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How to spend your B2B marketing summer.

Are B2B buyers making buying decisions in the summer? Surveying my network of B2B marketers and vendors the answer is generally no, with the possible exception of industries that have deadlines tied to government regulations.

Some B2B marketers may have different experiences, but summer has always been a historically slow time due to vacation absences. In that light, should marketers reduce their efforts in the summer because response rates to B2B lead acquisition and nurturing offers will tend to be a lot lower? Or should efforts increase in the summer because it takes more effort to generate more demand?

It’s been proven that companies that increase their marketing efforts during economic downturns recover faster and gain a larger share of the market when the economy does recover. With that in mind, here are the issues B2B marketers should consider in relation to marketing during the summer months.

  1. Increased summer efforts are likely to boost visibility and response rates in the fall. For B2B marketers needing to produce a steady flow of leads, marketing more in the summer may be a necessity.
  2. For B2B marketers with long buy cycles, less effort in the summer could result in producing a few months of poor sales months down the road.
  3. Increasing spending to generate a constant flow of leads and sales through slow summer months will result in a higher cost per lead and cost per sale. It’s important for B2B marketers to do the math and make sure those increases are acceptable.
  4. Added buyer incentives during summer months may help increase summer sales.
  5. Increased summer efforts are likely to boost visibility and response rates in the fall.
  6. If other B2B marketers are doing less, those doing more should get better visibility and attention.

With the 2012 summer more than half over, B2B marketers may not be able to take any action one way or the other this year. However, this is the time for B2B marketers to determine if they are experiencing seasonal slow-downs and be ready to respond appropriately for the summer of 2013.

Where B2B marketing personas meet the road.

Knowledgeable B2B marketers know that the better lead generation or nurturing content and messaging focuses on the needs and interests of targeted individuals, the more successful it will be. That understanding has produced the need to create prospect personas.

As defined on Wikipedia, “A user persona is a representation of the goals and behavior of a hypothesized group of users. In most cases, personas are synthesized from data collected from interviews with users. They are captured in 1–2 page descriptions that include behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and environment, with a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character.”

Personas provide B2B marketers with a strong visual “target person” to keep in mind when creating marketing strategies and messaging.

Since personas are typically built through interviews (not real-world testing) they can be misleading. As respected marketing expert Ardath Albee asks in her recent blog post, Can B2B Marketers Become Content Whisperers?, “If one person says so, is it true? How about 10? Or 100?”

Interviews have value, but real-world response to various testing of content and messaging is far more reliable.

The unfortunate fact is that many B2B marketers don’t have a large enough prospect universe to conduct statistically valid testing. Many do not have the bandwidth to conduct extensive interviews or the budget to hire an outside firm to do it for them.

The solution is to trust your knowledge of human nature. Although there may be nuances discovered in the process of building personas, there are still a number of overriding human traits that are consistent within B2B titles, regardless of industry. Individual industries may drive some overarching goals. Healthcare may want to improve patient care. Service firms may want to satisfy customers and build loyalty. But when the rubber meets the road, most people’s motivation to act comes down to very personal needs and goals.

Therefore, B2B marketers won’t go wrong if they build their marketing strategy and messaging on these basic human needs and goals:

Owner of private company
* Make more money.
* Gain respect and recognition.
* Gain market share.

CEO/President of public company
* Increase share prices.
* Produce growth.
* Increase market share.
* Gain respect and recognition.

CFO/Controller
* Lower costs.
* Minimize risk.
* Get a high ROI on solutions purchased.

CIO/Department or Division Manager
* Increase department productivity.
* Reduce risk.
* Reduce costs.
* Get more done with less effort.
* Meet goals faster.

Workers
* Reduce effort involved in doing their job.
* Minimize mistakes.
* Gain respect and recognition.

Lift B2B marketing response by putting time on your side.

It’s never a good idea for B2B marketers to project our own personal opinions and practices on the B2B audience to which we market. How we like to receive information, our work patterns, and our preferences are not likely to mirror the people who buy our company’s B2B products or services.

But there is one area in which all of us in B2B marketing and in the B2B buying community are exactly alike — that is, we have too much to do and too little time in which to do it.

