Picture It, The Right Photo When You Need It

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Copyright: https://www.123rf.com/profile_rawpixel 123RF Stock Photo

Photos are an important element for B2B marketing such as content, social media, websites, and presentations. Photos and images add visual interest, understanding and engagement whether it’s white papers and case studies or literature, blogs, and web pages. For example, according to Buffer Social, adding a photo to a tweet boosts retweets by 150%. We are visual creatures. In fact it’s been shown that three days after hearing a piece of information a person can only recall 10%, but add a picture and their recall is 65%.

However, B2B marketing teams struggle to ensure photo assets reflect their brand and messaging, are visually engaging, and easy to retrieve and use. Why is this such a challenge and what’s the solution?

Photos are hard to organize

Organizing photos for use by a marketing team is a challenge primarily because, well they’re visual images, not text. Searching for photos is a time consuming process unless you devise a storage system that someone faithfully and accurately associates the appropriate text (tags, categories, etc.) with each image. Trust me, in spite of best intentions, this never happens.

And then there’s always the problem of how to categorize or tag photos for future needs. Invariably you need a photo with say purple in it, but no one thought to create tags with the predominant colors in each photo. It’s hard to think of all the needs you may have for a photo, i.e. by vertical market, with or without people, geography, product/service application, etc. Maybe that saying about “a thousand words” is right!

Challenges beyond organizing photos

In addition to organizing photos, there are other significant issues for managing image assets effectively with such as:

  • Getting customer approval for use of photos they provide or photos your company took at a customer site.
  • Ensuring photos appear with the proper credits.
  • Ensuring the photo represents safe use or delivery of your product or service. For example, making sure people in the photo are using the proper personal protective equipment.
  • Confirming that the photo represents your product or service level properly. This can be especially challenging when your product or service is so technical that a highly knowledgeable eye is required to notice issues.
  • Overall quality, in terms of resolution (high enough for print or only social posts), size, and the composition itself.

Develop a process

Even photos from hired photographers and purchased stock images need internal vetting and proper categorizing. I’ve found it helpful to create internal processes for accepting and storing photos from customers, your own account managers, sales and other field personnel, and even your own photo shoots. Using a process that defines internal vetting and approval, appropriate categories and tags,  associated credits, quality, and any usage restrictions goes a long way to being able to efficiently find and use the photos later.

It’s never fun to put something out there and then hear from a sales person, safety manager, or worse yet, a customer, that there’s a problem with using the photo.

 Solutions most teams try

Most marketing teams try various ways to manage their photo assets from specialty photo libraries, Windows filing systems, intranets, and other systems that enable categorizing and tagging, searching, and easily sharing among dispersed teams. 46820131 - dam digital asset management organization conceptSince most B2B marketing assets are digital now, there are numerous digital asset management (DAM) systems available that can house images. But I’ve decided there’s a reason these are called “DAM” systems – you still have to properly vet and organize using tags and keywords that will be meaningful. Plus for smaller organizations, the costs can be prohibitive. And getting budget approved for these systems can be a challenge since the wasted time searching for images is hard to quantify.

Image recognition technology is advancing rapidly

Post a photo to Facebook and its facial recognition will suggest friends in the photo so you can tag them. Google Photos already enables searches by keywords of objects, places and things it recognizes. For example, I can search for cats and it will find all of my photos of cats. (In the interest of full disclosure I’m a huge fan of Google and use it for all of my business needs from email (Gmail) to cell service (Project Fi), calendar, and cloud file storage.) I just read an interesting article about Google’s recent I/O Developer’s conference where Google announced upcoming changes to many products including Google Photos and introduced its vision-based artificial intelligence tool Google Lens. Together these Google tools enable visual searching. For example, using your smartphone camera to add contacts from a photo of a business card, get reviews by aiming the camera at a restaurant sign, or identify a flower.

Will Google Photos be the answer?

DigitalEyeKeyboardsmUsing Google’s extensive search knowledge and machine learning, these tools learn what’s in your photos and can easily serve it up to you when needed. Maybe this will be the holy grail of photo storage and retrieval for marketing teams of the future! Yes, you’d still need internal vetting prior to storage, but this could be an efficient and cost effective solution. Am I crazy? What do you think? What tool is your team using successfully for photo asset management?

Is It Back to the Future for B2B Marketing? (Finally!)

10864007 - future concept, future word on puzzle piece with back lightHave you noticed how disjointed some B2B marketing is? Over the last ten, and especially five, years this seemed to be a growing trend. Article after article talked about and many B2B marketers implemented digital marketing, social media marketing, inbound marketing, SEO, etc. as though each can stand alone. And sadly, in many cases, each has stood alone with little thought given to an overall strategy and, unfortunately, delivered less than stellar results. But last week I attended a conference that gives me hope we may finally be seeing a return to strategic integrated marketing. Read on to learn more about this and other takeaways from the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit (MAM Summit).

Integrated Marketing

The MAM Summit is a twice a year event, the most recent held in Washington, DC, and draws marketing practitioners, agencies, consultants, and vendors from the DC region. As I left the conference last week, it struck me that while there were individual sessions and panels on Email marketing, social media marketing, and SEO, among other tactics, there was discussion in each about how important it is to have an integrated strategy. Speakers and panelists even talked about how they integrate their online and offline tactics.

Don’t get me wrong. Yes, there are B2B organizations who are and have been using an integrated online and offline marketing strategy. But I’ve seen and heard about many IntegratedMarketingsmmarketing teams that don’t. Maybe B2B marketers have been afraid to talk about their use of offline tactics — trade shows are still a major driver of leads and revenue for many in B2B, but they aren’t very sexy to talk about! Marketers indicated events (69%) were their most successful tactic in 2016 for generating qualified leads at the top of the funnel according to the 2017 Demand Generation Benchmark Survey. Maybe marketers are finally to the point where they want to understand how the latest “shiny new thing”, can you say ABM, fits into an overall marketing strategy.

Marketing automation tools also get some of the blame since only recently have these tools enabled users to run email, social, and ad campaigns, manage and track the website, and track offline campaigns within the tool. I’m hopeful B2B marketers at large have finally turned the corner to think about overall strategy before thinking about tactics and channels.

Know Your Audience

Another theme that cut across several talks was knowing and thinking about your audience first. The opening keynote from Lee Raine, Director, Internet, Science, and Technology Research at the Pew Research Center spoke about facts and trust. He shared a lot of data points including recent surveys showing social media is the least trusted source of information and how important it is to be authentic, transparent, and a “helpful friend” to build trust with your audience.

SEO panelists spoke about how Google is now ranking organic search results based on about 250 different criteria that measure user experience. Once again, it’s all about your audience and designing a website that delivers the best experience for them. Other speakers talked about knowing your audience in relation to finding the right influencers and social channels, and delivering personalized email and website experiences.

Bob London, CEO of Chief Listening Officers, shared how important it is for marketers to 53343032 - do you know your customertalk directly with and “interview” customers and prospects to learn what they really need and value about your product or service. Download Bob’s free E-Book, 12 Provocative Customer Re-Discovery Questions… and How to Ask Them. Too often we as marketers think we know what our customers want and value, but fail to actually speak to any customers directly. I’ve been in organizations where sales or account managers “own” the customer to the point of not allowing marketing to engage directly. I’ve also seen organizations be so inwardly focused, and sometimes so arrogant, that they don’t see the point in reaching out to ask customers anything about what they value, their perception of your products/services, and customer experiences.

I’ve touched on both integrated marketing and knowing your audience in several of my previous posts including: Digital: 3 Marketing Fundamentals that Still Matter and B2B Demand Generation is Just Like Motorsport Racing – No Really!

Though of course I didn’t attend every session, I found it interesting that no one mentioned content marketing. Maybe that was a given. I sure hope so. And maybe now B2B marketers are finally getting back to starting with marketing strategy – one that integrates a variety of tactics using messages based on what their customers tell them to deliver success in the future.

Have you seen a shift toward a more strategic and integrated approach to B2B marketing? Can we all stop saying “digital” marketing now? When was the last time you spoke with a customer to listen to their perspective?

4 Tips for Conquering the Top Decision Stage Challenges

time to decide concept clockPart 3 in a 3-Part Series on Content Marketing for the B2B Buyer’s Journey

I discussed in Part 1: Awareness stage challenges and in Part2: 6 Tips for Conquering Consideration Stage Challenges.  In Part 3 of this 3-Part series, I’ll discuss the Decision stage of the buyer’s journey and provide tips for overcoming the top B2B content marketing challenges.

Decision stage buyer activities

The buyer moves into the Decision stage once they know the best type of solution for solving their problem or opportunity for improvement. They are ready to buy, but haven’t decided exactly which vendor to use, but your company made their short list. During the Decision stage the buyer is typically researching their short list vendors online. The buyer wants to understand the specific products, services, and capabilities of each vendor on their short list to determine which vendor is the best fit for their needs. They are looking for content that helps them:

  • compare vendors and pricing
  • sell the solution internally to upper management (return on investment, ROI calculators)
  • purchase and implement the solution

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The goal for a content marketer during the Decision stage is to convince the buyer your solution is the best fit for them.

Content marketing in the Decision stage

For most B2B companies, the Decision stage is where others such as purchasing and upper management become active participants in the buying decision. So it’s important to arm active prospective buyers with whom you’ve built a trusting relationship, such as BuyingTeamthe technical or user buyer, with content they can use to sell your solution internally to the decision maker persona, usually their boss. Content needs to focus on justifying the expenditure by showing how your solution increases revenues, reduces costs, and delivers ROI to the company. And since buyers are typically engaged with the sales team during this stage, make sure your sales team is also armed with your content.

Time for branding, but keep it useful

After gaining approval from upper management, the buyer is ready to select a vendor and make a purchase. Content should give the B2B buying team a clear picture of how to make the purchase, an implementation plan, and use of your product or service.

