Sunday, September 25, 2016
One of the biggest challenges facing B2B marketers is the growing complexity of the marketing landscape. The increased complexity has been driven primarily by the proliferation of communication channels, the need to develop and manage an increasing volume and variety of marketing content, and the expanding scope of marketing's responsibilities.
To deal with the increased complexity, marketing leaders have implemented a plethora of new technology tools and added new human skills to the marketing function. Unfortunately, this response has often led to the development of more silos in the marketing organization, which can make it harder to create and execute effective marketing programs in an increasingly omnichannel world.
In their haste to address the growing complexity, many marketing leaders haven't made needed changes in the structure of the marketing organization, or in the processes used to manage marketing operations. A recent report by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services described the fundamental problem in unequivocal terms: "Enterprises are investing millions in new marketing tools to keep pace with customers in the digital age. But maximizing returns on these investments is often undermined by outdated marketing structures and approaches."
Managing a growing number of marketing specialists while avoiding the negatives of organizational silos is not an easy task, but marketing leaders can learn important lessons from Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal (with co-authors Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell).
General McChrystal commanded the US Joint Special Operations Task Force from September 2003 until August 2008. During this period, one of the main missions of the Task Force was to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq ("AQI"). In the early part of General McChrystal's command, the Task Force wasn't winning that fight. Team of Teams describes how General McChrystal and his leadership team transformed the Task Force so that it could defeat a new type of adversary in a new and very different warfighting environment.
The core problem was that organizational silos and bureaucratic management processes were preventing the Task Force from acting quickly enough to deal effectively with AQI. The Task Force included many small, specialized units or teams, each of which was very good at what it did. But, the training and culture that fostered a high level of trust and cohesiveness within each small team also contributed to a lack of trust and cohesiveness among teams. So the Task Force as a whole wasn't as effective as it needed to be.
General McChrystal and his leadership team recognized that they needed to scale the effectiveness of their small teams across the entire Task Force, and they took several steps to achieve this objective.
"Share Until It Hurts, Then Share Some More"
Task Force leaders recognized that every team in the Task Force needed to understand the overall mission, and also needed to be constantly aware of the current status of virtually all Task Force activities and operations. To accomplish this, Task Force leaders replaced the "need to know" mentality normally found in military organizations with information sharing on steroids.
They reconfigured their working spaces to encourage information sharing. All operations were run out of a large central room that had enough space for representatives of all the functional specialties of the Task Force, and for representatives from "partner" organizations such as the CIA. A wall of screens at the front of the room provided real-time information regarding Task Force operations. To further encourage collaboration, this entire room was designated as a "top secret" security space, which meant that almost any document or topic relevant to Task Force operations could be discussed and debated by anyone, anywhere in the room.
Even more important, Task Force leaders conducted a daily briefing that was designed to integrate everything the Task Force was doing with everything it knew. They also developed secure video conferencing capabilities that allowed personnel and representatives of partner organizations who were not in Iraq to participate in the briefings. In military organizations, these types of briefings are typically restricted to senior leaders. At some points, the Task Force invited thousands of individuals to attend the briefings, which shows how far Task Force leaders were prepared to go to encourage widespread information sharing.
Many B2B companies may not be able to reconfigure their physical working spaces to create a room large enough to accommodate the entire marketing team, but all companies can conduct regular meetings that are designed to keep everyone up to date on current marketing activities and plans, as well as any other factors that might impact marketing activities.
The frequency of these meetings should be based on the cadence of a company's marketing operations. The Task Force needed to conduct briefings on a daily basis, but some companies may find that weekly meetings work best, and others may decide that a monthly meeting is sufficient.
Develop "Lateral Connections"
General McChrystal and his leadership team also realized that they needed to increase the level of trust among the specialized teams in the Task Force. Every team needed to have insight into how their peer teams functioned and how their work contributed to the success of the Task Force.
To accomplish this objective, Task Force leaders instituted an "embedding" program. Under this program, an individual from one team (say, for example, a SEAL squad) would be assigned to a different team (such as a team of intelligence analysts) for six months. The purpose of this program was to allow these individuals to see how the war looked from inside other teams and build personal relationships across teams.
