Sunday, August 13, 2017

B2B Customer Experience Still Requires a Human Touch


Customer experience is the new competitive battleground in B2B, and many companies are making big investments to deliver great experiences via digital channels. But, company leaders must remember that great customer experiences still need a deft human touch.

Providing great experiences to existing and potential customers has become a competitive necessity for all kinds of companies. It's also abundantly clear that most of us now rely extensively on digital technologies to consume information and communicate for both personal and business purposes. Therefore, many business leaders now view providing great customer experiences via digital channels as a top strategic priority.

While "digital customer experiences" are obviously important, human interactions still play a vital role in customer experience delivery, particularly for B2B companies. In fact, recent research indicates that business customers highly value the human component of the customer experience.

Earlier this year, KPMG Nunwood Consulting published a report discussing several important aspects of B2B customer experience. The report was based on a survey of 2,974 members of decision making units in B2B companies. Survey respondents included end Users, Influencers, and Decision Makers, and all were located in the US or the UK.

Not surprisingly, the research found that customer experience plays a vital role in competitive success. Three-fourths of the survey respondents considered customer experience as a major factor in supplier choice. The research identified six "pillars" that describe the psychology of customer experience, and the report argues that the key to customer experience success is preparing for the critical "moments that matter" across a customer's life cycle.

The study also addressed the role of the relationship manager in delivering great customer experiences, and the report identified four major relationship management models.

  1. A relationship manager owns the customer relationship, and that individual is the customer's primary, if not exclusive, contact.
  2. A relationship manager is the primary customer contact, but he or she has a supporting team that is involved in delivering experiences to the customer.
  3. The customer has a team of individuals at its disposal to provide support, but there is no single "owner" of the customer relationship.
  4. The company uses a fully automated solution - no human interaction is required.
The survey report states that "[customers] frequently prefer to have one person to deal with and have them acting as their ambassador - the one person in the organisation that champions their interests and ensures that the services are provided to them in the highest standard." 

Specifically, the research found that Influencers perceive the "sole relationship manager model" to be 19% better performing than the account team model. Decision Makers said the sole relationship manager model is 5% better, and Users said it is 9% better.

The most important lesson from this research is that great B2B customer experiences often require a human touch.

Image courtesy of Yoel Ben-Avraham via Flickr CC.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Beware! Thought Leadership is a Double-Edged Sword


There's no safe middle ground with it comes to thought leadership. It's a classic double-edged sword. Great thought leadership makes a positive impact on buyers at every stage of the buying process. Poor thought leadership, on the other hand, will result in lost business opportunities.

These are some of the major findings of a recent study by Edelman and LinkedIn. How Thought Leadership Impacts B2B Demand Generation was based on a survey of 1,329 business decision makers representing a wide range of industries and company sizes. Fourteen percent of the respondents were C-level executives, and another 43% had titles of Vice President or Director.

Like several other studies, the Edelman/LinkedIn research revealed that business buyers view thought leadership as important and spend considerable time consuming it. Nine out of ten survey respondents said that it is important or very important/critical for companies to produce thought leadership that provides a vision or point of view on important issues. About half (49%) of C-level respondents said they spend an hour or more per week reading and/or viewing thought leadership.

The Good News

Many B2B marketers have long believed that thought leadership content can be an effective tool for creating awareness and competitive differentiation. The Edelman/LinkedIn study shows that great thought leadership content has positive impacts at every stage of the buying process. For example:

  • Forty-four percent of respondents said that engaging with a company's thought leadership content can cause them to provide their contact information to the company for follow up, and 31% said that it can prompt them to reach out to the company to follow up on some of the points raised in the content.
  • Fifty-two percent of respondents said that looking through a company's thought leadership content is one important way they "vet" a company that they are thinking about working with.
  • Thought leadership content led 41% of C-level respondents to include a company in an RFP.
  • Over 80% of respondents said that a company's thought leadership content could increase their trust in the company.
  • Nearly half (48%) of C-level respondents said that a company's thought leadership content had directly led them to decide to do business with the company. 
The Bad News
So, the Edelman/LinkedIn research shows that thought leadership content can be a powerful demand generation tool, but it also shows that thought leadership is a double-edged sword. When it's done poorly, it has significant negative impacts on a company's demand generation performance. For example:
  • More than half (53%) of C-level respondents said they have lost respect and admiration for a company because of its poor thought leadership content.
  • Over a third (35%) of C-level respondents said that a company's poor thought leadership content had directly led them not to do business with the company.
The Lesson
The most important lesson for B2B marketers from the Edelman/LinkedIn research is this:  If you plan to use thought leadership content in your marketing effort, make sure that you invest enough time and money to develop thought leadership content that's truly valuable to your target audiences. Poor thought leadership content can be worse than none at all.

Image courtesy of Soren Niedziella via Flickr CC.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Why B2B Buying Cycles are Getting Longer

New research reveals what influences B2B buying decisions and explains why the B2B buying process is getting longer.

Earlier this month, Demand Gen Report published the findings of the 2017 B2B Buyer's Survey. The 2017 research was based on a survey of 283 C-level executives, VPs, and Directors across several B2B industries. Each respondent in this study was qualified to have been involved in a B2B purchase decision within the 12 months preceding the survey.

The 2017 survey findings reveal that B2B buyers' journeys are becoming longer and more complex. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said that the length of their purchase cycle had increased compared to a year earlier, while only 10% said that the length had decreased.

Other findings explain why the buying cycle has gotten longer.
  • 52% of respondents said the number of buying group members had increased significantly.
  • 77% agreed that they conduct a more detailed ROI analysis before making a purchase decision.
  • 78% agreed that they "spend more time researching purchases."
  • 75% agreed that they "use more sources to research and evaluate purchases."
The 2017 study also found that content continues to play a vital role in B2B buying decisions. When surveyed buyers were asked why they selected the winning vendor over others, 75% said that the winning vendor's content had a significant impact on their choice, and 89% said that the winning vendor "provided content that made it easier to show ROI and/or build a business case for the purchase."

The Demand Gen survey also asked participants to rate how important eleven factors became once they were at the point of evaluating a set list of possible vendors. The table below shows the percentage of respondents who rated each factor as very important.

Research regarding the attitudes and behaviors of business buyers can be extremely valuable to B2B marketing and sales professionals. However, it's always important to examine the details of any research study and ask how applicable the findings are to your business.

