Your Brand Promise – Why You Need a Big Idea!

Big IdeaSome marketers and business owners believe that the strength of their product or service is what determines success. While this is no doubt true in a few rare cases, most often, even a great product or service has to be marketed properly to succeed. And the best marketing is centered around what we call a BIG IDEA. By this I mean that you have (and show) a true competitive differentiation, and the value-add extra that makes what you offer both unique and better than your competitors.

If you are going to create a powerful marketing and sales engine, then you must absolutely have a compelling marketplace position. Positioning is one of the most misunderstood, unappreciated, and neglected parts of the marketing process. I think David Ogilvy was right when he stated that positioning is the most important decision made in promoting a service or product and also when he said that successful positioning has more impact on the results of a promotion than how an advertisement was designed and written. This is why I urge our clients to devote plenty of time to craft their positioning and brand promise before starting any new campaigns.

The brand promise is what you promise people they will receive when they do business with you. And position is defined as “the manner in which an organization and the products or services it provides are perceived by prospects and customers.” Every organization, as well as each product or service, has its own unique brand promise and position. A company can occupy different positions among various audience segments.

People can also have their own unique positions (leaders like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are good examples), which are often built and reinforced through social media.  While there are some pitfalls to avoid, companies can gain major benefits from properly positioning their key executives. But be careful, because as John Quelch said, “Personal brand equity erodes much faster than corporate brand equity.”

Since it is hard to be all things to all people, I strongly suggest that you ditch the “me-too” approach and focus on your own big idea. The best way to think about this is to consider how you would answer if a prospect asked you the question: What’s the big idea about your company?  You might as well do this because prospects ask themselves this question every time they consider purchasing from you.  The reason many of them don’t buy from you is they don’t think your offer is a big idea, perhaps because you don’t tell them why this is true.

The me-too approach may be safer but it can also make you appear to be a commodity, and commodity companies are not successful in an era where consumers have so many choices.  The lesson is simple: be different and have a BIG IDEA.

How to Choose the Right B2B Sales Model

Sales ModelA big factor in the entire lead-to-revenue (L2R) process is making sure that you start with the right marketing and sales model. In our initial engagements with B2B clients, we are sure to ask them the types of questions that let us know whether their go-to-market model needs just a tune-up or a complete overhaul. See related blog post on this subject.

Before you evaluate a new way of doing business, it is very helpful to make sure you fully understand your current situation. Here are six key questions to ask:

  1. How did your current marketing and sales model evolve? We find that many of the go-to-market models we see happened over time because of ad-hoc actions – and not a well thought-out and top-down strategic plan.
  2. What is your motivation for keeping the status quo? Sometimes people that want to do better stick to their current model because they know that change will be long and painful or because a CEO, founder or board member wants to keep it despite the flaws.
  3. Are you doing things out of habit or by deliberate choice? A lot of what we do, and not just in marketing and sales, is done out of habit. If that is the case at your company, ask the question: If we were starting over, would we design the system in its current form. If the answer is no, ditch the habits and implement a better model.
  4. Are your sales force and marketing teams earning their keep? We work with some great companies that have solid professionals in the marketing and sales ranks. But I have seen others where the team is just not up to the task of creating and implementing an optimized sales model. This question may lead to some tough decisions but it’s better to get this figured out early.
  5. Are your current processes helping or hindering progress? When designing a lead-to-revenue framework, you should start with processes. Here are seven items to confirm:
  • You use conversion ratios to monitor results at every step of the process and you utilize this data to consistently produce greater results.
  • The system produces a high percentage of qualified leads relative to raw inquires (this is a key conversion metric).
  • You follow up all leads in a timely manner (within 12-24 hours), except those that are obviously unqualified.
  • The inbound lead flow is balanced by territory, sales rep, and product line.
  • You produce inquiries/leads at a reasonable average cost per lead. These vary by industry and sales model.
  • You capture all information generated from inquiries and from follow up efforts immediately (and preferably automatically) in a database system.
  • You have a systematized nurturing process that converts a high percentage of today’s B2B sales leads to future customers.

