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”.



Niche Marketing: Four Rules to Guide Your Success

Niche MarketingFirst things first – what do I mean by the term niche marketing?  Our friends at Wikipedia say that niche marketing is “the subset of the market on which a specific product is focused. The market niche defines as the product features aimed at satisfying specific market needs, as well as the price range, production quality and the demographics that is intended to impact.” BusinessDictionary.com has a great take on this: “As a strategy, niche marketing is aimed at being a big fish in a small pond instead of being a small fish in a big pond.”

I’ve had execs from B2B companies complain that they just aren’t getting any traction in their market. They are faced with larger competitors that have a lot more people and dollars to devote to marketing and sales. Often, the problem is not just the competition but also the fact that their internal resources are spread across too many product lines, too many industries, too many messages, and so forth. Unless you have more money and time than you know what to do with, you are probably best off to heed the words of those who proclaim: “The riches are in the niches”.

Here are five benefits of being a marketing specialist instead of generalist:

  1. It is much easier to showcase your expertise if you focus on specific niches. Niche marketers need to work hard to stay on top of their games instead of belting out generic platitudes.
  2. As a specialist, you have the opportunity to stand out from the crowd and show empathy and understanding for your target prospects.
  3. You can charge higher prices and achieve better margins. There is a premium to be gained when you have a specialized solution.
  4. More brand loyalty. Customers love companies who specialize in fulfilling their unique requirements and will reward such firms with allegiance and high margin revenue.
  5. Greater levels of expertise. The more you focus on your niche, the more your expertise (real and perceived) will blossom.

The potential disadvantage to B2B niche marketing is that by defining precisely what you are, you are also defining what you are not (everything else). This can limit your ability to scale your market presence or force you to undertake an expensive rebranding program. Better to figure this out early. And if you organize your web presence correctly (e.g. by utilizing micro sites) you can cast both a fairly wide marketplace net while still appealing to profitable niches.

Here are four important rules for niche marketing:

  1. Don’t muddy your message. Hone in like a laser on what makes you unique and special and most importantly, what your prospects and customers need to know to have a better professional and/or personal life.
  2. Align the rest of the organization around the marketing message. Niche marketing doesn’t mean just throwing some industry-specific keywords onto your website. Your product strategy, service plan and sales model need to be in sync.
  3. Stay one step ahead of your customers. As a player in a specialized business game, you had better understand the rules and trends of that game. You don’t have to know everything, but you must know enough to be seen as a trusted authority.
  4. Stop trying to be the best. This is not the most intuitive advice but makes sense when you ponder it. One of my favorite business thinkers is Michael Porter, noted economist, business adviser and business professor at Harvard. Porter urges companies to stop trying to follow the herd by being the best (when measured by what other firms do) and instead strive to be different. Read this HBR article for more on this subject.

One other smart thinker when it comes to niche marketing is noted copywriter Bob Bly, who stated in a recent article, “The secret to making more money as a copywriter … author … consultant … speaker … freelance writer … independent contractor … Internet marketer … or in virtually any other business on Earth – is to become a highly paid specialist — and pick a lucrative niche market with huge demand and limited competition.”

Go forth and Get Rich in Your Niche!


Moving Up the Relationship Hierarchy

Marketing RelationshipYou often hear marketing and sales pros talk about how to turn vendor interactions into meaningful relationships. I find it rewarding to work with our clients to implement strategies that move these relationships from being considered a vendor at one end, to a partner at the other. In some instances, the relationship will spend some time in the consultant and trusted advisor modes as the intermediate steps. And while this hierarchy model is generally thought to refer to services organizations, it can also apply to product companies – especially if there is a service component involved.

The following chart shows various relationship attributes and how they apply when you are at different levels of the Value Hierarchy. As you can see, the further up the food chain you go, the greater the rewards. In fact, a trusted advisor or partner can often command 5-10 times the compensation of a vendor.

Mladen Kresic, CEO of K&R Negotiations (and noted sales negotiation expert), has a great perspective on the hierarchy as it applies to sales in his recent blog post, Breaking the Master/Servant Sales Relationship. Kresic stated, “Moving from the master/servant paradigm isn’t about gaining the upper hand in a brute power scenario, but rather about moving to a peer-to-peer relationship where mutual benefit flows from mutual respect and acknowledgment of exchanged value. From our experience, the master/servant trap is an easy one to fall into, even with some of the world’s top-tier service organizations.” The “servants” Mr. Kresic is referring to are definitely stuck at the vendor end of the spectrum.

