B2B marketing automation: 3 essential considerations.

How many B2B marketers out there are not using some kind of marketing automation?

Plenty, I would guess. Yet the reasons to automate are overtaking the reasons not to.

Today there are 20+ vendors providing automation products and services, with Marketo and Eloqua being the leaders. That competition brings a great range of pricing that makes automation more affordable for smaller B2B companies. In fact, the smaller a company’s marketing and sales team, the more it may need to automate some of its marketing processes.

Today, Neolane, one of today’s marketing automation players, sent out an email invitation to their Thursday, February 11 webinar entitled Keys to Marketing Automation and Where to Start. The message on the email invite includes a big warning message from IDC, a premier global provider of market intelligence. When they speak, people listen. Their warning is, “Not implementing a marketing automation solution may be the ultimate career-limiting move for today’s marketers.”

Of course we hear this warning about every new marketing channel or tool that comes along. So should a B2B marketer take that warning seriously and adopt some kind of marketing automation?

Here are three issues to understand and consider when making the decision:

1. Automate an essential process that is messy and time-consuming to do manually.
B2B marketers have checklists, white papers, Webinars, videos and product demos to offer their prospects. Getting the right content offer to the right prospect — based on that prospect’s stage in the buying cycle — is a very messy thing to attempt to do manually.

Generally, B2B marketing automation looks at the content a prospect has downloaded or the offer the prospect accepted, then automatically sends that prospect the appropriate next email in the series. The software tracks that prospect’s action and can even import the information into the company’s CRM or SFA system. All the B2B marketer needs to do is review reports on the activity and adjust the program as necessary.

2. Boost sales by achieving 100% follow-up on ALL leads generated.
45% of all leads generated make a purchase from someone in the industry product category within one year. Companies not paying attention to all the leads they generate will miss sales they could have won.

3. Commit the time and effort it takes to get the program set up and going.
Marketing automation requires buy-in from marketing, sales and management. It then requires time to build the series of content offers, emails, and companion landing pages. See my post on “4 Tactics for Getting B2B Marketing Programs Approved and Implemented Faster” to learn ways to speed up this process. The plan should be based on who should get what offer at each stage in the buying cycle. The visual, from Russell Kern’s guide “Direct Marketing’s Five Biggest Hurdles (And How to Get Over Them),” should help. It is a good starting point for determining what content to use and when to use it.

The launch is hard, but the payoff is a big one. Software Advice provides a nice list and description of all of today’s marketing automation providers. Once chosen, the vendors themselves are very willing to advise their customers on setting up their automation process and doing it right.

Consider the downside of not effectively nurturing every lead that comes your way. Then consider marketing automation.

For B2B marketing success in 2011 — start with the data.

Salesforce Automation (SFA), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and Point of Sale (POS) are all software solutions created to specifically track interactions and transactions with individual prospects and customers. With a database attached to each of them, it can be very tempting for B2B marketers to just tap that data for marketing purposes.

In fact, through interaction with my own clients, it seems like the majority of B2B marketers do just that — pull records right out of their Salesforce.com data, SAP or Oracle/Siebel data or other transactional data. But that’s not considered a best practice. Using these non-marketing databases removes some very essential insights from the marketing process.

My colleague James Pennington, VP of Business Development at Anderson Direct Marketing, has been railing on this issue for a long time, so I asked him to clarify why sales, CRM or transactional databases are not appropriate for use in marketing. Here is a summary of his response:

SFO is made up of a list of people who have responded to various marketing offers via email, direct mail, social media, or other channels. The business rules and the logic built into those programs do what they were designed to do — show individual sales people where leads, customers and prospects are in the buying cycle. The reports available from this software show management basically the same thing, but group that information by sales person, territory, and products, showing such important data as the length of the buying cycle.

CRM is different in the fact that acquisition information isn’t part of the software. CRM solutions are designed to help with customer retention, cross-selling, and upselling individual customers.

POS and other transactional solutions report what individual companies have bought and how long they have been customers. It flags opportunities to sell more and trends showing that a customer could be lost. These systems link directly to the back office and can track types of transactions by sales source and other important data.

But none of these databases do what marketing needs to do — look at groups for insight, not at individuals.

