Policies that put B2B marketing and sales on the same page.

Recently I saw Christopher Ryan’s post on Great B2B Marketing, “B2B Lead Management — 6 Best Practices.” As an advocate of best practices it caught my eye since it presents a valuable list well worth reviewing.

His number-one point, “Follow up every inbound inquiry within 48 hours — preferably 24 hours,” reminded me of two very contrasting client experiences I think are worth sharing.


Story #1
Back when it was still a relatively new marketing channel, a software developer ran their first email lead generation campaign. The email I was asked to write simply promoted their virtual collaboration software, which was also a relatively new concept at the time. The campaign generated more leads than could be responded to in 48 hours. So the Director of Marketing and his assistant stopped doing their jobs, took to the phones and pitched in so all the leads could be contacted quickly.

Story #2
Tasked with generating leads for a B2B technology service company, their marketing consultant asked me write an informational guide they could offer to a list of targeted companies via direct mail. The guide was to be fulfilled individually and not by a download. The direct mail letter making the offer generated an excellent response. However, the company’s sales manager took it upon himself to decide that none of the guides would be fulfilled until the companies requesting them could be “qualified.”

I’d be hard pressed to come up with two more opposite scenarios — and I look to top management for the reason. I think it’s up to them to set policies that make sure marketing and sales are on the same page. Here are two ways they can do that:

  1. Marketing success should never be based solely on the number of leads. It must ultimately include the closed deals produced by those leads.
  2. Sales people should be judged on how they follow up with leads as well as close them.

The final goal of everyone in B2B marketing and sales should be the same — making sales.

Mini-quiz on how to avoid a B2B marketing iceberg.

It’s a sad piece of history we are remembering this week with the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912. When there are public tragedies, there’s an immediate call for who or what to blame. In the case of the Titanic, however, there was only one cause — human hubris, the “overestimation of one’s own competence or capabilities.”

Hubris is a dangerous state of mind in any walk of life. B2B marketing is no exception. Hubris in marketing is not likely to cause the death of 1514 souls, but it can cost the job of a CEO, CMO, marketing VP, director or manager, product manager, or other player. In the case of a private B2B company, even the owner is hurt, as poor marketing decisions can reduce market share and the bottom line.

I’ve formulated this simple 10-question mini-quiz to help B2B marketers determine whether they may be suffering from the kind of hubris that would mean a bad outcome of their marketing, and possibly their future. Any “yes” answers are a sign that there may be an iceberg in their path.

1. We do not track cost per lead and cost per sale on every campaign.

2. We don’t believe in testing — we know what our customers want.

3. I personally like what we’re doing, so it must be good.

4. I personally don’t like what we’re doing, so it must be bad.

5. Our competition is doing it, so we need to do it, too.

6. As long as my boss likes what we’re doing, my job is safe.

7. We don’t need a strong offer — the product will sell itself.

8. The message makes sense to me, so our customers will understand it.

9. Nobody reads long copy anymore.

10. Direct mail is dead. Everything we need to do can be done online.

11. Everyone’s talking about social media, so we should dedicate a lot of resources to it.

True B2B marketing success depends on what you don’t see.

As a B2B marketing copywriting specialist, my readers might think I’d lay it on thick about the importance of the copy and design in B2B marketing messages — emails, content, direct mail, landing pages, product brochures and more.

Copy and design are both important elements in B2B marketing. They’re physical parts that B2B marketers can share with CMOs, CIOs, product managers, sales and others. They are marketing elements that can be revised, enhanced, and can make marketers feel as though they’ve made a difference in the outcome of their B2B marketing programs.

Copy and design, however, are not the most important elements in the success of B2B marketing — data is.

I’ve written about this before, but, all too often, I come in contact with clients and prospects that spend a large percentage of their time and money on copy and design and virtually nothing on data. Most have bought and use, CRM programs, marketing automation programs and more. But how much time are they spending on the data that is contained in those programs?

  • Has it been updated and verified?
  • Has it been enhanced with information from data providers?
  • Has it been profiled?

Getting the right message to the right person ALWAYS enhances response rates — more than rewriting the same #$%^%# paragraph five times. The more B2B marketers know about their buyers and prospects, the more effective all their marketing will be.

Once a company has invested in marketing automation, sending emails appears to be virtually free. It’s actually quite costly when considering a company’s reputation. When B2B marketers send off-target messages to their prospect base, it appears as though they don’t know what they’re doing.

