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.

Four ways to keep your B2B marketing Web site from turning away customers.

Recently, the eMarketer Daily Newsletter offered a powerful white paper, “Don’t Let Your Website Turn Away Customers,” written by iPerceptions, a Web analytics company.

I love the title. It made me act, just like the strong title of any white paper should.

This informative paper focuses on consumer Web site and ecommerce. But much of its content is solid advice for B2B marketers as well. In fact, the introduction alone lists some powerful questions B2B marketers should ask about their sites, then do something about if any of the answers are “no.”

Here are the first four questions this paper asks, revised for B2B marketers:

  1. Can prospects find the information they want?
  2. Do visitors enjoy the experience of interacting with your site?
  3. What can you do to bring prospects back more often?
  4. What are the main “pain points” your site visitors experience?

Several of my B2B clients have taken on the complete redo of their sites recently and the above points form the basis for their redesign strategies.

Here is how these questions are being answered in the new sites:

1. Can prospects find the information they want? It’s important to make it easy for prospect groups or individuals to go directly to the information that fits their needs and their pains. This requires navigation labeled by title, industry, industry issues, or pain points.

For example:
Title Navigation
Accounts Payable
Accounts Receivable
Inventory Management

Industry Navigation

Industry Issue Navigation
Patient Care
Meaningful Use

Pain Points
Time to Market
Cost Management

When the visitor clicks on the category that matches their interests, the page that appears should address the issues specific to that grouping and the benefits the product or service delivers in that area.

2. Do visitors enjoy the experience of interacting with your site?Make sure visitors can easily find what they want and easily navigate back to where they were. It amazes me how many sites I visit that have dead-end pages, with little or no navigation back to where I started. All major navigation should be accessible from every page, including getting back to the home page.

3. What can you do to bring prospects back more often? B2B marketers can build traffic by creating and populating a knowledge center or library of educational content that serves all the industries, influencers and decision-makers. If a company markets B2B technology, the library should contain easy-to-access papers, videos, podcasts, product brochures, data sheets, ROI calculators and more — content that satisfies the CIO, department heads whose staff would use the product, the users, the CFO, and maybe even the CEO.

4. What are the main pain points your site visitors experience? We B2B marketers are very grateful for Google Analytics and the many other site analysis solutions today. These analytics quickly reveal visitor pains. If visitors are abandoning the site from a page that they should not logically abandon, that is a clear indication that there’s a problem on that page.

If prospects are leaving the site quickly after arriving, it’s a sign that the home page is not informative and has not drawn prospects in and/or that the navigation is not clear.

Everyone who visits a B2B Web site looking for a product or service comes from a different perspective, has different goals and is at a different stage in the buying cycle. Great B2B Web sites make it easy for all prospects visiting a site to find what they need quickly; provides inviting ways for the prospect to interact with the site, the company and the information; and, most importantly, to make contact.

If built well, Web sites can be a powerful a source of qualified leads for a business. So, as iPerceptions says clearly, “Don’t Let Your Website Turn Away Customers.”

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.

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.

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.

Is there any B2B marketing subject of interest today besides social media?

There is a discussion on LinkedIn in the Technology Marketing Community about email subject lines. An especially insightful comment from David Isaac was posted yesterday and reads as follows:

“As content manager at IDG Connect, I wrote more subject lines than I care to think about, and we often tested subject lines. The differences were negligible in most cases. What really seemed to matter when it came to subject lines was the subject. Our subscribers responded to what was important to them. Our ability to dramatically increase numbers with a great subject line was limited.

That said, people did respond more to fresh content. So subject line a) New 2010 Security Report Unveils Latest Trends would do better than, say b) Security Report Unveils Trends.”

His use of the term “fresh content” somewhat clarified why close to 95% of the marketing-publication content to which I subscribe (MarketingProfs, Marketing Sherpa, eMarketer Daily, BtoB, eMarketing & Commerce [eM+C], Media Post Email Insider, Target Marketing) run lead stories, Webcasts and other info almost exclusively focused on social media.

Social media is the “fresh content” hot topic and likely attracts many readers because it’s new. But does this focus truly reflect the time and effort that B2B marketers are spending on social media?

I think not. In fact, I think social media should take no more than 5% of marketing time and budget. There are thousands out there who will argue with this figure. But for most B2B marketers, filling the pipeline with qualified leads using outbound email, direct mail, telemarketing and live events gives them the control they need to generate a predictable number of leads from each B2B marketing effort. Social media marketing cannot do this.

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.

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.