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.

3 Great B2B Marketing Ideas I Read in (OMG) Print Media.

Yes, there is still print media out there, and it still has value for those of us that don’t yet own an iPad and like to sit on a lawn chair and read industry pubs. Here’s what I learned just this past weekend.

1. Over the top’ creative approaches can generate appointments with decision-makers. The July issue of the U.S. Postal Service’s publication Deliver® featured a story on Chris Newman. As the award-winning senior art director at Euro RSCG Chicago, Chris emphatically shows why B2B marketing doesn’t have to be dull.

He uses ‘over the top’ creative dimensional mailers that get decision makers to interact with the marketing and say yes to a face-to-face appointment with sales. As Chris observes, there’s something “powerful about being able to hold something in your hand and explore it on your own . . . it’s definitely a ‘real’ experience, as opposed to a virtual experience.” How does this work?

Here are two of his great (and productive) creations:

On behalf of Sprint, Euro RSCG sent decision-makers a Tackle Box, described as a “solution toolbox” with the clever teaser “Don’t let this one get away.” The box contained typical fishing paraphernalia plus a brochure promoting Sprint’s work grade communications and a business card from a Sprint Sales representative. Mailing to 500 decision-makers, this campaign generated a huge 5% response.

Looking for a “high-impact” way to promote Sprint’s Wireline Convergence Wireless Integration system, Chris and his team created a B2B direct mailer that included a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly, plus a gift card for high-quality steaks. The marketing message was “Not since PB&J has integration been so seamless.” Exceeding the marketing goal by over 300%, Sprint reported that their national account managers loved the concept so much that when they were scheduled to go to the appointments, they were actually bringing loaves of bread to go with the peanut butter and jelly.”

When the value of making a sale is high enough, these approaches are well worth the extra cost and effort. They produce interaction — and response — and make a strong brand impression at the same time.

To read the complete article, entitled “Alpha Mail,” just download a copy of this issue of Deliver.

2. Adding drama to subject lines and headlines produces better results. An article by Robert Lerose in the latest issue of Target Marketing Magazine effectively covers six ‘timeless’ “Strategies for a Great Headline.” When looking at his list, I realized how rarely I see the power of these six approaches used in B2B marketing.

Subject lines, headlines, and the title of the offer content, however, must be powerful enough to draw the prospect into the marketing message. How would these proven headline approaches affect B2B marketing?

Here are a few examples:

Acceptable Subject Line: Seamlessly integrate timesheets w/ invoicing
Dramatic Subject Line: Cut 50% off data entry time and costs

Acceptable Headline: Reduce on-the-job accidents with new innovative training tool.
Dramatic Headline: Build a lifetime of safe behavior in 20 minutes of fun.

Acceptable White Paper Title: How to Move or Expand Your Company’s Network Infrastructure.
Dramatic White Paper Title: IT Manager’s Survival Guide: 5 essential steps to a flawless installation, expansion or move of your company’s network infrastructure.

Robert’s other approaches to making headlines dramatic are all worth reading and considering. But remember, in this day of B2B marketing message overload, the headline can make or break the effectiveness of marketing.

3. Today’s technology buyers still want more savings and efficiency. The June 29 issue of Information Week has some good news, B2B marketers. Chris Murphy’s subhead in his “Return to Growth” article says “The belt tightening isn’t over, but companies are spending more of their IT dollars to drive revenue and gain customers.”

In the article, Chris compares the results of the “InformationWeek Analytics 2010 Global CIO Survey” with last year’s survey, providing the following insight that should guide our current messages for selling to this target:

Here is what 333 IT executives said about their “Innovation Plans for 2010.”

48% — Make business processes more efficient.
36% — Introduce new IT-led products and services for customers.
32% — Lower IT costs and business costs.
28% — Create a new business model and revenue stream for the company.

Looking at these results, I see “making business processes more efficient” to be strongly tied into “lowering IT costs and business costs.” So cost-cutting should probably remain a part of B2B marketing messages along with the growth that can come from new product introductions.

B2B Marketing Tip of the Day: Stop asking questions.

All great sales people will tell you that asking the right questions is one of the most important elements in qualifying and pitching prospective customers.

  • Never ask, “Would you like to have a personal demonstration of the product?”
  • Instead, ask, “When would be the best time for you to get a personal demonstration of the product?”

The rule is to never ask questions that can be answered with the word “no.”

Unfortunately, many B2B marketers are unaware of this rule. Worse, I regularly see email or direct mail messages opening with a yes/no question, a practice that basically puts an end to the conversation before it even begins. Here is a classic example:

  • Have you ever wondered how else you could sell, buy or market your products and services?