Here are three tactics B2B marketers can take with their in-house customer and prospect data that are more important than anything else they do. These steps may be costly, but each is an essential investment in the success of all future marketing and sales efforts:

  1. Update and Verify Data: Hire a temp or a telemarketing firm (I personally like Business to Business Marketing) to place a call to every one of your prospect companies to verify names, titles, functional titles, mailing addresses, and other information that helps target communications with each one.
  2. Enhance Data: Data sources are available (D&B, infoUSA, ReachForce) that can append information to data such as annual sales, years in business, number of employees, headquarters vs. branches and more. There are also sources for less common information such as number of computers, software presence (Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, Apple), building square footage, etc. While this data may not be perfect, it can help B2B marketers better target their marketing and sales efforts.
  3. Profile Buyers: B2B marketers can take their customer base and build a profile of size, SIC code, annual sales, etc. and rank them. This ranking profile can be used to identify marketing lists that will more likely contain qualified prospects. If the B2B company’s target universe is small, this is not cost effective. But for those with larger prospect pools it’s a valuable tool.

Data may not be as creative and touchable as copy and design, but unless it’s clear, up to date and accurate, the greatest copy and design will not generate results.

Use other’s B2B marketing landing page wins to boost yours.

Most smart B2B marketers already know that the design and copy in a landing page have huge impact on the success of online B2B marketing campaigns — or even offline, if the call to action is to visit a URL.

Many B2B marketers, however, don’t have a large enough universe of prospective customers to conduct valid testing on their own. So it’s handy to have so many others conduct tests, and, from those tests, establish the best practices the rest of us can use.

Last week I experienced two landing page-related events that brought these best practices back into my focus.

One was a discussion with a client marketing team about the creation of a new landing page template. The other was the arrival of an email link to the 2012 Online Testing Awards Winners from “Which Test Won.”

The discussion included reports from several team members on landing page best practices they had picked up at recent Webinars. Most of the testing was done with B2C products and services and less for B2B, but those that would most affect B2B landing pages include:

  • Make sure the landing page headline and content continue the messaging that began in the PPC ad, banner, or whatever message directs the prospect to the landing page URL.
  • Have a strong, clear and quickly visible call to action.
  • Use directional cues to direct attention to the CTA, such as arrows.
  • Keep the landing page to a single purpose.
  • Show a visual of what is being offered — white paper, checklist, etc.
  • Use video, which has been shown to boost conversion by 80% (I don’t know if this is B2B or B2C, or if it even matters).
  • Keep the message clean, short, clear and easy to read.
  • Keep the registration fields required to receive the offer as short as possible.

The biggest surprise that has come out of landing page testing is that indicating required fields with asterisks actually reduces response.

The 2012 Online Testing Awards Winners provide a wonderful opportunity for us B2B marketers to test our own instincts about what’s best on a landing page. Each test provides the two pages tested, lets you vote, then reports which version really won the test and why.

It provides fun and instant insight into how small changes to landing pages can make a big difference in results.

Is your B2B marketing missing a secret ingredient?

The network of B2B marketers digitally sharing news, information and expertise through LinkedIn, Twitter, and dozens of other sites is currently focused on social media. Not long ago it was talking about email marketing, SEO and other tools available to B2B marketers today.

Each of those digital marketing methods has value for communicating, building relationships with prospective buyers, nurturing them through the buy-cycle and more. But there’s one thing digital media doesn’t do well and there’s one medium that can deliver it most consistently. This secret ingredient is “longevity” — and the medium is direct mail.

Tweets arrive, race through groups of users and are gone. The daily emails that arrive on the desktops of B2B buyers and influencers number in the hundreds. Email communications grab attention quickly and then are gone — often never to be seen again. There are times when they don’t even grab attention.

The only medium or channel that has the ability to stay around and add valuable longevity to a B2B marketing investment is printed material sent through the mail.

Printed material can physically sit in stacks on the desk to be picked up and read later. Printed material gets read offline when there are no other electronic distractions. Many business buyers take material to be read in the convenience of their home. Printed material gets filed for future reference.

I experienced this personally just this morning. I received an email invitation from a stranger to bid on a project. The inquiry was sent to my main email address, not the info@ address I use on my Web site. So naturally, I asked where the sender got my name.

Her answer: “I received a cold marketing letter from you in 2009 and saved it. How about that for longevity?”

Putting a physical piece, letter, brochure, data sheet, CD, or other bit of information in the hands of your targeted prospects gives them something to review at their leisure, save, pass along to associates, pass around at meetings, file and reference later.

It works now for generating qualified leads and gives your B2B marketing investment the long life that doesn’t readily exist in other B2B marketing channels.

