If Einstein Can Take a Little Rejection, So Can You

Rejection

Our subject today is rejection, that insidious killer of big dreams. All of us who have had any degree of success have no doubt had people tell us that our ideas were too different, too radical, too “out of the box,” too whatever! This is true if you are a marketer, salesperson, product manager or in virtually any other occupation. But lest you take such rejection too personally, I want you to know that you will be in very good company. No less a figure than Albert Einstein received a harsh rejection letter from the University of Bern when he applied to join the doctorate program.

I was as astonished as you probably are upon first reading this letter, which states that the Theory of Relativity is radical and artistic, and not actual physics. So why should your (probably) less-impactful ideas be taken any more seriously than Einstein’s?

Einstein Rejection Letter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some of the other things you will hear if you take a stand and want to do something that is outside the norm:

  • That will never work.
  • That’s not the way we do it here.
  • We tried that already.
  • That idea is too radical.
  • The research doesn’t back you up.
  • We can’t take a chance on your idea.

As B2B marketers we face rejection on a fairly regular basis. Seldom does the CEO or CSO jump up and shout, “That’s the greatest idea I ever heard!” when we propose new branding, new offers, a new sales model, etc. Let’s face it; there are some people in the executive suite who would find a way to criticize sunshine.

I once worked for a tech CEO who would have tried to re-write Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. He seemed to thrive on knocking down anyone else’s ideas. I’ve also worked for great CEOs who are open-minded and let you test out-of-the-box ideas – and these have sometimes proven transformative, both to our marketing efforts and the company as a whole.

The point is, if you back off from your convictions and shy away from rejection, you will probably not accomplish very much, and this will not benefit you or your company. Better to keep in mind the words of Bo Bennett: “A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success.”

Lest you think that Albert Einstein was an isolated example, how about the likes of Walt Disney, Oprah, Robert Redford, Stephen King, Michael Jordan and Bill Gates. Yes, the richest man in the world had a business failure after dropping out of Harvard when a company he founded called Traf-O-Data failed. Good thing Gates and the others didn’t let a little rejection stop them. Many other examples of famous rejections are listed in this article.  As you and I take actions that cause us to face rejection on any scale, we should be pleased because we are joining very good company.

12 Quick B2B Sales and Marketing Fixes

Marketing FixAt Fusion Marketing Partners, we sometimes deal with clients who have both longer-term strategic issues (business model, lead-to-revenue strategy, etc.) but also a need for tactical quick fixes in the areas of lead generation, revenue and so forth. In medicine, they refer to this as the “chronic” vs. “acute” condition. And the challenge when dealing with both is similar to the expression about rebuilding the plane in mid-flight.

I write a lot about curing the chronic conditions of sales and marketing, but today will address the acute condition — when you need leads and revenue quickly. Here are 12 tactics to get you started:

