B2B MarketingExceptional B2B Marketing
Strategy and Results

Join us for actionable business-to-business insight that will help you get B2B sales and marketing results. You will find many valuable ideas here across a broad spectrum of B2B marketing topics and issues.

 

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!

 

Eight Critical Brand Health Questions You Should Be Asking

Brand HealthComplacency is a deadly risk to the health of your brand.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of my job is helping B2B clients “brand” their companies, products (or services) and create a personal brand for executives.  I’ve written a lot about the subject of branding, including my recent article for CustomerThink titled, Six Steps to Ensure Your Brand Strategy Supports Your Lead-to-Revenue Framework. Because this subject is so critical to most company’s revenue and growth, I thought I would share answers to eight critical branding questions that directly affect the health and well-being of your company:

  1. How important is brand health to my company’s success? My obvious answer, with a few exceptions, is that it is extremely important. As a former colleague once told me, “Do you think it would sell as well if they called it ‘cold dead fish’ instead of sushi?” Great companies work hard to create and maintain a positive brand image and it pays off big time. Visit the Brand Health Scorecard for a quick way to measure your brand health.
  1. What can we do if we sound just like everyone else? The first answer is: Don’t be like everyone else. The second answer is: Do whatever it takes to differentiate your company, products and services from a marketing perspective and then go make this happen company-wide. But don’t change the branding if you aren’t prepared to make the other changes that reinforce the brand.
  1. Should we brand using a narrow or wide focus? Most of the time we advocate a more narrow focus. As they say, there are “riches in niches”. However, there is a big caveat. Don’t brand yourself so narrowly that it boxes in your ability to expand in the future. This can be a delicate balance that requires a lot of time and attention.
  1. What are the biggest branding mistakes companies make? I see so many mistakes that it’s hard to pick just a few. Perhaps the biggest is failing to take the issue seriously and complete due diligence on your brand decisions. Many go forward with a weak or even a harmful brand. Another fatal flaw is to let ego override a good branding advice – e.g. “I don’t care what the experts say, I want to name this company after my dog.” Don’t laugh – this type of thing happens every day.  A third mistake is to do a good job in top-line branding but fail to follow through on the rest of the company’s messaging. You know this is a problem when people look at your website and say, “What they heck does this company do?”
  1. How do we know if our brand is working? Here are five ways to tell:
  • Results: If you are losing market share and leaking revenue, there is a good chance that your branding deserves some of the blame.
  • Quantity: How often are people talking about your company and its products or services?
  • Quality: Who is talking about you and what are they saying?
  • Website traffic: Are you getting more unique visitors and do they spend more time on site? A decline in either of these numbers is a bad sign.
  • Congruence is a customer experience (CX) measurement that indicates whether the current brand aligns with your customers’ experience from initial contact through usage of the product or service. Net Promoter Score (NPS) is another way to measure this. 
  1. What is the risk of ignoring the issues surrounding our brand health? Of course, there is the option to “do nothing”. Complacency and inertia are strong forces that are very difficult to overcome, especially if you have achieved a modicum of success in the past. The biggest factor driving change should be (as mentioned in #5) a stagnant or declining sales pipeline and waning revenue.
  1. Does my company need one or more thought leaders? Great question indeed. The answer is yes, but only if you have a credible executive, who has worthwhile things to say, and will share his/her thoughts on a regular basis. Of course it helps if that individual can be depended upon not to jump ship to the competition. Such an individual is like gold and is far preferable than content coming from a generic source such as “marketing” or “admin”.
  1. How do we fix an under-performing brand? Before attempting any type of brand improvement, it is a good idea to know where you currently stand. Brand ScorecardA good way to find out is with the free Brand Health Scorecard. The scorecard measures six different categories of brand performance. It will take you only a few minutes to complete the questionnaire and the results will start you on the path to brand success.

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.

 

You Need to Become Good at Content Marketing – Here’s How

Content MarketingNext month, I will be speaking at an event called, the Summit on Content Marketing. Beginning May 22, the Summit is an online conference for individuals and businesses who want to develop a successful content strategy, increase buyer engagement, grow their audience and improve the quality and quantity of leads. I am looking forward to the learning experience – I know some of the speakers and the conference organizers have put together a top roster.

