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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.

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.

Matching B2B marketing channels to buyer preferences.

With so much information appearing daily on the Internet, it becomes impossible to know which information to trust and which is just random opinion.

That’s why I was so happy when a colleague sent me a copy of a study from Epsilon Targeting, “The Formula for Success: Preference and Trust.” A division of Epsilon, a provider of consulting, marketing data, and marketing technology, they compiled responses from 2,226 U.S. and 2,574 Canadian age 18+ consumers to an online survey in August of 2011. Their statistical significance of the results is calculated at a 95% confidence level. This is their third study on the topic of marketing channel choices.

Readers may question why I would report on a consumer survey when the focus of this blog is B2B marketing. But I feel that the results of this survey translate very nicely into the B2B world, because business decision-makers are also consumers and naturally bring their personal preferences into the workplace.

Direct mail is the trust and attention-getting winner:

  • 26% of U.S. consumers and 30% of Canadians said direct mail is more trustworthy than email.
  • 50% of U.S. consumers and 48% of Canadians said they pay more attention to postal mail than email.
  • 60% of U.S. consumers and 64% of Canadians said they enjoy checking the mailbox for postal mail, highlighting an emotional connection.
  • 30% of U.S. consumers said they’re receiving more mail that interests them compared to a year ago, and just 50% (down from 63% in 2010) said more information is sent to them in the mail — indicating marketers are improving targeting efforts.
  • The perception that reading email is faster declined among U.S. email account holders to 45% in 2011 (from 47% in 2010), suggesting clogged inboxes are draining time.

Email still has many advantages:

  • 42% of U.S. respondents like that they can choose to receive or not receive email.
  • 41% like the fact that they can decide whether to print out the information or not.
  • 34% of U.S. consumers (up from 21% in 2010) like the ability to be green and save on the use of paper.
  • 23% like the easy ability to forward information (a very valuable tool in B2B marketing).

From the above portion of the study’s results, it’s clear that both direct mail and email still have a place in B2B marketing. It supports my long-held position that direct mail is still the best outbound marketing channel for generating leads, and email is still the best for nurturing those leads through the buy cycle.

5 B2B marketing ideas you can implement (almost) instantly.

I’ve been delinquent in keeping up with my favorite blogs and staying up to date on today’s latest B2B marketing practices. Today I tried to catch up. All of the advice was very good — excellent, in fact — but it was also painful advice. That’s because, without exception, every post concerned big-picture B2B marketing strategies, the kind that require revising existing processes or implementing new ones. They are changes that need to be made, but could take months to implement.
Most of the B2B marketing teams I know are happy to just get a product launched or complete programs to drive booth traffic at their next industry event. Making any necessary but complex changes to marketing processes has the word “later” stamped all over it.

With this in mind, I’ve been on the lookout for ideas on small, but quick improvements that B2B marketers can make to at least feel like they’re moving the success of their programs up a notch. Here are the first five I’ve found.

  1. Boost content downloads: I read advice from Jonathan Kantor of The White Paper Company. He recommends that marketers provide site visitors with a free sample of part of a white paper before asking them to register to get the rest. Once engaged, they are more likely to register.
  2. Increase landing page performance: From the Pardot Marketing Automation‘s white paper on “Best Practices to Successful Landing Pages” I pulled out this little gem. They say that the most effective landing pages are those that reflect the look and feel of your Website, but do not allow for navigation to your actual homepage. Prospects can easily get distracted and click away from your landing page, losing the chance for you to get them to do what you were inviting them to do in the first place. They say, and I agree, that it is more appropriate to place links to the company site on the “thank you page” they see after registering.
  3. Lighten the burden of creating nurturing content: Reading the terrific Hubspot eBook “100 Inbound Marketing Content Ideas” spurred an idea. I remember that, when a colleague finds an interesting piece of content, they send me a link to it. There’s no reason why one of the elements in a nurturing campaign couldn’t do the same thing. B2B marketers can find valuable information that others have created (not competitors, of course) and forward a brief description and a link to the content in a nurturing email. It looks less like “self promotion” than sending one’s own materials and the content has already been created.
  4. Get a longer life out of email and direct mail content offers: Personalized URLs (or PURLS) have been around for a long time. It’s true they’ve lost the attention they once generated. Yet, a paper from Easypurl, Inc. does promote one benefit that I believe still has much value — that PURLs have a longer life than promotional URLs. Consciously, we know that using our name in a URL is not really personal, yet something with our name on it still makes a connection that other URLs do not. The Easypurl paper says that PURLs “have a long response tail.” For this reason, I think they still have value.
  5. Get better results by using the word FREE in subject lines and emails: A collection of articles on email marketing from Email Labs (now part of Lyris) that I saved supports a point that past testing by some of my clients has proven to be true. It says, “Perhaps the most common misconception in email marketing is that you should ‘never use the word free.’ By itself, the word free will not cause any of the major spam or content filters to reject your email. (Though it is possible that some corporations or user-driven spam filters might be set to delete emails containing the word “free”) So why then would you risk using free when there is a chance, albeit small, your email might be filtered? Quite simply, better results. In our experience across various clients, when used correctly, the word free can provide a powerful boost to your results.”