Some B2B companies will probably find this type of embedding program challenging to implement, and in smaller companies, it may not be possible at all. When embedding isn't possible, the next-best alternative is to routinely create cross-functional teams to work on major marketing projects. This allows people from different marketing disciplines to form personal relationships, and it requires them to consider multiple perspectives when developing significant marketing programs.
There are some obvious parallels between the situation that confronted General McChrystal in Iraq and the challenges that today's B2B marketing leaders are facing. Marketing is becoming more specialized, while the need to deliver engaging and consistent customer experiences across multiple touch points on a near real-time basis has never been greater. The "team of teams" approach provides one effective way of accomplishing this objective.
Illustration courtesy of Doc Searls via Flickr CC.
Sunday, September 18, 2016
Predictive analytics has become one of the hottest topics in B2B marketing over the past several months. In a survey last fall by Everstring, 25% of respondents said they were currently using some predictive tools, and another 47% said they were aware of predictive marketing and were investigating how to use it.
Two recent studies by Forrester Consulting reported even higher usage rates of predictive analytics among B2B companies. In one of these studies, 49% of survey respondents said they were currently using predictive analytics, and another 40% said they were planning to implement predictive analytics in the next 12 months. In the second study, 61% of survey respondents said they were currently using predictive analytics, and another 26% said they were planning an implementation within 12 months.
A new study by Econsultancy (in association with RedEye) provides a much-needed dose of reality regarding the adoption of predictive analytics and the challenges of using it effectively. The Econsultancy study was based on an online survey of nearly 400 digital marketers and e-commerce professionals that was fielded in April and May 2016. About half (51%) of the survey respondents were based in the United Kingdom, 23% were based in North America, and 22% were based in Europe. Respondents represented a wide range of industries.
Fifty-nine percent of the respondents to the Econsultancy survey work for client-side enterprises ("companies"), while 41% work for agencies, vendors, or consultancies. The survey results described in this post are based on the answers given by company respondents only.
The Econsultancy study confirms the strong level of predictive analytics usage. Forty percent of respondents reported that their companies are either currently using, implementing, or have budgeted for predictive analytics over the next 12 months. In addition, 80% of respondents said that the use of predictive analytics is "critical" or "very important" to the future of their organizations. Given this view, it shouldn't be surprising that 65% of the respondents said their company's budget for predictive analytics will increase in the coming year.
The Econsultancy research also revealed that predictive analytics is not a "magic wand that automatically guarantees sales." For example, 53% of the survey respondents from companies currently using predictive analytics said that their sales had significantly increased over the past year. However, 50% of respondents with companies that had "evaluated implementing predictive analytics and decided it's impractical" also reported a significant increase in sales over the past year. So, it's questionable whether the use of predictive analytics was the primary cause of the increased sales in those companies that are using predictive tools.
It's also clear from the Econsultancy study that you can't expect predictive analytics to be an overnight success. Only 23% of survey respondents rated their company as "competent" or "highly competent" at the use of predictive analytics, and 35% of the respondents strongly agreed that they "are yet to realize the benefits of predictive analytics."
Predictive analytics is becoming an important marketing tool for many large and mid-size B2B companies. But like most tools, it will take work and practice to maximize the value of predictive analytics in marketing.
Illustration courtesy of Skye D. via Flickr CC.
Sunday, September 11, 2016
"Yes, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side."
For the past several years, marketers have faced growing pressure to prove the value of their activities and programs. As a result, they are placing greater emphasis on measuring the performance of marketing tactics, channels, and programs, and some marketing leaders are allocating budgets and basing marketing mix decisions on performance measures.
Overall, this has been a positive development. It's hard to argue that marketers shouldn't track and measure the performance of their activities, and use performance metrics to guide marketing investments. Common sense says that this approach should lead to better marketing decisions.
But there's a potential dark side to the current fixation on marketing performance measurement. The problem arises when the ability to measure a marketing activity becomes the primary criterion for determining its value.
When taken to the extreme, this way of thinking can lead marketers to choose marketing tactics based largely on ease of measurement. As a recent blog post put it, "While marketers once accepted as fact that they didn't know which half of their budget was wasted, today they've done a 180 and believe that if it can't be measured, it's not worth doing."
