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Strategy and Results

Join us for actionable business-to-business insight that will help you get B2B sales and marketing results. You will find many valuable ideas here across a broad spectrum of B2B marketing topics and issues.

 

Product Marketing’s Role in Driving B2B Revenue

Product MarketingMany B2B companies under-appreciate the impact of effective product marketing and its critical role in helping to generate revenue. Perhaps I value it higher because I’ve had a product marketing role at several major software companies and also been responsible for the function as CMO or VP of marketing. In my opinion, the lack of quality product marketing is a big hindrance to B2B marketing and sales success.

Lindsay Kolowich, senior marketing manager at HubSpot, has a brief and spot-on definition of product marketing: “Product marketing is the process of bringing a product to market. This includes deciding the product’s positioning and messaging, launching the product and ensuring salespeople and customers understand it. Product marketing aims to drive the demand and usage of the product.”

Many great companies are led by individuals who, despite their title, are very good product marketers. Examples include Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. These individuals, as well as many superstars who aren’t so well known, understand that it is often the “best marketed” product that wins, not necessarily the best product.

7 Key Product Marketing Functions

There are many flavors of product marketing and, like your gas mileage, it varies depending on circumstances. Generally, these are the functions that your product marketing superstar will be engaged with. Note that some of the functions are co-owned by sales, product development and/or corporate marketing.

  1. Positioning and messaging: Working with corporate communications and the sales team to put forth a differentiated and compelling value proposition. Promoting this value proposition both to the external audience (prospects, customers, partners, media, etc.) and the internal audience (staff, executives, board members, investors). The ability to be effective with both audiences is a hallmark of good product marketing.
  2. Understanding the competitive landscape: More than anyone else in the organization, your product marketer has to know the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors, not only currently, but also with their anticipated future moves. This will prove a great sales enablement resource to your company’s sales teams as they face tough competitive selling situations.
  3. Defining the target audience: This means not only understanding potential buyers in demographic terms (industries, titles, size of company, etc.), but more importantly, the challenges they face professionally and personally, and the motivations that could cause them to be interested in your products or services.
  4. Guiding product direction: As someone who is primarily externally focused, the product marketer helps guide product management/development in ensuring that the next product release truly reflects the needs of the market. As Seth Godin put it: “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.”
  5. Aligning the lead-to-revenue model around the buyer’s journey: Note that I am talking about the buyer’s journey, as distinct from the sales process or sales cycle. The effective product marketer knows his/her target audience well and works with the marketing and sales teams to make sure they can purchase in a way that is comfortable for them and profitable for the company. This attribute alone makes a good product marketer invaluable.
  6. Translating product/service features into buyer benefits: As the pseudo representative of the buyer, the product marketer must be able to translate product specifications and functions into buyer benefits — how your product or service fulfills its mission in terms the buyer actually cares about.
  7. Persuading multiple constituencies: Product marketers need to engage with lots of different and unique types of people, including customers, prospects, product management, sales, marketing press, analysts, the executive team and (occasionally) the board of directors.
  8. Launching products and services: Product marketers should be proficient at both soft (evolutionary) and hard (revolutionary) launches. The momentum from a creative and compelling launch can propel the success of a product or service for years to come. Likewise, a weak and ineffectual launch can be very difficult to overcome, regardless of the merits of what you are selling.

Great product marketers have a mix of skills including: written and personal communication; creativity; demand generation; fostering relationships; project management; sales modeling; launch strategy; and market and financial analysis (whew!). In short, product marketing can be the glue that helps hold the rest of the company’s revenue-impacting functions together.

Six Problems that can’t be Solved with Marketing Technology

Marketing Technology BarrierIn my column for CustomerThink last month titled, My Love/Hate Relationship With Sales and Marketing Technology: 6 Lessons Learned, I talked about the reasons why so many of us have been frustrated with sales and marketing technology. One of the primary reasons is the huge imbalance about what is promised and what is delivered.

This overselling of benefits is a boost to the bottom line of technology providers but offers pitfalls for B2B companies and their marketing organizations. One example is a recent conversation I had with a software company CEO who had been talking to one of the more prominent marketing automation companies about installing their very expensive marketing suite. I was amazed that this very technically-smart CEO was made to believe that the new software would be the answer to his marketing challenges.

In this particular case, the software company had poor messaging aimed at the wrong audience as well as several other significant challenges. Here are some of the common barriers that I see that need to be addressed before implementing marketing technology.