For example, the respondents to the Demand Gen survey represented a variety of industries and a mix of company sizes. However, more than half (53%) of the purchase decisions those respondents participated in involved computer software, and another 16% involved IT hardware. So, this study is particularly relevant for companies that sell software solutions and other technology products, but some of the specific findings may be less relevant if your company sells other types of products or services.

Top image source:  Demand Gen Report

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Cracking the Code on Revenue Growth


Marketing leaders are increasingly on the hook for growth, and to meet this demand, they must understand how growth happens and where it originates. This post describes the wellsprings of revenue growth that any company can tap.

Today more than ever, marketing leaders are expected to develop strategies and execute programs that will drive revenue growth. In a 2016 global survey of 535 CEOs and 847 CMOs by Accenture Strategy, 50% of the CEOs said their CMO is primarily responsible for driving disruptive growth in their organization. CMOs were ranked ahead of all other C-level executives, including the CEO, the chief strategy officer, and the chief sales officer.

But this responsibility comes with a downside. About a third of the CEOs said the CMO is the first to go when growth targets aren't met.

Since marketing leaders are clearly on the growth hotseat, it's critical for them to understand the dynamics of revenue growth - how it happens or, more accurately, where it originates. There are, in fact, several distinct sources or wellsprings of revenue growth. These structural sources of growth are not dependent on the way a company is organized or on the types of products or services it sells. Instead, they are based on the business and marketing strategies that a company uses to tap into each source.

As you might expect, this topic has been discussed in management and marketing circles for a long time. In a 1957 article for the Harvard Business Review, Igor Ansoff identified four structural sources of revenue growth and four related types of growth strategies:

  1. Sales of existing products in existing markets (market penetration strategy)
  2. Sales of existing products in new markets (market development strategy)
  3. Sales of new products in existing markets (product development strategy)
  4. Sales of new products in new markets (diversification strategy)
In a 2004 article in the Harvard Business Review, Michael Treacy and Jim Sims identified five structural sources of revenue growth:
  1. Continuing sales to existing customers (base retention)
  2. Sales won from the competition (market share gain)
  3. New sales in an expanding market (market positioning)
  4. Sales from expanding into related markets (adjacent market expansion)
  5. Sales from expanding into new, unrelated lines of business (diversification)
Both of these models are insightful, and I've used both when working with clients on business and marketing strategy projects to frame our discussions about how to grow. But over the years, I've expanded on these models to create a more detailed framework of the alternative ways to generate growth. The current version of my framework is depicted in the following diagram:


This framework can be a good tool for stimulating your thinking about how to grow your business. When using the framework, however, it's important to keep a couple of things in mind. First, no single source of growth is likely to provide all of the revenue you need to reach your growth objective. And second, you'll need a distinct game plan to extract the maximum volume of revenue for each source of revenue you choose to pursue.

Producing consistent revenue growth is always a difficult challenge. The good news is that these structural sources of growth are always present. Their existence isn't dependent on the market conditions a company is facing at a particular moment in time, although the volume of revenue that a company can get from each source is greatly influenced by the market and competitive environment. The job of business and marketing leaders is to combine these sources of growth to fit their unique situation.

Illustration courtesy of Paul Lancaster via Flickr CC.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Why Your Content Marketing Needs an Easy Button


Two recent surveys by Demand Gen Report highlight the importance of making it easy for potential buyers to find and access marketing content. Most B2B companies are already using content marketing in some form, so the challenge now is to make content marketing efforts as effective as possible. As it turns out, making content easier to find and access is an important key to content marketing effectiveness.

A successful content marketing program requires several components. Having high-quality content is obviously a given. In addition, it's important to have a sound and documented content marketing strategy, and it's necessary to support the content marketing effort with adequate human and financial resources.

In the drive to improve content marketing effectiveness, it's easy to focus on the "big" issues like content quality and content strategy, and to lose sight of some of the "basic" prerequisites of a successful content marketing program. One of those basic requirements is that content resources must be easy for potential buyers to find and access.

The 2017 Content Preferences Survey by Demand Gen Report shows why findability and easy access are so important. This survey produced 189 responses from buyers of B2B products and services.

The 2017 survey revealed that B2B buyers depend heavily on content to support buying decisions. Forty-seven percent of survey respondents said they were relying on content more than they did a year earlier. The survey also revealed that buyers are extremely busy and are feeling overwhelmed by the volume of content they encounter.

  • Thirty-four percent of respondents strongly agreed that they had "less time to devote to reading/research" in the past year. That's up from 16% in the 2016 edition of the survey.
  • Forty-six percent of respondents strongly agreed that they feel "overwhelmed by the amount of content available." That's up from 38% in 2016.
Given the abundance of available content, it's highly likely that time-constrained B2B buyers will gravitate to those companies that make it easy to find and access content resources.

Other research by Demand Gen Report shows that many marketers need to improve content findability and make access to content easier. Why Your Website Fails Buyers was based on a recent survey of 196 marketers, and it revealed that delivery of relevant content is a major issue for many companies.

In this survey, less than half (48%) of respondents said they house all of their customer-facing content in a centralized resource center, which would make content easier to find. Survey respondents acknowledged that it can be difficult for their prospects to locate and access relevant content. When asked to rate the accessibility of their content on a scale of 1 ("nearly impossible") to 5 ("extremely easy"), 59% of respondents rated accessibility at 3 or below.

Providing related content resources in "packages" makes it convenient for buyers to consume that content at their own pace. However, only 14% of respondents said they create packages of content assets that are aligned with the stages of the buying process. This represents a major disconnect with buyers because in the content preferences survey discussed earlier, 58% of surveyed buyers recommended that marketers package related content resources together.

The bottom line? B2B marketers need to make it as painless as possible for time-starved buyers to find and consume their content.

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart via Flickr CC.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

How to Reinforce the Status Quo


In an earlier post, I explained why companies need different marketing content for customer acquisition vs. customer retention. Put simply, when the objective is customer acquisition, your content needs to weaken the grip of the status quo and convince your prospects to make a change. When the goal is customer retention, the exact opposite is true. You need to emphasize the attractiveness of the status quo so that your customers won't want to make a change.

The status quo occupies this central role because of the status quo bias, which can be defined as a cognitive bias that causes humans to prefer the status quo for non-rational reasons. In order to develop marketing content and messaging that will reinforce the status quo, we first need to understand what causes us to have a bias for the status quo.

What Causes the Status Quo Bias?

