For B2B Companies, Selling Better is Not the Answer

Sales Growth on a blackboard with Thumbs UpWhen challenged, we humans have a tendency to resort to the known and familiar path (not taking “the road less traveled”).  And in the B2B arena, this can often mean figuring out a way to sell faster, harder, more aggressively, etc. This can mean upgrading sales skills, hiring more sales people, changing comp plans or finding a new system to move prospects through the sales funnel.

I understand this — my first job in the computer software industry was with a company that was then a startup, but became an industry leader that was later sold for about half a billion dollars. Our software ran on mainframe systems and there was no email, social media or smartphones to conduct promotions. In fact, the PC was just appearing, and this little company called AOL was introducing us (at a snail’s pace of 300 baud) to the joys of being online – with virtually no commerce involved. Many, if not most, readers will have no idea of what I am talking about in the last two sentences, but that’s okay. The point is, if you spend a lot of your career in a sales model that depends heavily on direct sales reps to find, educate, engage and close prospects, that’s how you will tend to approach the future quest for revenue.

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How to Validate Your B2B Go-to-Market Plan

Go-to-MarketMy team and I are often asked to comment on – or do a more formal evaluation of – a product or business concept prior to launch. This may be part of a new venture concept or a new product line in an established business. In either case, the basic question is: “Will we be successful in the marketplace?” Since we have been involved in about a dozen business startups and a couple of dozen new product launches, we are certainly familiar with the promises and pitfalls of launching new products and ventures.

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B2B Marketing: Six Need-to-Know Nuggets

Six B2B IdeasRather than my usual practice of writing some in-depth content about a specific subject area, thought I would share some quick thoughts on some important subjects related to B2B marketing and sales. Sometimes there’s just too much going on for a single-topic post!

Monitoring Performance

A guy named John Wanamaker, who was a pioneer of advertising in the early part of the 20th century, made the famous observation, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

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B2B Sales and Marketing Trends for 2015

badge-2015-marketing-trends-lgAt the beginning of each year, my team and I publish a report on significant trends in B2B sales and marketing. This report is based on our experience with our B2B clients as well as relevant industry research. The purpose or the report is to provide information that is timely and actionable. You can read the full report here.

Trend 1:  Metrics are a major priority. We see many B2B companies adopting an end-to-end marketing and sales framework that:

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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.

B2B Social Media: To Connect or Not to Connect

Social Media Networking

 

Friends and colleagues occasionally ask me if they should accept the various connection requests from social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. This usually leads to a lively discussion since most business people are faced with this issue on a regular basis.

 

On one end of the continuum are those that are of the opinion that all social media connection requests should be honored. An example of this type of person is a LinkedIn LION (LinkedIn Open Networker) who basically says that they will accept a connection from anyone, anywhere, regardless of whether that person has had any prior contact. Likewise, a person who encourages you to friend them on Facebook just because they follow you on Twitter fits this open networking mold. Think of these people as highly responsive networkers.

At the other end of the continuum are those who believe they should not connect with anyone they don’t know personally and with whom they have not had a prior relationship (business or personal).  These are the individuals who seldom send their own connection requests and who ponder long and hard before accepting your request. Think of these people as reluctant networkers.

So who is right, the responsive or reluctant networking crowd? For most of us, the answer is usually somewhere in between and depends on the answers to these questions:

  • Are you in a business that depends on networking? The model for our business, Fusion Marketing Partners, is pull marketing. We don’t spend money on advertising and we don’t pursue prospects with a sales strategy. Rather, we publish lots of content about B2B marketing and spread the word through social media. Obviously, this strategy is predicated on connecting with lots of individuals and companies. By contrast, my wife is in a profession where networking is not particularly helpful, so she chooses not to spend her time on social media.
  • Do you mind having a public persona?  Lots of connections means that your public profile is spread far and wide. Are you okay with lots of people knowing about your business activities or would you prefer to keep a low profile (pun intended)?
  • Are you responsible?  Reputations are made and broken online and the more followers and connections you have, the more difficult it can be to hide any negative aspects of your business life.  For example, if you and I are both connected to John Smith, it is very easy for me to call John and get the confidential scoop on your business competence and personal ethics.
  • Are you active in social media? The point of social media networking is to support the rest of your marketing and sales by driving awareness, leads, and revenue. Your contacts need to see what you are up to on a regular basis, and this is difficult to do unless you commit to some level of reasonable social media activity.

My decision process for LinkedIn is that I will accept invitations from quality individuals even if I have had no prior contact with that person. On Twitter, I let anyone follow me but will ban those who prove to be shady or overly promotional. On Facebook, I only accept requests from friends or close business colleagues.

Having a larger network exposes you to more potential prospects, partners, employees, friends, etc.  To put this another way, the size of your social media network can definitely go a long way towards shaping the size of your net worth.

Criteria of an Effective B2B Offer – Part 2

In my last blog post, I talked about the criteria of effective B2B offers and also shared the concept of a soft vs. hard B2B offer.  Keeping this information in mind, let’s talk about the differences between good and poor marketing offers?  Let’s start with the poor offers:

  • Straight sale with no special inducement.
  • Contact me – great for those deep in the buying cycle but otherwise not effective.
  • Product-centric – better to have something focused on the solution or pain points.
  • Brochures and fact sheets.

