Hard Facts About B2B Marketing and Sales

Hard Facts about Marketing

One of the most frustrating things about being a B2B marketing and/or sales professional is that there are circumstances and environmental factors totally outside your control. Ive seen truly great people seemingly stuck in situations where they are set up for failure.

Medium.com had an interesting article from Larry Kim titled “11 Things You Can’t Change, So Quit Wasting Your Time Trying.” Kim stated that no matter the method you use (e.g., working harder, caring more), “The fact is, there are some things you just cant change, no matter how hard you try.” I enjoyed the article because it reflects a hard truth I teach future entrepreneurs in my SBA and SCORE classes — to stay within their own zone of control.

This below graphic illustrates the zone of control. At the bottom is a list of a few of the things you have total personal control over. For example, you decide how hard you work and the skills you will develop to enhance your marketplace value. The middle section contains items you can influence but not necessarily control, like the overall messaging, your budget, and your boss. The outer circle consists of items you have little or no control over: The economy, technology, government, etc., are going where they are going and chances are, you have no opportunity to impact them. In other words, if the train is heading in a certain direction, you had best either hop on or watch it pass, instead of standing in front of it.

Zone of Marketing Control

So, hard fact number one is that you should operate in your zones of control and influence. Here are some additional facts that B2B marketing and sales professionals must face:

1.     It’s usually not personal. When the CEO criticizes the new website design, or the VP of sales complains about the lack (or quality) of leads, they have their own reasons that are usually not connected to personal animosity toward you. Disliking your performance on something is not the same as disliking you.

2.     You can’t always win. There are scenarios where the odds are so stacked against you, you are unlikely to achieve success. For example:

a.     A flawed business model that is not financially viable.

b.     An un-coachable owner/CEO who would rather be right than successful (sadly, there are such individuals).

c.      A product that is deeply flawed and/or not ready for the market.

d.     A highly dysfunctional management team.  

3.     You should quit focusing on the ones that got away. All of us who have been in marketing or sales for any length of time understand that no matter how talented/clever we are, many prospects will say no to even our best offers. Best you reconcile yourself to this to avoid undue anxiety.

4.     Life is not fair. If your mom or dad taught you this lesson early in your life, you should thank them. Attaching yourself emotionally to a certain outcome means that you will spend at least some of your time in a dark place.

5.     Great strategy won’t produce results without cooperation. I’ve seen brilliant concepts that could produce significant revenue shot down because of the unreasonableness of one or more parties. Regardless of motivation of the stubborn party, when you are faced with this situation, it’s sometimes best to cut your losses and move to the next idea.

You no doubt have your own list of unpleasant facts. I hope you accept them, and do what you need to do to have a healthy and prosperous 2017.

B2B Marketing Trends – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Fusion Marketing Partners State of the Industry Report Trends in B2B Marketing and Lead to RevenueWe just published our 2017 B2B Marketing and Lead-to-Revenue Trends Report, available for download here. At the close of each calendar year, I publish a trends report detailing what our team sees as the important topics in B2B marketing and L2R. This year, in addition to our personal analysis, we’ve included data from 1425 respondents who work in B2B marketing and sales, the majority (62%) of which are at the VP level or above. We’ve also cross-validated this information with data and opinions from noted industry analysts and thought leaders. We found remarkable similarity between survey responses, what industry leaders like Forrester, Gartner and Forbes are saying and our own experiences and data from client engagements. We are also grateful to our survey partner CustomerThink for helping us to get the word out to their large subscriber base.

So what are the big takeaways from this initiative? For one thing, a majority of companies report that they are not generating enough leads to meet their revenue targets. Probably no big surprise – I’ve worked at companies where lead flow was strong and yet, people were complaining about a “lack of leads”.  What they mean is that they want their leads to be qualified and ready to purchase in the near future. This is the inevitable tension between lead quantity and lead quality. It’s fine to have plenty of lead flow, but not so fine if the vast majority of inbound inquiries are unqualified and will never buy what you are selling.

