Use Pull Marketing for Easier and More Productive B2B Sales

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

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

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

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

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

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

Push vs Pull Marketing

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Media – Driving Competitive Advantage for B2B Marketers

social media charteMarketing Strategy’s Ruth Stevens, one of the nation’s foremost practitioners of B2B marketing, posted the above graphic on LinkedIn. Based on our experience speaking with many B2B organizations, these results pass the smell test. My only problem with the graphic is the 45 percent who claim they are “getting there.” This group could range from companies who are barely utilizing social media to those who are avid practitioners, but feel they could be doing better. But regardless of how the 45 percent is allocated, there is a significant majority of companies who are either not using social media at all or doing it in an ineffective manner.

To some, these statistics are troubling; to others, they spell opportunity. If only 12 percent of companies self-report as being currently effective at social media, this means that 88 percent are either totally or somewhat ineffective. This means that if you can join the 12 percent who are doing social media right, you have catapulted yourself to the top of the pull marketing pack.

WIT is an acronym I use to describe an important marketing attitude – it stands for “whatever it takes.” Creating and managing social media content can be an arduous task. But the fact that it is difficult will be a disadvantage to others (who won’t do whatever it takes) and an advantage to you (who will do whatever it takes). You don’t have to execute social media perfectly, but you do have to apply a little elbow grease and persist, even when you are tired or supposedly have “better things to do”.

Please resist the temptation to stop everything else you are doing and become a pull marketing addict. While you have to be relentless about your social media deliverables, you can do this in a steady, organized and cumulative process. As I said in an early 2011 blog post, B2B social media is meant to be a marathon, not a sprint. In other words, don’t rush out and start posting, tweeting and updating indiscriminately – but also don’t sit back and wait until you feel divine inspiration. The best path usually lies somewhere between these two extremes, with a healthy bias towards action.

Eyeball Share Leads to Wallet Share

Competitive MarketingOne of my favorite bloggers is Paul Castain, who produces excellent content for the Sales Playbook website.  Paul’s column this week, “A Deceptive Post About Cold Calling,” discussed important activities that can either replace or enhance cold calling.

Here are a few of the statistics Castain points out:

  • 67% of the buyer’s journey is now done online (SeriusDecisions). This number ranges as high as 80% in some industries.
  • There are now 2.7 billion social networking accounts worldwide and that number is expected to grow to 4.3 billion by 2016 (Radicati Group).
  • YouTube receives over 1 billion visitors each month and those visitors watch over 6 billion hours of video.
  • There are about 181 million blogs (AC Nielsen).

I’ve included many similar statistics in my blog posts and articles about pull marketing and the point is always the same – it is much harder to sell anything to people who do not know you.  You need to capture their attention before you capture their money. To do this you need to meet them in a place they like to hang out and where they are more receptive. More often than not, the best place to meet them is in cyberspace and not the other end of a telephone line.

As the above graphic illustrates, there is a four-part process that people go through before they conduct commerce with you. First you attract them, then you educate them, then you engage with them, and only then do you transact business. This four-part process can happen in a few minutes or it can happen over months or years, but it usually happens in this precise order.

I once heard a seminar speaker describe the process in an interesting way.  He said that if you are a young man interested in getting married, you don’t meet a young woman at a dance and blurt out, “Will you marry me?”  There is a process that, if conducted properly, will get you to the end result, and it is wise not to try and skip the intervening steps or you will not make the sale or end up with the wrong partner. Likewise with marketing and sales.

The reason to establish yourself through social media and pull marketing is not to avoid personal selling but rather to lay the groundwork that makes selling easier. It is not an either/or proposition. Regardless of how good you are at pull marketing and social media methods, you will probably have to do some old fashioned push marketing – perhaps even some telephone selling. But isn’t it much easier to do so when the prospect already knows who you are – when you have a share of their eyeballs before you ask for a share of their wallet?

One other thing smart marketers and sales reps understand: The best way to capture eyeball share (and eventually wallet share) is to approach your social media and pull marketing efforts with a spirit of “What can I offer the marketplace?” and not “What can I get from the marketplace?”

 

Is Marketing Passé? You Be the Judge

Steve Case, founder of AOL, just wrote an article for Mashable about Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp. The article is titled 10 Lessons We Can Learn From WhatsApp. While I am an admirer of Mr. Case and agree with much of what he stated, I sharply disagree with one of his 10 lessons.  To quote from the article:WhatsApp

“Marketing is passé. Viral is the new marketing, and great products increasingly sell themselves. WhatsApp built its massive audience with no traditional advertising or marketing. They just created an awesome app and made it compelling enough (and easy enough) for people to tell their friends. And it spread like wildfire.”

