Monday, March 29, 2010

Beyond Alignment to Collaboration

One of the hot topics today in B2B marketing is the need to create better alignment between marketing and sales.  There is a growing recognition that marketing and sales are out of sync in many B2B companies.  They often have widely different views about such fundamental issues as what kinds of companies make the best prospects and what constitutes a sales-ready lead.  One major objective of improving the alignment between marketing and sales is to develop a common view regarding these basic issues.

Creating better alignment between marketing and sales is certainly important, but "alignment" doesn't adequately describe the kind of relationship that's really needed between marketing and sales.  Today, a growing number of B2B companies realize that both marketing and sales activities are components of a single demand generation process.  And to create and sustain a demand generation process that produces significant revenue growth, what's really needed is an active and close collaboration between marketers and salespeople.

Not that long ago, such active and close collaboration wasn't absolutely essential.  In most B2B companies, the roles and responsibilities of marketing and sales were fairly distinct and independent.  Marketing ran campaigns to raise brand awareness and generate sales leads, produced marketing collateral materials, and coordinated the participation in trade shows.  Leads generated by marketing were passed along to sales and were rarely seen by marketing again.  Salespeople had two basic jobs - to generate leads (prospect) and to take those leads (plus those supplied by marketing) and close sales.

This siloed approach to marketing and sales is simply not effective in today's business environment.  Companies are encountering potential buyers long before they are ready to meet with a salesperson.  So, marketing must play a larger role in nurturing prospects until they are ready to have a meaningful conversation with sales.  And when a prospect does talk with a salesperson, he or she expects the sales rep to build on the existing relationship, not start over from scratch.

A collaborative relationship can help make the transition from marketing to sales nearly seamless, but the benefits of collaboration don't stop there.  Salespeople are talking with prospects and customers every day, and they can provide marketers with real-time input about the issues that prospects are actively thinking about.  Marketers can then use this information to develop new marketing content or modify existing content.  On the flip side, marketers can provide salespeople with information about strategic developments and trends that are affecting potential buyers.

The bottom line is that B2B companies need an effective demand generation process in order to drive consistent revenue growth, and an effective demand generation process requires that marketers and salespeople work as a cohesive team.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Getting Specific About Value

We now know that providing relevant content to potential buyers is essential for effective B2B marketing.  One key to increasing the relevancy of marketing content is to make it more specific.  Consider the following two statements:
  • "Our new ProWidget can enable you to reduce equipment downtime and improve manufacturing efficiency."
  • "Customers using our new ProWidget have reduced the cost of equipment downtime by an average of $100,000 per year."
Which of these statements is more compelling?  I think it's clear that the second statement is more powerful because it's more specific.

To make marketing content more specific, you need to have a thorough understanding of how your products and services produce value for customers.  In an earlier post, I explained how to build a customer value matrix that will provide detailed insights about this critical issue.

Now for a confession.  You may need more than one customer value matrix to get a complete picture of how your products and services produce value for customers.  This is likely to be true if you sell to more than one industry or type of business.

To understand why, we need to review a few principles about value.  All products and services have features and attributes that enable certain jobs to get done.  By providing ways to get things done, features and attributes produce benefits for the people and companies that use the product or service.  The value of any product or service depends on the value of the benefits the product or service produces.

The catch is that the value of any particular benefit can vary significantly from customer to customer depending on the nature of each customer's business. 

To capture these differences, you need to create a separate customer value matrix for each industry or major type of business you serve.  After you've created your initial "catch-all" matrix, think about one of the industries of major types of business your serve.  Go back through your catch-all matrix and create a separate version that is targeted to that industry or type of business.  What you are likely to find is that some benefits or sources of value become much more important when you're focused on one particular type of business.  This insight will enable you to develop content that is more specific, and therefore more relevant, to that industry.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Marketing Effectiveness vs. Marketing Efficiency

Today's B2B marketers are facing growing pressure from the C-suite to improve the value provided by the marketing function.  The value created by marketing depends on both the effectiveness and the efficiency of marketing activities.  Marketing effectiveness and marketing efficiency are not conflicting objectives, but they are different.  And both are necessary for marketing to create value.

The essence of marketing effectiveness is producing the required results.  Are your lead generation programs producing enough new inquiries?  Is your lead nurturing program converting enough inquiries into sales-ready leads?  The measures of marketing effectiveness tend to be absolute numbers:  number of inquiries, number of marketing-qualified leads, number of sales-ready leads, etc.