I can understand why marketers are tempted to think this way. After all, in an environment where proving the value of your work can mean the difference between keeping or losing your job, marketing methods that are easily measured can appear to be the safe choice.
But making measurability the prime criterion for determining value is short-sighted and ultimately dangerous. It's a classic example of the McNamara Fallacy at work. The McNamara Fallacy was named for Robert McNamara, the US Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War, and it relates to his approach to managing the war effort. The term was coined by the noted social scientist Daniel Yankelovich, who described it this way:
"The first step is to measure whatever can easily be measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can't be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can't be easily measured really isn't important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can't be easily measured really doesn't exist. This is suicide."
Ironically, some of our efforts to improve marketing performance measurement have also exacerbated its dark side. For example, most marketers are now focused on measuring the impact of marketing activities on revenues. So, we're now constructing complex attribution models in an attempt to assign revenue dollars to specific marketing activities.
Measuring the performance of marketing activities that produce quick results is relatively easy. It's much harder to measure the performance of marketing activities that may not bear fruit for months or even years. For example, the content that you're creating and publishing this year can produce a positive impression in the mind of a potential buyer, and that impression can influence a buying process that won't even begin for two years. Likewise, some of the sales you're closing this year are due, at least in part, to the marketing activities and programs that you ran in 2014 and 2015.
In a recent interview, David Cote, the CEO of Honeywell, described the importance of long-term effects in these terms: "You do well this year, not because of what you're doing this year, but because of what you did in the previous 5 years."
Marketing activities with long gestation periods, and those whose impacts are several steps removed from the final buying decision can be very difficult to measure. But many of these activities are vitally important for marketing success. Unfortunately, when we fixate on measurability, we can end up under-investing in these critical marketing activities.
As Albert Einstein purportedly wrote on his blackboard: "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."
Illustration courtesy of Kory Westerhold via Flickr CC.
Sunday, September 4, 2016
Some B2B marketers are looking askance at the growing popularity of account-based marketing. And that's completely understandable. On one hand, evidence shows that ABM is more effective and produces a higher ROI than any other approach to marketing. But, one of ABM's basic tenets is the use of account-specific messages and content. What makes marketers cringe is the thought of having to develop content resources that are customized for dozens of target accounts.
Creating the content that's required to support an ABM program can feel like a herculean task. But it doesn't have to be that way if you take the right approach to content customization.
As the following diagram illustrates, there are six levels of content customization, ranging from generic content (no customization) to content that is tailored for an individual lead. Between these extremes, there's content customized for specific market segments (i.e. specific industries), for specific buyer personas, for specific stages of the buying process, and for specific target accounts.
Even if your company hasn't adopted account-based marketing, you should already be developing and using segment-specific, persona-specific, and stage-specific content. So, when you move to ABM, the real issue relates to how you will provide content that is customized for individual accounts and individual leads.
You can, of course, develop unique content resources from scratch for each of your target accounts. While this can be appropriate in some circumstances, it's extremely resource intensive. So it's not typically feasible to use this approach for more than a handful of accounts.
A far less resource-intensive approach is to convert existing content resources into customizable templates. For example, you can modify an existing white paper to accommodate a custom introduction. To customize the paper, you simply add a unique introduction for each ABM target account.
I've also found that it's often possible to provide a personalized content experience without actually customizing every content resource. I use this approach frequently in my business, and I've found it to be highly effective. The approach is actually quite simple.
Whenever I have a telephone conversation or a meeting with a potential client, I make sure that I identify two or three issues that the potential client is particularly concerned about. Then, when I follow up with the prospect, I use this insight to create a personalized content experience based on a two-step process.
The first step is to identify one or two content resources that are highly relevant to my potential client's primary interests or concerns. Over the past few years, I've developed a fairly extensive library of content resources. So, the odds are good that I already have content that addresses my prospect's main concerns. I simply select the best, most relevant resources to send to my prospective client.
The second step in my process is to compose a customized "transmittal" message (typically an e-mail) that connects the content resources I'm sending with the specific issues or concerns that the prospect and I discussed.