 

How often to send B2B lead acquisition efforts? Find your Uncle Harry.

Several months ago, a prospective B2B client called me for messaging help on her company’s sales-generation email program. Because her Web service is available for a low monthly fee, she doesn’t need to nurture leads but seeks, instead, to generate ready buyers.

On the call, she told me that she is sending emails out to the same list of 20,000 small-business prospects via Constant Contact every week. I let out a small gasp when I first heard this. Any B2B company emailing me weekly would have been opted-out a long time ago. Yet, she says her opt-out rate is low. It’s possible that many of her emails are going into spam folders and aren’t being seen at all; however, they do generate some business.

Then a recent blog post, “eMarketing – How Many Touches Produce Results?,” from Manticore Technology, a B2B marketing automation provider, addressed the email frequency issue. In their words, they had “set out to discover how many touches are optimal for multi-touch email marketing campaigns.”

They offered an educational eGuidebook to the same target list, sending one email per month for four months. Here is their result:

Email #1: 1235 downloads
Email #2: 585 downloads
Email #3: 52 downloads
Email #4: 17 downloads

In direct mail marketing, the predictive formula of results when sending the same message to the same audience is a 50% drop in response with each successive mailing. This example in emailing shows a greater decline that may or may not produce similar results if repeated in the future.

But the question remains, how often is too often? What’s the answer? The number is different for every company, every product, every target market. Only through testing can a B2B company determine which frequency is the most productive and cost-effective. Only through testing can each company find their Uncle Harry.

Who’s he? Uncle Harry is the guy that triggers how often a company should mail lead generation offers to the same group of prospects. Here’s the story:

Many years ago, an insurance company that sold primarily through direct mail was trying to determine how often it should mail offers to its base of prospective customers. Their marketing team broke the mailing list into groups and tested various mailing patterns. The one that performed the best for them was to re-mail every 90 days.

They found that mailing more often cost more and did not produce enough additional business to justify the additional mailing costs. On the reverse, they found that waiting longer than 90 days did not boost response significantly enough to justify the wait.

So why was 90 days the magic number for them? Because Uncle Harry died.

That’s right. Every 90 days, there are enough people in the country who have a relative die to trigger the awareness that maybe they need to get life insurance.

How does this consumer example apply to B2B marketing? Because, most of the time, the decision to move ahead with finding a solution to a particular business challenge relates to an event. Uncle Harry may not have died, but perhaps a big customer was lost, a competitor won the bid for a new customer, costs suddenly rose or one of hundreds of events happened that triggered a change in company priorities.

It’s then that a B2B company needs to be in front of its prospect with the right message. For some, like the prospective client who called me, every week may not be too much. For others like Manticore, once a month with the same offer may be too often. B2B marketers should test their lead generation marketing frequency to find their own Uncle Harry.

One little B2B marketing copy secret I learned in sales.

B2B marketing best practices are being hammered into B2B marketers’ heads from blogs like this one, Webinars, videos, live presentations and more. The mantra is the same and it’s the path that’s been proven successful by B2B marketers time and time again:

Offer educational content to attract qualified prospects, then use further content and product information, case studies and more to nurture those prospects through the buy cycle until they are sales-ready.

It’s the perfect formula for large-ticket B2B products and services that have a long buy cycle. But what if the product or service being sold isn’t a big-ticket item that has a long sales cycle? Or what if a prospect being nurtured has moved into the evaluation stage of the buy cycle?

Then it’s time for B2B marketing messages to start “selling.”

That’s when many marketers make this little mistake in their messaging — to talk about the product, then state that a company representative will be calling. That is not a good tactic. Once a prospect is told that someone will call, that prospect no longer has any need to initiate a call to sales.

Sales people know that, when a prospect calls the company, the sales person has a big edge in the conversation.