Gee, if it were only that easy: Create a product that customers love, let them tell friends and colleagues, watch it go viral, and sell the company to Facebook for $19 billion. However, no matter how hard we try, the large majority of us will never have an opportunity to launch a product that goes viral to such an extent. It’s like saying, “Just hit a tennis ball like Roger Federer or a golf shot like Tiger Woods and your fortune is assured.” That may be stating the obvious but the reality is that athletic success of that magnitude is most often a blend of extremely hard work, timing, being associated with the right people (parents, coaches, etc.) and having the right gene pool.

It’s similar with product or company success. In order to go viral, it is not enough to offer something that people like: Your timing and marketplace environment must also be impeccable. Some good luck is also helpful. I once worked at a software company that was on a rocket ship path, eventually reaching almost $2 billion in annual sales. One of the founders admitted that the initial goal was to eventually reach $20 million in annual revenue. The company happened to hit the market at exactly the right time, their competitors made a few unforced efforts and the products were widely praised. But here is the point: even with all these factors working in their favor, the marketing was also superb.

Remember the statement that is often credited to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.”  This was the 19th century equivalent of the “marketing is passé” argument. But it was not true then and it is not true now. For every WhatsApp that comes out of nowhere as a viral phenomenon, there are dozens of other companies who use smart and relentless marketing to achieve success.

Where I do think Steve Case has a valid point is to not rely on traditional marketing or advertising. It’s usually (not always) better to get the word out through pull marketing and social media methods. Even viral marketing success stories often start with relentless content marketing and sharing of the message through every possible channel. Creating an inbound marketing success story takes an awful lot of elbow grease. Pull marketing is definitely less expensive than push marketing, but it requires time and intelligent attention to succeed.  If a byproduct of this pull marketing effort is the next viral marketing Cinderella story, good for you. If not, you can still write your own success story—perhaps not as profitable, but quite compelling and profitable nonetheless.

 

Social Media Marketing: What Not to Do

Social Media Marketing: What Not to DoI’ve written a lot about the subject of what you need to do to be successful in social media and pull marketing.  The other side of this coin is a list of things that are harmful or counterproductive – in other words, stuff you should refrain from doing.

  1. Don’t become a nuisance.  Communicating with people who have opted-in to receive your messages is a privilege. Don’t abuse that privilege by constantly badgering your audience. Or to put it another way, don’t wear out your welcome.
  2. Don’t constantly sell. A number of marketers offer a thin veneer of informational content, then immediately launch into the sales pitch. You get the impression they care a lot more about selling you than they do in helping you.  If you feel this way, it is probably true. The idea is to be seen as a source of valuable information, not a pushy salesperson.
  3. Don’t insult anyone. Irvin S. Cobb said, ‘Whenever I feel the urge to exercise, I lie down until it goes away.”‘ I suggest that when you feel the urge to insult a group or individual publically, you lie down until the urge passes. If you don’t like what’s going on politically, remember that you may be turning off a large portion of your potential prospect base by stating your opinions in a negative way. And for goodness sake, don’t insult your boss or your company in social media. It can cost you your current job as well as future employment opportunities.
  4. Don’t present yourself in a negative light. Remember that everything you say, and every photo you place, in social media, can and will be used against you.  It is difficult to overcome a negative online reputation. Remember that there is a difference in a medium like Facebook, which is essentially a social networking tool, and LinkedIn, which is primarily a business networking site.  As an example of what not to do, a friend, who is a consummate professional at the office, posted a photo on LinkedIn where he was holding up a beer at a party. That’s not something you want a potential employer or business partner to see when they check out your LinkedIn profile.
  5. Don’t wander off topic. Those who opt in to your messages are intrigued by what you are currently offering or providing to them. This does not mean that they want to hear about your recent trip to Spain. Think before you post – remember it is as easy to “unlike” you as it is to “like” you.

You put a lot of time and effort into positioning your company as a leader in the industry and keeping your personal reputation clean. Don’t lose your momentum by incorrectly utilizing social media and don’t waste precious time generating trivial, mundane, or superfluous material. When in doubt, keep it clean and keep it relevant.