So what can you do to get to the top of the food chain and stay there? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Never take your place in the hierarchy for granted. Whether it is your spouse, your marketing peers, your business partner, or your client, you need to continue to earn their trust.
  2. Under promise and over deliver. We have a tendency when dealing with a new customer/client to say things to please them. I got in trouble a couple of times earlier in my career by telling the CEO or VP of Sales, “I’m sure we can deliver all the leads you want.” Yes I knew that hitting the lead target would be difficult, but I wanted to please and score a few points.
  3. Be impeccable about deadlines. Having hired many vendors and consultants in my career as a marketing executive – a few of whom became trusted advisors or partners – the one thing that separated the latter from the former was the way they either met, or did not meet, their deadlines. No one likes to chase you to do what you already promised to do.
  4. Go the extra mile. Yes, this is another cliché, but your willingness to do the unexpected and unasked for, can be a huge contributor to the strength of the relationship.
  5. Listen. Yes, your relationship is based on some type of commerce. But your customer/client is also a human, with all the goodness and baggage that entails. If he or she considers you a trusted advisor or partner, they may share both negative and positive parts of their work or personal life that have little to do with your existing contract. You may be tempted to brush this off to get back to the business at hand, but resist the temptation, open your ears and close your mouth (unless asked to do otherwise). It will be an investment that pays off for you and your client.
  6. Stay in touch. Regardless of how your relationship ends, stay in touch with your ex-clients/customers. Send them useful articles; make yourself available for quick calls, comment on their social media posts, and whatever else you can do to be of assistance. Some of our best clients have been with us while with multiple companies. They have become friends and I believe they consider my team and me to be trusted advisors and partners.

If I had to sum up these six strategies in a single overriding concept it would be: Always make the relationship as important, or more so, than the transaction.


Seven Things You Can Do (or Not Do) to Increase Marketing Success

Focus on SuccessOne of the good things about being a B2B marketing practitioner for so long is the perspective it gives me on what works and doesn’t. Following are some seemingly random yet important strategies to increase productivity and reduce disappointment. These tips are a blend of marketing success tips and personal productivity ideas that will keep you focused and happier on the job – as well as avoid unnecessary pain (the worst type of pain).

  1. Don’t download unlicensed photos. Really pay attention to this one. When you get the urge to copy and paste that interesting photo you stumbled across on the internet, STOP. It is not worth the potential legal and financial consequences. It’s like driving when you are inebriated. You may get away with it once or even dozens of times – but the one time you get caught can be extremely painful. If you doubt this, just read this article from someone who made the mistake.
  2. QA the email before hitting the “send” button. I know this one from painful experience. You write a brilliant email, either to go to one person or perhaps hundreds/thousands of prospects or customers. But perhaps you are distracted or didn’t bother to do a review. Within seconds you get a sinking feeling. Did I really hit the “reply all” button and send it to the entire company instead of the one person I had a beef with? Did I really include the damaging stuff at the bottom that recipients weren’t supposed to see? Did I really just send 5,000 people a message addressed to “Dear [first_name]:”.  As just one of many examples, Business Insider reported: UC San Diego mistakenly sent a welcome email to all 46,000 applicants for the freshman class, including about 28,000 who had already been rejected. In a case of false hope to the extreme, the school sent: We’re thrilled that you’ve been admitted to UC San Diego. Oops!
  3. Stand up and walk every 52 minutes. You’ve heard about the perils of sitting for long periods of time (e.g. “sitting is the new smoking”). And there have been many published reports on the ideal amount of time to work with intensity before taking a break. As many articles, including this one from Fast Company shows, 52 minutes seems to be the ideal time period, with a 17 minute break. I’ve tested this idea and the 52 minute work period works for me – although I am ready to get back at if after only a 7 or 8 minute break. You achieve two benefits with this 52 minute routine – shortening the deadly sitting thing while clearing the cobwebs and generating more productive output.
  4. Don’t take it personally. Remember that line from The Godfather, when Michael Coleone tells his brother, “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business”. This despite the fact a rival crime family shot up their father. Well, the same is true in the business world.  Much of the things we get upset about are not meant personally – it was just the other person doing what they perceived to be in their own self-interest.
  5. Assume good intentions. This goes along with the previous point. Whether it is a boss, co-worker, client or partner, people will do things that anger and/or disappoint you. One of the best pieces of advice I received about being married is that when you assume the motivations/intentions of your spouse, you are wrong 80+ percent of the time. The same is true in the business world. You are better off assuming the best – it makes for a more pleasant and productive environment.
  6. Don’t waste time chasing people. There are individuals in this world who are poor communicators. You send them an email or call and it takes days or weeks for them to respond. In my experience, this has nothing to do with how busy or important an individual happens to be. I know CEOs who are fast to respond and retirees who are glacially slow. Try to limit your reliance on such people or it will drive you batty – unless of course it is your boss, in which case you might want to look for employment elsewhere.
  7. Make stuff happen. There are business environments (and marketing departments) where action is encouraged and mistakes are accepted (as long as they are not repeated). And there are others where action is discouraged and employees are punished by those ready to pounce on any new idea. But if you are a doer, you must do. Marketing success and sales results happen because individuals try things. They may fail, but they learn the lesson and try again until they succeed. They have a propensity to act, not to ponder, think, meet and criticize.

