Where B2B marketing still grabs attention in today’s communication overload.

A short business trip last week put me back in front of a copy of USA Today that had been left on my hotel doorstep. The “Money” section featured an excellent article by John Swartz about the high cost of today’s communications overload that is reducing productivity and increasing business employee errors.

It reports, “People are drowning in a deluge of data. Corporate users received about 110 messages a day in 2010, says market researcher Radicati Group. There are 110 million tweets a day, Twitter says. Researcher Basex has pegged business productivity losses due to the ‘cost of unnecessary interruptions’ at $650 billion back in 2007.”

The article mentions Brad McCarty as an example. “As an Editor of tech blog The Next Web, he routinely has 10 online conversations at once: Skype, Twitter, Google™, instant messaging, e-mail, chat and texting.”

As the USA Today article clearly shows, getting seen in that environment is pretty difficult. Even if a B2B company’s tweet, Facebook listing or Web site is seen, how many seconds of the prospect’s time is spent on it?

Being in the business of contributing to that overload and wanting to reach prospects in these environments, I realized that getting the attention of today’s business decision-makers and influencers is a far greater challenge than it’s ever been before.

For me, with my earlier marketing years spent doing direct mail, meeting that challenge is easy. That’s because there is one time of day that these B2B prospects take their eyes away from their computer screens and their mobile devices and stop for a moment. It’s when they sort their mail.

That’s the moment B2B marketers can capture attention in a prospect’s crowded day.

Many of today’s B2B marketers have avoided or abandoned the direct mail channel for two reasons: cost and the assumption that, since everyone does everything online, they can’t be reached effectively offline.

However, B2B marketers continue to use direct mail in their marketing mix because they know that it is not only effective, it is cost-effective. The additional cost involved — with paper, envelopes, printing, and postage — is well worth it.

It pays off in its ability to better target B2B leads based on industry, title, company size and other demographics that are typically available in mailing lists but not in email lists. Better targeting generates respondents who are more qualified as well.

Also, messages are read in a momentary calm in the chaotic sea of information, when people take time out of their day to sort their mail.

When correctly used (right lists and offer) direct mail is still a proven B2B communication tool. It’s not as sexy right now as social media, but it is a steady and consistent performer and an important channel for successful B2B marketers.

B2B marketers: Have you earned your cred?

Reading the January 31 print issue of Information Week I was struck by the clear message of Bob Evans’s column on “Top 10 CIO Priorities and Issues for 2011.” In it he states, “CIOs who haven’t earned C-suite cred and autonomy by virtue of their visions and achievements will be gone by the time winter turns to spring.”

Since I live in the world of B2B marketing, I thought that this same statement could possibly apply to some CMOs or marketing VPs or whatever title is given to the individual behind a company’s marketing vision.

Unfortunately, most of the B2B marketers I know don’t seem to have time to be visionaries. Even with marketing automation they are up to their necks in the day-to-day management of making sure stuff gets done — “stuff” being the creation of content, emails, direct mail, social media initiatives, trade show preparation, you name it.

At a lot of companies, just getting the “stuff” done may be enough to keep one’s job. But if a B2B marketer truly wants to earn C-suite cred that results in greater respect, a raise, a promotion or a better position, what can he or she do?

Imagine this:

A B2B marketing VP makes a presentation to his company’s executives (including the CFO). What he presents is the proposed marketing plan for the upcoming 12 months. The plan includes this:

Online channels: Possibly including email, Web site, SEM advertising, content syndication, social media and/or SEO efforts

Offline channels: Might cover direct mail, telemarketing, trade shows, and/or industry magazine advertising

Projected costs: Costs by channel

Projected results from each channel: Total leads generated and total leads closed

Metrics: Figures on projected cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale

Revenue Generated: Estimates of products sold and revenue generated from those sales in year one and over the lifetime of each new customer

I can hear the response from readers that this is a dream scenario that could never happen. Au contraire. It takes a huge amount of planning, commitment and follow-through to make it happen, but it’s all possible. The secret is a commitment to proper testing and the accurate measurement and tracking of EVERYTHING.

Testing can conducted in direct mail, email, SEM ads, magazine ads, and telemarketing. B2B marketers can test prospect lists, content offers, messaging and designs can be tested to determine which produce the biggest and most cost-effective results. Then, each time that winning combination is used again, the results are predictable (barring any dramatic market or economic changes).

