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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.

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.

3 things B2B marketers can learn from retailers.

It has been said that for a retail business to be successful, it must focus on three things: location, location, and location. B2B marketers also have three important areas of focus to achieve success: target, target, and target.

Key people in a networked crowd.Reaching the most qualified companies and titles is still the most important element in every outbound B2B marketing campaign. The best way to identify that target is to build a profile of best customers and apply that profile against the marketing lists (email or mail) selected for outbound campaigns.

Best customers are those who meet most of the following criteria:

  1. Lifetime Value: Generated the greatest revenue.
  2. Number of Products and Services Purchased: Purchased the most products and the most profitable products.
  3. Loyalty: Remained customers the longest.
  4. Service Effort: Do not require excessive levels of service or support.

Once the above customers are identified, the next step is to profile them by the following identifiable demographics, which can be applied to available mail and some email marketing lists:

  • Industry
  • Size by number of employees and/or annual sales
  • Number of locations
  • Title of decision-maker or main contact
  • SIC (Standard Industrial Code) Current systems in place (if applicable to the product being sold)

If marketers do not have that kind of detail on their customers, firms such as Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) can append that data to the customer file for a fee.

Using a profile to define what markets, companies, titles and other criteria to pursue should result in attracting more qualified leads that might close faster and ultimately be more profitable customers. It’s an important step in building strategic B2B marketing plans.

One caveat, however: Marketers should remember that their profile of best customers could be a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” That is, the profile may show only those industries, titles, company sizes and other criteria that they have targeted in the past. It may or may not reflect the universe of opportunities.

If the marketing of a wheelchair lift has always been directed at schools, the profile will show a certain size or type of school as its best customer. In this case, marketing has no way of knowing if office building developers would not be a better “best customer,” since that market is not in the database from which the profile is built.

So, profiling a company’s best customers is a smart practice. But do it knowing that current best customers may or may not reflect the possible best customers.

The more B2B marketing changes, the more it stays the same.

seminar

Eric Gannon’s recap of the B2B University event in Washington DC was posted recently on the Business Marketing Institutes Tuesday Marketing Notes. It’s a great post. Without the cost of travel or attendance fees, BMI readers can partake of  “Six Lessons from B2B University“ that are detailed enough to provide real take-aways.

Here are the six points in his recap:

  1. Your Prospects Are In Charge Now
  2. Marcom 2.0: It’s All About the Content
  3. Marketing Automation is Smart. It’s the People Who Do Dumb Things With It
  4. In B2B, Social Marketing is Much More than Twitter or Facebook
  5. If You’ve Wondered How to Use Social Media for Lead Generation, Here’s How…
  6. To Make Your Marketing Program Indispensable, Link Your Marketing Results to Sales and New Business Generation

You’ll want to read his entire post for all the details he shares on each of these points. But it’s the first point that I take one small issue with. It’s not that the explanation is wrong. He notes that prospects can now “use Google, news and vendor Web sites, and social media to freely search and gather all of the information required for making their initial product and vendor selections, largely bypassing your company’s typical marketing program and ‘story’ as their sole source of their information about your product.”

My issue is the dramatic title of Point #1 that “Prospects are in Charge Now.” From my direct marketing point of view, prospects have always been in charge. Whether marketing is inbound or outbound, it’s the prospect who can take action to conduct product research on their own or respond to the outbound content offers sent out by the company.

Offering free informational content has always been the key to effective B2B outbound lead generation. The approach just gets more blog time now. My objection to the language is that marketers should NEVER think that their prospects are not in charge. With that attitude, marketers might give up actively generating leads and only nurture the leads that come their way through SEO, social media outreach and other inbound channels.

When done correctly, generating leads through email, direct mail, SEM, outbound telemarketing and trade shows still works. So marketers should not think that saying “Your Prospects are in Charge Now” is an excuse to give up proven, profitable marketing channels.

Ancient secrets for getting B2B email opened and read

Is there a polite way to say that I love being proven right? Is it a “neener, neener” moment?

