Three Questions All B2B Marketing Should Answer in Eight Seconds or Less

B2B marketers who are interested in how to improve the performance of their email lead generation and nurturing will find no dearth of posts, white papers, studies, and reports on the subject. Many are excellent and informative.

But this morning Alex Madison and Lisa Harmon, posting for Media Post’s Email Insider, pared the insight and best practices down to three simple steps: “Three Questions Your Email Should Answer In Eight Seconds Or Less.”

Hand and buttons Yes/NoTheir focus is on emailing subscribers, but their advice applies to all B2B email marketing.

  1. What is this email about?
  2. Why should the prospect, customer, subscriber care about it?
  3. What should they do about it?

The post then goes on to give examples of each of these important points in different types of email marketing messages.

Madison and Harmon state that “subscribers spend just eight seconds on most messages before clicking through or navigating away.” That’s why it’s so critical that prospects and customers quickly understand what is being offered and what they can do to get it.

What Madison and Harmon have presented, however, goes way beyond email marketing. It’s advice that should be applied universally to B2B marketing messages in all channels — direct mail marketing, banners and search engine advertising, print advertising, and yes, even social media.

Business buyers are busy. They don’t want to be wooed or romanced. They want information and they want it fast. By following Madison and Harmon’s advice, B2B marketers can improve the performance of ALL their marketing efforts.

Does your Website fail to deliver these 3 basics?

Helping a newly formed B2B company create their first Website spurred me to visit dozens of sites in search of examples I could show them from their industry that follow best practices.

Web Basics Photo 2In the process, I made a sad discovery. Not one followed what I know are the most basic rules of good Web design.

The rules (that is — what should be on the page and where) are the ones I learned from Amy Africa of EightbyEight. Her firm specializes in helping e-commerce companies maximize online sales. They have conducted hundreds of hours of research that monitors how people’s eyes move through a Web page, how they navigate, and even how their pulse reacts to what they see. The rules are built on the results of this research.

The way people interact with Websites does not change even if the site is a B2B company with no e-commerce involved (although Amy has reported that experienced visitors interact somewhat differently from novices).

A Website is important. It should be a strong part of every company’s integrated marketing program. It is often the first place prospective customers go to find out if the company that has contacted them or that they’ve heard about is real and legitimate. Companies conduct Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Search Engine Marketing (SEM) for the sole purpose of driving prospects to their site.

But what does the viewer experience at most sites? Hard work and confusion. What visitors want is information that they can gain without effort. So here are just the very basic rules for a B2B company to make its Website a strong player in its integrated marketing programs:

Rule #1:
The first 50 words of copy on the landing page must convey what the company, service, or product is about and hopefully its unique selling advantage. The page must instantly answer the question “Where am I?” Pages with no written message but only links to other pages force visitors to work to find answers to this question. Visitors should never be made to work.

Rule #2:
Navigation must be clear and instantly imply what kind of information will be found on the linked pages. If the navigation says “Services,” the page had better list the services available from the company. Marketers should look at their navigation and make sure it is clear and correct.

Rule #3:
Every page must have at least one call-to-action. Just like a meeting with a sales person, after prospects learn something, you must ask them to do something. The call-to-action can be “Learn more,” “Contact us now,” “Download FREE content,” “Request a bid” or many other options. A Website is no different from any other B2B marketing effort. It needs to respond to the prospect’s inquiry of “What’s in it for me,” then get the prospect to act.

There are, of course, dozens of other Website best practices. However, if B2B marketers can achieve just these three, they’ll be putting their site way ahead of most others.

To make big B2B marketing strides in 2010 – go lateral.

Since September of 2008 every one of us in B2B marketing, or frankly, in every area of business, has been pressured to cut costs, do more with less, and generate and convert enough new customers to remain profitable and grow.

These days, however, companies are running out of ways to cut costs and have reached the bare bones of personnel. So what’s next? I suggest an exercise in lateral marketing.

