I would look for specific skills in some basic marketing methods. Those likely will include being sufficiently skilled in the methods we’ve discussed here, like PPC, email marketing, and SEO and SEM. They would also include other skills, such as social media marketing. It’s also important to be able to identify, understand, and relate to target markets, including being able to design strategies and programs to meet them where they are.
Marketing a product or service today is easier than ever before in history. Using platforms like Facebook ads or Google ads, a company can market their product directly to people who perfectly fit the ideal client demographic, at a very low cost. Digital Marketing tools, Pay per Click ads, and email marketing can help a company dramatically increase sales. At the same time, many companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools often see disappointing results.
In this interview series called “How to Effectively Leverage The Power of Digital Marketing, PPC, & Email to Dramatically Increase Sales”, we are talking to marketers, advertisers, brand consultants, & digital marketing gurus who can share practical ideas from their experience about how to effectively leverage the power of digital marketing, PPC, & email.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shawn Khorrami of ePlaybooks.com.
Shawn is a serial entrepreneur, having founded and managed more than a dozen businesses from the ground up from zero employees into substantial small and medium size businesses. In the process, he has managed thousands of team members acquiring and servicing tens of thousands of customers, large and small, from consumers to SMBs and even governmental entities. He has formal training in marketing and sales, and has led the marketing department of all of his businesses. He has significantly used digital marketing, PPC, and email marketing for more than 20 years to drive sales in his own businesses as well as creating marketing strategies and plans focused on these methods for companies with whom he has consulted. In addition, one of the companies that he founded and ultimately spun off was a marketing company focused on email and PPC.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
From the time that I was a teenager, I have found myself interested in creating products or services that bring value to those around me. Quite simply, I was always interested in creating something rather than just doing a job. That’s what energized me.
I believe that’s the reason that my career as an entrepreneur started when I was still in high school. Back then, I began a real estate management firm with a focus on using automation to drive expansion and revenues. I stepped away from that business in favor of finishing college where I obtained degrees in mathematics, economics, and computers, and later obtained a law degree. While my classmates were thinking about where they would find employment once they received their degree, I was busy creating my own business.
Through the years, regardless of my personal or professional circumstances, I found that I was consistently drawn to creating systems to serve various needs that I was able to identify within the industry in which I was focused. This resulted in a constant stream of ideas geared toward improving products and services so that businesses, many of them my competitors, can be more efficient and better service their clients. From this process came the businesses that I created across an array of industries. Along the way, I’ve had some phenomenal successes and catastrophic failures. I’ve learned that the key is to first continue to innovate and improve, and second to use failures as learning experiences. I’ve also learned that I love the journey of creating and growing companies and perhaps even more than that, I enjoy getting to know and work with different partners with varying perspectives.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Around 2002 or 2003, my friend and I, each of whom had our own businesses, decided to do a co-marketing campaign. Part of the campaign was our email lists. While my company regularly conducted email outreach, his had accumulated a sizeable list, but had not used it for marketing. Needless to say, some of the laws and practices around email marketing have substantially changed during the past two decades.
Anyway, we advised my friend to use a dedicated server and URL to conduct the email campaign. He balked, saying that he had all of the necessary authorizations and that he saw no reason to go through any extra steps. We warned him that the passage of time and the fact that he had not been in regular contact with his email list may meet with some faulty memories; that sometimes people do not remember who or what they authorized. To make a long story short, of the 20 or 30 thousand people on his email list, several complained. This caused a shutdown of email for half of his employees for over a week and a substantial business interruption. It certainly was not funny for him when it was happening.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Without question, my father. Rather than try to share a story, I would share the sacrifice that my father (both of my parents) made, solely for the benefit of me and my sister. Both of them were accomplished and well engrained in Iran. My father was a 50% owner of a successful construction company and my mother was a professor at the University of Tehran. After the Iranian revolution, they decided that the political and economic climate was not appropriate for the two of us. In their forties, established in their careers, my parents uprooted themselves, leaving their careers and their lives to come to a foreign country (the US) and rebuilding their lives from scratch solely because of their two children.
