Tag Archives: ‘B2B Marketing’

What’s your career game plan?

I was recently interviewed by B2B Marketing Magazine for a feature they ran in the January 2013 issue, entitled “Game Plan”. For those of you that aren’t subscribers to the magazine, I’ve included the article on my Slideshare account, embedded below with kind permission of B2B Marketing.

If you’re in B2B Marketing and not already a subscriber, I’d strongly recommend checking out the benefits of B2B Marketing membership. The article is also now live on the B2B Marketing Knowledge Bank, where you can see lots of other useful articles.

What’s your career game plan for 2013? How will you drive your career forward by implementing a personal action plan? What have you found to be effective in your own career to date? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Giving marketing a rebrand- step 3

Ivory Towers

Ivory Towers (Photo credit: James F Clay)

In previous posts on the theme of ‘giving marketing a rebrand’, I have suggested a number of steps marketers can take to raise their profile, credibility and effectiveness. I have called for them to Fight the Fluff and Manage the Magpie.

In this third and final post in the series, I feel it’s time to Trash the Tower.

Marketers are sometimes perceived by other functions as living in an Ivory Tower which, according to Wikipedia, is a place “where intellectuals engage in pursuits that are disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life”.

Sometimes we are worthy of the ‘ivory tower’ perception because we have become internally focused and disconnected from the customer. Sometimes workload and organisational politics conspire to make it harder than it should be to spend more time with front line staff and customers, but how else will we get to hear firsthand accounts of how the products and services we are marketing solve (or cause) customer problems?

Does this sound familiar? If so, when was the last time you were able to escape the confines of the head office ivory tower and hear the customer’s voice at firsthand?

And I mean truly firsthand, not sitting through a 72 slide debrief on ‘wave 58′ of the latest customer satisfaction survey (showing a 3% improvement from ‘wave 57′ but with a +/- 5% margin of error!).

Here are three practical ways in which you can reconnect with everyday life in your customer’s world and learn some actionable insights to improve their experience:

  1. undertake regular customer site visits with front line staff and witness firsthand how your product or service is used in their business – look for new ways in which you can tell these stories to prospective customers
  2. listen to customer calls in contact or service centres – your colleagues in these teams have more experience of the day to day client experience than most in the organisation, so make sure you tap into it when developing new initiatives and campaigns
  3. read the 10/20/50 most recent customer complaints – look for emerging patterns and identify an issue you can own and solve, even if this means stepping outside of your organisational silo to do so

How do you gain actionable insights in your team? What are your best practice tips for getting out of the ivory tower and listening to the customer? Where have you seen innovative techniques employed that you wouldn’t expect to see being led by a marketing team?

Giving marketing a rebrand- step 2

Last week’s post on giving marketing a rebrand coincided with a piece on a similar theme in Marketing Week and was picked up and included in their Storify.

I suggested that there are three steps marketers can take to raise their profile, credibility and effectiveness. Step 1 called on them to Fight The Fluff.

English: Oriental Magpie Robin മലയാളം: മണ്ണാത്...

Image via Wikipedia

In Step 2, I’m suggesting that marketers should Manage the Magpie.Some are afflicted by the desire for the latest shiny new thing, whether it’s the latest technology gadget, social media platform or marketing technique. With advances in technology disrupting many traditional business models, there’s no doubt it’s an incredibly exciting time to be in business, never mind marketing.

Yet for many, this excitement causes a common sense bypass! Some are blinded by the brightness of the new thing, whilst others jump onto the ‘me too’ bandwagon to seek the reassurance that if other/bigger/more interesting brands are doing something, so should we.

Expectations and excitement skyrocket as early successes from case studies (most likely from outside your sector and country, but don’t let details like that get in the way) start to emerge as ‘proof’ that the cynical doubters are wrong. But of course what goes up must come down and when the glitter fades and the post-hysteria hangover kicks in, you wake up in what Gartner call the ‘trough of disillusionment’.

Which is why, more than ever before, marketers need to be better at managing the magpie within themselves and others. They should make a focused, objective and dispassionate assessment before leaping in. Yes be curious. Absolutely be alert to changing trends. But always be asking ‘how will this improve the customer experience’.

To put an objective structure around your thinking, try the following

  1. build an informal, cross-functional group from sales, marketing and operations so that you can draw upon the wider experience in the business when a shiny new thing comes along
  2. get them to help you define at least three ways in which it will measurably improve the customer experience.
  3. the harder you find this, the easier the decision not to jump on

Do you look before you leap onto the latest shiny new bandwagon? How do you decide which new technologies to adopt and at what speed? Or maybe you work for a magpie and have some coping mechanisms to share here?