Psychologists demonstrated the existence of the status quo bias in numerous experiments beginning in the 1980's. Since then, several psychologists and behavioral economists have attempted to identify the specific underlying cause or causes of the bias. So far, the evidence suggests that the status quo bias is largely a result of other biases in human decision making. For example:
  • Daniel Kahneman argues that the status quo bias is related to loss aversion. He contends that most people make the status quo their mental reference point and tend to view change from the status quo as a loss. Because we perceive and weigh losses greater than potential gains, we become loss averse, which makes us inclined to stay with the status quo.
  • Richard Thaler has argued that the status quo bias results from a psychological phenomenon called the endowment effect, which refers to the fact that most people like and value something more simply because they already own it. The endowment effect causes us to overvalue the benefits of the status quo and to under-appreciate its disadvantages.
  • Some psychologists have attributed the status quo bias to a human desire to avoid or delay difficult or complicated choices, and there is evidence showing that people are more likely to stick with the status quo when the alternatives are difficult to evaluate or compare.
How to Reinforce the Status Quo

Your marketing content and messaging can reinforce the status quo in several ways:
  • By documenting the benefits that the customer has already realized by acquiring and using your product or service, and communicating those benefits to the customer
  • By identifying the future benefits that the customer can realize by continuing to use your solution
  • By making the costs of switching to a different product or service visible and tangible to the customer
  • By identifying the risks the customer will face if it switches to a different product or service
  • By highlighting the difficulty and complexity of evaluating and selecting an alternative product or service
How to Make the Job Easier
The techniques described above can reinforce an attractive status quo, but they won't transform a bad status quo into a good one. Therefore, the key starting point for a successful customer retention effort is to provide customers - particularly new customers - information, insights, and assistance that will help them maximize the value they obtain from your solution and from their relationship with your company.
This approach - which is often called customer success management - has been widely adopted by software companies that offer their solutions on a subscription basis, and it is becoming more popular in other types of B2B companies, as business and marketing leaders increasingly recognize the value of long-term customer relationships. The bottom line is, it's much easier to reinforce the status quo when you have happy customers who are deriving great value from your solution.

Image courtesy of Nichole Burrows via Flickr CC.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Research Explains the Persistent Disconnect Between Sales and Marketing


Yesterday, I performed a Google search using the term "sales and marketing alignment." My search produced 239,000 results. When I limited the search to the past year, Google still returned over 50 pages of results. So clearly, sales and marketing alignment is still a hot topic in the B2B sales and marketing world.

Marketing and sales professionals have long recognized the importance of forging a more productive relationship between sales and marketing, and some companies have made progress in improving the quality of the marketing-sales relationship. It's also clear, however, that many companies have more work to do to turn their marketing and sales organizations into a cohesive, high-performing demand generation team.

Recent research by Altify helps explain why sales-marketing alignment is still challenging for so many companies. The Business Performance Benchmark Study 2017 was a global survey that produced 833 responses. Survey respondents represented a wide range of industry verticals and company sizes. The study also included respondents from a variety of business functions including sales, marketing, operations, IT, and customer service.

The Altify study addressed a broad range of issues, including the performance of marketing and sales. Altify reported some of the study results by the business function of respondents. In particular, the study report identifies how sales respondents and marketing respondents answered several questions. These responses highlight some of the troubling "disconnects" that still exists between sales and marketing.

Altify asked study participants if they agreed with a series of statements regarding sales and marketing performance. The table below shows the percentage of sales respondents and marketing respondents who agreed with seven of these statements. The table also shows the "gap" between sales and marketing that exists with respect to each statement.

















These survey findings reveal attitudes that make the lack of effective teamwork between marketing and sales easy to understand. Only half of these sales respondents believe that their marketing team understands their customers, and just over half (54%) believe that marketing in their company is an effective investment of company resources. On the flip side, only about half (52%) of these marketing respondents believe that their sales team is effective at qualifying sales opportunities.

The extent of the disconnects shown in the table is surprising because 66% of the sales respondents and 71% of the marketing respondents in the study said that their sales and marketing organizations "work well together." One can only wonder what these study participants meant by "work well together."

As the above table shows, the disconnects between marketing and sales are still numerous and significant. So it shouldn't be surprising that many companies haven't achieved the level of cohesive teamwork between sales and marketing that's required for a high-performing demand generation system.

Top image courtesy of Tambako The Jaguar via Flickr CC.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

What To Do When the Status Quo is Your Friend

 A few weeks ago, I published a post that discussed how to weaken the grip of the status quo. When your objective is to acquire new customers, the status quo is often your toughest competitor because most potential buyers have an inherent preference for their existing methods and processes. In most cases, no sale can be made unless a potential buyer first becomes willing to change his or her status quo. My earlier post described one tactic for loosening the grip of the status quo.

The situation completely changes when your objective is to retain existing customers. In the customer retention contest, your company is the incumbent and part of the customer's status quo. Therefore, one key to customer retention success is to enhance or strengthen the status quo bias and use it to your advantage.

It should be obvious that customer acquisition and customer retention call for entirely different kinds of marketing content. For customer acquisition, marketing content needs to disrupt the status quo; for customer retention, marketing content needs to reinforce the status quo. Unfortunately, recent research indicates that most B2B marketers aren't making this critical distinction.

In a 2017 survey by Corporate Visions:
  • Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they saw no need to use different content for customer acquisition vs. customer retention.
  • Only about one-third of respondents said they were using customer retention content that is specifically designed to reinforce the status quo. Two-thirds of respondents said they use disruptive content or product-oriented cross-sell/upsell messaging for customer retention.
Other research by Corporate Visions has shown that content which focuses on reinforcing the status quo is more effective for customer retention that provocative/disruptive content or product-focused messaging.

Astute business leaders have long recognized the importance and value of building and sustaining strong relationships with existing customers, but two recent developments have made customer retention particularly important.
  • As I wrote in an earlier post, the shift to subscription-based business models elevates the importance of customer retention because in a subscription-based business, customer profitability depends largely on the length of the customer relationship.
  • The adoption of account-based marketing also raises the importance of customer retention. When business leaders implement ABM, they make a conscious decision to focus their marketing and sales efforts on a relatively small number of high-value prospects. Once these high-value prospects are acquired, it's obviously important to keep them for as long as possible.
In a future post, I'll discuss what causes the status quo bias and how to create content that reinforces it.

Image courtesy of Dave_S. via Flickr CC.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Why It's Hard to "Manage" the Customer Experience


Senior business leaders now recognize that providing outstanding customer experiences is a powerful driver of revenue growth and a critical component of competitive advantage.