  1. Stop doing what doesn’t work. Forgive me if this sounds blindingly obvious, but the fact is, inertia is a powerful force. We sometimes get caught up in our routines – even when they don’t produce such great results.
  2. Rebrand or reposition. I am not talking about a total rebrand or reposition here (which addresses the chronic condition), but rather modifying the messaging to match the needs of a particular target segment.
  3. Remarket to past prospects. There may be gold in your opt-in contact list, but you need to get out your shovel and mine that gold.
  4. Borrow an idea from your competitor(s). You may have competitors with large budgets and lots of marketing people whose entire goal in life is to take business away from you. Why not pay them back by borrowing one or more of their best tactics and modifying to your unique needs?
  5. Make a new offer. If your old standard offers are not working, try something entirely different. Do a drawing. Conduct a survey. Buy prospects pizza if they attend your lunch event or a coffee gift card if they talk to you in the morning. Test new offers until you find one or more that work.
  6. Send out a press release (or two). Although they are more of an awareness tool than a lead gen tool, press releases are a fast and inexpensive way to get the word out. And no, “My product is the greatest thing since sliced bread,” is not a proper subject for your release.
  7. Do 20% more. There are two major ways to improve marketing and sales productivity – do what you do better or do more of it. Sometimes the quickest fix is to focus on quantity.
  8. Measure and refine. If you aren’t measuring actual vs. anticipated results, you are likely not going to get better performance. I will be covering this topic in my upcoming webinar, How to Eliminate the “Promise vs. Reality Gap” of Marketing Automation.
  9. Incentivize your sales force. Smart sales managers know about the power of selective incentives to drive short-term gains in revenue. As one of my favorite CSOs often reminds me, sales reps are coin-operated — they go where the money is!
  10. Get rejected. Sales is both a quality and quantity game. If you are not being rejected often enough, you are probably not talking to enough potential prospects. When your revenue numbers are anemic, make sure your reps increase their activity at every stage of the sales cycle (e.g. do 20% more as mentioned above).
  11. Ask your prospects questions and then act on what they tell you. Here are four of the best questions:
    • What are you doing that is working?
    • What are you doing that isn’t working?
    • What is the one improvement that would add most to your success?
    • What does your ideal situation look like?
  12. Hire professionals. This may be a bit self-serving since my company does outsourced B2B marketing, but the fact is, those of us who have practiced these tactics hundreds, even thousands, of times usually have a good track record when it comes to getting results.

How to Choose the Right Marketing Automation Technology

Marketing automation technologyIn my last post, I talked about how the promise of marketing automation is often not matched by the reality. And one of the most important aspects of achieving success is to make sure your technology is a good fit with the size of your organization and the complexity of your marketing and sales processes.

Here are a few guidelines to help you make the right selection.

  1. Processes should lead, not technology. By this, we mean that you need to thoroughly understand your business objectives and develop the processes that best drive the objectives. Only then should you look at technology. For example, your business may be heavily reliant on telesales, so you must consider integrating this key process when looking at MA system features.
  2. Pay attention to two important acronyms: Time-to-Value (TtV) and return on investment (ROI). In short, you want quick TtV and large ROI.
  3. Ease of use is a crucial factor. Any product you consider should not come with a steep learning curve. We have seen many expensive systems neglected or underutilized because they were too complex for the average user. Back when software was actually delivered in boxes, we referred to this as “shelfware” because you would find the software sitting on someone’s shelf, not being used.
  4. Flexibility is critical. Even if your software fits your needs today, it may not do so if your business processes change. Make sure you have systems that are configurable – which means they can be changed without software coding and expensive outside resources.
  5. Make sure the solution is scalable. By this we mean that you will not have to purchase a new solution or significantly upgrade your existing solution as your company, data and number of users grows. At the most, you should only be required to add new licenses.
  6. Pick the right deployment model. For most companies, a Cloud/SaaS solution is the right option. Cloud software is much easier to implement, requires no hardware purchases and can be operated anywhere the user can get to an online connection. It also tends to be much easier to customize/configure than on- premise solutions.
  7. Find the right balance between a proven solution and new technology. The solution with the most customers may be appealing, but it could be based on an older architecture that gives you less flexibility at a higher price.
  8. Don’t forget integration. If you already have a CRM or marketing automation (MA) application, it is best to choose a new technology that works well with your existing solution. In particular, pay attention to your CRM, demand generation tools and website. Systems that don’t play well together cause lots of headaches.
  9. Monitor marketing metrics. Make sure your chosen solution allows you to capture the key performance indicators important to your marketing operation.

Note: this post was excerpted from our new whitepaper, Navigating the B2B Marketing Automation Minefield.

Why Too Much Marketing Automation Can Be Worse than Not Enough

Marketing AutomationThere is an oft-repeated expression among boaters: “The two happiest days in a boater’s life are the day he buys a boat and the day he sells that same boat.” Having owned sailboats in a prior life, I can definitely relate to this statement. Likewise, many B2B marketers who are so excited by the prospect of marketing automation as an easy answer to many of their problems can find that it creates as many problems as it solves.