For months, as my sister and I did not know any English, and while having to restart his entire life from scratch during the days, my father still found time every single night to spend hours reading our textbooks, translating them to us and working with us to complete homework.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
With our new startup, we wanted to address the tectonic shift online that has been supercharged by the pandemic. More entrepreneurs are starting online businesses, and those who were already online have increased their investment in their ventures. At the same time, there has been an explosion in consumer and B2B demand across virtually the entire economy. We want to help entrepreneurs be successful in an increasingly competitive and changing environment and economic climate. What makes us stand out is that we are ourselves serial entrepreneurs having started and grown businesses across a wide array of verticals. We come from widely different backgrounds. We want to put all of that experience to use for our clients by taking the risk with them and being compensated only when we achieve the growth that we promise. We do that through three key avenues: Education, Consultation, and Investment.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I think that there are a number of traits that are important to being a successful as an entrepreneur or a founder. If I were to pick three traits that have been helpful to me in my journey, I would start with being relentless. I am extremely persistent. I have a never give up attitude. That allows me to keep going and working even in the face of setbacks, regardless of how substantial they may appear at the time. It also enables me to be constantly in search of solutions. I believe that I can always find a solution to any problem. At the same time, it allows me to be highly adaptable. After all, the only constant in business is change. And being able to recognize change and adjust to it is key to succeeding.
A second trait is that I fear inaction more than I fear failure. I am very comfortable being the ultimate person responsible; having the buck stop with me. I am also very comfortable making decisions and am prepared to live with the consequences. This allows me to take the lead when others shy away. It also allows me to move an organization forward where others may be hesitant or even become paralyzed.
Third, I am a very hard worker. I have never been the type to work 9 to 5. Those who work with me know that it is very common for me to be deep in a project at times when most people are sleeping. The point is that for me, it is not about business hours. It’s about putting in the time and effort required to get to a goal without regard to pay.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
One of the more exciting projects that we’re currently working on involves a client that has an established and popular brand, but has not been very good at developing an online footprint. This leaves us with a lot of very exciting possibilities as we help them take advantage of sales channels which they have not tapped.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. As we mentioned in the beginning, sometimes companies that just start exploring with digital marketing tools like PPC campaigns often see disappointing results. In your opinion, what are a few of the biggest mistakes companies make when they first start out with digital marketing? If you can, please share an example for each.
In my opinion, one of the top fundamental mistakes that companies make when they’re experimenting with digital marketing is focusing on eyeballs rather than actual conversions. While it is nice to have people visit your website, an effective marketing campaign should not be focused on visitors but the ROI. Do not just blindly throw money at marketing. You are spending money. Know what you are getting in return. Additionally, you must get specific. Where is your campaign failing? Is it in getting traffic? Is it in conversions? What are your click-through rates?
Another fundamental mistake is failing to define a target audience or failing to design marketing campaigns that reach that audience, even when you define it. Many who are just beginning their digital marketing efforts believe that casting a wide net is the best way to go. The truth is that most of your business’s revenues will ultimately come from a relative few and specific groups. Therefore, knowing your customer is one of the most important, foundational elements of a successful marketing campaign. My recommendation is developing customer personas.
A third major mistake that you commonly see is the failure to identify pain points. Your customers are primarily interested in solving their pain points or problems. They are not interested in your product. Rather than focusing on features and advantages of your product, it’s important to inform your prospective customers about how your product can solve their pain points.
As with anything, there are many pitfalls and obstacles when it comes to digital marketing. These are among the most common, but by no means the only mistakes. There are dozens of others, and many of them major ones.
If you could break down a very successful digital marketing campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.
Obviously, there is no one size fits all blueprint. There are some general guidelines that serve as a good starting point, but which need customization in order to meet the particulars of any business and also the economic realities. I think the first step is to do a market assessment. Look at your business and the product(s) or service(s) that you provide. What sets you apart? What is unique about your business? What is unique about your product(s)? You need to also assess at a macro level. Figure out the industry you’re in. This may seem like an easy answer, but it does take some thinking. Then, assess that industry and your competitors.
I would then address one of the mistakes that I’ve outlined earlier. Know your audience: You should start with your target audience or market. You should create a customer persona, and as I’ve stated previously, you want to have your personas be as specific and detailed as possible. Go deep.