Six Barriers to Marketing Technology Success

  1. Poor messaging. As in the above example, if the messaging is wrong or just substandard, new technology is not going to make everything right. It takes creativity and a good amount of elbow grease to figure out exactly where the right fit is between what you are offering and challenges faced by your target audience.
  2. Siloed data. In a recent CustomerThink article, A Customer Data Platform (or Any Technology) Can’t Solve Your Organizational Problems, author Buck Webb made an important point about technology limitations: “What a customer data platform cannot do, however, is solve the organizational problems inherent in breaking down data silos and closing the gap between customer engagement strategy and execution.” The article continues: “Every organization has functional data silos, which have grown organically over the years. For example, sales owns sales data, service owns service data, and marketing owns marketing data.”
  3. Ineffective lead-to-revenue (L2R) model. Lead-to-revenue is a marketing and sales framework that optimizes people, processes and technology in a synchronized manner to produce higher revenue, shortened sales cycles and improved close rates. Lead-to-revenue spans every activity from initial marketing outreach, to lead nurture, sales engagement and close. L2R success is measured by revenue and profitability metrics. Get your L2R model right first and then implement the appropriate technology to support the model. Please don’t start with the technology.
  4. Broken marketing processes. If your processes (e.g. campaign management, email marketing) are not following industry best practices and your human resources don’t have the right expertise, you need to prioritize this before buying any software. Automating broken processes only leads you to failure faster!
  5. Mediocre product marketing. This is such an important barrier to marketing and sales success that I will write about it in detail in the next few weeks. Basically, the person(s) who owns product marketing is responsible for a number of important functions, whose critical failures will become apparent when technology is introduced.
  6. Organizational roadblocks. Two critical organizational components are necessary for marketing technology success. First, buy-in from the executive team. I’ve seen marketing teams go “rogue” and implement solutions despite a lack of support from the C-suite. This almost never ends well. The other issue is the ability and willingness of the marketing team and other staff to embrace the new solution, even if it means a major change in the way they are doing things.

Just to be clear, I am not advocating that you not implement marketing technology. Heck, I’ve worked in three companies (including my own start-up) that provided this type of software. In fact, implementing marketing automation technology can force you to address the six issues above. But there is no doubt you will be a lot more successful if you address and overcome these six barriers as early as possible.

8 Essential B2B Marketing Questions: Ignore these at your peril

B2B Marketing Questions“Good questions outrank easy answers” – Paul Samuelson

Asking the right questions is crucial to your ability to optimize or turnaround your B2B marketing and sales operations. But even if things are going well, it is a good idea to periodically test your assumptions. Competitors are not standing idle and technologies, channels and customer needs are constantly shifting. Here are eight important questions to get you started:

  1. Do you understand your own value proposition? This question concerns the big “Why”. Why you are doing what you do, why anybody cares, and why they should buy from you. Your value proposition is the essence of why you are in business.
  2. What is the highest purpose your business serves? You can discover this by asking a series of “Why” questions until you get to the core. By the way, making money is not an acceptable answer because your prospects care about what is in it for them, not for you.
  3. Do you really understand your customers and prospects? By understand, I mean that you need to know the challenges they face, both personally and professionally, as well as what motivates and inspires them. Deep knowledge about your prospects will help you organize messaging and offers that more often result in a successful engagement.
  4. When people visit your website, do they understand what you do? This is not such an obvious answer. Generally you have just a few seconds to get your point across to prospects or they are off to the next website on their list. Your hero image, slider, brand promise, etc. must state two things very quickly and clearly: exactly what you do and exactly how you benefit customers.
  5. What is the focus of your content? Good marketing content is highly focused on the reader not the writer. A good ratio is 75% about the prospect and 25% about you. This is where knowledge of your target audience can help. Without this knowledge, the tendency is to make it about me, me, me, not about you, you, you.
  6. Do you have an achievable plan to find, educate, engage and convert prospects? All the great content and a first-class website are insufficient unless you have the right lead-to-revenue (L2R) processes in place to hit your revenue targets. For more about this, read: The Importance of Processes in Effective Lead-to-Revenue.
  7. Is your sales model built around the needs of the seller or the buyer? For years, we have been talking about the sales and marketing funnel. But the funnel that really counts is the buyer’s funnel. Instead of forcing customers/clients to do it your way, figure out how they prefer buying and align your processes accordingly. Change your mindset from “we need to do a better job selling” to: “we need to do a better job at helping people buy.”
  8. What are you measuring, and why? The ability to keep good metrics and improve based on the results separates the good from the average B2B marketers. As I pointed out in my recent article, 10 Critical B2B Sales and Marketing Metrics, there are tons of potential items to measure, but a handful will give you the bulk of the benefits.