Rather than possibly generate a “no” answer, this opening sentence can easily be turned from a question into the promise of a benefit with something like:

  • Finding ways to boost revenue and profits for your business is always a challenge. Many leading businesses today have met this challenge by discovering a new way to sell, buy or market their products and services.

Today’s tip for B2B marketers: Learn from great sales people. Never ask a question in marketing messages that can be answered by “no.” To be safe, stop asking questions.

Four Rules for Communicating with the “Crazy-Busy Prospect”

The title of a recent blog post by Brian Carroll, “Learn the New Rules for Selling to Crazy-Busy Prospects,” got my attention.

In this post he invites his readers to a complimentary Webinar on Thursday, June 24 at 2:00 PM CST (that’s tomorrow) featuring Jill Konrath, author of “SNAP Selling: Speed Up Sales and Win More Business with Today’s Frazzled Customers (May 2010).” I’m sure it will be a valuable and informative event.

The focus of Brian’s blog and expertise which he shares on B2B Lead Generation is B2B selling and the complex sale. It’s an important topic.

But the title of his post hit me for a different area of marketing.

For marketing to generate a lead — or nurture one — we need to “communicate” with prospects in writing. Whether it’s an email, a direct mail letter, a product brochure, Web site, data sheet or any other communication, we must remember that the folks reading our B2B communication are crazy-busy.

How do we communicate in writing with these folks? I follow these four tried-and-true rules:

1. Make sure the reader/prospect gets the entire message by reading only the headlines and subheads, without having to read a word of body copy. A quick scan of the message should communicate the topic, big benefit(s) and the call to action.

2. Never write any paragraph, anywhere, that is longer than four lines.

3. Communicate the message as quickly as possible. The crazy-busy don’t have time to read, and if the message looks long and wordy, they’ll stop reading it and move on. Email marketing messages should be 250 words or shorter. Direct mail letters should fit on one page.

4. Always include a strong, clear prominent call to action. All communication, including Web pages, must tell the reader/prospect exactly what they are to do and when they are to do it. Yes, adding the words “now” or “today” makes a difference.

The crazy-busy don’t have time to wade through complex messaging. To reach this group, marketers should always keep B2B communications short, clear and direct.

The dollars and sense of inbound vs. outbound marketing.

The economic downturn over the past few years has driven many talented yet unemployed people to start their own businesses. These folks take their years of experience and offer it to other businesses through their own specialty consulting or service firm — a firm that they must then market.

Just such an individual contacted me last week. He wanted to generate leads and business via outbound email marketing; however, after learning that he has a few clients, a relatively short buy cycle and a very limited budget, I recommended that he use inbound marketing and supplement it with personal outbound phone calls to his highly targeted B2B market.

Email marketing is relatively low cost when a company has built a pipeline of leads and handles its own email distribution via marketing automation. But for outbound marketing (that is going to a targeted B2B list) the costs add up fast.

Quality outbound email marketing lists (those that are made of real subscribers to an online publication and are therefore fully opt-in and have been profiled) cost from $400-$700 per thousand. Most of these top-quality lists require a 5000-name minimum, which raises the list cost to $2000 to $3500. Marketing professionals, including me, recommend testing more than one list at a time. Testing allows marketers to learn which list performs best and gives them the insight to improve the success of each subsequent marketing effort. Testing just two lists brings the cost up to $4000-$7000. If a marketer wants to maximize the success of the program, the message should be written and designed by professionals, which adds to the cost as well.

As a result of these higher upfront costs, many marketers avoid the outbound direct mail channel. Yet it is still one of the most powerful channels for B2B lead generation if done according to best practices. That means that, for lead generation, the mailing quantity must be large enough to deliver a response rate that is statistically valid so the results are repeatable on future mailings. In the B2B world this could be a minimum of 10,000 prospects at a typical cost of $1 each and up. For companies selling high-end enterprise systems, this approach is affordable and productive. But not for small start-ups.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is very affordable for the small and start-up business. Good-quality Web site SEO can be obtained for as little as $250 per month. Pay-per-click ads — depending on the market, keywords, etc. — can range from as little as $250 to $1000 per month or more. The same general costs apply to content syndication. Social media costs little in dollars but can cost much in time for a one-person business if done properly. There are many other elements in a comprehensive inbound marketing program, but, for small start-ups, it’s a cost-effective option.

In addition, however, I recommended that this new business owner not wait exclusively for inbound efforts to make his phone ring. I advised him to identify companies that meet his very targeted profile and pick up the phone and call them or send them individual letters.

As I’ve said many times before, no single marketing approach can stand on its own, B2B marketers. That’s why dollars and sense enter into our marketing decisions.

Subject testing: Hate it in the classroom, love it in B2B marketing.