A marketing database needs to reveal the impact made by marketing in the simplest terms. This requires:

  1. Before-and-After Snapshots: Showing what a group of prospects looked like before they were targeted by a B2B marketing campaign. Basically, marketers want to take a snapshot of the records, market to those records, then take another snapshot of the data to see what changed. For example: Market to a group of prospects targeted by industry, company size, and other appropriate factors. None are customers. Retain that snapshot of that group. Then compare the first snapshot to a snapshot of the result of that marketing, i.e. 3% responded and .5% became customers. Marketing should be the reason those numbers changed. SFA, CRM and transactional databases don’t track the information needed for this insight. In addition, these snapshots need to be retained in the database.
  2. Response Mechanisms: Tracking how that group responded — mail, Internet, phone, fax.
  3. Result: Showing what that group downloaded or bought.
  4. Retention of Data: Retaining a pre-marketing snapshot of the data so it can be compared with a post-marketing snapshot of the data.
  5. Patterns: Tracking groups of contacts over time with historical data to show if they have been contacted once, twice, three times and how those groups have responded.

Marketing data is all about the big picture, not the individual. For B2B marketers to improve their success (internally and externally) in 2011, they should start by having their own data.

4 Tactics for Getting B2B Marketing Programs Approved and Implemented Faster.

I love my clients. But sometimes I am frustrated by how long it takes from the beginning of the creation of a marketing program to its final implementation. Programs that should take a few weeks often take months.

This is especially a problem in the fall because, although September and October are traditionally terrific months for B2B marketing efforts, November and December are full of breaks and holidays that typically reduce results.

For email campaigns, many B2B marketers are using marketing automation solutions such as Marketo, Silverpop, Eloqua and many others to quickly re-engage prospects after they have responded to some marketing effort. But those technologies are useless if approvals on the copy, the design, the content offer, the data selection or any other element of the program take months.

Surprisingly, this is not a topic that seems to be widely covered in marketing blogs and discussions. Perhaps this is because few people have the answers for how to shorten the time from marketing program inception to distribution. So I tossed the question out to my friend and colleague James Pennington, a VP at Anderson Direct Marketing.

He responded by saying that it’s an interesting problem. “B2B marketers put all this technology in place to control which messages and content offers go to which prospects based on their place in the buy-cycle. Yet if companies don’t streamline marketing decision-making, nothing gets implemented.”

Then I asked if he knows of any solutions marketers can put in place to overcome this problem. Here are his four great suggestions:

1. When a marketing department distributes marketing messages and content offers for review by stakeholders, those stakeholders should be given limits on what they are being asked to do.

If the product is technology and the product manager or IT executive needs to review it, their instruction should be that they can approve or disapprove the technical elements only and are not being asked to make comments on the colors or the call to action or the headline.

This goes for the customer service manager, the sales manager or any other executive whose department has some stake in the results of the marketing program.

By limiting the area of input that is being requested, marketing can reduce the delays in the reviews and approvals.

2. Reviewers can be sent the messaging in a text format only, with the areas that they are to review highlighted in a different color. Then the review request can say something like — “Alex, can you please review the items highlighted in red for accuracy?” The reviews will go more quickly without unwanted input on all the other areas of the marketing message.

3. Circulating the campaign materials individually and waiting for responses often gives stakeholders too much time to analyze and over-think what they are reviewing. A good alternative is to get the stakeholders together in a meeting by phone or in person to conduct the review at one time and get feedback and sign off quickly.

4. Lastly, he recommends taking the marketing material to the ultimate decision-maker first for feedback and approval. When material is distributed to others, reviewers can be asked for accuracy checks for feedback on other elements pertinent to the reviewer’s department. Saying that the CEO (or whoever) has already approved it helps reduce the over-analysis that is typical when reviewing marketing materials.

These suggestions may not be simple to implement, but they seem well worth the effort and will pay off in generating more leads, quickly moving those leads to being sales-ready and eliminating lost sales by doing too little, too late.

Bad thoughts that block B2B marketing success.

Blogs are mostly written from the experience of the individual blogger. This post is no exception — it came to mind when I heard a prospective client repeat one of the following statements, which I had already heard dozens of times. It occurred to me then that it might be time to share this list of bad thoughts so that other B2B marketers might see the possible error of their ways.

“Our target is IT. They won’t respond to direct mail marketing. They do everything online.”
Tell that to SAP, Citrix, VeriSign, Novell, Sage, Epicor, Cisco Systems, Adobe, PeopleSoft, Avaya, Proxima, McAfee, Corel, Broderbund, BEA, Symantec and hundreds of others. All of these companies have used — and continue to use — direct mail marketing to reach their target markets, including IT, because it cost-effectively generates leads and sales.

