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B2B marketing know-it-alls are on a fast path to failure.

In the course of putting together a marketing program for a client recently, I had the opportunity to call a colleague I had not worked with in many years. In our initial conversation I asked about her daughter (whose age I had forgotten). My colleague responded by saying, “She’s a senior in high school now and she knows everything.”

The daughter’s attitude, of course, comes from the limited experience of youth.

This attitude is evident in parts of the B2B marketing, too. A person who is new to the working world of marketing and in a position related to digital marketing, for example, completely rejects all other channels as dying or dead. Those immersed in social media think that outbound marketing is completely out of date and old-fashioned.

These individuals have not experienced the power of other marketing channels and therefore dismiss their viability. They aren’t exposed to B2B marketing efforts like these and, when they are, don’t believe what they see:

  • On a direct mail marketing survey effort designed to generate B2B leads for a large corporation, the young members of the marketing staff were shocked that 74% of the direct mail responders mailed back the completed survey instead of taking it online.
  • An ecommerce company that had been selling online exclusively for five years mailed their first printed catalog and were surprised that it delivered a 1.5% response rate. Those weren’t just leads, but sales.
  • A B2B outbound marketing lead generation campaign sent out by a publisher generated a 3.1% response from direct mail and a .6% response from email making the same offer.

One of the important steps in building a solid marketing strategy is selecting which channels to test. Any B2B marketers putting their entire budget into a single medium must be one of those marketers who knows it all.

B2B interactive social media marketer shocked.

When I checked out the top stories at B2B Marketing Zone I was a bit dismayed. Every story highlighted at the top was about social media. Yes, it’s the hot topic, but on a site that features dozens of B2B blog posts, surely there would be some variety.

Moving on to other B2B sites, I visited Webbiquity to discover Tom Pick’s amusing report of the “Top 10 Tweets About Today’s Twitter Outage.” One, of course, said, “Worst part about #Twitter being down is you can’t tweet about it.”

This observation brings me back to one of the earliest blog posts I wrote, advising B2B marketers on “Getting over our own marketing bias.” It was 2009 and I was bemoaning the fact that every blog I had reviewed that day addressed social media. Well, it’s 2012 now and nothing has changed.

I’m pretty sure that what is being talked about, and what draws attention, does not reflect what’s being done in the real world of B2B marketing. Yet a colleague of mine and his team were making a client presentation recently on a proposed direct mail marketing program. One of the team members was a new hire fresh out of a position in interactive marketing. She was shocked to learn that direct mail is the B2B client’s primary channel and how well it’s working for them.

Since nothing has changed, perhaps it is time to repeat some of the advice I gave in 2009 to marketers who think that social media — or any one channel, for that matter — is the above all and end all of B2B marketing. So I advise that, before B2B companies make any decision about which channels to use in their marketing efforts, they take these four steps:

  1. Talk to colleagues and peers who use various media in their marketing; learn about how they are used and their results.
  2. Look at published facts and figures on how the channel has been performing for other B2B companies.
  3. Determine if a particular channel has been used successfully in markets similar to yours.
  4. Test it before you dismiss it.

One B2B social media expert who’s got it wrong.

I’m not a social marketing expert. I don’t pretend to be. My expertise and knowledge are in the outbound arena. I’ve written many times that I still believe in outbound marketing because I see it working cost-effectively for all my B2B clients. They use it to reliably fill their pipeline.

Yes, inbound marketing is cheaper. Yes, it works. But users of it cannot control the volume or the timing of the inbound inquiries it receives. Outbound marketers using proven B2B direct marketing practices can.

Here’s the reason for my rant. Perusing B2B Marketing Zone, I saw the reposting of the blog by Dragan Mestrovic on his inBlurbs site “How to save 62 percent of your budget with inbound marketing.”

He knows inbound marketing. His advice and the statistics he presents are all perfectly valid.

This rant concerns what he says about outbound marketing because, on that subject, he’s way off base.

Outbound marketing communication is one-way.
Initially, it is. A B2B marketer sends a message that reaches out to a targeted group. That message, however, is designed to generate a response. The minute there is a response, the communication instantly becomes two-way.

Outbound marketers’ customers are sought out.
Of course they are. But the customers being reached are not random. By accessing targeted databases of opt-in customers, members of groups, trade show attendees, carefully compiled databases and more, the B2B marketing firm is reaching out to those companies and individuals who match the profile of their customers.

Outbound direct marketing has been around for so many years that the level of database sophistication is staggering. Unlike what Mestrovic proposes — that marketers fill out a persona sheet to build a customer profile — an outbound B2B marketer uses data companies such as Acxiom, Accudata or one of many others to build a statistically sound customer CHAID or regression model. That model is then matched against rental lists to find prospects that match the customer profile. There’s no guesswork involved.