You should also consider whether there any time bombs at your company? Time bombs are those issues that, if not addressed, could have serious consequences downstream. If you prefer a different analogy, think of time bombs as the potential “Achilles heels” of your organization – where you are most vulnerable to atrophy or attack.Here are a few of the most insidious time bombs:

  • Metrics that are way below standards – for example, a high cost of customer acquisition.
  • Good products, but a sales team that is stable, comfortable, and inefficient.
  • Channel partners that are leaving you for the competition.
  • A prohibitive cost-of-goods.
  • Products that are more than one generation behind the competition.
  • Staff that is mediocre or undependable.

Ask the tough questions early, decide whether you need a marketing and sales model tune-up or overhaul, and then take action to ensure a more successful 2018 B2B sales and lead-to-revenue model.

10 Quick Fixes to Make Your Website Marketing More Effective

website marketingMost companies (including 90% plus of B2B companies, utilize website marketing as part of their lead-to-revenue (L2R) process. Whether you use your website for creating awareness, educating prospects, generating leads or selling directly (e.g. via eCommerce) – you need to maximize its efficiency and effectiveness. At our company, we get to see and make recommendations about lots of websites. While a few need little or no attention, the vast majority can benefit from implementing one or more of the following strategies:

  1. Update your website to be responsive (mobile friendly). According to Hitwise – and backed up by Google’s own statistics – nearly 60 percent of searches are now conducted via mobile devices. The number is lower for B2B but still constitutes a major portion of search traffic. If your website is not optimized to be viewed and interacted with on mobile devices, you may be missing a bit chunk of your potential market.
  2. Add some fresh content. Website visitors love fresh content and so does the Google search algorithm. This is one of many reasons why you should consider adding a blog to your website infrastructure.
  3. Refresh your old content. Periodically go back and rewrite parts of static web pages. Likewise, update old blog posts with new links and a bit of new text. You can also do this with video and audio clips. This is a great way to get these pages ranked higher and also make them appear as fresh posts on your blog page/site.
  4. Create another conversion option.  Is there something of value you can give away in return for capturing contact data from your prospects? If so, create a new offer and landing page and make sure you provide links to the landing page from several different parts of your website. This step alone can go a long way towards increasing your website marketing effectiveness.
  5. Go deeper on some content. There are two ways to accomplish this. First, you can create content pages for specific (and often narrowly focused) keyword terms. Second, is to write long-form pages that go very deep into a particular keyword area. HubSpot calls these pages “pillar posts” and they can be as long as 8-10,000 words, or as long as 10-20 individual blog posts.
  6. Optimize a few pages for organic search.  You probably spent a fair amount of time and money to create your website – now you need to make sure you get found by implementing search engine optimization (SEO). Use tools like the Google Keyword Planner, ubersuggest.io, semrush.com and moz.com to figure out what Google thinks your site represents today and what your keywords should be going forward.
  7. Speed your page load time.  Slow page load times (e.g. over 2 seconds) cause user abandonment. Pingdom.com is an excellent free tool to test your load times and gives you grades in specific performance areas. If you have a problem (and you probably do) there are lots of things you can do like scaling and compressing your images. Here is an article from Kissmetrics that provides a good tutorial on the subject.
  8. Improve your calls to action (CTA). Lack of strong CTAs is one of my biggest website gripes. Make sure you put your CTAs where they are easily seen and state specifically what you want the visitor to do: download, submit, order, etc.
  9. Include good search capability. Web visitors are impatient and don’t want to struggle to locate content. Of course you want to make your stuff easy to find by proper menus and structure. Some visitors like to navigate but a significant minority like to search. You may benefit from including this feature on your website if you have a lot of content and/or a complex navigation structure. But one caveat: make sure you thoroughly test your search feature for accuracy. Bad search functionality is worse than none.
  10. Make your website more social media friendly. One of the best ways to do this is to refresh old blog posts, videos, etc., as mentioned in website fix two. You can also institute one-click instant sharing and perhaps the ability for users to sign-up with LinkedIn or Facebook login.

Some of these fixes can be implemented within a few hours while others may take several weeks. But the point is, the time to get started is now, so pick one item and get on the right path towards greater website marketing success.

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:

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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.