So, why should you care about the subject? Amazingly, I’ve had a few B2B company executives tell me that content isn’t all that important to their company’s success. While this may be true in rare circumstances, the rest of us are competing against companies that would love us to go silent on content – it would make us much easier to beat. One tech company CEO even suggested that all he needed on his website was the company phone number because “We pay our sales reps to sell our products. The rest of the website may not be necessary.” I know most people reading this don’t have such a myopic view of content marketing but what exactly can it do for you? Here’s a short list:

  • Differentiates you from the competition
  • Supports your brand’s value proposition
  • Attracts organic search traffic
  • Converts visitors to leads
  • Targets various stages of the buying cycle
  • Shortens the sales cycle

Other than this, content marketing doesn’t do much for you! So with all this good stuff as the payoff, what am I going to talk about during my Summit session? The title is B2B Content Strategies that Move Your Prospects Along the Buyer’s Journey, and I will be covering these topics:

  1. How to Use Digital Content to Shorten the B2B Sales Cycle and Increase Close Rates
  2. How to Engage and Convert Readers with a Compelling Story
  3. Seven Essential Content Marketing Best Practices
  4. How to Time Your Content to Match the Buyer’s Journey
  5. How Asking “Why” Makes Your Marketing Content More Effective
  6. Best Ways to Measure Your Content’s Impact on Revenue

As just one teaser of what I am going to talk about, consider how content can impact the “stuck” prospect. He or she may be stuck because you haven’t sold the value, because there are objections that have not been overcome, or because the prospect is lacking what they consider critical information about your products or services. Content can be used to fill all of these gaps, and many more. In fact, most of the successful companies in any industry have something in common – they have plenty of good content to help speed the buyer’s journey.

Christopher Ryan

The bottom line is that the wrong B2B content aimed at the wrong prospect can slow the buying process or stop it entirely. Fortunately, the right content strategy can be a powerful enabler of lead generation and sales. Well-placed and well-timed content is a key component of the lead-to-revenue (L2R) process and can drive better results at several critical junctures in the buyer’s journey.

Hope to see you (virtually) at the Summit. In the meantime, may all your content efforts be productive and effective.

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 Digital Marketing Can Drive Your B2B Company Results

Digital MarketingI suspect that two types of people will read this article. The first group consists of those who are fairly new to digital marketing. They need to understand how they can benefit and a few tips to get started. The second group consists of those who are participating in digital marketing, but need to improve their results. This may require a bit of tweaking or a major re-work of their strategy.

So, what can digital marketing do for you and why is it worth spending your precious time and budget? Assuming you do it right, digital marketing can:

  1. Build your company credibility. In most B2B industries, prospects check out a company online before engaging, let alone buying. You have a chance to establish the online presence that either adds to, or subtracts from, the strength of your brand. And if things get off track, you can use reputation management techniques to help restore your brand value. One important point about an online presence: If you are going to go, go BIG. There is a lot of “me-too” out there and you need some compelling differentiation to cut through the clutter.
  2. Generate leads and revenue at low cost. If you are going to compete with larger players, you need to play the digital marketing game as well as they do. This means capturing the email addresses of your prospects and customers, or getting them to follow you on Facebook, LinkedIn or one of the other interactive social media platforms.
  3. Shorten the sales cycle. B2B companies that have complex and/or long sales cycles have found digital marketing to be enormously helpful in saving the time of their reps and improving sales conversion rates. For more on this topic, read my article about Six Ways to Shorten the Sales Cycle. More good news: The same techniques that shorten the sales cycle can give you the added benefit of lowering your customer acquisition cost (CaC).
  4. Create awareness. You can’t win business from those that don’t know you exist. The cyber world is vast, amorphous, chaotic and constantly changing. You have to grab—and hold—your share of the attention to succeed. Many successful online companies started out as local firms with a very limited market reach. And many small- to mid-size companies have grabbed market share from larger competitors because of their aggressive and effective use of digital marketing.
  5. Provide anywhere and anytime access. Just a few years ago, mobile access was something of an afterthought. You built your website for desktop and laptop viewers and then figured out how to make it mobile-friendly. However, we are now seeing prospects and customers utilizing mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) at the rate of 1/3 to 1/2 of total views in some industries. The key to making this work for you is to provide a website that is both mobile-responsive and full of the type of information necessary to move prospects closer to a buying decision.
  6. Give you a great testing platform. Want to test a new message, product viability or landing page? Digital marketing techniques like SEO, pay-per-click or online advertising can quickly test your marketplace receptivity. The idea is to test quickly, abandon what doesn’t work and scale what does work.

The reality every B2B company faces is that consumer and business expectations are increasing. It is easier than ever for prospects to find your competitors if you don’t offer them a productive and pleasant online experience. For our clients, we complete something called a website and social media analysis to find out what digital marketing actions they need to take to surpass competitors. This type of analysis can be a good jumping off point to get you on the right path to digital marketing success.

