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!

Commerce Interrupted – Four Barriers That Stop Your Prospects from Becoming Customers!

 Purchase BarriersThere are three primary objectives of a marketing campaign:

  1. Find qualified prospects (potential buyers).
  2. Create desire within these prospects to purchase your product or service.
  3. Remove all barriers to the purchase process.

Many B2B and B2C companies do a good job at the first two objectives. They know where to find prospects, or better yet, they help prospects find them, which is the essence of effective inbound (pull) marketing. They also know how to write clever promotional copy and create compelling offers. But no matter how well you do at the first two tasks, unless you remove every barrier to the purchase process, you will not achieve your potential.

Barriers to purchase fall into four primary categories: time, process, people and risk.

Time – Assume that your prospects are busy, have short attention spans, and that you will get only one shot at their business. If your business is web-based, what is the time it takes someone to go through the education and purchase process?  If your business if phone-based, how long does it take you to get back to the prospect? I have related on other posts how I have given business to one company over another simply on the basis of the speed at which the winning company responded to my query. Whether you sell online, by phone or in person, your bottom line will benefit from shortening the time it takes your prospects to go through the entire transaction cycle.

Process – I once worked as a marketing manager in the business process management (BPM) space, even earning a BPM practitioner certificate from AIIM.  One of most important lessons I learned was that typically, the more non-critical steps you can remove from a workflow process, the faster and more efficient the operation becomes. The lesson is to study and experience the buying steps and then minimize the total amount of time and effort required.  Also eliminate barriers like broken forms or pages that either won’t load or fail to render properly on mobile devices.

People – How many times have you wanted to buy something, but needed some clarification before making the final decision? Perhaps something on the website wasn’t clear or you needed to verify that the product was compatible with something you already own.  When you send an online query, or ask to speak to someone, the company can lose your business in four ways:

  1. You get no response.
  2. You get a response, but it takes so long that you no longer care (or have bought elsewhere).
  3. You get a response, but it doesn’t answer your question (e.g. it’s canned or off-target).
  4. You get a response, but the company’s rep turns you off because he or she is rude, unprofessional or otherwise seem like they could care less whether you purchase.

Risk – Buyers go through a mental checklist that goes something like the following:

  1. Will this product or service fill my needs or solve my problem?
  2. Is this my best option of all those available?
  3. What are the risks of making this decision?

Avoiding risk is a key factor in the purchase decision, and anything you can do to mitigate risk will be rewarded with more and faster sales. Don’t make the prospect search for the terms that will make him or her feel comfortable – make them clear and easy to find. Your competitors are probably doing this, so don’t lose profitable sales due to your failure to address the risk issue.

You might want to get some outside opinions when you set out to remove purchase obstacles. Just as a software developer thinks his/her computer program is intuitive and easy-to-use (despite user claims to the contrary), so, too, does the marketing and sales team often think they have created a seamless buying process. In the final analysis, the only opinions that really count are of those of your potential customers.

Can We Please Tell the Truth in Our Marketing Communications?

Truth or Lie v1This post was inspired by a negative marketing event. I received a personalized letter in an official-looking envelope from a company called: ABC Shareholder Services (real name not used to protect the guilty). The letter claimed that since I was a holder of shares in a certain mutual fund, they needed to speak with me about a “very important matter.”  The letter claimed that this was not a solicitation and not a scam, but they urgently needed to speak with me about my account.

Perhaps I am an optimist by nature; I made the call. The shareholder advisor on the other end told me how important my proxy vote was to the upcoming shareholder meeting and asked me to pledge my vote on the spot.  When I answered that I would have preferred to have been informed in the letter that the call was about a proxy vote, the rep stated that the matter was indeed important, and anyway, the “letter did get you to call us, didn’t it?”

