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How To Optimize for Search in 2023



How To Optimize for Search in 2023

Don’t expect Google to take a sabbatical this year.

Do expect SEO to be more nuanced than ever in 2023.

My best advice? Track your SEO key performance indicators (KPIs) more often to identify positive or negative trends in your organic results.

But don’t worry about every shift in search rankings because they fluctuate. Pages that drop could quickly rebound a month later, even if the fall happened because of one of Google’s frequent algorithm tweaks.

Instead, focus your SEO strategy on producing as much useful and original content as possible.

I stop short of saying “quality” content because that’s subjective. Google doesn’t give a good explanation in its guidelines championing quality content. Does “quality” refer to exceptional writing, the depth of content on a page, the design of a page, or other factors?

If you provide relevant, original content that answers searchers’ questions and addresses their concerns, you’ll be fine. Though companies may offer similar products and services, you still can create content that offers fresh insights, and perspectives only your brand can share (i.e., case studies, in-depth FAQs, etc.).

Of course, any website can suffer when Google algorithm updates lead its rankings to take a hit. That most likely happens when websites fall short of Google’s guidelines about avoiding hidden text, keyword stuffing, and other spammy practices. The helpful content update in August 2022 focused on the worst offenders.

TIP: This Search Engine Land article explores Google’s crackdown on websites that try to get around its spam policies. And make sure to read the October 2022 updated webmaster guidelines, now called Google Search Essentials.

Expect #SEO to be more nuanced than ever in 2023, says @MikeOnlineCoach via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

SEO rankings can drop even when you follow the rules

Unfortunately, websites can lose favor with Google even if they don’t intentionally violate any search guidelines. Some of my clients suddenly have seen a massive drop in many rankings even though the SEO elements on affected pages hadn’t changed.

No one knows the precise weight Google places on each ranking factor, from HTML headers to image optimization. In November, the search giant published a roundup document of its ranking systems (what’s in effect and what’s part of search history) that offers some insight.

You also could find several potential solutions to a drop in rankings in my article, How the Right SEO Plan Can Revive Website Rankings and Traffic.

Another potential boost to your rankings comes from Google’s introduction of continuous scrolling in December. Desktop searchers in the United States can now read up to six search result “pages” before a searcher has to click “more results.” Google rolled out this feature for searches on mobile devices in 2021.

It will be interesting to see whether searchers scroll past the traditional first 10 results. You may see 11th through 20th ranking results get extra clicks. Let’s hope so.

As you start the new year, try these eight tips to keep your SEO thriving.

1. Review your SEO KPIs

Rankings and organic search traffic data are relative. Consider adding critical metrics like leads, sales, and PDF downloads as key performance indicators. Even if a few pages aren’t at the very top of search engine results pages (SERPs), any reasonable ranking may prompt better conversion numbers.

If you monitor the competition, look across the industry’s content landscape. You may be tempted to evaluate only known business competitors. But think about your content competitors, too.

Any website ranking better than your site for your targeted keywords can be a digital marketing rival. Study the content of any website that takes a higher spot in the SERPs. What are they doing that you’re not?

Study any #Content that takes a higher #SERP spot than yours. What does it have that yours doesn’t? @MikeOnlineCoach via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

2. Track your presence in SERPs

Pay attention to your changing SERPs. I call them shapeshifters. They don’t change right before your eyes, but they vary significantly from keyword to keyword.

It’s not uncommon for SERPs to appear differently for the exact keyword phrase from one day to the next. It happens when Google decides what snippets to show – everything from featured snippets to People Also Ask to videos to the Local Pack could appear.

Monitor whether your organic result falls below one or more of the snippet features on a SERP. In other words, your No. 4 ranking may not appear in the same position on the page when those prominent features push it lower.

You can get some insights from RankRanger, which charts trends in its Google SERP Features tool. The chart below shows how often each element appeared in Google SERPs between November 24 and December 22.

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Click to enlarge.

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • People Also Ask appeared most often (in response to between 40 and 67% of queries)
  • Local Pack appeared in response to about 44% of queries (with one dip down to 31%)
  • Ads appeared on about 33% of SERPs, with a spike to 44% on December 10.
  • FAQ/ How-To Snippets typically appeared in about 22% of SERPS (with a drop to about 12% from December 6 to December 15).
  • Featured Snippets appeared on about 13% of SERPs (with one leap to 20% on December 19).
  • Knowledge Panel appears on about 10% of SERPs.
  • Things To Know only appears on 1 to 2% of SERPs.

3. Understand that backlinks may diminish in importance

I’m still a fan of pursuing backlinks for referral traffic and their potential influence on rankings. But backlinks’ impact on the Google algorithm could change, according to Google Search Advocate John Mueller.

In an interview on a 2022 Search Off the Record podcast, he said, “But my guess is over time, it won’t be such a big factor as sometimes it is today.”

Does that mean you should put the brakes on link-building? No.

Google may dial down its importance, but the referral traffic is still valuable. You never know how your next customer might discover your site.

4. Monitor page load speed

You shouldn’t overlook page load speed as an SEO factor. Google wants searchers to find what they need as quickly as possible.

Improve your website page load times to offer a great user experience. (Actually, don’t neglect any Core Web Vitals.)

