Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why Customers Should Be the Heroes of Your Case Studies

Customer case studies are one of the most popular and influential kinds of marketing content used by B2B companies. New research by Eccolo Media shows that case studies are the fourth most widely consumed type of marketing collateral (behind product brochures, white papers, and video/multimedia files) and the second most influential type of marketing collateral (trailing only white papers).

Case studies are potent marketing tools because they're good at performing several jobs.
  • They help establish your credibility.
  • They educate prospects about the benefits of your product or service.
  • Most importantly, they can lower a prospect's perception of the risk associated with purchasing your product or service.
The good news is that case studies can boost the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. The not-so-good news is that the use of case studies has exploded, and therefore your case studies are facing more competition for attention and mindshare. If they don't stand out from all the others your prospects see, they simply won't produce the maximum benefits.

I'm often asked by clients to review and comment on their customer case studies. All too often, what I read is self-promotional "brochureware" disguised as a case study.

The mistake that many companies make is to cast themselves, rather than their customers, as the heroes of their case studies. The storyline in many case studies resembles the old silent movie where the villian ties a helpless damsel (the customer) to the railroad tracks, and the hero (the selling company) rides in at the last minute to rescue the damsel in distress from an oncoming train.

A well-written case study will cause readers to identify with the customer. You want readers to empathize with the "pain" the customer was experiencing and the success the customer achieved. In essence, you want readers to finish the case study believing that they can achieve the same success, if they will just let you help. When you make yourself the hero of your case studies, you are asking readers to identify with your company, not the customer. And that's much more difficult to achieve.

It's easy to tell when the selling company has made itself the hero of a case study. Lots of sentences begin with "We" or "Our" and the story focuses on what the selling company (or its product or service) did rather than on what the customer was able to accomplish.

So, when you prepare a case study, you can give yourself a strong supporting role, but always let your customer be the star.

We've created a "mini-guide" to writing compelling customer case studies. If you'd like to get a copy of Seven Tips for Writing Customer Case Studies that Sell, send an e-mail to ddodd(at)pointbalance(dot)com.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What "The Challenger Sale" Can Teach Us About Content Marketing

The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson is one of the most important books on selling that's appeared in the last several years. The book is based on an in-depth research project conducted by the Corporate Executive Board. The research involved an analysis of over 6,000 sales reps from all major industries and geographies.

The objective of the CEB research was to identify what skills, behaviors, knowledge, and attitudes separate top-performing sales reps from average performers. What the researchers found runs counter to much of the long-held conventional wisdom about what drives sales success.

The first major finding is that salespeople fall into one of five distinct profiles:
  • The Hard Worker
  • The Challenger
  • The Relationship Builder
  • The Lone Wolf
  • The Reactive Problem Solver
The second important finding is that one type of sales rep - The Challenger - clearly outperforms all of the others. Thirty-nine percent of all "star" salespeople are Challengers. One of the major surprises in the research is that Relationship Builders are the big losers. Only 7% of all star reps fall into that category.

The Challenger Sale is written from a sales perspective, but it has a lot to say to marketers. The connection to marketing becomes clear when we look at what causes Challenger sales reps to be successful. Dixon and Adamson found that Challenger reps excel because they provide customers and prospects new, valuable, and unique insights that help them compete more effectively in their markets. Challengers pressure their prospects and customers to question their assumptions and think about their business in new and different ways.

It turns out (as shown by other Corporate Executive Board research) that this is what prospects and customers really want. Buyers say they highly value sales reps who:
  • Offer unique and valuable perspectives on the market
  • Help them navigate alternatives
  • Provide ongoing advice or consultation
  • Help them avoid potential land mines
  • Educate them on new ideas and outcomes
These are exactly the things that Challenger sales reps do. Rather that just asking a bunch of questions to identify needs and then offering a solution, Challengers bring new insights (and therefore value) to the conversation with the buyer.

Today, marketing content must perform many of these same functions. Because business buyers are doing more research on their own, your marketing content must act as your "surrogate sales rep" early in the buying process. This research shows that your content needs to be a "surrogate Challenger sales rep."

Those of use who write about content marketing emphasize the importance of using content that is primarily educational, that is customized for specific buyer personas and that speaks to where a potential buyer is in his or her buying process. All those things are important, but what really separates great marketing content from content that is merely good is that great content also provokes new thinking. Great marketing content provides unique and valuable perspectives that prod potential buyers to consider new alternatives for improving their business.

How much of your marketing content would pass the "Challenger" test?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why a Blog (Still) Matters in Marketing

B2B marketers have more ways than ever to publish and share marketing content. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Slideshare, and Scribd are just some of the venues for disseminating your content to prospects and customers. With all of the options now available, it can be tempting to think that blogging is no longer important to your marketing efforts.

That's a mistake. A blog can still be a highly effective marketing tool. In the 2011 State of Inbound Marketing survey by HubSpot:
  • 57% of companies that publish a blog said that they have acquired new customers from blog-generated leads
  • 62% of companies with a blog said that it is "critical" or "important" to their business
Here are just a few of the benefits that a blog provides:
  • A blog is an ideal vehicle for providing your prospects with bite-size pieces of your marketing content. Today's business buyers are incredibly busy, and many prefer content that can be consumed quickly. This can be particularly important when you are dealing with prospects who don't know you well. A blog provides a way for them to try out your content without investing a lot of their time.
  • A blog is one of the best ways to improve your company's position in organic search. Google and other search engines place a big emphasis on how frequently content is updated. So, if you post to your blog regularly, you can improve your search results.
  • Your blog can be used to point prospects to more substantial marketing content. For example, you can use a blog post to summarize a topic covered in one of your white papers and include a link to the paper in your post.
  • Your blog can function as a hub for your content marketing effort. For example, when you publish a new blog post, you can use LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to point to the post.
The catch is that just having a blog isn't enough. To reap the most benefits from your blog, you need to post new content on a frequent basis. The HubSpot survey shows that 72% of companies that post weekly have acquired new customers through their blog. That number increases to 78% for companies that post daily, but it falls to only 49% for companies that post monthly.

Posting on a weekly basis can be challenging for many companies, but there are a couple of ways to deal with the challenge. First, you can outsource some or all of the blog writing duties.  In this scenario, blog posts are prepared by an outside writer, but they are published under your "byline." The second approach is to use "guest bloggers" to write some of the posts for your blog. This approach can be effective, so long as it isn't overused. After all, one primary objective of your blog is to demonstrate your expertise, not someone else's.