Five Ways You Can Get Big Value from LinkedIn

I talk about social media quite a bit in my blog posts, articles and conference presentations.  Social media is a key component of a viable pull marketing mix, and should be part of most companies’ go-to-market strategy.LinkedIn Marketing

But like everything else in life, there is always a first among equals.  And the first and most important social media tool for B2B marketers is LinkedIn marketing. Our team at Fusion Marketing Partners has used LinkedIn to drive business and partnerships for ourselves and our clients.  I use LinkedIn myself at least 3-4 days per week and have seen amazing results. In fact, LinkedIn has so many productive uses that I found it tough to narrow the list.

  1. Drive Revenue – We owe several of our client relationships (in full or a large part) to their relationship with us on LinkedIn.  Jill Konrath (author of SNAP Selling)  has done extensive research in this area and reports that top-earning sales reps use LinkedIn far more than their peers.
  2. Become Better Known – Assuming you post interesting thoughts/content, some of your musings will be shared or commented upon by your contacts.  You might even go viral.  This enhanced exposure can only help you when it comes to boosting the levels of marketplace exposure.
  3. Establish Brand Authority – The best way to use LinkedIn to establish a brand authority is to consistently post updates that reinforce your area of expertise and differentiation.  For example, you can share your blog posts, articles, white papers, etc., plus comment and share others’ updates that are related to your key messages.
  4. Keep in Touch – LinkedIn is a great platform to let your business contacts know what you are up to without one-to-one communication.  Not that you shouldn’t reach out personally as often as possible, but this is difficult if you have a large number of connections. It is not unusual to hear someone I haven’t talked to in many years tell me that they are following the my progress (and my company’s) on LinkedIn.
  5. Stay Top of Mind – I wrote a recent blog post titled Market Awareness Trumps Sales Skills.  The premise (reality) is that being known is often more important than sales acumen when it comes to driving revenue. Top of mind awareness (TOMA) is so important that Wikipedia actually has a definition: “The first brand that comes to mind when a customer is asked an unprompted question about a category.”  When the user of your product or service is researching or evaluating purchase options, you want to be the company name that pops into his/her mind. This market awareness factor is a big advantage for large companies, and as a smaller firm, you need to keep your name in front of prospects to overcome this challenge.  LinkedIn marketing is a great way to accomplish this.

By the way, one of the most prominent and insightful practitioners of social media, and specifically LinkedIn marketing, is Kevin Knebl.   If you want to learn from the best, visit Kevin’s website and blog.

Pull Marketing vs. Push Marketing – The Shifting Battleground

Even though I make my living as a marketer, I get as bothered as any other consumer by the constant intrusiveness of unwanted promotions. The abundance of unsolicited marketing pitches from TV, radio, Internet ads and other media exasperates me daily.

Yet, as hard as we try to get away from it (using tools like TiVo, Sirius Radio, cable, and voice mail), persistent marketers continue to find new ways to track us down and share their messages, regardless of our needs or receptivity.  Here are a few examples of irritating push marketing techniques:

1. Anyone showing up uninvited.  Whether at the office or home, this is particularly irritating.  The exceptions are neighborhood scouts or sports teams.

2. YouTube now requires you to watch short commercials prior to viewing their content.

3. Newspapers that contain ads that are wrapped around the editorial content, so you have to go through multiple gyrations to get to the news stories.

4. Online, floating banner ads are becoming more intrusive and harder to ignore. They follow your cursor until you can find the ―X or “close” button.

5. Unsolicited telephone calls are still an annoyance — except they are now from so-called “market researchers” and charities, who are exempt from the privacy requirements. Who came up with that loophole?

Here’s the problem. Push marketing is intrusive and often ineffective because, at any given time, a majority of your audience—whether they are listeners, viewers, or readers—have no interest whatsoever in what you are promoting.  They may be interested in the future, but if you come on too strong when they are not receptive, you may turn them off forever.

In some cases, you may have a lead requirement that can only be met with push marketing techniques. If so, by all means use the necessary techniques to meet your lead objectives.  But often, you have a choice, and a more effective alternative is to practice pull marketing strategies.

Pull marketing centers around the idea that you actively draw clients or customers to seek out your product or services. You do this by discovering where your prospects congregate, making your information available to them in educational and entertaining ways and giving them incentives to come to you when they have a need for what you offer.

Instead of having a monologue (as evidenced in push marketing) with your clients or customers, you create a dialogue with pull marketing—a dialogue between you and the prospect.

Transitioning from push to pull marketing strategies is a subtle shift in thinking, but it is also quite powerful. Instead of asking: How many people can I sell to today?, the question becomes: How can I help people solve their problems? In the first scenario, you are a seller, almost an adversary. In the second, you are a helper whose expertise (and wise placement of messages) sells itself. Instead of just relying on ads pushing your value proposition, you produce valuable content (through social media and at your website) that solves problems. In other words, you become a trusted resource and thought leader who circulates a carefully crafted message that attracts the people who need you.