But, remember: Websites that are deficient in some areas still rank well. Sometimes they have an edge because of a keyword in the domain name (yes, the words in a domain name still matter) or are packed with educational content visitors crave.

5. Don’t give up on page titles

Page titles (sometimes called SEO titles or title tags) describe a page.

I’m old enough to remember page titles from 1998 littered with keywords like: “Ball Bearings, Spherical Roller Bearings, Deep Groove Ball Bearings,” or “Jewelry | Fine Jewelry | Online Jewelry Shop.”

Fortunately, content marketers can create catchier page titles that pair keywords with a message. For example, Good Housekeeping has nailed title tags like this: “75 Best Gifts for Grandma 2022 – Thoughtful Grandma Gift Ideas.”

I don’t love using the same word twice in a page title, but it works here. As the table below shows, the URL ranks in the No. 1 position for “gifts for grandma,” “grandma gifts,” “gifts for grandma christmas,” “christmas gift for grandma,” “best gifts for grandma,” and “grandma gift ideas.”

1672807505 701 How To Optimize for Search in 2023

Maybe the title’s inclusion of the word “thoughtful” isn’t critical for an SEO strategy, but it sells the page. And I doubt Google will penalize page titles that contain a few less valuable words.

Don’t ignore page titles in your SEO strategy. They still matter, says @MikeOnlineCoach via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Of course, the addition of non-SEO-focused adjectives like “thoughtful” do make a title longer. Some people argue that page titles shouldn’t exceed 60 characters. But that character count estimate is based on having the full title appear in search results –Google doesn’t cite any character limit for page titles.

I explore title tags in this CMI piece: Write Each SEO Page Title With Google Changes in Mind. And Search Engine Land has a good article about title tag length: What should the title tag length be in 2023?

Of course, titles don’t necessarily matter as much as they once did. Google’s sophisticated machine learning helps websites rank for keywords that aren’t in the title. (In the Good Housekeeping example, the word “Christmas” doesn’t appear in the title, but the content ranks well for keyword phrases that include the holiday.)

Also, in the last two years, Google increasingly hasn’t displayed page titles on the ranking pages. Instead, it usually replaces them with the header (H1 tag) on the page (typically, the page headline).

For now, keep optimizing page titles because Google still considers them in its ranking criteria.

6. Explore new-to-you tools

You probably know (or at least have heard of) popular platforms like Ahrefs, BrightEdge, Conductor, Moz, and Semrush. I recently scoped out a few additional ones to consider:

Suggest Machine

This free service provides long-tail keyword possibilities. While you should still use other tools, you can quickly discover phrases you haven’t considered. It lets you input up to 10 keywords or topics and pick the preferred language and country before returning suggestions and potential search questions.

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This free service lets you input a topic, query, brand, or question. You pick where the resulting ideas come from – Google autocomplete, Reddit and Quora, Google’s People Also Ask, keyword discovery, or content explorer.

1672807505 395 How To Optimize for Search in 2023

It returns the ideas in a couple of formats – a questions map and a list of topics under the categories of who, what, where, when, why, which, and can.


AlsoAsked taps into Google’s People Also Ask queries and explores relationships along diverse topics. Heavily focused on searcher intent, the results can help marketers structure their content and internal links.

It usually offers a few free searches but operates as a subscription service with plans starting at $15 a month.

In this example, a search for the keyword “stair treads” shows these results (each with a plus mark so users can click to see more options for that result):

  • Should stair treads be nailed or screwed?
  • Do risers go on before treads?
  • Do stair treads have to overhang?
  • How do you install stair treads over existing stairs?
  • Should I caulk stair treads?
  • Are stair treads worth it?

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This free, bulk keyword tool shows related keywords and questions for the topics you explore. In this example, I input the keywords “metal prints,” “custom metal prints,” and “buy metal prints,” and it shared over 14 results (spelling and punctuation appear the way the tool returned them):

  • metal prints online
  • metal prints wall art
  • metal prints vs canvas
  • metal prints Costco
  • metal prints near me
  • metal prints reviews
  • metal prints shutterfly
  • metal prints walgreens
  • who prints photos on metal
  • wholesale metal prints
  • who sells prints
  • whats metal art
  • what are metal prints.”

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7. Don’t neglect branded keyword phrases

With a company or product name as the keyword, your brand may not dominate the top results as much as you could.

Content, image file, page title, and other tweaks may improve your rankings. You can make slight improvements on a page without jeopardizing non-branded keyword phrases.

I offer some advice on pursuing this “low-hanging fruit” in this article: How to Use SEO to Boost Branded Keyword Rankings on Google.

8. Use schema to clarify content types

Depending on your content, you can use one of 30 schema types. Semrush has an extensive article: What Is Schema Markup and How To Implement Structured Data. Structured data lets Google understand your website information better and deliver better search results.

Chart your SEO course in 2023

SEO success in 2023 will require you to stay on top of your performance metrics and make frequent adjustments. Whether Google targets a small segment of one industry or plays with SERPs like a puppeteer, you can take helpful steps for better results overall.

New content that addresses searchers’ questions is your best SEO-strategy defense. It’s a tough road. Organic traffic may take some hits, but it’s still a digital marketing powerhouse.

All tools mentioned in this article are identified by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, please include it in the comments. 

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists



Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.


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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots



A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)



Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.



To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.

Disruptive Design Raising the Bar of Content Marketing with Graphic

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