In the 2017 Digital Trends report by Econsultancy and Adobe, which was based on a global survey of more than 14,000 digital marketing and ecommerce professionals, respondents said that optimizing the customer experience is their most exciting opportunity in 2017, and that customer experience is the primary way their company will seek to differentiate itself over the next five years.

In a 2015 survey of 1,350 B2B executives by Accenture, 79% of respondents said that a differentiated customer experience has a direct impact on business results, and 78% believe it produces a competitive advantage.

Several national consulting firms, such as McKinsey, Accenture, and Forrester, have made customer experience management a core part of their practice. And several professional societies, such as the Customer Experience Professionals Association, have been established to support the customer experience management discipline.

All of this demonstrates why customer experience (CX) management has become one of the most important and most widely-discussed topics in today's business world. I would suggest that CX management is also likely to be one of the most significant and persistent challenges facing companies for the foreseeable future.

CX management is difficult to master for several reasons. First of all, it is a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon. A recent article in the Journal of Marketing contains a detailed review of the academic literature relating to customer experience and provides an excellent introduction to the complexities of the customer experience "construct." If you have doubts about the complexity, just consider the definition of CX offered by the authors:  "Overall, we thus conclude that customer experience is a multidimensional construct focusing on a customer's cognitive, emotional, behavioral, sensorial, and social responses to a firm's offerings during the customer's entire purchase journey."

CX management is also difficult to master because no company can control all of the factors that produce customer experiences. At the most basic level, an "experience" has three components:
  1. The environment - This is the thing that is experienced. It can be a product or a service or a website or a call center (or for that matter, a theme park or a movie or dinner at a restaurant).
  2. The encounter - This is the interaction between an individual and a particular environment.
  3. The effect - This is the perception formed and held by the individual that results from his or her encounter with the environment.
A company can control the attributes and characteristics of the environments presented to customers, and it has some control over what happens during an encounter. But a company has no control over the effect component of an experience. The effect is largely determined by the context of the encounter and by the customer's mental state, and these are the last things any company can control or "manage."

Companies can increase the odds of achieving a positive outcome by understanding what the customer is trying to accomplish in an encounter and the context in which an encounter occurs. But, that's a far cry from "managing" the customer experience.

Illustration courtesy of Ron Mader via Flickr CC.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Blueprint for Successful Account-Based Marketing

With account-based marketing sweeping across the B2B marketing landscape like an out-of-control wildfire, it was only a matter of time until we started seeing full-length books on the topic. One of the best is A Practitioner's Guide to Account-Based Marketing by Bev Burgess with Dave Munn published earlier this year.

Bev Burgess is a Senior Vice President and the ABM Practice Lead at ITSMA, and Dave Munn is ITSMA's President and CEO. ITSMA pioneered the development of account-based marketing in the early 2000s, and for the past 10+ years, it has conducted numerous research studies and educational programs regarding the practice. So, ITSMA has been a leading source of thought leadership and research data on ABM for more than a decade, and the authors draw extensively on that data and expertise throughout the book.

A Practitioner's Guide is designed for readers at all stages of the ABM journey, from those who have just heard about ABM and want to learn more about it, to those who have an ABM program in place and want to improve it.

The book is organized in three parts. Part One covers the basics of ABM, including how to determine which accounts should be included in your ABM program. Part One also describes a proven four-step process for implementing account-based marketing. Part Two of the book explains how to plan and execute an ABM program for an individual strategic account. Part Three focuses on the attributes and skills you need to be a good account-based marketer, and it provides advice on managing a career in ABM.

Throughout the book, Burgess and Munn emphasize the importance of treating ABM as a strategic revenue growth initiative, not just as a marketing or sales support initiative. The authors repeatedly state that successful ABM requires a high level of collaboration between marketing and sales, and can require the involvement of other business functions as well.

This may be the single most significant concept contained in A Practitioner's Guide because it constitutes the foundation that makes the other processes described in the book work effectively. What we now call account-based marketing is actually a business strategy that is built around maximizing revenue growth from a select group of target accounts. In retrospect, it would have been better if ITSMA had named this approach to revenue growth account-based demand generation instead of account-based marketing.

Another strength of A Practitioner's Guide is that it paints a realistic picture of the effort that's required to build a successful ABM program. Over the past couple of years, the hype surrounding ABM has been almost deafening. While much of the "positive press" about ABM is justified, the hype has also tended to obscure or minimize the work that's necessary to do ABM well. Burgess and Munn have brought a much-needed dose of reality to the ABM conversation.

If there is anything to criticize about A Practitioner's Guide, it would be that much of the material in the book appears to be based on the use of ABM by tech companies. For example, the book contains nine informative case studies, and eight of them are about companies that provide technology-related products or services.

The orientation of the book shouldn't be surprising, given that ITSMA is the Information Technology Services Marketing Association. Some readers may wonder whether the principles discussed in the book are equally applicable for companies that operate outside the tech sector. In my experience, the ABM principles laid out in A Practitioner's Guide are valid for any company where ABM itself is appropriate.

If you're thinking about adopting ABM, or if you're involved in developing an ABM program, you need to read this book.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Cracking the Code on Marketing Performance Management


A few days ago, VisionEdge Marketing, Hive9, and Valid USA published the results of the 2017 Marketing Performance Management (MPM) Benchmark study. The 2017 study consisted of an online survey that produced 418 qualified responses.

VisionEdge Marketing and various partners have conducted this study annually for the past 16 years. The primary goal of the research is (and has been) to identify the attributes and practices of marketing organizations that excel at measuring and demonstrating marketing's value and contribution to the business.

This is one of the annual research studies that I look forward to reviewing every year. Once again, this year's study provides valuable insights regarding a subject of vital importance to B2B marketers, and I encourage you to get a copy of the study report and read it carefully.

The 2017 study report is not currently available online. However, VisionEdge Marketing, Hive9, and Valid USA will be hosting a webinar regarding the study on June 14th, and all webinar attendees will be offered a copy of the study report. You can register for the webinar here.

Here are four key takeaways from the 2017 MPM study.

The Pressure is Still On

Marketing leaders are still under significant pressure to measure and demonstrate marketing's value and contribution to the business. Sixty-eight percent of the survey respondents said this pressure is actually increasing. Other recent studies have produced similar findings. For example, in the February 2017 edition of The CMO Survey (conducted by Dr. Christine Moorman with Duke University's Fuqua School of Business), 56.9% of CMOs reported pressure from their CEO and/or Board of Directors to prove the value of marketing.