As I write about in our new whitepaper, Navigating the B2B Marketing Automation Minefield, we see five common problems with MA systems:

  1. Too complex. Companies have bitten off more MA than they can chew. They intend to self-implement and utilize an existing employee to manage the system. But in reality, it often takes one or more outside consultants to implement, and before you know it, your part-time system coordinator becomes a full-time system administrator. Even worse, if the system administrator leaves or becomes ill, the system is paralyzed.
  2. Lack of process. The most effective MA implementations are highly flexible and driven by a well-thought-out process. Conversely, failed systems often force an overly cumbersome set of processes on managers and users, which often leads to a lack of usage and a slow death for the system.
  3. Poor data quality. Marketing and sales technologies are only as good as their data. And if that data is old, inaccurate or spotty, the system will produce poor results. Best to clean and normalize your data before implementation. For MA, this starts with your list data and extends through your collateral and website.
  4. Solving the wrong problem. We had a client who believed the answer to their marketing problems was to purchase a fairly expensive MA system. However, their root problem was poor messaging and the inability to qualify the trickle of leads they were already generating. Fortunately, we were able to redirect focus to solving these problems first, and then help them implement an effective MA system.
  5. Little or no integration with sales department. Great synergy is achieved if the marketing and sales functions follow a seamless lead-to-revenue path. Conversely, if these two functions (and associated technologies) are not coordinated efficiently, results will be poor. For example, if the lead nurturing stage is skipped and the marketing department sends poor quality leads to the sales department labeled as MQLs (marketing qualified leads), the sales team is going to be unhappy regardless of the sophistication of the technology.

I realize that this post is all about problems and not solutions to marketing automation challenges — but as they say, you have to admit you have a problem before you can solve it. (Twelve-step programs come to mind: “Hi, I’m Chris and I am a recovering business software user.”)

We’ll talk about solutions in my next post. In the meantime, feel free to download the new whitepaper.

How CEOs Can Improve the Value of Sales and Marketing Efforts

CEO Marketing KeysCEOs have likely already conferred with their leadership teams about how they will deliver sales- and marketing-fueled growth for this year and beyond. Yet while no successful leader submerges him or herself in the nuts and bolts, you must have a dashboard, even an informal one, for guiding your team, asking the right questions and keeping your eye on the high-level feedback.

Here are 5 key ongoing conversations CEOs need to have with their sales and marketing leadership to achieve their teams’ visions of revenue growth:

1. Verify that you have strong processes in place for each of the 4 major parts of the marketing and sales model.

Sales Model Steps

The outcomes your leaders deliver will only be as good as the processes within these critical parts of the funnel (and the ones that connect them). It’s not for you to define and build minutiae, but rather to be able to speak to your team’s proposed plan for systematically managing profitable conversations within each part of the funnel and transferring prospects efficiently from one to the other.

2. Keep things simple and focused on as few priorities as possible. CEOs should be on alert when they feel they are looking at a sales and marketing plan with too many moving parts: too many products, too many offers and too many messages. If strategy is clear, the executive leader’s contribution is to provide critical focus so that resources won’t be spread too thin in half-execution of an overly broad plan. Trust your instincts when gauging if a plan will deny you concentration of force and offer guidance on where to pare activity.

3. Forge a service level agreement (SLA) between both departments. Aligning the efforts of your sales and marketing leaders for maximum impact—thereby removing vague areas that will eventually devolve to unproductive finger-pointing—is one of the best uses of your leadership muscle.

The SLA should specify:

  • The number of leads required, and when:
  • What constitutes a sales-ready lead
  • How leads are distributed to the field
  • How sales reps disposition leads
  • How marketing’s contribution is measured through a closed-loop system

4. Ensure that effective sales lead management is built into the process. When asked, your marketing chief should be able to succinctly tell you how he or she is going to qualify inbound inquiries and how they’re going to create an ongoing program to nurture these leads until they are ready to engage in the buying process. Quality sales lead management can boost sales performance by 100% or more. Ask, and if you don’t hear a brief and compelling answer, you’ve got a problem.