Replace these B2B offers with something stronger, like:

Special Pricing – This offer works well with later-stage prospects who already know about your product or service. The special pricing offer could be a discount for prompt action or an urge to “buy now before the price goes up.”

Introductory Offer – An introductory offer is used to introduce new prospects to your company. It will have the greatest effect when the discount is significant. You have to be careful, however, not to offend existing customers who just purchased the same product for more money than you charge new buyers.

Multiple Product – With this offer, buyers get the second or subsequent products at no charge, or at a large discount.

Premium – Something extra is given away to spur the prospect to purchase now. Premiums range from advertising specialties such as desk calendars and pens, to expensive items such as trips and electronic equipment.

Free Information – Similar to the premium offer, but you give away information instead of a product. This is especially effective with a business audience, since people are always interested in ways to save money and perform their jobs better. Plus, this type of offer can often be fulfilled immediately via a computer download.

Trade-in or Trade-up Offer – The prospect trades in an old item and gets a discount on the new item. For example, a computer manufacturer can give businesses that trade in a competitor’s equipment a $500 credit toward the purchase of a new computer. This way you meet two objectives: sell a product and displace the competitor.

Free Trial – If you have confidence in your product, let potential customers try it out in their office for thirty days. This has been a strong offer for software companies, equipment manufacturers, and publishers.

Satisfaction Guarantee – While a guarantee should be part of every offer, an extra-strong guarantee can serve as its own offer. An example would be “double your money back if not completely satisfied.”

Cash Discount – A special price can be given to help force the purchase decision. This offer works well in combination with free trial offers. The prospect has the option to try the product and pay full price if he decides to keep it, or pay for the product now and receive a substantial discount.

Special Terms – This can work as well as a cash discount. For instance, “receive the item now and take up to six months to pay with no interest.” In some cases, purchasers will be more interested in the monthly payment terms than the total cash amount.

Demo/Trial Offer – A smaller, trial version of the product is sent (sometimes for a fee, sometimes for free). If the prospect likes the demo, he orders the full product. This offer works well for computer software products and publications.

Free Samples – Free samples are an effective way to highlight your product. For instance, an office product manufacturer can offer day planners or desk lamps as a bonus for purchasing a desk set.

Performance Guarantee – The customer gets to use the product for a period of time. If it does not live up to the specified criteria, she can return it for a full refund. This offer works well if your product is clearly superior to its competition.

Special Inducement – Something extra is given to the prospect if he acts immediately. The inducement could be extra product, better terms, free training, or extended maintenance.

The type of B2B offer you use should be based on the objectives of your program. If you are selling a high-ticket or complex product, or if you need to make a personal sales call to finalize a transaction, you should choose a marketing offer geared to generating leads. Conversely, if you are promoting a low-ticket, non-complex item via online, phone, or mail, you will use a different type of offer.

I hope you find that one or more of these B2B offer ideas helpful in achieving your marketing objectives.

The Criteria of an Effective B2B Marketing Offer

B2B marketing is always challenging, but even more so when you are in a crowded market space filled with tough competitors. There are ways to stand out from the crowd, such as having a strong and differentiated product and precise targeting of the potential audience. But one of the most neglected weapons in the B2B marketing arsenal is an offer that gains attention and drives action.

In simple terms, an offer is what you propose to give to the prospect, and what you are asking for in return. The offer is the “What’s in it for me?” part of the marketing equation. The offer wraps the product or service in with the delivery method, terms and pricing. It may be a one-step offer, where the purpose is to directly sell the product or service; a two-step process, where the purpose is to connect the prospect with a sales rep; or a 3+ step process, where the purpose is to put the prospect on a drip marketing list for later conversion.

Offers can range from “soft” to “hard.”  A soft B2B offer requires little from the prospect—for example, a free information download without requiring any contact information. By contrast, a hard B2B offer requires much more from the prospect, for example, a credit card payment for a direct sale or filling out a multi-question web form for a two-step lead generation campaign. Typically, soft offers will produce many more responses, but the average lead quality will be lower.

These are the criteria we look for in an effective B2B offer:

  1. It compels action. Regardless of what you are asking the prospect to do, the offer fails if it does not achieve the intended results.
  2. It reinforces your brand promise. Offers that are incompatible with the company’s values and positioning can sometimes generate short-term results, but are counterproductive in the long term. Resist the urge to go for the quick fix that damages your reputation.
  3. It is interesting enough to cut through the marketplace clutter and your prospect’s preoccupation. Business people are exposed to a huge number of promotional messages and you will need offers that are strong enough to overcome this barrage.
  4. It attracts the right audience. The point of the offer is to drive quality, not just quantity. Downstream conversion metrics can tell you whether your offer is targeted correctly.
  5. It is timed correctly in sales cycle. For example, information offers are used for prospects that are in the data-gathering stage, and pricing/discount offers are used when prospects are in the purchasing phase.
  6. It is powerful enough to compel immediate attention from the prospect. If possible, the offer should be tied to a strong call to action that shouts, “Take advantage of this offer right now!”