Leads generated from SEO and Web site visits, through content syndication sites, and through social media can be loosely tracked and measured to establish a metric of performance. Much of this tracking comes from asking source questions of new prospects contacting the company for the first time.

Of course, B2B marketers using integrated campaigns will have much cross-over of influence between channels. So “source of sale” information is not 100% accurate. But that does not diminish the value of the information or the power of the projections in the marketer’s presentation.

It takes planning and it takes time, but committed B2B marketers can achieve C-suite cred and turn themselves into their company’s most valuable asset.

The two biggest B2B marketing campaign essentials.

Today’s B2B marketing directors have a long list of marketing options from which to choose: automated email marketing, direct mail lead generation, telemarketing, customer profiling, database enhancement, content creation, Web site re-designs, social media initiatives, trade shows, user conferences — the very scope boggles the mind.

The opportunities are great. The risk of failure even greater. By taking on too much at once, there is the risk of overload that leads to poorly executed programs and poor performance.

No matter which options B2B marketers choose to pursue, however, there are two elements that must be in place to ensure that every program is built on the essential foundation. One is the first step, the other is the last, and both are critical to B2B marketing success.

1. START: Establish the right target market.
Reaching the right buyers and influencers is the most important element in any B2B outbound marketing. Great creative and great B2B content fall flat if offered to the wrong titles in the wrong companies. Identifying the most productive customer and target market is a vital step in any B2B marketing strategy. Here is the best way to do that:

a. Talk with everyone having direct contact with customers and come to an understanding and agreement of the titles who make the decisions, those who influence the decisions, and those who are affected by the decisions.

b. Hire a company such as Acxiom, AccuData, Experian, or one of many other companies who can take your current customer list and build a profile of your best buyers by dollars spent, frequency of purchase and lifetime value.

Once the above steps are completed, choose the B2B marketing list and online and offline media that reach the identified profile and targets.

2. END: Build a reliable tracking and measurement process.
As stated above, the programs and the media channels B2B marketers can use are many. Once the programs are launched, however, if the B2B marketer is not able to measure the contribution that each makes to lead generation and sales, there is no way to determine which programs to repeat and pursue and which to dump. B2B marketers can only improve what they can measure.

When implementing multiple programs there will be crossover exposure, so tracking and measurement is not perfect. But whatever process is put in place, it should produce enough business intelligence to show B2B marketers how to optimize the performance of future efforts. Tracking devices can include:

* Dedicated URLs
* Dedicated phone numbers or extension numbers
* Dedicated email addresses
* Key codes on mail reply cards or surveys
* Data match-backs of generated leads or sales bumped against the original email and mailing lists

Not only should these tracking methods be put in place, but there must be an internal system for gathering the resulting data and turning it into useful reports. The process built must track AND measure.

This quick, readable NextMark blog — 16 Tips to Direct Mail Marketing Success by David James of Bethesda List Center — includes these two recommendations and all the right steps that go between. But whatever combination of strategies is chosen, to succeed B2B marketers should always make sure they make the right start and the right end.

Two more ways to keep the camels out of B2B marketing.

The Business Marketing Institute’s  Tuesday Marketing Notes email this week featured a post by Doug Kessler of Velocity, a London-based B2B marketing agency. He reports on an interesting response to a question his company recently asked on the download page of their Marketing Manifesto campaign.

The question was: “Your biggest marketing challenge is __________?”

The answer that ranked far ahead of all others was “Convincing internal people.”

It was a surprise to them, but not to me. Regular readers of this blog know that, very recently, I wrote a post entitled “Today’s 3 Biggest B2B Marketing Success Barriers are Human” addressing this challenge.

Reading Kessler’s post, however, made me think about this issue further. To help keep the CEO, sales manager, or product manager happy, many of my clients compromise the practices they use their B2B marketing programs.

I recognize that it’s important for companies to promote an environment in which everyone feels like they are part of a team working together toward a common goal. Unfortunately, to support this policy, too many companies let too many people provide input on all aspects of marketing — channels, offers, copy, calls to action… you name it.

Compromising marketing practices may keep internal people happy, but it is not in the best interest of the company or its bottom line. We all know the trite old phrase, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”

To prevent B2B marketing camels, marketing must, unfortunately, add a new target group to its marketing programs — the internal titles that are in a position to influence the final marketing product.