A Select Few are Really Good

Only 23% of survey respondents said their C-suite would give marketing a grade of "A" (90 or more on a 100-point scale) on its ability to measure and demonstrate its value to the business. This indicates that most marketing organizations have significant work to do in this area to meet the needs of C-level executives.

Even the Best Can Get Better

The 2017 MPM study clearly shows that even best-in-class marketing organizations have significant room to improve. For example:
  • Survey respondents gave BIC marketing organizations a score of 7.4 (on a 10-point scale) on their use of marketing metrics that link marketing results to business outcomes. Middle-of-the-pack organizations received a score of 7.3.
  • Only 61% of BIC marketing organizations are using metrics chains, which the study found is one of the key components of an effective marketing performance management system.
  • Most high-performing organizations need to expand their use of data. Only 45% of BIC marketing organizations use data to make strategic decisions, and only 32% use data to improve effectiveness.
MPM is Challenging
Perhaps most importantly, the 2017 study makes it clear that designing and building a comprehensive and meaningful marketing performance management system is not a simple or easy task. The study identifies six key "ingredients" of an effective MPM system, and all six are necessary to achieve best-in-class results.
In addition, a comprehensive MPM system can easily become complex. For example, it's very common for a large or mid-size B2B company to have several strategic business outcomes that marketing has (or shares) responsibility for. In these circumstances, the performance management system will require more metrics, more performance targets, and multiple metrics chains.
Despite these challenges, it's vital to build an effective marketing performance management system because proving the value and impact of marketing is no longer optional for most marketing leaders.

Image courtesy of VisionEdge Marketing.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

More Evidence Regarding Small Business Marketing Practices

A few weeks ago, I published a post that discussed some of the major findings of a survey conducted by Target Marketing magazine regarding the marketing practices of small and mid-size companies. Recently, Clutch (a B2B market research firm based in Washington, DC) published the results of its 2017 Small Business Digital Marketing Survey. Because these two studies addressed similar topics, I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast their findings.

Both of these studies focused on smaller companies. In the Target Marketing survey - which produced 725 responses - 50% of the respondents were with companies having less than $5 million in annual revenue, and 22% were with companies having annual revenue of $5 million to $50 million.

In the Clutch survey - which produced 350 responses - 46% percent of the respondents were with companies having less than $1 million in annual revenue, and 26% were with companies having annual revenue of $1 million to $5 million.

Both studies indicate that marketing spending by most small companies will increase or hold steady in 2017. In the Target Marketing survey, 37% of respondents said their 2017 marketing budget would be higher than in 2016, and 40% said their budget would stay the same compared to 2016. In the Clutch survey, 49% of respondents said their marketing budget would increase in 2017, and 33% said it would remain flat.

Both surveys also asked participants how their spending on specific marketing methods would change in 2017. The following table shows the percentage of respondents in each survey who said they plan to increase spending on each identified method or channel. (Note:  The Clutch survey focused exclusively on digital marketing methods.)




























The Clutch survey also provides a couple of additional data points regarding small business marketing practices:

  • Over two-thirds of the survey respondents (68%) reported spending less than $100,000 on marketing and advertising in 2016, and 41% said they spent less than $10,000.
  • About half of the respondents (49%) have 1 or 2 employees working on digital marketing activities, while 28% said they have 3 or 4 digital marketing employees.
Top image courtesy of Jax House via Flickr CC.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Marketing Best Practices Need Warning Labels


Business leaders of all kinds regard the identification and implementation of best practices as one of the most powerful management tools at their disposal. And why shouldn't they? It seems immanently reasonable to identify the practices of high-performing companies and then emulate those practices.

Marketing leaders are particularly enamored with best practices. After all, marketing success is difficult to achieve and even harder to sustain because the marketing landscape is always changing, and because it's incredibly hard to predict what marketing messages and methods will win the hearts and minds of potential customers. In these circumstances, it shouldn't be surprising that marketers are so fond of "proven" best practices.

Marketing best practices are often portrayed as effective and reliable tools for achieving marketing success, but the reality is somewhat more complicated. Best practices can be helpful when they are understood correctly and used appropriately. However, it's very easy for marketers to become enthralled with the purported benefits of best practices, and to forget about their limitations.

These days, many of the products we buy come with warning labels which highlight the bad things that can happen if we use the product incorrectly. Maybe marketing best practices should come with a set of warnings to remind marketers of their potential "dangers." I can think of several warnings that could be appropriate, but here are three that are particularly important.

Not Comprehensive

"WARNING:  Marketing success results from the interplay of numerous activities and conditions, not all of which are addressed in these best practices. Therefore, these practices may produce less-than-expected results if other factors required for success are absent."

Most marketing best practices are accompanied by an implicit or explicit claim:  Use these practices and your marketing performance will significantly improve. But here's the problem. Most collections of best practices relate to one aspect of marketing, while marketing success usually results from the combined effects of numerous factors, many of which the best practices don't address. Therefore, best practices never provide a truly comprehensive "formula" that will guarantee large-scale improvement in marketing performance.

And even if you assembled a comprehensive list of the marketing best practices that are relevant to your business, you still wouldn't have the magic formula because marketing success is affected by factors that are beyond the scope and control of marketing. These factors include activities in other areas of the business, economic conditions, the actions of competitors, and the unpredictable responses of potential customers. The bottom line is that best practices may be necessary for improving marketing performance, but they aren't sufficient to guarantee marketing success.

Widespread Use Reduces Effectiveness

"WARNING:  The widespread adoption and use of these best practices will reduce their effectiveness."

One of the most paradoxical characteristics of marketing best practices is that the more widely they are used, the less effective they become. Marketing best practices derive their effectiveness from several sources. A practice can be effective because it is based on sound business principles, or because it resonates with how potential customers make decisions, or because it leverages the capabilities of a particular medium of communication.

But best practices are also highly effective because they are usually exceptional. When a best practice is new, it tends to be used by a relatively small number of companies. Therefore, the practice stands out in the marketplace and more effectively captures the attention of potential customers. The distinctiveness also serves to differentiate the company using the practice from its competitors.

Unfortunately, as more and more companies adopt and use a best practice, it loses the distinctiveness that made it highly effective. Content marketing is a great example of a marketing practice that is now more challenging because it is so widely used.

Based on Hindsight

"WARNING:  These best practices have been identified by evaluating past results, and they may be less effective in the future. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results."