“I’m reaching everyone I need to reach with email.”
Frankly, that’s impossible. The very best B2B email lists available today are lists of subscribers to specific industry publications. These lists usually require their subscribers to fill out a profile form to get and renew their subscriptions. With lists like this these, marketers know that they are getting full opt-in. These lists also allow marketers to select titles and other profile details on their prospects. Comparing email lists to direct mail lists in the same category, however, consistently reveals that email lists average only 30% of the target universe available from direct mail lists. B2B marketing only using email is, therefore, missing two-thirds of available prospects. With the delivery loss from spam filters, the missing number is likely to be even larger.

“Social media is the only way to go today.”
Yikes! Social media has great value as an extension of any lead generation and nurturing effort. It is also a powerful support for positioning a company as a trusted thought leader. But no single channel can ever deliver all the elements necessary for an effective B2B marketing program.

“We tried that and it didn’t work.”
Regardless of what the “it” refers to, my response is, “Give me the details. Tell me the target, the Web site, the response device, the list, the sample size, the copy, the offer, the design, the tracking, and the measurement used.” Once I hear the answers, I’m likely to find not just one, but dozens of bad marketing practices used in the campaign.

Not every channel works or is a smart approach for every business. But trying an approach once, without following best practices, should never be a reason for a marketer to eliminate that channel from a strategic integrated B2B marketing campaign.

The best tool a B2B marketer can have when building a strategy and seeking success is this — an open mind.

B2B Marketing Tip of the Day: Stop asking questions.

All great sales people will tell you that asking the right questions is one of the most important elements in qualifying and pitching prospective customers.

  • Never ask, “Would you like to have a personal demonstration of the product?”
  • Instead, ask, “When would be the best time for you to get a personal demonstration of the product?”

The rule is to never ask questions that can be answered with the word “no.”

Unfortunately, many B2B marketers are unaware of this rule. Worse, I regularly see email or direct mail messages opening with a yes/no question, a practice that basically puts an end to the conversation before it even begins. Here is a classic example:

  • Have you ever wondered how else you could sell, buy or market your products and services?

Rather than possibly generate a “no” answer, this opening sentence can easily be turned from a question into the promise of a benefit with something like:

  • Finding ways to boost revenue and profits for your business is always a challenge. Many leading businesses today have met this challenge by discovering a new way to sell, buy or market their products and services.

Today’s tip for B2B marketers: Learn from great sales people. Never ask a question in marketing messages that can be answered by “no.” To be safe, stop asking questions.

Four Rules for Communicating with the “Crazy-Busy Prospect”

The title of a recent blog post by Brian Carroll, “Learn the New Rules for Selling to Crazy-Busy Prospects,” got my attention.

In this post he invites his readers to a complimentary Webinar on Thursday, June 24 at 2:00 PM CST (that’s tomorrow) featuring Jill Konrath, author of “SNAP Selling: Speed Up Sales and Win More Business with Today’s Frazzled Customers (May 2010).” I’m sure it will be a valuable and informative event.

The focus of Brian’s blog and expertise which he shares on B2B Lead Generation is B2B selling and the complex sale. It’s an important topic.

But the title of his post hit me for a different area of marketing.

For marketing to generate a lead — or nurture one — we need to “communicate” with prospects in writing. Whether it’s an email, a direct mail letter, a product brochure, Web site, data sheet or any other communication, we must remember that the folks reading our B2B communication are crazy-busy.

How do we communicate in writing with these folks? I follow these four tried-and-true rules:

1. Make sure the reader/prospect gets the entire message by reading only the headlines and subheads, without having to read a word of body copy. A quick scan of the message should communicate the topic, big benefit(s) and the call to action.

2. Never write any paragraph, anywhere, that is longer than four lines.

3. Communicate the message as quickly as possible. The crazy-busy don’t have time to read, and if the message looks long and wordy, they’ll stop reading it and move on. Email marketing messages should be 250 words or shorter. Direct mail letters should fit on one page.

4. Always include a strong, clear prominent call to action. All communication, including Web pages, must tell the reader/prospect exactly what they are to do and when they are to do it. Yes, adding the words “now” or “today” makes a difference.