5. Require a consistent flow of relevant content. Just as your leadership should be expected to have a process for creating marketing campaigns and guiding prospects through the buying cycle, they should also be able to define and tell you how they are going to execute a process for delivering content that will create higher marketing and sales conversion rates. A systematic and disciplined stream of thought leadership, case studies, blog posts, white papers and more will all be critical to achieving your goals.

Starting these 5 critical conversations and shepherding their progress can have a profound impact on your revenue and profit this year. Executive attention—at the proper level of detail—is vital for progress, as is the ability to be nimble and pivot when market feedback dictates. In a business culture obsessed with disruption and “next big things,” it’s easy to forget the simple value of enforcing a solid sales and marketing plan—and backing it up with efficient processes.

Note: this article was originally posted at Chief Executive Magazine May 7, 2016.

 

The Marketing and Sales Gap of Disappointment

The leads and customers you get this month may not come from something you did this month, but rather something that you did last month, last year or even five years ago. Our expectations are that our marketing and sales efforts will be rewarded in a timely fashion. But the reality is quite different.

The following graphic, courtesy of Rand Fishkin, SEO Moz (“Gap of Disappointment“) illustrates exactly what I am talking about. During the honeymoon phase of an initiative, promising results are achieved, but this is often temporary. You sell your new software product to 2-3 companies you already have a relationship with. The list company sends you a sample, which gets great response. A few contacts congratulate you on your new blog. You think, “I am off to the races” and you mentally prepare for the new house, promotion, peer recognition, etc.

 

Marketing and Sales Gap of Disappointment

However, despite these early successes, you are about to enter the gap of disappointment. For a period of weeks or months (sometimes years) you find yourself putting out a lot of effort without achieving commensurate results. The natural tendency is to flee and stop doing that which is both painful and ineffective. So what’s to be done when you face the dreaded gap of disappointment? Having faced it more than once, I offer you these suggestions.

  • Be realistic. You have often heard that marketing and sales is a numbers game. While this is true, it doesn’t mean the numbers will always fall in a set pattern. For instance, a .333 hitter in baseball doesn’t get a hit every three times he is at the plate. He may get four hits in a row one game and go hitless for many games afterward. Time and intention have a tendency to normalize the numbers.
  • Get off your rear. The gap of disappointment can cause otherwise smart people to slip into inactivity. I’ve often talked about the principle of “practical serendipity.” My blog post, Actions Trump Ideas in B2B Marketing and Sales, addresses this. It is critical to keep putting yourself, your product and your company in a place where good things can happen.
  • Keep swinging. I know of one marketing services company that decided they needed to start blogging. They wrote six different posts on six different topics, all published within one week. That was three years ago. Yep, you guessed it – nothing since.       How do you feel as a client or prospect visiting this company’s website? Are they going to do one campaign for you and sit back and watch the results flood (more likely trickle) in?
  • Be consistent. One of my core marketing tenets is that consistency is more important than creativity. When the gap hits, don’t immediately change your marketing and sales strategy, messaging or business model.
  • Realize that it’s often darkest just before the dawn. This is not just the title of an Emmylou Harris song, but also an idiom that applies to many situations. You can be in the deepest part of the gap, the phone rings and you close your biggest deal. Or make a minor tweak to a campaign and the response doubles.

We all hear about the so-called overnight successes and lament the fact that things just seem harder for us. But when you scratch the surface, even these incredible victories are the result of a lot of effort and setbacks we can’t see. I hope you don’t have to face too many gaps of disappointment, but when you do, consistency and perseverance will bridge the gap.

Asking “Why” Makes Your Marketing Content More Effective

Why Marketing ContentThis post is short and sweet, but it also highly important to your success as a B2B marketer. As someone who writes lots of marketing content for clients as well as our own needs, I (and my more talented teammates) produce lots of copy on subjects like product features, benefits, positioning, FAQs, etc. But all of us have to be careful to make sure that we always keep in mind the fundamental “Why” questions that are being asked by our prospects:

  • Why should I stop what I am doing?
  • Why should I read your message?
  • Why should I go to your landing page?
  • Why should I click on the Submit button?
  • Why should I take the time to evaluate your offer?
  • Why should I spend my precious money with you?
  • Why should I trust you with my credit card details?
  • Why should I take the risk of doing business with you?