Best practices are always based on hindsight. We don't identify a principle or technique as a best practice until we have a fairly significant track record of performance. But as we all know, the marketing environment is constantly evolving. New technologies are appearing at a breathtaking pace, and many of those technologies enable marketing practices that were previously unheard of. Meanwhile, customer expectations are also rapidly changing.

Under these circumstances, marketers should view all best practices as "temporary" and always be alert for developments that may require a change of marketing methods or techniques. It's an overstatement to say that all best practices are obsolete by the time they are recognized as "best." But it's equally wrong to assume that today's best practices will remain unchanged for very long.

Use With Caution

Marketing best practices can help you improve marketing performance and achieve marketing success. But they must be used with caution.

Image courtesy of Travis Wise via Flickr CC.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Getting Started With Customer Journey Maps


Delivering great experiences to existing and potential customers is rapidly becoming a vital source of competitive advantage for many B2B companies. Recent research indicates that most B2B companies expect to be competing primarily on the basis of customer experience in the very near future.

The starting point for improving customer experiences is understanding what interactions are occurring with customers and potential customers, and how useful and satisfying those interactions are from the customer's perspective. A growing number of companies are using customer journey maps to create a visual representation of the interactions that affect customer experiences.

Customer journey maps can serve many purposes, and as a result, they come in a wide variety of forms. If you want to get a feeling for how much variety exists, just run a Google image search for "customer journey map."

There's a wealth of information about building customer journey maps. Over the past few years, customer journey mapping has been the topic of dozens, if not hundreds, of books, articles, white papers, and blog posts. These content resources often take different approaches to customer journey mapping, and that, combined with the many uses of customer journey maps, can make the process seem extremely intimidating.

There are, however, several things you can do to make the process more manageable, especially if you're just getting started with customer journey mapping.

First, it's important to remember that the mapping process - when it's done the right way - is actually more valuable than the maps themselves. Dwight Eisenhower made this point about military plans when he said, "Plans are worthless, but planning is everything." To create accurate customer journey maps, it's essential to gather and use customer input, and this gives you the opportunity to see your business through the eyes of your customers.

Second, customers will actually have several journeys over the course of their relationship with your company. Don't attempt to address all of these journeys in one mapping project. Work on one journey at a time, and focus on getting that one right.

When companies are just beginning their journey mapping efforts, I usually recommend that they focus on post-purchase journeys. There's a lot of buzz these days about using journey maps to support marketing and sales efforts. These kinds of maps cat certainly be valuable, but post-purchase journeys tend to be more concrete and thus easier to map. Plus, it's usually easier to obtain input from existing customers.

Finally, it's important to clearly define your objectives before you begin to create a customer journey map. To improve customer experiences, the most important thing to understand is what your customers are trying to accomplish when they interact with your company. Therefore, it's important to describe each journey in terms of the customer's objective. In other words, define your customers' journeys by asking:  What jobs are our customers trying to get done when they interact with our company?

Once you've answered this question, you can begin the process of improving customer experiences by answering a second question:  How can we make it easier, faster, and/or cheaper for customers to get these jobs done?

One final thought. Mapping customer journeys is not a one-time job. You will need to validate and possibly update your customer journey maps on a regular basis, at least once a year.

Illustration courtesy of Jenny Cham via Flickr CC.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Why Marketing Leaders Must Connect the Dots


In a recent article for dmnews.com, Mike Colombo, the CMO of Cloudwords, argued that many CMOs aren't ready for a seat at the C-suite table. According to Mr. Colombo, many CMOs aren't winning a seat at the "grown-up" table because they're still relying on performance metrics that are inconsequential to company leaders.

Recent research has confirmed that many marketers aren't doing a great job of communicating the value that marketing contributes to the business. In the 2016 Marketing Performance Management Benchmark Study by VisionEdge Marketing and Demand Metric, only 23% of survey respondents said their CEO would give marketing a grade of "A" on its ability to demonstrate its value and contribution to the business.

A disconnect between marketing and the rest of the C-suite can exist if CMOs don't clearly communicate the relationship between marketing programs and the business outcomes that matter to other C-suite executives. Most marketing leaders tend to focus on the programs they're running and the direct results of those programs (response rates, downloads, pageviews, etc.). The problem arises when these direct program results aren't linked to the high-level objectives that C-level executives really care about.

The ultimate mission of marketing is to drive revenue growth. Virtually all companies have a revenue growth goal as one of their top-line strategic business objectives. Many companies also have specific goals for new customer acquisition, customer retention and growth, and market share, but these objectives are all directly related to revenue growth. Therefore, every marketing activity is (or should be) designed to generate (or contribute to the production of) revenue.

To effectively communicate the connection between marketing activities and revenue, marketing leaders must develop a revenue growth strategy, which, at its most basic level, is a hypothesis that describes how the company will grow revenue. A revenue growth strategy is essentially a big if-then statement that says, "If we execute these specific marketing programs, then we will meet our revenue growth objectives."

However, many marketing activities don't directly produce revenue. Some marketing activities are several steps removed from the realization of revenue, but they are essential components of the revenue generation process. Therefore, a revenue growth strategy is a set of if-then statements, each of which describes a specific marketing activity and the anticipated results of that activity. These individual if-then statements are then combined to create chains of cause-and-effect relationships that connect individual marketing activities to the realization of revenue.

A simplified version of one of these cause-and-effect chains might look something like this:

  • If we publish a blog that offers readers access to compelling content resources, then more potential buyers will identify themselves and consume our content.
  • If more potential buyers identify themselves and consume our content, then we will generate more qualified sales leads.
  • If we generate more qualified sales leads, then we will create more legitimate sales opportunities.
  • If we increase the number of legitimate sales opportunities, then we will close more sales.
  • If we close more sales, then we will produce more revenue, and that will help us reach our revenue growth objectives.
In short, CMOs can fail to earn a seat at the C-suite table if they don't "connect the dots" between marketing programs and revenue growth. To create and sustain credibility with other senior company leaders, CMOs must understand the links between individual marketing activities and revenue growth, and they must make those links visible to the CEO and other members of the C-suite.

For more on this topic, take a look at Laura Patterson's recent article at MarketingProfs

Illustration courtesy of Lisa Plummer via Flickr CC.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Magic of "Job-Focused" Content


When Theodore Levitt taught marketing at the Harvard Business School, he frequently reminded his students that "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole." The point Professor Levitt was making is that people don't usually buy a product or service because they want the product or service itself. What they really want is what the product or service will help them accomplish.