The crazy-busy don’t have time to wade through complex messaging. To reach this group, marketers should always keep B2B communications short, clear and direct.

The dollars and sense of inbound vs. outbound marketing.

The economic downturn over the past few years has driven many talented yet unemployed people to start their own businesses. These folks take their years of experience and offer it to other businesses through their own specialty consulting or service firm — a firm that they must then market.

Just such an individual contacted me last week. He wanted to generate leads and business via outbound email marketing; however, after learning that he has a few clients, a relatively short buy cycle and a very limited budget, I recommended that he use inbound marketing and supplement it with personal outbound phone calls to his highly targeted B2B market.

Email marketing is relatively low cost when a company has built a pipeline of leads and handles its own email distribution via marketing automation. But for outbound marketing (that is going to a targeted B2B list) the costs add up fast.

Quality outbound email marketing lists (those that are made of real subscribers to an online publication and are therefore fully opt-in and have been profiled) cost from $400-$700 per thousand. Most of these top-quality lists require a 5000-name minimum, which raises the list cost to $2000 to $3500. Marketing professionals, including me, recommend testing more than one list at a time. Testing allows marketers to learn which list performs best and gives them the insight to improve the success of each subsequent marketing effort. Testing just two lists brings the cost up to $4000-$7000. If a marketer wants to maximize the success of the program, the message should be written and designed by professionals, which adds to the cost as well.

As a result of these higher upfront costs, many marketers avoid the outbound direct mail channel. Yet it is still one of the most powerful channels for B2B lead generation if done according to best practices. That means that, for lead generation, the mailing quantity must be large enough to deliver a response rate that is statistically valid so the results are repeatable on future mailings. In the B2B world this could be a minimum of 10,000 prospects at a typical cost of $1 each and up. For companies selling high-end enterprise systems, this approach is affordable and productive. But not for small start-ups.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is very affordable for the small and start-up business. Good-quality Web site SEO can be obtained for as little as $250 per month. Pay-per-click ads — depending on the market, keywords, etc. — can range from as little as $250 to $1000 per month or more. The same general costs apply to content syndication. Social media costs little in dollars but can cost much in time for a one-person business if done properly. There are many other elements in a comprehensive inbound marketing program, but, for small start-ups, it’s a cost-effective option.

In addition, however, I recommended that this new business owner not wait exclusively for inbound efforts to make his phone ring. I advised him to identify companies that meet his very targeted profile and pick up the phone and call them or send them individual letters.

As I’ve said many times before, no single marketing approach can stand on its own, B2B marketers. That’s why dollars and sense enter into our marketing decisions.

Subject testing: Hate it in the classroom, love it in B2B marketing.

Sitting in the classroom on test day was always a painful experience. “Do I know the materials?” “Did I read the right chapters?” “I should have spent more time studying.” “What will happen if I fail?” Back then, testing was a bad thing full of questions.

Today, as a B2B marketer, testing is a good thing that delivers answers. Testing, in fact, is the thing that keeps us from failing and allows us to continually improve the success of our outbound marketing efforts.

Direct marketing has always been about testing. Without testing, how can a B2B marketer know which marketing channels, offers and language will work for his or her particular company, product and market?

Yesterday I sat in on part of a MENG Webinar by Beth Harte, Client Services Director, Serengeti Communications on “Strategies for Integrating Traditional Marketing With Social Media.” She spoke about the importance of using the right language. Her point was that, if a company’s market is “gear-heads,” then the person communicating with that market via social media better be a “gear-head” or the social media strategy will fail. She’s so right. Having the right “voice” is critical in all B2B marketing.

Unless our market is very vertical (such as “gear-heads”), figuring out which “voice” will best resonate with our prospects is best determined by testing.

Since smart B2B marketers use emails to nurture their pipeline leads in an effort to move them through the buying cycle, subject lines are at the top of the list of items that should be tested. The question arises, “What should we test?”

Fortunately there was a great discussion recently on LinkedIn about subject lines. Started by Ben Bush of The Crocodile on the B2B Technology Marketing Community, the 26 participants shared great insight.