Marketing efficiency is all about delivering effective marketing programs at the lowest possible cost.  Measures of marketing efficiency are typically expressed in dollars and are usually ratios:  cost per inquiry, cost per sales-ready lead, etc.

Many of today's "best practices" in B2B marketing can improve both marketing effectiveness and marketing efficiency.  For example, profiling your ideal customer, developing buyer personas for the people who make up your buying group, and creating content for each buyer persona can improve the effectiveness of your lead generation programs by increasing response rates.  These same activities can also improve marketing efficiency by enabling you to target lead generation campaigns more narrowly.

So far, most efforts to improve marketing efficiency have focused on individual campaigns and programs.  But recently, marketers have begun to focus on improving the efficiency of marketing operations.  Marketing operations is the term for all of the activities required to perform the marketing function.  Therefore, marketing operations would include coordinating the work of external marketing services firms, performing marketing research, and managing the procurement, production, and distribution of marketing collateral materials.

Marketers have started to realize that improving the efficiency of marketing operations can be a great way to conserve marketing dollars and stretch marketing budgets.

The bottom line - marketers must improve both marketing effectiveness and marketing efficiency to increase the value that marketing provides.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

To Gate, or Not to Gate, Marketing Content?

An ongoing debate in the B2B marketing community is whether a person should be required to register in order to gain access to marketing content.  Requiring registration is usually called putting the content behind a "gate."

The arguments for and against registration are fairly easy to summarize.  Proponents of requiring registration argue that for most B2B companies, the purpose of offering content is to generate leads, and you don't have a lead until a person identifies himself/herself.  Without registration, content offers simply can't generate actionable leads.

Proponents of making content available without registration argue that this approach will cause your content to spread much further and thus make many more potential customers aware of your company.  David Meerman Scott is an advocate of this view, and he shared an example to make his point in this blog post.

My view this that a significant amount of content should be made available without any registration requirement.  Ungated content is becoming a critical component of B2B marketing because the way business buyers make purchasing decisions has changed dramatically.

We now know that B2B buyers are researching potential purchases long before they are ready to talk with a salesperson.  Most of this research is conducted online and, increasingly, through the use of social media.  We also know that B2B buyers are performing a lot of research anonymously.  A recent survey by DemandGen Report and Genius found that:
  • 70% of buyers began their research by using online search or by visiting a vendor Website
  • 78% of buyers started their purchasing process with informal information gathering
  • 44% or buyers conducted anonymous online research
The reality today is that many early-stage buyers are out there actively looking for useful information, but they aren't ready to "raise their hand" and identify themselves.  Yet, many of these buyers will be prepared to engage with potential sellers later in the buying process.  If you make valuable, high-quality content freely available to these early-stage buyers, you can create a favorable "first impression" and provide these buyers a powerful reason to engage with your company when the time is right.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Personalization Alone Doesn't Create Relevance

Today's B2B marketers have more ways to reach out to customers and prospects than ever before.  Digital technologies have created new marketing channels and enabled marketing techniques that would have been impractical, if not completely impossible, only a few years ago.

But despite the new marketing channels and technology tools, most B2B marketers are finding it more difficult to capture the attention of potential buyers and create the kind of engagement that leads to new business.  Easy access to information makes B2B buyers less dependent on sellers than in the past, and our environment is filled with advertising and marketing clutter.

As I've written before, the real solution to overcoming these hurdles is to use marketing messages that are relevant to the problems and issues B2B buyers are facing.

The good news is that B2B marketers now have an array of tools to improve the relevance of marketing communications.  Personalization technologies can enable marketers to create marketing messages that are customized for individual prospects.  For example, marketers can use variable data printing to create direct mail pieces that are customized for each recipient.  Other personalization technologies make it possible to create customized e-mail messages and Web pages.

The capabilities of personalization technologies are impressive, but it's important to remember that personalization alone does not necessarily create relevance.  For some time, marketers have been personalizing marketing messages by including specific facts about the recipient - her name, job title, or company affiliation, for example - in the message.  I call this explicit personalization, and the reality is that explicit personalization alone won't make an irrelevant message relevant.

