Sunday, December 28, 2014

Our Most Popular Posts - 2014 Edition

This will be my last post of 2014, and I want to thank everyone who has spent some of his or her valuable time reading this blog. I hope that you have found the content here to be both thought-provoking and useful.

Thanks to analytics, I can see how many times each blog post has been viewed, and I thought this would be an appropriate time to share which posts have been most widely read. This ranking is based on cumulative total reads, and therefore older posts obviously have a built-in advantage.

So, in case you missed any of them, here are our five most popular posts.

An Inconvenient Truth About B2B Demand Generation - If you're a B2B marketer, measuring the dynamics of your lead-to-revenue funnel is critical to understanding how well your demand generation system is performing. This post shows that the demand generation system in many B2B companies is horribly inefficient and illustrates how much improvement is possible through the implementation of best practices.

Why Content Marketing is the Best Way to Build the Brand - Some respected marketing industry experts have argued that content marketing has made brand marketing or "building the brand" obsolete. This post argues that building the brand is still an essential marketing objective for B2B companies and that content marketing is now the best marketing tactic to use for branding. For another perspective on the importance of brand building, see Why B2B Branding Still Matters.

Use an Importance-Performance Matrix to Get Marketing and Sales Talking - A perennial favorite. This post explains how to use an importance-performance matrix to capture the degree of agreement or disagreement between marketing and sales regarding key demand generation activities. An importance-performance matrix won't tell you how to resolve conflicts between marketing and sales, but it will identify the issues you need to address.

It's Time to Integrate Marketing and Sales - Marketing and sales "alignment" has been a hot topic among B2B marketing and sales professionals for some time. This post argues that it may be time to move beyond mere "alignment" and actually integrate the marketing and sales functions. In a later post - Four Key Ingredients in the Marketing/Sales Integration Recipe - I discussed four critical requirements for integrating marketing and sales.

Why BANT No Longer Works for Qualifying Leads - One of the most widely-used methods for qualifying B2B sales leads is known by the acronym BANT, which stands for Budget-Authority-Need-Timeline. This post argues that BANT is no longer an effective way to qualify sales leads. In a later post - Rethinking the Value of of BANT (It's Not as Outdated as Some Suggest) - I revisited this topic and argued that the BANT criteria can still be useful for qualifying leads if they are used at the right times to answer the right questions.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Why Print Marketing is Still Vital for Some Companies

The growth of digital marketing over the past few years has been nothing short of spectacular. According to Forrester's latest digital marketing forecast, digital marketing spend in the US will exceed $100 billion in five years, it will be about $13 billion more than television advertising, and it will represent 35% of all US advertising spend.

There's no longer any doubt that digital technologies are playing an increasingly important role in the path to purchase of both consumers and business buyers. This doesn't mean, however, that all non-digital forms of marketing have lost their effectiveness. In fact, recent research indicates that traditional print-based marketing channels and tactics are still a vital part of the marketing communications mix for some kinds of companies.

The Nielsen Research

In September of this year, The Nielsen Company published a report that focused on what sources of information consumers use to make buying decisions. The Nielsen report acknowledged the growing importance of digital technologies in consumers' path to purchase. For example, Nielsen expects that online sales of consumer product goods in the US will be 2.5 times higher in 2015 than they were in 2010.

What some people will find surprising is that Nielsen's research also reveals that print marketing is still an effective component of the marketing mix for retailers. Nielsen found that today, more than half of all US shoppers use printed circulars to obtain product and sales information, and the use of printed circulars is nearly 20 percentage points higher than the closest digital marketing touch point - email. Based on its research, Nielsen concludes that print is not dead for retailers and that digital won't be replacing print anytime soon.

The ABM Research

Research also shows that print marketing is still effective in the B2B space. Last year, The Association of Business Information & Media Companies (ABM) conducted an in-depth survey of almost 6,700 media end-users (readers, event attendees, etc.) to gain insights about how they are obtaining information to support business-related purchases. The survey focused on several kinds of digital and print media, and also included events such as conferences and trade shows.

The ABM survey found that 96% of end-users use both websites and print magazines to obtain business information. When asked what sources of information they use on a weekly basis, 73% of respondents said websites, 67% said e-newsletters, and 45% said print magazines.

ABM also asked survey participants to rate the importance of various sources of information in buying decisions. When asked about researching work-related purchases, the top three sources identified by respondents were:

  • Websites - 65% of respondents
  • Product information from manufacturers - 62%
  • Print magazines - 48%
When asked specifically what sources of information were important for learning about new products, services, or suppliers, the top three information sources identified by respondents were:
  • Websites - 80% of respondents
  • Product information from manufacturers - 73%
  • Print magazines - 69%
Key Takeaway

The growing importance of digital marketing channels and techniques is undeniable, but these research findings indicate that both consumers and business buyers are still using printed marketing materials to inform buying decisions. The evidence shows that potential buyers are increasing the number of information sources they use during their path to purchase. So, they are embracing the newer digital communication channels, but they are also continuing to rely on traditional, non-digital sources of information.

It's also clear from these studies and other research that younger buyers are more likely to use and rely on digital communication channels. Therefore, it's likely that, over time, non-digital marketing channels and tactics (including print-centric marketing) will become less important than they are today. For the intermediate future, however, print marketing will remain a useful and effective component of the marketing mix for many kinds of companies.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Do Inbound Leads Cost Less? Maybe.

Advocates of inbound marketing frequently assert that leads acquired through inbound tactics cost less than leads obtained through outbound marketing techniques. The research usually cited to support this claim is the annual inbound marketing survey conducted by Hubspot. In the State of Inbound 2014 study, Hubspot found that in B2B companies having 51 to 200 employees, the average cost of an inbound lead was $70, while the average cost of an outbound lead was $220. Hubspot went on to say, "We did find that leads sourced through inbound practices are consistently less expensive than outbound leads, regardless of company size."

Hubspot has been conducting annual surveys for five years, and all have consistently shown that inbound leads are less expensive (on a cost-per-lead basis) than outbound leads.

Measuring the relative costs of acquiring leads through inbound and outbound marketing techniques can be useful and valuable, but marketers must keep two important points in mind. First, it's obviously critical to have an accurate picture of the costs. In many companies, inbound marketing work is done by internal employees, many of whom have other job responsibilities. Therefore, unless a company tracks labor costs on a activity basis, the costs associated with inbound marketing will often be understated.

It's also critical to remember that understanding the relative costs of acquiring leads through inbound and outbound marketing programs will not, in itself, tell you whether inbound marketing or outbound marketing is more valuable for your business.

To accurately measure the value of any lead generation tactic, you also need to know what quality of leads the tactic is producing. In this context, lead quality refers to the likelihood that a lead will actually make a purchase and become a customer. To incorporate lead quality into your evaluation, you need to use lead conversion rates to "translate" lead acquisition costs to the customer level.

I can illustrate how lead conversion rates impact lead costs with a simple example. The table below compares the costs of inbound vs. outbound leads at various stages of the lead-to-revenue cycle.