B2B marketers: Let your market be your guide.

How do we B2B marketers make sure that the channel, offer and messaging choices we make have the best chance of producing the response we desire?

Let the results of this recent test conducted by one of the marketing agencies I serve be your guide:

THE CLIENT: The client sells advertising services to small businesses in markets across the country.

THE GOAL: Their goal was to enhance loyalty and help ensure renewal of their customers’ annual advertising contracts.

THE TACTIC: The client mailed, emailed and also provided an online version of a survey their customers were invited to complete.

THE OFFER: In exchange for completing the survey, the customer would have a chance to win a coffee card from a well-known national coffee retailer and get the results of the survey.

Now I ask, “How much does the dollar amount on the coffee card need to be to generate the best response?” Would it be $5, $10 or $20?

The agency’s client was sure that a higher dollar amount would produce a big increase in response. The agency’s experience was that the lower amount worked just fine. So a test was set up between the $5, the $10 and the $20.

The $5 offer achieved a 3.6% response. The $10 offer achieved a 3.6% response and the $20 did only a little better with a 4% response rate.

When this campaign is rolled out into future markets, the client will offer a $5 coffee card and know that they are almost maximizing response at a significantly lower cost.

The lesson is, don’t assume that what you would do is what your market would do.

Without testing offers (whether they be educational content, discounts, X-month free trials) there’s no way for those of us in B2B marketing to really know how to maximize results while minimizing costs. As the title says, when making B2B marketing decisions, “Let your market be your guide.”

Two B2B marketing rules that cross all forms of communication.

After back-and-forth email discussion with a client today about subject lines on a particular email, I got to thinking about how what I was saying applied to all types of B2B communications.

The fact is, we want to be effective communicators whether the platform is an email, letter, PowerPoint presentation, Website, post card, brochure or who knows what else. If B2B marketers forget all the other rules and best practices of communication, they must remember these two as the basics of getting their messages read. They are simple to remember — but can make a powerful difference.

1. Keep it short.
People are multitasking. They may be reviewing their emails while on a conference call. Schedules are often booked solid all day long. Often they don’t have time to do more than take a quick eye scan of the communication.

B2B marketers are not usually in the same room with the reader when the messaging is being read. They aren’t there to see the person yawning, looking at their watch or not giving the message any more than a glance. The trick to keeping it short is to write the communication. Then let it sit overnight. Then review it the next day and remove every word and sentence that is not critical to its purpose.

Don’t go on and on about product details in a communication inviting attendees to a Webinar demo. Don’t give away all the details of a case study you’re asking prospects to download.

2. Forget your big vocabulary.
B2B marketing communication is always more effective when it uses simple, direct language. The easier it is to read by anyone, the better. Some assert that one should use formal language when talking to, say, academics. However, everyone, regardless of education level, prefers simple, straightforward language. This is especially true when learning about products or services they might want to use. Clearer, more basic language also helps keep the communication short.

This isn’t new advice. In fact it’s been said over and over and over again by me and others. What’s disappointing is how often I still see these rules broken. B2B marketers have a better chance of standing out from their competition in this crowded marketplace by just following these two simple rules.

B2B marketing tip: Targeting prospects on your Web site

All smart marketers agree that reaching the right people with their B2B marketing message and content offer makes the biggest difference in the success of marketing efforts. Sending the wrong message to the right market, or the right message to the wrong market, is a complete waste of money.

That’s why automated lead nurturing is such a rapidly growing B2B marketing approach. By automatically emailing a new offer to a lead/prospect — based on the action that person has last taken — boosts the targeting and gives marketers a better chance of sending the right message and content offer to the right person.

Web sites are different. Although B2B marketers use multiple channel options (SEO, SEM, email, social media, direct mail, banners) to generate Web site visits, they do not have control over who gets their messages.

If a company’s targets come from multiple industries, multiple departments, or multiple titles, who should the messaging on their Web site speak to?

If the decision maker is the CFO, should the focus of the introductory message be on cost, ROI, and the bottom line? What if the product is actually a sales or CRM tool? It’s then recommended by the sales manager, but the CFO has to make the decision due to cost. Wait a minute. If IT has to install and manage the tool, IT needs to have a big say in the decision.

So now the B2B marketer is back to the Web site. Who the heck should it talk to?

Most companies serving multiple industries do a good job of providing navigation to information for each industry. But it’s surprising how few provide specific navigation by individual target or title.