Set your goals and objectives. Decide on the type/amount of growth that you want to generate over, say, a calendar year. Then translate that into how many qualified leads — i.e. sales qualified, marketing qualified — you would need in order to generate that growth.
The next thing I would do is address another of the mistakes that I mentioned. Discover your customers’ pain points. What are the problems they are looking to solve? How does your product or service solve those for them?
Developing this information will help you decide the where and how you should market. Is email marketing the most effective? How about social media? How about your SEO strategy? What paid media makes sense?
Set a budget. No matter what the size of your business, you always need to decide what resources can be allocated to any endeavor. With your marketing plan, among other things, a budget will allow you to decide which and how many campaigns you can run effectively. Additionally, knowing this information will allow you to figure out the return you expect from your investment (ROI). From there, you can figure out whether your marketing campaign is designed to meet your goals.
Decide how you will be dealing with your leads. You are going to have various buckets of leads as prospective customers enter your marketing funnel. You should have a plan to assure that you are leaving nothing on the table. You need to turn your leads or prospects into actual customers, and then, into return or regular customers.
Assess your campaigns. You need to have a way of assessing the success of your campaign and know where it is working and where it is not. For this, you will need to gather data. Do you have a plan to gather the data you need?
Finally, your plan needs to be fluid. The world around you is constantly changing. Your marketing plan needs to be flexible and nimble in order to adapt. Again, this is a very basic blueprint. There are a lot of details that can be added. And you need to customize to your particular business and industry.
Let’s talk about Pay Per Click Marketing (PPC) for a bit. In your opinion which PPC platform produces the best results to increase sales?
The answer to this question largely depends on the type of business. Every business should consider a variety of factors before deciding on the platform. For example, I would make sure that I pick platforms whose user base best matches my target audience and my marketing program. Additionally, I would look carefully at budget considerations and competition. One of my top choices remains Google Ads in large part because of the sheer number of searches and the volume of websites on its Google Display Network. For most businesses, I would recommend Google Ads to be part of their PPC advertising. At the same time, it is important to consider that Google tends to have higher CPC than some of the other platforms out there, and tends to be extremely competitive.
In second place is probably Facebook, though I think that Bing Ads (owned by Microsoft) is also a good choice. Facebook is notably different from Google and Bing. For one, it is not search based. Rather, it focuses on demographic targeting. You also get access to two of the biggest social media networks, Facebook and Instagram.
Can you please share 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful PPC campaign?
There are a lot of important considerations that go into having a highly successful PPC campaign. If I were to pick just three, I would start with what I mentioned earlier. One of the top factors to consider is the user base of the platform. For example, if people are not looking for my product or service on Google, then that may not be the best platform for me. I would make sure that I use a platform that best matches my target audience. Additionally, it’s crucial to customize your campaign to target locations, interests, etc.
Additionally, it’s important to consider carefully the type of ad that you want to invest in. Do you want to use images, video, or a slideshow. Or perhaps, you’re looking to using display or search ads.
A third important consideration is to determine the ad budget. How you spend that budget will certainly depend on the number of platforms that you are using. They will also depend on your bidding strategy. Is it cost per click? Cost per acquisition? Or are you paying per view or by the number of impressions? Picking the right strategy will help you make the most of your ad dollars.
Let’s now talk about email marketing for a bit. In your opinion, what are the 3 things that you need to know to run a highly successful email marketing campaign that increases sales?
As with any marketing, there are a number of factors that go into a successful campaign. It’s tough to pick just three. To me, the first rule is to make sure that you are not just sending promotional emails. There are various ways of engaging with your email list. At its essence, your email marketing should focus on nurturing your relationship with your customers. After all, email marketing is what is sometimes referred to as permission based marketing. Your subscribers are giving you permission to email them. It is akin to being invited into their home. So, it’s important to act accordingly. At the end of the day, play the long game when it comes to your campaigns. Optimize them for lifetime value and not single transactions.
Segmentation: target groupings of customers who have certain common attributes. Be sure to go deeper than just age and gender. Use the data that you’ve accumulated. The more targeted your email, the better. This also allows you to be more personal, which is another important consideration.