Yesterday, MarketingSherpa posted the results of research presented at their Email Summit by Bob Johnson, VP and Principal Analyst at IDG Connect. This research addressed “What Motivates Buyers to Receive and Engage with Vendor Email?” (Access to this MarketingSherpa article will close on Ancient Secrets2/20/10.)

What Johnson reported, which I was so pleased to read, is that the elements that make buyers pay attention to opt-in emails are the same ones that have made buyers pay attention to direct marketing messages for decades — possibly centuries.

They are . . .

  • LIST — Influences results by 200%
    How targeted is the list of people who are receiving the message?
  • OFFER — Influences results by 100%
    What information is being offered, what action, what opportunity?
  • CREATIVE — Influences results by 50%
    How clearly does the email communicate the message and the call to action and resonate with the individual reader?

(Other direct marketers may put different percentages on these items, but the relationship between them will remain the same.)

So what did the IDG Connect research reveal?

  • LIST – Obviously, a B2B marketer can’t find any better list than one made up of prospects that have opted-in. Every recipient has raised a hand and asked for information related to the product or service being offered. So that element is as good as it can be.
  • OFFER – The offer is as important as it ever was. MarketingSherpa reports that “Underwhelming offers are the biggest weakness of most emails, according to buyers.” This insight tells B2B marketers exactly what area of their emails they can enhance if they hope to improve their open and response rates.
  • CREATIVE – The survey shows two creative elements that can make an impact on email response. One is recognizing the sender. “Buyers cited ‘known sender’ as the most important factor in determining whether or not they open an email.” The second is personalization — not just with the name but also with title and area of interest. Directing the message to individuals is why direct marketing is also called target marketing.

Another “revelation” is that “Buyers want to do a good job for the organization they work for, but they’re also looking out for number one.” That point is no surprise to those of us in B2B direct marketing who know that ALL decisions are emotional. The more the message is focused on what the product or service can do for that individual in his or her workday (while benefiting the company), the better it will perform.

So I send out a thank you to my readers for letting me have this moment of glory and proving once again that marketing channels may change — but people do not.

One note on social media
This IDG Connect study researched the opinions of both buyers and marketers, finding interesting differences between their views. In fact, marketers gave far more importance to social media as a “favored method for receiving product/services information.” Buyers were shown to favor that channel by only 12%.

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.

Want to be a B2B business-development pro? Start here.

This morning I read an excellent question in a B2B marketing group on LinkedIn. “If you had 30, 60 and 90 days to prove yourself as an effective business development professional, which of the following lead generation techniques would you implement and what percentage of your time would be dedicated towards each?”

  • Business DevelopmentPhone Outreach
  • Email Outreach
  • Social Media
  • Referrals
  • Direct Marketing
  • Events (Webinars, conferences, etc.)
  • Other

If you’re a member of the B2B Lead Generation Roundtable on LinkedIn you can read the answers that follow. Of course I didn’t directly answer the question because I was so disappointed to see “Direct Marketing” on the list as if it were a channel.

As a B2B direct marketing advocate (read fanatic), I guess it’s pretty easy to set me off. But I suspect the person asking the question, Philip Reid of Winning Business Inc., meant to say Direct Mail Marketing, which is indeed a channel.

His oversight, however, got me thinking about how important it is for marketers to understand and use direct marketing if they intend to be effective B2B business-development professionals. I’m not Merriam-Webster, but here’s my definition of direct marketing:

Direct marketing is the marketing approach that is designed to change behavior. Unlike advertising, which is designed to change attitude, direct marketing must be created with the full intention of having the prospect “do something.”

If the primary intent of the communication is not to get a prospect to take a specified action, then the communication is not direct marketing, or as it’s also called — direct response marketing.

I can already hear protests such as “but what about PR and branding?” Those approaches are essential in providing the exposure, positioning and buzz necessary to bring attention and credibility to the company doing the marketing. But they do not directly generate leads in a planned, controlled manner. Social media can do both, but it qualifies as direct marketing only when it’s used to ask recipients to take a specific action.

So I recommend that marketers take a quick review of all their marketing efforts and see which ones fit the description and which ones do not. It’s the fastest path to being a successful business-development pro.