In the end, whether or not the prospect acts – either in a lead generation or sales situation – depends on one important equation: Is the value of what I am getting greater than the cost in time, money and risk? If the answer is no, you will not get the response or sale. And the best way of making sure the value equation comes out in your favor is to embed your marketing messages with clear, concise and credible responses to the questions listed above.

Whether you like it or not, these questions are being asked (sometimes subconsciously) and impacting your revenue and/or lead generation efforts.  As a suggestion, how about reviewing the last piece of marketing content you wrote. If it doesn’t satisfy the “why” questions, rewrite the text until it accomplishes this objective. Your bottom line will thank you.

How to Sell More by Selling Less

Sell more by selling less

My friend (and very smart marketer) Debbie Breemeersch recently shared a great article on LinkedIn: The Secret To Sales Success: Stop Selling!  The author is Atchison Frazer, CMO of Xangati. Frazer talked about his last two years at Cisco, when the company implemented go-to-market strategies that essentially flipped the “good selling” moniker on its head: “Stop selling –and start informing.”

Two great points made by Frazer have huge impact on B2B companies when they embrace them both as strategies and practices:

  • Digitally market-enable your solutions so that customers can sell to themselves.
  • Self-driven search trumps all other traditional categories of influence

I’ve written a fair amount on this subject and also always encourage our Fusion Marketing Partners’ clients to adopt the “sell more by selling less” mantra. The answer to creating a successful lead-to-revenue (L2R) machine is usually not to just throw more sales resources at the problem, but rather to create an environment where sales people are more efficient because they are dealing with prospects who are already at least partially motivated.

So how do you go from a company that is focused on trying to sell more to one that is focused on selling less, while increasing revenue and profits? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. As I said in a 2015 blog post, For B2B Companies, Selling Better is Not the Answer, your first goal needs to be: Make your company easy to discover.
  2. Make sure every prospect that visits your website (and they all do) has the information needed to educate and qualify themselves. The more information you can supply, the better — not only to educate your prospects, but also to satisfy the various search engine algorithms that will either put you in a good position to be found or consign you to a place hidden from all but the most persistent searchers.
  3. Use technology (CRM and marketing automation) to separate the prospects that are at the initial review stage from those that are ready to engage. Treat each of these disparate groups accordingly.
  4. Have the right resources (people, technology and content) available to work with the prospect at the right stage of the buyer journey.
  5. Speaking of the buyer journey, make sure you map this out, including items like: buyer stakeholders, marketing and sales touchpoints, team roles/responsibilities and content/messaging.

We sometimes run into situations where the B2B sales and marketing functions are led by an executive who believes in the hard-sell, “always be closing” approach. Some of these individuals are professionals who are really good at what they do. But in a sense, they are practicing strategies better suited to the past, where prospects were less informed and had fewer digital options to peruse prior to engaging with you.

The B2B Marketing Valley of Death

B2B ValleyAs an entrepreneur who has been both the recipient and provider of angel investment funds, I really enjoyed a recent Kaufman.org article titled The Rise of Angel Investing. There are lots of great nuggets to be found in this article, but I especially enjoyed the part about the timing of angel investments and how the ability to generate this funding can either make or break a company. Viewing the graphic below will demonstrate the point. If the startup doesn’t receive the needed funding at or before the valley phase, it might not be around for long.

B2B Valley of DeathSo how does this “valley of death” timing issue apply to B2B marketing and sales?  Simply this: If you wait until the product launch or commercialization phase to crank up your marketing engine, you may be too late to generate positive results. This doesn’t just apply to startup companies; it is also important for each product launch at existing companies. Putting the word out today doesn’t necessarily lead to revenue today (or even tomorrow). There is a lag time to move prospects from “aware” to “interested,” and from “engaged” to “customer.” In some industries (e.g. enterprise software), this sales cycle can be six months or more – so the sales leads you close today first came to your attention quite some time ago.

