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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.

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.

Advice to most B2B marketers: “Don’t sweat the big stuff”

Among the several dozen opt-in emails I got today was a warning from iMedia Connection. The email was an intro to a blog post by Adam Kleinberg, CEO of Traction, titled “5 Marketing Megatrends You Can’t Ignore.”

It’s true — I did not ignore his post. The implied warning is that marketers, Globeincluding B2B marketers, must adapt to these overpowering market trends.

Actually, the post is an insightful, worldview of marketing — and it’s not wrong. Kleinberg talks convincingly of the opportunities available to those who are able to leverage these trends into their brand and their marketing practices. Here is his list:

  • Megatrend 1: Mass collaboration is powering the new economy
  • Megatrend 2: Constant connectivity in an on-demand world
  • Megatrend 3: Globalization, making the world a smaller place
  • Megatrend 4: Pervasive distrust in big corporations
  • Megatrend 5: A global sense of urgency to fix the problems of a modern world

“These,” he says, are a “tsunami of change transforming society.”

However, if these trends are big enough to affect all marketers, then why did a fairly recent Sysomos study show that 75% of all Twitter traffic is generated by 5% of users? Why did a Forrester Research growth forecast for 2009 predict that online sales would make up only 7% of overall retail revenue, compared with 6% in 2008?

Marketers who are not using Twitter may be missing some of the population but not a majority of their market by a long shot. The share of Internet retailing is growing, but it’s still a small percentage of retail sales. There may be “pervasive distrust in big corporations,” but big corporations make up less than 2% of the companies in the United States. As of 2004, the U.S. Census Bureau found that out of the 25 million firms in the United States, only 5,104,331 have paid employees. Of those, 4,980,165 (98%) have fewer than 100 employees and 4,453,810 (87%) have fewer than 20.

So the trends are big. People and business buyers may be changing how they communicate, how they research information, how they collaborate, what public goals and causes they support, and more. But people haven’t changed.

B2B marketers and companies big enough to have the time, the personnel and the budget to take advantage of these trends should go for it. The remaining 98% of B2B marketers should know that these trends haven’t changed the market enough that they need to sweat it.

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.

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.

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.

Direct mail is not passe in this Internet Age

On Sunday I watched a DVD of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and am sad to say that looking at cars, the clothes and the hairdos (definitely NOT the atomic testing) made me wish to experience the simplicity of life in the 50s. B2B marketing was simpler then, too. This was pre-Web sites, pre-SEO/SEM, pre-email, pre-PURLs, pre-Twitter. Back then, integrated B2B marketing meant print ads, a limited use of broadcast, and the field I was to enter in the 80s — direct mail marketing.

 

 

Yes, today’s new media is deservedly hot in spite of its complexity. What I miss, however, is the understanding on the part of my B2B clients (especially the high-tech folks) of how vital it is to include direct mail in their B2B integrated marketing mix. Why? Because it still WORKS!

 

 

“Well, my clients are all IT professionals. They prefer to do all their business online” is what I typically hear. Yet, time and time again, campaigns including direct mail — at least, those that follow best practices — consistently show, not only a huge boost in response, but a lowered cost-per-response and cost-per-sale even when the audience is IT.

 

 

The other big advantage is that rented mailing lists typically have more names, and more information about those names (titles, company size, company behavior), than email lists do. B2B direct mail lead generation best practices are easy to follow. Just take a look at a direct mail letter I wrote for Epicor, a leading Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution provider. It follows best practices and is a powerful tool in today’s B2B integrated lead generation campaigns.

 

Even if you hate the cars, the clothes, and the hairdos, there is something from the 50s you should re-experience today. It will make a difference in your marketing success.