Effective marketing can be defined as getting the right offer in front of a potential buyer at the right time.  Information about a potential buyer - particularly the buyer's behavior - can be a powerful tool for determining what the right offer should be and when that offer should be presented.  When personal information is used this way, the result is a personalized, customized, and relevant marketing message.  What makes this kind of message different from one based only on explicit personalization is that the personalization is embodied in what the offer is and how it is presented, rather than in a collection of "facts" about the recipient.

All relevant marketing messages are in a very real sense personalized, but not all personalized messages are relevant.

Friday, March 12, 2010

For Effective Content Marketing, "Form Follows Function"

When marketers decide to implement a content marketing program, there is a tendency to think first about content in terms of format.  You might, for example, hear a marketer say something like, "We're going to need a few articles, two or three white papers, at least four customer case studies, and a Webinar."

This approach misses the mark.  When you start planning the development of marketing content, the first thing to think about is the purpose or function of the content.  As a whole, your marketing content has to perform three basic functions.  I call these functions educate, demonstrate, and reassure.

Educate - This type of content is designed to help potential buyers understand the problem or issue they're facing and how the problem or issue can be addressed.  Educational content is factual and mostly non-promotional.  It focuses on your prospects' challenges and not on your company or your products or services.  Educational content includes content that:
  • Explains the root cause of the problem/issue
  • Describes the ramifications of the problem/issue
  • Explains why it's important to address the problem/issue now
  • Describes how other companies have successfully addressed the problem/issue
  • Explains how to evaluate potential solutions
Demonstrate - Those of us who advocate content marketing stress the importance of providing content that is not self-promotional and not focused primarily on your company or your products or services.  But prospective buyers who reach a certain point in the buying cycle will want and need to learn about a prospective vendor's solutions.  So, you still need marketing content that "demonstrates" how your solution works and what specific benefits it provides.  This includes marketing content that:
  • Describes the features/functionality of your solution
  • Describes the unique or differentiated benefits that your solution provides
  • Describes your company (history, values, etc.)
  • Demonstrates the value of your solution
Reassure - This type of content is designed to alleviate the fear that always surrounds a major purchase decision.  In its groundbreaking BuyerSphere research project, Enquiro found that B2B buying decisions are usually driven by fear.  More specifically, B2B buying is all about minimizing fear by reducing or eliminating risk.  "Reassurance" content is content that helps buyers feel comfortable about purchasing your solution.  The best kind of reassurance content is content that involves third parties - customers, industry experts, industry analysts, etc.  Some examples are:
  • Customer success stories that prove the value of your solution
  • Customer success stories that validate ease of implementation and use
  • Analyst reports that show the financial stability of your company
In general, educational content is most relevant for buyers who are in the early stages of the buying cycle, demonstration-oriented content becomes important for those in the middle stages of the buying cycle, and reassurance content takes center stage in the later stages of the buying cycle.

Once you're sure that your content plan includes content that performs all three of these functions, then you can focus on specific formats.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Content Marketing Basics: Create Content for All Buying Stages

To create engagement with today's B2B buyers, marketers must develop and use relevant and compelling marketing communications and marketing content.  There is simply no substitute for relevancy when it comes to establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships with potential buyers.

In an earlier post, I described how to develop buyer personas.  Personas enable us to create relevant marketing content because the process of creating personas forces us to develop a deeper understanding of the individual buyers we work with.  Personas enable us to identify the issues and problems that our buyers are facing, and this allows us to develop marketing messages and marketing content that speaks directly to those concerns.

Developing content for each buyer persona is essential, but it's also critical to have content that speaks to where the buyer is in the buying process.  That's because the kind of information that is most relevant to a buyer changes as he or she moves through the buying cycle.

The key to developing content for each stage of the buying cycle is to put yourself in the buyer's shoes and identify the questions that he or she is likely to have at each stage.  Then, you create content that answers those questions.

There are many ways to describe the B2B buying cycle.  Ardath Albee, author of eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale and the Marketing Interactions blog, uses a seven-step framework:  Status Quo - Priority Shift - Research - Options - Step Backs - Validation - Choice.

Using Albee's framework, we can identify some of the questions that a buyer is likely to have at each stage of the process.

Status Quo - Why do I need to change?  What are the ramifications of not changing?  Has something happened in my industry that makes change necessary?

Priority Shift - Can the issue/problem be solved?  What are the benefits of addressing the issue/problem?  How have my peers and/or competitors dealt with the issue/problem?

Research - What are the alternative ways to address the issue/problem?  What are the risks and benefits of the alternative approaches?