Worthless Questions

The above are good, important and relevant questions – and the answers will contribute to your B2B marketing and lead-to-revenue success. However, all questions don’t hold equal value and there is a class of questions that are so bad they are actually counterproductive.

“Agree with me” questions: This category of question is phrased more like a statement, and is designed to elicit only one type of response – for example, when your boss, the CMO asks: Our new website looks great, doesn’t it?

Questions that are not actionable: All of the above questions are useful because you can take action depending on the answer.

Harmful sales questions: Sales reps can hurt themselves by asking the wrong question at the wrong time in the sales process. For example:

  • What is your budget (before the need is established)?
  • Is this a good time to talk (it’s easy for the prospect to say no)?
  • Are you the decision maker (far better to ask, who will be involved in the process)?

Overly broad or vague questions: These are meaningless questions where the person you are asking figures that you are being polite and don’t really care. An example of this is to ask something like: How was our service (good)? Or: Do you have any questions (no)? Or: How are you doing (fine)?

Burdensome questions: This category of questions includes anything that requires more effort to answer than the payoff from knowing the answer.  

To boost the success of your B2B marketing and lead-to-revenue programs, ask the right questions, ditch the worthless questions, and remember the advice of Lou Holtz: “I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.”

How to Get Prospects to Read and Engage with Your Marketing Content

Marketing Thought LeadershipThis is a follow-up to my last article titled, How to Use Content Marketing to Establish B2B Thought Leadership. In that article I started with the basic and critical question: Can you be an industry thought leader? I then covered some ideas on how to find quality subjects to talk about and create marketing content that is both relevant and valued by your target audience. We will now  cover three additional questions you and your company need to ask to be a successful content marketing practitioner.

  • How do we get people to read our marketing content?
  • How do we get people to engage with our company?
  • How do we measure results and get better over time?

How do we get people to read our content? The first imperative to gaining readership is to write about stuff people care about. Understand that few, if any, people are going to read what you write just because they like you or feel an obligation. Those of us who have written books know how difficult it is to get even our family and friends to read what we write, whereas someone half -a-world away may peruse every word. Writers like to write about the things they are personally knowledgeable about and interested in, but in some cases, there may be little or no market for such content.

The trick is to align your expertise and interest with the needs and desires of your prospects. Perhaps the best way to do this is to answer questions that relate to pain points/challenges that our prospects face. For example, an article I wrote a couple of years ago titled, Just How Many Sales Leads Do You Need has received a ton of readership because marketers have so many questions about sales lead requirements.

Generally, no matter how terrific, people aren’t going to just stumble upon your content. You need to get it exposed via either paid techniques or social media. You can do this by logging onto and posting from each social media platform, or you can use a tool like Buffer or Hootsuite to manage distribution on all, or most of your platforms.

How do we get people to engage with our company? Readers are great Marketing Content Influencebut opt-in contacts are much, much better. These are the individuals you have a chance to turn into customers, partners, or whatever. And after you have attracted them and educated them, the next step is to drive engagement. To put this in a different way, you want them to move deeper into your Circle of Marketing Influence. Here are some ideas to make this happen:     

  • Offer convenient ways for readers to subscribe to your blog.
  • Develop unique and compelling offers.
  • Give away some of your good stuff with no commitment but make sure to save the highest caliber content for those who opt-in.
  • Be pleasantly persistent. It usually takes multiple exposures to drive engagement. It really is a numbers game so the more often you share content, the better your chance of generating marketing influence and conversions.

How do we measure content marketing results and get better over time?

There are a number of quality tools for measuring social media/marketing content engagement, including Sprout Social, Buffer, Hootsuite, Kissmetrics and Cyfe (apologies to those I left out). I recommend that, if possible, you use the same tool for creating and propagating content as you do for measurement.

So what specifically do you want to measure? Here are six important metrics:

  1. Impressions: The number of people who are exposed to your blog, article or other content because it appears in their news feed or search results.
  2. Reach: The number of people you are reaching on a regular basis – How many followers, contacts, readers, fans, and connections do you have today vs. last month or last year, on your various social media platforms?
  3. Engagement: How many people are liking, favoriting, commenting, retweeting or sharing your posts and updates, or rating your YouTube videos.
  4. Conversion: This is a key marketing content metric because it refers to actions that can potentially impact revenue such as filling out a lead form, registering for marketing assets like webinars or whitepapers, or even making a purchase.
  5. Follower vs. following: One of the best ways to gain new Twitter followers is to first follow other people. However, you need to monitor the ratio between the number of people you follow and those that follow you to make sure this number doesn’t get out of whack. Twittercounter.com does this for free.
  6. Organic vs. paid traffic: Obviously, you can increase exposure to, and engagement with, your content using paid sources like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. However, when it comes to content marketing, you want your pull marketing (organic) programs to do the heavy lifting. And if this is not possible in the short-term, it should be your go-forward strategy.