Giving marketing a rebrand- step 1

This is the first in a series of three posts on a subject very close to my heart, ‘giving marketing a rebrand’, where I’d like to offer three steps which marketers can take to raise their profile, credibility and effectiveness when faced with cynical non-believers.

Step 1- Fight the Fluff

Marketing is too fluffy and doesn’t add any real value to the business.

English: Marshmellow fluff

Image via Wikipedia

Sound familiar? Has your marketing function been referred to as the ‘brochure and brolly’ team? The colouring-in department? I’ve heard all of these and worse, so why do marketers attract this perception?

A common trap is that some marketing people focus on outputs that matter to the marketing team rather than outcomes that matter to the business. Who has ever won a piece of new business because the logo is exactly 7mm away from the top right of the brochure? Or grown market share purely thanks to the consistency of the secondary colour palette in PowerPoint decks? Your customers don’t notice or care about this stuff, so why should you?

As experts in brand management, isn’t it time we applied this knowledge to develop our personal brand and reposition that of our profession, rather than obsessing over minutiae that purely serves to reinforce the stereotype?

Top tips for fighting the fluff

  1. Begin with becoming obsessively curious about the wider business performance and how marketing can drive or influence it.
  2. Celebrate new customer wins within your team and make sure every one of them understands the key financials.
  3. Make a public commitment to link your team’s outputs to directly driving these business outcomes.

I’ll be sharing steps 2 and 3 in subsequent posts, but in the meantime I’d love to hear your thoughts. What has driven you to despair over the ‘fluffy’ perception of marketing, and what steps have you taken to overcome it?

Sage: Trade Show Marketing how it should be done

I was at the Business Start-Up Show recently, a trade show with seminars and over 300 exhibitors targeting the small and start-up business market. I stopped by a number of stands that day, and although I was there as a ‘punter’, I couldn’t help but keep putting my B2B Marketing hat back on to critique their performance.

One business that stood out as the most impressive that day has to be Sage. As you’ll see below, from a delegate perspective they were excellent, but as a B2B Marketer myself, you could tell they had a clear and structured plan for engaging with their audience before, during and after the show:

Before:

I had pre-registered for the Business Planning Workshop that Sage were running as part of the extensive seminar programme. I was booked onto the 10.30am slot, on the first day of the show.

I got to Earls Court early, but had to take a phone call that I didn’t want to take in a queue of people, so was only able to join the substantial queue at 09.45, with doors opening at 10.00.

By about 10.15 it became clear that the queue wasn’t moving (except in length) and I was hoping that someone inside was listening when I tweeted:

Clearly, the marketing team at Sage were geared up for engaging with customers and prospects, and tweeted back, which started a conversation with the brand before I had even got into the building.

Fortunately, soon after, common sense prevailed and the organisers started letting pre-registered delegates through en masse without signing-in. I managed to get through to the Sage stand where I was met with a friendly smile and a member of staff that personally escorted me to the Business Planning Workshop, which was about to commence.

During:

The workshop was very useful, and with free planning software as a giveaway, I definitely wanted to find out more about what Sage offered as I had traditionally associated them with accounting software.

Their exhibition space was well laid out, open and inviting. There were well signposted zones for information on various product types, and I found the people friendly, knowledgeable and engaging.

Sage stand at Business Start Up 2011, Earls CourtSage stand at Business Start Up 2011, Earls Court (2)I received a demo on Sage Act! from a member of staff who was extremely patient as he ran through the demo and answered my questions.

It would have been the easiest thing in the world to push for a sale, after a 40 minute demo, but it felt to me like the strategy for the day was engagement and lead generation. I happily gave my contact details and agreed to receive a follow-up.

After visiting maybe a dozen or so other stands (and walking past all others), most appeared to lack any kind of clear strategy.

So impressed was I with my Sage experience, that on the way out, I tweeted the following, which was amplified across the business show audience by 6 retweets:

After:

A day or two later, I got a follow-up email from someone introducing themselves as my account manager, with their contact details should I have any other questions.

A couple of weeks on, I received the attached follow-up email to invite me to a webinar, the creative linking back to the exhibition and signposting a discount offer unique to attendees of the show.

Screen grab of Sage email follow-up, including show-specific discount offer

I signed up for the webinar, and had another demo today. For me, the picture is complete and I now have all the information I need and will be buying Sage Act! at some point soon.

