Lookin’ for B2B buyers in all the wrong places?

Sometimes B2B marketing is conducted like the country song “Lookin’ for Love” made popular by Johnny Lee in the 1980 film Urban Cowboy.

I was reminded of how common this problem is when working on a recent copywriting project. The work was for a B2B marketing agency whose client was selling products and services to small business.

Small businesses come in many types, of course, including such categories as:

  • Personal services, such as hair and nail salons
  • Home services, including contractors, landscapers, plumbers, electricians, etc.
  • Restaurants
  • Gift stores
  • Financial services, including CPAs and financial advisors
  • Lawyers and physicians
  • Dry cleaners and tailors
  • Shoe repairs
  • Phone stores
  • Framing shops
  • Drug stores
  • Nail and hair salons
  • and many more.

All of the direct mail, email and digital B2B marketing elements (media, channels, messaging) that were part of the client’s B2B marketing programs were chosen to reach and appeal to the generic small business.

However, like the song lyric “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places,” this company was spreading its marketing budget over such a broad sweep of channels and businesses that the impact of each dollar spent was significantly diminished.

Then, its agency conducted a detailed analysis of the client’s customer database and the revelation was dramatic. Out of the dozens of small business categories, a handful of very specific types of small businesses stood far above the rest in terms of the number of orders and amount of revenue they generated.

Now, with this research in hand, all the client’s B2B marketing efforts are focused on channels that directly reach these small business categories. All the visuals and copy used in the marketing are designed to build a connection with these specific business types.

The lesson is clear. It’s essential that B2B marketers periodically conduct this kind of analysis of their own customer data. It’s the only way to ensure that they are not spreading their dollars too thinly, but that their targeting and messaging lead to the most sales, the greatest income and the best lifetime value.

Is data killing your B2B marketing opportunities?

Those who read this blog probably think I’m a B2B marketing copywriter and consultant offering insight into B2B marketing best practices. According to the mailer I received today, however, they’d be wrong.

It appears I am the owner of the Coca-Cola Company. Well, if that’s true, I’m living way below my means.

Coca-Cola Mailer

Receiving this type of communication can be a bit amusing. But it’s a classic example of the importance of having accurate data in all communication — whether it is lead generation, nurturing or CRM.

Personalization is wasted if it’s not accurate.

Much is being said these days about the advantages of personalizing lead generation and nurturing messages in B2B marketing based on a person’s interests and past behavior. It’s true.

But what good is it to recognize that a person has shown an interest in the kind of product or service being offered if the B2B marketing data has the recipient’s name is misspelled or they are listed at the wrong company?

The typical reaction is, “If a company can’t get the basics of who I am right, then how can I trust anything else they do?” That is true regardless of the channel through which the communication travels.

Frankly, accurate B2B marketing data is everything. Mistakes in B2B marketing data increase the cost per contact while reducing response. It’s essential that every B2B marketing plan include steps to keep customer and prospect data accurate.

Budget for updating data — and do it annually.

Calling is the best way to ensure the data is accurate. These calls are not complicated to make, as they are just informational and not sales-related. They can be done by a group of interns or by hiring a professional telemarketing firm. Verification calls should be conducted annually if possible. These calls can also be used to determine if the contact name is correct for the product or service being sold.

Accurate data increases response to B2B marketing. Without accurate data, the rest of the B2B marketing expenditure is wasted.

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.

For B2B marketing success in 2011 — start with the data.

Salesforce Automation (SFA), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and Point of Sale (POS) are all software solutions created to specifically track interactions and transactions with individual prospects and customers. With a database attached to each of them, it can be very tempting for B2B marketers to just tap that data for marketing purposes.

In fact, through interaction with my own clients, it seems like the majority of B2B marketers do just that — pull records right out of their data, SAP or Oracle/Siebel data or other transactional data. But that’s not considered a best practice. Using these non-marketing databases removes some very essential insights from the marketing process.

My colleague James Pennington, VP of Business Development at Anderson Direct Marketing, has been railing on this issue for a long time, so I asked him to clarify why sales, CRM or transactional databases are not appropriate for use in marketing. Here is a summary of his response:

SFO is made up of a list of people who have responded to various marketing offers via email, direct mail, social media, or other channels. The business rules and the logic built into those programs do what they were designed to do — show individual sales people where leads, customers and prospects are in the buying cycle. The reports available from this software show management basically the same thing, but group that information by sales person, territory, and products, showing such important data as the length of the buying cycle.