Note that you can find different definitions for some of these terms (e.g. reach vs. impressions) promulgated by various software tools and social media platforms. The important thing is to implement the metrics that are most important to you, and use them to drive continuous improvement.

Producing marketing content that exhibits thought leadership in your industry is only one part of the equation. What happens when a piece of content falls in the forest and no one hears it? Make sure you’ve got processes to measure and retool your content to ensure your prospects are engaging with what you choose to publish.

Use Content Marketing to Establish B2B Thought Leadership

Online Thought LeaderAt our company, my team and I have the pleasure of being involved in a lot of content creation, curation and propagation initiatives. Sometimes, a company is new to content marketing and sees the benefits of being a thought leader/branded authority but they aren’t sure how to get there. In other cases, the company has taken some initial steps towards thought leadership but has plateaued and wants to get to the next level. Either way, there are are six essential questions about content marketing that need to be answered before you get too far along the path.

  1. Can we be industry thought leaders?see the benefits of being a thought leader/branded authority but aren’t sure how to get there.
  2. If so, what do we talk about?
  3. Can we create enough quality content?
  4. How do we get people to read our content?
  5. How do we get people to engage with our company?
  6. How do we measure results and get better over time?

Great questions, yes? The first three should determine your go vs. no-go content marketing strategy and the second three how to make it happen assuming the decision to proceed is affirmative. I’ll cover the first three questions in this article and the final three in the next.

Can we be industry thought leaders? First of all, is it you who is going to be the thought leader, is it several individuals in your company, or is it the company itself? And do you have enough knowledge and stature to be a credible industry spokesperson? By the way, the fact that you don’t have these attributes going in isn’t a show stopper. There have been many cases of individuals who are relatively unknown who emerge within a year or two as well-followed and well-respected industry opinion leaders.

What do we talk about? This is the key question. As mentioned above, you need to have “perceived” expertise in a specific area (hopefully backed up by genuine expertise). However this must be matched by another factor: There must be a sufficient enough number of people interested in your topic area that are willing to read or listen to what you have to say; and this audience should provide real business value. In the business world, it is not enough that people find you interesting – you want them to engage and either buy something or encourage others to do so.

Assuming you have the critical audience numbers, try to avoid the temptation to be just another voice spouting the same content. While this may seem like a safe path, it is rarely a good idea to be perceived as just like your competitors. You need to create a perception of differentiation. To establish yourself and/or your company as a branded authority, you will first have to decide the breadth of your focus. Marketing yourself with a very broad focus (e.g. general practitioner) is a different proposition than a narrow niche focus (e.g. specialist). There is truth to the statement, “the riches are in niches” and across most industries, those who have a reputation for specialization earn more and face less competitive pressure.

How do we create enough quality content? Let’s talk about your options for quantity and quality of content. People naturally feel angst about creating a steady stream of fresh worthy content. As a book author and eight-year blogger, I agree – this is not easy. You may need to opt either for a more consistent flow of okay (decent) content or go for a model where you produce fewer pieces of content of higher quality. A good example of this is the type of evergreen content I write for CustomerThink – in-depth articles of 1000-1500 words that are meant to be “evergreen.” By this I mean the content will still be valid and useful for years to come.

An alternative to creating your own content is to become a content curator. Content curation is the process of discovering, compiling and propagating (sharing) content in a particular subject area. The key is to present content that is fresh, relevant and high quality. Many content curators present externally discovered content alongside their own. For example, our GreatB2BMarketing blog not only contains my original posts but also a “Guest Experts” section where we reproduce articles from smart people in the B2B marketing industry.

You can either create (or curate) the content yourself or hire consultants to do this for you – but either way, don’t underestimate the amount of time and effort required. Fortunately, there are some useful (and sometimes free) tools to help you either find ideas for original content or curate third-party content.

Content Marketing Tools:

Buzzsumo: Very easy to use and free. Just input your search term and Buzzsumo shows you the top content in terms of engagement and shares. This tool will help you find topic areas that have high potential marketplace interest.

Buzzsumo

Quora: This is a question and answer site to learn about what people are talking and writing about. As with Buzzsumo, you simply type your search term and Quora will show you all the content on that particular subject. You can also ask your own questions and get answers from a wide variety of experts (and not-so-much experts).