So B2B marketers need to support sales by using messaging that encourages prospects to call, and not mention that a sales person will call, even if they are planning to do so.

Ideas to help break the B2B automated marketing content barrier.

Recently I sat in on a great Webinar put on by Brian Carroll of MECLABS Applied Research. Brian is the organizer of the LinkedIn B2B Marketing Roundtable of which I am a member.

Instead of the speaker being a B2B marketing resource, this Webinar was a real-life case study presented by a true B2B marketer, Michelle Levy, Associate Vice President of Marketing Programs for ECI Telecom.

Her presentation was “Learn from Real-World Success: How ECI Telecom Developed a Content-Marketing Program from Concept to Completion and the Surprising Results.”

It was a great presentation, but I have to admit, I wasn’t surprised at all by the results, which included achieving a 79 percent email open rate and high conversion rates.

The reason I was not surprised is that she and her team did EVERYTHING according to best practices (which I passionately advocate) and they used excellent resources to help them:

Step one in the ECI campaign was to inventory all of its content assets — content being educational information that could be offered to acquire and nurture prospects through the buy cycle until they are “buyer ready.” After taking its inventory, ECI found 695 assets. Most assets were product brochures, of course, but nonetheless, that number is remarkably high. Many companies I deal with are lucky to find 10.

Here is a recap of how Michelle defined “valuable” content:

  • Quality: Does the content asset meet the same standards you set for your products and services?
  • Value: How thoroughly does it address a customer pain point?
  • Relevance: Does the content meet the information needs of the buyer’s place in the buy cycle? Is it relevant to the pains of that particular title?
  • Influence: Does the content influence the buyer’s perceptions in terms of issues, risks, or opportunities?

Indentifying and creating valuable content is one of the biggest barriers to effective automated marketing that establishes a B2B company as a thought leader. But it doesn’t have to be. By thinking outside of the white paper box and repurposing existing materials, many B2B marketers find that creating valuable content is not as overwhelming as it seems.

The following suggestions, organized by traditional buy cycles, have all been used successfully by other B2B marketers and should help stimulate ideas for building a content library that supports B2B marketing efforts throughout the entire buy cycle.

Interest Stage — Prospects have discovered they have a pain and are seeking education on how the pain can be fixed:
*Benchmark Reports
*Blog Reprints
* Case Studies (if organized into a collection of how peers are handling a specific pain)
* eBook of Blog Reprints
* Games
* How-to Guides
* Industry Category Surveys
* Live Seminars
* Podcasts
* Quick Self-Assessments/Checklists
* Survey Reports
* Third-Party Analysts’ Reports
* Video of Top-Level Exec or Product Category Expert
* White Papers — High-Level Industry-Focused

Consideration Stage — Prospects are beginning to look at specific types of solutions:
* Brochures
* Case Studies/Success Stories
* Interactive Games
* Live Seminars
* Podcasts
* Product Demos
* Quick Self-Assessments/Checklists
* Step-by-Step Guides
* Third-Party Analysts’ Reports
* Video of Top-Level Exec or Product Category Expert
* White Papers — Mid-Level Solution Focuses

Evaluation Stage — Prospects are comparing specific solutions:
* Brochures
* Case Studies/Success Stories
* Comparison Charts with Competition
* Product Demos
* Product or Company Press Releases
* Product Solution Briefs
* ROI Calculators
* White Papers — In-Depth Technical Product Focus

Purchase Stage — Prospects making buying decisions:
* In-depth Demos
* ROI Calculators

There are more options for creating content than ever before and I welcome suggestions for ideas I might have missed. Content does not have to be the big automated marketing barrier. For B2B marketers who don’t have the bandwidth to produce these items in-house, there are a number of excellent professional resources who can do it quickly and cost-effectively.

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 Salesforce.com 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.

4 Tactics for Getting B2B Marketing Programs Approved and Implemented Faster.

I love my clients. But sometimes I am frustrated by how long it takes from the beginning of the creation of a marketing program to its final implementation. Programs that should take a few weeks often take months.

This is especially a problem in the fall because, although September and October are traditionally terrific months for B2B marketing efforts, November and December are full of breaks and holidays that typically reduce results.

For email campaigns, many B2B marketers are using marketing automation solutions such as Marketo, Silverpop, Eloqua and many others to quickly re-engage prospects after they have responded to some marketing effort. But those technologies are useless if approvals on the copy, the design, the content offer, the data selection or any other element of the program take months.

