Lookin’ for B2B buyers in all the wrong places?

Sometimes B2B marketing is conducted like the country song “Lookin’ for Love” made popular by Johnny Lee in the 1980 film Urban Cowboy.

I was reminded of how common this problem is when working on a recent copywriting project. The work was for a B2B marketing agency whose client was selling products and services to small business.

Small businesses come in many types, of course, including such categories as:

  • Personal services, such as hair and nail salons
  • Home services, including contractors, landscapers, plumbers, electricians, etc.
  • Restaurants
  • Gift stores
  • Financial services, including CPAs and financial advisors
  • Lawyers and physicians
  • Dry cleaners and tailors
  • Shoe repairs
  • Phone stores
  • Framing shops
  • Drug stores
  • Nail and hair salons
  • and many more.

All of the direct mail, email and digital B2B marketing elements (media, channels, messaging) that were part of the client’s B2B marketing programs were chosen to reach and appeal to the generic small business.

However, like the song lyric “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places,” this company was spreading its marketing budget over such a broad sweep of channels and businesses that the impact of each dollar spent was significantly diminished.

Then, its agency conducted a detailed analysis of the client’s customer database and the revelation was dramatic. Out of the dozens of small business categories, a handful of very specific types of small businesses stood far above the rest in terms of the number of orders and amount of revenue they generated.

Now, with this research in hand, all the client’s B2B marketing efforts are focused on channels that directly reach these small business categories. All the visuals and copy used in the marketing are designed to build a connection with these specific business types.

The lesson is clear. It’s essential that B2B marketers periodically conduct this kind of analysis of their own customer data. It’s the only way to ensure that they are not spreading their dollars too thinly, but that their targeting and messaging lead to the most sales, the greatest income and the best lifetime value.

5 must-dos in B2B marketing measurement and metrics.

I just attended another fabulous live presentation by the San Diego Direct Marketing Association. The speakers, Randy Gerson of Gerson & Associates and Chris d’Eon of Deon Direct, knocked one out of the park — again.

ROI ChartLast time I saw Chris speak was when he was at ProFlowers. It was at that talk that I first realized he was a real direct marketing pro. This last presentation on “Collecting Marketing Metrics that Matter” didn’t change my mind about that. Randy, too, spilled out an impressive core of knowledge and advice.

Out of my pages of endless notes came a number of bits that every B2B marketer should brand on his or her brain. Here are five of those bits — from the experts’ mouths to my keyboard:

1. Keep your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) on a single page. Any more than that will lead only to a muddied understanding of the metrics. Remember, KPIs are NOT analysis. They are top-level trends only.

2. In B2B, never figure cost per sale on immediate sales revenue. Always calculate it using the average life-time value of a customer.

3. Always start with simple A/B split testing. If the company is new or starting testing for the first time, keep the test simple. There is an approach to testing (multi-variate) that allows for testing dozens of elements at one time. But getting the results from complex testing takes too long. When just starting out, keep it simple and always run a direct test of one time against the other. Test one online site against another, one piece of content against another, one mailing list against another, etc.

4. Test the call-to-action button on every landing page. Having discovered the dramatic difference this single item can make in conversion on a landing page, Chris and Randy advise testing the color and the copy on the call-to-action button every time a new landing page is run.

5. Don’t waste time measuring things based on pure vanity. Impressions, clicks, leads, and likes are numbers that make us feel good, but they have no value as metrics on which B2B marketing decisions should be based.

Personas: They’re not just for B2C marketing anymore.

Thanks to Software San Diego, I finally got the opportunity to learn about why there is such a widespread interest in personas these days. I always thought of them in terms of B2C marketing. Although creating personas is more formalized than it used to be, we B2B direct marketers have been targeting messaging to customer profiles for decades. So they didn’t seem like anything new.

What I didn’t understand, I learned from a knock-out presentation I just attended by Mitchell. Mitchell is a company started in 1947 that is now the leading provider of technology for claims management and repair shop solutions. They’ve adopted personas big time and not just in the marketing department.

Mitchell is in the process of joining a literal handful (5%) of companies that are putting the customer experience above all else in every aspect of their operations. That means people in every department are discussing customers, by persona, as part of everything they do.