Originally coined by Edward de Bono in his 1967 book “New Think: The Use of Lateral Thinking in the Generation of New Ideas,” lateral thinking takes planning and strategy beyond the realm of problem-solving and into new ways of looking at things.

Lateral ThinkingWhat is lateral marketing? It’s simply applying lateral thinking to the marketing arena. It’s the exercise that has marketers looking at their business and seeing if they can discover a new product name, a new approach, a new positioning that will open up a fresh universe of prospects and buyers, or an innovative way to reach existing markets.

Most marketers think in a linear fashion. Ask a linear marketer to promote property management software for real estate agents, and that marketer will (hopefully) follow best practices. In most cases, that approach will be successful. It would include:

  • Offering free valuable content to generate leads using email or direct mail.
  • Running ads in publications read by realtors, and posting ads on sites visited by realtors.
  • Researching keywords and enhancing site SEO so that realtors find the software site when searching for related solutions.
  • Putting up a booth at a trade show or conference attended by realtors.
  • Establishing the real estate software company as a real estate agent’s thought leader by starting a blog and actively sharing valuable ideas via social media.

Lateral marketers, on the other hand, look at challenges in less obvious ways. They try to see the product and market with fresh eyes. They brainstorm with the company’s staff and other associates. They bring in outsiders with no preconceived understanding of that particular product or market. They look at the marketing of products or services completely outside of the client’s industry and category to see what could be borrowed or adapted. In the case of the property management software, this might include the following:

  • Thinking about all the other products and services that realtors use, such as appraisers, lenders, and CPAs, then asking those providers to become trading partners, i.e., “You mention my product to your customers and I’ll mention your services to mine.” If the real estate software company sells nationally and the providers sell locally, partnerships could be established in multiple cities.
  • Creating an online contest that invites real estate agents to take a self-quiz to find out whether they could make more money by adding property management to the services they provide. All those who took the self-quiz would be entered into a drawing to receive a valuable prize. This self-quiz would generate a list of email addresses of real estate agents who have shown interest in property management and therefore should be considered prospective buyers.
  • Spinning off the product with a new name that would appeal to real estate investors who might want to save money by managing their own properties. This move would open up a whole new market of prospects.

 B2B marketers should not abandon linear marketing, but to make big strides in 2010 and beyond, they should try going lateral.

My “duh” moment on the vital need for both inbound AND outbound B2B marketing.

A colleague of mine who is a commission salesperson flew back East yesterday after an invitation from a prospective customer to make a presentation to his company. The prospect has a problem that my colleague’s company can solve.

DuhThis invitation didn’t follow a referral. There wasn’t a formal request for proposal (RFP). The prospect didn’t find my colleague’s company through social media. It wasn’t a B2B lead generated by SEO, SEM or a banner. In fact, it wasn’t even a lead generated by B2B email marketing, direct mail marketing, a trade show booth visit or an ad.

It was generated by a cold call that my colleague made to the company.

I’m not pooh-poohing the value of any of the above marketing channels. But this cold call — that led to an in-person presentation — was my “duh” moment on the difference between inbound and outbound B2B lead generation.

Companies have problems. There are so many aspects in the operation of a successful business, or even in a given department of that business, that the most painful problems are addressed first. Inbound marketing benefits when a company is pursuing a solution for its most painful problem. It is then that prospects actively research solutions on the Web, follow experts on social media, visit Web sites, read paid search ads, ask colleagues for referrals and send out RFPs.

But those companies that have problems they’ve pushed to the back burner because of more urgent ones are not actively pursuing a solution. Then, voila , an email or direct mail letter appears. Some are likely to think “here’s a white paper addressing that other problem we have. I think I’ll ask for it and see what it says.”

The company making the white paper offer will have then generated a lead that can be nurtured until that company says “this pain is big enough that we have to fix it now.” Low and behold, the company that sent the outbound marketing is already engaging with that prospect and has a huge edge.

In fact, the company my colleague is seeing was not seeking a solution. But his call alerted them to a smart way to solve a problem they knew they had. When a solution appeared, they jumped on it.