In this example, I'm using the following lead stages:

  • Inquiries
  • Marketing qualified leads (MQLs)
  • Sales accepted leads (SALs)
  • Sales qualified leads (SQLs)
  • New customers
The cost-per-inquiry values used in the above table are based on research by SiriusDecisions, and the conversion rates in the table for inbound leads are the conversion rates that SiriusDecisions says are achieved by the average B2B company. For illustration purposes in this example, I'm assuming that outbound leads convert at slightly higher rates than inbound leads - 2 percentage points at each lead stage.
As the table shows, the cost-per-inquiry for inbound leads is significantly lower than for outbound leads. At $25.00 per inquiry vs. $41.50 per inquiry, inbound leads are about 40% cheaper than outbound leads. However, when measured on a "per new customer" basis (which is the most important number), outbound leads in this example actually cost about 3% less than inbound leads.
Please understand, I'm not arguing that outbound marketing is "better" than inbound marketing. The conversion rates for outbound leads used in my example are for illustration purposes only. Your conversion rates for both inbound and outbound leads will almost certainly differ from those used in my table. In addition, research by SiriusDecisions has indicated that inbound leads cost less and have higher conversion rates, on average, than outbound leads.
The important point here is that you can't evaluate the value of inbound vs. outbound marketing for your business until you measure your lead acquisition costs at the customer level.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Why a Little Uncertainty Makes Marketing Content More Persuasive

Developing content that will create meaningful engagement with potential buyers is a perennial challenge for most marketers. In all five of the annual content marketing surveys by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, respondents said that producing engaging content was one of their top three challenges.

Thanks to numerous research studies, we now know that most B2B buyers are turned off by content that is overly promotional. For example, in a recent survey by The Economist Group, business executives were asked to identify the main reason that a content resource does not make a positive impression. Seventy-one percent of the respondents said content that "seemed more like a sales pitch."

Creating content that does not "seem like a sales pitch" is unfamiliar territory for many marketers because the use of promotional content is deeply ingrained in the culture of marketing. For decades, marketers have been trained to use forceful, unequivocal, and/or dramatic language and images in order to make their content as persuasive as possible. A significant body of "persuasion research" supports the general principle that strong, forceful content is more persuasive that weak or tepid content.

In reality, however, forceful and unequivocal content is not always the most engaging and persuasive content. Research by Zakary Tormala, an associate professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Uma Karmarkar, now an assistant professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School, has demonstrated that a small dose of uncertainty can actually make marketing content more engaging.

Tormala and Karmarkar conducted multiple experiments that tested the impact of three elements of a persuasive message - the strength of the arguments used in the message, the perceived expertise of the message source or provider, and the certainty with which recommendations in the message are expressed. One surprising finding of these experiments was that "experts" are more persuasive when they qualify their arguments or otherwise express some uncertainty about their opinions.

Professor Tormala says that incongruity between the source's perceived expertise and level of certainty makes a message more intriguing. He says, "Whether it's a person without established expertise in a given domain expressing very high certainty or a person with clearly established expertise in a domain expressing low certainty, the inconsistency is surprising. It draws people in. And as long as the arguments in the message are reasonably strong, being drawn in leads to more persuasion."

This research has important implications for B2B marketers. Most importantly, it means that your content will be more effective at creating engagement with potential buyers if it embodies a more reserved tone and minimizes the use of broad, absolute arguments and recommendations. This is particularly critical for content that's primarily designed for potential buyers who aren't familiar with your company. In this circumstance, understated content works better to create engagement because it's not what potential buyers expect from a vendor, and therefore it causes them to think about the arguments that your content makes.

The critical point is that marketing content must engage before it can persuade and that objective and balanced content if often more effective at creating engagement than content that makes unequivocal claims and recommendations.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

What Makes a Lead Really Sales Ready?

One of the most important requirements for an effective B2B demand generation system is a clear understanding of who constitutes a sales-ready lead. Describing what makes a lead sales-ready is the essential starting point for defining the roles and responsibilities of marketing and sales. In an optimized demand generation system, marketing is primarily responsible for acquiring new leads and for nurturing leads until they are sales ready. Once a lead is sales ready, sales assumes the primary responsible for managing that relationship.

The term sales-ready lead is used frequently by marketing thought leaders and practitioners, but it's difficult to find a useful or widely-accepted definition of the concept. Some marketing pundits avoid the need to define sales-ready lead by saying that the term means whatever marketing and sales agree that it means.

In practice, companies vary greatly in terms of when they pass leads from marketing to sales. In a recent blog post, Bob Apollo described research by SiriusDecisions regarding when companies treat leads as being sales ready. According to this research, 28% of companies treat all contacts or inquiries as sales-ready leads and pass them to sales without any qualification. At the other extreme, 10% of companies only pass leads to sales after they are fully BANT-qualified. In between, 25% of companies will pass a lead to sales when the lead has an "appropriate" job title and is affiliated with an "appropriate" type of company.

We need to do better. If we want to optimize the performance of our demand generation system, we need a rational, reasonable, and substantive definition of who constitutes a sales-ready lead. I'll offer one momentarily, but first it's important to understand who is not a sales-ready lead.

To start with, a raw inquiry does not constitute a sales-ready lead. A raw inquiry is someone who has identified himself or herself, but otherwise has shown only a minimal level of interest in what you offer. He or she may have filled out a registration form and downloaded one of your content resources, but that's it.

Sales ready is also not equivalent to ready to buy. As noted earlier, some companies only pass leads to sales when the leads are fully qualified using the traditional BANT criteria. As I pointed out in an earlier post, the problem with BANT is that some of the criteria won't be met until near the end of the buying process, and in addition, it's increasingly unlikely that any one person can ever satisfy all of the BANT requirements.

A sales-ready lead, therefore, falls somewhere between a raw inquiry and a BANT-qualified lead. Here's my proposed definition:

A sales-ready lead is an individual who (a) is affiliated with a qualified prospect, (b) can make or influence the decision to purchase your product or service, and (c) is sufficiently interested in exploring solutions to engage in a meaningful dialog with a salesperson. In this definition, the term qualified prospect means an organization that has a need your company can address and falls within your defined target market.

This definition provides a good starting point, but I also think it's important to have specific criteria for identifying sales-ready leads. The table below includes eleven criteria that I suggest are appropriate for most companies. The first four criteria apply to the prospect organization, and the remaining criteria apply to the individual lead.




















That's what I say makes a lead really sales-ready. How about you?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

B2B Marketers Identify the "Best" Lead Generation Techniques

When it comes to evaluating lead generation tactics and channels, most B2B marketers are interested in three basic performance characteristics - the quality, quantity, and cost of leads produced. A recent report by Software Advice provides insights on marketers' perceptions regarding the effectiveness and efficiency of several popular lead generation techniques.

The 2014 B2B Demand Generation Benchmark report is based on a survey of 200 B2B marketing professionals. The survey was designed to elicit input from marketers regarding what channels, offers, content types, and technologies they are using in their demand generation programs and which of those techniques and tools are most effective and efficient. Specifically, the survey asked for marketers' perceptions regarding the productivity of 15 lead generation tactics:

  • Trade shows & events
  • Search engine advertising
  • In-house email marketing
  • Print, radio & TV advertising
  • Referral/advocate marketing
  • Third-party webinars
  • Organic search
  • Social media advertising
  • Third-party lead originators
  • Social media (non-ads)
  • Telemarketing/cold-calling
  • Third-party email marketing
  • Retargeting advertising
  • Direct mail
  • Display advertising
Lead Quantity
The Software Advice survey asked participants to rate each lead generation channel/technique in terms of its effectiveness at producing a large quantity of leads. The rating choices were very high, somewhat high, somewhat low, and very low. The top four channels/tactics for lead quantity (based on the combination of very high and somewhat high ratings) were:
  1. Trade shows & events
  2. In-house email marketing
  3. Referral/advocate marketing
  4. Search engine advertising
Lead Quality
Survey participants were also asked to rate each lead generation technique in terms of the quality of leads produced. The top four channels/tactics for lead quality (based on the combination of excellent and good ratings) were:
  1. Trade shows & events
  2. Referral/advocate marketing
  3. In-house email marketing
  4. Print, radio & TV advertising
Cost-Per-Lead
Finally, Software Advice asked survey participants to rate each channel or technique in terms of cost. The top four least expensive channels/tactics (based on the combination of very low and somewhat low cost-per-lead ratings) were:
  1. In-house email marketing
  2. Social media (non-ads)
  3. Referral/advocate marketing
  4. Third-party email marketing
For me, the most significant takeaway from the Software Advice report is that B2B marketers continue to say that trade shows and events produce both the most and the best leads. This indicates that marketers still believe strongly in the power and efficacy of in-person interactions with potential buyers.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Why It's Critical to Solve the Measurement Problem in Content Marketing

In their November 8th podcast, Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose offered several comments on my recent post - Is There a Crisis of Confidence in Content Marketing? Joe Pulizzi is the founder of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), and Robert Rose is CMI's Chief Strategy Officer. Under Joe and Robert's leadership, CMI produces great research regarding content marketing, and its annual conference (Content Marketing World) has become a premier content marketing event.

In their podcast, Joe and Robert say that content marketing is not facing a crisis of confidence. They acknowledge that many marketers aren't sure that their content marketing efforts are effective, but they contend that most of the uncertainty exists because content marketing is still a relatively new practice. Joe and Robert also acknowledge that most marketers don't have confidence in their ability to measure the effectiveness of content marketing, but they argue that the measurement problem is not unique to content marketing.

I agree with Joe and Robert that there is no immediate crisis of confidence in content marketing. Research by CMI and others shows that most companies are increasing their commitment to content marketing, which indicates that most marketers believe that content marketing is effective and valuable. Moreover, some companies have been able to quantify the value of content marketing. For example, at the recent Content Marketing World conference, Julie Fleischer, the director of data, content, and media at Kraft Foods, said that Kraft now generates a four-times-better return on investment through content marketing than through advertising.

In general, however, marketers aren't confident in their ability to measure the business impact and value of content marketing. In a 2014 survey by Contently, only 9.4% of marketers said they are very confident in their ability to measure the business results of content marketing. During the podcast, Joe Pulizzi said that according to CMI research, about 20% of marketers say they can measure the effectiveness of content marketing.

Whether the right number is 9.4% or 20% or somewhere in between, the measurement problem is a significant issue even if it doesn't create an immediate crisis of confidence. As companies spend more and more on content marketing, CEO's and other senior business leaders will begin to demand more convincing evidence that their investments are producing measurable financial results. So, if we want to solidify and sustain the support for content marketing, we need to develop a credible approach for measuring its impact on strategic business objectives such as growing revenues, market share, and profits.

The good news is that the measurement challenge is receiving a considerable amount of attention, and there is an emerging body of knowledge about how to measure the performance of content marketing. For example:

The measurement frameworks offered by Jay Baer, Curata, and Contently all contain many good ideas, and I agree with some of the specific metrics they suggest. However, I contend that most companies should not focus their measurement framework on content marketing per se. In an upcoming post, I'll explain why.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Should Marketing or Sales Take the Lead in Lead Generation?

Today, there are two distinct, and seemingly contradictory, paradigms of B2B demand generation. Both paradigms are essentially responses to profound changes in the B2B marketing and sales environment, the most significant of which has been the emergence of empowered buyers. Business buyers now have easy access to a wealth of information, and they are using that information to perform research on their own. As a result, they are much less dependent on sellers than in the past.

One approach to dealing with empowered buyers is to expand the role of marketing in lead acquisition and lead nurturing. Proponents of this approach rely on research which indicates that today's business buyers are educating themselves and delaying conversations with sales reps until later in the buying process. For example, SiriusDecisions says that business buyers are now performing 67% of their buying process online. CEB and Forrester Research go even further and say, respectively, that B2B buyers are 57% or 67% through the buying process before they engage salespeople.

The marketing-centric paradigm accepts that most potential buyers prefer to learn about business issues and possible solutions on their own, especially in the early stages of the buying process. Advocates of the marketing-centric paradigm say that instead of fighting this preference, companies should use content resources and marketing automation technologies to support the "self-directed buyer" as he or she goes through the learning process.

The second paradigm of B2B demand generation focuses on sales methodology and emphasizes the continued importance of sales reps in the demand generation process. CEB is a major advocate of this paradigm, and what CEB and others argue is that salespeople should engage early-stage buyers and use disruptive insights to change how they are thinking about business issues and challenges. These disruptive insights enable sales reps to shape demand rather than simply react to existing demand. More importantly, disruptive insights provide value that buyers can't easily get anywhere else and thus make it worthwhile for them to interact with sales reps.

Advocates of the sales methodology paradigm argue that the statistics from SiriusDecisions, CEB, and Forrester are averages that mask a wide variation in actual buyer behavior. And there is research to support this argument. For example, in the 2012 How Buyers Consume Information Survey by ITSMA, over 70% of B2B technology buyers said that want to engage with sales reps before they finalize a short list of preferred vendors.

The reality is that B2B demand generation is more varied and complex than it is often portrayed. When you consider all of the available research, it's clear that a large majority of business buyers (probably 80% or more) are performing independent research before they interact with a sales rep. It's also clear, however, that a significant percentage of potential buyers will turn to sales reps early in the buying process. Therefore, the two paradigms of B2B demand generation are, in fact, complementary, not contradictory.

What is also undeniable is that early engagement is vital to demand generation success. Forrester says that solution providers who engage prospects early in the buying process win 74% of the deals, while the win rate for those who engage late in the process is only 26%.

The bottom line is, B2B companies must be ready, willing, and able to engage with prospects on their terms. This means that successful lead generation requires both marketing and sales.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Why Your Marketing Content Needs Great "Curb Appeal"

If you've ever sold a house, your real estate agent probably talked with you about the importance of curb appeal, and he or she may have suggested that you do some things (prune the landscaping, paint the trim, etc.) to improve your home's curb appeal.

Curb appeal is the visual attractiveness of a house as seen from the street, and it is what creates that all-important first impression of a house in the minds of potential buyers. Real estate professionals know that curb appeal plays a huge role in determining how quickly a house will sell and what price it will bring.

First impressions are also critical in B2B marketing. And today, most of your potential customers will base their first impression of your company on the content you publish and distribute. We now know that business buyers are performing research on their own, and many are delaying conversations with sales reps until later in the buying process. Because potential buyers usually interact with your content before they interact in any other way with your company or your product or service, they form an impression of your company based on the content they consume.

If your content fails to create a good first impression, a potential buyer will quickly look elsewhere, and you may not get another chance to create engagement with that buyer. On the other hand, when your content creates a good first impression - when it has good curb appeal - a potential buyer will likely "come back for more" and be willing to continue his or her engagement with your company. Just as important, when one of your content resources creates a good first impression, a potential buyer is much more inclined to view the rest of your content - and your company - favorably.