Hashtagify: While primarily used for Twitter marketing, you can use Hashtagify to find great keyword ideas for keywords to use in your blog posts. For example, the top hastags identified when you start with “B2B Marketing” are: sales, digital marketing, content marketing, marketing, SMM and CMO.

SEMrush: This is a great tool for figuring out what your website (and your competitors’ sites) really looks like to search engines in terms of organic and paid search. This will give you some ideas not only for articles and blogs, but also helps to ensure that your website content portrays your core message.

Hootsuite: Hootsuite is well known as a social media management program but you can also use it to track what industry leaders are saying about a particular topic or series of topics. This can be a great source for tracking and socializing curated content.

For more thoughts about B2B content marketing, read my recent CustomerThink article titled, 6 Keys to Transform Your Marketing Content from Subpar to Superior. And stay tuned for my next post where I will answer the final three questions about content marketing and content curation.

Boost Your Success with B2B Marketing Systems

Marketing SystemI’ve been reading a lot about the benefits of systemization in business, including the eMyth Revisited by Michael Gerber and Work the System by Sam Carpenter. Both books, which I highly recommend, teach the doctrine of working “on your business”, not just “in your business”.  And what is true for general business is just as true for marketing systems.

By a “marketing systems approach”, I will borrow from what Josh Kaufman wrote in the foreword to Work the System: “Fundamentally, every business is a system: a collection of processes that, together, reliably produces an intended result. The more you focus on improving your business systems, the better results you’ll produce. It’s as simple as that.”

Yes it is as simple, and powerful as that. There are dozens of functions/tasks that can benefit from a documented marketing systems approach. A few examples include: sending press releases, posting blogs, web content, creating buyer personas, managing an online or live event, developing case studies, creative briefs, lead follow-up, and much more. As just one example, following is a partial list of procedures for sending out an email:

  1. Establish goals for the program
  2. Set-up the campaign in your MA/email system
  3. Compile the list
  4. Craft the offer
  5. Create the email template
  6. Write the email text
  7. Edit/proof the email text
  8. Create and testing a landing page
  9. Test on multiple email clients
  10. Test the salutation
  11. Test each link
  12. Test the auto response email
  13. Launch the campaign

As mentioned, this is only a partial list but each one of these tasks, if not performed correctly, can create significant problems. This is where the expression “The devil is in the details” comes from. How often do you get an email where you are addressed as Dear [firstname], or where the links are broken or the landing page has serious flaws? All of these errors can be partially or fully eliminated if procedures are consistently followed. But they can’t be followed if they aren’t documented.

Benefits of a Marketing Systems Approach

A well-documented set of marketing systems can help you:

  • Maximize your time. The systems approach is all about doing things correctly the first time, with little need for do-overs. This should allow you more time to spend on the things that you enjoy and create more value to the business.
  • Require less supervision. You should write your procedures so a relatively inexperienced person can complete a task without direct management.
  • Lessen your dependency on each individual. Have you been in a situation where only Suzy or only Tom knows how to complete an essential task and they are not available? Written procedures are the answer to being held hostage by anyone’s presence.
  • Reduce the error rate. Just like the earlier email example, following procedures can eliminate many common mistakes
  • Save money and aggravation. A former colleague told me a sad tale about how their company paid a large penalty (thousands) for using an unauthorized photo in a blog post. Our blog post creation checklist would have prevented this because there is a line item requiring that the source of each graphic be verified.

I’ll leave you with two non-marketing examples of how systems (or a lack thereof) can help or hurt a business. From the positive side: every time I leave the gym where I work out, the person behind the counter bids me farewell, saying something like “Thanks for coming” or “Have a great day”. I’d like to think this is because they only hire really nice people, but the fact is – this is an operating procedure (system) of the business. When a customer leaves, they are always given a friendly goodbye. Not sometimes, but always.

The negative example is a hotel my wife and I stayed at recently. There were two problems: The coffee basket contained two packages of decaf but no high-test coffee and there was no shampoo.  Although this is a hotel in a city we visit quite often, we will never stay there again–all because their housekeepers did not have a system in place to put the right items in each room they cleaned. They probably get it right most of the time, but a disciplined and documented system would ensure they get it right every time. And the difference between “every time” and “most of the time” can be the difference between being a market leader and a failed business.

6 key Rules to Expand Your B2B Marketing Influence

Marketing Influence NetworkingMarketing influence is a timeless subject but the ways we capture and communicate are constantly evolving. I originally wrote about this subject in 2011 and updated the material for my 2015 book, Winning B2B Marketing . And whether you are a one-person consulting shop, work for a mega corporation, or anything in between, you need to constantly expand your Circle of Marketing Influence.

