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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.

One practice helps achieve the three “Rs” in B2B marketing.

I woke up this morning thinking about the “three Rs”. Many of my readers may remember them: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic. I was thinking how strange it is that a term related to education should be so grammatically incorrect. But hey, even education has to have its jingles if it wants to sell the product.

Then, later, I saw Ardath Albee’s post “Bullocks to B2B Marketing Buzzword: Relevance” and realized there are “Rs” in B2B marketing, too. And they really are words that start with R. Ardath mentions “relevance.” But there’s also “relationships,” “reputation” and the ever-popular “return on investment.”

Like children’s names are subject to fads — so is B2B marketing-speak.

But once these terms are defined, we discover that these concepts are not new. Just like the three Rs are still at the heart of a solid education, the foundation of what it takes to attract, interest, and convert B2B buyers is no different now than it was in 1975 or even 1875. Only the methods of communication have changed.

Ardath nicely defines “relevance”. “The secret to relevance in B2B marketing is to learn what your intended audience is interested in and applying what your solutions enable in relation to that interest — using words that resonate.”

Here’s how B2B marketers can make sure they are able to do this:

Set up interviews with every sales person in the company who has direct contact with prospects and customers to learn what prospects are telling them. Also interview customers. Hear what problems are being experienced by the customer or prospective customer. Learn their objections, the terminology they use, and how they may be trying to solve the problems now.

This is one  practice that people use to build the “personas” that are popular in B2B marketing today. It is the knowledge that helps ensure B2B marketers do what Ardath advises. That is, using the language that resonates with the prospect while focusing on solving THEIR problems, not on the product being sold. This is what builds relationships, supports the company’s reputation and can result in a better return on investment, too.

Any marketer that doesn’t talk to sales and/or customers is only guessing on how to make sure their B2B marketing communications are relevant and have the most impact.

Where B2B marketing still grabs attention in today’s communication overload.

A short business trip last week put me back in front of a copy of USA Today that had been left on my hotel doorstep. The “Money” section featured an excellent article by John Swartz about the high cost of today’s communications overload that is reducing productivity and increasing business employee errors.

It reports, “People are drowning in a deluge of data. Corporate users received about 110 messages a day in 2010, says market researcher Radicati Group. There are 110 million tweets a day, Twitter says. Researcher Basex has pegged business productivity losses due to the ‘cost of unnecessary interruptions’ at $650 billion back in 2007.”

The article mentions Brad McCarty as an example. “As an Editor of tech blog The Next Web, he routinely has 10 online conversations at once: Skype, Twitter, Google™, instant messaging, e-mail, chat and texting.”

As the USA Today article clearly shows, getting seen in that environment is pretty difficult. Even if a B2B company’s tweet, Facebook listing or Web site is seen, how many seconds of the prospect’s time is spent on it?

Being in the business of contributing to that overload and wanting to reach prospects in these environments, I realized that getting the attention of today’s business decision-makers and influencers is a far greater challenge than it’s ever been before.

For me, with my earlier marketing years spent doing direct mail, meeting that challenge is easy. That’s because there is one time of day that these B2B prospects take their eyes away from their computer screens and their mobile devices and stop for a moment. It’s when they sort their mail.

That’s the moment B2B marketers can capture attention in a prospect’s crowded day.

Many of today’s B2B marketers have avoided or abandoned the direct mail channel for two reasons: cost and the assumption that, since everyone does everything online, they can’t be reached effectively offline.

However, B2B marketers continue to use direct mail in their marketing mix because they know that it is not only effective, it is cost-effective. The additional cost involved — with paper, envelopes, printing, and postage — is well worth it.

It pays off in its ability to better target B2B leads based on industry, title, company size and other demographics that are typically available in mailing lists but not in email lists. Better targeting generates respondents who are more qualified as well.

Also, messages are read in a momentary calm in the chaotic sea of information, when people take time out of their day to sort their mail.

When correctly used (right lists and offer) direct mail is still a proven B2B communication tool. It’s not as sexy right now as social media, but it is a steady and consistent performer and an important channel for successful B2B marketers.

The two biggest B2B marketing campaign essentials.

Today’s B2B marketing directors have a long list of marketing options from which to choose: automated email marketing, direct mail lead generation, telemarketing, customer profiling, database enhancement, content creation, Web site re-designs, social media initiatives, trade shows, user conferences — the very scope boggles the mind.

The opportunities are great. The risk of failure even greater. By taking on too much at once, there is the risk of overload that leads to poorly executed programs and poor performance.

No matter which options B2B marketers choose to pursue, however, there are two elements that must be in place to ensure that every program is built on the essential foundation. One is the first step, the other is the last, and both are critical to B2B marketing success.