Another disconcerting result is that 62 percent of respondents report that their companies spend less than 10 percent of revenue on marketing (including personnel, technology and program expenses). There is no doubt that the strongest and most profitable companies drive growth through compelling and relentless marketing. If you truly believe (and I hope you do) that marketing has a big impact on revenue, you are doing your company a favor by helping them invest in an area that will have many positive benefits downstream.

Our survey also showed that companies will increase 2017 spending on two key areas that impact growth: marketing automation technology and content marketing.  Some of us are already fully engaged in these practices and are now in optimization mode, but a surprising number of companies are still taking baby steps. Regardless, smart companies invest in what works and try to get there before the competition does.

Finally, what are your peers and competitors most interested in measuring in 2017? Given a long list of potential KPIs, our survey respondents say they are focusing on these three, in priority order:

  1. Tracking sales performance (e.g. close rates) – 76.27 percent of respondents.
  2. Qualified lead conversions – 64 percent of respondents.
  3. Measuring website performance – 53 percent of respondents.

While it’s too late for you to take the survey, you can review the results by downloading the report. We designed the survey and report to provide you with actionable information and help you improve what you are doing in B2B marketing and sales. Most importantly, it is my hope and expectation that you will have a better 2017 than 2016.

In B2B Marketing, the CFO May Be Your Most Important Customer

CFO MarketingMany B2B marketing managers believe that their primary customer is the Sales VP, or perhaps the end-customer, or even the CEO. While these are very important constituencies, you shouldn’t forget the person who may have the most influence over your career – the CFO.

My last blog post talked about how to get your share of the 2017 marketing budget, using several different budget allocation methods. However, none of these methods will work unless the CFO has faith that whatever you are spending contributes to revenue. This is what I call the “marketing as investment” model, instead of the traditional “marketing as expense” model.

Here are some things you don’t want your CFO to say to the CEO about you or your department:

  • Those guys spend a lot of money but I have no idea what they are accomplishing.
  • Why should we give marketing more budget if they can’t show better results?
  • Why is the sales team always complaining about the marketing department?
  • We have to cut the budget – let’s start with marketing since they are such a large expense.
  • Every time I ask marketing what they are doing, I hear a bunch of gobbledygook!

To make sure this type of language is never used to describe you, let’s look at what CFOs are looking for from their marketing departments. As you can see, four out of the top-six goals relate directly to measuring the effectiveness of B2B marketing spend and activities as a driver of sales pipeline and revenue.

CFO Marketing Survey

Note that the fourth goal listed is to achieve non-financial goals (i.e. brand awareness) but even here I would argue that the reason we spend time building the brand is to make it easier to achieve revenue. I’ve never met a CEO or CFO that would trade some of their revenue for a stronger brand (or for almost anything else). In the end, it comes down to the marketing department’s ability to increase awareness, generate leads and facilitate sales, all in the pursuit of more (profitable) revenue.

So how do you impress your CFO and ensure not only a favorable impression but more important, the necessary funds to accomplish your mission? Here are four strategies:

  1. Understand your customer.  Most CFOs have a set of challenges and objectives that are not the same as yours. See the world from their perspective and you are more likely to win the perception game.
  2. Tightly align with sales. Creating a service level agreement (SLA) to outline the processes, expectations and deliverables of both departments – will go a long way towards satisfying both the CFO and CEO. Chances are, if the sales team is happy with marketing, the executive suite will likewise be happy.
  3. Revenue…revenue…revenue. Whenever you can do so, shift the focus of the discussion from activities (expenses) to revenue (investment). Investments in revenue are much more palatable than increases in spending, so modify your language accordingly.
  4. Measure what matters. As a B2B marketer, you no doubt understand the importance of capturing all types of performance metrics. But the ones that matter most to the CFO will all point to how what you do, and what you spend, contribute to revenue. That is why our lead-to-revenue (L2R) modeling process always starts with revenue targets and works backward to set goals for inquiries, awareness, website traffic, and so forth.  

 I’ve worked with a couple of CFOs that had such a fundamental misunderstanding that they never could see the value in what their marketing department did. Fortunately, these types are not common and if you follow the above advice, you will not only have a more satisfactory working life but also a much healthier marketing budget.   