Starting with your organization at the core, everyone that you can possibly do business with can be pinpointed somewhere in relation to the center.  As those individuals in the outer reaches of our marketing influence are brought closer, they become part of your inner circle. Those nearest to the core are friends, former colleagues, loyal customers, prospects in an active sales cycle and others you have direct influence on. Those farthest away comprise your total addressable market (TAM) but many or most of them may not even know that you exist.

Traditional lead-to-revenue (L2R) models track this movement through the marketing and sales sequence using terminology such as suspects, leads, qualified prospects, opportunities and customers. The idea is to locate individual suspects in the larger universe (TAM) and convince them to engage and then make a purchase. By contrast, in today’s pull marketing world, the idea is to broadcast powerful and consistent messages to the cyber universe and give people good reasons to engage with you. The key point is that prospects choose to engage with you – you do not have to chase after them. And they are much more likely to engage if they are already in your sphere of influence.

Over time, the inner- and middle circles grow as people become closer to you. Because you are providing the right message at the right time, people are educating themselves and they willingly engage – not because of the persistence and brilliance of your sales people and you pushing yourself on them, but rather because they actually need your products or services and are searching for a solution. The complexity of the sales process decreases, the sales cycle shrinks and your close rate goes up. This is what we call a winning trifecta!

Let’s take a look at how the circle of influence relates to your business.  The Inner circle is comprised of your key influence group including employees, partners, customers, active prospects, personal contacts, and blog contributors. The Middle circle is the moderate influence group and includes contact lists, blog readers, suspects, social media followers, group members (e.g. LinkedIn), affiliates, industry experts, press, and analysts. The Outer circle is the low influence group and includes your potential prospect universe/TAM including email lists, direct marketing lists, occasional blog readers, media readers, and suspects.

The Starting Point: Where you are today Marketing Influence Before

This first graphic shows where you may be in your current evolution as a company or individual, particularly if you are in a fairly new business. Sadly, even some older companies have a small circle of marketing influence. In this case, the size of your inner circle and contact lists are small in relation to the entire prospect universe (total addressable market). And it is also true that marketing is usually more expensive at this stage (relatively speaking) because you often have to spend marketing funds to first educate suspects before turning them into prospects. In fact, even though your goal is to build a strong push model, it may be necessary to do a fair amount of push marketing at this stage.

The End Game: Where you are going

Marketing Influence AfterThis second graphic illustrates the impact of how your consistent marketing and targeted outreach efforts will help you grow the number of key influencers and moderate influencers. Over time, these parts of the circle of influence will become a rich source of low-cost qualified prospects and customers. Also important to your fiscal health – your marketing campaigns can evolve from push marketing to pull marketing and you will generate leads and new customers at a much lower acquisition cost. In our practice we’ve seen the impact of building up the marketing influence database as it results in a two-third reduction in cost-per-lead over a two year period.

Rules for Expanding Your Circle of Influence

We’ve talked about the why, let’s now discuss the how. Follow these six rules to expand your marketing influence.

  1. Be intentional.  Amazing how I meet someone who has 300 LinkedIn contacts and they tell me their goal is to expand their network to produce better results. My advice to that person is to start today and add relevant connections throughout the year, with a goal of 500 connections (adding one per business day). A year later, I look at their profile and they have 320 connections. I call these accidental connections because a few people will connect even if you take no action.
  2. Be methodical. Expanding your circle of influence takes time and a bit of work, but not so much time or effort if you spread the effort out. To start, block 2-3 hours per week on your calendar to devote exclusively to social media and network building. The investment will take a bit of time to pay off, but it will pay off.
  3. Be available. Don’t ignore your network and then scramble to catch up when you need something. We all have those people in our lives who only reach out when they want something (job, reference, etc.) but are otherwise silent.
  4. Be valuable. If you have content to share, make sure it’s the good stuff not just a rehash of what everyone else is offering. Not to say that you need to give away your trade secrets but it is usually better to offer something unique.
  5. Be generous. Following up on the previous rule, you should willingly share information, references, comments, compliments, congratulations and so forth. You are planting seeds for the future.  Just like with real seeds, some will produce fruit and some will fall on barren ground. The point is that you have no idea which seeds are which – so do not try to be Machiavellian about your networking. If you are available and add value to enough people, you will gain in return. That’s the way life works, both at home and the office.
  6. Be realistic. Good networking is about quality of communication but it is also about quantity. If you wait until the perfect opportunity to reach out, you may have to wait a long time. The point is to communicate often enough to remain top of mind (without being annoying).

The Circle of Marketing Influence is an excellent way to remember that your mission in B2B marketing is to continually expand the number of people who know what you do and why you are the obvious choice in your market.