A third rule and one which I see marketers neglect often is to pay particular attention to the from and subject lines. It is crucial that your email subscribers understand that an email is coming from you and/or your company. Additionally, you have to use compelling, tempting subject lines. Your subject line needs to tell your readers exactly what to expect and needs to do so in an interest-provoking way.
What are the other digital marketing tools that you are passionate about? If you can, can you share with our readers what they are and how to best leverage them?
In terms of tools, there are many good ones that we can discuss. There are literally dozens that I would recommend depending on the industry, and the particular needs and wants of the business. Since we’ve been talking about email marketing, I think MailChimp is an important email marketing tool. It’ll allow you to automate and coordinate your campaigns, including important tracking features. It also have integrations with a variety of SaaS firms. I also like SendGrid because it has an entire suite of email marketing services, and it’s easy to use whether you’re a newcomer to email marketing or a seasoned pro.
I think Google Analytics is a must for any online business. It’s free and provides crucial insight on the traffic on your website, including, where they’re coming from — whether from ads, referrals from other websites, organic searches, or directly — the amount of time they’re spending on your site and the pages they’re visiting, keywords that are being used in Google to find you, etc.
For SEO, I think Ahrefs is a must when it comes to keyword ideas and ways to rank on search engines. It allows you to get important intel on your competitors, including traffic they receive from different search terms, top performing content, sources of backlinks, etc. Also, Neil Patel’s outfit has some great tools. I like their Ubersuggest.
We could go on and on. There are many other fantastic digital marketing tools out there that are just as important to executing successful marketing campaigns and plans. As with other marketing solutions, it really depends on the type of business, budgets, goals, and various other factors.
Here is the main question of our series. Can you please tell us the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career as a digital marketer? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Different types of marketing and businesses require different skillsets and characteristics. But if I were to pick five things, I would start with their analytical skills. The job is not just about data, but it’s about what that data means and how to use it to make adjustments to plans and strategies. Also, having a good understanding of budget and finance is a must. All too often, marketing professionals do not seem sufficiently educated on even key basic metrics such as ROI or KPIs. Ultimately, marketing leaders must be able to properly evaluate, communicate, and optimize their marketing initiatives and strategies.
Third, I would look for specific skills in some basic marketing methods. Those likely will include being sufficiently skilled in the methods we’ve discussed here, like PPC, email marketing, and SEO and SEM. They would also include other skills, such as social media marketing. It’s also important to be able to identify, understand, and relate to target markets, including being able to design strategies and programs to meet them where they are.
I believe that a digital marketer needs to understand Cx and Ux as well. Digital marketing includes upselling and marketing to current clients. This is particularly true in light of the increase in subscription models. Marketing professionals must be able to understand the complete user and customer experience, and provide input in order to create and maximize both upsell and relationship-building opportunities.
Finally, I believe that a digital marker, particularly one who wants to become a leader, must have strong organization, project management, and leadership skills. Marketing professionals must be able to manage multiple marketing programs. They will likely be asked to create and manage omnichannel marketing plans, which inevitably will require using various technologies and tools, as well as multiple teams, and different target audiences. This will require a lot of organization and management skills.
Again, there are lots of skills and characteristics that one would need to be successful in digital marketing. Employers will certainly look for a lot of different variables including characteristics that best match their corporate culture.
What books, podcasts, videos or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
I am constantly on the lookout for tools to sharpen my skills. Those include a combination of guides, ebooks, podcasts, and the like. In general, considering the rapidly changing landscape, I am a big consumer of resources that provide time-sensitive updates and information regarding new technologies. It’s hard to place my finger on any one resource as I believe in obtaining information from as broad a spectrum of resources as possible, particularly in light of the way that information reaches us in today’s world.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I don’t know if one can consider it a movement or whether it hadn’t already been inspired. However, considering the enormity of the issue and what the entire planet has been through because of the Covid-19 pandemic, I believe that helping eradicate and control diseases by helping provide vaccinations and treatment across the globe is probably what would do the most good for the most number of people.
How can our readers further follow your work?
My work can be followed on my personal website, my new startup, ePlaybooks.com or through LinkedIn or Facebook . I post fresh ideas on different aspects and challenges of running a business regularly.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!