Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Do You Have Marketing Content for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt?

Most B2B marketers are naturally positive people. Professionally, they have an innate predisposition to focus on what's good about their company and its products and services. Most marketers are less comfortable dealing with any perceived "weaknesses" of their products or services or with the challenges that companies face when using them. So, most marketers have a built-in tendency to minimize, gloss over, or simply ignore those issues.

That's a mistake because fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) are part of every significant buying decision. In The Buyersphere Project, Gord Hotchkiss wrote, "B2B buying decisions are usually driven by one emotion - fear. Specifically, B2B buying is all about minimizing fear by eliminating risk."

Ardath Albee, author of eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale and the Marketing Interactions blog, includes a stage called "Step Backs" in her description of the buying process. This is where the concerns and fears of the buying group rise to the surface and stop (at least temporarily) the forward momentum of the buying decision. I agree with Ardath that a step back stage is probably present in most B2B buying situations, but I also contend that FUD permeates the entire buying process and can appear at any stage.

Your prospects' fears, uncertainties, and doubts usually involve concerns about your product or service or your company, and about their ability to do what is required to reap the full benefits of your proposed solution. Throughout the buying process, members of the buying group will be asking themselves or each other questions like:
  • Does the proposed solution provide all of the capabilities we need?
  • Will the proposed solution work as promised?
  • Is the supplier financially stable?
  • Will the supplier be able to meet our needs as they change and evolve?
  • What if our employees won't buy into and use the proposed solution?
  • What if we can't successfully implement the proposed solution?
  • What if we can't reengineer our business processes to maximize the benefits of the proposed solution?
There's no way to eliminate FUD from the buying process, so your only choice is to deal with it. Marketing content can play a major role in alleviating FUD. You probably already have content assets that address FUD indirectly.
  • White papers, webinars, and product/service specifications can reduce the FUD that's related to your product or service.
  • Analyst reports can show the financial stability of your company.
  • Customer case studies can show how companies have successfully implemented and used your solution.
You also need marketing content that directly and intentionally addresses FUD. This is especially important when the FUD involves your prospects' internal capabilities. For example, consider creating a few "expanded" case studies that describe customers' experiences in greater detail than your "regular" case studies. Describe the problems your customers faced in implementing and using your solution and how they solved those problems.

You should also consider creating a group of content assets (call them white papers, tip sheets, or whatever) that describe how customers can avoid the most common (and/or most serious) implementation problems and accelerate their ability to reap the full benefits of your solution.

How do you determine which FUD issues to address?
  • Ask your salespeople.
  • Talk with customers who achieved quick success with your solution - and with some whose path to success was more challenging.
  • If possible, interview some prospects who chose not to buy from you and find out why.
Remember, you can't stop your prospects from feeling fear, uncertainty, and doubt. But you can provide your prospects with content that will make the FUD easier to handle.

Monday, March 19, 2012

What is the Right Mix of Inbound and Outbound Marketing?

Marketing pundits have been debating the merits of inbound vs. outbound marketing for the past few years. Advocates of inbound marketing contend that traditional outbound marketing tactics have become ineffective because of changes in buyer behavior. Some argue that companies should completely abandon outbound marketing and rely exclusively on inbound techniques. More traditional marketers acknowledge that inbound marketing is important, but they contend that most companies still need outbound marketing, and that it can still be effective, if it's done right.

There are persuasive arguments and convincing evidence on both sides of this debate. My focus is B2B marketing, and in my opinion, most B2B companies need both inbound and outbound marketing. The important question is not which type of marketing to use, but rather what mix of inbound and outbound marketing will produce the best results.

Marketing has four major functions in most B2B companies.
  • Customer acquisition
  • Customer retention
  • Expanding customer relationships (cross-selling, etc.)
  • Reactivating relationships with dormant or "lost" customers
The real issue for B2B marketers is how to combine the use of inbound and outbound marketing tactics to achieve the maximum results in all of these functions. The diagram below illustrates the relative importance of inbound and outbound marketing in performing each marketing function. (Note:  In B2B companies with long, complex sales cycles, customer acquisition marketing consists of two distinct components - lead acquisition and lead nurturing. Therefore, the diagram shows five functions rather than four.)