That's because of a powerful cognitive bias known as the halo effect. The halo effect can be defined as the transfer of positive (or negative) feelings about one thing to another, without having a rational basis for the transfer. The halo effect can be found in a wide range of human judgments. For example:

  • If I meet a person who is well-spoken and likable, I am likely to believe that the person is also intelligent, generous, and ethical.
  • If I have a good experience with a Honda automobile, I will be inclined to believe that I'll also be happy with a Honda lawnmower.
  • If I read a white paper produced by your company and find the paper to be useful and valuable, I'll be inclined to believe that other content resources produced by your company will also be useful and valuable. Just as important, I'll also be inclined to believe that your company is good at what it does.
The critical thing to remember about the halo effect is that it elevates the importance of first impressions, sometimes to the point that subsequent information is largely ignored.

Daniel Kahneman, a winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, shared a first-hand experience with the halo effect in his best-selling book Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman wrote that when he was a young professor, he graded students' essay exams in the conventional way. He picked up a test booklet and read all that student's essays in immediate succession, grading them as he went. When finished, he would compute the total grade and go on to the next student.

Kahneman eventually noticed that his evaluations of the essays in each booklet were very similar. He began to suspect that his grading exhibited a halo effect and that the first essay he scored had a disproportionate effect on the overall grade. In essence, if Kahneman gave a high score to the first essay, he tended to give that student the benefit of the doubt if the subsequent essays contained flaws.

Kahneman recognized that this created a serious problem. If a student had written two essays - one strong and one weak - Kahneman would end up awarding different final grades, depending on which essay he read first. As Kahenman writes, "I had told the students that the two essays had equal weight, but that was not true:  the first one had a much greater impact on the final grade than the second."

As a B2B marketer, you can benefit from the halo effect if you consistently produce content that creates a great first impression with potential buyers. But the halo effect doesn't really make your job easier, because it's impossible to predict which of your content resources a potential buyer will encounter first. Therefore, all of your content resources need to be capable of producing great first impressions. In other words, all of your content needs to have great curb appeal.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Is There a Crisis of Confidence in Content Marketing?

There's no longer any doubt that content marketing is playing a central role in the marketing efforts of most B2B companies. The annual content marketing surveys by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs have consistently shown that about nine out of ten B2B companies are using content marketing in some form.

Research also shows that the use of content marketing is continuing to grow.

  • In the 2015 "B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends - North America" survey by CMI and MarketingProfs (the "2015 CMI survey"), 70% of respondents said they are producing more content than they did one year earlier, and 55% said they planned to increase their content marketing spending.
  • In the "2014 BtoB Outlook:  Marketing Priorities and Plans" study by Advertising Age, 75% of surveyed marketers said they planned to increase their content budget in 2014, and only 1.3% said they would decrease their content budget this year.
Despite their commitment to content marketing, many marketers are not satisfied with the results produced by their content marketing efforts. For example:
  • In the 2015 CMI survey, only 38% of respondents said they believe their content marketing efforts have been effective.
  • In another study by CMI of B2B marketers in large enterprises (companies with 1,000+ employees), only 32% of survey respondents rated their content marketing programs as effective or very effective. ("B2B Enterprise Content Marketing:  2014 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends - North America").
  • In a July 2014 survey by Starfleet Media, 35% of respondents said they had "not been successful at all" with their content marketing efforts.
While some of this dissatisfaction undoubtedly relates to the actual performance of content marketing programs, I suggest that most of the uncertainty about content marketing exists because marketers aren't confident that they can accurately measure the business results produced by their content marketing efforts.

A 2014 survey by Contently clearly demonstrated that many marketers lack confidence in their ability to measure the business impact of content marketing. The table below shows how marketers described the effectiveness of their content-related metrics at measuring the business results produced by their content marketing programs. As the table shows, only 9.4% of surveyed marketers said they are very confident that their key performance metrics for content are effective at measuring business results. Another 45% said they are "kind of confident" in the effectiveness of their content performance metrics.















It's difficult to measure the impact of content marketing on business outcomes such as revenues because, like many marketing tactics, most content marketing activities don't directly produce immediate revenues. Despite the challenges, however, it's important for marketers to find ways to measure the value of content marketing and communicate that value to senior company leaders. Without compelling evidence that content marketing is producing significant value, the support for content marketing may begin to wane. In a future post, I'll discuss how marketers can approach the challenge of measuring the impact of content marketing.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Business Case for Interactive Content Marketing

It's now clear that content marketing has become a core marketing strategy for most B2B companies, and the use of content marketing is continuing to grow. Findings from the latest annual content marketing survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs reveal both the pervasiveness and expansion of content marketing.

  • 86% of survey respondents said their companies are using content marketing.
  • 70% of respondents said they are producing more content than they did one year ago.
  • 55% of respondents said they plan to increase or significantly increase their content marketing spending.
When it's done correctly, content marketing is the most effective way to create meaningful engagement with today's empowered and independent buyers. However, I suggest that we are beginning to see signs of content fatigue. The irony is that the growing popularity of content marketing is contributing to content fatigue and creating a new challenge for marketers. As more and more companies publish more and more content, it's becoming more difficult to make your content stand out.

Of course, the need to create content that captures the attention of prospects and triggers engagement is not new. In all five of the annual content marketing surveys by CMI/MarketingProfs, producing engaging content has been one of the three top challenges identified by survey respondents. The explosive proliferation of content and the resulting content fatigue have only added to the challenge.

Recent research by Demand Metric reveals that interactive content can be a powerful weapon for combating content fatigue. In the Demand Metric study, interactive content was defined as content that invites or requires some level of active involvement by the prospect. The survey provided study participants several examples of interactive content, including wizards, configurators, assessments, quizzes, calculators, and games. Passive content was defined as content that invites or requires little or no interaction by the prospect beyond reading, viewing, or listening.

Demand Metric asked study participants to categorize their content using one of five options - very passive, somewhat passive, moderate, slightly interactive, or very interactive. Then, Demand Metric grouped the responses into two broader categories. The passive content category included the "very passive," "somewhat passive," and "moderate" responses, while the interactive content category included the "slightly interactive" and "very interactive" responses.

Next, Demand Metric asked survey participants to rate the effectiveness of their content at performing three critical marketing functions - producing prospect conversions, educating the buyer, and creating differentiation from competitors. Finally, Demand Metric compared the ratings of interactive content users with passive content users.

The table below shows the results of this comparison, and the results demonstrate clearly that interactive content is better than passive content at performing all three vital marketing functions.
















The use of interactive content is not new. Some companies, primarily larger enterprises, have been using configurators, assessments, and calculators for several years. But, the interest in interactive content is growing rapidly, and the technology required to produce interactive content at scale is becoming more affordable. Therefore, the next major phase in the evolution of content marketing may well be the marketing app.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Why Your Content Marketing Should Alienate (Some) Prospects

Recently, I attended a webinar presented by Doug Kessler titled Insane Honesty in Content Marketing. If you're not familiar with Doug Kessler, he's one of the co-founders of Velocity Partners, a content marketing agency based in the UK. Velocity consistently publishes great resources regarding content marketing, and this webinar is a must-see for B2B marketers.

According to Kessler, insane honesty in content marketing consists of:

  • Actively seeking out your weaknesses and sharing them openly; and
  • Strategically putting your worst foot forward.
Obviously, this approach runs counter to a whole laundry list of widely-accepted marketing principles and practices, and the idea is probably difficult for many marketers to swallow. In the webinar, Kessler shared several examples of insane honesty at work, which is another good reason you should view the presentation.