Surprisingly, this is not a topic that seems to be widely covered in marketing blogs and discussions. Perhaps this is because few people have the answers for how to shorten the time from marketing program inception to distribution. So I tossed the question out to my friend and colleague James Pennington, a VP at Anderson Direct Marketing.

He responded by saying that it’s an interesting problem. “B2B marketers put all this technology in place to control which messages and content offers go to which prospects based on their place in the buy-cycle. Yet if companies don’t streamline marketing decision-making, nothing gets implemented.”

Then I asked if he knows of any solutions marketers can put in place to overcome this problem. Here are his four great suggestions:

1. When a marketing department distributes marketing messages and content offers for review by stakeholders, those stakeholders should be given limits on what they are being asked to do.

If the product is technology and the product manager or IT executive needs to review it, their instruction should be that they can approve or disapprove the technical elements only and are not being asked to make comments on the colors or the call to action or the headline.

This goes for the customer service manager, the sales manager or any other executive whose department has some stake in the results of the marketing program.

By limiting the area of input that is being requested, marketing can reduce the delays in the reviews and approvals.

2. Reviewers can be sent the messaging in a text format only, with the areas that they are to review highlighted in a different color. Then the review request can say something like — “Alex, can you please review the items highlighted in red for accuracy?” The reviews will go more quickly without unwanted input on all the other areas of the marketing message.

3. Circulating the campaign materials individually and waiting for responses often gives stakeholders too much time to analyze and over-think what they are reviewing. A good alternative is to get the stakeholders together in a meeting by phone or in person to conduct the review at one time and get feedback and sign off quickly.

4. Lastly, he recommends taking the marketing material to the ultimate decision-maker first for feedback and approval. When material is distributed to others, reviewers can be asked for accuracy checks for feedback on other elements pertinent to the reviewer’s department. Saying that the CEO (or whoever) has already approved it helps reduce the over-analysis that is typical when reviewing marketing materials.

These suggestions may not be simple to implement, but they seem well worth the effort and will pay off in generating more leads, quickly moving those leads to being sales-ready and eliminating lost sales by doing too little, too late.

Four Hot B2B Marketing Ideas Emerge from Blob

I’ve opted-in to receive content from a large number of marketing and technology publishers, so I get dozens of informational emails every day. These include Marketing Sherpa, Marketing Profs, Media Post, BMI, Target Marketing’s TM Tipline, BtoB Marketing, Direct Marketing News… well, the list goes on and on.

Every email offers educational content, a Webinar invite or a newsletter, and they all promise that the information is “must have” and will transform my marketing success.

The sad thing is, I make my living writing promises like that. But, sometimes, due to sheer volume, the emails and offers I receive melt together into one all-consuming blob.

It makes me worry that all the emails my clients are sending out might be perceived as a blob on the desk of their prospects. Then I see one offer that has a promise that relates to my area of interest and I respond. Then I see another, then another. It reminds me that it’s not the blob of promises that are the problem, but the targeting of the message. When the right message gets to the right prospect, it will resonate and generate a response.

Here are the valuable ideas I got from the few recent email offers that emerged from the blob for me:

1. Take this approach to produce more powerful educational content: When creating lead generation and nurturing content offers, it’s important for B2B marketers to leverage the knowledge their organization has that its competition does not.
From Chris Kraft, Principle and Co-Founder, Splash Media, LP

2. Extend the buy cycle past the purchase stage: Prospects go through four stages in the buying cycle: Interest, Consideration, Evaluation, and Purchase. Once a lead has been converted to a buyer, add the “Advocacy” stage offering incentives to customers in exchange for endorsements and referrals.
From Laura Lear, Director of Marketing, NCM Fathom

3. Leverage the biggest value in B2B social media: It’s difficult to time B2B marketing programs to the exact moment when a prospect has a need for a product or service being offered. A B2B marketer’s social media team should listen into the target community’s conversations and wait for the moment that group is discussing the problem that the marketer’s product or service can solve. It’s then that the prospect(s) should be approached.
From Beth Harte, The Harte of Marketing

4. Generate more leads from B2B Web sites: To generate more leads from a B2B Web site, add more frequent calls to action and vary them. “A lot of B2B companies dump ‘request a quote’ (or just contact us) on their site as their only lead generation method. This sucks. You need to offer several different ways for the user to connect with you – request a quote is fine (and recommended) but also consider offering a free newsletter, free tips, a free webinar or podcast, ask the expert, a poll/survey, and so on.”
From Amy Africa, EightbyEight