Provide branded content, but it still shouldn’t be all about you. Your branded content must help the buyer understand what preparation will be needed, how to implement and/or integrate the solution, timing, delivery, and costs.  They also need to know about ongoing maintenance, total cost of ownership (can be powerful to compare to your competitors), training, warranty, spare parts, and other customer support services. I’ve found most companies have this information readily available, but often it’s not “packaged” for sales and marketing use or written with the right tone to fit your brand and be helpful for prospective buyers.

Content such as success stories, case studies and customer testimonials, from customers similar to your prospective buyer, proves you’ve successfully delivered results to others like them and increases their confidence in your capabilities.

Top 2 challenges in the Decision stage

The Decision stage is where sales and marketing misalignment becomes evident. Why is this so? Continue reading

Challenges in the Consideration Stage: 6 Tips for Conquering

Part 2 in a 3-Part Series on Content Marketing for the B2B Buyer’s Journey

The Thinker in St PaulIn Part 2 of this 3-Part series, I share the top challenges I’ve experienced and observed B2B marketers face when developing Consideration stage content and provide tips for overcoming these challenges. In Part 1 I reviewed the Buyer’s Journey and provided tips for conquering challenges in the Awareness stage. The buyer moves into the next stage, Consideration, once they have clearly defined their problem or opportunity for improvement, and determined it’s worth finding a solution. Now let’s take a look at the Consideration stage in the buyer’s journey to understand the top challenges B2B marketers face.

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Consideration stage buyer activities

The buyer in the Consideration stage first researches and evaluates the different approaches, methods, or solution strategies available for solving their problem or making improvements. The buyer wants to understand and think about which approach best fits their needs, so they are comparing solution strategies (make or buy, hire or outsource are two examples of solution approaches). They also begin comparing specific solutions, vendors, and suppliers within the approach that best fits their needs. They are looking for content that helps them understand the pros and cons of available approaches and why it would be the best fit for them.  Content should also begin comparing product/service features and functions. The goal for a content marketer during the Consideration stage is to convince the buyer your solution method is the best fit for them and that your specific solution should be on their short list.

Top 2 content marketing challenges in Consideration stage

Especially for B2B companies, the buyer usually spends more time in the Consideration stage than the awareness stage because they want to devote time to researching to ensure they make the best decision. The content marketer should provide more in-depth information and industry expertise to continue building a trusting relationship with the buyer and reinforcing your brand as a thought leader.

Content that’s most effective speaks to the Personas active in this stage such as the technical and user buyers, but also may expand to a management influencer or decision maker buyer, especially toward the end of this stage. If you need help creating Personas read my post, B2B Buyer Personas: 6 Easy Ways to Research & Develop.  Content formats are usually medium to long form such as white papers, guides, and webinars to deliver more detailed information.

The top 2 challenges for B2B content marketers in the Consideration stage are lacking the in-house capability and time to develop the content.

  1. Lacking Capability: The AMA’s 2017 Marketing Confidence Index revealed that only 43% Ability Achievement Inspiration Improvement Capability Cocneptof marketers are confident that their organization’s marketing team has the right capabilities to be competitive, trending down 6% since January of 2016. Especially for businesses selling complex technical products and services, like software or industrial manufacturing equipment, marketing teams may:
    • lack a deep understanding of their prospects’ business
    • rely on subject matter experts in departments outside of marketing
    • have difficulty translating complex technical information into effective content

And if you can’t develop the right content, then how will you fuel your lead nurture campaigns. Unfortunately, marketing automation software won’t write the content for you, at least not yet!

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Read my previous post to learn 3 ways B2B marketing teams can overcome these capability challenges.

 

  1. Lacking Time: Most content in the Awareness stage is shorter and typically written at a higher level, so most marketing teams can create this content themselves. However, the longer form content needed for the Consideration stage requires more time to develop – interviewing SMEs, researching, writing and the creative design — due to the increased depth and length. And if you are selling your product or service into many different industries, you may need to make industry specific versions for each piece of content using language, data, and photos that will resonate with each. Many B2B marketing teams, especially those in small to medium size companies, don’t have enough time to do this.

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Focus first on only the top one or two priority industries. Once you can show results here, push to hire vertical marketers who can help you expand to additional high priority industries.

 

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Repurpose Consideration stage content into different formats so you can use it in different channels or appeal to different prospects. For example, create an article or EBook from a webinar or presentation slides.

 

tiptextIf you’re overburdened with even a few industries or can’t get approval to expand your team, find a freelance team or agency to work with. Prior to being a freelance marketer, I used both agencies and individual freelance writers and designers as an effective way to get more done quickly. Just make sure they understand your business and your prospects.

 

From consideration to decision

In the Consideration stage your goal as a B2B content marketer is to convince the buyer your solution method is the best fit for them and that your specific solution should be on their short list. By expanding your marketing team’s capabilities for developing in-depth technical GetMoreDonesmcontent, focusing on priority industries first, and expanding your in-house team or using outside resources, you can successfully convert more buyers from the Consideration stage of the Buyer’s Journey to the Decision stage, which I’ll discuss in my next blog – Part 3: Tips for Conquering Top Challenges in the Decision Stage.

How has your team been able to develop in-depth, technical content? What’s been most effective for developing industry specific content – in-house or outside resources?

Tips for Conquering the Top 2 Challenges in the Awareness Stage

Part 1 in a 3-Part Series on Content Marketing for the B2B Buyer’s Journey

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B2B content marketing seeks to provide helpful and compelling content for each stage of the Buyer’s Journey. By thinking about what actions a buyer is taking in each stage, we as B2B marketers should provide content that educates and helps the buyer progress to the next stage in the Buyer’s Journey and toward our product or service.

In a three-part series of blogs over the next several weeks I’ll address the primary challenges B2B content marketers face during each stage of the buyer’s journey and provide tips for how to conquer these challenges. So let’s jump in!

Review of the buyer’s journey

First, a quick review of the buyer’s journey which defines the typical actions and steps a prospective buyer takes from first understanding their problem to finally purchasing a solution. By defining specific phases or stages along the journey we can better understand what information the buyer needs in each stage. There are many different buyer’s journeys available, some more granular than others. I prefer HubSpot’s Buyers Journey, shown in the graphic below, because it is easy to understand and more than adequate for content marketing purposes.

BuyerJourneyThe entire journey has only three stages, Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. In this blog, Part 1 of 3, I discuss the Awareness stage.

Awareness stage buyer activities

During the Awareness stage of the buyer’s journey, the buyer is just becoming aware there is a problem that may need to be solved or is discovering an opportunity for improvement. The buyer is typically researching online and offline to better understand if they have a problem or opportunity and if it’s worth further investigation. They are looking for trustworthy educational content that is not trying to sell and helps them more clearly define their problem or opportunity. The goal for a content marketer during the Awareness stage is to gain the buyer’s attention by offering educational and helpful content in the places where the buyer is looking and researching.

Top 2 content marketing challenges in Awareness stage

Assuming you know and have defined your target Personas (read my post, B2B Buyer Personas: 6 Easy Ways to Research & Develop, if you need help creating Personas) and have compelling content appropriate for the Awareness stage, your top 2 challenges for content marketing then are: gaining attention and being where the buyer is.

1. Gaining attention – Gaining the attention of your prospective buyer is a top challenge for two reasons:

  • First, B2B buying is a “team sport” — CEB’s research shows that an average of 4 people are involved in B2B buying decisions. However, trying to provide content for 5 or more personas is beyond most B2B marketing team’s resources.


tiptextUnderstand who is most active during the awareness stage so you can focus your content on only a few Personas.
During the awareness stage your primary target should be the influencer, who is often the technical designer/developer asked to investigate problems/opportunities, or the user who experiences a problem firsthand. A secondary target should be the decision maker who is recognizing there’s a problem or opportunity, but is not sure it’s worth solving. Offer educational content for the Personas in these buying roles and keep the branding and selling minimal if at all.

  • The second aspect of this challenge is information overload. In our always-on culture InfoOverloadinformation is right at our fingertips, eyes and ears with news, social media, email, and marketing messages constantly vying for our attention. But each of us has a limited amount of attention to devote to seeking out and sifting through all of this information. This is why we’ve seen the advent of ad-blocking software, news and other content aggregator sites, and according to a 2015 survey by Microsoft, average consumer attention spans have decreased from 12 seconds to just 8 seconds since 2000. So attention becomes a limiting factor for consuming content (If you are interested in learning more read The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business by Davenport and Beck).

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Treat attention as a finite resource, especially during the Awareness stage. Respect your Persona’s attention by helping them conserve attention.

Australian style yo-yo biscuits.

Provide helpful and concise information by breaking topics into more bite size chunks with links to more in-depth information when they are ready. Incorporate easily digestible visuals to more quickly convey information and hold attention such as graphical charts and diagrams and infographics.

2. Be where the buyer is – To be where the buyer is means using a multichannel, online and offline content marketing approach. Again, this is a challenge due to the limited resources most B2B marketing teams have and the proliferation of channels available, especially online. It’s simply too costly and time consuming to be “everywhere”, but it’s hard to know which channels are most important for your target personas.

tiptextFocus first on being found online via SEO since everyone googles, and on a few primary online channels/websites and offline via a few primary conferences and trade shows. Understand where your technical influencer/user and decision maker Personas go during the Awareness stage to get information and stay informed about industry trends and new technologies. Then do everything you can (keywords, offer helpful content, conference presentations, etc.) to be found in these places.

Some prospect/customer interviews and testing may be in order to determine the best channels, but keep in mind that your Personas, especially for certain B2B industries, may not use online social sites such as LinkedIn (except when looking for a new job) or Twitter, but rather focus on trade association and industry trade journal websites and forums. In fact, a significant portion of their attention may be on offline channelsprint was reported as the third most important content distribution channel used by 58% of B2B marketers, ahead of YouTube, Twitter and other online channels according to the B2B Content Marketing 2017: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America report from the Content Marketing Institute.