Six Reasons to Practice Insane Honesty

Kessler identified six reasons to practice insane honesty in your content marketing:
  1. It surprises and charms - Because this type of content is rare, it is more likely to capture the attention of potential buyers.
  2. It signals confidence - Kessler contends that confidence is the most powerful attribute of all effective content marketing.
  3. It builds trust - If you're insanely honest about the weaknesses of your solution, potential buyers will be more likely to trust what you say about the strengths and benefits of your solution.
  4. It alienates less likely buyers.
  5. It attracts your ideal prospects.
  6. It focuses your sales and marketing team on the battles you can win.
All of these reasons are important, but I want to focus on reason #4 in this post. Marketing content that is insanely honest will alienate some of your prospects, and that is a good thing because of the economics of B2B demand generation.

Insane Honesty Supports Economic Demand Generation

The diagram below illustrates the point that your investment in a prospect increases as the prospect moves through the marketing/sales funnel. On average, you will have much more invested in a Sales Opportunity than you will in an Inquiry. Therefore, it's important to determine whether your solution is a good "fit" for a prospect as early as possible in the prospect relationship.



















Marketing content that is insanely honest serves two critical marketing objectives. It functions as a magnet that simultaneously attracts prospects who are a good fit for your business and repels those who aren't. The result is a more effective and efficient demand generation process and a lower likelihood of winding up with frustrated and unhappy customers.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

More Insight on the Content Preferences of B2B Buyers

DemandGen Report recently released the results of its 2014 B2B Content Preferences Survey. The 2014 survey received responses from 105 buyers of B2B products and services. It asked survey participants about their use of content in making purchasing decisions. About 38% of the survey respondents held C-level or VP-level positions at their companies, while almost 27% held director-level positions.

The results of the 2014 survey are not terribly surprising. For the most part, they are similar to the findings of DemandGen's 2013 content preferences survey, and they are also similar to the results of several other research studies, such as the 2014 B2B Technology Content Survey conducted by Eccolo Media. Still, the 2014 DemandGen survey provides several insights for B2B marketers. Here are a few of the survey's major findings:

  • Content is more important than ever - Three-fourths (75%) of survey respondents said they rely on content more than they did a year ago.
  • Desktop and laptop PC's remain the primary tools for accessing business-related content, but mobile phones and tablets are growing in importance - Ninety-five percent (95%) of respondents said they frequently use a desktop or laptop PC to access content, while 56% said they frequently use a mobile phone, and 42% indicated that they frequently use a tablet.
  • Buyers trust user-generated content most - Sixty-five percent (65%) of respondents said they frequently give more credence to content that includes peer reviews and user-generated feedback. Forty-three percent (43%) of respondents said they frequently trust content that is authored by a third party and sponsored by a vendor, and only 13% said they frequently give more credence to content that is created directly by a vendor.
The authors of the DemandGen survey report noted that the popularity of white papers fell by 5% in 2014. However, the survey also revealed that B2B buyers still rate white papers as the most valuable type of content. The 2014 survey included this question:  "What do you feel are the most valuable online content formats for researching B2B purchases? (rate on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 = most effective)" The table below shows the percentage or respondents giving each content format a "1" rating.






















One important takeaway from the DemandGen survey results is that white papers authored by third-party experts are still one of the most powerful and effective types of marketing content that B2B companies can use.

You can get a copy of DemandGen's 2014 B2B Content Preferences Survey report here.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Marketing Strategy is Vital - Marketing Plans are (Nearly) Worthless

Most business leaders now agree that today's competitive environment is more volatile, uncertain, and complex than ever before, and that companies must constantly adapt in order to grow and prosper. While volatility, uncertainty, and complexity affect all aspects of business, they are having a profound impact on marketing. The interests, values, and preferences of today's consumers and business buyers can change rapidly, and marketers must be ready to respond quickly to these changes.

Marketing leaders now recognize that the explosive pace of change in the marketing landscape has made flexibility and agility critical attributes of effective marketing. The need for adaptable and responsive marketing has caused some pundits and practitioners to question whether a long-term, strategic approach to marketing is still useful. In addition, it can be easy to argue that the growing use of agile marketing techniques eliminates the need for (or at least diminishes the value of) marketing strategy. The fundamental issue is:  Is marketing strategy still necessary and valuable when the recipe for effective marketing seems to be constantly changing?

The argument that marketing strategy no longer matters goes something like this:  "The future is inherently unpredictable, so why worry about a marketing strategy? Why spend the time developing a marketing strategy when competitive conditions are just going to change anyway, and there's no way to be certain that any given strategy will be relevant in the future? What companies should do is focus on reacting quickly to changes as they occur."

On the surface, this argument sounds reasonable, but it is deeply flawed. The reality is, increased volatility, uncertainty, and complexity make marketing strategy more, not less, important. Many marketers find the argument appealing because they confuse marketing strategy with marketing plans.

Marketing Plans Focus on Tactics

Over the past twenty-five years, I've reviewed dozens of marketing plans, and I've found that they inevitably emphasize marketing tactics, specifically marketing communication tactics. For example, a marketing plan will typically describe where and how much TV, radio, and print advertising will be used, what direct marketing campaigns will be run, and how marketers plan to leverage social media marketing. In B2B companies, the marketing plan will also identify the trade shows and other events the company will participate in. In short, marketing plans talk a lot about marketing tactics, but give little attention to marketing strategy.

Marketing Strategy Deals with Different Issues

Strategy has been defined in a multitude of ways over the years. Roger Martin, former Dean of the Rotman School of Management and co-author of Playing to Win:  How Strategy Really Works, provides a definition that captures the essence of strategy pretty well. In his book, Martin says that strategy is a set of choices that provide the answers to five questions:

  • What is our winning aspiration (what does success look like)?
  • Where will we play (what kinds of organizations and/or individuals will we seek to serve, what products and/or services will we offer, and where, geographically, will we compete)?
  • How will we win (how will we create value for our customers)?
  • What capabilities need to be in place?
  • What management systems must be instituted?
These five questions relate to overall business strategy, but with a few slight modifications, they can easily be used to define the essential components of marketing strategy.

Strategy and Tactics Have Different Shelf Lives

It should be obvious that marketing strategy and marketing tactics deal with very different issues. Just as important, marketers must remember that strategy and tactics have different shelf lives.

Marketing strategy focuses (or should focus) primarily on what kinds of organizations or people your company will seek to serve and on how you will create value for those customers. These choices do not change all that frequently, even in today's volatile environment. Marketing tactics, on the other hand, can and should be constantly adapted to address changing buyer interests, concerns, and communication preferences. The tactics that work well today, may be far less effective in a few weeks or months.

Marketing strategy guides and provides the context for your tactical marketing activities. That makes marketing strategy vital for effective marketing. Marketing tactics must be constantly tweaked in response to future conditions that are inherently unpredictable. That makes marketing plans that extend for more than a few weeks into the future almost worthless.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

How Agile Marketing Improves Business Performance

Most marketers now recognize that flexibility, adaptability, and responsiveness have become critical attributes of successful marketing. The interests, values, and communications preferences of today's buyers can all change rapidly, and marketers must always be prepared to deal with a competitive environment that's constantly evolving.

Marketers no longer have the luxury to spend months crafting large marketing campaigns and programs that are designed to run for weeks or months. In today's fast-paced, always-on marketing environment, marketers must be able to produce on the fly, and continuously adapt their marketing tactics and content to changing competitive conditions.

The demand for more adaptable and responsive marketing has given birth to a new marketing discipline that's known appropriately as agile marketing. Agile marketing is derived from agile software development. It's based on several principles, but the primary focus is on rapid prototyping, small-scale experimentation, and breaking marketing activities into small tasks that can be completed in a relatively short period of time (a week or a few weeks at most).