He actually had a point. If the letter was designed to mask its intended purpose and to compel me to make the call, then it accomplished its objective. But if the experience was designed to make me give my proxy vote or ever trust the mutual fund again, it was counterproductive.  As I told the rep, when you are dealing with even semi-intelligent prospects, the subterfuge (real or perceived) works exactly one time. You get the prospect to take action, but you train him or her to be wary and disbelieve you. And if they rightfully disbelieve you when you trick them, they also disbelieve you when you tell the truth – we all learned about this when our parents read us the fable about the boy who cried wolf.

Here are the most common types of subterfuge marketing offers:

  1. Claiming the communication is urgent.  Remember that what is urgent to the seller (getting the order) may not be urgent to the buyer.
  2. Claiming that something is time sensitive.  My favorite examples are radio commercials that state, “Only available to those that call within the next 30 minutes,” even though the same commercial runs for months.
  3. Claiming that the offer is personal. We all get those emails that claim, “This offer is reserved only for my closest subscribers/members/friends.” Yet, you have no doubt that you are one of several hundred thousand of the sender’s “friends.”
  4. Claiming the offer is “official business.”  A large number of direct mailers are practicing this subterfuge by putting text on the outside of the envelope that shouts something like: “To be opened only by addressee — Fines for interfering with delivery of this mailing”. The implication is that the correspondence is from a government agency, when in fact it is usually selling something like an extended car warranty.
  5. Claiming that the product or service is free. More often than not, these so-called free offers are just bait for something that will cost you money.

These types of marketing communications techniques are the lazy marketer’s way of avoiding the painstaking work required to craft offers that are both truthful and effective. It’s like the comedian who compensates for a lack of talent by throwing as many curse words as possible into the routine. Misleading marketing offers insult both the intelligence of the prospect and the professionalism of the marketer. You may get a few extra sales in the short-term, but it will have dire consequences in the long term.

Obsession with “Listening to Customers” Can Lead You Astray

Marketing and Sales Alignment

How often have you heard that the secret to good marketing is to thoroughly understand everything you can about your customers: who they are, their demographics, attitudes, habits, etc. However, this belief, like so much of conventional wisdom, may not be entirely accurate. In fact, a relentless focus on knowledge about customers may even be counterproductive.

People primarily buy from you not because of what you know about them, but rather because of what they know about you. The idea is to create top-of-mind awareness and thought leadership around your brand, thus making the buying process as easy and painless as possible. This is the essence of solid pull marketing.

Here are a few reasons you might consider spending less time listening to your customers:

  1. Of course customers want you to listen, but what they really want is for you to meet their needs. This is why Apple has sold so many products, despite the fact that Steve Jobs supposedly didn’t listen to his customers.
  2. Knowing customers may not be enough. If you provide lousy products and services they probably won’t come back, regardless of how much you listened.
  3. Customers are already buying – you need to reach new audience segments. You want to keep your customers happy, but you also need to think about how to broaden your appeal to people or companies that look very different from current buyers.
  4. Customers can misguide your efforts because they usually want something similar to what they already have. For example, in the software industry, this often means enhancements to current features. While this is fine for today’s customer base, it may not be what new and lucrative customer segments require.

I read an interesting article on this subject on LinkedIn (courtesy of Gregory Ciotti), titled Why Steve Jobs Didn’t Listen to His Customers. As Jobs said, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” The point is that to lead in product design and delivery, you sometimes have to be in front of your customers, not behind them.

Another interesting quote in the article came from Mario D’Amico, senior VP of marketing at Cirque du Soleil: “Any innovative company struggles with how much to listen to customers. Most realize that you cannot trust them to tell you what your next new product will be.” D’Amico argues that in industries where companies thrive on innovation, asking customers what they “want” actually does not improve a company’s competitive positioning.

Jobs and D’Amico make good points. Yes, it is important to listen to customers – I certainly keep in touch with the needs of our clients and try to use the lessons learned to continually improve our services. But you need to accomplish the business equivalent of walking and chewing gum at the same time – keeping in touch with the needs of current customers while getting out in front with offerings that will appeal to multiple segments – and being brave enough to solve some problems that your customers don’t even realize they have yet.