Options - What specific solutions should I consider?  Which potential solution providers should I include in my short list?  What are the features and functionality of each possible solution?

Step Backs - What happens if I don't have the resources to implement the proposed solution?  What if I don't have real buy-in from my end users?  What if the solution doesn't produce the promised results?

Validation - Why should I trust your company?  What is my ROI if I purchase your solution?  How can I be sure that the estimated ROI will actually be realized?

As you develop your questions, be as specific as possible, and keep in mind that you will need a separate set of questions for each buyer persona you've identified.  This approach will enable you to develop rich and compelling content that will resonate with your buyers.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Yes, You Still Need "Promotional" Content

In two recent articles, MarketingSherpa described the results of research into how technology buyers view e-mail offer content.  The research was conducted by Bob Johnson with IDG Connect in partnership with MarketingSherpa, and it involved two surveys.  One survey was directed to technology buyers.  The second survey presented the same questions to B2B marketers.  The marketers were asked to answer the survey questions based on what they believed motivated buyers.

One of the survey questions was, "Do each of the following offer types increase the likelihood a prospective buyer will click on a link to additional information and insight?"

Here are the top five types of content offers identified by buyers - based on the percentage of surveyed buyers who answered "yes" to the above question:
  • News and Articles - 84%
  • Competitive Comparisons and Buying Guides - 73%
  • Promotional Content - 70%
  • Educational Content - 65%
  • Free Research Reports - 64%
Here are the top five types of content offers identified by marketers:
  • Educational Content - 92%
  • Free Research Reports - 86%
  • Peer Best Practices - 79%
  • Competitive Comparisons and Buying Guides - 77%
  • Interactive Peer Comparison Tool - 74%
Only 42% of marketers said that an offer of promotional content would motivate buyers to act.  Seems like we marketers may not know buyers as well as we would like to think.

Those of us who advocate content marketing stress the importance of using buyer-centric informational and educational content, and we argue that most marketing content should not be self-promotional (focused on my company or the features and attributes of my product or service).  This is the right approach, but the key word in the previous sentence is most.

Prospective buyers who reach a certain point in the buying cycle will want and need to learn about a prospective vendor's products or services.  Therefore, every company needs "promotional" marketing content that provides that information.  The problem with promotional content comes when you use it with prospects who aren't ready for it.

In my next post, I'll explain the importance of mapping content to all stages of the buying cycle.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Content Marketing Basics: Developing Buyer Personas

Effective content marketing requires a thorough understanding of your prospective buyers.  Let's face it.  It's awfully hard to really connect with someone you don't understand.  That's why buyer personas must be a core component of your content marketing effort.

According to Adele Revella, author of the Buyer Persona blog, a buyer persona is, "a detailed profile of an example buyer that represents the real audience - an archetype of the target buyer."  In her book, eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, Ardath Albee defines a buyer persona as, "a composite sketch representative of a type of customer you serve."

Just to be clear, a buyer persona is a biograhpical sketch of a typical buyer.  It is more than a job description.  Buyer personas are written in narrative form, and they are written as if the archetypical buyer is a real human being.  Buyer personas enable you to create more relevant and personalized communications, which is why they are so important for effective content marketing.

You will need to create a persona for each type of buyer who makes or significantly influences the decision to purchase your product or service.  Most sales methodologies use categories to indentify buying roles.  So, for example, you may have economic buyers, technical buyers, user buyers, and so on.  I prefer to describe buyer types by job title or job function in additon to these buying role categories.

It's also important to identify the type of business the buyer works for.  Buyers performing the same job function in different industries can have different issues, problems, or concerns.  Therefore, you may need to create "industry specific" personas.

The next step in developing a buyer persona is to answer a series of questions about the buyer.  Here are some examples:
  • What are the buyer's major business objectives and job responsibilities?
  • What strategies and tactics does the buyer use to achieve his objectives and fulfill his responsibilities?
  • What meaures are used to evaluate the buyer's job performance?
  • What issues and problems keep the buyer awake at night?
  • How old is the typical buyer? [Age range is OK]
  • Is the buyer typically male or female?
  • What is the buyer's educational background?
  • What sources does the buyer turn to for information?
  • How would the buyer describe the issues he or she is facing?
In my earlier post about developing a customer value matrix, I recommended using a cross-functional team that includes both marketing and sales personnel.  That approach also works well for developing buyer personas.