Secure Your Share of Rising B2B Marketing Budgets

Marketing BudgetThe press release announcing Gartner’s 2016-2017 Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Spend Survey showed that marketing budgets rose for the third straight year.  Marketing budgets increased to 12 percent of company revenue in 2016, up from 11 percent in 2015. Fifty-seven percent of marketing leaders surveyed expect their budgets will increase further in 2017. Only 14 percent of marketers say they are bracing for budget cuts, but this is up from 3 percent just two years ago.

At Fusion Marketing Partners, we deal with lots of B2B companies and our experience echoes the Gartner research. Here are some observations about why marketing spend is on the rise and why you may be in a great position to justify a larger spend as you craft your 2017 marketing budget:

1.     Prospects and customers spend more of their time with marketing assets than sales assets. Studies range on the exact statistics, but most strongly point to the fact that prospects do a lot of their research online, prior to engaging with a sales rep. If you don’t have the right resources to guide them, you lose the prospect to the competitor.

2.     Throwing more sales reps into the mix is not solving the revenue challenge. You need a complete lead-to-revenue strategy that covers everything from creating initial awareness to closing deals.

3.     Marketing has accepted a wider range of responsibilities ranging from customer experience to revenue–generating systems. As Jake Sorofman, research vice president at Gartner stated, “Over the last several years, we’ve witnessed an expansion of the CMO mandate, from what was largely a promotional role to what is now often seen as the growth engine for the business. … In more than 30 percent of organizations, at least some aspects of sales, IT and customer experience now report into the CMO.”

4.     Smart marketing managers have learned how to prioritize spending on productive and measurable activities that tie into revenue. This ‘lead-to-revenue investment model’ makes the budget process more efficient and predictable. Read more about the top 10 sales and marketing metrics.           

Im often asked to advise companies on how to establish the correct marketing budget. In addition to the percentage of revenue described above, there are several other methods:

       Competitive Parity: With this method, you figure out what competitors are spending and then budget enough funds to keep up with, or surpass, the partner. The problem is, it’s usually difficult to find out what they are spending and their circumstances may be so different that a head-to-head comparison is not helpful.  

       Objective and Task: This is our go-to method. We set the objectives, identify the tasks necessary to achieve those objectives and then determine the budget necessary to complete those tasks.

       Lifetime Value (LtV): The LtV method works in scenarios where it is worth spending more to obtain a new customer because they produce so much revenue over the time they do business with you. This will often produce much higher spending scenarios than the more traditional and formulaic methods. For example, Salesforce.com spent $25.4 million to achieve its first $5.4 million in revenue. 

       What You Can Afford: Sometimes, your marketing spend is limited by the amount of money you have left over after other expenses — or the amount the CEO or CFO gives you to accomplish the mission.

       Lead-to-Revenue (L2R) Budgeting: With L2R, we establish the revenue targets and work backwards to determine how many opportunities, qualified leads and inquiries are needed to meet the revenue target. L2R is a highly effective way to make sure you spend the right amount on lead generation, but it is not so helpful when it comes to budgeting for other expenses like personnel, PR, website, etc. 

Regardless of the marketing budget methodology you use, it is important to start the process early enough in the planning cycle to ensure the right allocation. If you truly believe (and I hope you do) that marketing has a big impact on revenue, you are doing your company a favor by helping them invest in an area that will have many positive benefits downstream.

Improve Your B2B Marketing in 30 Minutes or Less

B2B Marketing Act NowYou are overwhelmed, I am overwhelmed – the whole darned world is overwhelmed. It seems there is so much required of each of us that we can’t find the time to get those big projects finished. But the good news is – there are many smaller actions you can take – in 30 minutes or less – that can individually or collectively have a big impact on your performance and your company’s results. Here are 20 such items.