In my next blog post, I will share some B2B offers that consistently generate good results.

The Biggest Threat to Your B2B Marketing Success

Of all the threats to your ability to achieve marketing success, perhaps the most insidious is inertia.  According to Wikipedia, “Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its motion (including a change in direction).” This basically means that if you are currently doing little or nothing, chances are you will remain that way. Likewise, if you are doing stuff, but in the wrong way, you will likely continue to do stuff in the wrong way.

It follows that we should be aggressive and energetic in our B2B marketing outreach if we want to be competitive in the marketplace. But why do we fail to act? Let’s talk about some of the causes, as well as some of the ways to dislodge you from your B2B inertia.

  1. Insufficient knowledge. It’s hard to do what you don’t know how to do. When you are not sure, the easiest course (but not the wisest) is to simply do nothing. Often this is a result of trying to hide your liabilities. But some the most powerful and effective people you ever meet approach challenges in the role of inquirer, enlisting their curiosity and the knowledge of everybody around them to narrow down a universe of question marks into a few simple points of action. Be brave, go forth, inquire and learn.
  2. Information overload. There are myriad choices about where to spend your marketing dollars and effort. Too many choices can freeze you and make progress difficult. This often leads to analysis-paralysis, where we become so wrapped up in our inquiry that we use the inquiry process to mask our fundamental fear of action. But with rare exception, there’s no “wrong” place to start. Much of the difference is made with consistency of execution, then using your learning to refine (or abandon) current approaches. You can’t live in the theoretical realm. Only by doing will you accelerate your learning.
  3. Fear. People are naturally afraid of the consequences of making bad decisions. If the perception is that the risk of making a bad decision is greater than the risk of doing nothing, guess which option wins?  Companies that have a highly critical culture should not be surprised when inertia becomes the norm. The first step is deciding whether it is your fear or organizational timidity holding you back. Answering that question honestly will illuminate your next step.
  4. Resistance. Resistance is the internal naysayer that blocks creativity and prevents you from taking needed action to achieve marketing success. A fantastic book on how to recognize and overcome resistance is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. If you have a gnawing realization that there are big things you need to be doing (for your company or yourself), but are held back by some inner demon, Pressfield’s book could help you like it did me.
  5. Time and/or money. B2B marketing managers often tell me that they would complete so many more initiatives if they only had more time and/or more money. First of all, many of the most effective pull marketing tactics are quite affordable to execute. If you think you just can’t launch your content marketing plan because you don’t have that fancy automated marketing suite or the top-flight analytics tool, #3 might be the real reason for this objection. Most tactics show their value in the execution, so figure out what you can do on your shoestring—and do it aggressively. If you’re short on time, take a look at how many tactics or strategies you’re trying to execute. Doing 20 activities at 10% commitment isn’t going to tell you much about which of those activities is truly valuable.

Inertia can be fatal. At the least, it can create a limbo state in which otherwise promising people and organizations languish in a netherworld of promise that never quite becomes. If you are honest enough to examine whether your or your team has fallen prey to inertia, you’re already closer to seeing your way out.

In B2B Marketing, it’s Usually Better to Act than Wait

I wrote an article last year titled How to Recognize and Avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of B2B Marketing.  Sin number six is “stagnancy.”  Stagnancy occurs for a number of reasons but it usually has negative consequences.  More often than not, it is better to act than to wait.

The more often you postpone a decision, the easier it becomes to postpone the next decision, and the next decision. Over time, non-action becomes an insidious habit.  So why don’t people take action, even when it is in their best interest to do so? Here are a few common reasons:

  1. Fear of making a bad decision. This is a common reason for inaction. No one wants to make a poor decision but this fear can be mitigated by testing your campaigns with smaller budgets before making larger spending commitments. Plus, every new initiative teaches you something so you either get great results or great feedback—a win either way. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment.”
  2. Lack of expertise. The marketing world changes rapidly and even those of us who do this for a living can’t keep up with every new technique. It doesn’t hurt to hire experts, who will usually save you more than they cost. For more on this subject, view the blog post titled B2B Marketing Options – When to DIY and When to Outsource.
  3. Lack of data. Marketers often wait until they have all the data they deem necessary to launch into a new market or with a new media. The problem is that more data doesn’t always mean greater results. I’ve seen companies who study something to death strike out and those with relatively small amounts of data hit home runs.
  4. Lack of budget. In past decades, lack of dollars to spend on marketing was a huge inhibitor. However, the growth of pull marketing and social media have provided even the smallest companies with ways to get the message out. Doing even a few small things on a consistent basis will have positive impact.
  5. Lack of time. The late (and great) Peter Drucker made the observation “Any business enterprise has two—and only two—basic functions: marketing and innovation. All the rest are costs.”  It is essential that you not ignore Mr. Drucker’s advice by neglecting one of the two essential functions of business.

I know a lot of marketers, and the only ones I would recommend to my clients or as members of our own team are those that are prone to take action. Not that they get everything right, but at least they participate in the game while their less-aggressive colleagues are sitting on the sideline. Which type of marketer would you rather have on your side?