Sitting in the classroom on test day was always a painful experience. “Do I know the materials?” “Did I read the right chapters?” “I should have spent more time studying.” “What will happen if I fail?” Back then, testing was a bad thing full of questions.

Today, as a B2B marketer, testing is a good thing that delivers answers. Testing, in fact, is the thing that keeps us from failing and allows us to continually improve the success of our outbound marketing efforts.

Direct marketing has always been about testing. Without testing, how can a B2B marketer know which marketing channels, offers and language will work for his or her particular company, product and market?

Yesterday I sat in on part of a MENG Webinar by Beth Harte, Client Services Director, Serengeti Communications on “Strategies for Integrating Traditional Marketing With Social Media.” She spoke about the importance of using the right language. Her point was that, if a company’s market is “gear-heads,” then the person communicating with that market via social media better be a “gear-head” or the social media strategy will fail. She’s so right. Having the right “voice” is critical in all B2B marketing.

Unless our market is very vertical (such as “gear-heads”), figuring out which “voice” will best resonate with our prospects is best determined by testing.

Since smart B2B marketers use emails to nurture their pipeline leads in an effort to move them through the buying cycle, subject lines are at the top of the list of items that should be tested. The question arises, “What should we test?”

Fortunately there was a great discussion recently on LinkedIn about subject lines. Started by Ben Bush of The Crocodile on the B2B Technology Marketing Community, the 26 participants shared great insight.

Here are some of the approaches that have worked for others and are, therefore, worth testing:

John McMillan at McMillan Technology Ltd.:

  • Eye-catching benefit subject lines going to strangers — the equivalent of a “cold call”
  • First names in subject lines (he notes that it works in the U.S. but can be seen as rude in other cultures)

Sandra Nangeroni, Director of Interactive Marketing:

  • Include in the subject line “what” they get if offering a white paper or Webinar
  • Who it comes from carries a lot of weight as it identifies the sender as a trusted, credible source
  • Words or phrases that resonate with the target and industry
  • Use themes like “Top 10 Tips for . . .” or “5 Reasons Why . . .”

Graeme McKee at API Software and AudoRek:

  • A phrase or sentence that summarizes the email content — no more, no less

Karen Dove, at DEX Imaging:

  • Simply the company name in the subject line is very effective
  • Sometimes, after the company name, put a colon and then add detail

Sokol Nikolov at EL MEDIA:

  • Use specific technology-related words in the subject line

These are some of the elements B2B marketers may want to consider when conducting email subject line testing. There was much other good advice as well.
Jason Ball, Specialist B2B Copywriter, for instance, uses Litmus to check whether subject lines would get tossed by spam filters before sending. This is an excellent idea, as a test result is not very valid if one of the two lines being tested never makes it to the prospect’s inbox.

The best testing approach, of course, in an A/B split. That is sending the two options at the same time in a half-and-half split.

The lesson today is that testing is good and, in B2B marketing, it can end with more than an A+ grade. It can result in learning how to generate more click-throughs and more prospects being moved down the buy cycle and into the hands of sales for conversion.

To increase B2B marketing response, increase response options.

Many of the best practices I promote for use in email nurturing campaigns, on Web sites, and in offer content come from my direct mail marketing experience. One such practice has been proven effective over and over and over — including a mail-back reply device.

In a direct mail marketing communication, 20% of the replies ALWAYS come from the reply device if there is one. This is true even if the mailing is going to titles that spend their lives online such as CIOs and other top IT management.

Why does this work? Because every person likes to do things their own way. By giving prospects more ways to respond, marketers increase the chances that people will find the response avenue that meets their personal style.

What does this mean to B2B marketers?

Marketers conducting lead generation or nurturing campaigns by offering free informational content should include their phone number and an email address to give the prospect the option to interact with the company making the offer. This is important because prospects that are already researching solutions and are further along in the buying cycle may have other questions and may want to engage with someone at the same time the offer is accepted. That’s why phone numbers and email addresses must be prominent on Web sites, in Webinar invites, on trade show booth invites and all other marketing communications.

Many marketers may respond that the prospect can just go to the Web site to find the contact info. But why make it MORE difficult for a prospective customer to respond?

Putting phone numbers and email addresses on sites that mass market — or on many types of e-commerce sites — may not make sense. But for businesses selling complex, high-ticket items with a long buying cycle, it is a necessity if those businesses want to increase response to their marketing.

Making B2B marketing personalization personal

I have often written about the top-line needs that should be addressed in messaging when marketing to the buyers of B2B products and services.

Terri Rylander’s post “My 3 Wishes from the Marketing Genie” goes deeper into the minds of buyers and explores what they want, not just from a solution, but from the provider of that solution. She clearly explains some of the ways buyers will determine whether a company can deliver on these three wishes.