Get a life! Why are you reviewing a trade show?!

All too often in my experience, exhibitions are criticised as a waste of money, time or both. From what I saw on the day, I’m sure for many exhibitors this was true.

However, as Sage have shown, the key to successful exhibition marketing is to have a strategy for engaging with your customers and prospects Before, During and After the show, exhibition or event.

Well done Sage, and thanks for supplying the photos of the exhibition stand and agreeing for their use in this post.

What do you think? Are you in sales or marketing and have any trade show marketing tips to share? How does your business maximise the return on investment from trade shows? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thinking about B2B Social Media? Dot your i’s first.

I hear a lot of people ask about the relevance of social media in B2B Marketing. Normally these questions follow presentations by industry  commentators that have contained high-profile, consumer examples of brands that have successfully engaged with their customers through these channels.

B2B businesses, whatever their size, need to answer some basic questions before they decide to jump in. This is by no means exhaustive, but there are three important i’s that need to be dotted before you even think about embarking on a programme:

insight- who in your target audience is using social media, how and how often? Are your competitors there? How are they using it? What sort of conversations are taking place? In what tone? Can you answer any questions being asked? Are people discussing problems or issues that you can help with? If so, then think about joining in the discussion, but do not sell- you need to build trust and respect first.

investment- although many of the social media tools available are ‘free’ in monetary terms, you will still need to make an investment in time and energy to take part in the communities which interest you. Although tools such as TweetDeck allow you to schedule twitter updates to be sent during the day automatically, don’t over-use this. Make sure you balance them with timely ‘human’ contributions throughout the day.

integration- how well do social media activities ‘fit’ alongside your other marketing activities? Are your staff online? Do you have subject matter experts within the business that can write compelling content to share with your customers and prospects via blogs and other online communities? One size rarely fits all, so consider the mix of communications you will employ and their respective impact on lead flow and sales before putting all of your eggs in the social media basket.

If you’ve dotted these three i’s and feel you’re ready to go, please make sure you review this excellent list of 10 considerations from Mack Collier first. Although ‘Social Media Policy’ sounds scary and corporate, these are common sense and practical considerations that you’ll ignore at your peril.

When moving marketing jobs, what qualities do you look for in a manager?

Having done a reasonable amount of recruiting for a broad range of marketing roles in my time, I’m used to defining what kind of candidate I’m looking for when briefing HR or a Recruitment Consultant.

I’m keen to turn the question around and understand what qualities the marketing talent of today are looking for in a manager when deciding to move on.

For me, it’s a blend of the following:

  1. Personal chemistry: Can I see myself enjoying working with this person?
  2. Commitment to personal development: Are they prepared to invest time, energy and money in developing me as a person?
  3. Can I learn something from them?: Learning is a lifelong process. Does your potential new manager have a skill or expertise that you can learn from?

If you work in marketing, I want to understand what are the most important qualities that you look for? Please take my poll and let me know…

Stop! I’m not (sales) ready yet!

I’m becoming nervous whenever the phone rings at the office these days. Beads of sweat start to form on my brow. 2nd ring. No number showing on the caller ID. Third ring. It’s just flashing “BT”, taunting me. Fourth ring. People around me start to give me that “aren’t you going to answer that?” look.  Get a grip, Steve. Too late. It’s gone to Voicemail. Again. 

No, fortunately, I am not being targeted by nuisance callers. So why does it feel like I am? 

There are two distinct categories that these calls seem to fall into:

1) Cold calls from agencies and suppliers who have got my name from reception or a colleague.

2) Follow-up calls from businesses that I have engaged with (e.g. by downloading a white paper, attending a webinar etc) 

My earlier post on B2B Telemarketing will tell you where I stand on the first group of people. If you’re acting on this advice, and I’m in your target audience, maybe you’ll have found this blog. 

For those businesses in the second group, you should give me the option to say “I’m just researching your category, call me in 6 months” (or similar) when I download your white paper. Yes, you’ve got my attention and I’m interested enough to want to find out more, but if I have no confirmed buying need or budget when you call, then why try to progress me through the funnel to a meeting?

Stop!

As the classic Grolsch TV ad series said; “Stop! (I’m not ready yet!)”.

So what should B2B Marketers engaging in a lead generation programme via white paper download do to improve the experience and make sure only ‘sales ready’ leads get progressed through the funnel? I suggest the following:

1) When you ask your prospect to give their contact details (and permission) to download the paper, offer them ways to tell you how ‘sales ready’ they are. If they have no budget or established buying need, your sales team will not be happy you’ve set up a meeting with them. So don’t bother just now.