In rare occasions, perhaps, a B2B marketer knows about the pain a particular company is suffering from at that moment. Most of us in B2B marketing won’t. That’s why we have to reach out via outbound marketing AND make sure we’re reachable when the time is right.

All channels are vital. Cold calling works, too.

Is anything missing from your online B2B brand?

Last week I sat in on a great Webinar entitled “The Art of Findability” with Glenn Raines of Social Media Moves.

Hosted by the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG), this informative session covered how to build a personal and business brand online using such tools as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Profiles and other tools.

Glenn knows his stuff and, thanks to him, I’m just a little more savvy about the world of social media. But it got me thinking. In the B2B marketing world, if one is successful, all these connections and all this communication ultimately includes a visit to the company Web site.

BusinessmanEven if there’s been a connection with prospects via social media, those prospects will still check out your company’s Web site. What will they find there? It’s surprising how many companies selling excellent B2B products or services through a sales force have a Web site that doesn’t hold up its end of the integrated marketing objective.

Sometimes just a few critical fixes can help. Here are a few of the more critical dos and don’ts that will help you better support your marketing and sales process:

DO
*
Provide one or more pieces of content (white papers, newsletters, Webcasts, demos, etc.) that have value to your market. Turn some of them into lead generators by requiring visitors to register to get them. These provide the opportunity to extend the relationship that may have started on social media.

* Put a strong call-to-action on every page. Tell visitors what you want them to do next from EVERY page. Make sure most pages encourage visitors to contact you. At the same time, give them an incentive to do so – such as a free assessment, personal demo, etc.

* Clearly present your product benefits in headlines, bullets — everywhere you can. Don’t assume that because your product does its job faster, that buyers will know what that means to them. Be sure to say “save time.”

* Put your contact information prominently on every page. Especially your phone number.

DON’T
* Use the word “we.” Buyers don’t care about what you think of yourself. They care about what you can do for them. Let case studies and testimonials tell how wonderful you are.

* Ask for prospects to fill out too many fields when signing up for newsletters, to access white papers or see demos. The fewer the better.

* Assume that because you’ve maintained your “visual” brand on your Web site that the site effectively supports your brand. Messaging that is too complex, too long or too self-serving ruins a great-looking site.

Social media is a powerful tool for making business connections. The company Web site is a part of the online brand. Make sure it does its job, too.

ADDED THOUGHTS

Yesterday I came across a post that covers this same subject of technology and other B2B companies having weak Web sites that do not play a productive role in the marketing and sales process. I thought I would share links to these two articles, as they provide insight into why this is so and how to avoid it. First is Tom Jacobs on TechMarketingBlog in his post “Technology Company Websites should not be driven by technology.” The second are comments by Bill Gadless on B2B Web Strategy in a post by the same name. My thanks to Tom and Bill for this insight. The conclusion, of course, is to let marketing control the creation and updates to the company Web site. That way you can make sure the site does its job.

Boost B2B lead gen. performance by resurrecting the dead.

Mark Twain’s response when learning that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal is the now-famous quote “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” According to The Phrase Finder, “Mistaken publications of obituaries aren’t as rare as you might expect.” So it is for direct mail marketing.

Conducting a search on Google using the phrase “direct mail is dead” turns up 2,970,000 hits. Of course, not all of the articles agree that direct mail is dead, but many of them clearly make this claim.

Thank heaven for Hallie Mummert, editor in chief of Target Marketing. Her Editor’s Note in the September 2009 issue says exactly what I’ve wanted to say for a long time. Not only does she share details on the current and projected use of direct mail, but she puts a little reality into the discussion by recalling that “Television did not kill radio. Direct mail did not kill newspapers. TiVo did not kill television ads. Paid search did not kill e-mail. And e-mail will not kill direct mail. New marketing avenues might fragment marketing budgets, but so far only regulation and obsolete technology like the Federal Communications Commission’s Do Not Fax law and the fax machine itself have had the power to essentially shut down a medium.”