From awareness to consideration

In the Awareness stage your goal as a B2B content marketer is to gain the buyer’s attention by offering educational and trustworthy content in the places where the buyer is looking and researching. By focusing on a few key Personas most active during the Awareness stage, helping them conserve attention, and being found in places they already give their attention, you can successfully convert more buyers during the Awareness stage of the Buyer’s Journey to the Consideration stage, which I’ll discuss in my next blog – Part 2: Challenges in the Consideration Stage: 6 Tips for Conquering.

How does your content conserve the reader’s attention? What have you done to determine the best channels for your Personas during the Awareness stage? I would like to hear your thoughts and ideas!

Customer Retention: From Sticky Relationships to LTV

Customer Retention

Retention marketing focuses on strategies and programs designed to retain your existing customers and optimize lifetime customer value. In my previous post, B2B Retention Marketing: The First Thing You Must Do, I discussed why retention marketing is worth doing and where to begin. Now let’s talk about some strategies B2B marketers can use to keep their existing customers and gain additional revenues throughout the relationship.

Strategies for retaining customers

At a fundamental level retaining your customers boils down to keeping them happy enough to continue doing business with you. Many customers, though of course it varies by industry and product/service, will maintain the status quo because change involves perceived risk of an unknown provider. Changing providers also involves switching costs.  Switching costs are actual costs the customer incurs (financial fees for early termination) or personal costs (career risks, time required to research providers and negotiate an agreement) to stop buying your product or service and begin with a new provider.

Create “sticky” customer relationships

rubber adhesiveTo prevent your customers from defecting to competitors who will eventually upset the status quo, B2B marketers should seek to make the customer relationship as “sticky” as possible by increasing switching costs. For example, you might develop longer term contracts that offer better pricing, but with early termination fees. Enterprise software firms create stickiness via the learning curve investment and platform ecosystems that aren’t transferrable. Or, like we did at an industrial equipment company, provide spare parts inventory for manufacturers inside their plants. Customers liked the assurance that they’d have what they needed on a moment’s notice, reducing manufacturing downtime, and we became more “sticky” with the customer helping ensure they always ordered spare parts from us!

Increase switching costs

The more you can integrate and imbed your products and services into your customer’s day-to-day work, the higher the switching costs will be. For example, when I was working for a property damage and restoration firm, we began including a pre-assessment audit, prior to any actual event, to walk the property with the client, document emergency notification procedures and processes, and better understand and address their unique concerns and needs. The audit documentation helped property managers improve and meet emergency planning requirements and their “investment” of time increased switching costs. In most companies, integrating and imbedding services is left to sales teams and account management, but marketing should be involved to help research what customers want and need, and to help develop and market these services to existing customers.

Delight customers to make them advocates and even partners

Ultimately, B2B marketers should find ways to delight their customers because at some point your competitors, changes within the customer’s organization, or something else will upset the status quo. Delighted customers are those who trust your company (every touchpoint and person they interact with), tell others about the value they derive from your product/services, and want to partner with you to gain even more value. Marketers can delight customers by providing valuable content that helps the customer perform their job better or more easily, providing new products and services that meet changing needs, and providing insights and tools to enable sales and account managers to better delight customers.

Ways marketing can delight customers

Customer newsletters, user groups, and key account management are three effective ways to stay close to and delight your customers. A customer newsletter generated by marketing is an easy and on-going way to provide valuable content, share information about how other customers utilize your products/services, and announce new products/services. User groups and key account management are great ways to more closely partner with your customers to better understand their needs, how they use your products/services, get their feedback and ideas for improvements, and build a personal relationship that provides more opportunities for your company to delight by anticipating needs.

B2B companies of all types can easily create online customer communities or virtual user groups via social media, for example a LinkedIn group. A product company might anticipate a need by sending a helpful reminder for service based on hours of use specific to that customer. An account manager for a service company might uncover a customer problem and offer an add-on or new service that provides a solution or connects them with another customer who faced a similar problem.

Delighted customers not only stay longer, they are happy to provide referrals and case studies, and become brand ambassadors – all valuable for gaining new customers.

Optimizing lifetime customer value

ltvsmIn addition to helping retain customers, B2B marketers play a key role in improving the lifetime value (LTV) of a customer, which is the revenues a customer generates throughout their relationship with your company. Common ways to increase LTV include cross-selling and up-selling. Cross-selling involves offers for related or complimentary products or services, whereas up-selling offers are for a higher end or premium version of the same product or service the customer already has.

Anticipating customer needs

Marketers with a keen understanding and data insights can recognize triggers for and ideal customer segments for each type of offer to create effective campaigns via email and other digital marketing techniques. Depending on your industry, product or service, and available customer data, it can be most effective to educate the sales and account management teams to recognize triggers or provide segmented target prospect lists for personalized cross-sell and up-sell offers.

Content marketing

Though marketing automation makes it easier and less time consuming, every B2B marketer should be retaining and nurturing existing customers with helpful and valuable content and offers. On-going personalized email campaigns and newsletters to your customers help ensure regular contact, especially for accounts without an assigned account manager. It is important to make sure you maintain email addresses for multiple contact roles at each customer and then deliver content that fits their role and industry.

I recommend sending at least a quarterly campaign or newsletter (quality over quantity) and paying special attention to unsubscribes, undeliverable and bounced messages.

Unsubscribes and messages that don’t get through provide early warning signs and are worth investigating.

You’ll learn earlier about waning interest, possible movement to another provider, company name changes, location closings, or when a customer contact has left.  Passing along this kind of information to sales or account management enables them to reach out proactively to possibly save a defecting customer, learn about corporate changes that could impact customer spend, or introduce themselves to a new contact at the customer – all of which can increase retention and LTV of the customer.

If you don’t have a retention strategy or if your retention strategy needs improving, it’s worth taking time now to think about ways to make your customer relationships “sticky”, to delight customers, increase customer lifetime value, and how your marketing team can play a key role. Does your marketing team have a dedicated retention marketing role? Do you think a dedicated retention marketing role is a best practice? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

If you’re still wondering where to start, read my previous post, B2B Retention Marketing: The First Thing You Must Do.

B2B Retention Marketing: The First Thing You Must Do

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Stock: 123RF Copyright : Illia Uriadnikov Image ID : 47795804

Have you ever found yourself writing copy for your B2B marketing efforts with fingers crossed, hoping your company could actually deliver? You know the copy I’m talking about where you describe how great your product and the customer experience is – our product has the “lowest total cost of ownership”, we deliver “premium customer support”, “easy payments with detailed monthly reporting”, “quick spare parts delivery and expert troubleshooting”, “product/service reviews to ensure you get the most value”, etc.

As a marketer you should be confident making promises like these to prospective customers. After all, the messages marketing and sales communicate to the customer during the sales cycle sets customer expectations. However, if expectations don’t match reality, then you’ve likely got low customer retention rates. And what marketer wants to work hard acquiring new leads and working with sales to close the deal, only to learn your customers defect to the competition after a short time.

Retention data

Losing customers isn’t only frustrating for marketers, it’s really bad for sustaining business growth. Consider the following data:

  • From Bain & Company:
    • Increasing customer retention by 5% can increase profits 25 – 95%
    • The likelihood of selling to an existing customer is 60 – 70%, versus 5 – 20% to a new lead
  • It costs five times as much to attract a new customer as it does to keep an existing one according to Lee Resource Inc., though I’ve seen numbers as high as 10 times depending on your product/service and industry.

Check out this infographic Customer Acquisition Vs.Retention Costs Statistics and Trends for even more data.

The point is, if your customer retention is low, don’t just assume that a retention marketing program will improve your numbers. Before you start a retention marketing program, you’ll want to make sure your back office, everything that happens after the sale, is in alignment with your front office, everything that happens before the sale.

Role of marketing expanding

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Copyright: 123RF ID:64107446 marigranula

As a B2B marketer, you likely don’t see yourself being concerned with accounting, customer support, technical service, quality management, and other departments who come into play once a sale is closed. But you should and you must, because everything that happens after the sale contributes to the customer experience and directly impacts retention rates. Gartner’s latest CMO Spend Survey shows that marketing is taking on some aspects of customer experience because marketing manages customer touchpoints that are increasingly digital. No matter how great your retention marketing strategy is, you won’t be able to overcome a bad customer experience.

I’ll share two real examples to bring home my point.

  1. While leading marketing in two different B2B services companies I discovered issues with how incoming calls were handled. I was trying to learn how prospect calls were handled (acquisition), but found there was no process for how to direct customer questions or problems (retention). In fact, there was no central number, so customers called whatever number they could find. In most cases the person answering couldn’t transfer the call to a different office, even if they knew where to direct the caller. This situation led to irate customers who felt they were getting the run around instead of the “top notch customer support” they heard about during the sales process.
  2. Delayed shipments or receiving the wrong product was a recurring issue I discovered while overseeing customer satisfaction surveys as the marketing leader at a manufacturing company. As it turned out the error was happening in the shipping department where a manual process bridged two electronic systems that didn’t “talk” to each other. It was simply human error coming into play that resulted in unhappy customers.

Retention versus acquisition

Lead generation and acquisition is the “sexier” marketing and garners most of the attention from the marketing automation system vendors and agencies, probably because their prospects don’t want to talk about their low retention rates. A survey report from Econsultancy, Cross-Channel Marketing 2014, found that 44% of companies have a greater focus on acquisition versus only 18% with a greater focus on retention and 40% focused on both equally. High customer retention will improve acquisition efforts because it will be easier to get referrals and case studies – two things that make a big impact on new prospect decision makers.

Marketing should provide customer perspective

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Collaborating with your back-office peers and teams is hard work, but marketing needs to bring the customers’ perspective, which is so often missing, to improve customer retention. In fact, one of your biggest challenges may be convincing the organization that retention should be a priority. I’ve found this is often the case when there’s no data to prove it’s an issue, i.e. don’t know when a customer is buying from someone else (especially the case for low interaction products), no lost customer metrics, and/or when the organization is sales driven and new acquisition is the focus. Analyzing customer data, customer satisfaction surveys, and seeking out feedback directly from customers, via listening in on incoming customer calls, customer satisfaction surveys, or even calling customers yourself, will help you better understand your customers’ perspective.

