Friday, February 26, 2010

More Proof That Relevant Marketing Content is Essential

Earlier this week, I attended a Webinar titled Inside the Mind of the B2B Buyer - New Data on the Path to Purchase.  This Webinar discussed the results of a recent survey that was conducted by DemandGen Report and sponsored by  The survey targeted B2B buyers who had made a recent purchase.

The lead finding in the survey is that more than 80% of buyers said they initiated contact with potential solution providers.  Fewer than 10% of recent buyers said that they were contacted "cold" by the solution provider.  This finding is similar to the results of other recent research, and it reinforces the proposition that, today, buyers find sellers much more often than sellers find buyers.

The DemandGen Report survey also provides important insights into the behavious of today's B2B buyers.
  • 70% of buyers began their research using online search
  • 70% of buyers started their research by visiting a vendor Website
  • 78% of buyers started their purchasing process with informal information gathering
  • 59% of buyers engaged with peers during the buying process
  • 48% of buyers followed industry conversations online
  • 44% of buyers conducted anonymous online research
These results clearly demonstrate why marketing content is so critical to B2B marketing success.  Potential buyers are forming opinions about your company and your products and services based on the content you provide - often long before you even know who the potential buyers are.

This survey also confirms that compelling marketing content has a major impact on winning business in today's business environment.  Ninety-five percent of recent purchasers said that the solution provider they ultimately chose provided them with ample content to help them navigate through each stage of the buying process.

So, the jury is in and the verdict is clear.  Relevant and compelling content is essential for effective B2B marketing.

You can access a recorded verison of the Webinar here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Content Marketing Basics: First Understand How You Create Value

The first step in creating an effective content marketing program is to identify and describe all of the significant ways that your products or services create value for customers.  Creating buyer personas, describing the stages of your customers' buying process, and developing content for each buyer persona and for all stages of the buying cycle are all essential steps in building an effective content marketing program.  But I contend that it's critical to start with a thorough understanding of how your products or services create value for customers.

Knowing how your products or services create value tells you what issues and problems you can help customers solve and what benefits customers can gain by using your products or services.  When you combine this knowledge with good buyer personas and then apply good content marketing principles, you can create exceptional marketing content.

To develop a complete picture of how your products or services create value, you should assemble a cross-functional team and construct a customer value matrix for each of your product or service offerings.  The team should include both marketing and sales personnel and could also include customer service and other support personnel.

The first step in building a customer value matrix is to identify all of the reasons that people might have for purchasing a product or service like yours.  These reason-to-buy statements should describe a basic need, issue, or pain point and the logical explanation for the need, issue, or pain.  The best format for reason-to-buy statements is I or We want or need to do something because of some reason.  Be sure to include reason-to-buy statements for all of the people (or groups of people) in the customer organization who would be significantly affected by your product or service.  This broad-brush approach will help you identify the people who will make or influence the decision to purchase your product or service and the buyer personas you will need to create.

Once you have listed all the reasons to buy, add the following information for each reason.

Affected Parties - Who is affected by the need, issue or problem described in the reason to buy?  Who has the most to gain if the need, issue or problem is resolved, and who has the most to lose if it isn't?  Use job titles or job functions to describe the affected parties.

Desired Outcome - The specific results that the affected parties want to achieve with respect to the reason to buy.  The desired outcome will resolve the need, issue, or problem described in the reason to buy.

Solution Component - The specific features or functions of your solution that will resolve the issue described in the reason to buy and enable the desired outcome.  This can be an attribute or feature of the product or service, a characteristic of how you produce or deliver the product or service, or a particular capability that your company possesses.

Value Measure - The specific way that your product or service creates value with respect to the reason to buy.  Your solution can create measurable value by enabling the customer to reduce existing costs, avoid future costs, or increase revenues.  Your task here is to identify the specific kinds of costs that will be reduced or avoided or the kinds of revenues that will be increased.

Building a complete customer value matrix takes time and effort, but when it's done right, the matrix will provide a comprehensive picture of how a product or service creates value.  And understanding how a product or service creates value provides the foundation for an effective content marketing effort.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Content Makes Marketing and Sales a Value-Adding Process

The forces that are reshaping the B2B marketing landscape have given rise to a new marketing discipline - content marketing. There's little doubt that content marketing will be a driving force in B2B marketing in 2010. According to a recent survey by Junta42, 59 percent of marketers plan to increase spending on content initiatives in 2010, up from 56 percent in 2009, and 42 percent in 2008. A study by the Custom Publishing Council found that branded content accounted for 32 percent of the average overall marketing, advertising, and communications budgets in 2009. The CPC said that this is the greatest ever proportion of total marketing/communications funds dedicated to branded content. It's not insignificant that just this week, the Custom Publishing Council changed its name to Custom Content Council.