Why should we B2B marketers care about a medium largely perceived as a consumer marketing channel? Because direct mail works very well in the B2B world for many reasons. Here are just a few:

  1. The best e-mail lists reach only 20% to 30% of the business marketplace. With direct mail you can reach more than 90%.
  2. Direct mail lists allow you to target your prospects more accurately by industry, business size and title.
  3. Not only do direct mail lists provide more data, but the data is often more accurate. For instance, lists of subscribers to specific vertical publications are more accurate and up-to-date.
  4. Known B2B marketers still use direct mail in their marketing mix because it is a cost-effective lead generation tool. In fact, the Who’s Mailing What service, compiled by Inside Direct Mail, shows thousands of B2B marketers using the mail. Here is a small sampling of names you might recognize: SAP, Citrix, VeriSign, Novell, Sage, Epicor, Cisco Systems, Adobe, PeopleSoft, Avaya, Proxima, McAfee, Corel, Broderbund, BEA, Symantec and hundreds of others.
  5. With everyone thinking the medium is dead and not using the channel, your message will truly stand out.
  6. Because the monetary value of each new B2B customer is typically in the five- to six-figure range, the initial cost necessary to generate that lead is well worth it.

Once a lead is generated, it is effective to use e-mail for nurturing. But for profitable, productive lead generation, it may be time to resurrect the dead.

Addition on January 29, 2010

More stories about the importance and value of B2B direct mail appear daily. Here’s a link to the Multichannel Marketing for B2B Marketers blog and their article Direct Mail: The Comeback Kid. Read it now and learn how “Per Annum, a small firm specializing in corporate gifts, eliminated its annual direct mailing last year, and suffered a 25% drop in orders.”

Why It’s Not E-mail Versus Twitter.

Bill McClosky wrote a thoughtful article for ClickZ on the prospect of Twitter replacing e-mail in E-Mail Versus Twitter. He says that “the debate was kicked Fightoff on a blog post by Bob Frady, a marketer most recently at Live Nation.”

Well, my first reaction as a B2B marketing copywriter is how can one possibly tell any kind of a beneficial product story in 140 characters?

But then I realized that people’s learning, researching, shopping, and buying habits are not universal. For instance, there was never a true conflict between catalogs and retail stores. The fact is, some people prefer shopping from catalogs while others prefer shopping at stores.

People are people. Some may get introduced to a new product idea on Twitter. Later they may look for content about it online. Next they may register and download a white paper. Then they may get e-mails from the company making the product telling them more about it and inviting them to see a demo or attend a Webcast. And so it goes.

This is just one scenario, of course, but there are no absolutes in how each person likes to get his or her information at each stage of the buying process. An understanding of human nature makes it clear that it’s not probable for one contact option to win out over all others.

Like Bob Frady, I am not a personal fan of Twitter. But as I reported in an earlier post, Getting over our own marketing bias, looking at things from our own point of view is a common marketing problem. Good marketers find ways to get over it.

So it’s not e-mail versus Twitter. Twitter is just another channel to add to one’s integrated marketing and PR programs. That’s all there is to it.

Any B2B marketers feeling guilty about social media?

Social media is, well, everywhere. Nielsen NetView reported that, as of February, there were 7,038,000 Twitter users, an increase of 1,382% from the previous year. In April, BtoB Magazine reported that 58% of best-in-class companies have dedicated resources devoted to social marketing.

Blog articles are everywhere, and each has an important element to add to the conversation:

Social media Webcasts and conference sessions attract the greatest Feeling Guiltyattendance, and marketing directors are feeling guilty if they haven’t added a strong social media presence to their marketing mix.

Unfortunately, most of the B2B companies I have the pleasure of working with don’t have the dollars or the manpower to keep up with this new channel and take advantage of it in any sort of a formal way. Individual employees may participate here and there, but most companies are too busy trying to generate leads and sales to deploy any formal or effective social media implementation.

So how guilty should non-participants feel? The first session I attended on social media included the advice that, “rather than create your own company blog, you can achieve the same impact by getting other blogs to talk about your company.” This sounded suspiciously like PR to me and not direct marketing. In fact, blogs themselves are (just like white papers and other content) a way to position a company as a thought leader and support the brand.