Do you know your company’s customer retention rate or why customers leave?

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B2B marketers must lead the customer experience and ensure the organization can “walk the talk” before charging ahead with retention marketing efforts, which I discuss in another blog post, Customer Retention: From Sticky Relationships to LTV.

 

For additional reading you may be interested in this recent AMA Marketing News article, The Drivers of Brand Loyalty May Surprise You. – Being dependable has everything to do with your back office don’t you think?

Your B2B Content: Corporate Asset or Just Another Expense?

Asset Growth Concept - Coins in the jarWay back in 2011, Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, posed the question, “Is content an asset or an expense?” While most B2B marketers know content is the fuel for their lead generation and nurture, it seems many have forgotten or failed to answer Joe’s important question. So let’s revisit this topic now.

“Why now?”, you ask. You’ve likely set your budget for 2017. But ask yourself how hard it was to get the budget needed for your content development including writing, design, and management. If you had trouble justifying the budget or didn’t get the budget you needed, then read on.

Budget Expenses Screen Mean Business Finances And BudgetingGetting budget dollars for your content marketing is often a struggle because B2B marketing leaders are unable to convince the CFO and others at the C-level that money spent on content development is an investment, not simply another marketing expense line item. Content, like the fuel you put in your car, propels your marketing forward. However, unlike the fuel in your car, it doesn’t disappear leaving you standing there refilling an empty tank. No, content is more analogous to an investment asset that increases in value and pays dividends into the future.

Let’s discuss 3 reasons why spending money on B2B marketing content is an investment, not an expense.

1. Live long and prosper – What does this Vulcan greeting from Star Trek have to do with content? Invest in long-lived educational and informative content such as articles, white papers, and Ebooks, and you’ll prosper.

The initial investment you make in a piece of content should deliver future dividends. You can use content that educates and informs well beyond the initial campaign by running new campaigns to different segments and in different channels. And since much of your content lives online on your blog, company website, and social media channels, that content will continue to be found by your prospects, especially if it’s written and posted with SEO in mind. A digital or print ad only works for as long as you keep paying for placement. A content asset you own and have control of continues to drive awareness and sales leads long into the future.

HubSpot, provider of a marketing automation and sales platform, spoke directly to this point in a blog post noting,

“By creating ownable assets to generate awareness, traffic, and thought leadership, you benefit from the content you’ve created and promoted even when you’re not in the midst of a significant campaign or push. In fact, roughly 70% of the leads generated by the HubSpot blog are from old blog entries: Try doing THAT with paid advertising, and you’ll be sorely disappointed.”

2. Shapeshift your content – Oops, there’s another Star Trek reference! The shapeshifter Odo from the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine TV show could morph into different shapes and change his appearance as needed. Similarly, you can “shapeshift” your content by combining, extracting, and reformatting it into new content pieces. See, even more dividends from your initial content investment. For example, you might combine smaller content pieces into one larger piece, say a Guide or Ebook. Or you could extract a section of a white paper to create several blog posts. Finally, depending on the channel you want to distribute content on or a specific offer, you can change the format to fit. For example, I’ve taken webinar content and reformatted it into an Ebook and similarly, I’ve created white papers from slide presentations. Creating these “new” content pieces via “shapeshifting” dramatically grows your content library without adding significant cost.

refreshbuttonsm3. Update and refresh – Maybe you’re thinking, “Everything changes so fast there’s no way a piece of content will be useful for very long.” However, keep in mind that most of your content is based not on current events and news, but on addressing common pain points of your B2B customers and prospects, answering prospects’ questions about solving their problems, and helping them understand and evaluate solutions. So most of your content will be timeless in the sense that it provides new information of interest to those new to your industry or new in their role who are researching and learning.  What feels like old information to you, especially as a marketer who’s been publishing and promoting your content, will be new information to your prospects. Yes, over time some things do change, but simple updates to incorporate a product change, a data reference, or customer example are quick and inexpensive compared to new content development.

  • tiptextTIP: When developing a piece of “timeless” content, refrain from relating it to a specific event or topic that may appear quickly dated. Instead, use an image or the copy in your email and social posts to make it feel topical and current when you publish it. That way, when you want to use the content later you won’t have to spend time making changes to it. For example, if you created a How-To Guide with plans to tie its publication with back-to-school in September, do so in the copy of the email you send out, not in the introduction of the Guide itself. That way when you want to send another email in January to those who didn’t respond the first time using a tie-in to learning for a new year, you won’t have to update the Guide, only the email.

Even major updates are quicker and easier than starting with nothing. Due to a company merger and the rebranding that followed, I once had to update a slew of case studies in a short timeframe. Updating the case studies with the new logo, colors, brand voice and messaging was considerably less effort than starting from scratch.

Learn what marketing content drives ROI

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The biggest payoff from investing in content is that you’ll learn what works. Once you’ve published content and used it in email campaigns you’ll be able to track which content is most effective for driving awareness and leads, and eventually sales. Based on this you can do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. This continuous improvement enables better results, lowers costs for needless and misdirected content development, and drives return on investment (ROI) you can show to justify your content budget.

 

Isn’t it time to boldly go where no marketer in your company has gone before?! (If you’re not a Star Trek fan, my apologies.) Treat your B2B marketing content as a valuable asset and gather the data to help company executives understand the ROI you can deliver with content marketing.

5 Reasons You Should Resolve to Build a Strong In-House List

strongb2bin-houselistwpB2B marketers continue to rely heavily on email for effective lead generation and growing revenues. According to results from the B2B Content Marketing: 2017 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America report, email is the number one content distribution channel used by 93% of marketers. This means you need a “strong” in-house marketing database or house list, one with complete and accurate contact information.

Do you rely on purchased lists? Haven’t been properly maintaining your in-house list? If you answered “Yes” to either of these questions you’re wasting time and money, and increasing the risk of missing your 2017 revenue growth goals.

Let’s discuss 5 reasons why investing in your in-house Email list should be a resolution you keep in 2017.

1. Purchased or Rented Lists Underperform – There are two main reasons purchased lists underperform, inaccurate data and the person didn’t opt-in. B2B contact data changes faster than B2C. One study  looked at self-reported business card changes and showed a B2B decay rate of 70.3% per year.

In addition to inaccurate data, purchased or rented lists often don’t contain the fields you need to properly segment. For example, the contact’s title or vertical segment may be missing. Inaccurate or missing data increases the likelihood your email, even if it does get delivered, will not be targeted to the right individuals.

Even more important, the individual you are emailing on a purchased or rented list didn’t opt-in to your emails and likely doesn’t know your company. They probably opted-in to someone’s list somewhere along the line, especially in the case of a rented association list, but you still run the risk of being seen as sending spam. Having a properly maintained in-house list will outperform a purchased list every time.

2. Better Metrics – Most B2B marketers are “graded” on how well their email campaigns perform. Common email metrics include deliverability, open rates, and click-through rates, never mind overall campaign lead generation results. However, if you are using purchased lists (see above) or not maintaining your in-house list, then your metrics will decline solely as a result of inaccurate data, no matter how great your offer, messaging, or design is. You’ll see more hard bounces, fewer opens, and more unsubscribes.

By using an accurate and complete in-house list, you’ll know your metrics reflect how well your email performs due to its contents without being skewed by undeliverable email addresses or contacts with the wrong job function.

3. Better Segmentation – As I briefly mentioned, purchased lists often don’t provide the segmentation data you need, whether it’s an individual’s vertical segmeBusinessman drawing a circle around people icons - Marketing connt, job role, or other classification important for your B2B marketing campaigns. And your in-house list will quickly contain inaccurate data as well due to data decay. Back to the B2B data decay study, 65.8% reported a title and/or job function change and 29.6% changed companies.
Resolve to create a process for data maintenance. Your email offers can be more highly targeted and of direct interest to specific segments resulting in better lead generation and nurture.

4. Reduce Risk of Being Seen as Spam – In addition to recipients marking your email as spam, you also increase the likelihood that email service providers will begin blocking your emails. If your list, in-house or purchased, has inaccurate email addresses, the number of hard bounces will increase. And the more times you continue to use those same undeliverable email addresses, the more likely it is the recipient email server will blacklist your email server blocking all of your future emails. Pardot’s Email Deliverability Handbook is a worthwhile read if you’d like to learn more about maintaining your email reputation.

5. Automation Doesn’t Mean Autopilot – Email and marketing automation tools are sophisticated enough to recognize email bounces (email that can’t be delivered), but that doesn’t mean you should stop there. Most tools will mark email addresses with hard bounces (those that can’t be delivered for permanent reasons such as not in the recipient Email Marketing - Person on Laptop Sending Virtual Envelopesserver address list) and prevent future sends so that your email reputation doesn’t suffer. Soft bounces are temporary delivery failures such as a full mailbox. Most systems will flag emails that soft bounce and stop mailing after repeated delivery failures.

Many B2B marketers may think this is great, and while it is helpful for avoiding being blacklisted, recall the data decay rate mentioned earlier. Losing a contact versus finding a new one is analogous to keeping a customer (costs way less) versus getting a new one (costs way more). That hard or soft bounce is worth investigating. Maybe the company name changed (new email domains for all employees!), or the person took on a new role (more decision making authority!) or went to a new company (evangelist for a new opportunity!). A hard bounce could be the result of a simple typo in the email address. I’ve seen many typos, especially from conference registration lists, which were easily recognized and corrected.

If you’ve been building your list the right way, your contacts know your company and are interested. It will cost less to try to correct their data and reconnect with them than to get a new contact to replace them.

Be sure to correct or update bounced emails every six months as part of your list maintenance process.

No matter whether you’re using a full blown marketing automation or simple email marketing tool, you should resolve to make 2017 the year you finally have a strong in-house list to deliver more successful B2B email marketing results.

8 Cheap & Easy Methods for Gathering Competitive Intelligence

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In my previous post, Competitive Intelligence: 8 Ways B2B Marketers Should Use, I discussed what competitive intelligence is and how B2B marketers should be using it to stay ahead of their competition. In this post I want to share ideas for how to collect and gather information about your competitors.

The Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, defines competitive intelligence as: The legal and ethical collection and analysis of information regarding the capabilities, vulnerabilities, and intentions of a business competitor.

According to Benjamin Gilad, president of the Academy of Competitive intelligence, “Companies spend about $20 billion on market research annually and about another $2 billion on analyzing specific competitors.” I don’t know about you, but I never worked in a company that spent anywhere near that on competitive intelligence. In fact, most of the companies I worked for had no formal system or process and no people devoted to gathering competitive intelligence. As is typical in most small and medium (and even large ones if the truth be told) B2B companies, competitive intelligence is an ad hoc word-of-mouth sort of thing with sales and marketing sending emails or having phone calls whenever anyone saw or heard something about a competitor.

As the marketing leader for a medium size B2B product manufacturer, I led a CRM implementation which included creating a process for gathering and maintaining competitor information in the CRM. The ideas I share with you here are based on this experience along with many years gathering competitor information for specific sales opportunities, analyzing the competitive landscape for strategic marketing plans, ongoing business development, and creating competitor tools for the sales team.

Here are 8 inexpensive ways you can gather competitive intelligence for your B2B marketing:

1. Interview the sales team – One of the first things you need to know is who your competitors are and there’s no better place to start than with your sales team. Be sure to interview reps in different parts of the country and/or selling specific products/services or into different verticals. You want to make sure you capture competitors who may be regional or local, or specialize in one or a few products/services or verticals. The sales team can also provide competitor insights such as what they are known for, prospects’ perceptions, types of opportunities they win, strengths and weaknesses, and their value proposition. One note of caution is in order – don’t rely only on sales interviews because sales typically has a micro view of competitors and B2B marketers need to get a macro view for corporate decision making purposes.

2. Interview customers and prospects – Interview your existing customers and prospects to get their thoughts on your competitors. This can be a great way to hear “from the horse’s mouth” their perceptions of your competitors. Trade shows are a great place to conduct interviews, both formal and informal, plus you can see and hear your competitors by visiting their exhibit booth and listening to their presentations. Of course phone interviews of customers and prospects works too.

During customer and prospect interviews you may hear a company name you hadn’t thought of as a competitor before. This often happens when there are different kinds of solutions for the same problem. Your competitors aren’t only the direct competitors who offer a comparable product/service you do, but also those who offer alternative products/services. For example, the product manufacturer I worked for made industrial curing equipment using ultraviolet (UV) light. Other manufacturers of UV curing equipment were our competitors, but also manufacturers of other types of drying equipment such as infrared, gas ovens, etc. as well as other manufacturing methods that didn’t require painting or coating a part at all!

3. Talk to industry partners and stakeholders – Every industry has suppliers, distributors, resellers and others who can provide competitor insight. They are probably gathering competitor information too, so they may hear things you haven’t. Plus, they may service your competitor and thus have firsthand information. Back to my industrial curing equipment example, I spoke often to partners such as raw material companies, paint and coating formulators, and machine builders. These contacts were particularly good for learning about personnel changes, corporate reorganizations, and mergers.

Other stakeholders such as experts within industry associations and independent consultants are often willing to share what they know. I find this especially useful for getting up to speed quickly when researching the competitive space in a new vertical.

4. Review competitor websites – Carefully reviewing a competitor’s website can give you information about their products and services, recent news (be sure to read the “About” paragraph found at the end of press releases to understand how they differentiate themselves), events they attend, verticals they target, geographic coverage, sales channels, social media channels, partners, association memberships, and more. You can even gain insight into their value proposition and messaging. It takes time to dig through a website, but it’s all there for the taking at no charge!

I like signing up for competitor newsletters and blogs as a way to stay abreast of their latest announcements and news. And I’ve often found that downloading gated content gets me into their email campaigns providing ongoing insight into their strategy and tactics!

5. Annual reports and SEC filings – If your competitors are public companies, then you can easily download annual reports and SEC filings. Annual reports can be found in the investor relations section of a public company’s website and provide not only financial performance information, but also narrative discussing challenges, strategy, acquisitions/dispositions, legal proceedings, risks, company structure, and key executive names. In the US, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires a very detailed annual report filing, Form 10-K, and quarterly filings called a 10-Q. The other SEC filing of primary interest for competitive intelligence is the 8-K which is required for major changes, such as an acquisition, that happens between quarterly 10-Q filings and may not be issued as a press release, especially if it’s something negative. Investopedia provides a good overview of useful SEC filings.

6. Patent Applications – If your company is a software firm or product manufacturer, then reviewing patent applications filed by your competitors (or within your area of intellectual property) is useful for seeing future products, additional applications or uses of already available products, when existing patents expire, who they partner with for research and development, and whether there are international filings. If your R&D group is already monitoring patent activity, then just ask to be looped in. Otherwise here are three public sources for finding patents:

7. Set up Google Alerts – Using a Google Alert is one of the easiest ways to stay updated about your competitors, as long as their company name is unique. With Google Alerts you enter keywords or phrases you want Google to search the web for and it sends you an email whenever it finds new web pages, blogs, etc. with that keyword. If your competitor is Starbucks, this works really well since this is a very unique company name. However, if your competitor’s name happens to be something less unique, as was the case at one of my previous employer’s, BrightView Landscapes, you’ll quickly discover there are many other companies out there with BrightView in their name, i.e. Brightview Senior Living, Brightview Dentistry, Brightview Cleaning, Brightview Health…you get the idea! Best practice would be to use just one word so as not to miss any mentions, in this case “BrightView”, but I resorted to setting up an alert for “BrightView Landscape” to better narrow the results. However, this meant I might not have gotten alerts for mentions that didn’t include “landscape”. Still, Google Alerts are a very easy way to get competitor updates without having to remember to do internet searches periodically.

8. LinkedIn – Besides Following your competitors on LinkedIn so that you see their posts and updates, you can review job openings (good indication of ramping up in a new region or for a new vertical for example), see where they typically recruit employees from, whether overall employee count is up or down, and generally get a sense of their social media strategy if there is one.

These are only some of the cheap and easy methods I’ve found useful for researching and gathering competitive intelligence to improve B2B marketing and business decision making. Still it does take time you may not have, so outsourcing competitive intelligence gathering to a freelance resource can be a cost effective option.

What’s your favorite method for gathering competitive intelligence on the cheap?

Competitive Intelligence: 8 Ways B2B Marketers Should Use

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Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like there’s not much discussion about competitive intelligence in B2B marketing circles lately. However, competitive intelligence should be an ongoing effort, not a one-time snapshot, within B2B marketing, even in small and medium sized companies. According to the Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP), competitive intelligence is the legal and ethical collection and analysis of information regarding the capabilities, vulnerabilities, and intentions of business competitors.

A 2014 study by Global Intelligence Alliance (now M-Brain), Market Intelligence Trends 2020, reported that 42% of respondents said competitors will be the most important area of focus for market intelligence with regards to the business environment in 2020.

Here are 8 ways B2B marketers should be using competitive intelligence:

1. Inform your B2B marketing strategy – What competitors are doing, and likely to do, impacts how, and even if, you should enter a new geographic or vertical market, or dedicate resources to expand existing market share. Competitive intelligence impacts what your marketing strategy should be. For example, a marketing plan for a new geographic market should include an overview of the active competitors or those likely to enter that geographic market. Based on this, your strategy might be to focus on your existing customers who have operations in the new geography and provide aggregated invoicing and reporting, something the competitors can’t do.

2. Provide insight to sales – An overview of the competitive landscape and specific competitor profiles provide insights and a deeper understanding for the sales team that they can use to be more strategic and to more quickly onboard new reps. Knowing competitor claims and pricing helps sales respond better to win deals based on value, not just price. It can also help sales know when a deal isn’t worth chasing, for instance when a specific competitor will “buy” the business or will win if they are the incumbent provider.

3. Align marketing and sales – Sales will see marketing as their partner (see above) and marketing will gain additional intelligence from sales. Sales can provide real world information about competitor tactics such as conferences they attend, how and why they win opportunities, new products and services, and perhaps most important, what their customers and prospects are saying/think about competitors. They may hear about reorganizations, pricing changes, or new offerings before they are made public. If most of your competitors are privately held, then sales is especially important since there may be less public information available than there is for publicly held competitors.

4. Learn who your primary competitors really are – By aligning with sales you’ll know which competitors you lost sales opportunities to and, if your sales team is well managed, why that competitor won. You’ll be able to see which competitors are a real threat to your business and help focus your deep dive competitive intelligence data gathering efforts. You should know some basic information about all competitors, but in most industries and markets some competitors target such a different segment or their offering is so different that your sales team rarely comes up against them.

5. Benchmark your website, SEO/SEM, and social – For most B2B marketers, your website and social channels are key for driving top of funnel prospects. B2B buyers research their needs online as well as possible solution providers, so it’s important to understand how they find your competitors and how you rank against them. Benchmark your website, keywords (organic and paid), and social media against your top competitors to see if there is room for improvement. Here are 12 tools to make this “digital competitor intelligence” easier.

6. Create new products and services or a new approach – Based on what’s happening with actual opportunities (see above) you can create new products or services, or a new value proposition and messaging (words matter) that will resonate better with your prospects and put you ahead of the competition. Or maybe a strong referral program or different pricing structure is in order to get a leg up on the competition.

7. Learn ways to differentiate your content – When you are familiar with the content and distribution avenues your competitors use, whether it’s their website, blog, social media, webinars, case studies, or online ads, you’ll gain a better sense of how you can differentiate your content from theirs and get it in the right places. After all, if your customers and prospects perceive no real difference, then every sale just becomes a price war and that’s no fun at all!

8. Find acquisition targets – Instead of organically growing a new market, sometimes the fastest way to enter a new market is through an acquisition. If you’ve got competitive intelligence in place, you’ll already know some potential candidates for acquisition to jump start the due diligence for your CFO or M&A team.