What is content marketing? Joe Pulizzi, co-author of Get Content. Get Customers. says that, "Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience - with the objective of driving profitable customer action."

Content marketing has become a critical discipline because B2B buyers are increasingly researching buying decisions online, and they are delaying conversations with salespeople until much later in the buying cycle. So, marketing content must carry a heavier load in the overall demand generation process. Adam Needles at the Propelling Brands blog puts it this way: "What is interesting is that this type of interaction is what you might have once thought of as a dialogue with the sales person - except in this context it is dialogue being managed by a marketer . . ."

Content marketing is a tested and proven technique, and we can identify several "best practices" for creating great content. I'll describe those best practices in future posts. But content marketing is still a relatively new discipline, and it requires a different way of thinking. I believe it helps to place content marketing into a larger context.

To put content marketing in the proper perspective, think of your marketing and sales activities and programs as being part of a process that must in itself create value for customers. In other words, treat the marketing and sales process as if it is another service that you offer to customers. You wouldn't expect a company to purchase your products or services if they don't provide value to that company. If your marketing and sales process doesn't provide value to potential buyers, your shouldn't expect them to engage with you in that process.

And how do marketing and sales create value for potential buyers? By providing information and tools that help them make better purchasing decisions. More specifically, marketing and sales activities create value for potential buyers by helping them understand:
  • The full ramifications of an important business issue, challenge, or problem
  • How the issue, challenge, or problem can be addressed
  • How they should evaluate potential solutions
  • Why your solution is the right one for their organization
Content marketing is the vehicle for providing this kind of information to potential buyers.  Therefore, once you start treating marketing and sales as a process that must provide real value for prospective customers, the logic behind content marketing becomes clear and compelling.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Why B2B Marketing is Like Curling

The 2010 Winter Olympics begin tonight in Vancouver, and I'm sure that I will watch at least a few minutes of the curling competition at this year's Games. I'm not really sure why I'll watch because curling is definitely not an exciting sport. If you're not familiar with curling, it's a little like shuffleboard (true curling fans, please forgive me). The big difference is that curling is played on a rectangular sheet of ice and involves sliding a large, polished granite stone weighing about 40 lbs toward a target painted on the ice. The playing surface is prepared by spraying water droplets (called "pebble") onto the ice. Because of friction between the stone and the pebble, the moving stone will turn or "curl" to one side or the other.

After one team member "throws" the stone toward the target, two other team members accompany the stone as it moves down the ice and guide it toward the desired position on the target. The catch is, these players are not allowed to actually touch the moving stone. Instead, they use long-handle brooms to sweep the ice in front of the stone. Sweeping temporarily melts the top of the ice and thus reduces the friction between the stone and the ice. By reducing the friction, sweeping changes both the speed and the direction of the stone. Knowing when and how much to sweep is a critical skill in curling.

In some ways, curling provides a good metaphor for describing the job faced by today's B2B marketers and salespeople, particularly those involved in selling complex products or services (such as, for example, marketing services). As I've written before, B2B buyers are now firmly in control of the purchasing process. They determine when and how they will research purchasing decisions and when and how they will interact with potential suppliers. They also decide how quickly they will move through the buying process. In these circumstances, the most important job for the seller (whether a marketer or a salesperson) is to provide prospective buyers with the information they need when they need it.

Like the sweepers in a curling match, your main job is to reduce the friction that slows prospects down and causes them to veer off course. You would like to be able to directly lead your prospects through the buying process. That would be the equivalent in curling of touching the stone, and that's against the rules. In today's B2B buying environment, attempting to push your prospects through the buying process toward your desired objective on your schedule just doesn't work - at least not very often.

