matt, the CMO who is a veteran catalog merchandiser, as the Director of Ecommerce at the company he knew that he would be under scrutiny. Matt demanded that any family members at the company be at least twice as good as anyone else at their job.

Gerald was indeed doing a great job but he was frustrated. His team had spent almost a year optimizing the shopping cart. Due to Matt’s catalog company pedigree placement and copy were seen as THE critical variables. They tested  and retested the placement, color, shapes and sizes of buttons. Gerald fought hard to eliminate a step and two required form fields in the checkout. The shopping cart and checkout were streamlined. Yet they only realized minimal success with conversion improving 17% from 2.89% to 3.38%.

Matt urged Gerald to turn it up a notch and run even more tests. With little confidence that more testing would improve results and a shortage of new actionable testing ideas Gerald could feel himself between a rock on one side and a hard place on the other.  Gerald knew their shopping cart was lacking features that many apparel sites had but knew any changes that involved significant development time and resources so the investment would be difficult or even impossible to push through.  He obviously couldn’t play the grandson card either and he was sure his Luddite grandfather would side with Matt who after all was responsible for all that web stuff.

Yet a few weeks later here he was, watching grandpa convince his C-suite colleagues.  The best part?  Grandpa, the Luddite, was making a passionate case for a technology change he couldn’t have cared less about before.

Understanding Gerald’s dilemma

Neil Patel wrote about “7 A/B Testing Blunders That Even Experts Make”, and explained in Blunder #3, “Expecting big wins from small changes”;

“If small changes are providing huge gains, something else is wrong with your design or copy. The conversion wins that small changes provide typically don’t hold.

The biggest conversion boosts are going to come from drastic changes. So, if you really want to move your conversion rates, don’t focus on small changes. Instead, focus on drastic changes, as they are the ones that boost your revenue.

When you are starting out, you could try small tweaks to your design and copy to see if your conversion rates increase, but eventually you’ll need to focus on the big wins.

What I like doing is to focus on the drastic changes. Once I feel I’ve maximized their potential, I then focus on the small changes.”

What Patel is describing is the inclination that most companies like Gerald’s have. They test variations of individual elements instead of trying to identify variables that might move the needle. Perhaps this happens because of how testing software is designed to work. Yet, 90% of their tests yield little to no results and it is discouraging.

Gerald knew that continuing to do what he was doing would give him the same result . He knew they should be making changes but didn’t know exactly where to start.

Then Gerald met with me at a conference and we spoke a few minutes. He was intrigued by the idea of the book we were working on. I sent him an early draft on the promise that he wouldn’t share it but that he would provide feedback after he went through the Buyer Legends process.

Below is the portion of one of Gerald’s Buyer Legends that start at the Add to Cart phase of the story. The legend describes the current experience, the possible variation tests, and then a variable test. Please take note of how the likelihood of impact is described in the Legend itself.

Testing Legend – Add to Cart –> Checkout –> Confirm Purchase → Confirmation email

The current experience:

“… Pat clicks the Add to Cart button and is taken to the Checkout page. She looks over to the right and sees the Checkout Now button, and clicks on it. Pat notices that that prominently to the right of the form fields, the company addresses her privacy rights next to her billing and shipping information. Her security is addressed right next to the billing information. Pat feels reassured and comfortable filling out those fields, so she does. Finally, she sees her order and the prominent Complete Your Purchase button. Underneath the Complete Your Purchase button, she sees in a contrasting color one last reassurance; a 100% money back, no-questions-asked guarantee. Pat clicks and confidently completes the purchase. Pat notices when she receives her confirmation email..”

This is a reasonably good customer experience.

Here are some potential variation tests that might improve results:

“… Pat clicks the Add to Cart button and is taken to the Checkout page. She looks over to the right and sees the Checkout Now button and clicks on it. Pat notices that prominently [test copy] to the right of the form fields, the company addresses her privacy right next to her billing and shipping information [test copy]. Her security is addressed right next to the billing information [test copy]. Pat feels reassured and comfortable filling out those fields, so she does. Finally, she sees her order and the Complete Your Purchase button [test copy, button size, color etc.]. Underneath the Complete Your Purchase button, she sees in a contrasting color one last reassurance; a 100% money back, no-questions-asked guarantee. [test copy] Pat clicks and confidently completes the purchase. Pat notices when she receives her confirmation email..”

There are likely small but valuable wins in improving copy and perhaps even a button test. However, do any of these changes fundamentally improve the experience?

Here you’ll see a potentially important variable to test instead:

“… Pat clicks the Add to Cart button and is taken to the Checkout page. On the Checkout page, she confirms that it’s the right item (there is a thumbnail image), the right size, and the right quantity.She looks over to the right and sees the Checkout Now button and clicks on it. Pat notices that prominently to the right of the form fields, the company addresses her privacy right next to her billing and shipping information. Her security is addressed right next to the billing information. Pat feels reassured and comfortable filling out those fields, so she does. Finally, she sees her order details, exactly as she saw them in her shopping cart, and the Complete Your Purchase button. Underneath the Complete Your Purchase button, she sees in a contrasting color one last reassurance; a 100% money back, no-questions-asked guarantee. Pat clicks and confidently completes the purchase. Pat is thrilled when all the information,including the product detail with thumbnail image and reassurances show up in her confirmation email exactly as the appeared on the Checkout page.”

Did you notice the hypothesis embedded in Gerald’s last legend?

The hypothesis is that when at the point of greatest cognitive dissonance, placing the order, we should reassure the buyer in every way that they are getting the right thing. Because of the large abandonment rate at this step Gerald was confident that testing it would impact conversions significantly.

Gerald was a bit surprised when Matt told him he shared the Buyer Legends with Isaac.  It seems Matt found Buyer Legends a useful way to communicate with Isaac. His grandfather was committed to testing this and anything on the site that would “help make things clearer and less confusing for our customers”.

Gerald shouldn’t have been surprised.  Isaac had kept the company viable in up and down times driven by his relentless commitment to the customer.

Before reading Gerald’s Buyer Legend Isaac had always considered the online business as simply an evolved function of operations and cost control; much less intimate than his baby the call center. The Buyer Legend helped him empathize with his customers and he was able to begin examining the web site as an opportunity to better deliver on the company’s promise to the customers.

The ecommerce business went up 29.4% over budget this holiday season. Gerald tells us that a significant part of this is due to using the Buyer Legend process.

The takeaway – are you testing too much for too little reward?

If 90% of your tests yield little to no results and you’re discouraged there is hope.

You may not sell apparel but I hope you can see how using the Buyer Legends process helps to provide the customer’s perspective. It delivers an empathetic jolt of context and relevance to your entire team. Use Buyer Legends to identify the most important variables; then you can make incremental improvements by testing variations.

We want to hear about your success with Buyer Legends. If you’d like to learn more, please read Buyer Legends: The Executive Storyteller’s Guide, look into our trainings or if you don’t care to go it alone we’re always here to help you.

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What we can offer you

Speak at Your Event

We can speak at your event. Our fees are $20,000 in North America, and that includes travel. International fees are $20,000 plus business class travel, from Austin, and lodging. Contact us to discuss your event  

Workshops

We kick-off the workshop with a two-day onsite visit. We help you create the Four Pillar foundation for your organization. The entire process takes between 4-8 weeks and the typical investment is $30,000 – $100,000.

Four Pillars Ongoing Support

After our workshops, we work with only a few select clients. Your business must be committed to the Four Pillars (as described in Be Like Amazon) on a long-term basis .