1. I want a real relationship with you.
2. I want you to help me be successful.
3. I want to be able to find you when I need you.

Terri talks about the value of social media and educational content to project a personal image for a company, and it’s solid advice. But how does relationship-building fit for the many B2B marketers who are using email systems such as Eloqua, Silverpop, and Marketo to automate their marketing communications to their pipeline of sales leads?

Fortunately all of these systems and services are built to do just that. They give marketers extensive options for personalizing, from the salutation all the way into tracking the behavior of prospects and selecting specific messaging to be sent to them based on their behaviors.

The magic words for marketers to make a personal connection with their prospects are “data” and “versioning.”

By creating multiple versions of email communications, B2B marketers can make sure that every email addresses each prospective buyer’s area of interest. Marketers first set up business rules that outline specifically which message and content offer should be sent based on a previous behavior.

If a prospect downloads ABC White Paper, the system looks at the marketer’s business rules and send the prospect the next appropriate offer message:

Dear James,
Hope you enjoyed ABC White Paper, you may also want to read XYZ Case Study and learn more about how one of your peers . . .

Terri nicely presents the wishes of today’s buyers. What they want is a real connection with the companies they do business with. To make that connection, it’s time for B2B marketers to make their personalization personal.

Three Questions All B2B Marketing Should Answer in Eight Seconds or Less

B2B marketers who are interested in how to improve the performance of their email lead generation and nurturing will find no dearth of posts, white papers, studies, and reports on the subject. Many are excellent and informative.

But this morning Alex Madison and Lisa Harmon, posting for Media Post’s Email Insider, pared the insight and best practices down to three simple steps: “Three Questions Your Email Should Answer In Eight Seconds Or Less.”

Hand and buttons Yes/NoTheir focus is on emailing subscribers, but their advice applies to all B2B email marketing.

  1. What is this email about?
  2. Why should the prospect, customer, subscriber care about it?
  3. What should they do about it?

The post then goes on to give examples of each of these important points in different types of email marketing messages.

Madison and Harmon state that “subscribers spend just eight seconds on most messages before clicking through or navigating away.” That’s why it’s so critical that prospects and customers quickly understand what is being offered and what they can do to get it.

What Madison and Harmon have presented, however, goes way beyond email marketing. It’s advice that should be applied universally to B2B marketing messages in all channels — direct mail marketing, banners and search engine advertising, print advertising, and yes, even social media.

Business buyers are busy. They don’t want to be wooed or romanced. They want information and they want it fast. By following Madison and Harmon’s advice, B2B marketers can improve the performance of ALL their marketing efforts.

My “duh” moment on the vital need for both inbound AND outbound B2B marketing.

A colleague of mine who is a commission salesperson flew back East yesterday after an invitation from a prospective customer to make a presentation to his company. The prospect has a problem that my colleague’s company can solve.

DuhThis invitation didn’t follow a referral. There wasn’t a formal request for proposal (RFP). The prospect didn’t find my colleague’s company through social media. It wasn’t a B2B lead generated by SEO, SEM or a banner. In fact, it wasn’t even a lead generated by B2B email marketing, direct mail marketing, a trade show booth visit or an ad.

It was generated by a cold call that my colleague made to the company.

I’m not pooh-poohing the value of any of the above marketing channels. But this cold call — that led to an in-person presentation — was my “duh” moment on the difference between inbound and outbound B2B lead generation.

Companies have problems. There are so many aspects in the operation of a successful business, or even in a given department of that business, that the most painful problems are addressed first. Inbound marketing benefits when a company is pursuing a solution for its most painful problem. It is then that prospects actively research solutions on the Web, follow experts on social media, visit Web sites, read paid search ads, ask colleagues for referrals and send out RFPs.

But those companies that have problems they’ve pushed to the back burner because of more urgent ones are not actively pursuing a solution. Then, voila , an email or direct mail letter appears. Some are likely to think “here’s a white paper addressing that other problem we have. I think I’ll ask for it and see what it says.”

The company making the white paper offer will have then generated a lead that can be nurtured until that company says “this pain is big enough that we have to fix it now.” Low and behold, the company that sent the outbound marketing is already engaging with that prospect and has a huge edge.

In fact, the company my colleague is seeing was not seeking a solution. But his call alerted them to a smart way to solve a problem they knew they had. When a solution appeared, they jumped on it.

In rare occasions, perhaps, a B2B marketer knows about the pain a particular company is suffering from at that moment. Most of us in B2B marketing won’t. That’s why we have to reach out via outbound marketing AND make sure we’re reachable when the time is right.

All channels are vital. Cold calling works, too.