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7 Lessons Learned in 7 Years of Blogging

BloggingI started my blogging journey at Great B2B Marketing seven years ago this month. It’s been quite an adventure and like anything someone does for seven years (and over 250 posts), there are some useful lessons learned along the path.

  1. Persistence is key. Blogging can be a pain to be sure, but it really does get easier over time. I often tell clients that are new to blogging that it might seem like pushing a boulder uphill in the short-term but a post that takes you three hours to draft today can be completed in 90 minutes once you’ve done it a dozen times.
  2. Posting something is better than nothing. Voltaire’s quote, “The perfect is the enemy of the good” applies to blogging. You’re not Shakespeare and you’re not Hemingway. You (and I) are just business people with a unique message to share. This is not to say that you should throw quality standards out the window. Be clear, be clean and be helpful and every once in a while, one of your posts can go viral. But you need to put your content in play for it to be seen by anyone. In other words: No excuses – just do it!
  3. Be bold, fresh and relevant. It is tempting to write about stuff that has been around for some time, but you will get way more attention if you find a fresh angle to a topic of current interest. And make sure you are adding real value, not just rehashing what the reader can learn at a dozen other websites.
  4. Add a dose of personality. While you need to stay businesslike, readers want to know they are hearing from someone who is likeable and forthright. A bit of humor and irreverence is good but don’t overdo this to the point you turn off your audience. Most important: be yourself. Your unique voice is what people want to hear.
  5. Remain consistent. Consistency is important in two ways. First, in terms of your content. You want to be known for one or a couple of topic areas (in my case, B2B marketing and lead-to-revenue), not for having an opinion about everything. Consistency area two is to set a workable blogging schedule and stick to it. Resist the urge to post a bunch of blogs in a short time period. I call this a flame-out – when a company posts 3-6 blogs in a span of a few weeks, and then stops posting. It looks unprofessional. Instead, set a reasonable schedule (even 1-2 times per month is okay to start) and stick to this relentlessly. You can pick up the pace as your comfort level increases.
  6. Pay attention to the critical details. Writing the content is the hard part but there are a few things you can do to drive more attention, including:
    1. Add a relevant image. Images are important for search purposes and to grab reader attention. Please be sure to license the image or get permission for its use.
    2. Always add categories, tags and meta descriptions. This will make your post easier to find. Click here for a great article on how to craft effective meta descriptions. As an example, here is the meta description I used for this post: “Follow these seven lessons to ensure blogging success in terms of readership and impact”.
    3. Cite your sources. You can certainly use a few words or sentences from someone else’s material without permission, but make sure you acknowledge the source.
    4. Utilize an editor. I don’t care how good of a writer you are – you can probably benefit from a second pair of eyes for issues like typos, grammar and readability.
  7. Borrow from smart people. You will be faced with situations when you can’t think of something to write about (join the club!). In this case, find someone else’s article that appeals to you and base your post on this person’s content. Of course, if you are copying entire sections of material, it is best to get permission. Authors love to have you re-purpose their writing and this is a great way to make a new business contact.

 

Six Ways Marketing Can Shrink the Sales Cycle

Sales CycleI often talk about how B2B marketing and lead-to-revenue (L2R) can be massively beneficial to enabling your sales team to meet its revenue targets. And one of the most important things you can do for sales (and your company) is to reduce the sales cycle. I wrote about this topic in June 2015, but wanted to offer some updated thoughts on the subject.

We define the sales cycle as the time it takes for the average prospect (if there is such a thing!) to progress from initial engagement to close of business. In some industries (e.g. enterprise software or industrial machinery), this cycle can be as long as 12-18 months and requires a large amount of time from the sales team. In others (e.g. Amazon.com), the cycle can be measured in minutes and requires little or no personal time from the seller.

Often, people don’t really know how long their sales cycle is — only describing it as “long” or “too long”. The problem is, you can’t improve what you can’t measure. A manual way to find this out is to take the last 20 or so deals and calculate the average sales cycle by determining the length of time between first contact by your sales team and close of the sale.

Note that it’s important not to confuse the length of the buying cycle with the sales cycle. Prospects may be doing research, perusing your website, reading reviews, etc., for some time before they engage with someone at your company. The traditional sales model utilized reps at every stage of the process, leading to much longer sales cycles.

As the below graphic  shows –  today’s prospect will often engage with you only after completing several of the initial steps themselves. They will have self-qualified, conducted their own needs assessment and educated themselves at least somewhat on the attributes, pricing and other details about your offer.

New Sales ModelThe point is that by the time prospects engage with someone on your sales team, they are often several steps along the purchase path and thus the effective sales cycle is reduced by 50 percent or more. Many of the people who came to your website have decided on their own that your solution is not right for their needs — they have disqualified themselves or postponed their decision. This is perfectly okay and assuming they have opted in for one of your offers, you get the chance to nurture them over time and perhaps make a sale in the future.

