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Matching B2B marketing channels to buyer preferences.

With so much information appearing daily on the Internet, it becomes impossible to know which information to trust and which is just random opinion.

That’s why I was so happy when a colleague sent me a copy of a study from Epsilon Targeting, “The Formula for Success: Preference and Trust.” A division of Epsilon, a provider of consulting, marketing data, and marketing technology, they compiled responses from 2,226 U.S. and 2,574 Canadian age 18+ consumers to an online survey in August of 2011. Their statistical significance of the results is calculated at a 95% confidence level. This is their third study on the topic of marketing channel choices.

Readers may question why I would report on a consumer survey when the focus of this blog is B2B marketing. But I feel that the results of this survey translate very nicely into the B2B world, because business decision-makers are also consumers and naturally bring their personal preferences into the workplace.

Direct mail is the trust and attention-getting winner:

  • 26% of U.S. consumers and 30% of Canadians said direct mail is more trustworthy than email.
  • 50% of U.S. consumers and 48% of Canadians said they pay more attention to postal mail than email.
  • 60% of U.S. consumers and 64% of Canadians said they enjoy checking the mailbox for postal mail, highlighting an emotional connection.
  • 30% of U.S. consumers said they’re receiving more mail that interests them compared to a year ago, and just 50% (down from 63% in 2010) said more information is sent to them in the mail — indicating marketers are improving targeting efforts.
  • The perception that reading email is faster declined among U.S. email account holders to 45% in 2011 (from 47% in 2010), suggesting clogged inboxes are draining time.

Email still has many advantages:

  • 42% of U.S. respondents like that they can choose to receive or not receive email.
  • 41% like the fact that they can decide whether to print out the information or not.
  • 34% of U.S. consumers (up from 21% in 2010) like the ability to be green and save on the use of paper.
  • 23% like the easy ability to forward information (a very valuable tool in B2B marketing).

From the above portion of the study’s results, it’s clear that both direct mail and email still have a place in B2B marketing. It supports my long-held position that direct mail is still the best outbound marketing channel for generating leads, and email is still the best for nurturing those leads through the buy cycle.

B2B marketing basics for filling the sales pipeline.

This morning I wrote copy to help promote the upcoming November event for the San Diego Direct Marketing Association. The presenter is a video blogger and social media evangelist for Sony Electronics, Sukhjit Ghan. At the event she will tell the story of a social media campaign for Sony that’s being recognized on The Next Web as the most successful social media campaign in history.

The B2C campaign involves the launch of a new Sony tablet and how the effort got customers talking about the tablet and going into retail outlets to see it. It also generated 10,000 contest entries. Marketing success stories always make great presentations and learning opportunities.

But what if the marketer is B2B and the company sells prototyping software to manufacturers of technology products? What if it sells outsourced IT services to a limited geographic area or technology solutions designed just for hospitals?

These marketers don’t have millions of potential buyers. Their marketing universes are as little as 2,000 to 20,000 prospects, which can be easily identified by industry, employee size, location and annual sales figures.

Social media may have some value to these companies in certain situations such as conferences and other industry settings. Unlike Sony, however, social media can’t be used to reliably and consistently fill their sales pipelines with qualified leads.

B2B email marketing is perfect for nurturing leads through the buying cycle until they are ready to buy. Despite its lower cost, however, it’s fairly dismal at generating fresh leads. Search has great value, but there’s no control over how many prospects might reach out looking for a solution at a particular time. Direct mail marketing, on the other hand, is still cost effective, even for B2B marketers with a small budget and small prospect universe.

Here are the basic numbers that support it. These numbers are very conservative and are based on averages using a small-quantity prospect universe. As the quantity grows, the results and the ROI both grow. This campaign uses a #10 business envelope containing a letter and a flat, branded gift item that makes the package slightly lumpy so it stands out in the mail and gets opened. Responders go to a PURL to download educational content being offered.

At first glance, these numbers may seem high. But what if the company doing the marketing sells a product or service that produces $20,000 in gross revenue per sale? That means three sales would generate $60,000. What if it’s $100,000 per sale? What if the value of a new customer generates $500,000 to $1,000,000 over its lifetime?

In that perspective, the costs are very much in line. Of course, to meet these projections requires that the campaigns follow best practices, use a quality mailing list, etc. There are direct mail strategies that can generate greater response rates of 2% to 5% or more. These strategies raise the campaign costs, but also raise the number of leads generated and the conversions at the same time.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, there are a number of respected technology and other B2B firms using direct mail marketing regularly and successfully. It provides B2B marketers with one of today’s most reliably effective strategies for generating qualified leads and filling the sales pipeline.

5 rock-bottom rules for effective B2B marketing content offers.

Content is one of today’s biggest topics of discussion in B2B marketing.

To some, it is educational information that positions their company as a thought leader. (Those in this group may want to review my recent post on what Eric Wittlake has to say about true thought leadership.)

To others, content is what is offered to prospects to keep them interacting with the company as they move through the buy cycle.

It is such a focus in B2B marketing these days that many larger companies now have a Chief Content Officer focused exclusively on managing its creation.

It’s important to know that one B2B marketer’s content does not have to compete with all that is out there. It only has to have value for the specific targeted universe the marketer is trying to reach. Effective content follows these rock-bottom rules:

1. Make sure the title is a grabber. The title alone is often what generates the download, so titles need to be strong and compelling. Michael Stelzner’s advice on this topic — “Why a Good Title Makes a White Paper” — is some of the best I’ve seen. You can also check out my contribution to the importance of names in “How to boost B2B content downloads.”