The scary part about being in the valley of death is the fear that no matter what you do, a successful outcome is not assured. This is why it is hard to raise money and it is why we B2B marketers hold our breaths, hoping and praying that the next campaign will be the home run that leads to product launch victory.

So how do we improve the odds of victory? One strategy is to apply lean business planning and minimum viable product (MVP) principles to ensure that the investment in the product is reasonable in relation to the upside potential. Another important step is to test the viability of the marketing message and lead generation potential very early in the process. You can do this with online methods such as pay-per-click and SEO during the R&D part of the process. In fact, you may collect some data in your early marketing tests that help get your product development on a better path.

The good news is that the valley of death can be a lot more comfortable if you have a good sense of how the product will sell based on your early testing. As the book says, Hope is Not a Strategy, and when you ask investors (or your CFO) for money based on data, not just great intentions, you are much more likely to get that funding and achieve a successful launch.

How to Achieve Expert Status in B2B Marketing and Sales

B2B Marketing ExpertOn my last post, I talked about the huge difference between companies and individuals who are considered experts, versus those who are perceived as being competent or proficient. The difference between these categories may not seem great but the rewards in terms of compensation, respect and self-determination can be substantial. This principle is true in sports, entertainment, medicine, law, business, and equally true in B2B marketing and sales. Expert status has a large economic payoff.

Today, we are going to discuss the factors that can cause you to be perceived as an expert, and thus, worthy of greater recognition and compensation. I acknowledge that many experts are not considered as such, and many non-experts are thought of as experts. This is unfortunate but the reality is that no matter how good you are, the marketplace validates your expert status. You know what I mean if you have ever had the thought: “I know more than that person about my craft. Why is he/she rewarded more richly? Probably it is because they have created the perception – whether or not backed up by reality – that they know more and achieve better results.

In Malcom Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he explains the 10,000-hour rule. This rule states that people don’t become “masters” at complex things (programming, music, painting, free throws) until they have accrued 10,000-hours of practice. This would mean practicing your craft every working hour for five years. But the truth is that in an average work week, we spend only a fraction of our time practicing our actual craft (e.g. B2B marketing) and many hours doing repetitive tasks, going to meetings, research, administration, etc. Have you ever told someone, “Sorry but I can’t go to the weekly staff meeting because I need to get in more expert practice?”  I think not.

The good news is that you probably don’t need to spend 10,000 hours to gain expert status. You just have to practice the right strategies. Here are six that can help you get to acknowledged expert status.   

1.       Narrow focus. It is hard to gain expert status as a generalist. Figure out what you can be good at within a fairly narrow band. Doing this, you can often catapult to the top of the expert category much faster than presenting yourself as an expert generalist. 

2.       Continual learning.  B2B marketing and sales is a fast moving environment. You need to keep up with what is happening in your industry and devote at least part of your working hours to following thought leaders about new strategies, technologies and media.

3.       Expert practice. Note that I said “expert practice”, not just practice with the goal of always optimizing, streamlining and applying the latest techniques to stay at the top of your game.

4.       Credentials. These are the proof points that back up your claims of expertise. Such credentials can include university education, industry certifications, publications (books, papers, video, audio, blogs) and presentations at industry conferences. Testimonials and five star reviews are also good credibility boosters.  

5.       Results. Nothing will catapult you into the expert category faster than a reputation for producing strong results.  This is true for a Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, and it is equally true in the B2B marketing and sales world. A reputation for generating awareness, leads and revenue will keep you employed and attract plenty of clients, especially if you have an important and needed niche.  

6.       Self-Promotion. Assuming you execute on the five previous steps, you need to let the world know about what you are doing and why it is special. You can showcase your expertise through publications, social media and your website, and whenever possible by speaking at industry conferences and online events.