In The Innovator's Solution, Clayton Christensen built on Professor Levitt's idea to describe what is called the jobs-to-be-done framework. The basic idea of this framework is that when people become aware of a "job" they need to get done, they look for a product or service they can "hire" to perform the job.

Christensen argues that this is how customers "experience life." Their thought processes begin with an awareness that they need to get something done, and then they seek to hire something or someone to do the job as effectively, conveniently, and inexpensively as possible.

The attributes of the jobs that people are needing to get done constitute the circumstances in which they buy. Therefore, Christensen says, the jobs-to-be-done framework can enable company leaders to reliably predict what features and functionality will cause people to buy a product or service.

The jobs-to-be-done framework is often used to guide the process of developing new products and services, but it also has implications for marketing. What it tells us is that one key to effective marketing is to focus the majority of our marketing messages and content on the jobs our potential buyers need to get done. 

To create compelling "job-focused" messages and content, marketers need a thorough understanding of the jobs their potential buyers are trying to get done. Specifically, marketers need to know:
  • What the specific jobs are
  • Why the jobs are important
  • What happens if the jobs don't get done
  • How potential buyers are trying to perform the jobs - what tools and processes are they using
  • What is preventing prospects from getting the jobs done effectively and efficiently - what are the limitations and shortcomings of their existing tools and processes
Using content that is built around the jobs that your buyers are trying to get done provides several important benefits:

  • Content that can help buyers get an important job done is more likely to earn their attention and engagement because it provides meaningful value.
  • When you use the jobs-to-be-done framework to guide your content marketing program, content development efforts become more focused, and less time is wasted creating content that won't resonate with potential buyers.
  • Job-focused content typically has a longer shelf life. As long as the identified job exists, the content relating to that job will remain valuable and useful. While job-focused content does need to be reviewed and possibly updated on a regular basis, the longer shelf life can ease the content development burden.
  • In many cases, multiple members of the buying group will need to get the same job done. Therefore, job-focused content can often be used with several buyer personas. And such content can be easily customized for each relevant persona. Plus, by identifying the jobs that multiple buyers have in common, job-focused content can help the buying group reach consensus.
It's abundantly clear that content marketing success is becoming more difficult to achieve. Using content that buyers will instinctively see as meaningful and valuable will increase your odds of success, and the jobs-to-be-done framework can help you develop such content.

Illustration courtesy of Mufidah Kassallas via Flickr CC.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

What the Subscription Economy Means for B2B Marketers


One of the most profound business developments of the past few years has been the proliferation of companies using subscription-based business models. Of course, subscription-based businesses aren't new. We've been subscribing to newspapers and magazines for decades. What is new is that more and more kinds of goods are being repackaged as services and sold on a subscription basis.

The rapidly growing number of companies that offer "software-as-a-service" is probably the most prominent example of this phenomenon. Software applications that were once sold for a fixed price and distributed via CD's or Internet downloads are now sold on a subscription basis and accessed and used via the cloud. Think Salesforce, Office 365, and B2B marketing automation solutions. The media industry has also been disrupted by companies using subscription-based business models. Think Spotify and Netflix.

What really makes the subscription economy a profound business development is the range of products that can be sold on a subscription basis. GE offers a subscription model for its jet engines. Caterpillar is said to be moving toward selling metric tons of earth moved rather than earth moving equipment. I (and you) can "subscribe" to razors (Dollar Shave Club), groceries (Blue Apron), and even automobiles (Zipcar).

The subscription economy appears to be growing rapidly, and many subscription-based businesses are performing well. A recent study by MGI Research suggests that the subscription economy could exceed $100 billion by 2020. And a recent analysis by Zuora (a provider of software for subscription-based businesses) found that since the beginning of 2012, the sales of subscription-based businesses are growing nine times faster that sales of companies in the S & P 500, and more than four times the rate of US retail sales (including e-commerce).

So, what does the shift to subscription-based business mean for B2B marketers? First and foremost, it means that marketers should focus more of their time and attention on customer retention and growth.

In a subscription-based business, most of the economic value of a customer is realized in installments, over time, rather than when the initial "sale" is made. Because of customer acquisition costs, new customers are invariably unprofitable, and they will not become profitable until they have been "subscribers" for some period of time. So in essence, customer profitability depends directly on the length of the customer relationship, as the following diagram shows.
















Most marketers will acknowledge the importance of customer retention and growth, but most companies are still focused primarily on customer acquisition. In a 2016 global survey of more than 1,000 marketers by Econsultancy in association with IBM Watson Marketing, respondents said that, on average, 55% of their revenues are delivered by customer acquisition activities, and 45% are achieved through customer retention activities.

Delivering great experiences to existing customers is obviously critical for companies that have subscription-based business models because of the dynamics of customer profitability. But the same pattern of customer profitability is also found in many kinds of companies that don't use a true subscription model.

In many types of companies, for example, the first sale to a customer will not be sufficient to make that customer profitable because of the marketing and sales costs that must be incurred to acquire the customer. Most of the profits will result from the customer's subsequent purchases of additional or ancillary products. Epson may have earned some profit when I purchased a new printer about a year ago, but they've almost certainly realized significantly more profits from the multiple ink purchases I've made over the past year.

These dynamics of customer profitability mean that marketers in virtually all kinds of B2B companies should be more focused on nurturing relationships with existing customers.

Top image courtesy of Rob Enslin via Flickr CC.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

B2B Buyers Are Still Skeptical About Vendor Content


A recent research report by TrustRadius paints a rather sobering picture of the effectiveness of B2B content marketing. The B2B Buying Disconnect is based on the results of two surveys. One was a survey of 418 individuals who played a key role in a significant software purchase during the previous two years, and the second was a survey of 190 individuals who worked for software vendors in a marketing or sales leadership capacity.

Although the TrustRadius study focused exclusively on technology buyers and sellers, the results would almost certainly be similar in other cases involving complex B2B products or services.

In the buyer survey, TrustRadius asked participants to select which sources of information they used during their purchasing process from a list of 12 options. Then survey participants rated each information source in terms of helpfulness and trustworthiness. The table below depicts where each source of information ranked across these three dimensions.























There are three primary takeaways from these rankings.

Buyers prefer resources that provide direct experience with the product or service - Survey respondents ranked product demos and free trials as very helpful and very trustworthy.