Mitchell Persona-2InformationWeek recently recognized this growing shift in their cover story “Goodbye IT, Hello Digital Business: Delighting customers is job No. 1. Everything else is secondary.” In this story, Chris Murphy tells how IT no longer has a “support-the-business” role but is now at the forefront of creating products and applications that enhance the customer experience. At Mitchell, when the development team talks about products and features, those talks focus on the personas identified as users of that product.

The Mitchell presentation covered their journey and their learning process on how to create their personas, how many to create, what info should be included in them and how to make them easy to use and understand. Here are the basics I learned that may be helpful to other B2B marketing companies:

  1. The 5% of companies currently heavily focused on incorporating personas into their entire operation are, without exception, leaders in their industries.
  2. Depending on the budget available, these profiles can be created through a combination of customer interviews and surveys, plus interviews with sales and other personnel who directly interact with customers.
  3. Less is more.  To incorporate too many data points or too much information on each make using personas too complex and difficult to use.
  4. Rather than just data, the descriptions should be somewhat emotional.
  5. Each persona should be based on an individual’s role within their company.
  6. After much trial and error, here are the ingredients of each description that they found worked best at Mitchell:
  • Name: Using names with the same initials as the individual’s title were found to be much more memorable. For example: the parts managers might be Pete Murphy, the shop estimator might be Sean Edwards, and Carl Atkins might be the claims adjustor, etc.
  • Age
  • Education
  • Job Title and Description
  • Activities: What their job involves, specifically
  • Experience and Skills
  • Goals: In relation to their job
  • Tools and Technology: What they currently use, not just for the solution being sold but all the technology and tools used
  • Quote: These are usually gathered from interviews
  • Environment: A description of their surroundings when working
  • Picture: These are essential to help employees identify with each persona

At the heart of what I learned is that personas aren’t just for B2B marketing anymore. They can help the company succeed at every level and should be incorporated into decisions regarding products, messaging, personnel, processes and services. Every one contributes to the customer experience.

Three B2B marketing practices driving me crazy this week

Some B2B marketing best practices are costly or complex. For example, B2B lead generation that uses direct mail is a best practice as it’s always proven to work better than email marketing. But it is much more complex and costly than email. I understand it when B2B marketers do not follow best practices because of budget or time constraints.

CrazyHowever, there are many instances when B2B marketing best practices are not followed — but could easily be without additional cost or effort. Frankly, that drives me crazy. Here are just three of those practices.

Practice #1
A colleague forwarded me a link to a 17-page white paper on the topic of email marketing. The copy consists of long, heavy paragraphs of information all printed in a soft gray color. I need a magnifying glass to read it. Even then, the experience won’t be pleasant. To be effective, content should be not only informative, but readable. That means dark type on a light background.

Practice #2
A B2B marketing contact of mine wanted his company’s sales phones to ring and decided to offer a “free assessment” to help make that happen. He added a gift incentive for a qualified call to make the offer even more powerful. This offer stands very nicely on its own and can be communicated quickly and easily. However, the powers that be at his company insist that there be product sales material in the package and in the message. This addition makes the mailing package come off as a product pitch and not a “no-strings-attached” offer, which does not follow best practices and is likely to reduce response.

Practice #3
I lost an argument this week over putting more than one call to action in a lead generation email. Offering case studies is great. Also offering a Webinar in the same email effort is sure to diminish response to both the content and the Webinar. Everyone who has tested one call to action versus two has seen this result; thus, one call to action is always the best practice.

True B2B marketing best practices have been tested and proven to maximize response and/or achieve an acceptable cost per response based on the potential sales revenue. When these practices are not followed, but could be, B2B marketers do more than just drive me crazy, they reduce their company’s bottom line.

Last-ditch B2B marketing metric.

Recently I responded to an offer for a paper, “Getting Started with Marketing Measurement,” from Act-On Software. The paper opens with:

“The B2B marketing world has changed a lot over the past decade. One especially important new trend is the growing emphasis on measurement and analysis.”