Over the past couple of years, a growing number of companies have implemented agile marketing in some form, and recent research has demonstrated that agile marketing produces significant benefits. For example, CMG Partners recently released the results of a qualitative survey that involved interviews with more than 40 CMO's, other marketing leaders, and agile marketing experts. The survey included both respondents from companies that had implemented agile marketing ("agile users") and respondents that had not yet adopted agile marketing ("non-users").

The results of the CMG Partners research clearly show that agile marketing drives improved business performance. For example:

  • 88% of non-users said that improving speed to market is a priority, while 93% of agile users said that adopting agile marketing had helped them to improve time to market (in terms of ideas, products, or marketing campaigns).
  • 91% of non-users said that being able to change direction more quickly and effectively is a priority, while 93% of agile users said that agile marketing helped them to change marketing messages and tactics more quickly and effectively.
  • 96% of non-users said that improving the productivity of their marketing team is a priority, while 87% of agile users said that implementing agile marketing had made their team more productive.
Some readers may wonder whether agile marketing is compatible with a longer-term strategic approach to marketing. Given the focus on short-term projects, small-scale experiments, and the use of feedback loops to drive frequent iterations of marketing programs, it would be easy to conclude that agile marketing eliminates the need for (or at least diminishes the value of) marketing strategy.

This is an important issue that I'll address in a future post. For now, let me just say that a well-conceived marketing strategy is critical for effective agile marketing because the strategy provides the essential context for agile marketing activities.

What's not open to debate is that marketing must be flexible and adaptable to succeed in today's volatile environment.

For a great introduction to agile marketing, take a look at this presentation made by Scott Brinker, a co-founder and the CTO of ion interactive, inc. Scott is also the author and editor of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, which I strongly recommend that you read regularly.

For more about the CMG Partners research, read this article at Forbes.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Stop Looking for "Silver-Bullet" Solutions in Marketing

In the sixteenth century, Spanish conquistadors in South America heard stories about a king who made an offering of gold and precious gems to his god as part of a religious ceremony. The Spaniards called the king El Dorado, and over time El Dorado came to mean the city of this king. According to the legend, El Dorado contained gold and precious stones in fabulous abundance. The legend was so powerful that for over two centuries, European explorers mounted numerous expeditions to search for El Dorado.

So far as we know, the "city of gold" was never found.

It's only human to long for simple and easy solutions to complex or difficult problems. At least once in our lives, most of us have yearned for a magic diet pill that would enable us to lose twenty pounds in four weeks without eating less or exercising more. Usually, we know this is just wishful thinking, but in some cases, our desire for simple solutions rises above mere wishful thinking. The number of self-help books that are sold every year demonstrates that millions of us are willing to believe that simple solutions for difficult challenges do, or at least might, exist.

The desire for simple solutions can also be found in the business world. Nowhere is this more evident than in the attempt to answer the most basic of all business questions:  What drives high performance? Over the past few decades, the effort to describe the "secret sauce" for achieving high performance has probably consumed more brainpower than any other single business topic. It has been the modern-day business equivalent of the quest for the Holy Grail or the search for El Dorado.

Since the early 1980s, dozens of books - most written by talented and well-respected authors - have purported to explain how companies achieve high performance. Some of these books describe the important attributes that high-performing companies share. The implicit (and often explicit) promise is that if you can develop these attributes in your business, you too will achieve high performance. Other books focus on specific management tools or techniques. Once again, the implicit promise is:  Use this tool or technique, and high performance will inevitably follow.

Despite the best efforts of a lot of very smart people, the recipe for high performance has remained elusive. No one has been able to get it quite right.

The desire for "silver-bullet" solutions is also widespread in the marketing world. Over the past few years, the number of marketing channels and techniques has exploded, largely because of the evolution of digital communication technologies. When a promising new marketing channel or technique appears, the marketing community often responds with great excitement. The "shiny new object" becomes the topic du jour for articles, blog posts, webinars, conference sessions, and even full-length books. As the hype machine kicks in, it becomes almost impossible not to overestimate the value that the new channel or technique will provide.

The basic problem is that success in marketing is far more complex and unpredictable than most people like to admit. The marketing world is not ruled by the kinds of precise laws that govern the natural world. For example, if I apply heat to water, the water will boil when the temperature reaches 212 degrees Fahrenheit. I can repeat this "experiment" thousands of times, and the result will always be the same. The laws of physics enable me to accurately predict that my action (applying heat to water) will produce a specific outcome (boiling water).

This level of predictability simply doesn't exist when it comes to marketing performance because success in marketing is determined by the interplay of numerous factors, many of which are beyond our control. The inability to dictate future outcomes has two important implications for marketers. First, it means that the use of any marketing tool or technique won't guarantee high performance, regardless of how sound that tool or technique may be. More importantly, however, we can't dictate future outcomes because there is no universal formula for high performance in marketing. Like El Dorado, it just doesn't exist.

Uncertainty will always be a prominent feature in the marketing landscape. When we accept the inevitability of uncertainty, we can put the decisions we make on sounder footing. This approach may not provide us as much comfort as relying on simple, "silver-bullet" solutions, but it's better than wasting our time on a fruitless search for El Dorado.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Diagnosing the Performance of Your Demand Generation Funnel

If you're a B2B marketer, describing the major attributes of your lead-to-revenue funnel and measuring the dynamics of your funnel are critical to understanding how well your demand generation system is performing. Funnel metrics will help provide the answers to three important questions:

  • Volume - Are our marketing programs generating a sufficient number of raw leads (sometimes called inquiries or engaged contacts or responses) to produce the amount of revenue that marketing is responsible for?
  • Conversion - What percentage of leads are progressing or "converting" from each lead stage to the next across the entire lead-to-revenue cycle?
  • Velocity - How long is the overall revenue cycle? In other words, how much time does it take, on average, for an initial response or inquiry to result in a closed sales? Funnel metrics can also measure how long, on average, leads spend in each stage of the lead-to-revenue cycle.
When I'm working with clients on lead generation/lead nurturing programs, I usually recommend that they use the Demand Waterfall model developed by SiriusDecisions to describe the major stages of the lead-to-revenue cycle. The graphic below shows the major components of the Demand Waterfall. SiriusDecisions recently revised the Demand Waterfall model to add several lead stages, but the framework shown below is still widely used, and I actually prefer to use the simpler version when companies are just beginning to track and measure the performance of their demand generation system.






















When the topic of conversion rates comes up in conversations with clients, the question they inevitably ask is: What should our target conversion rates be? This question is always difficult to answer because conversion rates can vary greatly depending on the type of business involved, and I've never seen reliable conversion rates for specific industries or types of business. Plus, the most important thing is to determine what your current conversion rates are, and then look for ways to improve them.

While broad-based conversion rates should be used cautiously, they can provide a useful reference point. The table below shows benchmark conversion rates recently published by SiriusDecisions and the Aberdeen Group. The SiriusDecisions rates are from a 2014 presentation given by Laura Cross, a Research Director with SiriusDecisions. The Aberdeen conversion rates are from a 2014 research report titled Marketing & Sales Performance:  The Roadmap to Revenue & Its Tollgates.











This table uses the lead stage terminology from the SiriusDecisions Demand Waterfall. Aberdeen Group uses different terms for some lead stages, but I believe the table is accurate based on how Aberdeen defines lead stages.