Buyers value information from third parties - Respondents described referrals from friends, colleagues, or peers as very helpful and very trustworthy. Buyers also ranked user reviews and customer references as very helpful, and they rated conversations with analysts and recommendations by solution consultants as highly trustworthy.

Except for product demos, buyers place little value on most types of vendor-provided information - Survey respondents rated vendor sales reps and sales presentations fairly high in terms of helpfulness, but low in terms of trustworthiness. Respondents ranked vendor or product websites and vendor collateral (e.g. ebooks, case studies, webinars) as the least helpful and least trustworthy sources of information.

These research findings should be a wake-up call for B2B marketers. In the 2017 edition of the B2B content marketing survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, only 34% of B2B marketers rated their content marketing strategy as extremely or very effective. The comparable percentage was 30% in 2016 and 38% in 2015. The buyer attitudes captured in the TrustRadius study explain (at least in part) why only a minority of companies are achieving a high level of success with content marketing.

As marketers, we need to expect and accept that many potential buyers will view our content with a skeptical eye. To overcome this skepticism, we need to "go the extra mile" to create content that is objective and non-promotional, and most importantly, content that delivers real value to our potential buyers.

Top image courtesy of Terry Johnston via Flickr CC.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

How to Weaken the Grip of the Status Quo


Astute marketing and sales professionals have long understood that their toughest competitor is usually the status quo. In most cases, no sale can be made unless prospects are first willing to consider changing their current methods and practices. Given the importance of the issue, it shouldn't be surprising that many marketing and sales experts have proposed several techniques for "breaking the grip of the status quo."

Recent research by several firms has shown that what business buyers are really looking for is fresh insights about the issues or challenges they are facing and about how to improve their business. Therefore, compelling insights can be an effective mechanism for loosening the grip of the status quo and creating a willingness to consider change.

So, what qualifies as insight, and what distinguishes it from other kinds of information that is used in marketing and sales messaging? CEB defines insight as information that disrupts a prospect's level of comfort with the status quo. Like thought leadership, compelling insights are credible and relevant, and they teach prospects something new. But in addition, insights simultaneously reveal - either directly or implicitly - the disadvantages and/or shortcomings of the prospect's status quo. The objective is to cause the prospect to feel a sense of urgency to act.

Developing insights that will resonate with potential buyers is not an easy task. It requires an in-depth understanding of your prospect's business and of the important developments or trends that are affecting or will impact his or her business.

But what makes developing insights really difficult is the need to bring a unique perspective to these underlying facts and circumstances. If your marketing messages and sales conversations make the same points that your competitors are making, you aren't really providing the kinds of insights that will prompt your prospects to act or differentiate your company from the competition.

One fertile source of effective insights is what Corporate Visions calls unconsidered needs. Corporate Visions identifies three basic types of unconsidered needs:

  1. Unknown needs exist when there is a problem, challenge, or opportunity that a potential buyer is unaware of.
  2. Unmet needs exist when a potential buyer is aware of a problem or challenge, but believes that there's no way to effectively address the problem or challenge. In other words, the buyer believes that the problem is just a "fact of life" that he or she must live with.
  3. Under-valued needs exist when a potential buyer is aware of a problem, challenge, or opportunity, but doesn't understand or appreciate its importance or how quickly its impact will be felt.
Insights can be developed around unconsidered needs in several ways:
  • They can describe the causes and effects of a previously unrecognized problem.
  • They can describe a new or innovative solution for a "fact of life" problem or challenge.
  • They can make the full ramifications and timing of a known issue or problem visible.
The status quo is a powerful competitor, and no technique will win with every potential buyer. But providing insights that disrupt a prospect's comfort with the status quo will give you the best chance to trigger a willingness to consider change.

Illustration courtesy of R/DV/RS via Flickr CC.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Attributes of Winning Thought Leadership Content


Two recent studies provide several important insights regarding the role and importance of thought leadership content in the marketing mix. Thought leadership content is often the primary means of creating the initial engagement with a potential buyer. Therefore, it plays a critical role in the marketing efforts of many B2B companies.

The Economist Group Study

Thought leadership disrupted:  New rules for the content age by The Economist Group was based on a survey (conducted in association with Hill+Knowlton Strategies) of 1,644 global marketing and business executives. This survey included both marketers (those who plan, develop, or manage thought leadership content) and executives (those who consume thought leadership content). The results discussed below are based on the responses of executives.

More than two-thirds (68%) of surveyed executives said they consume thought leadership content at least weekly, and almost as many (63%) said they had increased their consumption over the 12 months prior to the survey. However, 75% of executives also said they had become more selective in their content consumption over the preceding 12-24 months, and the executives reported that, on average, they engage with only about 25% of the thought leadership content they see every day.

When executives were asked why they consume thought leadership content, the top three reasons chosen were to encounter thoughts that go beyond current thinking (42%), to identify new business opportunities (34%), and to address existing business problems (28%).

When they were asked what qualities made thought leadership content compelling, the most popular attributes identified were innovative (40%), big picture (36%), transformative (36%), and credible (35%). In contrast, the adjectives most frequently associated with poor thought leadership content were superficial (34%), sales-driven (31%), and biased (28%).

The Grist Study

Last year, Grist, a B2B content marketing agency based in London, commissioned a study to better understand the views of business executives regarding thought leadership content. The Value of B2B Thought Leadership Survey was based on interviews of more than 200 senior executives at FTSE 350 companies.

When surveyed executives were asked why they consume thought leadership content, the three most frequently chosen reasons were to keep me informed of emerging trends (66%), to enable me to make better business decisions (60%), and to help me understand best practices (52%). When they were asked what qualities were most valuable in thought leadership content, the three most favored attributes were fresh thinking (46%), forward-thinking (30%), and evidence-led (29%).

The interviewers also asked participants what caused thought leadership content to fail. The top three attributes identified by executives were too generic - not directly relevant to me (63%), lack of original insight or ideas (58%), and promoting the advisor, rather than addressing my problems (53%).

The Grist study also sought to obtain data regarding the impact of thought leadership content. Surveyed executives said they consume 31% of the thought leadership content they encounter and that 28% of the content they come across has an impact on their decision-making.

The Takeaway

The results of these two studies provide important pointers for marketers who use thought leadership content in their marketing efforts. They demonstrate that effective thought leadership content must be objective and authoritative, and most importantly, it must provide unique and in-depth insights for the target audience.

Illustration courtesy of Abhijit Bhadurl via Flickr CC.