You can't dictate what buying decisions your prospects will ultimately make, and you can't completely eliminate friction from the buying process. But if you consistently provide information that is useful and valuable to your prospects and appropriate to where they are in the buying process, you can help them move more easily through the process and, even more importantly, make better buying decisions. This also means, by the way, that you're likely to win more sales.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Automating B2B Marketing

Three forces are shaping today's B2B marketing landscape - the growing power of B2B buyers, the need to make marketing messages and materials relevant to potential buyers, and the recent emergence of technology tools that automate many marketing tasks. I've covered buyer empowerment and the importance of relevant marketing communications in previous posts. This post will focus on marketing automation technologies.

By the way, if you want to dig deeply into the topic of B2B marketing automation, I highly recommend that you read David Raab's Customer Experience Matrix blog. This post will briefly cover the major points.

B2B marketing automation systems - also called demand generation systems - are software tools that are designed to help marketers acquire, nurture, qualify, and distribute leads to sales. Demand generation systems automate four types of B2B marketing tasks.

Lead Generation - All demand generation systems enable users to create and execute lead generation e-mail campaigns. Demand generation systems can also host landing pages and the forms that are used to capture campaign responses, and they can use cookies to track visits to Web pages at a company's main Website in addition to the campaign landing page(s). Support for channels other than e-mail and Web pages is inconsistent. For example, if a lead generation campaign involves direct mail, the direct mail component must usually be managed outside the demand generation system.

Lead Nurturing - Lead nurturing is the process of communicating with prospects on a regular basis until they are ready to buy. For example, a lead nurturing program might involve sending a prospect a particular sequence of e-mails on a specified schedule. Demand generation systems automate the execution of lead nurturing programs. Automated lead nurturing is probably the most important feature of demand generation systems because nurturing programs are difficult to implement without automation.

Lead Scoring - Lead scoring is a method of qualifying prospects by assigning numerical "points" based on information provided by the prospect and on the prospect's behavior (e-mails opened, white papers downloaded, Webinars attended, etc.). All demand generation systems allow users to define scoring criteria and assign scoring values to those criteria.

Lead Distribution - When a prospect's lead score reaches a pre-determined value, the lead is deemed to be sales ready, and the demand generation system passes the lead to sales. Other events can also be used to trigger a hand-off to sales. Demand generation systems are usually configured to distribute leads to sales automatically when these triggering events occur. Most, if not all, demand generation systems offer integration with, and some vendors offer integration with other sales automation and CRM products. This integration makes distributing leads virtually seamless.

Forrester Research has estimated that only 2 to 5 percent of B2B companies have implemented demand generation systems. My take is that this market is on the cusp of a huge growth spurt. I believe this growth will occur for three reasons. First, demand generation systems exist for virtually all sizes of B2B companies. Monthly costs start as low as $200. Second, all of the major demand generation systems are sold as a hosted solution, which means that companies don't need extensive IT resources to implement and use them. And finally, there is a growing body of evidence from early adopters that demand generation systems can significantly improve marketing and sales performance.

If you are a corporate marketer and you haven't already invested in a demand generation system, you should start looking at these technologies now. If you are a marketing services firm, you need to be thinking about how you can help your clients leverage the capabilities of demand generation technologies.

Monday, February 8, 2010

There's No Substitute for Relevancy

In my previous post, I described some of the characteristics of today's B2B buyers, and I said that because of easy access to information, business buyers now essentially control the buying process. Buyer empowerment is one of three forces that are shaping the B2B marketing landscape. Just like moving water shapes the physical world, these three forces are redefining what effective B2B marketing is and how it's done. The third force is marketing automation technologies, and I'll cover this topic in my next post.

The second force driving fundamental change in B2B marketing is the growing need to create and use marketing communications and materials that are relevant to potential buyers. Relevance has become a necessity for two reasons. First, our environment is filled with marketing and advertising clutter, and the clutter is getting worse, not better. As marketing clutter increases, the effectiveness of generic, self-promotional marketing messages decreases. B2B buyers simply tune them out. Second, today's B2B buyers are incredibly busy. Their time is their most precious commodity, and they protect it at all costs. If a buyer doesn't see your message as relevant, he or she will ignore it.

The dictionary definition of relevant is, "having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand." Therefore, to be relevant, a marketing message must speak directly to an issue, problem, challenge, or outcome that's important, or at least interesting, to the potential buyer.

To create relevance, you have to know two things about your potential buyer. First, what role does the buyer play in his or her organization, and how will your products or services create value for this specific buyer? How do they make his life easier? What problems do they help her solve? Most B2B sales involve several "buyers" and these buyers will have different needs, issues, and problems. This means that you need to create marketing messages and materials that are customized for each type of buyer you typically encounter. In an upcoming post, I'll describe how you create buyer "personas" and then develop marketing materials for each persona.

