Sunday, October 27, 2013

How to Build a Better Profile of Your Ideal Customer

Most readers of this blog are probably familiar with ideal customer profiles. An ideal customer profile is a description of the kinds of companies that would make the best customers for your business. The goal of creating and using an ICP is to focus your marketing and sales efforts on those prospects with the greatest likelihood of becoming good customers and to avoid wasting valuable resources on prospects that aren't a good fit.

Most companies base their ideal customer profile(s) on the characteristics of their existing customers. They first identify their "best" customers (which usually means their largest and/or most profitable customers), and then they identify what those "best" customers have in common. Most ideal customer profiles use "firmographic" attributes such as:
  • Annual revenues
  • Number of employees
  • Industry vertical
  • Location
Some companies will also include other attributes when possible, such as:
  • The "footprint" of the organization (local, regional, national, global)
  • The most relevant organizational unit or department
  • The business situation (for example, is the company in growth or decline)
While this process for creating an ideal customer profile is used by many companies, it doesn't go quite far enough. When I work with clients to develop ICP's, I ask them to consider three additional questions as we go through the process just described. Answering these questions will add depth and context to your ICP and ultimately make your ICP more insightful and useful.

Here are the three questions I add to the conventional process:
  • What kinds of companies have derived significant (i.e. above-average) value from using our product or service, and why have these companies obtained greater value?
  • What kinds of companies will be receptive to our marketing and sales efforts and thus be more likely to buy from us?
  • What kinds of companies can we acquire as customers at an acceptable cost?
Of these three questions, the first is the most important. Companies that have derived exceptional value from using your product or service are likely to be among your largest and most profitable customers. Common sense says that similar types of companies will make your best prospects.

Understanding what is driving the exceptional value may enable you to expand the definition of your ideal customer. For example, you may find that the companies deriving exceptional value are primarily found in one industry. However, when you identify why those companies are obtaining greater value, you may find that the same issue or challenge also exists in other types of organizations that you do not currently serve. So, by answering the why question, you may well uncover an entirely new group of "ideal" prospects.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Why There's Still So Much Bad Content

In a recent article at LinkedIn, Joe Pulizzi, the Founder and Executive Director of the Content Marketing Institute, observed that most of the marketing content produced by companies is "flat out awful." He wrote, "In many cases, the content is self-serving, not useful and, maybe the worst, pointless."

Pulizzi argues that companies produce bad content for three reasons.
  • The vast majority of companies do not have a formal content strategy.
  • The content marketing efforts at most companies lack focus. Many marketers feel compelled to develop content around all of the products and services they offer. The result is often content that is too broad (and too shallow) to be effective.
  • In many companies, no one is accountable for the overall content marketing program.
I agree that the lack of strategy, focus, and/or accountability can result in "awful" marketing content. I also believe, however, that there's a more fundamental problem contributing to the continuing use of bad content.

We now know that most effective B2B marketing content is primarily educational and non-promotional. The goal of content marketing is to provide potential buyers information that is insightful, useful, and valuable, and thereby demonstrate your company's expertise, credibility, and trustworthiness.

The problem is, this approach runs counter to the basic paradigm of marketing that's existed for decades. For years, we've been trained to think that the best way to sell more stuff is to effectively promote our brand and our products or services. In the traditional paradigm of marketing, content is primarily about us - our company or our products or services.

Shifting from promotional content to content that's primarily educational and non-promotional is a difficult and counterintuitive change to make for most marketers.

In his new book, Ctrl Alt Delete, Mitch Joel provides an example that illustrates just how entrenched the traditional marketing mindset still is. Joel writes:

"Last year, I was in a business meeting when the idea for an iPhone app came up. It was a smart idea (you know, the kind of idea that you wish you had thought of). The chief marketing officer smiled during the presentation, put his hand up to ask a question, removed the glasses from his eyes and placed them on his notebook, folded his hands, leaned forward, and said, 'It's genius. . . but can we put our four key brand messages in there as well, because if we don't force people to look at them, what's the point of this app?'"

Companies are still producing "awful" content primarily because many marketers can't resist the urge to "always be promoting." Strategy, focus, and accountability are all important to building an effective content marketing program, but the starting point is adopting a different mindset about what constitutes good content and what role content plays in the marketing function.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

What Content Marketers Can Learn from French Cooking

Research shows that producing enough content is now the greatest challenge facing B2B content marketers. (B2B Content Marketing:  2013 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends - North America) More than producing engaging content. More than lack of budget.

The volume of content that's required to fuel effective marketing programs is growing exponentially for several reasons, including:
  • The need to make content relevant for individual buyers at every stage of the buying process
  • The short lifespan of content resources (particularly social media content)
  • The need to publish content on a frequent basis
To create enough content on a timely basis, you need an approach to content development that will  maximize the results you get from your content creation efforts. Believe it or not, B2B content marketers can boost the efficiency of content development by taking a lesson from French cooking.

In classic French cuisine, there are five mother sauces - B├ęchamel, Veloute, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and Tomate (tomato). These five mother sauces provide the foundation for virtually all the sauces used in traditional French cooking. To create other sauces, you simply add the appropriate ingredients to one of the mother sauces. For example, you make Mornay sauce by adding Gruyere and Parmesan cheese to a B├ęchamel sauce, and you make Bearnaise sauce by adding white wine, shallots, tarragon, and peppercorns to a Hollandaise sauce.