With on-going competitive intelligence, you’ll stay ahead of your competition and be strategymore nimble to respond as competitors enter your markets or change their strategies and tactics because you won’t be caught off guard. In my next post you’ll learn 8 easy and inexpensive ways to gather competitive intelligence for your B2B marketing.

How do you use competitive intelligence in your B2B marketing?

B2B Buyer Personas: 6 Easy Ways to Research & Develop

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In my previous post I shared 7 reasons B2B marketers need buyer personas. A buyer persona describes your ideal customer so that your social posts, emails, website, blogs, and other marketing content attract, convert, and nurture the right people.

Now that you’re convinced you need buyer personas, these tips will help you get started. According to Cintell’s Understanding B2B Buyers: The 2016 Benchmarking Study high-performing companies use a variety of methods to compile insights about their buyers, while underperforming companies reported using fewer sources of data. So use as many of the tips below as you can to research and develop your buyer personas.

Here are 6 tips for researching and developing your buyer personas:

1. Create (steal) a persona template – The first thing you need to know is what information will describe and personify your ideal customer so that it’s meaningful to internal users in marketing and sales. Create a buyer persona template with sections for the types of information you want to collect.

Why start from scratch when you can get persona templates for free. Just do a quick Google search and you’ll find many more in addition to these – HubSpot Buyer Persona Guide, Content Marketing Institute Target Persona Template, Content4Demand Buyer Profile Playbook. The HubSpot and CMI templates are simple to use, but I like the Content4Demand templates which are downloadable from within their Playbook because they are more comprehensive, providing a richer description of the persona. As you review the templates, take what makes sense for your situation to create your own custom buyer persona template. With this in hand, the rest of your persona research will fill in the blanks.

2. Analyze customer and prospect data – According to the B2B Content Marketing 2017: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America 64% of marketers use a dedicated email platform while 51% use a marketing automation system. That’s a lot of contact data. Plus you’ve likely got a CRM system with even more customer and prospect data. Mine your contact data for things like contact titles, company types, gender, and vertical. Use this information to focus in on specific LinkedIn profiles (see #5 below), or segment and send a survey to your contacts to gather insights.

It is concerning to see that only 47% of B2B marketers use buyer personas according to the B2B Content Marketing 2017: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America even though more than half use a dedicated email platform or marketing automation system. Apparently these marketers aren’t convinced they need buyer personas.

3. Interview sales – Your frontline sales people know who they want as customers and who have made the best customers in the past. The same goes for Key Account or National Account sales people. So interview your sales team to learn who they see as your ideal customer. Be sure to pick sales people from the different geographies you sell into and with experience in the persona’s vertical. It may also be insightful to interview sales support or account managers, depending on your product/service and company structure, since these people probably know your existing customers better than anyone else.

Attending regional or national sales meetings is a great way to get in-person interviews with sales, but picking up the phone works too, especially if timing is an issue. Interviewing sales team members has the added bonus of helping align sales and marketing.

4. Interview your customers and prospects – There’s nothing better than hearing firsthand what your customers and prospects think, how they find information, and who they look to for advice. If you have time and access, conduct in-person or phone interviews with customers and prospects.personaswordcloudsmall

Trade shows can be a great place to do quick in-person interviews, as are sales ride-alongs. Or filter through your CRM database with guidance from sales to find suitable customers and prospects to interview over the phone. Be sure to keep the call less than 30 minutes, 15 minutes is better.

5. Use LinkedIn – Search LinkedIn to find real customers, prospects, and others similar to them using titles, companies, and verticals. Look at individual profiles to learn their education level, interests, “typical” background, certifications, associations, and years of experience. See what LinkedIn groups they belong to and who they follow. LinkedIn job postings for the titles/roles you are researching provide additional insight into education, background and experience, certifications, plus their responsibilities and goals. You may need a LinkedIn Premium account to see the information you want, but can drop back to a free Basic account afterwards.

6. Interview customer service – You may need to understand and describe those who actually use your product, a user persona, especially if your marketing efforts include customer retention goals. The user of your product or service often has direct influence on renewal/repurchase decisions. Your customer service reps know better than anyone in your company what describes your ideal user – their challenges, typical titles/role in the company, where they go to get information, and how their input factors into the buying decision.

You may only need one persona to improve your marketing results and can add others later. Developing buyer personas is a bit like exercising — it can be hard to get going and there’s many ways to go about it. But like the Nike slogan – Just Do It! Using these tips can make getting started on your highest priority persona easy.

What techniques have you found effective for researching and developing B2B buyer personas?

 

7 Reasons Every B2B Marketing Strategy Needs Buyer Personas

personaswordcloudHow confident are you that your B2B marketing efforts are targeting the right audience? Most B2B buyers today self-educate long before reaching out to sales.

You’ve seen the numbers — 57% of the purchase decision happens before sales gets involved according to CEB and 67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally according to SiriusDecisions – so it’s more important than ever that your social posts, emails, website, blogs, and other marketing content attract, convert, and nurture the right people – your ideal customer or buyer persona.

Here are 7 reasons you need buyer personas for B2B marketing success:

  1. B2B buying is complicated – Most B2B buying decisions aren’t made by one person. Sure, there may be a single signature on the contract or PO, but usually a buying team has purchasing, technical and functional experts, as well as senior management weighting in on final B2B purchase decisions. In fact, CEB’s research shows that an average of 5.4 people are involved in B2B buying decisions. Personas help marketing reach and influence each person on the buying team.
  2. Helps you prioritize – Every marketing team has limited resources. The process of developing personas helps you and your marketing team (and sales for that matter) really home in on your ideal prospects for growth. In addition to the role of your ideal customer (see above), developing personas forces everyone to think about and prioritize verticals, geography, etc. that will drive growth for your organization.
  3. Improves sales and marketing alignment – Since marketing works closely with sales to develop personas, this naturally drives alignment between marketing and sales teams. Marketing will learn from sales, and marketing and sales will be aligned on reaching the priority prospects. The personas you develop can become part of sales on-boarding to help new sales reps ramp up more quickly and align them with marketing.
  4. Improves lead quality –Creating your marketing campaigns and content with your persona in mind will naturally attract people more likely to convert to leads. And those leads will be easier to segment for more targeted, personalized and engaging campaigns resulting in more effective nurturing. Marketing will be handing off higher quality leads to sales – sales will love you!
  5. Better focus channels – Assuming you’ve done your research right, you’ll know where your personas go to get information, educate themselves, and research new solutions. This means you can devote resources and promote your content to the channels where your personas are, not where you think they might be, saving both time and money.
  6. Improves content topic ideation – Without personas your team will be wasting time trying to guess what topics will be of interest, or even worse, developing content that never gets seen. Well-developed personas clearly spell out pain points and challenges, interests, common problems, goals, etc. which makes it much easier to develop topics that will resonate with and engage your ideal prospect.

During the persona development process you will invariably uncover internal resources for developing future topics and content.

7. Quicker and better content – Having a persona to share when making content development requests or assignments helps ensure it’s written with the right audience in mind, no matter if it’s written by a new marketing team member, guest blogger, outside writer, or internal subject matter expert. This saves time and improves your content.

According to Cintell’s Understanding B2B Buyers: The 2016 Benchmarking Study, companies that exceeded their lead and revenue goals were 2.2 times more likely to have and document buyer personas than companies that miss their goals. So what’s holding you back? Isn’t it time you made formalized buyer personas a priority for your B2B marketing success? In my next blog I’ll provide tips for how to go about developing buyer personas.

 

The Scariest Thing about Marketing Automation and 3 Things You Should Do About It

The data “monster” lurking within

scarypumpkins2With the adoption of Marketing Automation technology, B2B marketing teams are able to do more with less and measure everything. But what’s the scariest thing about these systems? Sending a campaign to the wrong list or forgetting to finish a landing page before a campaign launch may haunt you. Maybe you’re spooked that you won’t make your demand generation and ROI goals. However, I contend the number one scariest monster to tackle now is your data, or more specifically, the poor quality data that’s lurking in your system. It’s just waiting to rear its ugly head…and maybe it already has, but you just haven’t realized it!

According to a D&B survey of over 500 B2B companies, 27% sited poor data quality/accuracy as their biggest obstacle for maximizing return on investment in marketing technology. Without reliable sales and marketing company and contact records, how will you target the right audience with the right message at the right time?

Marketing data is the foundation of all your digital marketing efforts.

Another survey from Openprise and Ascend2 found 72% of B2B marketers say a top goal of their marketing data management strategy is improving ROI measurability. And 44% said data quality is the most significant barrier to marketing data management success. This same study revealed the top 3 most effective uses of marketing data are campaign targeting (62%), content personalization (51%), and sales attribution (43%) – pretty important stuff wouldn’t you say?

Let’s delve a bit deeper into 3 things you should be doing to ensure your data takes you in the right direction and drives the results you want.

1. Conduct a data audit – Review your existing contact and company records, see where your biggest problems are, and develop an improvement plan.

  • How many duplicates are there?
  • Which fields are being left empty or have inconsistent entries?
  • How many records haven’t been touched in 6 months?
  • What fields have typos or wrong information?

Very likely you’ll quickly see where the biggest issues are and can prioritize what to work on first. As you tackle each issue, it’s helpful to think about how the data is used (or is it even needed any more) and where the data is coming from (users or other systems such as CRM, social media, or other marketing tools).

Unstructured data such as text fields and comments or notes entries cause many problems if you need to use it for filtering, creating criteria, or when trying to do analysis. I’ve found that structuring field input, for example using dropdown lists or multi-picklists, reduces blank entries and increases the quality so that your campaigns, personalization, and analysis will be more accurate and effective.

2. Develop a data management process – If you don’t have a data management process, develop one. Make sure you have people dedicated to routine maintenance, data input standards (with agreement from sales), and documented processes that detail who, what, and when. The data audit discussed above will highlight the lack of or broken processes such as data importing, duplicate handling, data cleansing, and archiving/merging/deleting old contact and company records. Clean out the cobwebs and establish processes for keeping it clean.