The second thing you need to know is where the buyer is in the buying cycle. This is important because the kind of information that a potential buyer will find relevant changes as he or she moves through the buying process. For example, a prospective buyer who has just started to focus on a particular problem will likely welcome a white paper that explains the ramifications of the problem and the benefits of solving the problem. That buyer would not be as likely to welcome a product brochure at this stage of the buying process. So your marketing messages and materials must also speak to where your prospect is in the buying cycle.

The growing need to make marketing messages and materials relevant multiplies the amount of marketing content you need and, therefore, complicates the B2B marketing process. But relevance is absolutely essential to reach today's B2B buyers.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Age of the Self-Directed Buyer

The starting point for understanding the new face of B2B marketing is the fundamental shift in power from B2B sellers to business buyers. Now more than ever before, prospective buyers control the buying process. They decide when and how they will access information and research purchasing decisions and when and how they will interact with potential suppliers.

A good analogy is the self-directed learning courses offered at many universities. The course requirements are spelled out, textbooks and other course materials are identified, and mileposts (required exams, papers, etc.) are established. Then students study at their own pace to complete the course. In the world of B2B marketing, we're now living in the age of the self-directed buyer.

The driving force behind the empowerment of business buyers is the Internet. The Web has put a huge volume of information about almost every conceivable product and service at the fingertips of business buyers, and they've become convinced that they can find whatever information they need, whenever they need it, on their terms. In fact, the Internet has become the primary source of information for many business buyers. According to a survey by Forbes Insights, 81 percent of business executives who are under 50 years of age use the Internet daily to gather business information.

Last fall, Adam Needles provided a detailed discussion of the changing nature of B2B buyers in an excellent post at his Propelling Brands blog. He identified four major characteristics of today's B2B buyer.

  • B2B buyers are using online sources of information (especially early in the buying cycle) to research purchasing decisions, and they are delaying conversations with vendor's sales reps until late in the cycle.
  • B2B buyers are leveraging social media to collect information and opinions about prospective vendors, products, and services.
  • B2B buyers are using several communications channels to research purchasing decisions.
  • B2B buyers are increasingly part of a "buying unit" rather than acting as a single decision-maker.

The bottom line is that easy access to information makes business buyers much less dependent on sellers than in the past, and this means that many traditional marketing and sales techniques and practices don't work as well as they once did.

What is working today? That's what we'll discuss in future posts.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Welcome to the B2B Marketing Directions blog.

Before a writer puts pen to paper - or fingers to keyboard - he or she should think through a couple of questions. What is the purpose and what are the objectives of what I am about to write? And, who am I writing for?

The purpose of this blog is to discuss the profound changes that are occurring in the world of marketing, specifically business-to-business marketing. "The Internet changes everything." That's a cliche, of course, but it's also an indisputable reality for B2B marketers. One of our primary objectives here is to describe how the Web is transforming the practice of B2B marketing and what strategies B2B marketers can use to succeed in this new marketing environment.

As far as the "who" question is concerned, this blog is designed primarily for marketers in small and mid-sized B2B companies and for marketing practitioners in small and mid-sized marketing services firms - advertising agencies, direct marketing agencies, graphic design firms, and print service providers who are repositioning their companies to offer marketing services.

Why the focus on marketing services firms? Two reasons. First, changes in the way B2B marketing is done are also changing the competitive structure of the marketing services industry. As the popularity and use of some marketing channels have declined, firms that operate in those channels must broaden their services in order to find new revenues. Even firms that are not focused on "declining" channels need to diversify because their clients want to use new marketing techniques and to integrate their marketing activities across an ever-increasing number of marketing channels.

This diversification takes firms into new territory and usually means they must acquire or develop new business capabilities. Diversification also means that the marketing business is getting more competitive as the internal boundaries that once separated different kinds of firms are blurring. The firms that master the right new marketing techniques will win.

Second, marketing services firms are B2B organizations. So, the forces that are changing the B2B marketing landscape are also changing the approach that marketing services firms must use to effectively market their services.

The bottom line? It's a new world for B2B marketers whether they're in B2B companies or B2B marketing services firms. Our goal here is to provide ideas and information that will help B2B marketers successfully navigate the new terrain.