In today's B2B buying environment, the importance of inbound marketing can't be denied. Business buyers (whether prospects or customers) now expect companies to provide valuable information on a consistent basis in a variety of venues, including blogs and other inbound marketing channels. Therefore, inbound marketing is now playing an important role in all marketing functions.

What may raise a few eyebrows is my take on the relative importance of inbound and outbound marketing for lead acquisition. Outbound marketing and sales prospecting have traditionally been the dominant tactics for acquiring new leads in many B2B companies. The landscape, however, has changed. Today's business buyers have easy access to a wealth of information, and they've become convinced they can find whatever information they need, whenever they need it. So, they are far less likely to respond to outbound marketing and sales efforts from companies they don't know. The result is that outbound lead acquisition programs aren't nearly as effective as they once were.

These circumstances are driving a shift to inbound marketing for lead acquisition, and the shift will continue to grow. Research firm SiriusDecisions has said that 80% of new leads will come from inbound marketing by 2015.

The bottom line? Both inbound and outbound marketing are necessary components of an effective B2B marketing effort. Inbound marketing should be the primary tactic used for lead acquisition, if not immediately, then in the very near future. Outbound marketing (primarily in the form of behavior-driven e-mail content offers) should play the leading role in lead nurturing. For customer retention, customer expansion, and customer reactivation, inbound and outbound should be given nearly equal emphasis.

Do you agree? How are you balancing the use of inbound and outbound marketing?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Should All Marketing Become "Distributed" Marketing?

Distributed marketing refers to a marketing model in which both a corporate marketing department and local business units or channel partners make marketing decisions and perform marketing activities. A distributed marketing model will often exist when a company sells its products or services through a network of regional or local outlets. Distributed marketing models can exist in virtually all kinds of companies, they almost always exist in franchised businesses, and they are frequently found in industries like insurance, financial services and manufacturing.

The defining characteristic of a distributed marketing model is that the local business units or channel partners have some degree of autonomy from the corporate marketing department when performing marketing functions.

Companies with a distributed marketing model have traditionally faced challenges that organizations with centralized marketing don't typically encounter.
  • Corporate and local marketers have different priorities. Corporate marketers focus on maintaining consistent brand messaging and presentation, while local marketers want marketing programs that will drive sales for their location or business.
  • Local marketing partners often lack the resources to run effective marketing programs on a consistent, frequent basis.
  • Companies often lack the ability to measure the performance of local marketing programs.
The good news is that technologies now exist that will enable companies to address these challenges and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of distributed marketing operations. Most significantly, these technologies enable corporate marketers to maintain control of brand messaging and brand presentation, while making it easy for local marketers to create and use marketing messages and materials that are customized for their specific needs and markets. (Note:  If you'd like to learn more about distributed marketing automation, contact me via e-mail at ddodd(at)pointbalance(dot)com to request a copy of our new white paper, How the Right Technology Will Supercharge Distributed Marketing.)

Not only will these technologies optimize distributed marketing operations, they can also create new possibilities for companies that don't currently use a distributed marketing model.

Marketers now recognize that "localizing" marketing content has become critical for marketing success. In a recent survey by the CMO Council, 86% of marketers said they intend to look for ways to better localize marketing content. When asked to identify the major obstacles to effective localization, 30% of survey respondents said understanding local market dynamics and variables, 23% cited measuring campaign effectiveness on a local level, and 22% said finding knowledgeable local market resources and experts.

The reality is, it's difficult for marketers in a central marketing department to truly understand what's needed to make marketing effective in diverse local markets. One solution is to decentralize marketing, to implement something closer to a distributed marketing model. Many companies have not taken this approach because corporate marketers fear losing control of brand messaging and brand presentation and because of the other challenges traditionally associated with distributed marketing. Now, the right technology tools can effectively address these concerns.

A more collaborative relationship between corporate and local marketers will enable companies to leverage both corporate marketing expertise and local market knowledge and insights. Distributed marketing technologies can make this kind of decentralized and collaborative marketing model a realistic and practical alternative for many companies.