Outbound marketers provide little or no added value.
Do inbound marketers think they invented content? It’s been around as long as direct marketing has been around. It used to be called an “offer.” That’s how outbound marketers get a response — by offering educational information. The very subject of the content is designed to generate qualified leads. B2B marketers test various offers against each other to let the response from the market tell them which is the best.

Outbound marketers rarely seek to educate or entertain.
See above about education. Entertainment can be part of any marketing message — outbound or inbound. But it needs to be used carefully, as a poor use of “cleverness” or “humor” in marketing can backfire and negatively affect the brand.

Mestrovic says that outbound marketing is losing its efficacy. But in the real world, B2B companies calculate what they are willing to pay to get a qualified lead and, once they do, they’ll find that outbound marketing is still a bargain and that, unlike inbound marketing, it can predictably generate those leads.

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.”

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.

Today’s 3 Biggest B2B Marketing Success Barriers are Human

As you can see, this blog is focused on B2B marketing  best practices — the techniques and tactics that have been tested and proven to generate greater business  marketing results and success.

There are, however, barriers between the marketing department and its ability to use these best practices — and they are all human.

Barrier #1: CEO
The vital job of the head of the B2B company — regardless of size — is to think strategically, have a vision for the future and help guide the company toward it. They are to advise on and support the strategies of the company’s divisions and departments and promote decision-making that enhances growth and the bottom line.

It is NOT to rewrite marketing copy, choose what is to be offered, dictate channels, or command that the marketing team copy the approach taken by a competitor because a colleague on the golf course liked it.

Barrier #2: Product Manager
The B2B company product manager is the driver behind what the company sells. They ensure that every product and every product enhancement supports the needs and demands of customers and prospective customers. This manager makes sure that the product has strong competitive advantages, is reliable and cost-effective for the customer and is profitable for the company. It’s a big and important job.

It is NOT the product manager’s job to insist that B2B marketing messages be jammed with a list of features in the mistaken belief that doing so is all it takes to generate sales.

Barrier #3: Sales Manager
As nicely defined by Rob Halvorsen, a contributing writer for Sales Careers Online, “Typically, sales managers direct a company’s sales program. They assign sales territories, set goals, and establish training programs for their sales representatives. Sales managers may also advise their sales representatives on ways to improve their sales performance, achieve goals and obtain expected quotas.”

You see that nowhere in his definition does it say ANYTHING about marketing.

It’s important for sales to collaborate with marketing in building a clear definition of how leads are to be scored so they can be turned over to sales when the time is right. It’s also advantageous for sales to share with marketing what prospects and customers are saying about their needs and their buying objections.

It is not part of a sales manager’s job to insist that the content offered in B2B marketing campaigns be product brochures or data sheets rather than educational content — the kind of content that nurtures qualified leads through the buying process until they are ready to talk with sales.

How does a B2B marketing pro overcome these barriers? Unfortunately, it takes work and time. But here are some tactics that have been successful for a few marketers:

  • Prepare and schedule a presentation designed to educate the specific human barrier on why these best practices are “best” and support the argument, if possible, with quantitative numbers.
  • Bring in a respected consultant or specialist to prepare and make this type of educational presentation. It’s regrettable, but humans often put more faith in the recommendations of outsiders than in recommendations from those inside the company.
  • Test one approach against the other. In a direct A/B split, send the “best practices” approach to 50% or more of the target market and the other option to 50% or less of the target. The results will speak for themselves.

The last option for B2B marketers is to just tear out their hair and give in. Unfortunately, a lot of B2B marketers are rapidly going bald.

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.

Conduct B2B marketing research in 15 minutes or less.

Most good B2B marketers today know that effective marketing requires the insight of market research.

Research reveals much of the critical information needed to make productive marketing decisions. This information includes the answers to:

  • Who is the buying decision-maker?
  • Who influences the buying decision?
  • What are the biggest pains experienced by the users, influencers and decision-makers that the product or service being sold can relieve?
  • What other options are open to prospective buyers for solving this problem?
  • Is the product and/or company known in the market?
  • How is the company and/or product perceived by the market?
  • What channels and resources are prospective buyers using to research and evaluate solutions?
  • What are the objections to purchasing the product or service?
  • How can these objections be overcome?

Products and services are usually created to fill existing gaps in business processes or operations. Thus, many of these questions must be answered before the product is even created. But once the B2B marketing has begun, fresh research is needed to determine which channels, messaging and content offers have the best chance of producing the desired marketing results.

Meet with SalesIn addition to traditional research methods (industry surveys, benchmark studies, analyst insight) there is one research method that can take as little as 15 minutes and yield immeasurable insight. That is to sit down and ask the above questions to one or more of the sales people in the organization.

Because sales people are in direct contact with prospects on a daily basis, the answers marketers need are safely tucked inside their heads. Having frequent 15-minute one-to-one conversations with individual sales people is a smart and easy way to help keep marketing messages, content offers and even channel choices on target.