2) Before the first contact, give them a reasonable amount of time to digest your paper and work out if/where/how it fits into their plans. This is a hard one to get right, but use the information they’ve given you in 1, above, and make a sensible call on a suitable timeframe.

3) Your telemarketers have two ears and one mouth. PLEASE train them to use them in that proportion. There is no greater turn-off for a B2B buyer than not being listened to. This is where ‘structured follow up’ can cross the line into ‘nuisance call’ territory.

Should marketers act like they own the business?

I’ve been in marketing for over a dozen years now in a number of different B2B sectors and businesses. One of the constant challenges throughout my career to date has been the variability in how marketing is perceived by ‘the business’ (the collective noun that marketers often use to describe non-marketing stakeholders and decision makers).

 More often than not, when perceptions are negative, it’s down to the fact that the marketing function has failed to demonstrate and communicate the value created through its efforts. Often, there is no direct alignment to the business strategy and objectives.

This isn’t a new problem, and I can’t say I’ve not been guilty of this at times in my own career, but the scale of the challenge is as high as it has ever been.

A recent CIM/Deloitte survey revealed that a mere 7% of respondents ‘always set KPIs clearly for each initiative’, and only [maybe the same?] 7% ‘always set clear accountabilities for objectives’. 

By my maths, this means that a staggering 93% of Marketers must be hoping for the best when embarking on marketing programmes. If we don’t know what to expect and we don’t know who’s responsible for success or failure, it is no surprise that marketing teams sometimes struggle to articulate the value they create.

Is acting like you own the business the answer?

So, should Marketers think (and act) more like shareholders when developing marketing programmes? I believe so. If you think (and act) as if you owned the company you work for, and imagined it was your money you’re investing in marketing, would you sign off on the investment?

Here are three ways that marketers can demonstrate they are thinking (and acting) like the owners of the business when building and implementing their marketing plans:  

1) Aligning marketing objectives to business strategy will help to tangibly demonstrate the value you are adding to the business. This isn’t easy (only 37% of organisations ‘think their business strategy is clearly translated into marketing objectives’ according to the CIM/Deloitte survey) but it shouldn’t stop us trying.   

2) Define truly SMART objectives that demonstrate the clear line of sight between business strategy and marketing strategy. Set the right metrics and make sure you take accountability for achieving them.

3) Communicate your plans and progress in the context of how it is supporting the achievement of the business strategy.  Keep communication open and two-way. Tell the broader business what you are doing, how it is going, and gather feedback from functions that are critical in the achievement of your objectives (sales, finance, operations etc). Repeat.

I’m keen to hear your views on this. What are the benefits and drawbacks of thinking like a shareholder? What are the challenges of adopting such a mindset?

B2B Telemarketing: 3 critical success factors

In a recent B2B Marketing Magazine feature on Telemarketing, I was interested to see that 70% of respondents to a survey of 200 B2B Marketers said that the technique was either ‘critical’ or ‘very important’ as part of their demand generation activities. With such a high number, I am still amazed to experience so many examples of it done badly.

Having managed both in-house and outsourced Telemarketing teams in the past, I have seen first-hand how powerful this technique can be for lead generation and appointment-setting campaigns. I also know how hard it is to do consistently well.

Having recently moved jobs, I have been inundated with cold calls from a wide range of marketing service providers. Some of them get the firm’s name wrong, and too many try to close an appointment without establishing if I have the time, appetite or budget to enter into any form of dialogue, no matter how exploratory.

In my experience, successful B2B Telemarketing depends on a number of critical success factors:

  1. Start with good quality data  We all have data challenges, but how have you gathered that this person is in the market for the goods or services you are about to try to sell to them, and how confident are you that the demand might be there? 
  2. Enhance it with research  I know that outbound telemarketing is often seen as a numbers game, but the art is in making the recipient of each call not feel like it is! Take time to do some basic research into the company AND the individual you are trying to target, BEFORE you pick up the phone. If you get the name of my firm wrong (as happened to me recently), this is unlikely to impress me.
  3. Hire and retain only exceptional people who are capable of building a credible rapport on the phone, sometimes over a period of several months. Demonstrating that you understand and are actively listening for information that can help me to solve a business problem will always help.

Does any of this resonate with you? Have you been on the end of great (or dreadful) B2B Telemarketing experiences? How did they make you feel, and did they win your business?