  1. Obtain one (or more) customer testimonial(s).
  2. Call up a sales rep and really understand what is going on in his/her world. Better yet, call two.
  3. Write the introductory paragraph to the next great piece of sales collateral.
  4. Come up with a new and compelling offer.
  5. Call or email a strategic partner and get some joint marketing going.
  6. Figure out a strategy to add video and/or audio to your website and sales materials.
  7. Write a quick online customer survey to make sure you are on the right track.
  8. Improve your landing page performance by 10% or more by upgrading the copy, images or offer (perhaps all three?).
  9. Draft the outline for your next killer webinar.
  10. Tweak the copy on your best email promotion – with a goal of boosting response by 10%.
  11. Write the title and outline for your first or your next eBook.
  12. Evaluate your brand message/value proposition for differentiation and freshness.
  13. Figure out one way you can better support your company’s revenue goals.
  14. Write a memo to get budget authority for your next lead generation campaign.
  15. Come up with a theme for the next major social media outreach – perhaps one that will go viral.
  16. Write the first paragraph of your next blog (or the whole blog if you are really fast).
  17. Upgrade your metrics dashboard to best prove marketing’s contribution to revenue.
  18. Jot down three action items that can improve your website – from both an awareness and conversion perspective.
  19. Send a thank you note to a key customer, partner, vendor or colleague.
  20. Stop and ponder your good fortune – if possible, find a way to pay-it-forward.

Not all of these action items will require 30 minutes. Some will take you a bit more, some a bit less. But the point is, good marketing is not just about having a great overall strategy – it’s also about the daily smaller blocks of time – and how you can make these moments count. As I talked about in an earlier blog post, Actions Trump Ideas in B2B Marketing and Sales, we marketers are paid to make stuff happen.    

Answers to Six Key B2B Marketing Questions

B2B Marketing QuestionsAs I talk to clients, business owners and fellow B2B marketers, I hear the same questions and concerns on a fairly regular basis. Chances are, you currently face one of these questions. And although each question is surely worthy of its own blog post, I wanted to address what I’ve been hearing in digest form. (I will delve into these topics in greater detail in upcoming posts.)

  1. Should we do push marketing or pull marketing? This depends: While I am a huge proponent of pull marketing and have used it to generate millions of dollars of revenue for our clients, it may not be the total panacea for what ails you. It’s likely that you may have awareness and lead generation requirements that can only be met with push marketing techniques. If so, by all means use the tactics that are necessary to meet your lead objectives. But with that said, you should start transitioning your marketing programs towards the pull model right away, and adjust the balance as conditions warrant. If you do this, you can protect your short-term mandate (deliver leads now) while building a much more effective and cost-efficient foundation for future success.
  2. Should we gate our content or provide it for free? I’ve seen companies that won’t let you download so much as a data sheet without providing your name and email address. At the other end of the continuum are companies that don’t require you to register for anything. Usually, the answer is found between these extremes. My practice is to require more when you give more. If it’s a data sheet, let the prospect download it without registration. If it’s a more valuable asset like an in-depth video or whitepaper, ask for at least some minimal data.
  3. How often should we communicate to our prospects? Again, the answers run a wide gamut, from those that communicate once per month to once per day (most fall in between). Of course, this depends on where the prospect is in your sales funnel. If they are active in the buying process (e.g. in the middle of a free trial), an email every other day may be in order. But if they are simply prospects in your opt-in (nurturing) database, a frequency of 2-3 times per month should be most effective. By effective, I mean that they will not forget you, will not unsubscribe from your list, and some reasonable number of them will respond to your offers.
  4. Should we devote time and/or budget to social media? My quick answer to this is “Heck, yes!”…unless you lack something to say or the time to say it. Social media is a key component of most pull marketing strategies. But you need to take it seriously and commit to at least some consistency in blogging, posting, tweeting, updating, etc. I wrote one of my favorite blog posts on this subject over five years ago, titled Is Social Media a Marathon or a Sprint?
  5. How often should I/we blog? The short answer is: as often as you have something to say. But if you can’t commit to once per month (3-4 times is better) it’s best not to blog at all. If you blog for any length of time, you will develop a quality/quantity rhythm. Not every post will be brilliant. If you are prone to waiting for the perfect topic at the perfect time, just remember what Voltaire said: “Perfect is the enemy of the good.” Voltaire was right — set a floor in terms of quality standard, write something and get it out there.
  6. What marketing tactics are performing best?  In the B2B marketing world, tactics shift depending on the product, offer, target audience and timing. Generally, we are having good success with pay-per-click, LinkedIn and email (if we can build a quality prospect list). We support these tactics with organic search optimization, content syndication and social media.