1. START: Establish the right target market.
Reaching the right buyers and influencers is the most important element in any B2B outbound marketing. Great creative and great B2B content fall flat if offered to the wrong titles in the wrong companies. Identifying the most productive customer and target market is a vital step in any B2B marketing strategy. Here is the best way to do that:

a. Talk with everyone having direct contact with customers and come to an understanding and agreement of the titles who make the decisions, those who influence the decisions, and those who are affected by the decisions.

b. Hire a company such as Acxiom, AccuData, Experian, or one of many other companies who can take your current customer list and build a profile of your best buyers by dollars spent, frequency of purchase and lifetime value.

Once the above steps are completed, choose the B2B marketing list and online and offline media that reach the identified profile and targets.

2. END: Build a reliable tracking and measurement process.
As stated above, the programs and the media channels B2B marketers can use are many. Once the programs are launched, however, if the B2B marketer is not able to measure the contribution that each makes to lead generation and sales, there is no way to determine which programs to repeat and pursue and which to dump. B2B marketers can only improve what they can measure.

When implementing multiple programs there will be crossover exposure, so tracking and measurement is not perfect. But whatever process is put in place, it should produce enough business intelligence to show B2B marketers how to optimize the performance of future efforts. Tracking devices can include:

* Dedicated URLs
* Dedicated phone numbers or extension numbers
* Dedicated email addresses
* Key codes on mail reply cards or surveys
* Data match-backs of generated leads or sales bumped against the original email and mailing lists

Not only should these tracking methods be put in place, but there must be an internal system for gathering the resulting data and turning it into useful reports. The process built must track AND measure.

This quick, readable NextMark blog — 16 Tips to Direct Mail Marketing Success by David James of Bethesda List Center — includes these two recommendations and all the right steps that go between. But whatever combination of strategies is chosen, to succeed B2B marketers should always make sure they make the right start and the right end.

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.

Two ways to use your B2B customer database as a valuable targeting tool.

There are three great experiences to be had from attending an in-person presentation by a B2B marketing expert. There’s the value of networking, of course. Then there’s the opportunity to learn something new. Best of all, there’s the chance to confirm that the practices I often advocate are also those endorsed and promoted by a recognized expert.

The expert in this case is Robert Hale, President of Robert Hale & Associates, a strategic marketing firm that bases all of its recommendations on fabulous, in-depth research for its clients.

It was in a meeting of the San Diego Software Industry Council that I heard Hale’s presentation “Market Strategies for Software Companies.”

The first part of his presentation was on what I know is the most important part of any B2B marketing campaign — targeting the right market. Hale begins his targeting strategy addressing segmentation.

BusinessDictionary.com defines “segmentation” as:

“Process of defining and sub-dividing a large homogenous market into clearly identifiable segments having similar needs, wants, or demand characteristics. Its objective is to design a marketing mix that precisely matches the expectations of customers in the targeted segment. Few firms are big enough to supply the needs of an entire market; most must break down the total demand into segments and choose the one or few the firm is best equipped to handle. Four basic factors that affect market segmentation are:

(1) clear identification of the segment,
(2) measurability of its effective size,
(3) its accessibility through promotional efforts
(4) its appropriateness to the policies and resources of the firm.”

Hale expands this definition of segmentation somewhat. In addition to measurability and accessibility he adds sustainability and actionability. (I’m not sure actionability is a word, but we all get the point.)

For me to fully understand this definition of a worthwhile B2B market, I must translate this description into simpler descriptions.

A B2B market must be:

  • Able to be clearly defined and described,
  • Big enough to warrant B2B marketing efforts and costs,
  • Reachable via some channel — direct mail, email, telemarketing, industry pubs, membership groups, trade shows,
  • Qualified to buy the B2B product or service being sold.

Before the segmentation analysis begins, however, B2B marketers need to identify which companies should be targeted based on industry, title, company size, number of employees, etc.

Some companies just guess. Some say, “Well, we have a client in healthcare; we should pursue healthcare.” What Hale confirmed for me is that a company’s database has all the information needed to choose the markets a B2B company should target. He proposes a two-part analysis:

  1. Look at your customer base and segment it by revenue and profitability. 20% of the customers will float to the top as being the source for 70% to 80% of your revenue.
  2. Look at the customers you’ve lost. Determine why they were lost and what it is about the profile of these companies that makes them different from the customers who stay with you.

That’s all it takes to know who to target and who to avoid. It’s that simple.

This practice does not mean that there are no undiscovered opportunities to break into new markets or new industries. However, it’s the smart starting point for ensuring the success of B2B marketing efforts.

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

B2B marketers must tell their CEOs to stop playing golf.