Here are some of the approaches that have worked for others and are, therefore, worth testing:

John McMillan at McMillan Technology Ltd.:

  • Eye-catching benefit subject lines going to strangers — the equivalent of a “cold call”
  • First names in subject lines (he notes that it works in the U.S. but can be seen as rude in other cultures)

Sandra Nangeroni, Director of Interactive Marketing:

  • Include in the subject line “what” they get if offering a white paper or Webinar
  • Who it comes from carries a lot of weight as it identifies the sender as a trusted, credible source
  • Words or phrases that resonate with the target and industry
  • Use themes like “Top 10 Tips for . . .” or “5 Reasons Why . . .”

Graeme McKee at API Software and AudoRek:

  • A phrase or sentence that summarizes the email content — no more, no less

Karen Dove, at DEX Imaging:

  • Simply the company name in the subject line is very effective
  • Sometimes, after the company name, put a colon and then add detail

Sokol Nikolov at EL MEDIA:

  • Use specific technology-related words in the subject line

These are some of the elements B2B marketers may want to consider when conducting email subject line testing. There was much other good advice as well.
Jason Ball, Specialist B2B Copywriter, for instance, uses Litmus to check whether subject lines would get tossed by spam filters before sending. This is an excellent idea, as a test result is not very valid if one of the two lines being tested never makes it to the prospect’s inbox.

The best testing approach, of course, in an A/B split. That is sending the two options at the same time in a half-and-half split.

The lesson today is that testing is good and, in B2B marketing, it can end with more than an A+ grade. It can result in learning how to generate more click-throughs and more prospects being moved down the buy cycle and into the hands of sales for conversion.

To increase B2B marketing response, increase response options.

Many of the best practices I promote for use in email nurturing campaigns, on Web sites, and in offer content come from my direct mail marketing experience. One such practice has been proven effective over and over and over — including a mail-back reply device.

In a direct mail marketing communication, 20% of the replies ALWAYS come from the reply device if there is one. This is true even if the mailing is going to titles that spend their lives online such as CIOs and other top IT management.

Why does this work? Because every person likes to do things their own way. By giving prospects more ways to respond, marketers increase the chances that people will find the response avenue that meets their personal style.

What does this mean to B2B marketers?

Marketers conducting lead generation or nurturing campaigns by offering free informational content should include their phone number and an email address to give the prospect the option to interact with the company making the offer. This is important because prospects that are already researching solutions and are further along in the buying cycle may have other questions and may want to engage with someone at the same time the offer is accepted. That’s why phone numbers and email addresses must be prominent on Web sites, in Webinar invites, on trade show booth invites and all other marketing communications.

Many marketers may respond that the prospect can just go to the Web site to find the contact info. But why make it MORE difficult for a prospective customer to respond?

Putting phone numbers and email addresses on sites that mass market — or on many types of e-commerce sites — may not make sense. But for businesses selling complex, high-ticket items with a long buying cycle, it is a necessity if those businesses want to increase response to their marketing.

Making B2B marketing personalization personal

I have often written about the top-line needs that should be addressed in messaging when marketing to the buyers of B2B products and services.

Terri Rylander’s post “My 3 Wishes from the Marketing Genie” goes deeper into the minds of buyers and explores what they want, not just from a solution, but from the provider of that solution. She clearly explains some of the ways buyers will determine whether a company can deliver on these three wishes.

1. I want a real relationship with you.
2. I want you to help me be successful.
3. I want to be able to find you when I need you.

Terri talks about the value of social media and educational content to project a personal image for a company, and it’s solid advice. But how does relationship-building fit for the many B2B marketers who are using email systems such as Eloqua, Silverpop, and Marketo to automate their marketing communications to their pipeline of sales leads?

Fortunately all of these systems and services are built to do just that. They give marketers extensive options for personalizing, from the salutation all the way into tracking the behavior of prospects and selecting specific messaging to be sent to them based on their behaviors.

The magic words for marketers to make a personal connection with their prospects are “data” and “versioning.”

By creating multiple versions of email communications, B2B marketers can make sure that every email addresses each prospective buyer’s area of interest. Marketers first set up business rules that outline specifically which message and content offer should be sent based on a previous behavior.

If a prospect downloads ABC White Paper, the system looks at the marketer’s business rules and send the prospect the next appropriate offer message:

Dear James,
Hope you enjoyed ABC White Paper, you may also want to read XYZ Case Study and learn more about how one of your peers . . .

Terri nicely presents the wishes of today’s buyers. What they want is a real connection with the companies they do business with. To make that connection, it’s time for B2B marketers to make their personalization personal.