MetricsComing from a direct marketing background in which measurement is everything, I say, “It’s about time.” Then the paper quotes, “Today, almost 70% of B2B marketers are turning to metrics to help them justify their budgets.” This spurs me to ask, “Why would anyone in demand generation marketing want to spend one dime in marketing (not branding) if they weren’t willing and able to measure what that marketing produced?”

The reason 100% of the B2B marketers in the study aren’t tracking metrics is because it’s hard. Marketers doing true integrated B2B marketing have a lot to keep track of.

Marketing automation helps, as most of those vendor systems include features for tracking response. However, not all responses to outbound campaigns end up on a landing page. Some generate incoming phone calls or emails and many end up as visits to the company Web site. Some traditional B2B direct mail efforts come back in reply devices.

Tracking that builds accurate B2B marketing metrics and measurement takes planning, processes and personnel. In many companies, those are all in short supply.

If limited or no tracking or measurement has been done, a last-ditch analysis can still provide the most important metric. This last-ditch option is to periodically run a match back data analysis by bumping the list of prospects or the customer file against the list of sales and identify matches.

Relevate Group briefly covers how this is done in “Driving Campaign Profitability Using Match Back Response Analysis in B to B Marketing.”

The Act-On Software paper includes a long list of revenue-related metrics a company should track. However, in the end, a match back can identify the most important metric of all. That is, “How many sales and how much revenue did the marketing generate?”

Is data killing your B2B marketing opportunities?

Those who read this blog probably think I’m a B2B marketing copywriter and consultant offering insight into B2B marketing best practices. According to the mailer I received today, however, they’d be wrong.

It appears I am the owner of the Coca-Cola Company. Well, if that’s true, I’m living way below my means.

Coca-Cola Mailer

Receiving this type of communication can be a bit amusing. But it’s a classic example of the importance of having accurate data in all communication — whether it is lead generation, nurturing or CRM.

Personalization is wasted if it’s not accurate.

Much is being said these days about the advantages of personalizing lead generation and nurturing messages in B2B marketing based on a person’s interests and past behavior. It’s true.

But what good is it to recognize that a person has shown an interest in the kind of product or service being offered if the B2B marketing data has the recipient’s name is misspelled or they are listed at the wrong company?

The typical reaction is, “If a company can’t get the basics of who I am right, then how can I trust anything else they do?” That is true regardless of the channel through which the communication travels.

Frankly, accurate B2B marketing data is everything. Mistakes in B2B marketing data increase the cost per contact while reducing response. It’s essential that every B2B marketing plan include steps to keep customer and prospect data accurate.

Budget for updating data — and do it annually.

Calling is the best way to ensure the data is accurate. These calls are not complicated to make, as they are just informational and not sales-related. They can be done by a group of interns or by hiring a professional telemarketing firm. Verification calls should be conducted annually if possible. These calls can also be used to determine if the contact name is correct for the product or service being sold.

Accurate data increases response to B2B marketing. Without accurate data, the rest of the B2B marketing expenditure is wasted.

How B2B marketers can make a good mobile impression.

In a recent blog, “Writing B2B email subject lines with complete confidence,” I reported on a session I attended at the October 2012 Direct Marketing Association Conference. In it, the presenter, Jay Schwedelson, President & CEO of Worldata, made it very clear that every email and Website today must be mobile-friendly.

Christopher Wallace, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Amsterdam Printing, a promotional products specialty company, heartily supports that edict. Recently, he explained why:

“When I was a child learning how to fish, I remember my grandfather always reminding me to ‘set the hook.’ That’s a lesson that’s followed me into my career, and one that applies to any B2B marketing plan.

When B2B marketers put out the right bait to attract a prospect to their site and the site is not mobile-friendly, the hook can’t be set.”

Having visitors come to a B2B marketing site only to find that the margins are cut off at the sides or the dropdown menu links are difficult to click immediately defeats the momentum the marketing has initiated. These problems are enough to make a bad first impression on the prospect — which is the last thing any B2B marketer would want to do.