So should B2B marketers feel guilty about not having a strong social media presence? Your first job is to generate qualified leads that can lead directly to sales. That is, to build a pipeline of companies and contacts that can be nurtured and turned directly into sales and revenue. Until social media can directly generate those leads I say keep an eye on it; but, for now, ignore your guilt and move on.

If you have more insight on how your B2B company is handling its social media, please share it.

In B2B marketing — it’s not outbound vs. inbound.

Getting educated on marketing best practices is a lot easier than it used to be. Now, we don’t have to spend a minute driving to a local marketing event or flying CSL083to a national conference to hear the experts. Almost daily we can tune in to informative Webinars right from the office. In a single hour, we can get up to speed on any one of hundreds of critical marketing issues.

This brings me to a very inviting offer I received recently from MarketingProfs. It invited me to download a Kit of info from HubSpot entitled “Marketing in a Downturn.” It included the following:

  1. Video: Marketing in a Recession (1 hour)
  2. Video: How to Generate Leads on a Budget Using Inbound Marketing (1 hour)
  3. Video: How to Demonstrate the Value of Social Media to Your Boss (1 hour)
  4. Video: Marketing Detox: How to Get Off Google AdWords PPC Crack (1 hour)
  5. e-Book: Getting Found Online – Learn how to get found online in the search engines, blogosphere, and social media sites (10 pages)

Item two, “How to Generate Leads on a Budget Using Inbound Marketing,” contained terrific guidance on blogging that I found to be very valuable. I listened intently for the full hour.

However, I made it through only the first few minutes of the “Marketing in a Recession” presentation. Not because it didn’t have good content in it, but because, early on, Mike Volpe, the presenter, made a statement implying that the response rates to “outbound channels” are diminishing.

In his section on “Rethinking Marketing” he made the argument that outbound marketing channels are losing their effectiveness and are being replaced by inbound marketing channels. Here are the channels he included:

Outbound Marketing
Telemarketing
Trade shows
Direct mail
Email blasts
Print ads
TV/Radio

Inbound Marketing
SEO/SEM
Blogging
Social Media
RSS
Free tools/trials
Public RelationsÂ

Because of the rising costs of most of these outbound channels, fewer businesses are using them. But most of these channels are still cost-effectively generating qualified leads for larger ticket B2B products and services. I can’t speak for TV/Radio, and it’s true that email lead generation response rates have fallen, but these channels are still a productive part of an integrated B2B marketing program.

  • Trade shows may have smaller attendance, but those who do attend represent a highly targeted market in search of solutions.
  • In direct mail and telemarketing there are lists available that provide significant selections on each record, so targeting by title, employee size, company size and many other criteria are available. They allow companies to match prospect lists to an exact profile of their best customers.
  • Print ads have never been as directly productive as other channels. However, vertical industry publications are a perfect place to help build name recognition that supports the brand just like social media and public relations.

Inbound marketing is an important part of today’s marketing mix, but for businesses who still want to spend X dollars and know that the money they spend will generate Y qualified prospects, outbound is still the only way to go.

And by the way, Mike, you used MarketingProfs’ outbound marketing to generate downloads for your Kit, so I guess you haven’t given up on outbound channels, either.

Integrated marketing means the use of ALL appropriate marketing channels.

Yikes! Getting marketing guidance on the Internet may or may not be a good idea. What prompts me to say that? Yesterday I read an article (writer shall remain anonymous to protect his identity) about integrated marketing. It was all great until I saw the list of channels. They were ALL online.

 

“Integrated” means online and offline as appropriate for a specific business and market. In the world of B2B direct marketing — lead generation especially — two offline channels have proven (in real A/B split testing) to be the most powerful: direct mail marketing and telemarketing.

 

Yes, for generating leads, you can’t do any better than sending a direct mail letter followed within 5 days with a phone call. So don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, just what you read here.