2. Target. To be most effective, what is written should be targeted not only to industry and topic but to individual titles. If decision-makers and influencers include CFOs, CIOs, Product Managers and others, there should be specific content relevant to each title. If marketers need to send a single offer to many titles at once, they can create a “kit” as a few of my clients have done successfully. The kit would be a collection of content pieces with at least one item for each pertinent title. The name of the kit must also be a grabber.

3. Make the content easy to read and digest. Don’t make prospects have to think. Write to the lowest common denominator — that is the person in a target group who might know the least about the topic being covered. Big words and inside lingo don’t make the company doing the marketing look smart, they just diminish the readability of the message.

4. Provide a few quality take-aways. What is offered must reflect well on the company offering it, but it doesn’t have to win Pulitzer Prizes. When creating content, make sure it delivers at least three bits of information that can show the reader that it was worth the effort to download and read it.

5. Don’t look stupid. Have it all proofed by a professional proofreader for grammar and spelling before it’s used.

The point is, if you follow these rules you’ll be creating respectable content that does the job it’s intented to do.  As James Pennington, one of my lead generation colleagues, is fond of saying, “Remember, once it has been downloaded, it’s already done 90% of its job.”

Four B2B best practices for late buy-cycle marketing

Virtually all of today’s B2B marketing advice involves the benchmarks, best practices and how-tos for demand generation, nurturing, social media and content. These four topics are all vital parts of the process of making a B2B sale.

But there comes a point when B2B marketers have to directly sell the features and benefits of their product or service. This is when a qualified buyer is nearing the end of the buy cycle and is evaluating his or her purchase options.

This is when the content and the offers aren’t designed to woo or nurture but must “sell.” This stage has its own best practices and how-tos that B2B marketers need to know.

Knowing I was going to cover this topic today, I did searches to see what others are saying about it. Strangely enough, I could find little coverage on the topic. Most of the results ended up talking about the same general practices one would use in the earlier stages of the prospect relationship.

Because of this, I pulled from my own experiences and those of my colleagues to provide these four best practices for B2B late-stage marketing:

1. Focus: Collateral materials, Web sites and outbound marketing messages should still focus on the product benefits, but directly support every one with a feature or group of features.

2. Tone: Research (I learned this at a seminar years ago) shows that the greater the promise, the greater the level of satisfaction on the part of buyers. The rule: don’t lie, but feel free to maximize the promise of what a product or service can deliver.

3. Content: We all know that the B2B environment has changed. Once buyers feel the pain of a business challenge, they initiate their own research, look deeper into solutions and look longer before being willing to talk to sales — hence the lengthening of buy cycles. Therefore, it’s critical that B2B Web sites and outbound marketing materials contain product content that is far more in-depth than brochures or product briefs. Content should include self-selected Web site tools and information such as ROI calculators, detailed demos, third-party product comparisons, total cost of ownership (TOC) numbers, implementation time-frames, etc. It’s also in the late buy cycle that prospective buyers care most about your current customers. Videos of customers telling their own stories make for strong late buy-cycle content.

4. Incentives: Make a deep buy-cycle offer tied to a deadline. This is necessary to create urgency and overcome buyer inertia. Offers can include such things as discounts; added services, support or training; an upgrade at the same price; extra free months on a subscription purchase; extra seats; etc. Many companies prefer not to discount their products, as that approach can diminish the perceived value of the product. Offering added services, extended contracts and other non-product discounts are strong incentives.

Demand generation, lead nurturing and late buy-cycle marketing/sales efforts are all equally important in this customer-controlled marketing world. B2B marketers must create messaging and content to do them all.

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.

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.

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 Marketing to Men vs. Women

Is it politically correct to talk about the differences in B2B marketing to men vs. women? Maybe not, but working with a new client this past week revealed a bit of the reality related to that issue.

It all started with the client implementing the proven, accepted best practice in direct marketing that involves including an offer tied to an expiration date or deadline.

The purpose of employing this tactic is to overcome natural human inertia. Here’s how it works.

A prospect, customer or member receives a direct marketing email, direct mail piece, or even sees an eye-catching Google™ Search Engine Marketing Ad. But because of today’s over-the-top workloads and time demands, these folks put off responding to the message by thinking, “This looks interesting. I’ll do it later.”

The offer is the device that stops that thought and says, “You must respond now or this inviting ‘extra bonus’ will go away.”

Making an offer to generate quick action is effective with both businessmen and businesswomen. The difference lies in which offers work with men and which are attractive to women.

Trying to get a selected target to participate in an Industry Trend survey, marketers are safe with something like, “The first 200 to complete the survey receive an Amazon.com gift card.” This allows respondents to choose the gift that appeals to each one personally — regardless of gender.

My client, a business products company whose market is 75% female, was using an offer to try to increase the size of each purchase. They tested two offers:

  • Order $200 or more and get free shipping

vs.

  • Order $200 or more and receive a certificate for a Free Box of Name-Brand Chocolates

The men responded to the free shipping. The women chose the reverse — in overwhelming numbers.

What this tells B2B marketers is that, when building in-house prospecting lists or even populating a CRM program, it’s important to include a field for gender. That’s because there may be times in the marketing process when knowing the gender of your prospects could make a huge difference in the response to your campaigns.