Facing unique dilemmas of your own? Feel free to start a discussion in the comments section or reach out if you want to explore in-depth.

 text

 text

 text

 text

 

Market Research – 8 Strategies for Getting it Right, Quickly

File folder with words Market Research and financial graphs.I had a really good conversation with a business colleague who is launching his products into a new channel, with fresh messaging, pricing, etc. We talked about all the various ways of validating the concept before formally announcing it to the world. Like all entrepreneurs, he wanted to know that his chances for revenue and profit were high before making a larger commitment. Specifically, he wanted to know the following before launching into the new channel:

  • Potential size of the market
  • Best target segments
  • Details of the offering
  • Most appropriate keywords
  • Pricing options

My friend’s first instinct was to do traditional market research activities like focus groups and telephone/online surveys, supplemented by tools like SIC code analysis. However, my caution was that these types of tools — while instructive in the qualitative sense — are not that precise when it comes to answering the real question: Will people/companies spend money on a particular offer, and if so, how much? The key problem is that market research is based on the theoretical (e.g. would you buy this) and not the practical (sign the contract).

After being involved with hundreds of product launches in my career — some backed by heavy market research and others thrown into the market based on little more than gut instinct – I can find no correlation between the amount of time and money spent on pre-launch research and the degree of success enjoyed by the product.

According to Product.com, about 85 percent of new consumer product launches fail, and these are some of the most researched types of products on the planet. One other notable point from Product.com is that products often fail because managers become too ego-involved with pet products and overestimate their chance of success. Best to get the ego out of the process. However, there are exceptions to this rule, such as when analysis showed that the Sony Walkman was going to flop in the marketplace. However, Sony Chairman Akio Morita overruled his lieutenants and created a massive revenue stream. Steve Jobs was another founder who relied on his gut more than market research.

Even when you do a lot of research, you can still get it wrong: the market shifts, a competitor outflanks you, the economy crashes, etc. All this is not to say that you shouldn’t try to validate your idea before launch – of course you should. But please do this in a way that minimizes your costs (time and money) and maximizes your speed to market.  Here are a few ideas on how to accomplish this:

  1. Ask people who are already selling something similar. Your direct competitors will probably not talk to you, but those with complementary products or who are in non-competing geographies may give you great information.
  2. Query people at community share sites like Quora.com or Reddit.com. These are open business forums where people answer questions and provide input on subjects of interest.
  3. Crowdfund your idea. This is more of a long shot, but there have been notable success stories of companies launching (and pre-selling) products before they were ready for market.
  4. Take advance orders. What a great way to validate your product – offer it for a discount for pre-ordering. This is definitely a confidence builder for both product manager and CFO.
  5. Run test ads (e.g. pay-per-click). More companies than you realize actually run ads before the product is available. There are ways to do this without offending potential customers.
  6. Talk with people who bought a competitive product or service. While you may not have a short-term sales opportunity with these people, their opinions are valid since they actually made a transaction.
  7. Check out which books people are buying on Amazon that are related to your business area. This will give you a good idea of what the current hot buttons are and perhaps provide you with some messaging strategies.
  8. Do online keyword analysis to determine what terms people search on to find a similar product or service. Look at your competitors’ — as well as your own — notions of the motivating benefits and/or pain points.

By the way, LinkedIn can be an extremely useful tool in target segment sizing as well as product validation and message testing. There is much more to say about this, so I will save it for a future blog post. In the meantime, contact me at info@FusionMarketingPartners.com if you have any questions.

B2B Sales and Marketing Transformation

Sales and MarketingI just viewed a great online video that deserves its own blog post. The speaker is Barry Trailer, Chief Research Officer of CSO Insights (now a division of MHI Global) and the topic was the CSO 2016 Sales Best Practices Study Results. Barry and his colleague, Jim Dickie, have been following and reporting on the best practices and outcomes from sales organizations for over a decade. The information is always interesting and informative and as I will share below, it can help transform both the marketing and sales organizations.