Nevertheless, there will always be an ongoing battle between consumers and push marketers. The latter will continue to try new and clever ways to force the former to pay attention and respond to their promotions. But I submit that a much more effective plan is to uncover a way to attract a larger share of the people who are already interested in what you offer and then convince them to do business with you.  It’s always easier and more pleasant when you can fulfill an existing need instead of trying to create a need.

In the push model, the marketer is seemingly in charge of everything—the timing, content and frequency of promotions. However, in reality, your consumer is the one in charge, because only he or she can decide whether or not to read or listen to your promotion and whether to respond.

When you are deciding how much of time and financial resources to allocate between push and pull marketing strategies, keep in mind that the battleground has shifted and the prospect is the one who holds the high ground. Rather than fight this reality, just accept who has the real control—and find the best ways to help people buy in the way they want to buy, instead of the way you want to sell to them.

If you enjoyed the perspective in this article, you might want to read another recent blog post on the subject of pull marketing strategies and timing.

 

B2B Pull Marketing Takes the Guesswork Out of Timing

One of my favorite bloggers, Paul Castain, posted an excellent article titled The Patience/Urgency Conundrum in Sales on his Sales Playbook website. Using the “courtship” metaphor, Paul explains that sales relationships, just like romantic relationships, have a natural timing, and that it can sometimes be counterproductive to disrupt that timing by forcing the issue during the sales process.

The topic of proper timing applies in spades to the marketer or salesperson. Smart marketers understand that all prospects are not the same, and to treat them as such is dangerous and ineffective. Prospect A may be at the initial stage of the education process, while Prospect B is close to making a purchase decision. It is naive to believe that you control the process—in fact; the buyer holds most of the cards because they are the ultimate decision makers. Use pull marketing strategies that make it easy for them to buy; meet them (online, by telephone, or in person) wherever they are in their buying journey and nurture them to an inevitable decision to do business with you.

Back in the late 1980s, a friend who was (at that time) something of a playboy type met a young lady at a Friday night party. He proposed that Sunday and they were married within two months. That’s not the way I would have done it, but 25 years later they are still going strong. Other friends have had very long relationships before walking down the aisle and most of us fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes.

marketing funnel

The goes to show that the maxim “Different strokes for different folks” still holds true, regardless of whether you are talking about your eventual life partner or the customers that fuel the growth of your company. Like I said earlier, you need to meet prospects where they are, not where you want them to be. The point is that no one likes to be sold, but most people enjoy buying. This is why we are strong advocates for the buyer-friendly pull marketing process, which is composed of four parts:

The Pull Marketing Process

  1. Attract – Ensure that your company is highly visible through a strong website presence. Make it easy for them to find you.
  2. Educate – Have plenty of quality content to educate your prospect. Make it easy for them to learn about you.
  3. Convert – Include multiple relevant offers that are related to your area of expertise. Make it easy for prospects to engage with you.
  4. Sales – Create sales channels that are in alignment with the needs of your prospects. Make it easy for them to buy from you.

Smart marketers don’t jump to the fourth step in the process, but rather use their online presence to cover most or all of the first three steps. When you do this, your close rates go up and the “effective sales cycle”—the time you actually spend working with the prospect—goes down. In other words, you increase your marketing and sales efficiency in a way that generates more revenue at less cost and effort.

Daily business life for the marketer or sales person is much easier and more effective when it is based on the natural timing of the buyer’s sales cycle. Follow the pull marketing principles I covered earlier: upgrade your website, attract more people at the top of the funnel, give these people plenty of great content, provide offers to turn visitors into leads, and have a solid plan to convert leads into new customers. That’s a plan that’s always right on time!

Marketing Game Changers for 2013

It’s the season for wrapping up the old year and prepping for the next. I hope you are as excited about the potential of the coming year as I am, particularly as it pertains to how you can transform your marketing organization. Here are six ideas to get you started:

1.  Understand your sales lead requirements. This one is crucial, because if you don’t understand how many sales leads you need, you can’t properly support the sales organization and your company’s revenue objectives.  If you want to learn how to do this, read our article, How Many Sales Leads Do You Need.