Porter Gale wrote a book titled “Your network is Your Net Worth”.The title really says it all.  Build your network, expand your influence and reap the benefits.

When It Comes to Marketing, Should you be Credible or Incredible?

Marketing CredibilityI got the idea for this post when listening to one of our Fusion Marketing Partners’ clients present at a webinar. The company official who presented was not particularly dynamic or polished but he did a great job of presenting the information in a thoughtful and logical manner and he definitely had what I term “marketing credibility”. As someone who studies and practices communication for clients and our own company, I read and listen to many so-called gurus who represent themselves as experts in their space.

Here are some statements I have heard or read recently that fall into the incredible category:

  • “Our xxxx software always outperforms our competition.”
  • “Our special xxxxx supplementation is guaranteed to make you lose weight”
  • “We have 100 percent customer satisfaction.”
  • “My normal consulting rate is $10,000 per day” (but you can join my private coaching group for only $500).
  • This timeshare will probably go up in value big time.
  • “Buy this stock now because it will double in price within six months.”

Don’t know about you but I tired of these incredible claims. And yes, I did once buy a timeshare and learned a painful lesson (fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice and shame on me). Yes, people fall for these claims and yes (with a few limitations) it is pretty much a free market where you can say anything you want. But unless your goal is short-term sales, regardless of the cost in brand reputation, it’s best to be in the credible camp. I wrote an earlier post on the subject of incredible marketing claims.

Our goal when building marketing credibility and thought leadership for clients is to help prospects and customers know, likeCredible vs incredible and trust the client. Perhaps the third of these attributes (trust) is most important. People who know you and like you will still not buy from you if they don’t trust you.  Here are six strategies to build and keep trust and credibility:

  1. Be honest.   In every situation. This is so important because once lost, trust is hard to regain. We marketers are trained to put our best foot forward and to project the most optimistic picture of our product and/or services. But beware of making statements that are so outlandish that other things you say, even if true, are questioned.
  2. Meet your commitments. I have a professional services provider I have been working with for many years regarding dozens of different matters. Yet the past six months have been one missed deadline and one unfulfilled promise after another. I reluctantly (and sadly) have to say goodbye to this provider because their credibility well has run dry.
  3. Admit your weaknesses. Again, this is hard for us marketers but it does help you connect with, and build bridges to, your client.
  4. Take the high road. Factual statements about your strengths vs. the competition are fine, but make sure you are more focused on why you are better instead of why the other company is bad. When you go on the attack, you may damage your opponent but sometimes do more damage to your own reputation. When in doubt, keep it positive!
  5. Hold your fire. Even if you take the high road, there is no guarantee that you and/or your company won’t be on the receiving end of someone else’s criticism/vitriol. As I painfully learned earlier in my career, it is usually better to let things pass than engage and escalate the situation (exactly what the critic wants you to do). Yes there are exceptions to this rule – no one likes a doormat.
  6. Be genuine. This is a tough one because when you are communicating, you have a tendency to want to please the people you are communicating to and tell them what you think they want to hear. But remember that the biggest rewards go to those who are seen as unique and special, not to those who imitate others or are always saying what’s convenient or flatters the listener. In this world of imitators and false prophets in the marketplace, a “real” person is always the preferable partner.

I’ll leave you with a really good quote from Ann Voskamp about credibility in writing: “Good writing, from my perspective, runs a lot like a visual on the screen. You need to create that kind of detail and have credibility with the reader, so the reader knows that you were really there, that you really experienced it, that you know the details. That comes out of seeing. “

I think Ann is saying that when it comes to credibility, seeing is believing. People with marketing credibility give their supporters (and their detractors!) observable evidence that they’re up-front, honest and dependable. And they never forget that in the long-term, being credible almost always beats being “incredible”.

 

 

Boost Revenue with the Right B2B Marketing Funnel

Marketing FunnelOne of the most important decisions to be made when designing a lead-to-revenue (L2R) strategy is the type of B2B marketing funnel model to support your revenue goals. There are lots of permutations but fundamentally, it comes down to a choice between two major flavors: wide or narrow funnel. I’ve talked to CEO’s who want a large number high-quality leads at a low cost-per-lead. While this sounds great in theory, there is almost always a trade-off between quantity and quality – unless you are willing to spend exorbitant sums to achieve this goal.