Making B2B Websites mobile friendly may sound like a monumental effort. However, Wallace suggests that, while a company’s developer is working on the new mobile platform, there are a growing number of online mobile site design and management portals B2B marketers can use to make this conversion quickly. Here are his suggestions:

Once the king of do-it-yourself Flash sites, Wix has managed to adapt to the times (including the continued Flash-averseness of Apple’s iOS). Instead of reworking an existing site for mobile, Wix creates an alternate site that’s designed specifically for devices. A company’s domain remains the same and the device automatically redirects users. If B2B marketers are creating a new mobile site to accompany their physical one, the cost is about $15 a month for 2.5GB of storage, unlimited bandwidth, tech support, and a free domain (if needed).

MoFuse has grown itself into a major player in the mobile design front, with clients ranging from NFL teams to the U.S. Department of State. Clients can design their own site with drag-and-drop pictures and text, or let MoFuse build it for them to their specifications. It’s easy to include simple buttons and a space for visitors to enter data using a simple form builder. Pay is via a monthly subscription — with a basic plan starting at $39/month.

A suitable option for many businesses is to convert their existing site to mobile. This service digs into a company’s existing site code, images, and links, optimizing them for various mobile sizes (and setting up a redirect when different devices access the site). Because it’s a one-time fee of around $300, rather than a monthly subscription, it’s an excellent ‘quick fix’ for many companies with a simple site that experiences glitches on some mobile devices.

B2B companies should not wait to optimize their site for mobile. Making a good first impression in this competitive B2B marketing environment is everything.

B2B marketing: The truth behind the trends for 2013–Part II

Last week, I judged the validity and value of the first ten of Hubspot’s “20 Marketing Trends and Predictions for 2013 and Beyond.”

This trend report covers the issues that marketers are being encouraged to pay attention to and incorporate into their planning for 2013. Here is my take on items 11 through 20:

Good Information

“Email Lives On”
This prediction promotes that email will become “less batch and blast” and more personalized. That’s good, as the more any message can be personalized the more effective it will be.

“Marketing Technology Evolves”
I hope this prediction is correct. One point promises that marketing solutions, ROI measurement, etc., will become more integrated so marketers can get a true picture of what’s working and what is not.

“Content Crowdsourcing Grows”
Leveraging viral content created by prospects and customers adds an interesting and possibly money-saving resource to the B2B marketing tool chest.

“Marketing Gets Gamified”
Not sure about the product placement possibility mentioned in this prediction; however, making content more sticky by adding some entertainment value to it is just the tactic today’s B2B marketers need to stand out and get attention.

Nothing New

“Marketing Speaks Like a Human”
This trend implies that, because of social media, marketers can start talking to their prospects as one human to another. Speaking to buyers in a one-on-one tone, based on the buyer’s individual wants and needs, has always been a hallmark of successful target marketing.

“I’ll Take Some Content Curation, Please”
The creation of more targeted and compelling content has been and should be a line item on every B2B marketing budget.

“A Picture is Worth 1000 Words”
This point refers to the hot new picture posting sites on the Web such as Pinterest. However, since the above phrase has been recognized as an old Chinese proverb, it’s safe to assume that there’s nothing new about value of pictures. How effective these sites can be for B2B marketers remains to be seen.

“Context is Content’s New Best Friend”
There’s nothing new about choosing content, messaging, channels and placements based on the profile and past behavior of prospects and customers. It’s always been and will always be a best practice.

Don’t Believe It

“Inbound, Not Automation, Becomes Priority”
I disagree with the premise that automated marketing is, overall, a failure. I agree that many companies do not put in the strategy and follow-through necessary to make automation work as it should. But automating contact with prospects and trying to move them through the buy cycle based on their past actions is still better than not following up at all. Inbound marketing does not replace this on any level.

“Outbound Marketing Loses Traction”
This claim begins with these stats: “Mass marketing gets a 2% response rate, if you’re lucky. Inbound marketing, on the other hand, can produce conversion rates 10X higher or more.” This is playing with math, as it does not compare response rates or conversion rates. If done right, responders to outbound marketing effort also have high conversion rates. B2B marketers that eliminate outbound efforts to generate qualified leads will be out of work soon.

Technology and channels continue to grow and change. But integrated strategies and best practices will keep B2B marketers on top of those trends regardless of the changes.