2.  Tune or replace your sales model. There is no better time than right now to give your sales model careful scrutiny, especially if your results are faltering or you have a gnawing feeling that you are doing things out of habit instead of based on how effective the activity actually is. Even if you are relatively satisfied with your go-to-market model, there are probably ways that you can tweak it for better results. The objective of the sales model is to produce the maximum amount of new customers and revenue at the lowest cost. If you are in direct sales mode, perhaps you should consider incorporating a channel program. Likewise, channel-focused companies can sometimes benefit from adding a direct sales component. Also ask whether telephone sales can replace in-person, or the web can replace either method. If possible, test the new model on a small scale before rolling it out to the entire organization.

3.  Craft a service level agreement (SLA) between sales and marketing.  A SLA is a written (yes, written) specification of the relationship between marketing and sales, and what each group is expected contribute to the overall revenue objectives. At a minimum, your SLA will include these details:

  • Number of sales 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.  Transform your marketing initiatives into a “marketing machine.”  Almost every company does marketing. But relatively few do it on a consistent, relentless and reliable basis. We call this the “coin operated approach.” You put some marketing time and money in at one end of the process and you get a predictable amount of revenue at the other end. When you can do this, you are seen by the CEO, CFO and CSO as an investment, not an expense. This, my friend, is a very good thing for your company and your own job security.

5.  Join the Pull Marketing revolution. I’ve been talking about this for some time now for one primary reason: pull marketing works. It’s not a miracle cure for what ails you, and it takes time and a great deal of sweat equity. But if you start today, you will begin reaping benefits by the end of 2013. To read more about this important subject, read the blog post How to Accelerate Your Success with Pull Marketing.

6.  Resolve to be BOLD.  It’s a new year so why not make it a great year, instead of just another business-as-usual period of slight incremental progress?  If you set BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals) and you don’t quite reach them, you will usually find yourself farther ahead than if you never reached high in the first place. Here are a couple of BHAG ideas:

  • Differentiate your company with a compelling and differentiated value proposition.
  • Double your website traffic.
  • Increase your inbound sales leads by 80%.
  • Align your marketing and sales organizations and processes for maximum effectiveness.
  • Shorten your sales cycles by 25%.

Any one of these six ideas can be a game changer for you and your organization.  Implement a couple of the strategies and you will start creating an unstoppable marketing machine.

Happy New Year!

Chris

Are You a Branded Authority or One of the Crowd?

I recently attended an excellent presentation by David Avrin, who is known as the Visibility Coach and author of It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who Knows You. Like other first-class marketers, Avrin understands that marketing is way more effective when you have established yourself as a branded authority.  This principle echoes what we preach (and practice) and is the essence of the difference between push marketing and pull marketing.

The opposite of being seen as a branded authority is to be considered “one of the crowd,” otherwise known as a commodity provider. While this may seem like a safe path, it is rarely a good idea to be perceived as just like your competitors. A commodity provider is one where there is no real advantage in terms of the product, service, etc., and where the prospect tends to evaluate you primarily on pricing, terms, and so forth. And as a commodity provider, you will often have to make painful concessions to win the business.

The alternative to being perceived as a commodity provider is to create a perception of differentiation.  I use the word “perception” because it is the marketplace’s perception of who you are that gets you invited to the sales dance, and not your actual competitive differentiation. This is a key principle of marketing: Perception = Reality.  The trick is to present the reality of what you offer in terms of products, services, and customer experiences, in a way that is both accurate and compelling.

To establish yourself and/or your company as a branded authority, you will first have to decide the breadth of your focus.  Marketing yourself with a very broad focus (e.g. general practitioner) is very different than a narrow niche focus (e.g. endoscopic brain surgery).  And across most industries, those who have a greater degree of specialization earn more and face less competitive pressure.  But you must understand that when you market yourself in a narrow niche, you are telling the world not only what you do (your specific area of focus) but also what you don’t do (anything else).  So before proceeding, make sure there is a healthy marketplace in your area of branded authority.

You will know that you have achieved success as a branded authority if:

  • You do not have to chase your prospects – they come to you when they need what you offer.
  • You get invited to more sales engagements and face few, if any, competitors.
  • You are able to charge reasonable prices and don’t have to deeply discount to win business.
  • You are able to replace expensive push marketing with lower cost and more effective pull marketing.
  • Deals close faster and more reliably.

You can’t become a branded authority overnight. You may need to take a fresh look at both your products/services  and adjust what it is that you deliver to the customer. Likewise, you may need to sharpen your messaging and content strategy.  And becoming a branded authority will almost certainly require you to transform your model from push marketing to pull marketing.

One final thought.  Adopting the spirit of the title of David Avrin’s book, It’s Not Who You Know But Who Knows You, would be a great way to get your pull marketing efforts off to a great start for 2013.

Carpe Occasio