Today’s smart B2B marketers develop strategic, integrated marketing plans that make strong offers to targeted markets using the right channels, the right messaging and the right design. They track results, then adjust campaigns to grow and maximize those results.

These plans are carefully crafted and incorporate the latest in B2B marketing best practices. These marketers are proud of their diligent work and begin to execute the programs based on their plan.

Then their CEO goes golfing.

The very next day, that CEO walks into the marketer’s office requesting changes to the campaigns based on the great advice gotten from a peer on the golf course. Advice like:

  • “When I run political campaigns, here’s what I do.”
  • “How come you’re not doing this?”
  • “You should do what this consultant told us to do.”

If there’s a B2B marketer out there who has never experienced this, my congratulations. For the rest of us, we must resort to the only approach we can use to educate the misguided CEO we dare not insult.

  • Be ready to defend each strategy based on best practices supported by third-party sources.
  • Show what market leaders in their industry are doing.
  • Show what has been tested in the past that supports the current recommendations.
  • Offer to test the CEO’s wacky ideas (in a small test panel to minimize the damage).
  • Remind the CEO that all of the strategies are based on acceptable cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale numbers.
  • Show the CEO the negative financial impact of using his or her ideas, if unsuccessful.

This problem is not confined to golfing buddies. Influential, but bad, advice can come from spouses, neighbors, college chums and a full assortment of people who have access to the CEO’s ear but know nothing about B2B marketing.

So be prepared to correct this bad advice at any time. After all, telling the CEO to stop golfing is a lot harder to do.

3 things B2B marketers can learn from retailers.

It has been said that for a retail business to be successful, it must focus on three things: location, location, and location. B2B marketers also have three important areas of focus to achieve success: target, target, and target.

Key people in a networked crowd.Reaching the most qualified companies and titles is still the most important element in every outbound B2B marketing campaign. The best way to identify that target is to build a profile of best customers and apply that profile against the marketing lists (email or mail) selected for outbound campaigns.

Best customers are those who meet most of the following criteria:

  1. Lifetime Value: Generated the greatest revenue.
  2. Number of Products and Services Purchased: Purchased the most products and the most profitable products.
  3. Loyalty: Remained customers the longest.
  4. Service Effort: Do not require excessive levels of service or support.

Once the above customers are identified, the next step is to profile them by the following identifiable demographics, which can be applied to available mail and some email marketing lists:

  • Industry
  • Size by number of employees and/or annual sales
  • Number of locations
  • Title of decision-maker or main contact
  • SIC (Standard Industrial Code) Current systems in place (if applicable to the product being sold)

If marketers do not have that kind of detail on their customers, firms such as Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) can append that data to the customer file for a fee.

Using a profile to define what markets, companies, titles and other criteria to pursue should result in attracting more qualified leads that might close faster and ultimately be more profitable customers. It’s an important step in building strategic B2B marketing plans.

One caveat, however: Marketers should remember that their profile of best customers could be a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” That is, the profile may show only those industries, titles, company sizes and other criteria that they have targeted in the past. It may or may not reflect the universe of opportunities.

If the marketing of a wheelchair lift has always been directed at schools, the profile will show a certain size or type of school as its best customer. In this case, marketing has no way of knowing if office building developers would not be a better “best customer,” since that market is not in the database from which the profile is built.

So, profiling a company’s best customers is a smart practice. But do it knowing that current best customers may or may not reflect the possible best customers.

The B2B marketing “wow” that counts is the one on the bottom line.

I admit I read Seth Godin’s blog regularly. It’s like visiting a lama high in the Himalayas for a bit of wisdom. He doesn’t share details on how to market better. He provides an insightful high-level view of our marketing environment, attitudes and trends that I find very refreshing.

wow_star_hsIn a recent post on the Internet’s having spawned “Drive by culture and the endless search for wow,” he presents the reality of today’s Internet users and discusses the “insanity of putting traffic above trying to change the way (a few) people think.”

Unlike Mr. Godin, my focus is not high level, but down in the daily trenches of finding ways for B2B marketers to improve the performance of their marketing efforts. So I interpret his great perception through my how-to eyes with a piece of advice that I learned early in my career. That is . . .

Target. Target. Target.

For B2B marketers using banners, search engine marketing (SEM) ads, email and even a Web site to generate leads, this means that the headlines and copy must focus 100% on the concerns, needs, and pains of the company’s most qualified prospects.

Sales people have limited time and can focus only on companies they are likely to sell. That would be prospects from companies in the right industry, with the right number of employees, who have decision-making or influencing power and the problem the marketer’s product or service can solve.

For B2B marketers to generate any other kind of click-thru is a waste of time and money.  That’s because the only B2B marketing “wow” that counts is the one on the bottom line.