For example, if I'm sending the prospect one of my white papers, I'll use the e-mail message to point to the specific page or pages of the paper that address the prospect's primary concerns. In most cases, I'll also use the e-mail to relate the discussion in the paper to the prospect's specific business situation. The e-mail message creates context for the paper and makes the paper "feel" like it was customized for this specific prospect, even though the paper hasn't been customized at all. I'll use the same approach for subsequent follow-up contacts with this prospect.
Am I creating content that is customized for this specific prospect? Yes, but what I am customizing is a few short e-mail messages, not entire white papers or other "long-form" content resources.
The bottom line is that creating account- or lead-specific content doesn't have to be an insurmountable task.
Top image courtesy of Shelby H. via Flickr CC.
Sunday, August 28, 2016
One of the long-running debates among B2B marketers is whether companies should require registration to get access to content resources, or whether they should make such resources freely available. Gating content enables companies to capture new sales leads and track the content consumption behaviors of existing leads.
Over the past few years, I've seen the views on this issue change. Six or seven years ago, I think most marketers believed that most content resources should be gated, although a few marketing experts like David Meerman Scott have been arguing for some time that most content should be freely available. Today, I think most marketing experts believe that companies should make a significant amount of content available without requiring registration.
In my view, competitive pressures will soon require companies to make most of their content available without registration. A growing number of companies are now making at least some of their content freely available, and as this practice becomes more prevalent, potential buyers will increasingly expect to get access to content without registration.
This expectation will make buyers more selective about the content they are willing to "pay for" with personal information. They will still be willing to register if they believe that a content resource is particularly valuable, but if the resource looks or sounds like others that are freely available, they will be more likely to ignore it.
I now firmly believe that companies should make most of their content freely available, and I am recommending that approach to my clients. This is particularly important for content that is primarily intended for potential buyers who are in the early stages of the buying process and those who are engaged in what I have called casual learning.
Many forward-thinking marketers are already using ungated content to drive highly successful marketing programs. One great example is Health Catalyst, and healthcare IT company that serves integrated health systems and hospitals. At this year's MarketingSherpa Summit, Chris Keller, the Vice President of Marketing at Health Catalyst, gave a presentation that described how the company uses non-gated content to drive outstanding marketing performance.
In his presentation, Mr. Keller said that the leadership of Health Catalyst made a fundamental decision to build market leadership by providing valuable educational content and to make almost all of that content freely available. The only time that Health Catalyst requires registration to access content is if the consumption requires a second step that has value for the prospect. So for example, Health Catalyst requires registration for webinars because it wants to send the registrant e-mail reminders regarding the webinar.
The marketing team at Health Catalyst trusts prospects to step forward when they are ready to have a meaningful conversation about the company's products and services. Mr. Keller said that he and his team operate on the guiding principle that "prospects worth follow-up will ask."
The strategy has enabled Mr. Keller and his team to produce impressive results - a 300% increase in leads, a 550% increase in clients, and a 33% decrease in the length of the sales cycle.
Mr. Keller's presentation provides several valuable insights. A video of his presentation is available here, and I encourage you to watch it. The video runs for about 30 minutes, but it is well worth your time.
Image courtesy of Vince via Flickr CC.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
The Economist Group recently published a report that provides several interesting perspectives on the development, use, and effectiveness of thought leadership content. Thought leadership disrupted: New rules for the content age is based on a survey (conducted in association with Hill+Knowlton Strategies) of 1,644 global marketing and business executives that was fielded in April 2016.
Survey responses were segmented based on whether the respondents were marketers (those who plan, develop, or manage thought leadership content) or executives (those who consume thought leadership content). In this post, I'm focusing on the survey data relating to executive respondents.
To set the stage for the data, it's important to understand how The Economist Group defined thought leadership. Here's the definition the firm asked survey participants to read before they took the survey:
"Thought leadership is the practice of influencing a community of interest by developing information, analysis and insight that helps its audience understand its world and plan for the future. It can be delivered through any medium, and can help companies raise awareness, shift perception and increase the status of their brand."