Not long ago I wrote a blog about “Four Rules for Communicating with the Crazy-Busy Prospect,” which focused on how to organize and present B2B marketing copy so the heart of the message could be comprehended with a quick scan.

Then, a few days ago, I learned another powerful way to use time to gain an advantage in B2B marketing. What I learned from one of my technology clients is that she’s cut back all of her Webinars to 30 minutes. Not only has this measurably boosted attendance, but it has generated emails from customers and prospects thanking her for this time-saving way to learn.

Like me, many people feel they can spare 30 minutes but not an hour. How often have I attended a one-hour event only to have to leave early because of a more pressing demand? In fact, I would attend more Webinars if they were only 30 minutes.

I hear push-back from many B2B marketers like, “Oh, we can’t cover the subject properly in 30 minutes.” I’d recommend they find a way to edit the presentation down to its core and make it work. One approach might be to create a Part I and Part II presentation of the materials for two separate events.

If this tactic would mean increasing attendance and getting attendees to stay for the entire presentation, it may be well worth testing.

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

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

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

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

Here goes:

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

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

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.

B2B marketing’s one-stop manual of content best practices.

Recognizing the critical importance of content in B2B marketing, a colleague of mine, Paul Mosenson, is tapping the knowledge and expertise of a number of marketing communication strategists to help support his NuSpark Marketing venture. He’s started a group on LinkedIn, “B2B Lead Generation & Content Marketing,” and has gathered together a collection of top blog posts from his team.

It’s a privilege for me to be part of this impressive group of marketers. But it’s also good luck for the B2B marketers reading this post. Because Paul has put together a collection of these top posts into an eBook that makes a top-notch reference guide to best practices for all aspects of using content in lead generation, nurturing and moving prospects through the buy cycle. This collection includes 20 excellent posts (two of which are mine) on every angle of content planning and preparation you can imagine. Here are the titles of what’s included:

  • How Good Content Can Grow Your Business
  • 5 Rock-Bottom Rules for Effective B2B Marketing Content Offers
  • How to Boost Content Downloads
  • A Matter of Trust
  • Message Maps – Easier Content Creation
  • 9 Steps to Continuous Content Improvement
  • Interruption Marketing; Billy May Exposed
  • 20/20 Insight/Content Strategy
  • Creating Value and Trust
  • Military Intelligence (re: effectively reaching outside of marketing)
  • 3 Easy Steps to a True Value Proposition
  • 2 Key Ingredients to Social Media Content
  • Content Marketing for Your Brand
  • Using Customer Stories to Nurture Leads
  • White Papers for Lead Generation
  • Using Email to Promote Your Content
  • Matching Content to Buyer Personas
  • Feeling Stumped when Creating Content?
  • Is Your Content Having an Identity Crisis?
  • Content, SEO, and Landing Pages

This book is for B2B marketers generating leads, nurturing leads, boosting the company’s brand recognition, delving into social media, improving the Web site, or other tasks. It takes them through the all-important steps that need to be completed before creating one word of content, then through how to make sure that the content resonates with their audience.

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.”

 

What’s missing from your B2B marketing strategy?

Not long ago every invitation I received to every Webinar and marketing event focused on social media. Now the hot topic seems to be mobile marketing. These are just two new channels that expand the options in the world of integrated B2B marketing. They have become part of the fundamentals that successful B2B businesses must implement.

The sad part is that many B2B marketers haven’t yet incorporated some of the basics that have been — and continue to be — necessary for a successful marketing outcome.

Bob Apollo, writing a guest post for My Venture Pad, alerted me to the “B2B Marketing Manifesto” created by Velocity Partners in the UK.

He points out what we all know — B2B buyers have more options than ever before for finding solutions to their business challenges. Because of that, it’s more essential than ever to follow these fundamentals outlined by Velocity Partners.

  • Content Marketing: converting your insight into campaigns that change people’s minds
  • Analytics: measuring everything that moves in your marketing (and the stuff that doesn’t)
  • A/B Testing: backing your hunches with real-life data — and responding accordingly
  • Lead Nurturing: cultivating your prospects until they are ready to take the next step in their buying journey with you
  • Search: getting found using the terms your prospects use when they go looking for answers
  • Community: hanging out (and contributing) in the places where your prospects go for trusted advice

Although many of today’s B2B marketers are using content, it’s surprising how many are not and are simply just trying to sell product. These days, only companies with no competition can afford to do that. In regards to analytics, online click-thrus may be counted, but how many B2B marketers are tracking the lead and lead source all the way to a sale? How many are tracking cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale, both critical marketing measurement tools.