So how can you accomplish shrinkink the sales cycle while maintaining a strong close rate? In addition to your digital marketing initiatives, here are six effective strategies that have been shown to have positive impact:

  1. Identify target segments carefully. This is important because the more time sales reps spend with people/companies that are legitimate prospects, the more successful they will be.
  2. Deliver qualified leads. There are two ways to do this. First, by being very specific about who your product/service is best suited for (the prospect self-qualification model). Second, by implementing a lead qualification filter to keep unqualified prospects away from the sales team. You can do this with an automated lead-scoring system (less expensive) or with a more expensive but also more effective personal lead qualification process.
  3. Present a powerful message. As with our first two strategies, the idea is to attract the right prospects and let the others go before they use valuable rep time. Your brand promise, value proposition and benefits must be compelling, differentiated and crystal clear. You can find many good ideas on how to do this by downloading this paper on Brand Awareness.
  4. Understand the buyer’s “compelling events”. By this, I mean the factors that are most likely to lead to a sale.  What are the triggers that can motivate the buyer to purchase now? What are the consequences if they decide not to change? How can we put our offer(s) in front of the prospect when the motivations and/or consequences are greatest?
  5. Let your website do some of the heavy lifting. As illustrated by the second sales process graphic above, the right website content can assist prospects at three or more stages of the buying journey. Particularly useful content includes frequently asked questions (FAQs), product specifications, pricing (if that fits your sales model) and how-to guides (both how to use and how to buy).
  6. Provide the right sales enablement tools. By sales enablement tools, I mean anything that helps sales reps educate prospects or themselves, overcome objections, move the sales process forward and capture relevant information. Examples include product training, sales training, competitive analyses and a “knowledge base” of instantly available content.

Follow these half dozen strategies and watch your sales cycle shrink and your overall results dramatically improve.

Digital Marketing – How to Use it to Beat Large Competitors

CompetitorsBeing a smaller fish in a pond full of big fish can be a daunting position. Fortunately, there are a few advantages to being the underdog. First of all, your competitor probably doesn’t know you as well as you know them (see below). You can pivot on a dime where it takes the big company much longer. Also, you can often fly under the radar and implement new targeting, messaging and media before they know you exist.

From a digital marketing standpoint, here are some of the options you have when faced with larger competitors:

  1. Give up. No, I am not being funny here. There are situations when the competitor has so much marketing firepower (dollars and people) that you have little chance of moving the needle in your favor. In such cases, a strategic retreat is not such a bad idea.
  2. Compete on price. This is an oft-used strategy that usually backfires. It makes you out to be a ‘commodity’ player and you still don’t get a fraction of the mindshare of the big company.
  3. Take a head-on approach. Sometimes, the best option is to analyze the competitor’s weakness and attack this loudly and publically. I worked for an enterprise software company where we successfully used this tactic to take on a company 12 times our size. It worked because the industry giant had issued a new release that had more bugs than new features.
  4. Be a specialist, not a generalist. This is the niche marketing, “go where they aren’t” strategy and it is the one that I usually recommend.

Before going to war against a large competitor, it’s vital that you thoroughly understand the battlefield. As Sun Tzu stated in The Art of War “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Keeping this sage advice in mind, one of the things you need to know about your competitor is how they are using digital marketing. What are they saying, to whom and on which media? For clients, we often do in-depth research on our their competitors’ usage of both paid and non-paid media. This can produce some very useful insights and help us target our efforts where the opportunity is strong and the other company is weakest. We also take a close look at what is being said in cyberspace about our product and/or services area. This is real, roll-up-your-sleeves work, not just quick analysis made on a few Google searches.

Digital marketing has a broad definition, so we’ll save the detailed how-to discussions for later. But you had best analyze all the tools and media available and choose a few that you can really focus on, instead of being very shallow in many media. As an example, we have a client in the B2B services space that is putting 90 percent of its efforts (and budget) in just four areas of digital marketing:

  • Highly relevant content related to its niche market (including consistent blogging).
  • Compelling landing pages that convert at over two times the industry average.
  • Tightly targeted (and long-tail) pay-per-click promotions with a cost-per-click (CPC) of about 40% of what competitors are paying for more generic search terms.
  • LinkedIn content, company and showcase pages, and sponsored InMail.

By the way, last month Merkle released its Q4 2016 Digital Marketing Report analyzing trends across paid search, social media, display and organic search, while providing highly regarded insights into the performance of major industry players like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo. It’s worth a read.