Please share your own strategies to increase marketing success.

How CEOs Can Improve the Value of Sales and Marketing Efforts

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

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

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

Sales Model Steps

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

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

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

The SLA should specify:

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

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

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

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

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


Actions Trump Ideas in B2B Marketing and Sales

Marketing ActionIn his seminal book, Managing Oneself, my favorite business management guru/consultant Peter Drucker made the following observation: “For example, a planner may find that his beautiful plans fail because he does not follow through on them. Like so many brilliant people, he believes that ideas move mountains. But bulldozers move mountains; ideas show where the bulldozers should go to work.”

I love this quote, and it doesn’t just apply to moving mountains, but also covers what we are involved in on a daily basis: moving prospects forward on their buyer’s journey. Planning is very important, but no one ever purchased anything because of a plan – rather, they purchased because someone took action and executed on a plan. No amount of magical thinking will make prospects respond to offers or purchase products and services. You and I need to take action to encourage people to act, or at least be there when they type in a search term that is related to what you are offering.

Smart people who work hard are often referred to as being lucky. You’ve probably heard the expression “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” Lucky people tend to put themselves out there by taking actions that often lead to good outcomes. This is what I refer to as “practical serendipity.” But serendipity is not some magic thing that happens to us out of the blue. It manifests when we expose ourselves to the right people and circumstances (e.g. putting yourself in front of people who can buy your products or services).

In The Power of Pull, John Hagel states, “Serendipity can be shaped: we can make choices that will increase our ability to attract people and resources to us that we never knew existed, leading to serendipitous encounters that prove enormously valuable.”  If you change the words in Hagel’s quote from “make choices” to “take actions,” you will achieve better outcomes and a gain a fruitful measure of practical serendipity.

As the character Morpheus stated in the movie The Matrix, “There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” When it comes to our B2B marketing and sales efforts, most of us could probably benefit from a little less knowing and a little more walking.

Are You a Dirt Road or Superhighway Marketer?

SuperHighway MarketerCompanies have different objectives, work styles and temperaments. Unfortunately, what is needed to achieve marketing success often contradicts what the organization is willing or able to produce from a marketing standpoint.  Here are the five barriers that keep companies stuck on the marketing dirt road and keep them off the fast lane:

Barrier 1: Fear The tendency to avoid making mistakes is quite natural, but many marketers and company executives are so paralyzed by this fear, they stifle action

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Disturbing Marketing Trends

I just read an interesting article by Dillon Baker published in The Content Strategist.  It’s titled 13 Stats That Should Terrify CMOs . These trends should not only terrify CMOs, but also CEOs, CFOs and CSOs.  In fact, anyone with a “C” as the first letter of their title should be concerned.  You can read Baker’s post to see all of the disturbing marketing statistics, but I would like to comment on three that were particular red flags to me.

Standard Banner Ad Click Through Rates have Dropped to 0.12

As you can see from the chart below, banner ad click through rates (CTR) have been dropping precipitously over the past decade.

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Customer Service is a Critical Marketing Attribute

gondola This blog post might have been titled “A Tale of Two Gondolas” because the subject matter comes directly from a recent experience in Venice, Italy. My wife and I were there on a trip and another family member in our group suggested a gondola ride based on her recent experience. She raved about her gondola operator and how he not only gave them a great tour but also sang to them (in Italian, of course).

Disappointingly, our gondola adventure was far different. Instead of singing and giving us the history of the Venice canals, our guide Marco was speechless. I finally asked him why, if the experience was labeled as a tour, he wasn’t telling us anything. He responded in a thick accent, “Don’t tell me how to do my job.”  This of course, did not endear him to our party. After that, Marco would occasionally mutter something like, “There’s the house where Mozart stayed when he spent time in Venice.” The women with us were more excited by seeing the Aman Hotel, the site of the recent George Clooney wedding.