Let’s explain by taking a closer look at the two funnel models. Note that I have simplified the number of steps involved but this should still give you the idea.B2B Marketing Funnel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wide Funnel – Type A: As the graphic illustrates, this type of funnel is designed to create lots of activity early in the lead-to-revenue process by casting a wider net. The goal is to get lots of suspects to opt-in, and use personal (usually telephone) or automated methods to qualify suspects and turn them into prospects. You ask for very little information (e.g. name and email address) in order to encourage response and your content offer is targeted at those who are earlier in their buyer’s journey. In this model, you attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff after the opt-in.

Narrow Funnel – Type B: This funnel model is narrow at the top, because the goal is to generate fewer opt-ins – but with a much higher average quality than type A. To accomplish this, you offer content that is useful for prospects that are closer to a buying decision and you ask for lots of information from the prospect. This will definitely reduce response from those who are early in the buyer’s journey and in this model, you attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff before the opt-in.

Note what the two B2B marketing funnels have in common. First, you still have to go through the same qualification and selling steps and once the leads are qualified, you should achieve the same conversion metrics with either model. In other words, you can be just as productive with either model from a revenue standpoint. Second, the costs to fill the top of the funnel may be the same with either model, although you can save some expense because of the reduced cost of personal lead qualification on the narrow funnel.

Funnel B has the advantage of keeping your inside and direct sales reps focused on prospects that are more likely to buy in the short-term. This is because you are using your marketing messaging and opt-in process to discourage those not currently in the market for your products or services. However, the narrow funnel has a huge disadvantage – you don’t get to keep talking to the people who opted-in but were not yet ready to engage.

Using the examples above – if you implement Funnel B, there are 600 inquiries that you don’t get a chance to nurture and convert into qualified leads at a later date. And remember, once you have paid for the initial acquisition, you can often convert these prospects into opportunities at little or no cost. Our experience shows that you can often get another 50-75% sales downstream from the pool of those not ready to engage in the short-term. Again, using the above numbers, this would cost you another 10-15 sales.

So which B2B Marketing funnel is right for you? For the reasons mentioned in the two preceding paragraphs, I usually recommend the wide funnel (type A), but there are exceptions. Best to carefully consider the ramifications of each approach and make the right decision before you lock in your marketing programs.

Use Pull Marketing for Easier and More Productive B2B Sales

Pull MarketingIn a recent conversation, a B2B sales rep told me something to the effect: “I hate my job because no one wants to talk to me. They don’t answer the phone, they don’t return my voice messages, and they almost never respond to my emails.” He also mentioned the fact that his sales cycles were getting longer, more people were involved in each deal and the entire process was more contentious. Other than that, everything was great (just kidding on this last part!).

This sales rep happens to be a nice person, but being nice is not much solace when you are working in a system that is set up to be adversarial and often painful. The model his company employs is called “push marketing” and the idea is to find out where the suspects are and push our way to them. The opposite end of this spectrum is what my company, Fusion Marketing Partners, practices, “pull marketing”.  Pull marketing is inbound focused – the idea is to get prospects to come to you.

Charles Green wrote a very interesting article about this titled, If Selling Is Too Hard, You’re Doing It Wrong. He talks about how much of selling is a competitive struggle between buyer and seller: “When we think this way, we spend an awful lot of energy. It’s hard work—particularly because much of it is spent trying to persuade customers to do what we (sellers) want them to do. And getting other people to do what we want them to do is never easy (if you have a teenager and/or a spouse, you know this well).

I’ve seen sales training where reps are encouraged to use aggressive and high pressure tactics on prospects. This is definitely a push model. From a marketing perspective, push tactics include cold calls and emails, overly forceful sales letters, and unsolicited pitches. LinkedIn has become a hotbed for aggressive sales tactics and this has caused many otherwise open networkers to be much more careful about accepting new connection requests.

Pull marketing is a great antidote to this competitive struggle because you are more often dealing with prospects who already have expressed an interest in what you are offering. Instead of hiding, they are more likely to accept the attention of a sales rep. The process becomes one where you help them buy instead of trying to sell them something. After all, most people like to buy but few of us enjoy being sold. A pull-oriented, buyer-centric marketing and sales model is more pleasant (and productive) for both the buyer and the seller.

Following are some of the characteristics of the push vs. pull models.

Push vs Pull Marketing

By the way, there are often instances where we can’t find enough pull traffic to fill the sales pipeline and we then use some push marketing methods to meet lead and revenue objectives – adding push marketing tactics over time. At the end of the day, pull marketing creates an environment of cooperation between the buyer and the seller so reps feel like they’re contributing to a win-win outcome, not endlessly bugging prospects who have no desire to talk. B2B sales reps (like the friend I mentioned above) love this change in marketing strategy because they see an easier, more enjoyable and more profitable light at the end of the tunnel.