Use December to assess B2B marketing practices for 2013.

December is traditionally a slow month in which to conduct B2B marketing, with the possible exception of outbound calling. When B2B buyers are in the holiday spirit they are typically more likely to take calls. But since December isn’t great for marketing, it’s the perfect month to assess B2B marketing plans and practices for 2013.

For 2013, MarketingProfs is predicting the continued rise of content marketing. Another Marketing is predicting a greater return to offline channels and the increased value of mobile. In fact, all of the predictions for 2013 support the continued importance of integrated marketing. That is, being everywhere a B2B prospect or customer might be and not putting all of one’s B2B marketing eggs in one basket.

So now is the time for B2B marketers to assess how well they are following best practices — then to update their marketing plans for 2013. Here are three areas that might be worth assessing:

  1. Analyze if the targeting being used is missing any huge potential for growth and sales in 2013. Here are a few tips on how to do this: “Is your B2B marketing barking up all the right trees?
  2. Evaluate how well the Website supports the online brand and generates involvement on the part of the visitor by reviewing “Is anything missing from your online B2B brand?
  3. Evaluate overall B2B marketing messaging to make sure it’s consistent from channel to channel. Then check it for best practices in “B2B marketing’s 10 most common copy mistakes.”

B2B marketing is a process of reaching the right people with the right messaging and using the tools and tactics that have been proven to generate leads and convert them into a qualified pipeline. B2B marketers can use December to make sure 2013 doesn’t miss one opportunity to generate leads, support growth and make a big impact on the bottom line.

B2B marketing secrets were rife at the 2012 DMA Conference.

My recent attendance at the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Annual Conference and Trade Show produced a wealth of B2B marketing learning. The sessions I attended were full of quantitative information on best practices. The booths I visited revealed a number of sophisticated new technologies for managing customer communications, refining customer data, personalizing mailing packages and getting access to email data by geography. The information was great.

Unfortunately, for the vendors with booths in the exhibit hall, there was one issue that wasn’t great — signage. If the problem appeared at just one or two booths, it wouldn’t be worth writing about. But with rare exception, after reading everything the signs had to say on each booth, I still had to ask the magic question, “What does your company do?”

When I first read Ruth Stevens‘ book Trade Show and Event Marketing I learned about the best practices for trade show booth signage. They include:

  • Make the message short, clear and easy to grasp.
  • Use a typeface that’s legible enough to read at 30 feet.
  • Make sure the visitor knows — within seconds — what the company does.
  • Avoid signage that makes the visitors do all the work.

Making the visitor do all the work is exactly what I experienced. The signs were full of benefits, as she recommends. But what those companies did to deliver the benefits was a mystery. She said the same in her book.

“As I walked the aisles, I noticed how my eye would scan the signs, in an effort to decide which booth to visit and which to pass by. Many of them left me clueless. So what does a clueless aisle walker do? They have two choices. Either go up to the booth and pose the big question, “What do you guys do, anyway?” Or, move on, mumbling to oneself, “Why don’t they just tell me what they do? Why do I have to do all the work?”

Everywhere there were the words we know in B2B marketing. They included ROI, Increasing Customer Value, Data Driven Marketing, Email Marketing, Integrated Marketing Solutions. What are the folks with Integrated Marketing Solutions or any of the other companies selling? Software? Advertising services? Marketing automation?

B2B marketers need to spend time creating a short description of what they do and put it prominently on their signs. Here are rough examples of what several booths I visited could have put prominently on their signage to clearly describe what they offer:

  • Advanced software that integrates ALL customer interactions
  • Zip code-based email marketing
  • Cloud-based CRM that engages customers with relevant communications

As past posts covering trade shows on this blog have illustrated, there are many innovative ways B2B marketers can generate traffic to their booth. You can check out some of the ideas on these posts.

Take your B2B trade show booth from boring to spectacular.
Four quick B2B marketing ideas for a short week.
Rock-Bottom Trade Show Tactics: Event Marketing on the Very Cheap

But if the signage visitors see when walking the aisles doesn’t grab them, B2B marketers may not generate the traffic they need at these costly shows.