As I noted earlier, lead conversion rates can vary significantly depending on the type of business you're in, and the conversion rates shown above may not reflect your business situation. However, they will provide a good starting point for setting your conversion rate objectives.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

How Media Consumption Statistics Can Mislead Marketers

Earlier this year, eMarketer published a new estimate of the amount of time US adults (ages 18+) spend with various types of media. Like many media analysts, eMarketer estimates that the amount of time spent with mobile media is growing more rapidly than all other forms of media consumption, while the consumption of print media continues to decline precipitously.

eMarketer also estimated the amount of advertising spending per hour of time spent with each type of media, and the table below contains some of the eMarketer estimates. As the table shows, eMarketer is projecting that this year, advertisers will spend 7 cents for every hour a US adult spends consuming mobile media, but more than 10 times that amount (83 cents) for every hour spent consuming print media (magazines and newspapers).














eMarketer isn't the only analyst to make this kind of consumption vs. spending comparison. In the 2013 edition of her widely-acclaimed annual presentation on Internet trends, Mary Meeker also compared the time spent consuming various types of media with advertising spending. The table below shows the data she presented, and her statistics also reveal significant disconnects between the time spent with print and mobile, and the amount of advertising spending devoted to those channels.



















So, what's the point of these comparisons? The argument made by some is that advertising and marketing spending should reflect media consumption patterns. If you buy into this argument, then the above data would indicate that companies are over-investing in print advertising and under-investing in mobile advertising.

Understanding media consumption patterns is obviously important for effective marketing, but marketers shouldn't rely too much on high-level media consumption data for three reasons.

First, broad consumption patterns usually aren't specific enough to provide effective guidance for an individual company. As an enterprise marketer, what you really need to know is how the prospective buyers in your target market consume media. For example, Mary Meeker's data says that US adults spend only 6% of their total media consumption time on print media, but prospective buyers in your target market may spend considerably more of their time with print.

Second, the consumption data discussed above is restrictive. It only compares advertising spending to media consumption time. Numerous research studies have shown that spending on digital marketing has grown explosively over the past several years. Therefore, if the above data included all marketing spending, the comparisons would look substantially different.

Finally, the time people spend with a particular type of media isn't necessarily indicative of how effective that channel will be as a marketing tool. For example, many younger B2B buyers may spend a considerable amount of time using mobile devices for a variety of reasons, but that may not be the primary way they access business-related information. The fallacy is to assume that personal communications preferences and marketing communications preferences are identical.

The 2012 Channel Preferences Survey by ExactTarget found that personal communications habits are not a good indicator for marketers who are looking for the best way to communicate with potential buyers. As the authors of the survey report wrote, "The lesson here for marketers is that just because consumers embrace a channel for personal communications doesn't mean that they want to receive direct marketing messages from your brand via that channel." To improve the effectiveness of your marketing, you need to understand how your prospective buyers prefer to receive marketing messages.

The bottom line? Media consumption patterns are interesting, and they can be somewhat useful. But you need to know more to make sound marketing decisions.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why Expert Content Should Be Part of Your Content Marketing Mix

About a year ago, I started to rethink my views regarding the role and value of third-party content in the marketing efforts of B2B companies. I had always believed that most of the marketing content used by a company should be developed internally or with the help of outside professional content developers. In either case, the "authorship" of the content is attributed to the company or to a company executive or internal subject matter expert. With third-party content, an external person or firm creates the content and is identified as the author.

My preference for "vendor-branded" content was based on the idea that a primary objective of content marketing is to communicate your company's expertise to potential buyers and thus cause those buyers to view your company as a trusted resource for valuable insights and as a capable business partner. Logically, branded content seemed to be the most direct way to accomplish this objective.

Because of three recent research studies, I now have a different view on this issue.

The 2013 Research

Last year, the CMO Council published a white paper - Better Lead Yield in the Content Marketing Field - that was based on a survey of more than 400 B2B content consumers. As the table below shows, survey respondents said they trust and value several kinds of third-party content more than vendor-created content.



















The 2013 B2B Content Preferences Survey by DemandGen Report showed similar results. In this survey, B2B buyers were asked which of four types of content they give more credence to. The table below shows that vendor-branded content doesn't fare as well as third-party content.













The 2014 Research

The results of a third study published in March of this year provides even more compelling evidence regarding the effectiveness of "expert content." This research was commissioned by inPowered and conducted by The Nielsen Company. The Nielsen study involved 900 participants and consisted of a proctored, in-laboratory experiment combined with both a pre-experiment and a post-experiment survey.

During the in-laboratory portion of the study, participants were exposed to three types of marketing content pertaining to several types of products having a wide range of price points. Expert content included reviews and articles from third-party websites and blogs. User reviews were selected from the websites of major retailers or other online forums. Branded content consisted of content that was taken from the vendor's website.

The Nielsen study measured the impact of each type of content on three stages of the purchase decision-making process:

  • Familiarity with a new product
  • Affinity toward a brand or product
  • Purchase consideration of a brand or product
The results of the Nielsen study clearly demonstrate that expert content is the most effective type of marketing content in terms of impacting consumers across the entire purchase cycle. Expert content lifted familiarity 88% more than branded content, it lifted affinity 50% more than branded content, and it lifted purchase consideration 38% more than branded content. While the Nielsen study involved consumer products, it is likely that the results would be similar in a B2B setting.

It's clear from these research studies that potential buyers are inclined to trust third-party content (particularly expert content) more than content created by potential vendors, and B2B marketers should take advantage of this inclination. Content authored by a third-party expert and sponsored by your company can be a highly effective marketing tool. So, I'm now convinced that expert content should be an integral part of the content marketing mix at most B2B companies.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

How to Close the Performance Gap in Lead Generation and Content Marketing

Over the past few years, both lead generation and content marketing have become primary focus areas for B2B marketers. Because of changes in how B2B buyers are learning about business issues and possible solutions, marketers have been required to assume greater responsibility for acquiring and nurturing sales leads. Meanwhile, most B2B marketers now recognize that content marketing is the most effective way to create and maintain meaningful engagement with potential buyers.

Despite all of the recent focus on lead generation and content marketing, research indicates that companies vary significantly in terms of how well they are performing these critical marketing functions. Some companies excel at lead generation and content marketing, while others aren't doing nearly as well.

Last fall, the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs published the results of their latest annual content marketing survey. In that survey, 93% of B2B respondents said they are using content marketing, but only 42% of respondents said their content marketing programs are effective.

Earlier this year, Demand Metric published the results of a lead generation benchmark survey. In that survey, 89% of respondents said their companies have a lead generation process, but only half of the respondents (49%) rated their lead generation efforts as moderately or highly effective.

The Demand Metric survey found that the three most widely used lead generation techniques were e-mail, tradeshow/event marketing, and content marketing. Demand Metric also found that the top three lead generation techniques were the same regardless of company size or whether a company was growing or experiencing declining revenues, and regardless of how respondents from the company rated the effectiveness of their lead generation process.

In other words, Demand Metric found that everyone is essentially using the same lead generation techniques, but some companies are achieving better results than others. The logical conclusion is that lead generation effectiveness is not a function of which techniques are used, but how those techniques are planned and executed.

So, what attributes and practices separate companies with high-performing lead generation and content marketing programs from those whose programs are less effective? The CMI/MarketingProfs research provides insights on this important issue.

CMI and MarketingProfs compared several attributes of highly-effective content marketers with less effective content marketers. Highly-effective content marketers were survey respondents who rated the effectiveness of their organization's use of content marketing as 4 or 5 (on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being "Very Effective"). Less effective marketers were those respondents who rated the effectiveness of their organization's use of content marketing as 1 or 2 (with 1 being "Not At All Effective"). The table below shows the results of this comparison.