In 2007 I wrote copy for the Web site of a company selling inventory management software to healthcare facilities. The home page navigation included navigation by department, which is, in essence, navigation by the needs of the titles in that department. Under “Advantages” it included:

  • Compliance Benefits
  • Financial Benefits
  •  Inventory Benefits
  • IT Benefits
  • Process Benefits
  • Quality Control Benefits
  • Nurse/Patient Benefits

Each target has different goals and motivations. Each item can link to a page dedicated to the specific benefits the product or service brings to that title or department.

The more a Web site can reach out to the individual needs of decision makers and influencers, the better chance it has of engaging its prospective buyers. Navigation by title or department is a simple, but effective addition that makes Web site messaging more targeted and more effective.

Assorted B2B marketing tips, I know they’ll help.

The December 14 blog post from Seth Godin, marketing guru supreme, was full of good advice in “Assorted tips, hope they help.” Unfortunately, none of the tips are about marketing. My first thought was, only Seth Godin could get away with this and still attract millions of readers.

I have lots of good advice to give out, too. But I don’t have the luxury of millions of readers. Those who land here to get B2B marketing advice might not like being told how to eat better. Here, it’s just marketing advice.

You may not be eating better, or making better medical decisions, or remembering to backup your hard drive, but following my advice should help you get a pat on the back (and maybe a raise) for generating more qualified leads (and sales) for your company.

Here goes:

  1. In your designs (online or off) never reverse body copy out of a dark or busy background. Doing that is like saying, “We have cool designers who don’t care if you read a word of our message.”
  2. “Keep it simple, stupid” especially applies to marketing communications. Even highly educated C-level executives want to get their information in plain language without having to work at it.
  3. Just because someone is the president of a big company doesn’t mean they don’t like t-shirts with funny sayings on them. People are people.
  4. Always build your marketing budget based on what you’re willing to pay on a cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale basis.
  5. Put your free educational content offer and how to get it right up front in ALL your outbound lead generation communications.
  6. Forget the word “we” forever. Never use it again in B2B lead generation marketing. Prospects don’t care about you at that stage of the buy cycle. They care only about what you can do for them now.
  7. Stop being boring. Make your marketing messages upbeat to reflect the genuine excitement you feel about the services and solutions your company offers.
  8. Studies have proven that the more you promise about what your service or solution can deliver, the higher the level of satisfaction felt by your buyers. Don’t lie — but don’t hold back either.
  9. Schedule conversations with different sales people often. Sales people talk to prospects and customers and can help you make sure your marketing messages resonate in the real world.
  10. In B2B lead generation and nurturing, never waste the cost of any marketing by not including a strong, clear and compelling call to action. You can brand and generate leads at the same time.

These are not new, but they’re all worth remembering. And I have more where those came from.

B2B Marketing needs the ducks and the bird dogs.

I’m sending out great thanks to Michael Rockefeller, Inside Sales Business Development Pro at SOI. The thanks are for the wonderful Chinese quote he found that describes my opinion of inbound marketing perfectly. It says, “Man must wait with his mouth open for a very long time before a roast duck will fly in.”

This quote was part of a terrific LinkedIn discussion on the B2B Lead Roundtable group started by Jeff Harsh, Performance Manager at Concept Services. Jeff asked, “At what time of the day are decision-makers most receptive to a cold call?”

This conversation generated non-stop input that has gone well beyond just answering Jeff’s question. It’s gotten into a full discussion about cold calling being dead, what to say on a sales call to make it more effective, how inbound marketing is replacing cold calling, and more.

The discussion, like many on LinkedIn and throughout the net, is a perfect example of the old saying, “When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” That is, every one of us in marketing sees the world through our own specialty or focus.

My background is in direct marketing. I’m still a strong believer in direct mail marketing for B2B lead generation. That’s because my experiences continue to confirm that it works, as does marketing by phone.

One of the other participants, Laura Jones of the Midland Group, has a different perspective. She says, “If cold calling is becoming harder and harder to generate leads for your company, think about why and ask yourself if a shift to a new paradigm — inbound marketing — is a better direction.” She is obviously deeply into the value of inbound marketing.

This discussion is a flashback to one of my early blog posts in 2009: “Getting over our own marketing bias.” I often need a reminder of what I have said and this LinkedIn discussion was perfect for that.

Inbound, outbound, social, mobile, online, offline, and even cold calling all have value in today’s B2B environment.

When Michael quotes Brian Tracey, saying, “The future belongs to the learners, not the knowers,” I say, “There’s no reason why we can’t all be knowers AND learners.”