As a B2B marketing professional, I make it a point to follow and understand what my clients (B2B sales organizations) are doing and thinking. This is important for you, as well. You may think of your customers as being the end users of your products or services, but in fact, if the sales team isn’t happy with you, life can be very unpleasant.

So what did Barry say that was so interesting?  You can see for yourself, but here are four key takeaways that stood out for me:

1. 94% of world-class companies indicate that sales and marketing are aligned (vs. 34% of all respondents). To be sure, sales and marketing alignment is somewhat subjective; there are no hard and fast metrics that prove or disprove alignment. However, if you don’t have it, you know it, and it is definitely costing you revenue and productivity.

2. 84% of world-class companies have specific criteria as to what constitutes an acceptable prospect. This has been a recurring theme with CSO and Trailer. The lack of well-defined criteria causes many problems, including:

  • Lost opportunity as reps forgo qualified prospects because they spend so much time chasing unqualified prospects.
  • Missed quotas due to reps spending time on potential deals that are actually undoable.
  • Discouragement and burnout from what would otherwise be effective reps.
  • Failure to accurately forecast revenue, leading to all types of problems with the C-suite, partners, customers, analysts, etc. (especially for public companies).

Many marketing departments are great at the “quantity” aspects of their jobs. If the sales department says it needs X number of leads to make its number, marketing salutes and delivers X number of leads. However, if our colleagues who carry business cards with a “sales” title believe that what we are giving them is a bunch of non-qualified, uninterested and non-relevant tire kickers, it makes for an unproductive and tense relationship.

Granted, the sales folks may not know exactly what they want or may have unreasonable expectations – but it is better to be upfront and address the issue early than pretend it is going to work out downstream.

3. Life gets really good when you move up the value chain. When you can move the perception of how your clients see you from a vendor to that of a consultant, contributor or trusted advisor/partner, everything changes in your favor. The image below (sorry for the poor quality) shows the differences in how sales reps approach the account and what they bring to the table.

Sales Value Chain

It requires a lot of mental energy and elbow grease to move up the value spectrum, but the rewards are great in terms of referrals, access, repeat business, trust and credibility. Equally important is what you will get less of: competition, sales cycle, price sensitivity and the importance of any particular feature.

Let’s use the last point as an example. If you are a trusted advisor/partner, contributor or consultant, it is great to not have the specter of your competitors coming out with a new feature that could cause your clients/customers to abandon you. Your higher-value relationship is a barrier that can prevent other companies from taking your revenue.

4. How you sell is more of a competitive differentiation than what you sell. You’ve probably heard this familiar refrain from salespeople and marketers alike: “Our product isn’t good enough to sell in this market,” or something like this. But the real problem may be that you are selling at the lower end of the value chain and being perceived as a commodity supplier, where sales cycles are long and price pressure is greatest. As Barry put in, the CSO definition of selling is “Establishing and elevating relationships over time.” Just remember the formula Elevated Relationships = More Revenue and More Profit.

In the spirit of not providing information without some practical application, let’s talk about what you and I should do as a result of these three takeaways:

  • Get aligned. If you want to be a world-class company, you need to do what 94% of them do: gain alignment between the marketing and sales organizations. For some relevant info on how to do this, read my article about marketing and sales alignment. Interestingly, this post was published four years ago and has an Olympic theme.
  • Get specific. While alignment is somewhat of a qualitative attribute (you know it when you experience it), you have to be very quantitative when it comes to establishing lead criteria. You need to create a service level agreement (SLA) that is specific about lead quantity + attributes.
  • Get close. By this, I mean that you should modify your marketing and selling processes to intentionally move up the value chain and get closer to your clients/customers. You may not be able to leapfrog levels – customers that now view you as a vendor may not instantly accept you as a contributor or partner – but you can begin the journey right now.

Any one of these three strategic actions can have a strong positive impact on your revenue and effectiveness. Combining all three can be transformational.

The B2B Marketing Valley of Death

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

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

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

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

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

How to Achieve Expert Status in B2B Marketing and Sales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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