The same concept can be used to manage B2B content development. Here's how the "mother sauce" approach to content development works.

Identify Value Propositions

As with most important marketing issues, the process starts with identifying the value propositions that are essential to your company's go-to-market strategy. Value propositions describe how your products or services create value for customers, and they provide the foundation for your content marketing efforts. Most of the content resources you develop should be based on the value propositions you offer. If you work for a small or mid-size company, you should be able to identify four to eight value propositions that encompass the significant ways that your solutions create value.

Develop the "Mother" Resources

Once you have identified your critical go-to-market value propositions, the next step is to develop one or two substantial content resources for each value proposition. These core resources are the content equivalent of the mother sauces. They will usually be longer-form resources such as white papers or e-books, and they will provide a thorough description of each critical value proposition. In some cases, these mother resources may be more like "working papers" than finished content assets. For example, you may decide to create versions of your mother resources for specific industries or buyer personas, and if you do, you may never actually publish the mother resources in their original form.

Make Each Mother Resource the Matriarch of a Large Content Family

Each mother resource should provide a fertile source for many "child" content assets. For example, with a little creativity, you should be able to use a mother white paper or e-book as the basis for:
  • A full-length webinar or 2 to 3 shorter webcasts or videos
  • 2 to 3 (or more) articles for online or offline publications
  • 3 to 6 (or more) posts for your blog
  • A dozen or more social media updates (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.)
This approach won't eliminate all of the work relating to content development. It doesn't constitute an "Easy" button. However, it will focus your work and enable you to get the biggest possible "bang" from your content development efforts.

Image By:  Dinner Series (www.flickr.com)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rethinking the Value of BANT (It's Not as Outdated as Some Suggest)

Last fall, I published a post here titled Why BANT No Longer Works for Qualifying Leads. In that post, I argued rather strongly that BANT (the acronym for Budget-Authority-Need-Timeframe) is no longer an effective way to qualify sales leads because of changes in how B2B buyers make purchase decisions.

My post was neither the first nor the last discussion of BANT to appear in the blogosphere. Here are a few of the blog articles that have been published this year.
As you can tell from these titles, the weight of opinion in the blogosphere is clearly anti-BANT.

While I stand by what I wrote last fall, I also now believe that my criticisms of BANT were probably too broad and that the BANT criteria are still relevant and useful for evaluating sales leads if they're used at the right times to answer the right questions. In the typical demand generation process, there are three major points at which you need to evaluate the quality of a sales lead.

Qualification of New Leads

The first is when you initially acquire a lead, and the issue is whether the lead should be added to your nurturing program. BANT criteria have little role to play in this decision. At this stage, the only information about the lead that you're likely to have is a name, a company affiliation, and a job title. Company affiliation and job title may allow you to infer something about potential need, financial ability to purchase, and buying authority, but that's it. For this decision, the primary criteria should be that the lead is affiliated with an organization that fits your company's target market and has a job title that indicates a reasonable connection with the products or services you sell.

Identification of Sales-Ready Leads

The next point at which you need to evaluate lead quality is when you are deciding whether a lead is ready to engage with a sales rep. A modified version of BANT should be part of the criteria you use to make this decision. For example:
  • Need - A sales-ready lead will have acknowledged the existence of a need that your product or service can address.
  • Authority - A sales-ready lead will be a member of the buying group that will make the purchase decision. The lead doesn't need to be the classic "economic buyer" or have sole buying authority, but he or she should be a member of the decision-making group.
  • Timeframe - A sales-ready lead will be actively evaluating possible solutions for the recognized need. Your lead may not have a firm schedule for making a purchase decision, but he or she should have acknowledged that addressing the need has become a priority for his or her organization.
  • Budget - A lead doesn't need to have an established budget to be considered sales ready. As I wrote in my earlier post, research by DemandGen Report has shown that between 70% and 80% of business buyers evaluate potential solutions, build a business case for immediate adoption, and then obtain spending approval. However, you should be fairly confident that the prospect organization has the financial wherewithal to purchase your product or service.
Identification of Sales Opportunities

The third point at which you need to evaluate lead quality is when you are determining whether you have a legitimate sales opportunity. By sales opportunity, I mean a potential deal that has progressed far enough to be included in your revenue forecast. For this decision, the focus of lead qualification is on the prospect organization rather than on an individual "lead" within the organization, and the BANT criteria are particularly relevant. For example:
  • Need - To qualify as a sales opportunity, your sales rep should have confirmed that the prospect has a need that your product or service can address and that all members of the buying group have acknowledged the need.
  • Authority - Your sales rep should have identified and established relationships will all members of the buying group. In addition, you sales rep must understand what process will be used to make the buying decision and what role each "buyer" plays in that process.
  • Timeframe - To qualify as a sales opportunity, the buying process must have progressed to the point that the prospect is committed to making a purchase decision within a defined period of time.
  • Budget - While it is not essential to have a specific budget line item for the proposed purchase, your sales rep should have confirmed that the prospect's buying group has access to sufficient funds to make the purchase and the ability to commit those funds when the purchase decision is made.
BANT should never be the only criteria used to qualify sales leads. As noted earlier, BANT is not appropriate for qualifying early-stage leads, and it provides only some of the criteria for identifying when a lead is sales ready. However, BANT is not nearly as useless or outdated as some of us may have thought.