CRM is different in the fact that acquisition information isn’t part of the software. CRM solutions are designed to help with customer retention, cross-selling, and upselling individual customers.

POS and other transactional solutions report what individual companies have bought and how long they have been customers. It flags opportunities to sell more and trends showing that a customer could be lost. These systems link directly to the back office and can track types of transactions by sales source and other important data.

But none of these databases do what marketing needs to do — look at groups for insight, not at individuals.

A marketing database needs to reveal the impact made by marketing in the simplest terms. This requires:

  1. Before-and-After Snapshots: Showing what a group of prospects looked like before they were targeted by a B2B marketing campaign. Basically, marketers want to take a snapshot of the records, market to those records, then take another snapshot of the data to see what changed. For example: Market to a group of prospects targeted by industry, company size, and other appropriate factors. None are customers. Retain that snapshot of that group. Then compare the first snapshot to a snapshot of the result of that marketing, i.e. 3% responded and .5% became customers. Marketing should be the reason those numbers changed. SFA, CRM and transactional databases don’t track the information needed for this insight. In addition, these snapshots need to be retained in the database.
  2. Response Mechanisms: Tracking how that group responded — mail, Internet, phone, fax.
  3. Result: Showing what that group downloaded or bought.
  4. Retention of Data: Retaining a pre-marketing snapshot of the data so it can be compared with a post-marketing snapshot of the data.
  5. Patterns: Tracking groups of contacts over time with historical data to show if they have been contacted once, twice, three times and how those groups have responded.

Marketing data is all about the big picture, not the individual. For B2B marketers to improve their success (internally and externally) in 2011, they should start by having their own data.

In B2B marketing — data is the new creative.

Direct marketing has never been considered fashionable or sexy. Those using advertising or focusing on branding turn their nose up at a discipline that is more tactical than creative. But then the economy slows and everyone wants to track the results of their marketing spend. So direct marketing is now back in favor.

DataThe heart and soul of effective direct marketing, of course, is and has always been data. So I was happy, yet surprised, to read an article I discovered through a link on a day or so ago.

The article was by Michael Mancini on Nielsenwire entitled “B2B Discovers Market Segmentation.” This article reported the availability of comprehensive databases that “give marketers access to accurate and current data within a consistent framework on 13 million business establishments –critical information such as a company’s total headcount and industry classification. By appending these data to its business customer file, a company can create a robust business segmentation approach to guide prospecting, sales territory mapping, advertising and target marketing.”

It’s great advice. My surprise was that this practice was presented as new. He could be right that some B2B marketers are just discovering it. But many have been appending data from files such as these for decades to build a profile of their best customers and then going back to the database and selecting “look-alikes” to target their marketing.

Multiple sources such as D&B, InfoUSA and many others offer data that can be appended to lists to build a productive marketing model. Some data suppliers, of course, are better than others. AccuData taps multiple sources to provide businesses with the ability to append data to their customer list to build a profile. In addition to finding “look-alikes” on the outside database, marketers can bump their profile against their existing pipeline to identify those leads that are the best match.

It’s excellent advice, so I thank Michael for the reminder. Regardless of whether this capability is new or not, it’s a powerful tactic for moving the success of B2B marketing up to the next level of success. When the results come in, marketers will see why good direct marketing is always fashionable.

Monday’s pop quiz on smart data practices.

Those who have been in direct marketing for eons, as I have, know that lists/data are the most critical elements in the success of any database marketing campaign. Yet my daily mail and email consistently illustrate how many companies are not conducting even the most basic list targeting practices.

Could your company be one of the culprits that are neglecting basic database practices? Take this little quiz, and see how your practices measure up.

  1. Are you renting lists or appending data to your in-house list to make sure your prospects are qualified for your offer? I get business offers online and in the mail that are clearly selling products only large firms would need or could afford. By simply appending employee size to a list (available from data solution providers such as companies would eliminate those records that are too small to qualify.
  2. Does your company or organization run its house list through NCOA at least once a year? NCOA is a National Change of Address database provided by the U.S. Post Office. The economy has made it even more important to update mailing addresses as so many companies these days are moving, merging, or closing.
  3. Do you purge your response or customer file from your marketing list before mailing or emailing to prospects? I get emails inviting me to Webinars and seminars for which I have already registered. This tells me that I’ll be getting information from a company that doesn’t even follow the most basic marketing principles.

How did you do? If you are trying to save money or time by skipping any of the above practices, you are costing your company financially and strategically as well as diminishing its image.