As this table shows, companies with highly-effective content marketing programs are more likely to:
  • Have a documented content marketing strategy
  • Have someone with specific responsibility for overseeing and managing the content marketing program
  • Devote sufficient financial resources to their content marketing program
While the CMI/MarketingProfs survey dealt specifically with content marketing, these attributes are equally applicable to lead generation. To have a highly-effective lead generation program, you need a well-conceived and documented lead generation strategy, someone dedicated to managing your lead generation efforts, and sufficient financial resources to support an effective lead generation program.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

How Top Performing Channel Sellers Improve Channel Partner Marketing

Every day, thousands of companies sell their products and services through channel partners such as franchisees, independent agents, and value-added resellers. Not only are indirect channel sales a significant part of the overall economy, many companies rely on them for more than half of their total revenues.

Channel vendors face the same marketing challenges that confront all types of business enterprises, but they also face challenges that companies with centralized marketing operations don't typically encounter. For many channel vendors, the single biggest marketing challenge is that many of their partners simply don't have the time, resources, or expertise to run effective marketing programs.

To address this challenge, channel vendors have implemented a variety of marketing enablement programs. There are three types of marketing enablement programs in use today - financial incentive programs, self-service partner portals, and managed marketing services.

These three types of programs are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are complementary components of an effective marketing enablement system. As the following diagram illustrates, companies with the best-performing channel marketing operations combine all three types of programs to equip their channel partners with the tools and resources they need to run successful marketing programs.

















Each type of marketing enablement program provides specific capabilities that are critical for successful channel partner marketing, but none of these programs alone provides everything that is required for a high-performing marketing enablement system.

Financial Incentive Programs

For decades, channel vendors have used financial incentive programs to boost the marketing efforts of their channel partners. These programs have historically taken one of two forms - market development funds programs and co-op marketing (advertising) funds programs.

MDF and co-op programs are an essential component of any high-performing marketing enablement system because many channel partners don't have the financial resources to market effectively. However, MDF and co-op programs are not usually sufficient to significantly boost the marketing efforts of channel partners. The primary problem is that MDF and co-op programs are missing what many channel partners need most - help with planning, designing, and executing effective marketing programs.

Self-Service Partner Portals

For the past several years, channel vendors have been implementing a relatively new genre of web-based marketing automation technologies to simplify and streamline some marketing activities for channel partners. In the marketplace, several terms are used to describe these technologies, including distributed marketing automation, local marketing automation, partner relationship management, and marketing asset management.

The primary attribute of these technologies is a secure online portal site that enables vendors to manage marketing content resources and allows channel partners to perform a variety of marketing activities. These technologies provide powerful capabilities, but it's now also clear that they are not a complete solution for channel vendors or their partners. In fact, research has shown that fewer than 25% of channel partners use the partner portals provided by their channel vendors.

The main cause of the under-utilization is lack of time and expertise. Most partner portals are self-service solutions. They make it easier for channel partners to obtain marketing materials and customize those materials, but partners must still have the time and expertise to effectively use the materials that are available through the portal.

Managed Marketing Services

To increase the frequency and boost the effectiveness of their partners' marketing activities, a growing number of channel vendors are now adding managed marketing services to their marketing enablement systems. Managed marketing services typically include pre-packaged marketing campaigns, as well as campaign execution services. With managed marketing services, channel vendors give their partners access to a "marketplace" of complete, ready-to-execute marketing programs.

Managed marketing services make it easy for channel partners to run marketing campaigns. When partners want to run a particular campaign, they simply "order" it via an intuitive interface that mimics the shopping experience provided by consumer websites like Amazon.com. Once ordered, the channel vendor (or the vendor's marketing enablement solution partner) executes the campaign, making it completely turnkey for the channel partner.

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Effective marketing enablement  is critical for driving increased revenues from indirect sales channels. Marketing enablement programs that combine financial incentives, web-based marketing technologies, and managed marketing services are the current state-of-the-art for improving the marketing efforts of sales channel partners.

Promotion Alert - An important part of my work is developing marketing content for companies that provide marketing enablement solutions to channel vendors. I have a new white paper that discusses the issues covered in this post, and it's now available for licensing. If you'd like to learn more about our content licensing program, or request a review copy of the new white paper, send an e-mail to ddodd(at)pointbalance(dot)com.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Does B2B Branding Still Matter?

Last year, I published a post here titled Why B2B Branding Still Matters. As the title of that post suggests, I argued that branding is still important for most B2B companies. In a book published earlier this year, Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen provide a different and provocative take on the value of brands and brand building. Given the importance of this topic, I think it's worthwhile to look at both sides of the issue.

Brands Still Matter

Recent research by both CEB and McKinsey & Company provides strong evidence that branding remains critical to the success of B2B companies and that brand building is therefore still an essential marketing function.

In a 2013 study (From Promotion to Emotion), CEB looked at the impact of a strong brand on various buying behaviors. CEB compared the behavior of high brand connection customers - those who gave brands high scores for trust, image, and industry leadership - with the behavior of no brand connection customers. The CEB study found that high brand connection customers were:

  • 5 times more likely to give consideration to a brand
  • 13 times more likely to purchase from a brand
  • 30 times more likely to be willing to pay a premium for a brand's products or services
Research by McKinsey & Company has also found that strong brands create significant value for B2B enterprises. For example, B2B companies with strong brands generate a higher operating profit (EBIT) margin than other firms. McKinsey's research found that, in 2012, strong brands outperformed weak brands by 20%, up from 13% in 2011.

The McKinsey research also revealed that brand plays an important role in the purchase decisions of business buyers. In the US, for example, McKinsey found that the brand was responsible for 18% of the purchase decision, compared to 17% for the efforts of the sales team.

The Importance of Brands is Declining

In Absolute Value:  What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information, Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen argue that technological innovations - aggregation tools, advanced search engines, online user reviews, social media, and easy access to expert opinions - are driving a fundamental shift in how consumers evaluate and purchase products and services. Simonson and Rosen contend that consumers used to make purchase decisions "relative" to other things, such as a brand name, their previous experience with a company, or a brand's advertising messages. In essence, potential buyers used brand reputation as a mechanism for estimating the value and satisfaction they would obtain from a product or service.

The authors contend that easy access to an abundance of more objective "third-party" information now makes it easier for potential buyers to know the "absolute value" of products or services, thus diminishing the importance and value of the brand.

My Take

The central argument made by Simonson and Rosen in Absolute Value is credible and persuasive. There is no doubt that information-based purchasing is becoming prevalent in more and more product categories. Consider, for example, the following data points:
  • 70% of consumers surveyed by Nielsen in 2012 indicated that they trusted online reviews.
  • 30% of US consumers begin their online purchase research at Amazon, which makes extensive use of user reviews. Essentially, Amazon has become a clearinghouse for product information.
  • In 2011, research sponsored by Google found that the average shopper uses 10.4 sources of information in the purchase process, which was almost twice as many as in 2010.
Despite these facts, I contend that a strong brand is still critical to the success of most B2B companies and that brand building is still a critical B2B marketing function. A strong brand mitigates the perception of risk that accompanies significant investments and alleviates some of the fear that buyers inevitably experience when they're facing a major purchase decision.

The marketing techniques used for brand building have certainly changed. Encouraging, cultivating, and supporting positive third-party information is now clearly part of the brand building process. But, this doesn't mean that branding no longer matters.