3. Training, training, training – Let’s face it, most bad data comes from a lack of data management processes and user training. So once you have documented processes that make it easy for users to provide accurate data, it’s time to train users. Provide documented data entry standards, create on-boarding training for new employees, and periodic tips/updates/helpful hints to your users. Provide one-on-one help to those not in Halloween Background Scary Eyes Orange Vectorcompliance. Make sure your CRM and Marketing Automation systems have on-screen field level help. Provide short tutorial videos for on-demand, self-service help.

Without good data your team struggles with personalization and campaign effectiveness, and you may make decisions that’ll haunt you down the road.  That’s not scary, that’s terrifying!

What’s your biggest challenge to data management?

 

A Marketing Lesson from the Tower of Pisa

A modern marketer visits this centuries old tower

pisatowerandcathedralI recently returned from a trip to Italy (I highly recommend visiting Tuscany if you haven’t already!) that included the “required” visit to the Tower of Pisa. We were flying out from Pisa so it made sense to visit the tower, though to be honest, I wasn’t very excited about it since I prefer seeing and experiencing less touristy and off-the-beaten-path places when I vacation. In spite of my lackluster expectations, I came away a fan of Pisa and its leaning tower. As I analyzed why this was it struck me that this centuries old tower illustrates an important lesson for the modern marketer.

Differentiate your product or service

Every marketing student will recall one of Michael Porter’s generic strategies is a differentiation strategy in which a firm seeks competitive advantage by offering something unique that customers value and see as different from or better than the competition. Using this strategy a firm can command higher prices that drive revenue growth and profits.

OK, so you may be thinking the Tower of Pisa is unique because it leans, that’s why they call it the Leaning Tower of Pisa after all. But it’s not the only tower that leans. In fact, when I search for “leaning tower”, Google returns 2,680,000 results! And they aren’t all for Pisa’s leaning tower. According to Wikipedia several towers lean even more than Pisa’s. One 15th century tower in Germany leans due to a similarly bad foundation and two towers were designed on purpose to lean in Abu Dhabi and New Zealand.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa differentiates itself via its stunning beauty, engaging history, and perception as a tourist icon.

The tower is part of a beautiful white marble cathedral complex called the Field of Miracles
that includes an impressive cathedral, baptistery, pisatowerand cemetery. The leaning tower was built as the campanile, or bell tower, for the cathedral with intricate carvings in the white marble that gleams in the sun. Even though the tower was being used by the Germans as an observation post during World War II, it was saved from destruction by the Allies because the U.S. soldier sent to confirm the Germans presence was so impressed with the beauty of the cathedral and its bell tower.

An engaging history

The history of the tower is especially engaging because it began leaning almost immediately and several attempts were made to correct the lean during further construction and in more recent times. During construction of the second floor in 1178 there was a noticeable tilt, so word of its leaning stance certainly spread from the outset. Then it sat for a hundred years before a few more floors were added with extra height on one side to try to compensate for the lean. The top floor and bell-chamber were finally added in the mid 1300’s, again at slight angles to counter the lean. Today if you succeeded in straightening the base of the tower, it would still lean!

A tourist icon

While several attempts have been made to reduce the lean or keep it from falling over, the Italian government realized that some lean needed to be retained because of the tower’s vital role in Pisa’s tourist industry. The tower is listed as one of the 7 Wonders of the Medieval World, putting it in a very exclusive class. And in 1987 the entire Field of Miracles was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site further solidifying the tower’s cultural and physical significance to tourists worldwide. Even though I’d seen a million pictures, seeing it firsthand made me realize how unique and special it really is – and how much it leans. Over two days I walked past it many times and each time I was amazed it hadn’t fallen over yet!

Learn more about Porter’s generic strategy concept for competitive advantage.  Is your company using a differentiated strategy for competitive advantage? Do you think this concept is still valid given today’s pace of change?

B2B Demand Generation is Just Like Motorsport Racing – No Really!

The Top 4 Elements for a Podium Finish

Racing Background Horizontal, 10eps

Over Labor Day weekend I had the opportunity to drive my race car on my favorite track, Virginia International Raceway. The weather was perfect in spite of Hurricane Hermine barreling along just 20 miles south of us and the car performed well making it a most enjoyable weekend. By now you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with B2B marketing. A lot actually! In this post I’ll discuss the top four elements you need to ensure your B2B demand generation results in a podium finish.

Prepped for high performance

Before I head to the track there’s a lot of preparation required to help ensure we have a fun and safe weekend of high performance driving. I inspect the car for any safety or mechanical issues, purchase gas, gather spare parts, and possibly change the oil, brake pads, or tires. Then there’s the hotel reservations, event registration, planning when to get the trailer from storage and load the car, and purchasing track insurance. Yes, I have a very long checklist to make sure nothing is forgotten.

Successful B2B demand generation requires a lot of preparation also. Before the launch of any campaigns you need to be “race prepped” with target personas, a mapped out buyer’s journey, appropriate content for different stages in that journey, and have your marketing engine (website, online and offline channels, marketing automation, and analytics) tuned up and ready. Your content calendar may have some holes in it, but you should have some “spare” content on hand and a plan for producing new content going forward since this is the “fuel” for demand generation.

Think about what else might be needed and what might change. Not having a set of spare tires or brake pads at the track can ruin a weekend and waste the investment made in being there. What can you prepare ahead of time to respond more quickly? Close alignment with sales can provide early insight into customers and sales enablement needs, and having relationships with outside resources for market research, content development, design, etc. can help you implement backup plans or new tactics, make you more nimble, and reduce risk.

Strategic and integrated tactics win the race

curvecropped

The courses I drive are road courses, typically 2 to 3 miles long with many turns and elevation changes. So unlike NASCAR’s oval tracks, I can’t see the whole course at once and it’s not just left turns. Before going to a new track I’ll watch video and study a track map to learn “the line” which is the best way to take each turn for the fastest lap times. Although each individual turn has a “best way” through it, it’s better to take an integrated approach to get the fastest overall lap times. An integrated approach may sacrifice speed through one turn to optimize a more important turn that follows. For example, turning in later and slower for a turn so that upon exit the car is set up perfectly to enter the next more important turn.

Modern B2B marketers have more channel choices than ever for demand generation, but it takes a strategic and integrated approach to beat the competition. Exhibiting at a trade show may generate demand, but integrating that trade show presence with social media, email campaigns, direct mail, and webinars will help you generate higher quality leads faster.

Consider which marketing tactics integrated together will deliver the fastest results for the overall strategy and resources available. According to the B2B Content Marketing 2016: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America report from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs 75% of B2B marketers rated in-person events as the most effective tactic while infographics and on-line presentations came in last at only 58%.

The report also shows that B2B marketers use on average 13 different tactics and 6 different social media platforms with LinkedIn(66%), Twitter(55%), and YouTube(51%) being the most effective platforms. If your target prospects don’t use Facebook for investigating solutions to their business problems, then why devote resources to it? An integrated marketing plan might “sacrifice” Facebook while putting more resources into LinkedIn, YouTube, email campaigns and webinars. Running fewer email campaigns may actually reduce unsubscribes and increase click through rates and engagement with prospects.

A data dashboard for midrace adjustments and a strong finish

Speedometer0002

With preparation and an integrated strategy in place, you’ll need to gather data so you can assess and make course adjustments as you go along. During a race the team measures tire pressures, engine and transmission temperatures, fuel levels and lap times, and gathers weather data to help drivers and crew make adjustments that improve performance. Teams also relay competitor information to help determine when to make pit stops and what times to beat to win the race. Without this kind of data, the team is driving blind. Making more pit stops than necessary or not changing tires soon enough can lose the race.

Measuring demand generation efforts helps B2B marketers know whether they are meeting their goals, what’s working and not working, and should provide an indication of where to allocate resources and help justify more budget. With the tools and technology available to marketers today such as marketing automation and Google Analytics, there’s really no excuse for not being able to gather and measure demand generation efforts.

The bigger challenge now is learning what to measure and how to analyze, adjust and optimize to keep improving your demand generation capabilities. The B2B Content Marketing Report indicated the top 3 most important metrics for B2B marketers were sales lead quality (87%), sales (84%), and higher conversion rates (82%). Creating a demand generation dashboard with meaningful metrics will ensure you’re not driving blind and take you to a strong finish.

B2B demand generation is an enduro, not a sprint

Race Track Finishline

You can’t win the race if you don’t finish. Race cars have more robust parts and extra cooling to withstand extreme conditions for longer periods. Your street car with the same horsepower might make a few laps around, but would likely lose brakes, wear out tires, or break a part before finishing the race.

B2B demand generation, contrary to the sales team’s quarterly or even monthly sprints, is more like an enduro race that lasts several quarters if not a fiscal year or more. Sure there may be twists and turns that require you to adjust your tactics, but finding ways to consistently engage your prospects throughout their buyers’ journey is what wins the race. Stopping and starting tactics midstream or doing one-off campaigns, be they online or offline, won’t make much, if any, impact. Make sure you’ve got the resources and team in place to make it through several quarters at least. That way you’ll have enough data to learn what works and make educated decisions about future demand generation strategy and tactics.

 

Is Your B2B Marketing Agile or ADD?

AgileMarketing Depositphotos_81381430_m-2015

There’s no doubt that technology and the explosion of digital channels over the last ten years has had a dramatic impact on marketing, how marketing departments function, and their role in most B2B companies. From marketing automation systems to new social sites (or new ways to market on existing ones) and new marketing technologies or apps, the increasing pace of change is astounding. Add to this our increasing tendency toward distraction and now you’ve got what I call an “ADD” marketing department — one where attention deficit disorder is manifesting itself on a daily basis resulting in:

  • Frustration for marketing team members
  • Inability to drive company growth
  • A lack of respect for marketing within the organization

Below I’ll describe in more detail what I mean by ADD marketing and then discuss briefly why agile marketing could be just the remedy to make your B2B marketing team proud to be part of a winning and respected marketing department.

What is ADD Marketing?