When we got back to the gondola dock, I paid Marco his 80 Euros, but complained to the first official-looking person I found. This didn’t get any results, so I told Marco that I would go to the gondola licensing board website (whatever that was) and lodge a complaint about his rudeness and our disappointment with the experience. He huffed and thrust the 80 Euros back into my hand.

Figuring the guy was just having a bad day and did refund the fare, we did not file a complaint. However, there was nothing positive about the experience for Marco and it had several negative repercussions that provide some lessons on what not to do from a marketing and customer service perspective.

  1. Don’t treat your customers/clients rudely. People will forgive almost anything, but they will not forget or forgive rudeness. And the customers you treat rudely are much more likely to talk about it publically than those who are neutral or positive.
  2. Be responsive when customers tell you they have a problem. In this example, I could have gotten over the initial problems had Marco listened to, and responded to, my complaints. Since he reacted rudely (see preceding point), the situation had only one direction to go – downhill.
  3. If you are going to be in a position where you deal with the public, pretend you actually like them. You don’t have to necessarily sing to them in Italian, but try to be pleasant. And if you can’t be pleasant, choose a different occupation. Customer-facing employees, ranging from the corporate receptionist to the restaurant hostess to the gondola operator, need to have a spirit of service and friendliness. No exceptions.
  4. Remember that poorly treated customers have recourse. In this example, I could have reported the gondola operator to the tourism authorities. Or I could have complained online and told other Venice visitors to beware of this guy. Assume that every action (good or bad) you take with a prospect tor customer will be reported on and act accordingly.

The most important point is that customer service strongly impacts your marketing. Even the strongest value proposition and compelling offer can be derailed if the customer experience is poor – especially in industries where mistreated customers have an online voice.

Do You Need to Recombobulate Your B2B Marketing?

Recombobulate B2B MarketingBear with me a bit and I will explain the odd title of this post. I read an interesting tweet from Moira Geary, who gave herself the moniker of “Recombobulator.” While I had actually heard of this term previously, I was not sure of its exact meaning. Intrigued, I looked up the definition and found it was short and sweet: “The act of putting back into order; removing confusion.”

While the word recombobulation word is not used all that often, the photo above shows one example. Here is Garrison Keillor’s description: “My heart was gladdened by an official-looking sign in the Milwaukee airport, just beyond the security checkpoint, hanging over where you put your shoes and coat back on and stuff your laptop back in the case: The sign said, ‘Recombobulation Area.’ The English language gains a new word. Recombobulate, America. Pull yourself together, tie your shoelaces, and if your pilot is wearing a button that says ‘To hell with the F.A.A.,’ wait for the next flight.”

Generally, the process is that you first “combobulate” something by taking disparate elements and bringing them out of a state of confusion or disarray. Then, somewhere along the line, things become discombobulated and chaos or inefficiency reigns. This is the point at which it is necessary to recombobulate – to bring things back into order and alignment.

So how does all this apply to B2B marketing? Have you ever experienced a time when you thought everything was going along just fine? You had goals, were achieving these goals and seemed to be appreciated by your colleagues and the executive team. And then something happened to throw you off your stride. In other words, you were discombobulated by an event such as:

Unexpected competitive pressure. This can be a new competitor or an existing competitor that introduces a product that upends the entire category and reduces your awareness, leads and revenue.

New executive or sales leadership.  Sometimes, even if you are achieving your stated goals, a new executive decides to go in a different direction. Often, the new strategy doesn’t work as well as the existing strategy, but the new exec feels they must make their mark quickly. This tendency to change what is already working really hurts companies, but it a common occurrence nonetheless.

Pricing changes. A big change in pricing by your company or its competitors can cause a disruption in your strategy and tactics. For example, when a software company offers its products through a paid subscription model instead of an installed licensing model, a transformation is required in how you market, sell and deliver products and services.

Mergers and acquisitions. If your company buys another firm, you are probably going to face minor discombobulation, and if another company buys yours, the changes will be greater – perhaps even massive. As in the case of new leadership, it often isn’t an issue of what is right or wrong, effective or ineffective, because whoever writes the checks gets to make the rules.

Ineffective strategies.  As a marketer, this is the one factor that you are responsible for. Let’s face it – what used to work loses its effectiveness over time. If your business is dependent on a personal selling model while your potential customers are educating themselves and buying online, you are going to experience declining results unless you change your strategies and tactics. If you are not using pull marketing, social media and/or content marketing, you may want to investigate how these strategies are generating awareness, leads and revenue.

Sometimes the comfort zone can be a trap, and although the discombobulation process can be painful, the other side (after recombobulation) can be liberating and much more productive.  Go forth and recombobulate!