Obviously, this definition is fairly broad, and it gives survey respondents some room to apply their own interpretation of what constitutes thought leadership.
Executives are Becoming Selective
More than two-thirds (68%) of executive respondents said they consume thought leadership content at least weekly, and almost as many (63%) said they have increased their consumption of thought leadership content over the past 12 months. But 75% of the respondents also said they have become more selective in their content consumption over the past 12-24 months, and 82% said that the volume of thought leadership content available is what has made them more selective.
The increased selectivity on the part of executives has made it harder for marketers to create break-through thought leadership content. Surveyed executives reported that, on average, they engage with only about 25% of the thought leadership content they see every day.
What Drives the Consumption of Thought Leadership Content?
The Economist Group also asked executives to identify three factors (from a list of 15) that drive their consumption of thought leadership content. The following table shows the top five consumption drivers chosen by the surveyed executives:
What Makes for Good (and Bad) Thought Leadership Content?
When executives were asked what qualities made thought leadership content compelling, the most popular qualities were:
- Innovative (40% of respondents)
- Big picture (36%)
- Transformative (36%)
- Credible (35%)
When executives were asked what words they associated with poor thought leadership content, the top three choices were superficial (34% of respondents), sales-driven (31%), and biased (28%).
The Impact of Thought Leadership
The value of compelling thought leadership to sellers is abundantly clear. Seventy percent of executives said that good thought leadership content led them to consume additional content from the same source, and 72% said they are more inclined to do business with organizations that are thought leaders.
Top image courtesy of Abhijit Bhadurl via Flickr CC.
Top image courtesy of Abhijit Bhadurl via Flickr CC.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
In an earlier post, I discussed some of the findings of a recent research study by Demand Metric that focused on the state of content personalization in B2B companies. Demand Metric found that the use of personalized content was widespread among its study participants. Sixty-eight percent of survey respondents said they personalize content for industry verticals or other market segments, and 61% said they personalize content for specific buyer personas.
Marketing experts have long argued that personalized messages and content improve marketing effectiveness, and the participants in the Demand Metric study overwhelmingly agree with this view. Eighty percent of the survey respondents who use personalized content said that it is "more effective" or "much more effective" than content that isn't personalized.
Not everyone, however, believes that personalization is always beneficial. For the past several months, CEB has been arguing that personalization can actually make prospective customers less (not more) likely to buy. The essence of CEB's argument goes like this:
- B2B products and services are usually purchased by groups of people, not individuals.
- These buying groups must usually reach a consensus before a purchase decision will be made.
- Personalization strategies can make the individuals in the buying group believe more strongly in their own point of view and less willing to compromise, thus making consensus more difficult to achieve.
In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Karl Schmidt, Brent Adamson, and Anna Bird (all with CEB) wrote:
"Conventional wisdom holds that the more personalized a message is, the more effectively it will drive a sale. And indeed, CEB's surveys found that individual customer stakeholders who perceived supplier content to be tailored to their specific needs were 40% more willing to buy from that supplier than stakeholders who didn't . . . But personalization has a dark side. When individuals in a buying group receive different messages, each one stressing that an offering meets his or her narrow needs, it can highlight the diverging goals and priorities in the group, driving a wedge between members and hindering consensus."
CEB goes on to argue that selling companies need tactics and resources that are specifically designed to help buying groups reach a consensus. In addition, CEB contends that selling companies will usually need the help of a champion inside the prospect organization to drive the consensus-building process. CEB calls these internal advocates "mobilizers" and describes the best mobilizers as people who (a) are motivated to improve their organization, and (b) have the organizational clout to bring decision makers together.
To effectively use mobilizers, companies need to identify the right people and then motivate those individuals to play the mobilizer role. Just as important, companies need to provide mobilizers the resources they need to effectively drive the consensus-building process.
What do you think? Can too much personalization hinder rather than help? If so, how much personalization is too much? I'd like to get your ideas on this issue. Please comment on this post, and share your thoughts about whether personalization can actually undermine the consensus-building process.
Image courtesy of HORANCapitalAdv via Flickr CC.
Image courtesy of HORANCapitalAdv via Flickr CC.