Attention Deficit Disorder, ADD, is a serious neurological condition for many causing them to be inattentive, impulsive, or have great difficulty staying focused. I think this condition describes many B2B marketing departments today. Symptoms of an ADD marketing department include:

  1. Prone to distraction – Whether it’s the latest “shiny new thing” (remember QR codes and doesn’t Pokémon Go fit here?) or reacting to constant requests from internal stakeholders, especially sales. The team is always “busy” and often trying new things, but doesn’t accomplish their bigger goals, say generating qualified leads.
  2. Inattentive and poor listeners working largely in isolation – The marketing team finds it hard to collaborate with other departments, and vice versa, and rarely seek direct insights from prospects and customers. Other departments have “no idea what marketing does”.
  3. Difficulty staying focused long enough to measure the results of all their activity – As soon as one thing is completed, or often only started, it’s on to the next activity without learning what works or doesn’t work. Many haven’t been able to get marketing automation implemented because of 1 and 2 above which makes measurement of digital marketing at scale nearly impossible.

If you recognize any of the above in your B2B marketing department, read on.

Agile marketing defined

Agile marketing can be the antidote to ADD marketing and uses a process adapted from agile software development that I’m convinced isn’t a passing fad. Andrea Fryrear defines agile marketing as “a tactical marketing approach in which teams identify and focus their collective efforts on high value projects, complete those projects cooperatively, measure their impact, and then continuously and incrementally improve the results over time”. She suggests you need an overall marketing strategy, but advocates using agile techniques to implement the tactics more successfully, efficiently and with less stress.

Agile uses a process called Scrum and techniques such as Sprints, Burn Down Charts, and Epics to help teams focus on what’s important, get higher productivity from limited resources, and iterate quickly using measurable results.

According to Jim Ewel (check out his excellent blog), agile marketing places value on:

  • Responding to change over following a plan
  • Rapid iterations over Big-Bang campaigns
  • Testing and data over opinions and conventions
  • Numerous small experiments over a few large bets
  • Individuals and interactions over target markets
  • Collaboration over silos and hierarchy

It’s a process, but it’s really about getting people communicating

At the end of the day agile marketing provides structure to ensure marketing is flexible, responsive to change, customer focused, and delivering growth to the organization. Marketing teams can use agile methods for campaigns, content development, social media, and more. Maybe you’re starting to see that agile marketing is as Jim states, “as much or more about culture and values than process”. My guess is that many organizations struggle with the culture and values part because agile requires transparency, collaboration, trust, and respect among and across departments which doesn’t exist in many B2B organizations especially as it relates to the marketing department (brings to mind a Dilbert cartoon). Cross functional teams must become comfortable with failing fast which is hard for most.

Agile marketing works

A 2014 survey by CMG Partners found that 63% of marketing leaders place a high priority on agility, but only 40% rate themselves as agile. Barre Hardy, senior director of CMG Partners commented in Forbes, “With Agile, CMOs gain the flexibility and productivity they need to increase speed-to-market and ultimately create more relevant end-products.” This survey also found that marketing departments who consider themselves agile are three times more likely to significantly grow market share. (see the Forbes article Applying Agile Methodology To Marketing Can Pay Dividends: Survey here).

Measurement, transparency, results equals respect for marketing

Perhaps the biggest benefit of agile marketing is increasing respect for the marketing team across the organization because as teams measure and iterate to learn what does and doesn’t work, everyone gains visibility to marketing’s value to grow the organization. And with respect comes the budget required to drive growth along with more satisfied marketing employees who get to learn and try new things.

That sounds like a lot less stress and way more fun doesn’t it?

Resources to Learn More about Agile Marketing

Agile Marketing – Save Your Sanity, SlideShare from Mathew Sweezy, Salesforce Pardot

Agile Marketing: Managing Marketing in a World of Constant Change, SlideShare from Scott Brinker, ion interactive

Agile Marketing: Managing Marketing in High Gear, SlideShare from Scott Brinker, ion interactive

Charlotte AMA: Market 2016 Technology & Agile Marketing, SlideShare from Russ Lange, CMG Partners and Roland Smart, Oracle

Jim Ewel and John Cass’s Agile Marketing Resources List

How to Stop Working So Hard: Agile Marketers Work Smarter, by Andrea Fryrear June 16, 2016, Content Marketing Institute

Amazon – just search “agile marketing” to see numerous books on the topic. One of the most recently published is The Agile Marketer: Turning Customer Experience Into Your Competitive Advantage, by Roland Smart

Producing Engaging B2B Content: How to Overcome 3 Challenges

Engaging B2B contentThe B2B Content Marketing 2016: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America report from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs indicated the most effective B2B marketers focus on better, more engaging content not just creating more and more content in an effort to reach their number one content marketing goal – driving sales lead quality. This didn’t, and yet did, surprise me. Let’s take a look at what respondents said.

When asked how much content their organization will produce in 2016 compared to 2015, 76% of B2B marketers planned to produce more. However, as most B2B marketers know, producing more and more content doesn’t necessarily translate into better quality leads. Lots of content that no one engages with is useless.

When asked to select their top 5 challenges, producing engaging content came out on top at 60%, and the ability to measure content effectiveness and produce it consistently tied for second at 57%. This didn’t surprise me given the increasing functionality of marketing automation technologies and ability to integrate with CRM systems. Increasingly B2B marketers are gaining the ability to measure which content is most effective, but many don’t quite have a handle on it yet. When everyone within an organization can see the numbers, the importance of producing engaging content that truly qualifies sales leads should only increase.

What was surprising to me was that only 41% of internal content creators are making it a priority to better understand their audience while an overwhelming 72% want to create more engaging content. Maybe it’s something to do with definitions and semantics, but how can a marketer create engaging content if they don’t understand their audience? Perhaps they already understand their target audience (developed the personas), but haven’t been able to produce the engaging content yet.

Below are three content production challenges many B2B marketers face, especially those marketing complex technical B2B products and services and how to overcome each:

  1. Understanding prospects’ and customers’ business: The internal marketing team doesn’t understand their prospects’ and customers’ industry or business well enough to write content from the prospect or customer perspective, not theirs.
    • Solution – Marketers should spend time with the sales team, prospects, and customers in the field, on phone calls and in meetings. Hearing conversations and seeing first hand is invaluable for gaining this understanding. Marketers should take this opportunity to learn as often as possible. It’s not a one-time thing.
  2. SMEs not delivering the content needed: Internal subject matter experts (SMEs) don’t have the time and/or are not good writers. For many B2B firms, SMEs are often engineers, software developers, R&D, etc. who know the company’s product or service from the ground up and maybe even how customers use the product or service. However, writing content for the marketing team is not their priority and many times they are not good writers.
    • Solution – Marketers should determine which SMEs can deliver content (with a real commitment to deadlines) and which SMEs can be a resource to help develop content topics (ideas, webinar speaker, or being interviewed by content writers).
  3. Technical content is hard: Content writers may be unable to research, interview SMEs, use technical research reports, etc. to develop educational and informative content that will truly engage the prospect or customer. Many writers and marketers, whether in-house or outsourced, simply lack the ability to translate complex technical information into compelling educational content their prospects and customers want and need – this is not an easy task for many writers and marketers who come from a liberal arts journalism or marketing background.
    • Solution – Find a marketer with a technical background. If that person doesn’t exist on your in-house team find a freelance or other outside resource who can fill this role. Sometimes it’s a marketer with a double major like marketing and economics or math. Or look for someone who came into marketing from a technical field, even engineering like I did.

Were you surprised with the 2016 survey results discussed here? The 2017 report will be published soon. It will be interesting to see if more B2B marketers are figuring out what content engages and qualifies sales leads and how to produce it. What are you doing to produce more engaging content?

Digital: 3 Marketing Fundamentals That Still Matter

MarketingWordCloud

I was reminded recently how important it is to have an understanding of marketing fundamentals to deliver successful B2B digital marketing. I attended a couple of webinars that covered aspects of content marketing and lead generation. While they talked about specific digital tactics like email, landing pages and SEO, they also spent a good deal of time talking about marketing fundamentals. My guess is many who are tasked with digital marketing today may not have marketing education or experience. So while they know how to use digital tools and channels, the marketing fundamentals covered in these types of webinars are very useful and educational for them.

Below I highlight three examples of fundamental marketing concepts every B2B marketer needs to know for any strategy, whether it’s digital or not.

Know Your Audience

The buzzword today is persona, but knowing who your best prospects are (influencers and decision makers) and how to reach them is the foundation of any B2B marketing strategy. Who do you want to reach? What topics interest them and what problem(s) can you solve for them? When they have a problem where do they look for information and how do they consume it?

If you don’t know who you’re writing for, no matter if it’s a blog post, web landing page, phone script, direct mail postcard, or case study, it won’t be relevant and you won’t be able to attract or move your ideal prospects further along their buying journey.

Segmentation

Your B2B prospects aren’t all the same. Some common differences include:

  • Ways they use your product/service
  • Industry terms and language
  • Topics that interest them
  • Value they place on various aspects of your offering.

For these reasons it’s important to define and create meaningful segments for your marketing messaging and strategy.

If you know your audience (see above), then creating segments to target, say by specific verticals or functional roles, will become more obvious. Your marketing campaigns can be more personalized, compelling and engaging for your target audience.

 Good Data is Paramount

More isn’t always better, especially when it comes to marketing data. From trade show and webinar attendee lists, CRM systems data, and website form fill data to click through and download data, B2B marketers need effective best-practice processes for ongoing data maintenance and quality.

The digital era has only accelerated and exacerbated data quality issues, generating large amounts of often inaccurate data. Low quality Contact data (studies show nearly 25% of B2B contact data goes bad annually) decreases marketing’s effectiveness and reputation with the sales team (ex. bad phone numbers), and makes generating meaningful metrics and analysis difficult.

While we may focus much of our B2B marketing efforts and budget on digital tactics, it’s still important to have an integrated strategy built on fundamental marketing concepts. I’ve only touched on three concepts in this post. What fundamental marketing concept have you seen missing in B2B digital marketing efforts?