In my earlier blog, I suggested bringing in an outside expert, preparing an educational presentation covering what’s best and why, and testing the marketing approach against the approach being promoted by the sales manager, product manager, or CEO.

But since Velocity has shown that this is such a pervasive problem, I realized that those solutions, although successful in many cases, may not be enough. I went searching for more ideas and found these two to add to the above list:

1. Survey Customers
Anna Barcelos and Beth Harte provide a good analysis in “Getting Management Buy-In for Integrated Marketing & Communications” on The Harte of Marketing blog. It basically addresses the differences between a sales-oriented and market-oriented organization. But in this presentation, they present another smart marketing tactic for getting buy-in.

Their suggestion is: “Survey/talk to customers for the best insight on what works with them and what doesn’t.” (“How can we be better?” “Where do you want to find information?”) Management is always interested in seeing the results of these efforts.” Armed with direct customer feedback, marketing has the leverage it needs to do the right thing.

2. Talk Numbers
A colleague suggested the following tactic that he always uses when trying to convince his clients to use best B2B marketing practices.

Tap your own tracked results (if you have them), search blogs, white papers, marketing industry books and Webinar and seminar info for the numbers that demonstrate how using best practices pays off on the bottom line. It’s hard for those sticking their nose into marketing decisions to argue with numbers.

Finding practical ways to reduce or eliminate unhealthy compromises on the use of marketing best practices without offending associates or superiors is a huge task. But in terms of marketing performance, it’s well worth the effort.

In B2B marketing, it’s a no-compromise world.

When visiting the BizSugar community of blog articles for small business, the title of a post from Susan Oakes of M4BMarketing caught my eye. It was “How to Confuse Your Customers in One Easy Step.” Her focus is branding and she delivers a solid argument for making sure a company’s brand looks the same wherever it appears — Web site, newsletter, business card, trade show, blog, etc.

She describes her reaction when looking at a particular company that has not demonstrated this consistency. “It did make me a little wary about the quality of their work and which one represented the real tone of the business. Sure this is not a rational thought but rather an emotional reaction. My initial response was if they did not care enough about their own brand why would they care about mine if I used their services.”

The fact is that few B2B businesses are lucky enough to be the “only” provider of a particular product or service. A company’s product may have a feature that is unique, but that advantage still does not guarantee that everyone needing that type of solution will buy from them.

I am reminded of this fact every time I conduct an initial interview with a new client. One of my interview questions, of course, is, “Who is your competition?”

I am often surprised by the answers I get.

There are direct competitors, of course. But then there are the dozens of other peripheral businesses that have a related solution that can often win the customer.

That’s why it’s so important for B2B marketers to follow best marketing practices in everything they do — whether it involves their brand, lead generation, or nurturing efforts.

When B2B marketers compromise campaign practices (media, list, content offer, messaging, design, frequency, etc.) based on what the boss wants, the sales department wants, or the product manager wants, the result is fewer leads and fewer sales.

That’s how it is in this crowded, competitive B2B world.

Inbound and Outbound B2B Marketers Have the Same Challenge

As usual, I started my day reviewing various opt-in emails and visiting favorite blog sites.

Inbound and outbound B2B marketers may fight over which method is best, but elements in two of the communications I read today reminded me of the big challenge common to both — and that is “control.”

First I read Steven Woods’ excellent Digital Body Language post on “Who and What Do We Trust?” In it he talks about how today’s access to information is changing the way businesses build trust with prospective customers. He says, “With the changing dynamic of how the conversation happens, there is also a changing dynamic of how trust is developed.”

Then I received an email invite from BtoB Online to attend their Sept. 30th Webinar “Beyond Content Management: 4 Ways to Engage Your Visitors and Achieve Online Marketing Success.” The opening of the invitation states, “Marketers need to be able to take control of their site visitors’ online experience in order to increase conversion.”

Although these two communications are focused on different areas of the B2B marketing and sales process, they both address the issue of “control.” Prospective business buyers do what they want, when then want and how they want. It’s a marketer’s job to do everything possible to influence those actions.

Inbound B2B marketers conduct SEO, are active in social media, conduct AdWords campaigns, post content on targeted informational Websites and more. Outbound B2B marketers send out content or sales offers through direct mail, email, and telemarketing. These two groups fight and debate, but both approaches are essential for success in today’s B2B marketing worlds and both groups have the same challenge of attempting to “control” the actions of their target B2B market.