Now is the time to be planning for 2012. When marketers are putting together their plan for the next year, they should build it around these six key essentials.

B2B marketing automation hindsight.

Marketing experts have been beating the drum of marketing automation for quite some time now. If a B2B company is not using marketing automation yet, they could feel behind the times.

Today, however, those who have NOT implemented marketing automation yet are in luck.

Recently, a survey of marketing automation users conducted by Software Advice reveals what users of marketing automation wish they had done when selecting their software automation vendor. B2B marketers who have held off moving into marketing automation can now benefit from this valuable hindsight.

Lauren Carlson, CRM Analyst at Software Advice, reports the results of this survey in her recent post “What Do You Wish You Had Asked Your MA Vendor?”

Each participant was asked, “What questions do you wish you had asked your marketing automation vendor before purchasing?” Their responses fall into four areas: integration, support/training, roadmap and maintenance. Lauren’s post highlights these top 10 most popular questions:

  1. How do the marketing automation and CRM systems work together?
  2. Can we have a bi-directional sync between the marketing tool and our CRM software?
  3. If we discontinue using the software how do we get our valuable lead information and lead activity out of the system to load in the next system?
  4. What kind of training is required to get program managers up to speed, and what is the learning curve?
  5. What level is the instruction and is it customizable to meet the level of knowledge that our team currently has?
  6. In terms of customer service, what happens after implementation? Is there something in the contract that can guarantee a set of dedicated reps or a minimum turnaround time for customer service requests?
  7. What is your roadmap for the coming year and how committed are you to delivering on that? (i.e., when you announce a new user interface, how long before it’s actually rolled out?)
  8. Is the solution robust enough to handle our long-term goals?
  9. How complex is the system to maintain?
  10. How much down-time does the system have and how does that affect our usage of the tool?

You’ll want to catch her full post to read the insightful comments of those interviewed. For B2B marketers who have not yet made the move to marketing automation, I say thanks to Software Advice and Lauren for providing this valuable guide to help them choose the right provider.

Effective B2B marketing requires budget AND brains.

Everyone needs a break from the daily stack of work. That’s why I took a moment to read a communication from the LinkedIn B2B Lead Generation & Content Marketing group entitled “20 Quotes To Inspire Your Marketing.”

Put together by Michael Brenner, Sr. Director, Global Marketing at SAP, many of them amused and inspired me. My favorites on his list are these:

 “What really decides consumers to buy or not to buy is the content of your advertising, not its form.” David Ogilvy

 “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.” Seth Godin

 “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.” David Packard

 However, I found one quote to be a bit of an insult to B2B marketers:

 “If you have more money than brains you should focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing.” Guy Kawasaki, author of Engage and founder of Alltop

 I was insulted because I spend much of my days writing messaging for outbound B2B marketing, including email and direct mail. Every one of my clients has first-hand experience with outbound marketing directly generating business. If done right — that means following best practices — outbound marketing consistently generates business at an acceptable cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale.

If outbound marketing is a “brainless” task, as Kawasaki implies, then marketing automation providers would have failed long ago. Instead, these companies are booming. The fact is, SAP has been a frequent and successful practitioner of outbound B2B direct mail marketing.

If a B2B marketing company has a large sales staff and needs to drive thousands of leads per month, social and inbound marketing cannot consistently drive the number of leads required.

Also, inbound marketing often generates leads that are further down the buy cycle. Engaging with those prospects late in the process puts the seller at a disadvantage. Competitive companies who reached out to that prospective buyer earlier in the process have been nurturing and building a relationship with them. When it comes to making a buying decision, the competitor has the advantage.

Outbound marketing can reach prospective buyers early in the process when they are just realizing they have a pain to solve but before they take action to search for a solution to that pain.

So, to add to Michael’s list of inspiring B2B marketing quotes, here is this old-timer: “The early bird gets the worm.”