Every B2B prospect and situation is different, but there are human traits and circumstances that B2B marketers can leverage to help take more control over their prospects’ actions.

B2B marketers must know that today’s prospect has limited support resources and is over the top with work. Every marketing decision, practice and communication should be based on seeing the prospect in that light, as follows:

  1. Keep communications short and to the point.
  2. Make it clear, quick and easy for prospects to act on what is being offered.
  3. Speak to prospects in the first person and communicate the benefits they will gain from acting on the offer.
  4. Be sure to offer information that has real value to your target market. Check out Ardath Albee’s Marketing Interactions Blog on “When Thought Leadership Isn’t” for insight on how marketers can help make their company a prospect’s trusted resource.
  5. Communicate differently to different titles. Goals and problems vary from title to title. Communications should be versioned to address those differences.
  6. Communicate and make contact often enough so that the company being marketed is top-of-mind as the prospect moves through every step of the buying cycle.
  7. Give the prospect a clear ‘next action’ in every communication.

From tweets to AdWords to landing pages to email invitations to Website pages and content libraries, the marketer’s ultimate goal is to control the prospect’s actions as much as possible. Control comes from understanding human nature and using the practices that leverage that understanding.

B2B marketers must tell their CEOs to stop playing golf.

Today’s smart B2B marketers develop strategic, integrated marketing plans that make strong offers to targeted markets using the right channels, the right messaging and the right design. They track results, then adjust campaigns to grow and maximize those results.

These plans are carefully crafted and incorporate the latest in B2B marketing best practices. These marketers are proud of their diligent work and begin to execute the programs based on their plan.

Then their CEO goes golfing.

The very next day, that CEO walks into the marketer’s office requesting changes to the campaigns based on the great advice gotten from a peer on the golf course. Advice like:

  • “When I run political campaigns, here’s what I do.”
  • “How come you’re not doing this?”
  • “You should do what this consultant told us to do.”

If there’s a B2B marketer out there who has never experienced this, my congratulations. For the rest of us, we must resort to the only approach we can use to educate the misguided CEO we dare not insult.

  • Be ready to defend each strategy based on best practices supported by third-party sources.
  • Show what market leaders in their industry are doing.
  • Show what has been tested in the past that supports the current recommendations.
  • Offer to test the CEO’s wacky ideas (in a small test panel to minimize the damage).
  • Remind the CEO that all of the strategies are based on acceptable cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale numbers.
  • Show the CEO the negative financial impact of using his or her ideas, if unsuccessful.

This problem is not confined to golfing buddies. Influential, but bad, advice can come from spouses, neighbors, college chums and a full assortment of people who have access to the CEO’s ear but know nothing about B2B marketing.

So be prepared to correct this bad advice at any time. After all, telling the CEO to stop golfing is a lot harder to do.

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.

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.

My 5 favorite B2B marketing numbers.

Everyone, except perhaps the creative folks in advertising agencies, knows that marketing is a numbers game. Numbers such as click-thrus, cost-per-lead, cost-per-sale and ROI dominate the landscape of marketing numbersdiscussions.

I like numbers. They measure the real market success (or failure) of B2B marketing campaigns, they support the argument for following best marketing practices, and they give marketers real insight into the cost and potential value of various marketing approaches.

So, it makes sense to share my 5 favorite numbers to help other marketers experience the confidence and the joy that numbers bring to the strategic process. I didn’t devise these numbers. But after years of knowing them, I cannot honestly remember whose testing and research discovered them in the first place. They are:

  1. The value of following up with leads immediately: 88% of people are happy to hear from the B2B vendor within 24 hours of downloading informational content. Waiting 96 hours drops that percentage to the 40s.
  2. The reason nurturing leads is critical in maximizing sales: 45% of new leads generated will buy from someone in the industry category within 12 months.
  3. One big argument for integrated outbound marketing: Qualified B2B direct mail lists consistently provide 60% more records, business profiles and demographics than email marketing lists.
  4. Making sure the results of marketing tests are statistically valid: When testing one list or channel against another, the results of the test can be considered minimally statistically valid only if the response to each individual test cell is 85 responses or higher.
  5. Where to focus efforts in B2B marketing campaigns: Out of 100%, the elements that affect the outcome of a B2B marketing campaign carry the following weights List/Media/Data = 40%, Offer = 30%, Design = 15% and Copy = 15%.

Marketers building strategies and plans for the remainder of the year and beyond should let the numbers be their guide.